Blood on the Snow: Chapter 22 (draft)

The rest of the journey to the Sinnlenst’s headquarters had passed relatively uneventfully – Avebury had the good sense to keep his tongue behind his teeth and Fest, for all he’d smelled like he was halfway to passing out from sheer terror, had managed to keep a lid on whatever was going on behind his eyes well enough that it didn’t cause any major incidents.

Which had suited Viola just fine, given how much she was already having to deal with.

It’s not as though I’m actually betraying her – spirits damn it, it was halfway her idea in the first place. There’s no reason I should be feeling this awful.

And yet.

I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be doing this. I don’t want to be a damn spy, I don’t want to be up to my sodding neck in blackmail, and I definitely don’t want to be walking right into the heart of  Sinnlenst territory with only a terrified kid and an injured assassin to watch my back.

If I had my way, I’d punch Avebury right in his smug arrogant bastard face, run all the way home, tell Amelia that she’s my favourite sister and I’d never do anything to hurt her, give her a hug, make sure she’s safe, and then… I don’t know, go prowling the River Quarter until I find some thugs to beat up or something.

But I can’t. And if I try that, everything goes to shit and we’re dead – if we’re lucky.

I hate this.

It wasn’t the only thing she hated. True to his word, the Sinnlenst had provided a bath – a hot one, even, which had felt a whole lot better than she was ever going to admit to him  – and a change of clothes. But, because he clearly felt he hadn’t been enough of a bastard already, the change of clothes in question was a dress.

It was, all things considered, a fairly reasonable dress – he’d not gone out of his way to get something utterly hideous or horrifically badly made, and the colour wasn’t far from what she normally wore. It was even approximately her size, which was worryingly thoughtful of him.

But it was still a damn dress.

‘More becoming to your sex’ indeed. Bastard.

It wasn’t that she objected to dresses on principle – hells, they looked damn good on some people (and off them, she amended, as the memory of a particular ex-girlfriend sprang to mind). But they weren’t for her, and, more to the point, she’d be damned if some arrogant speciesist sexist bastard of a blackmailer was going to get her into one just to make himself feel better about the fact he’d originally mistaken her for a boy.

“I’m not sodding wearing that,” she said, out loud.

No response.

“Either you give me my clothes back-” fat chance of that. Bet they’re going through them for anything I might be smuggling in. “-or I’ll walk out of here naked. Your choice.”

It was entirely possible no-one was listening in on her, though she doubted it – the Sinnlenst were too properly paranoid not to have at least one or two people keeping guard outside the door, for all she couldn’t smell them properly over the scents from the bath (another choice he’d made just to piss her off, she’d put money on it). In which case-

Well, they get an eyeful of naked werewolf. Not my problem the furless have hangups about clothes.

She could shift, of course. But, much as it’d make things a whole lot less complicated, she doubted going fourlegged was going to make the Sinnlenst any more inclined to trust her (not to mention the fact that non-werewolves tended to be utterly useless when it came to speaking wolf. Hard to spin a story when nobody was able to understand a word you were saying).

So, twolegged it was, then.

“I’m going to count to ten,” she said, loudly. “And if I don’t have my clothes back by the time I hit ten, I’m walking out of here in what I’m wearing right now. Which, for your information, is sweet fuck-all.”

Ha! Whoever was lurking outside had been doing a bloody good job at keeping quiet, they apparently couldn’t hold back a reaction to that.

So now I get to see exactly how far they’re willing to go with this. Let’s find out, shall we?




Still nothing.

Alright then.

“Three. Four. Five.”

Muffled whispering from the other side of the door, though too far away for even her ears to make out the content.

“Six,” she said, louder. “Seven. Eight.”

More whispering, and the sound of hurried footsteps.

Got you.


The door creaked open, and a hand holding a bundle of clothes appeared around the edge of the frame – very briefly, before whoever it was dropped the clothes onto the floor and scuttled off down the passageway (presumably before the mere presence of a naked person caused their skin to fall off or something).

“Good choice.”


