The witness statements, as the captain had implied, were almost entirely useless – though given it’d been only a day since Harrow was murdered, Archer had to admire the speed with which they’d been acquired. Harrow had disappeared from one of the many Smoke dens which dotted the lower levels of Old Town, which meant that half the witnesses could barely remember what they’d been doing when he’d vanished, let alone recollect the movements of a man most of them had only ever seen in passing, and the half who’d been sober enough to remember had mostly ended giving the Watch variations on ‘one minute he was there, and then the next he wasn’t’ – which, while it had a certain kind of poetry to it, wasn’t exactly helpful.
The one consistent oddity among the more coherent statements was a mention, mostly in passing, of an odd smell in the area where Harrow had been taken from. None of the witnesses could agree on what the smell had been, mind, but a fair number of them had agreed that it had definitely been ‘odd’.
It was probably nothing – there were odd smells in the vicinity of Smoke dens at the best of times, and the testimony of a bunch of drug-addled members of the city’s underworld wasn’t exactly the most stable foundation to build a hypothesis on – but nevertheless, Archer found himself fixating on that one detail as he flicked through the reports again, searching for anything he might have missed on the last two readthroughs.
Hold on a moment. Didn’t Viola say something about an odd scent around Caine? Or, at least, the person she thought was Caine? It was a tenuous connection, if there was a connection at all. But, given how little information they currently had to go on…
“You’re not likely to get much more out of those,” the captain said, lighting up another cigarette. She’d been doggedly ploughing through her own paperwork while Archer had been reading over the statements, and several of the piles on the desk were now considerably smaller – though the state of the wastepaper basket suggested that more of the reports and statements had ended up discarded than not. “Bastard had to go and get himself snatched from probably the worst place in the district for witnesses who actually know what they saw. I’m only surprised we don’t have more of them telling us he got stolen away by a giant dragon or a three-eyed snake or some such nonsense.”
Archer laughed. “It’d make for more entertaining reading, true. Though that detail about the smell which keeps coming up…”
“You noticed that too? Could be our killer wears a cologne or perfume of some sort.”
“Could be,” he agreed, though something about that explanation didn’t quite sit right with him. “It’s a pity none of them could actually describe what they were smelling, else we might have something more to go on.”
“If we wanted to go around smelling every suspicious-looking vampire in the city, yes.” She looked down at the report she was currently working on, and then frowned, taking a deep drag on her cigarette. “A question for you, by the way.”
“How much do you know about Turned?”
Archer froze. “I beg your pardon?”
“Turned,” the captain said again, not looking up from her paperwork. She sighed, the exhalation accompanied by a cloud of blueish smoke, and tapped her pen against the first line of the report. “Says here they’re-”
“I know what they are,” Archer said, coldly. He swallowed hard, fighting the sudden twist of panic in his guts. “What I don’t know is why you want to know about them. If you know enough to know they exist, you know they’re not something we’re overly keen on discussing. Especially with non-vampires.”
That was an understatement. The existence of the Turned was almost a taboo subject in vampire society – while there wasn’t a prohibition as such against mentioning the name, anyone who brought them up more than once, or, worse, engaged in lengthy discussion on the subject was likely to find themselves ostracised from their community until they’d at the very least undergone some sort of ritual cleansing. And as for those who actually created Turned…
I was young – gods, we both were – and she was dying, and I’d have moved the stars for her if it meant we had one more moment together… and that still doesn’t excuse the fact I asked.
She’d said no, of course. She’d always been the sensible one in that relationship. But he’d still asked.
Almost half a century ago, now, and fifteen years at sea should have been enough to wash away even the worst of what asking did to my soul.
And yet. I still asked.
There was no way the captain could know that, of course. She’d likely only brought the subject up because he happened to be a vampire who was within easy reach, generally happy to answer questions and, most importantly, not subordinate to her. And, even if she somehow did know, she wasn’t a vampire. She didn’t know what it meant.
Gods dammit, this shouldn’t get to me as much as it does. I did my penance for even considering the idea of creating a Turned – I shouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life jumping at shadows every time someone mentions their existence.
“-on our hands.”
He blinked, pulling himself back to the present with a start, and met the captain’s inquiring eyes. “I’m sorry. Could you repeat that?”
“I said, given those murders, half my squads are apparently convinced we’ve got a Turned on our hands.” She scowled. “Personally, I’m of the mind to dismiss the idea as so much paranoia, but I’m not a vampire, and I’m damned if I’ll let a monster roam my streets unchecked just because I didn’t think to ask whether it was possible that it existed.”
