Paris spread out at his feet, the lights of the city sparkling like diamonds on black velvet. If he squinted, he could make out the individual monuments: Notre Dame with her twin bell towers, Sacré-Cœur gleaming white on the top of Montmartre, la Tour Eiffel, towering over the city. With a sigh, the white-haired wizard turned away from the arched window with its carved stone flourishes. His eyes scanned the office, taking in its familiar dark paneling broken only by a flickering map and inset shelves lined with the marks of his rank and power: the medallion that signified his position as the commanding general of the Milice de Sorcellerie; the plaque with the names of all the previous heads of l’Association Nationale de Sorcellerie; photos of him with the President, the Prime Ministre, and various heads of state.
He focused on the map, watching the orderly progression of lights that indicated a patrol’s progress through the fifth arrondissement. A snap of his fingers changed the parameters, pulling back so he could keep watch over the entire city. He frowned at the sight of a patrol not moving near l’Arc de Triomphe, hoping they had not been ambushed by Serrier’s rebel wizards, but before he could call down to the soldier on watch at the full-sized map, a knock sounded at his door. He opened it with a gesture and waited for his captains to join him.
“Bellaiche has agreed to meet with us,” General Marcel Chavinier told them when they were seated, picking up the letter he had received from the chef de la Cour of the Parisian vampires. “Tomorrow night at midnight, in the Père Lachaise cemetery. One of us and one of them. More than that, and they see it as a declaration of war.” He dropped his bombshell and waited. He knew the two men in front of him on the other side of the desk. Had known them since they were little more than children when first Alain, then Thierry, had arrived at l’ANS to learn the wizarding craft.
“No way in hell,” Thierry Dumont exploded. Marcel almost smiled. Thierry’s reaction was completely predictable. Now if Alain Magnier’s was as predictable, they would be able to make some plans. “We are not sending a lone wizard to meet with a vampire. What if the vampire isn’t alone? What if he attacks? What if…?” The old diplomat turned General listened to Thierry’s ravings and waited for the other man to stop him.
“I’ll do it,” Alain interrupted his best friend and fellow soldier. “It’s a gesture of good faith. They’re offering to make one by sending just one vampire. We have to make one in return by sending just one wizard. Besides Marcel and you, I’m probably the most powerful of anyone we would trust to send. It would take more than one vampire to overwhelm me. You know they’re our best hope, Thierry. Let me do this. We’ll agree to a length of time, and if I’m not back by the agreed upon time, you can bring in the cavalry and rescue me. It’s a chance we have to take.”
There was one other reason for him to go rather than Thierry, but given Thierry’s reaction any time it was mentioned, it was a reason best left unspoken. Thierry still had a chance at happiness. Alain had lost that chance two years ago. If one of them was going to this meeting with the vampires, better that it was him, not his friend.
Alain knew the risk Marcel had taken even contacting the leader of the vampires. To admit that they were not strong enough to defeat Pascal Serrier, the powerful dark wizard who had started this war, took a lot of courage. It also left them incredibly vulnerable if Jean Bellaiche decided against them. Not only would this fight determine the future complexion of their society, but it was also upsetting the balance of the world. Not just the balance between natural and supernatural, but the balance of elemental powers that stabilized everything. Without wizards to keep that energy in check, everyone and everything would succumb to chaos. Alain knew it. Marcel knew it. Thierry knew it. Alain hoped, for their sake, that the vampires knew it as well. They had not been able to get an edge in the war and casualties were mounting swiftly on both sides. They needed reinforcements before there was no one left to save.
Thierry muttered curses under his breath, the air around him sparking with the power called up by his emotions.
“Calm down, Thierry,” Marcel ordered. He knew the wards surrounding his office would hold if Thierry’s magic got away from him, but the younger man needed to learn better self-control. “I agree with Alain, so unless you’re offering to go in his place, you need to help me figure out how to keep him safe.”
“Bad idea,” Alain said before Thierry could reply. “Your temper is too unpredictable. You’d fly off the handle at some imagined slight and we’d be in the same situation or worse. Trust me to handle this.”
“I trust you. It’s Bellaiche and his kind I don’t trust,” Thierry retorted. “If you haven’t checked in within half an hour after the meet, I’m coming after you, guns blazing.”
