Remember how we promised you the exciting prologue to The Alloy of Law? Well, here it is. Happy Friday!
Wax crept along the ragged fence in a crouch, his boots scraping the dry ground. He held his Sterrion 36 up by his head, the long, silvery barrel dusted with red clay. The revolver was nothing fancy to look at, though the six-shot cylinder was machined with such care in the steel-alloy frame that there was no play in its movement. There was no gleam to the metal or exotic material on the grip. But it fit his hand like it was meant to be there. The waist- high fence was flimsy, the wood grayed with time, held together with fraying lengths of rope. It smelled of age. Even the worms had given up on this wood long ago.
Wax peeked up over the knotted boards, scanning the empty town. Blue lines hovered in his vision, extending from his chest to point at nearby sources of metal, a result of his Allomancy. Burning steel did that; it let him see the location of sources of metal, then Push against them if he wanted. His weight against the weight of the item. If it was heavier, he was pushed back. If he was heavier, it was pushed forward.
In this case, however, he didn’t Push. He just watched the lines to see if any of the metal was moving. None of it was. Nails holding together buildings, spent shell casings lying scattered in the dust, or horse shoes piled at the silent smithy— all were as motionless as the old hand pump planted in the ground to his right.
Wary, he too remained still. Steel continued to burn comfortably in his stomach, and so— as a precaution— he gently Pushed outward from himself in all directions. It was a trick he’d mastered a few years back; he didn’t Push on any specific metal objects, but created a kind of defensive bubble around himself. Any metal that came streaking in his direction would be thrown slightly off course.
It was far from foolproof; he could still get hit. But shots would go wild, not striking where they were aimed. It had saved his life on a couple of occasions. He wasn’t even certain how he did it; Allomancy was often an instinctive thing for him. Somehow he even managed to exempt the metal he carried, and didn’t Push his own gun from his hands.
That done, he continued along the fence— still watching the metal lines to make sure nobody was sneaking up on him. Feltrel had once been a prosperous town. That had been twenty years back. Then a clan of koloss had taken up residence nearby. Things hadn’t gone well.
Today, the dead town seemed completely empty, though he knew it wasn’t so. Wax had come here hunting a psychopath. And he wasn’t the only one.
He grabbed the top of the fence and hopped over, feet grinding red clay. Crouching low, he ran in a squat over to the side of the old blacksmith’s forge. His clothing was terribly dusty, but well tailored: a fine suit, a silver cravat at the neck, twinkling cuff links on the sleeves of his fine white shirt. He had cultivated a look that appeared out of place, as if he were planning to attend a fine ball back in Elendel rather than scrambling through a dead town in the Roughs hunting a murderer. Completing the ensemble, he wore a bowler hat on his head to keep off the sun.
A sound; someone stepped on a board across the street, making it creak. It was so faint, he almost missed it. Wax reacted immediately, flaring the steel that burned inside his stomach. He Pushed on a group of nails in the wall beside him just as the crack of a gunshot split the air.
His sudden Push caused the wall to rattle, the old rusty nails straining in their places. His Push shoved him to the side, and he rolled across the ground. A blue line appeared for an eyeblink— the bullet, which hit the ground where he had been a moment before. As he came up from his roll, a second shot followed. This one came close, but bent just a hair out of the way as it neared him. Deflected by his steel bubble, the bullet zipped past his ear. Another inch to the right, and he’d have gotten it in the forehead— steel bubble or no. Breathing calmly, he raised his Sterrion and sighted on the balcony of the old hotel across the street, where the shot had come from. The balcony was fronted by the hotel’s sign, capable of hiding a gunman.
Wax fired, then Pushed on the bullet, slamming it forward with extra thrust to make it faster and more penetrating. He wasn’t using typical lead or copper-jacketed lead bullets; he needed something stronger.
The large-caliber steel-jacketed bullet hit the balcony, and his extra power caused it to puncture the wood and hit the man behind. The blue line leading to the man’s gun quivered as he fell. Wax stood up slowly, brushing the dust from his clothing. At that moment another shot cracked in the air.
He cursed, reflexively Pushing against the nails again, though his instincts told him he’d be too late. By the time he heard a shot, it was too late for Pushing to help.
This time he was thrown to the ground. That force had to go somewhere, and if the nails couldn’t move, he had to. He grunted as he hit and raised his revolver, dust sticking to the sweat on his hand. He searched frantically for the one who’d fi red at him. They’d missed. Perhaps the steel bubble had—
A body rolled off the top of the blacksmith’s shop and thumped down to the ground with a puff of red dust. Wax blinked, then raised his gun to chest level and moved over behind the fence again, crouching down for cover. He kept an eye on the blue Allomantic lines. They could warn him if someone got close, but only if the person was carrying or wearing metal.
