I have begun to wonder if I am the only sane man left. Can the others not see? They have been waiting so long for their hero to come—the one spoken of in Terris prophecies—that they quickly jump between conclusions, presuming that each story and legend applies to this one man.
Vin reacted immediately, springing away. She moved with incredible speed, tasseled cloak swirling as she skidded across the wet cobblestones. The coins hit the ground behind her, throwing up chips of stone, then leaving trails in the mist as they ricocheted away.
“OreSeur, go!” she snapped, though he was already fleeing toward a nearby alleyway.
Vin spun into a low crouch, hands and feet on the cool stones, Allomantic metals flaring in her stomach. She burned steel, watching the translucent blue lines appear around her. She waited, tense, watching for . . .
Another group of coins shot from the dark mists, each one trailing a blue line. Vin immediately flared steel and Pushed against the coins, deflecting them out into the darkness.
The night fell still again.
The street around her was wide—for Luthadel—though tenements rose high on either side. Mist spun lazily, making the ends of the street disappear into a haze.
A group of eight men appeared from the mists and approached. Vin smiled. She had been right: Someone was following her. These men weren’t, however, the Watcher. They didn’t have his solid grace, his sense of power. These men were something far more blunt. Assassins.
It made sense. If she had just arrived with an army to conquer Luthadel, the first thing she’d have done was send in a group of Allomancers to kill Elend.
She felt a sudden pressure at her side, and she cursed as she was thrown off balance, her coin pouch jerking away from her waist. She ripped its string free, letting the enemy Allomancer Push the coins away from her. The assassins had at least one Coinshot—a Misting who had the power to burn steel and Push on metals. In fact, two of the assassins trailed blue lines pointing to coin pouches of their own. Vin considered returning the favor and Pushing their pouches away, but hesitated. No need to play her hand yet. She might need those coins.
Without coins of her own, she couldn’t attack from a distance. However, if this was a good team, then attacking from a distance would be pointless—their Coinshots and Lurchers would be ready to deal with shot coins. Fleeing wasn’t an option either. These men hadn’t come for her alone; if she fled, they’d continue on to their real goal.
Nobody sent assassins to kill bodyguards. Assassins killed important men. Men like Elend Venture, king of the Central Dominance. The man she loved.
Vin flared pewter—body growing tense, alert, dangerous. Four Thugs at the front, she thought, eyeing the advancing men. The pewter burners would be inhumanly strong, capable of surviving a great deal of physical punishment. Very dangerous up close. And the one carrying the wooden shield is a Lurcher.
She feinted forward, causing the approaching Thugs to jump backward. Eight Mistings against one Mistborn was decent odds for them—but only if they were careful. The two Coinshots moved up the sides of the street, so that they’d be able to Push at her from both directions. The last man, standing quietly beside the Lurcher, had to be a Smoker—relatively unimportant in a fight, his purpose was to hide his team from enemy Allomancers.
Eight Mistings. Kelsier could have done it; he’d killed an Inquisitor. She wasn’t Kelsier, however. She had yet to decide if that was a bad or a good thing.
Vin took a deep breath, wishing she had a bit of atium to spare, and burned iron. This let her Pull on a nearby coin—one of those that had been shot at her—much as steel would have let her Push on it. She caught it, dropped it, then jumped, making as if to Push on the coin and shoot herself into the air.
One of the Coinshots, however, Pushed against the coin, shooting it away. Since Allomancy would only let a person Push directly away from—or Pull directly toward—their body, Vin was left without a decent anchor. Pushing against the coin would only shoot her sideways.
She dropped back to the ground.
Let them think they have me trapped, she thought, crouching in the center of the street. The Thugs approached a little more confidently. Yes, Vin thought. I know what you’re thinking. This is the Mistborn who killed the Lord Ruler? This scrawny thing? Can it be possible?
I wonder the same thing myself.
The first Thug ducked in to attack, and Vin burst into motion. Obsidian daggers flashed in the night as she ripped them free from their sheaths, and blood sprayed black in the darkness as she ducked beneath the Thug’s staff and slashed her weapons across his thighs.
