Introduction: The following is a chapter from Brandon Sanderson’s novel MISTBORN: THE HERO OF AGES. This is the third and final book of the trilogy, so if you haven’t read any previous volumes, you may want to start here instead. Find more about the Mistborn books at the Mistborn Trilogy portal here on Brandon’s website. THE HERO OF AGES will be out in hardcover October 14th, 2008.
In some ways, having such power was too overwhelming, I think. This was a power that would take millennia to understand. Remaking the world would have been easy, had one been familiar with the power. Yet, I realized the danger inherent in my ignorance. Like a child suddenly given awesome strength, I could have pushed too hard, and left the world a broken toy I could never repair.
Elend Venture, second emperor of the Final Empire, had not been born a warrior. He’d been born a nobleman—which, in the Lord Ruler’s day, had essentially made Elend a professional socialite. He’d spent his youth learning to play the frivolous games of the Great Houses, living the pampered lifestyle of the imperial elite.
It wasn’t odd for him to have ended up a politician. He’d always been interested in political theory, and while he’d been more a scholar than a true statesman, he’d known that someday he’d rule his house. Yet, he hadn’t made a very good king at first. He hadn’t understood that there was more to leadership than good ideas and honest intentions. Far more.
I doubt you will ever be the type of leader who can lead a charge against the enemy, Elend Venture.The words had been spoken by Tindwyl—the woman who’d trained him in practical politics. Remembering those words made Elend smile as his soldiers crashed into the koloss camp.
Elend flared pewter. A warm sensation—now familiar to him—burst to life in his chest, and his muscles became taut with extra strength and energy. He’d swallowed the metal earlier, so that he could draw upon its powers for the battle. He was an Allomancer. That still awed him sometimes.
As he’d predicted, the koloss were surprised by the attack. They stood motionless for a few moments, shocked—even though they must have seen Elend’s newly-recruited army as it charged. Koloss had trouble dealing with the unexpected. They found it hard to comprehend a group of weak, out-numbered humans attacking their camp. So, it took them time to adjust.
Elend’s army made good use of that time. Elend himself struck first, flaring his pewter to give himself added power as he cut down the first koloss. It was a smaller beast. Like all of its kind, it was human-like in form, though it had oversized, drooping blue skin that seemed detached to the rest of its body. Its beady red eyes showed a bit of inhuman surprise as it died, Elend yanking his sword from its chest.
“Strike quickly!” he yelled as more koloss turned from their firepits. “Kill as many as you can before they frenzy!”
His soldiers—terrified, but committed—charged in around him, overrunning the first few groups of koloss. The ‘camp’ was little more than a place where the koloss had tromped down ash and the plants beneath, then dug firepits. Elend could see his men growing more confident at their initial success, and he encouraged them by Pulling on their emotions with Allomancy, making them braver. He was more comfortable with this form of Allomancy—he still hadn’t quite gotten the hang of leaping about with metals the way Vin did. Emotions, however—those he understood.
Fatren, the city’s burly leader, stuck near Elend as he led a group of soldiers toward a large pack of koloss. Elend kept an eye on the man. Fatren was the ruler of this small city; if he died, it would be a blow to morale. Together, they rushed a small group of surprised koloss. The largest beast in that group was some eleven feet tall. Like all large koloss, this creature’s skin—once loose—was now pulled tight around its oversized body. Koloss never stopped growing, but their skin always remained the same size. On the younger creatures, it hung loose and folded. On the big ones, it stretched and ripped.
Elend burned steel, then threw a handful of coins into the air in front of him. He Pushed on the coins, throwing his weight against them, spraying them at the koloss. The beasts were too tough to fall to simple coins with any reliability, but the bits of metal would injure and weaken them.
As the coins flew, Elend charged the large koloss. The beast pulled a huge sword off its back, and it seemed elated at the prospect of a fight.
The koloss swung first, and it had an awesome reach. Elend had to jump backward—pewter making him more nimble. Koloss swords were massive, brutish things—so blunt they were almost clubs. The force of the blow shook the air; Elend wouldn’t have had a chance to turn the blade aside, even with pewter helping him. In addition, the sword—or, more accurately, the koloss holding it—weighed so much that Elend wouldn’t be able to us Allomancy to Push it out of the creature’s hands. Pushing with steel was all about weight and force. If Elend Pushed on something heavier than himself, he’d be thrown backward.
