Silver in the Ashes: Chapter 8 (draft)

Somehow, Mortimer had managed to make it back to his lodgings without anyone else happening to him – which, given the night he was having, was a good deal more surprising than it had any right to be.

He kicked the door shut, dropping into the chair by the cold hearth with a groan of mingled relief and pain as the first stirrings of what was almost certainly going to be a deeply bloody awful hangover started to make themselves known at the back of his skull.

Gods. Which sodding deity did I piss off while I wasn’t paying attention?” He was overdue a visit to temple, he knew that much, but surely he’d not managed to upset one of the Six so badly that they’d send Avebury specifically to torment him. Not to mention Caine (who he wasn’t bloody mentioning. Even thinking about the bastard made the pit of his stomach twist). And as for the pickpocket…

“Sodding hellfire. If she thinks the Order did that…” Best to keep the rest of that thought behind his teeth, even in the privacy of his own rooms. Walls had ears, especially where folk like Avebury and his gang were involved. “She knows more than she’s letting on.”

Of course she bloody did. Everyone he ran into seemed to.

How is it that I’m the bloody spy and yet I’m the one in the dark half the time?

Easy answer to that one, of course. He wasn’t much of a damn spy.

Other hand, Avebury’s not seen through my cover yet. And if he buys that, and he buys Viola’s change of loyalties, we’ve got a bloody good in on whatever it is he and Foreval think they’re up to.

It was a hell of a sodding ‘if’.

The matches from the tin in his pocket had seen better days, but the candle lit on the second attempt all the same, casting a weak flickering orange glow over the splintered furniture and patched-up walls. Compared to the house he’d grown up in, the rooms he was renting were a shack. Compared to the tents he’d slept in on campaign, though, they were a bloody palace.

Could be worse. Could be a hell of a lot worse. For one thing, I-

There was something small and white lying on the floorboards by the door. He’d not seen it when he came in – too drunk, too dizzy, and the place had been too damn dark – but the fresh bootprint right across one corner made it very clear that it’d arrived at some point while he was out.

“Who the hells is sending me letters? And, more to the sodding point, why?”

It might be another one of Avebury’s tricks. The bastard knew where he lived, after all – gods, hadn’t it only been a couple of nights ago that he’d come by to have yet another one of his bloody ‘we’re all friends aren’t we’ discussions? But if that was the case, why bother to ambush him in the alleyway, unless he really wanted to drive the point home?

It could be from Viola, of course. Maybe she’d remembered something that she’d forgotten to tell him during their meeting at the coffeehouse, or something had come up when she’d got back to the Luciels’ townhouse.

Or, maybe, just maybe, it was from Amelia.

What would she be doing sending me notes at this time of night, though? Unless something’s happened and she couldn’t wait until the morning to tell me. There’s always someone willing to run letters this late, for a price.

He stared at the rectangle of white paper and felt his heart skip a beat. If it was from Amelia and she was in trouble…

Then I’m going to get less than nothing done sitting here like a damn fool, am I?

The paper was heavy, thick, good-quality writing paper, the kind he’d used for letters back before he’d left for war. There was no address.

What there was was a seal – dark green wax, thin and neat, with the imprint of an all too familiar sigil standing proud in the centre of it. Green for family. Green for something personal, something private. Green for the one person he really didn’t want to have to think about right now.

“No. I do not fucking need this. Not now.”

For a moment he thought about tossing the letter into the grate, pretending that he hadn’t seen it. But all that’d do was postpone the inevitable.

Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit. Why now?

The wax cracked clean under his thumb, the sound somehow loud as a gunshot in the small room. Nothing for it, I suppose. Let’s see what my father has to say that’s worth tracking me down here.

The letter was short, as letters went. No salutation, no remarks about the weather, no reminders to practice swordplay or make his prayers at temple. But, then again, they’d left all that behind a long time ago, hadn’t they?

‘I do not know if you will ever read this. In fact, I think it very likely that you will not.’

And, if I hadn’t had the day I’ve just had, you’d have been right.

‘If you are reading this, then I have one thing I need to say to you:’

Here it comes. ‘You lost your damn arm trying to prove me wrong, will you finally admit you were a headstrong idiot?’

‘I’m sorry.’


‘I do not pretend that I approved of your going to war. You know that as well as I do. But you were – and are – a grown man, not a child, and I should have treated you as one. I acted unkindly and unworthily, and not as a father should, and I am sorry for it.’

