My brethren ignore the other facts. They cannot connect the other strange things that are happening. They are deaf to my objections and blind to my discoveries.
Elend dropped his pen to his desk with a sigh, then leaned back in his chair and rubbed his forehead.
Elend figured that he knew as much about political theory as any living man. He’d certainly read more about economics, studied more about governments, and held more political debates than anyone he knew. He understood all the theories about how to make a nation stable and fair, and had tried to implement those in his new kingdom.
He just hadn’t realized how incredibly frustrating a parliamentary council would be.
He stood up and walked over to get himself some chilled wine. He paused, however, as he glanced out his balcony doors. In the distance, a glowing haze shone through the mists. The campfires of his father’s army.
He put down the wine. He was already exhausted, and the alcohol probably wouldn’t help. I can’t afford to fall asleep until I get this done! he thought, forcing himself to return to his seat. The Assembly would meet soon, and he needed to have the proposal finished tonight.
Elend picked up the sheet, scanning its contents. His handwriting looked cramped even to him, and the page was scattered with crossed-out lines and notations—reflections of his frustration. They’d known about the army’s approach for weeks now, and the Assembly still quibbled about what to do.
Some of its members wanted to offer a peace treaty; others thought they should simply surrender the city. Still others felt they should attack without delay. Elend feared that the surrender faction was gaining strength; hence his proposal. The motion, if passed, would buy him more time. As king, he already had prime right of parlay with a foreign dictator. The proposal would forbid the Assembly from doing anything rash until he’d at least met with his father.
Elend sighed again, dropping the sheet. The Assembly was only twenty-four men, but getting them to agree on anything was almost more challenging than any of the problems they argued about. Elend turned, looking past the solitary lamp on his desk, out through the open balcony doors and toward the fires. Overhead, he heard feet scuttling on the rooftop—Vin, going about her nightly rounds.
Elend smiled fondly, but not even thinking of Vin could restore his good temper. That group of assassins she fought tonight. Can I use that somehow? Perhaps if he made the attack public, the Assembly would be reminded of the disdain Straff had for human life, and then be less likely to surrender the city to him. But . . . perhaps they’d also get frightened that he’d send assassins after them, and be more likely to surrender.
Sometimes Elend wondered if the Lord Ruler had been right. Not in oppressing the people, of course—but in retaining all of the power for himself. The Final Empire had been nothing if not stable. It had lasted a thousand years, weathering rebellions, maintaining a strong hold on the world.
The Lord Ruler was immortal, though, Elend thought. That’s an advantage I’ll certainly never have.
The Assembly was a better way. By giving the people a parliament with real legal authority, Elend would craft a stable government. The people would have a king—a man to provide continuity, a symbol of unity. A man who wouldn’t be tainted by the need to get reappointed. However, they would also have an Assembly—a council made up of their peers that could voice their concerns.
It all sounded wonderful in theory. Assuming they survived the next few months.
Elend rubbed his eyes, then dipped his pen and began to scratch new sentences at the bottom of the document.
The Lord Ruler was dead.
Even a year later, Vin sometimes found that concept difficult to grasp. The Lord Ruler had been . . . everything. King and god, lawmaker and ultimate authority. He had been eternal and absolute, and now he was dead.
Vin had killed him.
Of course, the truth wasn’t as impressive as the stories. It hadn’t been heroic strength or mystical power that had let Vin defeat the emperor. She’d just figured out the trick that he’d been using to make himself immortal, and she’d fortunately—almost accidentally—exploited his weakness. She wasn’t brave or clever. Just lucky.
Vin sighed. Her bruises still throbbed, but she had suffered far worse. She sat atop the palace—once Keep Venture—just above Elend’s balcony. Her reputation might have been unearned, but it had helped keep Elend alive. Though dozens of warlords squabbled in the land that had once been the Final Empire, none of them had marched on Luthadel.
Fires burned outside the city. Straff would soon know that his assassins had failed. What then? Assault the city? Ham and Clubs warned that Luthadel couldn’t hold against a determined attack. Straff had to know that.
