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MISTBORN: THE FINAL EMPIRE
THE WELL OF ASCENSION
THE HERO OF AGES
A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
FOR BETH SANDERSON,
Who’s been reading fantasy
For longer than I’ve been alive,
And fully deserves
To have a grandson as loony as she is.
Once again, I find myself in need of thanking my wonderful agent, Joshua Bilmes, and equally amazing editor, Moshe Feder. They did a wonderful job with this book, and I’m proud to have the opportunity to work with them.
As always, my tireless writing groups have consistently provided feedback and encouragement: Alan Layton, Janette Layton, Kaylynne ZoBell, Nate Hatfield, Bryce Cundick, Kimball Larsen, and Emily Scorup. Alpha readers, who saw a version of this book in a much rougher form and helped me shape it into what you see now, included Krista Olson, Benjamin R. Olson, Micah Demoux, Eric Ehlers, Izzy Whiting, Stacy Whitman, Kristina Kugler, Megan Kauffman, Sarah Bylund, C. Lee Player, Ethan Skarstedt, Jillena O’Brien, Ryan Jurado, and the incalculable Peter Ahlstrom.
There are also a few people in particular whom I would like to thank. Isaac Stewart, who did the map work for this novel, was an invaluable resource both in the idea department and with visual cues. Heather Kirby had excellent advice to help me with the mysterious inner workings of a young woman’s mind.
In addition, I’d like to acknowledge some of the very important people who work behind the scenes on the books that you buy. Irene Gallo, the art director at Tor, does a brilliant job—it’s because of her that both this book and Elantris have the wonderful covers that they do. Also, David Moench, in the Tor publicity department, went far beyond the call of duty in helping make Elantris a success. Both have my thanks.
Finally, as always, I am thankful to my family for their continued support and enthusiasm.
In particular, I’d like to thank my brother, Jordan, for his enthusiasm, support, and loyalty. Check out his handiwork at my Web site: www.brandonsanderson.com.
PART ONE: THE SURVIVOR OF HATHSIN
PART TWO: REBELS BENEATH A SKY OF ASH
PART THREE: CHILDREN OF A BLEEDING SUN
PART FOUR: DANCERS IN A SEA OF MIST
PART FIVE: BELIEVERS IN A FORGOTTEN WORLD
Sometimes, I worry that I’m not the hero everyone thinks I am.
The philosophers assure me that this is the time, that the signs have been met. But I still wonder if they have the wrong man. So many people depend on me. They say I will hold the future of the entire world on my arms.
What would they think if they knew that their champion—the Hero of Ages, their savior—doubted himself? Perhaps they wouldn’t be shocked at all. In a way, this is what worries me most. Maybe, in their hearts, they wonder—just as I do.
When they see me, do they see a liar?
ASH FELL FROM THE SKY.
Lord Tresting frowned, glancing up at the ruddy midday sky as his servants scuttled forward, opening a parasol over Tresting and his distinguished guest. Ashfalls weren’t that uncommon in the Final Empire, but Tresting had hoped to avoid getting soot stains on his fine new suit coat and red vest, which had just arrived via canal boat from Luthadel itself. Fortunately, there wasn’t much wind; the parasol would likely be effective.
Tresting stood with his guest on a small hilltop patio that overlooked the fields. Hundreds of people in brown smocks worked in the falling ash, caring for the crops. There was a sluggishness to their efforts—but, of course, that was the way of the skaa. The peasants were an indolent, unproductive lot. They didn’t complain, of course; they knew better than that. Instead, they simply worked with bowed heads, moving about their work with quiet apathy. The passing whip of a taskmaster would force them into dedicated motion for a few moments, but as soon as the taskmaster passed, they would return to their languor.
Tresting turned to the man standing beside him on the hill. “One would think,” Tresting noted, “that a thousand years of working in fields would have bred them to be a little more effective at it.”
The obligator turned, raising an eyebrow—the motion done as if to highlight his most distinctive feature, the intricate tattoos that laced the skin around his eyes. The tattoos were enormous, reaching all the way across his brow and up the sides of his nose. This was a full prelan—a very important obligator indeed. Tresting had his own, personal obligators back at the manor, but they were only minor functionaries, with barely a few marks around their eyes. This man had arrived from Luthadel with the same canal boat that had brought Tresting’s new suit.
“You should see city skaa, Tresting,” the obligator said, turning back to watch the skaa workers. “These are actually quite diligent, compared to those inside Luthadel. You have more…direct control over your skaa here. How many would you say you lose a month?”
“Oh, a half dozen or so,” Tresting said. “Some to beatings, some to exhaustion.”
“Never!” Tresting said. “When I first inherited this land from my father, I had a few runaways—but I executed their families. The rest quickly lost heart. I’ve never understood men who have trouble with their skaa—I find the creatures easy to control, if you show a properly firm hand.”
The obligator nodded, standing quietly in his gray robes. He seemed pleased—which was a good thing. The skaa weren’t actually Tresting’s property. Like all skaa, they belonged to the Lord Ruler; Tresting only leased the workers from his God, much in the same way he paid for the services of His obligators.
The obligator looked down, checking his pocket watch, then glanced up at the sun. Despite the ashfall, the sun was bright this day, shining a brilliant crimson red behind the smoky blackness of the upper sky. Tresting removed a handkerchief and wiped his brow, thankful for the parasol’s shade against the midday heat.
“Very well, Tresting,” the obligator said. “I will carry your proposal to Lord Venture, as requested. He will have a favorable report from me on your operations here.”
Tresting held in a sigh of relief. An obligator was required to witness any contract or business deal between noblemen. True, even a lowly obligator like the ones Tresting employed could serve as such a witness—but it meant so much more to impress Straff Venture’s own obligator.
The obligator turned toward him. “I will leave back down the canal this afternoon.”
“So soon?” Tresting asked. “Wouldn’t you care to stay for supper?”
“No,” the obligator replied. “Though there is another matter I wish to discuss with you. I came not only at the behest of Lord Venture, but to…look in on some matters for the Canton of Inquisition. Rumors say that you like to dally with your skaa women.”
Tresting felt a chill.
The obligator smiled; he likely meant it to be disarming, but Tresting only found it eerie. “Don’t worry yourself, Tresting,” the obligator said. “If there had been any real worries about your actions, a Steel Inquisitor would have been sent here in my place.”
Tresting nodded slowly. Inquisitor. He’d never seen one of the inhuman creatures, but he had heard…stories.
“I have been satisfied regarding your actions with the skaa women,” the obligator said, looking back over the fields. “What I’ve seen and heard here indicate that you always clean up your messes. A man such as yourself—efficient, productive—could go far in Luthadel. A few more years of work, some inspired mercantile deals, and who knows?”
The obligator turned away, and Tresting found himself smiling. It wasn’t a promise, or even an endorsement—for the most part, obligators were more bureaucrats and witnesses than they were priests—but to hear such praise from one of the Lord Ruler’s own servants…Tresting knew that some nobility considered the obligators to be unsettling—some men even considered them a bother—but at that moment, Testing could have kissed his distinguished guest.
Tresting turned back toward the skaa, who worked quietly beneath the bloody sun and the lazy flakes of ash. Tresting had always been a country nobleman, living on his plantation, dreaming of perhaps moving into Luthadel itself. He had heard of the balls and the parties, the glamour and the intrigue, and it excited him to no end.
I’ll have to celebrate tonight, he thought. There was that young girl in the fourteenth hovel that he’d been watching for some time….
He smiled again. A few more years of work, the obligator had said. But could Tresting perhaps speed that up, if he worked a little harder? His skaa population had been growing lately. Perhaps if he pushed them a bit more, he could bring in an extra harvest this summer and fulfill his contract with Lord Venture in extra measure.
Tresting nodded as he watched the crowd of lazy skaa, some working with their hoes, others on hands and knees, pushing the ash away from the fledgling crops. They didn’t complain. They didn’t hope. They barely dared think. That was the way it should be, for they were skaa. They were—
Tresting froze as one of the skaa looked up. The man met Tresting’s eyes, a spark—no, a fire—of defiance showing in his expression. Tresting had never seen anything like it, not in the face of a skaa. Tresting stepped backward reflexively, a chill running through him as the strange, straight-backed skaa held his eyes.
Tresting looked away. “Kurdon!” he snapped.
The burly taskmaster rushed up the incline. “Yes, my lord?”
Tresting turned, pointing at…
He frowned. Where had that skaa been standing? Working with their heads bowed, bodies stained by soot and sweat, they were so hard to tell apart. Tresting paused, searching. He thought he knew the place…an empty spot, where nobody now stood.
But, no. That couldn’t be it. The man couldn’t have disappeared from the group so quickly. Where would he have gone? He must be in there, somewhere, working with his head now properly bowed. Still, his moment of apparent defiance was inexcusable.
“My lord?” Kurdon asked again.
The obligator stood at the side, watching curiously. It would not be wise to let the man know that one of the skaa had acted so brazenly.
“Work the skaa in that southern section a little harder,” Tresting ordered, pointing. “I see them being sluggish, even for skaa. Beat a few of them.”
Kurdon shrugged, but nodded. It wasn’t much of a reason for a beating—but, then, he didn’t need much of a reason to give the workers a beating.
They were, after all, only skaa.
Kelsier had heard stories.
He had heard whispers of times when once, long ago, the sun had not been red. Times when the sky hadn’t been clogged by smoke and ash, when plants hadn’t struggled to grow, and when skaa hadn’t been slaves. Times before the Lord Ruler. Those days, however, were nearly forgotten. Even the legends were growing vague.
Kelsier watched the sun, his eyes following the giant red disk as it crept toward the western horizon. He stood quietly for a long moment, alone in the empty fields. The day’s work was done; the skaa had been herded back to their hovels. Soon the mists would come.
Eventually, Kelsier sighed, then turned to pick his way across the furrows and pathways, weaving between large heaps of ash. He avoided stepping on the plants—though he wasn’t sure why he bothered. The crops hardly seemed worth the effort. Wan, with wilted brown leaves, the plants seemed as depressed as the people who tended them.
The skaa hovels loomed in the waning light. Already, Kelsier could see the mists beginning to form, clouding the air, and giving the moundlike buildings a surreal, intangible look. The hovels stood unguarded; there was no need for watchers, for no skaa would venture outside once night arrived. Their fear of the mists was far too strong.
I’ll have to cure them of that someday, Kelsier thought as he approached one of the larger buildings. But, all things in their own time. He pulled open the door and slipped inside.
Conversation stopped immediately. Kelsier closed the door, then turned with a smile to confront the room of about thirty skaa. A firepit burned weakly at the center, and the large cauldron beside it was filled with vegetable-dappled water—the beginnings of an evening meal. The soup would be bland, of course. Still, the smell was enticing.
