Argentum in Aqua: Blood on the Snow (NaNo teaser)

[Didn’t actually finish NaNo this year, but did manage to get at least some words down – including this confrontation scene, which I’ve been meaning to write for a while. This takes place a good few chapters later than the last one I uploaded, and starts very much in medias res. Also we’re starting in Sabbat’s POV, so swearing and gore abound]

He hissed out a breath, flexing the fingers of his wounded hand. It hurt to move them much but, between the cold and the alcohol, he still had about the range of movement he’d need for climbing if he didn’t put too much weight on the palm. Holding a knife was going to be a problem, though, and he thanked the Lady that it’d been his left hand and not his right that he’d gouged open – at least that way he still had a fair chance in hand-to-hand if it came to that.

Or, if he was honest, when.

Come on, you fucking coward. Show yourself!

Almost as soon as he’d finished the thought, there was a flicker of movement on a rooftop two streets below – something quick, quiet and humanoid, darting between a chimney and the slanted side of a wooden lean-to someone had thrown together against the remnants of a half-broken wall.

Sabbat froze.

Then, very deliberately, he relaxed back against the brickwork, letting out his breath in a long, silent sigh. Whoever it was was too far away to be able to notice details, even if they had non-human night sight, and he was camouflaged enough against the soot-stained brick that they’d have trouble picking him out even if they’d got the idea that there was someone up there to begin with.

Could be him. Or her, or them, I suppose. Nothing saying murderous leeches have to be male.

As he watched, there was another flicker of movement, this one closer to what he supposed must be the door of the lean-to, and something thumped once against the bricks, the sound oddly loud in the relative quiet of that particular corner of the district. There was another thump, this one with a rattling sound attached to it, and then a figure appeared beside the lean-to, silhouetted against the lamplight from the all-night cookshop a street over.

They were smaller than he’d expected, and slim to boot, and there was a hunched, feral look to their posture that didn’t match the way the killer felt as though they’d move in his head. Appearances weren’t everything, mind – some of the best assassins he’d ever met had been the ones nobody’d ever look twice at – but the more he looked at the figure on the roof, the more he was sure they weren’t the bastard he was hunting.

It wasn’t just the way they looked. The killer, whoever they were, had been calm and collected enough to take the girl away from the Daggers without arousing suspicion, drain her dry, then dump her body back in the courtyard without anyone being any the wiser. Whoever it was moving around down on the rooftop, by contrast, looked like they were more used to being the hunted rather than the hunter – sudden movements, followed by long periods of stillness, and the occasional twitch that looked a hell of a lot like someone looking back over their shoulder to see if they were being followed.

Probably a street kid, then. Odd are they’re lairing up in that lean-to overnight, and begging on the street during the day – not likely to be part of a gang, else they’d be in a safehouse somewhere, and if they’re out on a job they’re doing a fucking bad job of not drawing attention to themselves.

If he’d been a different man, he might’ve felt sorry for them. As it was, they’d distracted him from his hunt, left themselves wide open for anyone who might want to take a shot at them, and made enough noise to scare off anyone who might’ve been trying to move through the area without getting caught. He snarled a curse under his breath, took another swig from the hipflask, and turned away.

And then stepped back hard onto his wounded leg as something dark and humanoid and huge hurled itself over the side of the balcony a street above him, grabbed hold of the top of a chimney-stack, and pushed itself off to sail over both the street and the rooftop he was standing on in a leap which was equal parts inhumanly strong and terrifyingly fast.

“Fucking hellfire!”

He ducked, instinctively, as the thing flew over his head, and felt something warm and wet hit the side of his face as he did so, splashing across his cheek and over his still partly-open mouth. The taste of blood hit his tongue at about the same moment the true implications of what had just happened worked its way into his brain, and the resulting explosion of revulsion, realisation and sheer bloody adrenaline had him on his feet and running before he’d even had time to consciously make the decision, chasing after the shape as it hurtled down towards the ragged lean-to and the still unaware hunched figure on the rooftop below.

It was a stupid plan. He knew it was a stupid plan, would’ve done so even if his leg and hand hadn’t been screaming it at him, even if his boots hadn’t been slipping on the icey slates of the roofs, even if he hadn’t been chasing after something which he was pretty fucking certain wasn’t any kind of vampire he’d ever seen before. But, fuck, what in the hells else was he going to do? It was running, and he was hunting it. Simple as that.

