Blood on the Snow: Chapter 5 (draft)

Archer reached the top of the rickety wooden stairs, pushed open the equally rickety-looking door – and ducked, just in time to avoid the throwing knife which whistled past his ear and buried itself halfway to the hilt in the crumbling plaster.

“And a very good morning to you too.” He eyed the knife with interest. “Not your usual style. Changed supplier?”

“Bastard never could get the weightin’ right,” Sabbat confirmed. He propped himself up on one elbow, pushing sleep-mussed hair out of his face, and blinked blearily in Archer’s general direction. “Least wi’ this one the knives actually go where you’re aimin’ ‘em.”

“Good to know. I wouldn’t want to think that you’d almost skewered me by accident.” Gods. I could sodding kiss you right now, you realise that? He wasn’t going to, of course. But hells, he’d not realised quite how much he’d been worrying about the assassin, even knowing that it wasn’t his body out in that courtyard. “I don’t suppose you know anything about the murdered girl down there, do you?”

“Depends. What girl’re we talkin’ about?”

“The one who was killed last night. In the courtyard.”

“News t’me. She pick the wrong john?”


The assassin shrugged. “What?”

“She was murdered, Sabbat”

“So? Ain’t as if that’s uncommon round here. Hells gates, Archer, y’forget what I do for a livin’ or somethin’?”

A sudden cold fear, illogical as it was, shivered down his spine. “Please tell me you didn’t.”

“Fuck no. Fer one thing, no contract’d ever pay enough t’make me tangle wi’ Jenny Goldenfang. Fer another, y’don’t shit where you eat.”


“Old Town’s off-limits. Best way t’make sure people ain’t about t’sell you out t’the Watch is if they know you ain’t goin’ t’take a contract round their way.”

Which made a certain kind of sense, he supposed. He hadn’t seriously thought Sabbat had had anything to do with it, of course – the wounds were wrong, for a start – but having that confirmation did at least help to ease the more irrational side of his nature. “True. You’re sure you don’t know anything about what happened?”

“No more’n you do. Came home, talked t’you, went t’bed, next thing I know you’re wakin’ me up t’talk my ear off about a dead whore.”


“An’ I know she was a whore on account of the fact y’din’t correct me when I talked about johns, so y’can stop lookin’ at me like that.” He paused, frowning. “Th’fuck’s she so important t’you for, anyway?”

Archer took a deep breath. “Because she was almost certainly murdered by a vampire.”

There was a long, awkward silence.


“My thoughts exactly.”



Sabbat laughed. “An’ now you’re tryin’ t’pretend you ain’t surprised I know what that means.”

“I’m not,” said Archer, somewhat truthfully.


“Look, it’s not that I’m surprised you know what it means, exactly. I’m surprised that was your go-to word for the situation.”

“Why? ‘s what happened, ain’t it?”

“Yes, but-”


“Sabbat, you’re a complete and utter self-professed anti-intellectual. You once threw a boot at my head because I suggested you might want to try reading something once in a while, your views on the University are practically unprintable, and you insist on deliberately using any book I lend you as a knife-throwing target.You can hardly blame me for pulling faces when you suddenly decide to burst out in polysyllables.”

The assassin grinned. “Who’s sayin’ I din’t read those books before I put knives through ‘em? An’ besides, I only threw a boot at you on account of you bein’ a patronisin’ bastard.”

“I think I’m insulted,” Archer said, trying and failing to suppress a smile. While the business he was purportedly here on was bloody enough that he couldn’t entirely let himself forget it, Sabbat being… well, Sabbat about the whole thing was going a long way towards making him feel a good deal less anxious, and a good deal more inclined to take a slightly more relaxed view of events.

Which, admittedly, likely said something about his morals that he didn’t exactly want to interrogate at this particular moment.

“Don’t see why,” Sabbat retorted, grinning lopsidedly. “Wouldn’t’ve bin a boot if I’d’ve actually bin pissed off wi’ y’, an’ y’know as much.”

He had to admit, the assassin did have a point. Several of them, in fact, as he was generally all too eager to demonstrate whenever Archer started in on a topic he had a particular desire not to talk about. “True. You do realise most people wouldn’t consider hurling weaponry at their interlocutor an acceptable way of changing the subject, yes?”

