Aug 10 2011 12:00pm
The Alloy of Law: Chapter Five
We are very excited to offer the next excerpt from Brandon Sanderson’s fourth and latest Mistborn novel, The Alloy of Law, out November 8th from Tor Books!
Tor.com will be releasing six excerpts in all from The Alloy of Law as the weeks go on, along with sweepstakes, news, and other fun stuff, so keep checking back!
Read through all of the excerpts in order in the Alloy of Law index.
The bandits didn’t look like the kind Waxillium was used to. They didn’t mask their faces with kerchiefs or wear dusters and wide-brimmed Roughs hats. Most of them wore vests and bowler-style city hats, dull trousers, and loose, buttoned shirts that were rolled to the elbows. They weren’t better dressed, really, just different.
They were well armed. Rifles held at shoulders for many, pistols in the hands of others. People throughout the ballroom noticed immediately, silverware clanking and curses sounding. There were at least two dozen bandits, perhaps three. Waxillium noticed with dissatisfaction that some more were coming in from the right, through the doors to the kitchens. They would have left men behind to watch the staff and keep them from running for help.
“Hell of a time to leave your guns,” Wayne said. He moved off his seat and crouched beside the table, slipping his twin hardwood dueling canes out from underneath.
“Put those down,” Waxillium said softly, counting. Thirty-five men he could see. Most were congregated at the two ends of the rectangular ballroom, directly in front of and behind Waxillium. He was in almost the very center of the room.
“What?” Wayne said sharply.
“Put the canes down, Wayne.”
“You can’t mean—”
“Look at this room!” Waxillium hissed. “How many bystanders are there in here? Three hundred, four? What will happen if we provoke a firefight?”
“You could protect them,” Wayne said. “Push them out of the way.”
“Maybe,” Wayne said. “It would be very risky. So far, none of these robberies have turned violent. I won’t have you turning this one into a bloodbath.”
“I don’t have to listen to you,” Wayne said sullenly. “You’re not in charge of me anymore, Wax.”
Waxillium met his eyes and held them as the room filled with cries of alarm and concern. Looking reluctant, Wayne slid back up into his seat. He didn’t put down the dueling canes, but he did keep his hands under the tablecloth, hiding them from view.
Marasi had turned, watching the thieves begin to move through the room, her eyes wide and her rose lips parted. “Oh my.” She spun around, digging out her pocketbook with trembling fingers. She whipped out a small notepad and a pencil.
“What are you doing?” Waxillium asked.
“Writing down descriptions,” she said, her hand shaking. “Did you know that, statistically, only one out of two witnesses can accurately describe a criminal who assaulted them? Worse, seven out of ten will pick the wrong man out of a lineup if a similar but more threatening man is presented. In the moment, you are far more likely to overestimate the height of an assailant, and you will often describe him as being similar to a villain from a story you’ve recently heard. It’s vital, if you are witnessing a crime, to pay special attention to the details of those involved. Oh, I’m babbling, aren’t I?”
She looked terrified, but she started writing anyway, jotting down descriptions of every criminal.
“We never needed to do stuff like that,” Wayne said, eyeing the thieves as they leveled guns at the partygoers, silencing them. “Seein’ as to how if we witness a crime, the guys doing it are usually dead by the end.” He shot Waxillium a glare.
Several thieves began forcing cooks and servers out of the kitchens to join the guests. “If you please!” one of the robbers bellowed, shouldering a shotgun. “Sit down! Remain calm! And be quiet.” He had a faint Roughs accent and a solid though not tall build, with bulging forearms and a mottled, grayish complexion, almost as if his face were made of granite.
Koloss blood, Waxillium thought. Dangerous.
People quieted save for a few whimperings from the overtaxed. The bride’s mother appeared to have fainted, and the wedding party was hunkered down, the groom looking angry, with a protective arm over his new wife.
A second Vanisher stepped forward. This one, in contrast to the others, wore a mask: a knit cloth covering his face, with a Roughs hat atop it. “That’s better,” he said in a firm, controlled voice. Something about that voice struck Waxillium.
“If you’re sensible, we’ll be done with this in a matter of moments,” the masked Vanisher said calmingly, walking amid the tables as about a dozen of the bandits began to fan through the room, opening large sacks. “All we want is your jewelry. Nobody needs to get hurt. It would be a shame to spoil such a fine party as this with bloodshed. Your jewelry isn’t worth your life.”
Waxillium glanced toward Lord Harms, who was still sitting by the bar. He’d begun patting his face with a handkerchief. The men with the sacks quickly fanned out through the room, stopping at each table and gathering necklaces, rings, earrings, pocketbooks, and watches. Sometimes the items were tossed in readily, sometimes reluctantly.
“Wax . . .” Wayne said, voice strained.
Marasi continued writing, pen and paper down in her lap.
