Read Brandon Sanderson’s The Lost Metal: Prologue and Chapters One and Two

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  • Part 2 - September 19, 2022

Return to the world of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn as its second era, which began with The Alloy of Law, comes to its conclusion in The Lost Metal.

Tor.com is serializing The Lost Metal from now until its release on November 15. New chapters will go live every Monday at 12pm ET. We’re thrilled to also share selections from the audiobook edition, narrated by Michael Kramer—find the prologue through chapter two below!

For years, frontier lawman turned big-city senator Waxillium Ladrian has hunted the shadowy organization the Set—with his late uncle and his sister among their leaders—since they started kidnapping people with the power of Allomancy in their bloodlines. When Detective Marasi Colms and her partner Wayne find stockpiled weapons bound for the Outer City of Bilming, this opens a new lead. Conflict between Elendel and the Outer Cities only favors the Set, and their tendrils now reach to the Elendel Senate—whose corruption Wax and Steris have sought to expose—and Bilming is even more entangled.

After Wax discovers a new type of explosive that can unleash unprecedented destruction and realizes that the Set must already have it, an immortal kandra serving Scadrial’s god, Harmony, reveals that Bilming has fallen under the influence of another god: Trell, worshipped by the Set. And Trell isn’t the only factor at play from the larger Cosmere—Marasi is recruited by offworlders with strange abilities who claim their goal is to protect Scadrial… at any cost.

Wax must choose whether to set aside his rocky relationship with God and once again become the Sword that Harmony has groomed him to be. If no one steps forward to be the hero Scadrial needs, the planet and its millions of people will come to a sudden and calamitous ruin.


 

 


 

 

Wayne knew about beds. Other kids in Tinweight Settlement had them. A bed sounded much better than a mat on the ground—especially one he had to share with his ma when the nights were cold, because they didn’t have any coal.

Plus there were monsters under beds.

Yeah, he’d heard stories of mistwraiths. They’d hide unner your bed and steal the faces of people you knew. Which made beds soft and squishy on top, with someone underneath you could talk to. Sounded like rustin’ heaven.

Other kids were scared of mistwraiths, but Wayne figured they just didn’t know how to negotiate properly. He could make friends with something what lived unner a bed. You just had to give it something it wanted, like someone else to eat.

Anyway, no bed for him. And no proper chairs. They had a table, built by Uncle Gregr. Back before he got crushed by a billion rocks in a landslide and mushed into a pulp what couldn’t hit people no more. Wayne kicked the table sometimes, in case Gregr’s spirit was watching and was fond of it. Rusts knew there was nothing else in this one-window home Uncle Gregr had cared about.

Best Wayne had was a stool, so he sat on that and played with his cards—dealing hands and hiding cards up his sleeve—as he waited. This was a nervous time of day. Every evening he feared she wouldn’t come home. Not because she didn’t love him. Ma was a burst of sweet spring flowers in a sewage pit of a world. But because one day Pa hadn’t come home. One day Uncle Gregr—Wayne kicked the table—hadn’t come home. So Ma…

Dont think about it, Wayne thought, bungling his shuffle and spilling cards over the table and floor. And don’t look. Not until you see the light.

He could feel the mine out there; nobody wanted to live nexta it, so Wayne and his ma did.

He thought of something else, on purpose. The pile of laundry by the wall that he’d finished washing earlier. That had been Ma’s old job what didn’t pay well enough. Now he did it while she pushed minecarts.

Wayne didn’t mind the work. Got to try on all the different clothes—whether they were from old gramps or young women—and pretend to be them. His ma had caught him a few times and grown angry. Her exasperation still baffled him. Why wouldn’t you try them all on? That’s what clothes was for. It wasn’t nothing weird.

Besides, sometimes folks left stuff in their pockets. Like decks of cards.

He fumbled the shuffle again, and as he gathered the cards up he did not look out the window, even though he could feel the mine. That gaping artery, like the hole in someone’s neck, red from the inside and spurting out light like blood and fire. His ma had to go dig at the beast’s insides, searchin’ for metals, then escape its anger. You could only get lucky so many times.

Then he spotted it. Light. With relief, he glanced out the window and saw someone walking along the path, holding up a lantern to illuminate her way. Wayne scrambled to hide the cards under the mat, then lay on top, feigning sleep when the door opened. She’d have seen his light go out of course, but she appreciated the effort he put into pretending.

She settled on the stool, and Wayne cracked an eye. His ma wore trousers and a buttoned shirt, her hair up, her clothing and face smudged. She sat staring at the flame in the lantern, watching it flicker and dance, and her face seemed more hollow than it had been before. Like someone was taking a pickaxe to her cheeks.

That mines eatin her away, he thought. It hasnt gobbled her up like it did Pa, but it’s gnawing on her.

Ma blinked, then fixated on something else. A card he’d left on the table. Aw, hell.

She picked it up, then looked right at him. He didn’t pretend to be asleep no more. She’d dump water on him.

“Wayne,” she said, “where did you get these cards?”

“Don’t remember.”

“Wayne…”

“Found ’em,” he said.

