“How’s my cravat?” Waxillium asked, studying himself in the mirror, turning to the side and tugging at the silver necktie again.
“Impeccable as always, my lord,” Tillaume said. The butler stood with hands clasped behind his back, a tray with steaming tea sitting beside him on the serving stand. Waxillium hadn’t asked for tea, but Tillaume had brought it anyway. Tillaume had a thing about tea.
“Are you certain?” Waxillium asked, tugging at the cravat again.
“Indeed, my lord.” He hesitated. “I’ll admit, my lord, that I’ve been curious about this for months. You are the first high lord I’ve ever waited upon who can tie a decent cravat. I’d grown quite accustomed to providing that assistance.”
“You learn to do things on your own, when you live out in the Roughs.”
“With all due respect, my lord,” Tillaume said, his normally monotone voice betraying a hint of curiosity, “I wouldn’t have thought that one would need to learn that skill in the Roughs. I wasn’t aware that the denizens of those lands had the slightest concern for matters of fashion and decorum.”
“They don’t,” Waxillium said with a smile, giving one final adjustment to the cravat.
“That’s part of why I always did. Dressing like a city gentleman had an odd effect on the people out there. Some immediately respected me, others immediately underestimated me. It worked for me in both cases. And, I might add, it was unspeakably satisfying to see the looks on the faces of criminals when they were hauled in by someone they had assumed to be a city dandy.”
“I can imagine, my lord.”
“I did it for myself too,” Waxillium said more softly, regarding himself in the mirror. Silver cravat, green satin vest. Emerald cuff links. Black coat and trousers, stiff through the sleeves and legs. One steel button on his vest among the wooden ones, an old tradition of his. “The clothing was a reminder, Tillaume. The land around me may have been wild, but I didn’t need to be.”
Waxillium took a silver pocket square off his dressing stand, deftly folded it in the proper style, and slipped it into his breast pocket. A sudden chiming rang through the mansion.
“Rust and Ruin,” Waxillium cursed, checking his pocket watch.
“Lord Harms is known for his punctuality, my lord.”
“Wonderful. Well, let’s get this over with.” Waxillium strode out into the hallway, boots gliding on the green velvet- cut rug. The mansion had changed little during his two- decade absence. Even after six months of living here, it still didn’t feel like it was his. The faint smell of his uncle’s pipe smoke still lingered, and the decor was marked by a fondness for deep dark woods and heavy stone sculpture. Despite modern tastes, there were almost no portraits or paintings. As Waxillium knew, many of those had been valuable, and had been sold before his uncle’s death.
Tillaume walked alongside him, hands clasped behind his back.
“My lord sounds as though he considers this day’s duty to be a chore.”
“Is it that obvious?” Waxillium grimaced. What did it say about him that he’d rather face down a nest of outlaws— outgunned and outmanned— than meet with Lord Harms and his daughter?
A plump, matronly woman waited at the end of the hallway, wearing a black dress and a white apron. “Oh, Lord Ladrian,” she said with fondness. “Your mother would be so pleased to see this day!”
“Nothing has been decided yet, Miss Grimes,” Waxillium said as the woman joined the two of them, walking along the balustrade of the second- floor gallery.
“She did so hope that you’d marry a fi ne lady someday,” Miss Grimes said. “You should have heard how she worried, all those years.”
Waxillium tried to ignore the way those words twisted at his heart. He hadn’t heard how his mother worried. He’d hardly ever taken time to write his parents or his sister, and had only visited that one time, just after the railway reached Weathering.
Well, he was making good on his obligations now. Six months of work, and he was fi nally getting his feet under him and pulling House Ladrian— along with its many forgeworkers and seamstresses— from the brink of financial collapse. The last step came today.
Waxillium reached the top of the staircase, then hesitated. “No,” he said, “I mustn’t rush in. Need to give them time to make themselves comfortable.”
“That is—” Tillaume began, but Waxillium cut him off by turning the other way and marching back along the balustrade.
“Miss Grimes,” Waxillium said, “are there other matters that will need my attention today?”
“You wish to hear of them now?” she asked, frowning as she bustled to keep up.
“Anything to keep my mind occupied, dear woman,” Waxillium said. Rust and Ruin . . . he was so nervous that he caught himself reaching inside his jacket to finger the grip of his Immerling 44-S.
