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The Father Michael’s Saga III – The Warlock Executive

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:19 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 1

Klaus Dortmund stood before the vast expanse of tinted glass that took up the entire outer wall of his office on the thirty-fourth floor of the high-rise office building that bore his name, gazing out at the city of London with his hands clasped behind his back. The sun was setting over the buildings of the cityscape, tinting the scattered cumulus clouds in shades of pink, rose, and orange. The Dortmund Building was the headquarters of his company, the Dortmund Power & Automation Group, which had come into existence only a decade before but had quickly risen to prominence as one of the world’s economic powerhouses. Originally specializing in automated manufacturing systems, or robotics, as the company grew it became increasingly diversified and its portfolio now included a major presence in a variety of high-tech industries including artificial intelligence, computer electronics, telecommunications, aerospace and automotive electronics, along with anything else that had attracted his interest.

Fortune 500 had ranked Dortmund’s company as one of the top ten players in the global marketplace, and he had a personal fortune of billions that made him one of the wealthiest men in the world, a remarkable accomplishment for a man not yet thirty-eight years old. Although Dortmund had taken the company public not long after its founding to provide a substantial infusion of cash for rapid expansion and to limit his personal liability, he retained ownership of sixty-two percent of the stock and for all practical purposes, it was his personal fiefdom. He had ensured that the board of directors was composed of pliable individuals who would rubber-stamp anything he wished to do.

Klaus Dortmund cultivated a fashionably modern appearance, on this day wearing an expensively tailored black shirt from Turnbull & Asser of London, spurning the Saville Row houses in favor of the elite establishment which tailored shirts for the Royal Family. Over this he wore a charcoal gray single-breasted Armani suit in virgin wool with notched lapels. On his feet were custom-made Italian black oxfords from Stefan Berner of Florence, and on his left wrist was a Rolex “Sky-Dweller” watch in 18-karat gold, for which he had paid more than 25,000 pounds sterling. Dortmund was a handsome man of 181 centimeters’ height with an angular face, and his clothes emphasized his natural good looks. He took particular pains with his grooming. He wore his black hair in a casual cut, rather long on the top and shorter along the sides, and a short beard trimmed close along the cheeks. He employed a stylist twice a month to keep it all immaculate. Altogether, his appearance projected an image of a man of wealth and power, exactly as he wished.

Yet despite the great pains he took with his appearance, Klaus Dortmund was a very private man, and was seldom seen in public. His office took up half of the thirty-fourth floor, and very few persons other than the highest executives in his organization were ever admitted into the inner sanctum. Just above his office was the penthouse suite where he made his residence, and no one but Dortmund and some carefully vetted cleaners had ever been inside since the day the building had been completed and his rooms furnished and decorated. He almost never left the building for any reason. If he required something, people were summoned to his office to tend to his needs; his tailor, stylist, manicurist, personal physician, caterers and solicitors, always carefully investigated and the very best in their professions. Dortmund was the sole client of an old and reputable London legal firm, the members of whom had all become quite wealthy from his retainers. He took most of his meals in his office, delivered from standing orders placed with first-class restaurants in the city and laid out for him on the glass-topped dining table that occupied one corner. He had no living family, and had never been known to be intimately involved with any woman.

This Howard Hughes-like lifestyle had naturally led to a considerable amount of office gossip, but none of his employees were ever so rash as to voice such speculations where there was the slightest chance of being overheard. The general consensus was that Dortmund was as cold, calculating, and heartless as one of the robotic machines manufactured in his factories. Employees who failed him at any task did so only once; he did not believe in second chances. Yet most of the people who worked for him had been with the company for years, because their employer made a point to pay top salaries, almost astronomical, and as Dortmund had risen in wealth and power, so had they. If it was not a cheerful office, it was nevertheless one filled with loyal and dedicated professionals who gave their best efforts because it was in their personal interest to do so.

