Diable

an excerpt



One



With a smile of contentment, Henri hammered at his forge. At the shout of his name, Henri looked up to see Sebastien in the doorway waving a scroll. Grumbling under his breath, Henri plunged the sword he was working on into water before laying it and his hammer aside.

Ambling toward Sebastien as he removed his apron, Henri came to a stop and folded his arms, ignoring the slipperiness of his skin and the sweat glistening on his forearms. This could not be good.

"Do I even want to know?" Henri rumbled the question, not really wanting to hear the answer.

"Let me think." Sebastien tugged at his small dark goatee as if thinking carefully. "A choice between a quiet life here, with you working in your forge and me running around making sure there is food and that we train, or travelling to Paris because Cardinal Richelieu himself has demanded a Slayer? A hard decision, mon frere."

Settling for a rude noise as a suitable retort, Henri then sighed heavily. "Do we need report to l'eveque?"

"I'm afraid so. You know l'eveque. Celestin worries every time one of his teams faces preternaturals. Now there's a summons to Paris to add to his concerns. Not only will he fret about us dealing with a possible preter, but stepping on the toes of Richelieu, which is probably the more dangerous of the two."

"Zut! As if we have the time to worry about court politics." Henri hawked and spat to the side. Nothing angered him more than the wealth and privilege in which some of the clergy indulged. Their direct bishop, Celestin, was different; a venerable man, who eschewed the trappings of wealth. He was also a man of great learning and respected by all of his teams, and thus earned the disapproval of many of his peers and superiors.

"In Richelieu's case, we have no choice. You know it's said he's the real power there. He has the king's ear." Sebastien shrugged.

"Oui. True enough. Do I have time to finish my sword? She's almost ready." Henri cast a longing glance at his forge.

"Of course. I'll get some supplies and pack. Maybe a couple of hours?"

"Perfect." Henri grinned delightedly. Sebastien was truly the best partner a man could have. Especially in such a dangerous role when you needed to know your partner had your back. "Take care, mon frere. This weapon will serve us well, I can feel it."

"Then don't rush her. I'll be back soon."

Henri waited until Sebastien disappeared from his sight, heading over to the stables, before he went back inside to fan the flames of his forge. He stared into the fire. I feel I've hardly had time to recoup from our last mission. Sebastien is a good few years younger, a little headstrong at times, but I thank God for him.

Raising his hammer, Henri began to shape the sword as he wished, but his thoughts remained on Sebastien. When I lost my first Intermediary I was distraught, yet Sebastien knew exactly how to get through to me. But if I feel too old to continue, what of him? We know each other so well, how would he fare with a new Slayer? I can't just walk away from him. If nothing else, he will always have a home with me.

Focusing his thoughts away from his partner, Henri concentrated on his sword. Soon he was lost in the comforting rhythm.


Two



A few steps behind Henri, Sebastien ambled into the church and nodded at the other two men who knelt before the altar. It seemed he and Henri weren't the only team being sent on a mission. Sebastien ignored the sharp stab of jealousy. The other men weren't merely partners, but lovers. But such things were never spoken of openly.

Nor was it public knowledge of the team in which one Intermediary was a woman. She and her brother accompanied their Slayer with the brother passed off in the Intermediary role. But from his own personal experience in sparring with her, Sebastien knew Emmanuelle to be a strong and talented fighter in her own right.

When Sebastien looked up at the life-size wooden carving of Christ, his arms open wide, it immediately brought their bishop to his mind. Celestin was equally welcoming and non-judgemental. As humble as he was intelligent, Celestin didn't seek personal advancement or glory. He also treated his Slayers and their partners like members of his family, not just tools or weapons. Compared to many teams, those under Celestin's governance were well cared for.

"Ah, good. You're here. Come through, mes enfants." Celestin waved at Sebastien and Henri before laying his hands in benediction on the heads of the kneeling men. When they rose, they each pecked a kiss to Celestin's weathered and wrinkled cheek before nodding to Henri and Sebastien on their way out of the church.

Standing and watching them go, Celestin shook his head. "Two teams. There is darkness afoot, my children."

Following Celestin into his tiny study, Sebastien and Henri sat opposite him across the small desk. The bishop sat, clasping his hands together as he looked at each of them in turn.

"I wish I did not have to send you." Celestin sighed heavily. "But something attacks the people of Paris."

"We don't know what we face?" Henri leaned forward, leaning his elbows on the desk and Sebastien copied him.

"The suggestion is a vampire." Celestin pursed his lips.

"Suggestion? You disagree?" Sebastien leaned in closer.

"We all know Paris." Celestin waved a deeply lined hand. "A place of the masses comprised of those who have far too much and those who have nothing. Tell me. If you were a vampire and could prey almost openly on the nameless, the homeless, and the destitute, why attack those whose deaths would draw attention to you? This creature attacks the wealthy, those whose voices are heard in both the sacred and secular courts."

"So, less likely a vampire and more likely a demon." Henri sighed. "I would have preferred a vampire."

"And I would prefer to think there is nothing more to these attacks, than a madman wreaking vengeance on the rich, but I fear that is not so." Celestin leaned forward. "It is almost as if this creature wants us to know of its existence, wants to create the need for Slayers. The question is, why? If a creature of darkness preys so openly, you can be sure there is a deeper motive. One which, at present, we cannot see. So, I send you out not only with my normal warnings over dealing with preternaturals, but also of where you are going and under whose watchful eye you will be."

"Richelieu," Sebastien murmured.

"Yes, exactly. That is why I couldn't send another of the teams I have available. I know you are as brothers, Richelieu will only see your camaraderie. But, you know, I also felt as if it should be you I send as soon as I got the call."

Sebastien sat a little straighter. No one mocked Celestin's intuition.

"We'll be careful. Sebastien, you'll need to watch what you say around that man." Henri fixed Sebastien with a hard stare and Sebastien shuffled slightly.

"I promise." Sebastien nodded to both Henri and Celestin. There were times he spoke without thinking. Diplomacy was not his forte and he had little patience with pretentious asses or pompous fools. But Richelieu was possibly the most powerful man in the country. I will indeed need to watch what I say and do.

"You're a good man, Sebastien, if a little headstrong." Celestin smiled, reaching across the desk to pat Sebastien's hand.

"I'll keep him on a tight rein." Henri slapped Sebastien's shoulder, and Sebastien answered with a rude sound.

"I want you both to take care and come back safe to our little fold." Celestin wagged a finger at each of them in turn.

"We will." Henri nodded.

"Good." Celestin pushed an envelope and a separate slip of paper across to Henri. He tapped the slip first. "This is the name and address of a cousin of mine. He has rooms you can stay in. He can also ensure you keep in contact with me. He's a trustworthy man. The envelope is the request Richelieu sent through for a Slayer. I've signed it detailing who I've sent in reply."

Sebastien let Henri take the papers. He'd only lose them. Henri was far more meticulous when it came to paperwork. His talent was making sure they had weapons and provisions. He was much happier with a more practical role.

"Good. Well, that's all settled then." Celestin rose slowly and came to stand between them and Sebastien lowered his head as their bishop murmured a benediction over them. "Au revoir. Come home safe."

Rising, Sebastien followed Henri from the church. "You know, I always wanted to visit Paris. This just wasn't the way I'd have chosen."

"Me either. The sooner we deal with the problem, the quicker we can be home. Let's finish off our packing and be on our way. My cousin will check on the farm while we're away."

Swinging himself up into the saddle, Sebastien patted his grey mare. If they were lucky, perhaps this creature would be easy to find as just as easy to destroy.