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.
Wax lowered his hand, looking at the new corpse beside Marasi. Her shot had taken off a big chunk of the face. Identifying the man would be near impossible.
It would have been anyway. Suit’s minions were notoriously difficult to trace.
Don’t worry about that right now, he thought, taking out a handkerchief. He walked over and held it up to Marasi, who stood with wide eyes, blood and bits of flesh sprayed across her face. She stared straight ahead and did not look down. She’d dropped the pistol.
“That was…” she said, eyes ahead. “That was…” She took a deep breath. “That was unexpected of me, wasn’t it?”
“You did well,” Wax said. “People assume a captive to be in their power. Often the best way to escape is by fighting back.”
“What?” Marasi said, finally taking the handkerchief.
“You discharged a pistol right beside your head,” Wax said. “You are going to have trouble hearing. Rusts… you’ve probably done some permanent damage to your ear. Hopefully it won’t be too bad.”
Wax gestured toward her face, and she looked at the handkerchief, as if seeing it for the first time. She blinked, then glanced down. She looked away from the corpse immediately and began wiping at her face.
Wayne, grumbling, staggered out of the alleyway, a new hole in his clothing at the shoulder and a crossbow bolt in his hand.
“So much for interrogating him,” Marasi said with a grimace.
“It’s all right,” Wax said. “Living was more important.”
He smiled at her reassuringly as Wayne waved to some other constables, who had finally arrived on the scene and were making their way into the slums.
“Why does this keep happening to me?” Marasi asked. “Yes, I know I won’t be able to hear your reply. But this is… what, the third time someone has tried to use me as a hostage? Do I exude indefensibility or something?”
Yes, you do, Wax thought, though he didn’t say it. That’s a good thing. It makes them underestimate you. Marasi was a strong person. She thought clearly in times of stress; she did what needed to be done, even if it was unpleasant. However, she was also very keen on dressing nicely and making herself up.
Lessie would have had none of that. The only times Wax had seen her in a dress were when they’d made the occasional trip to Covingtar to visit the Pathian gardens there. He smiled, remembering a time she’d actually worn trousers under the dress.
“Lord Ladrian!” Constable Reddi trotted over, wearing the uniform of a captain in the constabulary. The lean man had a neatly clipped, drooping mustache.
“Reddi,” Wax said, nodding to him. “Is Aradel here?”
“The constable-general is engaged in another investigation, my lord,” Reddi said with a crisp tone. Why did Wax always want to smack this man after talking to him? He was never insulting, always impeccably proper. Maybe that was reason enough.
Wax pointed toward the buildings. “Well, if you’d kindly have your men secure the area; we should probably question those nearby and see if, by some miracle, we can discover the identity of the man Lady Colms just killed.”
Reddi saluted, though it wasn’t technically necessary. Wax had a special deputized forbearance in the constabulary, allowing him to do things like… well, jump through the city armed and firing. But he wasn’t in their command structure.
The other constables moved to do as he requested anyway. As he glanced at the Marksman, Wax forcibly kept his anger in check. At this rate, he would never track down his uncle Edwarn. Wax had only the slightest hint of what the man was trying to accomplish.
It can make anyone into an Allomancer, you see.… If we don’t use it, someone else will.
Words from the book Ironeyes had given him.
“Excellent work, my lord,” Reddi said in a calm voice, nodding to the fallen Marksman. The clothing was distinctive. “Another miscreant dealt with, and with your customary efficiency.”
Wax said nothing. Today’s “excellent work” was just another dead end.
“Hey, look!” Wayne said nearby. “I think I found one of that fellow’s teeth! That’s good luck, ain’t it?”
Marasi looked woozy, settling down on a nearby set of steps. Wax was tempted to go comfort her, but would she interpret it the wrong way? He didn’t want to lead her on.
“My lord, could we talk?” Reddi said as more constables flooded the area. “I mentioned the constable-general and another case. I was actually already on my way to find you when we heard of your chase here.”
Wax turned to him, immediately alert. “What has happened?”
Reddi grimaced, showing uncharacteristic emotion. “It’s bad, my lord,” he said more softly. “Politics is involved.”
Then Suit might be involved as well. “Tell me more.”
