With The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America. The trilogy’s heroes are now figures of myth and legend, even objects of religious veneration. They are succeeded by wonderful new characters, chief among them Waxillium Ladrian, known as Wax, hereditary Lord of House Ladrian but also, until recently, a lawman in the ungoverned frontier region known as the Roughs. There he worked with his eccentric but effective buddy, Wayne. They are “twinborn,” meaning they are able to use both Allomantic and Feruchemical magic.
Shadows of Self shows Mistborn’s society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts. This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial’s progress in its tracks.
I need you to stay behind as we go into those slums,” Wayne said, determined to impress solemnity into his voice. “It’s not that I don’t want your help. I do. It’s just going to be too dangerous for you. You need to stay where I know you’re safe. No arguments. I’m sorry.”
“Wayne,” Wax said, walking past. “Stop talking to your hat and get over here.”
Wayne sighed, patting his hat and then forcing himself to put it down and leave it in the motorcar. Wax was a right good fellow, but there were a lot of things he didn’t understand. Women for one. Hats for another.
Wayne jogged over to where Wax and Marasi peered into the Breakouts. It seemed a different world in there. The sky inside was strung with clotheslines, derelict bits of clothing dangling like hanged men. Wind blew out of the place, happy to escape, carrying with it uncertain scents. Food half cooked. Bodies half washed. Streets half cleaned.
The tall, compact tenements cast deep shadows even in the afternoon. As if this were the place dusk came for a drink and a chat before sauntering out for its evening duty.
“The Lord Mistborn didn’t want there to be slums in the city, you know,” Marasi said as the three of them entered. “He tried hard to prevent them from growing up. Built nice buildings for the poor, tried to make them last…”
Wax nodded, absently moving a coin across his knuckles as he walked. He seemed to have lost his guns somewhere. Had he bummed some coins off Marasi? It never was fair. When Wayne borrowed coins off folks, he got yelled at. He did forget to ask sometimes, but he always offered a good trade.
As they penetrated deeper into the Breakouts, Wayne lagged behind the other two. Need a good hat… he thought. The hat was important.
So he listened for some coughing.
He found the chap nestled up beside a doorway, a ratty blanket draped over his knees. You could always find his type in a slum. Old, clinging to life like a man on a ledge, his lungs half full with various unsavory fluids. The old man hacked into a glove-wrapped hand as Wayne settled down on the steps beside him.
“What, now,” the man said. “Who are you?”
“What, now,” Wayne repeated. “Who are you?”
“I’m nobody,” the man said, then spat to the side. “Dirty outer. I ain’t done nothing.”
“I’m nobody,” Wayne repeated, taking his flask from the pocket of his duster. “Dirty outer. I ain’t done nothing.”
Good accent, that was. Real mumbly, a classic vintage, wrapped in a blanket of history. Closing his eyes and listening, Wayne thought he could imagine what people sounded like years ago. He held out the flask of whiskey.
“You trying to poison me?” the man asked. He clipped off words, left out half the sounds.
“You trying to poison me?” Wayne repeated, working his jaw as if his mouth were full of bits of rock he kept trying to chew. Some northern fields mix in this one, for sure. He opened his eyes and tipped the whiskey at the man, who smelled it, then took a sip. Then a swig. Then a gulp.
“So,” the man asked, “you an idiot? I’ve a son that’s an idiot. The real kind, that was born that way. Well, you seem all right anyway.”
“Well, you seem all right anyway,” Wayne said, standing up. He reached over to take the man’s old cotton cap off his head, then gestured toward the whiskey flask.
“In trade?” the man asked. “Boy, you are an idiot.”
Wayne pulled on the cap. “Could you say another word that starts with ‘h’ for me?”
“Rusting wonderful,” Wayne said. He hopped back down the steps onto the street and ditched his duster in a cranny—and along with it his dueling canes, unfortunately. He kept his wooden knucklebones though.
The clothing underneath his duster was Roughs stock, not so different from what they wore in these slums. Buttoned shirt, trousers, suspenders. He rolled up the sleeves as he walked. The clothing was worn, patched in a few places. He wouldn’t trade it for the world. Took years to get clothing that looked right. Used, lived-in.
Be slow to trust a man with clothing that was too new. You didn’t get to wear new, clean clothing by doing honest work.
Wax and Marasi had paused up ahead, speaking to some old women with scarves on their heads and bundles in their arms. Wayne could almost hear what they were saying.
