Silver in the Ashes: Chapter 22 (draft)

The house where the Sinnlenst had held their meeting was easy enough to find, given it was the only place within a mile with all of its windows blown out. Viola had been expecting them to have put boards up, but apparently the delicate sensibilities of the poor magician-murderers might have been outraged by the sight of anything as common as a few planks of bare wood (that, or they didn’t trust the air inside the place enough yet to want to have to rely on candles or oil lamps for light). The gaping empty eye-sockets of the window frames were good for one thing, though: they meant that she had a decent sight of what was going on inside while she was still a fair way away.

At least I know for a fact Avebury’s not going to be lurking in there. That’s something, I suppose.

Most of what was going on inside seemed to still be clean-up – there were any number of servants going to and fro with buckets and dustpans, even several days after the massacre (and it had been a massacre, if the amount of blood she’d smelled that night was anything to go by. The Sinnlenst were keeping relatively quiet about the exact number of deaths, but she’d be surprised if more than a third of Tyburn’s party were still alive).  A fair proportion of the ones she could see were non-humans, which tracked with her understanding of how the Sinnlenst operated – if Avebury hadn’t been so intent on showing her off to the assembled crowd at the meeting and thus ensuring that her face was already known, she’d probably have been able to trick her way inside by posing as a maid or a hired hand, and half the humans wouldn’t have given her a second glance.

As it was, her options were limited to ‘sneak inside without being seen’ or ‘walk right up to the front door and ask to be let in’. The former would have been her preferred route, without question, but between the time pressure and her wounded leg, the latter was almost certainly the better option.

I just have to keep pretending to be a bloody turncoat and hope that they can’t smell the fact that I’d like to rip half of their throats out.

From her position crouched on a rooftop opposite the house, she had a fairly solidly decent view of what looked to be the main entrance. It was a nondescript enough kind of a door, which made sense – the Sinnlenst, like the Order, were hardly inclined to advertise their presence to those who didn’t know what to look for – and there didn’t seem to be much in the way of secret knocks or exchanges of passwords going on: if someone needed to enter, they walked up, knocked once or twice, and were admitted.

Which is almost certainly because whoever’s on the other side knows who they are and can vouch for them personally. With Avebury out of town, that might be a problem.

Not that she wanted the bastard back, mind. And, as it was, enough of the ranking members had probably seen her face at the meeting that they’d at least let her into the entrance hall.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I suppose. And time’s not ticking away any slower while I’m cooling my heels up here.

The ladder down to street level was rusty and creaked alarmingly when she put her weight on it, but it was a damn sight easier on her leg than scrambling down the drainpipe would’ve been (not to mention easier on her clothes. The Sinnlenst were snobs, after all, and turning up even more covered in street grime than she already was would likely be a very good way to get refused admission purely on the grounds of making the place look untidy) and, in fairly short order, she was back on solid ground and trying to summon up the will to approach the door with anything other than open hostility. Or, honestly, to approach the damn door at all.

I could do this back at the damn meeting. Why is it so hard now?

Admittedly, that’d been before she’d seen Caine literally rip someone’s head off.

He’s almost certainly not going to be there. And, if he is, he’s not going to come after me. I’m on Avebury’s side, as far as any of them know, and there’s no reason for him to be suspicious of me.

Which was all completely logical and reasonable and also did absolutely sodding nothing to quell the rising panic clawing at the inside of her ribcage.

It was an instinctive reaction, that was the worst of it. She could argue reason and logic with herself until she was blue in the sodding face, but when it came down to the blood and the bone of it, Caine smelt wrong – and that, unlike all the reason and logic and sensible arguments in the world, was something that her hindbrain couldn’t ignore.

Fine. If he is there, I’ll make my excuses and leave. Can always come back for the waistcoat another day.

It felt like running away. But, then again, the only reason she and Mortimer and Sabbat were alive right now was because they’d taken the opportunity to leave before the meeting completely dissolved into a bloodbath.

It’s not cowardice not to stay and face a Turned. It’s common bloody sense.

