Silver in the Ashes: Chapter 33 (draft)

Viola hadn’t slept well.

Not surprising, really, given the fact she’d spent half of the last night hiding from a sodding Turned. She might’ve managed to evade him in reality, but he’d worked his way into her dreams, hunting her through a twisting maze of rooms and corridors which somehow managed to be both horrifyingly familiar and completely alien. She’d woken up drenched in sweat and halfway out of bed, her legs tangled in the few remaining blankets which weren’t strewn across the floor, and it’d only been luck and long practice that’d saved her from an embarrassing and ignominious disagreement with gravity.

As it was, once she’d worked her way free of the bedclothes and managed a hasty wash (though less hasty than she was planning, thanks to the unexpected and very welcome discovery that the Hall somehow had hot water even in the servants’ quarters), she’d pulled on her borrowed clothes and made her way downstairs to the kitchen where she and Mortimer had shared their dinner the previous night, hoping against hope that she’d be able to scrounge something from whoever was on duty down there to fill the growling void in her belly.

What she’d found when she got down there, however, was a full breakfast spread, easily the equal to anything the Luciels could manage (though more slanted towards the kind of food which could be hunted or harvested from the nearby forest or bought from local villages than the broader selection found in the city). And, when she’d stopped in the doorway with her mouth hanging open, trying to work out a polite way of asking what (if anything) she was allowed to take from the spread, the human woman who’d been standing at the stove had turned around, smiled at her in a way that reminded her almost painfully of some of her older aunts and uncles back in the clan, and told her in no uncertain terms that she was to eat as much as she wanted and to come find her in the servants’ quarters if there was anything else she needed.

“I might not have fed many werewolves,” she’d said, shifting the bubbling pot she’d been stirring onto a cooler part of the stove and sliding the lid carefully over the top, “but I know a hungry youngster when I see one, and you look as though you could do with a proper meal. When was the last time you ate anything that wasn’t leftovers, hm?” And, before Viola could answer, she’d gone on: “And don’t worry yourself about supplies. We’ve enough in to last a good couple of months, and the snow’ll let up well before then. Eat what you need, and tell the others when they come down that they’re to do the same. You can’t do research on an empty stomach – which I’ve been telling the Archmage for years,” she’d added, under her breath, “but will he listen?”

Which’d been all the invitation Viola had needed.

The woman – Cyra, she’d said her name was – had vanished off into the depths of the house after a while, saying that she had something else she needed to take care of, and Viola had been left on her own to do with the contents of the breakfast table as she wished. She’d just about managed to avoid losing her manners completely (even with nobody else around, she was still a guest here) but now, having knocked the worst of the edge off the hunger, she was slowly starting to realise exactly how much of the spread she’d managed to single-handedly demolish.

I hope Cyra wasn’t lying about the stores. If this keeps up, I’m liable to eat the Archmage and his people out of house and home.

She could always go hunting to replenish their stores, of course – even alone, she was more than capable of taking down enough prey to keep a household of humans fed if they had other things to bulk it out with – but the idea of heading out into the forest by herself with Caine still on the loose made her stomach twist and her knees buckle in a way that had nothing to do with rational thought.

I can’t.

I can’t. Not with him out there. Not on my own. Not when I-

“Do you mind if we join you?”

She jumped, halfway falling out of her chair as she twisted round to face the newcomer. “Archer!” And, as she remembered with a hot flush of embarrassment that technically she was a servant addressing someone several ranks above her in the social hierarchy (and who’d made a fairly convincing threat to kill her not that many hours earlier), “I mean, Lord-Captain!”

“Oh gods, no,” the vampire groaned, waving a hand irritably as though he could somehow swat the term of address out of the air. “Please. Or I’ll have to go back to calling you Miss Cervanso, and I suspect you dislike that quite as much as I dislike that title. ‘Archer’ is perfectly fine – preferable, even. And for the love of the gods, please don’t start calling me ‘sir’ again. I’ve already had enough of that this week for a lifetime, and I’m honestly not in the mood for more.”

“Archer, then.” You seem… less murderous this morning. I hope that’s a good sign. “I thought you’d have already breakfasted by now.” Else I’d have saved a good deal more of the food for you.

