Silver in the Ashes: Chapter 4 (draft)

Sabbat woke up choking.

He’d been dreaming again – an endless plain of dark water, shot through with spiralling silver staircases twisting upward into nothingness that never seemed to get any shorter no matter how many stairs he climbed. He’d tried to stop walking, but his feet hadn’t seemed to want to listen to him, and when he’d finally wrenched back enough control to drag himself to the side and get one leg over the bannister, something had looped around his throat from behind and tightened suddenly, cutting off his breathing as he scrabbled desperately for a handhold on metal that suddenly had all the slippery smoothness of a blood-soaked blade.

He gasped, drawing lungfuls of cool, spice-scented air until, finally, his breathing settled into something close to normal and he was able to roll over onto his back, one hand going instinctively to his razor while the other, half-unwillingly, landed on the lid of the box resting on the bedside table. It didn’t move under his touch this time, thank fuck, but there was an unsettling warmth to it, as though it’d been lying in full summer sun for a couple of hours rather than in a dark room in the depths of winter.

Fuck this.

He wanted the sixdamn thing gone. Even the lack of pain wasn’t worth this.

Still ain’t letting Archer burn it, though. Least until we know how the fuck to break that binding. Otherwise I’m fairly fucking certain that doesn’t end anywhere good.

Problem was, none of the paths he could see out of this ended anywhere fucking good. Closest to a workable solution was Archer’s friend somehow finding a way to break the binding and destroy the box, and even then he’d likely end up laid up for a month once the injuries Caine’d inflicted on him reasserted themselves.

Fuck that. Fuck this whole fucking situation.

He sat up, hissing out a breath as a jolt of pain shot through his spine, and glared irritably around the room. Unlike his own approach to his garrett back at the Daggers, Archer’d taken the time to decorate his lodgings, which meant the walls were hung with a mixture of tapestries, blankets and paintings – pretty much all of ‘em either religious iconography or seascapes, though there were a couple of paintings that Sabbat reckoned must be landscapes of Efir (either that or they’d been painted by someone who couldn’t colour snow properly and couldn’t draw a tree to save their life).

Add the shrine and incense burner in the corner, the bookshelves taking up half the rest of the available space, and the fencing training dummy fixed to one wall and you got a fairly fucking good summation of Archer as a whole. What you didn’t get was a place you could smoke – or, at least, a place you could smoke and not get glared at for it.

Speaking of smoke…

He’d have to get back to the Daggers tonight, whatever happened. Archer’d already said he wouldn’t have him using Smoke here – and, given it was his sodding rooms, that was fair enough – which meant if he wanted a hit any time soon, he’d either need to get home or go visit a den.

And like fuck I’m going to a den with a fucking pre-Fall artefact in my pocket. Might as well carry your damn coin-purse on your belt.

He sat up, drawing the blankets tighter around his chest as the cold bit into his bare shoulders. He’d gone to bed in his underclothes after the bath, not having had the energy or the strength to get properly dressed again, and while Archer’s rooms were heated the bedroom was still too cold to be sitting around in just a layer of linen for more than a few minutes.

Swear I used to be better at dealing with the cold than this. If it’s that fucking box…

Nothing he could do about it either way, anyhow.

He’d left the clothes Archer’d brought for him in a heap by the door, but somehow, while he was asleep, they’d migrated to the top of the chest at the foot of the bed. Given they’d also apparently refolded themselves in the process, he suspected Archer had come in to check on him – and, when he pulled the shirt off the top of the pile and shook it out, the folded piece of paper which fell out from inside it pretty much confirmed his suspicions.

Tea in the main room when you feel up to it. Had a message from Viola Cervanso – she’s apparently doing well. She says you saved her life.

Nothing urgent so far from anyone in the Order, so take as much time as you need. I don’t have any plans tonight.


P.S. Fest’s still here – the boy’s been through a lot, so I thought it best to let him stay a while and get his bearings again.’

Tea actually sounded good. Tea with company, less so, but the red-eye brat was likely scared enough of him that he’d not try anything – and, if he did, Sabbat could deal with him easily enough.

He pulled the shirt on over his head, having a brief argument with the buttons on the way (why Archer insisted on buttoned shirts he’d never understand. Lacing just worked better), and, after a brief pause to swear viciously as his back spasmed again, managed to get the rest of the borrowed clothes on. The sleeves and trouser-legs were too long – hardly surprising given Archer was a head taller than him – but, once he’d rolled the shirtsleeves to his elbows and folded the cuffs of the trousers up inside the boots (one of his own old pairs of indoor boots, which he’d completely forgotten he’d left here), the fit wasn’t too bad.

