Jun 15 2011 12:00pm
The Alloy of Law: Prologue & Chapter One
Five months later, Wax walked through the decorated rooms of a large, lively party, passing men in dark suits with tailcoats and women in colorful dresses with narrow waists and lots of folds through long pleated skirts. They called him “Lord Waxillium” or “Lord Ladrian” when they spoke to him.
He nodded to each, but avoided being drawn into conversation. He deliberately made his way to one of the back rooms of the party, where dazzling electric lights—the talk of the city—produced a steady, too-even light to ward off the evening’s gloom. Outside the windows, he could see mist tickling the glass.
Defying decorum, Wax pushed his way through the room’s enormous glass double doors and stepped out onto the mansion’s grand balcony. There, finally, he felt like he could breathe again.
He closed his eyes, taking the air in and out, feeling the faint wetness of the mists on the skin of his face. Buildings are so . . . suffocating here in the city, he thought. Have I simply forgotten about that, or did I not notice it when I was younger?
He opened his eyes, and rested his hands on the balcony railing to look out over Elendel. It was the grandest city in all the world, a metropolis designed by Harmony himself. The place of Wax’s youth. A place that hadn’t been his home for twenty years.
Though it had been five months since Lessie’s death, he could still hear the gunshot, see the blood sprayed on the bricks. He had left the Roughs, moved back to the city, answering the desperate summons to do his duty to his house at his uncle’s passing.
Five months and a world away, and he could still hear that gunshot. Crisp, clean, like the sky cracking.
Behind him, he could hear musical laughter coming from the warmth of the room. Cett Mansion was a grand place, full of expensive woods, soft carpets, and sparkling chandeliers. No one joined him on the balcony.
From this vantage, he had a perfect view of the lights down Demoux Promenade. A double row of bright electric lamps with a steady, blazing whiteness. They glowed like bubbles along the wide boulevard, which was flanked by the even wider canal, the still and quiet waters reflecting the light. An evening railway engine called a greeting as it chugged through the distant center of the city, hem- ming the mists with darker smoke.
Down Demoux Promenade, Wax had a good view of both the Ironspine Building and Tekiel Tower, one on either side of the canal. Both were unfinished, but their steelwork lattices already rose high into the sky. Mind-numbingly high.
The architects continued to release updated reports of how high they intended to go, each one trying to outdo the other. Rumors he’d heard at this very party, credible ones, claimed that both would eventually top out at over fifty stories. Nobody knew which would end up proving the taller, though friendly wagers were common.
Wax breathed in the mists. Out in the Roughs, Cett Mansion—which was three stories high—would have been as tall as a building got. Here, it felt dwarfed. The world had gone and changed on him during his years out of the city. It had grown up, inventing lights that needed no fire to glow and buildings that threatened to rise higher than the mists themselves. Looking down that wide street at the edge of the Fifth Octant, Wax suddenly felt very, very old.
“Lord Waxillium?” a voice asked from behind.
He turned to find an older woman, Lady Aving Cett, peeking out the door at him. Her gray hair was up in a bun and she wore rubies at her neck. “By Harmony, my good man. You’ll take a chill out here! Come, there are some people you will wish to meet.”
“I’ll be along presently, my lady,” Wax said. “I’m just getting a little air.”
Lady Cett frowned, but retreated. She didn’t know what to make of him; none of them did. Some saw him as a mysterious scion of the Ladrian family, associated with strange stories of the realms beyond the mountains. The rest assumed him to be an uncultured, rural buffoon. He figured he was probably both.
He’d been on show all night. He was supposed to be looking for a wife, and pretty much everyone knew it. House Ladrian was insolvent following his uncle’s imprudent management, and the easiest path to solvency was marriage. Unfortunately, his uncle had also managed to offend three-quarters of the city’s upper crust.
Wax leaned forward on the balcony, the Sterrion revolvers under his arms jabbing his sides. With their long barrels, they weren’t meant to be carried in underarm holsters. They had been awkward all night.
