Mistborn the final empi.., p.2
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       Mistborn: The Final Empire, p.2
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         Part #1 of Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
Page 2

  Kelsier sighed, rolling his eyes. “Fine. If you want me to go, I’ll be off then. ” He slung his pack up on his shoulder and nonchalantly pulled open the door.

  Thick mist immediately began to pour through the portal, drifting lazily across Kelsier’s body, pooling on the ?oor and creeping across the dirt like a hesitant animal. Several people gasped in horror, though most of them were too stunned to make a sound. Kelsier stood for a moment, staring out into the dark mists, their shifting currents lit feebly by the cooking pit’s coals.

  “Close the door. ” Tepper’s words were a plea, not a command.

  Kelsier did as requested, pushing the door closed and stemming the ?ood of white mist. “The mist is not what you think. You fear it far too much. ”

  “Men who venture into the mist lose their souls,” a woman whispered. Her words raised a question. Had Kelsier walked in the mists? What, then, had happened to his soul?

  If you only knew, Kelsier thought. “Well, I guess this means I’m staying. ” He waved for a boy to bring him a stool. “It’s a good thing, too—it would have been a shame for me to leave before I shared my news. ”

  More than one person perked up at the comment. This was the real reason they tolerated him—the reason even the timid peasants would harbor a man such as Kelsier, a skaa who de?ed the Lord Ruler’s will by traveling from plantation to plantation. A renegade he might be—a danger to the entire community—but he brought news from the outside world.

  “I come from the north,” Kelsier said. “From lands where the Lord Ruler’s touch is less noticeable. ” He spoke in a clear voice, and people leaned unconsciously toward him as they worked. On the next day, Kelsier’s words would be repeated to the several hundred people who lived in other hovels. The skaa might be subservient, but they were incurable gossips.

  “Local lords rule in the West,” Kelsier said, “and they are far from the iron grip of the Lord Ruler and his obligators. Some of these distant noblemen are ?nding that happy skaa make better workers than mistreated skaa. One man, Lord Renoux, has even ordered his taskmasters to stop unauthorized beatings. There are whispers that he’s considering paying wages to his plantation skaa, like city craftsmen might earn. ”

  “Nonsense,” Tepper said.

  “My apologies,” Kelsier said. “I didn’t realize that Goodman Tepper had been to Lord Renoux’s estates recently. When you dined with him last, did he tell you something that he did not tell me?”

  Tepper blushed: Skaa did not travel, and they certainly didn’t dine with lords. “You think me a fool, traveler,” Tepper said, “but I know what you’re doing. You’re the one they call the Survivor; those scars on your arms give you away. You’re a troublemaker—you travel the plantations, stirring up discontent. You eat our food, telling your grand stories and your lies, then you disappear and leave people like me to deal with the false hopes you give our children. ”

  Kelsier raised an eyebrow. “Now, now, Goodman Tepper,” he said. “Your worries are completely unfounded. Why, I have no intention of eating your food. I brought my own. ” With that, Kelsier reached over and tossed his pack onto the earth before Tepper’s table. The loose bag slumped to the side, dumping an array of foods to the ground. Fine breads, fruits, and even a few thick, cured sausages bounced free.

  A summerfruit rolled across the packed earthen ?oor and bumped lightly against Tepper’s foot. The middle-aged skaa regarded the fruit with stunned eyes. “That’s nobleman’s food!”

  Kelsier snorted. “Barely. You know, for a man of renowned prestige and rank, your Lord Tresting has remarkably poor taste. His pantry is an embarrassment to his noble station. ”

  Tepper paled even further. “That’s where you went this afternoon,” he whispered. “You went to the manor. You… stole from the master!”

  “Indeed,” Kelsier said. “And, might I add that while your lord’s taste in food is deplorable, his eye for soldiers is far more impressive. Sneaking into his manor during the day was quite a challenge. ”

  Tepper was still staring at the bag of food. “If the taskmasters ?nd this here…”

  “Well, I suggest you make it disappear then,” Kelsier said. “I’d be willing to bet that it tastes a fair bit better than watered-down farlet soup. ”

  Two dozen sets of hungry eyes studied the food. If Tepper intended further arguments, he didn’t make them quickly enough, for his silent pause was taken as agreement. Within a few minutes, the bag’s contents had been inspected and distributed, and the pot of soup sat bubbling and ignored as the skaa feasted on a meal far more exotic.

  Kelsier settled back, leaning against the hovel’s wooden wall and watching the people devour their food. He had spoken correctly: The pantry’s offerings had been depressingly mundane. However, this was a people who had been fed on nothing but soup and gruel since they were children. To them, breads and fruits were rare delicacies—usually eaten only as aging discards brought down by the house servants.

  “Your storytelling was cut short, young man,” an elderly skaa noted, hobbling over to sit on a stool beside Kelsier.

  “Oh, I suspect there will be time for more later,” Kelsier said. “Once all evidence of my thievery has been properly devoured. Don’t you want any of it?”

