I am going to read to you from Wax and Wayne 4.
It is always a little bit of a trick to figure out what to read, because I also generally don't want to spoil too much for people who have not read the series. But the Wax and Wayne, it's always been fairly easy because the prologues of each of them are flashbacks to the past. Like I do in Stormlight with flashback characters, we get basically one flashback sequence per book in the Wax and Wayne books. So this is actually going to be from the prologue of The Lost Metal, which is from Wayne's viewpoint as a little boy.
Wayne knew what beds were. A few of other kids in the settlement had them. Sounded much better than a mat on the ground, especially one he had to share with his mom when nights were cold because they didn't have any coal.
Plus, there were monsters under beds. Yeah, he'd heard stories from the other kids in the settlement about mistwraiths. They hid under your bed and stole the faces of people you knew. So beds sounded real nice; soft and squishy on top, with someone underneath you could talk to. Sounded like rustin' heaven!
The other kids were scared of those things, but Wayne figured those kids just didn't know how to properly negotiate. He could make some friends with something that lived under a bed. You just had to give it something it wanted, like someone else to eat. Maybe he could ask Ma to have a little brother.
Anyway, no bed for him; no real chairs. They had a table built by uncle Gregor, before he got crushed by a billion rocks in a landslide and mushed up into a bloody pulp what couldn't hit people no more. Wayne kicked the table sometimes, just in case his spirit was watching somewhere, 'cause he'd made that table and maybe it'd make him mad. Rust knew there was nothing else in this little one-windowed home that Uncle Gregor had cared about.
Best Wayne had for sitting was a stool, so he sat on that and played with his cards, drawings hands and trying to hide cards in his sleeve as he waited. This was a nervous time of day; every day, he thought, maybe she wouldn't come home. Not because she didn't love him; Ma was a burst of sweet spring flowers in this sewage pit of a world, and he'd punch anyone who said otherwise. No, he worried that, one day, Ma wouldn't come home. Pa hadn't come home one day. Uncle Gregor (Wayne kicked the table) hadn't come home one day. So...
Don't think about that, Wayne thought, bumbling his shuffle and spilling his cards all over the table and floor. And don't look. Not until you see the light.
He could feel the mine out there. Nobody wanted to live next to it, of course, so Wayne and his Ma did. Just under the window was a pile of laundry that Wayne had done for the day. His Ma's old job, what hadn't paid real well. So he did it, while she pushed mine carts. He didn't mind the work; spent half the day trying on all the different clothes, from ones sent by Gramps to the ones sent by young women, pretending to be them. His Ma had caught him a few times and seemed angry, minding why he did it. That exasperation still baffled him. Why wouldn't you want to try them all on; that's what clothes was for! It wasn't nothin' weird; he just liked it, and what harm did it do? None to nobody. Besides, sometimes folks left stuff in their pockets, like decks of cards.
He fumbled the shuffle again as he gathered the cards up, and he did not look out the window. Not until he spotted the light. He'd feel it, anyway, though, the mine, that gaping artery, like a hole in someone's neck, red on the inside and spurting out life like blood and fire. They had to go down, dig at the beast's insides, searchin' for metals, then escape its anger. And you could only get lucky so many times.
Light. With relief, like fire on a frigid night, he glanced out the window and saw someone walking on the path, holding up a lantern to illuminate her way. Wayne scrambled to hide the cards under his mat, then he was certain to lay on his mat with his lamp out, pretending to try to sleep with the door open. She'd have seen his light go out, of course, but she appreciated the effort he put into pretending.
She settled down on the stool, and Wayne cracked an eye. His Ma wore trousers and a buttoning shirt, her hair up, clothing and face smudged. She sat just staring at the light in the lantern, watching it flicker and dance, and her face seemed more hollow than it had been before, like someone has taken a pickaxe to her cheeks, digging away like rock in the wall. That mine's eatin' her up, he thought. Even if it hasn't gobbled her all whole like it did Pa, it's gnawing on her like rats on a barn wall.