He pushed the door open fully, stepping through into the room, and she caught sight of the dark smudges underneath his visible eye and in the hollows under his cheekbones. Spirits! You look about as rough as I feel. Then again, you’ve got reason to.

“I didn’t sleep particularly well,” he said, somewhat redundantly. “As you might expect, given… the current circumstances.”

“He means the fact I’m fuckin’ dyin’.”

If Archer looked bad, Sabbat looked worse. She’d not seen him with his hair braided back before, and it seemed to draw even more attention to the gauntness of his features and the grey-blue tint to the skin around his nose and mouth, the sickly pallor only broken by the bloodstains that he’d not quite managed to scrub away.

“You look like shit,” she said, after a moment, because it was the truth, and because she’d been staring for long enough that she had to say something.

He laughed, a hoarse bark of a noise that actually seemed to have some genuine amusement in it, and limped across to the other side of the table, pulling out a chair and dropping down into it with a casualness which she’d’ve almost believed if she’d not seen the corner of his mouth pull tight and heard the hiss of indrawn breath as his shoulders hit the back of the chair. “You ain’t lookin’ so good y’self.”

“Says the man who looks like a walking bloody corpse.”

She caught Archer’s scowl out of the corner of her eye, but Sabbat seemed to take the comment in the spirit she’d meant it – as the vampire opened his mouth to say something, the assassin shook his head and leant back in his chair, swinging his booted feet up onto the table with a thud and a rattle of crockery. “Says the girl who looks like a half-drowned rat. Th’hells’re you doin’ up here, anyhow?”


“He here?”

She nodded. “Foreval sent him. Spying on Avebury, best I can tell.”


“That’s about the size of it.” She looked up, realising with a start that Archer still hadn’t joined them at the table. Was I that far out of line? “Are you alright, s- Archer?”

“Perfectly,” the vampire said, and, oddly enough, seemed to mean it. “Though I do feel I need to apologise for what happened last night. I wasn’t…” He broke off, obviously trying to find the right words. “Gods damn it, this isn’t- I was harder on you and Harry than I needed to be. I stand by what I said, but- I shouldn’t have taken it out on you like that. Either of you.”

“Hey. You didn’t actually stab either of us.” Or rip our heads off, and I was sodding worried about that possibility for a moment back there. “And you’d every right to be angry. If someone’d kept that kind of thing from me about ‘melia, I’d… ancestors, I don’t know what I’d’ve done, but it wouldn’t’ve been good.”

“I’m glad you understand.” He walked around to the head of the table, taking a seat where he could see the both of them without having to turn his head. “Now that that’s settled, I-“

“That your friend keepin’ secrets from you again?” Sabbat asked, in a deceptively calm tone. He dropped his hand to his pocket, fingers playing ever-so-casually over what Viola was pretty sure was the cut-throat razor she’d seen him use in the alley fight.

“Sabbat…” Archer said, warningly.

The assassin rolled his eyes. “Ain’t about t’go make an example, if that’s what you’re thinkin’. But seems t’me he’s makin’ a habit of that.”

Archer sighed. “Far be it from me to tell you you’re being paranoid-“

“Which I ain’t.”

“Which you’re not – but he had his reasons for not telling me. I don’t agree with his logic, but I do understand it.” He leant forward, resting his chin on his hands. “More to the point, he’s already done a good deal of the research needed to fix this.”

“An’ you trust that research?”

“I do. I’ve double-checked it against my own findings, and it bears out.”

“I’d not mind seeing that research for myself,” Viola said, before she could stop herself. “Assuming you’d be willing to share it, that is.” And now you’ll tell me that it’s none of my damn business, and that I’m nowhere near skilled enough a magician to help you with it anyhow.

Which, truth be told, she probably wasn’t. But she wasn’t about to sit on her paws and do nothing if there was anything she could be doing to help.

Thankfully, Archer didn’t seem too offended by the request – if anything, he actually looked almost relieved. “I’d be happy to share what I’ve put together so far. In fact, I’ll admit, I was rather hoping to enlist your help with this.”

“You were?”