We don’t know nothing.
He came running past here mere moments ago, Wax would say. Surely you—
We don’t know nothing. We didn’t see nothing.
Wayne wandered over to where a group of men sat under a dirty cloth awning while eating bruised fruit. “Who’re those outers?” Wayne asked as he sat down, using the accent he’d just picked up from the old man.
They didn’t even question him. A slum like this had a lot of people—too many to know everyone—but you could easily tell if someone belonged or not. And Wayne belonged.
“Conners for sure,” one of the men said. He had a head like an overturned bowl, hairless and too flat.
“They want someone,” another man said. Rust and Ruin, the chap’s face was so pointy, you could have used it to plow a field. “Conners only come here if they want to arrest someone. They’ve never cared about us, and never will.”
“If they did care,” bowl-head said, “they’d do something about all those factories and power plants, dumping ash on us. We ain’t supposed to live in ash anymore. Harmony said it, he did.”
Wayne nodded. Good point, that. These building walls, they were ashen. Did people care about that, on the outside? No. Not as long as they didn’t have to live in here. He didn’t miss the glares Wax and Marasi drew, pointed at them by people who passed behind, or who pulled windows closed up above.
This is worse, Wayne thought. Worse than normal. He’d have to talk to Wax about it. But for now there was a job to do. “They are looking for something.”
“Stay out of it,” bowl-head said.
Wayne grunted. “Maybe there’s money in it.”
“You’d turn in one of our own?” bowl-head said with a scowl. “I recognize you. Edip’s son, aren’t you?”
Wayne glanced away, noncommittal.
“You listen here, son,” bowl-head said, wagging his finger. “Don’t trust a conner, and don’t be a rat.”
“I ain’t a rat,” Wayne said, testily. He wasn’t. But sometimes, a man just needed cash. “They’re after Marks. I overheard them. There’s a thousand notes on his head, there is.”
“He grew up here,” plow-face said. “He’s one of us.”
“He killed that girl,” Wayne said.
“That’s a lie,” bowl-head said. “Don’t you go talking to conners, son. I mean it.”
“Fine, fine,” Wayne said, moving to rise. “I’ll just go—”
“You’ll sit back down,” bowl-head said. “Or I’ll rap you something good on your head, I will.”
Wayne sighed, sitting back down. “You olders always talk about us, and don’t know how it is these days. Working in one of the factories.”
“We know more than you think,” bowl-head said, handing Wayne a bruised apple. “Eat this, stay out of trouble, and don’t go where I can’t see you.”
Wayne grumbled, but sat back and bit into the apple. It didn’t taste half bad. He ate the whole thing, then helped himself to a couple more.
It happened soon enough. The men of the fruit-eating group broke apart, leaving Wayne with a basket full of cores. They split with a few amicable gibes at one another, each of the four men claiming he had some important task to be about.
Wayne stuffed another apple in each pocket, then stood up and sauntered off after bowl-head. He tailed the fellow fairly easily, nodding occasionally at people, who nodded back as if they knew him. It was the hat. Put on a man’s hat, surround your mind with his way of thinking, and it changed you. A man in dockworker’s clothing passed by, shoulders slumped, whistling a sad tune. Wayne picked up the melody. Rough life that was, working the docks. You had to commute each day on the canal boats—either that or find a bed out near the waterfront of the bay, where you were about as likely to get stabbed as have breakfast.
He’d lived that life as a youth. Had the scars to prove it, he did. But as a chap grew, he wanted more to his days than a fight on every corner and women who couldn’t remember his name one day to the next.
Bowl-head ducked into an alley. Well, every rusting street in here felt like an alley. Bowl-head entered an alley’s alley. Wayne stepped up to the side of the tiny roadway, then burned bendalloy. Allomancy was a useful trick, that it was. Burning the metal set up a nice little bubble of sped-up time around him. He strolled around the corner, staying inside the bubble—it didn’t move when he did, but he could move within it.
Yup. There he was, bowl-head himself, crouching beside a rubbish pile, waiting to see if anyone followed him. Wayne had almost made the bubble too big and caught the man in it.
Sloppy, sloppy, Wayne thought. A mistake like that on the docks could cost a man his life. He fished a ratty blanket out of the part of the rubbish pile that was inside his bubble, then wandered back around the corner and dropped the bubble.