“It, well, it’s connected to the governor, my lord. His brother, you see, was hosting an auction last night. And, well, you should see for yourself.…”
* * *
Marasi didn’t miss Waxillium grabbing Wayne by the shoulder and pointing toward a waiting constabulary carriage. He didn’t come for her. How long would it be before that damnable man was willing to accept her as, if not an equal, a colleague?
Frustrated, she made toward the carriage. Unfortunately, she ran into Captain Reddi on the way. He spoke, and she had to strain her ringing ears—and guess a little—to figure out what he was saying.
“Constable Colms. You are out of uniform.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. “It is my day off, sir.”
“Yet here you are,” he said, hands clasped behind his back. “How is it that you find your way, consistently, into situations like this, despite explicitly being told that it is not your assignment, as you are not a field constable?”
“Pure happenstance I’m sure, sir,” Marasi said.
He gave her a sneer at that. Funny. He usually saved those for Waxillium, when the man wasn’t looking. He said something she couldn’t make out, then nodded toward the motorcar she’d brought—which was technically constabulary property; she’d been told to become proficient in driving motorcars and report on their effectiveness to the constable-general. He wanted to test them as replacements for horse-drawn carriages.
“Sir?” she said.
“You’ve obviously been through a great deal this day, constable,” Reddi said, more loudly. “Don’t argue with me on this. Head home, clean up, and report for duty tomorrow.”
“Sir,” Marasi said. “I’d like to brief Captain Aradel on my pursuit of the Marksman, and his subsequent demise, before the details become fuzzy. He will be interested, as he’s followed this case personally.”
She stared Reddi in the eyes. He outranked her, yes, but he wasn’t her boss. Aradel was that to both of them.
“The constable-general,” Reddi said with some obvious reluctance, “is away from the offices at the moment.”
“Well then, I’ll report to him and let him dismiss me, sir,” Marasi said. “If that is his wish.”
Reddi ground his teeth and started to say something, but a call from one of the other constables diverted him. He waved toward the motorcar, and Marasi took it as dismissal to do as she’d said. So, when the carriage with Waxillium pulled away, she followed in the motor.
By the time the trip had ended, at a fashionable mansion overlooking the city’s Hub, she had started to recover. She was still feeling shaken, though she hoped she didn’t show it, and she could hear with her left ear, if not on the other side, where she’d fired the gun.
As she climbed out of the motorcar, she found herself wiping her cheek again with her handkerchief, though she had long since cleaned off the blood. Her dress had been thoroughly ruined. She grabbed her constable’s coat from the back of the motorcar and threw it over the top to hide the stains, then rushed over to join Waxillium and the others as they descended from the carriage.
Only one other constabulary carriage, she noted, inspecting the drive. Whatever had happened here, Aradel didn’t want to make a big show of it. As Waxillium walked up toward the front, he glanced about and found her, then waved her over to him.
“Do you know what this might be about?” he asked her quietly as Reddi and several other constables conferred near the carriage.
“No,” Marasi said. “They didn’t brief you?”
Waxillium shook his head. He glanced down at her bloodied dress, which peeked out underneath the sturdy brown jacket. He made no comment however, instead striding up the steps, tailed by Wayne.
Two constables, a man and a woman, guarded the door into the mansion. They saluted as Reddi caught up to Waxillium—pointedly ignoring Marasi—and led the way in through the doors. “We’ve tried to keep this very tightly controlled,” Reddi said. “But word will get out, with Lord Winsting involved. Rusts, this is going to be a nightmare.”
“The governor’s brother?” Marasi asked. “What happened here?”
Reddi pointed up a set of steps. “We should find ConstableGeneral Aradel in the grand ballroom. I warn you, this is not a sight for delicate stomachs.” He glanced at Marasi.
She raised an eyebrow. “Not an hour ago, I had a man’s head literally explode all over me, Captain. I believe I will be fine.”
Reddi said nothing further, leading the way up the steps. She noticed Wayne pocketing a small, decorative cigar box they passed—Citizen Magistrates brand—replacing it with a bruised apple. She’d have to see that he swapped the cigar box back at some point.
