Happy Wednesday! Over here at Gollancz Towers we’re pleased to be bringing you the next chapter in our part-serialisation of The Alloy of Law.
Eight hours later, Waxillium stood at an upper window of his mansion. He watched the last broken fragments of a dying day. They dimmed, then grew black. He waited, hoping. But no mist came.
What does it matter? he thought to himself. You’re not going to go outside anyway. Still, he wished the mists were out; he felt more at peace when they were out there, watching. The world became a different place, one he felt he better understood.
He sighed and crossed his study to the wall. He turned the switch, and the electric lights came on. They were still a wonder to him. Even though he knew the Words of Founding had given hints regarding electricity, what men had achieved still seemed incredible.
He crossed the room to his uncle’s desk. His desk. Back in Weathering, Waxillium had used a rough, flimsy table. Now he had a sturdy, smoothly polished desk of stained oak. He sat down and began leafing through ledgers of house finances. It wasn’t long, however, before his eyes started flicking toward the stack of broadsheets lying on his easy chair. He’d asked Limmi to go gather a few of them for him.
He usually ignored the broadsheets these days. Reports of crimes had a way of setting his mind running in circles and keeping him from focusing on his business. Of course, now that thoughts of the Vanishers had been planted in his mind, he’d have trouble letting go and doing anything productive, at least until he had scratched a few itches about what they’d been doing.
Perhaps just a little reading, he told himself. To catch up on current events. It wouldn’t hurt to be informed; in fact, it might be important to his ability to entertain discussions with others.
Waxillium fetched the stack and returned to his desk. He easily found an account of the robberies in the day’s paper. Other broadsheets in the stack had even more information. He’d mentioned the Vanishers to Limmi, and so she’d gathered a few broadsheets that were intended for people who wanted a collection of all of the recent stories on them. These reprinted articles from weeks or even months ago, with the original dates of the stories’ publication. Those types of broadsheets were popular, he could tell, as he had three different ones from three different publishers. It seemed everyone wanted to stay up to date on items they’d missed.
By the dates listed on the reprinted articles, the first robbery had happened much earlier than he’d assumed. Seven months ago, just before he’d arrived back in Elendel. There had been a lapse of four months between the first railway cargo disappearance and the second. The name “Vanishers” hadn’t started being used until this second attack.
The robberies were all similar, save for the one at the playhouse. A train was stopped because of a distraction on the tracks— early on, a fallen tree. Later, a ghostly phantom railcar that appeared from the mists, traveling directly at the train. The engineers stopped in a panic, but the phantom ahead vanished.
The engineers would start their train again. When it reached its destination, one of their cars was found to have been emptied of all goods. People were ascribing all kinds of mystical powers to the robbers, who seemed to be able to pass through walls and locked cargo cars without trouble. But what goods were stolen? Waxillium thought, frowning. The reports of the first theft didn’t say, though it did mention the cargo had belonged to Augustin Tekiel.
Tekiel was one of the richest houses in the city, based over in the Second Octant, though it was building its new skyscraper in the financial district of the Fourth Octant. Waxillium read the articles over again, then searched through the broadsheets, scanning them for any further mention of the first robbery before the second occurred.
What’s this? he thought, holding up a broadsheet that included a reprint of a letter Augustin Tekiel had written for publication a few months back. The letter denounced the Elendel constables for failure to protect or recover Tekiel’s goods. The broadsheet had happily printed it, even made a headline of it: “Constables Incompetent, Tekiel Slams.”
Three months. It had taken three months for Tekiel to say anything. Waxillium put aside these compilation broadsheets, then searched through the more recent broadsheets for other mentions. There was no shortage of them; the robberies were dramatic and mysterious, two things that sold a lot of papers.
The second and third robberies had been of steel shipments. Odd, that. An impractically heavy substance to take, and not as valuable as simply robbing the passenger cars. The fourth robbery had been the one that caught Wayne’s attention: packaged foodstuffs from a train on its way to the northern Roughs. The fifth robbery had been the first to involve the passengers. The sixth and seventh had done so as well, the seventh being the only time the Vanishers had taken two hostages instead of one.