“I ain’t most people.”

“That’s for damn sure.”

“An’ it ain’t as if it’d actually hurt y’, anyway.” He paused, considering. “Much.”

“Yes. I do have a distinct advantage in that area.” He sighed, reminded, despite himself, of the reason for his visit. “Unlike our dead girl, unfortunately.”

“Y’sure it was one o’ your lot?” Sabbat asked. He sat up, pushing the sheet aside and reaching for a cigarette from the open carton balanced on the sea chest at the foot of the bed. “Ain’t tellin’ you how t’do your job, but I ain’t the only cutthroat round here, an’ some of ‘em ain’t over-principled about pinnin’ the blame on whatever poor sod they can finger for’t.”

“And you don’t?”

That got him a distinctly irritated glare, which both was no less effective for being distinctly bleary-eyed and, thankfully, went some way towards distracting him from the fact that the assassin had, for some reason best known to himself, apparently been sleeping shirtless.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was doing that on purpose, the vampire thought, and then very quickly wrenched his mind away from that particular train of logic – quite apart from anything else, it wasn’t exactly something he needed to be dwelling on in the middle of a murder investigation. Time enough for whatever’s going on there later. Much, much later.

“Not like that, an’ you fuckin’ know it. I got standards, Archer.”


“An’ th’fuck’re you starin’ at me like that for, anyway?”

“I’m not.” And, before Sabbat could manage to formulate a riposte to that particular piece of outright and obvious falsehood: “And yes, I’m almost certain she was killed by a vampire. There are fang marks on her neck, for a start.”

“Could be a wolf.”

“Wolves don’t exsanguinate their prey. And besides, there’s not a drop of blood left at the crime scene. That argues someone with a pressing need-”

“-or someone killin’ her elsewhere and draggin’ her here after.”

“I’d not thought of that,” Archer admitted. “The snow’s been trampled down enough that I couldn’t be sure, but there didn’t seem to be any obvious drag marks. She could have been carried easily enough, though.”

“So she could’ve bin killed anywhere within a half dozen streets o’ here.”

“Which would explain the lack of blood on the snow.”

“An’ the fact y’ain’t got any witnesses.”

“I don’t follow.”

Sabbat laughed, blowing a cloud of smoke in the vampire’s direction. “Why else’d y’come wake me up?”

Because I just spent half an hour honestly convinced you’d been murdered. Because I needed to see you to reassure myself you were still in one piece. Because I- “Because I needed someone to talk to about this, and you’re the closest thing I have to a colleague as far as this business goes.” And because, unlike certain other people, you’ll actually understand why I don’t want to tell the Watch everything.

“An’ y’figured that was worth gettin’ me out o’bed for.”

“Honestly? Yes.”

There was a long, drawn-out pause. Then:“You’re fuckin’ lucky I like you, Archer.”

“Oh, believe me, I know.”

“So what’re you expectin’ me t’do about this, then?” the assassin asked, the words accompanied by another cloud of strong-smelling smoke. “Ain’t goin’ round questionin’ people, if that’s what you’re anglin’ fer.”

Archer, knowing full well what Sabbat’s version of ‘questioning’ was likely to entail, breathed a sigh of relief. “Given I’d rather like my witnesses in one piece, I’m entirely in agreement with you on that front.”

“Wouldn’t say no t’huntin’out your killer, mind,” Sabbat went on. He smiled suddenly, the expression fierce and predatory. “Be a change from workin’ t’contract, an’ I ain’t had th’chance t’let loose fer soddin’ years.”

For a moment, Archer almost felt sorry for the girl’s killer, whoever they were. Then he remembered exactly what they’d done, and the feeling bled away, leaving only a sudden spike of worry in its wake. He knew Sabbat was a competent fighter, but… “Whoever it is, they’re desperate. And a vampire. You’re-”

“A human?” The assassin rolled his eyes. “Give me a break, Archer. I’ve killed vampires before, an’ you fuckin’ know it.”

Which was true, as far as it went. But there was a good deal of difference between assassinating an unsuspecting target and chasing after someone who’d fallen so far that they’d decided to break one of the cardinal laws of the city, even without taking Sabbat’s current sense-deadening habits into account. And on that topic- “Sabbat, I need to know something.”


