Blood on the Snow: Chapter 3 (draft)

The meeting had, as meetings went, been a fairly productive one. Harrow’s death had cast something of a pall of gloom over proceedings, understandably, but between Mac’s findings from the autopsy and a pair of incredibly interesting reports from a couple of the Order’s undercover agents, they’d managed to put together enough of a picture of the goings-on that night to know at least where to start investigations.

More perplexingly, no-one save Fest had seen hide nor hair of the Foreval girl at the Luciels’ townhouse, including several people who, if the younger vampire’s testimony was to be believed, had been in the same room as her. Which was worrying, to say the least. If she’d somehow managed to add disappearing acts to her already overflowing repertoire of tricks, keeping track of her was going to become damn near impossible.

The one silver lining in that particular cloud, Archer supposed, was that she didn’t seem to have got her hooks into their newest recruit.

He sighed, leaning back against the splintering wooden panels and trying to pretend that he hadn’t noticed the large spider lurking menacingly just above his head. “Are you ready to tell me what all that was about yet?”

“All what?” Sabbat asked innocently, from somewhere within the depths of his shirt. He yanked the garment off over his head, not bothering to untie the laces, and hurled it vaguely in Archer’s direction. “Dunno what you’re talkin’ about.”

“You know damn well,” Archer replied, scooping the flying linen out of the air and depositing it in what could charitably be called the laundry hamper. “That trick you pulled with the blindfold.”

“Ain’t ringin’ any bells, mate. You sure you’re rememberin’ correctly?”

“Perfectly,” the vampire retorted, intercepting the airborne vest that followed that remark and sending it to join its companion in the pile of unwashed clothes (and trying very hard not to think about the provenance of several suspiciously rust-coloured stains on the more visible of the shirts). “Your memory, on the other hand, seems to be worryingly lacking. Though given the fact you currently stink of horrifically cheap gin, I suppose there’s a possible explanation for that.”

“Fuck off. ‘s fine. An’ I ain’t that fuckin’ drunk, anyhow.”

Oh, so that’s how you want to do this? Very well then. Two can play at that game. “Really? When you don’t remember something that you did less than two hours ago? I don’t think so.” He frowned, pulling a somewhat theatrically concerned face. “Though if you’re right about how drunk you are, I’m worried about your health in general. Maybe we should have Mac take a look at you.”

Sabbat snarled, though more from force of habit than any real anger. “Don’t need a fuckin’ sawbones, Archer. ‘m fine.”

“Then you remember exactly what I’m talking about, and are going to tell me precisely what you meant by it.”

“Hah. That follows how?”

Archer sighed. “Look, can I at least ask why you’re not going to tell me?”

“‘’cause it’s fuckin’ funny seein’ you gettin’ all worked up about’t?”


“‘s true. Your ears’re goin’ red. ‘s fuckin’ hilarious.”

“It really isn’t, Sabbat,” the vampire muttered, self-consciously reaching up to feel the tip of his ear (and being somewhat annoyed to find the skin hot under his fingers). “You damn near blinded the boy, and I’d at least like to have something to tell Luciel when I inevitably end up getting asked to explain your behaviour.”

That, at least, seemed to get through the gin-sodden sponge which seemed to have temporarily replaced the younger man’s brain. He blew out a breath, flopping backwards onto the bed (which creaked alarmingly as he did so) and stared up at the flaking, mould-spotted ceiling. “Fine. You win.”

“As far as I was aware, it wasn’t a competition,” Archer commented. “I’m assuming you had a reason, then.”

“Aye. You ain’t goin’ t’like it.”

“Sabbat, I very rarely like anything you do. That doesn’t stop you doing it.” And when you’re less drunk, we are going to have that conversation. Whether you like it or not.

“Reckon the Foreval bitch managed t’do summat t’him after all. Din’t want t’take the chance o’her managin’ t’get a proper look at things.”

“You’re right,” Archer said, after a brief pause. “I don’t like it.”

It wasn’t for the reasons Sabbat probably thought, though. While yes, it was mildly galling to have his judgement called into question by someone with significantly less expertise in theoretical magic – and, more than that, to have the judgement of more than half the Master’s Council similarly discounted – he’d a thick enough skin to take being proved wrong, especially on something as important as this.

No, what was worrying him significantly more were the implications of what Sabbat had just said. While Lucy Foreval was a supremely dangerous woman, she was, at least as far as the Order had been previously aware, something of a known quantity: a sorcerer whose talent expressed itself as mind magic (in itself rare, but not unheard-of) with a particular penchant for ensnaring young men and a habit of having her conquests destroy themselves once they were of no further use to her. The Order had, as a result of her predations, built up a fairly decent idea of the symptoms those under her control tended to exhibit, and the fact that Fest had shown precisely none of them had been the deciding factor in the vote on what to do with him.  

Which meant that, if Sabbat was right, she had suddenly become a damn sight more of a problem. As, more pressingly, had a certain Mr Jonathan Fest.

Dammit. Why can’t anything ever be easy where the Sinnlenst are concerned?

“So what the fuck’re we goin’ t’do about it?” Sabbat asked, pulling out his cigarette-case from his trouser pocket. “Given I’m assumin’ the answer ain’t ‘kill him an’ have done with it’.” He struck a match off the wall behind his head, lighting up, and blew a breath of smoke in Archer’s direction. “Happy t’go deal with him if y’reckon it’d work, mind.”

“For my own peace of mind, I’m going to assume you don’t mean permanently. And no, killing him, temporarily or otherwise, would likely do less than nothing to solve this particular issue.” He coughed, waving away the worst of the cloud. “Assuming that your assumption’s correct, of course.”

“Assumption nothin’. Y’said yourself he din’t get hit on the head, an’ Mac din’t reckon he’d been drugged, so how’d he end up knocked out?”

“A fair point, though I’m not entirely sure how you got from that to his obviously being controlled by her.”

“Din’t say controlled. Said she was doin’ somethin’.” He took another drag on the cigarette, blowing out another cloud of smoke – this time, thankfully, aimed at the ceiling above his head. “Y’know what they said about mind-mages in Kasawe?”