All three of the later robberies had involved stealing from a freight car as well as from passengers. Metals in two cases, foodstuffs in another case— at least, that was all the newspaper reported. With each case, the details had grown more interesting, as the cargo cars had been better secured. More sophisticated locks, guards riding along. The robberies happened incredibly quickly, considering the weight of goods taken.
Did they use a speed bubble, like Wayne makes? Waxillium thought.
But no. You couldn’t move in or out of a speed bubble once one was up, and it would be impossible to make one large enough to facilitate this kind of robbery. So far as he knew, at least.
Waxillium continued reading. There were a great many articles with theories, quotes, and eyewitness reports. Many suggested a speed bubble, but editorials cut those to shreds. Too much manpower would be needed, more than could fit in a speed bubble. They thought it more likely that a Feruchemist who could increase his strength was lifting the heavy materials out of the cars and carrying them off.
But to where? And why? And how were they bypassing the locks and the guards? Waxillium cut out articles he found interesting. Few had any solid information.
A soft knock at the door interrupted him in the middle of spreading the articles out on his desk. He looked up to see Tillaume in the doorway holding a tray of tea and a basket, the handle over his arm.
“Tea, my lord?”
“That would be wonderful.”
Tillaume strode forward and set up a small stand beside the desk, getting a cup and a sharp white napkin. “Do you have a preference?” Tillaume could manufacture dozens of varieties of tea from the simplest of starting points, blending and making what he considered ideal.
“My lord. There is great importance to tea. It should never merely be ‘whatever.’ Tell me. Are you planning to sleep soon?”
Waxillium looked over the array of cut- out reports. “Definitely not.”
“Very well. Would you prefer something to help clear your mind?”
“That might be nice.”
“Sweet or not?”
“Minty or spicy?”
“Strong or weak?”
“Er . . . strong.”
“Excellent,” Tillaume said, taking several jars and some silver spoons from his basket. He began mixing powders and bits of herbs into a cup. “My lord looks very intent.”
Waxillium tapped the table. “My lord is annoyed. Broadsheets make for terrible research opportunities. I need to know what was in the first shipment.”
“The first shipment, my lord?”
“The first railcar that the thieves stole from.”
“MissGrimes would note that you seem to be slipping into old habits, my lord.”
“Miss Grimes isn’t here, fortunately. Besides, Lord Harms and his daughter seemed aghast that I didn’t know about the robberies. I must keep abreast of events in the city.”
“That’s a very excellent excuse, my lord.”
“Thank you,” Waxillium said, taking the cup of tea. “I almost have myself completely persuaded.” He took a sip. “Preservation’s Wings, man! This is good.”
“Thank you, my lord.” Tillaume took out the napkin and snapped it in his hands, then folded it down the middle and laid it across the arm of Waxillium’s chair. “And I believe that the first thing stolen was a shipment of wool. I heard it being discussed at the butcher’s earlier in the week.”
“Wool. That makes no sense.”
“None of these crimes make much sense, my lord.”
“Yes,” Waxillium said. “Unfortunately, those are the most interesting kind of crimes.” He took another sip of the tea. The strong, minty scent seemed to clear his nose and mind. “I need paper.”
“A large sheet,” Waxillium continued. “As big as you can find.”
“I will see what is available, my lord,” Tillaume said. Waxillium caught a faint sigh of exasperation from the man, though he left the room to do as asked.
How long had it been since Waxillium had started his research? He glanced at the clock, and was surprised at the time. Well into the night already.
Well, he was into it now. He’d never sleep until he’d worked it through. He rose and began to pace, holding his teacup and saucer before him. He stayed away from the windows. He was backlit, and would make an excellent target for a sniper outside. Not that he really thought there would be one, but . . . well, he felt more comfortable working this way.
Wool, he thought. He walked over and opened a ledger, looking up some figures. He grew so absorbed that he didn’t notice the passing of time until Tillaume returned.
