Someone was knocking on his door.
Archer blinked, starting awake. He’d not intended to doze off, but between the tiredness of the walk back from the palace and the comfortable warmth of the banked-up fire in his rooms, apparently his intentions had gone somewhat out of the window.
Gods. Please let it be Sabbat.
He was worried for all three of the Order infiltrators, of course – hard not to be, given they’d been deep in Sinnlenst territory – but he would be lying if he didn’t admit that the assassin’s welfare was his main concern.
Though I’ll also admit that I’m letting affection get in the way of logic. He’s done this kind of thing a thousand times before.
Yes, and caught more than a few injuries which came dangerously close to killing him in the process.
He stood up. Then, very deliberately and far slower than the more emotional part of his mind would have preferred, he crossed the room, walked out into the hallway, and, his fingers slipping slightly on the bolts, unlocked the door.
The person on the threshold wasn’t Sabbat.
As a matter of fact, they weren’t human-shaped at all.
The small black wolf sitting just outside his door looked up at him, its red eyes wide and pleading. Then it dropped the very familiar-looking sword and sword-belt it had been carrying and, with a huff of expelled breath, flopped down onto its belly, its head and front paws across the threshold.
The wolf whined.
“Where’re the others?”
Another whine, this one sounding a good deal more distressed than the last.
Archer sighed. Then he bent down, picked up the sword-belt and blades, and said, as calmly as he could, “You’d better come in.”
“Did we lose them?”
Viola nodded, pawing the worst of the muck out of her mouth. She’d been expecting some sort of Sinnlenst ambush when they’d finally escaped the tunnels – it only seemed fitting, after all – but in fact, the three of them had managed to get four or five streets away before anyone had tried to jump them and, when it’d finally happened, it hadn’t been Sinnlenst at all.
“Fuckin’ bastards,” Sabbat snarled. He dropped the handful of ice he’d been holding to the side of his head, kicked clean snow over the bloodstains, and spat. “Ain’t their territory, an’ they know as much.”
“I get the feeling they didn’t care,” Mortimer said, poking experimentally at the side of his jaw with one finger. “I also get the feeling that punch chipped at least one of my teeth, though I realise that’s hardly the worst of our problems at the moment.”
If by that you mean that we’re stuck in an alleyway hiding from two street gangs and, in all probability, the Watch, then I agree with you. She’d shifted as soon as possible after they’d got away from the Sinnlenst headquarters, wanting the freedom that being fourlegged gave her, but she had to admit this form had its downsides when it came to communicating. On the other hand, she’d not been expecting to have to do more than say a few goodbyes and then run home.
Unfortunately, the local gang war apparently had other ideas.
There hadn’t even been much of a warning. One moment they’d been cutting through a back-alley to try and reach the other side of the quarter (by mutual agreement, they’d decided to stay together until they were far enough away from the Sinnlenst that there was a smaller chance of them being picked off one by one), the next they’d been jumped by a pack of werewolves in twolegs form. And, when they’d got their bearings enough to start holding their own against that lot, another gang had arrived on the scene.
This lot were humans, which made it a little easier, but there were more of them than the others, and they’d come prepared – turned out, as far as Viola could figure it, they thought the werewolves were making a move on their territory, and had come to defend their borders. That being said, they’d not exactly objected to the idea of stealing their enemies’ prey at the same time, which had meant that the three of them had ended up having little recourse but to kick, punch, stab and bite their way out of the melee, regroup, and run like hell.
It was, all in all, a shitty end to a shitty night.
“Y’know, things like that just don’t happen out on the front. Stray cannonballs, yes. Ambushes, yes. Getting caught in the middle of some bloody stupid gang feud? No, not so much.”
“Thanks. I’d assumed that kind of thing was confined to the River Quarter.”
“Ha. Shows how much you know, then. Y’think any territory in this city doesn’t have least one gang layin’ claim to it?”
“Fair point. What do we do now?”
Sabbat shrugged. “I’m headin’ back to Archer’s. Someone ought t’tell him what happened.”
“Archer’s? Wait. William Archer?”
“What’s it t’you?”
