Silver in the Ashes: Chapter 25 (draft)

“What d’you mean y’can’t fuckin’ see?” Sabbat growled. It was a stupid question and he knew as much, but if Archer had just said what he was pretty fucking sure he’d just said, then they were both in a fuck of a lot more trouble than they’d been a few minutes ago. 

“Exactly what I said,” Archer replied, infuriatingly calmly. He raised one hand in front of his face, spreading his fingers in front of his eye. “I’m not exactly certain what happened, but I appear to be lacking rather more of my vision than I normally do. Which is to say that I can’t see. At all.” He took a deep breath, which sounded more than a little shaky around the edges, and went on, in that same infuriatingly detached tone. “You’re not affected in the same way, then?”

“Already told you I wasn’t.” Mostly because whatever’d knocked Archer flat on his arse seemed to have been solely targeting him. Or, worse, had left Sabbat alone because he was the one bonded to it. “Reckon whatever it was happened when I touched the fuckin’ box, so stands t’reason I din’t get got by it.”

Archer nodded, wiping his bleeding nose on his shirtsleeve with a casualness that made the hairs on the back of Sabbat’s neck stand on end. “I think it was a backlash of some kind, though I’ve not encountered anything quite that strong coming off a ritual which was supposed to be concluded.”

Sabbat’s nose was bleeding as well, though he’d given up trying to staunch it. Wasn’t as if his kit wasn’t consistently getting covered in blood at the moment anyhow. “That much blood says you’re right. Any idea what caused it, other’n the obvious?” And if I keep you talking, your eyesight’ll come back. Any second now. 

“I can only assume that it was to do with whatever – or, to be more realistic – whoever the other box is linked to. The stasis working only affects one of the two halves of the artefact, which means that, per laws of balance, our ritual likely had some kind of effect on the other half of the box. When you broke the circle and removed your-“

“Ain’t mine.”

“Alright, the other box from the stasis working, the link between the two of them reestablished itself, and the resulting backlash caused an explosion of energy. As you said, you were likely protected from it by the fact that you’re bound to one of the two halves… though I can smell the fact that you’re bleeding, so if you have been injured I would very much appreciate you telling me.”

“Nosebleed off the amount of magic in the air. Nothin’ unusual.”

“I’ll hold you to that.” He blinked hard, flexed his fingers in front of his eye again. “Nothing. Damn it.”

“Ain’t your healin’ s’posed t’be takin’ care o’that?” He’d seen Archer come back from worse than this – hells, he’d seen him come back from being shot in the fucking head – so why was it taking so long? “Y’forget t’set it goin’ or somethin’?”

“It’s not a clock, Sabbat. It just… works. By itself. Or, at least, it should do.” He took another breath in, and there was a laugh riding under the edges of it that Sabbat really didn’t fucking like the sound of. “To tell you the truth, I’m not entirely certain why it isn’t.”

…Because you burned through all your energy healing from that bullet wound, and it still ain’t properly fixed yet. And for all that bottle of blood fixed you up a little, it ain’t enough. 

Wasn’t the work of a moment to roll his sleeves up again, peel away the bandages covering the cut he’d made in his arm back when he’d been kneeling in the snow next to Archer’s body last night (and gods, had it only been last night? Felt like a fucking year ago). Didn’t take much longer than that to open the wound again – and, with the box pressed hard against his heart under his shirt, he barely felt the pain. 

“Y’don’t have the reserves,” he said, out loud. “Can’t burn what y’don’t have.”


“What use’re you goin’ t’be tryin’ t’work out how t’fix this if y’can’t read those books o’yours?”

“Sabbat. You’re more than my equal as a scholar, for all you try to hide it. You could easily work through them yourself.”

“An’ what use is that goin’ t’be if I’m too fuckin’ sick t’do what needs done?” He set his jaw, shifting round to put his other hand carefully on the back of Archer’s head. “You an’ I both know this ain’t goin’ t’get fixed if you ain’t able t’see. So fuckin’ drink.

Sabbat,” Archer hissed, grabbing hold of Sabbat’s arm before he could get it close to the vampire’s mouth. “This is not an option.”

“Course it fuckin’ is. I trust you t’stop.” 

“That’s not- Gods above, that’s not the point! I could kill you!”

“An’ I ain’t dyin’ either way if we can’t find a fix fer this?” He swallowed hard, feeling the edge of the box press against his chest as he did so. “You’re so fuckin’ scared o’that, drink an’ fix it. Worst case y’can bring me back.”