She held out her hand, and he reluctantly pulled the deck out and handed it over. She tucked the card she’d found into the box. Damn. She’d spend a day searching Tinweight for whoever had “lost” them. Well, he wouldn’t have her losing more sleep on account of him.

“Tark Vestingdow,” Wayne mumbled. “They was inna pocket of his overalls.”

“Thank you,” she said softly.

“Ma, I’ve gotta learn cards. That way I can earn a good livin’ and care for us.”

“A good living?” she asked. “With cards?”

“Don’t worry,” he said quickly. “I’ll cheat! Can’t make a livin’ if you don’t win, see.”

She sighed, rubbing her temples.

Wayne glanced at the cards in their stack. “Tark,” he said. “He’s Terris. Like Pa was.”

“Yes.”

“Terris people always do what they’re told. So what’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing’s wrong with you, love,” she said. “You just haven’t got a good parent to guide you.”

“Ma,” he said, scrambling off the mat to take her arm. “Don’t talk like that. You’re a great ma.”

She hugged him to her side, but he could feel her tension. “Wayne,” she asked, “did you take Demmy’s pocketknife?”

“He talked?” Wayne said. “Rust that rustin’ bastard!”

“Wayne! Don’t swear like that.”

“Rust that rusting bastard!” he said in a railworker’s accent instead.

He grinned at her innocently, and was rewarded with a smile she couldn’t hide. Silly voices always made her happy. Pa had been good at them, but Wayne was better. Particularly now that Pa was dead and couldn’t say them no more.

But then her smile faded. “You can’t take things what don’t belong to you, Wayne. That’s somethin’ thieves do.”

“I don’t wanna be a thief,” Wayne said softly, putting the pocketknife on the table beside the cards. “I want to be a good boy. It just… happens.”

She hugged him closer. “You are a good boy. You’ve always been a good boy.”

When she said it, he believed it.

“Do you want a story, love?” she asked.

“I’m too old for stories,” he lied, desperately wishing she’d tell one anyway. “I’m eleven. One more year and I can drink at the tavern.”

“What? Who told you that!”

“Dug.”

“Dug is nine.

“Dug knows stuff.”

Dug is nine.

“So you’re sayin’ I’ll have to snitch booze for him next year, ’cuz he can’t get it himself yet?” He met her eyes, then started snickering.

He helped her get dinner—cold oatmeal with some beans in it. At least it wasn’t only beans. Then he snuggled into his blankets on the mat, pretending he was a child again to listen. It was easy to feign that. He still had the clothes after all.

“This is the tale,” she said, “of Blatant Barm, the Unwashed Bandit.”

“Oooh…” Wayne said. “A new one?”

His mother leaned forward, wagging her spoon toward him as she spoke. “He was the worst of them all, Wayne. Baddest, meanest, stinkiest bandit. He never bathed.”

“ ’Cuz it takes too much work to get properly dirty?”

“No, because he… Wait, it’s work to get dirty?”

“Gotta roll around in it, you see.”

“Why in Harmony’s name would you do that?”

“To think like the ground,” Wayne said.

“To…” She smiled. “Oh, Wayne. You’re so precious.”

“Thanks,” he said. “Why ain’t you told me of this Blatant Barm before? If he was so bad wouldn’t he be the first one you told stories about?”

“You were too young,” she said, sitting back. “And the story too frightening.”

Ooooh… This was going to be a good one. Wayne bounced up and down. “Who got ’im? Was it a lawman?”

“It was Allomancer Jak.”

“Him?” Wayne said with a groan.

“I thought you liked him.”

Well, all the kids did. Jak was new and interesting, and had been solving all kinds of tough crimes this last year. Least according to Dug.

“But Jak always brings the bad guys in,” Wayne complained. “He never shoots a single one.”

“Not this time,” Ma said, digging into her oatmeal. “He knew Blatant Barm was the worst. Killer to the core. Even Barm’s sidekicks—Gud the Killer and Noways Joe—were ten times worse than any other bandit that ever walked the Roughs.”

“Ten times?” Wayne said.

“Yup.”

“That’s a lot! Almost double!”

His ma frowned for a moment, but then leaned forward again. “They’d robbed the payroll. Taking not just the money from the fat men in Elendel, but the wages of the common folk.”

“Bastards!” Wayne said.

“Wayne!”

“Fine! Regular old turds then!”

Again she hesitated. “Do you… know what the word ‘bastard’ means?”

“It’s a bad turd, the kind you get when you’ve really got to go, but you hold it in too long.”

“You know that because…”

“Dug told me.”

“Of course he did. Well, Jak, he wouldn’t stand for stealing from the common folk of the Roughs. Being a bandit is one thing, but everyone knows you take the money what goes toward the city.

“Unfortunately, Blatant Barm, he knew the area real well. So he rode off into the most difficult land in the Roughs—and he left one of his two sidekicks to guard each of the key spots along the way. Fortunately, Jak was the bravest of men. And the strongest.”

“If he was the bravest and strongest,” Wayne said, “why was he a lawman? He could be a bandit, and nobody could stop him!”

“What’s harder, love?” she asked. “Doing what’s right or doing what’s wrong?”

“Doing what’s right.”