He valued his privacy, and having a personal wealth greater than the gross national product of many countries, was quite willing to take extreme measures to assure that he remained out of the spotlight. When one of the numerous London tabloids, lacking any verifiable facts, published a wildly speculative and rather scurrilous story about the mysterious and powerful Dortmund, he simply purchased the news organ, discharged all the employees, and had the building demolished and the space paved over as a parking lot. Afterward, the media adopted a hands-off policy where he was concerned, save for the few press releases he chose to make available.

Dortmund had but a single identifiable vice, and that was a passion for chess. Every Sunday afternoon, when the weather was agreeable, he donned more casual clothing, took the elevator down to street level of his building and walked to the nearby park where there were usually a number of chess games in progress at tables scattered along the length of the central promenade.

Walking among them with his hands in his pockets, looking very much like a well-dressed university don, he would evaluate the competition to see if there was anyone worthy of his personal attention. As often as not, the players in the park would not measure up in his estimation and Dortmund would simply leave without offering a match. Upon occasion, however, there would be a competitor whose style of play intrigued him, and so he would take the opposing seat at the conclusion of the current game. Dortmund would play only a single game, which he almost never lost, exchange the usual compliments at the end, and return to his office. On days when the weather was inclement, he would sit at the end of his dining table and work out chess problems using the expensive hand-carved set that resided there.

Dortmund was known by few but his reputation was feared by all, a strategic thinker who verged on genius, a man who used corporations, indeed nations, as chess pieces in the power games he played.

He was also a warlock.

The sun had now disappeared behind the buildings of the city, and the brightest stars were beginning to appear in the twilight sky. Dortmund stood gazing outward a moment longer, and then turned and walked back to the corner in which the dining table had, twenty minutes earlier, been laid out with a fine meal. He pulled out one of the chrome-trimmed chairs and sat down before his dinner. He picked up a crystal wineglass filled with a deep-red Burgundy, and sipped carefully, but instead of picking up a fork, he turned his attention to the business card and small, gift-wrapped package that lay beside his plate. Earlier in the day, his personal assistant, Naomi, had brought the items to him, informing him that a “Mr. Velli” had sent these by courier and had requested an evening appointment, preferably this same day, if possible. He had not yet opened the little box in its gold wrapper, thinking the man rather presumptuous. With his forefinger, he pushed them off to the side and turned his attention to his dinner.

When he had finished the meal, he dabbed at his lips with the linen napkin provided by the caterer, and laid it carefully beside his plate. Still ignoring the package, he studied the layout of pieces on the chess board to his right. The board was set up in the “Plaskett’s Puzzle” problem, which had been contrived by British Grandmaster Jim Plaskett in 1987 at the tournament in Brussels and could not be solved by any of the grandmasters present, save for one, who studied it for a few minutes, went for a walk in a nearby park, and came back with the solution. Dortmund was familiar with this particular puzzle, but had been attempting to develop an alternate solution for several days. He picked up the white bishop in position D1 and started to move it, and then set it back down in its original place.

There was something about that box. He could not pin down exactly why it made his senses tingle, but it did.

Ever since he was a young boy, he had possessed a special gift that no one else seemed to have. He was not able to read minds, but often he could pick up a sense of what people were thinking or feeling, could influence the weak-minded to do as he wished them to do. More than that, he could affect physical objects, could make things happen to his benefit. This had been a great advantage to him in school, and ever since had given him a weapon he could wield in the corporate world, unknown to his competitors.

His parents had provided him with a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, but did not possess the means to send him to a private school. In the public school, with his slim build and reticent manner, he had, at first, been a natural target for bullies. Few of them ever tried to torment him more than once, however, because they always seemed to fall victim to some sort of accident whenever they confronted him and so quickly learned not to trifle with young Dortmund. An attacker would be laid out by books mysteriously tumbling off shelves, or trip and fall for no apparent reason, often breaking an arm in the process, or be suddenly confronted by an instructor or an even larger bully with a grudge. The whole thing was as strange to Klaus as it was to his oppressors. It was as if whatever he wished to happen, would do so. Although he did not quite understand what was happening, he was grateful for this almost supernatural intervention that seemed to make his life easier.