It was a fine weapon; not as good as one of Ranette’s make, but a proper, and small, sidearm for a gentleman. He’d decided he would be a lord, and not a lawman, but that didn’t mean he was going to go about unarmed. That . . . well, that would just be plain insane.
“There is one matter,” Miss Grimes said, grimacing. She was the Ladrian house steward, and had been for the last twenty years. “We lost another shipment of steel last night.
Waxillium froze on the walkway. “What? Again!”
“Unfortunately, my lord.”
“Damn it. I’m starting to think the thieves are targeting only us.”
“It’s only our second shipment,” she said. “HouseTekiel has lost five shipments so far.”
“What are the details?” he asked. “The disappearance. Where did it happen?”
“No, don’t tell me,” he said, raising a hand. “I can’t afford to be distracted.”
Miss Grimes gave him a flat look, since that was probably why she’d avoided telling him about it before his meeting with Lord Harms. Waxillium rested a hand on the railing, and felt his left eye twitch. Someone was out there, running an organized, highly efficient operation stealing the contents of entire railcars. They were being called the Vanishers. Perhaps he could poke around a little and . . .
No, he told himself sternly. It is not my duty. Not anymore. He would go to the proper authorities, perhaps hire some guards or personal investigators. He would not go chasing bandits himself.
“I’m sure the constables will find those responsible and bring them to justice,” Waxillium said with some difficulty. “Do you think that’s long enough to make Lord Harms wait? I think that’s long enough. It hasn’t been too long, has it?” Waxillium turned and walked
back the way he’d come. Tillaume rolled his eyes as he passed.
Waxillium reached the stairs. A young man in a green Ladrian vest and a white shirt was climbing them. “Lord Ladrian!” Kip said.
“Post has arrived.”
“No, my lord,” the boy said, handing over a signet- sealed letter as Waxillium passed. “Only this. Looked important.”
“An invitation to the Yomen-Ostlin wedding dinner,” Miss Grimes guessed. “Might be a good place to have your first public appearance with Miss Harms.”
“The details haven’t been decided!” Waxillium protested as they stopped at the bottom of the staircase. “I’ve barely broached the topic with Lord Harms, yet you practically have us married. It’s entirely possible that they will upend this entire matter, like what happened with Lady Entrone.”
“It will go well, young master,” Miss Grimes said. She reached up, adjusting the silk square in his pocket. “I’ve got a Soother’s sense for these matters.”
“You do realize I’m forty- two years old? ‘Young master’ doesn’t exactly fit any longer.”
She patted his cheek. Miss Grimes considered any unmarried man to be a child— which was terribly unfair, considering that she had never married. He refrained from speaking to her about Lessie; most of his family back in the city hadn’t known about her.
“Right, then,” Waxillium said, turning and striding toward the sitting room. “Into the maw of the beast I go.”
Limmi, head of the ground- floor staff, waited by the doorway. She raised her hand as Waxillium approached, as if to speak, but he slid the dinner- party invitation between two of her fingers.
“Have an affirmative response drafted to this, if you would, Limmi,” he said. “Indicate I’ll be dining with Miss Harms and her father, but hold the letter until I’m done with my conference here. I’ll let you know whether to send it or not.”
“Yes, my lord, but—”
“It’s all right,” he said, pushing the door open. “I mustn’t keep the . . .”
Lord Harms and his daughter were not in the sitting room. Instead, Waxillium found a lanky man with a round, sharp- chinned face. He was about thirty years of age, and had a few days of stubble on the chin and cheeks. He wore a wide- brimmed Roughs- style hat, the sides curving up slightly, and had on a leather duster. He was playing with one of the palm- sized upright clocks on the mantel.
“’Ello Wax,” the man said brightly. He held up the clock. “Can I trade you for this?”
Waxillium swiftly pulled the door shut behind him. “Wayne? What are you doing here?”
“Looking at your stuff, mate,” Wayne said. He held up the clock appraisingly. “Worth what, three or four bars? I’ve got a bottle of good whiskey that might be worth the same.”
“You have to get out of here!” Waxillium said. “You’re supposed to be in Weathering. Who’s watching the place?”
“Barl! He’s a miscreant.”
“So am I.”
“Yes, but you’re the miscreant I chose to do the job. You could have at least sent for Miles.”
