25

No man dies by my hand or command except that I wish there had been another way. Still, I kill them. Sometimes, I wish that I weren’t such a cursed realist.

KELSIER TOSSED ANOTHER WATER JUG into his pack. “Breeze, make a list of all the hideouts where you and I recruited. Go warn them that the Ministry might soon have prisoners who could give them away.”

Breeze nodded, for once refraining from making any witty remarks. Behind him, apprentices scrambled through Clubs’s shop, gathering and preparing the supplies that Kelsier had ordered.

“Dox, this shop should be secure unless they capture Yeden. Keep all three of Clubs’s Tineyes on watch. If there’s trouble, head for the bolt-lair.”

Dockson nodded in acknowledgment as he hurriedly gave orders to the apprentices. One had already left, bearing a warning to Renoux. Kelsier thought that the mansion would be safe – only that one group of barges had left from Fellise, and its men had thought that Renoux wasn’t in on the plan. Renoux wouldn’t pull out unless absolutely necessary; his disappearance would require removing both himself and Valette from their carefully prepared positions.

Kelsier stuffed a handful of rations into his pack, then swung it onto his back.

“What about me, Kell?” Ham asked.

“You’re going back to the Garrison, like you promised. That was clever thinking – we need an informant in there.”

Ham frowned apprehensively.

“I don’t have time to deal with your nerves right now, Ham,” Kelsier said. “You don’t have to scam, just be yourself and listen.”

“I won’t turn against the Garrison if I go with them,” he said. “I’ll listen, but I’m not going to attack men who think I’m their ally.”

“Fine,” Kelsier said curtly. “But I sincerely hope you can find a way not to kill any of our soldiers, either. Sazed!”

“Yes, Master Kelsier?”

“How much speed do you have stored up?”

Sazed flushed slightly, glancing at the numerous people scurrying around. “Perhaps two, three hours. It is a very difficult attribute to collect.”

“Not long enough,” Kelsier said. “I’ll go alone. Dox is in charge until I get back.”

Kelsier spun, then paused. Vin stood behind him in the same trousers, cap, and shirt she had worn to the Garrison. She had a pack like his slung over her shoulder, and she looked up at him defiantly.

“This is going to be a difficult trip, Vin,” he said. “You’ve never done anything like this before.”

“That’s fine.”

Kelsier nodded. He pulled his trunk out from beneath the table, then opened it and poured Vin a small pouch of pewter beads. She accepted it without comment.

“Swallow five of those beads.”

Five?

“For now,” Kelsier said. “If you need to take some more, call to me so we can stop running.”

“Running?” the girl asked. “We’re not taking a canal boat?”

Kelsier frowned. “Why would we need a boat?”

Vin glanced down at the pouch, then grabbed a cup of water and began to swallow beads.

“Make sure you have enough water in that pack,” Kelsier said. “Take as much as you can carry.” He left her, walking over to lay a hand on Dockson’s shoulder. “It’s about three hours before sunset. If we push hard, we can be there by noon tomorrow.”

Dockson nodded. “That might be early enough.”

Maybe, Kelsier thought. The Valtroux Garrison is only three days’ march from Holstep. Even riding all night, a messenger couldn’t have gotten to Luthadel in under two days. By the time I get to the army…

Dockson could obviously read the worry in Kelsier’s eyes. “Either way, the army is useless to us now,” he said.

“I know,” Kelsier said. “This is just about saving those men’s lives. I’ll get word to you as soon as I can.”

Dockson nodded.

Kelsier turned, flaring his pewter. His pack suddenly became as light as if it had been empty. “Burn your pewter, Vin. We’re leaving.”

She nodded, and Kelsier felt a pulsing come from her. “Flare it,” he ordered, pulling two mistcloaks from his trunk and tossing one to her. He put on the other, then walked forward, throwing open the back door to the kitchen. The red sun was bright overhead. Frantic crewmembers paused for a moment, turning to watch as Kelsier and Vin left the building.

The girl hurried forward to walk at Kelsier’s side. “Ham told me that I should learn to use pewter only when I need it – he said it’s better to be subtle.”

Kelsier turned to face the girl. “This is not a time for subtlety. Stay close to me, try to keep up, and make absolutely certain you don’t run out of pewter.”

