Blood on the Snow: Chapter 12 (draft)

Sabbat hadn’t come back to get the rest of his blades, of course. That would have made things too easy. 

In fact, he hadn’t come back to the Daggers at all – by the time Archer’d made it up to the garret, realised it was empty and started heading back down again, Jenny had already guessed what he was up to and dispatched one of her plethora of children and grandchildren – a younger one, this time, who apparently rejoiced in (or at least tolerated) the nickname of ‘Radish’ – to inform him that no, she’d not seen his thief since the morning, and yes, he was welcome to wait as long as he needed provided he didn’t wear a hole in her floorboards pacing. 

Radish (and there was clearly a story behind that name) had dutifully relayed the message, before adding her own opinion, which could be essentially summed up as ‘he’s tougher than you, you’re worrying over nothing.’ Which would have been a good deal easier to respond to if she hadn’t then followed it up with ‘and everyone knows he’s your boyfriend anyway, so we don’t see why you’re hiding it’. 

That, Archer had had pretty much no response to. Or, at least, nothing that he was willing to say to a ten-year-old.

He’d eventually stammered out something about it not being what it looked like (a phrase he’d almost immediately regretted) and added, with more success, that his personal life was his own business – which she’d been inclined to argue with right up until she’d realised that doing so would’ve ended with her arguing with Sabbat. Apparently that prospect was enough to terrify even one of Jenny’s otherwise unshakeable brood, and she’d retreated down the stairs in short order, promising to come back and tell him the moment she saw Sabbat walk through the doors of the tavern.

Which had left Archer alone, in Sabbat’s room, waiting. For what was now rapidly approaching four hours. 

He’d burned through most of his active fear in the first forty-five minutes. Passive fear had taken longer – a couple of hours, maybe a little more – but, in the end, he’d burned through that too. Now all that was left was boredom, the occasional spike of anxiety, and a cold, numb, creeping feeling that, if something had gone horribly wrong, there was going to be absolutely nothing he could do to help. 

He could leave the Daggers, of course. There was nothing saying he had to wait here – there was nothing saying Sabbat was going to come back any time before tomorrow morning, and that was if he didn’t decide to head to Archer’s place instead out of some misplaced desire to be helpful for once in his life. But if he didn’t wait here – and, gods, that was sounding more and more appealing by the second – then there was a very strong probability that Sabbat would wind up back in the Daggers wounded and in need of more medical aid than Jenny and her people were able to give. And if that happened… 

If that happens, and he dies because of it, I’ll never forgive myself.


“Do you see anyone?” 

Viola shook her head, leaning against the wall and taking a deep, shuddering breath. “Not here. Definitely the right place, though: whole thing stinks of blood. They’ve got to be somewhere.”

“Damn,” Amelia said, with the kind of heat Viola usually reserved for a very different set of four-letter words. “Do you think whoever screamed could’ve got away by now? Run off and found somewhere safe to hide?”

“Not if the blood’s all theirs.” She took another breath, almost choking on the thick metallic taste of the scent. “Fuck. Probably looking for a body at this stage.”

“Are you sure? I mean, if they’re just hurt, we could-”

Viola waved an unsteady hand at the surrounding snowdrifts. “Look all you like. Need to get my bearings.” The smell of blood in the side-street was almost overwhelming and while the rational part of her mind was sick with worry for whoever had been hurt, some small primal part of her was salivating, snapping at the bars of her self-control as it scented wounded prey. 

Amelia gave her an uncertain look. “Are you alright, Vi?”

Of course I’m bloody well not (no pun intended, oh Spirits and Ancestors why did I have to use that phrasing?). There’s a reason I normally do these things fast, ‘melia, and it’s not because I want to be home in time for supper. “I’m fine. Just need a minute.”

The other girl didn’t seem entirely convinced but, much to Viola’s relief, she didn’t press the issue. “If you’re sure. I’ll… I’ll go see if there’s anyone under the snow, shall I?”