Inside the speed bubble, he’d have been moving so quickly bowlhead wouldn’t have seen more than a blur—if that. He wouldn’t think anything of it, Wayne was certain. If he were wrong, he’d eat his hat. Well, one of Wax’s hats at least.
Wayne found a set of steps and settled down. He pulled his cap down half over his eyes, sidled up to the wall in a comfortable position, and spread the blanket around himself. Just another homeless drunk.
Bowl-head was a careful one. He waited inside the alley a whole five minutes before creeping out, looking back and forth, then hastening to a building across the street. He knocked, whispered something, and was let in.
Wayne yawned, stretched, and tossed aside the blanket. He crossed the street to the building that bowl-head had entered, then started checking the shuttered windows. The ancient shutters were so old, a good sneeze might have knocked them off. He had to be careful to avoid getting splinters in his cheeks as he listened at each window in turn.
The men of the slums had an odd sense of morality to them. They wouldn’t turn in one of their own to the constables. Not even for a reward. But then again, a chap needed to eat. Wouldn’t a man like Marks want to hear just how loyal his friends were?
“…was a pair of conners for sure,” Wayne heard at a window. “A thousand notes is a lot, Marks. A whole lot. Now, I’m not saying you can’t trust the lads; there’s not a bad alloy in the bunch. I can say that a little encouragement will help them feel better about their loyalty.”
Ratting out a friend: completely off-limits.
Extorting a friend: well, that was just good business sense.
And if Marks didn’t act grateful, then maybe he hadn’t been a friend after all. Wayne grinned, slipping his sets of wooden knucklebones over his fingers. He stepped back, then charged the building.
He hit the shutters with one shoulder, crashing through, then tossed up a speed bubble the moment he hit the floor. He rolled and came up on his feet in front of Marks—who was inside the speed bubble. The man still wore his red trousers, though he’d removed his mask, and was bandaging his shoulder. He snapped his head up, displaying a surprised face with bushy eyebrows and large lips.
Rusts. No wonder the fellow normally wore a mask.
Wayne swung at his chin, laying him out with one punch. Then he spun, fists up, but the other half-dozen occupants of the room, including bowl-head, stood frozen just outside the edge of his speed bubble. Now that was right lucky.
Wayne grinned, heaving Marks up onto his shoulder. He took his knuckles off, slipping them into his pocket, and got out an apple. He took a juicy bite, waved farewell to bowl-head—who looked forward with glassy eyes, frozen—then tossed Marks out the window and followed after.
Once he passed beyond the edge of his speed bubble, it automatically collapsed.
“What the hell was that!” bowl-head yelled inside.
Wayne heaved the unconscious Marks up onto his shoulder again, then wandered back down the road, chewing on his apple.
* * *
“Let me talk to the next ones,” Marasi said. “Maybe I can get them to say something.”
She felt Waxillium’s eyes on her. He thought she was trying to prove herself to him. Once he’d have been right. Now she was a constable—fully credentialed and in the city’s employ. This was her job. Waxillium didn’t agree with her decision, but her actions were not subject to his approval.
Together they walked up to a group of young outcasts sitting on the steps of the slums. The three boys watched them with suspicion, their skin dirty, their too-big clothing tied at the waists and ankles. That was the style, apparently, for youths of the streets. They smelled of the incense they’d been smoking in their pipes.
Marasi stepped up to them. “We’re looking for a man.”
“If you need a man,” one of the boys said, looking her up and down, “I’m right here.”
“Oh please,” Marasi said. “You’re… what, nine?”
“Hey, she knows how long it is!” the boy said, laughing and grabbing his crotch. “Have you been peeking at me, lady?”
Well, that’s a blush, Marasi thought. Not terribly professional.
Fortunately, she’d spent time around Wayne and his occasional colorful metaphors. Blushes would happen. She pressed onward. “He came shooting through here less than an hour ago. Wounded, trailing blood, wearing red. I’m sure you know who I’m speaking of.”
“Yeah, the man of hours!” one of the boys said, laughing and referencing a figure from old nursemaid tales. “I know him!”
Treat them like a belligerent witness, she thought. At a trial. Keep them talking. She needed to learn how to deal with people like these boys in the real world, not just in sterile practice rooms.
“Yes, the man of hours,” Marasi said. “Where did he go?”
“To the edge of dusk,” the boy said. “Haven’t you heard the stories?”