The ballroom upstairs was littered with bodies. Marasi and Waxillium stopped in the doorway, looking in at the chaos. The dead men and women wore fine clothes, sleek ball gowns or tight black suits. Hats lay tumbled from heads, the fine tan carpet stained red in wide patches around the fallen. It was as if someone had tossed a basket of eggs into the air and let them fall, their insides seeping out all over the floor.
Claude Aradel, constable-general of the Fourth Octant, picked through the scene. In many ways, he didn’t look like a constable should. His rectangular face had a few days’ worth of red stubble on it; he shaved when the mood struck him. His leathery skin, furrowed with wrinkles, attested to days spent in the field, not behind a desk. He was probably pushing sixty at this point, though he wouldn’t divulge his true age, and even the octant records had a question mark next to his birth date. What was certain was that Aradel didn’t have a drop of noble blood in him.
He’d left the constabulary about ten years ago, giving no official reason for his departure. Rumor was he’d hit the silent ceiling on promotions a man could get without being noble. A lot could change in ten years though, and when Brettin had retired—soon after the execution of Miles Hundredlives almost a year ago—the hunt for a new constable-general had landed on Aradel. He’d come out of retirement to accept the position.
“Ladrian,” he said, looking up from a corpse. “Good. You’re here.” He crossed the room and gave a glance to Marasi, who saluted. He didn’t dismiss her.
“Aw,” Wayne said, peeking in, “the fun is already over.”
Waxillium stepped into the room, taking Aradel’s proffered hand. “That’s Chip Erikell, isn’t it?” Waxillium asked, nodding to the nearest corpse. “Thought to run smuggling in the Third Octant?”
“Yes,” Aradel said.
“And Isabaline Frellia,” Marasi said. “Rusts! We have a file on her as tall as Wayne, but the prosecutors have never been able to charge her.”
“Seven of these bodies belong to people of equivalent notoriety,” Aradel said, pointing to several corpses among the fallen. “Most from crime syndicates, though a few were members of noble houses with… dubious reputations. The rest were high-ranking representatives from other important factions. We have near thirty notable stiffs, along with a handful of guards each.”
“That’s half of the city’s criminal elite,” Waxillium said softly, crouching down beside a body. “At least.”
“All people we’ve never been able to touch,” Aradel said. “Not for lack of trying, mind you.”
“So why is everyone so grim?” Wayne asked. “We should be throwing a bloomin’ party, shouldn’t we? Someone went and did our work for us! We can take the month off.”
Marasi shook her head. “A violent change in power in the underworld can be dangerous, Wayne. This was a hit of huge ambition, someone eliminating rivals wholesale.”
Aradel glanced at her, then nodded in agreement. She felt a surge of satisfaction. The constable-general was the one who had hired her, picking her application out of a dozen others. Every other person in the pile had had years of constable experience. Instead, he’d chosen a recently graduated law student. He saw something promising in her, obviously, and she intended to prove him right.
“I can’t fathom someone doing this,” Waxillium said. “Toppling so many of the city’s underworld powers at once won’t favor the perpetrators; that’s a myth from penny novels. Murders on this scale will just draw attention and unify opposition from every other surviving gang and faction as soon as word gets out.”
“Unless it was done by an outsider,” Marasi said. “An uncertain element from the start, someone who stands to gain if the entire system crumbles.”
Aradel grunted, and Waxillium nodded in agreement.
“But how,” Waxillium whispered. “How did someone achieve this? Surely their security must have rivaled any in the city.” He began moving about, pacing off distances, looking at certain bodies, then at others, whispering to himself as he periodically knelt down.
“Reddi said that the governor’s brother was involved, sir?” Marasi asked Aradel.
“Lord Winsting Innate.”
Lord Winsting, head of House Innate. He had a vote in the Elendel Senate, a position he gained once his brother was elevated to governor. He had been corrupt. Marasi and the rest of the constables knew it. In retrospect, she wasn’t surprised to find him in the middle of something like this. The thing was, Winsting had always seemed a small catch to Marasi.
The governor, however… well, perhaps that hidden file on her desk—full of hints, guesses, and clues—would finally be relevant.
“Winsting,” she asked Aradel. “Is he… ?”
“Dead?” Aradel asked. “Yes, Constable Colms. From the invitations we found, he initiated this meeting, under the guise of an auction. We located his corpse in a saferoom in the basement.”