“Miles?” Wayne said. “Mate, Miles is a right horrible human being. He’d rather shoot a man than bother actually finding out if the bloke was guilty or not.”
“Miles keeps his town clean,” Waxillium said. “And he’s saved my life a couple of times. This is beside the point. I told you to watch over Weathering.”
Wayne tipped his hat to Waxillium. “True, Wax, but you ain’t a lawkeeper no longer. And me, I’ve got important stuff to be about.” He looked at the clock, then pocketed it and set a small bottle of whiskey on the mantel in its place. “Now, sir, I’ll need to be asking you a few questions.” He pulled a small note pad and pencil from inside his duster. “Where were you last night at around midnight?”
“What does that—”
Waxillium was interrupted by chimes sounding at the door again.
“Rust and Ruin! These are high- class people, Wayne. I’ve spent months persuading them that I’m not a ruffian. I need you out of here.” Waxillium walked forward, trying to usher his friend toward the far exit.
“Now, that’s right suspicious behavior, innit?” Wayne said, scrawling something on his note pad. “Dodging questions, acting all anxious. What are you hiding, sir?”
“Wayne,” Waxillium said, grabbing the other man’s arm. “Part of me is appreciative that you’d come all this way to aggravate me, and I am glad to see you. But now is not the time.”
Wayne grinned. “You assume I’m here for you. Don’t you think that’s a pinch arrogant?”
“What else would you be here for?”
“Shipment of foodstuffs,” Wayne said. “Railway car left Elendel four days ago and arrived in Weathering with the entire contents of a single car empty. Now, I hear that you recently lost two shipments of your own to these ‘Vanishers.’ I’ve come to question you.
Right suspicious, as I said.”
“Suspicious . . . Wayne, I lost two shipments. I’m the one who got robbed! Why would that make me a suspect?”
“How am I to know how your devious, criminal genius mind works, mate?”
Footsteps sounded outside the room. Waxillium glanced at the door, then back at Wayne. “Right now, my criminal genius mind is wondering if I can stuff your corpse anywhere that wouldn’t be too obvious.”
Wayne grinned, stepping back.
The door opened.
Waxillium spun, looking as Limmi sheepishly held the door open. A corpulent man in a very fine suit stood there, holding a dark wooden cane. He had mustaches that drooped all the way down to his thick neck, and his waistcoat framed a deep red cravat.
“. . . saying it doesn’t matter whom he’s seeing!” Lord Harms said. “He’ll want to speak with me! We had an appointment, and . . .”
Lord Harms paused, realizing the door was open. “Ah!” He strode into the room.
He was followed by a stern- looking woman with golden hair fixed into a tight bun— his daughter, Steris— and a younger woman who Waxillium didn’t recognize.
“Lord Ladrian,” Harms said, “I find it very unbefitting to be made to wait. And who is this that you’re meeting with in my stead?”
Waxillium sighed. “It’s my old—”
“Uncle!” Wayne said, stepping forward, voice altered to sound gruff and lose all of its rural accent. “I’m his uncle Maksil. Popped in unexpectedly this morning, my dear man.”
Waxillium raised an eyebrow as Wayne stepped forward. He’d removed his hat and duster, and had plastered his upper lip with a realistic-looking fake mustache with a bit of gray in it. He was scrunching his face up just slightly to produce a few extra wrinkles at the eyes. It was a good disguise, making him look like he might be a few years older than Waxillium, rather than ten years younger.
Waxillium glanced over his shoulder. The duster sat folded on the floor beside one of the couches, hat atop it, a pair of dueling canes lying crossed beside the pile. Waxillium hadn’t even noticed the swap— of course, Wayne had naturally done it while inside a speed bubble. Wayne was a Slider, a bendalloy Allomancer, capable of creating a bubble of compressed time around himself. He often used the power to change costumes.
He was also Twinborn, like Waxillium, though his Feruchemi- cal ability— healing quickly from wounds— wasn’t so useful outside of combat. Still, the two made for a very potent combination.
“Uncle, you say?” Lord Harms asked, taking Wayne’s hand and shaking it.
“On the mother’s side!” Wayne said. “Not the Ladrian side, of course. Otherwise I’d be running this place, eh?” He sounded nothing like himself, but that was Wayne’s specialty. He said that three- quarters of a disguise was in the accent and voice. “I’ve wanted for a long time to come check up on the lad. He’s had something of a rough- and- tumble past, you know. He needs a firm hand to make certain he doesn’t return to such unpleasant
“I’ve often thought the very same thing!” Lord Harms said. “I assume we’re given leave to sit, Lord Ladrian?”
