Today concludes our part-serialisation of The Alloy of Law. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for Brandon’s UK Tour Dates. And next week we’ll be bringing you an exclusive Alloy of Law themed competition that you won’t want to miss.
“Harmony’s forearms,” Waxillium mumbled, stepping into the grand ballroom. “This is what passes for a modest wedding dinner these days? There are more people in here than live in entire towns in the Roughs.”
Waxillium had visited the Yomen mansion once in his youth, but that time, the grand ballroom had been empty. Now it was filled. Rows and rows of tables lined the hardwood floor of the cavernous chamber; there had to be over a hundred of them. Ladies, lords, elected officials, and the wealthy elite moved and chatted in a low hum, all dressed in their finest. Sparkling jewels. Crisp black suits with colorful cravats. Women with dresses after the modern fashion: deep colors, skirts that went down to the floor, thick outer layers with lots of folds and lace. Most women wore tight, vestlike coats over the top, and the necklines were much lower now than he remembered them being in his childhood. Perhaps he was simply more likely to notice.
“What was that, Waxillium?” Steris asked, turning to the side and letting him help off her overcoat. She wore a fine red dress that seemed calculatedly designed to be completely in fashion but not too daring.
“I was simply noting the size of this gathering, my dear,” Waxillium said, folding her coat and handing it— along with his bowler hat— to a waiting attendant. “I’ve been to quite a number of functions since my return to the city, and none were this enormous. Practically half the city seems to have been invited.”
“Well, this is something special,” she said. “A wedding involving two very well-connected houses. They wouldn’t want to leave anyone out. Except, of course, the ones they left out on purpose.”
Steris held out her arm for him to take. He’d received a detailed lecture during the carriage ride on how, precisely, he was to hold it. His arm above hers, taking her hand lightly, fingers wrapping down under her palm. It looked horribly unnatural, but she insisted that it would convey the exact meaning they intended. Indeed, as they stepped down onto the ballroom floor, they drew a number of interested looks.
“You imply,” Waxillium said, “that one purpose of this wedding dinner is not in who is invited, but who is not.”
“Precisely,” she said. “And, in order to fulfill that purpose, everybody else must be invited. The Yomens are powerful, even if they do believe in Sliverism. Horrid religion. Imagine, revering Ironeyes himself. Anyway, nobody will ignore an invitation to this celebration. And so, those to be slighted will not only find themselves without a party to attend, but unable to arrange their own diversions, as anyone they might have wanted to invite will be here. That leaves them to either associate with other uninviteds— therefore reinforcing their outcast status— or to sit alone at home, thinking about how they have been insulted.”
“In my experience,” Waxillium said, “that sort of unhappy brooding leads to a high probability of people getting shot.”
She smiled, waving with calculated fondness to someone they passed. “This isn’t the Roughs, Waxillium. It is the City. We don’t do such things here.”
“No, you don’t. Shooting people would be too charitable for City folks.”
“You haven’t even seen the worst of it,” she noted, waving to someone else. “You see that person turned away from us? The stocky man with the longer hair?”
“Lord Shewrman. An infamously dreadful party guest. He’s a complete bore when not drunk and a complete buffoon when he is drunk— which is most of the time, I might add. He is probably the least likable person in all of upper society. Most people here would rather spend an hour amputating one of their own toes than spend a few moments chatting with him.”
“So why is he here?”
“For the insult factor, Waxillium. Those who were snubbed will be even more aghast to learn that Shewrman was here. By including a few bad alloys like him— men and women who are utterly undesirable, but who don’t realize it— House Yomen is essentially saying, ‘We’d even prefer spending time with these people to spending it with you.’ Very effective. Very nasty.”
Waxillium snorted. “If you tried something that rude out in Weathering, it would end with you strung up by your heels from the rafters. If you’re lucky.”
“Hum. Yes.” A servant stepped forward, gesturing for them to follow as she led them to a table. “You understand,” Steris continued more softly, “that I am no longer responding to your ‘ignorant frontiersman’ act, Waxillium.”
“Yes,” she said distractedly. “You are a man. The prospect of marriage makes men uncomfortable, and they clutch for freedom. Therefore, you have begun regressing, tossing out savage comments to provoke a reaction from me. This is your instinct for masculine independence; an exaggeration meant, unconsciously, to undermine the wedding.”
“You assume it’s an exaggeration, Steris,” Waxillium said as they approached the table.