“We need to get through this alive,” Waxillium said softly. “Without anyone getting hurt. Then we can give our reports to the constables.”
“I will not be the cause of these people dying, Wayne,” Waxillium snapped, voice much louder than he’d intended.
Blood on the bricks. A body in a leather coat, slumping to the ground. A grinning face, dying with a bullet in the forehead. Winning, even as he died.
Not again. Never again.
Waxillium squeezed his eyes closed.
“How dare you!” a voice suddenly yelled. Waxillium glanced to the side. A man at a nearby table had stood up, shaking off the hand of the stout woman beside him. He had a thick, graying beard and wore a suit of an older cut, tails in the back reaching all the way down to his ankles. “I will not stay quiet, Marthin! I am a constable of the Eighth Guard!”
This drew the attention of the bandit leader. The masked man strolled toward the outspoken man, shotgun resting easily on his shoulder. “Ah,” he said, “Lord Peterus, I believe it is.” He waved to a pair of bandits, and they rushed forward, weapons trained on Peterus. “Retired chief of the Eighth constabulary. We’ll be needing you to give up your weapon.”
“How dare you commit a robbery here, at a wedding celebration,” Peterus said. “This is outrageous! You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Ashamed?” the bandit leader said as his minions patted down Peterus and pulled a pistol—Granger model 28, optional thick grip—out of his shoulder holster. “Ashamed? To rob these? After what you people have done to the Roughs all these years? This isn’t shameful. This here, this is payback.”
There is something about that voice, Waxillium thought, tapping the table. Something familiar. Quiet down, Peterus. Don’t provoke them!
“In the name of the law, I will see you hunted down and hanged for this!” Peterus cried.
The outlaw leader smacked Peterus across the face, knocking him to the ground. “What know your sort of the law?” the bandit leader growled. “And be careful about warning people you’re going to see them executed. That gives them less reason to hold back. Rust and Ruin, you people sicken me.”
He waved for his lackeys to resume gathering riches. The bride’s mother had recovered, and was sobbing as her family was shaken down for its cash, including even the bridal necklace.
“The bandits really are interested in the money,” Waxillium said softly. “See? They make each person at the table speak, to find jewelry hidden in mouths. Notice how they make each one stand up and then do a quick check of their pockets and around their seats.”
“Of course they’re interested in the money,” Marasi whispered back. “That’s the expected motive for robbery, after all.”
“It’s the hostages too, though,” Waxillium said. “I’m sure of it.” Originally, he’d assumed the robberies were just a cover for the bandits’ real purpose. If that were the case, however, they wouldn’t be so thorough about the money. “Hand me your notebook.”
She glanced at him.
“Now,” he said, sprinkling steel dust into his wine, then reaching under the table. She hesitantly handed over the notebook as a bandit walked toward their table. It was the gray-skinned one with the thick neck.
“Wayne,” Waxillium said, “bat on the wall.”
Wayne nodded curtly, sliding over his dueling canes. Waxillium drank his wine, and pressed the spiral-bound notebook and the dueling canes against his side of their square table. He slipped a small metal rod from his sleeve and pressed it against the canes, then burned steel.
Lines sprang up around him. One pointed toward the rod, and another to the notebook’s wire coil. He lightly Pushed against them, then let go. The canes and the notebook remained pressed against the table’s side, obscured by the tablecloth, which draped down over them. He had to be careful not to Push too hard, lest he move the table.
The bandit came to their table, proffering his sack. Marasi was forced to take off her small pearl necklace, the only jewelry she was wearing. With shaking hands, she searched in her pocketbook for any bills, but the bandit just snatched the entire thing and dumped it into his sack.
“Please,” Waxillium said, making his voice shake. “Please, don’t hurt us!” He pulled out his pocket watch, then dumped it to the table, as if in haste. He yanked its chain free of his vest and threw it in the sack. Then he got out his pocketbook and tossed it in, conspicuously pulling out both of his pockets with shaking hands to show he had nothing else. He began patting his coat pockets.
“That’ll do, mate,” the koloss-blooded man said, grinning.
“Don’t hurt me!”
“Sit back down, you rusting git,” the bandit said, looking back at Marasi. He leered, then patted her down, making her speak so he could check her mouth. She bore it with a deep blush, particularly when the patting down turned into a few solid gropes.
Waxillium felt his eye begin to twitch.
“Nothing else,” the bandit said with a grunt. “Why’d I get the poor tables? And you?” He glanced at Wayne. Behind them, another of the bandits found Wayne’s servant’s coat under the table, holding it up with a confused expression.
“Do I look like I’ve got anything of value, mate?” Wayne asked, dressed in his duster and Roughs trousers. He’d turned up his Roughs accent. “I’m just ’ere by mistake. Was begging in the kitchen when I heard you blokes come in.”