Dortmund was as naturally introverted as a youngster as he would be in later life, having no interest in sports or school activities except for the chess club. He was a highly intelligent boy, and found school to be rather a bore, on the whole. He was able to grasp concepts almost immediately that his schoolmates labored over for days or weeks with little comprehension. So it was that, whenever he left the school grounds, he would head immediately for the precincts of the British Library, there to wander through the labyrinth of musty bookshelves, selecting whatever caught his interest. Often he would simply slide to the floor, book open in his lap, and read it from cover to cover there in the dim privacy of the library maze. He was an avaricious reader, and the books he liked best he took home and added to his growing collection, finding little difficulty in stealing them from the library. His tastes ran to science and engineering, as he avidly absorbed the workings and wonders of the natural world and the cleverness of human invention.

A few days before his sixteenth birthday, he found himself in the lowest level of the library, down in the basement where the lighting was sporadic and dim, and the custodians seldom bothered to brush away the dust. Klaus had never before been into this section, which was not open to the public but was used as storage for seldom-read books and a variety of clutter. He was not sure exactly how he had ended up here, save that he had felt a sense that he should come this way. The same sensation had guided him to a particular aisle and shelf. As he sat on the floor examining the titles on a row of dusty books, he thought he saw something hidden away behind the row. It was the source of the attraction he had felt, and quickly he began pulling books out of the shelf and piling them to either side on the floor.

Behind the books was a large and heavy volume of evident age, bound in a strange pale-colored leather. He seized it in both hands and dragged it out onto his lap. The gilt-embossed words on the cover were not in any language he comprehended, and before he could open the book, he was gripped by a surge of power, almost like an electric shock, that raced up his hands and throughout his body before dissipating without harming him.

He breathed in and out heavily, not yet understanding what he had experienced, and began to turn the pages in the book. It was ancient, beyond doubt, the words handwritten in brownish ink in a language, that like the title on the cover, he later learned was Latin. Scattered among the pages were numerous carefully-drawn illustrations, some being strange and exotic symbols, some of creatures like none he had ever seen in the numerous natural history books he had read. Many of the figures were human-like in general form, but of savage appearance with horns and fangs.

The boy closed the cover and slipped the heavy book into his backpack. Klaus knew that he had something unique here, and it was something that he had been meant to find. He could not read it, not yet, but in the years ahead he would carefully translate the Latin text that accompanied the illustrations, and he would learn that the rust-colored ink was human blood and the strange leather covers had been made with human skin. It was a grimoire, a book of magic written centuries ago, and it would become the source of arcane power that, combined with his superior intellect, would pave the way for his rise to power.

Dortmund returned to the present from his musings, and then suddenly pushed his dinner dishes to the center of the table, out of his way, and reached out to take hold of the gift-wrapped package and accompanying business card. Saving the package for later, he first carefully examined the card. It had a broad border of scarlet, and the words were embossed into the surface of the paper. It said only:

M. E. Velli
Tactical and Strategic Planning

At the bottom of the card was a London phone number. He tapped the edge of the card on the tabletop, considering, and then turned to the package. It was about three inches long, an inch high, and wrapped in a golden metallic paper, with a thin red ribbon around it tied into a simple bow on top. Dortmund studied it for a moment without touching it, wondering if it represented any sort of threat. He had made many enemies, and no doubt few would be displeased if he were to come to harm. He extended his senses into it, probing, the same gift that had continued to serve him so well all these years, but detected no danger in the contents. At last he made a decision, and quickly unwrapped the box.

Inside was a single chess piece, a king. Like his own set, it was hand-carved, but not of wood. He recognized the piece as having been crafted from elephant ivory, and very old, judging from the network of nearly microscopic cracks over the surface. The making of an ivory piece today was highly illegal, of course, international trade in ivory having been banned for years. He studied the piece, turning it in his fingers as he considered the implications. Whoever had sent this was sending a message, that the sender knew enough about him to be aware that chess was his private passion. That was very disturbing. He would set an investigator upon this tomorrow, to determine if the leak came from within his own office. If so, there would be unpleasant consequences for the person involved. Nevertheless, he was intrigued. It would be an interesting diversion, at least, to discover just who had sent this chess piece to him. If there was a threat involved, well, he had his own methods to deal with that.

