Authors: Brandon Sanderson
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #bought-and-paid-for
Elend fell, slumping into a pile of koloss bodies. He would have been dead already, save for the pewter. Marsh stepped up to him, smiling. His empty eye socket was wreathed in tattoos, the mark that Marsh had taken upon himself. The price he had paid to overthrow the Final Empire.
Marsh grabbed Elend by the throat, pulling him back up. “Your soldiers are dead, Elend Venture,” the creature whispered. “Our koloss rampage inside the kandra caverns. Your metals are gone. You have lost.”
Elend felt his life dripping away, the last trickle from an empty glass. He’d been here before, back in the cavern at the Well of Ascension. He should have died then and he’d been terrified. This time, oddly, he was not. There was no regret. Just satisfaction.
Elend looked up at the Inquisitor. Vin, like a glowing phantom, still hovered above them both. “Lost?” Elend whispered. “We’ve won, Marsh.”
“Oh, and how is that?” Marsh asked, dismissive.
Human stood at the side of the pit in the center of the cavern room. The pit where Ruin’s body had been. The place of victory.
Human stood, dumbfounded, a group of other koloss stepping up to him, looking equally confused.
The pit was empty.
“Atium,” Elend whispered, tasting blood. “Where is the atium, Marsh? Where do you think we got the power to fight? You came for that atium? Well it’s
. Tell your master that! You think my men and I expected to kill all of these koloss? There are tens of thousands of them! That wasn’t the point at all.”
Elend’s smile widened. “Ruin’s body is gone, Marsh. We burned it all away, the others and I. You might be able to kill me, but you’ll
get what you came for. And that is why we win.”
Marsh screamed in anger, demanding the truth, but Elend had spoken it. The deaths of the others meant that they had run out of atium. His men had fought until it was gone, as Elend had commanded, burning away every last bit.
The body of a god. The power of a god. Elend had held it for a moment. More important, he’d destroyed it. Hopefully, that would keep his people safe.
It’s up to you now, Vin
, he thought, still feeling the peace of her touch upon his soul.
I’ve done what I can
He smiled at Marsh again, defiantly, as the Inquisitor raised his axe.
The axe took off Elend’s head.
Ruin raged and thrashed about, enraged and destructive. Vin only sat quietly, watching Elend’s headless body slump back into the pile of blue corpses.
How do you like that!
I killed him! I Ruined everything you love! I took it from you!
Vin floated above Elend’s body, looking down. She reached out with incorporeal fingers, touching his head, remembering how it had felt to use her power to fuel his Allomancy. She didn’t know what she had done. Something akin to what Ruin did when it controlled the koloss, perhaps. Only opposite. Liberating. Serene.
Elend was dead. She knew that, and knew that there was nothing she could do. That brought pain, true, but not the pain she had expected.
I let him go long ago
, she thought, stroking his face.
At the Well of Ascension. Allomancy brought him back to me for a time
She didn’t feel the pain or terror that she had known before, when she’d thought him dead. This time, she felt only peace. These last few years had been a blessing—an extension. She’d given Elend up to be his own man, to risk himself as he wished, and perhaps to die. She would always love him. But she would not cease to function because he was gone.
The opposite, perhaps. Ruin floated directly above her, throwing down insults, telling her how it would kill the others. Sazed. Breeze. Ham. Spook.
So few left of the original crew
, she thought.
Kelsier dead so long ago. Dockson and Clubs slaughtered at the Battle of Luthadel. Yeden dead with his soldiers. OreSeur taken at Zane’s command. Marsh, fallen to become an Inquisitor. And the others who joined us, now gone as well. Tindwyl, TenSoon, Elend
. . .
Did Ruin think she would let their sacrifices be for nothing? She rose, gathering her power. She forced it against the power of Ruin, as she had the other times. Yet, this time was different. When Ruin pushed back, she didn’t retreat. She didn’t preserve herself. She drove onward.
The confrontation made her divine body tremble in pain. It was the pain of a cold and hot meeting, the pain of two rocks being smashed together and ground to dust. Their forms undulated and rippled in a tempest of power.
And Vin drove on.
Preservation could never destroy you!
she thought, almost screaming it against the agony.
He could only protect. That’s why he needed to create humankind. All along, Ruin, this was part of his plan!
He didn’t give up part of himself, making himself weaker, simply so that he could create intelligent life! He knew he needed something of both Preservation and of Ruin. Something that could both protect and destroy. Something that could destroy to protect
He gave up his power at the Well, and into the mists, giving it to us so that we could take it. He always intended this to happen. You think this was your plan? It was his. His all along
Ruin cried out. Still, she drove on.
You created the thing that can kill you, Ruin
, Vin said.
And you just made one huge final mistake. You shouldn’t have killed Elend
You see, he was the only reason I had left to live
She didn’t shy back, though the conflict of opposites ripped her apart. Ruin screamed in terror as the force of her power completely melded with Ruin’s.
Her consciousness—now formed and saturated with Preservation—moved to touch that of Ruin. Neither would yield. And, with a surge of power, Vin bid farewell to the world, then pulled Ruin into the abyss with her.