“Nothing. Except that if that is William Archer you’re talking about, he’s one of my father’s oldest friends. They knew each other back in the Revolution, apparently – I don’t remember much of it, but I remember him coming by the house every once in a while when I was growing up.”
Viola hadn’t known that. Then again, it wasn’t as though she knew who Mortimer’s father was, other than ‘a noble’ – and, given what she knew of Archer’s people, he and Mortimer’s da knowing each other didn’t seem like much of a stretch. And, if Archer does know Mortimer, he might be able to tell us if he’s everything he seems. Because as much as I want to believe him, if he’s taking us for fools…
From the looks of things, Sabbat was having much the same train of thought. “Reckon he’d remember you?”
“I- To tell you the truth, I honestly don’t know.” He chewed on his lip. “It’s possible. But, equally well, who’s to say he wants to see me out of the blue? And right now, what I want to do is get home, fall into bed, and sleep like the dead for the next day and a half.”
That, Viola could very much sympathise with. She nosed at his hand, bumping her muzzle against his leg companionably.
“I think Miss Cervanso’s of much the same mind, though I’ll admit I don’t speak wolf.”
Damn it, the both of you. If you just spent more time around proper people, this wouldn’t be half as difficult.
Then again, werewolves in twolegs form could communicate with werewolves in fourlegs form just fine, no matter if they’d been raised by humans or not. Humans were just bad at things.
Unfair. It’s not their fault.
She huffed out a breath, turned, and padded further down the alleyway, ducking down behind a convenient snowbank. If she was going to have to shift back, she wanted some damn privacy to do it in.
“Miss Cervanso?” Mortimer began. “Are you-”
“Stop lookin’ at her,” Sabbat said, cutting him off mid-sentence. “‘less you want to end up pukin’ your guts out.”
“Oh.” He turned away.
Thank you, Sabbat. Not quite how I’d have phrased it, but you got the point across well enough.
Shifting didn’t hurt – a blessing from Mother Moon to her favoured children, and one the werewolves were duly grateful for – but it was disconcerting to watch from the outside even if you knew exactly what was going on. For humans and vampires, who didn’t have the experience of having felt it from the inside, it was apparently several hundred times worse (or, at least, that was what Amelia had told her the one time she’d persuaded Viola to let her watch her shift. Given how grey the younger girl had gone, Viola believed her).
She closed her eyes, lowered her head, arched her back and stretched, her bones and muscles elongating and realigning along the length of her limbs as the shape of her twolegged form reasserted itself. Her jaw clicked as her muzzle shrank backward, and the sounds of the city dulled around her as her ears reshaped themselves, fur blurring back into flushed, sweat-slick skin.
She stood up, shook her hair out of her eyes, and folded her arms. “I hope the two of you bloody appreciate this. It’s a lot easier to deal with everything when I’m fourlegged.”
“Thank y-” Mortimer began, turning to face her. Then he stopped, went red, put his hand over his eyes, and said, very quietly, “Ah. No clothes.”
“What?” For a moment, she had no idea what he was talking about. Then realisation hit, and she couldn’t help rolling her eyes. Humans and their sodding nudity taboo. Of course. “Yes, no clothes. Unlike the damn vampires, we don’t take them with us when we shift.” Mostly because we’re actually shifting and they’re just playing with magical guises.
“I knew- I mean- That is- Look, I’ve barely got to know you, you’re going to be practically my sister, and you’re naked. This is not in any way a normal situation.”
“For a human. Perfectly bloody normal for werewolves.”
“Yes, and I’m not one.”
“And I don’t have a spare set of clothes with me, so you’re going to have to deal with that.”
Sabbat made a sound halfway between a bark of laughter and a growl of irritation. “Y’never met a werewolf before?”
“Not- She’s naked!”
“‘She’ is also standing right here,” Viola interjected, not bothering to hide her annoyance. “You can keep your eyes shut while you’re talking to me if you want, but for the love of all my ancestors will you shut up about the damn nudity thing?”
“I- Sorry,” Mortimer said, going even redder. “I’m assuming you went human-”
“Not a damn human. Twolegs.”
“-two-legged, then, because you wanted to talk to us properly.”
She nodded. “Harder to make plans when the two of you can’t understand what I’m saying, and there’s no point all three of us running off in different directions if we don’t know where the others’re going.”
