Silver in the Ashes: Chapter 29 (draft)

Of all the strange things he’d had to do in his life, Mortimer thought, smuggling a naked werewolf up to his room so he could get her a change of clothes had to be somewhere in the top ten. 

She’d offered to shift back to wolf form for the trip upstairs, though he couldn’t tell whether that was more about her own comfort or stopping him from desperately trying not to look at her (he was well aware that werewolf norms around clothing were different, especially after the lecture she’d given him back in that alleyway, but it still felt wrong not to give her her privacy), which he’d have gratefully taken her up on – if it hadn’t been for the fact that, almost as soon as she’d suggested it, she’d pulled the kind of face which implied that doing so would likely be a very bad idea. 

So she’d stayed human-shaped (or, at least, two-legged – she was fairly insistent that even in that form she wasn’t a bloody human, thank you very much) and capable of operating doorknobs, which meant that the two of them had been able to make a fairly speedy journey through the servants’ quarters and up the back staircase which led almost directly to his room without encountering anyone in the process. 

And now she was sitting on his bed – still very much naked, he might add, which was still incredibly awkward – and trying to explain to him exactly what she’d overheard back in the city. 

“-they’re definitely not working together on this particular… whatever it is that they’re doing. Also you should get the word out to the local villages – if there’s a Turned hunting in the area, they need to know about it.”

She wasn’t wrong. The problem was… 

“Can try and get out tomorrow, but with the weather we’re having, we might well end up being snowed in for the next few days.” Which at least means that, if he was what Fest saw and what spooked the horses, he’s snowed in with us. Not entirely sure that’s a good thing, mind. 

From the look on her face – or what he could catch of it out of the corner of his eye – he was pretty sure she’d just come to the same conclusion. “Damn. On a vaguely positive note, she told him not to hunt anyone inside the Hall – or, at least, that’s the way I parsed what she said. So he’s not likely to attack anyone attached to the estate.”

“Unless he gets hungry.”

“Point.” She grimaced, rubbing at her right shoulder. “Spirits but I wish I wasn’t halfway falling apart right now. I’d have less than no chance against him in this state, and the bastard probably knows it.”

Privately, he was fairly certain that neither of them would have any chance against Caine whatever state they were in, but he wasn’t about to say as much. He’d never heard Viola sound quite so despondent before, and it was more unsettling than it had any right to be. “If you get dressed, I’ll see if I can find some food for you. There’s probably some left-over venison down in the kitchen – Cyra usually cooks up enough that we can have it cold for lunch for the next couple of days – and there should be some syrup and berries if you need something sweet.”

There was a sudden growling noise from Viola’s direction and he wondered briefly what he’d done to upset her, before realising with a slight shock that it was coming from her stomach. 

“Gods. Are you that hungry?”

Yes.” She grabbed for the shirt and underthings he’d laid out on the bed for her, scrambling into them with a haste that had him worried she was going to rip them apart at the seams. “Don’t bother with boots, but if you’ve got a pair of trews I can borrow-“

He did. Admittedly, they were more like britches on her, given her height, but she didn’t seem to mind overmuch – or, if she did, she minded the idea of not getting dinner significantly more. 

“Right. You said there was food.”

“I did.” And now you’re actually wearing clothes, I feel a damn sight happier about walking around the house with you. 

They’d still have to go carefully, of course – as far as Avebury was concerned, Viola was supposed to be back in the city, and he’d likely not react well to finding her out here – but if it was just a case of hiding from the Sinnlenst then he had plenty of practice with that already. 

That’s a point. She already knows Sabbat and Archer are supposed to be up here, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have assumed that she was going to show up. 

Gods, this just gets more and more bloody complicated, doesn’t it?


Honestly, if she’d not been very much not that way inclined (and pretty sure he’d not have appreciated it) she could’ve bloody kissed him. 

Food. A chance to rest, somewhere that I’m not looking over my shoulder for Caine every five fucking minutes, and food. Oh, and clothes, I suppose. Not sure that’s as important as the rest, honestly, but I’ll not argue with it. 

The clothes he’d lent her weren’t exactly what she’d have picked out herself – they were heavier fabric than she was used to, and obviously not cut for someone her height and build – but they were more than adequate to cover up the bits that humans (and vampires) tended to have problems with, and she wasn’t about to argue with that if it got her something to eat faster. 

Speaking of…

“Are you taking the long way round for any particular reason, or did you just fancy a detour?”

He looked back over his shoulder at her, raising a friendly eyebrow. “You must be feeling at least slightly better, if you’re coming out with sarcasm all of a sudden. Good eyes, though. I wanted to head past my father’s study on the way – if we’re able to get him to come down to the kitchen with us, you can eat and brief him on the situation at the same time.”