And knowing that still didn’t make it feel any bloody better.

Get on with it. Sooner I’m in, sooner I’m out, sooner I’m away from here.

She squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and headed across the street.


“What do you reckon?” Archer asked, once the door had closed behind their new ally.

Sabbat shrugged. “T’what? The fact he’s willin’ t’help us, or the fact y’were so fuckin’ busy tryin’ not t’look at his arm y’forgot it was missin’?”

“Yes, thank you for reminding me about that. I’d almost started to forget exactly how badly I managed to handle that situation.” Though it’s hardly as though I can be any more embarrassed about it, I suppose. “I meant about the stasis ritual.”

“‘s workable,” the assassin allowed. “Ain’t likely t’explode any way worse than anythin’ else we could be tryin’.”

“You don’t sound enthusiastic.”

“I ain’t. Puttin’ a halt on whatever it’s doin’ gives us time, but it ain’t a solution. Not a workable one, anyhow. Y’give me one o’ those, I’ll be as fuckin’ enthusiastic as y’want.”

“I intend to do so,” Archer said, and added, before he could stop himself, “By whatever means necessary.”

For some reason, the phrase seemed to give Sabbat pause. He scowled, looking down at his boots, and then said, slowly, and in a tone very different to any Archer had heard him use before, “That so?”

Careful. There was something going on here, something deeper and more complicated than just a simple question, and Archer had the distinct feeling that he was standing on ice which was a damn sight thinner than he’d first thought. But, on the other hand, he’d meant what he’d said, and it’d be cowardice to back down now. “Yes.”

“Might hold you t’that,” the assassin muttered, almost too quietly for Archer to hear. He glared at his boots again and, after a long moment, said in a much more conversational tone (which Archer would’ve trusted significantly more if it hadn’t been so obviously forced), “So. Y’want t’get started on that stasis spell?”

It was a clumsy attempt to change the subject but, truth be told, Archer was more than willing to go along with it if it got them out of wherever that conversation had been headed. There are half a dozen things he could’ve meant by that, and none of them are anything I particularly want to consider right now. “That sounds like an excellent idea, assuming you’ve had enough to eat.” He caught Sabbat’s expression at that last, and sighed. “I’m not implying anything more than usual practice for magicians, and you know as much. Doing a ritual while low on food and water is a damn good way to muddle your vocals and miscount your timings, and this is likely to be tricky enough without that.”

“Stop fussin’. I’ve had more’n enough t’eat, an’ all of that’ll keep for later anyhow.” He stood up, grimacing in pain as he did so, and limped over to the pile of ritual equipment stacked on the bed. “Y’remember t’bring a lancet?”

“I did. I’m still not comfortable with adding a blood-seal to this, but if you’re right about the way the protection spell will interact with the box-“

“Which I am.”

“-then it might be our only way of making sure that it sticks. Though we should use my blood rather than yours.”

Sabbat scowled. “Y’sure y’can spare it?”

“More than you can spare any of yours at the moment, yes. Besides, the box already has a taste for your blood-” and gods, that was not the right way to phrase that “-and I’d like to avoid adding any more unknowns to an already-complex improvised ritual.”

“Suit y’self. Might work better with yours anyhow.”

That was true enough. Since vampires and werewolves both possessed their own innate magic, their blood tended to have significantly more powerful effects when used as part of a spell or sigil – a double-edged sword, given the inherent danger of using blood of any sort in magic, but one which, in this case, had the potential to counter the ill-effects of whatever it was that the box was doing.

“Almost certainly. We’ll use the protection spell as an outer circle, unless you’ve any objections – the runic resonator should work perfectly well as an inner, and the gateway spell sigils can stand for the compass points, assuming we can align the geometry so we avoid any unwanted intersecting lines.”

The assassin nodded. “Reckon that’d do it. Resonator’s simple enough geometry-wise, unless y’want the more complex version, an’ the gateway sigils I can draw in my fuckin’ sleep.”

“I’ll let you handle those, then, while I get the herbs prepared. I’m assuming the standard groupings, at least to start.”