“Maybe this is what I am.”
“You are what you choose to be, Waxillium,” she said. “As for these people here, and choices made by HouseYomen, I did not make these rules. Nor do I approve of them; many are inconvenient. But it is the society in which we live. Therefore, I make of myself something that can survive in this environment.”
Waxillium frowned as she released his arm and fondly kissed cheeks with a few women from a nearby table—distant relatives, it seemed. He found himself clasping hands behind his back and nod-ding with a civil smile to those who came to greet Steris and him.
He’d made a good showing for himself these last months while moving among upper society, and people treated him far more amiably than they once had. He was even fond of some of those who approached. However, the nature of what he was doing with Steris still made him uncomfortable, and he found it difficult to enjoy much of the conversation.
In addition, this many people in one place still made his back itch. Too much confusion, too difficult to watch the exits. He preferred the smaller parties, or at least the ones spread across a large number of rooms.
The bride and groom arrived, and people rose to clap. Lord Joshin and Lady Mi’chelle; Waxillium didn’t know them, though he did wonder why they were speaking with a scruffy man who looked like a beggar, dressed all in black. Fortunately, it didn’t seem Steris intended to drag him over to wait with those intent upon congratulating the newlyweds at the earliest possible moment.
Soon, the first tables were served their meals. Silverware began to clatter. Steris sent for a servant to prepare their table; Waxillium passed the time by inspecting the room. There were two balconies, one at each shorter end of the rectangular ballroom. There appeared to be space for dining up there, though no tables had been set up. They were being used for musicians today, a group of harpists.
Majestic chandeliers hung from the ceiling— six enormous ones down the center, outfitted with thousands of sparkling pieces of crystal. Twelve smaller ones hung at their sides. Electric lights, he noted. Those chandeliers must have been a horrible pain to light before the conversion.
The sheer cost of a party like this numbed his senses. He could have fed Weathering for a year on what was being spent for this single evening. His uncle had sold the Ladrian ballroom a few years back— it had been a separate building, in a different neighborhood from the mansion. That made Waxillium happy; from what he remembered, it had been as large as this one. If they’d still owned it, people might have expected him to throw lavish parties like this.
“Well?” Steris asked, holding out her arm for him again as the servant returned to lead them to their table. He could see Lord Harms and Steris’s cousin Marasi sitting at the table already.
“I’m remembering why I left the City,” Waxillium said honestly.
“Life is so damn hard here.”
“Many would say that of the Roughs.”
“And few of them have lived in both,” Waxillium said. “Living here is a different kind of hard, but it’s still hard. Marasi is joining us again?”
“What is going on with her, Steris?”
“She’s from the Outer Estates and badly wanted the chance to attend university here in the City. My father took pity on her, as her own parents haven’t the means to support her. He is allowing her to reside with us for the duration of her studies.”
A valid explanation, though it seemed to roll out of Steris’s mouth far too quickly. Was it a practiced excuse, or was Waxillium assuming too much? Either way, further discussion was interrupted as Lord Harms rose to greet his daughter. Waxillium shook hands with Lord Harms, took Marasi’s hand and bowed, then sat. Steris began speaking with her father about the people she’d noted to be attending or absent, and Waxillium rested elbows on the table, listening with half an ear.
Hard room to defend, he thought absently. Snipers on those balconies would work, but you’d need some on each one, watching to make sure nobody gets beneath the other. Anyone with a strong enough gun— or the right Allomantic powers— could take out snipers from below. The pillars below the balconies would also be good shelter, though.
The more cover there was, the better the situation for the one who was outnumbered. Not that you ever wanted to be outnumbered, but he’d rarely been in any fight where he wasn’t. So he looked for cover. In the open, a gunfight came down to who could field the most men with weapons. But once you could hide, skill and experience started to compensate. Maybe this room wouldn’t be too bad a place to fi ght after all. He—
He hesitated. What was he doing? He’d made his decision. Did he have to keep remaking it every few days?
“Marasi,” he said, forcing himself into conversation. “Your cousin tells me you’ve entered into university studies?”
“I’m in my final year,” she said.
He waited for a further reply, and didn’t get one.
“And how go your studies?”
“Well,” she said, and looked down, holding her napkin.
That was productive, he thought with a sigh. Fortunately, it looked like a server was approaching. The lean man began pouring wine for them. “The soup will be along presently,” he explained with a faint Terris accent, lofty vowels, and a slightly nasal tone.