“You realise that’s not going to work, right? Not unless you expect me to explain this whole mess with my mouth full, and that’s not something I’d wish on anyone.”

“Then you can eat before you brief him, while I explain what you’re doing here.” He turned down a corridor, moving unerringly through what was likely for him almost pitch darkness, and gestured for her to stop for a moment. “Actually, before we go any further, there’s someone else who probably needs to be dragged into this meeting. A couple of someones, in fact.”

Her nose wasn’t so full of dried blood that she couldn’t make out the scents of the two people in the next room, even muddled as they were with the smell of dried herbs and candlesmoke. “This is going to be a regular war council at this rate.”

“That’s the idea.” He paused, obviously thinking something over, then said “On that note, did you tell Amelia you were heading up here?”

You just had to bloody ask, didn’t you? “No. But she knew there was a possibility.” And she can yell at me later for it, if she wants. It’s hardly as though she doesn’t have form for running off on ridiculous rescue missions, anyway. 

He made a pained sort of expression in her general direction, which she was fairly certain he’d forgotten she could see. “Rather you than me when it comes to explaining that to her. You know she’s been worried sick about that leg of yours?”

“Oi. If I wanted another sodding brother to fuss over me, I’d’ve been a triplet.” But she couldn’t help feeling a small warm glow somewhere behind the hunger clawing at her belly. “Besides, does she know you’ve been sneaking around in the cellars trying to ambush a damn Turned by yourself?”

This time the face he pulled was very much not aimed in her direction. “Gods no. Are you going to tell her?”

“Only if you start going into details about how I got up here. We can save both stories until we’re all together in the city again – that way if she wants to throw things, she won’t have to worry about messing up the circle.”

Truth be told, she was feeling more than a little guilty about having run off – it’d been the right thing to do at the time, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t’ve handled it better – and she didn’t want to make Amelia any more worried than she likely already was. And, while in reality she’d likely not wind up throwing things (if anything, she’d be more inclined to try and hand them blankets and hot drinks through the ritual circle, like she’d done with her parents when they’d been away from home when she was small), that didn’t mean that telling her was going to end well

No. Better to save all the gory details for when all of this is over. She’s got enough to deal with already with that bloody plan of hers without having her chewing her tail over something she can’t control – or, worse, having her try and convince her parents to let her come up here as well. 

They’d not allow her to go, of course – not without an invitation from the Archmage and likely some kind of escort to ensure that she and Seb weren’t kidnapped on the road – but that didn’t mean Viola wanted to take the chance. Especially since there was always the outside possibility that Lord and Lady Luciel might decide to come up to the Hall themselves, and that was likely to end even more poorly for everyone concerned. 


She blinked, dragging her thoughts back to the present with a start. “What?”

“How long has it been since you saw either of them?”

That’s the second time someone’s asked me that today, and I don’t like it any more from you than I did from Jenny. Something’s wrong here. “A couple of days ago. And yes, I know about the bloody talisman – no sodding pun intended.”

He lowered his voice, leaning in closer. “How much do you know?”

“It’s bad news, it’s blood-bonded to Sabbat, and it’s probably pre-Fall. How wide of the mark am I?”

“Not too far. It’s killing him.”

Oh spirits and ancestors no. I thought it was bad, but that’s-

“Thank you for the confirmation,” said someone, far too close to her ear. 

She couldn’t help it – she jumped, spinning around and dropping down into a defensive stance almost without thinking as the door they’d been speaking outside swung slowly open… revealing an all-too-familiar figure looking down at the two of them with an almost completely unreadable expression. 


Why do I get the feeling Mortimer didn’t intend for him to overhear that?

“You might want to remember,” said Archer, stepping out into the passageway and pulling the door gently closed behind him, “that vampires have very sensitive hearing.” He leant against the wall, folding his arms in a way that would have looked casual if his hands hadn’t been shaking ever so slightly. “That being said, there is always the possibility that I didn’t hear you entirely correctly, Mortimer. Would you care to repeat yourself?”

Judging by the expression on Mortimer’s face, that was the last thing he wanted to do. But he drew himself up to his full height, tucked his arm behind his back as though he was standing at attention on a parade ground and said, admirably calmly, “I said that it’s killing him, sir. Because it is. Or, at least, my father believes so.”

“And his rationale for that conclusion?”

“He’s not seen fit to explain the details to me, sir. I believe he was waiting to confirm his calculations before telling you, since at this point in time he’s not managed to double-check his workings beyond any possibility of doubt.”

“Drop the ‘sir’. I’m not your commanding officer.”