So, Elend had to rely on the extra speed and dexterity of pewter. He threw himself out of his dodge, dashing to the side, watching for a backhand. The creature turned, silent, eying Elend, but didn’t strike. It hadn’t quite frenzied yet.
Elend stared down his oversized enemy. How did I get here? he thought, not for the first time. I’m a scholar, not a warrior. Half the time he thought he had no business leading men at all.
The other half of the time, he figured that he thought about things too much. He ducked forward, striking. The koloss anticipated the move, and tried to bring its weapon down on Elend’s head. Elend, however, reached out and Pulled on the sword of another koloss—throwing that creature off balance and allowing two of Elend’s men to slay it, and also Pulling Elend himself to the side. He just barely got out of the way of his opponent’s weapon. Then, as he spun in the air, he flared pewter and struck from the side.
He sheered completely through the beast’s leg at the knee, toppling it to the ground. Vin always said that Elend’s Allomantic power was unusually strong. Elend wasn’t certain about that—he didn’t have much experience with Allomancy—but the force of his own swing did send him stumbling. He managed to regain his footing, however, and then took off the creature’s head.
Several of the soldiers were staring at him. His white uniform was now sprayed with bright red koloss blood. It wasn’t the first time. Elend took a deep breath as he heard inhuman screams sounding through the camp. The frenzy was beginning.
“Form up!” Elend shouted. “Make lines, stay together, prepare for the assault!”
The soldiers responded slowly. They were far less disciplined than the troops Elend was accustomed to, but they did an admirable job of bunching up at his command. Elend glanced across the ground before them. They’d managed to take down several hundred koloss—a fairly amazing feat.
The easy part, however, was over.
“Stay firm!” Elend yelled, running down in front of the soldier line. “But keep fighting! We need to kill as many of them as quickly as possible! Everything depends on this! Give them your fury, men!”
He burned brass and Pushed on their emotions, Soothing away their fear. An Allomancer couldn’t control minds—not human minds, at least—but he could encourage some emotions while discouraging others. Again, Vin said that Elend was able to affect far more people than should have been possible. Elend had gained his powers recently, directly from a place he now suspected was the original source of Allomancy.
Under the influence of the Soothing, his soldiers stood up straight. Again, Elend felt a healthy respect for these simple skaa. He was giving them bravery and taking away some of their fear, but the determination was their own. These were good people.
With luck, he’d be able save some of them.
The koloss attacked. As he’d hoped, a large group of the creatures broke away from the main camp and charged toward the village. Some of the soldiers cried out, but they were too busy defending themselves to follow. Elend threw himself into the fray whenever the line wobbled, shoring up the weak point. As he did so, he burned brass and tried to Push on the emotions of a nearby koloss.
Nothing happened. The creatures were resistant to emotional Allomancy, particularly when they were already being manipulated by someone else. However, when he did break through, he could take complete control of them. That, however, required time, luck, and a determination to fight tirelessly.
And so, he did. He fought alongside the men, watching them die, killing koloss as his line bent at the edges, forming a half circle to keep his troops from being surrounded. Even so, the fighting was grim. As more and more koloss frenzied and charged, the odds quickly turned against Elend’s group. Still, the koloss resisted his emotional manipulation. But they were getting closer. . . .
“We’re doomed!” Fatren screamed.
Elend turned, a bit surprised to see the beefy lord beside him and still alive. The men continued to fight. Only about fifteen minutes had passed since the start of the frenzy, but the line was already beginning to buckle.
A speck appeared in the sky.
“You’ve led us to die!” Fatren yelled. He was covered in koloss blood, though a patch on his shoulder looked to be his own. “Why?” Fatren demanded.
Elend simply pointed as the speck grew larger.
“What is it?” Fatren asked over the chaos of battle.
Elend smiled. “The first of those armies I promised you.”
Vin fell from the sky in a tempest of horseshoes, landing directly at the center of the koloss army.
Without hesitating, she used Allomancy to Push a pair of horseshoes toward a turning koloss. One took the creature in the forehead, throwing it backward, and the other shot over its head, hitting another koloss. Vin spun, flipping out another shoe, shooting it past a particularly large beast and taking down a smaller koloss behind him.