“Good evening, everyone,” Kelsier said with a smile, resting his pack beside his feet and leaning against the door. “How was your day?”
His words broke the silence, and the women returned to their dinner preparations. A group of men sitting at a crude table, however, continued to regard Kelsier with dissatisfied expressions.
“Our day was filled with work, traveler,” said Tepper, one of the skaa elders. “Something you managed to avoid.”
“Fieldwork hasn’t ever really suited me,” Kelsier said. “It’s far too hard on my delicate skin.” He smiled, holding up hands and arms that were lined with layers and layers of thin scars. They covered his skin, running lengthwise, as if some beast had repeatedly raked its claws up and down his arms.
Tepper snorted. He was young to be an elder, probably barely into his forties—at most, he might be five years Kelsier’s senior. However, the scrawny man held himself with the air of one who liked to be in charge.
“This is no time for levity,” Tepper said sternly. “When we harbor a traveler, we expect him to behave himself and avoid suspicion. When you ducked away from the fields this morning, you could have earned a whipping for the men around you.”
“True,” Kelsier said. “But those men could also have been whipped for standing in the wrong place, for pausing too long, or for coughing when a taskmaster walked by. I once saw a man beaten because his master claimed that he had ‘blinked inappropriately.’”
Tepper sat with narrow eyes and a stiff posture, his arm resting on the table. His expression was unyielding.
Kelsier sighed, rolling his eyes. “Fine. If you want me to go, I’ll be off then.” He slung his pack up on his shoulder and nonchalantly pulled open the door.
Thick mist immediately began to pour through the portal, drifting lazily across Kelsier’s body, pooling on the floor and creeping across the dirt like a hesitant animal. Several people gasped in horror, though most of them were too stunned to make a sound. Kelsier stood for a moment, staring out into the dark mists, their shifting currents lit feebly by the cooking pit’s coals.
“Close the door.” Tepper’s words were a plea, not a command.
Kelsier did as requested, pushing the door closed and stemming the flood of white mist. “The mist is not what you think. You fear it far too much.”
“Men who venture into the mist lose their souls,” a woman whispered. Her words raised a question. Had Kelsier walked in the mists? What, then, had happened to his soul?
If you only knew, Kelsier thought. “Well, I guess this means I’m staying.” He waved for a boy to bring him a stool. “It’s a good thing, too—it would have been a shame for me to leave before I shared my news.”
More than one person perked up at the comment. This was the real reason they tolerated him—the reason even the timid peasants would harbor a man such as Kelsier, a skaa who defied the Lord Ruler’s will by traveling from plantation to plantation. A renegade he might be—a danger to the entire community—but he brought news from the outside world.
“I come from the north,” Kelsier said. “From lands where the Lord Ruler’s touch is less noticeable.” He spoke in a clear voice, and people leaned unconsciously toward him as they worked. On the next day, Kelsier’s words would be repeated to the several hundred people who lived in other hovels. The skaa might be subservient, but they were incurable gossips.
“Local lords rule in the West,” Kelsier said, “and they are far from the iron grip of the Lord Ruler and his obligators. Some of these distant noblemen are finding that happy skaa make better workers than mistreated skaa. One man, Lord Renoux, has even ordered his taskmasters to stop unauthorized beatings. There are whispers that he’s considering paying wages to his plantation skaa, like city craftsmen might earn.”
“Nonsense,” Tepper said.
“My apologies,” Kelsier said. “I didn’t realize that Goodman Tepper had been to Lord Renoux’s estates recently. When you dined with him last, did he tell you something that he did not tell me?”
Tepper blushed: Skaa did not travel, and they certainly didn’t dine with lords. “You think me a fool, traveler,” Tepper said, “but I know what you’re doing. You’re the one they call the Survivor; those scars on your arms give you away. You’re a troublemaker—you travel the plantations, stirring up discontent. You eat our food, telling your grand stories and your lies, then you disappear and leave people like me to deal with the false hopes you give our children.”
Kelsier raised an eyebrow. “Now, now, Goodman Tepper,” he said. “Your worries are completely unfounded. Why, I have no intention of eating your food. I brought my own.” With that, Kelsier reached over and tossed his pack onto the earth before Tepper’s table. The loose bag slumped to the side, dumping an array of foods to the ground. Fine breads, fruits, and even a few thick, cured sausages bounced free.
A summerfruit rolled across the packed earthen floor and bumped lightly against Tepper’s foot. The middle-aged skaa regarded the fruit with stunned eyes. “That’s nobleman’s food!”
Kelsier snorted. “Barely. You know, for a man of renowned prestige and rank, your Lord Tresting has remarkably poor taste. His pantry is an embarrassment to his noble station.”
Tepper paled even further. “That’s where you went this afternoon,” he whispered. “You went to the manor. You…stole from the master!”
“Indeed,” Kelsier said. “And, might I add that while your lord’s taste in food is deplorable, his eye for soldiers is far more impressive. Sneaking into his manor during the day was quite a challenge.”
Tepper was still staring at the bag of food. “If the taskmasters find this here…”
“Well, I suggest you make it disappear then,” Kelsier said. “I’d be willing to bet that it tastes a fair bit better than watered-down farlet soup.”
Two dozen sets of hungry eyes studied the food. If Tepper intended further arguments, he didn’t make them quickly enough, for his silent pause was taken as agreement. Within a few minutes, the bag’s contents had been inspected and distributed, and the pot of soup sat bubbling and ignored as the skaa feasted on a meal far more exotic.
Kelsier settled back, leaning against the hovel’s wooden wall and watching the people devour their food. He had spoken correctly: The pantry’s offerings had been depressingly mundane. However, this was a people who had been fed on nothing but soup and gruel since they were children. To them, breads and fruits were rare delicacies—usually eaten only as aging discards brought down by the house servants.
“Your storytelling was cut short, young man,” an elderly skaa noted, hobbling over to sit on a stool beside Kelsier.
“Oh, I suspect there will be time for more later,” Kelsier said. “Once all evidence of my thievery has been properly devoured. Don’t you want any of it?”
“No need,” the old man said. “The last time I tried lords’ food, I had stomach pains for three days. New tastes are like new ideas, young man—the older you get, the more difficult they are for you to stomach.”
Kelsier paused. The old man was hardly an imposing sight. His leathered skin and bald scalp made him look more frail than they did wise. Yet, he had to be stronger than he looked; few plantation skaa lived to such ages. Many lords didn’t allow the elderly to remain home from daily work, and the frequent beatings that made up a skaa’s life took a terrible toll on the elderly.
“What was your name again?” Kelsier asked.
Kelsier glanced back at Tepper. “So, Goodman Mennis, tell me something. Why do you let him lead?”
Mennis shrugged. “When you get to be my age, you have to be very careful where you waste your energy. Some battles just aren’t worth fighting.” There was an implication in Mennis’s eyes; he was referring to things greater than his own struggle with Tepper.
“You’re satisfied with this, then?” Kelsier asked, nodding toward the hovel and its half-starved, overworked occupants. “You’re content with a life full of beatings and endless drudgery?”
“At least it’s a life,” Mennis said. “I know what wages malcontent and rebellion bring. The eye of the Lord Ruler, and the ire of the Steel Ministry, can be far more terrible than a few whippings. Men like you preach change, but I wonder. Is this a battle we can really fight?”
“You’re fighting it already, Goodman Mennis. You’re just losing horribly.” Kelsier shrugged. “But, what do I know? I’m just a traveling miscreant, here to eat your food and impress your youths.”
Mennis shook his head. “You jest, but Tepper might have been right. I fear your visit will bring us grief.”
Kelsier smiled. “That’s why I didn’t contradict him—at least, not on the troublemaker point.” He paused, then smiled more deeply. “In fact, I’d say calling me a troublemaker is probably the only accurate thing Tepper has said since I got here.”
“How do you do that?” Mennis asked, frowning.
“Smile so much.”
“Oh, I’m just a happy person.”
Mennis glanced down at Kelsier’s hands. “You know, I’ve only seen scars like those on one other person—and he was dead. His body was returned to Lord Tresting as proof that his punishment had been carried out.” Mennis looked up at Kelsier. “He’d been caught speaking of rebellion. Tresting sent him to the Pits of Hathsin, where he was worked until he died. The lad lasted less than a month.”
Kelsier glanced down at his hands and forearms. They still burned sometimes, though he was certain the pain was only in his mind. He looked up at Mennis and smiled. “You ask why I smile, Goodman Mennis? Well, the Lord Ruler thinks he has claimed laughter and joy for himself. I’m disinclined to let him do so. This is one battle that doesn’t take very much effort to fight.”
Mennis stared at Kelsier, and for a moment Kelsier thought the old man might smile in return. However, Mennis eventually just shook his head. “I don’t know. I just don’t—”
The scream cut him off. It came from outside, perhaps to the north, though the mists distorted sounds. The people in the hovel fell silent, listening to the faint, high-pitched yells. Despite the distance and the mist, Kelsier could hear the pain contained in those screams.
Kelsier burned tin.
It was simple for him now, after years of practice. The tin sat with other Allomantic metals within his stomach, swallowed earlier, waiting for him to draw upon them. He reached inside with his mind and touched the tin, tapping powers he still barely understood. The tin flared to life within him, burning his stomach like the sensation of a hot drink swallowed too quickly.
Allomantic power surged through his body, enhancing his senses. The room around him became crisp, the dull firepit flaring to near blinding brightness. He could feel the grain in the wood of the stool beneath him. He could still taste the remnants of the loaf of bread he’d snacked on earlier. Most importantly, he could hear the screams with supernatural ears. Two separate people were yelling. One was an older woman, the other a younger woman—perhaps a child. The younger screams were getting farther and farther away.
“Poor Jess,” a nearby woman said, her voice booming in Kelsier’s enhanced ears. “That child of hers was a curse. It’s better for skaa not to have pretty daughters.”
Tepper nodded. “Lord Tresting was sure to send for the girl sooner or later. We all knew it. Jess knew it.”
“Still a shame, though,” another man said.
The screams continued in the distance. Burning tin, Kelsier was able to judge the direction accurately. Her voice was moving toward the lord’s manor. The sounds set something off within him, and he felt his face flush with anger.
Kelsier turned. “Does Lord Tresting ever return the girls after he’s finished with them?”
Old Mennis shook his head. “Lord Tresting is a law-abiding nobleman—he has the girls killed after a few weeks. He doesn’t want to catch the eye of the Inquisitors.”
That was the Lord Ruler’s command. He couldn’t afford to have half-breed children running around—children who might possess powers that skaa weren’t even supposed to know existed….
The screams waned, but Kelsier’s anger only built. The yells reminded him of other screams. A woman’s screams from the past. He stood abruptly, stool toppling to the ground behind him.
