“What does he think to gain from this... farce?” Pascal Serrier spat, switching off the television in disgust. Chavinier’s announcement of an alliance between the Milice wizards and the Parisian vampires turned his stomach, the thought of such creatures having any say in the ruling of the country more than he could stand. It was one more reason to overthrow the current government and replace it with one run by wizards – his wizards – who understood the value of magic and the appropriate place for such lesser beings. “He has to know this alliance won’t avail him. What can a vampire do against our spells? And even if they can resist some of them, we can simply move our plans to daytime. Chavinier won’t mess with the natural order enough to confuse night and day, if he’s even powerful enough, which I doubt. He’s put his reputation on the line for nothing.”
“Then there’s more to this than he’s telling,” Eric Simonet disagreed. “He might be a bleeding heart, but he wouldn’t make claims about the war that he couldn’t carry through on. He’s not stupid. He knows what that would do to morale and to his reputation.”
“So what’s the angle?” Serrier demanded. “What can he gain from this?”
“If the vampires cover the night patrols, he can move more wizards to fight during the day,” Simon Aguiraud pointed out.
“But that’s fewer wizards to counter us if we attack at night,” Simonet disagreed. “He spoke the truth when he mentioned the turning tides, a fact he laid firmly at the feet of the vampires. They have to have a weakness, though. Joëlle managed to defeat them before she was killed.”
“Sunlight and fire,” Serrier repeated slowly. “That’s what Bellaiche said at the press conference. Sunlight and fire.”
“What are you thinking?”
“A few minutes before dawn,” Serrier declared. “If we engage a patrol just before dawn, they’ll lose their numbers as the sun comes up, either to the vampires seeking shelter or to the sunlight itself.”
“Is it instantaneous, though?”
“I don’t know,” Serrier admitted, “but our resident bloodsucker will. And he’ll tell me the truth or I’ll stop providing victims for him. Send Claude to get him.”
Eric frowned, but did as the dark wizard asked. The very idea of the vampire made him uncomfortable, though he took pains not to show it. “What about the woman?”
“What about her?” Serrier demanded.
“You don’t need her anymore, do you?”
Serrier shrugged. “You never know when she might prove useful. Even if she can’t tell us what we need to know, I’m sure Claude would enjoy playing with her. It’s been a while since I’ve given him a new toy.”
Eric hid a flinch at the thought of the twisted wizard getting his hands on the slender woman he had helped bring in at Serrier’s command. He had never been terribly hopeful where her fate was concerned, but he had allowed himself to believe Serrier would at least kill her mercifully once she had told them all she knew. He might have thrown his lot in with Serrier and his wizards after his wife was killed, but some of their methods made him question his judgment at times. He had burned his bridges, though, so he would just have to find other ways to preserve his humanity. His misdirection over a mercy killing had worked once. He doubted Claude – or Serrier – would buy it a second time.
“Sunlight and fire,” Serrier repeated musingly. “We can’t force the sun to rise early, but there are spells for fire. We’ll need to work on refining those spells for battle. Simon?”
“I’m on it,” Aguiraud declared, standing and heading toward the door. “The vampires will regret revealing their weakness.”
As soon as he was gone, Serrier turned back to Eric. “Now more than ever, we need to know what’s going on in Chavinier’s head,” he told his lieutenant. “Have you given any more thought to returning to him as my eyes and ears?”
“I have,” Eric admitted, “and it’s an appealing thought, being able to use his naïveté to undermine him, but I don’t think I could convince him. I don’t think I could pretend to work with my wife’s murderer again, even to bring him down. And with that anger still in my heart and my magic, I don’t think he’ll take me back. You’d do better to find someone else, someone with less of a history with the Milice.”
“Suggestions?” Serrier asked curiously.
“Monique,” Eric replied after a moment’s thought. “She’s ruthless enough to do what needs to be done, but she can put on a pretty enough face that she should pass muster.”
“You can never ask for anything simple, can you, General Chavinier?” Denise Cadoret demanded, looking at the draft of the law in front of her. “Equal rights for vampires under the Constitution is no small matter in itself, and now you ask us to engage the responsibility of the full government on this issue?”
“As you are well aware, Madame le Ministre,” Marcel said, suppressing a glare at the Ministre de la Justice, “the matter is of some urgency.”