“So who gets stronger?” Ma asked. “The fellow what does the easy thing, or what does the hard thing?”

Huh. He nodded. Yeah. Yeah, he could see that.

She moved the lantern closer to her face, making it shine as she spoke. “Jak’s first test was the River Human, the vast waterway marking the border with what had once been koloss lands. The waters moved at the speed of a train; it was the fastest river in the whole world—and it was full of rocks. Gud the Killer had set up there, across the river, to watch for lawmen. He had such a good eye and steady hand that he could shoot a fly off a man at three hundred paces.”

“Why’d you want to do that?” Wayne asked. “Better to shoot ’im right in the fly. That’s gotta hurt something bad.”

“Not that kind of fly, love,” Ma said.

“So what did Jak do?” Wayne asked. “Did he sneak up? Not very lawman-like to sneak. I don’t think they do that. I’ll bet he didn’t sneak.”

“Well…” Ma said.

Wayne clutched his blanket, waiting.

“Jak was a better shot,” she whispered. “When Gud the Killer sighted on him, Jak shot him first—clean across the river.”

“How’d Gud die?” Wayne whispered.

“By bullet, love.”

“Through the eye?” Wayne said.

“Suppose.”

“And so Gud lined up a shot and Jak did likewise—but Jak shot first, hitting Gud straight through the sights into the eye! Right, Ma!”

“Yup.”

“And his head exploded,” Wayne said, “like a fruit—the crunchy kind, the shell all tough but it’s gooey inside. Is that how it happened?”

“Absolutely.”

“Dang, Ma,” Wayne said. “That’s gruesome. You sure you should be tellin’ me this story?”

“Should I stop?”

“Hell no! How’d Jak get across the water?”

“He flew,” Ma said. She set her bowl aside, oatmeal finished, and gave a flourish with both hands. “Using his Allomantic powers. Jak can fly, and talk to birds, and eat rocks.”

“Wow. Eat rocks?”

“Yup. And so he flew over that river. But the next challenge was even worse. The Canyon of Death.”

“Ooooh…” Wayne said. “Bet that place was pretty.”

“Why do you say that?”

“ ’Cuz nobody’s going to visit a place called ‘Canyon of Death’ unless it’s pretty. But somebody visited it, ’cuz we know the name. So it must be pretty.”

“Beautiful,” Ma said. “A canyon carved through the middle of a bunch of crumbling rock spires—the broken peaks streaked with colors, like they was painted that way. But the place was as deadly as it was beautiful.”

“Yeah,” Wayne said. “Figures.”

“Jak couldn’t fly over this one, for the second of the bandits hid in the canyon. Noways Joe. He was a master of pistols, and could also fly, and turn into a dragon, and eat rocks. If Jak tried to sneak past, Joe would shoot him from behind.”

“That’s the smart way to shoot someone,” Wayne said. “On account of them not bein’ able to shoot back.”

“True,” Ma said. “So Jak didn’t let that happen. He had to go into the canyon—but it was filled with snakes.

“Bloody hell!”

“Wayne…”

“Regular old boring hell, then! How many snakes?”

“A million snakes.”

“Bloody hell!”

“But Jak, he was smart,” Ma said. “So he’d thought to bring some snake food.”

“A million bits of snake food?”

“Nah, only one,” she said. “But he got the snakes to fight over it, so they mostly killed each other. And the one what was left was the strongest, naturally.”

“Naturally.”

“So Jak talked it into biting Noways Joe.”

“And so Joe turned purple!” Wayne said. “And bled out his ears! And his bones melted, so the melty bone juice leaked out of his nose! And he collapsed into a puddle of deflated skin, all while hissing and blubbering ’cuz his teeth was melting!”

“Exactly.”

“Dang, Ma. You tell the best stories.”

“It gets better,” she said softly, leaning down on the stool, their lantern burning low. “Because the ending has a surprise.”

“What surprise?”

“Once Jak was through the canyon—what now smelled like dead snakes and melted bones—he spotted the final challenge: the Lone Mesa. A giant plateau in the center of an otherwise flat plain.”

“That’s not much of a challenge,” Wayne said. “He could fly to the top.”

“Well he tried to,” she whispered. “But the mesa was Blatant Barm.”

WHAT?

“That’s right,” Ma said. “Barm had joined up with the koloss—the ones that change into big monsters, not the normal ones like old Mrs. Nock. And they showed him how to turn into a monster of humongous size. So when Jak tried to land on it, the mesa done gobbled him up.”

Wayne gasped. “And then,” he said, “it mashed him beneath its teeth, crushing his bones like—”

“No,” Ma said. “It tried to swallow him. But Jak, he wasn’t only smart and a good shot. He was something else.”

“What?”

“A big damn pain in the ass.”

“Ma! That’s swearin’.”

“It’s okay in stories,” Ma said. “Listen, Jak was a pain. He was always going about doing good. Helping people. Making life tough for bad people. Asking questions. He knew exactly how to ruin a bandit’s day.

“So as he was swallowed, Jak stretched out his arms and legs, then pushed—making himself a lump in Blatant Barm’s throat, so the monster couldn’t breathe. Monsters like that needs lotsa air, you know. And so, Allomancer Jak done choked Barm from the inside. Then, when the monster was dead on the ground, Jak sauntered out down its tongue—like it was some fancy mat set outside a carriage for a rich man.”