The bandit grunted, but patted Wayne’s pockets anyway. He found nothing, then checked under the table and made them all stand up. Finally he swore at them for being “too poor” and snatched Wayne’s hat off his head. He threw away his own hat— he was wearing a knit cap underneath, aluminum peeking through the holes—then walked off, sticking Wayne’s hat on his head over the cap.
They sat back down.
“He took my lucky hat, Wax,” Wayne growled.
“Steady,” Waxillium said, handing Marasi back her notebook so she could return to taking covert notes.
“Why didn’t you hide your pocketbook,” she whispered, “as you did the notebook?”
“Some of the bills in it are marked,” Waxillium said distractedly, watching the masked leader. He was consulting something in his hand. Looked like a couple of crinkled-up sheets of paper. “That’ll allow the constables to track where they get spent, if they do get spent.”
“Marked!” Marasi said. “So you did know we’d be robbed!”
“What? Of course I didn’t.”
“Wax always carries some marked bills,” Wayne said, eyes narrowing as he noticed what the leader was doing. “Just in case.”
“Oh. That’s . . . very unusual.”
“Wax is his own special brand of paranoid, miss,” Wayne said. “Is that bloke doing what I think he’s doing?”
“Yes,” Waxillium said.
“What?” Marasi asked.
“Comparing faces to drawings in his hand,” Waxillium said. “He’s looking for the right person to take as a hostage. Look how he’s strolling through the tables, checking every woman’s face. He’s got a few others doing it too.”
They fell silent as the leader strolled past them. He was accompanied by a fine-featured fellow with a scowl on his face. “I’m tellin’ you,” the second man said, “the boys are gettin’ jumpy. You can’t give ’em all this and never let ’em fire the bloody things.”
The masked leader was silent, studying everyone at Wax’s table for a moment. He hesitated briefly, then moved on.
“You’re gonna have to let the boys loose sooner or later, boss,” the second man said, his voice trailing off. “I think . . .” They were soon too far for Waxillium to make out what they were saying.
Nearby, Peterus—the former constable—had gotten back up into his seat. His wife was holding a napkin to his bleeding head.
This is the best way, Waxillium told himself firmly. I’ve seen their faces. I’ll be able to track down who they are when they spend my money. I’ll find them, and fight them on my own terms. I’ll . . .
But he wouldn’t. He’d let the constables do that part, wouldn’t he? Wasn’t that what he kept telling himself?
A sudden disturbance from the far side of the chamber drew his eyes. A few bandits led a couple of frazzled-looking women into the hall, one of them Steris. It looked like they’d finally thought to sweep the ladies’ room. The other bandits were making pretty good time gathering goods. There were enough of them that it didn’t take too long, even with this large crowd.
“All right,” the boss called out. “Grab a hostage.”
Too loud, Waxillium thought.
“Who should we take?” one of the bandits yelled back.
They’re making a show of it.
“I don’t care,” the boss said.
He wants us to think he’s picking one at random.
“Any of them will do,” the boss continued. “Say . . . that one.” He waved at Steris.
Steris. One of the previous abductees was her cousin. Of course. She was in the same line.
Waxillium’s eye twitching grew worse.
“Actually,” the boss said. “We’ll take two this time.” He sent his koloss-blooded lackey running back toward the tables of people. “Now, nobody follow, or they’ll get hurt. Remember, a few jewels aren’t worth your life. We’ll cut the hostages loose once we’re sure we aren’t being followed.”
Lies, Waxillium thought. What do you want with them? Why are you—
The koloss-blooded man who had stolen Wayne’s hat stepped up to Wax’s table and grabbed Marasi by the shoulder. “You’ll do,” he said. “You’re coming for a ride with us, pretty.”
She jumped as he touched her, dropping her notepad.
“Here now,” another bandit said. “What’s this?” He picked it up, looking through it. “All it’s got is words, Tarson.”
“Idiot,” the koloss-blooded man—Tarson—said. “You can’t read, can you?” He craned over. “Here, now. That’s a description of me, isn’t it?”
“I . . .” Marasi said. “I just wanted to remember, for my journal, you see. . . .”
“I’m sure,” Tarson said, tucking the notebook into a pocket. His hand came out with a pistol, which he lowered at her head.
Marasi grew pale.
Waxillium stood up, steel burning in his stomach. The other bandit’s pistol was trained at his head a second later.
“Your lady will be just fine with us, old boy,” Tarson said with a smile on his grayish lips. “Up you go.” He pulled Marasi to her feet, then pushed her before him toward the northern exit.
Waxillium stared down the barrel of the other bandit’s pistol. With a mental Push, he could send that gun with a snap back into its owner’s face, perhaps break his nose.
The bandit looked like he wanted to pull the trigger. He looked eager, excited by the thrill of the robbery. Waxillium had seen men like that before. They were dangerous.
