“Why do I have to be the skaa again?” Holtzmann asked as she tugged at the not all too comfortable, scratchy clothing; Patty gave her a strict look, looking much better in her noblewoman’s garb, and Abby held back a snicker, dressed as well as the tallest member of the trio, making Holtzmann the odd one out.
“Because nobody will look twice at you if you’re the skaa”, Patty told her, in a tone which showed this wasn’t the first time they were having this argument, “and that’s a good thing, as you know.”
“As I know”, Holtzmann sighed, tugging at the scratchy tunic again; even for a pretend skaa, she was just a bit too clean, but she had successfully refused rolling around in the mud to get dirtier, arguing that a servant for two noblewomen as Abby and Patty were pretending to be didn’t need to be as dirty as the field workers they were passing in their carriage in this very moment.
Said field workers barely looked up at them, the sight of a carriage rolling past nothing new or unusual, even at such somewhat remote holds as the one of Lord Hudson; still Holtzmann acted the way she was supposed to, keeping her gaze down, not wanting to appear in any way odd, all too aware that unseen eyes might be on them.
They had been working on this scam for months, the three of them, and she didn’t want to be the one to risk it all by acting in a way a skaa shouldn’t.
It was difficult for her though, acting like the perfect servant; she fought the urge to fidget and to look around, almost breathing a sigh of relief when the carriage reached the large mansion, reminding herself to act like a proper skaa when the doors were pulled open and two of the lord’s guards peered inside.
Almost without thinking, Holtzmann flared bronze, just to be on the safe side; she detected nothing from the guards, which was a good sign, and they barely gave her a second glance as they greeted Abby and Patty, then waved the carriage on, the man they had hired as driver clucking his tongue to get the horses moving again.
“First hurdle taken”, Abby whispered as the carriage rolled through the gate and into the mansion’s yard; it was big enough to almost be a castle, Holtzmann observed as she hopped out, then held her hand out to first Patty, then Abby, the perfect servant who made sure her masters wouldn’t fall.
“Welcome to Lord Hudson’s keep”, one of the guards greeted the two apparent noblewomen, “your servant can wait in the kitchen with our skaa, Lord Hudson is expecting you.”
“Lead the way”, Patty replied, in an indifferent tone, just the right one for speaking to guards; they weren’t skaa, Holtzmann could tell, but they weren’t of noble birth, either, and so, a noblewoman like Patty and Abby pretended to be had no reason to be friendly or even just polite to them.
One of the guards did just that, leading the way for Abby and Patty, while another one took Holtzmann to the kitchen; from the corner of her eye, she glanced around as she walked along behind the man, memorizing the way, just in case she’d have to get out fast.
The guard showed her a corner in the kitchen where she could wait, then left without as much as a glance at the workers there; and they ignored her, too, something Holtzmann was quite glad about, not wanting any of them to pay much attention to her.
And they didn’t, too busy with their tasks, putting the finishing touches on the meal they had prepared for the lord and his noble guests; Holtzmann wondered if a true servant would have offered their help, then shrugged it off, making herself invisible instead, passing the time by working on their emotions, making them focus more on their work and less on the unknown servant sitting in the corner.
They bustled to and fro, getting the food ready, then beginning to carry it from the kitchen to the dining hall; and while a few were busy with that, others already started on dessert and on cleaning up the mess from making the starters and the main course, Holtzmann waiting until she could be sure that no one even remembered she was there before she slipped out.
Burning tin, she enhanced her senses, so she’d be able to hear anyone long before they’d be close enough to be a real danger and hide; apparently, Lord Hudson didn’t invest much in guards though, she thought to herself as she moved through the quiet hallways, from the working areas to the parts of the mansion where the nobleman and his closer servants lived, only hearing one guard on the way, a middle-aged man whom she could avoid easily by ducking into an empty storage room.
It didn’t take her long to find the lord’s living quarters and his study, the three of them having studied the mansion’s layout before they had made their move; while Patty had spent time building up her fake name and reputation as the noblewoman Lucille Gardieu, and had contacted him with the prospect of a very lucrative business, Holtzmann and Abby had spoken to the right people, and Holtzmann had made use of her skill to scout the mansion at night, by now knowing it probably better than the lord himself, what with how he hardly ever showed his face in the part of the building where the servants slept and worked.
Before entering the lord’s bedroom, Holtzmann listened at the door, making sure nobody was in there, another guard perhaps or a servant; the room was perfectly quiet, and once she was convinced it was empty, she pushed the door open as quietly as possible and slipped inside, glancing around once more before she swiftly walked through the bedroom and into the man’s study.
A brief flare of iron showed her where the safe was hidden, and she smirked to herself – a nobleman truly should know better than to use a safe made of metal, but then, he barely had any guards, either, and his house wasn’t that big and powerful, so he apparently had felt as if he had nothing to worry about, out there in the countryside.
As quietly as possible, Holtzmann followed the blue lines her skills let her see, removing the floorboards they guided her to; right beneath them, the safe was, as she had known it would be, and she frowned as she burned iron, pulling on the tiny mechanism which made up the lock.
This was something not many could do, she knew, not even those with her set of skills; it took practice and patience, but she was good at it, and it didn’t take long until she heard a soft click, a satisfied smile curling her lips as she opened the safe and saw the coins and jewels within.
Quickly, but as quietly as she could, Holtzmann began to fill the hidden pockets in her clothing; if she hadn’t lost track of time, Abby and Patty should be having the main course with the man by now, and so, she still had a bit of time left, working as fast as she dared as she emptied the safe.
Finally, the last coin vanished into her pocket, and she smirked to herself as she closed the safe again and locked it; as she straightened up and turned though, her smile froze as the new angle she was now viewing the bedroom from now revealed something she hadn’t noticed when she had walked through it the first time.
Dangling from the right side of the lord’s large bed were heavy iron cuffs, and Holtzmann felt sick as she knew what they were for – and right in this moment, she threw the plan over board, knowing she couldn’t just leave with this new knowledge, knowing she had to stop him before he could cause more pain in this room than he certainly had in the past.
“What do you mean, you’re going back”, Patty hissed as Holtzmann unpacked the money and jewels she had stolen from the lord, piling them into the carriage’s hidden compartment under the watchful eyes of Abby, Patty and their impressed driver, “why? You left something behind?”
“No”, Holtzmann gave back, pulling off her servant clothing as she spoke and prompting the carriage driver to flush and look away, “but he’s one of those who… makes use of his skaa women. At night. And I want to make sure he won’t do that tonight.”
She told them what she had seen in the man’s bedroom, and both women grimaced at her explanation; and neither of them tried to talk her out of it, just watching how she changed into black clothing, then threw on a grey cloak, a combination which would make her practically invisible once it would’ve gotten dark.
“How do you even know he will do it tonight”, Abby asked what they both were thinking, “what are you gonna do if he won’t? We need to go back to the city, you can’t watch him every night until he… you know.”
“Oh, he will”, Holtzmann gave back, finding her pouch of small coins in another hidden compartment within the carriage and tugging it into one of her many pockets, “after such a good business deal as you two presented him? He’ll want to celebrate. Men like him always do.”
“Well, yeah”, Abby had to admit, making Patty grimace, “but… no offense Holtz, but since when do you care? Usually it’s in, get the stuff, out, and we leave. Why is this different?”
“It just is”, Holtzmann replied, her tone showing that she wouldn’t discuss this any further, “you guys get moving with the carriage, as we planned. I’ll catch up when I took care of… this.”
“…fine”, Patty sighed, knowing that arguing would lead nowhere at this point, having seen this look from Holtzmann before, “but take care. Don’t get caught! You know what will happen if you mess this up!”
“Yeah, yeah”, Holtzmann gave back, not sounding all too worried though, “I know. Now get moving, I’ll see you guys later.”
The two women nodded, then climbed back into the carriage; the driver gave her a concerned look, didn’t say anything though, clucking his tongue instead to get the horses moving.
Holtzmann watched the carriage slowly drive off, having a few minutes during which she could wonder if she was making a mistake, if she’d end up caught and in jail or worse; then, she thought back to the cuffs she had seen, and shrugged her worries off, turning and finding a place where she could wait for darkness to fall fully, knowing that she’d have the best chance then – and hoping that she wouldn’t be too late.
Even though it was a situation which could end her in big trouble, Holtzmann moved through the night with a sense of enjoyment once it had gotten dark enough; she tossed coins to the ground and Pushed against them, moving with wide jumps this way, faster and quieter than any regular human could have, at the same time burning tin to be aware of anything which might signal that she had been spotted.
If Lord Hudson had any guards patrolling at night though, they didn’t see her, her black clothing and the cloak helping to hide her in the darkness and the mists; and so, she could easily Pull herself up onto the mansion’s roof once she was close enough, using a weathervane on the roof for that, perching on it like some sort of gargoyle, her breathing unnaturally loud in her own ears as she listened.
She started to wonder if she had been wrong, if the lord wouldn’t celebrate his good business deal the despicable way some noblemen did… and just when she asked herself if she should go, try to catch up with the carriage, she heard the woman scream, panicked and full of fear.
Without hesitation, Holtzmann Pushed from the weathervane and sailed over the roof, cloak flapping behind her; burning iron showed her other sources of metal, and she used those to move fast, approaching the window leading to the lord’s bedroom faster than she could have running, and with less sound, too.
She landed just outside the window, ready to burst in and stop the lord… when she heard him scream, too, his scream turning into an odd gurgle, her tin-enhanced ears picking up rushing footsteps afterwards, approaching the bedroom.
Not missing a beat, Holtzmann figured she could figure out later what had happened, and kicked the window open, glass shattering; one look was enough to let her take it all in, the lord on the floor in a puddle of blood, the wide-eyed woman on the bed – not chained, Holtzmann noted, whatever she had done, she’d done it before he had managed to get the cuffs on her – and the guards which now stormed the room, three of them, responding to the cry of their lord.
And only to his, Holtzmann noted, her blood boiling, they hadn’t moved a finger when the woman had been screaming.
They all stopped dead when they the lord dead on the floor and Holtzmann crouching in the window frame; and just when they seemed to realize that something potentially very bad for them was going on, Holtzmann Pushed against the armour of the one nearest to her, sending him flying back and against his comrades, all three of them tumbling to the floor.
Using the metal of their armour, Holtzmann Pushed them further, until they hit the wall; it didn’t knock them out, not quite, but it dazed them, and gave her the time she needed.
One quick leap brought her closer to the bed, the woman staring at her with fear and confusion; burning brass, she Soothed the woman’s fear without thinking about it much, realizing that for now, she had no time to explain.
“I’m here to help”, she said, keeping up the Soothing to make the woman more likely to believe her, and not fight her, “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Burning pewter, she strengthened herself, so she could pick the woman up on her arms with ease; the woman’s gaze remained focused on the lifeless body of Lord Hudson, and she only looked away when Holtzmann turned towards the window, leaping outside just as the guards started to come around behind them.
Realizing that a small blonde woman was carrying her with strength which seemed unlikely for her size and build, the woman clung to her, her fear flaring up again; Holtzmann took another moment to Soothe her, then rushed to the edge of the roof and jumped, the last thing the guards peering out the window seeing of her being the hem of her cloak, fluttering over the edge.
It took quite a bit for the woman to recover enough from her shock to fully realize what was happening – that a blonde woman was jumping impossibly high and wide while holding in her arms, without even breathing heavier – and to react to it; Holtzmann felt her tense up in her arms, but before she could try Soothing her again, the woman was crying out at her to stop, to put her down, and she hurriedly did so, landing gracefully on the ground, glad that they had put a decent chunk of distance between the mansion and themselves.
“It’s okay, it’s okay”, she said as she put the woman down, the way she hectically looked around showing Holtzmann that she wasn’t quite getting through to her though, “I won’t hurt you. And neither will he, it’s alright.”
“What did I do, Lord Ruler, what did I do”, the woman fretted in response, running shaking hands through her tangled hair, “I killed him and I don’t even know…”
She turned away from Holtzmann and noisily threw up, the blonde grimacing at the sound and the sight; and then, the woman seemed to realize belatedly that she was standing outside, at night, in the mist, eyes going wide again as she twirled to look at Holtzmann once more.
“We’re out!” she cried, looking so frightened now that it made Holtzmann’s heart clench up, “in the mist! We’re going to die, the mistwraiths are going to get us, why did you take me here, is this to punish me for what I did? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to!”
“Hey, hey, hey”, Holtzmann tried to get in a word, raising her hands in a hopefully placating gesture, “nobody’s going to punish you for anything, alright? And nobody is going to get us, especially not mistwraiths. It’s alright!”
