Authors: Brandon Sanderson
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #bought-and-paid-for
Camon took a deep breath, then strode forward, his dueling cane tapping against the stones as he walked. He wore his rich nobleman’s suit, and he was accompanied by a half-dozen crewmembers—including Vin—to act as his “servants.”
Vin followed Camon up the steps, then waited as one of the crewmembers jumped forward to pull the door open for his “master.” Of the six attendants, only Vin seemed to have been told nothing of Camon’s plan. Suspiciously, Theron—Camon’s supposed partner in the Ministry scam—was nowhere to be seen.
Vin entered the Canton building. Vibrant red light, sparkled with lines of blue, fell from the rose window. A single obligator, with midlevel tattoos around his eyes, sat behind a desk at the end of the extended entryway.
Camon approached, his cane thumping against the carpet as he walked. “I am Lord Jedue,” he said.
What are you doing, Camon?
You insisted to Theron that you wouldn’t meet with Prelan Laird in his Canton office. Yet, now you’re here.
The obligator nodded, making a notation in his ledger. He waved to the side. “You may take one attendant with you into the waiting chamber. The rest must remain here.”
Camon’s huff of disdain indicated what he thought of that prohibition. The obligator, however, didn’t look up from his ledger. Camon stood for a moment, and Vin couldn’t tell if he was genuinely angry or just playing the part of an arrogant nobleman. Finally, he jabbed a finger at Vin.
“Come,” he said, turning and waddling toward the indicated door.
The room beyond was lavish and plush, and several noblemen lounged in various postures of waiting. Camon chose a chair and settled into it, then pointed toward a table set with wine and red-frosted cakes. Vin obediently fetched him a glass of wine and a plate of food, ignoring her own hunger.
Camon began to pick hungrily at the cakes, smacking quietly as he ate.
He’s nervous. More nervous, even, than before.
“Once we get in, you will say nothing,” Camon grumbled between bites.
“You’re betraying Theron,” Vin whispered.
“But, how? Why?” Theron’s plan was complex in execution, but simple in concept. Every year, the Ministry transferred its new acolyte obligators from a northern training facility south to Luthadel for final instruction. Theron had discovered, however, that those acolytes and their overseers brought down with them large amounts of Ministry funds—disguised as baggage—to be strong-holded in Luthadel.
Banditry was very difficult in the Final Empire, what with the constant patrols along canal routes. However, if one were running the very canal boats that the acolytes were sailing upon, a robbery could become possible. Arranged at just the right time…the guards turning on their passengers…a man could make quite a profit, then blame it all on banditry.
“Theron’s crew is weak,” Camon said quietly. “He expended too many resources on this job.”
“But, the return he’ll make—” Vin said.
“Will never happen if I take what I can now, then run,” Camon said, smiling. “I’ll talk the obligators into a down payment to get my caravan boats afloat, then disappear and leave Theron to deal with the disaster when the Ministry realizes that it’s been scammed.”
Vin stood back, slightly shocked. Setting up a scam like this would have cost Theron thousands upon thousands of boxings—if the deal fell through now, he would be ruined. And, with the Ministry hunting him, he wouldn’t even have time to seek revenge. Camon would make a quick profit, as well as rid himself of one of his more powerful rivals.
Theron was a fool to bring Camon into this,
she thought. But, then, the amount Theron had promised to pay Camon was great; he probably assumed that Camon’s greed would keep him honest until Theron himself could pull a double cross. Camon had simply worked faster than anyone, even Vin, had expected. How could Theron have known that Camon would undermine the job itself, rather than wait and try and steal the entire haul from the caravan boats?
Vin’s stomach twisted.
It’s just another betrayal
, she thought sickly.
Why does it still bother me so? Everyone betrays everyone else. That’s the way life is….
She wanted to find a corner—someplace cramped and secluded—and hide. Alone.
Anyone will betray you. Anyone.
But there was no place to go. Eventually, a minor obligator entered and called for Lord Jedue. Vin followed Camon as they were ushered into an audience chamber.
The man who waited inside, sitting behind the audience desk, was not Prelan Laird.