This drew Waxillium’s attention. He stood up, looking directly at them, then muttered something to himself and paced off another body. What was he searching for?
Wayne wandered over to Marasi and Aradel. He took a swig from a silver flask engraved with someone else’s initials. Marasi pointedly did not ask him which of the dead he’d taken it from. “So,” he said, “our little house leader was friendly with criminals, was he?”
“We’ve long suspected he was crooked,” Aradel said. “The people love his family though, and his brother went to great lengths to keep Winsting’s previous lapses out of the limelight.”
“You’re right, Aradel,” Waxillium said from across the room. “This will be bad.”
“I dunno,” Wayne said. “Maybe he didn’t know these folks were all trouble.”
“Doubtful,” Marasi said. “And even if it were true, it wouldn’t matter. Once the broadsheets get ahold of this… The governor’s sibling, dead in a house full of known criminals under very suspicious circumstances?”
“What I’m hearing,” Wayne said, taking another swig, “is that I was wrong. The fun isn’t over.”
“Many of these people shot one another,” Waxillium said.
They all turned to him. He knelt beside another body, inspecting the way it had fallen, then looked up toward some bullet holes in the wall.
Being a lawman, particularly out in the Roughs, had required Waxillium to teach himself a wide variety of skills. He was part detective, part enforcer, part leader, part scientist. Marasi had read a dozen different profiles of him by various scholars, all investigating the mindset of a man who was becoming a living legend.
“What do you mean, Lord Ladrian?” Aradel asked.
“The fight here involved multiple parties,” Waxillium said, pointing. “If this was an unexpected hit by someone external—and Lady Colms is right, that would have made the most sense—one would expect the victims to have died from a barrage fired by the enemy who burst in. The corpses don’t tell that story. This was a melee. Chaos. Random people firing one at another. I think it began when someone started shooting from the middle of the group outward.”
“So it was one of the attendees who began it,” Aradel said.
“Maybe,” Waxillium said. “One can only tell so much from the fall of the bodies, the sprays of blood. But something is odd here, very odd.… Were they all shot?”
“No, strangely. A few of the attendees were killed by a knife in the back.”
“Have you identified everyone in the room?” Waxillium asked.
“Most of them,” Aradel said. “We wanted to avoid moving them too much.”
“Let me see Lord Winsting,” Waxillium said, standing, his mistcoat rustling.
Aradel nodded to a young constable, and she led them out of the ballroom, through a doorway. Some kind of secret passage? The musty stairwell beyond was narrow enough to force them to walk single file, the constable at the front carrying a lamp.
“Miss Colms,” Waxillium said softly, “what do your statistics tell you about this kind of violence?”
Oh, so we’re using last names now, are we? “Very little. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times something like this has happened. The first place I’d look is for connections between the people killed. Were they all in smuggling, Captain Aradel?”
“No,” he said from behind. “Some smugglers, some extortionists, some gambling tycoons.”
“So it’s not a specific attempt to consolidate power in a certain type of criminal activity,” Marasi said, her voice echoing in the damp stone stairwell. “We need to find the connection, what made these specific people targets. The one most likely behind it is dead.”
“Lord Winsting,” Waxillium said. “You’re saying he lured them here, planned an execution, and it went wrong?”
“It’s one theory.”
“He ain’t that kind of slime,” Wayne said from near the end of the line.
“You know of Winsting?” Marasi asked, looking over her shoulder.
“Not specifically, no,” Wayne said. “But he was a politician. Politician slime is different from regular slime.”
“I find myself agreeing,” Captain Aradel said. “Though I wouldn’t put it so colorfully. We knew that Winsting was crooked, but in the past he kept mostly to small-time schemes. Selling cargo space to smugglers when it suited him, some shady real-estate deals here and there. Cash in exchange for political favors, mostly.
“Recently, rumors started that he was going to put his Senate vote up for sale. We were investigating, with no evidence so far. Either way, killing those willing to pay him would be like blasting your silver mine with dynamite to try finding gold.”
They reached the bottom of the stairwell, where they found four more corpses. The guards, apparently, all killed with bullets to the head.
Waxillium knelt. “Shot from behind, from the direction of the saferoom,” he whispered. “All four, in rapid succession.”