“Are you sure – exceptionally, completely and without a shadow of a doubt – that Ephraim Caine is dead?”

There was another long, tense silence. Then, very slowly, Sabbat stood up.

Much to Archer’s silent relief, the assassin had gone to bed in his trousers and boots: the dark cloth and darker leather stood in contrast to the stark white scars criss-crossing his brown skin as he straightened up to his full height, folding his arms across his chest in a gesture that for a brief second seemed almost as much defensive as it was intimidating.

“-th’fuck’re you implyin’, Archer?” he said, quietly, after the silence had dragged on just long enough to have dropped the temperature in the room by a good ten degrees.

“I’m ‘implying’ nothing,” the vampire replied, lowering his voice to match his friend’s pitch and tone. “I am asking you if you’re sure the man is dead. It’s a simple question.”

“Like fuck it is. What’s changed that you ain’t willin’ t’take my word fer it?”

The fact you’re drugging yourself into oblivion on a regular basis? He scowled, biting back the obvious retort with difficulty – much as that conversation needed to happen, starting it right here and now was hardly going to get him the information he needed. Better then, as far as it went, to stick with incontrovertible facts. “Viola Cervanso saw him. Last night.”

“An’ I killed him last night. What’s your point?”

“After the meeting.”


“You’re that certain?”

“Y’think I don’t know my own fuckin’ business, Archer? I slit his throat ear-to-ear an’ threw him in the fuckin’ river. He’s dead.”

“…I believe you.” Or, at least, I believe that you believe that. There was too much fire in the assassin’s words for his conviction to be anything other than genuine – which meant that either his perception of reality was a damn sight more compromised than Archer had feared or, in some respects more worryingly, what he was saying was completely and utterly true.

If Ephraim Caine really is dead… then who – or what – did Viola see in that alleyway?

Judging by his expression, Sabbat seemed to be coming to much the same conclusion. He sat back down on the bed, taking a deep drag on his cigarette and blowing out the smoke in a long, slow breath – when he spoke again, the dangerous quiet was gone from his voice, replaced by something which, in anyone else, Archer might possibly have read as a slight tremor of nerves. “So what? Y’think she’s lyin’?”

“No. And she’s certain she wasn’t mistaken – though she did say something about the smell being wrong, now I think of it.”


“I’m not sure yet.” He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger for a brief moment. “I need to- no, we need to talk to her again. See if there’s anything else she remembers.”

“Why? The bastard’s dead, Archer. Stone fuckin’ dead. She can’t have fuckin’ seen him.”

Or you’ve completely lost touch with reality, to the point that you either botched an assassination or hallucinated one which never took place. Either way, I need more information. “Which means we need to work out exactly what it was she did see. Helpfully, the lady in question is currently eating and drinking on my tab at Baskervilles, so all I need to do is go back there and invite her back to my rooms for a conversation with the two of us.”

“-th’fuck’s she doin’ there?” Sabbat asked, looking honestly confused.

Archer told him. And then, because it seemed relevant, he explained what he knew of what Fest had been getting up to, and exactly why he’d detailed Viola to bodyguard the younger vampire.

Sabbat sat, and smoked, and listened. And, finally, when Archer had just about finished his recitation, he let loose a string of profanity which was no less blistering for being almost entirely in Han Sei street cant.

Archer listened with interest, making mental note of the words he’d not previously encountered, until his friend started repeating himself. Then: “Do you see why I needed to talk to you?”

“Don’t see why y’din’t fuckin’ lead wi’ that,” the assassin growled, stubbing out his cigarette on the side of his boot. He swore again, a short monosyllable in plain Sacaask this time, and glared at nothing in particular. “Any idea what that bitch’s done t’him?”

“Not as yet,” Archer admitted. “Again, I think we need to talk to him – the two of us and Miss Cervanso, if she’s willing – and see what information we can dredge up.” He smiled, though there wasn’t much humour in it. “At this rate, I might as well be hosting a damn dinner party.”

“Long as you ain’t expectin’ me t’make soddin’ small talk. Or hand round fuckin’ canapes.”