He rose from the table and crossed the office to his desk, addressed the voice-activated phone, and ordered it to dial the number on the card.

The Warlock Executive
continues with Part 2
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:27 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:19 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 2

An hour later, Klaus Dortmund sat behind his desk in his comfortable executive chair, sipping whiskey slowly from an after-dinner glass of Bailey’s Irish Crème, savoring the rich chocolate flavor, his back to the wall of glass windows that overlooked the bright lights of nighttime London. He surveyed the interior of his office as he awaited his visitor; Naomi would let him know when this Velli person arrived. He routinely worked long hours, and he expected no less from his personal assistant. His office space was larger than most of the flats in London with a starkly monotone décor in black and white. The room was floored with black Italian marble and furnished simply with a few ultra-modern pieces in glass and chrome and brilliant white, emphasizing the sweeping spaciousness of his personal domain.

His large, glass-topped desk was situated directly in front of the window wall, allowing him the opportunity to turn in his chair and contemplate the city. A single touch-screen computer monitor occupied one corner of the desk and a telephone on the other; centered between them was the ivory chess king, sitting atop Velli’s business card. There was nothing else on the surface, no papers or file folders or writing implements. On the side wall, close to the windows, was a credenza with a large painting in geometric abstract by the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, for which he had paid 3.5 million pounds at Sotheby’s. The painting provided the single touch of color in the room, and concealed a fireproof safe in the wall behind it.

On the same wall, in the corner to the right of the entry, was a small grouping of furniture upholstered in white fabric that served as a comfortable conversation area for informal meetings. On the opposite wall was a long bank of twelve LCD televisions, arranged in a double row. Each was tuned to a different station with the sound muted, providing him with local and world news from several sources, weather information, and stock quotations. Below the television screens on the side near his desk was a wet bar, and further down was the dining table with its hand-carved chess set. The center of the room was empty.

There was a quiet tone from the phone on his desk. “Answer,” Dortmund directed the voice-activated device, without looking at it. He set the glass of Irish whiskey down on the desktop.

“Sir, Mr. Velli is here to see you,” Naomi informed him.

“Thank you, Naomi,” he said. “Please show him in, and then you can go home.”

“End,” he told the phone, and it obediently disconnected.

A few moments later, one of the black double doors from the outer office opened, and a man walked in. Dortmund leaned back in his chair and studied the man as he approached the desk. Velli bore a rather strong resemblance to the American actor George Clooney, slim in build with touches of gray in his hair, penetrating brown eyes, but a very pale complexion. He was impeccably dressed in a dark gray business suit, obviously tailored to fit well. Dortmund placed his age at somewhere in the middle fifties, with a lean but athletic build. He walked briskly and confidently across the expanse of black marble.

Dortmund gestured toward one of the chairs before his desk. “Please, have a seat, Mr. Velli.”

Velli gave a short nod. “Grazie, Signor,” he said, and carefully sat down. “I appreciate that you are willing to see me.” His Italian accent was slight, but noticeable.

“You are a vampire,” Dortmund observed mildly. It was a statement, not a question.

Velli again nodded, in acknowledgement. “I am that, Mr. Dortmund.” A faint smile played on his lips. “I see you are a man with highly developed powers of observation. I expected no less.” He smiled again, and this time allowed the tips of his fangs to show briefly.

Dortmund did not offer a smile in return, but continued to gaze at his visitor with cold eyes. “Let us not waste any more time in pleasantries.” He picked up the king piece from its place beside the computer keyboard and reached across the desk to set it in front of the vampire. “Obviously, you have been watching me. I am displeased by this; I value my privacy. What is your purpose? I warn you, I can be a very dangerous man if crossed.”

Velli shrugged. “I am but a man who collects and analyzes information, and provides advice to my clients. I would like to provide this service to you.”

Dortmund was not mollified. “I use vampires. I don’t take advice from them. I don’t need any more vampires.”

“Ah, but I am no ordinary vampire!” Velli raised a finger. “I have been doing this for a very long time, and I am quite good at it, I assure you! Where else can you find an advisor with five centuries of experience?”