“Will this do, my lord?” he asked, bringing in an artist’s easel with a large pad of paper clipped to it. “The old Lord Ladrian kept this for your sister. She did love to draw.”
Waxillium looked at it, and felt his heart clench. He hadn’t thought of Telsin in ages. They had been so distant most of their lives. Not by intent, like his distance from his uncle; Waxillium and the previous Lord Ladrian had often been at odds. No, his distance from Telsin had been one born more of laziness. Twenty years apart, only seeing his sister occasionally, had let him slide along without much contact.
And then she’d died, in the same accident as his uncle. He wished the news had been harder for him to hear. It should have been harder for him to hear. She’d been a stranger by then, though.
“My lord?” the butler asked.
“The paper is perfect,” Waxillium said, rising and fetching a pencil. “Thank you. I was worried we’d have to hang the paper on the wall.”
“Yes. I used to use some bits of tar.”
That idea seemed to make Tillaume very uncomfortable. Waxillium ignored him, walking over and beginning to write on the pad. “This is nice paper.”
“I’m pleased, my lord,” Tillaume said uncertainly.
Waxillium drew a little train in the top left corner, putting in a track ahead of it. He wrote a date beneath it. “First robbery. Fourteenth of Vinuarch. Target: wool. Supposedly.” In like manner, he added more trains, tracks, dates, and details down the paper.
Wayne had always mocked him when he’d sketched out crimes to help him think. But it worked, though he frequently had to put up with Wayne’s playful additions of little stick- figure bandits or mistwraiths rampaging across the otherwise neat and orderly sketchwork and notes.
“Second robbery happened much later,” Waxillium continued.
“Metals. For the first robbery, Lord Tekiel didn’t make any kind of fuss until months had passed.” He tapped the paper, then crossed out the word “wool.” “He didn’t lose a shipment of wool. It was early summer then, and wool prices would be too low to justify the freight charges. As I recall, the rates were unusually high in Vinuarch because the eighteenth railway line was out of service. It would take a man with breadcrumbs for brains to pay a premium to ship out-of-season wares to people who didn’t want them.”
“So . . .” Tillaume said.
“Just a moment,” Waxillium said. He walked over and pulled a few ledgers off the shelf beside his desk. His uncle had some shipping manifests here. . . .
Yes. The old Lord Ladrian had kept very good track of what his competitor houses had been shipping. Waxillium scanned the lists for oddities. It took him a little while, but he eventually came up with a theory.
“Aluminum,” Waxillium said. “Tekiel was probably shipping aluminum, but avoiding taxes by claiming it as something else. In here, his stated aluminum shipments for the last two years are much smaller than they were for previous years. His smelters are still producing, however. I’d bet my best gun that Augustin Tekiel— with the help of some railway workers— has been running a nice, profitable little smuggling operation. That’s why he didn’t make a big commotion about the theft at first; he didn’t want to draw attention.”
Waxillium walked over and wrote some notations on his paper. He lifted his cup of tea to his lips, nodding to himself. “That also explains the long wait between the first and second robberies. The bandits were making use of that aluminum. They probably sold some of it on the black market to fund their operation, then used the rest to make aluminum bullets. But why would they need aluminum bullets?”
“For killing Allomancers?” Tillaume asked. He had been tidying the room while Waxillium read the ledgers.
“Yes.” Waxillium drew in images of faces above three of the robberies, the ones where they’d taken hostages.
“My lord?” Tillaume asked, stepping up beside him. “You think the captives are Allomancers?”
“The names have all been released,” Waxillium said. “All four are women from wealthy families, but none of them openly have Allomantic powers.”
Tillaume remained quiet. That didn’t mean everything. Many Allomancers among the upper crust were discreet about their powers. There were plenty of situations where that could be useful. For instance, if you were a Rioter or Soother— capable of influencing people’s emotions— you wouldn’t want people to suspect.