“Oh, they exist,” Archer told her. He looked down at his hands, unconsciously clenched into fists, and noticed with a sort of blank resignation that he’d managed to crush the reports he’d been holding. Ah well. It’s not as though they were all that useful anyway. And half her troopers have utterly abysmal handwriting. “They’re incredibly uncommon, thank the gods, but they exist.”
The captain nodded. “Could one be behind the murders?”
“It’s a possibility.” And not one he’d considered, which was currently starting to feel like a serious oversight. “They can’t survive on animal blood like we- like yellow-eyes can, and they’re unlikely to have either the patience or the cognitive capacity to source their food from willing donors. Unlike us, they truly are animals – which means, when they need to feed, they hunt.”
“You’re implying they’re not intelligent, then?”
“They’re cunning, but they’re not people. They’re beasts,” Archer said, and wished he could believe it.
She frowned. “That doesn’t track with our killer, then. Unless your definition of beast is a good deal looser than mine.”
“There-” The word slipped out before he could stop it, and he bit his lip, hard. Dammit, Will. You’re in enough trouble already without adding that to the mix.
“You were about to say something. If it’s relevant to the investigation, I want to hear it.”
“There are rumours…” Archer said, and prayed to all the gods he knew that he wasn’t making the biggest mistake of his life.
There had always been rumours, since the existence of the Turned had become widespread knowledge among vampires, that there were ways to Turn someone which allowed them to retain both their personality and their intellect – in effect, to continue to be the person they’d been before the transformation.
As far as most people knew, that was a lie – and certainly no non-bestial Turned had ever come forward to admit to the world that they existed. But still, the rumours continued. And, when vampires who’d made the mistake of falling in love with humans found themselves facing centuries without their loved ones, there always seemed to be a thread of information somewhere within reach which hinted that if they were clever – if they were very clever – they might find a way.
Archer had. Or, at least, had thought he had, and been confident enough in his decisions to offer it. But then she’d said no, and, after the funeral, half-mad with grief, he’d gathered all the research he’d done on the matter and burned it.
That didn’t mean, however, that he’d forgotten everything he’d read.
“It’s never been confirmed,” he added, once he’d explained the bare bones of the concept to her (leaving his own part in the narrative firmly out of things). “But there are enough reports of Turned acting in ways which don’t match to our understandings of what they are that it’s probably worth considering.”
The captain winced, stubbing out her cigarette on the side of her boot and immediately moving to light up another. “So. A terrifying monster vampire might be hunting my citizens, and it’s entirely possible it’s as intelligent as you or me. Excellent.” She flicked the lighter open, glaring at the flame as though it’d personally offended her. “I don’t suppose there’s an easy way of telling one of these things apart from an ordinary vampire, is there? Before I go out and have my people round up anyone who looks vaguely monster-y round the edges.”
“They don’t look like vampires,” Archer said, and found himself biting back an unwanted laugh at the look on the captain’s face. “They look like humans.”
“They’ve vampiric fangs and fingernails, from the change, but their eyes stay human – human eye colours and round pupils. If you passed one on the street, you’d not be able to tell what they are.” And that’s what makes them so damn dangerous.
The captain groaned. “That’s what I was afraid of. I can hardly go around asking law-abiding citizens if they’d mind showing me their teeth and fingernails, and most everyone except the werewolves is wearing gloves in this weather anyway.” She leant back in her chair, taking a drag on the now-lit cigarette. “How dangerous are they?”
“You’ve fought vampires before, yes?”
She nodded. “Occasionally. Usually drunks who wouldn’t come quietly, mind.”
“Good enough. Imagine that level of strength and speed, but with no self-preservation instincts.” He shivered, a chill running up his spine which had nothing to do with the weather. “They heal like us, they die like us, but they fight like rabid animals – no defence, no self-preservation, no tactics, and no holding back. And, like us, you’ll need to behead them or use fire if you want them to stay truly dead.”
“Wonderful,” the captain said, with heavy sarcasm. She blew out another cloud of smoke, this one heavy enough to obscure her face for a few moments. “In your honest opinion, is it likely that our murderer’s one of these? If they’re as taboo a topic as you say, I’m not bringing it up with my people unless I absolutely have to – they’re already under enough pressure as it is, and I’ll be damned if I’ll add to it without good reason.”
“Likely? No.” There’d not been a credible report of a Turned in the city since before the Revolution, and anyone making noises about researching them tended to get shut down in no short order: the vampires of Sacaan knew all too well how tenuous their position in the city really was, for all the crown currently rested on a yellow-eyed head. “It’s a possibility, I’ll grant you that much, but it’s a good deal less likely than almost any other explanation we’ve come up with so far.”