Their two minds puffed away, like mist under a hot sun.
Once Vin died, the end came quickly. We were not prepared for it—but even all of the Lord Ruler’s planning could not have prepared us for this. How did one prepare for the end of the world itself?
SAZED WATCHED QUIETLY
from the mouth of the cavern. Outside, the koloss raged and stomped about, looking confused. Most of the men who had been watching with Sazed had fled. Even most of the soldiers had retreated into the caverns, calling him a fool for waiting. Only General Demoux, who had managed to crawl back to the cavern after his atium ran out, remained, just a few steps into the tunnel. The man was bloody, his arm ending in a tourniquet, his leg crushed. He coughed quietly, waiting for Aslydin to return with more bandages.
Outside, the sun rose into the sky. The heat was incredible, like an oven. Cries of pain echoed from deep within the cavern behind Sazed. Koloss were inside.
“She’ll come,” Sazed whispered.
He could see Elend’s body. It had fallen back down the pile of koloss corpses. It was stark, bright white and red against the black and blue of the koloss and ash.
“Vin will come,” Sazed said insistently.
Demoux looked dazed. Too much blood lost. He slumped back, closing his eyes. Koloss began to move toward the cavern mouth, though they didn’t have the direction or frenzy they’d displayed before.
come!” Sazed said.
Outside, something appeared, as if from mists, then slumped down in the bodies beside Elend’s corpse. It was followed immediately by something else, a second figure, which also fell motionless.
Sazed thought, scrambling out of the cavern. He dashed past several koloss. They tried to swing for him, but Sazed wore his metalminds. He felt he should have his copperminds to use in case he needed to record something important. He wore his ten rings, the ones he’d used to fight during the siege of Luthadel, for he knew that he might need them.
He tapped a bit of steel and dodged the koloss attacks. He moved quickly through the mass of confused-looking koloss, climbing over bodies, moving up to the scrap of white cloak that marked Elend’s resting place. His corpse was there, headless.
A small body lay beside his. Sazed fell to his knees, grabbing Vin by the shoulders. Beside her, atop the pile of dead koloss, lay another body. It was that of a man with red hair, one whom Sazed did not recognize, but he ignored it.
For Vin was not moving.
he thought, checking for a pulse. There was none. Her eyes were closed. She looked peaceful, but very, very dead.
be!” he yelled, shaking her body again. Several koloss lumbered toward him.
He glanced upward. The sun was rising. It was getting hard to breathe for the heat. He felt his skin burning. By the time the sun reached its zenith, it would likely be so hot the land would burn.
“Is this how it ends?” he screamed toward the sky. “Your Hero is dead! Ruin’s power may be broken, the koloss may be lost to him as an army, but
the world will still die
The ash had killed the plants. The sun would burn away anything that remained. There was no food. Sazed blinked out tears, but they dried on his face.
“This is how you leave us?” he whispered.
And then, he felt something. He looked down. Vin’s body was smoking slightly. Not from the heat. It seemed to be leaking something . . . or, no. It was connected to something. The twists of mist he saw, they led to a vast white light. He could just barely see it.
He reached out and touched the mist, and felt an awesome power. A power of stability. To the side, the other corpse—the one he didn’t recognize—was also leaking something. A deep black smoke. Sazed reached out with his other hand, touching the smoke, and felt a different power—more violent. The power of change.
He knelt, stunned, between the bodies. And, only then, did it start to make sense.
The prophecies always used the gender-neutral
, he thought.
So that they could refer to either a man or a woman, we assumed. Or
. . .
perhaps because they referred to a Hero who wasn’t really either one?
He stood up. The sun’s power overhead felt insignificant compared to the twin—yet opposite—powers that surrounded him.
The Hero would be rejected of his people
, Sazed thought.
Yet, he would save them. Not a warrior, though he would fight. Not born a king, but would become one anyway
He looked upward again.
Is this what you planned all along?
He tasted of the power, but drew back, daunted. How could he use such a thing? He was just a man. In the brief glimpse of forces that he touched, he knew that he’d have no hope of using it. He didn’t have the training.
“I can’t do this,” he said through cracked lips, reaching to the sky. “I don’t
know how. I cannot make the world as it was—I never saw it. If I take this power, I will do as the Lord Ruler did, and will only make things worse for my trying. I am simply a man.”
Koloss cried out in pain from the burning. The heat was terrible, and around Sazed, trees began to pop and burst into flames. His touch on the twin powers kept him alive, he knew, but he did not embrace them.
“I am no Hero,” he whispered, still reaching to the sky.
His arms twinkled, golden. His copperminds, worn on his forearms, reflected the light of the sun. They had been with him for so long, his companions. His knowledge.
Knowledge. . . .
The words of the prophecy were very precise
, he thought suddenly.
. . .
they say that the Hero will bear the future of the world on his arms
Not on his shoulders. Not in his hands
. On his arms.
By the Forgotten Gods!
He slammed his arms into the twin mists and seized the powers offered to him. He drew them in, feeling them infuse his body, making him burn. His flesh and bones evaporated, but as they did, he tapped his copperminds, dumping their entire contents into his expanding consciousness.