Vin nodded, suddenly looking a bit apprehensive.

“All right,” Kelsier said, taking a deep breath. “Let’s go.”

Kelsier took off down the alleyway in a superhuman dash. Vin jumped into motion, following him out of the alley and onto the street. Pewter was a blazing fire within her. Flared as it was, she would probably go through all five beads in barely an hour.

The street was busy with skaa workers and noble carriages. Kelsier ignored the traffic, bolting out into the very center of the street, maintaining his ridiculous speed. Vin followed, growing increasingly worried about what she had gotten herself into.

I can’t let him go alone, she thought. Of course, the last time she’d forced Kelsier to take her with him, she’d ended up half dead in a sickbed for a month.

Kelsier wove between carriages, brushing past pedestrians, charging down the street as if it were meant only for him. Vin followed as best as she could, the ground a blur beneath her feet, people passing too quickly to see their faces. Some of them called out after her, their voices annoyed. A couple of these, however, choked off immediately, falling silent.

The cloaks, Vin thought. That’s why we’re wearing them – that’s why we always wear them. Noblemen who see the mistcloaks will know to stay out of our way.

Kelsier turned, running directly toward the northern city gates. Vin followed. Kelsier didn’t slow as he approached the gates, and the lines of people began to point. Checkpoint guards turned with surprised faces.

Kelsier jumped.

One of the armored guards crumpled to the ground with a cry, smashed down by Kelsier’s Allomantic weight as the crewleader passed overhead. Vin took a breath, dropped a coin to give herself a bit of lift, and jumped. She easily cleared a second guard, who looked up with surprise as his companion squirmed on the ground.

Vin Pushed against the soldier’s armor, throwing herself higher into the air. The man staggered, but stayed on his feet – Vin was nowhere near as heavy as Kelsier.

She shot over the wall, hearing cries of surprise from the soldiers on top of it. She could only hope that nobody recognized her. It wasn’t likely. Though her cap flew free as she soared through the air, those who were familiar with Valette the courtgoing lady would probably never connect her to a Mistborn in dirty trousers.

Vin’s cloak whipped angrily in the passing air. Kelsier completed his arc before her and began to descend, and Vin soon followed. It felt very strange to use Allomancy in the sunlight. Unnatural, even. Vin made the mistake of looking down as she fell. Instead of comfortable swirling mists, she saw the ground far below.

So high! Vin thought with horror. Fortunately, she wasn’t too disoriented to Push against the coin Kelsier had used to land. She slowed her descent to a manageable level before thumping against the ashen earth.

Kelsier immediately took off down the highway. Vin followed him, ignoring merchants and travelers. Now that they were out of the city, she had thought Kelsier might slow down. He didn’t. He sped up.

And, suddenly, she understood. Kelsier didn’t intend to walk, or even jog, to the caves.

He planned to dash all the way there.

It was a two-week trip by canal. How long would it take them? They were moving fast, horribly fast. Slower than a galloping horse, certainly, but surely a horse couldn’t maintain such a gallop for very long.

Vin didn’t feel fatigue as she ran. She relied on the pewter, only passing a little of the strain onto her body. She could barely feel her footsteps hitting the ground beneath her, and with such a large reserve of pewter, she felt that she could maintain the speed for a decent length of time.

She caught up to Kelsier, falling into place beside him. “This is easier than I thought it would be.”

“Pewter enhances your balance,” Kelsier said. “Otherwise you’d be tripping over yourself right now.”

“What do you think we’ll find? At the caves, I mean.”

Kelsier shook his head. “No use talking. Save your strength.”

“But, I’m not feeling weary at all!”

“We’ll see what you say in sixteen hours,” Kelsier said, speeding up even more as they turned off the highway, running onto the wide towpath beside the Luth-Davn Canal.

Sixteen hours!

Vin fell behind Kelsier slightly, giving herself plenty of space to run. Kelsier increased their speed until they were going at a maddening pace. He was right: In any other context, she would have quickly missed her step on the uneven road. Yet, with pewter and tin guiding her, she managed to stay on her feet – though doing so required increasing attention as the evening grew dark and the mists came out.