“You do that.” And hopefully by the time you’ve finished, I’ll have got this under control. Sodding hells, I’m supposed to be better at this! She closed her eyes, pinched her nostrils shut with the fingers of one hand (wouldn’t do much, if anything, to stop her smelling the blood, but it was the principle of the thing), and tried to think calm, non-predatory thoughts. 

This is fine. Everything is fine. I am in control of myself, I am in control of my surroundings, everything is perfectly and absolutely- 

Something soft, damp and freezing cold hit the back of her neck with a thud that sent her sprawling – she rolled into the fall, lashing out at the unseen enemy as she did so, and came to her feet in a fighting crouch, teeth bared, eyes scanning the shadows for any sign of a repeat attack. 

Come at me from behind, will you? I’ll give you something to fucking-

The thought died mid-sentence as the rational part of her brain caught up to the instinctive part, gave it a firm shake, and pointed out that, given she wasn’t bleeding, broken, or otherwise inconvenienced, if someone had been trying to make a go for her, they’d done a staggeringly shitty job of it. Add to that the fact that she’d been standing just under the eaves of one of the houses, and that the back of her shirt was currently sopping wet, and a much more likely explanation suddenly presented itself. 

Well now I just feel like an idiot. 


She turned, wincing as she did so, and met Amelia’s wide, worried – and determined – eyes. 

“I know you keep saying otherwise, but there is definitely something wrong,” the other girl said, folding her arms over her chest in what she probably thought was defiance. To Viola’s eyes, it mostly just looked like she was cold. “What just happened?”

Viola felt her cheeks begin to flush, the heat of embarrassment cutting through the cold of the unexpected ice bath. “Overreacted,” she muttered, swallowing the word as much as she was able. 

Amelia’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

“I said, I overreacted.” She rolled her eyes, trying to ignore the burning in her cheeks, and looked away. “Got a lump of snow down my back, ‘s all.” And, when the other girl didn’t seem inclined to comment on the situation, “You find anyone?”

“No. If there was someone here, they’re gone now. Not even any blood on the snow, which makes no sense, and if I-” She stopped. “Wait. You were doing that because… snow?”

“From the roof. Must’ve melted enough to fall. Just… overreacted, that’s all.”

“I don’t-” Amelia began. Then she stepped forward, threw her arms around Viola, buried her head in the front of the taller girl’s shirt and said, in a small voice, “I’m really sorry I dragged us out here.”

Viola blinked, completely taken aback. She’d expected gentle mockery – or, given Amelia’s apparent current mood, concern. Possibly confusion, side odds on exasperation and, though unlikely given the circumstances, an outside chance of sheer genuine amusement. An apology was… not something she’d even considered, and she wasn’t entirely sure how to react, especially given she had no bloody clue what’d caused it. Every time I think I’ve got her figured out, she finds a new way to surprise me. 

But surprising or not, she needed to do something, preferably before the front of her shirt ended up as wet as the back: Amelia wasn’t crying yet, but, from the tremor in her voice, she wasn’t far off. She settled for reaching down, patting the other girl’s curls awkwardly with one hand, and saying, in a voice which came out a little wobblier than she’d meant it, “It’s alright. Not your fault everything went to shit, after all.”

“Except I’m the one who said we should come out here. And I’m the one who said we should go towards the screaming. If I hadn’t-” She looked up, eyes wet, and then broke off suddenly, staring over Viola’s shoulder and up, towards the overhanging eaves of the buildings which bordered the snow-covered street. 

Viola felt the hairs on the back of her neck begin to rise.“What? What is it, ‘melia?”

Amelia’s eyes widened, just for a second. Then she looked back at Viola, lowered her voice, and whispered “Don’t look now, but I think there’s someone on that roof.”


And now there’s someone down there. Couple of someones, by the sound of it. 

Fucking hellfire, if this wasn’t bad enough already… 

There was one thing in his favour, however: the killer hadn’t moved. If anything, he’d gone even more still than he had before, probably reckoning he’d wait out the intruders rather than go after them and risk his prey getting away before he got back.  

And, if Sabbat was entirely honest, that suited him completely fucking fine. Yes, he was freezing. Yes, he was going to start shivering in earnest in the next few minutes, and then there’d be no way in the hells he could keep up the pretence of being unconscious. Yes, he was probably going to end up dead either way. But, knowing what he knew, anything that kept that bastard away from him for even a second longer was well worth every moment of pain.