“I’m fond of stories,” Marasi said, slipping a few coins from her pocketbook. She held them up. Bribery felt like cheating, but… well, she wasn’t in court.
The three boys eyed the coins, a sudden hunger flashing in their eyes. They covered it quickly, but perhaps showing off money in this place wasn’t terribly wise.
“Let’s hear a story,” Marasi said. “About where this… man of hours might be staying. The location of dusk, if you will. Here in these tenements.”
“We might know that,” one of the boys said. “Though, you know, stories cost a lot. More than that.”
Behind her, something clinked. Waxillium had gotten out a few coins too. The boys glanced at those, eager, until Waxillium flipped one up into the air and Pushed until it was lost.
The boys grew quiet immediately.
“Talk to the lady,” Waxillium said softly, with an edge to his voice. “Stop wasting our time.”
Marasi turned to him, and behind her the boys made their decision. They scattered, obviously not wanting to deal with an Allomancer.
“That was very helpful,” Marasi said, folding her arms. “Thank you so much.”
“They were going to lie to you,” Waxillium said, glancing over his shoulder. “And we were drawing the wrong kind of attention.”
“I realize they were going to lie,” Marasi said. “I was going to catch them in it. Attacking someone’s false story is often one of the best methods of interrogation.”
“Actually,” Waxillium said, “the best method of interrogation involves a drawer and someone’s fingers.”
“Actually,” Marasi said, “it does not. Studies show that forced interrogation results in bad information almost all the time. Anyway, what is wrong with you today, Waxillium? I realize you’ve been flaunting your ‘tough Roughs lawman’ persona lately—”
“I have not.”
“You have,” she said. “And I can see why. Out in the Roughs, you acted the gentleman lawman. You yourself told me you clung to civilization, to bring it with you. Well, here you’re around lords all the time. You’re practically drowning in civilization. So instead, you lean on being the Roughs lawman—to bring a little old-fashioned justice to the city.”
“You’ve thought about this a lot,” he said, turned away from her, scanning the street.
Rust and Ruin. He thought she was infatuated with him. Arrogant, brutish… idiot! She puffed out and stalked away.
She was not infatuated. He had made it clear there would be nothing between them, and he was engaged to her sister. That was that. Couldn’t the two of them have a professional relationship now?
Wayne lounged on the steps leading up to a nearby building, watching them and sloppily taking bites out of an apple.
“And where have you been?” Marasi asked, walking up to him.
“Apple?” Wayne said, handing another one toward her. “ ’s not too bruised.”
“No thank you. Some of us have been trying to find a killer, not a meal.”
“Oh, that.” Wayne kicked at something beside him on the ground, hidden in the shadow of the steps. “Yeah, took care of that for you.”
“You took… Wayne, that’s a person at your feet! Rusts! He’s bleeding!”
“Sure is,” Wayne said. “Not my fault at all, that. I did knock ’im upside the head though.”
Marasi raised a hand to her mouth. It was him. “Wayne, where… How…”
Waxillium gently pushed her aside; she hadn’t seen him approach. He knelt down, checking Marks’s wound. Waxillium then looked up at Wayne and nodded, the two sharing an expression they often exchanged. The closest Marasi had been able to figure, it meant something between “Nice work” and “You’re a total git; I wanted to do that.”
“Let’s get him to the constabulary offices,” Waxillium said, lifting the unconscious Marks.
“Yes, fine,” Marasi said. “But aren’t you going to ask how he did this? Where he’s been?”
“Wayne has his methods,” Waxillium said. “In a place like this, they’re far better than my own.”
“You knew,” she said, leveling a finger at Waxillium. “You knew we weren’t going to get anywhere asking questions!”
“I suspected,” Waxillium said. “But Wayne needs space to try his methods—”
“—onnacount of my being so incredible,” Wayne added.
“—so I did my best to find Marks on my own—”
“—onnacount of him being unable to accept that I’m better at this sorta thing than he is—”
“—in case Wayne failed.”
“Which never happens.” Wayne grinned and took a bite of his apple, hopping off his steps to walk beside Waxillium. “Except that one time. And that other one time. But those don’t matter, onnacount of my getting hit to the head enough times that I can’t remember them.”
Marasi sighed inwardly, falling into step with the two. They had so much history that they moved in concert subconsciously, like two dancers who had performed together countless times. That made life particularly difficult for the newcomer who tried to perform with them.
