Or, at least, Fest amended, eyeing the mess of scattered herbs and precariously balanced candles, they hadn’t yet.
He hovered in the doorway, trying to work out how best to announce his presence to the priest in a way that wouldn’t cause the entire experiment to go horribly wrong. Coughing might work, though they might also assume that it was just someone walking by. Saying ‘hello’ seemed like a safe bet, though if it caused them to jump and knock something over, that wasn’t exactly going to end well. ‘Excuse me’ might be better, but still carried the same inherent problems. Knocking on the door had similar issues when it came to possibly startling them, and they might also just ignore it as part and parcel of the general noise of the temple.
He was weighing up the benefits of just continuing to stand there and hoping that Anneke noticed him at some point when the figure behind the desk looked up and he stepped backwards in a mixture of alarm and surprise, his hand going automatically to the hilt of his sword.
It certainly looked like Anneke. And it definitely moved like Anneke. But he was pretty damn sure Anneke’s eyes were not that big, or that round, or that disturbingly buglike, and-
And they’re wearing magnifying goggles, and I’m a fool.
“Fest!” the apparition exclaimed, joyfully. “I didn’t know you were coming!” They pushed the goggles up onto their forehead, revealing a pair of familiar (if mildly bloodshot) red eyes, and grinned widely and slightly manically at him. “Did you come to help with the experiment? I could do with an extra pair of hands.”
He hadn’t. But, if it meant distracting himself from the current situation with the Sinnlenst (and, if he was honest, spending more time with Anneke), he was happy to change his plans. Who knew – they might even learn something he could use when it came to the individual projects next year.
“I can certainly try, if you tell me what needs doing,” he said.
“Wonderful!” They waved a hand vaguely in the direction of a set of drawers by the door. “Protective gear’s in there if you want it – I don’t know exactly what this is going to do, so you probably want at least gloves and an apron. Probably some goggles as well, come to think of it, since there’s a lot of glassware in here, but I don’t know if I have a spare pair that don’t have magnifying lenses in. There’s a box of spare lenses in the top drawer, mind, so you could try swapping those out, but I think they might be left over from when this was Pavanne’s workspace, and they don’t use the same maker as I do, so I don’t know if they’ll fit. It’s probably worth trying anyway, though, since-”
“Breathe!” Fest said, trying very hard not to laugh. “I’ll get myself some protective clothing once I’ve put my swordbelt away, I swear. Also, it’s good to see you.”
“You too. I didn’t know if you’d be coming back here any time soon, and I was almost prepared to go to the sodding University to meet up with you. I’m very glad you saved me that, at least.”
“It’s not that bad,” Fest shot back. “And didn’t you say you actually liked the library?”
“I’m pretty sure I said it was too good for them and they didn’t deserve it,” Anneke retorted. “Though I will admit they’ve got a good selection of texts.” They pushed aside one of the stacks of paper on their workbench, very almost knocking over a candle in the process, and pulled out a slim, battered-looking volume. “See this? This is one of the only copies of Ettin’s treatise on metallic resonances I could get my hands on, and it’s missing two of the appendices! Your library has the full copy, and the notes, and the second edition that was never actually published beyond a few test runs because Van Vorin’s text came out the same year and pretty much revolutionised the field and nobody wanted to reference Ettin on the topic any more.”
“I see,” said Fest, who didn’t.
“And as for the bloody apprenticeships,” Anneke went on, warming to their theme. “I don’t see why the University has the right to try and codify a pre-existing arrangement entirely for their own convenience. If a master magician wants to take an apprentice, that should be between them and the apprentice in question, not the University arranging things for their own bloody purposes! Not to mention the fact that an actual apprenticeship is a good deal longer than three months, if you go by the traditional definition. The University only wants it shorter so they can impose their own damn readings rather than letting students understand how to do research on their own.”