“Yessir. Sorry.”

“Where is Philip now?”

“In his study, si- In his study, as far as I know. That’s usually where he is at this time of night, if he keeps the same hours he did when I used to live here.”

“Good.” He turned to head off down the corridor – then obviously remembered something and turned back, fixing them both with a look which could have melted steel. “If either of you go into that room without my permission outside of either an invitation from Sabbat or a dire emergency, I will kill you. Is that understood?”


“Yes,” said Viola, only just biting off the ‘sir’ which almost followed the word out of her own mouth.

“Good. Now carry on with whatever it was you were doing.”

“I don’t need permission from you to walk the halls of my own house,” Mortimer said, quietly. “And what I was doing- What I was about to do was invite yourself and Sabbat to a war council. Viola has some information which we need to discuss.”

To his credit, Archer actually looked somewhat abashed. “My apologies. I overstepped the mark a little there – though my prior point still stands. Sabbat’s asleep at the moment, and if you value your lives or my sanity, you’ll not wake him. I, on the other hand, will go with you to whatever meeting you want to have, after I’ve had a conversation with Philip.”

He turned back and headed off down the corridor, moving with a long stalking stride which reminded Viola of nothing so much as one of the Efirasi hunting cats she’d seen once on a long-ago trip over the mountains. 

“If you think you’re going to-” Mortimer began, loud enough for Archer to hear him.

Viola slapped her hand across his mouth, effectively silencing him before he could get to the end of the sentence. “Do you want to be in the room when that conversation’s happening?” she hissed. “Because I bloody don’t. Let’s go down to the kitchen – we can catch up with the others there.” And that way we’ll be well clear of… whatever happens between the two of them. 

Mortimer didn’t look happy with that idea, but he also didn’t seem to be too inclined to argue. He reached up and pushed her hand aside, pulling a slight face as he did so. “You need a damn bath – or to wash your hands, at least. You’ve got half a bloody forest ingrained in them at the moment.”

“And you don’t have a sword through your chest right now because I stopped you mouthing off to an angry vampire, so I’d say we’re square.” She doubted Archer would’ve actually stabbed Mortimer, but he might well have backhanded him – and, given vampiric strength, there was a not indistinct possibility that it would’ve amounted to the same thing. “Or were you not about to tell him to back off your da?”

“I- That’s beside the point. And my father can look after himself.”

“Which is why the two of us are going nowhere near that damn study.”

“Are you now telling me where I can and can’t bloody go in my own damn house?”

Oh ancestors give me strength. “First off, keep your voice down. Secondly, no, I’m not. I’m saying that this sounds like something the two of them need to hash out between themselves, and us getting in the way is going to do less than nothing to help with that.” Her guts cramped painfully and she hissed out a breath, leaning hard against the wall of the corridor. “I’m also saying that I really need to bloody well eat something, and this is not getting us any closer to that.”

That at least got his attention, though she suspected it was more the involuntary noise of pain she’d made rather than any of the content of her speech that’d got through whatever was going on in his head. He reached out a hand, carefully resting it on her shoulder as though he was worried that she’d break if he pressed too hard. “I’m sorry. I forgot – this goes beyond just normal hunger for you, doesn’t it?”

She nodded – then remembered that he likely couldn’t see a damn thing, which meant she’d actually need to explain herself. Which’d be easier if my stomach wasn’t tying itself in knots. “That’s right. Can’t heal without food. Can’t keep shifting without it either. ‘specially since you’re borrowing from yourself- ngh- when it comes to emergency shifts.”

“Godsdammit. Can you make it down to the kitchen, or do I need to run and get you something?”

“Can make it down.” Not least because I don’t trust you not to get distracted and sneak off to protect your da. Not that he needs protecting, if even half of what I’ve heard about him is true, but I don’t think that’s going to stop you. “Might need a shoulder to lean on, but I’ll make it.”

“That I can do for you.” He moved to stand partway in front of her, jerking his head sideways to indicate his left shoulder and the lack of an arm on that side. “If you put your weight on my left, I’ve got my hand free to open doors.”

“That won’t hurt you?” She was fairly certain any actual wounds from the amputation would’ve scarred over by now, even with how slowly humans tended to heal up, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t potentially still carrying a fair amount of pain or weakness in the remaining section of the limb. 

He shook his head. “No more than leaning on the other side would. And it means that I can draw my sword without elbowing you in the chest in the process.”

“Reckon you’ll need to?”

“Reckon it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.”

Well, she couldn’t fault him for that. After all, there were at least two Sinnlenst skulking around the place, and there was nothing to say that Caine hadn’t brought friends with him as well. 