“I don’t – though for some reason I’m not surprised you’ve somehow found out. Enlighten me.”

“The way they reckon it, the mind-mages they’ve got out there can borrow other peoples’ eyes. Stands t’reason if we din’t see anythin’ else that’s what she was doin’.”

It… didn’t, precisely, but he wasn’t about to argue the point. “So you assumed that she was ‘borrowing his eyes’, as you put it, hence the decision to make sure he was facing directly into the light when you removed the blindfold. Do I have it right?”


“And I’m assuming you didn’t tell him what you were about to do?”

Sabbat laughed, mockingly. “‘course I fuckin’ didn’t. Ain’t stupid, Archer.”

Which clears up almost everything. With one glaring exception. “So if you weren’t telling him what you were up to, what exactly were you whispering in his ear before you took the blindfold off? I’m assuming it wasn’t some sort of reassurance.”

Sabbat’s lopsided grin widened, grey eyes glinting wickedly in the candlelight. “Told him t’open his eyes.”


“Open your eyes.”

Fest groaned, rolling over and burying his face in the pillow in a vain attempt to shut out the voice. Wasn’t it enough that the bastard had damn-near blinded him? Was making that sentence buzz around his head all night really necessary – even if, for some reason, it was Lucy Foreval’s voice which was echoing it now?

“Open your eyes.”

“Shan’t,” he muttered petulantly, wondering blearily whether talking to one’s hallucinations was a bad sign. It wasn’t generally regarded as a wonderful proof of sanity, he knew that much.

“Open your eyes, Jonathan. It’s time to wake up.”

Which most certainly wasn’t anything that Sabbat had said to him. He rolled over onto his back again, still clutching the pillow over his face, and muttered something which he intended to be ‘are you a hallucination or did you break into my room?’ and actually came out something more along the lines of ‘mmff mff mff mff’ (feather pillows not being known for their acoustic properties).

“I beg your pardon?” the possible-hallucination said, sitting down on the edge of his bed and making what felt like a very real dent in the mattress. “I don’t think I quite caught that.”

He shifted the pillow tentatively upward a little, relaxing when the action didn’t immediately result in searing pain in his eyeballs, and opened his eyes, blinking in the suddenly-too-bright glare of… an almost pitch-black room. An almost pitch-black room, with a definite person-shaped outline sitting about where the dent in the mattress suggested she would be.

Score one for not a hallucination, then. Possibly. “I said, are you a hallucination, or did you break into my room? Because if you broke in, that’s impressive because we’re on the top floor, but we’re really not allowed to have girls in here, and I don’t want to lose my scholarship, and-”

The shadowy figure – who seemed very definitely there, if a little blurry – leaned down, and pressed a warm, soft fingertip against his lips, cutting him off mid-babble. “Does it really matter, Jonathan?”

“Well, yes, because I-”

“Shush.” Her hand moved, caressing his jaw, and he felt himself almost unconsciously leaning into her touch. “Just relax. It doesn’t matter how I came to be here, you know that. I’m here, and that’s what matters.”


“Just hear me out, Jonathan. Just for a moment.” Her voice was shifting again, becoming more musical, more… sing-song, as she continued “I know you’re tired, Jonathan. I know you’re tired, and in pain, and confused, and all you want is for everything to be normal again. And I understand that, I really do. I can make it all go away. All of the confusion, all of the doubt, all of the fear. All you have to do is listen to me. Can you do that for me? Can you listen to me, just for a moment?”

He found himself nodding, agreeing with every word as it tumbled through the warm, comfortable, intoxicated fog in his head. Listen to her, yes. Just listen to her, and she’d make everything go back to how it used to be, all simple and normal and not full of people who were trying to kill him. Just… listen. He could do that. That was easy. Just…

“That’s right.” There was a smile curving around the edges of her words, sharp and subtle as a knife. “You’ve had a tiring evening, haven’t you, Jonathan?”

Another nod.

“First the ball, then… well, why don’t you tell me the rest? I’m sure you remember more of it than I do, after all.”

“I-” His tongue felt heavy in his mouth, as though he’d drunk too much, and the world seemed very far away, sunk behind an impossibly thick blanket of sweet-scented, soft mist. There was something he shouldn’t be telling her, he knew that much, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember what, and it couldn’t have been all that important if he’d forgotten it that easily anyway. “I woke up in an alleyway, I think. With some dead people in it.”

“Go on.”

“And there were two men.”

“Intriguing. Could you tell me their names, Jonathan?”

Archer and Sabbat, he thought. “They didn’t tell me,” he said, out loud, and muzzily wondered why his brain and mouth had decided to part company.

“That’s alright,” she purred, though he almost thought he heard a twinge of disappointment in her voice. “I’m sure I can work it out later. Now, why don’t you tell me what happened next?”

He did as he was told. Why wouldn’t he?

But, as the story went on, he found more and more that what was coming out of his mouth bore almost no relation to what he was actually trying to say. Names got forgotten, places jumbled, dates and times scrambled beyond all recognition, and when he got to the point where he was trying to tell her about the meeting itself, he somehow found himself explaining in excruciating detail the finer theoretical points of one of the papers someone had presented, and missing out half the mentions of the Order’s future plans altogether. It was all very, very disconcerting.

Lucy didn’t seem to notice, though, which he supposed was nice. She kept smiling at him, in that way that made the bottom of his stomach drop out, and almost every time he faltered, or stuttered, or couldn’t find the words to express something, she somehow managed to find a question that got the whole story back on track and ended up with him remembering a lot more detail than he’d previously thought he knew (though less than half of it actually got anywhere near being said).

As the story wore on, however, and the questions started to become more and more frequent, he began to find himself getting more confused by them rather than less, and the disconnect between what he was thinking and saying began to widen even further. Miniscule irrelevant details started to overwhelm the narrative – never mind what the head of the Order’s shadow arm had been saying, did she want to hear about the exact number of buttons on his frock coat, and what shade of red his cravat had been? Because that’s what she was going to get, apparently.

Around the time that he’d managed, somehow, to drift completely off-topic and end up describing the exact colour of the pattern on one of the more well-dressed magicians’ waistcoat, she made a strange noise in the back of her throat and pulled away a little, fingers trailing over his throat in a way that oddly felt a good deal less like a caress and a good deal more as though she was trying to restrain herself from wringing his neck.