His chest felt tight, the space behind his eyes hot and stinging as he stared uncomprehendingly at the curved lines of his father’s careful copperplate.

‘I know you have your own life now, and I do not mean to interfere with that. If you do not want to see me again, I understand. But, should you ever choose, should you ever want it, the door to the Hall is always open to you.’

The words of the letter seemed to be blurring, the ink smeared in thick black smudges of ash across the snowfield of white paper. Or was it his vision that was changing, sending the world swimming in a haze of candlelight? His eyes were stinging enough for it, and there seemed to be something caught in his throat, all hard edges and…

He swallowed, gasped, blinked rapidly and then, with a choking sob, lost the battle entirely.

Oh gods. Gods dammit. I-

He’d imagined his father apologising often enough. Sometimes it’d been a hope. Sometimes it’d been a wish for some sort of vengeance – let him be the one having his words thrown back in his face, see how he liked it. Sometimes it’d just been a sort of a daydream, an idle ‘that’s never going to happen’ fantasy. Sometimes, it’d been a prayer.

When he’d imagined it, whatever form that imagined scene had taken, he generally hadn’t imagined himself crying so hard he could barely see.

Can’t even get a damn handkerchief. Not got enough hands for that!

That made him laugh, even in the middle of the tears, and that made him cry harder, and that made him laugh harder, and then his legs suddenly decided they weren’t exactly on board with the whole ‘standing up’ thing, and, by the time he’d finally got himself back to something resembling a reasonable state, he found himself half-sitting half-lying on the floor, the back of his head resting against the seat of the battered old armchair and the letter still clasped tight in his hand.

There was a postscript, he noticed, muzzily. Two small lines of text, crammed onto the bottom of the page under his father’s sprawling signature. He rubbed his sleeve across his eyes, blinking back the worst of the tears, and stared at then.

‘PS. There is an account open in your name at my bank. You know where to go. Take as much as you need.

PPS. I hear rumours as to what is happening in the shadows in the city. If you are involved and you need help, take this letter to Tanner Street and ask after Mr William Archer.’

That almost made him laugh out loud. I think I’ve rather jumped the gun on that one, da. Though I suppose I’ve not actually gone to see the man in question yet.

He was going to have to do so at some point, though, if only to find out exactly what Viola and Sabbat had been saying about him behind his back. And I suppose this gives me more of an opening than ‘hello, you probably don’t remember me, I swear I’m not actually a Sinnlenst’.

“Tomorrow. I’ll go tomorrow.”

For now, he thought, with a yawn wide enough that he felt his jaw crack, sleep. Ideally, before the hangover catches up with me.


Oddly enough, at that particular moment Fest was also thinking longingly of sleep – all the more so because, as far as he could tell, Anneke hadn’t considered the possibility that it might be something any assistant of theirs needed.

“Do you think we could possibly come back to this tomorrow?” he suggested, for what felt like the tenth time in as many minutes.

Anneke shook their head, eyes fixed on the impossible flames. “We need to find out what’s causing this, for a start. And I can’t go to bed and leave a fire burning in the laboratory – the High Priest would have my head.” They frowned. “Or have me copying out exceptionally boring treatises, more likely. Decapitation tends to be frowned on as a way of maintaining discipline in the modern temple.”

The water hadn’t helped, of course. They’d emptied three buckets of the stuff over it, and succeeded only in drenching the front of Anneke’s robes and leaving a not insubstantial puddle on the floor under the table, which Fest had then had to go and find a mop to clean up.

Other things that hadn’t helped had included throwing sand on it (once they’d finally managed to find some), smothering it in a blanket (it had, in fact, set the blanket on fire), exorcising it, swearing at it, and, when they’d run out of other options, asking it nicely if it would mind going away.

So they were left with frayed tempers, a laboratory that looked distinctly the worse for wear, and, crucially, a fire still merrily burning in the middle of the table. To Fest’s eyes, it looked distinctly smug about the whole affair.