She mostly managed to keep the look of relief off her face, but he caught a glimpse of it in the brief moment before the smoke cleared – by the time she was fully visible again, she looked every inch the unshakeable bastion of law and order. “Good. In that case, I’ll-” She broke off, looking towards the door, and raised her voice. “Wait one! I’ve a couple more things I need to finish up in here.”
“Your officers?” Archer asked, though he suspected he knew the answer.
“On time, for once. Worse luck.” She stood up, brushing ash from her trousers, and offered her hand. “I’ll not keep you any longer. Thank you for your time, and for the information: I’m not happy to know more, but it’s sure as hells better than going into this completely blind.”
Her grip was as strong as he’d expected, her hand calloused and rough from swordwork, and he found himself flashing back to another handshake, twenty years before, under a burning desert sun. If she’s anywhere as tough as she was, the district’s in safe hands. “If the gods are smiling on us, you won’t need it. And thank you. Those witness statements might be more helpful than you know.”
“If I ask, I’m not going to like the answer, am I?”
“Then I’ll leave that to you. Good luck with your war, ‘detective’.”
“And good luck with yours, captain.” And, because it seemed like the right thing to do, he gave her a quick, informal salute.
She grinned, returning the gesture, and nodded towards the door. “Off you go then. And send my officers in, will you? I need to work out how in the hells I’m going to explain all this.”
“I’m not doing it,” Anneke said, stubbornly. They grimaced, pressing the damp cloth harder against their face, and glared at the burn mark on the floor as though it had been the one to make the suggestion. “And you can stick that in your bloody pipe and smoke it.”
Fest winced. “I know you don’t like the University much-”
“That’s a sodding understatement.”
“-at all, then. But if we’re going to find out what on earth that… that thing was, it would probably be a good idea to start with the biggest library of magical texts in the city.”
“Then you can go by yourself,” the priest snapped. “I’m not going anywhere near the damn place, and you can’t make me.”
“Fine!” Fest retorted, with a confidence he didn’t quite feel. It wasn’t as though he was a bad researcher – pretty much half the first year classes were research-based, and students who couldn’t find their way around the library tended to wash out fairly early on – but Anneke had a good deal more experience than he did when it came to the more esoteric side of things and, more to the point, was a damn sight more likely to know what kind of thing they ought to be looking for.
Where would I even find anything on something like that? S for ‘Spirits’? M for ‘Manifestations’? H for ‘Hauntings’? T for ‘Terrifying Tentacle Monsters From Beyond The Void’?
None of them seemed like a particularly promising start, even if the university library classification system hadn’t been so byzantine that it warranted a whole lecture series to itself. He groaned in frustration, flopping down onto the one spare chair in Anneke’s room which wasn’t piled high with books, and swore quietly to himself.
“…Are you honestly that worried?”
He hadn’t realised the priest had heard him – but, when he looked up, they were frowning at him over the top of the mountains of paper which seemed to have swallowed the portions of the bed they weren’t actively sitting on.
“About the creature,” they went on, once it’d become obvious he wasn’t immediately going to give them an answer. “I mean, I realise it wasn’t exactly something you see every day, but-”
“It almost killed you!” Fest shouted. He took a breath, composing himself, and went on. “I know it’s probably not that unusual for you, but given everything else that’s happened to me today, terrifying monsters turning up as a result of someone trying to ascertain exactly what’s wrong with me sounds a whole lot like the type of thing that I should probably be investigating with some degree of urgency.” And, because it was true, and because he wasn’t above using mild emotional blackmail if it’d mean Anneke actually agreeing to help him out: “Especially when the terrifying monster tried to murder one of the only people who’s been vaguely nice to me in the last three months.”
“Hm,” the priest said, after a brief moment. Then, as Fest opened his mouth to point out that ‘Hm’ wasn’t exactly a helpful addition to the conversation at this particular juncture, “You make a good point. Not the thing about me being nice to you, because that’s almost certainly demonstrably incorrect, but the point about the creature probably being tied to Foreval, though I’m not sure how she’d have managed to bind something like that to her will.”
“I didn’t actually say-” Fest began, but Anneke was in full flow and not about to be distracted by anything so petty as the existence of another party in the discussion.