The man cried out. The night was no longer silent.
Men cursed as Vin moved through them. The Thug’s partner attacked her—blurringly fast, his muscles fueled by pewter. His staff whipped a tassel from Vin’s mistcloak as she threw herself to the ground, then pushed herself back up out of a third Thug’s reach.
A spray of coins flew toward her. Vin reached out and Pushed on them. The Coinshot, however, continued to Push—and Vin’s Push smashed against his.
Pushing and Pulling metals was all about weight. And—with the coins between them—that meant Vin’s weight was slammed against the assassin’s weight. Both were tossed backward. Vin shot out of a Thug’s reach; the Coinshot fell to the ground.
A flurry of coins came at her from the other direction. Still tumbling in the air, Vin flared steel, giving herself an extra burst of power. Blue lines were a jumbled mess, but she didn’t need to isolate the coins to Push them all away.
This Coinshot let go of his missiles as soon as he felt Vin’s touch. The bits of metal scattered out into the mists.
Vin hit the cobblestones shoulder-first. She rolled—flaring pewter to enhance her balance—and flipped to her feet. At the same time, she burned iron and Pulled hard on the disappearing coins.
They shot back toward her. As soon as they got close, Vin jumped to the side and Pushed them toward the approaching Thugs. The coins, however, immediately veered away, twisting through the mists toward the Lurcher. He was unable to Push the coins away—like all Mistings, he only had one Allomantic power, and his was to Pull with iron.
He did this effectively, protecting the Thugs. He raised his shield and grunted from the impact as the coins hit it and bounced away.
Vin was already moving again. She ran directly for the now exposed Coinshot to her left, the one who had fallen to the ground. The man yelped in surprise, and the other Coinshot tried to distract Vin, but he was too slow.
The Coinshot died with a dagger in his chest. He was no Thug; he couldn’t burn pewter to enhance his body. Vin pulled out her dagger, then yanked his pouch free. He gurgled quietly and collapsed back to the stones.
One, Vin thought, spinning, sweat flying from her brow. She now faced seven men down the corridor-like street. They probably expected her to flee. Instead, she charged.
As she got close to the Thugs, she jumped—then threw down the pouch she’d taken from the dying man. The remaining Coinshot cried out, immediately Pushing it away. Vin, however, got some lift from the coins, throwing herself in a leap directly over the heads of the Thugs.
One of them—the wounded one—had unfortunately been smart enough to remain behind to protect the Coinshot. The Thug raised his cudgel as Vin landed. She ducked his first attack, raised her dagger, and—
A blue line danced into her vision. Quick. Vin reacted immediately, twisting and Pushing against a door latch to throw herself out of the way. She hit the ground on her side, then flung herself up with one hand. She landed skidding on mist-wetted feet.
A coin hit the ground behind her, bouncing against the cobbles. It hadn’t come close to hitting her. In fact, it had seemed aimed at the remaining assassin Coinshot. He’d probably been forced to Push it away.
But who had fired it?
OreSeur? Vin wondered. But, that was foolish. The kandra was no Allomancer—and besides, he wouldn’t have taken the initiative. OreSeur did only what he was expressly told.
The assassin Coinshot looked equally confused. Vin glanced up, flaring tin, and was rewarded with the sight of a man standing atop a nearby building. A dark silhouette. He didn’t even bother to hide.
It’s him, she thought. The Watcher.
The Watcher remained atop his perch, offering no further interference as the Thugs rushed Vin. She cursed as she found three staves coming at her at once. She ducked one, spun around the other, then planted a dagger in the chest of the man holding the third. He stumbled backward, but didn’t drop. Pewter kept him on his feet.
Why did the Watcher interfere? Vin thought as she jumped away. Why would he shoot that coin at a Coinshot who could obviously Push it away?
Her preoccupation with the Watcher nearly cost her her life as an unnoticed Thug charged her from the side. It was the man whose legs she’d slashed. Vin reacted just in time to dodge his blow. This, however, put her into range of the other three.
All attacked at once.