Archer flinched, a violent full-body shudder that nearly pulled Sabbat off the bed, and turned his head away, his expression suddenly sickened. “No. That’s not something I- Don’t joke about that. Please.”

Who’s to say I was joking? But the look on Archer’s face killed any desire he had to take that conversation any further. Time enough to bring that back up when neither of us are fucking bleeding. “Then fuckin’ drink an’ get this fixed, Archer.”

“Have you- You’ve already opened a vein, haven’t you?” He sighed. “Gods. You never do things by halves, do you?”

“I’m bleedin’, an’ you’re wastin’ time.”

“Then let’s fix that.” He loosened his grip on Sabbat’s wrist slightly and then, carefully, leant down to fasten his mouth over the cut. 

The box seemed to like it just as much as it had the last time – which was to say, not a whole fucking lot – but he bit his lip and bore the pain as the silver inlay twisted and writhed against his skin. This was for Archer, after all, and he’d bear a fuck of a lot more if it meant making sure that his best friend (or whatever the hells Archer was to him, anyhow) wasn’t going to wind up helpless and hurting when he could do something – anything – to change that. 

Doesn’t hurt all that much anyhow. I’ve had worse. 

Truth be told, there was something almost hypnotic about the push and pull of breath against his skin, and the warmth building under his breastbone was doing nothing to offset that. It felt for all the world like a good hit of Smoke – the world falling away, stress and pain and worry and irritation blurring and fading out under a thick fog of don’t-care-never-mind that seemed to swallow everything around him. 

Fairly sure that ain’t a good sign. Problem is, ain’t exactly certain I mind it either way. 

He could feel his eyelids drifting closed – he blinked, forcing them open, and found that he was halfway to lying on the bed, Archer’s mouth still pressed to his wrist. The room seemed to be shifting to and fro, as though they were on a ship sailing through high seas and, when he tried to pull himself further upright, the whole place pitched so violently that he fell backwards, pulling Archer down with him.

Been on land for too long, he thought, muzzily. Need to get my sea legs back. 

Faintly, at the back of his mind, he was certain that something was wrong, but there didn’t seem to be much he could do about whatever it was right now. And, besides, the bed was comfortable. 

Just… need to get my bearings. Help Archer with… whatever it is he needs helping with. Stay… awake…

But the bed was very comfortable – and, between the warm glow in his chest and the strange half-drunken tingling numbness spreading up his arm and across his torso, he was feeling almost as relaxed as he had done back in the bathhouse with Archer’s fingers working through his hair. 

Should tell him to stop. 

Just a few minutes more. ‘s all. 

Just… a few… 


What’s going on? And, more importantly, am I in trouble because of it?

From the look on his face, the Archmage was as confused as Fest was about what Avebury was up to – though, in his case, he wasn’t also potentially about to be blamed for it. 

He can’t think that we’re working together, can he? I mean, I know I’m supposed to be part of the Sinnlenst, but he’s not supposed to know about that either, and it’s hardly as though any of the reports he might have got from the university would have said that we’re friends, and-

“Mr Fest?”

He jumped, very almost knocking over his wineglass in the process. “Sir?! I mean, sir?”


Easier said than done! His heartbeat was pounding in his ears, halfway to drowning out every other sound in the room, and the few mouthfuls of dinner he’d managed to eat were suddenly threatening to make an unwelcome reappearance. “I- That is-“

“I promise you, you’re not in any kind of disgrace,” Verist said. “And you needn’t bother telling me that you weren’t thinking as much – your face betrays you.” He smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling behind his spectacles. “If it’s any consolation, I believe that’s exactly the same expression I used to make whenever any of my fellow apprentices decided to talk back to a professor.”

If Fest was honest, it was hard to imagine the Archmage as being scared of anyone. But the smile had seemed genuine enough – and, being equally as honest, anything which meant that he wasn’t being shouted at was fine by him. “Thank you, sir. Er… Do you know what’s going on?”

“Honestly? I haven’t a clue. My suspicions is that something Mr Avebury ate may have disagreed with him, but I’m sure we’ll know more when Harry comes back. In the meantime, I suggest you take the opportunity to finish up the last of this very fine venison, and we’ll go over the full answer to that question you had about resonance – without Mr Avebury’s interruptions, I suspect you’ll get hold of the concept a good deal faster this time.”