Whoa. “That’s a good story, Ma.”

She smiled.

“Ma,” he said. “Is the story… about the mine?”

“Well,” she said, “I suppose we all gotta walk into the beast’s mouth now and then. So… maybe, I guess.”

“You’re like the lawman then.”

“Anyone can be,” she said, blowing out the lantern.

“Even me?”

“Especially you.” She kissed him on the forehead. “You are whatever you want to be, Wayne. You’re the wind. You’re the stars. You are all endless things.”

It was a poem she liked. He liked it too. Because when she said it, he believed her. How could he not? Ma didn’t lie. So, he snuggled deeper into his blankets and let himself drift off. A lot was wrong in the world, but a few things were right. And as long as she was around, stories meant something. They was real.

Until the next day, when there was another collapse at the mine. That night, his ma didn’t come home.

 


 

 

TWENTY-NINE YEARS LATER

Marasi had never been in a sewer before, but it was exactly as awful as she’d imagined. The stench was incredible, of course. But worse was the way her booted feet would occasionally slip for a heart-stopping moment, threatening to plunge her down into the “mud” underneath.

At least she’d had the foresight to wear a uniform with trousers today, along with knee-high leather work boots. But there was no protection from the scent, the feel, or—unfortunately—the sound of it. When she took a step—map in one hand, rifle in the other—each boot would pull free with a squelch of mythical proportions. It would have been the worst sound ever, if not overmatched by Wayne’s complaining.

“Wax never brought me into a rusting sewer,” he muttered, raising the lantern.

“Are there sewers in the Roughs?”

“Well, no,” he admitted. “Pastures smell almost as bad, and he did make me march through those. But Marasi, they didn’t have spiders.

“They probably did,” she said, angling the map toward his lantern. “You just couldn’t see them.”

“Suppose,” he grumbled. “But it’s worse when you can see the webs. Also there’s, you know, the literal sewage.”

Marasi nodded to a side tunnel and they started in that direction. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“What?” he demanded.

“Your mood.”

“Nothing’s wrong with my rusting mood,” he said. “It’s precisely the mood you’re supposed to have when your partner forces you to stick your frontside into a buncha stuff that comes out of your backside.”

“And last week?” she asked. “When we were investigating a perfume shop?”

“Rusting perfumers,” Wayne said, his eyes narrowing. “Never can tell what they’re hiding with those fancy smells. You can’t trust a man what doesn’t smell like a man should.”

“Sweat and booze?”

“Sweat and cheap booze.”

“Wayne, how can you complain about someone putting on airs? You put on a different personality every time you change hats.”

“Does my smell change?”

“I suppose not.”

“Argument won. There are literally no holes in it whatsoever. Conversation over.”

They shared a look.

“I should get me some perfumes, eh?” Wayne said. “Someone might spot my disguises if I always smell like sweat and cheap booze.”

“You’re hopeless.”

“What’s hopeless,” he said, “is my poor shoes.”

“Could have worn boots like I suggested.”

“Ain’t got no boots,” he said. “Wax stole them.”

“Wax stole your boots. Really.”

“Well, they’re in his closet,” Wayne said. “Instead of three pairs of his poshest shoes. Which somehow ended up in my closet, completely by happenstance.” He glanced at her. “It was a fair trade. I liked those boots.”

Marasi smiled. They’d been working together for almost six years now, since Wax’s retirement following the discovery of the Bands of Mourning. Wayne was an official constable, not some barely-within-the-law deputized citizen. He even wore a uniform once in a while. And—

—and Marasi’s boot slipped again. Rusting hell. If she fell, he would never stop laughing. But this did seem the best way. Construction on the citywide underground train tunnels was ongoing, and two days ago a demolitions man had filed a curious report. He didn’t want to blast the next section, as seismic readings indicated they were near an unmapped cavern.

This area underneath the city of Elendel was peppered with ancient caves. And it was the same region where a local group of gang enforcers kept vanishing and reappearing. As if they had a hidden entrance into an unknown, unseen lair.

She consulted the map, marked with the construction notes—and older annotations indicating a nearby oddity that the sewer builders had found years ago, but which had never been properly investigated.

“I think MeLaan is going to break up with me,” Wayne said softly. “That’s why maybe I’ve been uncharacteristically downbeat in my general disposition as of late.”

“What makes you think she’s going to do that?”

“On account of her tellin’ me, ‘Wayne, I’m probably going to break up with you in a few weeks.’ ”

“Well, that’s polite of her.”

“I think she’s got a new job from the big guy,” Wayne said. “But it ain’t right, how slow it’s goin’. ’S not the proper way to break up with a fellow.”

“And what is the proper way?”

“Throw something at his head,” Wayne said. “Sell his stuff. Tell his mates he’s a knob.”

“You have had some interesting relationships.”

“Nah, just mostly bad ones,” he said. “I asked Jammi Walls what she thought I should do—You know her? She’s at the tavern most nights.”

“I know her,” Marasi said. “She’s a woman of… ill repute.”