“Careful, lad,” Mennis said apprehensively. “Remember what I said about wasting energy. You’ll never raise that rebellion of yours if you get yourself killed tonight.”
Kelsier glanced toward the old man. Then, through the screams and the pain, he forced himself to smile. “I’m not here to lead a rebellion among you, Goodman Mennis. I just want to stir up a little trouble.”
“What good could that do?”
Kelsier’s smile deepened. “New days are coming. Survive a little longer, and you just might see great happenings in the Final Empire. I bid you all thanks for your hospitality.”
With that, he pulled open the door and strode out into the mist.
Mennis lay awake in the early hours of morning. It seemed that the older he became, the more difficult it was for him to sleep. This was particularly true when he was troubled about something, such as the traveler’s failure to return to the hovel.
Mennis hoped that Kelsier had come to his senses and decided to move on. However, that prospect seemed unlikely; Mennis had seen the fire in Kelsier’s eyes. It seemed such a shame that a man who had survived the Pits would instead find death here, on a random plantation, trying to protect a girl everyone else had given up for dead.
How would Lord Tresting react? He was said to be particularly harsh with anyone who interrupted his nighttime enjoyments. If Kelsier had managed to disturb the master’s pleasures, Tresting might easily decide to punish the rest of his skaa by association.
Eventually, the other skaa began to awake. Mennis lay on the hard earth—bones aching, back complaining, muscles exhausted—trying to decide if it was worth rising. Each day, he nearly gave up. Each day, it was a little harder. One day, he would just stay in the hovel, waiting until the taskmasters came to kill those who were too sick or too elderly to work.
But not today. He could see too much fear in the eyes of the skaa—they knew that Kelsier’s nighttime activities would bring trouble. They needed Mennis; they looked to him. He needed to get up.
And so, he did. Once he started moving, the pains of age decreased slightly, and he was able to shuffle out of the hovel toward the fields, leaning on a younger man for support.
It was then that he caught a scent in the air. “What’s that?” he asked. “Do you smell smoke?”
Shum—the lad upon whom Mennis leaned—paused. The last remnants of the night’s mist had burned away, and the red sun was rising behind the sky’s usual haze of blackish clouds.
“I always smell smoke, lately,” Shum said. “The Ashmounts are violent this year.”
“No,” Mennis said, feeling increasingly apprehensive. “This is different.” He turned to the north, toward where a group of skaa were gathering. He let go of Shum, shuffling toward the group, feet kicking up dust and ash as he moved.
At the center of the group of people, he found Jess. Her daughter, the one they all assumed had been taken by Lord Tresting, stood beside her. The young girl’s eyes were red from lack of sleep, but she appeared unharmed.
“She came back not long after they took her,” the woman was explaining. “She came and pounded on the door, crying in the mist. Flen was sure it was just a mistwraith impersonating her, but I had to let her in! I don’t care what he says, I’m not giving her up. I brought her out in the sunlight, and she didn’t disappear. That proves she’s not a mistwraith!”
Mennis stumbled back from the growing crowd. Did none of them see it? No taskmasters came to break up the group. No soldiers came to make the morning population counts. Something was very wrong. Mennis continued to the north, moving frantically toward the manor house.
By the time he arrived, others had noticed the twisting line of smoke that was just barely visible in the morning light. Mennis wasn’t the first to arrive at the edge of the short hilltop plateau, but the group made way for him when he did.
The manor house was gone. Only a blackened, smoldering scar remained.
“By the Lord Ruler!” Mennis whispered. “What happened here?”
“He killed them all.”
Mennis turned. The speaker was Jess’s girl. She stood looking down at the fallen house, a satisfied expression on her youthful face.
“They were dead when he brought me out,” she said. “All of them—the soldiers, the taskmasters, the lords…dead. Even Lord Tresting and his obligators. The master had left me, going to investigate when the noises began. On the way out, I saw him lying in his own blood, stab wounds in his chest. The man who saved me threw a torch in the building as we left.”
“This man,” Mennis said. “He had scars on his hands and arms, reaching past the elbows?”
The girl nodded silently.
“What kind of demon was that man?” one of the skaa muttered uncomfortably.
“Mistwraith,” another whispered, apparently forgetting that Kelsier had gone out during the day.
But he did go out into the mist, Mennis thought. And, how did he accomplish a feat like this…? Lord Tresting kept over two dozen soldiers! Did Kelsier have a hidden band of rebels, perhaps?
Kelsier’s words from the night before sounded in his ears. New days are coming….
“But, what of us?” Tepper asked, terrified. “What will happen when the Lord Ruler hears this? He’ll think that we did it! He’ll send us to the Pits, or maybe just send his koloss to slaughter us outright! Why would that troublemaker do something like this? Doesn’t he understand the damage he’s done?”
“He understands,” Mennis said. “He warned us, Tepper. He came to stir up trouble.”
“Because he knew we’d never rebel on our own, so he gave us no choice.”
Lord Ruler, Mennis thought. I can’t do this. I can barely get up in the mornings—I can’t save this people.
But what other choice was there?
Mennis turned. “Gather the people, Tepper. We must flee before word of this disaster reaches the Lord Ruler.”
“Where will we go?”
“The caves to the east,” Mennis said. “Travelers say there are rebel skaa hiding in them. Perhaps they’ll take us in.”
Tepper paled further. “But…we’d have to travel for days. Spend nights in the mist.”
“We can do that,” Mennis said, “or we can stay here and die.”
Tepper stood frozen for a moment, and Mennis thought the shock of it all might have overwhelmed him. Eventually, however, the younger man scurried off to gather the others, as commanded.
Mennis sighed, looking up toward the trailing line of smoke, cursing the man Kelsier quietly in his mind.
New days indeed.
THE SURVIVOR OF HATHSIN
I consider myself to be a man of principle. But, what man does not? Even the cutthroat, I have noticed, considers his actions “moral” after a fashion.
Perhaps another person, reading of my life, would name me a religious tyrant. He could call me arrogant. What is to make that man’s opinion any less valid than my own?
I guess it all comes down to one fact: In the end, I’m the one with the armies.
ASH FELL FROM THE SKY.
Vin watched the downy flakes drift through the air. Leisurely. Careless. Free. The puffs of soot fell like black snowflakes, descending upon the dark city of Luthadel. They drifted in corners, blowing in the breeze and curling in tiny whirlwinds over the cobblestones. They seemed so uncaring. What would that be like?
Vin sat quietly in one of the crew’s watch-holes—a hidden alcove built into the bricks on the side of the safe house. From within it, a crewmember could watch the street for signs of danger. Vin wasn’t on duty; the watch-hole was simply one of the few places where she could find solitude.
And Vin liked solitude. When you’re alone, no one can betray you. Reen’s words. Her brother had taught her so many things, then had reinforced them by doing what he’d always promised he would—by betraying her himself. It’s the only way you’ll learn. Anyone will betray you, Vin. Anyone.
The ash continued to fall. Sometimes, Vin imagined she was like the ash, or the wind, or the mist itself. A thing without thought, capable of simply being, not thinking, caring, or hurting. Then she could be…free.
She heard shuffling a short distance away, then the trapdoor at the back of the small chamber snapped open.
“Vin!” Ulef said, sticking his head into the room. “There you are! Camon’s been searching for you for a half hour.”
That’s kind of why I hid in the first place.
“You should get going,” Ulef said. “The job’s almost ready to begin.”
Ulef was a gangly boy. Nice, after his own fashion—naive, if one who had grown up in the underworld could ever really be called “naive.” Of course, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t betray her. Betrayal had nothing to do with friendship; it was a simple fact of survival. Life was harsh on the streets, and if a skaa thief wanted to keep from being caught and executed, he had to be practical.
And ruthlessness was the very most practical of emotions. Another of Reen’s sayings.
“Well?” Ulef asked. “You should go. Camon’s mad.”
When is he not? However, Vin nodded, scrambling out of the cramped—yet comforting—confines of the watch-hole. She brushed past Ulef and hopped out of the trapdoor, moving into a hallway, then a run-down pantry. The room was one of many at the back of the store that served as a front for the safe house. The crew’s lair itself was hidden in a tunneled stone cavern beneath the building.
She left the building through a back door, Ulef trailing behind her. The job would happen a few blocks away, in a richer section of town. It was an intricate job—one of the most complex Vin had ever seen. Assuming Camon wasn’t caught, the payoff would be great indeed. If he was caught…Well, scamming noblemen and obligators was a very dangerous profession—but it certainly beat working in the forges or the textile mills.
Vin exited the alleyway, moving out onto a dark, tenement-lined street in one of the city’s many skaa slums. Skaa too sick to work lay huddled in corners and gutters, ash drifting around them. Vin kept her head down and pulled up her cloak’s hood against the still falling flakes.
Free. No, I’ll never be free. Reen made certain of that when he left.
“There you are!” Camon lifted a squat, fat finger and jabbed it toward her face. “Where were you?”
Vin didn’t let hatred or rebellion show in her eyes. She simply looked down, giving Camon what he expected to see. There were other ways to be strong. That lesson she had learned on her own.
Camon growled slightly, then raised his hand and backhanded her across the face. The force of the blow threw Vin back against the wall, and her cheek blazed with pain. She slumped against the wood, but bore the punishment silently. Just another bruise. She was strong enough to deal with it. She’d done so before.
“Listen,” Camon hissed. “This is an important job. It’s worth thousands of boxings—worth more than you a hundred times over. I won’t have you fouling it up. Understand?”
Camon studied her for a moment, his pudgy face red with anger. Finally, he looked away, muttering to himself.
He was annoyed about something—something more than just Vin. Perhaps he had heard about the skaa rebellion several days to the north. One of the provincial lords, Themos Tresting, had apparently been murdered, his manor burned to the ground. Such disturbances were bad for business; they made the aristocracy more alert, and less gullible. That, in turn, could cut seriously into Camon’s profits.
He’s looking for someone to punish, Vin though. He always gets nervous before a job. She looked up at Camon, tasting blood on her lip. She must have let some of her confidence show, because he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, and his expression darkened. He raised his hand, as if to strike her again.
Vin used up a bit of her Luck.
She expended just a smidgen; she’d need the rest for the job. She directed the Luck at Camon, calming his nervousness. The crewleader paused—oblivious of Vin’s touch, yet feeling its effects nonetheless. He stood for a moment; then he sighed, turning away and lowering his hand.
Vin wiped her lip as Camon waddled away. The thiefmaster looked very convincing in his nobleman’s suit. It was as rich a costume as Vin had ever seen—it had a white shirt overlaid by a deep green vest with engraved gold buttons. The black suit coat was long, after the current fashion, and he wore a matching black hat. His fingers sparkled with rings, and he even carried a fine dueling cane. Indeed, Camon did an excellent job of imitating a nobleman; when it came to playing a role, there were few thieves more competent than Camon. Assuming he could keep his temper under control.