“Higher on protection, lower on power. No use givin’ the bastard thing more t’draw on ‘less we have to.”

“Fair point. Feverfew and ashfruit?”

“Aye, that’d be a start. Sage too.”


“If y’think it’d help.”

“I doubt it’ll hurt.” Verist had given them as much as he could spare from his herb stores – which were extensive – and Archer intended to make full use of what they had, the more so because it included several plants which were notoriously hard to get a hold of in the city. “You know, we’ve enough here to run this at least three or four times over if we need to.”

“An’ still have herbs left over for fixin’ the fuckin’ thing?”

“Yes, unless the fix turns out to be ridiculously complex.”

“Y’think it won’t be?”

“Fair point.” He tied off the loop of twine around the bundle of herbs, placing it carefully in the upturned lid of the open herb-box. “How are the sigils coming along?”

“Resonator’s near enough done,” Sabbat replied, sitting back on his heels and brushing the chalk dust from the knees of his trews. “Needed t’make a couple of adjustments t’align it t’the gateway sigils, but nothin’ which should cause problems provided y’don’t fuck up that protection spell.”

“I’ve no intention of doing so.” It almost felt normal, this back and forth over spell components and ritual geometry – if he closed his eye, he could just about imagine that they were back in Tanner Street, working on some new ritual idea for the Order or trying to untangle the complexities of a possible working he’d found in some ancient dusty text buried in the back of a private collection. Except that the stakes here are a damn sight higher, and the costs of failure a damn sight more bloody permanent. “Tell me when you’ve finished the gateway, and I’ll take over.”

“Aye. Y’need me t’pick up where y’left off wi’ the herbs?”

“No, but we’ll need the candles and the rest of the layout sorting. The sink in the bathroom through that door has running water, so you should be able to fill up the bowl from there.”

Sabbat made a derisive noise in the back of his throat (which Archer interpreted as his opinion on anyone rich enough to have water piped up to the third floor of a house in the middle of nowhere) but his shoulders seemed to relax a little at the news. “Clean enough t’drink?”

“As far as I can tell, yes.” It was most likely rainwater and melted snow collected in copper tanks under the roof – clean enough, this far outside the city, and a constantly replenishing supply in all but the hottest of Sacaan’s summers. “And there’s a kettle by the fire for heating it for baths.”

“Implyin’ I need another one already?”

“Implying that it might help with the pain. And, yes, admittedly, I do have a vested interest in ensuring that you’re not walking around covered in dried blood.”

“Ain’t that bad.”

“It will be once we’ve run this through. There’s more than enough power going into the ritual to set us both sweating blood over it – or, at the very least, winding up with nosebleeds.”

The assassin tilted his head, conceding the point. “Reckon it’ll work first time?”

“I doubt it. But that’s why we’re starting early.” He turned away from the bed, moving to pick up his memorandum book from the table. “That, and making copious notes.”


“I beg your pardon. I didn’t realise this room was already occupied.”

Of course you didn’t, Mortimer thought, closing his book with a mental snarl of frustration. It wasn’t as though he could tell Avebury to get lost – much as he would have liked to, the Sinnlenst was technically an apprentice here, and that did come with certain rights and expectations – but gods if his presence wasn’t going to make this entire bloody research task a damn sight more difficult than it already was. “What can I do for you, Adam?”

“Oh, I don’t need anything. I was simply hoping to avail myself of your father’s collection – there’re several works in here that I don’t recall seeing in the university library, and I find myself deeply curious as to their contents.”

Translation: I’m after something that the university’s hiding, and I’m confident enough in myself that I’m willing to let you in on that.

In and of itself, that wasn’t much of a surprise. He’d had time to try and puzzle through what Avebury’s plan might be on the way up to the Hall, and ‘finding something in the library that he couldn’t lay hands on at the university’ had been one of the top contenders (along with ‘assassinating the Archmage’ and ‘getting out of the city before people started asking too many questions about what’d gone on at the meeting’). He’d even told his father as much, which was why certain books were no longer on the shelves (and, given where they’d been moved to, Avebury was absolutely not getting his hands on those).