“What?” Wayne said. “Who’s been saying that? Jammi has a great reputation. Of all the whores on the block, she gives the best—”

“I do not need to hear the next part. Thank you.”

“Ill repute,” he said, chuckling. “I’m gonna tell Jammi you said that, Marasi. She worked hard for her reputation. Gets to charge four times what anyone else does! Ill repute indeed.”

“And what did she say?”

“She said MeLaan wanted me to try harder in the relationship,” Wayne said. “But I think in this case Jammi was wrong. Because MeLaan don’t play games. When she says things, she means them. So it’s… you know…”

“I’m sorry, Wayne,” Marasi said, tucking the map under her arm and resting her hand on his shoulder.

“I knew it couldn’t last,” he said. “Rustin’ knew it, you know? She’s like, what, a thousand years old?”

“Roughly two-thirds that,” Marasi said.

“And I’m not quite forty,” Wayne said. “More like sixteen if you take account of my spry youthful physique.”

“And your sense of humor.”

“Damn right,” he said, then sighed. “Things have been… tough lately. With Wax gettin’ all fancy and MeLaan being gone for months at a time. Feel like nobody wants me around. Maybe I belong in a sewer, you know?”

“You don’t,” she said. “You’re the best partner I’ve ever had.”

“Only partner.”

“Only? Gorglen doesn’t count?”

“Nope. He’s not human. I gots papers what prove he’s a giraffe in disguise.” Then he smiled. “But… thanks for askin’. Thanks for carin’.”

She nodded, then led the way onward. When she’d imagined her life as a top detective and lawwoman, she hadn’t envisioned this. At least the smell was getting better—or she was getting used to it.

It was extremely gratifying to find, at the exact spot marked on the map, an old metal door set into the sewer wall. Wayne held up the lantern, and one didn’t need a keen detective’s eye to see the door had been used recently. Silvery scrapes on one side of the frame, the handle rubbed clean of the pervasive filth and cobwebs.

The people who had built the sewers had discovered it, and highlighted it as a site of potential historical significance. But the note had been lost due to bureaucratic nonsense.

“Nice,” Wayne said, leaning in beside her. “Some first-rate detectivin’, Marasi. How many old surveys did you have to read to find this?”

“Too many,” she said. “People would be surprised how much of my time is spent in the documents library.”

“They leave the research outta the stories.”

“You did this sort of thing back in the Roughs?”

“Well, the Roughs variety of it,” Wayne said. “Usually involved holdin’ some bloke’s face down in the trough until he remembered whose old prospectin’ claim he’d been filchin’, but it’s the same principle. With more swearin’.”

She handed him her rifle and investigated the door. He didn’t like her to make a big deal out of it, but he could hold guns these days without his hands shaking. She’d never seen him fire one, but he said he could if he needed to.

The door was shut tight and had no lock on this side. But it seemed the people she was hunting had found it closed too—there were a bunch of marks along one edge. There was enough room to slip something between door and frame.

“I need a knife to get through this,” she said.

“You can use my razor-sharp wit.”

“Alas, Wayne, you aren’t the type of tool I need at the moment.”

“Ha!” he said. “I like that one.”

He handed her a knife from his backpack where they kept supplies like rope, and extra metals in case they faced Metalborn. This kind of gang shouldn’t have an Allomancer—they were your basic “shake down shopkeepers for protection money” types. Yet she had reports that made her wary, and she was increasingly sure this group was funded by the Set.

Years later, and she was still hunting answers to questions that had plagued her from the very start of her career as a lawwoman. The group known as the Set, once run by Wax’s Uncle Edwarn, then revealed to involve his sister, Telsin, as well. A group that followed, or worshipped, or somehow furthered the machinations of a dark figure known as Trell. A god, she thought. From ancient times.

If she caught the right people, she might finally get the answers. But she perpetually fell short. The closest she’d gotten to answers had been six years ago, but then everyone they’d captured—including Wax’s uncle—had been killed in an explosion. Leaving her to chase at shadows again, and the rest of Elendel’s elite fully committed to ignoring the threat. Without evidence, she and Wax had been unable to prove that the Set even existed beyond Edwarn’s lackeys.

Using the knife, she managed to undo the bar holding the door closed from the other side. The bar swung free with a soft clang, and she eased the door open to reveal a rough-hewn tunnel leading downward. One of the many that dotted this region, dating back to the ancient days before the Catacendre. To the time of myths and heroes, ashfalls and tyrants.

Together she and Wayne slipped inside, leaving the door as they’d found it. They dimmed their lantern as a precaution, then started into the depths.


Cravat?” Steris said, reading from the list.

“Tied and pinned,” Wax said, pulling it tight.

“Shoes?”

“Polished.”

“First piece of evidence?”

Wax flipped a silvery medallion in the air, then caught it.

“Second piece of evidence?” Steris asked, making a mark on her list.

He pulled a small folded stack of papers from his pocket. “Right here.”

“Third piece of evidence?”

Wax checked another pocket, then paused, looking around the small office—his senator’s chamber in the House of Proceedings. Had he left them… “On the desk back home,” he said, smacking his head.