And going too far down that trail is an excellent way to wind up backed into a cave and baring your teeth at anyone who so much as breathes in your direction. Stick with what we know, not what we’re scared is the worst possible bloody outcome. 

Of course, with the way today’d been going, the worst possible outcome was almost certainly what they were going to bloody get. But that didn’t mean inviting it in if you didn’t have to. 

Everything’ll look better after some food. I hope. 


I am going to kill him. 

He wasn’t. Not least because, if he was right, that’d be an excellent way to lose whatever information he’d collected on what they were facing. But gods dammit if he wasn’t bloody tempted. 

He’s a human. Killing him would be permanent. 

Which was true, and reasonable. The problem was that right now Archer rather felt as though Verist could use a permanent reminder that lying to one of his oldest friends about something this damn critical was an exceptionally bloody stupid plan. 

Breathe. There is no possible way that this ends well if I walk into his study so angry that I can’t think straight. 

There had to have been a reason Philip had kept this from him, after all. Perhaps Mortimer had misheard, and the prognosis wasn’t as final. Perhaps it was an outside chance – a low enough possibility that the idea of mentioning it doing more harm than good might have some actual merit. Perhaps whatever Mortimer had heard hadn’t been to do with Sabbat at all. 

And perhaps this will all turn out to be an utterly terrible dream brought about by a few too many late nights and a deal too much abysmal alcohol. It’s equally as likely. 

His hands were shaking. 

Hard to hold a sword like that. 

Shouldn’t be thinking about holding a damn sword in the first place. 

Philip was his friend. His oldest friend, in fact. And they’d been more, for a season or two, before they’d agreed that neither of them particularly wanted that commitment with each other. If he was deliberately hiding something from Archer that he knew would hurt him this badly, he was doing it for a damn good reason. 

And that still didn’t stop Archer wanting to hurt him for it. 

He should have known! He should have told me, even if it’s an outside chance, even if it’s only the merest damn possibility! 

And, hot on the heels of that thought, like a shard of ice dropping down his spine: I need to tell Sabbat. 

He didn’t want to. He knew what the assassin was thinking – he’d been open in the past about his desire to go out on his own terms, if it ever came to it, and he was stubborn enough that he’d almost certainly not changed his mind on that fact in the intervening years – and if it was certain that the box was killing him, then… 

He deserves to know. Whatever happens, I can’t keep it from him. 

I shouldn’t keep it from him. 

If it was an outside chance, though. If there was something he could do to stop it before Sabbat even knew how close he’d come to death. If he never had to know it had been that close. Then…

He still deserves to know. 

Just… not right now. Perhaps. 

And if he followed that thought to its logical conclusion, then he was doing to Sabbat exactly what Philip had just done to him, and Sabbat would have every right to be just as bloody angry – more so, in fact, since it was his life which was the subject of the lie. 

It wouldn’t be a lie. An omission, perhaps.  But not a lie. 

And that pedantic fine-detail hair-splitting would last exactly as long as it took Sabbat to outright ask if he was dying. Which he would. 

No. Better to tell him and have done with it. Better still, though, if he could pair the revelation with a plan to fix whatever that fucking box was doing to him. 

He’s too damn stubborn to let it kill him. Which means if there’s a plan – if there’s hope – then he’ll fight like hell to make that work before he goes to the blade. Or worse. 

‘You’re so fuckin’ scared o’that, drink an’ fix it. Worst case y’can bring me back.’

Did he know what he was asking, there? Did he know how badly I want to be able to give that to him? How much I’d give for it to be safe? For it to be something that wouldn’t end in both of us dying horribly? For it to be something that wouldn’t turn him into a twisted mockery of the man I love?

Somewhere at the back of his mind, the treacherous thought surfaced again. The one he’d been trying to suppress, to shut out, to do anything but listen to since the damn message had appeared on Sabbat’s arm. The one which had only got louder over the last day, gaining strength with every sign of pain that the assassin hadn’t managed to hide from him. 

I could find a way. 

Verist had one of the most extensive and eclectic libraries of magical texts anywhere outside the University, after all. He had books and papers which could be found nowhere else – and, in a lot of cases, were the last remaining copies of their kind, after all others had been destroyed or lost. If there truly was a way to Turn someone without destroying what made them who they were – without creating a bloodthirsty monster devoid of all feeling, closer to a beast than anything resembling a rational being – then surely the answer would lie somewhere within the shelves of the Hall. 

I may have burned my research, but I still remember most of what I found. I know where to start looking. 

And if anyone ever found out that he’d been researching that… 

If he dies, it won’t matter anyway. And if there is a way, then… 

Then I would never forgive myself if I failed. Again. 