The room itself was less impressive. Vin pulled herself to her feet as Camon began to snap at some of the other crewmembers. They had rented one of the suites at the top of a local hotel. Not too lavish—but that was the idea. Camon was going to be playing the part of “Lord Jedue,” a country nobleman who had hit upon hard financial times and come to Luthadel to get some final, desperate contracts.
The main room had been transformed into a sort of audience chamber, set with a large desk for Camon to sit behind, the walls decorated with cheap pieces of art. Two men stood beside the desk, dressed in formal stewards’ clothing; they would play the part of Camon’s manservants.
“What is this ruckus?” a man asked, entering the room. He was tall, dressed in a simple gray shirt and a pair of slacks, with a thin sword tied at his waist. Theron was the other crewleader—this particular scam was actually his. He’d brought in Camon as a partner; he’d needed someone to play Lord Jedue, and everyone knew that Camon was one of the best.
Camon looked up. “Hum? Ruckus? Oh, that was just a minor discipline problem. Don’t bother yourself, Theron.” Camon punctuated his remark with a dismissive wave of the hand—there was a reason he played such a good aristocrat. He was arrogant enough that he could have been from one of the Great Houses.
Theron’s eyes narrowed. Vin knew what the man was probably thinking: He was deciding how risky it would be to put a knife in Camon’s fat back once the scam was over. Eventually, the taller crewleader looked away from Camon, glancing at Vin. “Who’s this?” he asked.
“Just a member of my crew,” Camon said.
“I thought we didn’t need anyone else.”
“Well, we need her,” Camon said. “Ignore her. My end of the operation is none of your concern.”
Theron eyed Vin, obviously noting her bloodied lip. She glanced away. Theron’s eyes lingered on her, however, running down the length of her body. She wore a simple white buttoned shirt and a pair of overalls. Indeed, she was hardly enticing; scrawny with a youthful face, she supposedly didn’t even look her sixteen years. Some men preferred such women, however.
She considered using a bit of Luck on him, but eventually he turned away. “The obligator is nearly here,” Theron said. “Are you ready?”
Camon rolled his eyes, settling his bulk down into the chair behind the desk. “Everything is perfect. Leave me be, Theron! Go back to your room and wait.”
Theron frowned, then spun and walked from the room, muttering to himself.
Vin scanned the room, studying the decor, the servants, the atmosphere. Finally, she made her way to Camon’s desk. The crewleader sat rifling through a stack of papers, apparently trying to decide which ones to put out on the desktop.
“Camon,” Vin said quietly, “the servants are too fine.”
Camon frowned, looking up. “What is that you’re babbling?”
“The servants,” Vin repeated, still speaking in a soft whisper. “Lord Jedue is supposed to be desperate. He’d have rich clothing left over from before, but he wouldn’t be able to afford such rich servants. He’d use skaa.”
Camon glared at her, but he paused. Physically, there was little difference between noblemen and skaa. The servants Camon had appointed, however, were dressed as minor noblemen—they were allowed to wear colorful vests, and they stood a little confidently.
“The obligator has to think that you’re nearly impoverished,” Vin said. “Pack the room with a lot of skaa servants instead.”
“What do you know?” Camon said, scowling at her.
“Enough.” She immediately regretted the word; it sounded too rebellious. Camon raised a bejeweled hand, and Vin braced herself for another slap. She couldn’t afford to use up any more Luck. She had precious little remaining anyway.
However, Camon didn’t hit her. Instead, he sighed and rested a pudgy hand on her shoulder. “Why do you insist on provoking me, Vin? You know the debts your brother left when he ran away. Do you realize that a less merciful man than myself would have sold you to the whoremasters long ago? How would you like that, serving in some nobleman’s bed until he grew tired of you and had you executed?”
Vin looked down at her feet.
Camon’s grip grew tight, his fingers pinching her skin where neck met shoulder, and she gasped in pain despite herself. He grinned at the reaction.
“Honestly, I don’t know why I keep you, Vin,” he said, increasing the pressure of his grip. “I should have gotten rid of you months ago, when your brother betrayed me. I suppose I just have too kindly a heart.”
He finally released her, then pointed for her to stand over by the side of the room, next to a tall indoor plant. She did as ordered, orienting herself so she had a good view of the entire room. As soon as Camon looked away, she rubbed her shoulder. Just another pain. I can deal with pain.
Camon sat for a few moments. Then, as expected, he waved to the two “servants” at his side.
“You two!” he said. “You’re dressed too richly. Go put on something that makes you look like skaa servants instead—and bring back six more men with you when you come.”
Soon, the room was filled as Vin had suggested. The obligator arrived a short time later.
Vin watched Prelan Laird step haughtily into the room. Shaved bald like all obligators, he wore a set of dark gray robes. The Ministry tattoos around his eyes identified him as a prelan, a senior bureaucrat in the Ministry’s Canton of Finance. A set of lesser obligators trailed behind him, their eye tattoos far less intricate.
Camon rose as the prelan entered, a sign of respect—something even the highest of Great House noblemen would show to an obligator of Laird’s rank. Laird gave no bow or acknowledgment of his own, instead striding forward and taking the seat in front of Camon’s desk. One of the crewmen impersonating a servant rushed forward, bringing chilled wine and fruit for the obligator.
Laird picked at the fruit, letting the servant stand obediently, holding the platter of food as if he were a piece of furniture. “Lord Jedue,” Laird finally said. “I am glad we finally have the opportunity to meet.”
“As am I, Your Grace,” Camon said.
“Why is it, again, that you were unable to come to the Canton building, instead requiring that I visit you here?”
“My knees, Your Grace,” Camon said. “My physicians recommend that I travel as little as possible.”
And you were rightly apprehensive about being drawn into a Ministry stronghold, Vin thought.
“I see,” Laird said. “Bad knees. An unfortunate attribute in a man who deals in transportation.”
“I don’t have to go on the trips, Your Grace,” Camon said, bowing his head. “Just organize them.”
Good, Vin thought. Make sure you remain subservient, Camon. You need to seem desperate.
Vin needed this scam to succeed. Camon threatened her and he beat her—but he considered her a good-luck charm. She wasn’t sure if he knew why his plans went better when she was in the room, but he had apparently made the connection. That made her valuable—and Reen had always said that the surest way to stay alive in the underworld was to make yourself indispensable.
“I see,” Laird said again. “Well, I fear that our meeting has come too late for your purposes. The Canton of Finance has already voted on your proposal.”
“So soon?” Camon asked with genuine surprise.
“Yes,” Laird replied, taking a sip of his wine, still not dismissing the servant. “We have decided not to accept your contract.”
Camon sat for a moment, stunned. “I’m sorry to hear that, Your Grace.”
Laird came to meet you, Vin thought. That means he’s still in a position to negotiate.
“Indeed,” Camon continued, seeing what Vin had. “That is especially unfortunate, as I was ready to make the Ministry an even better offer.”
Laird raised a tattooed eyebrow. “I doubt it will matter. There is an element of the Council who feels that the Canton would receive better service if we found a more stable house to transport our people.”
“That would be a grave mistake,” Camon said smoothly. “Let us be frank, Your Grace. We both know that this contract is House Jedue’s last chance. Now that we’ve lost the Farwan deal, we cannot afford to run our canal boats to Luthadel anymore. Without the Ministry’s patronage, my house is financially doomed.”
“This is doing very little to persuade me, Your Lordship,” the obligator said.
“Isn’t it?” Camon asked. “Ask yourself this, Your Grace—who will serve you better? Will it be the house that has dozens of contracts to divide its attention, or the house that views your contract as its last hope? The Canton of Finance will not find a more accommodating partner than a desperate one. Let my boats be the ones that bring your acolytes down from the north—let my soldiers escort them—and you will not be disappointed.”
Good, Vin thought.
“I…see,” the obligator said, now troubled.
“I would be willing to give you an extended contract, locked in at the price of fifty boxings a head per trip, Your Grace. Your acolytes would be able to travel our boats at their leisure, and would always have the escorts they need.”
The obligator raised an eyebrow. “That’s half the former fee.”
“I told you,” Camon said. “We’re desperate. My house needs to keep its boats running. Fifty boxings will not make us a profit, but that doesn’t matter. Once we have the Ministry contract to bring us stability, we can find other contracts to fill our coffers.”
Laird looked thoughtful. It was a fabulous deal—one that might ordinarily have been suspicious. However, Camon’s presentation created the image of a house on the brink of financial collapse. The other crewleader, Theron, had spent five years building, scamming, and finagling to create this moment. The Ministry would be remiss not to consider the opportunity.
Laird was realizing just that. The Steel Ministry was not just the force of bureaucracy and legal authority in the Final Empire—it was like a noble house unto itself. The more wealth it had, the better its own mercantile contracts, the more leverage the various Ministry Cantons had with each other—and with the noble houses.
Laird was still obviously hesitant, however. Vin could see the look in his eyes, the suspicion she knew well. He was not going to take the contract.
Now, Vin thought. It’s my turn.
Vin used her Luck on Laird. She reached out tentatively—not even really sure what she was doing, or why she could even do it. Yet her touch was instinctive, trained through years of subtle practice. She’d been ten years old before she’d realized that other people couldn’t do what she could.
She pressed against Laird’s emotions, dampening them. He became less suspicious, less afraid. Docile. His worries melted away, and Vin could see a calm sense of control begin to assert itself in his eyes.
Yet, Laird still seemed slightly uncertain. Vin pushed harder. He cocked his head, looking thoughtful. He opened his mouth to speak, but she pushed against him again, desperately using up her last pinch of Luck.
He paused again. “Very well,” he finally said. “I will take this new proposal to the Council. Perhaps an agreement can still be reached.”
If men read these words, let them know that power is a heavy burden. Seek not to be bound by its chains. The Terris prophecies say that I will have the power to save the world.
They hint, however, that I will have the power to destroy it as well.
IN KELSIER’S OPINION, THE CITY OF Luthadel—seat of the Lord Ruler—was a gloomy sight. Most of the buildings had been built from stone blocks, with tile roofs for the wealthy, and simple, peaked wooden roofs for the rest. The structures were packed closely together, making them seem squat despite the fact that they were generally three stories high.
The tenements and shops were uniform in appearance; this was not a place to draw attention to oneself. Unless, of course, you were a member of the high nobility.
Interspersed throughout the city were a dozen or so monolithic keeps. Intricate, with rows of spearlike spires or deep archways, these were the homes of the high nobility. In fact, they were the mark of a high noble family: Any family who could afford to build a keep and maintain a high-profile presence in Luthadel was considered to be a Great House.