“On the other hand, she’s a sorcerer, which means she’s capable of feats of magic far beyond most magicians who’re working with cultivated talent rather than innate, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that she might have done the binding accidentally. On the biologically improbable third hand, however, we’re fairly certain we know in which field her talent lies, and it’s vanishingly rare for a sorcerer to manifest a second talent after the age of five or so – and, when two talents are present, they’re usually linked in some way. On the even more worrying fourth hand, though, if we cast her talent as control in general rather than mind control in specific, that would imply controlling summoned entities as part and parcel of the original talent, meaning that it would be well within her abilities to bind a creature of that sort to any attempt to trace the spell placed on you back to its originator. Though… given you’re also a sorcerer, I wonder if that might have something to do with the strength of the entity, given it was likely feeding on at least a portion of your power during its journey to the- sorry, did I say something wrong?”
“Yes. No. I don’t- I mean-” He swallowed, tried again. “Did you just say I was a sorcerer?”
Anneke blinked. “Well, yes. Obviously. Didn’t you know?”
“…Not really, no! It’s not the sort of thing anyone bothers to tell me, apparently!” And yet, now he was face to face with the idea, it made a kind of horrible sense. “I… are you sure?”
“As sure as I can be.” They smiled, in a way that they were probably intending to be reassuring. It wasn’t working. “When you work with magic for long enough you tend to develop a kind of sense for these things. Especially when you’re working with someone who, let’s face it, is carrying around enough raw power to level a building.”
“I mean, that’s why the Order picked you up, isn’t it? You can’t stay neutral as a sorcerer in the city, after all – either we pick you up or the Sinnlenst do, and they kill most of the ones they find. Foreval’s the exception, and that’s only because she’s a nastier piece of work than most of them put together. Even then, half the Sinnlenst would rather she was dead, but she’s got her claws into the other half so deep that they’d practically die for her, so it all ends up being a sort of stalemate.”
Good, Fest thought, numbly. His mind felt frozen, as brittle as the icicles outside the window and as fogged as the glass, and everything seemed at once both very far away and incredibly, intrusively, upsettingly close. I’m a sorcerer. I’m a sorcerer… and no-one told me.
And of course that was why the Order had swooped on him so fast. Hadn’t Amelia Luciel said her parents wanted to talk to him about the incident in the observatory, after all? And, when he’d first met Archer and Sabbat back in that alleyway, hadn’t Archer said something about ‘raw magical potential’? Something, in fact, very similar to what Anneke had just told him? Gods, no wonder he’d been so damn insistent that the other Masters agreed to let Fest join.
And here I was thinking they might actually have wanted me for who I am, not what I can apparently do. Shows how much I know, I suppose.
It wasn’t as if he was even any good at being a bloody sorcerer, if that really was what he was. Most sorcerers had manifested a controlled talent by the time they were eighteen – or, at least, a semi-controlled one – and were well on their way to mastering their magic and finding the limits of what they could do with it. What had he done? Smashed some windows, blown up a summerhouse, and broken half his parents’ wedding china when Sophia had expressed her displeasure at the fact he’d got a scholarship by accidentally-on-purpose tipping half a bowl of cold washing-up water down his neck. All by accident, and none of them explicitly more obvious or powerful than any other power surge any young magician could have happen to them if they didn’t ground themselves properly during their spellwork.
And yes, he’d not actually been doing any spellwork when any of them had happened. Or wearing any sigils, or carrying any magical items. But it wasn’t unheard of for backlashes and power surges to happen hours after you’d finished a spell anyway, and…
And if I can just convince myself they’re wrong, and I’m not a sorcerer after all, then all of this goes away and I never have to think about it again. Right?
“I’m sorry. I thought you knew.”
“No.” Because none of the people who apparently noticed it even thought it might be worth telling me about. He clenched his fists, nails digging hard into his palms. I think, after all this is over, I need to have Words with a few people. Starting with a certain Mr William Archer.
The Daggers, by the time Archer made his way back to it, was bustling with life – enough so that, if he hadn’t known better, he’d almost think that he’d imagined the dead girl in the snow that morning (and gods, had it only been that long? It felt like a week ago, at least).
Jenny looked up when he came in and beckoned him over, deftly passing over the customer she’d been in the middle of serving to the member of her innumerable offspring who’d been deputised to man the bar alongside her that evening. “Back so soon, are you? I’ve not seen your thief yet, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
“He’s not my-” Archer started. Then he stopped, closed his eye, and said, with what he thought was admirable patience, “I’m here to talk to your people. About the girl.”
“Course you are,” Jenny said, in a tone which implied anything but. She raised her voice, shouting over the din. “Hoi, Nastya! Get over here and help your grandmother out, will you?”