Oh gods. In all the chaos, he’d somehow managed to forget the fact that apprenticeship assignments were happening in the next few weeks. And, since he’d failed to turn in half his paperwork, the odds of him being matched with a master magician who actually understood his skills and wasn’t just going to make him do scutwork for twelve weeks were probably upsettingly low. At least I’m not going to end up matched with a Sinnlenst. Probably.
Gods, I hope I don’t end up matched with a Sinnlenst.
“I don’t-” he began, but Anneke was in full flow.
“At least the Order’ll probably try and get you matched up with someone who’s on our side of things, I suppose, though if the University didn’t insist on being involved that’d probably be a lot easier. Apparently they’re sending two apprentices out to each master this year as well, probably because they’ve only got so many who’re willing to sign up to the damn scheme, and it’s not as though-”
“Wait. Two?” He’d apparently missed that part of the lecture. “They’re sending two of us?”
“Apparently. I don’t know if there’s anyone else who’s explicitly part of the Order in your cohort, so I don’t know exactly how that’ll work, but I would assume someone will pull some strings and get you placed with someone who’s at least vaguely sympathetic.” They winced. “Of course, there’s always the possibility that you end up placed with-”
“No. That is not happening.” He’d not even considered the possibility that he might be paired with Avebury – and, now that he had, he was desperate to go back to not considering it even harder, if that was at all possible. “We’ve never worked together on anything, there’d be no reason why anyone would think that pairing us would be a good plan. It’s not going to happen.”
And, if I keep saying that loud enough, it’s going to come true. Right?
He unbuckled his sword-belt, throwing it a little harder than he intended towards the bench in the corner. “Right. Help me find some goggles, and then I’ll come help with your experiment.” And, hopefully, distract you from mentioning the possibility of me having to work with Avebury ever again.
Or, at the very least, until we know it’s not going to happen.
“-and I think we can probably get away with that, if we’re careful,” Amelia said. She leaned back in the chair, fiddling with the ends of the tie on her bodice. “Do you think you could braid my hair this evening? I know it’ll take a while, but if we get it done before the season I can just keep them in and forget about having to comb out every night.”
Viola paused, taking a moment to puzzle through the sudden whiplash topic change. “One: yes, I think we can get away with passing that information, provided we’re ridiculously bloody careful and provided my cover’s not completely shredded. Two: there is no world in which you’re getting proper braids done before dinner. I’m good, but I’m not that good.”
The younger girl laughed. “That’s fair. I think I forget how long it takes when I don’t wear them for a while.”
“Six hours, the last time you wanted all of it braided,” Viola said. “And don’t get me started on those tiny braids you wanted for the garden party last year.” Her fingers had ached for a week after that, though it’d been worth it for the reactions – and the look on Amelia’s face when she’d seen the full effect in the mirror for the first time.
Amelia nodded – then winced as the motion dragged the teeth of the comb against her scalp. “Ow. Sorry. Tomorrow, then.”
“Tomorrow. Hold still for a moment.” She ran the fingers of her free hand gently through the younger girl’s hair, carefully teasing the comb free. “There. There you go.”
“Thank you. I promise I don’t want the garden party braids again, if that helps?” She paused. “Though… do you think we could find a way to hide lockpicks in my hair, the way you do with your braid? I know it’s a different texture, but I bet we could work out a way to do it.”
Viola considered the idea for a moment. It wasn’t impossible, but it was going to take a good deal more experimentation than she currently had the brain for. “If you’re willing to spend the entire day on it tomorrow, I can probably work something out. Though you’ll have to promise me something.” And if you and I were any other lady and any other maid, that might be a position-ending sentence right there.
“Anything,” said Amelia, leaning her head back into Viola’s careful touches. “Do you want me to keep practicing my self-defence? Or learn to throw actual throwing knives?” She dropped a hand to the secret drawer in her dressing table. “I found some in Mama’s things, and she said I was allowed to borrow them, so I’ve got plenty for practicing with.”