He should be getting back to the party to chat and try to repair House Ladrian’s reputation. But the thought of that crowded room, so hot, so close, sweltering, making it difficult to breathe. . . .
Giving himself no time to reconsider, he swung off over the side of the balcony and began falling three stories toward the ground. He burned steel, then dropped a spent bullet casing slightly behind himself and Pushed against it; his weight sent it speeding down to the earth faster than he fell. As always, thanks to his Feruchemy, he was lighter than he should have been. He hardly knew anymore what it felt like to go around at his full weight.
When the casing hit the ground, he Pushed against it and sent himself horizontally in a leap over the garden wall. With one hand on its stone top, he vaulted out of the garden, then reduced his weight to a fraction of normal as he fell down the other side. He landed softly.
Ah, good, he thought, crouching down and peering through the mists. The coachmen’s yard. The vehicles everyone had used to get there were arranged here in neat rows, the coachmen themselves chatting in a few cozy rooms that spilled orange light into the mists. No electric lights here; just good, warmth-giving hearths.
He walked among the carriages until he found his own, then opened the trunk strapped to the back.
Off came his gentleman’s fine dinner coat. Instead he threw on his mistcoat, a long, enveloping garment like a duster with a thick collar and cuffed sleeves. He slipped a shotgun into its pocket on the inside, then buckled on his gun belt and moved the Sterrions into the holsters at his hips.
Ah, he thought. Much better. He really needed to stop carrying the Sterrions and get some more practical weapons for concealment. Unfortunately, he’d never found anything as good as Ranette’s work. Hadn’t she moved to the city, though? Perhaps he could look her up and talk her into making him something. Assuming she didn’t shoot him on sight.
A few moments later, he was running through the city, the mistcoat light upon his back. He left it open at the front, revealing his black shirt and gentleman’s trousers. The ankle-length mistcoat had been divided into strips from just above the waist, the tassels streaming behind him with a faint rustle.
He dropped a bullet casing and launched himself high into the air, landing atop the building across the street from the mansion. He glanced back at it, the windows ablaze in the evening dark. What kind of rumors was he going to start, vanishing from the balcony like that?
Well, they already knew he was Twinborn—that was a matter of public record. His disappearance wasn’t going to do much to help patch his family’s reputation. For the moment, he didn’t care. He’d spent almost every evening since his return to the city at one social function or another, and they hadn’t had a misty night in weeks.
He needed the mists. This was who he was.
Wax dashed across the rooftop and leaped off, moving toward Demoux Promenade. Just before hitting the ground, he flipped a spent casing down and Pushed on it, slowing his descent. He landed in a patch of decorative shrubs that caught his coat tassels and made a rustling noise.
Damn. Nobody planted decorative shrubs out in the Roughs. He pulled himself free, wincing at the noise. A few weeks in the city, and he was already getting rusty?
He shook his head and Pushed himself into the air again, moving out over the wide boulevard and parallel canal. He angled his flight so he crested that and landed on one of the new electric lamps. There was one nice thing about a modern city like this; it had a lot of metal.
He smiled, then flared his steel and Pushed off the top of the streetlamp, sending himself in a wide arc through the air. Mist streamed past him, swirling as the wind rushed against his face. It was thrilling. A man never truly felt free until he’d thrown off gravity’s chains and sought the sky.
As he crested his arc, he Pushed against another streetlight, throwing himself farther forward. The long row of metal poles was like his own personal railway line. He bounded onward, his antics drawing attention from those in passing carriages, both horse-drawn and horseless.
He smiled. Coinshots like himself were relatively rare, but Elendel was a major city with an enormous population. He wouldn’t be the first man these people had seen bounding by metal through the city. Coinshots often acted as high-speed couriers in Elendel.
The city’s size still astonished him. Millions lived here, maybe as many as five million. Nobody had a sure count across all of its wards—they were called octants, and as one might expect, there were eight of them.
Millions; he couldn’t picture that, though he’d grown up here. Before he’d left Weathering, he’d been starting to think it was getting too big, but there couldn’t have been ten thousand people in the town.