And besides, if he didn’t do anything, it was going to eat the kid. And nobody deserved that, even if they were stupid enough to get themselves silhouetted against a skyline.

“Hoi! Come fight someone your own size, you fuckin’ coward!”

If the thing had heard him, it didn’t give any sign of it. The kid – if they were a kid – looked up, though, and he almost thought he could see their eyes widen as they got an up-close-and-personal look at whatever it was that was racing towards them.

They screamed.

The thing stopped, abruptly, as though taken aback by the noise. Then it threw back its head, opened its mouth, and laughed.

It didn’t sound like a monster. Fuck, it sounded like nothing so much as one of the older toffs you sometimes got down at the Daggers reacting to someone telling what he thought was a particularly funny joke – a long, low rumble of sound, thick with wine and good humour and completely and utterly relaxed.

Which, coupled with the way it had been moving, meant it was almost certainly a vampire, no matter how weird it looked.


The kid on the rooftop hadn’t stopped screaming – a thin, high, thready wail of terror which cut through the general buzz and hum of the nighttime city like a knife. They’d frozen in their tracks, too, obviously too scared to run or hide, and it was only the fact that the bastard had stopped to gloat which’d saved them from an immediate quick and messy death. That wasn’t going to do jack shit to protect them when it got its head back in the game, though, and they didn’t seem inclined to start moving again any time soon.

Fuck, Sabbat thought again. Then, with a sick sense of inevitability: Trust Archer to push me into something where I have to end up playing the fucking hero.

His knife was already out, wrapped hilt digging into the gloved flesh of his palm. Assuming the thing died like a normal vampire, all he needed was one good slash across an artery – or, failing that, a chance to get the blade tang-deep into its guts, drop it where it stood, and deal with it at leisure once he’d stopped it running off on him.

Course, that was making a hell of an assumption about the bastard. And very squarely the kind of assumption that, if you got it wrong, very quickly got you killed.

Then again, what other choice do I have? Ain’t letting it eat the kid, that’s for fucking sure.

Fuck. Of all the times to have a fucking conscience.

The kid was still screaming.

The thing was still laughing.

Sooner or later, one or both of them were going to have to pause for breath, and things were going to get bloody.

No time. Just fucking do it, and damn the consequences.

He shifted his grip on the knife, fixed his eyes on the point right behind the bastard thing’s left ear, muttered a brief prayer to the Lady, and charged.

Three things happened in quick succession.

First, the thing stopped laughing.

Second, the kid on the rooftop stopped screaming, suddenly acquired some common sense from somewhere, turned on their heels and ran like fuck for the nearest survivable drop down onto the streets below.

And third, something that felt as solid and immovable as a fucking iron bar smashed hard into Sabbat’s ribs, knocking him off his feet and sending him sprawling halfway across the rooftop. The dull ache in his wounded hand flared to white-hot agony as half his weight landed on it, and he didn’t bother to bite back the shout of startled pain – better to keep the killer’s attention focused on him and give the kid a chance to get away.

That, it turned out, wasn’t going to be much of a problem. The thing had turned to face him as he’d charged it, slamming its arm into his chest as it did so, and it was now stalking across the rooftop towards him, moving as slowly and leisurely as though it was taking a sodding afternoon stroll.

It was a tactic Sabbat knew well. Mostly because it was one he liked using on Sinnlenst.

Keep ‘em waiting, make ‘em know you’re the one in charge, let ‘em piss ‘emselves in terror trying to work out how to get away from you, and just. keep. walking.

This’d be funny, if it wasn’t so fucking irritating.

He’d kept hold of his knife in the fall, thank the Lady, and for all he’d landed hard enough to knock the breath out of him, nothing seemed to be broken or bleeding much beyond the wounds he’d already taken. And, judging by the fact the skin of his torso didn’t seem to be melting, the bottle in his pocket had been tough enough to survive the blow.

Not completely defenceless then. That’s something.

Of course, the moment he tried getting to his feet the bastard’d probably make a good go at ripping his throat out – playing with your prey like this only worked as long as they weren’t in any shape to make a serious attempt at turning the tables on you, after all. Which meant his best bet of getting out of this alive was to lie very still, pretend to be unconscious, and then wait until the last possible second to get the knife in.

And that’d be a fuck of a lot easier if I was halfway sure this thing was killable.

Logically, he knew it was a vampire. Couldn’t be anything else. But it hadn’t moved like any vampire he’d ever seen, even in the midst of full combat, and the size of it…

It’s dark. It’s dark, and it – he – was moving fast. ‘s all.