The body that had fallen beside the building didn’t have a single line pointing to it. However, another set of quivering lines pointed to something moving along the back of the forge. Wax leveled his gun, taking aim as a figure ducked around the side of the building and ran toward him.
The woman wore a white duster, reddened at the bottom. She kept her dark hair pulled back in a tail, and wore trousers and a wide belt, with thick boots on her feet. She had a squarish face. A strong face, with lips that often rose slightly at the right side in a half smile.
Wax heaved a sigh of relief and lowered his gun. “Lessie.”
“You knock yourself to the ground again?” she asked as she reached the cover of the fence beside him. “You’ve got more dust on your face than Miles has scowls. Maybe it’s time for you to retire, old man.”
“Lessie, I’m three months older than you are.”
“Those are a long three months.” She peeked up over the fence.
“Seen anyone else?”
“I dropped a man up on the balcony,” Wax said. “I couldn’t see if it was Bloody Tan or not.”
“It wasn’t,” she said. “He wouldn’t have tried to shoot you from so far away.”
Wax nodded. Tan liked things personal. Up close. The psychopath lamented when he had to use a gun, and he rarely shot someone without being able to see the fear in their eyes.
Lessie scanned the quiet town, then glanced at him, ready to move. Her eyes flickered downward for a moment. Toward his shirt pocket.
Wax followed her gaze. A letter was peeking out of his pocket, delivered earlier that day. It was from the grand city of Elendel, and was addressed to Lord Waxillium Ladrian. A name Wax hadn’t used in years. A name that felt wrong to him now.
He tucked the letter farther into his pocket. Lessie thought it implied more than it did. The city didn’t hold anything for him now, and House Ladrian would get along without him. He really should have burned that letter.
Wax nodded toward the fallen man beside the wall to distract her from the letter. “Your work?”
“He had a bow,” she said. “Stone arrowheads. Almost had you from above.”
She shrugged, eyes glittering in satisfaction. Those eyes now had lines at the sides of them, weathered by the Roughs’ harsh sunlight. There had been a time when she and Wax had kept a tally of who had saved the other most often. They’d both lost track years ago.
“Cover me,” Wax said softly.
“With what?” she asked. “Paint? Kisses? You’re already covered with dust.”
Wax raised an eyebrow at her.
“Sorry,” she said, grimacing. “I’ve been playing cards too much with Wayne lately.”
He snorted and ran in a crouch to the fallen corpse and rolled it over. The man had been a cruel- faced fellow with several days of stubble on his cheeks; the bullet wound bled out his right side. I think I recognize him, Wax thought to himself as he went through the man’s pockets and came out with a drop of red glass, colored like blood.
He hurried back to the fence.
“Well?” Lessie asked.
“Donal’s crew,” Wax said, holding up the drop of glass.
“Bastards,” Lessie said. “They couldn’t just leave us to it, could they?”
“You did shoot his son, Lessie.”
“And you shot his brother.”
“Mine was self- defense.”
“Mine was too,” she said. “That kid was annoying. Besides, he survived.”
“Missing a toe.”
“You don’t need ten,” she said. “I have a cousin with four. She does just fine.” She raised her revolver, scanning the empty town.
“Of course, she does look kind of ridiculous. Cover me.”
She just grinned and ducked out from behind the cover, scrambling across the ground toward the smithy.
Harmony, Wax thought with a smile, I love that woman.
He watched for more gunmen, but Lessie reached the building without any further shots being fired. Wax nodded to her, then dashed across the street toward the hotel. He ducked inside, checking the corners for foes. The taproom was empty, so he took cover beside the doorway, waving toward Lessie. She ran down to the next building on her side of the street and checked it out.
Donal’s crew. Yes, Wax had shot his brother— the man had been robbing a railway car at the time. From what he understood, though, Donal hadn’t ever cared for his brother. No, the only thing that riled Donal was losing money, which was probably why he was here. He’d put a price on Bloody Tan’s head for stealing a shipment of his bendalloy. Donal probably hadn’t expected Wax to come hunting Tan the same day he did, but his men had standing orders to shoot Wax or Lessie if seen.
Wax was half tempted to leave the dead town and let Donal and Tan have at it. The thought of it made his eye twitch, though. He’d promised to bring Tan in. That was that.