“Are you feeling quite alright, Jonathan?”

Apart from the fact that someone else entirely seems to have taken control of my voice, absolutely bloody peachy, thank you very much. Though I can’t help feeling like I probably shouldn’t be talking to you. Not sure why, though. “Never better, Miss Foreval.”

“How odd.” Her eyes narrowed, and Fest had a sudden unbidden image flash into his mind’s eye of an illustration he’d once seen in one of his mother’s encyclopedias – a large, hooded snake, rearing up with fangs extended, ready to strike at the hapless victim hypnotised by its cold, unblinking eyes. It was so unexpected, and so disturbing, that for a split second the fog clouding his mind lifted and he saw the intruder for what she really was. Cold, dangerous, deadly, and far, far too close to him.

He sat bolt upright, grabbing for his sword, and made to push her away – but she placed one warm, dry hand on his forehead, and the world suddenly seemed to fade back into blissful, empty, comfortable fuzziness.

“Relax, Jonathan,” she murmured, as he felt the last of his will melt away in the face of that beautiful, golden, entrancing voice. “You’re far too useful to me to let you get away that easily.”


On the other side of the city, meanwhile, Archer was in the process of waking up.

He didn’t particularly want to be awake at this ungodly hour, if he was entirely honest with himself. Two hours of rest was, even for a vampire, not entirely ideal, and the thought of facing the world (and particularly certain Sabbat-shaped bits of said world) without the fortification of a good night’s sleep was not one that appealed in any way, shape or form at the present moment.

But, since he’d volunteered to be the one who went to check on their newest recruit in the morning, and the University started work before dawn in the winter, awake he would damn well have to be.

At least, he supposed, he’d be able to go back to bed after he’d discharged his duties – assuming something else didn’t come up, which it almost certainly would. Well, no-one said being a master magician was going to be easy, I suppose.

He reached up, unhooking the black silk scarf which did duty as an eyepatch from its place on the head of his bed and sliding it into place over the mess of burn-scarred tissue covering the hole where his left eye should have been.

According to Sabbat, who apparently had decided long ago that his opinions on this particular topic meant enough to be repeated at every opportunity, covering the scars was pointless, giving in to societal pressure (though he didn’t tend to use those exact words), and a waste of a perfectly good intimidation tactic. According to Archer, who felt that his own views on the matter carried rather more weight given the circumstances, it was his face, and he could do with it what he damn well pleased.

And besides, even if he’d not had his own reasons for wanting to cover up a reminder of a particularly unpleasant altercation, obvious non-duelling related facial scars on members of the upper classes tended to get a damn sight more stares than he was personally comfortable being the target of.  Ugly facial scarring was generally considered something that one covered up – an eyepatch was considered dashing, a scarred and mangled eye-socket, significantly less so. And as for visible scarring on a vampire, especially wounds to the face…well, the less said about the attitudes towards that, the better.

So he continued to cover his scars, and Sabbat continued to have opinions on it. Which, he supposed, was somewhat fair, given how many opinions he personally had on his companion’s life choices. Though let’s not pretend the two are in any way equal. Mine are a damn sight less likely to kill me, for a start.

He pulled the knot tight at the back of the loop of fabric, adjusted it comfortably over the worst of the damage and, feeling somewhat better equipped to deal with the day, pushed back the covers and scrambled out of bed, hissing under his breath as the chill of the air clawed at his exposed skin. He’d left the ashes of the night’s fire banked up, hoping that they’d cancel out at least a little of the cold, but Sacaask winters were too harsh for even the best of Efirasi tricks, and the sight of the sad grey pile in the grate did little to lift his spirits.

In fact, between the failure of the fire, the fact that he had had to break through a layer of ice on the basin to wash his face, and the distinct lack of any kind of coffee, tea, or other possible source of energy and refreshment for the morning, Archer’s temper was becoming more than a little frayed by the time he finally sat down to breakfast (toast, kippers, an egg, and a somewhat lonely-looking glass of water, accompanied by yesterday’s paper which he had yet to finish reading).

It was therefore perfectly understandable that, when the doorbell rang just as he was raising the first forkful of food to his lips, his first reaction was to mutter something distinctly ungentlemanly under his breath and follow that with a heartfelt prayer that whoever it was would go away and come back at a more convenient time.  Or, ideally, not come back at all.

The doorbell kept on ringing.

Archer took a deep breath, put down his fork, stood up, and went to see what it was that was so urgent that it couldn’t wait until at least after sunrise.

Or, he amended upon opening the door, who.

“Miss Cervanso? What in the name of all the gods are you doing here?”

Viola Cervanso, Amelia Luciel’s maid, bodyguard and best friend, looked up from her position leaning heavily against the doorpost and favoured Archer with a sickly-looking grin. “Right now, sir? Falling over, I think.”

He caught her under the arms as she pitched forward, dragging her bodily into the hall and shouldering the door closed against the worst of the weather. She’d not quite lost consciousness, but the blue smudges around her eyes and the corners of her mouth suggested it was more due to her lupine constitution than anything else, and there was a worrying amount of blood staining the shoulder and sleeve of her white shirt.

What on earth have you been up to, young lady?

“Thank you,” she managed, once he’d deposited her on a chair in the sitting room and poured her a generous slug of brandy. She tipped her head back, swallowing the entire contents of the glass in one go, and pulled a face. “I’d apologise for barging in on you, but I honestly didn’t know where else to go.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Archer said. He knelt down, pulling out the medicine box from its home under the sideboard (given Sabbat’s occupation, social class, and general liking for trouble, he’d long ago come to the conclusion that keeping a well-stocked first-aid kit was well worth the expense) and extracting a roll of bandage and a bottle of iodine from their respective sections. “How bad is it?”

“Better than it looks, sir,” the werewolf said, putting the glass down on the side table. She reached up and pulled her blood-sodden shirt away from the wound, hissing in pain as she did so. “Bastard was aiming for my throat.”

“Then I’m glad he missed.”