Lady Luciel’s collection of weaponry had long since ceased to surprise Viola, though the throwing knives were a new one on her. She shook her head, then remembered that Amelia probably wasn’t looking in the mirror at the moment and clarified “No. I want you to promise me that you’ll actually practice your lockpicking more than once every six months or so, if we do this. There’s no point you carrying around picks you can’t use.”
“I could always ask someone else to help me,” Amelia said, with an air of utterly over-the-top saccharine innocence. “I’m sure there are plenty of utterly wonderful people in the city who just so happen to know how to pick locks and would love to help a poor little rich girl who’s been kidnapped by evil cultists or… whoever.”
“Relax, I’m teasing. I’ll practice every night if you want.” She reached up, resting her fingers briefly on Viola’s hand. “Thank you. I do appreciate all the things you teach me, even if I’m occasionally terrible at remembering to keep up with practicing after the lessons.”
“You’re very welcome. And hey, every time I teach you how to defend yourself better I’m making less work for myself.”
“True,” Amelia said, grinning. “I’d like to see half the others manage to fight off an Old Town gang, for a start.”
‘Fight off’ was a rather grand description of what Amelia had actually done during the fight, as far as Viola was concerned. On the other hand, the younger girl had acquitted herself bloody well for someone who’d barely ever been in a scrap before, and the fact that she’d had the presence of mind to get herself most of the way out of danger was a testament both to her cool-headedness and to the amount of attention she’d been paying to her lessons over the years.
“You did well,” she said, and had the satisfaction of seeing the younger girl practically glow for a second in reaction to the praise. “Though we were lucky that they weren’t after you. It wouldn’t have been half as easy if they’d actually known who you were.”
Amelia started to nod, caught herself and said “Yes. They were after Avebury, weren’t they?”
“Internal Sinnlenst politics,” Viola confirmed. “We just happened to get caught in the crossfire.” And, as the memory sparked a reminder, “And why did you say Sabbat was my boyfriend, anyhow?”
“It seemed the easiest way to explain what he was doing there,” Amelia said, though she had the good grace to blush as she said it. “Sorry. If it helps, I think he’s about as interested in you as you are in him.”
“Yes, I got that impression.” Mostly because I’m pretty damn certain he and Archer are a couple. Or, if they’re not, they should be. “How do you know?”
“I don’t. But he and Lord-Captain Archer are very close – and have you ever seen the Lord-Captain walking out with anyone?”
“No.” And this is getting a damn sight too close to speculating on someone else’s lovelife. Which is fine in the privacy of my own head, admittedly, but out loud? “But I don’t know every detail of his life – or Sabbat’s – and neither do you. I think you’ve been reading too many romance novels.”
Amelia laughed. “Maybe. I still don’t think Sabbat’s interested in you that way, at least, so you don’t need to worry about him getting ideas.”
“Your face says otherwise.”
“My face says that the last thing I need is the bloody Sinnlenst – and especially Adam sodding Avebury – assuming we’re together.”
“True. Though if they try and attack him to get to you…”
“Then that’d be sodding hilarious, I grant you.” Up until Archer rips my head off for putting Sabbat in danger, at least. “Back to the politics, though-”
“Harry told me about this,” Amelia interrupted, eyes bright. “There’re two main factions within the younger set of Sinnlenst members – Avebury’s firebrands, who’re all for taking the war to us and using magic against us, and Tyburn’s lot, who think Avebury’s people are dangerous and that their use of magic will only lead to them becoming everything the Sinnlenst fight against. Oh, and they think Avebury’s probably going to blow his fool head off one of these days trying some sort of ritual that’s too big for him, only they’re worried he’s going to take the rest of the Sinnlenst down with him when he does.” She paused. “Does that sound about right?”
Worryingly so. “Why did he tell you all that?”
“Oh. I told him I was part of the Order.”
“Don’t you see? It makes perfect sense.” She turned around on her chair, fixing Viola with a glittering smile. “If he’s not lying to me, then he’s going to be part of the Order anyway, so he might as well know that he’s not going to have to hide anything from his future wife. If he is – which he isn’t – then we’re just adding more fuel to the fire when it comes to the story that you and Fest are going to be spinning about me being part of the Order without my parents’ knowledge. It’s brilliant!”