The voice froze Waxillium stiff.
“Today’s soup,” the server continued, “is a delightfully seasoned prawn bisque with a hint of pepper. You shall find it quite enjoyable, I think.” He glanced at Waxillium, eyes twinkling in amusement. Though he wore a false nose and a wig, those were Wayne’s
Waxillium groaned softly.
“My lord doesn’t like prawns?” Wayne asked with horror.
“The bisque is quite good,” Lord Harms said. “I’ve had it at a Yomen party before.”
“It’s not the soup,” Waxillium said. “I’ve just recalled something I forgot to do.” It involves strangling someone.
“I shall return shortly with your soup, my lords and ladies,” Wayne promised. He even had a fake line of Terris earrings in his ears. Of course, Wayne was part Terris, as was Waxillium himself— as evidenced by their Feruchemical abilities. That was rare in the population; though nearly a fifth of the Originators had been Terris, they weren’t prone to marrying other ethnicities.
“Does that server look familiar?” Marasi asked, turning and watching him go.
“He must have served us last time we were here,” Lord Harms said.
“But I wasn’t with you last—”
“Lord Harms,” Waxillium jumped in, “has anything been heard of your relative? The one who was kidnapped by the Vanishers?”
“No,” he said, taking a sip of his wine. “Ruin those thieves. This kind of thing is absolutely unacceptable. They should confine such behavior to the Roughs!”
“Yes,” Steris said, “it does somewhat undermine one’s respect for the constabulary when things like this occur. And the robbery inside the city! How terrible.”
“What was it like?” Marasi suddenly asked. “Lord Ladrian? Living where there was no law?” She seemed genuinely curious, though her comment earned a glare from Lord Harms, likely for bringing up Waxillium’s past.
“It was difficult sometimes,” Waxillium admitted. “Out there, some people just believe they can take what they want. It would actually surprise them when someone stood up to them. As if I were some spoiler, the only one who didn’t understand the game they were all playing.”
“Game?” Lord Harms said, frowning.
“A figure of speech, Lord Harms,” Waxillium said. “You see, they all seemed to think that if you were skilled or well armed, you could take what ever you want. I was both, and yet instead of taking, I stopped them. They found it baffling.”
“It was very brave of you,” Marasi said.
He shrugged. “It wasn’t bravery, honestly. I just kind of fell into things.”
“Even stopping the Surefires?”
“They were a special case. I— ” He froze. “How did you know about that?”
“Reports trickle in,” Marasi said, blushing. “From the Roughs. Most of them get written up by someone. You can find them at the university or at the right bookshop.”
“Oh.” Uncomfortable, he picked up his cup and drank some wine. As he did, something slipped into his mouth. He nearly spat out the entire mouthful in surprise. He contained himself. Barely.
Wayne, I really am going to throttle you. He moved the object into his hand, covering the act with a cough.
“Well,” Steris said, “hopefully the constables will soon deal with these ruffians and we can return to peace and law.”
“Actually,” Marasi said, “I don’t think that’s likely.”
“Child,” Lord Harms said sternly. “That’s quite enough.”
“I’d like to hear what she has to say, my lord,” Waxillium said. “For the sake of conversation.”
“Well . . . all right . . . I suppose.”
“It’s simply a theory I had,” Marasi said, blushing. “Lord Ladrian, when you were lawkeeper in Weathering, what was the population of the city?”
He fingered the item in his hand. A spent bullet casing that had been capped with a dab of wax. “Well, it started to grow rapidly in the last few years. But for most of the time, I’d say it was around fifteen hundred.”
“And the surrounding area?” she asked. “All the places you’d patrol, but didn’t have their own lawkeepers?”
“Maybe three thousand total,” Waxillium said. “Depending. There are a lot of transients out in the Roughs. People looking to find a mineral claim or to start up a farmstead. Workers moving from place to place.”
“Let’s say three thousand,” Marasi said. “And how many of you were there? Those who helped you keep the law?”
“Five or six, depending,” he said. “Wayne and I, and Barl most of the time. A few others on and off.”
And Lessie, he thought.
“Let’s say six per three thousand,” she said. “Gives us an easy number to work with. One lawman per five hundred people.”
“What is the point of this?” Lord Harms asked sufferingly.