He landed atop a lamp directly in front of the massive Ironspine Building. He craned his neck, looking up through the mists at the towering structure. The unfinished top was lost in the darkness. Could he climb something so high? He couldn’t Pull on metals, only Push—he wasn’t some mythological Mistborn from the old stories, like the Survivor or the Ascendant Warrior. One Allomantic power, one Feruchemical power, that was all a man could have. In fact, having just one was a rare privilege—being Twinborn like Wax was truly exceptional.
Wayne claimed to have memorized the names of all of the different possible combinations of Twinborn. Of course, Wayne also claimed to have once stolen a horse that belched in perfect musical notes, so one learned to take what he said with a pinch of copper. Wax honestly didn’t pay attention to all of the definitions and names for Twinborn; he was called a Crasher, the mix of a Coinshot and a Skimmer. He rarely bothered to think of himself that way.
He began to fill his metalminds—the iron bracers he wore on his upper arms—draining himself of more weight, making himself even lighter. That weight would be stored away for future use. Then, ignoring the more cautious part of his mind, he flared his steel and Pushed.
He shot upward. The wind became a roar, and the lamp was a good anchor—lots of metal, firmly attached to the ground—capable of pushing him quite high. He’d angled slightly, and the building’s stories became a blur in front of him. He landed about twenty stories up, just as his Push on the lamp was reaching its limit.
This portion of the building had been finished already, the exterior of a molded material that imitated worked stone. Ceramics, he’d heard. It was a common practice for tall buildings, where the lower levels would be actual stone, but the higher reaches would use something lighter.
He grabbed hold of an outcropping. He wasn’t so light that the wind could push him away—not with his metalminds on his forearms and the weapons he wore. His lighter body did make it easier to hold himself in place.
Mist swirled beneath him. It seemed almost playful. He looked upward, deciding his next step. His steel revealed lines of blue to nearby sources of metal, many of which were the struc- ture’s frame. Pushing on any of them would send him away from the building.
There, he thought, noting a decent-sized ledge about five feet up. He climbed up the side of the building, gloved fingers sure on the complexly ornamented surface. A Coinshot quickly learned not to fear heights. He hoisted himself up onto the ledge, then dropped a bullet casing, stopping it with his booted foot.
He looked upward, judging his trajectory. He drew a vial from his belt, then uncorked it and downed the liquid and steel shavings inside it. He hissed through his teeth as the whiskey burned his throat. Good stuff, from Stagin’s still. Damn, I’m going to miss that when my stock runs out, he thought, tucking the vial away.
Most Allomancers didn’t use whiskey in their metal vials. Most Allomancers were missing out on a perfect opportunity. He smiled as his internal steel reserves were restored; then he flared the metal and launched himself.
He flew up into the night sky. Unfortunately, the Ironspine was built in set-back tiers, the upper stories growing progressively narrower as you went higher. That meant that even though he Pushed himself directly up, he was soon soaring in open darkness, mists around him, the building’s side a good ten feet away.
Wax reached into his coat and removed his short-barreled shotgun from the long, sleevelike pocket inside. He turned—pointing it outward—braced it against his side, and fired.
He was light enough that the kick flung him toward the building. The boom of the blast echoed below, but he had spray shot in the shells, too small and light to hurt anyone when it fell dispersed from such a height.
He slammed into the wall of the tower five stories above where he’d been, and grabbed hold of a spikelike protrusion. The decoration up here really was marvelous. Who did they think would be looking at it? He shook his head. Architects were curious types. Not practical at all, like a good gunsmith. Wax climbed to another shelf and jumped upward again.
The next jump was enough to get him to the open steelwork lattice of the unfinished upper floors. He strolled across a girder, then shimmied up a vertical member—his reduced weight making it easy—and climbed atop the very tallest of the beams jutting from the top of the building.