This isn’t fucking happening. It can’t be. He’s dead. 

On that score, at least, he’d stake his bloody life. He’d killed Caine. Stuck him through the windpipe with a throwing knife, slit his throat from ear to ear for good measure, made damn sure he’d stopped breathing, then thrown the body off the bridge and into the freezing water of the Aan in full flow. The man was as dead as he could reasonably fucking be, and that was that. 

So what the shitting, cunting, everlasting fuck was something that sounded a fuck of a lot like him doing alive and well on a rooftop in Old Town? 

There is no way in the seven hells that’s Caine. Caine is dead and fucking gone, and that’s the end of it. It’s… fuck, it’s something borrowing his voice, that’s all. Some sort of magical construct or something, put together out of corpses by a pack of students up at the university for a fucking prank. Has to be. 

Because if it wasn’t, then there were two other possible options. And neither of them were particularly fucking good. 

If it’s not, then either I’m insane, or every single one of those fucking stories my dear departed not-particularly-lamented bitch of a mother told me about ghosts is completely and utterly fucking true. And out of those two possibilities, I’m fucking hoping it’s the first. 

Caine’d been a bastard in life, and he’d more than deserved what Sabbat had done to him. Hells, he’d deserved worse for half of what he’d done in the name of keeping the Sinnlenst’s secrets and enforcing their will, and there were more than a few in the Order and around it who’d attest to that. But deserved or no, violent deaths made violent ghosts, and murders made the worst – at least, if you went by half-remembered stories intended to shut crying kids up when hitting ‘em and dosing ‘em with whiskey hadn’t worked. 

And when a ghost like that caught up with the person who’d murdered them in the first place, they didn’t just tear them limb from limb in the physical world (though the details of that had been a fairly sodding integral part of the story the way his mother’d told it). They killed their fucking soul, ripping it into pieces so it’d never find its way to the other side of the sky and back to the world of the living again. 

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. 

If Caine was a ghost, he was fucked. Simple as that. 

If Caine was a ghost, he was dead. No, fuck that.  If Caine was a ghost, he was worse than dead. 

If Caine was a ghost. 

Most half of everything else she told me was a lie. No reason to think that was anything different. And anyhow, plenty of other things the bastard could be – nothing’s saying it’s actually Caine and not something borrowing a voice that sounds like it might’ve once sounded like his. Ghosts aren’t fucking real, everyone knows that. 

And each and every one of those justifications was doing shit-all to stop the cold, creeping terror slowly pooling in his guts. He swallowed hard, tasting bile at the back of his throat, and heard the killer’s – Caine’s – weight shift again as he did so, as though the other man had turned towards the sound. 

“Waking… up, are… you?” There was another crunch of shifting weight on snow, a pause, and then the dim red light which’d been pressing against his eyelids abruptly vanished. Caine’s voice, when it came again, was close enough that Sabbat could feel the heat of the bastard’s breath on his cheek, and he had to fight back the urge to twist his face away from the slaughterhouse stench that accompanied the words. “Good. Wouldn’t be… fun… otherwise.”

Fuck, Sabbat thought, succinctly. And then, without warning, a hand closed around his throat and he felt himself being lifted into the air, the toes of his boots scraping against the snow as Caine straightened up to his full height. 

The bastard was strong. Unnaturally, freakishly strong – there was no way Sabbat could’ve pried his fingers open even if he’d had two functioning hands and hadn’t been halfway frozen to death at the time. But, thank the Lady, he was also apparently an utter fucking sadist. 

If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have bothered to try and make things slow. 

And if he hadn’t done that, Sabbat would probably have been unconscious well before he managed to get his wounded hand into the breast pocket of his coat, get hold of the flat bottle he’d stolen from Archer’s rooms earlier in the evening, yank the cork out one-handed with a strength borne of utter terror and desperation, and hurl the contents straight into his captor’s face. 