But if the Sinnlenst was so confident in whatever he was up to that he was willing to confirm it to him – or, at least, try to taunt him with it – then that suggested there was something more going on here than just a research interest which had been stymied by the university’s policies.

If I could get an idea of what books he was after, that might be a start. But I highly doubt he’s going to up and tell me.

“If you give me an idea of what you’re looking for, I might be able to point you in the right direction.”

“An excellent idea. Though I suppose that is your job.”

“When we’re back at the university, yes.” And don’t think I didn’t catch that sneer. I’ll make you pay for that, one day. “But this is my home. I know every inch of the shelves here, which is more than you do. Of course, if you want to spend the next two weeks trying to decipher my father’s classification system, I’m not going to stop you.” Not least because he’s already told me that he’s in the middle of reorganising it, and it’s going to be an utter bastard for anyone other than me or him to navigate.

“Touched a nerve, did I?”

“Congratulations on being able to pick up on the bleeding obvious. Do you want my help or not?”

“Well, if you’re offering, it would be churlish to refuse. I’m looking for anything to do with pre-Fall artefacts, particularly those with some connection to the mage lords.”

Not an angle Mortimer had been expecting him to take, if he was honest, but it tracked well enough with everything else he knew about the bastard. Ever since the people of the world had dragged themselves back up out of the dust and ashes of the Fall, there’d been people brave or stupid enough to risk everything for a taste of the power the mage lords had once wielded. Never mind that the Traitor’s curse had drained most of the magic out of the world, or that the mage lords had only used artifice for relatively minor tasks – if it had even half a chance of having been worked by their hands, certain people would pay (or do) anything to get their hands on it.

Which was part of why his father lived so far away from the city, and why his house was quite so heavily warded.

Never mind that the most impressive and functional piece of artifice we have access to is the damn bathhouse. To hear some folks talk, you’d think we had the keys to undoing the Fall itself hidden under the roof-beams.

Well, if that was Avebury’s fixation, it would explain why he’d finagled himself that apprenticeship.

Good luck to him finding anything he can use against the Order here, though. Almost everything in the collection is broken beyond even my father’s capacity to repair, and the few working pieces don’t do anything that you couldn’t replicate with a decent icebox and a working knowledge of how to keep a wound site clean.

“You might have to narrow it down,” he said, out loud, with a gesture to the shelves of books behind him. “Going by the criteria you’ve given me, I could recommend you fully half the books in this room.” And might well still do it, just to watch you spend the evening climbing up and down the ladders and ruining those fancy trews of yours in the process. “Is there a particular type of artefact you’re interested in?” Take the bait, you bastard. Come on. You know you want to.

“As a matter of fact, there is. Professor Carom mentioned the use of artifice to aid in healing in the pre-Fall era, and I was rather hoping to find out something more about that. The university library seems sadly lacking in any texts on the subject, though I can’t think why.”

Probably because there aren’t many to begin with. The mage lords hadn’t seen fit to leave detailed records of most of their inventions, and most of the healing items which had been discovered – or, at least, what scholars and archaeologists had theorised were healing items, since most of them didn’t do much in the way of actual healing – were almost certainly made by lower-caste artisans. “I’ll see what I can find.”

“Oh, no need for that. After all, you’re on holiday here, aren’t you?”

That’s not the word I’d use for it, Mortimer thought, though he didn’t risk saying it out loud. The last thing he wanted was Avebury getting curious about what exactly he was doing at the Hall – let him think that he was here because of that conversation they’d had in the alleyway, and maybe they’d all get out of this mess with their skins at least partially intact. “I am, but it’s also my father’s library. Though if you want to get yourself yelled at on your first day for upsetting the shelving system, I’m not about to stop you.”

Verist wouldn’t shout at an apprentice for that – at least, not unless they actually managed to pull one of the bookcases over – but Avebury didn’t need to know that. The more he lets me in on what he’s actually up to, the more information I have to take back to the Order.