The clothes smelled faintly of Archer’s cologne. If Sabbat was entirely honest with himself, it was a far more comforting smell than it had any right to be.

Fuck. I’m on edge on account of the damn box. That’s all.

But between that and the way he’d felt when Cervanso’d borrowed Archer’s shirt, and the way Archer’d sounded when he’d walked in on him in the bath…

Something was definitely up. He just had no fucking idea what he was supposed to do about it.

Ignore it until it fucks off back to wherever it came from. That sounds like a good plan.

He finished doing up the fastenings on his waistcoat, slipped the box and his razor into his pockets, and went in search of tea and distractions.


“Ettin’s Principle?”

“Close, but no. Ettin’s Principle governs the amount of power which can be used in a working. The law which governs the movement of magic over running water is…?”

Fest squeezed his eyes shut, trying to call back scattered memories of a lecture from half a term ago. “Vorinsson’s Law?”

“Correct. Otherwise known as…?”

“The…” Gods dammit, I know this. Half an hour in, Professor Skerra writing on the board, ‘all magicians must ensure their workings abide by the…’ Hang on a second! I know this!  He opened his eyes, jumped to his feet, and all but yelled “The Principle of Elemental Separation On The Material Plane!”

“Excellent,” Archer said. He sat back in his chair and smiled. “We’ll make a master magician of you yet.”

“Gettin’ ahead of y’self a bit, ain’t you?” Sabbat said, from the doorway. He leaned against the doorframe, eyeing the two of them sardonically. “‘s more to it than memorisin’ a whole pile o’ fancy terms, y’know.”

“Indeed. Though when it comes to passing his next set of exams, ‘memorising a whole pile of fancy terms’ is exactly what Mr Fest needs to do,” Archer replied. “I’m glad to see you on your feet again.”

So, though he’d not admit it, was Fest. If for no other reason than he was pretty certain that Archer wouldn’t be nearly as friendly if Sabbat had actually ended up badly hurt or worse. “Good afternoon,” he ventured.

“Afternoon,” the assassin replied, with the barest hint of acknowledgement. He turned back to Archer. “Y’said there was tea.”

“The samovar’s on the table. Help yourself.”

Sabbat nodded, heading across to snag himself a glass of tea and, to Fest’s complete lack of surprise, a hefty portion of the remnants of lunch.

I wondered if that was why Archer was leaving the plates out. Especially since Sabbat wasn’t awake for breakfast either.

For a brief moment Fest thought the assassin might try to take his chair, as a power-play if nothing else, but he seemed to change his mind mid-stride, settling for slouching on the window seat and balancing his plate and mug precariously on a pile of books.

“I miss anythin’ other’n you decidin’ t’play at bein’ a professor?” he said after a while, around a mouthful of chicken.

Archer shook his head. “Nothing other than what I told you in the letter. We seem to have been extraordinarily lucky, all things considered.”

Fest didn’t feel very lucky. But, then again, he wasn’t privy to all the Order’s dealings – or, in fact, most of them.

Sabbat pulled a face. “Y’know I ain’t goin’ t’slight the Lady, but it ain’t entirely luck. Sinnlenst were too busy killin’ each other t’notice us.”

“Yes, Viola mentioned as much in her letter. I don’t suppose you know any more than she does about exactly what that was about, do you?”

The assassin shook his head. “Cervanso was closer. Best I can do is there bein’ a split between Avebury’s lot an’ another faction who ain’t exactly on board wi’ the fact Avebury an’ Foreval created a Turned – not that they know that’s what Caine is. Second faction’s the ones who were havin’ that row in the middle o’ the street a while back, though they ain’t led by Tyburn any more on account of Caine rippin’ his fuckin’ head off.”

Ripping his head off?!  He’d know, theoretically, that the Turned could do that kind of thing. But there was a difference between knowing something in theory and being told that it had essentially happened right in front of you. Gods, if that thing I saw was Caine…. if he’d caught Viola…


“Sir? I mean, Mr-, I mean, Archer?”

“You don’t look well. What’s wrong?”


“Liar.” Sabbat, from the other side of the room. “Y’look like you’re about t’keel over.”