A stocky, broad-shouldered werewolf girl – presumably the eponymous Nastya – pushed her way through the crowd towards the bar, frowning as she got close enough to get a good look at who her grandmother was talking to. “What d’you need, Granmamma? This one causing you trouble?”
“Nothing of the kind,” Jenny retorted, cuffing her granddaughter affectionately around the back of the head. “You take this gentleman upstairs and show him to the back rooms, you hear? He’s to ask whatever questions he needs of the girls and boys back there and, provided he does it respectful-like, you’re to let him do so.”
“Understood.” The girl seemed somewhat disappointed that she wasn’t being required to throw him out, Archer thought, but she hid it well enough for all that. “You come with me, sir, we’ll see you right.”
He looked to Jenny, who nodded and waved a dismissive hand in the direction of the stairs. “Go on with you, boy. She’ll make sure there’s no… misunderstandings.”
And that, he supposed, was that.
Nastya stayed silent until they’d climbed the stairs to the first floor, though he noticed she kept turning round to sneak glances at him when she thought he wasn’t looking. After they’d made it through the splintered wooden door onto the main corridor, however, she turned to him, eyeing the scarf over his missing eye with unapologetic interest. “You’re Sabbat’s friend, aren’t you? The toff.”
There didn’t seem to be much point in denying it. “Yes.”
“I heard you used to be a pirate. Regular terror of the high seas and that.”
What? It wasn’t as though it was untrue, admittedly, but he’d been trying his best to keep that particular facet of his past quiet – at least, until he’d had a chance to speak to the Regent on the matter (and, more to the point, speak to her alone. Hence why he’d not managed it any time in the last five years). So much for that plan, apparently. “Really? Who told you that?”
She grinned at him, obviously not entirely convinced by his feigned innocence.“Who do you think?”
Oh, he was going to have to have words with Sabbat when this was over. Words like ‘blackmail material’ and ‘capital punishment’, for a start. “You shouldn’t believe everything an assassin tells you. Especially that one.” Then, in an attempt to steer the subject away from the topic of his criminal record (and because he actually needed to know the answer), “Did you know the girl who died here last night?”
“You don’t mess about, do you?” She shook her head, braid whipping back and forth like the tail of an angry cat. “I’m front-of-house – I don’t bother the backroom lot, and they don’t bother me.”
“Ah.” There was obviously something deeper going on here that he didn’t have time to get into (though he made a mental note to ask Sabbat about it later – no sense in skipping over details which might prove important, however small). “Apologies. If I wanted to find someone who did know her…?”
“You want the backroom lot. Bunch of gossipy hens, the lot of ‘em, but if there’s anyone who knew more about her than most, it’ll be one of them.” She put two fingers in her mouth and whistled shrilly, the sound echoing along the corridor. “If any of my sibs’re up here, that’ll bring ‘em running.”
And, sure enough, almost as soon as she’d finished speaking, one of the doors further down the corridor creaked open and a tousled blonde head emerged into the corridor, shortly followed by the rest of a scruffy-looking werewolf girl who, by the state of her clothing, had only just managed to get out of bed.
“What d’you want, Nastya?” the new arrival groaned, rubbing the sleep from her eyes with one ink-stained fist. Then, as the rest of the corridor apparently came into focus, she blinked, jolted upright, and made a perfunctory attempt at looking vaguely awake and alert. “Sorry, sir! Didn’t expect to see a guest up here at this hour. What can I do for you?”
“I-” Archer began, but Nastya had already headed across to the other girl, grabbing hold of her and mussing her hair in a way that, if he hadn’t known already, would have utterly confirmed the fact that they were siblings.
“Look at you, trying to pretend you weren’t still asleep half a minute ago! If granmamma knew, she’d tan your hide.”
If she’d been expecting an apology, she was apparently going to be disappointed. Her sister fought her way free of the embrace, folding her arms across her chest and drawing herself up to her full height (a manoeuvre which would have been more impressive if Nastya hadn’t overtopped her by about three inches). “And if granmamma knew you were walking out with your boy past ten bells last night, she have yours for a hearthrug. You owe me.”
“And you owe me for that shirt of mine you ruined trying to climb down the drainpipe to go see your girl when Ma grounded you.”
The other girl made a rude noise, expressing exactly what she thought of that particular train of logic, and stuck out her tongue. “She’s not my girl yet, and it was a crappy shirt anyway. You should be glad I gave you an opportunity to go buy a new one.”
“I’d be gladder if it hadn’t been my wages it came out of.”
“Well, if you hadn’t-”
Gods above, I’m being horribly reminded of half the arguments I had growing up. Apparently siblings were siblings the world over, be they vampire brothers in Efir or werewolf sisters in Sacaan. But, amusing as this was, it wasn’t exactly getting him any closer to finding out anything more about the murdered girl.
