“I should like to see the army,” Yeden said eagerly.
“Soon,” Kelsier promised.
“We should be able to get Marsh into the Ministry within the month,” Dockson said, nodding to Sazed as the Terrisman passed their sentries and entered the balcony. “Hopefully, Marsh will be able to give some insight as to how to deal with the Steel Inquisitors.”
“They are a concern,” Breeze agreed. “Considering what a couple of them did to you two, I don’t envy capturing the palace with them in there. They are as dangerous as Mistborn.”
“More,” Vin said quietly.
“Can the army really ﬁght them?” Yeden asked uncomfortably. “I mean, they’re supposed to be immortal, aren’t they?”
“Marsh will ﬁnd the answer,” Kelsier promised.
Yeden paused, then nodded, accepting Kelsier’s word.
Yes, changed indeed, Vin thought. It appeared that not even Yeden could resist Kelsier’s charisma for an extended period of time.
“In the meantime,” Kelsier said, “I’m hoping to hear what Sazed has learned about the Lord Ruler.”
Sazed sat, laying his tome on the tabletop. “I will tell you what I can, though this is not the book that I ﬁrst assumed it to be. I thought that Mistress Vin had recovered some ancient religious text—but it is of a far more mundane nature.”
“Mundane?” Dockson asked. “How?”
“It is a journal, Master Dockson,” Sazed said. “A record that appears to have been penned by the Lord Ruler himself— or, rather, the man who became the Lord Ruler. Even Ministry teachings agree that before the Ascension, he was a mortal man.
“This book tells of his life just prior to his ﬁnal battle at the Well of Ascension a thousand years ago. Mostly, it is a record of his travels—a narration of the people he met, the places he visited, and the trials he faced during his quest.”
“Interesting,” Breeze said, “but how does it help us?”
“I am not certain, Master Ladrian,” Sazed said. “However, understanding the real history behind the Ascension will be of use, I think. At the very least, it will give us some insight to the Lord Ruler’s mind.”
Kelsier shrugged. “The Ministry thinks it’s important— Vin said she found it in some kind of shrine in the central palace complex.”
“Which, of course,” Breeze noted, “doesn’t at all raise any questions regarding its authenticity.”
“I do not believe it to be a fabrication, Master Ladrian,” Sazed said. “It contains a remarkable level of detail, especially regarding unimportant issues—like packmen and supplies. In addition, the Lord Ruler it depicts is very conﬂicted. If the Ministry were going to devise a book for worship, they would present their god with more…divinity, I think.”
“I’ll want to read it when you are done, Saze,” Dockson said.
“And I,” Breeze said.
“Some of Clubs’s apprentices occasionally work as scribes,” Kelsier said. “We’ll have them make a copy for each of you.”
“Handy lot, those,” Dockson noted.
Kelsier nodded. “So, where does that leave us?”
The group paused, then Dockson nodded to Vin. “With the nobility.”
Kelsier frowned slightly.
“I can go back to work,” Vin said quickly. “I’m mostly healed, now.”
Kelsier shot a look at Sazed, who raised an eyebrow. He checked on her wound periodically. Apparently, he didn’t like what he saw.
“Kell,” Vin said. “I’m going insane. I grew up as a thief, scrambling for food and space—I can’t just sit around and let these servants pamper me.” Besides, I have to prove that I can still be useful to this crew.
“Well,” Kelsier said. “You’re one of the reasons we came here today. There’s a ball this weekend that—”
“I’ll go,” Vin said.
Kelsier held up a ﬁnger. “Hear me out, Vin. You’ve been through a lot lately, and this inﬁltration could get dangerous.”
“Kelsier,” Vin said ﬂatly. “My whole life has been dangerous. I’m going.”
Kelsier didn’t look convinced.
“She has to do it, Kell,” Dockson said. “For one thing, the nobility is going to get suspicious if she doesn’t start going to parties again. For another, we need to know what she sees. Having servant spies on the staff isn’t the same as having a spy listening to local plots. You know that.”
“All right, then,” Kelsier ﬁnally said. “But you have to promise not to use physical Allomancy until Sazed says otherwise.”
Later that evening, Vin still couldn’t believe how eager she was to go the ball. She stood in her room, looking over the different gown ensembles that Dockson had found for her. Since she had been forced to wear noblewoman’s attire for a good month straight, she was beginning to ﬁnd dresses just a shade more comfortable than she once had.
Not that they aren’t frivolous, of course, she thought, inspecting the four gowns. All of that lace, the layers of material…a simple shirt and trousers are so much more practical.
Yet, there was something special about the gowns— something in their beauty, like the gardens outside. When regarded as static items, like a solitary plant, the dresses were only mildly impressive. However, when she considered attending the ball, the gowns took on a new meaning. They were beautiful, and they would make her beautiful. They were the face she would show to the court, and she wanted to choose the right one.
I wonder if Elend Venture will be there…. Didn’t Sazed say that most of the younger aristocrats attended every ball?