Still, for the moment, Elend was safe. Vin had gotten pretty good at finding and killing assassins; barely a month passed that she didn’t catch someone trying to sneak into the palace. Many were just spies, and very few were Allomancers. However, a normal man’s steel knife would kill Elend just as easily as an Allomancer’s glass one.
She wouldn’t let that occur. What ever else happened—whatever sacrifices it required—Elend had to stay alive.
Suddenly apprehensive, she slipped over to the skylight to check on him. Elend sat safely at his desk below, scribbling away on some new proposal or edict. Kingship had changed the man remarkably little. About four years her senior—placing him in his early twenties—Elend was a man who put great stock in learning, but little in appearance. He only bothered to comb his hair when he attended an important function, and he somehow managed to wear even well-tailored outfits with an air of dishevelment.
He was probably the best man she had ever known. Earnest, determined, clever, and caring. And, for some reason, he loved her. At times, that fact was even more amazing to her than her part in the Lord Ruler’s death.
Vin looked up, glancing back at the army lights. Then she looked to the sides. The Watcher had not returned. Often on nights like this he would tempt her, coming dangerously close to Elend’s room before disappearing into the city.
Of course, if he’d wanted to kill Elend, he could just have done it while I was fighting the others. . . .
It was a disquieting thought. Vin couldn’t watch Elend every moment. He was exposed a frightening amount of the time.
True, Elend had other bodyguards, and some were even Allomancers. They, however, were stretched as thin as she was. This night’s assassins had been the most skilled, and most dangerous, that she had ever faced. She shivered, thinking about the Mistborn who had hid among them. He hadn’t been very good, but he wouldn’t have needed much skill to burn atium, then strike Vin directly in the right place.
The shifting mists continued to spin. The army’s presence whispered a disturbing truth: The surrounding warlords were beginning to consolidate their domains, and were thinking about expansion. Even if Luthadel stood against Straff somehow, others would come.
Quietly, Vin closed her eyes and burned bronze, still worried that the Watcher—or some other Allomancer—might be nearby, planning to attack Elend in the supposedly safe aftermath of the assassination attempt. Most Mistborn considered bronze to be a relatively useless metal, as it was easily negated. With copper, a Mistborn could mask their Allomancy—not to mention protect themselves from emotional manipulation by zinc or brass. Most Mistborn considered it foolish not to have their copper on at all times.
And yet . . . Vin had the ability to pierce copperclouds.
A coppercloud wasn’t a visible thing. It was far more vague. A pocket of deadened air where Allomancers could burn their metals and not worry that bronze burners would be able to sense them. But Vin could sense Allomancers who used metals inside of a coppercloud. She still wasn’t certain why. Even Kelsier, the most powerful Allomancer she had known, hadn’t been able to pierce a coppercloud.
Tonight, however, she sensed nothing.
With a sigh, she opened her eyes. Her strange power was confusing, but it wasn’t unique to her. Marsh had confirmed that Steel Inquisitors could pierce copperclouds, and she was certain that the Lord Ruler had been able to do so. But . . . why her? Why could Vin—a girl who barely had two years’ training as a Mistborn—do it?
There was more. She still remembered vividly the morning when she’d fought the Lord Ruler. There was something about that event that she hadn’t told anyone—partially because it made her fear, just a bit, that the rumors and legends about her were true. Somehow, she’d drawn upon the mists, using them to fuel her Allomancy instead of metals.
It was only with that power, the power of the mists, that she had been able to beat the Lord Ruler in the end. She liked to tell herself that she had simply been lucky in figuring out the Lord Ruler’s tricks. But . . . there had been something strange that night, something that she’d done. Something that she shouldn’t have been able to do, and had never been able to repeat.
Vin shook her head. There was so much they didn’t know, and not just about Allomancy. She and the other leaders of Elend’s fledgling kingdom tried their best, but without Kelsier to guide them, Vin felt blind. Plans, successes, and even goals were like shadowy figures in the mist, formless and indistinct.
You shouldn’t have left us, Kell, she thought. You saved the world—but you should have been able to do it without dying. Kelsier, the Survivor of Hathsin, the man who had conceived and implemented the collapse of the Final Empire. Vin had known him, worked with him, been trained by him. He was a legend and a hero. Yet, he had also been a man. Fallible. Imperfect. It was easy for the skaa to revere him, then blame Elend and the others for the dire situation that Kelsier had created.