She flared iron, Pulling that horseshoe back, catching it around the larger koloss’ wrist. Immediately, her Pull yanked her toward the beast—but it also threw the creature off balance. Its massive iron sword dropped the ground as Vin hit the creature in the chest. Then, she Pushed off the fallen sword, throwing herself upward in a backwards flip as another koloss swung at her.
She shot some fifteen feet into the air. The sword missed, cutting off the head of the koloss beneath her. The koloss who had swung didn’t seem to mind that it had killed a comrade, it just looked up at her, blood-red eyes hateful.
Vin Pulled on the fallen sword. It lurched up at her, but also pulled her down with its weight. She caught it as she fell—the sword was nearly as tall as she was, but flared pewter let her handle it with ease—and she sheered free the attacking koloss’ arm as she landed.
She took its legs off at the knees, then left it to die as she spun toward other opponents. As always, the koloss seemed fascinated—in an enraged, angry way—with Vin. They associated large size with danger, and had difficulty understanding how a small woman like Vin—twenty-years old, barely over five feet in height and slight as a willow—could pose a threat. Yet, they saw her kill, and this drew them to her.
Vin was just fine with that.
She screamed as she attacked, if only to add some sound to the too-silent battlefield. Koloss tended to stop yelling as they entered their frenzy, growing focused only on killing. She threw out a handful of coins, Pushing them toward the group behind her, then jumped forward, Pulling on a sword.
A koloss in front of her stumbled. She landed on its back, attacking a creature beside it. This one fell, and Vin rammed her sword down into the back of the one below her. She Pushed herself to the side, Pulling on the sword of the dying koloss. She caught this weapon, cut down a third beast, then threw the sword, Pushing it like a giant arrow into the chest of a fourth monster. That same Push threw her backward out of the way of an attack. She grabbed the sword from the back of the one she’d stabbed before, ripping the weapon free even as the creature died. And, in one fluid stroke, she slammed it down through the collarbone and chest of a fifth beast.
She landed. Koloss fell dead around her.
Vin was not fury. She was not terror. She had grown beyond those things. She had seen Elend die—had held him in her arms as he did—and had known that she had let it happen. Intentionally.
And yet, he still lived. Every breath was unexpected, perhaps undeserved. Once, she’d been terrified that she would fail him. But, she had found peace—somehow—in understanding that she couldn’t keep him from risking his life. In understanding that she didn’t want to keep him from risking his life.
So, she no longer fought out of fear for the man she loved. Instead, she fought with an understanding. She was a knife—Elend’s knife, the Final Empire’s knife. She didn’t fight to protect one man, but to protect the way of life he had created, and the people he struggled so hard to defend.
Peace gave her strength.
Koloss died around her, and scarlet blood—too bright to be human—stained the air. There were ten thousand in this army—far too many for her to kill. However, she didn’t need to slaughter every koloss in the army.
She just had to make them afraid.
Because, despite what she’d once assumed, koloss could feel fear. She saw it building in the creatures around her, hidden beneath frustration and rage. A koloss attacked her, and she dodged to the side, moving with pewter’s enhanced speed. She slammed a sword into its back as she moved, and spun, noticing a massive creature pushing its way through the army toward her.
Perfect, she thought. It was big—perhaps the biggest one she had ever seen. It had to be almost thirteen feet tall. Heart failure should have killed it long ago, and its skin was ripped half free, hanging in wide flaps.
It bellowed, the sound echoing across the oddly quiet battlefield. Vin smiled, then burned duralumin. Immediately, the pewter already burning inside of her exploded to give her a massive, instantaneous burst of strength. Duralumin, when used with another metal, enhanced that second metal and made it burn out in a single burst, giving up all of its power at once.
Vin burned steel, then Pushed outward in all directions. Her duralumin-enhanced Push crashed like a wave into the swords of the creatures running at her. Weapons ripped free, koloss were thrown backward, and massive bodies scattered like mere flakes of ash beneath the blood-red sun. Duralumin-enhanced pewter kept her from being crushed as she did this.