Camon paused in the doorway. The room was austere, bearing only the desk and simple gray carpeting. The stone walls were unadorned, the only window barely a handspan wide. The obligator who waited for them had some of the most intricate tattoos around his eyes that Vin had ever seen. She wasn’t even certain what rank they implied, but they extended all the way back to the obligator’s ears and up over his forehead.
“Lord Jedue,” the strange obligator said. Like Laird, he wore gray robes, but he was very different from the stern, bureaucratic men Camon had dealt with before. This man was lean in a muscular way, and his clean-shaven, triangular head gave him an almost predatory look.
“I was under the impression that I would be meeting with Prelan Laird,” Camon said, still not moving into the room.
“Prelan Laird has been called away on other business. I am High Prelan Arriev—head of the board that was reviewing your proposal. You have a rare opportunity to address me directly. I normally don’t hear cases in person, but Laird’s absence has made it necessary for me to share in some of his work.”
Vin’s instincts made her tense.
We should go. Now.
Camon stood for a long moment, and Vin could see him considering. Run now? Or, take a risk for the greater prize? Vin didn’t care about prizes; she just wanted to live. Camon, however, had not become crewleader without the occasional gamble. He slowly moved into the room, eyes cautious as he took the seat opposite the obligator.
“Well, High Prelan Arriev,” Camon said with a careful voice. “I assume that since I have been called back for another appointment, the board is considering my offer?”
“Indeed we are,” the obligator said. “Though I must admit, there are some Council members who are apprehensive about dealing with a family that is so near to economic disaster. The Ministry generally prefers to be conservative in its financial operations.”
“But,” Arriev said, “there are others on the board who are quite eager to take advantage of the savings you offered us.”
“And with which group do you identify, Your Grace?”
“I, as of yet, have not made my decision.” The obligator leaned forward. “Which is why I noted that you have a rare opportunity. Convince me, Lord Jedue, and you will have your contract.”
“Surely Prelan Laird outlined the details of our offer,” Camon said.
“Yes, but I would like to hear the arguments from you personally. Humor me.”
Vin frowned. She remained near the back of the room, standing near the door, still half convinced she should run.
“Well?” Arriev asked.
“We need this contract, Your Grace,” Camon said. “Without it we won’t be able to continue our canal shipping operations. Your contract would give us a much needed period of stability—a chance to maintain our caravan boats for a time while we search for other contracts.”
Arriev studied Camon for a moment. “Surely you can do better than that, Lord Jedue. Laird said that you were very persuasive—let me hear you
that you deserve our patronage.”
Vin prepared her Luck. She could make Arriev more inclined to believe…but something restrained her. The situation felt wrong.
“We are your best choice, Your Grace,” Camon said. “You fear that my house will suffer economic failure? Well, if it does, what have you lost? At worst, my narrowboats would stop running, and you would have to find other merchants to deal with. Yet, if your patronage is enough to maintain my house, then you have found yourself an enviable long-term contract.”
“I see,” Arriev said lightly. “And why the Ministry? Why not make your deal with someone else? Surely there are other options for your boats—other groups who would jump at such rates.”
Camon frowned. “This isn’t about money, Your Grace, it is about the victory—the showing of confidence—that we would gain by having a Ministry contract. If you trust us, others will too. I
your support.” Camon was sweating now. He was probably beginning to regret this gamble. Had he been betrayed? Was Theron behind the odd meeting?
The obligator waited quietly. He could destroy them, Vin knew. If he even suspected that they were scamming him, he could give them over to the Canton of Inquisition. More than one nobleman had entered a Canton building and never returned.
Gritting her teeth, Vin reached out and used her Luck on the obligator, making him less suspicious.
Arriev smiled. “Well, you have convinced me,” he suddenly declared.
Camon sighed in relief.
Arriev continued, “Your most recent letter suggested that you need three thousand boxings as an advance to refurbish your equipment and resume shipping operations. See the scribe in the main hallway to finish the paperwork so that you may requisition the necessary funds.”