Except that he wasn’t, now. And aye, fine, he wasn’t half as tall and broad as he’d looked when he was hurling himself over the rooftops, and vampires ran taller than humans anyroad, but there was still a sheer bulk to him that didn’t look right – not for a vampire, and not for something that could move that fucking fast and that fucking quietly.

And he was sodding laughing again. Quieter this time, more as though he was laughing to himself than anything else, but worse for that because it didn’t sound as though he was trying to be intimidating. He just seemed to be… amused, like this was a joke someone’d told him and he’d only just worked it out.

Creepy fucker. Shouldn’t’ve expected anything less from the kind of freak who goes around fucking drinking people dry, mind.

As if in answer, the killer’s laughter abruptly tailed off, leaving only silence and, far below, the humming, bustling, rattling song of the city at night. He stayed where he was for a brief moment, head on one side, apparently considering something.

Then he huffed out a breath through his nose, bent to pick up something from the snow at his feet, and started towards Sabbat again, whistling tunelessly between his teeth.

And now you’re trying to fucking intimidate me. It ain’t going to work.  

Problem was, that wasn’t entirely true. Aye, he’d had people trying to threaten him before – hells, that was practically a daily occurence half the year round – and he’d had more than enough practice at facing down fuckwits who thought they’d got the drop on him. And aye, he’d been in worse situations than this one, even – least this time he had a weapon, had at least something of an advantage on the enemy, and wasn’t halfway to actually being unconscious. But people were one thing. This bastard, whatever he was, was something else.

And if he couldn’t kill him…

Then I’m dead. And the kid’s dead. And, once he figures out what happened to me, Archer’s probably dead too.

So we stab him, hope it works, and run like hell if it doesn’t. Ain’t cowardice if you run away from a fight you can’t fucking win.

Not that he’d be doing much sprinting with his leg feeling as bad as it was, mind. But, given how much smaller and lither he was than the vampire, he’d probably be able to lose him in the rat-runs up by where the Tin Street Gang’s warehouses were, and that was only a street or so away – hardly anything when you were running on sheer adrenaline and bloody-mindedness.

Just have to keep pretending we’re out cold until he gets close enough. And hope he’s not waiting for us to catch frostbite in the meantime.

He’d started shivering, now that the adrenaline from the initial charge had begun to wear off, and the few inches of exposed skin on his face and neck touching the snow burned with cold, a bone-deep freezing chill that felt as though it was eating down to the bones of his skull and spine. He needed to move – but if he did, the bastard’d realise he wasn’t unconscious, and then everything’d get a fuck of a lot more complicated.

Come on. Stop playing with your bloody food and do something!

The whistling was, finally, getting closer again – close enough, Sabbat reckoned, that its owner’d probably be able to see his face in a second or two. And, given unconscious bodies didn’t tend to blink, that meant the next part of this was going to get even more fun.  

Lady, if you’re watching…

She always was, of course. But if you had to go calling her attention, this kind of situation was about the only time it was in any way anything approaching a sensible idea.

He closed his eyes, slowed his heartbeat, tightened his hand on the hilt of his knife, and waited, holding his breath, as the killer’s boots crunched slowly closer on the new-fallen snow.


A few minutes earlier, and several streets away:

Amelia suddenly stopped in her tracks, head tilting to one side. “Vi? Did you hear that?”

Viola raised a hand, cutting the other girl off, and nodded once, eyes scanning the darkness. Screams weren’t uncommon in Sacaan, especially in this quarter, but there’d been something about this one which had sounded wrong – not drunken messing about or someone getting a handful of snow shoved down her shirt, but sheer, raw, unbridled terror, as though whoever had screamed had… well, she didn’t exactly want to think about what someone might’ve seen to have caused that noise, but it wasn’t as though she had much of a choice.

“Whatever it was, it… sounded bad, Vi. Really bad.”

“I know.”

“Someone’s probably in trouble.”

“I know.” Us, for a start, if we don’t get out of here.

“We should go-”

“I know.”

“-and see if we can help,” Amelia finished.

Viola stared at her for a long moment. Then, very slowly, she raised a hand, ran it over her face, and said, in a voice which she thought was admirably calm given the circumstances: “Are you out of your fucking mind, ‘melia?”

“Someone’s hurt, Vi. Possibly dead. We can’t just walk away as if we didn’t hear anything!”

