“Careful, lad,” Mennis said apprehensively. “Remember what I said about wasting energy. You’ll never raise that rebellion of yours if you get yourself killed tonight.”
Kelsier glanced toward the old man. Then, through the screams and the pain, he forced himself to smile. “I’m not here to lead a rebellion among you, Goodman Mennis. I just want to stir up a little trouble.”
“What good could that do?”
Kelsier’s smile deepened. “New days are coming. Survive a little longer, and you just might see great happenings in the Final Empire. I bid you all thanks for your hospitality.”
With that, he pulled open the door and strode out into the mist.
Mennis lay awake in the early hours of morning. It seemed that the older he became, the more difﬁcult it was for him to sleep. This was particularly true when he was troubled about something, such as the traveler’s failure to return to the hovel.
Mennis hoped that Kelsier had come to his senses and decided to move on. However, that prospect seemed unlikely; Mennis had seen the ﬁre in Kelsier’s eyes. It seemed such a shame that a man who had survived the Pits would instead ﬁnd death here, on a random plantation, trying to protect a girl everyone else had given up for dead.
How would Lord Tresting react? He was said to be particularly harsh with anyone who interrupted his nighttime enjoyments. If Kelsier had managed to disturb the master’s pleasures, Tresting might easily decide to punish the rest of his skaa by association.
Eventually, the other skaa began to awake. Mennis lay on the hard earth—bones aching, back complaining, muscles exhausted—trying to decide if it was worth rising. Each day, he nearly gave up. Each day, it was a little harder. One day, he would just stay in the hovel, waiting until the taskmasters came to kill those who were too sick or too elderly to work.
But not today. He could see too much fear in the eyes of the skaa—they knew that Kelsier’s nighttime activities would bring trouble. They needed Mennis; they looked to him. He needed to get up.
And so he did. Once he started moving, the pains of age decreased slightly, and he was able to shufﬂe out of the hovel toward the ﬁelds, leaning on a younger man for support.
It was then that he caught a scent in the air. “What’s that?” he asked. “Do you smell smoke?”
Shum—the lad upon whom Mennis leaned—paused. The last remnants of the night’s mist had burned away, and the red sun was rising behind the sky’s usual haze of blackish clouds.
“I always smell smoke, lately,” Shum said. “The Ash-mounts are violent this year.”
“No,” Mennis said, feeling increasingly apprehensive. “This is different.” He turned to the north, toward where a group of skaa were gathering. He let go of Shum, shufﬂing toward the group, feet kicking up dust and ash as he moved.
At the center of the group of people, he found Jess. Her daughter, the one they all assumed had been taken by Lord Tresting, stood beside her. The young girl’s eyes were red from lack of sleep, but she appeared unharmed.
“She came back not long after they took her,” the woman was explaining. “She came and pounded on the door, crying in the mist. Flen was sure it was just a mistwraith impersonating her, but I had to let her in! I don’t care what he says, I’m not giving her up. I brought her out in the sunlight, and she didn’t disappear. That proves she’s not a mistwraith!”
Mennis stumbled back from the growing crowd. Did none of them see it? No taskmasters came to break up the group. No soldiers came to make the morning population counts. Something was very wrong. Mennis continued to the north, moving frantically toward the manor house.
By the time he arrived, others had noticed the twisting line of smoke that was just barely visible in the morning light. Mennis wasn’t the ﬁrst to arrive at the edge of the short hilltop plateau, but the group made way for him when he did.
The manor house was gone. Only a blackened, smoldering scar remained.
“By the Lord Ruler!” Mennis whispered. “What happened here?”
“He killed them all.”
Mennis turned. The speaker was Jess’s girl. She stood looking down at the fallen house, a satisﬁed expression on her youthful face.
“They were dead when he brought me out,” she said. “All of them—the soldiers, the taskmasters, the lords… dead. Even Lord Tresting and his obligators. The master had left me, going to investigate when the noises began. On the way out, I saw him lying in his own blood, stab wounds in his chest. The man who saved me threw a torch in the building as we left.”
“This man,” Mennis said. “He had scars on his hands and arms, reaching past the elbows?”
The girl nodded silently.
“What kind of demon was that man?” one of the skaa muttered uncomfortably.
“Mistwraith,” another whispered, apparently forgetting that Kelsier had gone out during the day.
But he did go out into the mist, Mennis thought. And, how did he accomplish a feat like this…? Lord Tresting kept over two dozen soldiers! Did Kelsier have a hidden band of rebels, perhaps?
Kelsier’s words from the night before sounded in his ears.
New days are coming….
“But, what of us?” Tepper asked, terriﬁed. “What will happen when the Lord Ruler hears this? He’ll think that we did it! He’ll send us to the Pits, or maybe just send his koloss to slaughter us outright! Why would that troublemaker do something like this? Doesn’t he understand the damage he’s done?”