“Yes, of course,” Waxillium said, covertly glaring at Wayne. Really? that glare said. We’re doing this?
Wayne just shrugged. Then he turned and took Steris’s hand and bowed his head politely. “And who is this lovely creature?”
“My daughter, Steris.” Harms sat. “Lord Ladrian? You didn’t tell your uncle of our arrival?”
“I was so surprised by his appearance,” Waxillium said, “that I did not have an opportunity.” He took Steris’s hand and bowed his head to her as well.
She looked him up and down with a critical gaze, and then her eyes flicked toward the duster and hat in the corner. Her lips turned down. Doubtless she assumed they were his.
“This is my cousin Marasi,” Steris said, nodding to the woman behind her. Marasi was dark-haired and large-eyed, with bright red lips. She looked down demurely as soon as Waxillium turned to her.
“She has spent most of her life in the Outer Estates and is rather timid, so please don’t upset her.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Waxillium said. He waited until the women were seated beside Lord Harms, then sat on the smaller sofa facing them, and facing the doorway. There was another exit from the room, but he’d discovered that there was a squeaky floorboard leading to it, which was ideal. This way, someone couldn’t sneak up on him. Lawman or lord, he didn’t fancy getting shot in the back.
Wayne primly settled himself in a chair directly to Waxillium’s right. They all stared at one another for an extended moment. Wayne yawned.
“Well,” Waxillium said. “Perhaps I should begin by asking after your health.”
“Perhaps you should,” Steris replied.
“Er. Yes. How’s your health?”
“So is Waxillium,” Wayne added.
They all turned to him.
“You know,” he said. “He’s wearing a suit, and all. Suitable. Ahem. Is that mahogany?”
“This?” Lord Harms said, holding up his cane. “Indeed. It’s a family heirloom.”
“My lord Waxillium,” Steris cut in, voice stern. She did not seem to enjoy small talk. “Perhaps we can dispense with empty prattle. We all know the nature of this meeting.”
“We do?” Wayne asked.
“Yes,” Steris said, voice cool. “Lord Waxillium. You are in the position of having an unfortunate reputation. Your uncle, may he rest with the Hero, tarnished the Ladrian name with his social reclusiveness, occasional reckless forays into politics, and blatant adventurism. You have come from the Roughs, lending no small additional measure of poor reputation to the house, particularly considering your insulting actions to various houses during your first few weeks in town. Above all this, your house is nearly destitute.
“We, however, are in a desperate circumstance of our own. Our financial status is excellent, but our name is unknown in the highest of society. My father has no male heir upon which to bestow his family name, and so a union between our houses makes perfect sense.”
“How very logical of you, my dear,” Wayne said, the upper- class accent rolling off his tongue as if he’d been born with it.
“Indeed,” she said, still watching Waxillium. She reached into her satchel. “Your letters and conversations with my father have been enough to persuade us of your serious intent, and during these last few months in the city your public comportment has proven more promisingly sober than your initial boorishness. So I have taken the liberty of drawing up an agreement that I think will suit our needs.”
“An . . . agreement?” Waxillium asked.
“Oh, I’m so eager to see it,” Wayne added. He reached into his pocket absently and got out something that Waxillium couldn’t quite discern.
The “agreement” turned out to be a large document, at least twenty pages long. Steris handed one copy to Waxillium and one to her father, and retained another for herself.
Lord Harms coughed into his hand. “I suggested she write down her thoughts,” he said. “And . . . well, my daughter is a very thorough woman.”
“I can see that,” Waxillium said.
“I suggest that you never ask her to pass the milk,” Wayne added under his breath, so only Waxillium could hear. “As she seems likely to throw a cow at you, just to be certain the job is done thoroughly.”
“The document is in several parts,” Steris said. “The first is an outline of our courtship phase, wherein we make obvious— but not too speedy— progress toward engagement. We take just long enough for society to begin associating us as a couple. The engagement mustn’t be so quick as to seem a scandal, but cannot come too slowly either. Eight months should, by my estimates, fulfill our purposes.”