Most of the open ground in the city was around these keeps. The patches of space amid the tenements were like clearings in a forest, the keeps themselves like solitary mounts rising above the rest of the landscape. Black mountains. Like the rest of the city, the keeps were stained by countless years of ashfalls.
Every structure in Luthadel—virtually every structure Kelsier had ever seen—had been blackened to some degree. Even the city wall, upon which Kelsier now stood, was blackened by a patina of soot. Structures were generally darkest at the top, where the ash gathered, but rainwaters and evening condensations had carried the stains over ledges and down walls. Like paint running down a canvas, the darkness seemed to creep down the sides of buildings in an uneven gradient.
The streets, of course, were completely black. Kelsier stood waiting, scanning the city as a group of skaa workers worked in the street below, clearing away the latest mounds of ash. They’d take it to the River Channerel, which ran through the center of the city, sending the piles of ash to be washed away, lest it pile up and eventually bury the city. Sometimes, Kelsier wondered why the entire empire wasn’t just one big mound of ash. He supposed the ash must break down into soil eventually. Yet, it took a ridiculous amount of effort to keep cities and fields clear enough to be used.
Fortunately, there were always enough skaa to do the work. The workers below him wore simple coats and trousers, ash-stained and worn. Like the plantation workers he had left behind several weeks before, they worked with beaten-down, despondent motions. Other groups of skaa passed the workers, responding to the bells in the distance, chiming the hour and calling them to their morning’s work at the forges or mills. Luthadel’s main export was metal; the city was home to hundreds of forges and refineries. However, the surgings of the river provided excellent locations for mills, both to grind grains and make textiles.
The skaa continued to work. Kelsier turned away from them, looking up into the distance, toward the city center, where the Lord Ruler’s palace loomed like some kind of massive, multi-spined insect. Kredik Shaw, the Hill of a Thousand Spires. The palace was several times the size of any nobleman’s keep, and was by far the largest building in the city.
Another ashfall began as Kelsier stood contemplating the city, the flakes falling lightly down upon the streets and buildings. A lot of ashfalls, lately, he thought, glad for the excuse to pull up the hood on his cloak. The Ashmounts must be active.
It was unlikely that anyone in Luthadel would recognize him—it had been three years since his capture. Still, the hood was reassuring. If all went well, there would come a time when Kelsier would want to be seen and recognized. For now, anonymity was probably better.
Eventually, a figure approached along the wall. The man, Dockson, was shorter than Kelsier, and he had a squarish face that seemed well suited to his moderately stocky build. A nondescript brown hooded cloak covered his black hair, and he wore the same short half beard that he’d sported since his face had first put forth whiskers some twenty years before.
He, like Kelsier, wore a nobleman’s suit: colored vest, dark coat and trousers, and a thin cloak to keep off the ash. The clothing wasn’t rich, but it was aristocratic—indicative of the Luthadel middle class. Most men of noble birth weren’t wealthy enough to be considered part of a Great House—yet, in the Final Empire, nobility wasn’t just about money. It was about lineage and history; the Lord Ruler was immortal, and he apparently still remembered the men who had supported him during the early years of his reign. The descendants of those men, no matter how poor they became, would always be favored.
The clothing would keep passing guard patrols from asking too many questions. In the cases of Kelsier and Dockson, of course, that clothing was a lie. Neither was actually noble—though, technically, Kelsier was a half-blood. In many ways, however, that was worse than being just a normal skaa.
Dockson strolled up next to Kelsier, then leaned against the battlement, resting a pair of stout arms on the stone. “You’re a few days late, Kell.”
“I decided to make a few extra stops in the plantations to the north.”
“Ah,” Dockson said. “So you did have something to do with Lord Tresting’s death.”
Kelsier smiled. “You could say that.”
“His murder caused quite a stir among the local nobility.”
“That was kind of the intention,” Kelsier said. “Though, to be honest, I wasn’t planning anything quite so dramatic. It was almost more of an accident than anything else.”
Dockson raised an eyebrow. “How do you ‘accidentally’ kill a nobleman in his own mansion?”
“With a knife in the chest,” Kelsier said lightly. “Or, rather, a pair of knives in the chest—it always pays to be careful.”
Dockson rolled his eyes.
“His death isn’t exactly a loss, Dox,” Kelsier said. “Even among the nobility, Tresting had a reputation for cruelty.”
“I don’t care about Tresting,” Dockson said. “I’m just considering the state of insanity that led me to plan another job with you. Attacking a provincial lord in his manor house, surrounded by guards…Honestly, Kell, I’d nearly forgotten how foolhardy you can be.”
“Foolhardy?” Kelsier asked with a laugh. “That wasn’t foolhardy—that was just a small diversion. You should see some of the things I’m planning to do!”
Dockson stood for a moment, then he laughed too. “By the Lord Ruler, it’s good to have you back, Kell! I’m afraid I’ve grown rather boring during the last few years.”
“We’ll fix that,” Kelsier promised. He took a deep breath, ash falling lightly around him. Skaa cleaning crews were already back at work on the streets below, brushing up the dark ash. Behind, a guard patrol passed, nodding to Kelsier and Dockson. They waited in silence for the men to pass.
“It’s good to be back,” Kelsier finally said. “There’s something homey about Luthadel—even if it is a depressing, stark pit of a city. You have the meeting organized?”
Dockson nodded. “We can’t start until this evening, though. How’d you get in, anyway? I had men watching the gates.”
“Hmm? Oh, I snuck in last night.”
“But how—” Dockson paused. “Oh, right. That’s going to take some getting used to.”
Kelsier shrugged. “I don’t see why. You always work with Mistings.”
“Yes, but this is different,” Dockson said. He held up a hand to forestall further argument. “No need, Kell. I’m not hedging—I just said it would take some getting used to.”
“Fine. Who’s coming tonight?”
“Well, Breeze and Ham will be there, of course. They’re very curious about this mystery job of ours—not to mention rather annoyed that I won’t tell him what you’ve been up to these last few years.”
“Good,” Kelsier said with a smile. “Let them wonder. How about Trap?”
Dockson shook his head. “Trap’s dead. The Ministry finally caught up with him a couple months ago. Didn’t even bother sending him to the Pits—they beheaded him on the spot.”
Kelsier closed his eyes, exhaling softly. It seemed that the Steel Ministry caught up with everyone eventually. Sometimes, Kelsier felt that a skaa Misting’s life wasn’t so much about surviving as it was about picking the right time to die.
“This leaves us without a Smoker,” Kelsier finally said, opening his eyes. “You have any suggestions?”
“Ruddy,” Dockson said.
Kelsier shook his head. “No. He’s a good Smoker, but he’s not a good enough man.”
Dockson smiled. “Not a good enough man to be on a thieving crew…Kell, I have missed working with you. All right, who then?”
Kelsier thought for a moment. “Is Clubs still running that shop of his?”
“As far as I know,” Dockson said slowly.
“He’s supposed to be one of the best Smokers in the city.”
“I suppose,” Dockson said. “But…isn’t he supposed to be kind of hard to work with?”
“He’s not so bad,” Kelsier said. “Not once you get used to him. Besides, I think he might be…amenable to this particular job.”
“All right,” Dockson said, shrugging. “I’ll invite him. I think one of his relatives is a Tineye. Do you want me to invite him too?”
“Sounds good,” Kelsier said.
“All right,” Dockson said. “Well, beyond that, there’s just Yeden. Assuming he’s still interested…”
“He’ll be there,” Kelsier said.
“He’d better be,” Dockson said. “He’ll be the one paying us, after all.”
Kelsier nodded, then frowned. “You didn’t mention Marsh.”
Dockson shrugged. “I warned you. Your brother never did approve of our methods, and now…well, you know Marsh. He won’t even have anything to do with Yeden and the rebellion anymore, let alone with a bunch of criminals like us. I think we’ll have to find someone else to infiltrate the obligators.”
“No,” Kelsier said. “He’ll do it. I’ll just have to stop by to persuade him.”
“If you say so.” Dockson fell silent then, and the two stood for a moment, leaning against the railing and looking out over the ash-stained city.
Dockson finally shook his head. “This is insane, eh?”
Kelsier smiled. “Feels good, doesn’t it?”
Dockson nodded. “Fantastic.”
“It will be a job like no other,” Kelsier said, looking north—across the city and toward the twisted building at its center.
Dockson stepped away from the wall. “We have a few hours before the meeting. There’s something I want to show you. I think there’s still time—if we hurry.”
Kelsier turned with curious eyes. “Well, I was going to go and chastise my prude of a brother. But…”
“This will be worth your time,” Dockson promised.
Vin sat in the corner of the safe house’s main lair. She kept to the shadows, as usual; the more she stayed out of sight, the more the others would ignore her. She couldn’t afford to expend Luck keeping the men’s hands off of her. She’d barely had time to regenerate what she’d used a few days before, during the meeting with the obligator.
The usual rabble lounged at tables in the room, playing at dice or discussing minor jobs. Smoke from a dozen different pipes pooled at the top of the chamber, and the walls were stained dark from countless years of similar treatment. The floor was darkened with patches of ash. Like most thieving crews, Camon’s group wasn’t known for its tidiness.
There was a door at the back of the room, and beyond it lay a twisting stone stairway that led up to a false rain grate in an alleyway. This room, like so many others hidden in the imperial capital of Luthadel, wasn’t supposed to exist.
Rough laughter came from the front of the chamber, where Camon sat with a half-dozen cronies enjoying a typical afternoon of ale and crass jokes. Camon’s table sat beside the bar, where the overpriced drinks were simply another way Camon exploited those who worked for him. The Luthadel criminal element had learned quite well from the lessons taught by the nobility.
Vin tried her best to remain invisible. Six months before, she wouldn’t have believed that her life could actually get worse without Reen. Yet, despite her brother’s abusive anger, he had kept the other crewmembers from having their way with Vin. There were relatively few women on thieving crews; generally, those women who got involved with the underworld ended up as whores. Reen had always told her that a girl needed to be tough—tougher, even, than a man—if she wanted to survive.
You think some crewleader is going to want a liability like you on his team? he had said. I don’t even want to have to work with you, and I’m your brother.
Her back still throbbed; Camon had whipped her the day before. The blood would ruin her shirt, and she wouldn’t be able to afford another one. Camon was already retaining her wages to pay the debts Reen had left behind.
But, I am strong, she thought.
That was the irony. The beatings almost didn’t hurt anymore, for Reen’s frequent abuses had left Vin resilient, while at the same time teaching her how to look pathetic and broken. In a way, the beatings were self-defeating. Bruises and welts mended, but each new lashing left Vin more hardened. Stronger.
Camon stood up. He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out his golden pocket watch. He nodded to one of his companions, then he scanned the room, searching for…her.