In other cases, Allomancy was flaunted. A recent candidate for the orchard-growers seat on the Senate had run solely on the platform that he was a Coppercloud, and was therefore impossible to affect with zinc or brass. The candidate won by a landslide. People hated thinking that someone might secretly be pulling their leaders’ strings.
Waxillium started noting his speculations around the margins of the paper. Motives, possible ways they were emptying the freight cars so quickly, similarities and differences among the heists. As he wrote he hesitated, then added a couple of stick-figure bandits at the top, drawn in Wayne’s sloppy style. Crazy though it was, he felt better having them there.
“I’ll bet the captives were all Allomancers, secretly,” Waxillium said. “The thieves had aluminum bullets to deal with Coinshots, Lurchers, and Thugs. And if we were able to catch any of the thieves, I’ll bet good money that we’d find them wearing aluminum linings in their hats to shield their emotions from being Pushed or Pulled on.” That wasn’t uncommon among the city’s elite as well, though the common men couldn’t afford such luxury.
The robberies weren’t about money; they were about the captives. That was why no bounty had been demanded, and why the bodies of the captives hadn’t been discovered dumped somewhere. The robberies were meant to obscure the true motives for the kidnappings. The victims were not the spur-of-the-moment hostages they were meant to appear. The Vanishers were gathering Allomancers. And Allomantic metals— so far raw steel, pewter, iron, zinc, brass, tin, and even some bendalloy had been stolen.
“This is dangerous,” Waxillium whispered. “Very dangerous.”
“My lord . . .” Tillaume said. “Weren’t you going to go over the house account ledgers?”
“Yes,” Waxillium said distractedly.
“And the lease for the new offices in the Ironspine?”
“I can still get to that to night too.”
“My lord. When?”
Waxillium paused, then checked his pocket watch. Again, he was surprised to see how much time had passed.
“My lord,” Tillaume said. “Did I ever tell you about your uncle’s horse-racing days?”
“Uncle Edwarn was a gambler?”
“Indeed he was. It was a great problem to the house, soon after his rise to high lord. He would spend most of his days at the tracks.”
“No wonder we’re destitute.”
“Actually, he was quite good at the gambling, my lord. He usually came out ahead. Far ahead.”
“He stopped anyway,” Tillaume said, collecting his tray and Waxillium’s empty teacup.
“Unfortunately, my lord, while he was winning a small fortune at the races, the house lost a large fortune in mismanaged business and financial dealings.” He walked toward the door, but turned. His normally somber face softened. “It is not my place to lecture, my lord. Once one becomes a man, he can and must make his own decisions. But I do offer warning. Even a good thing can become destructive if taken to excess.
“Your house needs you. Thousands of families rely upon you. They need your leadership and your guidance. You did not ask for this, I understand. But the mark of a great man is one who knows when to set aside the important things in order to accomplish the vital ones.”
The butler left, closing the door behind him.
Waxillium stood alone beneath the uncannily steady glow of the electric lights, looking at his diagram. He tossed the pencil aside, suddenly feeling drained, and fished out his pocket watch. It was two fifteen. He should be getting some sleep. Normal people slept at these hours.
He dimmed the lights to not be backlit, then walked to the window. He was still depressed not to see any mists, even though he hadn’t expected them. I never said daily prayers, he realized. Things have been too chaotic today.
Well, it was better to arrive late than not at all. He reached into his pocket, fishing out his earring. It was a simple thing, stamped on the head with the ten interlocking rings of the Path. He slipped it into his ear, which was pierced for the purpose, and leaned against the window to stare out at the darkened city.
There was no specific prescribed posture for praying as a Pathian. Just fifteen minutes of meditation and pondering. Some liked to sit with legs crossed, eyes closed, but Waxillium had always found it harder to think in that posture. It made his back hurt and his spine tingle. What if someone sneaked around behind him and shot him in the back?
So, he just stood. And pondered. How are things up there in the mists? he thought. He was never sure how to talk to Harmony. Life’s good, I assume? What with you being God, and all?