“Missed nothing. I dodged.” She grinned, baring pointed and somewhat bloodstained teeth. “He was fast. I’m faster.”

The colour was coming back into her cheeks already, though Archer wasn’t entirely sure how much of that was due to her healing factor, and how much to the brandy. Nevertheless, the wound still needed to be cleaned – even werewolves weren’t immune to infections, much as most of them liked to believe they were. He stood, offering the iodine and bandages to his unexpected guest. “Do you need my help, or are you able to fix it for yourself?”

“I’ll be fine, sir,” she said, taking the supplies and putting them on the table next to the empty brandy glass. “I’m figuring you’d probably rather I did it, anyway.”

On that front, you are completely and entirely correct. It wasn’t as though he couldn’t deal with blood. He’d been a soldier, for crying out loud. He was a magician. And, more than that, he’d been best friends with Sabbat for almost a decade. But there was always something viscerally unnerving about being made hungry by the sight of someone else’s wounds, no matter how long you’d abstained from drinking the blood of other sapient species, and any excuse not to have to go through that again was worth seizing upon. “There’s water in the bathroom, and you’re welcome to borrow one of the clean shirts from the pile by the basin. I’ll be in the breakfast room when you’re done.”

“Aye aye, sir.” She started making motions towards pulling off her shirt, and Archer rather hurriedly left her to it.

His breakfast, of course, was stone cold. But the toast was at least still edible, if somewhat dry, and the sudden unexpected werewolf had woken him up enough to put paid to the need for coffee, at least for the forseeable future.

He’d just about finished his third slice, and the last page of the paper, when Viola made her reappearance – thankfully, fully clothed once more. She’d appropriated not only one of his shirts, but a spare neckscarf he’d left on the towel rail, which she’d fashioned into a surprisingly effective sling, and she looked, if not better, then at least a good deal less likely to imminently keel over. She was also eyeing the remains of breakfast with a look that indicated that only politeness was stopping her from devouring every piece of food in sight.

This was unsurprising. Healing took a lot out of you, as Archer knew from first-hand experience, and the general upshot of that tended to be that even non-life-threatening injuries resulted in increased appetite and a general desire to set to with a will regarding anything even vaguely edible in the vicinity.

“Help yourself, Miss Cervanso,” he offered, and watched with amusement as she proceeded to do just that, practically inhaling the rest of the toast, several cold kippers, two boiled eggs, and most of the remainder of the marmalade (straight from the jar, though she at least remembered to use a spoon). Once she’d slowed down a little, he said: “Dare I ask why you ended up getting stabbed?”

“Wasn’ m’fau’,” the werewolf mumbled around a mouthful of marmalade. She swallowed, licking the spoon clean, and tried again. “Wasn’t my fault, sir. Honest.”

Now why don’t I believe that? “I’ll take your word for it. And you can drop the ‘sir’, while you’re about it. ‘Archer’ will do just fine.”

She frowned, tipping her head on one side, and eyed him doubtfully. “Are you sure? I’m not about to get in trouble for this, am I?”

“Not in the least. You’re Amelia’s servant, not mine, and to all intents and purposes we’re colleagues. Besides, I can hardly have a proper conversation with you if you’re ‘sir’-ing me every five seconds, can I?”

That seemed to ease her worry a little, though she still seemed somewhat confused by the sudden shift in formality. “You’re an odd sort of gentleman, sir- Archer. Though I suppose I’ve never heard your valet call you ‘sir’ either.”

“My what?” Then, as realisation dawned, “Ah, no. Sabbat’s not my valet. Or a servant of any kind, in fact.”


“He’s my friend.” Judging by her expression, this raised more questions than it answered. He pushed on, before she could ask any of them. “So, we’ve established that it wasn’t your fault you were stabbed. That still gives me very little information on how it happened, or why. Care to elaborate?”

“Sodding Sinnlenst. As usual.”

Unsurprising. But also unhelpful. “They attacked you?”

She nodded, scraping the last of the marmalade out of the jar and spreading it on one of the few remaining kippers. “I was heading to the university – figured someone ought to check our new recruit got back alright, and Rothwell said she’d seen Foreval and her cronies knocking about in the area. Took the shortcut down between Fallsbridge and Carterhill, heard a noise, turned around and the next thing I know the whole damn place is swarming with Sinnlenst.” She paused, taking a bite out of the marmalade-covered fish with every evidence of enjoyment. “Too many to take head-on, and I didn’t want to lead ‘em to the kid, so I went straight through the middle of ‘em and out the other side. Would’ve bloody worked, as well, except one of ‘em was faster than I expected.” She nodded to her wounded shoulder, taking the opportunity of the break in her narrative to polish off the remains of the fish as she did so. “Dodged past him, ran up the alleys until I was sodding sure he’d lost the scent, then broke out into the main streets. Came out by the Temple of Ashkenta, and figured, since I was in the area and you’d mentioned being able to fix people up…”

“I see.”

“Gets better, though.”


“I’m pretty damn sure the one who jumped me was Ephraim Caine.”

“That’s impossible,” Archer said. “Caine’s dead.”

Viola shook her head. “Not from where I’m sitting he’s not. Dead men don’t tend to try and knife people, present company excepted.”

Archer frowned, ignoring the jibe about his species (vampires weren’t technically dead, but it didn’t stop people using it as an insult). “Ephraim Caine was dealt with last night, on the orders of his brother. He is, as far as I’m aware, definitely and conclusively deceased.”

“Then what in the name of my favourite sodding ancestors is he doing trying to stab me up in an alleyway?” Viola demanded. “Um. With all due respect, si- Archer, I mean.”

“Are you sure it was him?” Werewolves had good night-vision, true, but it wasn’t infallible – they relied mostly on their sense of smell to confirm positive identification. And if the person who’d jumped her hadn’t smelled like Caine…

“No,” she admitted, after a brief pause. “Looked like him, though. And it…might’ve smelt like him?” She shuddered, a flicker of bone-deep fear passing briefly across her face. “Couldn’t get much of a scent though. Whole place smelt like something weird. Something… wrong.”