“I see. And are you collecting information upon me for one of your clients?” There was quiet menace in his tone. Casually, Dortmund propped his right elbow on the desktop and spread his fingers; he concentrated briefly and a green fireball appeared in his palm and expanded to the size of a grapefruit.

“Signor Dortmund, you misunderstand me.” Velli appeared completely unruffled by the glowing fireball as it crackled and hissed. “I have no other clients at this time. I have studied you to find out what you want, what you need, so that I could better serve you.” He reached out and lightly touched the top of the chess piece. “And to get your attention, so that you might invite me to have this conversation with you.”

Dortmund let the fireball wink out; it disappeared with a faint pop and he lowered his hand and laced his fingers together on the desktop. “A John Calvert piece, is it not?”

Velli shrugged, apologetically. “Lund, actually. About 1820.”

The warlock nodded. “Hmm. Exquisite work. Very well. Let’s assume that I believe you, at least for the sake of our conversation. Why me? Why are you offering your services to me? What do you expect to get out of it?”

“You are a most interesting man, Mr. Dortmund. In the world of humans…and yes, also for those of us who are…different…you have become a force to be reckoned with. I have watched your rise in the corporate world with great interest, these last few years. You have come a long way, and I believe you will climb still farther. I would not wish to waste my talents in serving any lesser personality.” Velli spread his hands, palms upward. “As for myself, I simply wish to maintain the lifestyle I have become accustomed to.”

The warlock was not impressed. “Words, and more words. Tell me, Velli, about your clients. Who was your last employer?”

Velli shook his head. “Now, Mr. Dortmund, you know it would not be appropriate for me to tell you this. My previous employer’s secrets are his to keep, not mine to give away. But, as I said, I have been on this earth for a very long time, and I see no harm in speaking of men long dead.” He leaned back in his chair, completely relaxed even though Dortmund’s cold gaze gave him no encouragement. “When I was a living man, I was a resident of the city-state of Florence, Italy. This was more than five hundred years ago. My first employer was Lorenzo de' Medici, also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, who was the ruler of the Florentine Republic. He was a great man, a capable administrator, and although I was still young, I learned much from him.…”

“Skip the biography,” Dortmund growled. “I know who you are. I doubt there is an executive on this planet who has not read your books. You were later imprisoned and tortured and pardoned, and then spent the rest of your life writing about politics. So, you were turned into a vampire. It happens. Tell me about the men who benefited from your great wisdom, someone from this century.”

“Ah, so many centuries, so many men! You want to know of someone of recent times. Very well.” Velli looked thoughtful. “In November of 1917 I traveled to Moscow and offered my services to one Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, whom history now remembers as Lenin. He was a brilliant man, but utterly ruthless and without mercy for enemies of the Party. It was a pleasure to work with such a man, to devise the strategies that would in time propel a rather backward nation into world prominence as the Soviet Union. Ah, those were interesting times! I stayed with him for seven years, until his death in 1924.

“The very next year, I went to America, and found a place as consigliere, or advisor, to a rising young Chicago businessman of my own nationality, one Alphonse Gabriel Capone. Another ruthless man, who was not afraid to exercise his power, although I did find him a bit…flamboyant. I provided him with my services until 1931, when the FBI, unable to pin anything else upon my client, convicted him of tax evasion and sent him to prison.” Velli now frowned slightly. “I found America and the American people rather to my liking, and decided to remain for a while. So it was that, after taking a bit of a vacation, I next found myself on the political team of Richard Nixon, beginning in 1951.”

“Yes, we all know how well that turned out,” Dortmund observed dryly.

Velli spread his hands again and shrugged. “I must be honest with you, Signor Dortmund. Not my best work, I admit. But Nixon was always a very suspicious man, very paranoid, and would not listen to advice. My talents were wasted upon him.

“We are now to the point where I must exercise discretion. For the last fifteen years, until just recently I have been advising one of the wealthiest men in America, in the world, in fact, and one with political ambitions. But I can say no more on this.”

“So why did you leave America?” Dortmund asked, genuinely curious.