“I see,” Waxillium said, flipping through the pages. Tillaume entered, bringing a tray of tea and cakes, and deposited it on a serving table beside Wayne.
Waxillium shook his head, closing the contract. “Doesn’t this seem a little . . . stiff to you?”
“I mean, shouldn’t there be room for romance?”
“There is,” Steris said. “Page thirteen. Upon marriage, there shall be no more than three conjugal encounters per week and no fewer than one until a suitable heir is provided. After that, the same numbers apply to a two- week span.”
“Ah, of course,” Waxillium said. “Page thirteen.” He glanced at Wayne. Was that a bullet the other man had taken from his pocket?
Wayne was rolling it between his fingers.
“If that is not enough to satisfy your needs,” Steris added, “the next page details proper mistress protocols.”
“Wait,” Waxillium said, looking away from Wayne. “Your document allows mistresses?”
“Of course,” Steris said. “They are a simple fact of life, and so it’s better to account for them than to ignore them. In the document, you will find requirements for your potential mistresses along with the means by which discretion will be maintained.”
“I see,” Waxillium said.
“Of course,” Steris continued, “I will follow the same guidelines.”
“You plan to take a mistress, my lady?” Wayne asked, perking up.
“I would be allowed my own dalliances,” she said. “Usually the coachman is the object of choice. I would abstain until heirs were produced, of course. There mustn’t be any confusion about lineage.”
“Of course,” Waxillium said.
“It’s in the contract,” she said. “Page fifteen.”
“I don’t doubt that it is.”
Lord Harms coughed into his hand again. Marasi, Steris’s cousin, maintained a blank expression, though she looked down at her feet during the conversation. Why had she been brought?
“Daughter,” Lord Harms said, “perhaps we should move the conversation to less personal topics for a span.”
“Very well,” Steris said. “There are a few things I wanted to know. Are you a religious man, Lord Ladrian?”
“I follow the Path,” Waxillium said.
“Hmmm,” she said, tapping her fingers against her contract. “Well, that’s a safe choice, if somewhat dull. I, for one, have never understood why people would follow a religion whose god specifically prohibits worshipping him.”
“So Pathians like to say. With the same breath as you try to explain how simple your religion is.”
“That’s complicated too,” Waxillium said. “A simple kind of complicated, though. You’re a Survivorist, I assume?”
Delightful, Waxillium thought. Well, Survivorists weren’t too bad. Some of them, at least. He stood up. Wayne was still playing with that round. “Would anyone else like some tea?”
“No,” Steris said with a wave of her hand, looking through her document.
“Yes, please,” Marasi said softly.
Waxillium crossed the room to the tea stand.
“Those are very nice bookshelves,” Wayne said. “Wish I had shelves like those. My, my, my. And . . . we’re in.”
Waxillium turned. The three guests had glanced at the shelves, and as they turned away, Wayne had started burning bendalloy and thrown up a speed bubble.
The bubble was about five feet across, including only Wayne and Waxillium, and once Wayne had it up he couldn’t move it. Years of familiarity let Waxillium discern the boundary of the bubble, which was marked by a faint wavering of the air. For those inside the bubble, time would flow much more quickly than for those outside.
“Well?” Waxillium asked.
“Oh, I think the quiet one’s kinda cute,” Wayne said, his accent back in place. “The tall one is insane, though. Rust on my arms, but she is.”
Waxillium poured himself some tea. Harms and the two women looked frozen as they sat on their couch, almost like statues. Wayne was fl ring his metal, using as much strength as he could to create a few private moments.
These bubbles could be very useful, though not in the way most people expected. You couldn’t shoot out of them— well, you could, but something about the barrier interfered with objects passing through it. If you fired a shot in a speed bubble, the bullet would slow as soon as it hit ordinary time and would be moved erratically off course. That made it nearly impossible to aim from within one.
“She’s a very good match,” Waxillium said. “It’s an ideal situation for both of us.”
“Look, mate. Just because Lessie—”
“This is not about Lessie.”
“Whoa, hey.” Wayne raised a hand. “No need to get angry.”
“I’m not—” Waxillium took a deep breath, then continued more softly. “I’m not angry. But it’s not about Lessie. This is about my duties.”
Damn you, Wayne. I’d almost gotten myself to stop thinking about her. What would Lessie say, if she saw what he was doing? Laugh, probably. Laugh at how ridiculous it was, laugh at his discomfort.