The woman stared at her for a few moments in reply, as if she needed longer than usual to process what the blonde had said – before she, to Holtzmann’s shock, burst into tears, crying so violently that her whole body was trembling.
The outburst was so sudden and so bad that Holtzmann realized her Soothing skills wouldn’t lead anywhere; she stood and stared for a few moments as the woman cried, then took a slow step closer to her, hoping she wouldn’t make things worse.
“Hey”, she said, keeping her hands up to show she was no threat, “it’s alright, it really is. No one’s going to hurt you, alright? Please, calm down?”
The woman kept crying in response, but her sobs decreased a bit; she still was highly upset though, wringing her hands as she glanced left and right, as if she expect something to jump out from the mists and right at them any moment.
“It’s alright”, Holtzmann said again, “we’re perfectly safe here, I promise. And there won’t be any punishment for what happened, he deserved that and more for what he wanted to do to you.”
“Maybe he did it”, the woman gave back, sounding thoughtful now while Holtzmann could only gape at her, “and this is a sort of fantasy my mind created to distract me from him. Or maybe he killed me already and this is the afterlife…”
“You’re not dead, and this is not a hallucination”, Holtzmann told her, earning a doubtful look “I’m very real and not a figment of your imagination or some part of some weird afterlife. Alright? My name’s Holtzmann, what’s yours?”
The question clearly had caught the woman off-guard, and surprised her enough to tear her out of her fears and worries; she looked around again, then ran one hand through her hair, voice trembling, but less filled with fear when she answered the blonde’s question.
“Um, Erin”, she told her, fidgeting, “well, without the um. Just Erin.”
“Alright, Erin”, Holtzmann said, giving her a hopefully calming smile, “glad we cleared that up, nice to meet you. I wish we could have met under different circumstances, but now, we gotta make the best of it, alright?”
“How”, Erin gave back, wringing her hands as the fear and panic came back, “I killed the lord! If they catch me, they’ll throw me into the Pits, what have I done…”
“No one will catch you”, Holtzmann reassured her, her mind racing at the same time as she thought about what she had seen of the dead lord; she hadn’t been able to get a good look at him, what with the guards and how hectic the situation had been in general, but she remembered the bit she had seen, enough to remember how he had been killed.
It had looked as if his belt buckle had been slammed into his body, and there was only one way this could have been done.
“I’ll take you with me, alright”, she said out loud, figuring that bringing up how Erin exactly had done this was not a good idea, not in the middle of the night and out in the countryside, “to the hideout of my crew. You’ll be safe there, and we can figure out what to do next. You want to walk, or want to travel in style?”
“Um”, Erin let out, clearly not sure what to respond; and so, Holtzmann made the decision, not quite feeling like walking, the redhead letting out a little squeal when Holtzmann picked her up on her arms again, not trying to struggle out of her hold though, but putting both arms around the blonde, looking a bit nervous as she knew what would come next.
“Don’t worry”, Holtzmann told her, burning pewter making it easy for her to carry Erin, “this is perfectly safe. I won’t drop you.”
“Uh-huh”, Erin let out, still holding on a bit tighter to her than she would have deemed it necessary; and when she found a source of metal nearby and Pushed against it to catapult herself into the air, Erin’s grip on her tightened even more, but to her credit, she didn’t cry out or to break free, just squeezing her eyes shut against the wind as Holtzmann travelled with her, unable to stop asking herself what she had gotten herself into and how her life would be from now on.
“Alright”, Holtzmann said quite a while later, landing on a roughly made street gently enough to make sure Erin wouldn’t be shaken through, “we’re almost at the city. I just have to find a spot at the wall where no guards will see us.”
Not sure if the blonde expected a response, Erin just nodded, wondering how exactly Holtzmann was finding out where the guards were; she had heard of the magic some people could use, tales whispered around the nightly fires by the elder skaa, but she never had seen it in action, hadn’t even been sure it was real until she had witnessed it firsthand from the strange blonde woman.
“Over there”, Holtzmann distracted her from these thoughts, surprising her by moving along the high wall which surrounded and apparently protected the city with quite the ease, even though she still carried her; Erin knew that she was thin, compared to the noblewomen she had seen visiting Lord Hudson’s mansion, but still it was strange that the blonde woman could carry her so easily, and she wondered if this was another effect of the magic Holtzmann apparently could use.
“Hold on tight”, Holtzmann said, making her nod again – and then, using some unseen force, Holtzmann pushed off the ground and sailed up, Erin biting her tongue to keep herself from crying out at the sudden, unexpected speed, not wanting to alert any guards who possibly might be nearby, but still letting out a heavy breath when Holtzmann landed on top of the wall with her.
“One more”, the blonde told her, and Erin squeezed her eyes shut when she jumped down from the wall; they fell slower than she would have expected though, as if something was softening their fall, Holtzmann’s feet barely making a noise when she landed on the cobblestones of the path close to the wall.
“There we go”, Holtzmann said with a smile, carefully lowering Erin to the ground; and for a little while, Erin forgot all about her fears and worries as she looked around, stunned by the sheer size of the city, even though she knew she could only see a small part of it right now.
It was the first time she was at the city, she only had heard talk about it every now and then, and that hadn’t been much, just some words she had picked up when guards had walked past the fields and had been chatting; she had imagined the city to be like their little skaa hovels near the fields, just bigger, and never would have expected all these buildings, made with stone and wood, looking much more stable than the hovels she’d grown up in.
“Lord Ruler”, she whispered, stunned, not daring to speak out loud; Holtzmann smirked at her reaction, not in a mean way though, she thought, then asked her to follow her, and Erin had to tear her eyes away from the wonders around, nodding hesitatingly as she remembered what the blonde had said, about how she would take her to some sort of hideout.
She wasn’t quite sure she wanted to go there, not sure what to expect; she also knew though that she couldn’t wander off in this big city, not on her own, and so, she followed Holtzmann without a word of protest of question, looking around the whole time, all her fears and worries for the moment forgotten.
It took them quite a bit to reach the hideout Holtzmann had been talking about, Erin feeling tired and drained by the time they made it there, the night’s events taking their toll on her; when the guards had come to the hovel she shared with a dozen others and had grabbed her, she had been sure that this was it, that the lord would have his fun with her for a night or two and then kill her, as he had done before with other skaa women, and now, here she was instead, after having done the Lord Ruler knew what to the lord and this weird blonde woman had shown up out of nowhere to rescue her.
She wasn’t quite sure what to expect when Holtzmann led her to a large, wooden building; the blonde gave her a wink, then knocked on the door in a certain rhythm, and it opened a moment later, a woman who looked a lot like a noblewoman peering outside, Erin almost automatically taking a step back when the woman saw her and her eyes widened.
“Holtz”, the woman then hissed, gesturing vaguely at Erin, who grew nervous again, “who is this? What’s going on?”
“I’ll explain in a minute”, Holtzmann gave back, glancing around even though her tin-enhanced ears didn’t pick up any footsteps nearby, “let us enter for now? I don’t feel good standing around here like this, you know.”
The woman let out a long-suffering sigh and stepped aside, waving them in; Erin kept her gaze fixed to the floor as she entered the building, the way she had all her life when a nobleman or –woman had been nearby, only looking up when Holtzmann said her name.
“No need to act like that”, she told the redhead, smirking, “Abby just looks like a noblewoman, but she’s a thief just like me. You don’t have to be all respectful around her.”
“Excuse me”, the woman replied, frowning, “don’t give her any ideas, she might get as cocky as you. Your name is Erin, then? I’m Abby.”
“Um, yes”, Erin gave back, “Erin. That’s my name. You’re thieves?”
“Damn straight we are”, Holtzmann told her, Abby rolling her eyes at the proud grin on Holtzmann’s face, “why do you think we were at Hudson’s mansion in the first place? While he had dinner with Abby and another lovely friend here, I cleared out his safe.”
Erin gaped at her, Holtzmann’s grin widening at the gobsmacked look on the other woman’s face; muttering something under breath about showing off, Abby moved to Erin’s side, then gave her a calming smile, easily able to tell that the poor woman was close to freaking out – and no surprise there, she sourly thought to herself, after what the lord had been planning to do to her, and after how Holtzmann probably had rescued her with a lot of drama and bravado, just because she could.
“Come with me”, she said, earning an insecure look from Erin, “you can get clean, I’ll find you some fresh clothes, then you can eat something and get some sleep, you must be tired. Meanwhile, Holtzmann, you can explain to Patty why you ran off with one of Hudson’s skaa and maybe tell her your great plan for when he starts searching for her.”
“No need for any plans”, Holtzmann replied with a shrug, “Hudson’s dead. So technically she’s not his skaa anymore, either.”
Abby gaped at her again, then just sighed and shook her head; deciding that she didn’t want to deal with this for now, she asked Erin to come with her instead, and while she led the redhead deeper into the warehouse the crew used as hideout, Holtzmann went to find Patty, knowing she had to speak about what she had seen at last, and figure out if Erin was more than she currently was aware of.
“Helloooo Patty”, Holtzmann said with an innocent smile as she entered what Patty called her study, where the taller woman was sitting at her desk, counting the coins they had stolen from Lord Hudson and sorting the jewels according to their estimated worth; at her tone and the was she beamed at her, Patty immediately got suspicious, but finished counting and sorting the small pile of coins in front of her before she gave Holtzmann her full attention, ignoring the remaining, bigger pile of money for now.
“What did you do this time”, she demanded to know, sighing, “please tell me you didn’t show off to the lord.”
“Ummm, no”, Holtzmann replied, grabbing a gold coin and beginning to toy with it, “I didn’t have to. He’s dead. But! I didn’t kill him.”
Patty just gave her a flat look, then crossed her arms over her chest and raised an eyebrow; Holtzmann sighed in response, putting the coin back, and shrugged, throwing her feet up onto the table and putting her hands behind her behind her head, getting comfortable in her seat before she elaborated.
“He was already dead by the time I got to the bedroom”, she explained, frowning a bit as well as she thought back to the scene, tried to remember as much as possible, “and I’m pretty sure Erin did it. She might not be aware of it right now, but she has some allomantic power, I didn’t get to take a close look, but… she pushed his belt buckle into his belly and killed him, I’m pretty sure that’s how it happened.”
“Who’s Erin”, Patty replied, Holtzmann annoyed at herself for not having told her this as the first thing; she quickly explained that Erin was a skaa from Hudson’s fields, the girl he had chosen for his nightly fun, Patty frowning as well when Holtzmann had finished talking.
“And she killed him”, she repeated, making the blonde nod, “by pushing his belt buckle into his belly. You think she’s a Misting, don’t you.”
“Or maybe even Mistborn”, Holtzmann gave back, Patty raising an eyebrow, “that is one of the reasons why I took her here. And, well, I didn’t kill the guards, so leaving her there wasn’t an option anyway, you know they would have punished her for killing their lord.”
“Well, up to you to find out”, Patty told her, “and you’re right, you couldn’t have left her behind after that. Let’s just hope this won’t bite us in the ass at some point.”
“Nah, it won’t”, Holtzmann replied confidently, Patty holding back a comment about how Holtzmann’s young age might make her a bit too trusting and too fast with giving that trust to someone, “she’ll need a bit to settle in, Abby’s taking care of her right now, but if she does have a power, or more than one, well… We can always use extra allomancers on the team.”
“Yes”, Patty had to agree, “if she wants to stay. Now, while Abby takes care of her, help me count the rest of this money, and don’t play with the coins, you’ll get the smaller ones when we’re done.”
Holtzmann nodded, even though counting money was one of the most boring things she could imagine – acquiring the money was much more exciting, after all, and usually, she left the counting to Patty, but she figured it would pass the time, and didn’t want to risk Patty’s ire by declining.
So, she sat up straight, and moved a pile of coins in front of herself; and for a while, the only noise in the room was the soft clinking of the coins as they both counted, Holtzmann trying hard to focus, even though her thoughts strayed to Erin again and again, unable to stop wondering how the redhead was doing in this very moment.
While Patty and Holtzmann were counting money, Erin was taking a bath, the first warm bath of her life; it was amazing, she thought to herself as she sat in the pleasantly warm water and scrubbed ash and dirt off her arms and legs, how good it felt, compared to the rough cleaning they had done at the fields, not quite sure if she ever had been so clean before.
The water certainly showed how dirty exactly she had been, a murky brown by the time she got done and started to rise; and just then, Abby came into the room, and Erin quickly sank back into the water, eying the other woman with a bit of trepidation, not quite sure what to expect.