The thought left her feeling bitter. Thinking about Kelsier often did that. Perhaps it was the sense of abandonment, or perhaps it was just the uncomfortable knowledge that Kelsier—like Vin herself—didn’t fully live up to his reputation.
Vin sighed, closing her eyes, still burning bronze. The evening’s fight had taken a lot out of her, and she was beginning to dread the hours she still intended to spend watching. It would be difficult to remain alert when—
She sensed something.
Vin snapped her eyes open, flaring her tin. She spun and stooped against the rooftop to obscure her profile. There was someone out there, burning metal. Bronze pulses thumped weakly, faint, almost unnoticeable—like someone playing drums very quietly. They were muffled by a coppercloud. The person—whoever it was—thought that their copper would hide them.
So far, Vin hadn’t left anyone alive, save Elend and Marsh, who knew of her strange power.
Vin crept forward, fingers and toes chilled by the roof’s copper sheeting. She tried to determine the direction of the pulses. Something was . . . odd about them. She had trouble distinguishing the metals her enemy was burning. Was that the quick, beating thump of pewter? Or was it the rhythm of iron? The pulses seemed indistinct, like ripples in a thick mud.
They were coming from somewhere very close. . . . On the rooftop . . .
Just in front of her.
Vin froze, crouching, the night breezes blowing a wall of mist across her. Where was he? Her senses argued with each other; her bronze said there was something right in front of her, but her eyes refused to agree.
She studied the dark mists, glanced upward just to be certain, then stood. This is the first time my bronze has been wrong, she thought with a frown.
Then she saw it.
Not something in the mists, but something of the mists. The figure stood a few feet away, easy to miss, for its shape was only faintly outlined by the mist. Vin gasped, stepping backward.
The figure continued to stand where it was. She couldn’t tell much about it; its features were cloudy and vague, outlined by the chaotic churnings of windblown mist. If not for the form’s persistence, she could have dismissed it—like the shape of an animal seen briefly in the clouds.
But it stayed. Each new curl of the mist added definition to thin its body and long head. Haphazard, yet persistent. It suggested a human, but it lacked the Watcher’s solidity. It felt . . . looked . . . wrong.
The figure took a step forward.
Vin reacted instantly, throwing up a handful of coins and Pushing them through the air. The bits of metal zipped through the mist, trailing streaks, and passed right through the shadowy figure. It stood for a moment. Then, it simply puffed away, dissipating into the mists’ random curls.
Elend wrote the final line with a flair, though he knew he’d simply have a scribe rewrite the proposal. Still, he was proud. He thought that he’d been able to work out an argument that would finally convince the Assembly that they could not simply surrender to Straff.
He glanced unconsciously toward a stack of papers on his desk. On their top sat an innocent-seeming yellow letter, still folded, bloodlike smudge of wax broken at the seal. The letter had been short. Elend remembered its words easily.
I trust you’ve enjoyed seeing after Venture interests in Luthadel. I have secured the Northern Dominance, and will shortly be returning to our keep in Luthadel. You may turn over control of the city to me at that time.
King Straff Venture
Of all the warlords and despots that had afflicted the Final Empire since the Lord Ruler’s death, Straff was the most dangerous. Elend knew this firsthand. His father was a true imperial nobleman: He saw life as a competition between lords to see who could earn the greatest reputation. He had played the game well, making House Venture the most powerful of the pre-Collapse noble families.
Elend’s father would not see the Lord Ruler’s death as a tragedy or a victory—just as an opportunity. The fact that Straff’s supposedly weak-willed fool of a son now claimed to be king of the Central Dominance probably gave him no end of mirth.
Elend shook his head, turning back to the proposal. A few more rereads, a few tweaks, and I’ll finally be able to get some sleep. I just—
A cloaked form dropped from the skylight in the roof and landed with a quiet thump behind him.
Elend raised an eyebrow, turning toward the crouching figure. “You know, I leave the balcony open for a reason, Vin. You could come in that way, if you wanted.”