“The population of our octant is around six hundred thousand,” she explained. “By the same ratio Lord Ladrian described, we should have roughly twelve hundred constables. But we don’t. It’s somewhere closer to six hundred, last I looked over the numbers. So, Lord Ladrian, your ‘savage’ wildlands actually had double the number of lawmen watching over it as we have here in the city.”
“Huh,” he said. Odd information for a young woman of means to have.
“I’m not trying to diminish your accomplishments,” she said quickly. “You more likely had a higher percentage of lawbreakers as well, since the reputation of the Roughs draws that type. But I think it’s a matter of perception. As you said, out of the city, people expect to get away with their crimes.
“Here, they are more circumspect— and many of the crimes are smaller in scope. Instead of the bank getting robbed, you get a dozen people being robbed on their way home at night. The nature of the urban environment makes it easier to hide if you keep your crimes below a certain level of visibility. But I wouldn’t say life is really safer in the city, despite what people think.
“I’ll bet more people are murdered here, by percentage of the population, than out in the Roughs. There is so much more going on in the City, however, that people pay less attention to it. By contrast, when a man is murdered in a small town, it’s a very disruptive event— even if it’s the only murder that’s happened in years.
“And all of this isn’t even counting the fact that much of the wealth in the world is concentrated in a few places inside the city. Wealth draws men looking for opportunity. There are a whole host of reasons why the City is more dangerous than the Roughs. It’s just that we pretend that it isn’t.”
Waxillium folded his arms in front of him on the table. Curious. Once she started talking, she didn’t seem shy at all.
“You see, my lord,” Harms said. “This is why I tried to still her.”
“It would have been a shame if you had,” Waxillium said, “as I believe that’s the most interesting thing anyone has said to me since I returned to Elendel.”
Marasi smiled, though Steris just rolled her eyes. Wayne returned with the soup. Unfortunately, the area right around them was crowded— Wayne wouldn’t be able to create a speed bubble around just Waxillium and himself. It would catch someone else, and anyone caught in it would have time sped up for them as well. Wayne couldn’t shape the bubble or choose whom it affected.
While the others were distracted by the soup, Waxillium broke the wax off the sealed shell casing and found a small rolled- up piece of paper inside. He glanced at Wayne, then unrolled it.
You were right, it read.
“I usually am,” he muttered as Wayne placed a bowl in front of him. “What are you up to, Wayne?”
“One seventy, thank you,” Wayne said under his breath. “I’ve been lifting weights and eating steak.”
Waxillium gave him a flat stare, but got ignored as Wayne proceeded to explain— with his slight Terris accent— that he’d soon return with a bread basket and more wine for the group.
“Lord Ladrian,” Steris said as they began eating, “I suggest that we begin compiling a list of conversational topics we can employ when in the company of others. The topics should not touch on politics or religion, yet should be memorable and give us opportunities to appear charming. Do you know any particularly witty sayings or stories that can be our starting point?”
“I once shot the tail off a dog by mistake,” Waxillium said idly. “It’s kind of a funny story.”
“Shooting dogs is hardly appropriate dinner conversation,” Steris said.
“I know. Particularly since I was aiming for its balls.”
Marasi just about spat her soup across the table.
“Lord Ladrian!” Steris exclaimed, though her father seemed amused.
“I thought you said I couldn’t shock you any longer,” he said to Steris. “I was merely testing your hypothesis, my dear.”
“Honestly. You will eventually overcome this rural lack of decorum, won’t you?”
He stirred his soup to make sure Wayne hadn’t hidden anything in it. I hope he at least washed that bullet casing. “I suspect that I will, indeed, eventually overcome it,” he said, raising the spoon to his lips. The soup was good, but too cold. “The amusing thing is that when I was in the Roughs, I was considered to be highly refined— so much so, in fact, that they thought me haughty.”
“Calling a man ‘refined’ by Roughs standards,” Lord Harms said, raising a finger, “is like saying a brick is ‘soft’ by building-material standards— right before you smash it into a man’s face.”
“Father!” Steris said. She glared at Waxillium, as if the comment were his fault.
“It was a perfectly legitimate simile,” Lord Harms said.
“We will have no further talk of hitting people with bricks or of shootings, regardless of the target!”
“Very well, cousin,” Marasi said. “Lord Ladrian, I once heard that you threw a man’s own knife at him and hit him right through the eye. Is the story true?”