“I figured you might need help washing your back”, Abby said, as if she did this every day, offering help to a woman she hadn’t even known for two hours with getting clean, “and with your hair? Oh and I brought clothing.”
She held up the bundle she was carrying, then put it on a nearby chair before she sat on the edge of the wooden tub; Erin went stiff when she felt the woman actually start washing her back, didn’t dare protest though, all too aware that talking back in any way had never been taken well by the overseers and the nobles.
It didn’t take long until she relaxed though, Abby surprising her with how gentle and careful she was; and it was the same when the woman washed her hair, clucking her tongue at the numerous tangles, warning the redhead that brushing them out would take quite a while and might be painful.
Erin just shrugged, not really having bothered with her hair so far in her life, except for when she had used string to tie it back so it wouldn’t fall into her face during work in the fields; thanks to Abby’s position, she couldn’t see how Abby’s face darkened as she got a good look at Erin’s back, and how she shook her head to herself, once more appalled at how the lords and overseers treated the skaa working on their fields.
“There”, she said, finishing with Erin’s hair, “I’ll go get a brush, get dressed in the meantime?”
“Yes”, Erin gave back, figuring that this needed some kind of response; Abby smiled at her even though she couldn’t see it, then got up and left the room, and once the door had closed behind her, Erin got out of the tub and pulled on the clothing Abby had brought for her, marvelling at how clean and soft it was, the simple shirt and pants fitting her quite well, too, feeling better on her skin than anything she had worn before.
Impressed, she ran one hand over the sleeve, then looked at her clean skin; there still was some dirt beneath her fingernails, but she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so clean – before the guards had taken her to the lord’s bedroom a few hours ago, they only had splashed some water at her to get off the worst of the dirt, and hadn’t really cared if she was clean or not – and it felt good, the cleanliness and the fresh, soft clothes making her feel as if she was dreaming a wonderful dream.
The door opening again distracted her from these thoughts, and she turned to see Abby come in with a brush – and a tray, a meal of bread, dried meat and cheese on it, Erin’s mouth watering at the sight.
“Sorry it’s not much”, Abby apologized as she put the tray down onto the nearby table, “we didn’t expect Holtz to bring a guest along. Do you want water, wine or milk with that?”
“Um, water is fine”, Erin gave back, not quite sure how she would react to wine, never having had alcohol before, “thank you, this is very kind of you…”
“Don’t mention it”, Abby told her with a smile, moving over to stand behind her again; she brushed her hair as quickly as it was possible, and while she did so, Erin kept staring at the food – the lord had made sure that none of them starved, needing them to work on his fields after all, but they had been fed with dry bread and some sort of thin, almost tasteless soup, just enough to keep them going day after day.
“There”, Abby said, finishing the work on her hair, “all done. Now dig in, I’ll go see how Holtz and Patty are doing, and then I’ll ready your room for the night.”
“Thank you”, Erin gave back, not quite sure how to handle all this kindness – and wondering if the women had some kind of hidden motive which made them be so kind to her; realizing though that there was nothing she could do if they did, she decided to just make the most of this brief good time she’d have here, and sat down to eat.
Even though her stomach practically roared at the sight of the food, she didn’t allow herself to wolf it down, but ate slowly, savouring each bite, not sure when she would get a meal as amazing as this one again; she took her time eating it all up, licking her lips once the last bite was gone, and letting out a small content sigh, fighting the urge to lick the tray, figuring that even for a skaa, this wouldn’t be appropriate.
And she was glad that she hadn’t done it, because just then, Abby returned, bringing a jug of cold water; after all the amazing food, Erin felt so full that she wasn’t sure she would actually be able to drink any of it, but she still made herself empty a cup, not wanting to appear ungrateful for all this kindness.
“Enough food?” Abby asked once Erin had put the cup down again, “there’s more if you want?”
“Thank you, I’m full”, Erin politely replied, having to make a conscious effort to not look at the floor again and to keep her eyes focused on the other woman’s face; Abby smiled at her and nodded, then let her know that she could get some sleep now then if she wanted, Erin nodding as well, feeling exhausted now that she had bathed, eaten and the day’s excitement was over.
“We didn’t expect a guest tonight”, Abby told her as she left the room, Erin trailing along behind her, “so there’s no extra room ready, I’m sorry. But we put a mattress in Holtzy’s room, that’s alright with you?”
“Um, yes, thank you”, Erin gave back, a bit surprised at the mattress – in the skaa hovel back at the mansion, they all simply had slept on the floor, and when Abby led her into the room, she was amazed to see that there wasn’t just a mattress, but a blanket and a pillow, too.
“Holtzmann’s still with Patty”, Abby let her know as she put the jug of water and the cup on the little table next to the bed which Erin presumed was Holtzmann’s, “I’ll tell her you’re sleeping in here so she won’t be noisy when she goes to bed, alright? Is there anything else you need?”
Erin shook her head, and Abby gave her another smile before she wished her a good night; she gently closed the door behind herself, and Erin laid down, amazed at how soft the mattress was, amazement only growing at the added comfort of pillow and blanket.
She closed her eyes, still having time to wonder if she’d hear Holtzmann come in anyway, despite Abby’s warning… and then she was fast asleep, from one moment to the next, not even stirring when Holtzmann entered a few hours later.
When Erin awoke in the next day, she felt disoriented at first as she looked around the unfamiliar room, not having an idea where she was and how she had gotten here; then, she remembered what had happened the previous night, and her eyes went wide as she sat up straight, remembering the strange blonde woman who had rescued her from Lord Hudson’s bedroom – and what she herself had done to the lord, still having no idea how she actually had done this.
Not quite sure what to do, Erin then just sat on the mattress for a bit, trying to figure out if she could dare to leave the room or if the women who had been so kind to her the previous day were expecting her to wait here for them until they’d come get her; and as she pondered this and tried to make a decision, the door opened and Holtzmann entered, carrying a tray with a can and a plate covered with soft cloth, smiling at her when she saw that she was awake.
“Good morning”, she said, Erin eying the tray curiously, wondering if it was for her or if Holtzmann had brought it for herself, still feeling full from the previous evening’s luxurious meal, “or, better said, good noon. I bring late breakfast or early lunch, depending on your point of view.”
“What”, Erin gave back, startled, “you let me sleep this long? You should have woken me…”
“Eh”, Holtzmann replied with a shrug, putting the tray onto the small table, from the corner of her eye taking another, closer look at Erin and feeling quite stunned at how gorgeous the woman was, now that she had gotten enough sleep and the dirt and grime from working on the fields had washed off; she still was too thin, Holtzmann could tell even with the somewhat baggy clothing she was wearing, but she figured that this would change sooner rather than later, if her crew and she had anything to say about it.
“No worries”, she added while she pulled the cloth from the plate, revealing freshly baked bread, two eggs and a few slices of ham, “we’re thieves, we’re mostly nocturnal anyway, so you’re not the only one who likes sleeping in. Here, I brought some tea too, I hope you like tea.”
“Um, yes”, Erin gave back, not quite sure actually if she did, but not wanting to be impolite; she got up from the mattress, realizing that she had fallen asleep in the clothing Abby had brought her the previous night, but not quite caring, and sat down to eat, once again amazed at how good it all tasted, the tea she washed the food down with just another wonderful experience she told herself to savour and to enjoy.
“So, uh, Holtzmann”, she said once she had finished eating, the blonde having kept busy by sorting through what looked like vials with a clear liquid and odd little shavings floating in them, looking up and at her though when she said her name, “are we gonna go to the market when I’m done…?”
“Oh you wanna go?” Holtzmann gave back, delighted at Erin being brave enough already to ask for this, knowing how frightened and shy many skaa were, “sure, we can go, what do you need?”
“Um, no, nothing”, Erin mumbled, finding it hard to look at her all at once, but telling herself she might as well face it now, just knowing it would come sooner or later anyway, “I mean… so you can sell me.”
Holtzmann stared at her, going so still all at once that Erin wondered what was happening; she remained quiet though, just waiting for the answer, only to look up in surprise when Holtzmann finally did speak, unaware of how sick the blonde was feeling, after how casually Erin had said this.
“Erin, no”, she said, having to take in a deep breath before she could go on, “what are you saying? No one’s going to sell you.”
“Oh”, Erin gave back, not quite sure what to do with this unexpected information, “um… you… want me to work for you then? I’ve never worked in the city or right in a nobleman’s house, but I’m a fast learner, I can learn to clean and cook and sew, please don’t kill me…”
“What”, Holtzmann gave back, blinking, not quite having expected this, and certainly not the last bit about killing, “Erin, no. You don’t have to work, you’re not gonna get sold, and we’re not going to kill you, do you think I took you with me last night just to sell you or even kill you?”
“I don’t know why you took me with you”, Erin gave back, with just enough of a tremble in her voice to let Holtzmann notice, “what do you want from me, if you don’t want me to work and don’t want to sell me? Just yesterday at this time, I was working on the fields, like I did all my life, and now I’m here and I’m not sure what you expect from me and I just…”
She realized that she had gotten louder and louder and fell silent in shock, cringing back as she expected consequences for this behaviour – the overseers at the fields had been quick to hit them if they had done as much as look them in the eyes, talking back was punished even worse and she only had witnessed a fellow skaa actually yell at one of the men, and had seen what they had done to him, the images still haunting her dreams sometimes, even though it had been years ago.
“I’m sorry”, she said as Holtzmann just kept staring at her, not having expected her to start ranting like this, “I meant no disrespect, I’m sorry…”
“Uh, it’s okay”, Holtzmann gave back, eager to calm her down again, not liking it to see her so upset, “really, no worries, I don’t… feel disrespected. Or something. Look, I get it that you’re upset, after you’ve just been torn out of your life like this, but I did take you along for a reason, and it has nothing to do with making you work or killing you.”
Erin just kept staring at her by now empty plate, and Holtzmann wondered if she was still freaking out internally, if she simply didn’t care why she had brought her here – or if she didn’t dare to ask, Holtzmann quite sure that it was the last option, her heart clenching up in sympathy.
She moved to sit opposite of her, so they were on eye-level, figuring this was a good start; this didn’t help much though, she had to realize quickly, as Erin still wouldn’t look at her, not even raising her eyes when Holtzmann said her name, in the kindest tone she managed.
“I took you along because just leaving you there wasn’t an option”, she still said, not letting Erin’s refusal to look at her stop her, “and because of what you can do, Erin. You know what you did to him to stop him, right?”
“No”, Erin whispered, still staring at the plate as if it could answer all her questions if she just looked at it long enough, “I… The guards took me to his room and I was so scared, I knew what he would do, he’d done it before, to other girls, and they never came back. Then he… he grabbed me, told me what he would do to me and… I don’t know, I felt this…thing inside me and suddenly his belt buckle was moving and… Am I a monster? Or a demon?”
“Neither”, Holtzmann gently told her, finally making her look up at her again, their eyes meeting and allowing Erin to see the sincerity and genuine care in the blonde’s gaze, “you’re a Misting, Erin. Or perhaps even Mistborn.”
She paused as Erin gaped at her, the redhead had heard the stories, of course, everyone had, whispered around the campfire from skaa to skaa, but she never had thought she’d meet one of them in the flesh, and certainly not that she was one of them, too, eyes widening even more when Holtzmann reached over the table and touched her arm, never breaking the eye contact as she spoke up again, confirming what part of Erin, deep down, already had been suspecting.
“No, I can’t be”, Erin protested, shaking her head, “I’m skaa! Skaa can’t be Mistings or… Mistborn, you know the Lord Ruler would never allow it…”
“No, he doesn’t”, Holtzmann confirmed, “but that doesn’t mean he can stop it from happening, and he can never find all of us. And what you did to that lord, well… there was no other way you could have that, Erin.”
Erin had no argument against that, her hand shaking when she ran it through her hair; sensing how upset she was, Holtzmann burned brass and Soothed her, dampening her fears and worries and strengthened the good feelings she had thanks to a night of good sleep and a belly filled with food.
“That is one of the reasons why I took you with me”, she then said, once Erin appeared to have calmed down a bit, “and, as I said, because I couldn’t just leave you there. And even if you’re not a Misting, which I doubt, we can find something to do for you here. But for now, we should find out if you do have allomantic power.”
“How?” Erin wanted to know, frowning, “if I do, I don’t know how I accessed it.”
“I’ll help”, Holtzmann promised her, glad when she earned a tiny smile; still she Soothed Erin a bit more, not wanting her to feel insecure or nervous, keeping the Soothing going as she got up from her seat and moved to the vials Erin had seen her handle earlier, grabbing one of them and handing it to her.