Sabbat nodded. “I’m headin’ to Archer’s place. Back t’the Daggers from there.”
“Makes sense. I’m for home – if nothing else, I need to tell Amelia what happened back there.” She looked to Mortimer, then remembered he couldn’t see her. “Mortimer, you’re welcome back with me if you want. At least as far as the door.”
“What are you- Oh.” She hadn’t been sure it was possible for him to go any more red, but somehow he managed it. “If you’re sure.”
“Of course I am. And if we’re quick about it, I can get Amelia out of bed and down to see you before her parents wake up.”
“Thank you.” He made an awkward half-bow in her direction, his hand still firmly over his eyes. “I’m in your debt, Miss Cervanso.”
“You’ll find a way to pay it back. And you can stop calling me that – Viola’ll do just fine.” Or Cervanso, apparently, if you’re Sabbat. Though I honestly don’t mind that coming from him.
Sabbat rolled his eyes. “You finished playin’ matchmaker, Cervanso? Time’s wastin’.”
“I’m not stopping you leaving. You know where we’re going, I know where you’re going.” She frowned. “Though there is something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”
“There’s something odd going on with your scent.”
His face stayed carefully blank, but she saw the muscles of his neck and jaw tense. “Aye? Y’want to elaborate on that?”
Right. This feels like a dangerous road to be walking down. She had no idea exactly why what she’d said had caused that reaction, but whatever she said next was going to have to be very carefully worded.
“Smells metallic. Kind of like silver.”
He blinked. Whatever he’d been expecting her to say, it clearly hadn’t been that. “Silver an’ wood? Or silver an’ water?”
“Give me a moment.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, focusing in on Sabbat’s scent to the exclusion of everything else in the soundscape of smells. There it is. Silvery-white, blood-on-metal, but cold blood… that’s interesting. “Cold blood and living metal and dark water…” and where in the name of my favourite ancestors did that come from?
She opened her eyes.
Sabbat was staring at her, his face gone a dull grey under the preparation he’d applied to lighten his skin. “Fuck.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Doesn’t sound like nothing to me.” And that’s a really good way to get yourself punched, self.
To her surprise, he didn’t haul off and hit her. Instead, he lifted a hand and rubbed the back of his neck, looking down at the snow. “Half-inched somethin’ off Avebury back in that fight in Old Town. Archer reckons it’s some sort of talisman or somethin’.”
“And you’re carrying it around with you?”
He looked up, glaring at her out of eyes that she suddenly realised were a damn sight more bloodshot than usual. “Ain’t as if I’ve got a choice.”
What? He wasn’t lying, she could tell that much. Which meant… “It’s bonded to you?”
“Might as well be. Wouldn’t be walkin’ around without the healin’ it’s doin’.”
That made an upsetting amount of sense. She’d seen the amount of damage he’d taken from Caine – hells, he’d barely been able to speak after the ruin the Turned had made of his throat – and, for a human, he’d healed ridiculously fast to be able to play infiltrator a week or so later. If that was down to whatever magic this supposed talisman was working on him, that explained a lot. “So if you stopped carrying it, I’m guessing it wouldn’t go well for you.”
He nodded. “Ain’t sure I could, anyhow. Bled on it when I picked it up.”
“Do you have a plan?”
He looked insulted, which, to be fair, she probably should have expected. “I ain’t stupid, Cervanso. Course we’ve got a fuckin’ plan.”
That’s a relief, at least. “Going to tell me what it is?”
For a moment she thought he’d refuse, just to be contrary. It’d be well within his idiom, after all, and she was technically pushing her luck just a little with this line of questioning. But he looked around the alleyway, lowered his voice, and said “Takin’ it t’one of Archer’s friends. Name of Verist. Apparently he’s some sort of fuckin’ expert on these things. Archer reckons he should be able t’help.”
“I’ll say!” Mortimer interjected. “He’s probably the foremost expert on pre-Fall artefacts in the city, if not the continent.”
“Ain’t anyone ever told you it’s rude t’listen in on other folks’ conversations?” Sabbat retorted. And, before Viola could even begin to process the sheer incongruity of him telling someone else they were being rude, he added “An’ how the hells d’you know that, anyhow?”