“I-” It feels like there’s something you’re not telling me. And the venison’s very nice, but I really do need some blood, and I don’t think you’ve remembered that I asked you for some. And Avebury’s dangerous – aren’t you worried about Mortimer? He’s your son, after all. And if you’re not worried about him, is that to do with whatever it is you’re keeping from me? Why am I always the last person to know about this kind of thing anyway? “That sounds excellent, sir. Could you pass the wine, please?”


What the hells are you up to?

Mortimer had been able to catch up with Avebury without too much trouble – he had the advantage of knowing the Hall like the back of his hand, after all – and it’d been the work of a few moments to sequester himself just out of sight but with a good view of whatever it was the Sinnlenst had ducked out of dinner to set in motion.

Whatever Avebury was up to, though, at the moment it didn’t seem to involve doing much in the way of anything other than leaning against the wall and looking as though he was going to be sick. 

Could always be that the meal just didn’t agree with him. Though that wouldn’t explain whatever’s up with his arm. 

He wasn’t going to get much more in the way of information from skulking in the shadows, that much was certain. And, given how the Sinnlenst had left the dining room, the idea of someone coming after him to check on him wasn’t too far-fetched as excuses went. 

Assuming that he buys the idea that I give a rat’s arse about whether he’s feeling alright, which is admittedly a stretch. I suppose I could always say that da sent me to ask, if he pushes the issue. 


The Sinnlenst looked up as he approached, face tight with pain, and, despite himself, Mortimer was shocked to see exactly how much of the colour had drained from the younger man’s cheeks and lips. 

If he is faking, he’s doing a better job of it than anyone else I’ve ever met. 

“Are you feeling alright?” 

“I’m fine,” Avebury snapped, folding his arms defensively across his chest and meeting Mortimer’s eyes with a glare which would have been a good deal more threatening if he hadn’t looked as though he was about to keel over.  

Well that’s an obvious lie. “Of course you are. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing you need concern yourself with. Now if you’ll excuse me-“

“I don’t think I will, actually. If you’re about to drop dead in my father’s house, I’d rather it didn’t happen where nobody’d find you until your corpse starts to smell.”

“So much for hospitality,” the Sinnlenst muttered, sullenly. 

Mortimer had to bite back a laugh at that. Of all the bloody things, the fact that I can give as good as I get when it comes to your level of insults is what gets to you? “Oh, if that’s what you’re after – you’re a guest under my father’s roof, and, more to the point, you’re currently his responsibility. Which means that if you run off in the middle of dinner looking like you’re about to get reacquainted with your breakfast on the way back up, someone is going to get sent after you to check that you made it to the latrines in time.”

“And that’s what you’re doing here, is it?”

“Naturally. After all, as you keep telling me, we don’t have to be enemies.”

 For the first time, he saw something which almost looked like a flash of real fear in the Sinnlenst’s eyes – only there for a second, and gone almost before he’d registered its existence, but…

He’s alone. He’s weakened. There’s nobody close enough to come running if he calls for help. And he doesn’t have his damn pet monster to back him. 

And if I kill him here and now, it sets in motion the kind of catastrophe that winds up ruining multiple lives, even without factoring in whatever it is he and his cronies have been working on which relies on him being up here. 

“Don’t worry, I’m not about to stab you. If nothing else, it’d take years to get the bloodstains out of the floorboards, and they never quite fade out properly.”

“Oh please,” Avebury snapped. “Spare me the dramatics.” He pushed away from the wall, his hand going to something in the breast of his waistcoat. “You can tell the Archmage that I’m going to my room to rest, and that I’ll be quite well again by tomorrow morning. There’s no need for him – or anyone else – to worry.”

“I’ll tell him,” Mortimer replied. “Once I’ve made sure that you get to your room alright. After all, wouldn’t want you to take a wrong turning and pitch down a staircase or something.”

If looks could kill, the Sinnlenst’s answering glare would have laid Mortimer dead on the floor. As it was, though, there wasn’t much else he could do other than glare, and he knew it. “I don’t need an escort,” he managed, after a few moments, but there wasn’t much bite behind it. “And don’t you have something else to be getting on with?”

“Honestly?” Mortimer said, with a grin that he didn’t quite manage to hide, “I really really don’t.”


Archer came to with a start, his mouth still fixed on Sabbat’s wrist. He had no idea how much time had passed – usual, when drinking from a willing volunteer, but still unsettling – but, judging by the white and grey blur that had replaced the previous black and red blur which had swallowed his vision, it’d been long enough that the blood had started to do its work. 

And more than long enough for something to have gone wrong. 