She actually managed to twist out of the way of two of the strikes. One, however, crashed into her side. The powerful blow tossed her across the street, and she collided with a shop’s wooden door. She heard a crack—from the door, fortunately, and not her bones—and she slumped to the ground, daggers lost. A normal person would be dead. Her pewter-strengthened body, however, was tougher than that.
She gasped for breath, forcing herself up to her feet, and flared tin. The metal enhanced her senses—including her sense of pain—and the sudden shock cleared her mind. Her side ached where she’d been struck. But she couldn’t stop. Not with a Thug charging her, swinging his staff in an overhead blow.
Crouching before the doorway, Vin flared pewter and caught the staff in both hands. She growled, pulling back her left hand, then cracking her fist against the weapon, shattering the fine hardwood in a single blow. The Thug stumbled, and Vin smashed her half of the staff across his eyes.
Though dazed, he stayed on his feet. Can’t fight the Thugs, she thought. I have to keep moving.
She dashed to the side, ignoring her pain. The Thugs tried to follow, but she was lighter, thinner, and—much more important—faster. She circled them, coming back toward the Coinshot, Smoker, and Lurcher. A wounded Thug had again retreated to protect these men.
As Vin approached, the Coinshot threw a double handful of coins at her. Vin Pushed the coins away, then reached out and Pulled on the ones in the bag at the man’s waist.
The Coinshot grunted as the bag whipped toward Vin. It was tied by a short tether to his waist, and the pull of her weight jerked him forward. The Thug grabbed and steadied him.
And since her anchor couldn’t move, Vin was instead Pulled toward it. She flared her iron, flying through the air, raising a fist. The Coinshot cried out and he pulled a tie to free the bag.
Too late. Vin’s momentum carried her forward, and she drove her fist into the Coinshot’s cheek as she passed. His head spun around, neck snapping. As Vin landed, she brought her elbow up into the surprised Thug’s chin, tossing him backward. Her foot followed, crashing against the Thug’s neck.
Neither rose. That was three down. The discarded coin pouch fell to the ground, breaking and throwing a hundred sparkling bits of copper across the cobblestones around Vin. She ignored the throbbing in her elbow and faced down the Lurcher. He stood with his shield, looking strangely unworried.
A crack sounded behind her. Vin cried out, her tin-enhanced ears overreacting to the sudden sound. Pain shot through her head, and she raised hands to her ears. She’d forgotten the Smoker, who stood holding two lengths of wood, crafted to make sharp noises when pounded together.
Movements and reactions, actions and consequences—these were the essence of Allomancy. Tin made her eyes pierce the mists—giving her an edge over the assassins. However, the tin also made her ears extremely acute. The Smoker raised his sticks again. Vin growled and yanked a handful of coins off the cobblestones, then shot them at the Smoker. The Lurcher, of course, Pulled them toward him instead. They hit the shield and bounced free. And as they sprayed into the air, Vin carefully Pushed one so it fell behind him.
The man lowered his shield, unaware of the coin Vin had manipulated. Vin Pulled, whipping the single coin directly toward her—and into the back of the Lurcher’s chest. He fell without a sound.
All fell still. The Thugs running toward her drew to a stop, and the Smoker lowered his sticks. They had no Coinshots and no Lurchers—nobody that could Push or Pull metal—and Vin stood amid a field of coins. If she used them, even the Thugs would fall quickly. All she had to do was—
Another coin shot through the air, fired from the Watcher’s rooftop. Vin cursed, ducking. The coin, however, didn’t strike her. It took the stick-holding Smoker directly in the forehead. The man toppled backward, dead.
What? Vin thought, staring at the dead man.
The Thugs charged, but Vin retreated, frowning. Why kill the Smoker? He wasn’t a threat anymore.
Unless . . .
Vin extinguished her copper, then burned bronze, the metal that let her sense when other Allomancers were using powers nearby. She couldn’t feel the Thugs burning pewter. They were still being Smoked, their Allomancy hidden.
Someone else was burning copper.
