Vin nodded, then sat quietly for a moment. She hadn’t spent as much time with Dockson as she had with Kelsier and Sazed—or even Ham and Breeze. He seemed like a kind man, however. Very stable, and very clever. While most of the others contributed some kind of Allomantic power to the crew, Dockson was valuable because of his simple ability to organize.

When something needed to be purchased—such as Vin’s dresses—Dockson saw that it got done. When a building needed to be rented, supplies procured, or a permit secured, Dockson made it happen. He wasn’t out front, scamming noblemen, fighting in the mists, or recruiting soldiers. Without him, however, Vin suspected that the entire crew would fall apart.

He’s a nice man, she told herself. He won’t mind if I ask him. “Dox, what was it like living on a plantation?”

“Hmm? The plantation?”

Vin nodded. “You grew up on one, right? You’re a plantation skaa?”

“Yes,” Dockson said. “Or, at least, I was. What was it like? I’m not sure how to answer, Vin. It was a hard life, but most skaa live hard lives. I wasn’t allowed to leave the plantation— or even go outside of the hovel community—without permission. We ate more regularly than a lot of the street skaa, but we were worked as hard as any millworker. Perhaps more.

“The plantations are different from the cities. Out there, every lord is his own master. Technically, the Lord Ruler owns the skaa, but the noblemen rent them, and are allowed to kill as many as they want. Each lord just has to make certain that his crops come in.”

“You seem so… unemotional about it,” Vin said.

Dockson shrugged. “It’s been a while since I lived there, Vin. I don’t know that the plantation was overly traumatic. It was just life—we didn’t know anything better. In fact, I now know that amongst plantation lords, mine was actually rather lenient.”

“Why did you leave, then?”

Dockson paused. “An event,” he said his voice growing almost wistful. “You know that the law says that a lord can bed any skaa woman that he wishes?”

Vin nodded. “He just has to kill her when he’s done.”

“Or soon thereafter,” Dockson said. “Quickly enough that she can’t birth any half-breed children.”

“The lord took a woman you loved, then?”

Dockson nodded. “I don’t talk about it much. Not because I can’t, but because I think it would be pointless. I’m not the only skaa to lose a loved one to a lord’s passion, or even to a lord’s indifference. In fact, I’ll bet you’d have trouble finding a skaa who hasn’t had someone they love murdered by the aristocracy. That’s just. . the way it is.”

“Who was she?” Vin asked.

“A girl from the plantation. Like I said, my story isn’t that original. I remember. . sneaking between the hovels at night to spend time with her. The entire community played along, hiding us from the taskmasters—I wasn’t supposed to be out after dark, you see. I braved the mists for the first time for her, and while many thought me foolish to go out at night, others got over their superstition and encouraged me. I think the romance inspired them; Kareien and I reminded everyone that there was something to live for.

“When Kareien was taken by Lord Devinshae—her corpse returned the next morning for burial—something just. . died in the skaa hovels. I left that next evening. I didn’t know there was a better life, but I just couldn’t stay, not with Kareien’s family there, not with Lord Devinshae watching us work….”

Dockson sighed, shaking his head. Vin could finally see some emotion in his face. “You know,” he said, “it amazes me sometimes that we even try. With everything they’ve done to us—the deaths, the tortures, the agonies—you’d think that we would just give up on things like hope and love. But we don’t. Skaa still fall in love. They still try to have families, and they still struggle. I mean, here we are… fighting Kell’s insane little war, resisting a god we know is just going to slaughter us all.”

Vin sat quietly, trying to comprehend the horror of what he described. “I…thought you said that your lord was a kind one.”

“Oh, he was,” Dockson said. “Lord Devinshae rarely beat his skaa to death, and he only purged the elderly when the population got completely out of control. He has an impeccable reputation among the nobility. You’ve probably seen him at some of the balls—he’s been in Luthadel lately, over the winter, between planting seasons.”

Vin felt cold. “Dockson, that’s horrible! How could they let a monster like that among them?”

Dockson frowned, then he leaned forward slightly, resting his arms on the desktop. “Vin, they’re all like that.”

“I know that’s what some of the skaa say, Dox,” Vin said. “But, the people at the balls, they aren’t like that. I’ve met them, danced with them. Dox, a lot of them are good people. I don’t think they realize how terrible things are for the skaa.”

Dockson looked at her with a strange expression. “Am I really hearing this from you, Vin? Why do you think we’re fighting against them? Don’t you realize the things those people—all of those people—are capable of?”

“Cruelty, perhaps,” Vin said. “And indifference. But they aren’t monsters, not all of them—not like your former plantation lord.”

Dockson shook his head. “You just aren’t seeing well enough, Vin. A nobleman can rape and murder a skaa woman one night, then be praised for his morality and virtue the next day. Skaa just aren’t people to them. Noblewomen don’t even consider it cheating when their lord sleeps with a skaa woman.”