“Here”, she said as she sat down again, with another hopefully reassuring smile, “this holds the eight Allomantic metals. Steel, iron, zinc, brass, pewter, tin, copper and bronze. Bottoms up.”
Erin looked at the vial a bit sceptical, clearly not sure if drinking down bits of metal was a good idea, even though said bits were small; Holtzmann was still smiling at her though, and she felt encouraged, taking in a deep breath before she uncorked the vial and gulped down the contents, grimacing a bit at the taste.
A moment later, the taste was forgotten though as she felt the power burn within her, her eyes going wide; and from how Holtzmann was smirking, the blonde had picked up on her reaction, her thoughts of Erin’s possible powers apparently confirmed.
“You feel it, don’t you”, she said, Erin staring at her, awed by these new feelings, “the power, burning inside you. What do you feel? More than one?”
“I think so”, Erin gave back, fidgeting, suddenly feeling as if she had to move, unable to sit still any longer, “it’s like… these reservoirs of power. How do I use it…?”
“Focus on the one you want to use”, Holtzmann said, pulling a coin from her pocket and placing it on the table, “let’s start. Reach inside and burn one of them.”
“Burn it?” Erin repeated, not quite sure what Holtzmann meant; nodding, the blonde told her that was what Mistborn called the process, reassuring her that she would know what to do once she’d touch the power, and even though Erin wasn’t quite as sure, she tried to do what Holtzmann had told, frowning to herself as she tentatively reached for one of the powers she could feel within her.
And from one moment to the next, her perception of the world changed as she saw blue lines all over the room, crossing here and there; there was a whole bunch leading to Holtzmann’s pocket, she noticed, and one coming from the coin on the table… and all of them seemed to aim at her chest, for whatever strange reason.
“What are you feeling?” Holtzmann asked, smiling happily when Erin told her about the blue lines, going as far as rubbing her hands gleefully.
“That’s steel or iron, then. The blue lines point out metals you can use”, she said, Erin nodding along, completely focused now, amazed by these new things she was learning so unexpectedly, “steel is for Pushing, and it’s paired with iron, which is for Pulling. Each metal has a partner, so to say, which has the opposite effect. Try using the power on that coin.”
Erin focused on the blue line which led from her chest to the coin, not quite sure how exactly to Push it; she frowned a bit as she focused on the power within her, and imagined the blue line as some sort of spear which would get the coin moving… and suddenly, the coin flew off the table and hit the wall, not falling to the floor though, but remaining pressed against it as if held there, a squeal coming from Erin when she felt herself be shoved backwards, stopping her Push before she consciously realized what she was doing and keeping herself from toppling over the last moment.
“That was good”, Holtzmann said, Erin feeling her cheeks flush at how she almost had fallen over with her chair, “and a valuable lesson, too. Whenever you Push, or Pull, you use your own weight. So as long as the coin is airborne, you’ll have no troubles Pushing it wherever you want. Once it hits a wall though or falls to the floor, your weight won’t be enough to keep it moving, so the Push will work on your body instead. This is how I did the jumping last night. What you did now was Pushing, with steel.”
“And steel is paired with iron”, Erin repeated what Holtzmann had said, making her nod, “and with iron I can Pull?”
“Yes”, Holtzmann confirmed, smiling proudly, a bit like a teacher would smile at a good pupil, “exactly. Just give it a try, try Pulling the coin into your hand, but do it slowly, so it won’t shoot from the wall and dig into your palm.”
Erin grimaced a bit at that, but nodded, then focused on the blue line leading the coin again; it was still pressed against the wall, she realized, wondering if she unwittingly had done that or if Holtzmann had kept there, so it wouldn’t fall to the floor and could be used for the Pulling exercise.
Shrugging it off for now, Erin easily found the iron within her, as close to steel was it was; and then, she carefully used this power to tuck at the coin, amazed when it floated from the wall and into her waiting hand, Holtzmann clapping her hands when the cold metal rested on her palm and she stopped Pulling.
“Great job”, the blonde told her, making her look from the coin and at her again, “when I tried that for the first time, the coin nearly flew in my face. I want you to keep it and practice with it, alright? Pushing and Pulling, getting a feel for it, it’s yours.”
Erin looked at the coin in amazement, never having owned any sort of money before; she figured it wasn’t worth much, certainly Holtzmann wouldn’t have given it to her if it’d had any real worth, but still it was hers, Holtzmann had said so, and she couldn’t believe she actually had a coin of her very own now.
“That’s enough for now”, Holtzmann told her, making her look at her again, “I don’t want to overdo it on your first day. Practice with your coin, and once you’re secure with it, we’ll try the next pair, alright?”
“Alright”, Erin gave back, then looked at the coin in wonder again; Holtzmann smiled at her and told her to enjoy practicing before she got up and left the room, giving her some privacy, Erin barely noticing her leave though, too amazed by how suddenly and completely her life and her perception of herself was changing.
For quite a while, Erin busied herself with practicing, as Holtzmann had said; she Pushed the coin against the wall, figuring out the perfect moment to stop Pushing so she wouldn’t get thrown back, then Pulled the coin back to her hand, daring to do so with a bit more force as she slowly got a feel for which amount of power would create what kind of speed.
Still she had to duck once when she overdid it and the coin came shooting towards her, almost too fast enough to let her eyes follow it; she felt embarrassed, glad that no one had been around to see her, not quite sure if her progress was fast or slow though thanks to the lack of comment from anyone, and not having anyone she could compare it to.
Erin got so lost in her practice that she didn’t notice how time passed, until there was a knock from the door; pulling the coin to her hand, Erin stopped and hesitatingly called out “yes?”, wondering if it was Holtzmann coming to check her progress and what the blonde would say, feeling eager to please her, after the kindness the younger woman had shown her.
As it turned out, it wasn’t Holtzmann though, but Abby, the woman smiling at her as she entered; she surprised Erin by asking if she had a bit of time for her, her surprise clearly showing as she nodded, Abby’s gaze softening while she walked to the table and sat down on the chair Holtzmann had been using earlier.
“You know you could have told me to come back later, right”, she asked, making the redhead shrug; deciding not to push the issue further, Abby gestured at the coin Erin was holding, and asked her how practice had been with Holtzmann, noticing how the corners of Erin’s mouth twitched as she looked down at the coin, as well.
Her coin, she realized again, Holtzmann had gifted it to her, perhaps just so she could practice, but still Erin found herself wondering if the blonde actually knew what a great gift this was, for a skaa who had lived all her life working on the fields of a nobleman and never had had any money of her own.
“I have some power”, she said instead of mentioning how much this gift meant to her, unaware of the fact that Abby knew perfectly well, knowing how the field skaa lived, “I can use steel and iron.”
“Steel and iron?” Abby gave back, raising an eyebrow, Erin not quite sure why she sounded so surprised, “well, I’ll be damned. Guess Holtz was right when she speculated you’re Mistborn, huh?”
Erin only blinked, her mouth falling open almost comically, and it took Abby a second to realize why the redhead had this reaction, looking sheepish as she realized what she just had done.
“Oh”, she let out, feeling bad now for just dropping this on Erin, “Holtz didn’t mention that yet, did she. I guess she wanted to let you figure out those two metals at first… Sorry…?”
“Yesterday I didn’t even know I have any sort of power”, Erin gave back, still sounding and looking shocked, “and today you tell me I’m Mistborn…? But how? Skaa aren’t supposed to have any of these powers, the Lord Ruler…”
“The Lord Ruler tries his best that only nobles have those powers, yes”, Abby nodded, still feeling bad for being so blunt with Erin, even though she hadn’t done it on purpose, “but he can’t stop it from happening. Do you know if your mother or father had any power?”
“I never knew my parents”, Erin gave back, shrugging a bit, slowly recovering from the shock Abby had given her, “my mother was sent to the pits when I was a baby, and I don’t know about my father…”
“He might have been a noble then”, Abby said thoughtfully, earning another shrug from the redhead, “or perhaps, your grandparents, sometimes, the skill skips a generation or two. Anyway… Lucky Holtz, now she’s not the only Mistborn of the crew anymore, I bet she’s thrilled.”
Erin wondered then if Abby and Patty had any powers, but figured it wasn’t her place to ask; and so, she just cleared her throat, but apparently, Abby could tell what she was thinking about, smiling at her as she answered the unasked question.
“Patty and I both have power, too”, she told her, Erin blushing a bit as she wondered if she had been so easy to read, “but we’re mere Mistings, we each can only use one metal. Copper for me, brass for Patty. Patty’s a Soother, I’m a Smoker.”
“Smoker…?” Erin repeated, making Abby nod before she explained, letting her know that her power hid any allomancy done around her from others, from those who had the power to feel allomantic pulses; Erin found herself wondering if she could do this, too, gathering all her courage so she’d dare to ask.
“So I can do this too?” she wanted to know, “when I burn copper? How does it feel like? I want to try.”
“Um, it’s kind of hard to describe”, Abby said, looking a bit sheepish now, “I’ve been able to do it since I was quite young, so… Wait, I’ll get you some copper though, then you can try it."
“Oh no need”, Erin gave back, feeling excited about learning something new, not noticing how Abby gaped at her as she continued, “I should have some, Holtzmann gave me a vial with all metals and I’ve only been using iron and steel, to Push and Pull.”
“You still got metal in your system then?” Abby asked, making the redhead nod; Abby’s face darkened, and Erin shrank back, thinking she had made her mad now, but apparently, Abby’s ire wasn’t aimed at her, since she got up and marched to the door, practically yanked it open and then yelled “HOLTZMANN!”, Erin flinching at how loud her voice was.
It didn’t take long until Holtzmann came running, looking worried; she grimaced when she saw the look on Abby’s face though, Erin only feeling worse when the Smoker gestured at her, not taking her eyes off of Holtzmann for even a second though.
“You just left her with a bunch of metals in her stomach?!” Abby demanded to know, Holtzmann looking startled, then sheepish, “Holtzmann! That is dangerous! If she hadn’t mentioned it to me, she could have gotten seriously ill, she’s not used to it yet!”
“Um, I forgot”, Holtzmann gave back, clearly feeling bad, “I’m sorry Erin, I’m so used to it, I didn’t think of…”
“Don’t punish her, please”, Erin threw in, feeling bad for having gotten Holtzmann into trouble with her thoughtless talking, her words prompting both Abby and Holtzmann to stare at her, “it was my mistake, I shouldn’t have said anything, I’m sorry.”
“No one is going to punish anyone”, Abby reassured her, her heart clenching up at the relief she saw in Erin’s eyes in response, “and don’t be sorry for speaking up, Erin. You’re not on the fields of this despicable lord anymore, here, everyone can speak their mind.”
“What Abby said”, Holtzmann confirmed, “and I’m the one who has to apologize, I really should have thought of that. I’m sorry Erin, I promise it won’t happen again, and I hope you accept my apology.”
Erin could only nod, not having expected this at all; Holtzmann gave her a reassuring smile, then skilfully changed the topic by asking her how she had progressed with her practicing, and that she should show her, Abby watching in silence as Erin demonstrated her Pushing and Pulling, wondering if the redhead was aware of how fast she had learned and how good her control already was.
“Well, you’ve made quite the progress”, Holtzmann said admiringly as Erin finished her little demonstration, “good. There’s still some hours left until nightfall, I suggest we have an early dinner and then take a nap so we’re ready once it’s dark outside.”
“Um…?” Erin let out, not quite sure what to expect, and not liking the thought of going outside at night much; Abby rolled her eyes at how clumsily Holtzmann had told the redhead about her plans, giving her a soothing smile as she spoke up.
“Holtz might be amazing at planning burglaries and scams”, she said, making Erin look at her, “but she’s not very good about communicating those plans. We’re used to it, I imagine you’ll be too, after a while. She means to say that she wants to go out with you at night to practice jumping, using Pushing and Pulling.”
“Oh”, Erin gave back, still not all too eloquent, feeling frightened at the thought of going out into the night; all her life, she had been told that it was dangerous once night had fallen, that the mists could hurt and kill, and she wasn’t quite sure if being Mistborn included any powers which would keep that from happening to her.
She didn’t dare to protest though, not wanting to risk Holtzmann getting angry with her; and so, she just nodded, Holtzmann giving her a bright smile in response, then vaguely gesturing at the door, asking her to come along then so they could find something to eat.
“You can help yourself to food from our storage whenever you want, you know”, she said as they left the room together and Holtzmann led the way down the hallway, “no need to wait for us or to ask, when you’re hungry, just grab a bite. We usually eat cold when we’re here, but tomorrow night, we’ll visit my mentor, we’ll get awesome food there.”