“I brought a spare,” Steris said, digging in her bag.

Wax grinned. “Of course you did.”

“Two, actually,” Steris said, handing over a sheet of paper, which he tucked away. Then she consulted her list again.

Little Maxillium stepped up beside his mother, looking very serious as he scanned his own list of scribbles. At five years old he knew his letters, but preferred to make up his own.

“Dog picture,” Max said, as if reading from his list.

“I might need one of those,” Wax said. “Quite useful.”

Max solemnly presented it, then said, “Cat picture.”

“Need one of those too.”

“I’m bad at cats,” Max said, handing him another sheet. “So it looks like a squirrel.”

Wax hugged his son, then put the sheets away reverently with the others. The boy’s sister—Tindwyl, as Steris liked traditional names—babbled in the corner, where Kath, the governess, was watching her.

Finally, Steris handed him his pistols one at a time. Long-barreled and weighty, they had been designed by Ranette to look menacing—but they had two safeties and were unloaded. It had been a while since he’d needed to shoot anyone, but he continued to make good use of his reputation as the “Lawman Senator of the Roughs.” City folk, particularly politicians, were intimidated by small arms. They preferred to kill people with more modern weapons, like poverty and despair.

“Is a kiss for my wife on that list?” Wax asked.

“Actually, no,” she said, surprised.

“A rare oversight,” he said, then gave her a lingering kiss. “You should be the one going out there today, Steris. You did more preparation than I.”

“You’re the house lord.”

“I could appoint you as a representative to speak for us.”

“Please, no,” she said. “You know how I am with people.”

“You’re good with the right people.”

“And are politicians ever right about anything?”

“I hope so,” he said, straightening his suit coat and turning toward the door. “Since I am one.”

He pushed out of his chambers and walked down to the Senate floor. Steris would watch from her seat in the observation balcony—by now, everyone knew how particular she was about getting the same one.

As Wax stepped into the vast chamber—which buzzed with activity as senators returned from the short recess—he didn’t go to his seat. Over the last few days, senators had debated the current bill, and his was the last speech in line. He had secured this spot with many promises and much trading, as he hoped it would give his arguments the advantage, give him the best chance to avert a terrible decision.

He stood to one side of the speakers’ platform and waited for everyone to sit, his thumb hooked into his gunbelt, looming. You learned to put on a good loom in the Roughs when interrogating prisoners—and he was still shocked by how many of those skills worked here.

Governor Varlance didn’t look at him. Instead the man adjusted his cravat, then checked his face powder—ghostly pale skin was fashionable these days, for some arcane reason. Then he laid out his medals on the desk, one at a time.

Rusts, I miss Aradel, Wax thought. It had been novel to have a competent governor. Like… eating hotel food and finding it wasn’t awful, or spending time with Wayne and then discovering you still had a pocket watch.

However, the governor’s job was the type that chewed up the good people but let the bad ones float blissfully along. Aradel had stepped down two years back. And it had made sense to choose a military man as the next governor, considering the tensions with the Southern Continent. Many people among the newly discovered countries there—with their airships and strange masks—were upset about how things had gone down six years ago. Specifically, that the Elendel Basin had kept the Bands of Mourning.

Right now, Elendel faced two primary problems. The first was the people on the Southern Continent, the foremost nation of which was known as the Malwish. They made constant noise about how small and weak the Basin was. Aggressive, militaristic posturing. Varlance had been a hedge against that, though Wax did question where he had earned all those medals. So far as Wax knew, the newly formed army hadn’t seen any actual engagements.

The second problem was far closer to home. It was the parts of the Basin that were outside the capital, the people in what were collectively known as the Outer Cities. For years, maybe decades, tensions had been building between the city of Elendel and everyone else.

It was bad enough to be facing threats from another continent. But to Wax, that was a more distant danger. The immediate one, the one that gave him the most stress, was the prospect of a civil war among his own people. He and Steris had been working for years to prevent that.

Varlance finally nodded to his vice governor, a Terriswoman. She had curly dark hair and a traditional robe; Wax thought he’d known her in the Village, but it could have been her sister, and he’d never come up with a good way to ask. Regardless, it looked respectable to have a Terris person on staff. Most governors appointed one to a high position in their cabinet—almost as if the Terris were another medal to display.

Adawathwyn stood up and announced to the room, “The governor recognizes the senator from House Ladrian.”

Though he’d been waiting for this, Wax took his time sauntering up onto the podium, which was lit from above by a massive electric spotlight. He made a slow rotation, inspecting the circular chamber. One side held the elected officials: senators who were voted into office to represent a guild, profession, or historical group. The other held the lords: senators who held their positions by benefit of birth.

“This bill,” Wax declared to the room, loud and firm, his voice echoing, “is a fantastically stupid idea.”

Once, earlier in his political career, talking so bluntly had earned him ire. Now he caught multiple members of the Senate smiling. They expected this from him—even appreciated it. They knew how many problems there were in the Basin and were glad someone among them was willing to call them out.

“Tensions with the Malwish are at an all-time high,” Wax said. “This is a time for the Basin to unite, not a time to drive wedges between our cities!”