“I know,” Vin said. Then she darted across the room, moving with an Allomancer’s unnatural litheness. She checked beneath his bed, then moved over to his closet and threw open the doors. She jumped back with the tension of an alert animal, but apparently found nothing inside that met with her disapproval, for she moved over to peek through the door leading into the rest of Elend’s chambers.
Elend watched her with fondness. It had taken him some time to get used to Vin’s particular . . . idiosyncrasies. He teased her about being paranoid; she just claimed she was careful. Regardless, half the time she visited his chambers she checked underneath his bed and in his closet. The other times, she held herself back—but Elend often caught her glancing distrustfully toward potential hiding places.
She was far less jumpy when she didn’t have a particular reason to worry about him. However, Elend was only just beginning to understand that there was a very complex person hiding behind the face he had once known as Valette Renoux’s. He had fallen in love with her courtly side without ever knowing the nervous, furtive Mistborn side. It was still a little difficult to see them as the same person.
Vin closed the door, then paused briefly, watching him with her round, dark eyes. Elend found himself smiling. Despite her oddities—or, more likely because of them—he loved this thin woman with the determined eyes and blunt temperament. She was like no one he had ever known—a woman of simple, yet honest, beauty and wit.
She did, however, sometimes worry him.
“Vin?” he asked, standing.
“Have you seen anything strange tonight?”
Elend paused. “Besides you?”
She frowned, striding across the room. Elend watched her small form, clothed in black trousers and a man’s buttoning shirt, mistcloak tassels trailing behind her. She wore the cloak’s hood down, as usual, and she stepped with a supple grace—the unconscious elegance of a person burning pewter.
Focus! he told himself. You really are getting tired. “Vin? What’s wrong?”
Vin glanced toward the balcony. “That Mistborn, the Watcher, is in the city again.”
Vin nodded. “But . . . I don’t think he’s going to come for you tonight.”
Elend frowned. The balcony doors were still open, and trails of mist puffed through them, creeping along the floor until they finally evaporated. Beyond those doors was . . . darkness. Chaos.
It’s just mist, he told himself. Water vapor. Nothing to fear. “What makes you think the Mistborn won’t come for me?”
Vin shrugged. “I just feel he won’t.”
She often answered that way. Vin had grown up a creature of the streets, and she trusted her instincts. Oddly, so did Elend. He eyed her, reading the uncertainty in her posture. Something else had unsettled her this night. He looked into her eyes, holding them for a moment, until she glanced away.
“What?” he asked.
“I saw . . . something else,” she said. “Or, I thought I did. Something in the mist, like a person formed from smoke. I could feel it, too, with Allomancy. It disappeared, though.”
Elend frowned more deeply. He walked forward, putting his arms around her. “Vin, you’re pushing yourself too hard. You can’t keep prowling the city at night and then staying up all day. Even Allomancers need rest.” She nodded quietly. In his arms, she didn’t seem to him like the powerful warrior who had slain the Lord Ruler. She felt like a woman past the edge of fatigue, a woman overwhelmed by events—a woman who probably felt a lot like Elend did.
She let him hold her. At first, there was a slight stiffness to her posture. It was as if a piece of her still expected to be hurt—a primal sliver that couldn’t understand that it was possible to be touched out of love rather than anger. Then, however, she relaxed. Elend was one of the few she could do that around. When she held him—really held him—she clung with a desperation that bordered on terror. Somehow, despite her powerful skill as an Allomancer and her stubborn determination, Vin was frighteningly vulnerable. She seemed to need Elend. For that, he felt lucky.
Frustrated, at times. But lucky. Vin and he hadn’t discussed his marriage proposal and her refusal, though Elend often thought of the encounter.
Women are difficult enough to understand, he thought, and I had to go and pick the oddest one of the lot. Still, he couldn’t really complain. She loved him. He could deal with her idiosyncrasies.
Vin sighed, then looked up at him, finally relaxing as he leaned down to kiss her. He held it for a long moment, and she sighed. After the kiss, she rested her head on his shoulder. “We do have another problem,” she said quietly. “I used the last of the atium tonight.”
“Fighting the assassins?”