  “No need,” the old man said. “The last time I tried lords’ food, I had stomach pains for three days. New tastes are like new ideas, young man—the older you get, the more dif?cult they are for you to stomach. ”

  Kelsier paused. The old man was hardly an imposing sight. His leathered skin and bald scalp made him look more frail than they did wise. Yet, he had to be stronger than he looked; few plantation skaa lived to such ages. Many lords didn’t allow the elderly to remain home from daily work, and the frequent beatings that made up a skaa’s life took a terrible toll on the elderly.

  “What was your name again?” Kelsier asked.

  “Mennis. ”

  Kelsier glanced back at Tepper. “So, Goodman Mennis, tell me something. Why do you let him lead?”

  Mennis shrugged. “When you get to be my age, you have to be very careful where you waste your energy. Some battles just aren’t worth ?ghting. ” There was an implication in Mennis’s eyes; he was referring to things greater than his own struggle with Tepper.

  “You’re satis?ed with this, then?” Kelsier asked, nodding toward the hovel and its half-starved, overworked occupants. “You’re content with a life full of beatings and endless drudgery?”

  “At least it’s a life,” Mennis said. “I know what wages, malcontent, and rebellion bring. The eye of the Lord Ruler, and the ire of the Steel Ministry, can be far more terrible than a few whippings. Men like you preach change, but I wonder. Is this a battle we can really ?ght?”

  “You’re ?ghting it already, Goodman Mennis. You’re just losing horribly. ” Kelsier shrugged. “But, what do I know? I’m just a traveling miscreant, here to eat your food and impress your youths. ”

  Mennis shook his head. “You jest, but Tepper might have been right. I fear your visit will bring us grief. ”

  Kelsier smiled. “That’s why I didn’t contradict him—at least, not on the troublemaker point. ” He paused, then smiled more deeply. “In fact, I’d say calling me a troublemaker is probably the only accurate thing Tepper has said since I got here. ”

  “How do you do that?” Mennis asked, frowning.

  “What?”

  “Smile so much. ”

  “Oh, I’m just a happy person. ”

  Mennis glanced down at Kelsier’s hands. “You know, I’ve only seen scars like those on one other person—and he was dead. His body was returned to Lord Tresting as proof that his punishment had been carried out. ” Mennis looked up at Kelsier. “He’d been caught speaking of rebellion. Tresting sent him to the Pits of Hathsin, where he had worked until he died. The lad lasted less than a month. ”

  Kelsier glanced down at his hands and forearms. They still burned sometimes, though he was certain the pain
was only in his mind. He looked up at Mennis and smiled. “You ask why I smile, Goodman Mennis? Well, the Lord Ruler thinks he has claimed laughter and joy for himself. I’m disinclined to let him do so. This is one battle that doesn’t take very much effort to ?ght. ”

  Mennis stared at Kelsier, and for a moment Kelsier thought the old man might smile in return. However, Mennis eventually just shook his head. “I don’t know. I just don’t—”

  The scream cut him off. It came from outside, perhaps to the north, though the mists distorted sounds. The people in the hovel fell silent, listening to the faint, high-pitched yells. Despite the distance and the mist, Kelsier could hear the pain contained in those screams.

  Kelsier burned tin.

  It was simple for him now, after years of practice. The tin sat with other Allomantic metals within his stomach, swallowed earlier, waiting for him to draw upon them. He reached inside with his mind and touched the tin, tapping powers he still barely understood. The tin ?ared to life within him, burning his stomach like the sensation of a hot drink swallowed too quickly.

  Allomantic power surged through his body, enhancing his senses. The room around him became crisp, the dull ?repit ?aring to near blinding brightness. He could feel the grain in the wood of the stool beneath him. He could still taste the remnants of the loaf of bread he’d snacked on earlier. Most importantly, he could hear the screams with supernatural ears. Two separate people were yelling. One was an older woman, the other a younger woman—perhaps a child. The younger screams were getting farther and farther away.

  “Poor Jess,” a nearby woman said, her voice booming in Kelsier’s enhanced ears. “That child of hers was a curse. It’s better for skaa not to have pretty daughters. ”

  Tepper nodded. “Lord Tresting was sure to send for the girl sooner or later. We all knew it. Jess knew it. ”

  “Still a shame, though,” another man said.

  The screams continued in the distance. Burning tin, Kelsier was able to judge the direction accurately. Her voice was moving toward the lord’s manor. The sounds set something off within him, and he felt his face ?ush with anger.

  Kelsier turned. “Does Lord Tresting ever return the girls after he’s ?nished with them?”

  Old Mennis shook his head. “Lord Tresting is a law-abiding nobleman—he has the girls killed after a few weeks. He doesn’t want to catch the eye of the Inquisitors. ”

  That was the Lord Ruler’s command. He couldn’t afford to have half-breed children running around—children who might possess powers that skaa weren’t even supposed to know existed….

  The screams waned, but Kelsier’s anger only built. The yells reminded him of other screams. A woman’s screams from the past. He stood abruptly, stool toppling to the ground behind him.

 
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