His eyes locked on Vin. “It’s time.”
Vin frowned. Time for what?
The Ministry’s Canton of Finance was an imposing structure—but, then, everything about the Steel Ministry tended to be imposing.
Tall and blocky, the building had a massive rose window in the front, though the glass was dark from the outside. Two large banners hung down beside the window, the soot-stained red cloth proclaiming praises to the Lord Ruler.
Camon studied the building with a critical eye. Vin could sense his apprehension. The Canton of Finance was hardly the most threatening of Ministry offices—the Canton of Inquisition, or even the Canton of Orthodoxy, had a far more ominous reputation. However, voluntarily entering any Ministry office…putting yourself in the power of the obligators…well, it was a thing to do only after serious consideration.
Camon took a deep breath, then strode forward, his dueling cane tapping against the stones as he walked. He wore his rich nobleman’s suit, and he was accompanied by a half-dozen crewmembers—including Vin—to act as his “servants.”
Vin followed Camon up the steps, then waited as one of the crewmembers jumped forward to pull the door open for his “master.” Of the six attendants, only Vin seemed to have been told nothing of Camon’s plan. Suspiciously, Theron—Camon’s supposed partner in the Ministry scam—was nowhere to be seen.
Vin entered the Canton building. Vibrant red light, sparkled with lines of blue, fell from the rose window. A single obligator, with midlevel tattoos around his eyes, sat behind a desk at the end of the extended entryway.
Camon approached, his cane thumping against the carpet as he walked. “I am Lord Jedue,” he said.
What are you doing, Camon? Vin thought. You insisted to Theron that you wouldn’t meet with Prelan Laird in his Canton office. Yet, now you’re here.
The obligator nodded, making a notation in his ledger. He waved to the side. “You may take one attendant with you into the waiting chamber. The rest must remain here.”
Camon’s huff of disdain indicated what he thought of that prohibition. The obligator, however, didn’t look up from his ledger. Camon stood for a moment, and Vin couldn’t tell if he was genuinely angry or just playing the part of an arrogant nobleman. Finally, he jabbed a finger at Vin.
“Come,” he said, turning and waddling toward the indicated door.
The room beyond was lavish and plush, and several noblemen lounged in various postures of waiting. Camon chose a chair and settled into it, then pointed toward a table set with wine and red-frosted cakes. Vin obediently fetched him a glass of wine and a plate of food, ignoring her own hunger.
Camon began to pick hungrily at the cakes, smacking quietly as he ate.
He’s nervous. More nervous, even, than before.
“Once we get in, you will say nothing,” Camon grumbled between bites.
“You’re betraying Theron,” Vin whispered.
“But, how? Why?” Theron’s plan was complex in execution, but simple in concept. Every year, the Ministry transferred its new acolyte obligators from a northern training facility south to Luthadel for final instruction. Theron had discovered, however, that those acolytes and their overseers brought down with them large amounts of Ministry funds—disguised as baggage—to be strong-holded in Luthadel.
Banditry was very difficult in the Final Empire, what with the constant patrols along canal routes. However, if one were running the very canal boats that the acolytes were sailing upon, a robbery could become possible. Arranged at just the right time…the guards turning on their passengers…a man could make quite a profit, then blame it all on banditry.
“Theron’s crew is weak,” Camon said quietly. “He expended too many resources on this job.”
“But, the return he’ll make—” Vin said.
“Will never happen if I take what I can now, then run,” Camon said, smiling. “I’ll talk the obligators into a down payment to get my caravan boats afloat, then disappear and leave Theron to deal with the disaster when the Ministry realizes that it’s been scammed.”
Vin stood back, slightly shocked. Setting up a scam like this would have cost Theron thousands upon thousands of boxings—if the deal fell through now, he would be ruined. And, with the Ministry hunting him, he wouldn’t even have time to seek revenge. Camon would make a quick profit, as well as rid himself of one of his more powerful rivals.
Theron was a fool to bring Camon into this, she thought. But, then, the amount Theron had promised to pay Camon was great; he probably assumed that Camon’s greed would keep him honest until Theron himself could pull a double cross. Camon had simply worked faster than anyone, even Vin, had expected. How could Theron have known that Camon would undermine the job itself, rather than wait and try and steal the entire haul from the caravan boats?
Vin’s stomach twisted. It’s just another betrayal, she thought sickly. Why does it still bother me so? Everyone betrays everyone else. That’s the way life is….
She wanted to find a corner—someplace cramped and secluded—and hide. Alone.
Anyone will betray you. Anyone.
But there was no place to go. Eventually, a minor obligator entered and called for Lord Jedue. Vin followed Camon as they were ushered into an audience chamber.
The man who waited inside, sitting behind the audience desk, was not Prelan Laird.
Camon paused in the doorway. The room was austere, bearing only the desk and simple gray carpeting. The stone walls were unadorned, the only window barely a handspan wide. The obligator who waited for them had some of the most intricate tattoos around his eyes that Vin had ever seen. She wasn’t even certain what rank they implied, but they extended all the way back to the obligator’s ears and up over his forehead.
“Lord Jedue,” the strange obligator said. Like Laird, he wore gray robes, but he was very different from the stern, bureaucratic men Camon had dealt with before. This man was lean in a muscular way, and his clean-shaven, triangular head gave him an almost predatory look.
“I was under the impression that I would be meeting with Prelan Laird,” Camon said, still not moving into the room.
“Prelan Laird has been called away on other business. I am High Prelan Arriev—head of the board that was reviewing your proposal. You have a rare opportunity to address me directly. I normally don’t hear cases in person, but Laird’s absence has made it necessary for me to share in some of his work.”
Vin’s instincts made her tense. We should go. Now.
Camon stood for a long moment, and Vin could see him considering. Run now? Or, take a risk for the greater prize? Vin didn’t care about prizes; she just wanted to live. Camon, however, had not become crewleader without the occasional gamble. He slowly moved into the room, eyes cautious as he took the seat opposite the obligator.
“Well, High Prelan Arriev,” Camon said with a careful voice. “I assume that since I have been called back for another appointment, the board is considering my offer?”
“Indeed we are,” the obligator said. “Though I must admit, there are some Council members who are apprehensive about dealing with a family that is so near to economic disaster. The Ministry generally prefers to be conservative in its financial operations.”
“But,” Arriev said, “there are others on the board who are quite eager to take advantage of the savings you offered us.”
“And with which group do you identify, Your Grace?”
“I, as of yet, have not made my decision.” The obligator leaned forward. “Which is why I noted that you have a rare opportunity. Convince me, Lord Jedue, and you will have your contract.”
“Surely Prelan Laird outlined the details of our offer,” Camon said.
“Yes, but I would like to hear the arguments from you personally. Humor me.”
Vin frowned. She remained near the back of the room, standing near the door, still half convinced she should run.
“Well?” Arriev asked.
“We need this contract, Your Grace,” Camon said. “Without it we won’t be able to continue our canal shipping operations. Your contract would give us a much needed period of stability—a chance to maintain our caravan boats for a time while we search for other contracts.”
Arriev studied Camon for a moment. “Surely you can do better than that, Lord Jedue. Laird said that you were very persuasive—let me hear you prove that you deserve our patronage.”
Vin prepared her Luck. She could make Arriev more inclined to believe…but something restrained her. The situation felt wrong.
“We are your best choice, Your Grace,” Camon said. “You fear that my house will suffer economic failure? Well, if it does, what have you lost? At worst, my narrowboats would stop running, and you would have to find other merchants to deal with. Yet, if your patronage is enough to maintain my house, then you have found yourself an enviable long-term contract.”
“I see,” Arriev said lightly. “And why the Ministry? Why not make your deal with someone else? Surely there are other options for your boats—other groups who would jump at such rates.”
Camon frowned. “This isn’t about money, Your Grace, it is about the victory—the showing of confidence—that we would gain by having a Ministry contract. If you trust us, others will too. I need your support.” Camon was sweating now. He was probably beginning to regret this gamble. Had he been betrayed? Was Theron behind the odd meeting?
The obligator waited quietly. He could destroy them, Vin knew. If he even suspected that they were scamming him, he could give them over to the Canton of Inquisition. More than one nobleman had entered a Canton building and never returned.
Gritting her teeth, Vin reached out and used her Luck on the obligator, making him less suspicious.
Arriev smiled. “Well, you have convinced me,” he suddenly declared.
Camon sighed in relief.
Arriev continued, “Your most recent letter suggested that you need three thousand boxings as an advance to refurbish your equipment and resume shipping operations. See the scribe in the main hallway to finish the paperwork so that you may requisition the necessary funds.”
The obligator pulled a sheet of thick bureaucratic paper from a stack, then stamped a seal at the bottom. He proffered it to Camon. “Your contract.”
Camon smiled deeply. “I knew coming to the Ministry was the wise choice,” he said, accepting the contract. He stood, nodding respectfully to the obligator, then motioned for Vin to open the door for him.
She did so. Something is wrong. Something is very wrong. She paused as Camon left, looking back at the obligator. He was still smiling.
A happy obligator was always a bad sign.
Yet, no one stopped them as they passed through the waiting room with its noble occupants. Camon sealed and delivered the contract to the appropriate scribe, and no soldiers appeared to arrest them. The scribe pulled out a small chest filled with coins, and then handed it to Camon with an indifferent hand.
Then, they simply left the Canton building, Camon gathering his other attendants with obvious relief. No cries of alarm. No tromping of soldiers. They were free. Camon had successfully scammed both the Ministry and another crewleader.
Kelsier stuffed another one of the little red-frosted cakes into his mouth, chewing with satisfaction. The fat thief and his scrawny attendant passed through the waiting room, entering the entryway beyond. The obligator who had interviewed the two thieves remained in his office, apparently awaiting his next appointment
“Well?” Dockson asked. “What do you think?”
Kelsier glanced at the cakes. “They’re quite good,” he said, taking another one. “The Ministry has always had excellent taste—it makes sense that they would provide superior snacks.”
Dockson rolled his eyes. “About the girl, Kell.”
Kelsier smiled as he piled four of the cakes in his hand, then nodded toward the doorway. The Canton waiting room was growing too busy for the discussion of delicate matters. On the way out, he paused and told the obligator secretary in the corner that they needed to reschedule.
Then the two crossed through the entry chamber—passing the overweight crewleader, who stood speaking with a scribe. Kelsier stepped out onto the street, pulled his hood up against the still falling ash, then led the way across the street. He paused beside an alleyway, standing where he and Dockson could watch the Canton building’s doors.
Kelsier munched contentedly on his cakes. “How’d you find out about her?” he asked between bites.
“Your brother,” Dockson replied. “Camon tried to swindle Marsh a few months ago, and he brought the girl with him then, too. Actually, Camon’s little good-luck charm is becoming moderately famous in the right circles. I’m still not sure if he knows what she is or not. You know how superstitious thieves can get.”