“This is about uniting!” another voice called. The dockworkers’ senator, Melstrom. He was mostly a puppet for Hasting and Erikell, nobles who had consistently been a painful spike in Wax’s side. “We need a single leader for the whole Basin. Officially!”

“Agreed,” Wax said. “But how is elevating the Elendel governor—a position no one outside the city can vote on—going to unite people?”

“It will give them someone to look toward. A strong, capable leader.”

And that, Wax thought, glancing at Varlance, is a capable leader? Were lucky he pays attention in these meetings rather than going over his publicity schedule. Varlance had, so far in the first two years of his tenure, rededicated seventeen parks in the city. He liked the flowers.

Wax kept to the plan, getting out his medallion and flipping it into the air. “Six years ago,” he said, “I had a little adventure. You all know about it. Finding a wrecked Malwish airship, and thwarting a plot by the Outer Cities to use its secrets against Elendel. I stopped that. I brought the Bands of Mourning back to be stored safely.”

“And almost started a war,” someone muttered in the reaches of the room.

“You’d prefer I let the plot go forward?” Wax called back. When no response came, he flipped the medallion up and caught it again. It was one of the weight-affecting medallions the Malwish used to make their ships light enough to fly. “I dare anyone in this room to question my loyalty to Elendel. We can have a nice little duel. I’ll even let you shoot first.”

Silence. He’d earned that. A lot of the people in this room didn’t like him, but they did respect him. And they knew he wasn’t an agent for the Outer Cities.

He flipped the medallion and then Pushed it higher, all the way up toward the ceiling high above. It came streaking down again, glimmering in the light. As he snatched it, he glanced at Admiral Jonnes, current ambassador from the Malwish nation. She sat in a special place on the Senate floor, where visiting mayors from Outer Cities were given seats. None had come to this proceeding. A visible sign of their anger.

This bill, if approved, would elevate the Elendel governor above all Outer Cities mayors—allowing him or her to intervene in local disputes. To the point of removing a mayor and calling a special election, approving candidates. While Wax agreed that a central ruler would be an important step for uniting the Basin, this bill was an outright insult to all of their people living outside the capital.

“I know our position,” Wax said, turning the medallion over in his fingers, “better than anyone. You want to make a show of force to the Malwish. Prove that we can make our own cities bend to our rules. So you introduce this bill.

“But this underlines why everyone outside Elendel is so frustrated with us! The revolutionaries in the other cities wouldn’t have gotten so far without the support of their people. If the average person living outside Elendel weren’t so damned angry about our trade policies and general arrogance, we wouldn’t be in this position.

“This bill isn’t going to placate them! It’s not a ‘show of force.’ It’s specifically designed to outrage the people. If we pass this law, we’re demanding civil war.”

He let that sink in. The others were so determined to appear strong to external enemies. But if left unchecked, they’d strong-arm themselves right into war over internal disputes. The Malwish problems were real, but not as immediate. Civil war, though, would be devastating.

The worst part was, someone was pushing for it in secret. Wax was certain the Set was again interfering in Elendel politics. His… sister was involved. He wasn’t certain why they wanted a civil war, but they’d been trying for years now. And if he let this proceed, playing into the hands of their real enemies, both the elite around him now and the revolutionaries in the cities outside would have cause to mourn.

Wax pulled out the stack of papers in his left pocket. He tucked the dog and cat pictures at the back, then held the rest up to the room. “I have sixty letters from politicians in the Outer Cities here. They represent a large faction who don’t want conflict. These are reasonable people. They are willing—eager—to work with Elendel. But they are also frightened about what their people will do if we continue to impose tyrannical, imperial policies on them.

“I propose that we vote down this bill and work on something better. Something that actually promotes peace and unity. A national assembly, with representation for each Outer City—and an elected supreme official elevated by that body.”

He’d expected boos, and he got a few. But most of the chamber fell silent, watching him hold those letters aloft. They were afraid of letting power leave the capital. Afraid that Outer Cities politics would change their culture. They were cowards.

Maybe he was too, because the idea of the Set pulling strings terrified him. Who among those looking at him now were secretly their agents? Rusts, he didn’t even understand their motives. They wanted war—as a way to gain power, certainly. But there was more.

They followed orders from something known as Trell.

Wax turned around slowly, still holding the letters, and felt a little spike of alarm as he turned his back on Melstrom. He’s going to shoot, Wax thought.

“With all due respect, Lord Ladrian,” Melstrom said. “You are a new parent, and obviously don’t understand how to raise a child. You don’t give in to their demands; you hold firm, knowing that your decisions are best for them. They will eventually see reason. As a father is to a son, Elendel is to the Outer Cities.”

Right in the back, Wax thought, turning around.

He didn’t respond immediately. You wanted to aim return fire carefully. He’d made these arguments before—mostly in private—to many of the senators in this room. He was making headway, but he needed more time. With these letters, he could return to each senator, the ones on the fence, and share the words. The ideas. Persuade.

His gut said that if the vote happened today, the bill would pass. So, he hadn’t come here to repeat his arguments. He’d come with a bullet loaded in the chamber, ready to fire.