He coughed, once, politely, and had the distinct satisfaction of seeing both girls jump about a foot in the air as they suddenly remembered his presence. “Much as I hate to intrude, I do have people I need to see.”
“’Course!” Nastya pulled herself upright, tugging on the bottom of her shirt in a vain attempt to neaten herself up. “This is my littermate, Zlata.” She gestured to the other girl, who was also making an abortive effort to appear presentable. “When she’s not sleeping on the job, she runs the books for the backrooms – keeps everything fair if it’s one of us doing it, since we’re not making any money off ‘em so we’ve no incentive to cheat. She’ll take you where you need to go.”
Zlata nodded, then raised one thick blonde eyebrow at her sister. “You know I don’t do the procuring part, right?”
Nastya stared at her for a second, and then burst out laughing. “He’s not here for that!”
‘He’ is standing right here, Archer thought, somewhat irritated. Out loud, he said “I’m here to talk to them about the murdered girl. I was told she was one of- that she worked with them.”
“That she was a penny-skirt, you mean?” Zlata said. She nodded. “I’m not giving names until the others do, but she worked the backrooms for the past couple of years. Nice girl. Pretty, too.” She smiled, sadly. “I asked her, once, but she said she wasn’t looking for that kind of tangle. Told me the names of a couple of girls who were, though.”
Which is all very interesting, but gets me no closer to finding out whether she was related to anyone from the Order.
Apparently Nastya had been having similar thoughts – she reached out, cuffing her sister gently round the back of the head. “Errands now, reminiscing about pretty girls later. Though if you want to give me either of those names when you’re done…”
Zlata stuck her tongue out again, but she’d obviously taken the reproof on-board. “Alright, alright.” She turned to Archer, eyeing him with what he felt was a somewhat worrying amount of interest. “Hey. You’re Sabbat’s friend, aren’t you?”
“The pirate,” Nastya confirmed. “Or ex-pirate, at least.”
Zlata grinned. “Excellent. Are the two of you-?”
“No,” Archer said, before she could finish that particular question. “No, we’re not. And, as entertaining as this is, I really do need to talk to-”
“I know. Follow me.” And, over her shoulder, as she headed down the corridor. “Though you have to admit, you can’t blame me for asking.”
I can, I will, and it’s none of your damn business, Archer thought. But, given exactly how much he didn’t want to have that particular conversation, he kept his opinion very firmly to himself.
By the time Sabbat woke up, it was dark.
He’d not meant to sleep that long – worst case, he’d been expecting an hour or two of shut-eye – but apparently his body had had other ideas and, if he was honest, he couldn’t exactly begrudge it the extra time. His leg still hurt like a bastard, admittedly, and he could’ve done without his sodding spine getting in on the action as well, but the rest of his joints seemed to have settled on being reasonable for once, and he wasn’t reaching for the Smoke within minutes of opening his eyes this time around.
Good thing too, given he’d left his stash back at the Daggers and Archer wasn’t exactly likely to have any lying around. Unless he’s a complete and utter sodding hypocrite on top of everything else.
Unlikely, he had to admit, but the idea was enough to get him out of bed, out of the bedroom, and halfway across to the medicine cabinet before the more awake part of his brain caught up with what he was doing.
Fucking hells. No.
He’d told Archer he didn’t need the damn stuff, hadn’t he? And yes, that was more than half a lie, but that didn’t mean he had to play into the other man’s opinion of him even more than he was already. Whether or not there was any in the medicine cabinet -and he’d be fucking surprised if there was – he didn’t need the Smoke right now. Want, yes: of course he bloody wanted it, that was half the point. But not need.
I want a fucking drink, a fucking cigarette, and a fucking fight. Doesn’t mean I’m going to turn his sodding rooms upside down to get any of ‘em.
But it’d be so damn easy, if the bastard did happen to have some squirrelled away. Serve him right, too – if he was going to keep insisting that it was so sodding dangerous to keep around, it’d only be doing him a favour to remove the temptation. And it wasn’t as though he’d miss it.
Except he would, you damn well know he would, and he’s not stupid enough that he’d not realise who it was half-inched it, is he?
He scrubbed a hand over his face, trying to drag his thoughts back out of that particular bloody rat-hole before he ended up having a full-on row with himself over the fucking ethics and practicalities of stealing his best friend’s hypothetical drugs – or, worse, actually ransacking Archer’s medical cabinet to find the sodding stuff.