She lay a hand on one dress, black with silver embroiderings. It would match her hair, but was it too dark? Most of the other women wore colorful dresses; muted colors seemed reserved for men’s suits. She eyed a yellow gown, but it just seemed a little too…perky. And the white one was too ornate.
That left the red. The neckline was lower—not that she had a lot to show—but it was beautiful. A bit gossamer, with full sleeves that were made of translucent mesh in places, it enticed her. But it seemed so… blatant. She picked it up, feeling the soft material in her ﬁngers, imagining herself wearing it.
How did I get to this? Vin thought. This thing would be impossible to hide in! These frilly creations, these aren’t me.
And yet…part of her longed to be back at the ball again. The daily life of a noblewoman frustrated her, but her memories of that one night were alluring. The beautiful couples dancing, the perfect atmosphere and music, the marvelous crystalline windows. .
I don’t even realize when I’m wearing perfume anymore, she realized with shock. She found it preferable to bathe in scented water each day, and the servants even perfumed her clothing. It was all subtle, of course, but it would be enough to give her away while sneaking.
Her hair had grown longer, and had been carefully cut by Renoux’s stylist so that it fell around her ears, curling just slightly. She no longer looked quite so scrawny in the mirror, despite her lengthy sickness; regular meals had ﬁlled her out.
I’m becoming… Vin paused. She didn’t know what she was becoming. Certainly not a noblewoman. Noblewomen didn’t get annoyed when they couldn’t to go out stalking at night. Yet, she wasn’t really Vin the urchin anymore. She was…
Vin carefully laid the beautiful red dress back on her bed, then crossed the room to look out the window. The sun was close to setting; soon, the mists would come—though, as usual, Sazed would have guards posted to make certain that she didn’t go on any unauthorized Allomantic romps. She hadn’t complained at the precautions. He was right. Unwatched, she probably would have broken her promise long ago.
She caught a glimpse of motion to her right, and could just barely make out a ﬁgure standing out on the garden balcony. Kelsier. Vin stood for a moment, then left her rooms.
Kelsier turned as she walked onto the balcony. She paused, not wanting to interrupt, but he gave her one of his characteristic smiles. She walked forward, joining him at the carved stone balcony railing.
He turned and looked westward—not at the grounds, but beyond them. Toward the wilderness, lit by a setting sun, outside of town. “Does it ever look wrong to you, Vin?”
“Wrong?” she asked.
Kelsier nodded. “The dry plants, the angry sun, the smoky-black sky.”
Vin shrugged. “How can those things be right or wrong? That’s just the way things are.”
“I suppose,” Kelsier said. “But, I think your mind-set is part of the wrongness. The world shouldn’t look like this.”
Vin frowned. “How do you know that?”
Kelsier reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. He unfolded it with a gentle touch, then handed it to Vin.
She accepted the sheet, holding it carefully; it was so old and worn that it seemed close to breaking at the creases. It didn’t contain any words, just an old, faded picture. It depicted a strange shape—something like a plant, though not one Vin had ever seen. It was too… ﬂimsy. It didn’t have a thick stalk, and its leaves were far too delicate. At its top, it had a strange collection of leaves that were a different color from the rest.
“It’s called a ﬂower,” Kelsier said. “They used to grow on plants, before the Ascension. Descriptions of them appear in the old poems and stories—things that only Keepers and rebel sages know about anymore. Apparently, these plants were beautiful, and they had a pleasant smell.”
“Plants that smell?” Vin asked. “Like fruit?”
“Something like that, I think. Some of the reports even claim that these ﬂowers grew into fruit, in the days before the Ascension.”
Vin stood quietly, frowning, trying to imagine such a thing.
“That picture belonged to my wife, Mare,” Kelsier said quietly. “Dockson found it in her things after we were taken. He kept it, hoping that we would return. He gave it to me after I escaped.”
Vin looked down at the picture again.
“Mare was fascinated by pre-Ascension times,” Kelsier said, still staring out over the gardens. In the distance, the sun touched the horizon, and grew an even deeper red. “She collected things like that paper: pictures and descriptions of the old times. I think that fascination—along with the fact that she was a Tineye—is part of what led her to the underground, and to me. She’s the one who ﬁrst introduced me to Sazed, though I didn’t use him in my crew at the time. He wasn’t interested in thieving.”
Vin folded up the paper. “And you keep this picture still? After. . what she did to you?”
Kelsier fell silent for a moment. Then he eyed her. “Been listening at doors again, have we? Oh, don’t worry. I suppose it’s common enough knowledge.” In the distance, the setting sun became a blaze, its ruddy light illuminating clouds and smoke alike.
“Yes, I keep the ﬂower,” Kelsier said. “I’m not really sure why. But. . do you stop loving someone just because they betray you? I don’t think so. That’s what makes the betrayal hurt so much—pain, frustration, anger…and I still loved her. I still do.”
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