Mortimer sighed. “Because he’s my father.”
“-and then I came here,” Fest finished. He chewed his lip, staring down at the toes of his boots (mostly because it was better than looking Archer in the face). “I’m sorry, sir. I should have done better.”
Archer sighed. “Apology accepted, Mr Fest. Though I hardly think you’ve done much that needs apologising for, if I’m honest. If anything, I should be the one apologising to you.”
“I should have found a way to ward you against that woman. We knew that she was going to be there, and we knew that she knew you would be there – sending you into that mess without any kind of protection was irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst.”
This was… not how Fest had expected this conversation to go. In fact, when he’d been playing over the possibilities in his head on the way to Archer’s rooms, this scenario hadn’t even come up. He’d expected to be shouted at or, at the very least, given the kind of dressing down usually reserved for failed tests or missed lessons. This was new and, honestly, rather disconcerting.
“I thought you said the Order hadn’t found a way to deal with her sorcery yet, sir, and I’m pretty sure you said they- you’d been working on it for years. I don’t see how you could have discovered one in a couple of weeks.”
That actually got a laugh out of the older vampire – as Fest looked up at him, he leaned back in his chair, linked his hands behind his head, and smiled wearily. “A touch, a veritable touch! You’re not wrong – Miss Foreval’s magic has managed to defeat all our efforts to counter it so far – but you’re also not getting out of my attempt to absolve you of blame that easily. Besides, you managed to get out of there with your skin intact, which I’d classify as a fairly significant victory.”
I suppose that’s true. It certainly doesn’t feel like it. He looked down at his boots again, focusing on the scratches and scuffmarks on the toes. Should’ve put indoor boots on when I got in here. I’m probably ruining his rugs.
I’m probably about to ruin a lot more. “I- I’m really sorry, but I don’t know where the others are, sir. I saw Viola in there – at least, I think I did – but I don’t know where she is now, and I don’t know where Sabbat is, and-”
What? “What? I mean- you do?”
“You came here on your own, Mr Fest. That does somewhat argue for your having lost track of the other members of your party.”
“Have you seen Miss Cervanso fight?”
He hadn’t. “Er. No.”
“I have. She’s very well able to take care of herself. And Sabbat… is Sabbat. I’ll be honest, I would be rather more worried for any Sinnlenst who happened to get in either of their ways.”
And that would be more reassuring if I couldn’t hear the fact that you’re more worried than you’re letting on. The older vampire was a good liar, but Fest was equally good at spotting anxiety – he had a fair amount of first-hand experience, after all. “Is there anything you need me to do, sir? If I can-”
“What you can do is stop calling me ‘sir’. I’m not your professor, your commanding officer, or your father, and this isn’t a formal debrief.” He paused, then said, rather more quietly, “I would also appreciate it if you took a bath. I’ll find you some spare clothes.”
“I already washed this evening-” Fest began. Then he looked down at his shirt, and the rust-brown stains smeared across the front and arms. “Ah. Sorry. I forgot.”
“Evidently,” Archer said. He stood up, motioning for Fest to do likewise. “I dislike rushing my guests, but I dislike unexpected blood in my living room a good deal more.”
This evening could be going a damn sight better.
It was hardly evening any more – another few hours and the first bells would be going for the start of the working day – but Archer wasn’t entirely ready to call it the morning yet either. For one thing, ‘morning’ would mean that Sabbat had been gone all night.
Which is something he does frequently, and is usually no worse the wear for. You’re overreacting.
Given the last time they’d spoken had been just before the assassin had set off to infiltrate the Sinnlenst headquarters (while wounded, and carrying a pre-Fall artefact with powers neither of them had any idea of the full extent of, incidentally), worry at this point was hardly an overreaction, no matter what the more logical part of his brain might have to say on the issue.
Having arguments with himself, however, might well be. At the very least, it was a sign that he wasn’t coping nearly as well with the current situation as he could have hoped.
He and Viola can both look after themselves. They’ll be fine.
He really wished he could believe that.
On the other side of the bathroom door, soft splashing noises and the occasional muttered ‘Oh blast’ suggested that his guest was making full use of the facilities. All the better – while the blood on the younger vampire’s shirt and skin had been dried enough that it hadn’t smelled particularly strong, it had also very definitely been human.