“I- I’m- If I hadn’t done-” What had he done, when he’d pushed the probable-Caine-thing away from Viola? It was a pretty safe bet it’d been his sorcery, but how? “If I didn’t do what I did when I saw Viola in my dream, I think Caine would have killed her.”

Archer frowned. “I don’t quite follow.”

“I do,” Sabbat said. He got to his feet, tea glass in hand, and eyed Fest with sudden interest. “You’re the one who blew the damn lights out, ain’t you?”

“I… think so?” He couldn’t be sure, but given the way his magic tended to express itself, it was a safe bet. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t really… there.” He gestured helplessly, giving up on trying to describe exactly how it’d felt to be both a part of the world and apart from it at the same time.

Sabbat grinned lopsidedly. “Don’t be. You doin’ that likely saved Cervanso’s hide.” He paused, then added. “An’ y’wrecked the Sinnlenst’s place. Like to see ‘em try replacin’ a whole hall o’ windows an’gaslamps in the middle o’ winter.”

Archer laughed. “I’d not thought of that. They’re going to be freezing for a good long while, I would hope.” He turned to Fest, expression suddenly serious. “Let me be sure I understand, though. You used your innate magic by choice rather than instinctively?”

“Sort of.” He described, as best he could, what had happened – how he’d seen Viola, and the thing chasing her, and how the power had suddenly just been there when he needed it, and all he’d had to do was push.

“Fascinating,” Archer said, when he’d finished. He leaned forward in his chair, steepling his fingers and looking at Fest over the top of them. “I believe that, inadvertently or otherwise, whatever Foreval did to you may have actually gone some way towards helping you control your magic. I can’t tell you exactly how or why – my knowledge of sorcerers is unfortunately lacking when it comes to that kind of detail – but I’d advise you to keep a close eye on any changes you see in the way magic acts around you. It might give us some sort of a clue as to what she did, and whether it’s possible for you – or, indeed, another magician you trust – to harness that in some way and use it to further your own abilities.”

“I can do that,” Fest agreed, mostly because it seemed like the safest thing to say at that point. He wasn’t entirely sure what Archer was implying, but the idea of Lucy having somehow messed around with his sorcery was upsetting in a way he didn’t quite have words for – almost like a violation. He swallowed, looked up at the ceiling, and said, after a moment, “Would Anneke count for a magician I trust?”

“Depends on if you trust ‘em,” Sabbat said, with an eyeroll. “Y’think either of us can tell you that?”

“No, I know what he means,” Archer said. “And so do you. Stop picking on the boy.”  He turned back to Fest. “Yes, Anneke would be an excellent choice. Their expertise is mostly in curses, but from what you’ve told me, they probably have a better idea of what Foreval’s done to you than anyone.”

That was a relief, at least. If Anneke could help fix whatever was wrong with him, he’d not have to explain the whole thing to anyone else. And he’d be able to spend more time with the little priest, which was an added bonus.

Not that I need an excuse to visit them, obviously, but if I’m there on technically-Order business then I don’t have to make up another reason other than ‘I wanted to spend time with you because I enjoy your company and I think you’re the closest I have to a friend right now’.

“I’ll go speak to them tomorrow, then. After I-” He stopped mid-sentence, the words dying on his tongue as a sudden and horribly familiar smell flooded his nostrils. Blood. I can smell blood.

Human blood.

He looked around wildly, trying to find the source of the scent – gods, I hope I’m not hallucinating – and found himself, somewhat unsurprisingly, staring at the only human in the room.

“The fuck’re you lookin’ at me for?” Sabbat growled. “I ain’t gettin’ involved in whatever’s goin’ on wi’ you an’ the priest.”

“I- You-” Fest began, trying to find a way to phrase what he wanted to say that wasn’t ‘you smell like blood’.

“You smell like blood,” said Archer. “More than you normally do.” He stood up, eyeing the other man. “If you’re hiding another damn stab wound from me-”

“Fuck off, Archer. I ain’t-” Sabbat started. Then he scowled, muttered something under his breath, and put a hand to his left forearm.

It came away red.

“The fuck?”

“Sit down,” Archer said. It wasn’t a request.

Sabbat ignored him, staring down at his arm in what looked almost like shock. “That ain’t- What the fuck?”

“Sabbat. Sit down.”