It wasn’t going to come to that. He was going to ask Philip to explain himself – as calmly and collectedly as he could – and then they’d go from there. Likely there’d be something they could do to slow the effect, even if they couldn’t immediately stop it, and that would buy them more time, which meant that he’d have the space to work out how to break the blood-bond permanently and without harming Sabbat in the process, and then that would happen. And nobody would have to know he’d even thought about the possibility of solving this any other way. 

But it still wouldn’t hurt to be prepared. 

“No,” he said, out loud, clenching his fist hard enough that he felt his fingernails dig gouges into the skin of his palm. “There are lines we do not cross. Not now. Not ever.”

Not even if you could save him?

It wasn’t going to come to that. They’d find a way through. They always had. 

And if you can’t? 

If they couldn’t, and if all other hope was lost, and if it was a choice between that and losing him… 

“Then we’ll deal with that when it happens.”

And hope to all the gods that I have the strength to make the right decision. Whatever that turns out to be. 


“Are you sure you’re alright?” Mortimer asked, for what felt like the fifth time in as many minutes. 

“I’m fine,” Viola growled, with a certainty which would have been a good deal more convincing if she’d not been gripping his shoulder so hard it felt as though she was trying to claw four matching holes in it. She hissed in a breath through her teeth, huffing it out again in a distinctly lupine mannerism, and said, quietly, “How are you holding up?”

Aside from the fact that I’m distinctly worried that Archer’s about to try and kill my da and that it’s going to be my fault, the fact that you’re clearly in pain and I’ve no clue how werewolves work beyond the basics, and the fact that at this rate we’re pretty sodding certain to miss the window for the meeting with Amelia? Absolutely bloody fine, thanks, how’re you?

“You’re not fine, are you?” she said, after a while. 

What gave it away? “You’re one to talk. Unless you’re trying to put holes through my shoulder out of sisterly affection?”


“I mean, yes.” It’d lost its sting as an insult years ago – it was the objective truth, after all, and his parents had never made him feel any lesser for it – but he was still quietly amused to feel her wince at the implied rebuke. “And you’re right, I’m not. If I’d kept my damn mouth shut-“

“Then Archer would have found out later anyway, and likely been even angrier at the delay,” she retorted, before he could finish the sentence. “Think about it. How rational would you be if you found out ‘melia was dying and someone you trusted had kept that from you? And how much more irrational would you be if you found out that multiple people knew and kept it from you for days?”

Gods. His chest tightened unpleasantly at the thought, and he had to concentrate to stop himself from staggering under Viola’s weight as his knees buckled. “I… That’s not-“

“It’s exactly the bloody same and you know it. You wouldn’t be rational if it was happening to her, he’s not rational because it’s happening to him. And Jenny was right, they’re going to need someone to pull them out of trouble.”

“Jenny?” Mortimer asked, with mounting confusion. The conversation seemed to have got away from him somewhat, and he was having a fair amount of trouble trying to work out how to steer it back on course – namely, towards the fact that Archer might well be going to either kill or seriously injure his father, and that Viola seemed worryingly blasé about that fact. 

“Jenny Goldenfang,” Viola said. Then, as though she hadn’t just namedropped one of the most notorious members of Sacaan’s criminal underworld, she went on: “I’m not saying you’re not right to be worried, but he’s not going to kill your da. Worst case he might stab him a bit-“

“He’s a human, Cervanso! That’s not nearly as bloody reassuring as you seem to think it is!”

She jerked away from him, fingers tightening on his shoulder hard enough to draw blood. “Ow. D’you know how much that fucking hurt?!”

“What are you-” Oh hellfire and damnation, werewolf hearing. And she’s right next to me. Idiot. He lowered his voice, trying to pitch it just above a whisper. “Gods, I’m sorry. I completely forgot.”

“Course you did. Furless, I swear.” She muttered something under her breath that he was fairly certain wasn’t complimentary and, after a beat, slowly loosened her grip on his shoulder. “Suppose I owe you an apology as well. Didn’t mean to scare you- no, spirits, that came out wrong. I didn’t mean to imply that Archer was going to seriously hurt your da. He’s more likely to shout at him, and even that’s not a given. He doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who loses control easily.” She sighed. “Unlike me, apparently. Spirits and ancestors, I’m not good at this.”

“You think I am?” He reached his hand up, resting it carefully on top of hers. “You’re hungry and wounded and not thinking straight, and I’m angry and scared and not thinking straight, and that’s a terrible sodding combination. What say we call it even and go get some damn food?”

“That,” Viola said, with deeply heartfelt sincerity, “sounds like a sodding excellent idea.”


[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 © 2023 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

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