“Gods forbid!” The image was so absurd he couldn’t help but laugh – which set Sabbat laughing too, and that, somehow, made the whole thing just a little more bearable. At least, until the temple bells rang out for the hour, and the cold reality of exactly how much he still had left to do today asserted itself. “Much as I’d like to keep talking, I really need to get back and rescue the younger members of the party from each other – if we rendezvous at my rooms, that should give us the safety and security we need to try and sort out at least some of our current problems.” He turned to go, then stopped, looking back over his shoulder. “Oh, and Sabbat?”


“Put a shirt on, will you?”


“I still don’t understand why we’re doing this,” Fest said, far too loudly.

Viola growled, barely resisting the urge to cuff him round the back of the head. You don’t have to understand. You just have to bloody well trust me.“First off, keep your sodding voice down. And second off, because there’s no-one else I can take you to, and I’m not sodding having you out on the street ‘til we know what the Sinnlenst did to you.”

The vampire looked around, eyeing the dingy walls of the alleyway with what seemed to Viola like an undeserved amount of scepticism. “So we’re breaking into Mr Archer’s house?”

“Yes.” It didn’t come out nearly as confidently as she’d hoped. I know it’s not the best plan in the world, but right now it’s all we’ve got. “Look, it’s not as though we’re going to get caught.”

“…This is a terrible idea.”

I know. “Do you have a better one?”

Not doing this?” He wilted under her glare. “Sorry. It’s just… this really doesn’t seem like a good idea. What if the Watch catch us?”

“They won’t,” Viola said, at least vaguely managing something in the vicinity of confidence this time. “Trust me.”

He looked, if possible, even more sceptical than before, but at least had the good sense to keep his mouth shut this time.

“This way.” She pushed ahead of him, boots slushing through the muddy snow as she headed for the end of the alleyway – and, specifically, towards the somewhat ramshackle looking coalshed tucked away at the back corner. “You’ve climbed trees before, right?”

“When I was a lot younger, yes,” the vampire said, hurrying to catch up.

She grinned. “Good. This is almost completely unlike that.”

She’d reached the wall of the coalshed by this point – without waiting for him to reply, she jumped straight up, grabbing hold of the edge of the roof and hauling herself up onto it in a movement which would’ve been a damn sight more graceful if she’d managed it all in one go, and probably more ladylike if she’d not been swearing like a sailor pretty much half the time she’d been doing it. As it was, there was a brief period of cursing while her boots scrabbled for purchase on the crumbling brickwork, followed by a longer period of somewhat more self-congratulatory swearing once she’d pulled herself fully onto the roof and taken a good look at her surroundings.

Perfect. She’d been pretty sure she’d picked the right alley even before she’d scaled the shed, but the confirmation still tasted sweet (and, more to the point, meant she wasn’t about to look like a complete idiot in front of the new recruit). Just above her head, at around the level where she’d be able to put both paws and her chin on the sill in wolf form, a pair of sturdy wooden shutters coated in peeling blue paint barred access to a tall thin window which looked, if she was any judge of distance, just about wide enough for her to get her shoulders through. And, if she’d been in any doubt that she’d found the right house, the scents leaking from under the shutters were obvious enough to her nose even in two-legged form: cold breakfast, her own dried blood, and one very specific vampire.

“Got you,” she whispered.

“What?” Fest had forgotten to modulate his volume again, though he’d at least dropped the complaining tone in favour of what sounded like completely honest confusion. “Can you speak up a bit? I didn’t hear you.”

“That’s fine. I wasn’t talking to you.” She tilted her head to one side, eyeing the shutter carefully. Odds were it’d just have a bolt across it on the other side – easy enough to deal with if you had string of some sort, and no need for picks at all – but she wouldn’t put it past Archer to have complicated the issue, especially if he was wary of Sinnlenst assassins dropping by for a visit. “I’m trying to work out exactly how much breaking-and-entering we’re going to have to do.”

“That’s… not exactly reassuring.”

“Wasn’t meant to be.” She’d need a boost up if she wanted to get a proper look at the fastenings – which meant, in the absence of Seb’s reliable shoulders to stand on, she was almost certainly going to have to ask Fest for help. Well, it’s at least a test of how good he is at following instructions. And if he drops me… “Get up here, will you? I need to borrow you for a second.”


She rolled her eyes. “I said-

“No, I heard you the first time. ‘What’ as in ‘What do you need to ‘borrow me’ for, exactly’?”