Unfortunately, Avebury didn’t seem inclined to take the bait. “I’ll take my chances, I think. After all, if I do manage to get a monograph out of it, I’d rather not deal with any unfortunate implications of plagiarism.”

“Suit yourself,” Mortimer replied, turning back to his own book with as much indifference as he could muster. If nothing else, this should keep him off my back while I set to work on that list of Archer’s.

The Sinnlenst didn’t seem to have a reply to that – or, more likely, didn’t think it was worth replying to. After a few moments of eyeing the shelves, he crossed to the nearest bookcase and pulled down a volume, seemingly at random. “This will do to start, I think. I assume you’ll reshelve it for me when I’m done?”

Mortimer rolled his eyes. The gods give me strength. Does he need to insult me every time he opens his mouth, or is it some sort of reflex at this point? “You assume a damn sight too much. You’re the one who didn’t want my help – go put it back yourself.”


“Or deal with my father,” Mortimer snapped, and had the satisfaction of seeing Avebury’s face turn briefly pale behind his spectacles. So, it turns out you do care about what da thinks of you. I can use that.

Right now, though, what he needed was peace, and quiet, and a library which he wasn’t sharing with a godsdamn Sinnlenst.

Well,  he thought, as the Sinnlenst in question walked quickly over to the bookcase and returned the book precisely to where he’d take it from, two out of three isn’t bad.


Getting access to the Sinnlenst headquarters, it turned out, was staggeringly easy. Not least because it apparently wasn’t their damn headquarters after all – when she’d asked, the dour-faced doorman had informed her that the place was a minor safehouse and the only reason they were taking the time to rebuild it was to throw the Order off their trail (though how much of that was true and how much was smoke and mirrors was another question she didn’t have much in the way of answers for).

Avebury’s little display had been good for something, at least: enough of the people working the cleanup recognised her that, once she’d given her name and occupation, she’d been nodded through into the ballroom with little more than a cursory once-over to ensure that she wasn’t trying to smuggle in anything she shouldn’t have been.

A masterpiece of Order infiltration… if there was anything to infiltrate.

The ballroom itself was a wreck – broken windows, singed walls, and patches of floor still coated in a mess of dried blood and shattered glass that crunched underfoot as she made her way across the room. The place seemed predominantly full of servants, likely hired hands who’d been paid well enough not to ask awkward questions, and there was a distinct lack of any of the Sinnlenst higher-ups she’d noticed at the meeting.

The question is, how many of them are permanently out of the picture?

The Order had a frustrating lack of information when it came to exactly who Caine had taken out other than Tyburn and his crew, and Viola had even less – she’d not been able to make it to an Order gathering since the meeting itself, and the little information she did have she’d gleaned from overhearing conversations between Amelia’s parents. But, if the rumours were to be believed, the power struggle at the heart of the Sinnlenst went a good deal deeper than Tyburn and Avebury’s disagreements over tactics.

I know a fair number of the higher-ups wouldn’t have approved of what Avebury and Foreval did with regards to Caine. Did the two of them take the opportunity to settle a few more scores in the midst of the chaos?

It wasn’t a reassuring thought. The elders of the Sinnlenst might be a pack of cold-hearted brutal conniving bastards, but they were at least a known quantity. If Avebury’s faction had upset the balance that badly, the war was about to get a whole lot more complicated.

And that’s not something to be dwelling on when I’m supposed to be doing a quick in-and-out raid. I’ll talk to ‘melia about it later.

Moving as quickly as she could without arousing suspicion, she made her way up the sweeping staircase at the back of the room. Here, at least, there were fewer bloodstains, though the cracked and splintered wood of the balustrade suggested that Caine’s rampage hadn’t entirely been confined to the ground floor.

I’m assuming whoever made off with my clothes stashed them somewhere up here. Now if I can just grab that damn waistcoat, I’ll-

Under the scents of blood and floor-soap, a sudden and horribly familiar odour clawed its way into her sinuses. She froze, her hand outstretched towards the handle of the nearest door, her heartbeat thudding in her ears.