Could always look. Ain’t any harm in looking. And, given he’d been a thief since he was old enough to walk, easy enough to work it so even a vampire’d never know he’d been there.
And then what? If we find it…
Fucking hells. He needed a godsdamn cigarette, that was all. A cigarette, and a drink, and someone to punch, and for that sixdamn itching at the back of his neck to fuck off back to wherever it came from, and then he’d be able to deal with the world.
And, he amended, as his guts twisted slightly, a leak.
If he was honest with himself, he was grateful for the distraction. Hard to focus on internal arguments when you needed to take a piss, after all, and Archer’s bathroom was warm, indoors, and didn’t stink of vomit and stale beer (which put it several rungs higher than anything available at the Daggers, for all Jenny’s kids’ best efforts).
Would’ve been better if it wasn’t also covered in broken crockery, mind.
Forgot about that. Hells gates.
The ewer was in one piece, at least, even if the basin wasn’t, which meant he could wash his hands (without having to crack through a layer of ice first, even. If he’d not already been well aware how fucking posh Archer was…). And, hells, once he’d done that, he was in the bathroom anyway, and it cost him fuck-all to pick up at least the biggest of the shards – if nothing else, showing willing meant it was a lot less likely Archer’d be asking him to pay for a replacement.
Ain’t an admission of guilt if you’re fixing it so you don’t get the consequences dropped on your head. Just plain common sense, that’s all.
Common sense, and the creeping feeling that he’d somehow upset the other man more than he’d let on with the whole business about the werewolf girl earlier.
Not that he cared about upsetting Archer. Obviously. But, given the other man’d gone out of his way to find him a chance to cut loose, it didn’t feel right to leave that debt unpaid, even if he was being fucking irritating over the whole thing. And picking up broken pieces of basin off the floor was another distraction from the-
The edge had been sharper than he’d realised – not sharp enough not to hurt, but plenty sharp enough that half his hand was dripping red before he’d even had a chance to do much more than swear in surprise.
“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.”
So much for cleaning the place up before Archer got back. He dropped the blood-slick shard, clamping his other hand tight around his wrist in an attempt to stem the worst of the flow, and hissed out a breath between clenched teeth, pushing back the worst of the pain as he scrambled awkwardly to his feet.
Need to find something to patch this up with. If the bastard we’re hunting’s a vampire, last thing I need is to be leaving a fucking blood trail.
That, at least, wasn’t going to be a problem. Archer’s first-aid kit was well-stocked, easy to access, and pretty much designed to be used with one functional hand. And, unsurprisingly, a whole fucktonne of the supplies in it were explicitly for dealing with anything that left you bleeding.
Only problem is it’s right under the bloody medicine cabinet. And a dose of Smoke would really take the edge off right now. If I-
And if he carried on down that particular sodding alleyway, it wasn’t going to end anywhere good. Problem was, there wasn’t much he could do to stop himself thinking that, given he’d now lost the distraction he’d been counting on. Unless…
He tightened his grip on his wrist, shifted his hand slightly, and jammed the tip of his thumb hard into the open wound on his palm.
Pain exploded up his arm, white-hot and stinging, and the world blurred out for a brief moment, grey fog flooding the edges of his vision. His knees buckled to the point that it was only good luck and a helpful doorway that saved him from falling flat on his face, and, if his teeth hadn’t been clenched, he was pretty damn sure he would’ve screamed.
For a brief, sickening moment, he thought he was going to black out. Then the world snapped back into focus, so sharp and bright it was almost another layer of pain in and of itself, and, a breath later, the immediate fire of agony in his hand subsided to the point that he could actually start to string coherent thoughts together again.
Didn’t… expect it to… hurt… that… much. Shit.
It’d worked, though, he’d give it that much: the pain had shoved everything else that had been in his mind squarely to one side and, Smoke or no Smoke, there wasn’t much room in there right now for much beyond a variety of colourful descriptions of exactly how much his hand fucking hurt.
Stupid idea. Really fucking stupid. And, shortly on the heels of that thought: If Archer ever finds out about this, he’s going to be completely fucking insufferable.
All the more reason to get it cleaned up before the other man came back, then. He swallowed hard, noticing with an odd sort of detachment that the back of his throat felt as raw as though he’d actually been screaming, and pushed himself upright with one elbow, his unwounded hand still clamped tight around his wrist.
Better get this patched up, before we end up bleeding all over the sodding shop.