Lessie waved from the inside of her building, then pointed toward the back. She was going to go out in that direction and creep along behind the next set of buildings. Wax nodded, then made a curt gesture. He’d try to hook up with Wayne and Barl, who had gone to check the other side of the town. Lessie vanished, and Wax picked his way through the old hotel
toward a side door. He passed old, dirty nests made by both rats and men. The town picked up miscreants the way a dog picked up fleas. He even passed a place where it looked like some wayfarer had made a small firepit on a sheet of metal with a ring of rocks. It was a wonder the fool hadn’t burned the entire building to the ground.
Wax eased open the side door and stepped into an alleyway between the hotel and the store beside it. The gunshots earlier would have been heard, and someone might come looking. Best to stay out of sight.
Wax edged around the back of the store, stepping quietly across the red clay ground. The hillside here was overgrown with weeds except for the entrance to an old cold cellar. Wax wound around it, then paused, eyeing the wood- framed pit.
Maybe . . .
He knelt beside the opening, peering down. There had been a ladder here once, but it had rotted away— the remnants were visible below in a pile of old splinters. The air smelled musty and wet . . . with a hint of smoke. Someone had been burning a torch down there.
Wax dropped a bullet into the hole, then leaped in, gun out. As he fell, he filled his iron metalmind, decreasing his weight. He was Twinborn— a Feruchemist as well as an Allomancer. His Allomantic power was Steelpushing, and his Feruchemical power, called Skimming, was the ability to grow heavier or lighter. It was a powerful combination of talents.
He Pushed against the round below him, slowing his fall so that he landed softly. He returned his weight to normal— or, well, normal for him. He often went about at three- quarters of his unadjusted weight, making himself lighter on his feet, quicker to react.
He crept through the darkness. It had been a long, difficult road, finding where Bloody Tan was hiding. In the end, the fact that Feltrel had suddenly emptied of other bandits, wanderers, and unfortunates had been a major clue. Wax stepped softly, working his way deeper into the cellar. The scent of smoke was stronger here, and though the light was fading, he made out a firepit beside the earthen wall. That and a ladder that could be moved into place at the entrance.
That gave him pause. It indicated that whoever was making their hideout in the cellar— it could be Tan, or it could be someone else entirely— was still down here. Unless there was another way out. Wax crept forward a little farther, squinting in the dark.
There was light ahead.
Wax cocked his gun softly, then drew a little vial out of his mistcoat and pulled the cork with his teeth. He downed the whiskey and steel in one shot, restoring his reserves. He flared his steel.
Yes . . . there was metal ahead of him, down the tunnel. How long was this cellar? He had assumed it would be small, but the reinforcing wood timbers indicated something deeper, longer. More like a mine adit.
He crept forward, focused on those metal lines. Someone would have to aim a gun if they saw him, and the metal would quiver, giving him a chance to Push the weapon out of their hands. Nothing moved. He slid forward, smelling musty damp soil, fungus, potatoes left to bud. He approached a trembling light, but could hear nothing. The metal lines did not move.
Finally, he got close enough to make out a lamp hanging by a hook on a wooden beam near the wall. Something else hung at the center of the tunnel. A body? Hanged? Wax cursed softly and hurried forward, wary of a trap. It was a corpse, but it left him baffled. At first glance, it seemed years old. The eyes were gone from the skull, the skin pulled back against the bone. It didn’t stink, and wasn’t bloated.
He thought he recognized it. Geormin, the coachman who brought mail into Weathering from the more distant villages around the area. That was his uniform, at least, and it seemed like his hair. He’d been one of Tan’s first victims, the disappearance that sent Wax hunting. That had only been two months back.
He’s been mummified, Wax thought. Prepared and dried like leather. He felt revolted— he’d gone drinking with Geormin on occasion, and though the man cheated at cards, he’d been an amiable enough fellow.
The hanging wasn’t an ordinary one, either. Wires had been used to prop up Geormin’s arms so they were out to the sides, his head cocked, his mouth pried open. Wax turned away from the gruesome sight, his eye twitching.
Careful, he told himself. Don’t let him anger you. Keep focused He would be back to cut Geormin down. Right now, he couldn’t afford to make the noise. At least he knew he was on the right track. This was certainly Bloody Tan’s lair.
There was another patch of light in the distance. How long was this tunnel? He approached the pool of light, and here found another corpse, this one hung on the wall sideways. Annarel, a visiting geologist who had vanished soon after Geormin. Poor woman. She’d been dried in the same manner, body spiked to the wall in a very specific pose, as if she were on her knees inspecting a pile of rocks.