“ Just… wrong. I can’t describe it better than that, so don’t ask me to.” She blew out a breath, looking down at the table. “Look, it was dark, and there were a lot of ‘em, and it smelt weird, and I was running for my sodding life, alright? But I’m pretty damn sure it was Caine. Their one, not ours,” she added, after a moment’s pause.

“The odds of Jacoby Caine attempting to knife one of his own operatives are distinctly slim, I’ll grant you that,” Archer acknowledged, trying very hard not to think about the possibility that she was right. If Ephraim Caine was still alive, that meant two things. Firstly, Sabbat was dealing with his addictions a damn sight less effectively than he was claiming to be. And secondly, if Caine decided to escalate things in a particular direction, he was very possibly in significantly more serious and imminent danger than he realised.

And there was something else worrying about Viola’s story. Something which, if she had the right of it, was probably the first thing he needed to deal with. “You mentioned Rothwell said she’d seen Foreval in the area of the university. Could you tell me exactly when?”


By the time they’d got to the university, Viola’s shoulder had just about stopped hurting. Which meant that her brain had finally decided to start working again.

Oh Spirits. This was a sodding terrible plan.

She wasn’t supposed to be working this morning, at least – she’d managed to keep the half-holiday she’d asked for even after the dressing-down she’d had to sit through the previous night – but she also definitely wasn’t supposed to be loitering in the male halls of the university in trousers and a man’s shirt, even if she was in the company of a visiting lecturer (admittedly one who’d temporarily disappeared to find a porter, but still) and obviously not there to cause any kind of trouble.

But Archer’d been so damn worried about the new recruit, and she knew the layout of the student halls better than he did, and she had eaten pretty much all of his breakfast (though he’d at least not been too annoyed about it, which was reassuring), and it wasn’t as though she’d anywhere else to go that wouldn’t result in either another lecture or Amelia getting all worried and protective, and…

I could argue myself into bloody anything, couldn’t I, if you gave me enough time.

She tugged awkwardly at her braid, trying to settle it lower on the nape of her neck, and sent up a thankful prayer to the Spirits that, unlike every other species on the continent, werewolves didn’t have much in the way of obvious sexual dimorphism in the chest department. If luck was with her, they might even be able to get out of here without anyone guessing she was a girl at all.

“Hello there. You’re up early.”

Oh for fuck’s sake.

She nodded curtly, leaning back against the wall and shoving her hands into her pockets in a gesture that, she hoped, read very much ‘that’s nice, now sod off.’ “Uh-huh.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you around before,” the boy went on, frowning behind his spectacles. He didn’t look like much of a threat – an average height, skinny human with nondescript brown hair, brown eyes, and thin, gold-rimmed spectacles – but there was something about the way he was looking at her that made Viola’s hackles rise.  “I wasn’t aware we had many of your kind here,” he went on, once he’d stared at her for long enough to make her seriously uneasy. “I commend you on your obvious talent.”

“Thanks.” She’d pitched her voice down, aping the tone her brother used when he was trying to get her to shut up and leave him alone while he worked on something, but the result still made her wince internally. There was no way she’d managed to fool him. He was going to report her. She was going to lose her place. She was-

“I’ll see you at breakfast, I suppose. Unless you prefer your meat a little more… raw.” And with that, he turned on his heel and was gone, heading down the long corridor towards the stairs at the other end of the building.

Bastard. If I wasn’t trying to stay incognito, I’d knock your sodding block off.

It wasn’t the first time someone’d tried to rile her about her species. And, much as she wished otherwise, it almost certainly wouldn’t be the last, even within the hallowed halls of the University. Hells, especially within the aforementioned sodding hallowed halls.

While Sacaan prided itself on being a multicultural city, some of the older prejudices had never entirely died out, and there were always idiots ready to pick a fight with you just for being different (and for your ancestors trying to eat or kill or burn theirs, admittedly. The last thousand years of history hadn’t exactly been full of polite ‘let’s all get along’ conversations). Add in the undercurrents of tension caused by throwing several hundred students from wildly different backgrounds, cultures and upbringings into the same buildings and expecting them to all somehow get along, and it wasn’t exactly surprising that the University, seat of learning and understanding that it apparently was, had a damn sight more of a problem with bigotry than it liked to admit.

Though on this occasion, at least, it’d ended up working in her favour – someone who was less inclined towards being a speciesist bastard might’ve had the cognitive capacity spare to realise she wasn’t actually a boy.

Cold comfort, that, but it was better than nothing. She slouched back against the wall, shoved her hands further into her pockets, and glared balefully at the clock above the door opposite.

What’s taking him so long? Are all the porters asleep or something?

For reasons of security, there was always supposed to be at least one porter awake. In practice, as Viola had found out when Amelia had decided that they were going exploring late one night, there was nothing to stop the duty porter falling asleep on watch, and most of the older ones tended to do just that (though some of them – usually ex-military – had the knack of sleeping with one eye open and an ear out for unexpected comings and goings).

Nevertheless, if it was almost time for breakfast there should’ve been at least one of them up and about. If there wasn’t…

No, that wasn’t Lucy Foreval’s style. Nor Ephraim Caine’s, either – like his brother, he’d always been subtle, and tended to avoid unnecessary deaths where possible. Most likely, Archer’d been able to find a porter just fine, and the delay was due to something completely different.

Maybe she did get to the new boy after all.

She’d been trying not to think too hard about that particular possibility – she’d seen  what the Foreval girl was capable of up close and personal too many times to want to consider it happening again, for one – but she had to admit, it made a whole lot more sense than any other explanation right now.

So she’s got to him, and Archer’s trying to do damage control. Great. I wonder whether that compulsion she puts on people wears off if suicide isn’t a permanent solution?

Somewhat belatedly, she realised she was snarling. Under her breath, admittedly, but loud enough that if anyone’d been walking down the corridor at that particular moment they’d have been forgiven for thinking they were about to be attacked.

Don’t worry, hypothetical passer-by. It’s not your throat I want to rip out.

It wouldn’t kill her, of course. Just make her hurt – which, if Viola was honest, was almost more inviting. And no more than she deserved, given what she’d done.

I’m going to kill her. And then, when she wakes up, I’m going to kill her again. And I’m going to keep on doing that for as many times as it takes before she realises that threatening me and mine was a fucking stupid idea.