“Well,” Marasi said to Wayne, “you could at least tell me what you did. Perhaps I could learn from your methods.”
“Nah,” Wayne said. “Won’t work for you. You’re too pretty. In an unpretty sort of way to me, mind you. Let’s not go around that tree again.”
“Wayne, sometimes you completely baffle me.”
“Only sometimes?” Waxillium asked.
“I can’t give her all I got, mate,” Wayne said, thumbs behind his suspenders. “Gotta save some for everyone else. I dole it out with no respect for privilege, class, sex, or mental capacity. I’m a rusting saint, I am.”
“But how,” Marasi said. “How did you find him? Did you make some of these people talk?”
“Nah,” Wayne said. “I made them not talk. They’re better at that. Comes from practice, I suspect.”
“You should take lessons,” Waxillium added.
Marasi sighed as they approached the entrance to the Breakouts. The human flotsam who earlier had cluttered the stairwells and alleyways in here had melted away, perhaps finding the attention of several lawmen too discomforting. It—
Waxillium stiffened. Wayne did as well.
“What—?” Marasi began, right as Waxillium dropped Marks and reached for his mistcoat pocket. Wayne shoved his shoulder into Marasi, pushing her away as something zipped down out of the air and clacked against the paving stones where they’d been standing. More projectiles followed, though she wasn’t really looking. She instead let Wayne tow her to relative cover beside a building, then both of them began craning to search the skyline for the sniper. Waxillium took to the air with a dropped coin, a dark rush of twisting mistcoat tassels. At times like this he looked more primal, like one of the ancient Mistborn from the legends. Not a creature of law, but a sliver of the night itself come to collect its due.
“Aw, hell,” Wayne said, nodding toward Marks. The body slumped in the middle of the road, and now had a prominent wooden shaft sticking out of it.
“Arrow?” Marasi asked.
“Crossbow bolt,” Wayne said. “Haven’t seen one of those in years. You really only want them for fighting Allomancers.” He looked up. Above, Waxillium gave chase, soaring toward the top of one of the buildings.
“Stay here,” Wayne said, then dashed off down an alleyway.
“Wait—” Marasi said, raising a hand.
But he was gone.
Those two, she thought in annoyance. Well, obviously someone didn’t want Marks to be captured and spill what he knew. Perhaps she could learn something from the crossbow bolt or the corpse itself.
She knelt down beside the body, checking first to make certain he was dead—hoping perhaps that the crossbow bolt had not finished the job. He was dead, unfortunately. The bolt was firmly lodged in the head. Who knew that a crossbow could penetrate a skull like that? Marasi shook her head, reaching into her handbag to get her notepad and do a write-up of the position the body had fallen in.
You know, she thought. The assassin is lucky. They were gone so fast, they couldn’t have known that they dealt a killing blow. If I were looking to make sure Marks was finished off, I’d certainly…
She heard something click behind her.
…double back and check.
Marasi turned slowly to find a ragged-looking man leaving an alleyway, holding a crossbow. He inspected her with dark eyes.
The next part happened quickly. Before Marasi had time to take a step, the man rushed her. He fired the crossbow over his shoulder— causing a Wayne-like yelp to come out of the alleyway—then grabbed Marasi by the shoulder as she tried to run.
He whipped her about, raising something cold to her neck. A glass dagger. Waxillium dropped to the ground in front of them, mistcoat unfurling around him.
The two stared at one another, a coin in Waxillium’s right hand. He rubbed it with his thumb.
Remember your hostage training, woman! Marasi thought. Most men take a hostage out of desperation. Could she use her Allomancy? She could slow time around her, speeding it up for everyone outside her speed bubble. The opposite of what Wayne could do.
But she hadn’t swallowed any cadmium. Stupid! A mistake the other two would never make. She needed to stop being embarrassed with her powers, weak though they were. She’d used them effectively on more than one occasion.
The man breathed in and out raggedly, his head right next to hers. She could feel the stubble of his chin and cheek against her skin.
Men who take hostages don’t want to kill, she thought. This isn’t part of the plan. You can talk him down, speak comforting words, seek common ground and build upon it.
She didn’t do any of that. Instead, she whipped her hand out of her handbag, gripping the small, single-shot pistol she kept inside. Before even considering what she was doing, she pressed the barrel against the man’s chin, pulled the trigger…
And blew the bottom of his head up out of the top.
Excerpted from Shadows of Self © Brandon Sanderson, 2015