Another pool of light drew him onward. Clearly this wasn’t a cellar— it was probably some kind of smuggling tunnel left over from the days when Feltrel had been a booming town. Tan hadn’t built this, not with those aged wooden supports.
Wax passed another six corpses, each lit by its own glowing lantern, each arranged in some kind of pose. One sat in a chair, another strung up as if flying, a few stuck to the wall. The later ones were more fresh, the last one recently killed. Wax didn’t recognize the slender man, who hung with hand to his head in a salute.
Rust and Ruin, Wax thought. This isn’t Bloody Tan’s lair . . . it’s his gallery.
Sickened, Wax made his way to the next pool of light. This one was different. Brighter. As he approached, he realized that he was seeing sunlight streaming down from a square cut in the ceiling. The tunnel led up to it, probably to a former trapdoor that had rotted or broken away. The ground sloped in a gradual slant up to the hole.
Wax crawled up the slope, then cautiously poked his head out. He’d come up in a building, though the roof was gone. The brick walls were mostly intact, and there were four altars in the front, just to Wax’s left. An old chapel to the Survivor. It seemed empty.
Wax crawled out of the hole, his Sterrion at the side of his head, coat marred by dirt from below. The clean, dry air smelled good to him.
“Each life is a performance,” a voice said, echoing in the ruined church.
Wax immediately ducked to the side, rolling up to an altar.
“But we are not the performers,” the voice continued. “We are the puppets.”
“Tan,” Wax said. “Come out.”
“I have seen God, lawkeeper,” Tan whispered. Where was he? “I have seen Death himself, with the nails in his eyes. I have seen the Survivor, who is life.”
Wax scanned the small chapel. It was cluttered with broken benches and fallen statues. He rounded the side of the altar, judging the sound to come from the back of the room.
“Other men wonder,” Tan’s voice said, “but I know. I know I’m a puppet. We all are. Did you like my show? I worked so hard to build it.”
Wax continued along the building’s right wall, his boots leaving a trail in the dust. He breathed shallowly, a line of sweat creeping down his right temple. His eye was twitching. He saw corpses on the walls in his mind’s eye.
“Many men never get a chance to create true art,” Tan said. “And the best per for mances are those which can never be reproduced. Months, years, spent preparing. Everything placed right. But at the end of the day, the rotting will begin. I couldn’t truly mummify them; I hadn’t the time or resources. I could only preserve them long enough to prepare for this one show. Tomorrow, it will be ruined. You were the only one to see it. Only you. I figure . . . we’re all just puppets . . . you see . . .”
The voice was coming from the back of the room, near some rubble that was blocking Wax’s view.
“Someone else moves us,” Tan said.
Wax ducked around the side of the rubble, raising his Sterrion.
Tan stood there, holding Lessie in front of him, her mouth gagged, her eyes wide. Wax froze in place, gun raised. Lessie was bleeding from her leg and her arm. She’d been shot, and her face was growing pale. She’d lost blood. That was how Tan had been able to overpower her.
Wax grew still. He didn’t feel anxiety. He couldn’t afford to; it might make him shake, and shaking might make him miss. He could see Tan’s face behind Lessie; the man held a garrote around her neck.
Tan was a slender, fine- fingered man. He’d been a mortician. Black hair, thinning, worn greased back. A nice suit that now shone with blood.
“Someone else moves us, lawman,” Tan said softly.
Lessie met Wax’s eyes. They both knew what to do in this situation. Last time, he’d been the one captured. People always tried to use them against each other. In Lessie’s opinion, that wasn’t a disadvantage. She’d have explained that if Tan hadn’t known the two of them were a couple, he’d have killed her right off. Instead, he’d kidnapped her. That gave them a chance to get out.
Wax sighted down the barrel of his Sterrion. He drew in the trigger until he balanced the weight of the sear right on the edge of firing, and Lessie blinked. One. Two. Three.
In the same instant, Tan yanked Lessie to the right.
The shot broke the air, echoing against clay bricks. Lessie’s head jerked back as Wax’s bullet took her just above the right eye. Blood sprayed against the clay wall beside her. She crumpled.
Wax stood, frozen, horrified. No . . . that isn’t the way . . . it can’t . . .
“The best performances,” Tan said, smiling and looking down at Lessie’s figure, “are those that can only be performed once.”
Wax shot him in the head.