No. No, he can’t be here. He can’t be.

For a moment, she wanted nothing more than to break and run, fleeing four-footed into the gathering night awayfrom the stench of death and rot and wrongness. But that would bring the whole house of cards crashing down around her ears, and it’d be more than just her caught in the rubble, and she’d be damned if she’d let anyone else die because she couldn’t control her spirits-damned instincts.

Think about it, damn you! He’s not about to kill you, not here, not now. Avebury wants you alive, which means Caine wants you alive – or, at least, knows that you’re not someone he can kill without causing serious problems.

It helped, a little. Her body still wanted to run, but she could overrule it, keep her feet planted on the floor and her breathing steady enough that, when the thunder in her ears died down, she realised that there were voices coming from beyond the door that she’d been about to open.

Now that’s interesting. Who’s having themselves a conversation all the way up here, I wonder?

She closed her eyes, narrowing her focus to block out all sounds but the murmur of conversation.

“-the least he could have done is tell me what he was planning. I don’t ask for much, you understand, but sometimes it honestly feels as though he takes pleasure in keeping that kind of thing from me.”

Foreval. And in a mood, by the sound of it.

“I… understand.”

“I’m sure you do – or, at least, I’m sure you think you do. It’s honestly a shame. You were one of the brightest minds the Sinnlenst had, when you were alive, and I’m certain that if I’d had control of how we made you, you’d have retained at least a little more of that. But Adam had to push for what he thought was best, and both of us have to live with the results.” An almost childish giggle. “Or rather, one of us does.”

“You… would have chosen… differently?”

That’s Caine. It has to be.

“I would have,” Foreval confirmed, with what sounded like genuine regret. “But that’s neither here nor there now, I suppose.” She sighed, her voice dropping into a lower and more sing-song register. “Caine, Caine, Caine, what am I going to do with you? I can’t deal with you as a bodyguard – you’re far too conspicuous, and you’ve no idea how to treat a lady – but equally well, I can hardly just let you run loose around the city, can I?”

“I could… hunt for you?”

“Oh my sweet boy, that would be charming if it wasn’t such an utterly terrible idea. I’ve seen you work, remember? Subtlety is not your strong suit.”

“Outside… the city?”

“And what prey would you bring me from there? Neither you nor I can subsist on deer and foxes, my darling, and there’s precious else out there for you to hunt for me. Although…” She trailed off, clearly thinking something over, before adding, after a pause, “There is something you could do for me, if you’re minded to head outside the walls.”

I don’t like where this is going, Viola thought, holding herself still with an effort of will.

Caine made a questioning sound – a low interrogative growl in the back of his throat which was almost werewolfish – and she heard Foreval laugh again.

“It’s nothing overly taxing, I assure you. Just… go up to the Hall – you remember, I told you about that a while ago? – and keep an eye on Adam for me.”


“Yes. You used to be good at that, after all. I’m sure you’ll remember how.”


“Full sentences, Caine. You’re not a mindless animal, no matter what certain people might say.”

“What… can I eat?”

“Anyone you can catch outside the Hall. There are almost certainly at least a few bandits or other lowlives skulking in the forest that far up – and, if not, I’m sure one of the local villages can provide. Though do try to be at least a little more circumspect this time, won’t you?”


This was bad. No, worse than bad. Because if Caine was hunting in the forests outside the Hall, then…

Mortimer. Oh Ancestors and spirits preserve,

She whirled on her heel, hurling herself headlong down the staircase and hurtling across the ballroom floor with a speed borne of desperation. The servants and hired hands scattered in her wake, but none of them called out or tried to stop her – which was good, because she had less than no idea what she’d have done if they had.

Four-footed as soon as I’m out of the door, and then the fastest route to the North gate. It’s a straight shot up the mountain from there, as the wolf runs.

And, if the ancestors were smiling on her, she might just manage to make it to the Hall before Caine did.


[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 © 2022 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Silver in the Ashes: Chapter 22 (draft)

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