“I suppose we could try banishing it,” Anneke ventured, after a moment. “We’d have to make a new circle, of course, and I don’t know how that would interface with the pieces of the broken one – it’s entirely possible that we’ll cause a power overload and blow up the entire laboratory, or maybe the entire floor of the building. Which would definitely upset the High Priest. On the other hand, I can’t think of anything else that we haven’t tried – or, at least, anything else that isn’t infinitely more dangerous – and it would certainly give us more information either way.” They ran a hand distractedly through their curls. “I mean, we won’t be able to make much use out of it if we’re dead, but that’s not permanent, and I’m sure between us we could remember enough that we’d have something approaching a proper writeup of the experiment. If we went and got someone to stand outside the door as an observer, then we could-“

“Maybe we don’t do that yet,” Fest interjected, hastily. “Not until we’ve exhausted all our other options, anyhow.” He swallowed. “I’ve…er…. rather had my fill of dying for the foreseeable.”

Anneke winced. “Sorry. I forgot.” They chewed the corner of their lip, still staring at the flame, and scowled. “I really do want to find some way of stopping this thing, though. It’s absolutely fascinating, but it is stopping me from doing anything else in here.”

“Or going to bed.”

“Or that.”

The flame crackled. Anneke glared at it. And Fest suddenly had an idea.

It wasn’t a good idea, not by any means, and he’d be the first to admit as much. But it was an idea that might actually mean that the two of them got some sleep at some point in the next few hours – and, unlike Anneke’s proposal, it probably wouldn’t involve them getting temporarily killed in a magical explosion. Probably.

“I could try and use my magic on it,” he said. “The sorcery, I mean.”

Anneke blinked. “That’s… actually not a bad idea, you know. Though I thought you said you couldn’t control it.”

“I… Um. It’s complicated.” Not least because I think the reason that might have changed probably has a good deal too much to do with a certain Miss Lucy Foreval, and a whole slew of hours that I still don’t have any memory of. “Something happened back at the Sinnlenst meeting.”

That actually made the priest look away from the fire for a moment, fixing him with a gaze that seemed equal parts genuine concern and worryingly intense curiosity. “The good kind of happened or the bad kind of happened?”

“I’m not sure. But I think… It felt for a moment like I actually could control it – not for long, but it doesn’t need to be for long if we’re just trying to blow the fire out.”

Anneke’s eyes narrowed behind their goggles, their expression calculating, and Fest had the sudden and unnerving feeling that he’d just been promoted from assistant to test subject. “It certainly wouldn’t hurt to try,” they suggested, after a moment of contemplation that went on entirely too long for his taste. “Or, at least, it probably wouldn’t. If you can’t control it, it might hurt an awful lot, but that’s honestly going to happen whatever we do, and from how you’ve described your abilities I think you’re less likely to actually cause a full-blown explosion, no pun intended.”

True, as far as things go. Of course, I might well break every window in the place, but a little flying glass never hurt anyone.

Of course, there was always the question of how he was going to summon his sorcery in the first place. Controlling it meant exactly nothing if he couldn’t call it up, and, on that front, he had to admit that he had less than no idea how to go about getting started.

I suppose I could try tapping into it the same way I tap into my magic – my other magic, I suppose. After all, it all comes from the same source. I think.

He closed his eyes, reached down for that wellspring deep inside the core of his being, took hold of the thread of his magic, pulled, and-

“…I don’t want to tell you you’re going about this the wrong way, but I don’t think that’s going to help very much.”


He opened his eyes.


“I mean, you’re better at that than I am,” Anneke said from somewhere above his head. “I keep getting distracted halfway through, and then I end up with half my clothes not covered by the illusion or my ears staying their normal shape or something. It’s very embarrassing, especially when it happens in company.”

I mean, it’s gratifying that I managed it better this time around, I suppose. On the other hand, there’s even less I can do to solve our magical ever-burning problem like this.

Being on four feet rather than two meant that the floor of the laboratory was suddenly a good deal closer, which was a problem. Mostly because it currently looked exceptionally inviting.

It’s not as though I’m actually going to put my head down or anything. I’m just resting my legs. That’s all.

And my eyes.

Just for a moment. Then I’ll get back up. I swear. Just a-

“I thought you said you wanted to try your sorcery, not take a nap,” the priest grumbled, nudging him none-too-gently in the side with the toe of one embroidered felt boot. “Also that’s my notes you’re sleeping on, and I need those.” They actually sounded put out, which was new (and, he suspected, probably spoke volumes regarding exactly how tired they were). “Besides if you go to sleep I have to stay awake, and I don’t think I’m going to last much longer without significant amounts of coffee.”

Unfortunately, they had a point.

He scrambled up onto his paws again, shaking his head to try and clear the cobwebs enough that he could properly focus. Come on. We can do this. Just get back to your proper shape first, and then we’ll go from there.