“It’s a headache,” Viola said, irritably. “And it’s getting you even more involved in this mess.”
“More involved than I already am when we’ve arranged for you to pretend to sell me out? Vi, I know you want to protect me, but that’s ridiculous”
“That’s not the same.”
“Yes, it is.”
“I don’t-” She sighed, trying to find a way of phrasing her discomfort which wasn’t going to come across as ‘I’m upset you didn’t talk to me before you revealed your membership of a secret society to your fiance’. “Look, ‘melia, I-”
There was a knock on the bedroom door.
“Come in!” Amelia called, shooting a look at Viola which made it quite clear that the discussion wasn’t over.
Seb pushed the door open and bowed, irritatingly politely as far as Viola was concerned. “A message for you, Viola.”
Oh spirits, what now? “Do I need to come down?”
“No. It’s a note.”
He handed it across to her – she took it, broke the (thankfully red) seal, unfolded it, and then stared at the words in blank incomprehension for a second.
The note was from Archer, that much would have been clear even if he’d not used his signet ring to seal it. It was also, as with his last missive, surprisingly short.
S and I are leaving town tonight. Don’t know when we’ll be back. Hopefully soon, but outlook unclear at present.
Leave anything that can wait at my rooms. Anything that can’t, send or bring to us.
Location to follow.
P.S. Keep an eye on our mutual friend for me. He’s had a rough few days.’
“What in the name of all the Ancestors am I supposed to do with that?” she said, out loud.
“What do you mean?” Amelia said. She reached out for the note. “May I?”
“Be my guest,” said Viola, handing it over. “I can’t make head nor tail of most of this, and what I can make out, I don’t like.”
The younger girl scanned the paper for a second, frowning, then folded it and handed it back. “I see what you mean.”
“It stinks of Sinnlenst. But I don’t see why they’d leave the city over anything those bastards could be doing – if anything, they’d be in more danger away from the rest of the Order.” She twisted the end of her braid around her fingers, thinking furiously. “Which means they’re going off for a purpose, not just to get out of the line of fire. Though if that’s the case, why not bloody tell me where you’re going?”
“In case the Sinnlenst intercept the message,” Seb pointed out. “As you just said, they’re in more danger outside the city than they are inside the walls.”
“Fair.” Should’ve thought of that. You’re letting your heart rule your head again. “But… spirits and ancestors, what’s so damn urgent that they need to leave tonight?”
Amelia shook her head. “I don’t know. Though, if they’re leaving tonight and he wants anything that can’t wait sent or brought, they’re probably not going all that far. You could always go and ask them.”
That’s… not actually a terrible idea. Though, depending on what’s actually going on, I might well be walking into something that’s a whole lot bigger than I know. She twisted the end of her braid again, tugging on it irritably. Why can’t anyone in this secret society just say what they bloody mean? It’d make my life a damn sight easier.
At that particular moment, Harry Mortimer was also wishing for something to make his life easier – specifically, a better mental map of Old Town than he currently possessed.
He’d left the coffeehouse a half hour or so after Viola had, but hadn’t wanted to go straight back to his rooms – something about the idea of spending the rest of the evening either cleaning and polishing his kit or re-reading one of his meagre pile of paperbacks hadn’t exactly been appealing to him after an afternoon in good company – so he’d taken the opportunity to take a wander through the tangle of backstreets and alleyways that made up that end of Old Town, letting his feet take him where they would and not paying much attention to the few street signs which had yet to be torn down or papered over with posters advertising the local taverns and entertainments.
The upshot of which, other than sore feet and a new appreciation for exactly how far back some of the side-streets extended into the rock of the city itself, was that he was now a hell of a lot more lost than he’d have liked.