Suddenly, it all made sense. It made sense that the group would risk attacking a full Mistborn. It made sense that the Watcher had fired at the Coinshot. It made sense that he had killed the Smoker.
Vin was in grave danger.
She only had a moment to make her decision. She did so on a hunch, but she’d grown up on the streets, a thief and a scam artist. Hunches felt more natural to her than logic ever would.
“OreSeur!” she yelled. “Go for the palace!”
It was a code, of course. Vin jumped back, momentarily ignoring the Thugs as her servant ducked out of an alleyway. He pulled something off his belt and whipped it toward Vin: a small glass vial, the kind that Allomancers used to store metal shavings. Vin quickly Pulled the vial to her hand. A short distance away, the second Coinshot—who had lain there, as if dead—now cursed and scrambled to his feet.
Vin spun, drinking the vial with a quick gulp. It contained only a single bead of metal. Atium. She couldn’t risk carry ing it on her own body—couldn’t risk having it Pulled away from her during a fight. She’d ordered OreSeur to remain close this night, ready to give her the vial in an emergency.
The “Coinshot” pulled a hidden glass dagger from his waist, charging at Vin ahead of the Thugs, who were getting close. Vin paused for just a moment—regretting her decision, but seeing its inevitability.
The men had hidden a Mistborn among their numbers. A Mistborn like Vin, a person who could burn all ten metals. A Mistborn who had been waiting for the right moment to strike at her, to catch her unprepared.
He would have atium, and there was only one way to fight someone who had atium. It was the ultimate Allomantic metal, usable only by full Mistborn, and it could easily decide the fate of a battle. Each bead was worth a fortune—but what good was a fortune if she died?
Vin burned her atium.
The world around her seemed to change. Every moving object—swinging shutters, blowing ash, attacking Thugs, even trails of mist—shot out a translucent replica of itself. The replicas moved just in front of their real counterparts, showing Vin exactly what would happen a few moments in the future.
Only the Mistborn was immune. Rather than shooting out a single atium shadow, he released dozens—the sign that he was burning atium. He paused just briefly. Vin’s own body would have just exploded with dozens of confusing atium shadows. Now that she could see the future, she could see what he was going to do. That, in turn, changed what she was going to do. That changed what he was going to do. And so, like the reflections in two mirrors facing each other, the possibilities continued into infinity. Neither had an advantage.
Though their Mistborn paused, the four unfortunate Thugs continued to charge, having no way to know that Vin burned atium. Vin turned, standing beside the body of the fallen Smoker. With one foot, she kicked the soundsticks into the air.
A Thug arrived, swinging. His diaphanous atium shadow of a staff blow passed through her body. Vin twisted, ducking to the side, and could feel the real staff pass over her ear. The maneuver seemed easy within the aura of atium.
She snatched one of the soundsticks from the air, then slammed it up into the Thug’s neck. She spun, catching the other soundstick, then twisted back and cracked it against the man’s skull. He fell forward, groaning, and Vin spun again, easily dodging between two more staves.
She smashed the noise sticks against the sides of a second Thug’s head. They shattered—ringing with a hollow sound like that of a musician’s beat—as the Thug’s skull cracked.
He fell, and did not move again. Vin kicked his staff into the air, then dropped the broken soundsticks and caught it. She spun, twisting the staff and tripping both remaining Thugs at once. In a fluid motion, she delivered two swift—yet powerful—blows to their faces.
She fell to a crouch as the men died, holding the staff in one hand, her other hand resting against the mist-wetted cobbles. The Mistborn held back, and she could see uncertainty in his eyes. Power didn’t necessarily mean competence, and his two best advantages—surprise and atium—had been negated.
He turned, Pulling a group of coins up off the ground, then shot them. Not toward Vin—but toward OreSeur, who still stood in the mouth of an alleyway. The Mistborn obviously hoped that Vin’s concern for her servant would draw her attention away, perhaps letting him escape.
He was wrong.
Vin ignored the coins, dashing forward. Even as OreSeur cried out in pain—a dozen coins piercing his skin—Vin threw her staff at the Mistborn’s head. Once it left her fingers, however, its atium shadow became firm and singular.