The illusion seemed stickier than it should have been – it took him two tries to drop it, which almost never happened – and by the time he was back to his usual self he was starting to feel distinctly nauseous. Though, admittedly, that might also have been the fatigue.

Never try and do a working when you’re tired, drunk, or otherwise liable to make mistakes. Does the same rule hold for sorcery, I wonder?

Of course if he couldn’t work out how to call his power in the first place, the point was pretty much moot.

What is the unifying factor across all manifestations of the phenomenon? Mr Fest, since you clearly know this material so well that you do not feel the need to pay attention when I am speaking, perhaps you can enlighten us.

It wasn’t exactly much of a riddle, even for an exceptionally average (and exceptionally tired) student.

Self-defence. It’s a self-defence mechanism. Reflexive. Like putting your hands out when you fall, or blocking a punch. Except for the time I used it at the Sinnlenst meeting, and that was to defend someone else.


That’s… not exactly going to help us here.

“Well that’s no bloody use,” he said, out loud.

Anneke raised their eyebrows. “What isn’t?”

“I think I know how my power- gods, no, that sounds ridiculous. I think I know how the sorcery works. It’s defensive.”

They nodded. “Yes. That’s generally how sorcery works, I think. It’s probably something to do with inherited traits and what’s seen as advantageous, but that’s not really my field of study. I do know someone in the temple who’s looking into that kind of thing, though, though I think they’re mostly looking at animals – they’ve got a whole birdcage full of-“



“You’re not taking my meaning. If it’s defensive then it doesn’t matter whether I can control it or not. I can’t call it up.”

The priest frowned. “I could punch you? Threaten you with a scalpel, maybe?”

Fest’s throat went tight. “That’s not funny.”

“I wasn’t joking. A sincere threat would probably work as a way to call your power, if you honestly believed that your life was in danger.”

“Yes, and then it’d be targeting you!”

“I mean, it’s not likely that you could do me any permanent damage.” They considered this for a second. “Depending on how you define ‘likely’, of course. I don’t think you could actually kill me in a way I wouldn’t be able to come back from, though, unless you were really trying.”

“And I don’t exactly want to find out! This is not a good plan, Anneke!”

“Well you’re the one who came up with it!” the priest snapped. “Do you have a better idea?”

He didn’t, but that was beside the point. “Anything that doesn’t involve me almost getting you killed again would be a good start!”

“What do you mean ‘again’?”

“The damn spirit thing!” He jabbed his fingers towards the line where the creature’s tentacle had brushed across Anneke’s face. “If you’d not banished it-“

Anneke glared at him. “That wasn’t your fault! You’re the one who put yourself in the way and almost certainly stopped it killing me!”

“And you wouldn’t have been in danger in the first place if it wasn’t for me! It wasn’t anyone else’s sodding blood it was summoned out of, was it?!”

“Why are you so angry about this?”

“Why are you so determined to make me hurt people?!” Some small part of him – the bit which wasn’t tired and hungry and emotional and about five seconds away from throwing open the door and storming out of the laboratory – suggested quietly that a full-blown yelling match in the middle of the temple was probably not the best way of making friends and influencing people, especially if he wanted to retain any chance of being invited back after this evening. The significantly larger part of him countered that the laboratory was probably fairly well soundproofed and, in any case, the priests of Ashkenta weren’t exactly known for being quiet when it came to theological disagreements. “I’ve already probably accidentally killed someone, Anneke! I don’t need to do it again!”

“…You could have started with that, you know.”

“No, I couldn’t!” He slammed his hand down on the table in frustration, hard.

Something went crack.

There was a brief, hanging moment of silence.

And then a searing bolt of pain rocketed up his arm, shot through his teeth, and grounded itself behind his eyes hard enough that the world went white.

“Are you alright?” Anneke said, from somewhere very far away.

“Ngfh,” Fest replied, trying very hard not to be sick. I think I might’ve broken something. I think it might’ve been something attached to me.

“You don’t sound alright. Do you need to sit down?”

You know, I rather think I might, he thought, muzzily. Though I’m damned if I can remember how.

“I’ll get you a chair. Just hold on for a moment.”

“Don’t worry, I’m-” already on the floor, apparently. Good work, legs. Excellent initiative there.

“Oh. Um. Are you… comfortable down there?”