Her pewter and steel both disappeared, burned away in single flash of power. She pulled out a small vial of liquid—an alcohol solution with metal flakes—and downed it in a single gulp, restoring her metals. Then, she burned pewter and leaped over fallen, disoriented koloss toward the massive creature she had seen earlier. A smaller koloss tried to stop her, but she caught its arm by the wrist, then twisted, breaking the joint. She took the creature’s sword, ducking beneath another koloss’s attack, and spun, felling three different koloss in one sweep by cutting at their knees.
As she completed her spin, she rammed her sword into the earth point first. As expected, the large, thirteen-foot tall beast attacked a second later, swinging a sword that was so large that it made the air roar. Vin planted her sword just in time, for—even with pewter—she never would have been able to parry this enormous creature’s weapon. That weapon, however, slammed into the blade of her sword, which was stabilized by the earth below. The metal quivered beneath her hands, but she held against the blow.
Fingers still stinging from the shock of such a powerful block, Vin let go of the sword and jumped. She didn’t Push—she didn’t need to—but landed on the cross guard of her sword and leaped off it. The koloss showed that same, characteristic surprise as it saw her leap thirteen feet into the air, leg drawn back, tasseled mistcloak flapping.
She kicked the koloss directly in the side of the head. The skull cracked. Koloss were inhumanly tough, but her flared pewter was enough. The creature’s beady eyes rolled back in its head, and it collapsed. Vin Pushed slightly on the sword, keeping herself up long enough so that when she fell, she landed directly on the felled koloss’ chest.
The koloss around her froze. Even in the midst of the blood fury, they were shocked to see her drop such an enormous beast with only a kick. Perhaps their minds were too slow to process what they had just seen. Or, perhaps in addition to fear, they really could feel a measure of wariness. Vin didn’t know enough about them to tell. She did understand that in a regular koloss army, what she’d just done would have earned her the obedience of every creature that had watched her.
Unfortunately, this army was being controlled by an external force. Vin stood up straight, could see Elend’s small, desperate army in the distance. Under Elend’s guidance, they held. The fighting humans would have an effect on the koloss similar to Vin’s mysterious strength—the creatures wouldn’t understand how such a small force could hold against them. They wouldn’t see the attrition, or the dire situation of Elend’s group—they would simply see a smaller, inferior army standing and fighting.
Vin turned to resume combat. The koloss approached her with more trepidation, but they still came. That was the oddity about koloss. They never retreated. They felt fear, they just couldn’t act on it. It did, however, weaken them. She could see it in the way they approached her, the way they looked. They were close to breaking.
And so, she burned brass and Pushed on the emotions of one of the smaller creatures. At first, it resisted. She shoved harder. And, finally, something broke within the creature and he became hers. The one who had been controlling him was too far away, and was focused on too many koloss at once. This creature—its mind confused because of the frenzy, emotions in a turmoil because of its shock, fear, and frustration—came completely under Vin’s mental control.
Immediately, she ordered the creature to attack his companions. He was cut down a moment later, but not before he killed two other koloss. As Vin fought, she snatched up another koloss, then another. She struck randomly, fighting with her sword to keep the koloss distracted as she plucked members from their group and turned them. Soon, the area around her was in chaos, and she had a small line of koloss fighting for her. Every time one fell, she replaced it with two more.
As she fought, she spared a glanced for Elend’s group again, and was relieved to find a large segment of koloss fighting alongside the group of humans. Elend himself moved among them, no longer fighting, focused on snatching koloss after koloss to his side. It had been a gamble for Elend to come to this city on his own, one she wasn’t sure she approved of. For the moment, she was just glad she’d managed to catch up in time.
Taking Elend’s cue, she stopped fighting, and instead concentrated on commanding her small force of koloss, snatching up new members one at a time. Soon, she had a group of almost a hundred fighting for her.
Won’t be long now, she thought. And, sure enough, she soon caught sight of a speck in the air, shooting toward her through the falling ash. The speck resolved into a figure in dark robes, bounding over the army by Pushing down on koloss swords. The tall figure was bald, its face tattooed. And, in the ash-darkened light of mid-day, Vin could make out the two thick spikes that had been driven point-first through its eyes. A Steel Inquisitor, one she didn’t recognize.