“Well, we knew it would happen eventually. Our stockpile couldn’t last forever.”
“Stockpile?” Vin asked. “Kelsier only left us six beads.”
Elend sighed, then pulled her tight. His new government was supposed to have inherited the Lord Ruler’s atium reserves—a supposed cache of the metal comprising an amazing treasure. Kelsier had counted on his new kingdom holding those riches; he had died expecting it. There was only one problem. Nobody had ever found the reserve. They had found some small bit—the atium that had made up the bracers that the Lord Ruler had used as a Feruchemical battery to store up age. However, they had spent those on supplies for the city, and they had actually contained only a very small bit of atium. Nothing like the cache was said to have. There should still be, somewhere in the city, a wealth of atium thousands of times larger than those bracers.
“We’ll just have to deal with it,” Elend said.
“If a Mistborn attacks you, I won’t be able to kill him.”
“Only if he has atium,” Elend said. “It’s becoming more and more rare. I doubt the other kings have much of it.”
Kelsier had destroyed the Pits of Hathsin, the only place where atium could be mined. Still, if Vin did have to fight someone with atium . . .
Don’t think about that, he told himself. Just keep searching. Perhaps we can buy some. Or maybe we’ll find the Lord Ruler’s cache. If it even exists. . . . Vin looked up at him, reading the concern in his eyes, and he knew she had arrived at the same conclusions as he. There was little that could be accomplished at the moment;
Vin had done well to conserve their atium as long as she had. Still, as Vin stepped back and let Elend return to his table, he couldn’t help thinking about how they could have spent that atium. His people would need food for the winter.
But, by selling the metal, he thought, sitting, we would have put more of the world’s most dangerous Allomantic weapon into the hands of our enemies. Better that Vin used it up.
As he began to work again, Vin poked her head over his shoulder, obscuring his lamplight. “What is it?” she asked.
“The proposal blocking the Assembly until I’ve had my right of parlay.”
“Again?” she asked, cocking her head and squinting as she tried to make out his handwriting.
“The Assembly rejected the last version.”
Vin frowned. “Why don’t you just tell them that they have to accept it? You’re the king.”
“Now, see,” Elend said, “that’s what I’m trying to prove by all this. I’m just one man, Vin—maybe my opinion isn’t better than theirs. If we all work on the proposal together, it will come out better than if one man had done it himself.”
Vin shook her head. “It will be too weak. No teeth. You should trust yourself more.”
“It’s not about trust. It’s about what’s right. We spent a thousand years fighting off the Lord Ruler—if I do things the same way he did, then what will be the difference?”
Vin turned and looked him in the eyes. “The Lord Ruler was an evil man. You’re a good one.That’s the difference.”
Elend smiled. “It’s that easy for you, isn’t it?”
Elend leaned up and kissed her again. “Well, some of us have to make things a little more complicated, so you’ll have to humor us. Now, kindly remove yourself from my light so I can get back to work.”
She snorted, but stood up and rounded the desk, leaving behind a faint scent of perfume. Elend frowned. When’d she put that on? Many of her motions were so quick that he missed them.
Perfume—just another of the apparent contradictions that made up the woman who called herself Vin. She wouldn’t have been wearing it out in the mists; she usually put it on just for him. Vin liked to be unobtrusive, but she loved wearing scents—and got annoyed at him if he didn’t notice when she was trying out a new one. She seemed suspicious and paranoid, yet she trusted her friends with a dogmatic loyalty. She went out at night in black and gray, trying so hard to hide—but Elend had seen her at the balls a year ago, and she had looked natural in gowns and dresses.
For some reason she had stopped wearing those. She hadn’t ever explained why.
Elend shook his head, turning back to his proposal. Next to Vin, politics seemed simplistic. She rested her arms on the desktop, watching him work, yawning.
“You should get some rest,” he said, dipping his pen again.
Vin paused, then nodded. She removed her mistcloak, wrapped it around herself, then curled up on the rug beside his desk.
Elend paused. “I didn’t mean here, Vin,” he said with amusement.
“There’s still a Mistborn out there somewhere,” she said with a tired, muffled voice. “I’m not leaving you.” She twisted in the cloak, and Elend caught a brief grimace of pain on her face. She was favoring her left side.