Velli now smiled widely, displaying his fangs. “The Americans are fine people, but they eat poorly, all sorts of fatty fast foods. Signor, quite frankly, they taste bad!” He quickly became serious again. “But in truth, I came to London hoping to become part of your organization.”

“Do you play chess?” Dortmund asked suddenly.

“Ah, Signor! All of life is a game of chess! Of course I play.”

Dortmund led Velli over to the glass-topped dining table and bidding the Italian to sit at the end, took his own seat before the chessboard, and turned the board diagonally between them. Quickly Dortmund took down the Plaskett puzzle and set up the board for play. He concealed a white pawn and a black in his hands, and allowed Velli to make his choice. Dortmund opened the indicated hand to reveal a white pawn. “Opening move is to you,” he said, as Velli reclaimed the pawn.

Velli immediately moved a pawn to the E4 position, and two moves later it became clear to Dortmund that his opponent had launched the Sicilian Dragon Variation attack, a very aggressive strategy that had the potential to turn into a blood-curdling free-for-all. Eight moves later, Dortmund sourly contemplated the board and wondered how he had managed to land his king in such a trap. Seeing no way out, he grunted and said, “Mate in four,” and reached out with a forefinger to topple his king. He looked up and said, “Velli, I am beginning to find you interesting.”  A pause. “Set them up again, will you.”

Sixty minutes later the score was two games to Velli, one to Dortmund, and the Italian vampire had a job.

“Call me Mack,” the dapper Florentine said with a broad smile, and the two shook hands, the warlock and the vampire.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:40 pm; edited 2 times in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:19 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 3

“May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Father Michael Mendez, wearing a black chasuble and embroidered silver on black stole draped across his neck, stood behind the altar of Sainte Trinité church in Lyon, France, and gazed out over the pews. As he spoke these words, he made the sign of the Cross in the air with his right hand.

“Amen,” came the collective response from those who had gathered here today for this memorial mass intended to honor those fallen warriors of Directorate 14 who had been slain in the attack on the agency earlier in the week. Father Michael, an ordained priest who stood high in the Director’s regard, had been asked by Kriger to preside at the mass, and he had been humbly grateful for the opportunity to eulogize the memory of these departed friends and colleagues.

Bjørn Kriger was seated in the front row before the altar, along with several high Interpol officials who had come to show the parent organization’s support for their clandestine branch in its time of grief and their personal respect for fellow law enforcement agents, men and women, whose lives had been taken in a vicious and unprovoked attack. At either end of the pew, discretely armed security personnel in dark suits listened to reports from external guards through their ear buds, and two more were stationed just inside the doors where they constantly and suspiciously scanned the people inside.

The row immediately behind Kriger was filled with Directorate agents, including Marcel Guillon and Simone Bataille, members of Father Michael’s team. Simone was lovely as always, even in black; Marcel looked distinctly uncomfortable in his suit, but wore it well. This was the first time Michael had ever seen the Frenchman dressed in anything other than casual wear or denim jeans. The gathering in the church was necessarily small, since the memorial mass was on the behest of a secret agency and not open to the public. Behind Marcel and Simone were only two more rows of people.

During the last few days, since the attack, bodies had been collected and flown into Lyon, brought to a warehouse with refrigeration facilities where the remains could be identified and arrangements made to return them to their families for burial. In nearly every case, a closed-casket ceremony would be required, since the attack of the demons had been as savage as it had been unanticipated, and many of the Directorate agents had been mangled nearly beyond recognition. The magnitude of the attack, which had been executed on a global basis against the Directorate, was unprecedented in the history of any law-enforcement agency on the planet and was a tragedy beyond reckoning. In the days ahead, forty-seven stars would be added to the memorial wall inside the agency building. It was somewhat less than had been originally estimated, because some agents had simply gone into hiding for a while, and had just recently resurfaced.