Alain agreed to Thierry’s condition. It made sense to have a backup plan. The vampires had never shown any sign of getting involved in this conflict between wizards, but that was no reason to take unnecessary chances. After all, they were about to ask the vampires to get involved. Serrier was racist, not stupid. If he had not already had the idea of approaching some of the other magical races, he would soon, assuming he could overcome his ingrained disdain for those he considered inferior. They could not afford to assume he would not.
Alain thought carefully about every aspect of his preparations. He was willing to give the vampires a chance to prove their good will, but he had seen too much since this war began to trust naively. If he had to go to this meet alone, he was going to be as prepared as magic and modernity could make him. He dressed simply in dark wool pants and a black turtleneck sweater. If it had occurred to him to look, he would have seen as well that the dark colors were the perfect foil for his sandy blond hair and lightly tanned skin. He had stopped caring about the impact of his appearance, though, two years ago. Only practicalities remained. The long cloak he used for winter would keep him warm in the cool October night and was easy to discard if it came to a fight. His pants and sweater were loose enough that they would not hinder his movements, but not so loose that they would provide a hand-hold for a foe. His cell phone fit into a holder on his belt. It would be no use in a fight, but if he did not call in, Thierry would know there was a problem. He had long ago mastered the art of wandless magic, one of only a few wizards who had expended the time and energy it took, but he carried a wand anyway. Giving it up or putting it out in the open might help convince the vampire that his intentions were honorable. Outside l’ANS, few people knew wizards could do wandless magic.
He was about ready to leave when someone knocked on his door. Reaching out with his magic, he felt Thierry’s aura outside. With a flick of his wrist, he released the wards on his door to let his friend inside. “What are you doing here?” Alain asked as he swirled his cloak around his shoulders.
“Going with you,” Thierry answered.
“You’ll get us both killed that way,” Alain retorted.
“Not to the meet,” Thierry elaborated. “Just in the métro. I’ll find a bar still open nearby and that way, if there’s trouble, I can be there fast.
Alain agreed and the two friends set out for Anvers, the nearest subway stop, resetting the wards that protected Alain’s apartment as they left. It was an easy ride down line number two to the Père Lachaise stop. Alain and Thierry made it in plenty of time, giving them the chance to find a bar for Thierry. “I’ll call in half an hour,” Alain promised as he left Thierry sitting in the little café just down the street from the entrance to the cemetery.
Arriving at the cemetery, Alain stretched his senses, magical and physical, to check out the situation. His magic detected no aura, no presence, but he knew better than to believe he was alone. For all he knew, the vampires had a way of masking their presence from those who were hunting them. The wind whistled around him, blocking any subtle sounds he might have heard to indicate if the vampire had yet arrived, and the shadows from the monuments and trees kept his eyes from piercing the darkness. Deciding not to take any risks, Alain drew his wand to open the gate. If the vampire had arrived, he did not want to give away his knack for wandless magic. It was his ace in the hole if he needed to get out of there in a hurry. The gate opened soundlessly, an added benefit of the spell he used. He slipped inside and shut the gate behind him, leaving it unlocked, one less barrier for Thierry if he had to arrive in a hurry or for Alain himself if he had to leave quickly.
“Throw your wand down,” a disembodied voice said from the darkness. Alain spun around, seeking the speaker. The voice was velvety soft, with a distinct British accent.
Alain did as the voice directed, dropping his wand and taking a step back. “I’m unarmed now,” Alain said. “Step out where I can see you.”
Movement in the shadows drew his eye, and he turned to face the vampire. Alain knew that members of the various magical races came in all shapes and sizes, so he had no preconceived notion of what the vampire would look like, or even if he would meet a male or a female, but he had not expected the vision before him. Dark hair surrounded a face the color of honey, with dark eyes and hairless skin. The vampire was about Alain’s height, and likewise dressed in black. The vampire, however, wore no cloak or coat against the chill air, a stark reminder to Alain of the nature of his counterpart. He knew that vampires did not age physically once they were made, so the creature could have been anywhere from the twenty years he appeared to be to hundreds of years old. He had been captured on the cusp of manhood, old enough to be an adult, yet young enough to appear innocent still. Alain reminded himself that this was a vampire, and that, as such, he had not been innocent since he was made.