Hah. You’ve found your backbone again all of a sudden. She couldn’t say she was exactly upset, mind – she’d always preferred working with people who actually stood up for themselves, and the novelty of having a member of the nobility deferring to her had started to wear off well before they’d got out of the coffee house. “That’s a lot of questions for a man who’s helping me with a break-in.”

“‘Helping’ implies I have any choice in the matter,” Fest fired back, though he at least coupled the words with a fairly spirited attempt to pull himself onto the roof. “Might – agh – as well say ‘press-ganged into’.”

“Would you rather stay out where the Sinnlenst can get you?” Fun as it was to watch him struggle, she wasn’t entirely hard-hearted – she crouched down, offering him a hand up. “Trust me. It’ll be fine.”

“I wish I had your optimism,” the vampire grumbled, though more to himself than her. He grabbed the offered hand, hauling himself up onto the roof, and flashed her a small smile. “Thank you.”

“And now I need you to give me a boost.”


This would be going a lot faster if you’d stop saying that. Then again, it’d be going a lot faster if she was on her own, full stop. Spirits, why do I get myself into these messes? “Look, there’s no way I can properly see what we’re dealing with lockswise from down here. If you give me a leg-up-”

Fest recoiled backwards as though she’d just handed him a live snake, very nearly toppling off the edge of the roof in the process. “I can’t do that!” he protested.

“Why the hells not?” Viola snapped, before the realisation hit her. Oh, Ancestors give me strength. “This is because I’m a woman, isn’t it?”

“Yes!” He rubbed the back of his neck, staring down at the ground with what looked like completely genuine contrition. “I’m sorry, but- I- It’s not proper, alright?”

“Neither’s breaking and entering!”

“It’s not the same thing!”

“I-” She could already feel the edges of her temper fraying – she took a deep breath, clenched her fists, and tried not to think about exactly how stupid this whole bloody situation was. “Look. I’m wearing trousers, alright? There is absolutely no chance of you seeing anything you’re not supposed to, and anyway, you’d have already seen it when I climbed up here in the first place.”

“I closed my eyes.”

“…Of course you bloody did.” It wasn’t as though she’d not been expecting this, admittedly – non-werewolves had a whole lot of daft ideas when it came to gender, and vampires were worse than most for making issues where there didn’t need to be any – but Spirits, if it hadn’t come at the worst possible bloody time. “Look. We need to get through that window. That means getting it unlocked. And that means, unless you’ve got any bright ideas, I need a leg-up.”

“Couldn’t you-” He stopped, looked up at the shutters, and obviously gave up whatever he was going to say as a bad idea. “I don’t- We could just… not.”

“Bugger that. You’ve already died once today, I’m not having you hanging around outside waiting for the Sinnlenst to have another go.”

That hit home, though not quite in the way she’d meant it – the colour drained suddenly out of Fest’s face, and he looked for a moment as though he was going to throw up. “…And you had to go and remind me. Thank you very much. I was trying to forget about that particular problem.”

She couldn’t help herself. “Yes. Because that’d definitely solve everything.”

“Because then I wouldn’t have to think about it!” His voice caught on the edge of the words, thready with what was sounding a hell of a lot like thinly veiled hysteria. “Gods dammit, do you have any idea-”

“No.” The bluntness seemed to throw him off, which was exactly what she’d been hoping it’d do, and she saw some of the rising panic start to bleed out of his expression. She pressed on, keeping the advantage. “No, I don’t. What I do know is that if the Watch catch us out here we’re fucked, no matter what strings the higher-ups may or may not be able to pull. And, more to the point, if the Sinnlenst catch us out here, we’re even more fucked than that, if that’s actually possible. So, if you want to last out the rest of the day, you’ll close your mouth, give me a leg-up so I can look at these sodding shutters, and save the panic attack for when we’re on the other side of the sodding window. Understood?”

Fest blinked at her, looking for all the world as though she’d just hit him across the face with something heavy. Then, after what seemed an eternity, he nodded, once, very slowly. “Understood.”

Well, thank the Spirits and the ancestors that worked, because the next plan I had was pretty much going to start with slapping you. “Good.”



“Shall we get on with it, then?”

“That sounds like a very good idea.”