Caine screamed – a raw, animal sound – and staggered backwards, clawing at his burning flesh with his free hand in a fit of sheer pain-filled panic that, if Sabbat was honest with himself, was more than little sodding gratifying. 

So. Not a ghost, then. And, better: can be hurt. 

Not hurt enough, though. The bastard might’ve been blinded, in agony, and completely unable to retaliate, but he’d retained enough motor control that his other hand was still clamped firmly around Sabbat’s throat, thumb and forefinger digging painfully into the hollows at the base of his jaw. 

And, as Sabbat brought his knife hand up in the second part of his planned attack, a strike which suddenly seemed too little far too fucking late, Caine snarled, twisted his wrist, and tightened his grip, viciously hard. 

There was a moment of blinding, sickening pain. The world spun, twisting off-axis with a jolt and an inexplicable moment of weightlessness, as though he’d missed a step or put a foot through a broken stair. And then everything went suddenly, mercifully, black.


Viola had already started moving before the echoes of the scream had died away, shifting her weight and pushing Amelia away from her and into a nearby snowbank in a halfway instinctive effort to get the younger girl out of the eyeline of whatever had made that noise. 

Which meant that, when the unconscious man fell out of the sky,  there was only one person standing out in the open enough to realise what was about to happen. 


She moved without thinking – no time for anything else – and, somehow, managed to get herself between the oddly familiar plummeting body and the cobblestones just in time for the bastard’s weight to slam her backwards, knocking her off her feet and halfway into the drifts on the other side of the street. Something hard smashed into her face – she felt her nose break on impact – and the base of her spine cracked against the packed ice at the base of the fresher snowfall, sending a ice-bright sparkling explosion of pain rocketing through her belly and down her legs, and she wondered with a sudden horrified detached fascination whether that was what it felt like to break your back and, if it was, how in the hells she was going to get Amelia home now. 

And then everything suddenly went very quiet, and very, very still. 

There was blood trickling down the back of her throat. Her spine throbbed. Her ribs creaked. Her head ached horrifically, as though someone had been using it as an anvil, and the pain in her nose was a white-hot fire of agony radiating tendrils through both eyesockets and around the back of her skull. There was an unmoving and surprisingly heavy body pinning her up to her shoulders in a mud-filled snowdrift which was rapidly starting to rival the Aan in midwinter for bone-piercing cold. 

And, she was slowly starting to realise, she’d probably just saved someone’s life. 

“Shit,” she said again, more quietly this time. The edges of the word came out mushier than she meant them, slurred by her broken nose and the blood in her mouth, but it still managed to sum up the situation pretty damn accurately. “H-holy shit.”

Spirits and ancestors, but she was cold. Probably the adrenaline starting to wear off already – nothing like a little light rescuing to set your nerves on edge, after all – but it didn’t make it any less sodding freezing in this damn snowbank. Maybe the city could invest in heated streets or something, like the tiled benches you got round stoves in the better-off houses. Least they could do for well-meaning citizens who’d got themselves covered in snow catching people who didn’t have the good sense not to fall off buildings, after all. 

The thought made her giggle, which was definitely not a good sign. Giggling was firmly Amelia’s territory – she’d allow laughing, chuckling, even the odd guffaw or two, but giggling was right out. Ancestors preserve, next thing I know I’ll have gone all moon-eyed over some ridiculous human who couldn’t even be bothered to-


Speak of the moon-eyed maiden in question… She closed her eyes briefly, dragging her thoughts back into something resembling the realms of sanity with a groan of effort (and pain, as the aching in her head redoubled). “‘m alright, ‘melia. ‘s not as bad as it looks.”

There was a short, sharp intake of breath, and then Amelia said, in a voice which sounded shakier than the apparent flippancy of her words would’ve suggested: “That’s reassuring, because it looks horrific.” 

She knelt down in the snow next to Viola’s head, reaching out one small dark hand towards the older girl’s face – Viola hissed and batted her away before she could make the pain in her nose any worse – and then stopped, frowning, as her eyes found the face of the unconscious person Viola’d gone to all that trouble to rescue.  

“Vi, I think I know who that is.”