“Yes. You and Mortimer both, if you’re willing. Though I can’t promise this is going to be easy.”

Now why does that sound more ominous than it has any right to? “I can’t speak for him, but I’ll do whatever you need.”

“Y’might regret sayin’ that,” Sabbat interjected, with a wry lopsided grin. He nodded towards Archer. “Least let him explain the whole fuckin’ plan t’you before y’start makin’ promises.”

Archer sighed, again, and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, as though trying to ward off a headache. “Sabbat. You are not making this any easier.”

“Ain’t havin’ Cervanso – or anyone – walkin’ into this not knowin’ where it’s headed,” the assassin said, unrepentantly. “Like I said, I ain’t about t’stop you, but I ain’t about t’tell anyone else it’s a good idea either.”

“Fine.” He looked up, his single eye locking onto hers, and she realised with a start that he’d clearly been crying. “As it currently stands, and in the absence of anything we discover in the course of our research which might change that, my plan involves a blood transfusion during a complex and untested ritual which we still have only a very vague outline of – and, specifically, that transfusion would be my blood to Sabbat, in the hope of allowing his body to start repairing some of the damage caused by that damn box. If I pass out during said transfusion, which is likely, you and Mortimer – if you’re both willing – would have to complete the ritual by yourselves, following whatever instructions I’ve been able to give you beforehand, with the full knowledge that at least one life likely hangs on your ability to do so.” He took a breath, then went on: “You have every right to walk away from this, and I’ll not judge you if you do, but that is the plan Sabbat’s alluding to and the reason why he’s quite so insistent that I explain to you what you’re possibly getting into.”

“On account o’th’fact it’s a fuckin’ terrible idea, but I ain’t come up with anythin’ better,” Sabbat added.

“As he says. It’s almost certainly a terrible plan, but if it’s that or do nothing, then-“

“-as well die doin’ somethin’ about it rather’n givin’ in and lettin’ whatever bastard’s behind this fuckin’ thing get the satisfaction.”

…And now I know why I had a bad feeling about this.

It was, on the face of it, a terrible idea. As they’d both said. But if it was the only way, then… “Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb,” she said, out loud, and had the satisfaction of seeing both of them blink. Didn’t think I’d go for it? You should know me better than that by now. “I’ll do it.”

“Even knowing the risks?” Archer said, with the air of someone picking at a scab they knew they shouldn’t be touching.

“Even then. Spirits, I walked into the middle of a sodding Sinnlenst nest and came out alive, didn’t I?” Twice, and Caine was there both times. She stood up, rolling her shoulders and shaking out the ache from her arms. “Besides, you said this was only the plan if you didn’t come across anything in your research that’d change that, didn’t you? So the way I see it, if I pitch in on the research side with you, we’re more likely to turn up something which means we don’t need to follow through on that idea.”

For a brief disconcerting moment, she thought Archer might actually hug her – he certainly looked as though he was considering it. In the end, though, he settled for taking hold of her hands, pressing her fingers between his own almost hard enough to hurt. “Thank you. I- You-“

“I owe you,” Sabbat interjected, from his side of the table. “Hells, we both do.” He reached a hand up to his neck, rubbing at the just-visible marks left by Caine’s fingers. “I know you ain’t one o’th’Right People, but you’re close enough t’know what that means.”

She did. Or, at least, she was pretty bloody certain she knew what he was referring to. And that’s a hell of a thing to promise. “You sure you want to say that?”

“Aye.” He held her gaze, eyes as cold and grey as the clouds outside the window. “An’ I don’t like owin’ anyone anythin’, Cervanso. But for you, I’ll make a fuckin’ exception.”

Hanging unspoken on the edge of that, ‘provided you make good on your end of things’.

Fine by her. She’d not been planning to walk away – if nothing else, unlike Caine, this was something she could actually bloody deal with – and if everything did go to shit, then…

Then it’s not going to bloody matter, is it?

“Thanks,” she said, out loud, and winced at how insignificant the word was to express the magnitude of the promise they’d just sworn on. “So. Research. What’s the plan?”