“It’s better than standing up?” And at least now I’m a good deal less likely to throw up all over your notes. I hope. “I think I broke my hand.”

“You definitely broke the table,” Anneke commented, sounding more impressed than anything else. “There’s a crack right through it.”

“Sorry! I can replace it if you-“

“No need, I’ve done much worse. There’s a temple budget set aside for exactly this kind of-” They broke off mid-sentence.

“What? What is it?” Fest opened his eyes a crack, craning his neck to try and see what the little priest was looking at. Aside from the crack in the wood (which was a good deal wider and deeper than he’d been expecting), the table looked exactly as it had done before his outburst, with the exception of-

“…well,” Anneke said quietly, after a second, “it looks like you managed to solve our fire problem after all.”


There were three of them, not counting the horse. All dressed for the weather, all armed with at least knives and short-swords (though Archer was fairly certain he’d also seen the wrapped shapes of a couple of rifles resting on the seat of the cart), and all looking as though they knew how to handle themselves in a fight.

Three fighters – three Sinnlenst – a horse, and a loaded cart. Now that’s an equation that adds up to something I don’t much like the smell of.

Whatever they were transporting, it was heavy. The cart was skewed to one side where the crates were piled up, and two of the Sinnlenst had been in the middle of trying to shift the weight, grunting and groaning as they struggled to lift one of the boxes between them.

Their own damn fault, if I’m honest.

Archer had ridden this way before, multiple times, and knew the places where the meltwater streams crossed the path and the roadway dipped down half-underwater. The Sinnlenst hadn’t – and, not knowing, had tried to drive the cart straight through one of the wider streams without unloading it. Which, in turn, explained why they weren’t going anywhere.

Bogged down to the axles in freezing slush and mud. If it were anyone else, I’d actually feel sorry for them.

As it was, he rather felt like sending up a brief prayer to Earth Brother for the unexpected opportunity. Even if it doesn’t come to blows, this is a chance to find out more about what in the hells they think they’re up to.

They were definitely Sinnlenst, at least. He’d not got close enough to make out much of their conversation, but the little he’d managed to overhear had included the words ‘the Order’, ‘wouldn’t trust it to outsiders’, and, most damningly of all, ‘Avebury’.

Now what would Mr Adam Avebury be having transported into the city at the dead of night by a trio of heavily armed guards, I wonder? Certainly nothing that bodes well for the Order.

His paws crunched on the snow as he padded through the trees, keeping to the deep shadows under the low-hanging branches and taking a wide route to circle back round to where he’d left Sabbat and the two mares. He didn’t think he’d been spotted – the three Sinnlenst had been too busy with the cart and the crates to take much notice of the local wildlife – but there was no sense in not being cautious.

Especially when I’m fairly certain they have guns. A black wolf in a dark forest at night might be an almost impossible target, but all it would take is a stray shot startling the horses or, gods forbid, hitting one of them, and we’d have an entirely different problem on our hands.

Though, if he was entirely honest, he wasn’t exactly sure what to make of the shape of the problem they currently had.

Three heavily armed Sinnlenst, allied with Avebury – or, at the very least, working for him – transporting something down the mountain under cover of darkness. Several heavy crates of something. Or, perhaps, something heavy separated into several crates.

And if we’re smart, that’s as much as the two of us will know about this whole situation until a good few weeks from now.

Killing the three wouldn’t be hard. They were all humans, as far as Archer could tell, and, even if they hadn’t been, he and Sabbat would have the advantage of surprise.

And then, once they’d tumbled the bodies into the snowbank and cleaned the blood off their weapons? Well, they’d have a stuck Sinnlenst cart, a panicked horse, and a pile of crates of… whatever it was that Avebury was so interested in getting his hands on.

And then things get complicated. The kind of complicated which doesn’t lend itself well to disappearing off into the mountains for a couple of weeks while we try to untangle the mysteries of what I am fairly certain is a deeply malevolent pre-Fall artefact.

Not to mention the fact that he was fairly certain that Sabbat was in significantly worse shape than he was letting on. And, while he’d seen the assassin take a truly disturbing amount of punishment and keep fighting, right now anything which was likely to amplify the effects of the box was a risk they could ill afford.

No. Leave the Sinnlenst to get their cart unstuck, ride up to the Hall, and use Verist’s circle to send word to the Order to have them tailed once they make it past the gate. Do it quickly and quietly enough, and they’ll never even know they’ve been followed.