“Why?” Madame Cadoret demanded. “For better or worse, the situation has existed for as long as there’s been a government to grant rights to anyone. Why do we have to push this through now? I’m not saying we shouldn’t grant them equal rights. I just don’t understand why this can’t go through a normal legislative process. You’re asking us to do something incredibly controversial and risk the entire government being dissolved if the Assemblée decides to vote down your proposal.”
“Because it’s the right thing to do,” André Guy, the Secretary for the Human Rights, interrupted. “The vampires are risking life and limb to protect us. The least we can do is take a risk for them.”
“Because since they started risking life and limb to protect us,” Marcel added, “we’ve only lost one battle with Serrier’s rebels. The stalemate is breaking and the tide is turning in our favor.”
“That’s all well and good,” the Ministre de l’Economie, des Finances, et de l’Emploi protested before realizing how sarcastic he sounded. He turned to the chef de la Cour, sitting at Chavinier’s right, looking quite imposing. “I mean that. It’s a wonderful thing that we’re making progress against the rebels, but creating thousands of new citizens all at once... it’s an administrative nightmare. There are jobs to consider, health care, social security….”
“Yes, there are thousands of us,” Jean agreed, “but we will not strain the system nearly as much as you imagine. We don’t need health care. We only need to feed, something we manage quite well on our own. We don’t age or grow infirm, so social security isn’t necessary. The chefs des Cours each know their own cities. They could easily provide a list to the local préfecture of vampires there, in order to get them identity papers. We have all found ways to provide ourselves with the money we need for lodgings or else we don’t survive past the dawn so housing isn’t a problem.”
“It isn’t just those agencies who are unprepared for this,” Madame Cadoret countered. “Vampires have never been governed by our laws, but if we grant them legal protection, the courts will have to deal with them.”
“We have not recognized mortal law because it does not recognize us,” Jean acknowledged, “but that does not make us ungovernable. We have had our own laws, our own courts, and our own justice for far longer than this Republic has existed.”
“All the more reason to take this slowly,” Madame Cadoret insisted. “We know nothing of your laws and how they would mesh with ours. This is asking for nothing but trouble.” Seeing the vampire’s scowl, she continued, “I’m not saying we should keep the law from going to the Assemblée. I just don’t think General Chavinier’s timeline is a reasonable one.”
“Let me see if I can’t put it in perspective for you,” Jean bit out coldly. “My people and I have volunteered to help in this war to sustain a government that, at the moment, doesn’t even acknowledge our right to exist, much less our right to anything else. Fortunately for you, we realize that more is at stake than simply which short-sighted mortals sit in these chairs. The one condition we placed on our assistance was this law.”
“We’ve barely recovered from one imbalance in the elemental magic,” Marcel spoke up. “Having the vampires on our side allows us to divert wizards to deal with that, both the clean up and the problem itself. You don’t really want to explain to the French people why your recalcitrance caused the alliance to fail, the Milice to lose the war, and the Republic to fall, do you, Madame le Ministre?”
“What a bitch,” Jean muttered when Marcel had transported them back to his office from the Conseil des Ministres.
“She didn’t get where she is by being nice,” Marcel agreed, “but she isn’t reactionary, just cautious. Once the Premier Ministre makes his decision, she’ll support it and make sure it’s the best law possible. We just have to wait now on M. Pequignot’s decision.”
Jean hesitated a moment and then gambled. “You know at this point we won’t walk away even if he doesn’t invoke l’alinéa 49-3, right? For better or worse, we’re committed now.”
“I know,” Marcel replied, having already guessed that the vampires would not withdraw if the government did not support the up or down vote on the proposed equality legislation, “and more than likely, so does the Premier Ministre. By coming out publicly on our side, you’ve made yourselves as much targets for Serrier as the Milice wizards. You may want to warn those not directly involved to take extra care now. If Serrier’s wizards find your people, they won’t ask whether their victims are involved in the alliance or not. They’ll just attack, and while the Abbatoire I know why you told the press that sunlight and fire were all vampires have to fear, and I know sunlight isn’t an issue for those vampires with partners, but it was still a huge risk because it will narrow down the spells Serrier has his people direct at you.” doesn’t work on vampires, other spells certainly will.
“I’ve fought at the side of the wizards,” Jean pointed out. “I’ve watched them neutralize spells before they can do any damage. They’ll just have to neutralize those spells instead. And the bond that seems to be forming between partners will certainly give them plenty of motivation.” He did not mention the more intimate dimension that many of the partnerships now encompassed, not wanting that issue to influence the old general’s championing of the vampires, but he could not keep from remembering the intimate sounds he and Raymond had overheard as they checked the balance of the elemental magic while they were in La Réunion, dealing with the aftermath of the magic-fuelled typhoon that struck the tiny island, leaving devastation in its wake.