Archer frowned. “That’s… rather the problem, if I’m honest. What I need is the resources of Verist’s library at my fingertips, but since I’d like to avoid either of our young friends knowing that we’re here, there’s not much I can do with regards to that until significantly later this evening. And, given the possible side-effects of any experimentation, I’m loathe to continue with the practical side of things until we’ve got a much better handle on the theoretical.”

“Which, in plain Sacaask, means we ain’t doin’ any more experimental ritualism until we’re fuckin’ sure it ain’t goin’ t’kill me in the process,” Sabbat interjected, drily. He leant across the table, snagging hold of a tea glass and pouring what looked like a good half-inch of concentrated tea into the bottom of it. “You’re closer t’the samovar, Archer.”

The vampire rolled his eye, but in the same way that Seb did when she was being a brat. “Give me your glass, then. Jam or sugar?”

“Y’need t’ask?”

“Of course not.” He filled the glass almost all the way to the top with boiling water from the samovar, adding a spoonful of rich dark red jam and stirring it into the already strongly-scented brew before passing it back across the table to the assassin. “Here.”

Sabbat nodded his thanks, taking the glass and downing a surprising amount of it straight off for a furless with, as far as Viola was aware, a normal sensitivity to heat. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and she was unsurprised to see a smear of bright blood appear on his red-brown skin, visible for just a moment before he scrubbed it away on the heavy black fabric of his trews.

You’re falling apart, and both of you know it. And if you’re not able to do anything until this evening, you’re going to spend the rest of the day pacing round in circles and pulling your own fur out because you can’t do anything, and then neither of you’ll be of any use to anybody.

Which meant, as far as she could see, that the responsibility for stopping them doing that rested entirely on her shoulders.

Chin up, Viola. You’ve dealt with worse problems in the last day alone.

Yes, and most of those had been things she could bite – or, failing that, run away from.

Though speaking of biting…

It wasn’t the best idea she’d ever come up with, not by a long shot, but it was better than nothing – and, if she managed to pull it off, meant that she’d very likely wind up with an opportunity to get one (or, better, both) of them on their own for a couple of minutes.

And then I’ll get to the bottom of exactly what’s going on here – including whatever it is that they’re not telling each other.

First, though, she had to get them to agree to her idea.

“Of course,” she said, out loud, with a cheerfulness she didn’t entirely feel, “we could always take the opportunity for a morning’s hunt.”

She pressed on, well aware of the looks she was getting from the other two occupants of the breakfast table, but also well aware of the inherent sense of her suggestion.

“Look, there’s no way you’re getting any research done in the library before those two apprentices get to bed, and you’ve said yourselves that you’re worried about any more practical experimentation winding up doing more harm than good, even without the possibility of Avebury getting suspicious and coming looking for the source of whatever’s happening to him.” Assuming I’m right about that, which, if this works, is very definitely a question for later. “Which leaves your options for how to spend your day consisting of, as far as I can see, sleep and fretting, and neither of those sounds like a good use of your time. Hunting, on the other hand, means we’ve food to last however long we’re snowed in for and gets you out away from any possibility of accidentally crossing paths with that bastard, as well as giving you something to take your minds off- off-” She faltered, made a gesture with her hands which summarily failed to encompass everything that was going on, and finished, weakly, “-off all of this shit.”

Archer looked at her for a long, slow minute. Then he smiled, the expression actually reaching his eye this time, and inclined his head in her direction, as though conceding a point in a fencing bout. “That,” he said, “sounds like an excellent idea.”

“-th’hells it does,” Sabbat growled. He took a swig of tea, slamming the glass back down onto the table with barely suppressed violence. “Y’forget there’s a fuckin’ Turned out there, th’both o’you? Y’think Caine’s goin’ t’wait around fer you t’go huntin’ down whatever quarry he’s decided on without makin’ a meal out of one o’you – or both? I ain’t goin’ t’be much use out there, an’ this bastard-” that with a nod towards Archer “-ain’t likely t’be willin’ t’go if I ain’t agreein’ t’stay here, but I’ll be fuckin’ damned if I’ll let the two o’ you-” He broke off, coughing hard, and she saw Archer reach out a hand to steady him (and, more worryingly, saw Sabbat allow the touch).