The Inquisitor hit hard, cutting down one of Vin’s stolen koloss with a pair of obsidian axes. It focused its sightless gaze on Vin, and despite herself she felt a stirring of panic. A succession of distinct memories flashed in her mind. A dark night, rainy and shadowed. Spires and towers. A pain in her side. A long night spent captive in the Lord Ruler’s palace.
Kelsier, the Survivor of Hathsin, dying on the streets of Luthadel.
Vin burned Electrum. This created a cloud of images around her, shadows of possible things she could do in the future. Electrum, the Allomantic complement of gold. Elend had started calling it “poor man’s atium.” It wouldn’t affect the battle much, other than to make her immune to atium, should the Inquisitor have any.
Vin gritted her teeth, dashing forward as the koloss army overwhelmed her few remaining stolen creatures. She jumped, pushing slightly on a fallen sword and letting her momentum carry her toward the Inquisitor. The specter lifted its axes, swinging, but at the last moment Vin Pulled herself to the side. Her Pull wrenched a sword from the hands of a surprised koloss, and she caught this while spinning in the air, then Pushed it at the Inquisitor.
He Pushed the massive wedge of a weapon aside with barely a glance. Kelsier had managed to fight down an Inquisitor, but only after a great deal of effort. He himself had died moments later, struck dead by the Lord Ruler.
No more memories! Vin told herself forcefully. Focus on the moment.
Ash whipped past her as she spun in the air, still flying from her Push against the sword. She landed, foot slipping in Koloss blood, then dashed at the Inquisitor. She’d deliberately lured him out, killing and controlling his koloss, forcing him to reveal himself. Now she had to deal with him.
She whipped out a glass dagger—the Inquisitor would be able to Push away a koloss sword—and flared her pewter. Speed, strength, and poise flooded her body. Unfortunately, the Inquisitor would have pewter as well, making them equal.
Except for one thing. The Inquisitor had a weakness. Vin ducked an axe swipe, Pulling on a koloss sword to give herself the speed to get out of the way. Then, she Pushed on the same weapon, throwing herself forward as she jabbed for the Inquisitor’s neck. He fended her off with a swipe of the hand, blocking her dagger arm. But, with her other hand, she grabbed the side of his robe.
Then she flared iron and Pulled behind her, yanking on a dozen different koloss swords at once. The sudden Pull propelled her backward. Steelpushes and Ironpulls were jolting, blunt things that had far more power than subtlety. With pewter flared, Vin hung onto the robe, and the Inquisitor obviously stabilized himself by Pulling on koloss weapons in front of him.
The robe gave, ripping down the side, leaving Vin holding a wide section of cloth. The Inquisitor’s back lay exposed, and she should have been able to see a single spike—similar to those in the eyes—protruding from the creature’s back. However, that spike was hidden by a metal shield that covered the Inquisitor’s back and ran underneath his arms and around his front. A form-fitting breastplate that covered the back, something like a sleek turtle’s shell.
The Inquisitor turned, smiling, and Vin cursed. That back spike—driven directly between every inquisitor’s shoulder blades—was their weakest point. Pulling it free would kill the creature. That, obviously, was the reason for the plate—something Vin suspected the Lord Ruler would have forbidden. He had wanted his servants to have weaknesses, so that he could control them.
Vin didn’t have much time for thought, for the koloss were still attacking. Even as she landed, tossing aside the ripped fabric, a large, blue-skinned monster swung at her. Vin jumped, cresting the sword as it swung beneath her, then Pushed against it to give herself some height.
The Inquisitor followed, now on the attack. Ash spun in the air currents around Vin as she bounded across the battlefield, trying to think. The only other way she knew to kill an Inquisitor was to behead it—an act more easy contemplated than completed, considering that the fiend would be toughened by pewter.
She let herself land on a deserted hill on the outskirts of the battlefield. The Inquisitor thumped to the ashen earth behind her. Vin dodged an axe blade, trying to get in close enough to slash. But the Inquisitor swung with his other blade, and Vin took a gash in the arm as she turned the weapon aside with her dagger.
Warm blood dribbled down her wrist. Blood the color of the red sun. She growled, facing down her inhuman opponent. Inquisitor smiles disturbed her. She threw herself forward, to strike again.
Something flashed in the air.
Blue lines, moving quickly—the Allomantic indication of nearby bits of metal. Vin barely had time to twist herself out of her attack as a handful of coins surprised the Inquisitor from behind, cutting into his body in a dozen different places.