You’re fucking lucky I like you, Archer.

The Smoke had taken the edge off the morning – even if he’d had to wait ‘til Archer was well clear to light up – but, as far as Sabbat was concerned, it was still far too fucking early to be up and doing. The sun had just about made it up, which meant half the workers in the city were still out and about, and the rich bastards up the hill had started in on their daily doing-fuck-all, which meant they were also clogging up the streets and being far too fucking interested in things which didn’t concern them.

Like, for example, people running the thieves roads across the rooftops.

Didn’t meant you couldn’t run them in daylight, mind. Helped if you were fast, and knew the city, and had been a roofrunner since you were old enough to climb, but it was doable.

Just wasn’t easy.

He dropped down into the shadow behind a chimney-stack, took a breath, and waited for the latest gaggle of toffs to clear the street in front of him – which was going to take a fair while, if their current pace was anything to go by.

Bloody swank gits. Nothing to do but hang around in the streets all day making fucking nuisances of themselves, and half of them don’t even have the decency to be carrying anything worth lifting.

Not that he’d a mind to try that particular game right now, even if he’d had the time. Toffs might not be bright, for the most part, but they were sharp enough at noticing people who didn’t fit in, and he was bloody odd-looking for Sacaan even when he was dressed up to the nines. Didn’t matter much down in Old Town, where you’d find every colour of skin and eyes under the sky and then some, but up here he stuck out like… like something that stuck out a fuck of a lot.

Skin that’s two shades too dark for Sacaan and three too light for Adakar, a nose that’s halfway to being Efirasi, and eyes from who the fuck knows where. If I didn’t already know my ma slept her way round half the ships in the Eastern Sea…

He shook his head, pushing the thoughts away. Who the fuck cared why he looked the way he did? That was the Smoke getting into his head again, sending his thoughts off on tangents that were no bloody use to anyone – and, if they turned up in a fight, were sodding likely to get him killed. Maybe Archer had a point about the amount of it he was using…

But if I stop, the fuck am I going to do for the pain? Can hardly afford to pay some up-town sawbones to dose me up, and half what they’re pushing is just Smoke in fancy wrappers anyhow.

Archer’d pay for it, though. If he asked him. Wouldn’t even question it – he’d just make it happen, same as he’d made everything else happen since they got to the city. Hells, he’d probably bring MacConnell in on it, and get the whole thing done for free courtesy of the Order.

And that right there’s the fucking issue.

It wasn’t that he minded being in debt to the Order. Fuck, they were better employers than most he’d had dealings with, and the odds of them trying to weasel out on paying him were a fuck of a lot smaller than most. But the bastards already owned enough of his soul that he wasn’t about to give them another inch of rope they could hold over him… or whatever that metaphor’d been meant to be before the Smoke got at it. Point was, if it was between buying his own Smoke and relying on some other bastard for it, he’d take having control of his own damn supply any day of the sodding week.

Not as if I’m likely to survive long enough for it to be a problem, anyroad. ‘Assassin’ ain’t exactly known for being a long-lived sort of profession.

Which was another thing Archer didn’t seem to understand – or, if he did, seemed entirely bloody focused on ignoring every time the possibility came up in conversation. Then again, Sabbat supposed, he was a vampire. Had to make some allowances for leeches when it came to not having a fucking clue how normal people worked.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think he reckoned he could change the whole fucking world just by looking sarcastic at it until it did what he wanted it to. And hells, given it’s Archer, I’d not be surprised if it fucking worked.

Wasn’t that he was planning on getting himself killed, mind – start down that road and you might as well just take a razor to your throat and save the world the trouble. But he also wasn’t stupid enough to think it’d never happen, no matter what certain vampires had to say on the matter. If you lived by the blade you ended up dying by it sooner or later, and everyone who chose that kind of life fucking knew it.

And fuck. Better that than dying in bed.

No, he’d made peace with that idea a long fucking time ago. Wasn’t his fault if Archer hadn’t.

And you’re getting a deal too sodding distracted for someone who’s trespassing on a rooftop in broad sodding daylight, mate. If one of those bastards happens to look up here…

Which was a fair point. The gang of toffs he’d been lurking out of sight of were still clogging up the street -in fact, they’d now stopped right in the middle of the thoroughfare, and seemed to be having some kind of a set-to – and the longer they stayed there the more likely it was that one of ‘em was going to look up and spot him, no matter how well he’d hidden himself.