Not sure if an answer was expected, Erin just nodded, earning another toothy grin from Holtzmann; then, the blonde pushed the door leading to their little storage room open, gesturing at the food with a flourish, Erin’s eyes widening a bit at the hams hanging from the ceiling, the wheels of cheese, the loaves of bread and the vegetables on the wooden shelves, her mouth watering even though it hadn’t been that long since she’d had late breakfast.
“What do you feel like having?” Holtzmann asked, grabbing a large knife which had been hanging from a hook next to the door, “bread I guess? Do you prefer cheese or ham?”
“Whatever you will have”, Erin gave back, not wanting to be a nuisance; Holtzmann declared that she felt like having both in response and carved generous pieces off the food, arranging it a bit sloppily on two wooden boards before she handed one of them to Erin, then led the way again, back to her room.
Erin still felt nervous about having to go out during the night, not very fond of the idea; still she made herself eat along with Holtzmann, and after the early dinner had been eaten, laid down on the mattress on the floor while Holtzmann flopped onto her bed, wishing her a good sleep before she apparently went from being awake to fast asleep from one moment to the other.
Unlike Holtzmann, Erin couldn’t fall asleep so fast, lying awake on the mattress and staring up at the ceiling, nervous about the trip outside during the night Holtzmann had been talking about; finally though, she fell asleep as well, into an uneasy slumber, her dreams plagued by images of the mists and the things she knew lurked within.
Before they headed out into the misty night, Holtzmann gave Erin some black clothing, making them both match; they’d be hard to spot, the redhead realized as she pulled the new garments on, her amazement at how soft they felt on her skin briefly allowing her to forget her worries, Holtzmann missing the astonished look Erin had on her face as she had turned her back on the redhead when she had started to change.
“Alright”, Holtzmann said as Erin timidly let her know she was done, “no cloaks for today, just dressing in black. You’ll get your own Mistborn cloak though, no worries, once you have a basic grasp of all the metals. Ready to head out?”
Erin felt far from ready, but she still wanted to please Holtzmann, and so, she nodded, telling herself she could do it, if Holtzmann, a woman clearly a few years younger than her could do it, then so could she; still she felt nervous as she followed the blonde, glancing this way and that once they had stepped outside, almost expecting the mists to rear up and attack them.
They didn’t, to her relief, but her nervousness didn’t vanish; clearly, Holtzmann had no worries about being outside during the night though, humming to herself as she led her away from the warehouse, stopping in one of the darker side alleys and giving Erin a bright smile.
“Alright”, she then said, Erin forcing herself to focus on what she was saying and trying hard to not let her nervousness distract her, “what do you wanna do first? Try another metal, or try a jump?”
“I… don’t know”, Erin gave back, feeling a bit nervous again, afraid that Holtzmann would get annoyed or even angry at her inability to choose, “what would you suggest…?”
“Well, I like jumping”, Holtzmann said, not appearing as if she was annoyed by Erin answering her question with one of her own, “so if you feel like it, we can try that. We can do it safely here, no guards patrol at this time of the night, just make sure you don’t jump over any buildings, alright?”
“Alright…?” Erin gave back, feeling nervous again; Holtzmann gave her a reassuring smile and Soothed her, just a little bit to take her anxieties away, not wanting her too worry too much during her first Allomantic jump, aware that she might lose her focus then and end up getting hurt.
“We’ll start slow”, Holtzmann promised, smiling at her, “I’ll be right there next to you, alright? I’ll show you how it works.”
Erin nodded again, nervousness growing when she watched how Holtzmann pulled a coin from the pouch she had tied to her belt; then, she dug into her pocket and surprised Erin by pulling out another pouch, as bulging with currency as the one she had bound to her belt was.
“Here”, she said, holding it out to the stunned Erin, “that’s yours, you’ll need more than one coin to jump successfully. For now, just one will be enough, but once we try more, it won’t do.”
“This is a fortune!” Erin gave back, blurting the words out before she could stop herself, staring at the pouch in awe, “I can’t accept this, it’s too much, I can’t ever pay this back…”
“Eh, it’s just the smallest currency”, Holtzmann replied with a shrug, earning a wide-eyed look of disbelief, “no worries, pay me back by learning how to properly use your metals and we’re even. Ready?”
“Um, I’m not sure”, Erin honestly gave back, swallowing as she eyed the coin Holtzmann had started toying with again, not quite sure what to expect; she had been carried by the blonde when they had fled from Lord Hudson’s mansion, and had seen how the jumping worked, but that had been pure theory for her, and she wasn’t sure if she’d actually be able to do it.
“You can do it”, Holtzmann reassured her, smiling at the doubtful look she received in response, “I promise, you have made such progress already when you practiced with the coin. And I also promise nothing will happen to you, I won’t let you fall.”
“Alright”, Erin made herself say, even though she still wasn’t sure it was a good idea; Holtzmann gave her a bright, happy smile, then dropped the coin to the floor, Erin feeling a pang at seeing money just being tossed around like this, despite what Holtzmann had said about the coin being the smallest currency the empire offered.
“Start burning steel”, Holtzmann instructed, “then drop your coin and stand right above it, then gently Push against it. Gently, just a bit! Don’t worry about Allomantic pulses, I’m burning copper to hide our pulses.”
Erin made herself nod, then, with a heavy heart, dropped the coin; she started burning steel, taking in a deep breath before she Pushed – only realizing too late that she had done so with too much force when she shot upwards into the sky, and at an angle, too, a cry coming from her as she flailed her arms.
Before she realized what she was doing, she stopped burning steel… and a heartbeat after she had done so, she was falling, her panic only growing as she realized how far up she had catapulted herself, and how hard she would hit the ground.
You’re gonna die, Erin’s mind shrieked at her as she fell, not even able to scream, her throat closed with panic and fear, you’ll hit the ground and die, you never should have agreed to this, you’re no Mistborn, you’re just a worthless skaa, you’re gonna die you’re gonna die you’re gonna—
She heard a loud flapping sound, and suddenly, arms were beneath her, catching her, holding her, and her fall slowed; she was still gasping for breath, close to crying from sheer fear, but a few moments later, her fear started to fade away, and her mind cleared enough to let her realize that Holtzmann had caught her, and was now Pushing against some metal to slow their fall.
“It’s alright, it’s alright”, she heard Holtzmann say soothingly, clinging tightly to her despite how secure the blonde’s hold on her was, “you’re not falling anymore, you’ll be fine. We’re almost back down at the ground, just a bit more… there we go.”
She landed so soft that her feet barely made a noise on the cobblestone, Erin’s harsh breathing louder than any noise Holtzmann might have made; the blonde moved as if to put her down, but Erin held on to her tighter and shook her head, still unable to speak, only capable of giving her a pleading look.
“Alright, no putting you down yet”, Holtzmann got the hint quickly, burning pewter so she could carry her easier – Erin didn’t weigh much, and Holtzmann figured she could have carried her without the aid of pewter for a bit, but she’d used it when she had caught her just to make sure her arms and shoulders would be capable of taking the strain, and she figured that she might as well keep it burning for now, “I’ll keep carrying you then, no problem. You want to go back? To the hideout?”
Erin wanted to nod, all she wanted was to go back and hide; she also wanted to make Holtzmann satisfied with her progress though, afraid of what Holtzmann might do, should she decide she was wasting her time, and so, she took in another deep breath, an audible tremble in her voice when she replied, unaware that Holtzmann was Soothing her fear in an attempt to help her calm down faster.
“Maybe”, she started, then heard how close her voice was to cracking and took in another breath, managing to sound a bit more secure when she tried again, “um… maybe we can try something… less dangerous? For now?”
“Sure”, Holtzmann replied, with another bright smile, this reaction showing Erin that she had made the right choice, even though she was still frightened after what had happened, “but I’ll have to put you down for that, alright?”
Erin made herself nod, and Holtzmann gently lowered her to the ground; she remained close to her though, to Erin’s relief, giving her another reassuring smile as she asked her to burn one of the metals and tell her what she saw or felt.
The redhead nodded, then burned one of the metals she didn’t know yet; and suddenly, everything was so clear and loud and omnipresent, she could smell a myriad of scents, felt the smallest unevenness in the cobblestoned beneath her feet and every single thread of the clothes she was wearing, the gasp she let out unnaturally loud in her ears, prompting her to clap her hands over her mouth, her eyes going wide.
“Let me guess”, Holtzmann said, smiling a bit, “your senses are suddenly super keen? That’s tin. It takes a bit of practice to focus on one, we mostly use it for seeing and listening when we’re… working.”
Her smile softened, and she took a step closer to Erin, the redhead experiencing an odd tingle in her stomach at the way Holtzmann was looking at her, with this soft kindness; she blamed this on the metals in there though, figuring it might have strange side effects to have metal in her belly for the first time, finding it hard to look away from the blonde though, even when Holtzmann pointed up at the sky.
“Look up”, Holtzmann encouraged her, and even though she wasn’t sure why she should do this, with the mists clouding everything at night, Erin did so… and a moment later, she gasped again, her eyes going wide.
Burning tin enhanced her vision enough to let her gaze pierce the nightly mists, and for the first time in her life, she could see the stars.
“Lord Ruler”, Erin whispered, barely noticing how she took hold of Holtzmann’s arm, needing something to steady herself, dully aware of the fact that she could feel the threads of Holtzmann’s shirt and the warmth of her skin, also thanks to the tin she still was burning.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they”, Holtzmann said, keeping her voice low as she was aware of how loud she had to sound to someone burning tin; Erin kept staring up at the sky for a bit longer, mesmerized, until she managed to tear her gaze away and looked at Holtzmann again, barely able to nod a bit, her throat once again too tight to let her speak.
“With tin, you can see them each night, if you want”, Holtzmann went on, Erin looking up at the stars again in response, “and never worry about running out of tin, we’ll make sure you have enough of all metals at all times, Abby, Patty and me.”
Erin almost asked why they would bother, and what they would want in return from her; then, she decided that she didn’t want to ruin this nice moment by asking such questions and just smiled and nodded, belatedly realizing that she still had her hand on Holtzmann’s arm and pulling back quickly, not wanting to overstep any boundaries.
“Alright”, Holtzmann said, with another smile at the redhead, “I think that was enough excitement for tonight. Let’s go back to the hideout, alright?”
Erin had gotten over her fear after her fall, and would have been willing to try some more; she didn’t want to push though, and so, she just nodded, Holtzmann smiling at her again before she started leading the way back to the hideout, Erin following close behind her, still amazed at the stars, looking up again every now and again, barely able to handle the unexpected beauty which burning tin had revealed to her.
Quite a while later, Erin laid on the mattress, looking up at the ceiling; Holtzmann had gone out to some sort of nightly job, something Erin figured probably wasn’t exactly legal, but she couldn’t find it within herself to be upset at the thought, too amazed after the night’s short lesson.
She still remembered well how the sky had looked, with all the glowing lights, how beautiful it had been; she had seen the sky during the day, of course, when she hadn’t kept her head low and had been focused on her work on the fields, but she never would have thought at the sky at night would look so different, so much prettier than it did during the day, and than it did when one looked up without burning tin, unable to see through the mist.
The mists always had frightened her, especially ever since one certain night, when she had been eight; not wanting to think about said night, Erin pushed those thoughts out of her mind, and thought back to how beautiful the sky had looked again instead, suddenly feeling angry at the mists, and at the unfairness that people who couldn’t burn tin would never be able to experience this.
Holding back a sigh, she told herself that being angry at this wouldn’t lead anywhere, yawning as the night’s excitement caught up with her; she remembered what Holtzmann had said about burning all her metals before going to sleep, and did so, burning one after the other, knowing steel, iron and tin at this point, but having no real idea what the others did so far.
Not even Abby can do it, she realized, Abby having told her that her skill was a Smoker was to hide Allomancy happening from others; she wondered if Patty could, but Abby told her that Patty was a Soother, and somehow, Soothing didn’t sound as if it had anything to do with heightened senses.
She made a mental note to ask about what Soothing meant, and which metal was used for it, then yawned again, realizing it might be a good idea to get some sleep now, not quite sure what would await her in the next day.
Remembering what Holtzmann had said, Erin burned all the metals still within her, flaring them to make them burn faster, momentarily feeling strong and fully awake, her eyes widening; the feeling faded as fast as it had appeared, and she figured it had come from one of the metals, telling herself she should ask Holtzmann about that, too while she laid down to sleep, once more amazed at how soft and comfortable the mattress and the blanket were.