“He has a point,” the vampire allowed, after a moment. “Though I feel that he’s also forgotten-”

“Quit talkin’ about me like I ain’t in the fuckin’ room,” the assassin snarled. He stood, brushing Archer’s hand off his shoulder, and stalked to the doorway. “Ain’t much I can do t’stop you goin’ out there, either o’you, but I’ve been face t’face with this bastard an’ you ain’t.”

“Been close,” Viola muttered, before she could stop herself.

“Y’want t’repeat that?”

“I said, I’ve been close.” She stood up, facing Sabbat, and folded her arms. “I’ll smell him before he gets anywhere near us – and my sense of smell’s a damn sight better than yours, furless. We’ll be in and out before he knows it, and with a couple of good deer for our supper in the bargain.”

The assassin rolled his eyes. “Y’reckon y’can take him, do you, Cervanso?”


“First smart thing you’ve said since y’came up with this fuckin’ idea, that.” But, unless she was imagining it, there was a grudging hint of respect in his tone.

“Which is why, if I do catch his scent, we’re going to run.” She looked towards Archer, silently begging him to follow her lead. “We’ll be smaller than him, in wolf form, and faster on four legs than he will on two. This will work.”

“It’d fuckin’ better,” Sabbat said, but he didn’t make any move to argue with her. He turned away from the two of them, pulling the door open with a snarl of effort. “Good huntin’, the pair o’you. I’m goin’ t’bed.”


“Thank you,” Archer said, once the two of them were clear of the outbuildings which made up the furthest portion of the built-up part of the estate.

Viola frowned. “For what?”

“Back there.” He nodded back towards the bulk of the Hall, barely visible in the driving snow. “I think Sabbat was looking for a fight, and you managed to thread the needle exceptionally bloody well in providing him just enough of one.”

“Not worth thanking me over,” she said, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. “Pretty much went with my gut, if I’m honest.” She lowered her voice, leaning in closer to be heard over the wind. “Archer?”


“How bad is this? Honestly?”

I wish you hadn’t asked me that. “Bad. I’ve not been able to ascertain exactly what the box is doing to him, but… if my guess is correct, I’m only surprised that his condition isn’t worse.” And, because she’d volunteered to be part of the damn plan, which meant that she needed to know the worst, he swallowed hard and added, as calmly as he could: “He should be dead.”

“How do you reckon that?” Viola asked, her tone thankfully a damn sight more curious than sceptical.

“Simply. The box, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, has been modified in such a way that it’s been leaching life and magic from him even as it’s been healing him. That, coupled with the fact that the original enchantment on the box has, as far as I’m aware, shattered his inherent capacity to store magic – assuming the vessel anima theory, that is – should, by our understanding of how the human body functions, mean that he would be comatose at the very least. The fact that he’s still upright and functional – not to mention awake enough to be trying to get into fights – is… to be honest, it’s nothing short of a miracle.”

“Assuming your hypotheses are correct.”

He closed his eye, fighting back his immediate instinctive response in favour of something a good deal calmer – it wasn’t her damn fault all of this was happening, and she’d every right to question his assertion, given how much of it relied on data which they hadn’t yet been able to properly confirm. Though you’d think she’d realise I’d not be saying this unless I was as close to certain as I’m currently bloody well able to be. “Assuming that, yes. Though given the fact that we are talking about the life of my- of my closest friend, do me the courtesy of assuming that I’ve done my due diligence when it comes to checking my working.”


“Apology accepted. And I shouldn’t have snapped at you there. This isn’t your fault – and, truth be told, you’ve no reason to be involved in all of this beyond the fact you volunteered, which I still haven’t properly thanked you for.”

“Save thanking me until after we’ve fixed this,” she said, and there was something in her tone that made him think very suddenly of Sabbat’s reaction to the whole sodding mess.

“As you wish.” He straightened up, rolling his neck and shoulders in an attempt to bleed away some of the tension. “Shall we, then? Or do you have any other questions you’d like to ask while Sabbat’s not around?”

She laughed ruefully. “And here I thought I was being subtle.”

