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The Well of Ascension (Page 78)

"Then I vote for Lord Penrod," Habren said.

"As do I," said Lord Hue, the other who had voted for Cett.

Elend closed his eyes.

"Are there any other alterations?" Lord Penrod asked.

No one spoke.

"Then," Penrod said, "I see seventeen votes for myself, seven votes for Lord Venture. I officially close the voting and humbly accept your appointment as king. I shall serve as best I can in this capacity."

Elend stood, then slowly removed his crown. "Here," he said, setting it on the mantle. "You’ll need this."

He nodded to Ham, then left without looking back at the men who had discarded him.

PART FOUR

KNIVES

I know your argument. We speak of the Anticipation, of things foretold, of promises made by our greatest prophets of old. Of course the Hero of Ages will fit the prophecies. He will fit them perfectly. That’s the idea.

39

STRAFF VENTURE RODE QUIETLY IN the misty twilight air. Though he would have preferred a carriage, he felt it important to travel by horseback and present a compelling image for the troops. Zane, not surprisingly, chose to walk. He sauntered along beside Straff’s horse, the two of them leading a group of fifty soldiers.

Even with the troops, Straff felt exposed. It wasn’t just the mists, and it wasn’t just the darkness. He could still remember her touch on his emotions.

"You’ve failed me, Zane," Straff said.

The Mistborn looked up, and—burning tin—Straff could see a frown on his face. "Failed?"

"Venture and Cett still live. Beyond that, you sent a batch of my best Allomancers to their deaths."

"I warned you that they might die," Zane said.

"For a purpose, Zane," Straff said sternly. "Why did you need a group of secret Allomancers if you were just going to send them on a suicide mission in the middle of a public gathering? You may assume our resources to be unlimited, but let me assure you—those six men cannot be replaced."

It had taken Straff decades of work with his mistresses to gather so many hidden Allomancers. It had been pleasurable work, but work all the same. In one reckless gambit, Zane had destroyed a good third of Straff’s Allomancer children.

My children dead, our hand exposed, and that. . .creature of Elend’s still lives!

"I’m sorry, Father," Zane said. "I thought that the chaos and crowded quarters would keep the girl isolated, and force her not to use coins. I really thought this would work."

Straff frowned. He well knew that Zane thought himself more competent than his father; what Mistborn wouldn’t think such a thing? Only a delicate mixture of bribery, threats, and manipulation kept Zane under control.

Yet, no matter what Zane thought, Straff was no fool. He knew, at that moment, that Zane was hiding something. Why send those men to die? Straff thought. He must have intended them to fail—otherwise he would have helped them fight the girl.

"No," Zane said softly, talking to himself as he sometimes did. "He’s my father. . ." He trailed off, then shook his head sharply. "No. Not them either."

Lord Ruler, Straff thought, looking down at the muttering madman beside him. What have I gotten myself into? Zane was growing more unpredictable. Had he sent those men to die out of jealousy, out of lust for violence, or had he simply been bored? Straff didn’t think that Zane had turned on him, but it was difficult to tell. Either way, Straff didn’t like having to rely on Zane for his plans to work. He didn’t really like having to rely on Zane for anything.

Zane looked up at Straff, and stopped talking. He did a good job of hiding his insanity, most of the time. A good enough job that Straff sometimes forgot about it. Yet, it still lurked there, beneath the surface. Zane was as dangerous a tool as Straff had ever used. The protection provided by a Mistborn outweighed the danger of Zane’s insanity.

Barely.

"You needn’t worry, Father," Zane said. "The city will still be yours."

"It will never be mine as long as that woman lives," Straff said. He shivered. Perhaps that’s what this was all about. Zane’s attack was so obvious that everyone in the city knows I was behind it, and when that Mistborn demon wakes, she will come after me in retribution.

But, if that were Zane’s goal, then why not just kill me himself? Zane didn’t make sense. He didn’t have to. That was, perhaps, one of the advantages of being insane.

Zane shook his head. "I think you will be surprised, Father. One way or another, you will soon have nothing to fear from Vin."

"She thinks I tried to have her beloved king assassinated."

Zane smiled. "No, I don’t think that she does. She’s far too clever for that."

Too clever to see the truth? Straff thought. However, his tin-enhanced ears heard shuffling in the mists. He held up a hand, halting his procession. In the distance, he could just barely pick out the flickering blobs of wall-top torches. They were close to the city—uncomfortably close.

Straff’s procession waited quietly. Then, from the mists before them, a man on horseback appeared, accompanied by fifty soldiers of his own. Ferson Penrod.

"Straff," Penrod said, nodding.

"Ferson."

"Your men did well," Penrod said. "I’m glad your son didn’t have to die. He’s a good lad. A bad king, but an earnest man."

A lot of my sons died today, Ferson, Straff thought. The fact that Elend still lives isn’t fortunate—it’s irony.

"You are ready to deliver the city?" Straff asked.

Penrod nodded. "Philen and his merchants want assurances that they will have titles to match those Cett promised them."