She didn’t fall asleep as fast as she had during her first night at this strange place, but still faster than she ever had back at Lord Hudson’s estate, in the hovel she had shared with a dozen others; and her last thought before she drifted off was of the sky and the beautiful, glittering lights… and of how it felt when Holtzmann had caught her and had held her, of how safe and protected she had felt, something she never had experienced before in her life.
“I burned all metals before I went to sleep yesterday, like Abby and you said”, Erin told Holtzmann in the next day, as they had yet another meal together in the blonde’s room, “and for a few moments, I felt really awake and strong? But it vanished again when the metal burned away, and I was tired again. What was that?”
“Pewter”, Holtzmann replied at once, “that happens when you burn pewter. It makes you stronger, faster, even lets you fight on when you’re hurt, but you’ll pay the price once you stop burning it.”
“Oh”, Erin let out, “um… good to know, thank you. I already know what copper does, Abby told me, and she said that Patty is a Soother, but I don’t know what that means…”
“Soothing is done with brass”, Holtzmann let her know, amazed by how much more talkative Erin seemed now, “and it’s used to influence people’s emotions. You can’t control them with Soothing, but a good Soother can manipulate them, weaken certain emotions, like fear or insecurity. And brass is paired with zinc, which is used for Rioting, and that…”
“…that makes emotions stronger”, Erin finished for her, Holtzmann giving her a happy grin and nodding; she smiled back at her, a tiny and shy smile – smiling hadn’t been a good thing out on the fields, as usually, an overseer had demanded to know what was so funny – but it was a smile, a clear sign that Erin was getting more comfortable around her.
“Exactly”, she confirmed, Erin feeling a bit proud of herself for having figured this out, even though she told herself it hadn’t been difficult, “a skilled Rioter can take a tiny bit of dismay or grumpiness and spark it into full-blown anger. We have no Rioter on our crew right now, I can do it a bit cause I’m Mistborn, but I’m not very good at it.”
“You’re good at Pushing and Pulling, right”, Erin guessed, not surprised when Holtzmann nodded at once, “I could tell, by how easily you caught me yesterday. Um… Thanks for that, by the way, I didn’t thank you yesterday so…”
“Nothing to thank me for”, Holtzmann told her, giving her another bright smile, “come on, I can’t let you go squish on the cobblestones after I told you I’ll teach you Allomancy, can I? Also, Abby and Patty would kill me if I let anything happen to you, they like you.”
“Oh”, Erin let out, feeling her cheeks colour at those words, not having expected this at all, “um… I like them, too? I like all of you. I didn’t have many people treat me kindly on the fields, I…”
She realized she was rambling and fell silent, mortified at what she almost had revealed; thankfully, Holtzmann didn’t ask though, but just smiled at her, making her blush deepen when she told her that she liked her, too.
“Well, good you like us”, Holtzmann said, finishing her meal and leaning back in her chair comfortably, “cause I’d like you to stay with us a bit longer, at least until you’re trained in Allomancy. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like, of course, we’re not gonna kick you out, but we won’t hold you here against your will either.”
All Erin could do in response was to stare at her, not having expected this at all – up until this very moment, she hadn’t exactly felt like a prisoner of this crew, but also had been sure that she wouldn’t just be allowed to leave, should she want to, and now Holtzmann pretty much told her that she could go anytime she liked.
“Oh”, she let out, blinking, momentarily too stunned to say anything else, more coherent, “I… Alright? I wouldn’t know where to go so…”
As she said those words aloud, she realized that it was true – she knew no one in the city except Holtzmann, Abby and Patty, knew nothing about life in the city, and even if she could have gone back to Lord Hudson’s estate, which she doubted, with the Lord dead and gone, she knew that the skaa there wouldn’t receive her with open arms, many of them having the Lord’s men take her to the mansion, all of them well aware that no woman ever had come back from there.
“Well, as I said”, Holtzmann distracted her from these dark thoughts, “you’re welcome to stay here as long as you like, I’m happy to have another Mistborn around. No worries about overstaying your welcome, alright?”
“Thank you”, Erin gave back, touched, realizing fully for the first time how good she had it now – with a warm bed, a roof over her head, and regular proper food, more than she could eat, and it still seemed as if Holtzmann and the others didn’t expect anything from her in return.
Still she was determined to make herself useful, even more so now, after having been openly told that she was no prisoner, but a guest, and could leave anytime she wanted; and so, she decided to start being useful to the crew as fast as possible, telling Holtzmann exactly that, the blonde looking a bit taken aback before she shrugged.
“Well”, she then said, smiling at Erin again, her heart skipping a beat when Erin gave her another small smile in response, seeming much more relaxed all at once, and making Holtzmann wonder if she had thought she was a captive up until this very moment, “I get it that you want to keep busy during the day so… I’m sure we can find something for you to do. Just nothing too tiring because we can only go out to practice Allomancy at night, and I don’t want you to burn pewter too much in the beginning, you have to get used to it.”
Figuring that this made sense, Erin nodded, knowing so little about Allomancy that she practically had to believe everything Holtzmann told her; if she’d had to put this kind of trust into anyone else, it would have frightened her, would have made her insecure and anxious, but somehow, it was easy to trust Holtzmann like this, without questioning the things the blonde told her for even a second.
Well, of course you can easily trust her, she thought to herself while she finished her portion of the food, Holtzmann having gotten done a while ago, she’s been nothing but good to you so far. And she’s saved your life, twice!
“Let me”, she said when Holtzmann got up from her seat and reached for Erin’s empty plate, “like I said, I want to be useful, and so far, all I’m good at is cleaning. And field work, but you have no fields, so…”
“Oh”, Holtzmann let out, clearly not having expected her to offer this, “um, alright then? Let’s do it together though, if Abby or Patty walk in on you doing the dishes, they will think I made you do them and will yell at me, I hate doing the dishes and they know that.”
Not sure what the proper response was to that, Erin just blinked, then nodded; Holtzmann grinned and winked at her, making her feel oddly warm inside, and after a moment, she smiled back, nodding again when Holtzmann asked her to follow her, suddenly feeling quite good and confident that everything would work out fine.
For the next few days, Erin went out to practice Allomancy with Holtzmann at night, and helped the best she could at the hideout during the days; she slowly got better at Pushing and Pulling, even though she still was frightened she might end up falling, but Holtzmann was always there when they practiced Allomantic jumps, and always reassured her she wouldn’t let her fall.
As they practiced and pretty much lived together, Erin’s trust in Holtzmann grew bigger and bigger, making practicing the jumps easier, too, as she never doubted that Holtzmann would catch her, should she fail; and so, she grew more daring with her jumps, and soon could pull them off quite well, figuring out how to Push against coins on the ground in the right angle and how to use bits and pieces of metal on the buildings to Pull and Push to steady herself.
Holtzmann praised her progress, telling her how fast she was learning, and teaching her about the other metals; she didn’t really have any chances to test Soothing and Rioting, not wanting to use them on the blonde, but soon learned how to use bronze to sense Allomantic pulses, and how to use copper to hide them, so no other Allomancer burning bronze would notice them during their practice sessions.
“Most Mistborn would assume we’re nobles out and about, like themselves”, Holtzmann explained one night as they were out practicing again and she reminded Erin to keep her copper burning, doing to herself as well just to be on the safe side, “but they do know that some skaa are Mistborn, too, and if they see us, they only need to take one closer look to know we’re not noblewomen. So better not attract any attention.”
“Makes sense”, Erin nodded, glancing around nervously, as if a noble Mistborn might burst from the mists around them any moment and accuse them of being unworthy of these powers, belatedly realizing what Holtzmann had implied with her words and giving her a surprised look, making her smirk as she continued.
“Wait”, Erin said, momentarily forgetting her worries about being caught be other Mistborn, “you’re skaa, too?”
“Oh yeah”, Holtzmann gave back, earning a wide-eyed look from the redhead, “we all are, Abby, Patty and me. We’re just good at pretending to be noblewomen… well, Abby and Patty are, I usually have to act as the skaa servant when we hit a mansion or a wealthy home.”
“Wow”, Erin mumbled, looking at her in amazement – Holtzmann was clean, and well-fed, and looked healthy, unlike most of the skaa she had known during her life, and she doubted that city skaa had it any easier than field skaa out in the countryside, “I never would have thought… you must be doing well for yourselves, here in the city.”
“Yeah, we do fine”, Holtzmann told her, smiling, “mostly because we’re a band of thieves who rob the wealthy. Our latest haul from your former Lord brought us quite a bit of money, you know.”
Erin nodded, figuring that Lord Hudson had been wealthy, what with how much crops his fields had yielded each year; she found herself wondering, not for the first time, what had happened to the man’s skaa now that he was dead, but didn’t dare ask, too afraid that Holtzmann might confirm her worst suspicions and tell her that they all had been killed off, as retribution for the death of the lord.
“And you’ll do well for yourself, too”, Holtzmann distracted her from these dark thoughts, “once you got used to living here. We can always use another Mistborn on the crew, you know, but if you’re not into that, I’m sure we can find you something else to… do…”
She trailed off and frowned, and Erin had a moment to wonder what was going on – before Holtzmann told her to burn tin, and when she did so, she could hear footsteps, heavy and firm, and approaching them.
“Not soldiers”, Holtzmann decided, making her wonder how she could know, “probably bandits. Not Thugs, I can’t feel any Allomantic pulses from them. I suggest you start burning pewter.”
“What”, Erin squeaked, her eyes going wide, “Holtzmann, no! I can’t fight them, I don’t know how! We should run away!”
“With pewter, you don’t need to know how to fight”, Holtzmann told her, earning a look of disbelief, “you just have to hit them. Hit them hard.”
“I don’t even know if I can do that!” Erin gave back, the footsteps continuously growing louder – before two men came around the corner and stopped at seeing them, their gazes quickly finding the coin pouches both women had tied to their belts, their eyes lighting up.
“Well, well, well”, one of them said, exposing brown and broken teeth when he smiled, clear proof that he had been in fights before, “what a pleasant surprise. Ladies? Why don’t you hand over those pouches?”
“I think not”, Holtzmann replied pleasantly, smiling at them, Erin oddly glad for whatever reason that her teeth didn’t look like the man’s, “why don’t you boys turn around and walk back to where you came from? Then nobody has to get hurt.”
“Right”, the other man gave back, eying her as he clearly hadn’t expected this reaction, “let’s make this quick, then.”
Without fully realizing what she was doing, Erin started burning pewter, and despite her fear, she was amazed at how much more alert it made her feel, how strength flooded her body; then, one of the men charged at her, bringing his fists up, and when he swung at her, she found herself side-stepping easily, surprised by how effortlessly she could do so, almost as if he was moving in slow motion.
She saw him move past her, flailing as the missed hit had made him lose his balance; and without thinking about it, Erin placed her hand on his back and pushed, and with the help of pewter, she was amazed that she actually sent him flying face first onto the street.
From behind her, she heard a fist meet flesh, and turned to look, suddenly worried that Holtzmann had been hurt; it was the man who had been attacking the blonde who was on the ground though, clutching at his face, blood streaming out from between his fingers, low groans coming from him while Holtzmann stood next to him, dusting off her hands as if she had touched something dirty.
“Alright fellas”, she said, bending down and snatching a small pouch from the belt of the man she had downed, “thanks for the cash.”
She moved over to the man Erin had downed, the redhead watching with amazement how she took his money, too; then, she threw down a coin and nodded at Erin before she Pushed off the coin and shot off into the night, Erin following after a moment, feeling stronger and more confident than she ever had before in her life.
“You did well”, Holtzmann praised Erin quite a while later, as they reached their hideout and both stopped burning their metals, “see, I told you, no skill needed to fight when you have pewter. I’ll still teach you a thing or two though, just in case.”
“I just pushed him”, Erin gave back, blushing a bit at all this praise, not used to anyone speaking to her like this, “the pewter did all the work, really…”
“Still”, Holtzmann told her, smiling as she held the door open for her and let her enter the building first, “don’t be so modest, not every skaa who’s worked the fields all her life would have been capable of fighting, even it was just a push. I know how field skaa are treated, Erin, and I know that fighting back isn’t an option with the overseers. But it is one for you, now.”
Erin looked down on her hands in response, thinking back to how amazing it had felt when she had been burning pewter, how fast and strong she had been; and she found herself smiling, Holtzmann grinning at her in response, gesturing towards the hallway afterwards, making the redhead nod when she told her she was hungry now and wanted to get some food before it’d be time to sleep.
“Nothing better than a snack after some fighting”, Holtzmann told her as she led the way, “I dunno about you, but it always gets my appetite up, so I—”
“Fighting?” Patty demanded to know, popping out from one of the rooms lining the hallway and actually making Erin squeak in fear while Holtzmann looked quite unfazed, “Holtzy! Whom did you fight? Please tell me you didn’t attack the Lord Ruler’s patrols again!”