This wasn’t an insurmountable problem: even the back-alleys weren’t impossible to navigate if you kept your head and had a fairly good memory for which side-streets you’d already been down. It was, however, the kind of problem you really didn’t need when you were tired, cold, and, to take an utterly random example with no resonances with his own life whatsoever, missing both your sword and your sword-arm.
I’m obviously not sodding rich. There’s no profit in rolling me for anything except my damn boots, and even those’re starting to leak.
Which was fine and logical, except for the part where being rolled for your coin purse and your sword wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to you in the city, let alone in Old Town.
And let’s not forget all those newspaper headlines about exsanguinated corpses while we’re about it. Even if all of them were Caine – and gods, that’s not something I want to be thinking about right now – who’s to say he’s not out hunting tonight?
He pulled his coat tighter around his shoulders, a sudden chill that had very little to do with the weather running up his spine.
Gods. That’s not a good thought to be carrying at the moment.
If Caine was out hunting, he’d likely see him coming, at least. The thing he’d seen in the ballroom hadn’t looked anywhere near small enough to hide with any degree of success, and he’d got pretty damn good at spotting ambushes back at the border.
Of course, seeing him coming wasn’t going to do a blind bit of good if he couldn’t fight the bastard off. Or, he supposed, run like hells and hope to all the gods he was faster than… whatever Caine was now.
“Sod this,” he said, out loud.
It helped, a little.
“Sod this for a game of soldiers, no bloody pun intended. I refuse to spend the evening looking over my damn shoulder for someone who’s likely not even in the sodding quarter. And you can put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
“Talking to yourself, Harry?”
He whirled around, hand going to the hilt of his knife. “Avebury?”
“The same,” the younger man said. He bowed, mockingly low, and smiled. “What a coincidence, finding you here.”
“I could say the same. What do you want?”
“Now, is that any way to greet a friend?”
“You’re not my sodding friend, Adam. You and I both know that, so you can drop the damn act.”
Avebury’s smile widened, though his eyes stayed cold. “Oh, Harry. You and I both know that that doesn’t end anywhere good. And besides, I’m not threatening you.”
“Of course you’re not,” Mortimer said, keeping his hand firmly on his knife. “What. Do. You. Want?”
“A friendly discussion. A… ceasefire, of sorts.” He paused. “And to know exactly what it is you want with Miss Viola Cervanso.”
Shit. “What do you mean?”
“Exactly what I said.” He leaned against the wall of the alleyway, pushed his glasses back up his nose, and began enumerating points on his fingers. “First – Johann’s dead. That does rather put a damper on your little rebellion before it’s begun, wouldn’t you say? Second – as you so rightly surmised, I have a monster on my side. I make no apologies for that.”
“Of course you don’t.”
“Unhelpful. I am trying to explain your position.”
“I know my position perfectly bloody well, thanks. This is the part where you say ‘behave or I’ll have my monster kill more of your people’, isn’t it?”
“You’re a quick learner. Oh, and before you try running to our elders and betters, I’d advise you to consider one thing.”
“Which is?” Mortimer asked, and hated himself a little for doing so.
“They know. And, furthermore, they are fully behind my plans.”
Translation: ‘I had Caine murder everyone who wasn’t.’ Fuck. “Thank you for the information,” he said, out loud.
“You’re quite welcome. And, again, I’d ask what it is that you want with Miss Cervanso.”
Shit, Mortimer thought, again. Out loud, he said “Again, what do you mean? I’ve talked to the woman all of a couple of times – I don’t ‘want’ anything with her. Other than possibly a pint.”
“Good,” Avebury said. “See that you keep it that way.” He folded his arms, wincing slightly as he did so, and locked eyes with Mortimer. “I don’t take kindly to poachers.”
‘Poachers’? Oh hellfire. “She doesn’t sodding belong to you, Adam. She’s her own person.”
Avebury scoffed. “Please, do me the credit of assuming I have some semblance of honour. And taste.”
Mortimer’s hand tightened on the hilt of his knife – partially because it was either that or punch Avebury square in the jaw. “What’s your problem, then? Aside from being you, since that’s a sodding given.”