“You were. It’s just that you and Sabbat both have the same way of going about it,” he told her, and had the satisfaction of seeing her smile. “I’m not angry with you. Ask your questions.”

“Fine.” She squared her shoulders, turning to face him fully. “How likely is it that we’re going to have to use your supposed fallback plan? How sure are you that it’s going to work? And what’re you going to do if it doesn’t?”

I could wish you were a less able student, Miss Cervanso. But he’d told her to ask, hadn’t he? And she deserved to know the answers – or, at least, most of them. “In order, then. More likely than I’d prefer, but there’s still a good deal of the library that we’ve not looked through yet. Reasonably sure, based on my understanding of the magic behind it. And… I’m not certain yet.”

A lie, that last, but he’d rather that than have to explain his real plan to her, especially given her (more than understandable) hatred of Turned.

And it’s hardly a plan, anyhow. A glimmer of an idea at best, and that glimmer more than likely a mirage. But giving up on that would mean accepting that there is a possibility that I can’t save him, and that I refuse to allow.

She tilted her head to one side, an unexpectedly canine tic, and looked at him for a long moment, her ice-blue eyes bright in her flushed face. Then:

“You’re holding out on me,” she said, abruptly.


“You’ve got more of a plan than you’re letting on for if this doesn’t work.”

“Yes.” He wasn’t going to lie to her – not when she’d proven that she was apparently more than capable of reading his expressions. And the more information I give her, the less she feels as though she has to go digging. I hope. “But it’s almost certainly a dead end, and I’m not willing to have anyone else waste their time on it.”

For a minute he thought that she was going to push the topic anyway, but eventually she shook her head, blowing the snow away from her face with a very lupine huff. “Suit yourself. If you do want any help with whatever it is, though, you only need to ask.”

“Thank you.”

“Especially on account of the fact that you’re pulling the kind of face about it which suggests it’s something you’d rather not be tackling on your own.”

Gods, is it that obvious? But he’d not been sleeping well the last couple of nights – and, more than that, his body was still burning through energy trying to heal the last remnants of the damage done by both the magical backlash from the box and the bullet he’d taken to the head – which meant he was almost certainly running at less than full capacity when it came to controlling the outward expression of his emotions. Thank the gods Sabbat’s too distracted to take advantage of that particular weakness. The last thing I need is for him to start asking the same kind of questions, considering some of the things he’s said of late.

“Anyway,” Viola said, after a moment. “Hunting.” She nodded towards the forest. “Are you minded to go after bigger game, or something smaller?”

“In this weather, I’ll take what I can get,” he said, honestly. “Though my preference would be for a deer or two, if we can manage it.”

“Gralloch in the field?”

“Yes. Unless you’d rather keep them intact?”

She shook her head. “Easier to drag back if we gralloch ’em, and if we make our kills far enough away from the Hall, the innards might do as a distraction for Caine.”

As far as Archer was aware, that wasn’t likely – Turned didn’t gain nourishment from animal blood or viscera, and were therefore unlikely to seek it out – but, looking at Viola’s expression, he found that he didn’t feel much like telling her that. Let her believe that she can do something to deal with him. Better the illusion of control than… well, I’m more than aware of the irony of that particular train of thought.

“Deer, then,” he said, out loud, before she could read that from his face. “Wolfshape?”

“Would it be anything else?” She grinned sidelong at him. “Assuming you can keep up, of course.”

“Oh, you want to make a race of it?” She was very obviously trying to distract him – but hells, he could do with a distraction at the moment, and if it meant that she was going to stop asking awkward questions, he was more than happy to play along.

“Happy to, provided you acknowledge I’ll likely beat you hollow.”

“We’ll see about that. Do you have somewhere to drop your clothes?”

From the look on Viola’s face, she hadn’t thought that far ahead. “Was assuming I’d just stash them behind a tree.”

“We can do better than that.” He nodded towards the bathhouse, just visible through the snow and fog. “We should be able to drop your clothes and my sword in there.”

“What’s there? Another stable?”

“Mortimer didn’t show you?”


Despite everything, he found himself smiling. “Follow me. I think you might be surprised – in a good way.”


[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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