“Oh crap,” Viola said with feeling, as, following Amelia’s gaze, she suddenly realised exactly why the plummeting body had looked quite so familiar. “So do I.”

“What are we going to do?” Amelia whispered, more to herself than anyone else. “We can’t just leave him here.”

On that, at least, Viola agreed with her. The assassin was breathing, but that was about all that could be said for him right now: quite apart from the whole being-unconscious thing, his face had gone a deeply worrying shade of grey and, from the way his jaw was angled, it was almost certainly either broken or partially dislocated. And having experienced both, I don’t envy the poor bastard when he wakes up. 

If he wakes up. Humans were more fragile than they looked, after all – half the things a proper person’d walk away from would cripple or outright kill them – and she’d no idea what in the seven hells had happened to him before he’d fallen off the roof. If he’s got internal injuries, he’s almost certainly done for. If all the damage I can see is all there is, he’s probably going to be fine (or as fine as humans get, anyway). And, as she shifted position slightly and the agony in her spine flared again, Either way, he’s in a fuck of a lot less pain than I am right now. 

Which was, arguably, a somewhat selfish way to view the situation. On the other hand, it wasn’t as though Sabbat was in any position to argue with her – and, the last time they’d met, he had tried to break her neck (admittedly, she’d been trying to brain him with a basin at the time, but that wasn’t the point). She respected Archer, and Archer clearly cared for Sabbat, but it wasn’t as though she was bosom friends with the man, and if-

“Viola?” The younger girl’s voice was quiet, deceptive calm overlaying a quiver of fear which she couldn’t quite hide. “Is he-?”

Amelia’s never seen someone die of anything that wasn’t plain old natural causes, the back of her mind whispered treacherously. And she’s a damn sight less experienced and jaded than she’d like us to believe. Something like this could just about break her

Well fuck. Apparently I’m playing the hero now. 

She coughed, spat blood into the snow, and took stock of the situation. 

The assassin was still lying on top of her, face-up, with his head resting on her collarbone. The hair on the back of his scalp was caked in fresh blood – but, based on how painful her face felt and how much of the damn stuff she was still tasting at the back of her throat, she’d put good money on the majority of that being hers. He didn’t seem to be bleeding externally from anywhere else that she could see, other than an already-bandaged wound on his hand which didn’t look exactly life-threatening, she couldn’t see or feel any broken bones in his arms and shoulders, and, if he was bleeding internally, there wasn’t anything obvious telling her that.

Admittedly, she didn’t exactly have the best vantage point. And it wasn’t as though she knew exactly what to look for, especially in humans she’d not known for very long. But, even through the blood and the broken nose, he didn’t smell like he was dying. 

And then he groaned and shifted position slightly, hair falling away from his face, and she got her first proper look at his throat. 

Spirits of earth and sky! Whoever the hells else was up on that rooftop, they must have had a very good reason to want you dead, my friend. Not to mention a grip like a sodding vice. 

“He’s breathing,” she said, out loud. “Seems even enough, and I don’t hear any crackling or blood in it.” She prodded the assassin’s head and neck experimentally, and was rewarded with a flinch and a muffled groan which might have been an attempt at a curse. “I think his jaw’s broken, mind, and there’s enough bruising on his throat that it looks like someone’s made a fairly good attempt at playing hangman without bothering to bring a rope. If the bastard had another go-”

“He won’t.” The words were almost unintelligible, but the tone was clear enough. “Fixed him.” 

What? From the flinching, she’d assumed he was at least semi-conscious, but the idea he might be awake enough to contribute to the conversation hadn’t even crossed her mind. You’re tougher than I thought, human. Might even have some werewolf blood in you somewhere a generation or so back.  “Alright. I’m going to regret asking this, but… how?” 

Translated through the medium of his currently skewed jaw, Sabbat’s normally lopsided grin looked practically demonic. “Acid,” he said, with satisfaction. Then he leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and passed out again.