“Noooo”, Holtzmann gave back while Erin clutched her chest and panted, still startled; she noticed how Patty looked at her and the sympathetic look she got on her face, and more out of instinct than conscious thought, she started burning bronze, not quite surprised when she felt distinct pulses coming from Patty, and sent her way.
“You’re Soothing me”, she said, before Holtzmann could explain what had happened, “because you frightened me. You’re trying to Soothe my fear away.”
Both Patty and Holtzmann just stared at her, and she started to feel bad after a moment or two, starting to worry she had overstepped some sort of boundary she hadn’t been aware of; then, Patty spoke up, sounding awed and not angry at all, making Erin wonder if what she had done really had been such a difficult thing to accomplish.
“You can tell already?” the Soother wanted to know, eying at her as if she had grown a second head, “after just a week of practicing Allomancy? Holtz, did you even practice Seeking with her that much?”
“Barely at all”, Holtzmann gave back, Erin fidgeting a bit at how intensely both Patty and the blonde were staring at her now, “actually, I just showed her one time how it works. Have you been practicing on your own, Erin? Don’t look so nervous, it’s a good thing!”
“I didn’t”, Erin mumbled, hoping they would believe her and not accuse her of lying – the overseer had accused her of stealing a turnip once, and hadn’t believed her when she truthfully had told him she hadn’t, the scars from that punishment still visible, “I just… I don’t know, I thought Patty would try to Soothe me after how she looked at me, so I checked.”
“Huh”, Holtzmann let out, while Patty looked quite impressed, “that’s really impressive, you know. Well, no, you don’t, cause nobody told you until I did right now. But it is. We should look into how good you are with this more, when we go out to train again.”
“Don’t forget, no training tomorrow”, Patty told her, while Erin nodded, glad that she apparently hadn’t done anything wrong and wouldn’t be punished – so far, she thought to herself, Holtzmann had been nothing but kind and patient with her, and hadn’t given her any reason to fear punishment, but still Erin couldn’t help herself, not after twenty-five years as a field skaa, “we’ll go see Rebecca tomorrow night, she’ll be annoyed if you forget and we’re late again.”
“I know, I know”, Holtzmann gave back, while Erin felt a bit confused, wondering who this Rebecca was, why they would go to see her and if she would be allowed to come with the group or if they’d expect her to stay at the hideout, “I won’t forget, I promise. Sorry Erin, but we’ll look into this soon, I promise.”
Erin just nodded, not sure if any other response was expected from her; Holtzmann gave her a bright smile, then declared she wanted to get that snack now, asking Erin to follow her, the redhead trailing along behind her, still thinking about this apparent skill she apparently had, and how she could use it to help Holtzmann and the others.
As it turned out in the next evening, they did want her to come along, pretty much assuming that she would; Holtzmann simply asked her to bring her coin pouch when they were getting ready to go, and Erin merely nodding, deciding not to question it.
The four of them headed out just after nightfall, and Erin was amazed at how unconcerned Abby and Patty seemed about the mists, just like Holtzmann; she wondered if they were just reckless, like Holtzmann, or if the skaa she had grown up with had been wrong to be so frightened of the mists, realizing that during the time she had spent outside training with Holtzmann in the night, nothing bad had ever come from the mists.
She also remembered another night though, when she had been much younger, scared and alone; before too many of these memories could resurface though, she rigorously pushed them back down, focusing on the crew instead, trying to remember the path they were taking as she walked with them.
She had seen a few parts of the city during the nightly training with Holtzmann, but knew that she hadn’t seen much of it yet; the last thing she wanted was to get lost, not sure she’d ever find her way back to the warehouse, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to simply ask people for the way back.
To Erin’s surprise, they soon left the area where the warehouse was located, and moved on to a much nicer looking part of town; Holtzmann told her that she was burning tin so they could avoid any guards patrolling there, and that Abby was burning copper to hide the pulses Holtzmann caused with that, but still Erin felt nervous, glancing around as they walked, feeling as if she was trespassing.
The others clearly had no such qualms, walking as if they belonged there; Holtzmann was even whistling to herself, a jaunty tune, even though Patty told her to cut it out after a while, claiming that it made her annoyed, and not saying that it might attract unwanted attention.
“There we are”, Holtzmann distracted Erin from her observations as they stopped in front of a large, expensive looking house, almost a mansion; Erin gaped at the building – it was almost as big as Lord Hudson’s manor had been, and the coloured glass windows were even more beautiful than those Hudson had had in his house, making her wonder what they were doing there, if this Rebecca person they would meet lived there or if Rebecca was another thief and would help them rob this place.
Apparently, they weren’t planning a burglary, since Holtzmann knocked the door; it didn’t take long until it opened, a tall, handsome blonde man standing there, looking at them a bit blankly, Erin having a moment to take in the rings he wore on his fingers and which pierces his ears before he said “Yes?”.
“Kevin”, Patty said, shaking her head, “how many more times do we have to introduce ourselves to you? Lord Ruler, how can one man be so pretty and yet so dumb.”
“Rebecca’s home, right”, Holtzmann said before the tall man had a chance to reply to the insult, the slightly dazed way he smiled though making Erin wonder if he had even registered it, “we’re here to see her.”
“Ah, yes”, he gave back, taking a step aside to let them enter, “please, do come in. I think Lady Gorin is expecting you.”
Lady Gorin? Erin thought to herself, suddenly feeling frightened as she wondered if she’d be sold after all, and if that was why she hadn’t been told why they were going to this place; it was too late to run though, and she knew she wouldn’t be fast enough to get away from Holtzmann, and so, she steeled herself against whatever might happen now as she entered the house, perfectly unaware of the real reason why they were there.
The tall man named Kevin led the way through the noble house, to what appeared to be the dining hall; the table was set for four people, Erin noted, her heart sinking even further – certainly, she thought to herself, she would be sold to this mysterious Lady Gorin now, if there wasn’t even a place for her at the table, a woman sitting at said table already, raising an eyebrow when the four women entered the room.
She looked stern and strict, unlike the few noblewomen Erin had seen during work on the fields of Lord Hudson; those women had been giggly and dressed in puffy gowns, while this woman was wearing a simple black gown, far from as frilly and decorated as the few Erin had seen when Lord Hudson had had noble visitors.
“Jillian”, the woman said, not bothering to rise from her seat, “you should have told me that you’re bringing a guest. Kevin, tell Bradley we will need another place set.”
“Yeah, sorry about that”, Holtzmann gave back, Erin eying her at the realization that Jillian was her first name, deciding silently that “Holtzmann” fit her much better, “it was kinda short notice? This is Erin, by the way, she’s sorta new to the crew, Mistborn, too. Erin, this is Rebecca Gorin, my mentor and our fence.”
“I resent it when you call me that”, Rebecca replied dryly, Holtzmann giving her an innocent smile in response, “as you know. Nice to meet you, Erin.”
“Um, likewise”, Erin gave back, feeling confused again when the woman gestured at the seats and asked them to get comfortable; the man named Kevin returned with another guy in tow, who quickly set a place for Erin, and started pouring wine into the goblets which had been readied, letting them know that the first course would be served shortly before he retreated.
“Alright, our helper”, Holtzmann corrected herself, winking at Erin and taking a sip from her wine before she continued, “we bring her the jewels and other valuable stuff we steal which is not cash money and she sells it for us. Has been working out for years.”
“Jillian”, Rebecca said, raising an eyebrow and giving Erin a look which made her feel as if the older woman was staring straight into her soul, the redhead reflexively burning bronze to see if the noblewoman was using some sort of Allomancy on her, not sure what to think when she felt no pulses, “I would thank you to not speak so freely about these things in front of a complete stranger.”
“Eh, no worries”, Holtzmann replied while Erin fought the urge to fidget on her chair under Rebecca’s steady gaze, suddenly just knowing that this would be seen as a sign of weakness and not wanting to appear weak to this woman, “she’s with us. She hasn’t been on a job yet with us, I took her back here with me when we hit Hudson’s mansion.”
“Elaborate”, Rebecca replied, Erin feeling a bit better when the steely gaze moved from her to the blonde; Holtzmann seemed to handle it much better, simply telling the noblewoman what had happened, how she had found Erin in the Lord’s bedroom with the Lord himself dead, killed by her Allomancy, and a bunch of guards just having had arrived, reacting to the dying screams of the man.
“So I knocked them out”, Holtzmann told her, while Rebecca’s gaze moved to Erin again, to the redhead’s dismay, “grabbed her, and off we went. I couldn’t just leave her there, not after how she handled that despicable lord, I knew she was at least a Misting, and then she turned out to be Mistborn, too!”
“How fortunate”, Rebecca gave back, the dry tone she still used showing Erin that perhaps, she didn’t quite mean that, “but does that mean we can trust her? What if she rats you out to an obligator?”
“I won’t”, Erin mumbled, struggling to not look away when Rebecca’s piercing gaze met hers; the elder woman stared into her eyes for a few moments, then apparently was satisfied with what she saw, since she nodded, relaxing visibly.
As if that had been some sort of cue, servants appeared, carrying plates of soup and baskets of bread; judging from how Abby’s eyes lit up, she was quite fond of the soup, Holtzmann and Patty looking quite happy, too, the smell of the soup being enough to make Erin’s mouth water, and she figured that the other three had good reason to look happy about the food – they had plenty of cold food at the warehouse, but rarely cooked there, none of them very good at it, and food prepared by a noblewoman’s cook certainly would be better than anything one of them could have managed to make.
“Food first”, Rebecca stated, picking up her spoon, “then business. Jillian, do not try to steal my cutlery again.”
“Sorry”, Holtzmann replied, a bit sheepish, Erin blinking when she pulled a butter knife from her sleeve and put it back on the table, “habit. Thanks for dinner, Rebecca.”
“You’re welcome”, Rebecca gave back, then they all started eating; the soup was so good that Erin had to hold back a moan at the first spoonful, and then needed a lot of willpower to not wolf the food down, telling herself it would be impolite and that she didn’t want to make a bad impression.
Not to mention that you can’t know you’ll ever get such amazing food again, she thought to herself as she ate slowly, savouring every spoonful, you heard what she said, first dinner, then business, and then you’ll leave this place and go back to the warehouse. Not that the warehouse is bad, but this food… wow.
Even though Erin tried to eat slow, the soup was gone way too quickly, and she almost felt forlorn when the servants removed the empty bowls… only to nearly fall off her chair when another minute later, a large platter heaped with steaming slabs of meat was brought in, followed by bowls of vegetables and mashed potatoes, the redhead unable to stop staring as the food was put down in the middle of the table.
“Oh, we should have warned poor Erin that this is a three course dinner”, Abby said as she noticed the look on Erin’s face, “she looks like she’s about to faint. Erin, dear, if you feel like you’ll pass out, burn pewter, I hear it helps.”
“Um”, was all Erin could let out, Rebecca raising an eyebrow, but not commenting; Erin cleared her throat, then managed a nod when one of the servants asked her if she wanted both meat and vegetables, her mouth watering at the generous portion the man heaped onto her plate.
She tried hard to listen to the talk of the other women as she ate, but found it hard to focus, with the amazing food distracting her; and it only got better when the main course had been eaten and dessert was served, in form of a delicious cake which was so sweet that it almost made her teeth hurt.
“Alright”, Rebecca said once the cake had been eaten and the tea which had been served to it had been finished, as well, “time for business. You brought valuable things this time, Jillian, congratulations. Kevin?”
The tall blonde man moved to the table in response and pulled a large bag bulging with coin from the depths of his colourful robes; he held it out to Rebecca, and she thanked him as she took it, then put it on the table in front of the women, Kevin retreating again with another dopey smile while Holtzmann rubbed her hands.
“Excellent”, she said as she untied the string holding the bag close and peering inside it, “thanks, Rebecca, we couldn’t do this without you.”
“I know”, Rebecca dryly replied, earning a toothy grin from Holtzmann; and while the business part of the visit had been taken care of, said visit apparently wasn’t over yet, Abby, Patty and Holtzmann talking to Rebecca about news from the noble houses while Erin just quietly sat and listened, still amazed at the life she suddenly had been dragged into, so much better than what she had known during her previous years.
“Lord North”, one of the guards said, bowing low as the Lord climbed from the carriage, looking around disdainfully, “welcome to your new mansion.”
“Eh”, he replied, with a dismissive wave of his hand, “I’ll sell it, and his skaa, I have no interest in living out here in the middle of nowhere. His skaa are still alive?”