Those aren’t my clothes. What in the name of…

There were trews, at least. And a shirt, thought it was a deal rougher than her one and had a slit just under the ribcage that suggested its first owner probably wasn’t in much of a condition to object to her borrowing it. They’d even managed a waistcoat – not as nice as her own (and if she didn’t get that back before she got out of here, she’d be mounting a damn raid on her own time. Good waistcoats weren’t cheap, and the embroidery on that one had cost her a pretty penny), but not completely awful – which meant that, barring the boots, she had replacements for pretty much everything they’d taken off her.

Still want my damn clothes back, mind. Though… you can keep the boots.

Seb would object, of course. But given the number of things she did that her twin objected to was double-digits and rising, that wasn’t exactly new.

And right now, I’d almost give anything just to have him complaining at me again. Unlike all the rest of this, that’d be something approaching normality.


Coincidentally, at that exact moment Fest was also wishing very hard for a return to normality – or, at least, to something which wasn’t quite as unrelentingly anxiety-inducing as his current predicament.

He’d had a bath, which had utterly failed to make him any more relaxed (mostly because his brain insisted in presenting him with exactly what it would probably feel like to drown if someone decided to sneak into the room and hold his head under the water), he’d changed his clothes (which meant that he was now anxious and wearing unfamiliar clothing which pinched and rubbed in all the wrong places), and, short of walking up to the door and asking to be let out, he’d now run out of things to do to take his mind off… well, everything about the situation.

If I know Avebury, he wants me to have to ask to leave the room – as though I were a prisoner, or a damn child. It’s a bloody power play, like everything he does.

Well, I’m not going to give him the satisfaction. I’ll stay in here until someone opens the door for me, that’ll teach him.

Or I’ll end up stuck in here until someone comes to fetch me, and then that’s me being treated like a child again.

He sighed, ran a hand over his damp hair, and tipped his head back against the wall, staring up at the rafters in the vague hope that he’d find the answer to his problem up there. I’m overthinking this.

I should just check the door. That would probably be the clever thing to do at this juncture.

Except if it wasn’t locked, he was going to have to go out there. Into the middle of the Sinnlenst headquarters. On his own.

I’m not a coward. I’m not.

I just don’t want to mess this up. I don’t want Viola to get hurt because of me. I don’t want Archer to be disappointed in me. I don’t-

Gods help me, I don’t want to die. Especially not permanently.

They almost certainly weren’t going to kill him. And, even if they tried, they’d left him his belt-knife and his sword to defend himself with – not to mention the fact that most of the Sinnlenst were human, so he’d easily be able to outclass them when it came to speed and reflexes, even if they were better fighters than he was.

No, there was no logical reason he should be worrying about being killed. Not when Avebury and his friends had so many other ways to ruin his life.

I wish…

What? That none of this had ever happened? That he’d never received that invitation? That he’d never gone to the ball?

Ha. As my grandfather’s far too fond of saying, if wishes were horses then beggars would ride. And, since I don’t have any way of turning back the clock, all that wishing’s going to do is give me more of a headache than I already have.

I should get up and check the damn door.

“Dammit,” he said, out loud and with feeling. “Dammit, dammit, dammit.”

It helped more than he’d expected it to.

I wonder if that’s why Viola and Sabbat swear so much. I mean, if it works…

“Shit,” he said, experimentally.

That…didn’t work quite as well, mostly because he was left with the distinct impression that, if Viola’d been in the same room as him, she’d probably have been laughing her head off at how incongruous the word sounded in his accent.

“It’s not as though- Look. I am going to get up, I am going to check the door, and, if it’s not locked, I am going to go find out what in the hells is going on.”

And now all I need to do is actually get up and do that.


It was snowing.

Of course it was fucking snowing, Sabbat thought, snarling a string of curses under his breath as his fingertips slipped on the ice-covered ledge of the windowsill. It was Sacaan, it was the middle of winter, and he had to climb a fucking building that he’d only had the barest minimum of time to scope out, without being spotted by any of the guards or tripping any traps they might have set up in order to deter people from doing exactly what he was attempting.  If it wasn’t snowing, it just wouldn’t’ve been fun.

