by Brandon Sanderson
Gaotona has a forged copy of a famous painting. He wants to execute Wan ShaiLu, the woman with this talent (and other mysterious abilities), but Frava says that he can control her for their use. Gaotona agrees to let him try, but is sure he will fail.
Shai has been carving a soul stamp in her prision cell contemplating how she ended up there and how to get out. In the morning, she is to be executed. Strikers (soldiers) comes to get her for a meeting with the arbiters. She is brought before Frava and Gaotona and a few other Grands (nobels?). They ask her about her forgery of a painting that they have been studying. Shai realizes that they want something from her. Before even knowing what it is, she demands payment, saying that she already had a way out of her cell. Frava shows Shai her five Essence Marks. She will collect them after she has accomplished what they want. They take her to see the emperor, Ashravan, who was shot in the head with an arrow by assassins from the Glory faction. Their flesh forgery healed the body, but there is no mind. They want Shai to create a perfect replacement of the Emperor’s soul. She tells them what she needs. They give her a 98 days (two days short of the time the emperor should spend mourning his wife).
The next day, Gaotona comes to talk to Shai in her room. He gives her soulstone for her to work with. She starts carving and he starts talking about her imprisonment. He will be watching over her whenever he can. The strikers that will watch her at all other times do not know what she is doing. She promises not to inform them, as she doesn’t want to risk their lives as well. Gaotona shows that he knows some things about Forgery, but not exactly how it works. He knows that she could not have escaped her cell as easily as she indicated, however he doesn’t know that she would even have trouble escaping the room she is now in. He brings in a bloodsealer who takes some of her blood and stamps it to her door. If she tries to escape, he will know and she will become one of his undead pets.
Shai starts her work by researching the Emperor’s life. She feels rushed and doesn’t believe that she can accomplish the task. The bloodsealer comes every morning to take more blood and reseal the door. Gaotona comes in everyday to watch Shai. She wonders how she will be able to manipulate him to escape.
Gaotona is upset that Shai is wasting time by forging the table in her room, but the carving helps her think. She explains that the three realms (physical, cognitive, and spiritual) have to be understood to be able to change something’s soul. She explains that she could not escape the cell she was in by changing a 1 of the 44 stones in the wall because the wall sees itself as 1 entity. She ten explains that it was difficult for her to forge her own soul, let alone the soul of someone else. She has to determine much from what she reads and guess on a few. If she gets too many of these guesses wrong, the stamp will not hold on the emperor.
Shai continues her research of the emperor with his journals. She realizes that he liked to go back and read what he wrote, but she doesn’t know why. Frava comes in and sends the guards away. She offers Shai a position running the smuggling ring if she gives Frava a backdoor to the emperor. Shai realizes that the other woman has no intention of doing what she says. She suspects that Frava has another forger that will inspect her soul stamp to make sure it is what they agreed upon (and won’t have a backdoor for Shai herself). Shai knows that the closer she comes to completing her task, the more her life is in danger.
Shai has completed a few small stamps and is ready to use them on a person. Gaotona offers himself for experiment as he knew the emperor very well and has a similar history. She tries the first one and is pleased, though a small adjustment will have to be made. The second doesn’t take. Shai had thought she had the reason he became emperor right, but Gaotona gives her what he believes to be the truth of the subject. They start talking about the painting that she stole to distract from stealing the scepter. She explains her strategy. Replicate the original twice, once perfectly, and once flawed. To check on security, she replaced the original with the perfect one and burned the original. She left the flawed one in her room, indicating that she was after the original. However, her plan fails when the fool gives rats her out for selling the scepter. Gaotona is impressed at first, but then appalled at her for burning the original.
As she continues to study Emperor Ashravan, Shai starts writing her own book about his true life. Secretly, she has been taking notes on how will escape (disguised as a glossary). She has noticed that the bloodsealer was almost late one day and smelling of alcohol. She noted that if she can get him to come early one morning and drink that night, she might have a chance. The guards at her door have also started to get bored and will be easier to manipulate. She realizes that she will have to use a soul stamp, but she has to find out what to do so that it isn’t expected of her.
Frava comes to visit Shai and notices how much she has changed (and even extended) the room. Shai has made enough progress that she has tested over 100 soul stones for the emperor. From those, she will take a dozen that will make up the actual stamp. These stamps will connect to a plate that the Emperor will wear as some sort of accessory. Frava takes Shai’s notes, claiming that she is going to have them copied. Shai believes that she is taking them to her own trusted Forger to see if he can finish the job himself, which will allow for her execution. Before she leaves, Frava asks if Shai has considered her offer. Shai has and says “yes,” knowing she will have to escape soon.
Shai can’t sleep because she is too worried about whether or not they will be coming to execute her. She gets up and starts a new page of notes, hoping her book will be returned in the morning. She eventually drifts off and is woken up by the hung-over blood sealer coming to reseal the door. She is relieved when Frava brings back her book, annoyed.
Gaotona is still disappointed in Shai for burning the painting, but their working relationship is almost back to normal. He is a little surprised to learn how Ashravan really felt about him with Shai’s latest stamp. Shai points out that he doesn’t want to have the emperor back to remain in power, he wants the man that was like a sun to him. She points out that people like to feel like they are in control, even if it is just the illusion of control. The emperor won’t be brought back to life, he will be a replica of himself.
Shai has been plotting her escape, but can’t seem to go through with it quite yet. She wants to complete her task, though she knows she will not live if she does. Gaotona has been studying her Essence marks. He points out what he recognizes and Shai explains what he doesn’t know. There is a stamp that would re-write her history to make her a warrior, a survivalist, a scholar, a beggar, and a peasant. The last one would be her complete undoing, as it would completely take away all knowledge she has of Forgery. The backstory so intricate, that she would willingly stamp herself everyday and receive letters from a fictional aunt and uncle. She feels the need to be honest with Gaotona and admits that ShuXen, the painting’s creator, hired her to destroy Frava’s prized possession because it was meant for a lover and he hated the empire and that it had it. She agreed as he had trained her in her youth. Gaotona isn’t surprised by this motive, but is still disappointed. She completes the last of the stamps and has 24 days to complete the metal plate. Her own plates took her five months. She is sad that she will have to escape before completing Ashravan’s plate.