“…Well,” Amelia said, after a brief, awkward silence. “At least that’s something.” She frowned, looking down at the assassin’s battered form with a grimace of concern. “We need to get him to a doctor. One of the temples, maybe – I know there’re a few who specialise in medicine. If we-”

“And how’re we going to do that, ‘melia?” Viola interrupted, raising a hand to prod gingerly at the wedge of pain which seemed to have replaced her nose. “I don’t – ow! – mean to insult your strength, but I’m done in and there’s no sodding way you’re carrying him on your own.”

Amelia frowned, though, much to Viola’s relief, she didn’t argue the latter point. “Alright then. I’ll- I’ll go get help.”

“From who, exactly? This isn’t the best neighbourhood even when it’s not full of mysterious screaming and ominous figures on rooftops. And any Sinnlenst assassin worth their salt is going to jump at the chance to two-for-one a couple of Order operatives, not to mention getting their hands on the Luciels’ only daughter. What’s to say the person you bring back isn’t just going to jump the lot of us?” 

“You don’t think-”

“No, you don’t think.” Harsher than the other girl deserved, perhaps, but dammit, she was in too much sodding pain to be nice. “I know you like to assume the best of everyone, ‘melia, but down here that’s a quick way to end up very very dead.”

“You don’t know that. Just because they’re poor-”

“Oh for crying out loud, it’s not about that!” Viola snapped, fighting back the urge to bang her head against the snow in frustration. “Half the streets in this area, the Watch won’t go down without a whole squad, and the other half, they won’t go down at all – which means all of this is gang territory, and neither of us know enough about any of them to know who’s safe to talk to and who isn’t. And going up to random passers-by and asking for help? Spirits and ancestors, you’re practically walking into the bear’s den and asking it nicely if it wouldn’t mind not bloody eating you!”

“…You’re exaggerating,” Amelia said, though she didn’t sound entirely sure of herself. She chewed on her lip, obviously considering the issue. “If you’re right about the gangs, though, then there must be someone they go to when they’re hurt. I know the hospital and a lot of the temples report suspicious injuries to the Watch, so…” 

“So you want to go find a backstreet sawbones? Again, ‘melia, I don’t think-”

The younger girl glared, folding her arms over her chest in a way which suddenly reminded Viola very much of Lord Luciel in high temper. “Sorry, do you have a better idea?” And, before Viola could answer, she continued: “Look. I know I don’t know my way around this kind of place as well as you do. I know I’m a sheltered little rich girl. I know there’s a whole lot about the world outside my circles I don’t understand, and that there’s a lot I get wrong even when I try to understand it. But I also know I’m not going to let somebody die when I have the ability to save them, even- even if it means doing something stupid and dangerous and irresponsible and that my mother would probably skin me alive for if she knew, alright?” She paused, breathing hard. “So… so either give me a better idea for how to solve this problem, Vi, or get the hell out of my way.”

“… ‘m not in your way,” Viola muttered, almost reflexively. She could feel her face heating up, though she wasn’t entirely sure whether it was from shame, anger, or some odd dizzying combination of the two. Since when did you get so damn forceful, ‘melia? I mean, since always, I suppose, but… “Look, I’m not saying we don’t help him. I just…” She swallowed hard, tasting blood at the back of her throat again. “Sodding hells, ‘melia, I don’t know what to do. Neither of us can carry him, but equally well we can’t leave him here, and, if we wait long enough for me to heal up, the both of you’ll freeze.”

“That doesn’t mean we do nothing.”

“No, it doesn’t. But it also doesn’t mean we go tearing off without a plan.” 

“I have a plan, Vi.”

“No, you’ve got an idea. That’s not the same thing. If you took five minutes to-”

“If you’d just let me finish-”

“If you’d just listen before you-”


Amelia whirled, staring back at the mouth of the alley with wide eyes. Viola, being both semi-horizontal and stuck under an unconscious assassin who was a good deal heavier than he looked, had to settle for a slightly less energetic (but deeply painful) twist of the neck – which meant that, when the man stepped out from the shadow of the overhanging roofs and into a shaft of searingly bright light from a moon which had chosen just that moment to appear from behind the clouds, she was the second of the two of them to realise who he was.  

Which, in hindsight, was probably a very good thing.


Copyright © 2020 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

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