He dug the toe of his left boot more firmly into the hollow in the stonework, straightening his left leg and using the height gained to get a grip on the side of the window-surround. Wasn’t the best way of scaling a wall, and sure as fuck wasn’t the best way of getting up without attracting attention, but given it was a choice between that and falling to his almost inevitable death…definitely the best way of not dying right this second.

The rest of the night? That, much as he hated to admit it, depended as much on Fest and Cervanso as it did on him. But the climb was his and his alone, and if he fucked it up, it was his own damn fault if he ended up as a stain on the street.

Be a fuck of a lot easier if I wasn’t trying to do this with a busted leg, a hole in my hand, and a whole parcel of injuries being kept at bay by a probably-cursed magical box, I’ll tell you that for fucking free.

Then again, where’d the challenge be in that?

The stonework around the window was almost as iced-up as the sill, but the hinges on the shutters gave him the purchase he needed to hoist himself up and get a grip on the gutter, the cold metal biting into his palms even through the leather of his gloves. And from there, even with his leg and hand both not bearing weight the way they should, it was the matter of a few breaths (and a fairly substantial amount of silent swearing) to haul himself up and over and onto the snow-covered ledge jutting out from the base of the mansion’s sloped roof, ready to start the next stage of the climb.

Which was about the time his leg gave out and he fell flat on his face.


He managed to control the fall well enough that he didn’t slip off the ledge, at least, and the snow was deep enough to muffle any noise. Still hurt like hells, though, even through whatever the box was doing to him, and he bit his lip hard enough to draw blood trying to hold back a yell of mingled pain and frustration as his bodyweight landed squarely on his injured hand.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck! What fucking use am I going to be if my fucking leg won’t fucking work?!

More use than you’ll be if you get yourself killed because you fucking panicked, that’s for damn sure.

Which was true enough. He closed his eyes, forcing his breathing back into an even rhythm, and let the pain wash through him, ebbing and flowing until it settled into a dull consistent ache that was no worse than any of his joints on a given morning before he’d had a hit of Smoke.

There. Had worse, can deal. Not letting it get in the way of the damn job.

Hells, the fact that it hurt as much as it did was almost reassuring, if he was honest. Meant that the box hadn’t got its claws into him as deep as all that.

Or, at least, he hoped to the Lady it did.

Second time in as many weeks I’ve wound up bleeding into the snow on a damn rooftop. Least Caine’s not around to put the fucking boot in this time.

Which would’ve been a fuck of a lot more cheering if he’d actually been in any way sure that it was true.

Thing was, it should’ve been. And, if Caine’d still been anything approaching fucking human, it would’ve – even if the acid hadn’t killed or blinded him, it would’ve put him out of commission for a fuck of a lot longer than a couple of weeks.

Problem was, Caine wasn’t anything approaching fucking human. Not any more.

All the more reason to get off the fucking roof, then.

Easier said than done, that. In theory, he knew any number of ways to get into the building – the Sinnlenst might be smarter than the Order’d like about a lot of things, but they’d also been using the same headquarters for long enough that the shadow arm had built up a fairly good picture of the likely best ways of infiltrating it. Problem was, that meant they’d also been using it for long enough to know that the Order knew about it, which meant that all the likely best ways of infiltrating it were also likely trapped and guarded well enough that trying any of them was a fucking stupid idea.

Course, an entrance being guarded means fuck-all if the bastards guarding it are dead.

Wasn’t as though it’d be hard to deal with them, either. He’d be going in either at roof level or through a door or window on the courtyard side of the place, which likely meant guards who’d be less alert than the ones on the street side. Add to that the fact it was dark, it was snowing, and they were most likely all humans (Sinnlenst speciesism working against them, and wasn’t that nice and fucking helpful), and, if he played his cards right, they’d be dead before they fucking knew it.

Course, that’d mean he’d have to hide at least one body – and, with no helpful river to wash away the evidence, that was easier said than done. Not impossible, not by a long shot, and he’d had more than enough practice over the years, but there was a reason most corpses from the shadow war ended up in the Aan.

Harder to tell where they came from, for a start. Just needs one of these bastards to trip over a dead mate in a snowbank…

And the Sinnlenst’d know they had at least one spy in their midst, and everything’d go even more to shit than it already had.