Occasionally, Kelsier threw down a coin and launched himself from one hilltop to another. However, he mostly kept them running at an even pace, sticking to the canal. Hours passed, and Vin began to feel the fatigue that he had implied would come. She maintained her speed, but she could feel something underneath it – a resistance within, a longing to stop and rest. Despite pewter’s power, her body was running out of strength.

She made certain to never let her pewter run low. She feared that if it ever went out, the fatigue would come upon her so powerfully that she wouldn’t be able to get started again. Kelsier also ordered her to drink a ridiculous amount of water, though she wasn’t that thirsty.

The night grew dark and silent, no travelers daring to brave the mists. They passed canal boats and barges tied up for the night, as well as the occasional camp of canalmen, their tents huddled closely against the mists. Twice they saw mistwraiths on the road, the first one giving Vin a terrible start. Kelsier just passed it by – completely ignoring the terrible, translucent remnants of the people and animals who had been ingested, their bones now forming the mistwraith’s own skeleton.

Still he kept running. Time became a blur, and the running came to dominate all that Vin was and did. Moving demanded so much attention that she could barely even focus on Kelsier ahead of her in the mists. She kept putting one foot ahead of the other, her body remaining strong – yet, at the same time, feeling terribly exhausted. Every step, quick though it was, became a chore. She began to yearn for rest.

Kelsier didn’t give it to her. He kept running, forcing her on, maintaining the incredible speed. Vin’s world became a timeless thing of forced pain and burgeoning enervation. They slowed occasionally to drink water or swallow more pewter beads – but she never stopped running. It was like… like she couldn’t stop. Vin let the exhaustion overwhelm her mind. Flared pewter was everything. She was nothing else.

Light surprised her. The sun began to rise, the mists vanishing. But Kelsier didn’t let the illumination stop them. How could he? They had to run. They had to just… had… to… keep… running…

I’m going to die.

It wasn’t the first time the thought had occurred to Vin during the run. In fact, the idea kept circling in her mind, picking at her brain like a carrion bird. She kept moving. Running.

I hate running, she thought. That’s why I’ve always lived in a city, not out on the countryside. So I wouldn’t have to run.

Something within her knew that the thought didn’t make any kind of sense. However, lucidity was not currently one of her virtues.

I hate Kelsier too. He just keeps on going. How long has it been since the sun rose? Minutes? Hours? Weeks? Years? I swear, I don’t think–

Kelsier slowed to a stop on the road ahead of her.

Vin was so stunned that she nearly collided with him. She stumbled, slowing herself maladroitly, as if she had forgotten how to do anything other than run. She stopped, then stared down at her feet, dumbfounded.

This is wrong, she thought. I can’t just stand here. I have to be moving.

She felt herself begin to move again, but Kelsier grabbed her. She struggled in his grip, resisting weakly.

Rest, something within her said. Relax. You’ve forgotten what that is, but it’s so nice…

“Vin!” Kelsier said. “Don’t extinguish your pewter. Keep burning it or you’ll fall unconscious!”

Vin shook her head, disoriented, trying to make out his words.

“Tin!” he said. “Flare it. Now!”

She did so. Her head blazed with a sudden headache that she had almost forgotten, and she had to close her eyes against the blinding sunlight. Her legs ached, and her feet felt even worse. The sudden wash of senses restored her sanity, however, and she blinked, looking up at Kelsier.

“Better?” he asked.

She nodded.

“You’ve just done something incredibly unfair to your body,” Kelsier said. “It should have shut down hours ago, but you have pewter to make it keep going. You’ll recover – you’ll even get better at pushing yourself like this – but right now you just have to keep burning the pewter and stay awake. We can sleep later.”

Vin nodded again. “Why…” Her voice croaked as she spoke. “Why did we stop?”

“Listen.”

She did. She heard… voices. Yelling.

She looked up at him. “A battle?”

Kelsier nodded. “The city of Holstep is about an hour more to the north, but I think we’ve found what we came for. Come on.”

He released her, dropping a coin and jumping over the canal. Vin followed, following him as he rushed up a nearby hill. Kelsier crested it, peeking over the top. Then he stood up, staring at something to the east. Vin crested the hill, and easily saw the battle – such as it was – in the distance. A shift in the wind brought scents to her nose.

Blood. The valley beyond was speckled with corpses. Men still fought on the far side of the valley – a small, ragged group in unmatched clothing was surrounded by a much larger, uniformed army.