The Mistborn assassin ducked, dodging perfectly. The move distracted him long enough for her to close the distance, however. She needed to attack quickly; the atium bead she’d swallowed had been small. It would burn out quickly. And, once it was gone, she’d be exposed. Her opponent would have total power over her. He—
Her terrified opponent raised his dagger. At that moment, his atium ran out.
Vin’s predatory instincts reacted instantly, and she swung a fist. He raised an arm to block her blow, but she saw it coming, and she changed the direction of her attack. The blow took him square in the face. Then, with deft fingers, she snatched his glass dagger before it could fall and shatter. She stood and swung it through her opponent’s neck.
He fell quietly.
Vin stood, breathing heavily, the group of assassins dead around her. For just a moment, she felt overwhelming power. With atium, she was invincible. She could dodge any blow, kill any enemy.
Her atium ran out.
Suddenly, everything seemed to grow dull. The pain in her side returned to her mind, and she coughed, groaning. She’d have bruises—large ones. Perhaps some cracked ribs.
But she’d won again. Barely. What would happen when she failed? When she didn’t watch carefully enough, or fight skillfully enough?
Elend would die.
Vin sighed, and looked up. He was still there, watching her from atop a roof. Despite a half-dozen chases spread across several months, she’d never managed to catch him. Someday she would corner him in the night.
But not today. She didn’t have the energy. In fact, a part of her worried that he’d strike her down. But . . . she thought. He saved me. I would have died if I’d gotten too close to that hidden Mistborn. An instant of him burning atium with me unaware, and I’d have found his daggers in my chest.
The Watcher stood for a few more moments—wreathed, as always, in the curling mists. Then he turned, jumping away into the night. Vin let him go; she had to deal with OreSeur.
She stumbled over to him, then paused. His nondescript body—in a servant’s trousers and shirt—had been pelted with coins, and blood seeped from the several wounds.
He looked up at her. “What?” he asked.
“I didn’t expect there to be blood.”
OreSeur snorted. “You probably didn’t expect me to feel pain either.”
Vin opened her mouth, then paused. Actually, she hadn’t ever thought about it. Then she hardened herself. What right does this thing have to chastise me?
Still, OreSeur had proven useful. “Thank you for throwing me the vial,” she said.
“It was my duty, Mistress,” OreSeur said, grunting as he pulled his broken body up against the side of the alleyway. “I was charged with your protection by Master Kelsier. As always, I serve the Contract.”
Ah, yes. The almighty Contract. “Can you walk?”
“Only with effort, Mistress. The coins shattered several of these bones. I will need a new body. One of the assassins, perhaps?”
Vin frowned. She glanced back toward the dead men, and her stomach twisted slightly at the gruesome sight of their fallen bodies. She’d killed them, eight men, with the cruel efficiency that Kelsier had trained in her.
This is what I am, she thought. A killer, like those men. That was how it had to be. Someone had to protect Elend.
However, the thought of OreSeur eating one of them—digesting the corpse, letting his strange kandra senses memorize the positioning of muscles, skin, and organs, so that he could reproduce them—sickened her.
She glanced to the side, and saw the veiled scorn in OreSeur’s eyes. They both knew what she thought of him eating human bodies. They both knew what he thought of her prejudice.
“No,” Vin said. “We won’t use one of these men.”
“You’ll have to find me another body, then,” OreSeur said. “The Contract states that I cannot be forced to kill men.”
Vin’s stomach twisted again. I’ll think of something, she thought. His current body was that of a murderer, taken after an execution. Vin was still worried that someone in the city would recognize the face.
“Can you get back to the palace?” Vin asked.
“With time,” OreSeur said.
Vin nodded, dismissing him, then turned back toward the bodies. Somehow she suspected that this night would mark a distinct turning point in the fate of the Central Dominance.
Straff’s assassins had done more damage than they would ever know. That bead of atium had been her last. The next time a Mistborn attacked her, she would be exposed.
And would likely die as easily as the Mistborn she’d slain this night.