The creature screamed, spinning, throwing out drops of blood as Elend hit the ground atop the hill. His brilliant white uniform was soiled with ash and blood, but his face was clean, his eyes bright. He carried a dueling cane in one hand, the other rested against the earth, steadying him from his Steeljump. His physical Allomancy still lacked polish.
Yet, he was Mistborn, like Vin. And now the Inquisitor was wounded. Koloss were crowding around the hill, clawing their way toward the top, but Vin and Elend still had a few moments. She dashed forward, raising her knife, and Elend attacked as well. The Inquisitor tried to watch both of them at once, its smile finally fading. It moved to jump away.
Elend flipped a coin into the air. A single, sparking bit of copper spun through the flakes of ash. The Inquisitor saw this, and smiled again, obviously anticipating Elend’s Push. It assumed that its weight would transfer through the coin, then hit Elend’s weight, since Elend would be Pushing as well. Two Allomancers of near-similar weight, shoving against each other. They would both be thrown back—the Inquisitor to attack Vin, Elend into a pile of koloss.
Except, the Inquisitor didn’t anticipate Elend’s Allomantic strength. How could it? Elend did stumble, but the Inquisitor was thrown away with a sudden, violent Push.
He’s so powerful! Vin thought, watching the surprised Inquisitor fall. Elend was no ordinary Allomancer—he might not have learned perfect control yet, but when he flared his metals and Pushed, he could really Push.
Vin dashed forward to attack as the Inquisitor tried to reorient himself. He managed to catch her arm as her knife fell, his powerful grip throwing a shock of pain up her already wounded arm. She cried out as he threw her to the side.
Vin hit the ground and rolled, throwing herself back up to her feet. The world spun, and she could see Elend swinging his dueling cane at the Inquisitor. The creature blocked the swing with an arm, shattering the wood, then ducked forward and rammed an elbow into Elend’s chest. The emperor grunted.
Vin Pushed against the koloss who were now only a few feet away, shooting herself toward the Inquisitor again. She’d dropped her knife—but, then, he’d also lost his axes. She could see him glancing to the side, toward where the weapons had fallen, but she didn’t give him a chance to go for them. She tackled him, trying to throw him back to the ground. Unfortunately, he was much larger—and much stronger—than she was. He tossed her down in front of him, knocking the breath from her.
The koloss were upon them. But Elend had grabbed one of the fallen axes, and he struck for the Inquisitor.
The Inquisitor moved with a sudden jolt of speed. Its form became a blur, and Elend swung only at empty air. Elend spun, shock showing on his face as the Inquisitor came up, wielding not an axe, but—oddly—a metal spike, like the ones in his own body but sleeker and longer. The creature raised the spike, moving inhumanly fast—even faster than any Allomancer should have been able to.
That was no pewter run, Vin thought. That wasn’t even duralumin. She scrambled to her feet, watching the Inquisitor. The creature’s strange speed faded, but it was still in a position to hit Elend directly in the back with the spike. Vin was too far away to help.
But the koloss weren’t. They were cresting the hill, mere feet from Elend and his opponent. Desperate, Vin flared brass and grabbed the emotions of the koloss closest to the Inquisitor. Even as the Inquisitor moved to attack Elend, her koloss spun, swinging its wedge-like sword, hitting the Inquisitor directly in the face.
It didn’t separate the head from the body. It just crushed the head completely. Apparently, that was sufficient, for the Inquisitor dropped without a sound, falling motionless.
A shock ran through the koloss army.
“Elend!” Vin said. “Now!”
The emperor turned away from the dying Inquisitor, and she could see the look of concentration on his face. Once, Vin had seen the Lord Ruler affect an entire city square full of people with his emotional Allomancy. He had been stronger than she was; far stronger—even—than Kelsier.
She couldn’t see Elend burn duralumin, then zinc, but she could feel it. Feel him pressing on her emotions as he sent out a general wave of power, Soothing thousands of koloss at once. They all stopped fighting. In the distance, Vin could make out the haggard remnants of Elend’s army, standing in a exhausted circle of bodies. Ash continued to fall. It rarely stopped, these days.
The koloss lowered their weapons. Elend had won.