Ma blinked, then fixated on something: a card he'd left on the table. Ah, hell. She picked it up and looked right at him. He didn't try to pretend to be asleep no more; she'd dump water on him. She'd done it before.
"Wayne," she said, shifting on the stool to look at him. "Where did you get these cards?"
"Found 'em," he said.
She waved her hand toward him, and he reluctantly dug the rest out from under his met and handed them over. She tucked the one she'd found into the box. He knew from experience she'd look all day through the settlement for the one who'd lost them. She didn't have time for things like that; he wouldn't have her losing more sleep on account of him.
"It's <Tarn Vestingdow>," Wayne mumbled. "It was in a pocket of his overalls.
"Thank you," she said softly.
"Ma, I gotta learn cards. See, that way, I can earn a good living for carin' for us."
"A good living?" she asked. "With cards?"
"Don't worry," he said quickly. "I'll cheat. Can't make a livin' if you don't win, see?"
She sighed, rubbing her temples.
Wayne looked at the cards in the stack. "Tarn," he said. "He's Terris, like Pa was."
"Yes," she said.
"Terris people always do what they're told," he said, "so what's wrong with me?"
"Nothing's wrong with you, love," she said. "You just haven't got a good parent who can help you."
"Ma," he said, scrambling off the mat. He took her arm. "Don't talk like that, Ma. You're a great ma!"
She hugged him to her side, but he could feel the tension in her. Ah, hell. What had they found?
"Wayne," she asked softly, "Did you take <Demmy's> pocketknife?"
"He talked?!" Wayne said. "Rust that rustin' little bastard!"
"Wayne, don't swear like that!"
"Rust that!" he said in a rail worker's accent instead. "The rusting bastard!" He looked at her innocently and was rewarded with a smile she couldn't keep in. Silly voices always made her grin. Pa had been good at them, but Wayne was better, particularly now that Pa was dead and couldn't say them no more, anyway.
But then, her smile faded. "You can't take things what don't belong to you, Wayne. That's somethin' thieves do."
"I don't wanna be a thief," Wayne said softly. "I wanna be a good boy. It just... happens!"
"She hugged him closer. "You are a good boy. You've always been a good boy." When she said it, he believed it. "Do you want a story, love?" she asked.
"I'm too old for stories," he lied, desperately wishing she'd ignore the objection. "I'm eleven. One more year, and I can drink at the tavern and prove how old I am."
"What? Who told you that?"
"Doug is nine!"
"Doug knows stuff."
"Doug. Is. Nine!"
"So you're sayin' I'll have to snitch booze for him next year, because he can't get it himself yet?"
He met her eyes, then started snickering as she smiled. He helped her get dinner; cold oatmeal with some beans in it. But at least it wasn't only beans, and there was some oatmeal. Then he snuggled into his blankets on the mat, pretending he was a child again to listen. It was easy to feign that; he still had the clothes, after all.
"This is the story," she said, "of Blatant Barm, the Unwashed Bandit."
"Ooooh," Wayne said. "A mean one?"
His mother grinned, then leaned forward, wagging her spoon toward him as she spoke. "He was the worst of them all, Wayne: baddest, meanest, stinkiest bandit. He never bathed, you see."
"'Cause it takes too much work to get properly dirty," Wayne said.
"No, because he... wait, it's work to get dirty?"
"Gotta roll around in it, you see," Wayne said.
"Why in Harmony's name would you do that?"
"To think like the ground."
She smiled again. "Oh, Wayne. You're so precious."
"Thanks!" he said. "Why ain't you told me about this Blatant Barm, if he was so bad? Wouldn't he be the first one you'd told stories about?"
"You were too young," she said, sitting back, "and the story too frightening."
"Ohhhhhhhh this is gonna be a good one!" Wayne bounced up and down. "Who got him? Was it a lawman?"