He folded up the letters and tucked them snugly into his pocket. Then he took the smaller stack—two sheets—from his other pocket. The ones that Steris had brought spares of in case he forgot. She’d probably made copies of the other stack too. And seven other things she knew he wouldn’t need—but it made her feel better to have them in her bag just in case. Rusts, that woman was delightful.

Wax held up the sheets and made a show of getting just the right light to read. “ ‘Dear Melstrom,’ ” he read out loud, “ ‘we are pleased by your willingness to see reason and continue to enforce Elendel trade superiority in the Basin. This is a wise choice. We will deliver half a percent of our shipping revenues for the next three years in exchange for your personal support of this bill. From Houses Hasting and Erikell.’ ”

The room erupted into chaos. Wax settled in, hooking his finger into his gunbelt, waiting for the cries of outrage to run their course. He met Melstrom’s eyes as the man sank back into his seat. The rusting idiot had just learned an important lesson: Don’t leave a paper trail detailing your corruption when your political opponent is a trained detective. Idiot.

As the shouts finally died down, Wax spoke again, louder this time. “I demand we hold impropriety hearings to investigate Senator Melstrom’s apparent sale of his vote in blatant violation of anti-corruption laws.”

“And by so doing,” the governor said, “delay the Elendel Supremacy Bill vote?”

“How could we vote on it,” Wax said, “if we aren’t sure the votes are being cast in good faith?”

More outrage. Wax weathered it as the governor consulted with his vice governor. She was a smart one. Anything Varlance accomplished that didn’t involve cutting a ribbon or kissing a baby was probably her doing.

As the chamber calmed, the governor looked to Wax. “I trust you have proof of this letter’s authenticity, Ladrian.”

“I have affidavits from three separate handwriting experts to prove it’s not a forgery,” Wax said. “And you’ll find my wife’s detailed account of the letter’s acquisition exhaustive and unimpugnable.”

“Then I suggest impropriety hearings follow,” the governor said. “After the vote on the Supremacy Bill.”

“But—” Wax said.

“We will,” the governor interrupted, “require Melstrom, Hasting, and Erikell to sit out the vote. Assuring that the vote is not corrupted.”

Damn.

Damn, damn, damn.

Before he could counter that, the vice governor slammed her gavel. “Votes in favor of continuing?”

Most of the hands on the Senate floor went up. For a simple vote like this, a more straw poll method would do—unless the vote turned out to be very close. It wasn’t.

The real vote, on the bill, would proceed.

“Have you any more explosions to detonate, Ladrian?” the governor said. “Or can we get on with this?”

“No more explosions, Your Honor,” Wax said with a sigh. “They were my old partner’s specialty anyway. Instead, I have a final plea to the chamber.” His maneuver had failed. Now he had one last card to play. A request not from Waxillium Ladrian.

But one from Dawnshot, the lawman.

“You all know me,” he said, turning around in a circle, meeting their eyes. “I’m a simple man from the Roughs. I don’t do politics right, but I do understand angry people and the hard lives of working women and men.

“If we’re going to take the role of parent, we should treat our children well. Give them a chance to speak for themselves. If we keep pretending they’re toddlers, they’re merely going to start ignoring us—at best. You want to send a message? Send the message that we care and are willing to listen.”

He took his seat finally, next to Yancey Yaceczko, a good-natured and patient fellow—and one of the senators who’d actually listened to Wax.

“Good show, Wax,” the man whispered, leaning in. “Good show indeed. It’s always a pleasure.”

Yancey would vote with him. In fact, a decent number of the nobles empathized with Wax. While a lot of the things Marasi had been saying recently made Wax uncomfortable about his hereditary position, in this instance the lords might turn out to be slightly less corrupt than their counterparts. The elected senators had to retain their seats, and voting for this bill was likely to improve the lives of their constituents.

That was the problem. According to the latest census, more people now lived outside the city than inside it. Most of the laws dated back to when there had been one city and a bunch of farming villages. Now that those villages had grown up into cities, their people wanted a stronger voice in Basin politics.

Elendel was no longer a scrappy settlement rebuilding after an apocalypse. They were a nation; even the Roughs were changing, growing, being modernized. Rusts, with all the land in the Roughs, he could imagine a time when more people lived there than in the Basin proper.

They needed to enfranchise those people, not ignore them. He still had hope. He and Steris and their allies had worked for months to erode support for the bill. Innumerable dinners, parties, and even—as he’d started doing for some of the city’s elite—some training on the shooting range.

All in the name of changing the world. One vote at a time.

The governor called for the vote, and Lady Mi’chelle Yomen cast the first one—against the bill. As it proceeded, Wax sat, as anxious as he’d ever been before a confrontation with a bandit group. Rusts… this was somehow worse. Each vote was the crack of a bullet. Lady Faula and Senator Vindel. How will they break? And Maraya? Was she persuaded, or…

Two of them voted for the bill, along with multiple others that he’d been uncertain about. Wax felt a sinking feeling, worse than being shot, as the vote proceeded—and eventually landed at 122 for, 118 against.

The bill passed. His stomach fell further. If Wax was going to stop a civil war, he’d need to find another way.

 

Excerpted from The Lost Metal, copyright © 2022 by Brandon Sanderson.

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