Quiet, clean, and subtle. And a good deal less likely to tip Avebury off to the fact that they’d stumbled upon his little smuggling sideline, to boot.

Now all I have to do is convince Sabbat of that.

Which was, unsurprisingly, easier said than done.

He found the assassin in the clearing where they’d tied the mares, leaning against the trunk of a pine tree with an unlit cigarette jammed into the corner of his mouth and a blackened throwing knife ready in his hand.

He also looked distinctly bored, which was, in Archer’s experience, not generally a good sign.

Ah. This is going to be an interesting conversation.


“Took y’long enough,” Sabbat said, as the wolf emerged from the shadows. “Was beginnin’ t’think you’d got started without me.”

The wolf rolled its one yellow eye at him, sneezed, shook itself vigorously – and, mid-shake, suddenly became a very familiar and very worried-looking vampire. “We have a problem.”

Snow’s cold, water’s wet. Tell me something I don’t know. “One that ain’t ‘there’s a pack o’ Sinnlenst over there an’ they ain’t dead yet’?”

Archer shook his head. “Not quite. Let me explain.”

“This’d better be fuckin’ good.” He crossed his arms, leaving the knife hanging between his fingers where he could easily loose it if he needed. Ain’t as if Archer’s not stealthy enough to get away without being spotted, but I don’t trust those fuckers as far as I can throw them.

“They’re working for Avebury.”

“An’?” All the more reason to take the bastards out, then.

“And they’re transporting something.”


“So we leave them be, have them followed, and find out what they’re doing with it.”

“Or we slit their fuckin’ throats here an’ now an’ take three more Sinnlenst out of the fuckin’ fight.”

Archer sighed. “I thought you’d say that. We’re not killing them.”

“What d’you mean we’re not killin’ ’em?” Sabbat hissed, not bothering to keep the irritation out of his voice. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand the vampire’s plan – far from it, in fact – but letting the bastards go free was the kind of thing that stuck in his throat, no matter how logical the reason. “Far as I see it, three dead Sinnlenst an’ a shipment never arrivin’ does a fair amount more damage.”

Archer sighed. “I know. But three living Sinnlenst and a trail we can follow-“

“Trail someone else can fuckin’ follow, y’mean. Or did you forget that we ain’t goin’ t’be back in the city any time soon?”

“Is that what this is about? You’re annoyed because you won’t get to be in on the hunt?”

Sabbat growled. “Y’know that thing I said about likin’ you better when y’were four-footed?” Gods, but he wanted a cigarette. Or a drink. Or, hells, a hit of Smoke wouldn’t go fucking amiss right now. Anything to take the edge off the pain in his guts and the taste of blood behind his teeth. “You’re tellin’ me we’re goin’ t’let a gang of Sinnlenst fuck off past us carryin’ who knows what an’ do nothin‘?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying, yes.” He closed his eye, pinching the bridge of his nose in a way that Sabbat had come to know fairly bloody intimately over the years. “Sabbat?”


“I know you don’t like this. Truth be told, I’m not exactly happy about letting them go either.”

“Then why’d you-“

“Let me finish, please.” He took a breath, ran a hand over his hair, and continued, more calmly. “Quite apart from the fact that it gives the enemy a tip-off that we know what they’re up to, if we kill them the odds are very good that we become embroiled in dealing with whatever it is that they’re carrying. And if we’re the ones dealing with it, then-“

“Then we ain’t exactly gettin’ the time t’go visit your toff friend,” Sabbat finished for him, wincing as another stab of pain jolted up his spine. That, he had to admit, was a fair point, even if it was the kind of argument that relied a good deal too much on might-bes, maybes and fucking hypotheticals. “Y’don’t reckon we could hand it off t’someone else in the Order?”

“Honestly? Most of them have their hands full with the rest of what the Sinnlenst’re up to. The moment our names get attached to this problem, it’s ours for the duration.”

“So we’re leavin’ ’em?”

“So we’re leaving them.” He sighed again. “I got a good enough look at the three of them and the cart that I can describe them to whoever we contact, and I know Verist has a circle that we should be able to use. Assuming I’m right about when Luciel tends to open hers for urgent messages, at least. Worst case scenario I’ll send someone down with a message in the morning.”

It still wasn’t Sabbat’s kind of plan, but he’d little enough desire to push the argument at the moment. Not least because his nose had started bleeding again.