"It was Allomancer Jak."
"Him?" Wayne said with a groan.
"Jak brings them in," Wayne complained. "He never shoots a single one.
"Not this time," Ma said, digging into her oatmeal. "He was young this time. He knew Blatant Barm was the worst killer to the core. Even his two sidekicks, Gug the Killer and No Ways Joe, were ten times worse than any other bandit ever walked the Roughs."
"Ten times?" Wayne said.
"That's a lot; almost double!"
His Ma paused, then leaned forward and got back into it. "They robbed the payroll, taking not just the money from the fat men in Elendel, but the wages of the regular folk."
"Bastards!" Wayne said.
"Fine. Regular old turds, then!"
Again, she hesitated. "Do you know what the word 'bastard' means?"
"Yeah, it's a real bad turd. The kind when you really got to go, but you hold it in too long!"
"And you know that because...?"
"Doug told me."
"Of course he did. Well, Jak wouldn't stand for stealing from the common folk of the Roughs. Being a bandit is one thing, but everybody knows you take the money what goes toward the city. The trick is, Blatant Barm, he knew the area real well, so he rode off into the most difficult part of the Roughs to reach, and he left one of his men to guard each of the spots along the way. So Jak, he was gonna have to fight his way through all three."
"Why's it always three in stories, Ma?" Wayne asked. "Three bandits, three guns, three mines."
"Well, how high do you think most bandits can count?"
"Probably not that high," Wayne agreed. Ma always had good answers to such things.
"Fortunately, Jak was the bravest," she said, "and the strongest."
"If he was the bravest and the strongest, " Wayne said, "why was he a lawman? He could just be a bandit, and nobody could stop him, right?"
"Well, what's harder, love?" she said. "Doing what's right? Or doing what's wrong?"
"The right thing."
"So who gets stronger? The fellow what does the easy thing, or the fellow what does the hard thing?"
"Huh." He nodded. "Yeah, I can see that."
She leaned forward, grinning in the light. "Jak's first test was the River Human, the vast waterway marking the border with what had once been Koloss land, but now was controlled by bandits entirely. The swift waters moved at the speed of a train; the fastest river in the whole dang world! And it was full of rocks. Gug the killer had set up there across the river and watched for lawmen. He had such a good eye and a steady hand with his rifle that he could shoot a fly off a man at three hundred paces!"
"Why'd you ever wanna do that?" Wayne asked. "Better shoot men right in the fly, right? That's gotta hurt somethin' bad!"
"Not that kind of fly, love," Ma said.
"So, what did Jak do? Did he sneak up? Not very lawman-like to sneak. I don't think they ever do that ever. I bet he didn't sneak."
"Well..." Ma said. Wayne clutched his blanket, waiting. "Jak was an even better shot," she whispered. "When Gug the Killer sighted him, Jak shot him, right across the river."
"How'd Gug die?" Wayne whispered.
"... by bullet, love."
"Right through the eye?"
"And so Gug took sight, and Jak took sight back and shot him right in the eye! Right in the eye, right, Ma?"
"And his head exploded!" Wayne said. "Like a fruit, the crunchy kind, all ripe so the shell is tough but it splats anyways. Is that how it happened?"
"Dang, Ma. That's gruesome! You sure you should be tellin' this story to me?"
"Should I stop?"
"Hell, no. How'd he get across the water?"
"He flew," Ma said. She absently set the bowl aside, oatmeal finished, and made a flourish with both hands. "He had powers, Jak did. Allomancy powers. He could fly, and talk to birds, and eat rocks."
"Woah... eat rocks?"
"Yep. And he flew right over the river, but the next challenge was even worse. The Canyon of Death."
"Ohhhh. Bet that place was pretty."
"Why'd you say that?"
"'Cause no one is gonna visit a place called Canyon of Death unless it's pretty. But someone visited it, right, because we know the name. So it's pretty, right?"