“Executed?” Marasi asked. “How did the killer get them to stand there and take it?”
“He didn’t,” Waxillium said. “He moved too quickly for them to respond.”
“Feruchemist,” Wayne said softly. “Damn.”
They were called Steelrunners, Feruchemists who could store up speed. They’d have to move slowly for a time, then could draw upon that reserve later. Waxillium looked up. Marasi saw something in his eyes, a hunger. He thought his uncle was involved. That was what he thought every time a Metalborn committed crimes. Waxillium saw Suit’s shadow over his shoulder each way he turned, the specter of a man whom Waxillium hadn’t been able to stop.
Suit still had Waxillium’s sister, best as they could tell. Marasi didn’t know much of it. Waxillium wouldn’t talk about the details.
He stood up, expression grim, and strode to the door behind the fallen men. He threw it open and entered, Marasi and Wayne close behind, to find a single corpse slumped in an easy chair at the center of the room. His throat had been slit; the blood on the front of his clothing was thick, dried like paint.
“Killed with some sort of long knife or small sword,” Aradel said. “Even more strange, his tongue was cut out. We’ve sent for a surgeon to try to tell us more of the wound. Don’t know why the killer didn’t use a gun.”
“Because the guards were still alive then,” Waxillium said softly.
“They let the killer pass,” Waxillium said, looking at the door. “It was someone they trusted, perhaps one of their number. They let the murderer into the saferoom.”
“Maybe he was just moving very quickly to get past them,” Marasi said.
“Maybe,” Waxillium agreed. “But that door has to be unlocked from the inside, and it hasn’t been forced. There’s a peephole. Winsting let the murderer in, and he wouldn’t have done that if the guards had been killed. He’s sitting calmly in that chair—no struggle, just a quick slice from behind. Either he didn’t know someone else was in here, or he trusted them. Judging by the way the guards fell outside, they were still focused on the steps, waiting for danger to come. They were still guarding this place. My gut says it was one of their own, someone they let pass, who killed Winsting.”
“Rusts,” Aradel said softly. “But… a Feruchemist? Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” Wayne said, from the doorway. “This wasn’t a speed bubble. Can’t shoot out of one of those, mate. These fellows were killed before one could turn about. Wax is right. Either this is a Feruchemist, or somebody figured out how to fire out of speed bubbles—which is somethin’ we’d really like to know how to do.”
“Someone moving with Feruchemical speed explains the knife deaths up above,” Waxillium said, standing. “A few swift executions in the chaos, while everyone else was shooting. Quick and surgical, but the killer would be safe despite the firefight. Captain Aradel, I suggest you gather the names of Winsting’s companions and staff. See if any corpses that should be here, aren’t. I’ll look into the Metalborn side—Steelrunners aren’t common, even as Feruchemists go.”
“And the press?” Marasi asked.
Waxillium looked to Aradel, who shrugged. “I can’t keep a lid on this, Lord Ladrian,” Aradel said. “Not with so many people involved. It’s going to get out.”
“Let it,” Waxillium said with a sigh. “But I can’t help feeling that’s the point of all this.”
“Excuse me?” Wayne said. “I thought the point was killing folks.”
“Lots of folks, Wayne,” Waxillium said. “A shift in power in the city. Were those upstairs the main target? Or was this an attack on the governor himself, a sideways strike upon his house, a message of some sort? Sent to tell Governor Innate that even he is not beyond their reach.…” He tipped Winsting’s head back, looking at the gouged-out mouth. Marasi looked away.
“They removed the tongue,” Waxillium whispered. “Why? What are you up to, Uncle?”
“Excuse me?” Aradel asked.
“Nothing,” Waxillium said, dropping the head back to its slumped position. “I have to go sit for a portrait. I assume you’ll be willing to send me a report once you’ve detailed all of this?”
“I can do that,” Aradel said.
“Good,” Waxillium said, walking toward the door. “Oh, and Captain?”
“Yes, Lord Ladrian?”
“Prepare for a storm. This wasn’t done quietly; it was done to be noticed. This was a challenge. Whoever did this isn’t likely to stop here.”
Excerpted from Shadows of Self © Brandon Sanderson, 2015