In response, he felt a sense of . . . amusement. He could never tell if he created those sensations himself or not.
Well, since I’m not God myself, Waxillium thought, perhaps you could use that omniscience of yours to drum up some answers for me. It feels like I’m in a bind.
A discordant thought. This wasn’t like most of the binds he’d been in. He wasn’t tied up, about to be murdered. He wasn’t lost in the Roughs, without water or food, trying to find his way back to civilization. He was standing in a lavish mansion, and while his family was having financial troubles, it was nothing they couldn’t weather. He had a life of luxury and a seat on the city Senate.
Why, then, did he feel like these last six months had been among the hardest he’d ever lived? An endless series of reports, ledgers, dinner parties, and business deals.
The butler was right; many did rely on him. The Ladrian house had started as several thousand individuals following the Origin, and had grown large in three hundred years, adopting under its protection any who came to work on its properties or in its foundries. The deals Waxillium negotiated determined their wages, their privileges, their lifestyle. If his house collapsed, they’d find employment elsewhere, but would be considered lesser members of those houses for a generation or two until they obtained full rights.
I’ve done hard things before, he thought. I can do this one. If it’s right. Is it right?
Steris had called the Path a simple religion. Perhaps it was. There was only one basic tenet: Do more good than harm. There were other aspects— the belief that all truth was important, the requirement to give more than one took. There were over three hundred examples listed in the Words of Founding, religions that could have been. Might have been. In other times, in another world.
The Path was to study them, learn from their moral codes. A few rules were central. Do not seek lust without commitment. See the strengths in all flaws. Pray and meditate fifteen minutes a day. And don’t waste time worshipping Harmony. Doing good was the worship.
Waxillium had been converted to the Path soon after leaving Elendel. He was still convinced that the woman he’d met on that train ride must have been one of the Faceless Immortals, the hands of Harmony. She’d given him his earring; every Pathian wore one while praying.
The problem was, it was hard for Waxillium to feel like he was doing anything useful. Luncheons and ledgers, contracts and negotiations. He knew, logically, that all of it was important. But those, even his vote on the Senate, were all abstractions. No match for seeing a murderer jailed or a kidnapped child rescued. In his youth, he’d lived in the City— the world’s center of culture, science, and progress— for two de cades, but he hadn’t found himself until he’d left it and wandered the dusty, infertile lands out beyond the mountains.
Use your talents, something seemed to whisper inside of him. You’ll figure it out.
That made him smile ruefully. He couldn’t help wondering why, if Harmony really was listening, he didn’t give more specific answers. Often, all Waxillium got from prayer was a sense of encouragement. Keep going. It’s not as difficult as you feel it is. Don’t give up.
He sighed, just closing his eyes, losing himself in thought. Other religions had their ceremonies and their meetings. Not the Pathians. In a way, its very simplicity made the Path much harder to follow. It left interpretation up to one’s own conscience.
After meditating for a time, he couldn’t help feeling that Harmony wanted him to study the Vanishers and to be a good house lord. Were the two mutually exclusive? Tillaume thought they were.
Waxillium glanced back at the stack of broadsheets and the easel with the drawing pad on it. He reached into his pocket, taking out the bullet Wayne had left.
And against his will, he saw in his mind’s eye Lessie, head jerking back, blood spraying into the air. Blood covering her beautiful brown hair. Blood on the floor, on the walls, on the murderer who had been standing behind her. But that murderer hadn’t been the one to shoot her.
Oh, Harmony, he thought, raising a hand to his head and slowly sitting down, back to the wall. It really is about her, isn’t it? I can’t do that again. Not again.
He dropped the round, pulled off his earring. He stood, walked over, cleaned up the broadsheets, and closed the drawing pad.
Nobody had been hurt by the Vanishers yet. They were robbing people, but they weren’t harming them. There wasn’t even proof that the hostages were in danger. Likely they’d be returned after ransom demands were met.
Waxillium sat down to work on his house’s ledgers instead. He let them draw his attention well into the night.