She didn’t often tell him the details of her fights. She didn’t want to worry him. It didn’t help.
Elend pushed down his concern and forced himself to start reading again. He was almost finished—just a bit more and—
A knock came at his door.
Elend turned with frustration, wondering at this new interruption. Ham poked his head in the doorway a second later.
“Ham?” Elend said. “You’re still awake?”
“Unfortunately,” Ham said, stepping into the room.
“Mardra is going to kill you for working late again,” Elend said, setting down his pen. Complain though he might about some of Vin’s quirks, at least she shared Elend’s nocturnal habits.
Ham just rolled his eyes at the comment. He still wore his standard vest and trousers. He’d agreed to be the captain of Elend’s guard on a single condition: that he would never have to wear a uniform. Vin cracked an eye as Ham wandered into the room, then relaxed again.
“Regardless,” Elend said. “To what do I owe the visit?”
“I thought you might want to know that we identified those assassins who tried to kill Vin.”
Elend nodded. “Probably men I know.” Most Allomancers were noblemen, and he was familiar with all of those in Straff’s retinue.
“Actually, I doubt it,” Ham said. “They were Westerners.”
Elend paused, frowning, and Vin perked up. “You’re sure?”
Ham nodded. “Makes it a bit unlikely that your father sent them—unless he’s done some heavy recruiting in Fadrex City. They were of Houses Gardre and Conrad, mostly.”
Elend sat back. His father was based in Urteau, hereditary home of the Venture family. Fadrex was halfway across the empire from Urteau, several months’ worth of travel. The chances were slim that his father would have access to a group of Western Allomancers.
“Have you heard of Ashweather Cett?” Ham asked.
Elend nodded. “One of the men who’s set himself up as king in the Western Dominance. I don’t know much about him.”
Vin frowned, sitting. “You think he sent these?”
Ham nodded. “They must have been waiting for a chance to slip into the city, and the traffic at the gates these last few days would have provided the opportunity. That makes the arrival of Straff’s army and the attack on Vin’s life something of a coincidence.”
Elend glanced at Vin. She met his eyes, and he could tell that she wasn’t completely convinced that Straff hadn’t sent the assassins. Elend, however, wasn’t so skeptical. Pretty much every tyrant in the area had tried to take him out at one point or another. Why not Cett?
It’s that atium, Elend thought with frustration. He’d never found the Lord Ruler’s cache—but that didn’t stop the despots in the empire from assuming he was hiding it somewhere.
“Well, at least your father didn’t send the assassins,” Ham said, ever the optimist.
Elend shook his head. “Our relationship wouldn’t stop him, Ham. Trust me.”
“He’s your father,” Ham said, looking troubled.
“Things like that don’t matter to Straff. He probably hasn’t sent assassins because he doesn’t think I’m worth the trouble. If we last long enough, though, he will.”
Ham shook his head. “I’ve heard of sons killing their fathers to take their place . . . but fathers killing their sons . . . I wonder what that says about old Straff’s mind, that he’d be willing to kill you. You think that—”
“Ham?” Elend interrupted.
“You know I’m usually good for a discussion, but I don’t really have time for philosophy right now.”
“Oh, right.” Ham smiled wanly, standing and moving to go. “I should get back to Mardra anyway.”
Elend nodded, rubbing his forehead and picking up his pen yet again. “Make sure you gather the crew for a meeting. We need to organize our allies, Ham. If we don’t come up with something incredibly clever, this kingdom may be doomed.”
Ham turned back, still smiling. “You make it sound so desperate, El.”
Elend looked over at him. “The Assembly is a mess, a half-dozen warlords with superior armies are breathing down my neck, barely a month passes without someone sending assassins to kill me, and the woman I love is slowly driving me insane.”
Vin snorted at this last part.
“Oh, is that all?” Ham said. “See? It’s not so bad after all. I mean, we could be facing an immortal god and his all-powerful priests instead.”
Elend paused, then chuckled despite himself. “Good night, Ham,” he said, turning back to his proposal.
“Good night, Your Majesty.”
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