A fact I am not going to share with my young colleague. The boy’s been through enough tonight without having to reckon with that. Again.
He opened the door of the linen cupboard, fishing out a clean shirt, an old waistcoat, and a pair of trousers that, while faded, were still perfectly serviceable. Fest was smaller and slimmer than he was, but not by much – in fact, the borrowed clothes would likely fit better than the ones he’d been wearing, given those seemed to have been bought for him by someone who assumed he was a good three inches shorter.
Either a parent or an older sibling, unless I miss my guess. The gods know I’m still surprised by how tall some of my cousins have ended up.
Thinking of cousins made him think of Ira, which was another mental alleyway he didn’t particularly want to walk down right now. Ten years of no contact, and then tonight of all nights?
When all this is over, I am going to sit down, pour myself a very stiff drink, and then allow myself to have feelings about that particular decision.
Truth be told, he was tempted to sit down and pour himself a drink now. Short of going out and looking for Sabbat and Viola (which would mean leaving Fest on his own and, quite apart from that, was a bloody stupid idea with a very low probability of success), there was nothing he could do until the two of them either returned or sent word.
And if they don’t?
Easy enough. Check the Daggers, check the Luciels’ place, and then work from there. Gods, I’ll even call in a favour or two with Captain Vkara if I have to, though Sabbat would likely stop speaking to me for a week as a result. This is not an insurmountable problem.
He closed his eye for a moment, willing away the mental image of Sabbat’s body splayed out like Rose’s had been in the snow of the Daggers’ yard.
Then he sighed, left the pile of clean clothes neatly folded by the bathroom door, and went in search of a glass of whiskey.
“What d’you mean, he’s your fuckin’ father?” asked Sabbat, who was coincidentally feeling pretty solidly in need of a drink himself.
“Exactly that,” Mortimer replied. He pulled his hand away from his face, running it through his bristle-short hair distractedly. “Look, it was going to come out sooner or later, and I’d rather not wake up with a slit throat because you – either of you – took exception to me keeping secrets from you.”
Sabbat couldn’t fault him for that, mostly because he probably would’ve slit soldier-boy’s throat if he’d lied to them – or, at the very least, given him a couple of black eyes and a set of busted ribs as a warning. “I’m assumin’ the Sinnlenst know.”
“Unfortunately. I don’t have much of a talent for disguise, so I used my real name when I joined them – easier than making up something fake I’d forget to answer to the moment they’d got me drunk. And, given my ancestry’s something of an open secret among the nobility of the city, it wasn’t long before someone worked it out.”
Cervanso growled. “Amelia said you were Lady Tien’s son, but she told me she didn’t know who your father was. Did you lie to her?”
Mortimer looked embarrassed, though Sabbat couldn’t tell whether that was because Cervanso’d hit on something or because he’d just opened his eyes and been reminded of the fact she was naked. “Not exactly. She never asked, and it’s- Look, given the circles her parents move in, there were even odds that she’d take it on herself to try and make me talk to him or make him talk to me, and that’s… I’d rather that didn’t happen.”
Now that’s sodding interesting. What’re you hiding that you don’t want your da to know, other than the obvious? Blackmail wasn’t Sabbat’s game – he had his standards – but that didn’t mean he didn’t know how much secrets were worth. And how fucking dangerous they can be. You keep shit from us that puts Archer in danger, you’ll wish I slit your fucking throat.
He wasn’t entirely sure where that thought had come from – Archer could take care of himself, after all, even if he was too fucking much of a ‘gentleman’ to fight properly half the time – but he had to admit, it felt right even so. Hells, the thought of anyone hurting Archer, even if it wouldn’t stick…
Mine. Mine, and if anyone lays so much as a fucking finger on him, I’ll kill them.
Cervanso was staring at him. So was Mortimer.
He looked down.
Then, very slowly, very deliberately, he loosened his grip on his razor, folded it closed and slipped it back into his pocket.
Cervanso blew out a breath. “Long night.”
“I’m assuming you’re not going to attack me. Or Mortimer.”