Across the street from the church, a small winged demon imp sat on a high branch, concealed by the new spring foliage, leaning back against the trunk, arms folded across its chest, fuming with anger and resentment as it waited for the service to end. It was but one of many such demons commanded by Dortmund, plucked by the warlock from the Underworld where the imps were as numerous as sewer rats in an urban slum of the human world. This particular little demon had been given the task of following Director Kriger whenever he left the Directorate building, reporting back on the man’s movements and any conversations it might have overheard, flitting unseen from one concealed location to another. Although unaware of the presence of the demon imps, the Director could not have picked a better location for a secret meeting off site, inaccessible to the warlock’s little spies. This morning, when the imp had attempted to teleport into the church, it had slammed into an invisible barrier, and, stunned by the impact, had dropped senseless into the shrubbery. Apparently, God did not allow demons in His house. Not even tiny ones.

Michael looked out over the people gathered here to mourn the loss of so many friends, a grief that he shared. He raised his arms, palms outward. “The mass is ended, go in peace,” he said, and leaned over to kiss the altar. He came around the altar and walked down the center aisle to the end, where the two security men opened the doors for him. As the people filed out of the church, he shook their hands and offered a few words of comfort and encouragement. When the last of them had passed through the vestibule and out into the bright sunlight, Michael came back into the church, the guards closing the doors behind him.

Director Kriger was still sitting in the front pew, awaiting his return, flanked by his security detail. Marcel and Simone had also remained in place while everyone else had departed. The priest slid into the pew beside his two friends. At a signal from the Director, the two security men got up and joined their comrades at the back of the church.

Kriger turned halfway around so that he could see his agents and laid his massive arm out on the back of the pew. “This is a sad day, indeed,” he observed, shaking his head slowly. “We have lost so many good people, and our agency has been severely crippled by forces we have not yet identified. The three of you are the only ones that I trust completely. I have been making plans, and there are some things we need to discuss.”

He now addressed Michael specifically. “Father, I think that sword of yours will have a key role in the days to come. It is clear, from the reports I have read, that it is really the only weapon that had any significant effect upon the demons during the attacks. Have you had any further insights as to the nature of the amazing power it displayed in London?”

“Director, I am at a complete loss. From all historical accounts that I have read, it is but an ordinary sword, but forged by a master craftsman from the finest Damascus steel. Much of what is known of the sword is legendary at best. In none of the lore and tradition of El Cid is there mention of magical powers of any kind, save that the blade was reported to have the ability to strike terror in the hearts of his enemies.”

“Why now?” the Director asked quietly. “Why, after all these centuries, has the magic in the blade come to life?”

“Well, sir,” Michael explained. “You have to remember that the sword has been kept concealed in the secret vaults of the Vatican for nearly a thousand years, and has not been used in all that time. I admit I am also puzzled by the activation of the magic in London. If Tizona was endowed with magic to battle evil creatures, why did it not manifest when we battled Alaric, the vampire? Nor was there any show of power when used against zombies. Apparently any good sharp blade would have done as well. It was only when I directly attacked the stone demon that the magic appeared.”

In the brief silence that followed, Simone, who had been following the exchange with rapt interest and mulling it over, now commented thoughtfully, “Peut-être, perhaps, the magic only works against les démons?”

All eyes turned to her. “Cherie, that must be it!” Marcel exclaimed, while Michael nodded slowly in agreement.

“There may well be something to this idea,” he said, and gazed up at the stained-glass windows behind the altar as he tried to recall what he knew of the sword, assembling the bits and pieces of legend and folklore in an attempt to construct a reasonable theory. “The blade of Tizona was not forged by a Christian swordsmith, but by the hand of a Moorish, or rather Arab, master of the craft.” He was thinking out loud now, just letting the words come out. “The words engraved on the blade are in old Castilian, and on one side is a Christian prayer, so these were evidently added after Tizona came into the possession of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar.”

“The name of the sword,” the Director said suddenly. “Tizona. What does it mean?”

“Ah!” Michael said. “That is an interesting point, now that you mention it. Tizona translates as “firebrand,” or more accurately, as “burning stick.”

“Mon ami!” Marcel was excited by this revelation. “You stuck le monstre with the sword and, poof! A pile of ashes!”