And then, when I’ve done that, I’m going to-

“Um… Mr Sebastian?”

She blinked, jolted suddenly out of her murder-themed reverie by a sleep-blurred voice that seemed to come from somewhere in the vicinity of her left shoulder. “Whuh?”

“Miss Viola?” The owner of the voice suddenly sounded a whole lot more awake – and very confused. “What are you-”

With hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best response. But she was tired, he was being far too loud, and she really didn’t have that many other options.

And besides, what was he going to do, bite her?


“Sorry!” she whispered, shifting her hand a little so her captive could breathe. She leant back against the wall again, pulling him into the shadow of the doorway as she did so. “Wouldn’t’ve grabbed you, but I really can’t risk anyone else knowing I’m here. ‘specially given the whole situation with Amelia and all.” She paused, struck by something. “Besides, this is technically your fault.”

Fest stared up at her, looking as though he was currently caught somewhere between puzzled, scared, and irritated as all hells. “Mmff mmf mmff mmff?”

“Because if you weren’t in imminent danger of getting your mind turned to mush we wouldn’t be here.”


It didn’t take much guesswork to figure that one out. “Lucy Foreval. She’s apparently got her sights set on you at the moment, which means you’re in a whole lot of trouble. Thankfully, you’ve got us.”

“Mmff mf mmffmff mff mff.”

“I have absolutely no idea what that was supposed to be.” She looked around, making sure there wasn’t anyone else within earshot. “I’m going to let you go now, alright?”


“And in return, you’re going to keep your bloody mouth shut until Archer gets back here, and you’re not going to breathe a word of this to anyone outside the Order. Got it?”

Emphatic nod.

“And if you get me or, Spirits forbid, Amelia in trouble for this, I’ll knock you straight into the middle of next week. Understood?”

Very emphatic nod.

“Alright. I’m letting you go.”

“Thank you,” Fest muttered, once she’d taken her hand away from his mouth. He pulled a face, wiping his lips on the back of his sleeve, and looked around the empty corridor. “I don’t see why you-”

She glared at him, clenching a fist meaningfully by her side, and he took the hint, shutting his mouth – before pantomiming locking it and throwing away the key.

Someone’s too damn smart for his own good. But at least he’s not dead. Or obviously brainwashed, I suppose, which is something.  

Now all she had to do was hope that he could keep it up until Archer got back. Whenever that was likely to be.


Archer, meanwhile, was facing up to the very real possibility that he’d managed to lose his newest recruit less than twenty-four hours after finding him, which was almost certainly an Order record.

“And you’re sure he didn’t sign out last night?” he asked, somewhat despairingly.

The porter, a tall greying human in a dusty black suit, nodded dolefully, running one long finger down the list of names in the red leather-bound book he cradled in the crook of his other arm. “Very sure, sir. I’d have noticed a redeye, anyway – begging your pardon, but they’re even less common than you folk around here.”

“There’s no chance he could have slipped out while you or your compatriots were on watch, is there?” He wasn’t expecting an affirmative – few and far between were the people in this type of job who’d admit that they might have made a mistake if it wasn’t possible to call them on it – and, unsurprisingly, didn’t receive one.

“Not at all, sir. My colleagues and I keep a close eye on all the entrances and exits to the halls at all times. If the young gentleman’s not in his room, then he must be somewhere else on the premises.”

“Do you have any idea where on the premises he might be?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. Though many of the young gentlemen do spend their evenings in the library, so that might be a place to start. If you want my advice, that is.”

“Thank you. I apologise for having taken so much of your time.”

“Not at all, sir. If you do find the young gentleman, I’d appreciate it if you reminded him that by the rules of the university he is supposed to let us know if he plans to spend the entire night somewhere other than his room. It helps us know who’s where in the event of a fire, you see.”

“I will certainly pass that message on,” Archer replied, trying very hard not to make clear exactly how likely he thought it that he’d be able to find Fest at all. “If you could point me in the direction of the library, I’d be exceptionally grateful.”

“Just down this corridor here, sir.” The porter gestured towards the corridor in question, which Archer recognised immediately as the one in which he’d asked Viola to wait. Excellent – he could pick her up on the way, then.

“Thank you very much indeed for your help,” he said, and started off.

A moment later, having rounded the corner and got well into his stride, he was brought to a sudden startled halt by the sudden appearance not only of the expected werewolf, but a completely unexpected and, if he was honest, exceptionally welcome vampire. Albeit one whose sartorial choices were… somewhat unexpected. “Thank the gods! What are you doing here, of all places?”

“…I live here,” the boy replied, sounding confused. He looked down, following Archer’s gaze, and blinked. “Why don’t I have any shoes on?”

“I was about to ask you the same question, Mr Fest.” And then, as the full state of the younger vampire’s clothing became apparent: “I’d also like to know what you were doing outside in what I am fairly certain are your pyjamas.”

“…I don’t know.” Fest frowned, wiggling his toes absently as he stared at them. “I don’t think I sleepwalk.” He balanced on one foot, lifting the other to reveal a sole stained black with what Archer was fairly certain was silt, of all things. “And I definitely don’t sleepwalk outside, anyway.”

“He stinks of the river.” That was Viola, who was currently wiping her hand on her borrowed shirt and looking very much as though she’d rather be anywhere else but where she currently was. “And the bottoms of his trousers are soaking.”

There was, in fact, something of a small puddle developing around the boy’s feet – which was going to do nothing for either the floor, or their chances of not being asked some very awkward questions if anyone happened by.

“Do you have a change of clothes in your room, Mr Fest? A spare pair of boots, perhaps?”

“I bloody well hope so,” the boy replied, with some heat. He looked around, face suddenly paling. “Oh gods, where’re the porters? If they catch me-”

“Back at the front desk, unless there’s one roaming I don’t know about,” Archer reassured him. “I’m assuming there’s a back-staircase somewhere in this place.”

Fest nodded. “We’re not technically supposed to use it, but everyone knows it’s there. Some of the others bring girls up, if they’re sure they won’t get caught. But-”

“Spare me the details, please. I’d suggest you go find that staircase, go to your room, and get yourself cleaned up. And, when you’ve done that, I’d appreciate it if you’d meet us both back by the front desk, having clearly accidentally spent the night studying in the library.”