“‘s a fair assumption.” He wasn’t quite sure how the blade had ended up in his hand, but he was fucking certain he’d not have actually gone for either of ‘em unless they’d given him cause. Fairly fucking certain, anyhow.
“Good.” She shrugged her shoulders, shaking out her hackles. “There anything else we need to talk about before we head off? You’re on edge enough to be drawing steel on us, I want to get home, and Mortimer’s probably going to spontaneously combust if he has to be on the same plane of existence as a naked woman for another ten minutes.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake! Just because I happen to think there’s a time and a place for getting your damn kit off!”
“Sodding humans. That’s your cultural hangup, not mine.”
I want a damn drink. A drink, a cigarette, and a hit of Smoke, and like hells I’m getting the last of those any time soon.
He’d left his cigarette case and his hipflask back at the Daggers, a decision he was starting to bitterly regret. Archer’d have liquor, at least, even if he didn’t have any tobacco to hand, and he might even be persuaded to hand over a slug of laudanum.
Least it’d stop the dreams.
“The two o’ you want t’keep standin’ in an alleyway yellin’ at each other ‘til sunup, I ain’t stoppin’ you. But I ain’t stickin’ around t’keep watch.”
“Fair,” Cervanso said. She held out a hand. “Thanks for your help back there.”
Sabbat spat on his palm, then clasped hands with her, noticing approvingly that she didn’t flinch back from the contact. Knew she was the right sort, even if she ain’t one of the Right People. “Figure I owed you for that alleyway back in Old Town. Makes us even.”
She grinned. “‘til I save your life again.”
He felt the unfrozen corner of his own mouth twisting up in answer. “An’ who’s t’say it ain’t goin’ t’be you needin’ savin’ next time?”
“Depends on who Caine decides he wants dead more.” The grin slipped. “I’m not telling you to stay safe – mostly on account of the fact I reckon you’d deck me if I tried – but for the sake of all my ancestors, will you promise to watch your back for the next few days? That… thing smells wrong.”
He wasn’t about to disagree with her on that point. “I ain’t makin’ promises. Not t’you, not to anyone. But aye, I’ll keep an eye out. More’n I usually do, anyhow.”
“And tell Archer I said hello.”
He laughed. “Y’can tell him y’self. He’s goin’ t’want another bloody war council.”
“Honestly, I want a damn war council. We need to work out what the hells happened back there.”
“If my cover’s not completely blown, I can probably get at least some answers on that front,” Mortimer offered. He winced. “Of course, finding out whether it is blown or not is going to be fun.”
Cervanso looked like she wanted to offer some kind of help. More fool her. Far as Sabbat was concerned, if soldier-boy wanted to join the Order this was sink or swim.
Then again, they’d as good as taken Archer’s brat in with no test – though he was a sorcerer, which muddied the waters. And Mortimer hadn’t played ‘em false so far, and he’d had plenty of opportunities to.
“If you’re fixin’ a meetin’ with any of ‘em, tell Cervanso.”
The werewolf nodded. “Either I can come along with and provide muscle, or I can get someone from the Order to keep watch from the shadows. Or both.”
“Might well take you up on that,” Mortimer said, immediately going up in Sabbat’s estimation as a result. “Besides, if my cover’s intact, showing up with me might help bolster yours.”
“Good point. Though given you and Avebury aren’t exactly best of friends-” She cut herself off. “Dammit, we’ll talk through the specifics later. For now – Mortimer, you wait and I’ll shift and walk back with you. Sabbat, I’ll see you…?”
“Whenever Archer calls that fuckin’ council. ‘f somethin’ comes up before, I’ll send word wi’ Radish.”
“Radish?” Mortimer again.
“A mutual friend,” Cervanso said, with an inflection that implied it wasn’t up for discussion. She turned back to Sabbat. “See you around.”
“Likewise.” He’d never been much for goodbyes – never been much for social niceties in general – and the damn conversation had already dragged on too long by half. On the other hand, the fact that someone other than Archer apparently actually gave a shit whether he lived or died was worth something, at least. “An’ Cervanso?”
“Watch your own back, will y’? Be a fuckin’ shame t’lose someone who can hit as hard as you.”
She laughed. “Will do.”