He blew out a breath, slow and even, and pushed himself back up on his hands and knees, eyeing the steep slope of the roof with barely concealed irritation. Archer’d better fucking appreciate this. Not killing ‘em is going to make this a lot harder.


If he manages this without killing anyone, I’m going to count that as a good deal more of a win than I’ve any right to expect at this juncture.

While sending Sabbat to watch over the younger two was, in theory, a perfectly reasonable use of the assassin’s talents, it had taken Archer’s mind less than an hour to come up with at least thirty possible worst-case scenarios for the evening, all rendered in painfully exquisite detail. And the ones where Sabbat decided to stage a rescue by murdering his way through most of the Sinnlenst leadership and kicking off an all-out war which would make the current conflict look like a backstreet scuffle hadn’t even figured in the top ten.

I shouldn’t have let him go.

Which was a darkly amusing thought, given it presupposed he had any control over what Sabbat did and didn’t do.

I should have asked him not to go.

Which, even if he’d actually agreed to it, would have left Fest and Viola alone and defenceless in the heart of enemy territory, and potentially walking straight into a Sinnlenst trap. Having someone on their side, even someone as unpredictable as Sabbat, had to be better than that.

And, if his worry was more for Sabbat’s health…

I should have gone.

That, on the face of it, was a slightly better argument. But even if the Sinnlenst didn’t already know Archer’s face, his own espionage expertise was both over twenty years out of date and geared towards a very different kind of infiltration.

Not to mention Sabbat’s a damn sight better at rooftops than I’ll ever be. And besides, someone has to stay back here and hold the fort.

It felt like an excuse. It felt like cowardice. But if things went as badly as he was starting to fear they might, having someone able to coordinate a response and provide a safe-house would be an invaluable – and potentially life-saving – asset.

If I just-

There was a knock at the door.

“Damn!” He stood up, throwing aside the monograph he’d been trying and failing to read for the last half-hour, and stalked across, throwing open the door sharply enough that the boy on the other side took an instinctive half-step back. “What is it?”

“…Message for you, sir,” the child piped up, after a half-second of nervous silence. He thrust out a hand, proffering a blank envelope sealed with a small blob of gold wax. “I’m to wait.”

“For a reply?” Archer asked, but even as he took the letter he knew that wasn’t the case. Only two or three people in the city would use that exact colour of sealing wax and only one person would pair that with a blank, unaddressed envelope and expect him to understand exactly what she meant by it.

Damn you. More than five years, and now you decide you want to talk?

He slipped the blade of his belt-knife under the seal, lifting it off intact, and pulled out a single sheet of folded paper which looked as though it’d been torn from a memorandum book. The message inked on it was short, only a few lines long, but there was a heaviness to the strokes that suggested the writer had considered her words very carefully before committing them to the page.


Need to talk to you. 

In private.



For a brief, insane moment he thought about ripping the damn thing in half and telling the boy to take that back as an answer – if nothing else, it would buy him a few more hours while she worked out exactly how to respond.

I don’t have time for this. I need to be here for Sabbat- for all of them, especially if the Sinnlenst are planning a trap. I can’t just-

The problem was, he didn’t have a choice.

His sword-belt and coat were hanging by the door, at least, and he’d already pushed the guard across the fire – one positive outcome of the outburst of nervous energy he’d been trying to curb with the attempt at reading – which meant that, once he’d changed his boots and acquired his hat, it was a matter of a few moments to lock up and set things in order.

The boy waited patiently while he did so, even looking away politely as he set the wards on his front door (though the odds of him being able to decipher them were low enough that Archer would hardly have minded if he’d not). Then, when Archer had finished, he looked up at him and sketched a quick bow. “If you’re ready, sir.”

“Lead on,” Archer replied. And, if the gods are listening, let the others be alright. Please. Because I don’t think I’m going to be able to forgive her if they aren’t.


[Author’s note: everything from hereon out through to chapter 6 of Silver in the Ashes is NaNoWriMo 2020 content. Proceed with caution, and I apologise in advance for the likely increased number of typos]

Copyright © 2020 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

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