She hadn’t been the jealous type, perhaps because she’d never had any reason to be. With a woman like her, why would Waxillium have wanted to look elsewhere?
Nobody would ever live up to her, but fortunately it didn’t matter. Steris’s contract actually seemed a good thing, in that regard. It would help him divide himself. Maybe help with a little of the pain.
“This is my duty now,” Waxillium repeated.
“Your duties used to involve saving folks,” Wayne said, “not marrying ’em.”
Waxillium crouched down beside the chair. “Wayne. I can’t go back to what I was. You sauntering in here, meddling in my life, isn’t going to change that. I’m a different person now.”
“If you were going to become a different person, couldn’t you have chosen one without such an ugly face?”
“Wayne, this is serious.”
Wayne raised his hand, spinning the cartridge between his fingers and proffering it. “So is this.”
“What is that?”
“Bullet. You shoot folks with ’em. Hopefully bad ones— or at least
ones what owes you a bar or two.”
“They’re turning back.” Wayne set the cartridge on the tea- serving tray.
“Time to cough. Three. Two. One.”
Waxillium cursed under his breath, but pocketed the round and stood back up. He started coughing loudly as the speed bubble collapsed, restoring normal time. To the three visitors, only seconds had passed, and to their ears Waxillium and Wayne’s conversation would be sped up to the point that most of it would be inaudible. The coughing would cover anything else.
None of the three visitors seemed to have noticed anything unusual. Waxillium poured the tea— it was a deep cherry color today, likely a sweet fruit tea— and brought a cup over to Marasi. She took it, and he sat down, holding his own cup in one hand, taking out and gripping the cartridge with the other. Both the casing and the medium-caliber bullet’s jacket looked like steel, but the entire thing seemed too light. He frowned, hefting it.
Blood on her face. Blood on the brick wall.
He shivered, fighting off those memories. Damn you, Wayne, he thought again.
“The tea is delicious,” Marasi said softly. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Waxillium said, forcing his mind back to the conversation. “Lady Steris, I will consider this contract. Thank you for producing it. But really, I was hoping this meeting might allow me to learn more about you.”
“I have been working on an autobiography,” she said. “Perhaps I will send you a chapter or two of it by post.”
“That’s . . . very unconventional of you,” Waxillium said. “Though it would be appreciated. But please, tell me of yourself. What are your interests?”
“Normally, I like plays.” She grimaced. “At the Coolerim, actually.”
“Am I missing something?” Waxillium asked.
“The Coolerim Play house,” Wayne said, leaning forward. “Two nights ago, it was robbed in the middle of the per formance.”
“Haven’t you heard?” Lord Harms asked. “It was in all the broadsheets.”
“Was anyone harmed?”
“Not at the event itself,” Lord Harms said, “but they did take a hostage as they escaped.”
“Such a horrid thing,” Steris said. “Nobody has heard from Armal yet.” She looked sick.
“You knew her?” Wayne asked, his accent slipping faintly as he grew interested.
“Cousin,” Steris said.
“Same as . . .” Waxillium asked, nodding toward Marasi.
The three regarded him with confused expressions for a moment, but then Lord Harms jumped in. “Ah, no. Different side of the family.”
“Interesting,” Waxillium said, leaning back in his chair, tea sitting ignored in his hand. “And ambitious. Robbing an entire playhouse? How many of the robbers were there?”
“Dozens,” Marasi said. “Maybe as many as thirty, so the reports say.”
“Quite a band. That means as many as another eight just to drive them away. And vehicles for escaping. Impressive.”
“It’s the Vanishers,” Marasi said. “The ones stealing from the railway also.”
“That hasn’t been proven,” Wayne replied, pointing at her.
“No. But one of the witnesses from a railway robbery described several men who were at the theater robbery.”
“Wait,” Waxillium said. “There were witnesses to one of the railway robberies? I thought they happened in secret. Something about a ghostly railcar appearing on the tracks?”
“Yes,” Wayne said. “The railway engineers stop to investigate and— probably—panic. But the phantom railcar vanishes before they can investigate it. They continue on, but when they reach the end of the line, one of their train’s cars is empty. Still locked, no signs of forced entry. But the goods are all gone.”
“So nobody sees the culprits,” Waxillium said.