“Miss Cervanso is my recruit. And, despite her obvious disadvantages, she has a very great deal of potential. I will not see it squandered by your ragtag uprising.”
That… was not what I was expecting. And, if he was right, it was also confirmation that both their covers were, so far, intact. Either that or Avebury was playing him – which, if he was honest, was equally as likely. “So you’re staking a claim for her loyalty?”
“I’m telling you to step away from attempting to recruit her into your doomed crusade.” He smiled. “After all, exsanguination is a terrible way to die.”
And you’d know, wouldn’t you? Mortimer thought, the image of Tyburn’s bloodied face flashing suddenly into his mind. He swallowed hard, pushing back the memory before it could overwhelm him. Deal with that later. No showing weakness in front of the enemy. “I thought you said you weren’t threatening me.”
“I’m merely making an observation.”
“Right. Here’s another one for you – it’s late, I’m tired, and you’re wasting my time. Did you have anything else you wanted to say, or are we done here?”
“Harry. I’m only trying to help.”
“No. You’re not.” And I’m too tired to play this game any more. “You’re in love with the sound of your own voice, you think you’re a damn sight cleverer than you actually are, and-”
“And you’re stepping dangerously close to the edge of something that doesn’t concern you,” Avebury snapped. He pushed away from the wall, straightening up to his full height. “I’m not threatening you, Mortimer. I’m warning you. Tyburn’s dead. Cervanso is mine. Your little rebellion is doomed before it even begins. And you are still walking because I want you to be. That can change.”
I could gut him right here and now. Put a knife in his belly before he even knows what’s what. Do the whole damn city a favour.
“Look up,” the younger man said.
Mortimer did so.
In the shadows of the chimney stacks above the alleyway, something moved. Something big, and quiet, and all too familiar.
“If I were you,” Avebury went on, as though nothing had happened, “I would consider a change of scenery. The air in the mountains is a good deal healthier at this time of year.”
“Skipping town, are you?”
“Ain’t permanent,” Sabbat said, without turning round. He slid the leather wrap containing his Smoke into the top of his bag, and kicked the sea-chest closed again, the lid slamming shut with an audible thunk. “Need t’go see a man about a box, ‘s all.”
“Course you do,” Jenny said. “And it’s got sod-all to do with the fact you stink of blood and bad magic, aye?”
Fuck’s sake. Could everyone fucking smell the damn box on him? “I-”
“Don’t you lie to me, boy. If you’re bringing bad shit into my home, I want to know about it. Before it up and eats your face off, for preference.”
“I ain’t lyin’ t’you, Jenny. Wouldn’t dare.”
“Good lad. What’s eating you?”
A fuck of a lot, and most of it I ain’t telling you. He owed Jenny a lot, and, for all she wasn’t actually a member of the Order, she was pretty damn close to being one just by dint of knowing who and what she knew, but there was still only so far that went. “Picked up somethin’ in a fight – half-inched it off some fucker who wasn’t payin’ attention. Figured it’d be worth a bit. Din’t count on it bitin’ me.”
“Thought you knew better than that.”
Just what I fucking need. Another lecture. “I din’t plan t’bleed on it. I ain’t stupid.”
“No, just hard-headed and stubborn as a damn mule. Tell me your boy’s going with you on this trip.”
“Your vampire. One eye, nice clothes, goes bright red round the ears when he’s embarrassed?”
Archer. Of course she’s talking about Archer. Because that’s just what I fucking need right now. “He ain’t my anythin’, Jenny. But aye, he’s comin’ with.”
“Good. He’s got more sense in his head than most, and he’s cold where you run hot – you need that, when you’re dealing with magic.” She leant against the doorframe. “How long you planning to be gone for?”
“Want t’know when y’can rent my room?”
“Ha! No, I’ll wait ‘til someone tells me you’re dead for that – and even then, I’ll not believe it ‘til I see the body. You’re not ending up on the streets on my watch.”
“Then why’re you askin’?”
“So I know when to send someone to go look for you.”