“We’re too late,” Kelsier said. “Our men must have finished off the Holstep Garrison, then tried to march back to the caves. But Valtroux City is only a few days away, and its garrison is five thousand strong. Those soldiers got here before we did.”

Squinting, using tin despite the light, Vin could see that he was right. The larger army wore imperial uniforms, and if the line of corpses was any indication, it had ambushed the skaa soldiers as it passed. Their army didn’t have a chance. As she watched, the skaa began to throw up their hands, but the soldiers just kept on killing them. Some of the remaining peasants fought desperately, but they were falling almost as quickly.

“It’s a slaughter,” Kelsier said angrily. “The Valtroux Garrison must have orders to wipe out the entire group.” He stepped forward.

“Kelsier!” Vin said, grabbing his arm. “What are you doing?”

He turned back to her. “There are still men down there. My men.”

“What are you going to do – attack an entire army by yourself? For what purpose? Your rebels don’t have Allomancy – they won’t be able to run away on swift feet and escape. You can’t stop an entire army, Kelsier.”

He shook himself free of her grip; she didn’t have the strength to hold on. She stumbled, falling to the rough black dirt, throwing up a puff of ash. Kelsier began to stalk down the hill toward the battlefield.

Vin climbed to her knees. “Kelsier,” she said, shaking quietly with fatigue. “We aren’t invincible, remember?”

He paused.

You’re not invincible,” she whispered. “You can’t stop them all. You can’t save those men.”

Kelsier stood quietly, his fists clenched. Then, slowly, he bowed his head. In the distance, the massacre continued, though there weren’t many rebels left.

“The caves,” Vin whispered. “Our force would have left men behind, right? Maybe they can tell us why the army exposed itself. Maybe you can save the ones who stayed behind. The Lord Ruler’s men will certainly search out the army’s headquarters – if they aren’t trying already.”

Kelsier nodded. “All right. Let’s go.”

Kelsier dropped down into the cavern. He had to flare tin to see anything in the deep darkness, lit only by a bit of reflected sunlight from far above. Vin’s scraping in the crack above sounded thunderous to his overenhanced ears. In the cavern itself… nothing. No sound, no light.

So she was wrong, Kelsier thought. No one stayed behind.

Kelsier breathed out slowly, trying to find an outlet for his frustration and anger. He’d abandoned the men on the battlefield. He shook his head, ignoring what logic told him at the moment. His anger was still too fresh.

Vin dropped to the ground beside him, her figure no more than a shadow to his straining eyes.

“Empty,” he declared, his voice echoing hollowly in the cavern. “You were wrong.”

“No,” Vin whispered. “There.”

Suddenly, she was off, scrambling across the floor with a catlike litheness. Kelsier called after her in the darkness, gritted his teeth, then followed her by sound down one of the corridors.

“Vin, get back here! There’s nothing–”

Kelsier paused. He could just barely make out a flicker of light ahead of him in the corridor. Bloody hell! How did she see it from so far away?

He could still hear Vin ahead of him. Kelsier made his way more carefully, checking his metal reserves, worried about a trap left by Ministry agents. As he drew nearer to the light, a voice called out ahead. “Who’s there? Say the password!”

Kelsier continued walking, the light growing bright enough for him to see a spear-holding figure backlit in the corridor ahead. Vin waited in the darkness, crouching. She looked up questioningly as Kelsier passed. She seemed to have gotten over the drain of the pewter drag, for the moment. When they finally stopped to rest, however, she’d feel it.

“I can hear you!” the guard said anxiously. His voice sounded slightly familiar. “Identify yourself.”

Captain Demoux, Kelsier realized. One of ours. It’s not a trap.

“Say the password!” Demoux commanded.

“I need no password,” Kelsier said, stepping into the light.

Demoux lowered his spear. “Lord Kelsier? You’ve come… does that mean the army succeeded?”

Kelsier ignored the question. “Why aren’t you guarding the entrance back there?”

“We… thought it would be more defensible to retreat to the inner complex, my lord. There aren’t a lot of us left.”

Kelsier glanced back toward the entrance corridor. How long until the Lord Ruler’s men find a captive willing to talk? Vin was right after all – we need to get these men to safety.

Vin stood and approached, studying the young soldier with those quiet eyes of hers. “How many of you are there?”