“Here,” Archer said, frowning at him. “Let me.”

He reached forward, hand outstretched towards Sabbat’s face and then stopped, his eye widening as a dark stain bloomed in the centre of his forehead.


For a moment, everything seemed frozen. Sabbat had time to see Archer’s fingers, still reaching toward his face, start to curl inward to the other man’s palm. Time to see Archer’s mouth open slightly, his eyebrow go up as though he’d just been surprised by something. Time to feel something hot and damp splatter across his face, his shirt, his own hand as he reached forward for…

For what?

Not much you can do for a headshot, idiot.

He must have heard the shot. The forest was quiet enough for it. But by the time he knew what he was doing, he was face-down in the snow, one hand grabbing for his razor while the other grappled Archer’s cooling fingers against his own sweating palm.

“No. Fuckin’ no. Y’don’t die from this, you fuckin’ contrary bastard. You’re a fuckin’ leech, remember? Fire and stakes and decapitation and that’s fuckin’ it. Y’don’t fuckin’ die from some fuckin’ cunt of a fuckin’ Sinnlenst shooting you in the back of the fuckin’ head.

No response. Didn’t much matter. He’d not meant to say the half of that out loud, anyhow.

Strange thing was, he didn’t feel angry. Or sad. Didn’t feel much of anything, to be honest.

He felt cold. Cold, and far away, and like the whole of this was happening to someone else, or happening in a dream. Like it was always going to happen like this. Like it was the most natural thing in the world to push himself up onto his hands and knees, to pull that razor out of his belt and fold it backward over his hand, to drop swift and soundless into the gully on the other side of the path, to look up and see a glint of moonlight on metal through the trees where whoever’d made the shot hadn’t bothered to wrap their rifle up again afterward.

Like he was meant to do it. Like it was the only reasonable thing to do. Like he couldn’t do anything else (though why the fuck would he? They’d hurt Archer. That wasn’t the kind of thing anyone did and got to go on living afterward).

The first Sinnlenst dropped without a sound, too busy crowing over his kill to notice the shadow behind him until the blade was across his throat and he was on his knees and scrabbling with desperate fingers at a wound that was halfway to taking his head clean off. Sabbat kicked his rifle away, left him choking on his own blood, and went in search of the other two soon-to-be-corpses.

They saw him coming, for all the good it did them. One of them grabbed for the other rifle from the cart, but a throwing knife to the hand put paid to that idea before she managed to close her grip around it. The other didn’t bother, just went straight for his sword.

Sabbat didn’t much give a fuck either way. Sword or no sword, you’ll still end up just as dead. Might just have to take a few of your fucking fingers first.

He charged the one with the sword first, shoulder down, slamming him back against the cart before he had a chance to get the blade clear of the scabbard. The other one made a go at getting round behind him, but he was faster than her – she swung wildly and he dropped down, letting the blow sail over his head and nearly catch her friend in the face in the bargain.

Too fucking slow.

She’d left her leg exposed, too busy swinging for him to keep her guard up. He hooked his boot round her ankle and pulled hard, sending her crashing down onto her back in the slush.

She glared at him, spat blood, rolled away as he slashed for her throat. “Get fucked, Order scum.”

Normal times he’d have had something to say to that. Right now, wasn’t much he felt like saying to her. Or to anyone, for that matter.

The other Sinnlenst was still standing, one hand pressed against his ribs, his mouth working soundlessly as he gasped for breath. His other arm was reaching backward over the cart, fingers inching oh-so-fucking-slowly towards the wrappings of the discarded rifle.

Sabbat whipped the razor round and sliced through the tendons in the back of the bastard’s knee.

It wasn’t clean fighting. Far from it. But he’d never fought clean even when he’d been minded to care about his opponent, and he didn’t much care about either of the two of them.

Didn’t much care about anything at the moment, turned out.

Two against one ain’t good odds.

Archer’ll be fucking furious. For more reasons than one.

Ain’t we supposed to be stopping relying on that fucking box?

Didn’t matter. None of it mattered.

They tried to kill Archer. Even if it ain’t permanent, they tried. And that ain’t something you get to walk away from.


[START (SERIES) – Blood on the Snow: Chapter 1]

[Author’s note: this is first/discovery draft content – I apologise for the likely increased number of typos]

Copyright © 2021 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

One thought on “Silver in the Ashes: Chapter 8 (draft)

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