Least they’re all human. Much as it galled him, he had to admit Archer had a point about human eyesight compared to that of the other species – if it’d been a pack of vampires or werewolves down there, he’d’ve been in a damn sight more danger of being spotted. As it was, though, he-

“And I’m telling you, it’s not worth it! I don’t care what Avebury says, we didn’t spend this long holding true to our cause only to throw it away because some hotheaded agitator wants to get us all killed!”

The speaker had pitched his voice to carry – and carry it did, right up onto the rooftops and into the ears of a suddenly very interested assassin.

‘Holding true to our cause’? Interesting sentiment coming from someone who looks like he was born with a silver spoon up his arse. Given the boy was a human, there were only two causes Sabbat could think of that he’d be likely to be running his mouth off about – which meant he was likely either Order or Sinnlenst, and therefore he was suddenly a good deal more Sabbat’s problem than he’d been just a second before. That and a complete idiot, obviously.

The rest of the boy’s mates seemed to share Sabbat’s opinions on his lack of intelligence, if their reactions were anything to go by. The tallest, a big redheaded lad with more than a little of Masik about his looks, reached out and cuffed his compatriot hard round the back of the head, sending him sprawling into the rest of their little gang.

“Shut it! Do you want the whole city to hear you?”

“I don’t care! He’s a traitor, he’s an idiot, and he’s going to get the whole lot of us murdered in our beds!”

“And shouting about it’s going to help how? You want to deal with the situation, you do it quietly. Anything else and we’ll be lucky if it’s the magicians that catch us.”

“Tyburn’s right.” This from an older-looking member of the group, a brown-haired darker-skinned man whose left sleeve was pinned up at the shoulder, hiding the stump of a missing arm. “If you’re right – and I’m not saying you are – you have to play the game his way or not at all. Underestimating your enemy’s the best way to get yourself killed.”

“…He’d go that far?” The first speaker, actually sounding shaken this time. “You’re sure of that?”

“Yes.” Tyburn again, blunt and unhesitating. He drew a finger across his throat, the gesture obvious even from Sabbat’s vantage point. “So shut it.”

“I still don’t think-”

“Too bloody right you don’t.” The one-armed man scowled, looking around as though he’d suddenly realised they might be being overheard. “We should get off the street.”

And then they were gone – not running, which meant they had at least some sense, but moving fast enough that they’d still stand out in a crowd – heading down the hill and further into the poorer quarters of the city, presumably to find themselves a tavern where they could plot in relative secrecy. All but one of them, that was.

The one-armed man had started moving with the others, but he’d kept a much slower pace – something that wouldn’t mark him out as anything other than just another one of the idle rich out for a stroll in the new-fallen snow. And, to Sabbat’s distinct irritation, he’d not stopped looking around for eavesdroppers.

Bastard. Had to be at least one of you with brains, didn’t there?

Didn’t matter overmuch in the long run, given the probably-Sinnlenst wasn’t likely to stick around in the same street for much longer than needed to give the place the once-over, but the forced inactivity was pissing him off nonetheless. It was one thing to be holding still in a fog-shrouded alleyway in the dead of night, waiting for the perfect moment to spring an ambush – it was something else entirely to be stuck on a rooftop in broad fucking daylight because some bastard Sinnlenst had to choose that particular moment to grow a healthy sense of paranoia.

Fucking move, damn you!

He was half tempted to make the jump anyway, and damn whether the Sinnlenst saw him or not. But he’d taken enough of the Smoke that morning that his reflexes’d likely be slower than he’d need for that, and if the bastard saw him and realised he’d been eavesdropping things’d suddenly get a whole lot more complicated than they already were.

Can’t go hunting a killer if I’m trying to deal with Sinnlenst assassins on my tail. Least, not without a good deal more darkness than I’ve got to work with right now.

No, better to stay put until… there!

The one-armed man rounded the corner at the end of the street, disappearing into the crowd heading up Temple Way for morning service. Sabbat waited a second, long enough to make certain he wasn’t about to double back, then pushed off from the stack, sprinting down the slope of the roof and leaping forward just as the toe of his leading foot hit the edge of the gutter.

