Mistborn: The Hero of Ages (3 page)

"My city?" Fatren asked, frowning. "Why ? "

Venture held up a finger. "We have to survive this battle f irst," he said. "We'll get to other things later."

Fatren paused, and was surprised to realize that he did trust the stranger. He couldn't have explained exactly why he felt that way. This was simply a man to follow a leader such as Fatren had always wanted to be.

Venture didn't wait for Fatren to agree to the "conditions." It wasn't an offer, but an ultimatum. Fatren hurried to catch up again as Venture entered the small square in front of the city gates. Soldiers bustled about. None of them wore uniforms their only method of distinguishing a captain from a regular soldier was a red band tied around the arm. Venture hadn't given them much time to gather but, then, they all knew the city was about to be attacked. They had been gathered anyway. "Time is short," Venture repeated in a loud voice. "I can teach you only a few things, but they will make a difference.

"Koloss range in size from small ones that are about five feet tall to the huge ones, which are about twelve feet tall. However, even the little ones are going to be stronger than you are. Expect that. Fortunately, the creatures fight without coordination between individuals. If a koloss's comrade is in trouble, he won't bother to help. "They attack directly, without guile, and try to use blunt force to overwhelm. Don't let them! Tell your men to gang up on individual koloss two men for the small ones, three or four for the big ones. We won't be able to maintain a very large front, but that will keep us alive the longest.

"Don't worry about creatures that get around our line and enter the city we'll have the civilians hidden at the very back of your town, and the koloss who bypass our line might turn to pillaging, leaving others to fight alone. That's what we want! Don't chase them down into the city. Your families will be safe. "If you're f ighting a big koloss, attack the legs, bring it down before you go for the kill. If you're fighting a small one, make certain your sword or spear doesn't get caught in their loose skin. Understand that koloss aren't stupid they're just unsophisticated. Predictable. They'll come at you the easiest way possible, and attack only in the most direct manner.

"The most important thing for you to understand is that they
can
be beaten. We'll do it today. Don't let yourselves become intimidate d! Fight with coordination, keep your heads, and I promise you that we will survive ."

The soldier captains stood in a small
cluster, looking
at Venture. They didn't cheer at the speech, but they did seem a little more confident. They moved off to pass on . 12 201

Venture's instructions to their men.

Fatren approached the emperor quietly. "If your count is correct, they outnumber us five to one." Venture nodded.

"They're bigger, stronger, and better trained than we are."

Venture nodded again.

"We're doomed, then."

Venture finally looked at Fatren, frowning, black ash dusting his shoulders. "You're not doomed. You have something they don't something very important." "What's that? " Venture met his eyes. "You have me ."

"My lord emperor!" a voice called from atop the bulwark. "Koloss sighted!" They already call to him f irst , Fatren thought. Fatren wasn't certain whether to be insulted or impressed.

Venture immediately jumped up to the top of the bulwark, using his Allomancy to cross the distance in a quick bound. Most of the soldiers stooped or hid behind the top of the fortification, keeping a low profile despite the distance of their enemies . Venture, however, stood proud in his white cape and uniform, shading his eyes, squinting toward the horizon.

"They're setting up camp," he said, smiling. "Good. Lord Fatren, prepare the men for an assault."

"An assault?" Fatren asked, scrambling up behind Venture.

The emperor nodded. "The koloss will be tired from marching, and will be distracted by making camp. We'll never have a better opportunity to attack them." "But, we're on the defensive!" Venture shook his head. "If we wait, they'll eventually whip themselves into a blood frenzy, then come against us. We need to attack, rather than j ust wait to be slaughtered."

"And abandon the bulwark? "

"The fortif ication is impressive, Lord Fatren, but ultimately useless. You don't have the numbers to defend the entire perimeter, and the koloss are generally taller and more stable than men. They'll just take the bulwark from you, then hold the high ground as they push down into the city."