In lieu of an answer, the assassin held his arm out, twisting it so Fest and Archer could both see the inside of his forearm. There were a series of small cuts marking his skin – and, as they watched, another set opened up, lines and curves that almost looked like…

“They’re letters,” Fest breathed. “Oh holy gods. They’re letters.”


“Sit down,” Archer said, again. He didn’t know why he was repeating it – after all, Sabbat hadn’t listened the first two times – but if he focused on getting the other man sat down and bandaged up, then…

Then I don’t have to think about exactly what’s happening right now.

He pulled the first-aid box out from under the medicine cabinet, undoing the lock with the ease of long practice, and pulled out a roll of bandage and a bottle of surgical alcohol. Focus on the fact it’s a wound. Deal with that. The hows and whys and wherefores are not relevant at the moment.

He stood up. He looked across at Sabbat.

Then he damn near dropped both the bandages and the bottle of surgical spirit, because Sabbat had a knife in his hand. “What the hells are you doing?”

“Answerin’,” the assassin replied, almost aggressively reasonably. He pressed the point of the knife against the inside of his arm, under the line of cuts which weren’t – couldn’t be – letters. “Figure it goes both ways, see?”

“No, I don’t see. Put the damn knife down.”

“Some fucker wants t’start sendin’ me messages, I’ll send ‘em one right back.”

“By carving yourself open? No.”

Sabbat shrugged. Then he pressed the blade of the knife into his skin, a bead of bright red tracking the silver as he drew the point through his flesh.

Archer, moving partway through panic and partway through sheer instinct, punched him in the shoulder.

He pulled the blow as much as he could – striking at full strength, he’d easily have broken Sabbat’s arm – but it was still hard enough to send the assassin staggering backwards across the room, the knife dropping from suddenly nerveless fingers.

“Fuckin’ hells, Will! -th’fuck was that for?!”

“For trying to open your arm up when you’re already bleeding, you idiot!” He turned to pick up Sabbat’s knife from the floor, only to find Fest had already grabbed it – the younger vampire held it out to him, hilt-first, with an expression that practically screamed ‘please explain this to me in a way that will make any of this make sense’.

Unfortunately for both Fest and himself, Archer wasn’t entirely sure he could do that.

“Damn near broke my sixdamn shoulder,” the assassin muttered, sullenly. He slumped back onto the windowseat, glaring at the both of them. “An’ y’can stop lookin’ at me like that, the two o’ you. ‘s fine.

It wasn’t, not by any metric. But, equally well, attempting to get Sabbat to admit to being anything less than fine when there was a stranger in the room was destined to fail from the off. He turned to Fest, carefully taking the knife from him, and sighed. “I’m very sorry to have to do this, but-”

The boy was already most of the way out of his chair and grabbing for his borrowed coat, almost pathetically grateful to have been given a chance to escape what was rapidly turning into a likely deeply confusing situation. “I’ll be on my way. If I need to contact you again-”

“Leave a message for me at Baskervilles if you can’t get back here yourself. They’ll send it on. And don’t worry about returning the clothes.”

“Thank you!” And then he was gone, the front door slamming shut behind him as he all but ran down the stairs and out into the snow.

Archer sighed. Then, very carefully and deliberately, he walked over to Sabbat and held out the knife, hilt-first. “Here.”

Sabbat raised an eyebrow at him. “Thought y’didn’t want me cuttin’ on myself.”

“I don’t. But I’m also not keeping your blades from you.”

“Bastard.” He took the knife in his left hand, sliding it awkwardly back into the sheath on his belt, and snarled. “Fuck this whole fuckin’ thing.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Archer said. He reached back, grabbing hold of one of the chairs and dragging it over to a point where he could sit within arm’s reach of the other man. “Let me see your arm.”

The cuts certainly looked like letters, though the sheet of blood coating the assassin’s arm made it almost impossible to discern whatever it was they said – if they said anything at all.

“Here. This is going to sting a little.”

“I ain’t a fuckin’ child, Archer. Get it over with.”

“As you wish.” He swabbed away the worst of the gore, trying to ignore Sabbat’s winces and hisses of discomfort as the alcohol bit at the wounds. The cuts themselves were small and relatively shallow, thank the gods – no arterial bleeding, and no tendon damage – but there were a lot of them and, by the time he’d finished, the assassin had gone more than a little grey around the lips. “Still holding up?”

“‘m fuckin’ fine, Will.”

“Of course you are.”