The height was dizzying. Even with the mists obscuring the landscape, he could see the double row of lights illuminating the street below. Other lights glowed more softly across the town, like the floating candles of a seafarer’s ocean burial. Only the absence of lights allowed him to pick out the various parks and the bay far to the west.
Once, this city had felt like home. That was before he’d spent twenty years living out in the dust, where the law was sometimes a distant memory and people considered carriages a frivolity. What would Lessie have thought of one of these horseless contraptions, with the thin wheels meant for driving on a city’s fine paved streets? Vehicles that ran on oil and grease, not hay and horseshoes?
He turned about on his perch. It was difficult to judge locations in the dark and the mists, but he did have the advantage of a youth spent in this section of the city. Things had changed, but not that much. He judged the direction, checked his steel reserves, then launched himself out into the darkness.
He shot outward in a grand arc above the city, flying for a good half a minute on the Push off those enormous girders. The skyscraper became a shadowed silhouette behind him, then vanished. Eventually, his impetus ran out, and he dropped back through the mists. He let himself fall, quiet. When the lights grew close—and he could see that nobody was below him—he pointed his shotgun at the ground and pulled the trigger.
The jolt punched him upward for a moment, slowing his descent. He Pushed off the birdshot in the ground to slow him further; he landed easily in a soft crouch. He noticed with dissatisfaction that he’d all but ruined some good paving stones with the shot.
Harmony! he thought. This place really was going to take some getting used to. I’m like a horse blundering through a narrow marketplace, he thought, hooking his shotgun back under his coat. I need to learn more finesse. Out in the Roughs, he’d been considered a refined gentleman. Here, if he didn’t watch himself, he’d soon prove himself to be the uncultured brute that most of the nobility already assumed that he was. It—
Wax responded immediately. He Pushed himself sideways off an iron gate, then ducked in a roll. He came up and reached for a Sterrion with his right hand, his left steadying the shotgun in its sleeve in his coat.
He peered into the night. Had his thoughtless shotgun blasts drawn the attention of the local constables? The guns fired again, and he frowned. No. Those are too distant. Something’s happening.
This actually gave him a thrill. He leaped into the air and down the street, Pushing off that same gate to get height. He landed atop a building; this area was filled with three- and four-story apartment structures that had narrow alleyways between. How could people live without any space around them? He’d have gone mad.
He crossed a few buildings—it was handy that the rooftops were flat—and then stopped to listen. His heart beat excitedly, and he realized he’d been hoping for something like this. It was why he’d been driven to leave the party, to seek out the skyscraper and climb it, to run through the mists. Back in Weathering, as the town grew larger, he’d often patrolled at night, watching for trouble.
He fingered his Sterrion as another shot was fired, closer this time. He judged his distance, then dropped a bullet casing and Pushed himself into the air. He’d restored his weight to three-quarters and left it there. You needed some weight on you to fight effectively.
The mists swirled and spun, teasing him. One could never tell which nights would bring out the mists; they didn’t conform to normal weather patterns. A night could be humid and chill, and yet not a wisp of mists would appear. Another night could begin dry as brittle leaves, but the mists would consume it.
They were thin this night, and so visibility was still good. Another crack broke the silence. There, Wax thought. Steel burning with a comfortable warmth within him, he leaped over another street in a flurry of mistcoat tassels, spinning mist, and calling wind.
He landed softly, then raised his gun in front of him as he ran in a crouch across the roof. He reached the edge and looked down. Just below him, someone had taken refuge behind a pile of boxes near the mouth of an alley. In the dark, misty night, Wax couldn’t make out many details, but the person was armed with a rifle resting on a box. The barrel was pointed toward a group of people down the street who wore the distinctive domed hats of city constables.
Wax Pushed out lightly from himself in all directions, setting up his steel bubble. A latch on a trapdoor at his feet rattled as his Allomancy affected it. He peered down at the man firing upon the constables. It would be good to do something of actual value in this city, rather than just standing around chatting with the overdressed and the overprivileged.