"But "

Venture looked at him. His eyes were calm, but his gaze was firm and expectant. The message was simple.
I am in charge now
. There would be no more arguing. "Yes, my lord," Fatren said, calling over messengers to pass the orders.

Venture stood watching as the messenger boys dashed off. There seemed to be some conf usion among the men they weren't expecting to attack. More and more eyes turned toward Venture, standing tall atop the bulwark.

He reall y does look like an emperor , Fatren thought despite himself.

The orders moved down the line. Time passed. Finally, the entire army was watching. Venture pulled out his sword and held it high in the ash-scattered sky. Then, he took off down the bulwark in an inhumanly quick dash, charging toward the koloss camp.

For a moment, he ran alone. Then, surprising himself, Fatren gritted his teeth against shaking nerves and followed.

The bulwark exploded with motion, the soldiers charging with a collective yell, running toward death with their weapons held high.

. 13 201

Holding the power did strange things to m y mind. In just a f ew moments, I became f amiliar with the
power itsel f, with its histor y, and with the ways it might be used
.
Yet, this knowledge was di f ferent
from ex perience, or even ability to use that power. For instance, I knew how to move a planet in the
sk y. Yet, I didn 't know where to place it so that it wouldn't be too close, or too far, f rom the sun
.
2

AS ALWAYS, TENSOON' S DAY
began in darkness. Part of that was due, of course, to the fact that he didn't have any eyes. He could have created a set he was of the Third Generation, which was old, even for a kandra. He had digested enough corpses that he had learned how to create sensory organs intuitively without a model to copy.

Unfortunately, eyes would have done him little good. He didn't have a skull, and he had found that most organs didn't function well without a full body and skeleton to support them. His own mass would crush eyes if he moved the wrong way, and it would be very difficult to turn them about to see . Not that there would be anything to look at. TenSoon moved his bulk slightly, shifting inside his prison chamber. His body was little more than a grouping of translucent muscles like a mass of large snails or slugs, all connected, somewhat more malleable than the body of a mollusk. With concentration, he could dissolve one of the muscles and either meld it with another one, or make something new. Yet, without a skeleton to use, he was all but impotent.

He shifted in his cell again. His very skin had a sense of its own a kind of taste. Right now, it tasted the stench of his own excrement on the sides of the chamber, but he didn't dare turn off this sense. It was one of his only connections to the world around him.

The " cell " was actually nothing more than a grate-covered stone pit. It was barely large enough to hold his mass. His captors dumped food in from the top, then periodically poured water in to hydrate him and wash his excrement out through a small drainage hole at the bottom. Both this hole and those in the locked grate above were too small for him to slide through a kandra's body was supple, but even a pile of muscles could be squeezed only so small .

Most people would have gone mad from the stress of being so confined for . . . he didn't even know how long it had been. Months? But TenSoon had the Blessing of Presence. His mind would not give in easily.

Sometimes he cursed the Blessing for keeping him from the blissful relief of madness.
Focus
, he told himself. He had no brain, not as humans did, but he was able to think. He didn't understand this. He wasn't certain if any kandra did. Perhaps those of the First Generation knew more but if so, they didn't enlighten everyone else.

They can't keep you here f orever , he told himself. The First Contract says . . . But he was beginning to doubt the First Contract or, rather, that the First Generation paid any attention to it. But, could he blame them? TenSoon was a Contract-breaker. By his own admission, he had gone against the will of his master, helping another instead. This betrayal had ended with his master's death. Yet, even such a shameful act was the least of his crimes. The punishment for Contract-breaking was death, and if TenS oon's crimes had stopped there, the others would have killed him and been done with it. Unfortunately, there was much more at stake. TenSoon's testimony given to the Second Generation in a closed conf erence had revealed a much more dangerous, much more important, lapse.

TenSoon had betrayed his people's secret.

They can't execute me
, he thought, using the idea to keep him focused.
Not until they find out who I
told
.

The secret. The precious, preci ous secret.