"Beautiful," Ma said. "A canyon carved through the middle of a bunch of scattered, crumbling rock spires, the broken peaks lined with colors. But the place was deadly; as deadly as it was beautiful."
"Yeah," Wayne said, "that figures."
"But Jak couldn't just fly over this one, for the second of the bandits hid within the canyon: No Ways Joe. He was a master of pistols, and could also fly, and turn into a dragon, and eat rocks. So if Jak tried to sneak past, Joe would shoot him from behind."
"That's the smartest way to shoot someone," Wayne said, "on account of them not being able to shoot back."
"True," Ma said. "So Jak didn't let that happen. He had to go right into the canyon. But it was filled with snakes."
"Regular old boring hell, then. How many snakes?"
"A million snakes."
"But Jak, he was smart," Ma said, "as well as bein' a great shot and able to eat rocks, too. So he thought to bring some snake food."
"A million bits of snake food?"
"Nah, just one, but he got the snakes to fight over it, so they mostly killed each other. But the one that was left was the strongest, naturally."
"So Jak talked it into biting No Ways Joe."
"And Joe turned purple!" Wayne said, "and bled out of his ears, and his bones melted on account of the poison being so bad, so the melty bone juice leaked out his nose while he was bleeding, and he collapsed in a puddle of deflated skin, all while hissing and blubbering 'cause his teeth was meltin' too."
"Dang, Ma. You tell the best stories."
"Wait," she said softly, leaning down on the stool, their lantern burning low. "Because the ending has a surprise."
"Wait and see," she said. "Because once Jak was through the canyon, what now smelled like dead snakes and melted bones, he spotted the final challenge: the Lone Mesa. A giant plateau in the center of an otherwise flat plain."
"That's not much of a challenge," Wayne said. "He could fly over the top."
"Well, he tried to," she whispered, "but the mesa was Blatant Barm!"
"That's right! He joined up with the Koloss, the ones that could change into big monsters; not the normal ones, like old Mrs. <Gnaw>. They showed him how to turn into a monster of humongous size, so when Jak tried to land on the mesa, the mesa done gobbled him up."
Wayne gasped. "And then?" he said. "It mashed him between his teeth? Crunching his bones like--"
"No," Ma said. "It tried to swallow him. But Jak, he wasn't just a good shot, and he wasn't just smart; he was somethin' else."
"A big damn pain in the ass!"
"Ma, that's swearin'!"
"I meant it in a good way, though, love."
"Oh, well, that made it all right, then."
"He," Ma said, "was always goin' about doin' good, helpin' people, makin' life tough for the bad ones. Pokin' his nose into things, askin' questions. He knew exactly how to ruin a bandit's day, he did. He stretched out his legs and pushed and made himself a lump in Blatant Barm's throat what so the monster couldn't breathe. 'Cause monsters like that needs lots of air, you know, and right then Allomancer Jak done choked him from the inside. Then, when the monster was dead on the ground, he sauntered on out down his tongue like it was some fancy mat set down outside the carriage for a rich man."
"Woah. That's a good story, Ma." She smiled, stepping over and kissing Wayne on the forehead. "Ma," he said, "is the story about the mine?"
"Well," she said, "I suppose we all gotta walk into the beast's mouth now and then, so maybe, I guess.
"You're like the lawman, then?"
"Anyone can be," she said, blowing out the lantern light.
"Especially you." She kissed him on the forehead. "You are my love, Wayne. You are a whatever-you-want. You're the wind, you're the stars, you are all endless things." It was the poem she liked; and he liked it, too, because when she talked, he believed her. Ma didn't swear, and she didn't lie.
So he snuggled into his blankets and let himself begin to drift off. Because a lot was wrong in the world, but a few things were right. And as long as she was around, stories meant something. They was real.
Until, one day, there was another collapse at the mine. And that night, his Ma didn't come home.