“It was actually Wayne’s knife,” Waxillium said. He hesitated. “And the eye was an accident. I was aiming for the balls that time too.”
“Lord Ladrian!” Steris said, nearly livid.
“I know. That’s quite off target. I’ve got really bad aim with throwing knives.”
Steris looked at them, growing red as she saw that her father was snickering, but trying to cover it up with his napkin. Marasi met her gaze with innocent equanimity. “No bricks,” Marasi said, “and no guns. I was making conversation as you requested.”
Steris stood. “I’m going to see myself to the women’s washroom while you three compose yourselves.”
She stalked away, and Waxillium felt a stab of guilt. Steris was stiff, but she seemed earnest and honest. She did not deserve mockery. It was very hard not to try provoking her, however.
Lord Harms cleared his throat. “That was uncalled for, child,” he said to Marasi. “You must not make me regret my promise to start bringing you to these functions.”
“Don’t blame her, my lord,” Waxillium said. “I was the primary offender. I’ll offer a suitable apology to Steris when she returns, and will guard my tongue for the rest of the evening. I shouldn’t have allowed myself to go so far.”
Harms nodded, sighing. “I’ll admit, I’ve been tempted to such lengths myself a time or two. She’s much as her mother was.” He gave Waxillium a pitying look.
“This is our lot, son,” Lord Harms said, standing. “To be lord of a house requires certain sacrifices. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I see Lord Alernath over at the bar and I think I’ll grab a nip of something harder with him before the main course. If I don’t go before Steris gets back, she’ll bully me into staying. I shouldn’t be long.” He nodded to the two of them, then waddled toward a group of
higher- built tables off to the side, next to an open bar.
Waxillium watched him go, idly thinking and rolling Wayne’s note in his fingers. Previously, he’d assumed Lord Harms had driven Steris to be as she was, but it appeared he was more under her thumb than vice versa. Another curiosity, he thought.
“Thank you for your defense of me, Lord Ladrian,” Marasi said. “It appears that you are as quick to come to a lady’s aid with words as you are with pistols.”
“I was merely stating the truth as I saw it, my lady.”
“Tell me. Did you really shoot off a dog’s tail when aiming for his . . . er . . .”
“Yes,” Waxillium said, grimacing. “In my defense, the damn thing was attacking me. Belonged to a man I hunted down. The aggressiveness wasn’t the dog’s fault; the poor thing looked like it hadn’t been fed in days. I was trying to shoot it somewhere nonlethal, scare it off. That part about the man I hit in the eye was fabricated, though. I wasn’t actually aiming for any body part in particular— I was just hoping I’d hit.”
She smiled. “Might I ask you something?”
“You looked crestfallen when I spoke of the statistics dealing with lawman ratios. I didn’t mean to offend or downplay your heroics.”
“It’s all right,” he said.
He shook his head. “I’m not sure if I can explain it. When I found my way out to the Roughs, when I started bringing in the warranted, I started to . . . Well, I thought I’d found a place where I was needed. I thought I’d found a way to do something that nobody else would do.”
“But you did.”
“And yet,” he said, stirring his soup, “it appears that all along, the place I left behind might have needed me even more. I’d never noticed.”
“You did important work, Lord Ladrian. Vital work. Besides, I understand that before you arrived, nobody was upholding the law in that area.”
“There was Arbitan,” he said, smiling, remembering the older man. “And, of course, the lawkeepers over in Far Dorest.”
“A distant city and with a short reach,” she said, “which had a single capable lawman to serve a large population. Jon Deadfinger had his own problems. By the time you had built things up, Weathering was protected better than those in the City— but it did not start that way.”
He nodded, though— again—he was curious about how much she knew. Were people really telling stories about him and Wayne all the way over here in the city? Why hadn’t he heard of them before now?
Her statistics did bother him. He hadn’t thought of the City as dangerous. It was the Roughs, wild and untamed, that needed rescuing. The City was the land of plenty that Harmony had created to shelter mankind. Here, trees grew fruit in abundance and cultivated lands had water without need for irrigation. The ground was always fertile, and somehow never got farmed out.
This land was supposed to be different. Protected. He’d put away his guns in part because he’d convinced himself that the constables could do their jobs without help. But don’t the Vanishers prove that might not be the case?
Wayne returned with the bread and a bottle of wine, then stopped, looking at the two empty seats. “Oh dear,” he said. “Did you grow so tired of waiting that you devoured your two companions?”