“An’ don’t fuckin’ patronise me.”

“I’m not. Do you want a drink after this?”

Gods yes,” Sabbat said, with feeling.

“Just let me bandage this, then.” And, because at this point he’d run out of excuses not to, he finally allowed himself to read the message spelled out on the assassin’s skin.


“‘s the sixdamn box,” Sabbat said, after a while. “Got t’be.”

“I’m not about to argue with you,” Archer said. He wound the end of the bandage around Sabbat’s arm, tying it off at the assassin’s wrist, and sat back, wincing as his shoulders protested the change in posture. “Why now, though?”

“Fucked ‘f I know. It’s been actin’ off since the middle o’ the Sinnlenst get-together. Maybe it’s a part o’ that.”

“Maybe,” Archer agreed. “Do you think it’s trying to communicate with you?”

Sabbat scowled. “Could be. Don’t understand why it’d need t’do that, though – ‘s already got the fuckin’ dreams t’work with.”

Yes, and I’m going to need to talk to you about those at some point. “Then what- or, more realistically, who?”

“Again, fucked ‘f I know.” He frowned. “Could be someone else has hold of another one o’ these. Ain’t there s’pposed t’be a whole set of artefacts which’re linked or somesuch?”

“…You’re a genius.”

The assassin blinked at him. “What? What’d I do?”

“Linked artefacts,” Archer said, trying and failing to keep the sudden surge of hope out of his voice. “They’re mentioned in a few of the old pre-Fall texts – mostly in passing, in the fragments we have, but they were definitely in use for multiple centuries prior to the Fall, and in multiple contexts. I highly doubt what you have there is a message box, for example, since I don’t recall any of the ones which have ever been found having healing properties, but if we look at-”

“How d’we stop it?” Sabbat said, cutting him off mid-flow.

He winced. “I don’t know.”

“That goin’ t’happen again?”

“I don’t know.”

“That the most whoever’s got whatever’s linked t’this fuckin’ box can do?”

“I don’t know,” Archer said, for the third time. He sighed. “I’m sorry. My knowledge of these artefacts is patchy and theoretical at best. Verist would likely have more details.”

Sabbat nodded. “We goin’ t’see him, then?”

“Are you feeling up to travelling?”

The assassin grinned humourlessly. “Ain’t as if I got much of a choice. Who’s t’say the next thing the bastard tries won’t be my throat?”

I’d been trying not to think of that possibility. Thank you so much for bringing it up. “True. I’ll need some time to put my affairs in order and arrange for the horses – do you need to go by the Daggers to get anything before we leave?”

“Aye. Meetin’ at Northgate?”

“By the stables? I can do that. Call it eight bells?”

“Sounds good.” He flexed the fingers of his right hand experimentally. “Should be able t’take the rooftops back. Less likely t’run into Sinnlenst that way.”

“Good plan.” He leaned forward, resting the fingertips of his right hand carefully on Sabbat’s bandaged arm for a moment. “Promise me you’re not going to try ‘answering’ that damn message again.”

The unfrozen corner of Sabbat’s mouth twisted upward into a brief sneer. “Y’got some fuckin’ gall askin’ me for a damn oath on that.”

Oh for crying out loud. “Fine. I’m not asking you for a promise. I’m asking you, as a friend, to do me a favour and not injure yourself further when you’re already carrying a damn sight too many wounds for comfort – if for no other reason than if I have to come carry you bodily out of the Daggers because you’ve keeled over from bloodloss it’s going to waste valuable time and I am going to be exceptionally annoyed at the inconvenience. Is that acceptable?”

The assassin gave a short bark of laughter. “It’ll do. Bastard.”

“So you keep saying. My parents are married, you know.”

“Overly fuckin’ literal bastard, at that.” He flashed a quick, lopsided grin. “Alright. I ain’t goin’ t’cut on myself. Promise.”

“Thank you.”

“Y’welcome. An’ din’t you say somethin’ about a drink?”

“I did.” He stood up, crossing to retrieve the tankards and the bottle of Sincha rum from the sideboard. “One more for the road.”

“One more for the road,” Sabbat echoed. He took the proffered tankard, raising it in a toast. “T’the confusion of our enemies.”

“And the ruin of their schemes,” Archer replied, raising his own tankard in answer. And, he added, in the privacy of his own head, to the fervent hope that I’m right about Verist being able to solve this.


[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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