“The recent ones have been different,” Marasi said, growing animated. “They’ve started robbing passenger cars as well. When the train stops because of the phantom on the tracks, men jump into the cars and start going through, collecting jewelry and pocketbooks from the occupants. They take a woman hostage— threatening to kill her if anyone follows— and go. The freight car is still robbed as well.”
“Curious,” Waxillium said.
“Yes,” Marasi said. “I think—”
“My dear,” Lord Harms cut in. “You are bothering Lord Ladrian.”
Marasi blushed, then looked down.
“It wasn’t a bother,” Waxillium said, tapping his teacup with his finger. “It—”
“Is that a bullet in your fingers?” Steris asked, pointing.
Waxillium looked down, realizing that he was rolling the cartridge between forefinger and thumb. He closed his fist around it before his memories could return. “It’s nothing.” He shot a glare at Wayne.
The other man mouthed something. Push on it.
“You are quite certain your unconventional past is behind you, Lord Ladrian?” Steris asked.
“Oh, he’s certain,” Wayne said, grimacing. “You don’t have to worry about him being unconventional. Why, he’s downright boring! Unbelievably, comically, nonsensically boring. You could squeeze more excitement out of a beggar waiting in line at the soup kitchen on rat meat day. It—”
“Thank you, Uncle,” Waxillium said dryly. “Yes, Steris, my past is just that. Past. I am committed to my duties as head of House Ladrian.”
“Very well,” she said. “We will need a formal entrance into high society as a couple. A public event of some sort.”
“How about the Yomen-Ostlin wedding dinner?” Waxillium said absently. Push on it. “I received an invitation just this morning.”
“An excellent idea,” Lord Harms said. “We were invited as well.”
Push on it. Waxillium reached into his left sleeve and covertly took a small pinch of steel shavings from the pouch he kept there. He dropped it into his tea and took a drink. That didn’t give him much of a reserve, but it was enough.
He burned the steel, the familiar lines of blue springing up around him. They pointed to all nearby sources of metal.
Except the one in his fingers.
Aluminum, he realized. No wonder it’s light.
Aluminum and a few of its alloys were Allomantically inert; you couldn’t Push or Pull on them. It was also very expensive. It cost more than even gold or platinum.
The bullet was designed to kill Coinshots and Lurchers, men like Waxillium himself. That gave him a shiver, though he gripped the round more tightly. There were days when he’d have given his best gun for a few aluminum bullets, though he hadn’t heard of an alloy that would produce a bullet with sound ballistics.
Where? he mouthed to Wayne. Where did you find it?
Wayne just nodded to the guests, who were looking right at Waxillium.
“Are you quite all right, Lord Ladrian?” Steris asked. “I know a good zinc counselor if you have need of some emotional aid.”
“Er . . . no. Thank you. I am quite all right, and I think this has been a very productive meeting. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“That depends,” she said, rising, apparently taking that as an invitation to end the conversation. “The wedding party is on the morrow, I believe. I can count on you having reviewed the contract by then?”
“You can,” Waxillium said, rising as well.
“I think this meeting was wonderful,” Wayne said as he stood.
“You’re just what my nephew needs, Lady Steris! A firm hand. None of this rabble- rousing he’s been used to.”
“I agree!” Lord Harms said. “Lord Ladrian, perhaps your uncle can attend the dinner—”
“No,” Waxillium said quickly before Wayne could say anything.
“No, unfortunately, he has to return to his estates. Told me just earlier. He has a very important foaling to attend.”
“Oh, well then,” Lord Harms said, helping Marasi to her feet.
“We will send you word of confirmation once we have accepted the Yomen invitation.”
“And I will do likewise,” Waxillium said, escorting them to the door of the room. “Farewell until then.” Tillaume bowed to them there, then escorted them out. Their departure felt rushed to Waxillium, but he was relieved to see them go. Considering Wayne’s sudden intrusion, that had actually gone pretty well. Nobody had ended up trying to shoot him.
“Nice bunch,” Wayne said. “I now see what you’re doing. With a wife and in-laws like those, you’ll feel quite at home here— just like the jail house and its occupants back in Weathering!”
“Very nice,” Waxillium said under his breath, waving one last time as the Harms family walked out the mansion doors. “Where did you get the bullet?”
“It was dropped at the theater robbery. Traded the constables for it this morning.”