Marasi glanced at him and smiled.
She knows, Waxillium realized. She recognizes him.
“If I may note something, my lady,” Waxillium said, drawing her attention back. “You are far less unassuming than you were at our first meeting.”
She winced. “I’m not very good at being shy, am I?”
“I wasn’t aware it was something that required practice.”
“I try all the time,” Wayne said, sitting down at the table and taking the baguette out of his basket. He took a healthy bite. “No-body gives me any credit for it. ’S because I’m misunderstood, I tell you.” His Terris accent had vanished.
Marasi looked confused. “Should I pretend to be aghast at what he’s doing?” she asked Waxillium in a hushed tone.
“He saw that you’d recognized him,” Waxillium said. “Now he’s going to sulk.”
“Sulk?” Wayne started eating Steris’s soup. “That’s right unkind, Wax. Ugh. This stuff is far worse than I was telling you guys. Sorry ’bout that.”
“It will reflect in my tip,” Waxillium said dryly. “Lady Marasi, I was serious in my inquiry. To be frank, it seems that you’ve been trying to act with exaggerated timidity.”
“Always looking down after you speak,” Wayne agreed. “Raising the pitch of your tone a little too much with questions.”
“Not the type to be studying at the university at her own re- quest,” Waxillium noted.
“Why the act?”
“I’d rather not say.”
“You’d rather not,” Waxillium said, “or Lord Harms and his daughter would rather you not?”
She blushed. “The latter. But please. I would really prefer to leave the topic.”
“Ever charming, Wax,” Wayne said, taking another bite from the loaf of bread. “See that? You’ve pushed the lady almost to tears.”
“I’m not—” Marasi began.
“Ignore him,” Waxillium said. “Trust me. He’s like a rash. The more you scratch him, the more irritating he gets.”
“Ouch,” Wayne said, though he grinned.
“Aren’t you worried?” Marasi asked softly of Wayne. “You’re wearing a waiter’s uniform. If they see you sitting at the table and eating . . .”
“Oh, that’s a good point,” Wayne said, tipping his chair back. The person behind him had left, and with Lord Harms gone, Wayne had just enough room to—
—and there it was. He leaned his chair forward again, clothing changed back to a duster with a loose button- down shirt and thick Roughs trousers underneath. He spun his hat on his finger. The earrings were gone.
Marasi jumped. “Speed bubble,” she whispered, sounding awed. “I thought I’d be able to see something from outside!”
“You could, if you were watching closely,” Waxillium said. “A blur. If you look at the next table over, the sleeve of his waiter’s coat is sticking out from where he tossed it. His hat folds— though the sides are stiff, you can compress it between your hands. I’m still trying to figure out where he had the duster.”
“Under your table,” Wayne said, sounding very self-satisfied.
“Ah, of course,” Waxillium said. “He had to know beforehand which table would be ours so he could be assigned as our waiter.” I really should have looked under the table before we sat, Waxillium thought. Would that have seemed too paranoid? He didn’t feel paranoid; he didn’t lie awake at nights, worried that he’d be shot, or think that conspiracies were trying to destroy him. He just liked to be careful.
Marasi was still looking at Wayne; she seemed bemused.
“We aren’t what you expected,” Waxillium said. “From the reports you read?”
“No,” she admitted. “The accounts usually omitted matters of personality.”
“There are stories’bout us?” Wayne asked.
“Damn.” He sounded impressed. “Do we get royalties for them or something? If we do, I want Wax’s share, seeing as to how I did all the stuff they say he did. Plus he’s already rich and all.”
“They are news- style reports,” Marasi said. “Those don’t pay royalties to their subjects.”
“Filthy cheats.” Wayne paused. “I wonder if any of the other fine ladies in this establishment have heard of my outrageously heroic and masculine exploits. . . .”
“Lady Marasi is a student at the university,” Waxillium said. “I’m assuming she read reports that are collected there. Most of the public won’t be familiar with them.”
“That is true,” she said.
“Oh,” Wayne said, sounding disappointed. “Well, maybe Lady Marasi herself might be interested in hearing more of my outrageously—”
“I do apologize for him,” Waxillium said, turning to Marasi. She still wore the bemused expression on her face.
“He does that a lot,” Wayne said. “Apologizing. I think it’s one of his personal failings. I try to help him out by being damn near perfect, but so far, that hasn’t been enough.”