“Can look after m’self.”
“Aye, you can. And I can keep an eye on folks who’ve done right by me.”
He couldn’t fault her for that, at least. “Don’t know how long. Archer’d know better’n me, but if he does, he ain’t tellin’.” A jolt of pain shot through his forearm, and he sat down hard on the bed, pulling his arm tight against his chest with his other hand. “Shit. Long enough t’fix this fuckin’ thing.”
“That need sewing up?” Jenny asked, frowning. “Won’t take a moment to get one of mine to run for the medicine kit.”
He shook his head. “Archer fixed it up already. ‘s just a cut.” And nobody else is getting sight of it until it’s healed enough that it doesn’t look like a sixdamn message. He’d promised Archer he’d not cut on himself but, if it looked like it was going to scar, he’d take a knife to it just to stop it scarring in as words. No one gets to mark me but me.
“He’s a good boy,” she said, approvingly. “You keep hold of him.” And, before he could ask what the hells she meant by that, she added “And you send word from wherever it is you’re going, if you can. Least that way I know those bastards didn’t ambush the two of you on the way out.”
“Ain’t promisin’ anythin’.” But, because it was Jenny, and because he owed her, “I’ll try.”
“Good. You get yourself sorted and back here quick as you can, and I’ll tell anyone comes looking for you you’re down the docks for the day and they can leave contracts with me.”
He didn’t get many contracts outside the Order these days, but Jenny’d always done right by him when it came to acting as a go-between for the ones which did show up. “Thanks.”
She shrugged a shoulder. “No need to thank me. Hurts me none if everyone knows I’ve one of the best hired killers in the city under my roof.”
Even if he’s bound to some sixdamn evil magic box? But that was none of her concern, and anyhow, he and Archer’d get that fixed in the next couple of days. Not worth fucking worrying about. “We’re headin’ out t’one of Archer’s friends. Figure he’d know how t’deal wi’ this sort o’ thing.”
Jenny frowned. “Out of the city, and a friend of your boy who’s an expert on magical fuckery – don’t tell me you’re off talking to Verist.”
Lady above, what’s the fucking point of having secrets? It wasn’t as though he could deny it, though, given what he’d already told her. “Ain’t sayin’ no.”
“Good. You tell him Jenny still remembers him, then. And that he still owes me for the time he and his drank my cellar out of beer the night the palace burned.”
“I ain’t a fuckin’ courier. Tell him y’self.”
“And I would, if he’d come down off the mountain ever. Since he’s determined to hole himself away up there, you’ll have to run my message for me.” She smiled briefly, her gold fang glittering in the lantern-light, and looked him up and down. “Need anything before you go?”
“I’m fine. Ate back at Archer’s place.”
“Aye. Enough t’get us there, an’ Archer’s friend ain’t likely t’run short given how much fuckin’ money he’s got t’throw around.”
“Good. I’ll not pretend to understand what the two of you are up to, but you’ll not be better at it on a dry throat or an empty stomach. If I-” She broke off, tilting her head to one side for a moment. “Ach. Can’t leave the pups in charge for a half second without something going wrong, can I?” She sighed. “I’d best go fix that mess. Lock up when you go, will you? And stay safe.”
“Ain’t promisin’ anythin’.”
“Course you aren’t.” She sighed, her expression shifting for a second from wry amusement to something a fuck of a lot darker. “You find out who killed my Rose yet?”
Yes. But tough as Jenny and her pack were, Caine was something else. No use anyone else getting themselves fucking killed finding that one out, and like fuck she’d stay back once she knew he was the one who’d murdered Rose. “No.”
For a moment he thought she’d call him on it. But she just shook her head, looking off at nothing in particular. “Figured as much.” She turned to go – then, halfway out the door, turned back for a moment, her eyes fixing on his with an intensity that burned. “One more thing, then. When you find ‘em…”
The corner of her lip curled, the glint of her golden fang barely visible in the gloom. “Make sure they die slow.”
[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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