I've doomed us all. My entire people. We
'll be slaves again. No, we're already slaves. We 'll become
something else automatons, our minds controlled by others. Captured and used, our bodies no longer
our own .

This was what he had done what he had potentially set in motion. The reason he deserved imprisonment and death. And yet, he w ished to live. He should despise himself. But, for some reason, he still f elt he had done the right thing.

He shifted again, masses of slick muscle rotating around one another. Midshif t, however, he froze. Vibrations. Someone was coming.

He arranged himself, pushing his muscles to the sides of the pit, forming a depression in the middle of his body. He needed to catch all of the food that he could they f ed him precious little. However, no slop came pouring down through the grate. He waited, expectant, until the grate unlocked. Though he had no ears, he could feel the coarse vibrations as the grate was dragged back, its rough iron finally dropped against the floor above .

What?

Hooks came next. They looped around his muscles, grabbing him and ripping his flesh as they pulled him out of the pit. It hurt. Not j ust the hooks, but the sudden freedom as his body was spilled across the floor of the prison. He unwillingly tasted dirt and dried slop. His muscles quivered, the unfettered motion of being outside the cell felt strange, and he strained, moving his bulk in ways that he had nearly forgotten.

Then it came. He could taste it in the air. Acid, thick and pungent, presumably in a gold-lined bucket brought by the prison keepers. They were going to kill him af ter all.

But
, they can't!
he thought.
The First Contract, the law of our people, it
Something fell on him. Not ac id, but something hard. He touched it eagerly, muscles moving against one another, tasting it, testing it, feeling it. It was round, with holes, and several sharp edges . . . a skull.

The acid stink grew sharper. Were they stirring it? TenSoon moved quickly, forming around the skull, filling it. He already had some dissolved flesh stored inside of an organ-like pouch. He brought this out, oozing it around the skull, quickly making skin. He left the eyes alone, working on lungs, forming a tongue, ignoring lips for the moment. He worked with a sense of desperation as the taste of acid grew strong, and then . . .

It hit him. It seared the muscles on one side of his body, washing over his bulk, dissolving it. Apparently, the Second Generation had given up on getting his secrets from him. However, before killing him, they knew they had to give him an opportunity to speak. The First Contract required it hence the skull . However, the guards obviously had orders to kill him before he could actually say anything in his defense. They followed the form of the law, yet at the very same time they ignored its intent.

They didn't realize, however, how quickly TenSoon could work. Few kandra had spent as much time on Contracts as he had all of the Second Generation, and most of the Third, had long ago retired from service. They led easy lives here in the Homeland.

An easy life taught one very little.

Most kandra took hours to form a body some younger ones needed days. In seconds, however, TenSoon had a rudimentary tongue. As the acid moved up his body, he forced out a trachea, inf lated a lung, and croaked out a single word:

"Judgment !"

The pouring stopped. His body continued to burn. He worked through the pain, forming primitive hearing organs inside the skull cavity.

A voice whispered nearby. "Foo l."

"Judgment !" TenSoon said again.

"Accept death," the voice hisse d quietly. "Do not put yourself in a position to cause further harm to our people. The First Generation has granted you this chance to die because of your years of extra service!"

TenSoon paused. A trial would be public . So far, only a select few knew the extent of his betrayal. He could die, cursed as a Contract-breaker but retaining some measure of respect for his prior c areer. Somewhere likely in a pit in this very room there were some who suffered endless captivity, a torture that would eventually break even the minds of those endowed with the Blessing of Presence. Did he want to become one of those? By revealing his actions in an open forum, he would earn himself an eternity of pain. Forcing a trial would be foolish, f or there was no hope of vindication. His conf essions had already damned him.

If he spoke, it would not be to defend himself. It would be for other reasons entirely.

"Judgment," he repeated, this time barely whispering.

. 14 201

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 eas y, had one been familiar with the
power. Yet, I realized the danger inherent in m y ignorance. Like a child suddenly given awesome
strength, I could have pushed too hard, and le ft the world a broken toy I could never repair
.
3

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