“They’ll get that chance soon enough,” Marcel informed him sadly. “We need Thierry in here, and probably Alain as well. Our young spy has sent us some information that we can’t afford to ignore. The orders will be mine, but Thierry is far better at strategy than this old man.”
Jean gritted his teeth against his instinctive reaction to the blond wizard’s partner, stemming from his belief that the other vampire had stolen his lover, his potential Avoué, out from beneath his very nose mere days after his arrival in Paris. Their recent conversation on the subject notwithstanding, he did not like Sebastien and was not entirely sure he trusted him. Unfortunately, Marcel trusted his wizard, which meant Jean had little choice but to tolerate the other vampire. He smiled at Orlando as he came in and kept the expression in place as he turned to face Sebastien, who answered with an amicable nod. Jean wanted to shake his head at the constant maneuvering, even putative allies playing Le Jeu des Cours at every turn. The game was too ingrained, though, to stop, even for this. He glanced again at Orlando and Alain, trying to decide if they had mended matters between them. His young friend certainly seemed outwardly calmer than the last time they had talked. He would watch and wait, but if he saw anything that concerned him, he would speak to the wizard before the day was over. He had been Orlando’s protector too long to stop looking out for the youngling now. Instead, he leaned back against the wall, ready to listen to what Marcel had to say and the discussion that came out of it.
“What’s going on?” Alain asked after they were all seated. He could feel the elder vampire’s eyes on his back, but he did not know how to reassure him, particularly not in this forum. If Marcel had called them together, something was happening, and the war came first. It had to.
“Our young spy sent us some information this morning,” Marcel told them, “that I think bears considering. According to him, Serrier has decided to use Samhain to demonstrate his continuing power. He has to know we were hoping to use the holy day to stabilize the elemental magic and so wouldn’t be as able to counter his plans.”
“That’s no surprise,” Thierry agreed, “although the news of the alliance may change his methods somewhat.”
“The message arrived after the announcement was made,” Marcel replied, “but you’re right that he could still change his mind. For the moment, though, he intends to bring down the Tour Eiffel at noon.”
“That alone suggests he’s taken the alliance into consideration,” Alain observed. “Historically, he’s preferred to attack under cover of darkness rather than during the daylight hours.”
“Yes, if the vampires were still limited by the cycle of the sun, we would have to choose between meeting him in battle to preserve one of our city’s landmarks – not to mention the lives that would be lost in such an attack – and balancing the elemental magic,” Marcel affirmed. “Fortunately, our allies don’t suffer such limitations anymore.”
“With the right assistance,” Jean acknowledged immediately, painfully aware as he looked around the room of the man who was not there. Raymond’s absence nagged at him like a sore tooth, not so distracting that he could not function but always there in the back of his mind.
“Did Raymond say when he thought he’d back?” Marcel asked suddenly, turning to Jean. “His expertise would be invaluable.”
“We can do it without him,” Thierry grumbled.
“Yes, we can,” Marcel agreed, “but that doesn’t mean we should if he’s here. None of us have studied the elemental powers to the extent he has, and why not use every resource at our disposal?”
Jean bristled a little, hearing his partner referred to so lightly, but he had dealt with vampires with attitudes like Thierry’s before and knew that Marcel’s approach would be the most effective. It still bothered him to hear Raymond’s abilities denigrated. “How many wizards will be required to make the balancing ritual a success?”
“Raymond for his finesse; Thierry has volunteered as well since he often helped in such matters before the war,” Marcel enumerated, “and we will ask for another fifty volunteers to lend their strength. It is not a dangerous ritual, but it is a demanding one. Most of the wizards involved will need to rest for several days afterwards. I will only take two volunteers from any patrol so we don’t gut our resources any more than necessary.”
“I’ll lead the patrol at the Tour Eiffel,” Alain volunteered. “If Thierry can’t be there to coordinate, I’m the next best one to send.”
At his side, Orlando hid a frown. He and Alain were only beginning to find their feet again after their fight, a stupid misunderstanding about Orlando’s limits and Alain’s subsequent fear that Orlando had lost all trust in him, and his lover was volunteering to walk into what could be a horrendous battle. He understood that the war was necessary and even understood Alain’s participation, but his protective instincts kicked into overdrive at the thought of anything threatening his Avoué. He would stay at