“About two thousand,” Demoux said. “We… were wrong, my lord. I’m sorry.”

Kelsier looked back at him. “Wrong?”

“We thought that General Yeden was acting rashly,” Demoux said, blushing in shame. “We stayed behind. We… thought we were being loyal to you, rather than him. But we should have gone with the rest of the army.”

“The army is dead,” Kelsier said curtly. “Gather your men, Demoux. We need to leave now.”

That night, sitting on a tree stump with the mists gathering around him, Kelsier finally forced himself to confront the day’s events.

He sat with his hands clasped before him, listening to the last, faint sounds of the army’s men bedding down. Fortunately, someone had thought to prepare the group for quick departure. Each man had a bedroll, a weapon, and enough food for two weeks. As soon as Kelsier discovered who had been so foresighted, he intended to give the man a hefty promotion.

Not that there was much to command anymore. The remaining two thousand men included a depressingly large number of soldiers who were past or before their prime – men wise enough to see that Yeden’s plan had been insane, or men young enough to be frightened.

Kelsier shook his head. So many dead. They’d gathered nearly seven thousand troops before this fiasco, but now most of them lay dead. Yeden had apparently decided to “test” the army by striking at night against the Holstep Garrison. What had led him to such a foolish decision?

Me, Kelsier thought. This is my fault. He’d promised them supernatural aid. He’d set himself up, had made Yeden a part of the crew, and had talked so casually about doing the impossible. Was it any wonder that Yeden had thought he could attack the Final Empire head on, considering the confidence Kelsier had given him? Was it any wonder the soldiers would go with the man, considering the promises Kelsier had made?

Now men were dead, and Kelsier was responsible. Death wasn’t new to him. Neither was failure – not anymore. But, he couldn’t get over the twisting in his gut. True, the men had died fighting the Final Empire, which was as good a death as any skaa could hope for – however, the fact that they’d likely died expecting some sort of divine protection from Kelsier… that was disturbing.

You knew this would be hard, he told himself. You understood the burden you were taking upon yourself.

But, what right had he? Even members of his own crew – Ham, Breeze, and the others – assumed that the Final Empire was invincible. They followed because of their faith in Kelsier, and because he had couched his plans in the form of a thieving job. Well, now that job’s patron was dead; a scout sent to check the battlefield had, for better or worse, been able to confirm Yeden’s death. The soldiers had put his head on a spear beside the road, along with several of Ham’s officers.

The job was dead. They had failed. The army was gone. There would be no rebellion, no seizing of the city.

Footsteps approached. Kelsier looked up, wondering if he even had the strength to stand. Vin lay curled up beside his stump, asleep on the hard ground, only her mistcloak for a cushion. Their extended pewter drag had taken a lot out of the girl, and she had collapsed virtually the moment Kelsier had called a halt for the night. He wished he could do the same. However, he was far more experienced with pewter dragging than she was. His body would give out eventually, but he could keep going for a bit longer.

A figure appeared from the mists, hobbling in Kelsier’s direction. The man was old, older than any that Kelsier had recruited. He must have been part of the rebellion from earlier – one of the skaa who had been living in the caves before Kelsier hijacked them.

The man chose a large stone beside Kelsier’s stump, sitting with a sigh. It was amazing that one so old had even been able to keep up. Kelsier had moved the group at a fast pace, seeking to distance them as much as possible from the cave complex.

“The men will sleep fitfully,” the old man said. “They aren’t accustomed to being out in the mists.”

“They don’t have much choice,” Kelsier said.

The old man shook his head. “I suppose they don’t.” He sat for a moment, aged eyes unreadable. “You don’t recognize me, do you?”

Kelsier paused, then shook his head. “I’m sorry. Did I recruit you?”

“After a fashion. I was one of the skaa at Lord Tresting’s plantation.”

Kelsier opened his mouth slightly in surprise, finally recognizing a slight familiarity to the man’s bald head and tired, yet somehow strong, posture. “The old man I sat with that night. Your name was…”

“Mennis. After you killed Tresting, we retreated up to the caves, where the rebels there took us in. A lot of the others left eventually, off to find other plantations to join. Some of us stayed.”

Kelsier nodded. “You’re behind this, aren’t you?” he said, gesturing toward the camp. “The preparations?”