He dropped a bullet casing, and his Allomancy pressed it down onto the rooftop beneath him. He Pushed more forcefully on it, launching himself up and through the swirling mists. He decreased his weight dramatically and pushed on a window latch as he fell, positioning himself so he landed right in the middle of the alleyway.
With his steel, he could see lines pointing toward four different figures in front of him. Even as he landed—the men muttering curses and spinning toward him—he raised his Sterrion and sighted on the first of the street thugs. The man had a patchy beard and eyes as dark as the night itself.
Wax heard a woman whimpering.
He froze, hand steady, but unable to move. The memories, so carefully dammed up in his head, crashed through and flooded his mind. Lessie, held with a gun to her head. A single shot. Blood on the red brick walls.
The street thug jerked his rifle toward Wax and fired. The steel bubble barely deflected it, and the bullet tugged through the fabric of Wax’s coat, just missing his ribs.
He tried to fire, but that whimpering . . .
Oh, Harmony, he thought, appalled at himself. He pointed his gun downward and fired into the ground, then Pushed on the bullet and threw himself backward, up out of the alleyway.
Bullets pierced the mists all around him. Steel bubble or not, he should have fallen to one of them. It was pure luck that saved his life as he landed on another roof and rolled to a stop, prone, protected from the gunfire by a parapet wall.
Wax gasped for breath, hand on his revolver. Idiot, he thought to himself. Fool. He’d never frozen in combat before, even when he’d been green. Never. This, however, was the first time he’d tried to shoot someone since the disaster in the ruined church.
He wanted to duck away in shame, but he gritted his teeth and crawled forward to the edge of the roof. The men were still down there. He could see them better now, gathering and preparing to make a run for it. They probably wanted nothing to do with an Allomancer.
He aimed at the apparent leader. However, before Wax could fire, the man fell to gunfire from the constables. In moments, the alleyway swarmed with men in uniforms. Wax raised his Sterrion beside his head, breathing deeply.
I could have fired that time, he told himself. It was just that one moment where I froze. It wouldn’t have happened again. He told himself this several times as the constables pulled the malefactors out of the alley one at a time.
There was no woman. The whimpering he’d heard had been a gang member who’d taken a bullet before Wax arrived. The man was still groaning in pain as they took him away.
The constables hadn’t seen Wax. He turned and disappeared into the night.
A short time later, Wax arrived at Ladrian Mansion. His residence in the city, his ancestral home. He didn’t feel like he belonged there, but he used it anyway.
The stately home lacked expansive grounds, though it did have four elegant stories, with balconies and a nice patio garden out back. Wax dropped a coin and bounded over the front fence, landing atop the gatehouse. My carriage is back, he noticed. Not surprising. They were getting used to him; he wasn’t certain whether to be pleased by that or ashamed of it.
He Pushed off the gates—which rattled at the weight—and landed on a fourth story balcony. Coinshots had to learn precision, unlike their cousin Allomancers, Ironpullers—also known as Lurchers. Those would just pick a target and Pull themselves toward it, but they usually had to grind up the side of a building, making noise. Coinshots had to be delicate, careful, accurate.
The window was unlatched; he’d left it that way. He didn’t fancy dealing with people at the moment; his abortive confrontation with the criminals had rattled him. He slipped into the darkened room, then padded across it and listened at the door. No sounds in the hallway. He opened the door silently, then moved out.
The hallway was dark, and he was no Tineye, capable of enhancing his senses. He felt his way with each step, being careful not to trip on the edge of a rug or bump into a pedestal.
His rooms were at the end of the hallway. He reached for the brass knob with gloved fingers. Excellent. He carefully pushed the door open, stepping into his bedroom. Now he just had to—
A door opened on the other side of his room, letting in bright yellow light. Wax froze in place, though his hand quickly reached into his coat for one of his Sterrions.
An aging man stood in the doorway, holding a large candela- brum. He wore a tidy black uniform and white gloves. He raised an eyebrow at Wax. “High Lord Ladrian,” he said, “I see that you’ve returned.”
“Um . . .” Wax said, sheepishly removing his hand from inside his coat.