Straff waved a dismissive hand. "You know me, Ferson." You used to practically grovel before me at parties every week. "I always honor business agreements. I’d be an idiot not to appease those merchants—they’re the ones who will bring me tax revenue from this dominance."

Penrod nodded. "I’m glad we could come to an understanding, Straff. I don’t trust Cett."

"I doubt you trust me," Straff said.

Penrod smiled. "But I do know you, Straff. You’re one of us—a Luthadel nobleman. Besides, you have produced the most stable kingdom in the dominances. That’s all we’re looking for right now. A little stability for this people."

"You almost sound like that fool son of mine."

Penrod paused, then shook his head. "Your boy isn’t a fool, Straff. He’s just an idealist. In truth, I’m sad to see his little utopia fall."

"If you are sad for him, Ferson, then you are an idiot, too."

Penrod stiffened. Straff caught the man’s proud eyes, holding them with his stare, until Penrod looked down. The exchange was a simple one, mostly meaningless—but it did serve as a very important reminder.

Straff chuckled. "You’re going to have to get used to being a small fish again, Ferson."

"I know."

"Be cheerful," Straff said. "Assuming this turnover of power happens as you promised, no one will have to end up dead. Who knows, maybe I’ll let you keep that crown of yours."

Penrod looked up.

"For a long time, this land didn’t have kings," Straff said quietly. "It had something greater. Well, I’m not the Lord Ruler—but I can be an emperor. You want to keep your crown and rule as a subject king under me?"

"That depends on the cost, Straff," Penrod said carefully.

Not completely quelled, then. Penrod had always been clever; he’d been the most important nobleman to stay behind in Luthadel, and his gamble had certainly worked.

"The cost is exorbitant," Straff said. "Ridiculously so."

"The atium," Penrod guessed.

Straff nodded. "Elend hasn’t found it, but it’s here, somewhere. I was the one who mined those geodes—my men spent decades harvesting them and bringing them to Luthadel. I know how much of it we harvested, and I know that nowhere near the same amount came back out in disbursements to the nobility. The rest is in that city, somewhere."

Penrod nodded. "I’ll see what I can find, Straff."

Straff raised an eyebrow. "You need to get back into practice, Ferson."

Penrod paused, then bowed his head. "I’ll see what I can find, my lord."

"Good. Now, what news did you bring of Elend’s mistress?"

"She collapsed after the fight," Penrod said. "I employ a spy on the cooking staff, and she said she delivered a bowl of broth to Lady Vin’s room. It returned cold."

Straff frowned. "Could this woman of yours slip the Mistborn something?"

Penrod paled slightly. "I. . .don’t think that would be wise, my lord. Besides, you know Mistborn constitutions."

Perhaps she really is incapacitated, Straff thought. If we moved in. . .The chill of her touch on his emotions returned. Numbness. Nothingness.

"You needn’t fear her so, my lord," Penrod said.

Straff raised an eyebrow. "I’m not afraid, I’m wary. I will not move into that city until my safety is assured—and until I move in, your city is in danger from Cett. Or, worse. What would happen if those koloss decide to attack the city, Ferson? I’m in negotiations with their leader, and he seems to be able to control them. For now. Have you ever seen the aftermath of a koloss slaughter?"

He probably hadn’t; Straff hadn’t until just recently. Penrod just shook his head. "Vin won’t attack you. Not if the Assembly votes to put you in command of the city. The transfer will be perfectly legal."

"I doubt she cares about legality."

"Perhaps," Penrod said. "But Elend does. And, where he commands, the girl follows."

Unless he has as little control over her as I have over Zane, Straff thought, shivering. No matter what Penrod said, Straff wasn’t going to take the city until that horrible creature was dealt with. In this, he could rely only on Zane.

And that thought frightened him almost as much as Vin did.

Without further discussion, Straff waved to Penrod, dismissing him. Penrod turned and retreated into the mists with his entourage. Even with his tin, Straff barely heard Zane land on the ground beside him. Straff turned, looking at the Mistborn.

"You really think he’d turn the atium over to you if he found it?" Zane asked quietly.

"Perhaps," Straff said. "He has to know that he’d never be able to hold on to it—he doesn’t have the military might to protect a treasure like that. And, if he doesn’t give it to me. . .well, it would probably be easier to take the atium from him than it would be to find it on my own."

Zane seemed to find the answer satisfactory. He waited for a few moments, staring into the mists. Then he looked at Straff, a curious expression on his face. "What time is it?"

Straff checked his pocket watch, something no Mistborn would carry. Too much metal. "Eleven seventeen," he said.

Zane nodded, turning back to look at the city. "It should have taken effect by now."

Straff frowned. Then he began to sweat. He flared tin, clamping his eyes shut. There! he thought, noticing a weakness inside of him. "More poison?" he asked, keeping the fear from his voice, forcing himself to be calm.

"How do you do it, Father?" Zane asked. "I thought for certain you’d missed this one. Yet, here you are, just fine."

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