Mennis shrugged. “Some of us can’t fight, so we do other things.”

Kelsier leaned forward. “What happened, Mennis? Why did Yeden do this?”

Mennis just shook his head. “Though most expect young men to be fools, I’ve noticed that just a little bit of age can make a man far more foolish than he was as a child. Yeden… well, he was the type who was too easily impressed – both by you and by the reputation you left for him. Some of his generals thought it might be a good idea to give the men some practical battle experience, and they figured a night raid on the Holstep Garrison would be a clever move. Apparently, it was more difficult than they assumed.”

Kelsier shook his head. “Even if they’d been successful, exposing the army would have made it useless to us.”

“They believed in you,” Mennis said quietly. “They thought that they couldn’t fail.”

Kelsier sighed, resting his head back, staring up into the shifting mists. He slowly let his breath exhale, its air mingling with the currents overhead.

“So, what becomes of us?” Mennis asked.

“We’ll split you up,” Kelsier said, “get you back into Luthadel in small groups, lose you among the skaa population.”

Mennis nodded. He seemed tired – exhausted – yet he didn’t retire. Kelsier could understand that feeling.

“Do you remember our conversation back on Tresting’s plantation?” Mennis asked.

“A bit,” Kelsier said. “You tried to dissuade me from making trouble.”

“But it didn’t stop you.”

“Troublemaking is just about the only thing I’m good at, Mennis. Do you resent what I did there, what I forced you to become?”

Mennis paused, then nodded. “But, in a way, I’m thankful for that resentment. I believed that my life was over – I awoke each day expecting that I wouldn’t have the strength to rise. But… well, I found purpose again in the caves. For that, I’m grateful.”

“Even after what I did to the army?”

Mennis snorted. “Don’t think quite so highly of yourself, young man. Those soldiers got themselves killed. You might have been their motivation, but you didn’t make the choice for them.

“Regardless, this isn’t the first skaa rebellion to get slaughtered. Not by far. In a way, you’ve accomplished a lot – you gathered an army of considerable size, and then you armed and trained it beyond what anyone had a right to expect. Things went a little more quickly than you anticipated, but you should be proud of yourself.”

“Proud?” Kelsier asked, standing to work off some of his agitation. “This army was supposed to help overthrow the Final Empire, not get itself killed fighting a meaningless battle in a valley weeks outside of Luthadel.”

“Overthrow the…” Mennis looked up, frowning. “You really expected to do something like that?”

“Of course,” Kelsier said. “Why else would I gather an army like this?”

“To resist,” Mennis said. “To fight. That’s why those lads came to the caves. It wasn’t a matter of winning or losing, it was a matter of doing something – anything – to struggle against the Lord Ruler.”

Kelsier turned, frowning. “You expected the army to lose from the beginning?”

“What other end was there?” Mennis asked. He stood, shaking his head. “Some may have begun to dream otherwise, lad, but the Lord Ruler can’t be defeated. Once, I gave you some advice – I told you to be careful which battles you chose to fight. Well, I’ve realized that this battle was worth fighting.

“Now, let me give you another piece of advice, Kelsier, Survivor of Hathsin. Know when to quit. You’ve done well, better than any would have expected. Those skaa of yours killed an entire garrison’s worth of soldiers before they were caught and destroyed. This is the greatest victory the skaa have known in decades, perhaps centuries. Now it’s time to walk away.”

With that, the old man nodded his head in respect, then began to shuffle back toward the center of the camp.

Kelsier stood, dumbfounded. The greatest victory the skaa have known in decades…

That was what he fought against. Not just the Lord Ruler, not just the nobility. He fought against a thousand years of conditioning, a thousand years of life in a society that would label the deaths of five thousand men as a “great victory.” Life was so hopeless for the skaa that they’d been reduced to finding comfort in expected defeats.

“That wasn’t a victory, Mennis,” Kelsier whispered. “I’ll show you a victory.”

He forced himself to smile – not out of pleasure, and not out of satisfaction. He smiled despite the grief he felt at the deaths of his men; he smiled because that was what he did. That was how he proved to the Lord Ruler – and to himself – that he wasn’t beaten.

No, he wasn’t going to walk away. He wasn’t finished yet. Not by far.

THE END OF PART THREE

Contents