You’d better. He nodded to her, turned on his heel, and, before she could say anything else that’d pull him back into the conversation, set off back down the alleyway.
Archer, drink, cigarettes, and then home. And then I’ll let myself care about what the fuck is going on with that fucking box.
Well, that leaves two of us, Viola thought.
She stretched, mouth opening in a jaw-crackingly wide yawn as she did so, and turned to face the newest member of their conspiracy. “Well? Anything else you want to talk through before I go back to four legs and fur?”
Mortimer sighed. “Look. We clearly got off on the wrong foot with the whole…” He gestured vaguely in her direction (and got surprisingly close for someone who had his eyes very firmly shut again). “…situation. I’m sorry for being an ass.”
“Apology accepted, even if it’s just because this is clearly a hell of a lot more awkward for you than it is for me.” She wasn’t about to return it, of course – sod apologising for being what she was – but the fact he’d actually said it meant a lot. “And I was serious. We just dropped you in the deepest part of a sodding deep lake. You’re allowed to want to know what in the hells is going on.”
“I do. But we’re also standing in the middle of a snowstorm in the middle of an alleyway in the middle of the night-”
“Hardly. Sunup’s only a few hours away at this point.”
“And that’s pedantry. Point is, this doesn’t seem like the time or the place to start having in-depth debriefs.”
She had to admit, he had a point. Especially since, unlike werewolves, humans actually felt the cold. And I definitely didn’t forget that until just now. Spirits, you’d think growing up with a human almost-sister would’ve taught me to remember how bloody fragile they are sometimes. “You’re right. Tomorrow?”
“I know a coffeehouse just down the way from my lodgings. It’s not fancy, but it’s clean enough and there’re a couple of private rooms set aside for, as far as I can tell, exactly the kind of conversation this is going to end up being.”
“Sounds good. Do you know who runs it?”
“Not the Sinnlenst, if that’s what you’re asking. Vampire lady, calls herself Lily but most everyone I’ve spoken to reckons that’s not her real name. She used to spy for the rebels during the Revolution, back when she was still working as a servant up at one of the houses just by the palace gate.”
“I know the one you mean.” She’d never actually been into the coffeehouse proper, but she’d played bodyguard for a couple of meetings that’d happened in the rented house next door about four years ago, and Lily had brought over coffee and pastries to keep the talk flowing smoothly more than a few times over the course of the night. “Curvy older yellow-eye with silver streaks at her temples and a scar right on the bridge of her nose, right?”
“That’s the one.”
“She’s good people. There at midday?”
He shook his head. “Gods, let me get some sleep first. Five?”
“No good, I’ll need to help Amelia get ready for dinner. Split the difference at three?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Speaking of Amelia, do you still want to come back with me? I reckon I can probably get the two of you a few moments alone before the rest of the house wakes up.”
He flushed. “That would be- I’d be in your debt.”
“Bullshit. Better that than her trying to find her way to your rooms again.” Her leg twinged, and she reached down, rubbing at the still-healing scar. “Why were those bastards using treated shot, anyhow?”
“I don’t know – and before you ask, no, I didn’t have anything to do with whoever hired them. I’m assuming it was Tyburn, but I’ve not asked him yet.”
“And you’ll not be able to.” She straightened up. “Avebury’s pet saw to that.”
The flush drained from his cheeks as quickly as it had arrived, leaving cold greyness in its wake. “Hellfire. That-”
“Yes.” And, because it seemed like the right thing to say, “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. He was a bastard Sinnlenst, but he seemed like a better one than most.”
“He probably killed at least one of your friends. And I’m fairly bloody sure he orchestrated that attack on Avebury that got you shot.”
“And I’m not saying I wouldn’t have killed him myself. But he didn’t deserve to go out like that.”
“No. No, he didn’t.” He swallowed hard. “We should get moving.”
“We should. Give me a minute to shift back.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
That’s for sure. She turned her back on him, heading back to the convenient snowbank she’d shifted behind when she’d gone into twolegs form. And then we can finally go home.
[START (SERIES) – Blood on the Snow: Chapter 1]
[Author’s note: this is NaNoWriMo 2020 content – I apologise for the likely increased number of typos]
Copyright © 2021 by Finn McLellan. All rights reserved.
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