The bandit hesitated, then glanced at his friends, and finally broke off, jogging toward the exit. Another was shoving Steris toward the door.
“Wax!” Wayne hissed.
How could a man of honor watch something like this? Every instinct of justice Waxillium had demanded he do something. Fight.
“Wax,” Wayne said softly. “Mistakes happen. Lessie wasn’t your fault.”
“I . . .”
Wayne grabbed his dueling canes. “Well, I’m going to do something.”
“It’s not worth the cost of lives, Wayne,” Waxillium said, shaking out of his stupor. “This isn’t just about me. It’s true, Wayne. We—”
“How dare you!” a familiar voice bellowed. Lord Peterus, the former constable. The aging man removed the napkin from his head, stumbling to his feet. “Cowards! I will be your hostage, if you require one.”
The bandits ignored him, most jogging toward the exits of the room, waving their guns about and enjoying making the dinnergoers cringe.
“Cowards!” Peterus yelled. “You are dogs, each and every one of you. I’ll see you hanged! Take me instead of one of those girls, or it will happen. I swear it by the Survivor himself!” He stumbled after the retreating boss, passing lords, ladies, and the wealthy—most of whom had gotten down and were hiding under their tables.
There goes the only man in this room with any courage, Waxillium thought, suddenly feeling a powerful shame. Him and Wayne.
Steris was almost to the door. Marasi and her captor were catching up to the boss.
I can’t let this happen. I—
The masked bandit leader suddenly spun, hand snapping out, a gunshot cracking the air, echoing across the large ballroom. It was over in a heartbeat.
The aged Peterus collapsed in a heap. Smoke curled in the air over the bandit boss’s pistol.
“Oh . . .” Wayne said softly. “You just made a bad mistake, mate. A very bad mistake.”
The boss turned away from the body, holstering his gun. “Fine,” he yelled, walking toward the door. “You can have some fun, boys. Burn it out of your blood quickly and meet me outside. Let’s—”
Everything froze. People stopped in place. The curling smoke hung motionless. Voices quieted. Whimpering halted. In a circle around Waxillium’s table, the air rippled just faintly.
Wayne stood up, shouldering his dueling canes, inspecting the room. He was placing each and every one of the bandits, Waxillium knew. Judging distances, preparing himself.
“As soon as I drop the bubble,” Wayne said, “this place is going to erupt like an ammunition store in a volcano.”
Waxillium calmly reached into his jacket and slid a hidden pistol from beneath his arm. He set it on the table. His twitch had vanished.
“Well?” Wayne asked.
“That’s a terrible metaphor. How would an ammunition store get into a volcano?”
“I don’t know. Look, are you going to fight or not?”
“I’ve tried waiting,” Waxillium said. “I gave them a chance to leave. I tried giving this up.”
“You gave it a good show, Wax.” He grimaced. “Too good a show.”
Waxillium rested his hand on the pistol. Then he picked it up. “So be it.” With his other hand, he poured out his entire pouch of steel into his wine cup, then downed it.
Wayne grinned. “You owe me a pint for lying to me, by the way.”
“You said you hadn’t brought a gun.”
“I didn’t bring a gun,” Waxillium said, reaching to the small of his back and sliding a second pistol out. “You know me better than that, Wayne. I never go anywhere with only one. How much bendalloy do you have?”
“Not as much as I’d like. The stuff’s damn expensive here in town. I’ve got maybe enough for five minutes’ extra time. My metalminds are pretty much full, though. Spent a good two weeks sick in bed after you left.” That would give Wayne some healing power, should he get shot.
Waxillium took a deep breath; the coldness inside him melted away and became a flame as he burned steel that pinpointed each and every source of metal in the room.
If he froze again . . .
I won’t, he told himself. I cannot. “I’ll get the girls. You keep the bandits on the south side off me. Our priority is to keep the bystanders alive.”
“Thirty-seven armed baddies, Wayne. In a room full of innocents. This is going to be tough. Stay focused. I’ll try to clear some space as we start. You can catch a ride, if you want.”
“Perfect as Preserves,” Wayne said, turning and putting his back to Waxillium’s. “You wanna know why I really came to find you?”
“I thought of you happy in a comfy bed, resting and relaxing, spending the rest of your life sipping tea and reading papers while people bring you food and maids rub your toes and stuff.”
“And I just couldn’t leave you to a fate like that.” Wayne shivered. “I’m too good a friend to let a mate of mine die in such a terrible situation.”
“No,” Wayne said. “Boring.” He shivered again.
Waxillium smiled, then raised thumbs to hammers and cocked his pistols. When he’d been young and sought the Roughs, he’d ended up going where he’d been needed. Well, maybe that had happened again.
“Go!” he yelled, leveling his guns.
Mistborn: The Alloy of Law © Brandon Sanderson 2011