“Your bath is drawn, my lord.”
“I didn’t ask for a bath.”
“Yes, but considering your night’s . . . entertainments, I thought it prudent to prepare one for you.” The butler sniffed. “Gunpowder?”
“I trust my lord didn’t shoot anyone too important.”
No, Wax thought. No, I couldn’t.
Tillaume stood there, stiff, disapproving. He didn’t say the words he was undoubtedly thinking: that Wax’s disappearance from the party had caused a minor scandal, that it would be even more difficult to procure a proper bride now. He didn’t say that he was disappointed. He didn’t say these things because he was, after all, a proper lord’s servant.
Besides, he could say them all with a glance anyway.
“Shall I draft a letter of apology to Lady Cett, my lord? I believe she will expect it, considering that you sent one to Lord Stanton.”
“Yes, that would be well,” Wax said. He lowered his fingers to his belt, feeling the metal vials there, the revolver at each hip, the weight of the shotgun strapped inside his coat. What am I doing? I’m acting like a fool.
He suddenly felt exceedingly childish. Leaving a party to go patrolling through the city, looking for trouble? What was wrong with him?
He felt as if he’d been trying to recapture something. A part of the person he’d been before Lessie’s death. He had known, deep down, that he might have trouble shooting now and had wanted to prove otherwise.
He’d failed that test.
“My lord,” Tillaume said, stepping closer. “May I speak . . . boldly, for a moment?”
“The city has a large number of constables,” Tillaume said. “And they are quite capable in their jobs. Our house, however, has but one high lord. Thousands depend on you, sir.” Tillaume nodded his head in respect, then moved to begin lighting some candles in the bedroom.
The butler’s words were true. House Ladrian was one of the most powerful in the city, at least historically. In the city’s government, Wax represented the interests of all of the people his house employed. True, they’d also have a representative based on votes in their guild, but it was Wax they depended on most.
His house was nearly bankrupt—rich in potential, in holdings, and in workers, but poor in cash and connections because of his uncle’s foolishness. If Wax didn’t do something to change that, it could mean jobs lost, poverty, and collapse as other houses pounced on his holdings and seized them for debts not paid.
Wax ran his thumbs along his Sterrions. The constables handled those street toughs just fine, he admitted to himself. They didn’t need me. This city doesn’t need me, not like Weathering did.
He was trying to cling to what he had been. He wasn’t that person any longer. He couldn’t be. But people did need him for something else.
“Tillaume,” Wax said.
The butler looked back from the candleas. The mansion didn’t have electric lights yet, though workmen were coming to install them soon. Something his uncle had paid for before dying, money Wax couldn’t recover now.
“Yes, my lord?” Tillaume asked.
Wax hesitated, then slowly pulled his shotgun from its place inside his coat and set it into the trunk beside his bed, placing it beside a companion he’d left there earlier. He took off his mistcoat, wrapping the thick material over his arm. He held the coat reverently for a moment, then placed it in the trunk. His Sterrion revolvers followed. They weren’t his only guns, but they represented his life in the Roughs.
He closed the lid of the trunk of his old life. “Take this, Tillaume,” Wax said. “Put it somewhere.”
“Yes, my lord,” Tillaume said. “I shall have it ready for you, should you need it again.”
“I won’t be needing it,” Wax said. He had given himself one last night with the mists. A thrilling climb up the tower, an evening spent with the darkness. He chose to focus on that—rather than his failure with the toughs—as his night’s accomplishment.
One final dance.
“Take it, Tillaume,” Wax said, turning away from the trunk. “Put it somewhere safe, but put it away. For good.”
“Yes, my lord,” the butler said softly. He sounded approving.
And that, Wax thought, is that. He then walked into the washroom. Wax the lawkeeper was gone.
It was time to be Lord Waxillium Ladrian, Sixteenth High Lord of House Ladrian, residing in the Fourth Octant of Elendel City.
Mistborn: The Alloy of Law © Brandon Sanderson 2011