“He understands,” Mennis said. “He warned us, Tepper. He came to stir up trouble.”
“Because he knew we’d never rebel on our own, so he gave us no choice.”
Lord Ruler, Mennis thought. I can’t do this. I can barely get up in the mornings—I can’t save this people.
But what other choice was there?
Mennis turned. “Gather the people, Tepper. We must ﬂee before word of this disaster reaches the Lord Ruler.”
“Where will we go?”
“The caves to the east,” Mennis said. “Travelers say there are rebel skaa hiding in them. Perhaps they’ll take us in.”
Tepper paled further. “But…we’d have to travel for days. Spend nights in the mist.”
“We can do that,” Mennis said, “or we can stay here and die.”
Tepper stood frozen for a moment, and Mennis thought the shock of it all might have overwhelmed him. Eventually, however, the younger man scurried off to gather the others, as commanded.
Mennis sighed, looking up toward the trailing line of smoke, cursing the man Kelsier quietly in his mind.
New days indeed.
The Survivor of Hathsin
I consider myself to be a man of principle. But, what man does not? Even the cutthroat, I have noticed, considers his actions “moral” after a fashion.
Perhaps another person, reading of my life, would name me a religious tyrant. He could call me arrogant. What is to make that man’s opinion any less valid than my own?
I guess it all comes down to one fact: In the end, I’m the one with the armies.
ASH FELL FROM THE SKY.
Vin watched the downy ﬂakes drift through the air. Leisurely. Careless. Free. The puffs of soot fell like black snowﬂakes, descending upon the dark city of Luthadel. They drifted in corners, blowing in the breeze and curling in tiny whirlwinds over the cobblestones. They seemed so uncaring. What would that be like?
Vin sat quietly in one of the crew’s watch-holes—a hidden alcove built into the bricks on the side of the safe house. From within it, a crewmember could watch the street for signs of danger. Vin wasn’t on duty; the watch-hole was simply one of the few places where she could ﬁnd solitude.
And Vin liked solitude. When you’re alone, no one can betray you. Reen’s words. Her brother had taught her so many things, then had reinforced them by doing what he’d always promised he would—by betraying her himself. It’s the only way you’ll learn. Anyone will betray you, Vin. Anyone.
The ash continued to fall. Sometimes, Vin imagined she was like the ash, or the wind, or the mist itself. A thing without thought, capable of simply being, not thinking, caring, or hurting. Then she could be…free.
She heard shufﬂing a short distance away, then the trapdoor at the back of the small chamber snapped open.
“Vin!” Ulef said, sticking his head into the room. “There you are! Camon’s been searching for you for a half hour.”
That’s kind of why I hid in the ﬁrst place.
“You should get going,” Ulef said. “The job’s almost ready to begin.”
Ulef was a gangly boy. Nice, after his own fashion—naive, if one who had grown up in the underworld could ever really be called “naive.” Of course, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t betray her. Betrayal had nothing to do with friendship; it was a simple fact of survival. Life was harsh on the streets, and if a skaa thief wanted to keep from being caught and executed, he had to be practical.
And ruthlessness was the very most practical of emotions. Another of Reen’s sayings.
“Well?” Ulef asked. “You should go. Camon’s mad.”
When is he not? However, Vin nodded, scrambling out of the cramped—yet comforting—conﬁnes of the watch-hole. She brushed past Ulef and hopped out of the trapdoor, moving into a hallway, then a run-down pantry. The room was one of many at the back of the store that served as a front for the safe house. The crew’s lair itself was hidden in a tunneled stone cavern beneath the building.
She left the building through a back door, Ulef trailing behind her. The job would happen a few blocks away, in a richer section of town. It was an intricate job—one of the most complex Vin had ever seen. Assuming Camon wasn’t caught, the payoff would be great indeed. If he was caught…Well, scamming noblemen and obligators was a very dangerous profession—but it certainly beat working in the forges or the textile mills.
Vin exited the alleyway, moving out onto a dark, tenementlined street in one of the city’s many skaa slums. Skaa too sick to work lay huddled in corners and gutters, ash drifting around them. Vin kept her head down and pulled up her cloak’s hood against the still falling ﬂakes.
Free. No, I’ll never be free. Reen made certain of that when he left.
“There you are!” Camon lifted a squat, fat ﬁnger and jabbed it toward her face. “Where were you?”
Vin didn’t let hatred or rebellion show in her eyes. She simply looked down, giving Camon what he expected to see. There were other ways to be strong. That lesson she had learned on her own.
Camon growled slightly, then raised his hand and backhanded her across the face. The force of the blow threw Vin back against the wall, and her cheek blazed with pain. She slumped against the wood, but bore the punishment silently. Just another bruise. She was strong enough to deal with it. She’d done so before.
“Listen,” Camon hissed. “This is an important job. It’s worth thousands of boxings—worth more than you a hundred times over. I won’t have you fouling it up. Understand?”
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