For a brief, singing moment, he hung suspended in the air above the street, weightless in the falling snow. Then gravity reasserted itself, dragging him down onto the edge of the opposite roof – he landed, rolled, bounced upright, and set off running again, adrenaline lending him an extra turn of speed as he dodged his way across the soot-blackened rooftops of the quarter.

So it wasn’t nighttime. So he’d dulled his reflexes along with the pain. So he’d possibly got another conspiracy to worry about along with everything else.

Still didn’t stop this feeling a whole fucking lot like flying.

Y’know what? For all it’s going to kill me one day, I wouldn’t fucking trade this for the world.


“Hold still, will you?”

“I’m trying! It’s not my fault you’re heavy!”

“…You call all the girls you meet ‘heavy’, or just the ones you’re trying to impress?”

“Just the ones who’re currently – agh! – sitting on my shoulders. Also I don’t know what you just did, but could you not do it again please? I like having a neck that actually functions.”

“Sorry. Almost finished.”

“…Thank the gods for that.”

“I heard that, you know.”

“I didn’t mean for you not to.”

“Aaaand… done.” Viola leaned away from the now-open window slightly, slipping the lockpicks back into the base of her braid as she did so, and took a long, slow breath. It wasn’t so much that the lock had been difficult, precisely, but she’d not tried her hand at housebreaking for a fairly long time, and trying to get through two bolts, two catches and a lock all while balanced on someone’s shoulders wasn’t exactly a piece of cake at the best of times. Add in the fact that she’d been trying her hardest not to break any of Archer’s hardware, and it was a miracle she’d managed to get it done in anything under half an hour.

From the irritated sounds he was currently making, Fest wasn’t entirely appreciative of this fact. “I thought you said you were done.”

“I am. I was taking a breather.”

“Fine. Now can you get down so I can do the same, please?”

“As you command.” She grinned, slipping off his back and bouncing upright with calculated and deliberate cheeriness. It wasn’t entirely an act – they’d managed to get the shutters and the window open, which meant they were pretty much most of the way to solving the most immediate of their problems – but she had to admit that she was exaggerating it just a little. Partially because winding Fest up was fun (and oh, he so eminently deserved it), but mainly because if he was caught up being irritated with her, he’d have a whole lot less time to think about the whole dying-and-not-remembering-doing-so issue.

And the last thing I need is a vampire having a panic attack at me. If he can just hold it together until Archer gets back, he’ll at least know what to do. Probably.

Admittedly, she’d probably have to explain what they were doing in his rooms first, but she could probably blag her way out of that one, and they did have a legitimate reason for being there. And for having broken in, rather than using the door like sensible people. And it wasn’t as though high-up members of the Order tended to be paranoid about assassins, or have distinct sense-of-humour failures when it came to uninvited guests in their private residences, or-

No, Fest was right. This is a terrible plan. But it’s still the best one we’ve got.


Fest groaned, rubbing his shoulder and pulling what Viola considered a rather unwarrantedly sour face. “Let me have a moment, will you? Did you have lead weights for breakfast or something?”

So apparently giving me a leg-up would’ve been the height of impropriety, but commenting on my weight’s just fine? I’m never going to understand the furless.“I’m a werewolf. You do know how we’re put together, right? Six foot of solid muscle and then some?”

“Yes. My shoulders can tell. Why wasn’t I sitting on your back again?”

“Because you can’t pick locks.”


“And because you’re not technically a full member of the Order yet.”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“Well, let me put it this way. If I break one of Archer’s shutters, it gets handled as Order business. If you do it…”


“Feeling better about your shoulders yet?”

“Not really, no.” He grimaced, tilted his head to one side until something in his neck clicked loud enough for Viola to hear, and then sighed. “But I suppose we can’t stand out here forever.”

“You suppose correctly. After you?”

“I’d really rather not.”

“Suit yourself.” She turned to face the window, took a couple of steps forward until she was directly below it, and allowed herself a brief moment of prayer. Spirits, ancestors, if you’re listening? I could really do with this not going terribly. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?”

And, with that, she jumped up, caught the sill with both hands, and pulled herself bodily into the room.


Copyright © 2019 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Blood on the Snow: Chapter 5 (draft)

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