Waxillium closed his eyes. Wayne had a very liberal interpretation of what “trading” entailed.
“Oh, don’t get that way,” Wayne said. “I left them a nice cobble- stone for it. I think Steris and her pop are convinced you’re a loon, by the way.” He grinned.
“That’s nothing new. My association with you has been convincing people I’m insane for years now.”
“Ha! And here I thought you’d lost your sense of humor.” Wayne walked back into the room. He slid his pencil out of his pocket as he passed a table, trading it for one of Waxillium’s pens.
“My humor isn’t lost, Wayne,” Waxillium said, “just strained. What I told you is true, and this bullet doesn’t change anything.”
“Maybe it doesn’t,” Wayne said, retrieving his hat, duster, and dueling canes. “But I’m still gonna see what I can find.”
“It’s not your job.”
“And it wasn’t your job to start hunting down criminals out in the Roughs. Doesn’t change what needs to be done, mate.” Wayne walked up to Waxillium, then handed him the hat. Once Waxil- lium took it, Wayne threw on his coat.
“Wayne . . .”
“People are being taken, Wax,” he said, taking back his hat and putting it on. “Four hostages so far. None returned. Stealing jewelry is one thing. Taking food from Roughs towns is another. Kidnapping people . . . well, there’s something goin’ on here. I’m gonna find out what it is. With or without you.”
“Fine.” He hesitated. “But I need something, Wax. A place to look. You always did the thinking.”
“Yes, having a brain helps with that, surprisingly.”
Wayne narrowed his eyes at him. Then he raised his eyebrows, pleadingly.
“All right,” Waxillium said, sighing and fetching his teacup.
“How many robberies now?”
“Eight. Seven railway cars and, most recently, the theater.”
“Yeah. Across three of the latest robberies. Two were taken from one of the trains, then one from the robbery at the theater. All four hostages are women.”
“Easier to overpower,” Waxillium said idly, tapping his cup, “and more likely to make the men worry about getting them killed if they try to give chase.”
“Do you need to know what was stolen?” Wayne said, reaching into the pocket of his duster. “I traded one of the constables for a list. . . .”
“It doesn’t matter.” Waxillium took a drink from his cup. “Or, at least, most of it probably doesn’t. It’s not about the robberies.”
“It’s . . . not?”
“No. Large gang. Well funded— too well funded.” He pulled out the round and looked it over. “If they really wanted money, they’d be robbing gold transports or banks. The robberies are probably a distraction. If you want a man’s horses, sometimes the best thing to do is let his hogs loose. While he’s chasing them down, you ride off.
“I’d lay money on these Vanishers being after something else, something unlikely. Perhaps an item that is easy to overlook in all that has been taken. Or maybe it’s really about extortion— and they plan to start asking for protection money from people in town.
See if anyone’s been contacted about that. I haven’t, by the way.
“If that goes nowhere, look at the hostages. One of them might have been carrying something that was the real target of the robbery. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be about clandestine blackmail.”
“But they robbed a few trains before taking any hostages.”
“Yes,” Waxillium said. “And they got away with it. There was no reason to expose themselves by robbing passengers if they could make off with cargo unseen and unstopped. They’re after something else, Wayne. Trust me.”
“All right.” The wiry man rubbed his face, then finally pulled off the fake mustache. He stuffed it into his pocket. “But tell me. Don’t you even want to know? Doesn’t it itch at you?”
“No.” That wasn’t completely true. Wayne snorted. “I’d believe you if you could say that without your eye twitching, mate.” He nodded toward the bullet. “I notice you didn’t offer to give that back.”
“I didn’t.” Waxillium pocketed it.
“And you still wear your metalminds,” Wayne said, nodding to the bracers hidden mostly by the cuffs of Waxillium’s sleeves. “Not to mention that you’re still keeping steel inside your sleeve. I noticed a gun catalogue over on the table, too.”
“A man must have hobbies.”
“If you say so,” Wayne said, then stepped forward, tapping Waxillium on the chest. “But you know what I think? I think you’re looking for excuses to not let go. This thing, it’s who you are. And no mansion, no marriage, and no mere title is going to change that.” Wayne tipped his hat. “You’re meant to be helping people, mate. It’s what you do.”
With that, Wayne left, his duster brushing against the doorframe as he walked out.