Kelsier nodded, dusting off his hands. “How’d you know she’d be here today?”
Dockson shrugged. “A few bribes in the right place. I’ve been keeping an eye on the girl ever since Marsh pointed her out to me. I wanted to give you an opportunity to see her work for yourself.”
Across the street, the Canton building’s door finally opened, and Camon made his way down the steps surrounded by a group of “servants.” The small, short-haired girl was with him. The sight of her made Kelsier frown. She had a nervous anxiety to her step, and she jumped slightly whenever someone made a quick move. The right side of her face was still slightly discolored from a partially healed bruise.
Kelsier eyed the self-important Camon. I’ll have to come up with something particularly suitable to do to that man.
“Poor thing,” Dockson muttered.
Kelsier nodded. “She’ll be free of him soon enough. It’s a wonder no one discovered her before this.”
“Your brother was right then?”
Kelsier nodded. “She’s at least a Misting, and if Marsh says she’s more, I’m inclined to believe him. I’m a bit surprised to see her using Allomancy on a member of the Ministry, especially inside a Canton building. I’d guess that she doesn’t know that she’s even using her abilities.”
“Is that possible?” Dockson asked.
Kelsier nodded. “Trace minerals in the water can be burned, if just for a tiny bit of power. That’s one of the reasons the Lord Ruler built his city here—lots of metals in the ground. I’d say that…”
Kelsier trailed off, frowning slightly. Something was wrong. He glanced toward Camon and his crew. They were still visible in the near distance, crossing the street and heading south.
A figure appeared in the Canton building’s doorway. Lean with a confident air, he bore the tattoos of a high prelan of the Canton of Finance around his eyes. Probably the very man Camon had met with shortly before. The obligator stepped out of the building, and a second man exited behind him.
Beside Kelsier, Dockson suddenly grew stiff.
The second man was tall with a strong build. As he turned, Kelsier was able to see that a thick metal spike had been pounded tip-first through each of the man’s eyes. With shafts as wide as an eye socket, the nail-like spikes were long enough that their sharp points jutted out about an inch from the back of the man’s clean-shaven skull. The flat spike ends shone like two silvery disks, sticking out of the sockets in the front, where the eyes should have been.
A Steel Inquisitor.
“What’s that doing here?” Dockson asked.
“Stay calm,” Kelsier said, trying to force himself to do the same. The Inquisitor looked toward them, spiked eyes regarding Kelsier, before turning in the direction that Camon and the girl had gone. Like all Inquisitors, he wore intricate eye tattoos—mostly black, with one stark red line—that marked him as a high-ranking member of the Canton of Inquisition.
“He’s not here for us,” Kelsier said. “I’m not burning anything—he’ll think that we’re just ordinary noblemen.”
“The girl,” Dockson said.
Kelsier nodded. “You say Camon’s been running this scam on the Ministry for a while. Well, the girl must have been detected by one of the obligators. They’re trained to recognize when an Allomancer tampers with their emotions.”
Dockson frowned thoughtfully. Across the street, the Inquisitor conferred with the other obligator, then the two of them turned to walk in the direction that Camon had gone. There was no urgency to their pace.
“They must have sent a tail to follow them,” Dockson said.
“This is the Ministry,” Kelsier said. “There’ll be two tails, at least.”
Dockson nodded. “Camon will lead them directly back to his safe house. Dozens of men will die. They’re not all the most admirable people, but…”
“They fight the Final Empire, in their own way,” Kelsier said. “Besides, I’m not about to let a possible Mistborn slip away from us—I want to talk to that girl. Can you deal with those tails?”
“I said I’d become boring, Kell,” Dockson said. “Not sloppy. I can handle a couple of Ministry flunkies.”
“Good,” Kelsier said, reaching into his cloak pocket and pulling out a small vial. A collection of metal flakes floated in an alcohol solution within. Iron, steel, tin, pewter, copper, bronze, zinc, and brass—the eight basic Allomantic metals. Kelsier pulled off the stopper and downed the contents in a single swift gulp.
He pocketed the now empty vial, wiping his mouth. “I’ll handle that Inquisitor.”
Dockson looked apprehensive. “You’re going to try and take him?”
Kelsier shook his head. “Too dangerous. I’ll just divert him. Now, get going—we don’t want those tails finding the safe house.”
Dockson nodded. “Meet back at the fifteenth crossroad,” he said before taking off down the alley and disappearing around a corner.
Kelsier gave his friend a count of ten before reaching within himself and burning his metals. His body came awash with strength, clarity, and power.
Kelsier smiled; then—burning zinc—he reached out and yanked firmly on the Inquisitor’s emotions. The creature froze in place, then spun, looking back toward the Canton building.
Let’s have a chase now, you and I, Kelsier thought.
We arrived in Terris earlier this week, and, I have to say, I find the countryside beautiful. The great mountains to the north—with their bald snowcaps and forested mantles—stand like watchful gods over this land of green fertility. My own lands to the south are mostly flat; I think that they might look less dreary if there were a few mountains to vary the terrain.
The people here are mostly herdsmen—though timber harvesters and farmers are not uncommon. It is a pastoral land, certainly. It seems odd that a place so remarkably agrarian could have produced the prophecies and theologies upon which the entire world now relies.
CAMON COUNTED HIS COINS, DROPPING THE golden boxings one by one into the small chest on his table. He still looked a bit stunned, as well he should have. Three thousand boxings was a fabulous amount of money—far more than Camon would earn in even a very good year. His closest cronies sat at the table with him, ale—and laughter—flowing freely.
Vin sat in her corner, trying to understand her feelings of dread. Three thousand boxings. The Ministry should never have let such a sum go so quickly. Prelan Arriev had seemed too cunning to be fooled with ease.
Camon dropped another coin into the chest. Vin couldn’t decide if he was being foolish or clever by making such a display of wealth. Underworld crews worked under a strict agreement: Everyone received a cut of earnings in proportion to their status in the group. While it was sometimes tempting to kill the crewleader and take his money for yourself, a successful leader created more wealth for everyone. Kill him prematurely, and you would cut off future earnings—not to mention earn the wrath of the other crewmembers.
Still, three thousand boxings…that would be enough to tempt even the most logical thief. It was all wrong.
I have to get out of here, Vin decided. Get away from Camon, and the lair, in case something happens.
And yet…leave? By herself? She’d never been alone before; she’d always had Reen. He’d been the one to lead her from city to city, joining different thieving crews. She loved solitude. But the thought of being by herself, out in the city, horrified her. That was why she’d never run away from Reen; that was why she’d stayed with Camon.
She couldn’t go. But she had to. She looked up from her corner, scanning the room. There weren’t many people in the crew for whom she felt any sort of attachment. Yet, there were a couple that she would be sorry to see hurt, should the obligators actually move against the crew. A few men who hadn’t tried to abuse her, or—in very rare cases—who had actually shown her some measure of kindness.
Ulef was at the top of that list. He wasn’t a friend, but he was the closest thing she had now that Reen was gone. If he would go with her, then at least she wouldn’t be alone. Cautiously, Vin stood and moved along the side of the room to where Ulef sat drinking with some of the other younger crewmembers.
She tugged on Ulef’s sleeve. He turned toward her, only slightly drunk. “Vin?”
“Ulef,” she whispered. “We need to go.”
He frowned. “Go? Go where?”
“Away,” Vin whispered. “Out of here.”
Vin nodded urgently.
Ulef glanced back at his friends, who were chuckling among themselves, shooting suggestive looks at Vin and Ulef.
Ulef flushed. “You want to go somewhere, just you and I?”
“Not like that,” Vin said. “Just…I need to leave the lair. And I don’t want to be alone.”
Ulef frowned. He leaned closer, a slight stink of ale on his breath. “What is this about, Vin?” he asked quietly.
Vin paused. “I…think something might happen, Ulef,” she whispered. “Something with the obligators. I just don’t want to be in the lair right now.”
Ulef sat quietly for a moment. “All right,” he finally said. “How long will this take?”
“I don’t know,” Vin said. “Until evening, at least. But we have to go. Now.”
He nodded slowly.
“Wait here for a moment,” Vin whispered, turning. She shot a glance at Camon, who was laughing at one of his own jokes. Then she quietly moved through the ash-stained, smoky chamber into the lair’s back room.
The crew’s general sleeping quarters consisted of a simple, elongated corridor lined with bedrolls. It was crowded and uncomfortable, but it was far better than the cold alleyways she’d slept in during her years traveling with Reen.
Alleyways that I might have to get used to again, she thought. She had survived them before. She could do so again.
She moved to her pallet, the muffled sounds of men laughing and drinking sounding from the other room. Vin knelt down, regarding her few possessions. If something did happen to the crew, she wouldn’t be able to come back to the lair. Ever. But, she couldn’t take the bedroll with her now—it was far too obvious. That left only the small box that contained her personal effects: a pebble from each city she’d visited, the earring Reen said Vin’s mother had given her, and a bit of obsidian the size of a large coin. It was chipped into an irregular pattern—Reen had carried it as some kind of good luck charm. It was the only thing he’d left behind when he’d snuck away from the crew half a year before. Abandoning her.
Just like he always said he would, Vin told herself sternly. I never thought he’d actually go—and that’s exactly why he had to leave.
She gripped the bit of obsidian in her hand and pocketed the pebbles. The earring she put in her ear—it was a very simple thing. Little more than a stud, not even worth stealing, which was why she didn’t fear leaving it in the back room. Still, Vin had rarely worn it, for fear that the ornamentation would make her look more feminine.
She had no money, but Reen had taught her how to scavenge and beg. Both were difficult in the Final Empire, especially in Luthadel, but she would find a way, if she had to.
Vin left her box and bedroll, slipping back out into the common room. Maybe she was overreacting; perhaps nothing would happen to the crew. But, if it did…well, if there was one thing Reen had taught her, it was how to protect her neck. Bringing Ulef was a good idea. He had contacts in Luthadel. If something happened to Camon’s crew, Ulef could probably get her and him jobs on—
Vin froze just inside the main room. Ulef wasn’t at the table where she had left him. Instead, he stood furtively near the front of the room. Near the bar. Near…Camon.
“What is this!” Camon stood, his face red as sunlight. He pushed his stool out of the way, then lurched toward her, half drunk. “Running away? Off to betray me to the Ministry, are you!”
Vin dashed toward the stairwell door, desperately scrambling around tables and past crewmembers.
Camon’s hurled wooden stool hit her square in the back, throwing her to the ground. Pain flared between her shoulders; several crewmembers cried out as the stool bounced off of her and thumped against the floorboards nearby.