He pulled away, running his thumb gently over the incision in order to ensure that enough saliva stayed behind to clot the wound properly.  


No response. 

“Sabbat? Can you hear me?”

The skin under his hand was still warm, thank the gods, and there was a pulse beating under his fingertips – but it was threadier and slower than it should have been, sluggish where it should have been strong. 


Still nothing. 

With mounting panic (and cursing the speed of healing that meant that he was still all but working blind) he ran his hands over the assassin’s chest and face, searching for any sign of life other than that pulse beating so worryingly slowly at his wrist. 

Please. Please don’t let this be the end of it. Please. 

His palm brushed across Sabbat’s nose and mouth, as gently as he could manage, and he was barely able to stop the tears of relief as he felt the warmth of the assassin’s breath against his skin. 

Thank you. Lady of borders, lady of boundaries, lady of the grey spaces between life and death, thank you


This time, finally, there was an answer, though it was more of a muffled groan than anything approximating an actual word. Nonetheless, it was enough to make the tears come, and this time there was no way he could hold them back. 

At least, until someone’s hand landed on his cheek, the skin rough and warm, and someone’s thumb brushed away the tears with a brusqueness that was still somehow reassuring.

“-th’fuck’re you cryin’ for?”

“I thought-” that I’d lost you. That I’d killed you. “You shouldn’t have- Gods, that was too close. Far too damn close.”

“Y’get enough?”

“More than enough. Thank you.” He blinked, watching the blurry shapes which filled his vision slowly resolve into something which vaguely resembled the layout of the room. “You were right. I was trying to draw on reserves I didn’t have – or, at least, my body was.”

“Told y’so,” the assassin said. He coughed, a rough, hacking sound which rattled in his chest, and hissed something under his breath which Archer recognised as a string of deeply filthy cant curses. “Y’reckon y’can see your way t’fixin’ this?”

“As soon as my vision’s fully restored. Currently everything’s a little blurry for me to be able to properly read anything, though I suspect that’ll resolve in time.” He paused, then added, because he had to ask, and because it was better than focusing on any of what had just happened: “Was that an intentional play on words?”

“What d’you-” Sabbat began, and then he gave a bark of surprised laughter, warm and genuine and with none of the wryness or bitterness which Archer had almost come to expect over the last few days. “Ha! Gods, no – hadn’t even fuckin’ thought of it.”

“That’s something, then. Things would have come to a pretty pass if you were resorting to puns to try and distract me.”

“Ain’t anywhere near that bad yet,” the assassin agreed. He propped himself up on his elbows (or, at least, Archer assumed that was what he was doing – his vision was still too blurred for him to be able to make out details) and took a deep breath, coughing a little on the bottom of the inhalation. “Reckon t’tryin’ any more o’those ritual ideas this evenin’?”

“No. Neither of us are in a fit state to put together a basic ritual circle at the moment, let alone an experimental one, and I’m not about to trust to the gods that we won’t somehow trigger a repeat of what just happened.” And if I need to drink from you again, you will die. It’s only by Her grace that it didn’t go that far this time. 

“Tomorrow, then.”

“Tomorrow. Once you’ve had something to eat, and a full night’s sleep.”

“Says the bastard with a still-healin’ bullet hole through his skull,” Sabbat griped.

“Once again, my parents were married when they had me, so that’s still inaccurate. And it’s hardly all the way through at this point.”

Pedantic bastard. Wasn’t the point, anyhow.”

“I see. So your point was…?” 

“‘s rich fer you t’be lecturin’ me about gettin’ rest when you’re needin’ it just as much as I am.”

“And when did I say I wouldn’t be?” Admittedly, he had been meaning to take the opportunity to catch up on the reading he was currently falling behind on, but there was no reason Sabbat would have known that. Unless I’m honestly that predictable. 

“Y’din’t need to. You forget how long we’ve been friends, Archer?”

“…Fair point. In which case, assuming that nothing changes overnight, we’ll start again in the morning.” Hopefully with a better understanding of what it is that we’re dealing with, and a better plan for how to handle any more backlash. 

He stood up, bracing himself on one of the bedposts, and contemplated the walk back to his room with a growing sense of dismay. He could find his way around the Hall well enough when he could see where he was going, but the current limitations of his vision meant the prospect of trying to navigate the corridors and staircases of the less-used side of the house was something akin to a nightmare. 

I suppose I could sleep here. But Sabbat needs to get back to the room, and I don’t trust that he’ll make it there without my help. 