The boy looked confused for a moment, then realisation dawned. “Oh!” He turned to head for the far end of the hallway – then turned back, obviously remembering something else he’d meant to say. “Why are we meeting? I’ll need to know, if someone asks me.”

“Because I want to take you and my adopted nephew here out to breakfast to celebrate his arrival in the city.” It was a terrible cover, but it’d at least hold up well enough to answer basic questions. “His name is…” He stalled, trying to think.

“Sasha,” Viola provided, with a grin which suggested some sort of private joke.

It seemed a harmless enough name, and he saw no reason to argue with it. “Sasha, then. My brother adopted him and raised him alongside his own children, and the two of you met at a formal gathering a few months ago and have been in touch via letter ever since.”

Fest nodded, obviously committing the lie to memory. “And, if I may, sir, what are we actually doing?

“Going for breakfast,” Archer said, completely straight-faced. “Now get moving, will you?”


By the time Fest had made it to the doorway of his room (thankfully without running into anyone, bar a couple of hungover second-year students who were more concerned with finding the nearest bathroom than anything else), the realisation of exactly how worried he should probably be about his current situation was just about starting to dawn on him.

His clothes, boots, coat and gloves were all where he remembered leaving them when he’d come in, at least – which was a good deal more reassuring than it probably had any right to be – but the large window on the far side of the room was hanging wide open, which it definitely hadn’t been when he’d gone to bed the night before.

What the hells? I didn’t jump out of there in my sleep, did I?

If he had, the drop would’ve been fatal – his rooms were on the top floor, and there was nothing between the window and the ground which would’ve broken his fall. On the other hand, that kind of death wasn’t exactly permanent for vampires, and it didn’t take all that long to revive as far as he was aware (from second-hand information, admittedly. As far as he was aware, he’d not actually managed to die yet, and he wasn’t exactly in favour of changing that any time soon).

Can you die while you’re sleepwalking?

It wasn’t something he’d ever had to consider before, really. He tipped his head from side to side experimentally, relaxing when nothing seemed to grate or creak in a way that suggested it was in the process of healing. Thank the gods for that, at least – a broken neck seemed like it would be more trouble than it was worth right now.

Now that he’d ascertained that he probably hadn’t accidentally killed himself – which was a relief, if nothing else – he was free to turn his attention to the other problem he currently had. Namely, that his carpet, bed and worktable were all now covered with a thin layer of snow.

Well bugger. That’s really not going to help with that essay, is it?

At least, he supposed, he’d got home before it had all melted. He scraped up the worst of it into the waste-paper bin, emptied it out over the sill (with the customary yell of ‘Below!’ in order to avoid some poor passer-by getting an unanticipated shower), and was in the process of trying to work out how many of his books had been ruined by the unexpected weather when he suddenly remembered that he was supposed to be getting dressed.

Twenty minutes later, after he’d read two chapters of the novel he’d left on the bedside table, sorted his inks by colour, and answered a letter he’d been meaning to respond to for a fortnight, he remembered again that he was supposed to be getting dressed – and this time, actually managed to follow through on the thought.

Which all meant that by the time he finally made it downstairs, it was to find Archer leaning against the front desk looking more than slightly irritated, and Viola… absolutely nowhere to be seen.

“Mr Archer, sir, I’m really sorry, I-”

The older vampire raised a hand, cutting him off mid-apology. “Don’t mention it, Mr Fest. I trust whatever you found to occupy your time was worth it?”

“Um.” He could feel the tips of his ears starting to burn, and, for a very brief moment, had the great and abiding desire for the earth to open and swallow him up – before remembering what had happened to the observatory windows and trying very hard not to have said desire, in case the earth actually took notice and tried to oblige him. “I…To tell you the truth, sir, I might have accidentally got distracted a little bit. Sorry, sir.”

Archer drew his hand down his face and closed his eye for a second, muttering something which didn’t sound exactly complimentary. Then he opened his eye again, composed his face into an expression which looked at least vaguely friendly, and said, with the air of a man who was very much damning with faint praise, “Your honesty is appreciated, Mr Fest, even if your lateness is not.”

“Thank you, sir,” Fest replied, realising that this was likely the best reaction he could hope for given the circumstances, and deciding not to push his luck. “I really didn’t mean to-”

“I’m sure you didn’t, and equally sure that whether you meant it or not is something of a moot point.” He smiled, nodding towards the doorway and the suspiciously person-shaped shadow lurking to one side of it. “Our mutual friend’s opinions on the subject are somewhat stronger, but I’m sure you can persuade him round to your point of view on the walk over.”

Him? But I thought- oh, right. The cover story.

He really didn’t want to try and persuade Viola Cervanso of anything – she’d already made it quite clear what she thought of him, and he wasn’t sure this was going to change her opinion for the better. But if that was what it was going to take in order to get him out of this mess…

He swallowed, readjusted the knot on his neckerchief, and walked over towards the lurking werewolf, trying to push down the feeling that this was some sort of test. And, more to the point, one which he was in imminent danger of failing.


“Hello again.”

Oh good. He’d finally deigned to show up.

Admittedly, she’d not been nearly as irritated as Archer seemed to be by the whole thing – once she’d contrived an excuse to lurk in the shadows and not have to talk to anyone, she’d actually spent a fairly pleasant half-hour or so people-watching – but still, it was some bloody cheek for him to take that long to get dressed. Even Amelia could manage it quicker, and she’d half a dozen bits and pieces of underwear and corsetry to wrangle herself into (or, more accurately, for Viola to try and wrestle her into, usually with a fair portion of un-ladylike swearing along the way. Whoever had come up with the newest style of back-lacing stays should have been bloody shot, preferably before they’d invented the damn things).

“Hello yourself. What took you so long?”

He actually went red, which was both hilarious and interesting – she’d not realised vampires could go that colour – and stammered something about having been distracted and lost track of time.  “I apologise profusely for my-”



She almost felt sorry for him, he looked so confused. Almost. “Is saying sorry going to suddenly make you not have taken the time?”