The obligator pulled a sheet of thick bureaucratic paper from a stack, then stamped a seal at the bottom. He proffered it to Camon. “Your contract.”
Camon smiled deeply. “I knew coming to the Ministry was the wise choice,” he said, accepting the contract. He stood, nodding respectfully to the obligator, then motioned for Vin to open the door for him.
She did so.
Something is wrong. Something is
She paused as Camon left, looking back at the obligator. He was still smiling.
A happy obligator was always a bad sign.
Yet, no one stopped them as they passed through the waiting room with its noble occupants. Camon sealed and delivered the contract to the appropriate scribe, and no soldiers appeared to arrest them. The scribe pulled out a small chest filled with coins, and then handed it to Camon with an indifferent hand.
Then, they simply left the Canton building, Camon gathering his other attendants with obvious relief. No cries of alarm. No tromping of soldiers. They were free. Camon had successfully scammed both the Ministry and another crewleader.
Kelsier stuffed another one of the little red-frosted cakes into his mouth, chewing with satisfaction. The fat thief and his scrawny attendant passed through the waiting room, entering the entryway beyond. The obligator who had interviewed the two thieves remained in his office, apparently awaiting his next appointment
“Well?” Dockson asked. “What do you think?”
Kelsier glanced at the cakes. “They’re quite good,” he said, taking another one. “The Ministry has always had excellent taste—it makes sense that they would provide superior snacks.”
Dockson rolled his eyes. “About the girl, Kell.”
Kelsier smiled as he piled four of the cakes in his hand, then nodded toward the doorway. The Canton waiting room was growing too busy for the discussion of delicate matters. On the way out, he paused and told the obligator secretary in the corner that they needed to reschedule.
Then the two crossed through the entry chamber—passing the overweight crewleader, who stood speaking with a scribe. Kelsier stepped out onto the street, pulled his hood up against the still falling ash, then led the way across the street. He paused beside an alleyway, standing where he and Dockson could watch the Canton building’s doors.
Kelsier munched contentedly on his cakes. “How’d you find out about her?” he asked between bites.
“Your brother,” Dockson replied. “Camon tried to swindle Marsh a few months ago, and he brought the girl with him then, too. Actually, Camon’s little good-luck charm is becoming moderately famous in the right circles. I’m still not sure if he knows what she is or not. You know how superstitious thieves can get.”
Kelsier nodded, dusting off his hands. “How’d you know she’d be here today?”
Dockson shrugged. “A few bribes in the right place. I’ve been keeping an eye on the girl ever since Marsh pointed her out to me. I wanted to give you an opportunity to see her work for yourself.”
Across the street, the Canton building’s door finally opened, and Camon made his way down the steps surrounded by a group of “servants.” The small, short-haired girl was with him. The sight of her made Kelsier frown. She had a nervous anxiety to her step, and she jumped slightly whenever someone made a quick move. The right side of her face was still slightly discolored from a partially healed bruise.
Kelsier eyed the self-important Camon.
I’ll have to come up with something particularly suitable to do to that man.
“Poor thing,” Dockson muttered.
Kelsier nodded. “She’ll be free of him soon enough. It’s a wonder no one discovered her before this.”
“Your brother was right then?”
Kelsier nodded. “She’s at least a Misting, and if Marsh says she’s more, I’m inclined to believe him. I’m a bit surprised to see her using Allomancy on a member of the Ministry, especially inside a Canton building. I’d guess that she doesn’t know that she’s even using her abilities.”
“Is that possible?” Dockson asked.
Kelsier nodded. “Trace minerals in the water can be burned, if just for a tiny bit of power. That’s one of the reasons the Lord Ruler built his city here—lots of metals in the ground. I’d say that…”
Kelsier trailed off, frowning slightly. Something was wrong. He glanced toward Camon and his crew. They were still visible in the near distance, crossing the street and heading south.
A figure appeared in the Canton building’s doorway. Lean with a confident air, he bore the tattoos of a high prelan of the Canton of Finance around his eyes. Probably the very man Camon had met with shortly before. The obligator stepped out of the building, and a second man exited behind him.