It wasn’t as though Archer was one of the red-eye leeches – he could stand the smell of human blood, even if he minded it a fuck of a lot more than he ever said – but leaving the place covered in it wasn’t exactly going to put him any higher in the vampire’s esteem. And besides, he wasn’t that much of a bastard that he’d do that to the person who was, to all intents and purposes, one of his only friends and confidantes in the city: pragmatism, if nothing else, suggested that’d be a fucking stupid thing to do.
Just hope to the Lady he’s remembered to refill the damn kit after last time, else this is going to be a fuck of a lot harder to deal with.
He had – though, if Sabbat was honest, that was probably less due to divine intervention and more due to the fact that Archer had a fairly good handle on exactly how often he was going to be called on to use his first-aid box, and tended to plan accordingly. And, once he’d kicked the box out from under the cabinet, fumbled the lock open while trying to keep most of his fingers tight around his wrist, and grabbed what he needed, the bleeding had slowed enough that he was able to actually sit down and clean the wound without having to worry too much about getting gore all over the floor.
The cut was deeper than he’d expected, crossing most of the width of his palm, but relatively narrow for all that, and the edges were straight enough that, once he’d flushed it with alcohol (and taken a couple of pulls from the bottle himself, for fortification), he managed to improvise a bandage which, while it wasn’t as neat as Archer’s attempts, worked well enough at stopping the bleeding without completely immobilising his hand.
And then he sat back, took another long pull from the bottle of medicinal brandy, and tried to work out what in the hells he was going to do next.
Couldn’t have managed to cripple yourself after we’d caught the bastard, could you? Exactly how much bloody (ha!) use are we going to be roof-running with one hand, huh?
More use than sitting around doing fuck-all, that was for damn sure. And besides, it wasn’t as if this was the first time he’d done something like this.
Because getting a red-hot poker pressed across your palm when you were ten is exactly the same fucking scenario. Idiot.
It wasn’t. But he’d spent the winter of that year learning to climb one-handed while the wound healed, and those weren’t the kind of lessons you forgot in a hurry. Though, if he was going to start throwing himself across the rooftops with one hand out of commission and a wounded leg…
The lock on the medicine cabinet wasn’t difficult to pick, even with the wound across his palm making his fingers slow and clumsy, and it took him only a minute or so to ease the pins down and twist the blackened iron handle sideways, the door swinging open with a hiss of well-greased hinges and a slight rattle of glass.
And now we find out how much of a hypocrite you really are, mate.
The first rank of bottles didn’t provide much in the way of surprises: a couple of emetics, two bottles of stuff that was supposedly rat poison (and which, if mixed together, did a bloody good job of killing just about anything you could get to bleed), various preparations for stomachaches and toothaches and what-have-you, and a small dark green vial of arsenic. The second rank, though…
Hel-lo. Here’s something.
It wasn’t Smoke. It wasn’t even drinkable, unless you particularly felt like committing horrifically slow suicide. But what it lacked in painkilling properties, it more than made up for in other uses. And it made absolutely no bloody sense that Archer had it in his medicine cabinet. Unless…
You sly bastard. You knew I’d be after this, didn’t you?
He felt the unfrozen side of his mouth twist upward into a sudden fierce grin as he closed his fingers around the unremarkable flat brown bottle and oh-so-carefully drew it out from its hiding place in the back corner of the shelf. Then he laughed, once, harshly, and dropped the bottle of acid safely into one of the inside pockets of his battered black coat.
Never know when you might need to burn something. Or someone.
There were a couple more bottles of acid in the other corner of the shelf, though the labels made out none of them to be as strong as the one he’d already picked up, and he’d little wish to accidentally cause some sort of explosion by mixing them (deliberately causing explosions, on the other hand…) so he left them where they were. The bottle of poppy-milk on the shelf below them, however, went into another of his coat pockets, as did the small flat tin full of vials next to it, and, once he’d found the leather case for it, the syringe which went with them.
Archer’d realise they were missing, of course. But hells, he’d spent ten years being friends with a thief – if he’d meant for Sabbat not to take ‘em, he’d have put a better lock on the cabinet door.
And besides, he can more than afford to replace ‘em if he wants, which I bloody can’t.
There wasn’t much else of interest in the cabinet – or, at least, nothing worth the hassle of carrying it around for the rest of the night – and, once he’d closed the door, mopped up the last of the blood and thrown the rags he’d used to clean up into the fire, he straightened up, took a last look around the room, and headed for the back window, pushing it open and drinking in the cold clear air of the gathering night.
Smells like more snow on the way. And, as he swung his legs over the sill and dropped silently onto the roof below: Smells like a good night for a hunt.
Copyright © 2020 by Finn McLellan. All rights reserved.
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