There was a clatter from behind him – he turned, blinking hard, to see the blurry shapes of the last of the ritual paraphernalia which’d been piled on the bed slide into an untidy heap on the floor.


“Ain’t sleepin’ on top o’ all that,” Sabbat said, as though it was the most reasonable thing in the world. He yawned, falling back onto the bed, and waved an arm vaguely in the direction of the other half of the mattress. “Room enough fer you, if y’want. Better’n tryin’ t’get back t’your room when y’can’t see a fuckin’ thing.”

There was no reason the offer should have felt as dangerous as it did. They’d shared tighter quarters than this on the Arrow, even if they’d had separate hammocks back then, and it did make sense for the both of them to sleep in this room overnight – if for no other reason than it’d make it quicker for them to start work in the morning. And, given the fact that there was only one bed, and that the floor was covered in sigil workings and reference books (and a fair amount of general clutter, thanks to Sabbat’s haphazard cleaning effort), it was only logical for the two of them to share. 

And yet, for all that, making the decision to sit back down on the bed somehow felt a damn sight closer to fencing with live blades than anything else he’d done that day. 

“Should kill th’lights,” Sabbat muttered, the end of the sentence swallowed by another yawn. “‘less y’want t’burn down your mate’s gaff while we’re sleepin’.”

He had a point, damn him. “You could have said as much while I was still standing up, you know.”

“Din’t remember while y’were standin’. ‘sides, your night vision’s better’n mine.”

“Now why is it that you’re only willing to admit that when you want me to do something for you?”

“Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”


“You only just realisin’ that?” 

“Normally I’m not the one you’re lying to.” He stood back up, breathing a sigh of relief as he looked around the now significantly less blurry-seeming room. His vision wasn’t entirely back to normal yet – everything beyond a few feet away was soft-edged and faded – but Sabbat’s blood had already allowed his healing to repair enough of the damage that he was able to navigate his immediate surroundings without walking into or tripping over anything. “I’ll leave a candle on the bedside table in case you need it overnight.”

The assassin made a scornful noise in the back of his throat. “Said your night vision was better’n mine, on account o’ the fact that you’re a leech an’ I’m not. Mine’s still decent enough t’get by without needin’ a candle.”

“In the city, yes. There’s a damn sight less ambient light out here, especially with that storm rolling in, and the last thing we need is you breaking your neck on a staircase in the dark.”  And don’t think I didn’t notice that ‘leech’ comment. When this is all over, you and I are going to have words about that particular epithet. 

“Y’think I’m that fuckin’ clumsy?”

“I think if you’re tired enough that you can’t get up and blow the candles out on your own, you’re tired enough that your reflexes won’t be nearly as sharp as they usually are. Not to mention the bloodloss, as well as whatever else that box is doing to you.” 

If Sabbat had an answer for that, he apparently didn’t think it was worth sharing. He yawned again, jaw-crackingly wide, and closed his eyes, his head rolling slightly to the side as the muscles in his neck and shoulders relaxed. 

Archer sighed and crossed to the table, blowing out the candles set in the middle of the piles of books and, with a brief prayer to Sky Brother, wetting his fingers and dousing the wicks. The network of faded burn scars that laced across his left hand and the side of his face throbbed briefly in remembered pain, but he forced the memory away – it was old enough that most of the sting was gone from it, and he’d made a point in the years afterwards to keep dousing the wicks of candles as he always had done, refusing to let one accident take something which had been a part of his life since childhood. 

There’s something there about facing your fears, I suppose. I only wish I knew exactly what it was I’m so damn afraid of right now. 

That was a lie, of course. He knew full well what he was most afraid of in that very moment, because he’d nearly seen it happen – or, rather, felt it happen – right in front of him, only a few moments ago. 

But that isn’t all of it. Not completely. There’s something else at play here. 

He risked a look back at the bed, and the half-asleep form of the assassin sprawled across the foot of it. 

Am I terrified of losing my closest friend? Or am I terrified of losing the man I love before I’ve worked up the courage to tell him that to his face?

But the only answer his silent question received was the rattle of the shutters as the storm-wind caught at them, and there was little enough in that to tell him which was the truth. 

Sabbat was right. I need to rest. 

Dousing the rest of the lights took him only a few minutes, and, by the time he’d made his way back to the bed and pulled off his boots (a step which Sabbat had omitted), he could feel the slow heaviness of sleep overtaking him. 

Time enough to fix this in the morning. 

I hope.


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

[Author’s note: this is raw NaNo content, so 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 25 (draft)

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