“Then there’s no point.” She was taking liberties, she knew that much, but she’d started doing that when she’d grabbed him in the corridor, and there was pretty much nothing else she could do after that which would make the situation any worse. Oh, aside from threatening him, which she’d also managed to do.

Well done, Viola. Get yourself in trouble for manhandling the gentry, why don’t you?

“It’s polite,” Fest said, somewhat stiffly, though he didn’t seem to have realised that he’d technically just been cheeked by a servant. He looked around, obviously grasping for a topic of conversation which wasn’t related to the fact he’d just made them wait for the best part of half an hour. “Do you know where we’re meant to be going for this breakfast?”

“Baskerville’s,” Archer said, appearing in the doorway. He pulled out his watch, checking the time briefly before returning it to his waistcoat pocket. “They should be open by now, and their coffee’s probably the best you’ll find this side of the mountains.”

Baskerville’s? Oh bloody hell. Viola tried to keep her expression neutral, but her mind was racing. Baskerville’s Coffeehouse was one of the most well-regarded coffeehouses in the city, and one of only a few to predate the revolution (in fact, it was rumoured that more than half of it had been planned in the back rooms there). It was also notoriously difficult to get seats there, even on days that weren’t holidays, which meant that going to Baskerville’s was generally considered an Occasion worth dressing up for.

And here she was in a borrowed shirt, with no coat, gloves or hat, and Archer was talking about dropping in there as though it was his sodding local.

Not for the first time that morning, she was starting to think she’d got in a little over her head.


“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”

The newspaper-seller couldn’t have been more than twelve – a thin, ragged girl with short black hair sticking out from under her tattered cap, and small wind-chapped hands half-hidden in the sleeves of her too-big overcoat. She’d obviously just come from the printers, judging by the size of the pile of papers on her sled, and the tips of her fingers were stained black with new ink, contrasting starkly with the white of her skin.

“Extra! Extra! Hideous murder shocks city! Body found drained of all blood! Read all about it!”

Archer hadn’t been planning on buying a paper that morning. ‘Hadn’t’ being the operative word.

“How much?”

“Ha’penny, sir,” the girl said, breaking off her patter to peel a paper from the top of the stack. She handed it to him, then made a small sound of surprise as he passed her significantly more money than she’d requested. “You sure, sir?”

“Absolutely. Get yourself something hot to eat.” And then, quieter, “And take the rest to the slaughterhouse down by the river gate. They’ll sort you out, and it’s a damn sight better than rats.”

She nodded, then flashed him a shy grin, fangs briefly visible between her cracked lips. “Thank you, sir!”

“Don’t mention it.” He turned, walking away as the girl started back into her spiel once more, and made a concerted effort to pretend that he’d only picked up the paper out of the goodness of his heart and a vague sense of curiosity.

He wasn’t at all sure that it was working.

‘Hideous Murder’ the headline read, in letters that took up half the available space. Underneath, in slightly smaller type, the phrase ‘Victim found drained of blood – Watch baffled’ ran above a sketch of two constables bending over a body in an alleyway – which would have been far more effective if it hadn’t been the same sketch the Herald used every time it wanted to depict a murder but hadn’t been able to get anyone to the scene fast enough to find out the grisly details before they went to print.

Someone’s been busy.

He’d expected the news to get out at some point – even with the full force of the Order brought to bear on the matter, mysterious murders didn’t tend to stay secrets for long – but this soon after the event? That didn’t suggest rumour-mill so much as outright information-selling, and from someone who really didn’t much care who they hurt in the process, given the reaction this particular killing was likely to elicit.

I’ll drop in on Mac this afternoon, see if he can give me any clues as to who our tattle-tale might be. Failing that, the Watch-captain in the Old Quarter might be able to shed some light on the situation, given-

His train of thought came to a juddering halt as his eye, skimming over the dense columns of text surrounding the picture, lit upon a sentence halfway through the (somewhat gleefully gory) description of the Watch’s discovery of the crime scene.

‘The victim, a young human woman of foreign appearance, was found lying face-up in the snow in the yard behind the Crossed Daggers tavern, a notorious public house where, our editors understand, the criminal element of our fair city is much inclined to meet and take strong liquor.’

Wait, what?

This… wasn’t the same murder. Quite apart from the disparity in the victims’ sexes, Harrow’s body had been pulled out of the river, not found outside Sabbat’s lodgings, and-

Sabbat. Oh gods above. If-

He swore under his breath,  folding the paper up and cramming it into his pocket as he hurried back towards the two younger members of the party. “My apologies. Something’s come up, I’m afraid.” Noticing the expressions on their faces, he pressed on. “I’ll take you to Baskerville’s and get you set up at a table there, but I’m afraid I’ll have to leave you to your own devices for a couple of hours after that.”

From the look on Viola’s face, she wasn’t exactly thrilled by the idea of having to spend two hours entertaining Fest by herself, and the younger vampire’s expression suggested that the feeling was very much mutual. Unfortunately for them, they were both going to have to put up with it.

“Mr Archer,” Fest began.

Archer shook his head, forestalling the inevitable complaint. “No, I can’t take either of you with me, and yes, I do expect the two of you to stay there until I return. If it’s any consolation, you’ll be eating and drinking on my credit, which is extensive, and you almost certainly won’t be the only Order members there.”

This seemed to go some way towards mollifying both of them, though he suspected for somewhat different reasons: Fest’s eyes had lit up at the mention of food, while Viola seemed to be significantly happier knowing that she’d likely have at least a few other friends around.

Good. The last thing I need is to come back and find the two of them have decided to disappear. Or worse, kill each other.

There was, of course, an obvious way to solve this problem. But he’d promised them breakfast, Baskerville’s had the distinct advantage of being free (being a survivor of the same revolutionary cadre as the owners had its perks), and stowing their newest recruit in a space which tended to be frequented by some of the more… subtly-inclined members of the Order’s shadow arm was probably the best thing to do with him given his current circumstances.

Imprisoning someone in a coffeehouse? Well, it’ll amuse Sabbat, at any rate.


Copyright © 2018 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Blood on the Snow: Chapter 3 (draft)

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