“I…” Vin trailed off, growing uncertain. This was the one area of noble culture she hadn’t wanted to confront. Beatings, she could perhaps forgive, but this…

Dockson shook his head. “You’re letting them dupe you, Vin. Things like this are less visible in the cities because of whorehouses, but the murders still happen. Some brothels use women of very poor—but noble—birth. Most, however, just kill off their skaa whores periodically to keep the Inquisitors placated.”

Vin felt a little weak. “I…know about the brothels, Dox. My brother always threatened to sell me to one. But, just because brothels exist doesn’t mean that all the men go to them. There are lots of workers who don’t visit the skaa whorehouses.”

“Noblemen are different, Vin,” Dockson said sternly.

“They’re horrible creatures. Why do you think I don’t complain when Kelsier kills them? Why do you think I’m working with him to overthrow their government? You should ask some of those pretty boys you dance with how often they’ve slept with a skaa woman they knew would be killed a short time later. They’ve all done it, at one point or another.”

Vin looked down.

“They can’t be redeemed, Vin,” Dockson said. He didn’t seem as passionate about the topic as Kelsier, he just seemed… resigned. “I don’t think that Kell will be happy until they’re all dead. I doubt we have to go that far—or even that we can—but I, for one, would be more than happy to see their society collapse.”

Vin sat quietly. They can’t all be like that, she thought. They’re so beautiful, so distinguished. Elend has never taken and murdered a skaa woman… has he?

I sleep but a few hours each night. We must press forward, traveling as much as we can each day—but when I finally lie down, I find sleep elusive. The same thoughts that trouble me during the day are only compounded by the stillness of night.

And, above it all, I hear the thumping sounds from above, the pulsings from the mountains. Drawing me closer with each beat.


“THEY SAY THAT THE DEATHS of the Geffenry brothers were a retaliation for the murder of Lord Entrone,” Lady Kliss said quietly. Behind Vin’s group, the musicians played upon their stage, but the evening was growing late, and few people danced.

Lady Kliss’s circle of partygoers frowned at the news. There were about six of them, including Vin and her companion— one Milen Davenpleu, a young heir to a minor house title.

“Kliss, really,” Milen said. “Houses Geffenry and Tekiel are allies. Why would Tekiel assassinate two Geffenry noblemen?”

“Why indeed?” Kliss said, leaning forward conspiratorially, her massive blond bun wobbling slightly. Kliss had never displayed much fashion sense. She was an excellent source of gossip, however.

“You remember when Lord Entrone was found dead in the Tekiel gardens?” Kliss asked. “Well, it seemed obvious that one of House Tekiel’s enemies had killed him. But, House Geffenry has been petitioning Tekiel for an alliance—apparently, a faction within the house thought that if something happened to enflame the Tekiels, they would be more willing to seek allies.”

“You’re saying that Geffenry purposely killed a Tekiel ally?” asked Rene, Kliss’s date. He scrunched up his ample brow in thought.

Kliss patted Rene’s arm. “Don’t worry about it too much, dear,” she advised, then turned eagerly back to the conversation. “Don’t you see? By secretly killing Lord Entrone, Geffenry hoped to get the allegiance it needs. That would give it access to those Tekiel canal routes through the eastern plains.”

“But it backfired,” Milen said thoughtfully. “Tekiel discovered the ruse, and killed Ardous and Callins.”

“I danced with Ardous a couple of times at the last ball,” Vin said. Now he’s dead, his corpse left on the streets outside a skaa slum.

“Oh?” Milen asked. “Was he any good?”

Vin shrugged. “Not very.” That’s all you can ask, Milen? A man is dead, and you just want to know if I liked him more than you?

“Well, now he’s dancing with the worms,” said Tyden, the final man in the group.

Milen gave the quip a pity laugh, which was more than it deserved. Tyden’s attempts at humor generally left something to be desired. He seemed like the type who would have been more at home with the ruffians of Camon’s crew than the noblemen of the dance hall.

Of course, Dox says they’re all like that, underneath.

Vin’s conversation with Dockson still dominated her thoughts. When she’d started coming to the noblemen’s balls back on that first night—the night she’d nearly been killed— she’d thought about how fake everything seemed. How had she forgotten that original impression? How had she let herself get taken in, to begin admiring their poise and their splendor?

Now, every nobleman’s arm around her waist made her cringe—as if she could feel the rot within their hearts. How many skaa had Milen killed? What about Tyden? He seemed like the type who would enjoy a night with the whores.

But, still she played along. She had finally worn her black gown this evening, somehow feeling the need to set herself apart from the other women with their bright colors and often brighter smiles. However, she couldn’t avoid the others’ company; Vin had finally begun to gain the confidences her crew needed. Kelsier would be delighted to know that his plan for House Tekiel was working, and that wasn’t the only thing she had been able to discover. She had dozens of little tidbits that would be of vital use to the crew’s efforts.


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