“Most of them”, the guard replied, “Lord Hudson’s steward has the exact numbers for you. You’re planning to sell all of this…?”
“Yes”, North gave back, following the guard into the mansion, looking around and sneering, “as I said, I have no interest in living out here. How my dear cousin could stand it here, I will never know. Where is the body? You kept it as I said, yes?”
“We did”, the guard replied, holding back the urge to grimace as none of them knew why the Lord had wanted this, but they all had known better than to talk back, “down in the cellars, where his body wouldn’t… go bad. You want to look at it right away?”
“Take me there”, North commanded in response, the guard nodding respectfully before he started leading the way; and as they walked, the new lord of the mansion demanded to hear exactly what had happened the night of Lord Hudson’s death, the guard shrugging before he responded, keeping his gaze away from the new lord’s face as they walked.
“I wasn’t there, my Lord, I only was told about it”, he said, keeping his eyes straight ahead – Lord Hudson had never liked it when the guards had looked him in the eyes, and he figured that this new lord wasn’t any different, “and the guards who were there were quite… confused about what happened. Lord Hudson had one of the skaa women brought to his chambers, and when the guards outside heard him scream, they came running, only to find him dead.”
“You were smart to send the Thug to me at once”, North told him, making him shrug again, the explanation he gave making the lord raise an eyebrow.
“Lord Hudson often worried that rival Houses might go after him”, the guard said, grabbing a torch to light the way as they walked down into the cellar, Rowan keeping the fact that he wouldn’t have needed extra light to himself, not wanting to reveal too much of himself to a random guard, “so he told us that, if he dies in strange circumstances or very unexpected, we’re to send a runner to you at once, and to not bury him. And, well… his death was strange and unexpected.”
“You did well”, North reassured him, not missing the brief relieved smile – the guards weren’t skaa, and in no danger of getting killed, but still their future had been uncertain, with their lord dead, and at least this guard now figured that he had a chance for a good life, “I shall keep this in mind once I sell this mansion and the plantations.”
“Thank you, my Lord”, the guard said, bowing a bit; then, he stopped in front of a door and let Rowan know that the body was in there, making him nod before he pushed the door open and entered, the guard following closely with the torch held up high, filling the room with a somewhat eerie, flickering light.
Lord Hudson’s body laid on a table, undressed except for a small cloth covering his groin, his men having provided him with some modesty even in death; Rowan noted this down as a point in their favour, clucking his tongue as he walked around the table and looked at the wound, raising an eyebrow at the glint of metal he could see deep within it.
“Tell me”, he said, looking up at the guard again, “was this like that when you found his body? With the… metal in there?”
“Yes, my Lord”, the guard reassured him at once, “we only removed his clothing, changed nothing else. The metal you can see seems to be his belt buckle, his belt was all torn when we found him.”
“I see”, Rowan replied, bending down for another close look, “has anyone else been told about this? Anyone from nobility?”
“No, my Lord”, the guard said, to his well hidden relief, “we just sent for you at once, and the guards who had seen it were instructed not to speak of it to anyone.”
“Very good”, Rowan nodded, satisfied by this; if any of the guards had blabbed, he’d find out, he knew, and could take the necessary steps, but for now, he’d be content with the knowledge that no one but his dead cousin’s closest guards knew about this, “you did well. Tell me, do you know anything about Allomancy?”
“Not much, my Lord”, the guard said, looking worried again now, “just… myths and legends, like most. Why do you ask?”
“No reason”, Rowan replied, studying the belt buckle again, “you’re dismissed. Leave the torch.”
“As you wish, my Lord”, the guard replied, bowing once again before he retreated; and the moment he was gone, Rowan smiled to himself, then dug into the dead man’s body, until he could pull the buckle out, clucking his tongue again at how deep inside him it actually had been.
Yes, he thought to himself, this is a very interesting development indeed.
He smiled again as he studied the buckle, his mind running with the possibilities, and he couldn’t wait to get his hands on the one who had accomplished this.
“Tadaaa”, Holtzmann let out theatrically as she upended the bag over the kitchen table in their hideout, Patty and Abby cursing as they hurried to catch any stray coins which went bouncing here and there, “a nice haul indeed. Go us, Ladies.”
“It’ll be even nicer if you don’t toss it around”, Patty scolded her, putting the coins she had managed to grab back on the table while Erin picked up a few she had missed and added them back to the pile, “how often have we told you not to do this, Holtzy?”
“Holtzy sorry”, the blonde replied in a bashful tone, making Erin smile a bit without even fully realizing; her smiles came much easier these days, she had noticed, and usually were caused by Holtzmann saying or doing something, and she wondered what this meant as she started making little piles of the coins, not with the intention to count them, but more to keep her hands busy.
She had no idea which coin was worth how much, but it was more money than she ever had seen in her life, with skaa not getting paid, but receiving food and shelter for their work; she tried hard to not appear too fascinated by this wealth as she sorted coins by size and colour, figuring this was a good way to do it, but still the other three could tell how awed she was, Holtzmann smiling at the look on her face.
“You know what”, the blonde said, distracting Erin from the awesomeness of the cash in front of her, “I was planning to go buy new metal vials tomorrow, using some of that money, you want to come?”
“If you don’t mind”, Erin gave back, fighting the urge to fidget – so far, Holtzmann and she only had gone out at night, to practice Allomancy, and the blonde never had taken her along when she had left the warehouse for errands like the one she just had mentioned, “perhaps I should get a look at the city during the day…”
“My thoughts exactly”, Holtzmann nodded, earning another small smile from the redhead, “alright then, tomorrow it is. For now, we should get some sleep, I feel all tired now after all the amazing food we got at Rebecca’s.”
“It was truly amazing”, Erin sighed, looking a bit wistful; Holtzmann smiled at the look on her face and nodded, and both women missed the look Abby and Patty exchanged, not able to see yet what the two already were noticing.
Once again, Erin was amazed at the softness of her new clothing as she left the warehouse with Holtzmann in the next day; she felt comfortable and well rested and good, but Holtzmann apparently worried about her level of comfort, commenting on the shoes she had as they walked, shaking her head while she remembered that Abby had given them to the redhead, with Erin not having had any of her own.
“We’ll get you some”, she decided, earning a surprised look from the redhead, Erin not quite sure why Holtzmann would want to spend all this money on her, for metal vials and now for shoes, too, “can’t have a Mistborn hopping around with no shoes! Also it’s dangerous, what if you end up landing on glass shards or something? No no, you need shoes.”
“Um, alright”, Erin gave back, not wanting to talk back; Holtzmann grinned at her, then decided that shoes had to be purchased before they’d get the vials, and led the way, Erin following her, looking around in amazement as they walked.
She had seen the city before, but only during the night, at first when Holtzmann had brought her there and then when they had gone out to practice; it had been quiet then, no one around but guards patrolling, the nobles and skaa staying inside once the sun had gone down, made oddly equal by their dislike of the mists, and so, it mostly had been just the two of them, save for a thief or two whom they had encountered during their nightly practice sessions.
Now, during daytime, the city was busy, people moving here and there, nobles and skaa like; there were beggars, Erin noticed, quite a few of them, and Holtzmann handed coins out every now and then, making the redhead wonder how she decided whom she’d give something and whom she ignored… until she noticed a pattern, Holtzmann mostly giving money to children, very young and very old beggars, and not to the ones who looked moderately healthy and strong despite their dirty clothing and skin.
“Those young ones are often thieves, too”, Holtzmann explained in a hushed voice as she noticed Erin watching her closely, “only begging to find their next mark. The little kids and the old ones can’t steal yet or can’t anymore, so…”
Erin nodded, figuring that this made sense; she was touched by this kindness Holtzmann showed to people she effectively didn’t know, but then, she thought to herself, Holtzmann had been just as kind to her back at Lord Hudson’s mansion, having taken her along without knowing her, and willingly having taken the risk that Erin might betray her crew and her to the authorities.
I’d be dead now if it hadn’t been for her, she thought to herself as she followed Holtzmann, her heart suddenly clenching up oddly as she looked at the blonde woman, so small and unassuming in her skaa clothing, but possessing such power, if she hadn’t happened to be there that night…
Erin shuddered at the mere thought of what would have happened to her then, remembering all too well how Lord Hudson had been looking at her when he had told her what he would do to her for the next few nights, before he’d tire of her and kill her, just to make sure she wouldn’t give birth to an Allomancer.
She had gotten so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t notice Holtzmann had stopped walking, until she bumped into her; before she could open her mouth though to apologize, Holtzmann was suddenly gripping her arm and pulling her along, with a sudden urgency, and all at once, Erin was afraid, realizing that something had to be very wrong for Holtzmann to act this way.
Then, she saw the creature moving through the crowd up ahead, and her blood froze as her breath got caught in her throat.
It had been a man, she thought to herself, once upon a time; now, it was something between man and walking nightmare, thick iron spikes protruding from the eye sockets, and as the thing moved its head left and right, as if it still could see, she could see the sharp tips of the spikes poke out of the back of its head.
This kind of injury should kill a person, Erin knew, she had seen men and women die from less; there was no blood though, and the creature was walking upright, not reacting to the skaa shrinking back from it, either not noticing or not caring.
“Don’t look at it”, Holtzmann whispered to her, keeping her own gaze focused on the ground, “just ignore it.”
Erin found it hard to “just ignore” such a creature, but gave her best to do so, staring at her feet and holding her breath; the skaa around them were just as quiet, the only sound being the heavy footsteps of the thing, and she nearly cried when she heard them move away.
Nobody moved or said anything until the footsteps couldn’t be heard anymore; and when Holtzmann let out a heavy breath, and people around them started moving and speaking again, Erin realized that the imminent danger was over – and immediately started to tremble, suddenly finding it hard to breathe.
“It’s alright, it’s alright”, she heard Holtzmann mumble, still finding it hard to breathe though, her throat feeling as if someone had tightened a noose around it; she felt Holtzmann rub her back in an attempt to help her calm down, but couldn’t even look up at her, too disturbed and upset by what she just had seen.
Realizing that rubbing her back and talking to her would lead nowhere, Holtzmann glanced around once more to make sure the creature was gone, then burned brass and gently Soothed Erin, taking her fear away; she did so slowly, not wanting to shock her by Soothing her too harshly, and finally, Erin’s breathing began to even out again, sounding more like regular breaths and less like panicked gasping.
“There, there”, Holtzmann said, glad that her Soothing worked, “it’s all good now, it’s gone, you don’t need to be afraid any—”
Erin turned and practically threw her arms around the other woman, hugging her tightly as she buried her face in her shoulder; for a moment, Holtzmann was startled, then hugged her back and just held her, not caring about the skaa around them watching curiously as she held Erin close and tried to give her some comfort.
“What in the Lord Ruler’s name was that”, Erin asked quite a bit later, once she had calmed down enough to speak about the disturbing creature without slipping back into the fear and panic, “how can it be alive, with those… those spikes? They went through the head!”
“Inquisitor”, Holtzmann gave back, “the Lord Ruler’s bloodhounds. They have some sort of power, not sure if it’s Allomancy or not, but whatever it is, it helps them sniff out mistings and Mistborn among the skaa, if they are unfortunate enough to use Allomancy without a Smoker around.”
“You were burning copper, right”, Erin wanted to know, panicking a bit again at the thought of this creature noticing Holtzmann and her; the blonde reassured her she had, and that made her feel a bit better, but still she felt shaken up, not wanting to imagine what the Inquisitors did to skaa mistings and Mistborn they managed to catch.
“No worries”, Holtzmann told her, smiling at her as she reached out and placed a comforting hand on her back, “once you got better at burning metals, you’ll be able to burn more than one metal at a time with ease, then you can keep your copper on all the time and hide yourself. As a Mistborn, we have a very good chance to not ever be caught by them.”
Holtzmann hadn’t given her a guarantee that she never would be caught, Erin noticed, and for a moment, she was afraid again, and seriously considered running away, back to the mansion, or to some other Lord who would take her in and let her work on the fields for him, let her go back to the life she had known and had resigned to… before she pushed these fears and thoughts aside, and told herself that this wouldn’t be right, that she had to make use of her powers and not let them go to waste like this, and that she couldn’t disappoint Holtzmann and the others like that.
And so, when Holtzmann asked her if she was ready to go on, or if she needed a few more minutes to calm down, she told her that it was fine and that they could continue their errands; the somewhat proud smile Holtzmann gave her in response made her feel oddly warm and tingly inside, and she smiled back as they continued walking, telling herself that she could do this and that she would be strong enough, no matter which other unpleasant surprises the city might throw at them.