No, that’s exactly what we can do. As fast as possible, for preference. Because you’re not a werewolf, and your combat experience is theoretical at best, and whatever made someone make that kind of noise isn’t exactly going to back off and let you try again when you fuck things up. It’s going to kill you. “We can, and we will. This isn’t a good area of town to be loitering in, especially after dark, and it’s an even bet whoever made that noise was trying to lure someone in so they could kill ‘em and make off with whatever they were carrying.” And if the ancestors have a problem with that lie, they can take it up with all the people who got killed falling for the same trick when it got pulled for real.

“Except it’s not, and you know it,” Amelia said, quietly. She set her jaw, hand going to the largest of the knives on her belt. “Someone’s in trouble, and I’m damned if I’m going to let them get killed just because you’re feeling overprotective. I’m going to go help.”

“By yourself?”

“If necessary, yes.”

Except you know I won’t let you do that. Damn you, Amelia. “And what if I stop you?”

“You can try.” It was a statement of fact rather than a challenge, and that almost made it worse. “But I’m going to go help, Viola. What you choose to do about that is up to you.”

“I suppose knocking you out, chucking you over my shoulder and running like hell is out of the question?” Viola muttered, more to herself than the other girl.

“Again, you can try.” She paused, obviously considering something, and then said, slowly “You realise that if you were here on your own, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Viola blinked at her, momentarily taken aback. “…Yeeeees? But I don’t see what that-”

Amelia made an irritated noise. “That’s- gah! That’s not what I meant, Vi. If you were here on your own you’d already be running off to help and we both know it. You wouldn’t even have stopped to think whether it was a good idea – you’d just go, and damn the consequences.”

“That’s not the point!” For a start, if I was here on my own, by definition you wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have to protect you, and we wouldn’t be having this bloody argument.

“It’s entirely the point. If you’d go running off to save people if I wasn’t here, why let me being here stop you?”

“Because I’m supposed to-”

“Protect me, yes, I know. But if I go…”

Damn you, ‘melia. “You’re not going to give up, are you?”

“No. And the longer we keep arguing, the more trouble whoever screamed is likely to be in.” She turned on her heel, heading up the street towards the source of the noise at a walk that was very almost, but not quite, a jog. “Are you coming or not?”

Viola snarled, quietly. Back me into a bloody corner, why don’t you? But there was no way in the hells she was going to let Amelia waltz off into danger by herself – and, if she was honest, her conscience’d never forgive her if she just stood there and did nothing. Ugh. Ancestors, when this gets recorded, can you at least nudge the singers into remembering that this wasn’t entirely my fault?

She sighed, rolled her eyes, and set off after Amelia, easily catching up to the younger girl in a few long, loping strides. “Fine.”

“You’ll do it?”

We’ll do it. And when we get into shit as a result-”

“You’ll have every right to say ‘I told you so’,” Amelia finished, brightly. She grinned, fast and fierce. “Besides, who’s to say we’ll be the ones in trouble?”

And, despite everything, Viola felt the corners of her mouth twitch upwards in an answering grin. “Alright then. Let’s do this.”


Back in the present, on a rooftop:

Hurry the fuck up, will you? Sabbat growled, silently.

Even without opening his eyes, he could tell the killer was standing over him. Hells, he could hear the bastard’s breathing – fast, excited, and all too sodding close for comfort – but the other man (and that was an assumption and a half right there, that he’d even count as anything close enough to sapient to be a person) seemed in no hurry to actually get on with the business of actually trying to kill him.

Too busy savouring the sodding moment, are you? Bastard. Hurry up and fucking try something.

The killer’s breath hitched, as though he’d somehow managed to hear the thought (which, if Sabbat was honest, wouldn’t have surprised him at this point), and the snow crunched again as he shifted his weight.

And then he did something Sabbat hadn’t expected.

He spoke.

His voice, unlike his laugh, was monstrous – rough, ragged, with pauses and inflections that made no sense, as though he’d learned to speak by rote. But for all that, it was somehow darkly, horrifyingly familiar.

“I… think I recognise… you.”

Sabbat’s stomach went cold, and he suddenly had to fight to keep his own breathing slow and even. Who the fuck-? And, as the obvious, impossible answer presented itself,  No. No. That’s- fuck, that’s not possible. I know I killed you.

“I think… this… will be fun.”

Copyright © 2018 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

[Author’s note: we are well into first-draft here – everything here and on from here is massively subject to changes/revisions]


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