Vin lay in a daze. Then…something within her—something she knew of but didn’t understand—gave her strength. Her head stopped swimming, her pain becoming a focus. She climbed awkwardly to her feet.
Camon was there. He backhanded her even as she stood. Her head snapped to the side from the blow, twisting her neck so painfully that she barely felt herself hit the floor again.
Camon bent over, grabbing her by the front of her shirt and pulling her up, raising his fist. Vin didn’t pause to think or to speak; there was only one thing to do. She used up all of her Luck in a single furious effort, pushing against Camon, calming his fury.
Camon teetered. For a moment, his eyes softened. He lowered her slightly.
Then the anger returned to his eyes. Hard. Terrifying.
“Damn wench,” Camon muttered, grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her. “That backstabbing brother of yours never respected me, and you’re the same. I was too easy on you both. Should have…”
Vin tried to twist free, but Camon’s grip was firm. She searched desperately for aid from the other crewmembers—however, she knew what she would find. Indifference. They turned away, their faces embarrassed but not concerned. Ulef still stood near Camon’s table, looking down guiltily.
In her mind, she thought she heard a voice whispering to her. Reen’s voice. Fool! Ruthlessness—it’s the most logical of emotions. You don’t have any friends in the underworld. You’ll never have any friends in the underworld!
She renewed her struggles, but Camon hit her again, knocking her to the ground. The blow stunned her, and she gasped, breath knocked from her lungs.
Just endure, she thought, mind muddled. He won’t kill me. He needs me.
Yet, as she turned weakly, she saw Camon looming above her in the caliginous room, drunken fury showing in his face. She knew this time would be different; it would be no simple beating. He thought that she intended to betray him to the Ministry. He wasn’t in control.
There was murder in his eyes.
Please! Vin thought with desperation, reaching for her Luck, trying to make it work. There was no response. Luck, such as it was, had failed her.
Camon bent down, muttering to himself as he grabbed her by the shoulder. He raised an arm—his meaty hand forming another fist, his muscles tensing, an angry bead of sweat slipping off his chin and hitting her on the cheek.
A few feet away, the stairwell door shook, then burst open. Camon paused, arm upraised as he glared toward the door and whatever unfortunate crewmember had chosen such an inopportune moment to return to the lair.
Vin seized the distraction. Ignoring the newcomer, she tried to shake herself free from Camon’s grip, but she was too weak. Her face blazed from where he’d hit her, and she tasted blood on her lip. Her shoulder had been twisted awkwardly, and her side ached from where she’d fallen. She clawed at Camon’s hand, but she suddenly felt weak, her inner strength failing her just as her Luck had. Her pains suddenly seemed greater, more daunting, more…demanding.
She turned toward the door desperately. She was close—painfully close. She had nearly escaped. Just a little farther…
Then she saw the man standing quietly in the stairwell doorway. He was unfamiliar to her. Tall and hawk-faced, he had light blond hair and wore a relaxed nobleman’s suit, his cloak hanging free. He was, perhaps, in his mid-thirties. He wore no hat, nor did he carry a dueling cane.
And he looked very, very angry.
“What is this?” Camon demanded. “Who are you?”
How did he get by the scouts…? Vin thought, struggling to get her wits back. Pain. She could deal with pain. The obligators…did they send him?
The newcomer looked down at Vin, and his expression softened slightly. Then he looked up at Camon and his eyes grew dark.
Camon’s angry demands were cut off as he was thrown backward as if had been punched by a powerful force. His arm was ripped free from Vin’s shoulder, and he toppled to the ground, causing the floorboards to shake.
The room fell quiet.
Have to get away, Vin thought, forcing herself up to her knees. Camon groaned in pain from a few feet away, and Vin crawled away from him, slipping beneath an unoccupied table. The lair had a hidden exit, a trapdoor beside the far back wall. If she could crawl to it—
Suddenly, Vin felt an overwhelming peace. The emotion slammed into her like a sudden weight, her emotions squished silent, as if crushed by a forceful hand. Her fear puffed out like an extinguished candle, and even her pain seemed unimportant.
She slowed, wondering why she had been so worried. She stood up, pausing as she faced the trapdoor. She breathed heavily, still a little dazed.
Camon just tried to kill me! the logical part of her mind warned. And someone else is attacking the lair. I have to get away! However, her emotions didn’t match the logic. She felt…serene. Unworried. And more than a little bit curious.
Someone had just used Luck on her.
She recognized it somehow, even though she’d never felt it upon her before. She paused beside the table, one hand on the wood, then slowly turned around. The newcomer still stood in the stairwell doorway. He studied her with a critical eye, then smiled in a disarming sort of way.
What is going on?
The newcomer finally stepped into the room. The rest of Camon’s crew remained sitting at their tables. They looked surprised, but oddly unworried.
He’s using Luck on them all. But…how can he do it to so many at once? Vin had never been able to store up enough Luck to do more than give the occasional, brief push.
As the newcomer entered the room, Vin could finally see that a second person stood in the stairwell behind him. This second man was less imposing. He was shorter, with a dark half beard and close-cropped straight hair. He also wore a nobleman’s suit, though his was less sharply tailored.
On the other side of the room, Camon groaned and sat up, holding his head. He glanced at the newcomers. “Master Dockson! Why, uh, well, this is a surprise!”
“Indeed,” said the shorter man—Dockson. Vin frowned, realizing she sensed a slight familiarity to these men. She recognized them from somewhere.
The Canton of Finance. They were sitting in the waiting room when Camon and I left.
Camon climbed to his feet, studying the blond newcomer. Camon looked down at the man’s hands, both of which were lined with strange, overlapping scars. “By the Lord Ruler…” Camon whispered. “The Survivor of Hathsin!”
Vin frowned. The title was unfamiliar to her. Should she know this man? Her wounds still throbbed despite the peace she felt, and her head was dizzy. She leaned on the table for support, but did not sit.
Whoever this newcomer was, Camon obviously thought him important. “Why, Master Kelsier!” Camon sputtered. “This is a rare honor!”
The newcomer—Kelsier—shook his head. “You know, I’m not really interested in listening to you.”
Camon let out an “urk” of pain as he was thrown backward again. Kelsier made no obvious gesture to perform the feat. Yet, Camon collapsed to the ground, as if shoved by some unseen force.
Camon fell quiet, and Kelsier scanned the room. “The rest of you know who I am?”
Many of the crewmembers nodded.
“Good. I’ve come to your lair because you, my friends, owe me a great debt.”
The room was silent save for Camon’s groans. Finally, one of the crewmen spoke. “We…do, Master Kelsier?”
“Indeed you do. You see, Master Dockson and I just saved your lives. Your rather incompetent crewleader left the Ministry’s Canton of Finance about an hour ago, returning directly to this safe house. He was followed by two Ministry scouts, one high-ranking prelan…and a single Steel Inquisitor.”
No one spoke.
Oh, Lord… Vin thought. She’d been right—she just hadn’t been fast enough. If there was an Inquisitor—
“I dealt with the Inquisitor,” Kelsier said. He paused, letting the implication hang in the air. What kind of person could so lightly claim to have “dealt” with an Inquisitor? Rumors said the creatures were immortal, that they could see a man’s soul, and that they were unmatched warriors.
“I require payment for services rendered,” Kelsier said.
Camon didn’t get up this time; he had fallen hard, and he was obviously disoriented. The room remained still. Finally, Milev—the dark-skinned man who was Camon’s second—scooped up the coffer of Ministry boxings and dashed forward with it. He proffered it to Kelsier.
“The money Camon got from the Ministry,” Milev explained. “Three thousand boxings.”
Milev is so eager to please him, Vin thought. This is more than just Luck—either that, or it’s some sort of Luck I’ve never been able to use.
Kelsier paused, then accepted the coin chest. “And you are?”
“Milev, Master Kelsier.”
“Well, Crewleader Milev, I will consider this payment satisfactory—assuming you do one other thing for me.”
Milev paused. “What would that be?”
Kelsier nodded toward the near-unconscious Camon. “Deal with him.”
“Of course,” Milev said.
“I want him to live, Milev,” Kelsier said, holding up a finger. “But I don’t want him to enjoy it.”
Milev nodded. “We’ll make him a beggar. The Lord Ruler disapproves of the profession—Camon won’t have an easy time of it here in Luthadel.”
And Milev will dispose of him anyway as soon as he thinks this Kelsier isn’t paying attention.
“Good,” Kelsier said. Then he opened the coin chest and began counting out some golden boxings. “You’re a resourceful man, Milev. Quick on your feet, and not as easily intimidated as the others.”
“I’ve had dealings with Mistings before, Master Kelsier,” Milev said.
Kelsier nodded. “Dox,” he said, addressing his companion, “where were we going to have our meeting tonight?”
“I was thinking that we should use Clubs’s shop,” said the second man.
“Hardly a neutral location,” Kelsier said. “Especially if he decides not to join us.”
Kelsier looked to Milev. “I’m planning a job in this area. It would be useful to have the support of some locals.” He held out a pile of what looked like a hundred boxings. “We’ll require use of your safe house for the evening. This can be arranged?”
“Of course,” Milev said, taking the coins eagerly.
“Good,” Kelsier said. “Now, get out.”
“Out?” Milev asked hesitantly.
“Yes,” Kelsier said. “Take your men—including your former leader—and leave. I want to have a private conversation with Mistress Vin.”
The room grew silent again, and Vin knew she wasn’t the only one wondering how Kelsier knew her name.
“Well, you heard him!” Milev snapped. He waved for a group of thugs to go grab Camon, then he shooed the rest of the crewmembers up the stairs. Vin watched them go, growing apprehensive. This Kelsier was a powerful man, and instinct told her that powerful men were dangerous. Did he know of her Luck? Obviously; what other reason would he have for singling her out?
How is this Kelsier going to try and use me? she thought, rubbing her arm where she’d hit the floor.
“By the way, Milev,” Kelsier said idly. “When I say ‘private,’ I mean that I don’t want to be spied on by the four men watching us through peek-holes behind the far wall. Kindly take them up into the alley with you.”
Milev paled. “Of course, Master Kelsier.”
“Good. And, in the alleyway you’ll the find the two dead Ministry spies. Kindly dispose of the corpses for us.”
Milev nodded, turning.
“And Milev,” Kelsier added.
Milev turned back again.
“See that none of your men betray us,” Kelsier said quietly. And Vin felt it again—a renewed pressure on her emotions. “This crew already has the eye of the Steel Ministry—do not make an enemy of me as well.”
Milev nodded sharply, then disappeared into the stairwell, pulling the door closed behind him. A few moments later, Vin heard footsteps from the peek room; then all was still. She was alone with a man who was—for some reason—so singularly impressive that he could intimidate an entire room full of cutthroats and thieves.
She eyed the bolt door