“It’s quite all right,” she said. “I do wonder if I should write something for my professors describing how . . . unique it was to meet you two.”
“What is it, exactly, that you are studying at the university?” Waxillium asked.
She hesitated, then blushed deeply.
“Ah, see!” Wayne said. “Now, that’s how to act shy. You’re getting much better! Bravo.”
“It’s just that . . .” She raised a hand to shade her eyes and looked down in embarrassment. “It’s just . . . Oh, all right. I’m studying legal justice and criminal behavioristics.”
“That’s something to be ashamed of?” Waxillium said, sharing a confused look with Wayne.
“Well, I’ve been told it’s not very feminine,” she said. “But beyond that . . . well, I’m sitting with you two . . . and . . . well, you know . . . you’re two of the most famous lawkeepers in the world, and all . . .”
“Trust me,” Waxillium said. “We don’t know as much as you might think.”
“Now, if you were studying buffoonery and idiotic behavior,” Wayne added, “that is something we’re experts on.”
“That’s two things,” Waxillium said.
“Don’t care.” Wayne continued eating the bread. “So where are the other two? I’m assuming you didn’t really devour them. Wax only eats people on the weekend.”
“Both will likely be returning soon, Wayne,” Waxillium said. “So if you had a purpose to your visit, you may wish to be on with it. Unless this is just normal, run- of- the- mill tormenting.”
“I told you what it was about,” Wayne said. “You didn’t accidentally eat my note, did you?”
“No. It didn’t say much.”
“It said enough,” Wayne said, leaning in. “Wax, you told me to look at the hostages. You were right.”
“They’re all Allomancers,” Waxillium guessed.
“More than that,” Wayne said. “They’re all relatives.”
“It’s only been three hundred years since the Originators, Wayne. We’re all relatives.”
“Does that mean you’ll take responsibility for me?”
Wayne chuckled, pulling a folded piece of paper from his duster pocket. “It’s more than that, Wax. Look. Each of the women kidnapped was from a particular line. I did some researchin’. Real, serious stuff.” He paused. “Why do they call it research if I’ve only done it this one time?”
“Because I’ll bet you had to look things up twice,” Waxillium said, taking the paper and studying it. It was written awkwardly, but was decipherable. It explained the basic lines of descent of each of the women kidnapped.
Several things stood out. Each of them could trace back to the Lord Mistborn himself. Because of that, most of them also had a strong heritage of Allomancy in their past. They were all fairly closely related, third or fourth cousins, some first.
Waxillium looked up, and noticed Marasi smiling broadly, regarding him and Wayne.
“What?” Waxillium asked.
“I knew it!” she exclaimed. “I knew you were in town to investigate the Vanishers. You showed up to become house lord only one month after the first robbery happened. You’re going to catch them, aren’t you?”
“Is that why you insisted that Lord Harms bring you to meetings with me?”
“Marasi,” Waxillium said, sighing. “You’re jumping to conclusions. Do you think the deaths in my family, making me house lord, were fabrications?”
“Well, no,” she said. “But I was surprised that you’d accepted the title until I realized that you probably saw it as a chance to find out what is going on with these robberies. You have to admit, they are unusual.”
“So is Wayne,” Waxillium said. “But I wouldn’t uproot myself, change my entire lifestyle, and accept responsibility for an entire house just to study him.”
“Look, Wax,” Wayne jumped in— ignoring the barb, which was unusual for him. “Please tell me you brought a gun with you.”
“What? No, I didn’t.” Waxillium folded up the paper and handed it back. “Why would you care?”
“Because,” Wayne said, snatching the paper from his hand and leaning in. “Don’t you see? The thieves are looking for places they can rob where the wealthy upper class of Elendel can be found— because among those wealthy upper-class types, they find their targets. People with the right heritage. Those types, rich types, have stopped traveling on the railway.”
Waxillium nodded. “Yes, if the women really are the true targets, the high- profile robberies will make potential future targets much less likely to travel. A valid connection. That must be why the thieves attacked the theater.”
“And where else are there wealthy individuals with the right heritage?” Wayne asked. “A place where people wear their finest jewelry, which will let you rob them as a distraction? A place where you can find the right hostage to take as the real prize?”
Waxillium’s mouth grew dry. “A large wedding reception.”
The doors at both ends of the ballroom suddenly burst open.