“Yes,” Michael continued. “Obviously, the name must be a reference to the magic of the sword. It never occurred to me before. ‘Tizona’ is Spanish, however. Perhaps it was a translation of the Arab word for the same thing. This means that the Cid must have known of its powers, but there is no mention of it in the literature.”

“A sword made to fight demons! This is powerful magic, indeed,” the Director observed. “But made by the Arabs. Michael, I have always been impressed by your knowledge of history and the lore of the supernatural. Is there mention of demons in Arabic folklore?”

“Yes, sir, there is,” the priest replied. “I will have to read up on this to be certain of my facts, but early Arabian and later Islamic mythology and theology contains numerous references to supernatural creatures called djinn. The djinni, along with angels and humans, are the three known sapient creations of God. There is a passage in the Koran which states that djinni are made of a smokeless fire but are also physical in nature and able to interact with humans.”

“I remember this now,” Kriger said. “In the western world, we would call them genies, who can grant wishes.”

“Oui!” Simone exclaimed. “And it usually turns out badly for the person who summoned the genie, n’est-ce pas?”

“According to Arabian lore, djinni, like humans, can be either good or evil,” Michael continued.  “They can take on a demon-like appearance, but can also manifest in beautiful and seductive forms. They are also shape-shifters who can take on the appearance of any creature, but tend to favor masquerading as snakes or black dogs. They are said to live in a realm of their own, a dimension parallel to our own. Let me think…there is something I am forgetting, something important…” He closed his eyes and concentrated. “Ah, yes. The worst of the djinni is a type known as the Ifrit, an enormous winged creature made of fire. Ordinary weapons have no power over them, but magic can be used to kill or enslave them.”

“Let us hope, then, that we never run up against an Ifrit. It would seem, then, that the Arabs created the sword Tizona as a weapon to be used against demons,” the Director said, thoughtfully.

“So it would seem,” Michael agreed.

Kriger drew a deep breath and let it out. “Take care of that sword, Father. Guard it well. It may be the only hope we have against these creatures.”

Receiving Michael’s heartfelt assurances that he would, indeed, guard the sword carefully, the Director abruptly changed the topic. “It will not do for me to be absent from the office for too long. I have sent Edouard on an errand out of the city today, and gave Renée a task that will take her all day to complete. I wanted us to have this time together to discuss matters of security without their knowledge.”

“Have you determined a way to discover which of them is the leak?” Michael asked.

“I think I have, and I wanted to brief you about it today because you and your team,” he nodded toward Marcel and Simone, “will be critical to its success.”

“Anything we can do, Directeur, just ask,” Marcel stated flatly, and the others added their agreement.

Kriger quickly checked his watch, and returned his attention to his agents. “The classic strategy for unmasking a spy is disinformation. It can only work if there is a very limited number of suspects, which we have in this case with Edouard and Renée. The strategy is to provide information of a confidential nature that the spy will feel compelled to act upon, except that each suspect will be told something different. The resulting action, if any, will identify the spy. Now our top priority has to be to identify the spymaster, the person who is responsible for the assault on our agents last week. So, whatever information is fed to the spy has to be of sufficient importance that this unknown controller will take action, even if it entails the risk of exposing his spy.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” Michael admitted, “and is very likely to reveal the spy, but I am not sure how it will identify the party or parties behind him or her.”

The Director smiled coldly. “Once we have the spy, we will…persuade…him to reveal his employer.”

Marcel also smiled, an expression as chill as Kriger’s. “Sir. I would very much like to be part of that…conversation.”

“Oui!” Simone agreed passionately, and for all her petite beauty, for the first time Michael found the look in her eyes to be quite frightening.

A quiet moment passed, and then Michael cleared his throat and asked, “Director. What sort of disinformation will you convey to the suspected spies?”

“I intend to send a coded message to all of our station chiefs that, in three days’ time, they are summoned to a meeting at a secret location, the purpose being to discuss a united strategy to deal with future attacks on our forces. They are not to reveal the location to any of their staff, for any reason, and they are to come to the meeting unaccompanied by security or any of their subordinates. I realize that this is somewhat risky. First, by not allowing them any personal security in transit. Secondly, because we do not know if there are any other spies in the agency other than those we suspect to be in the headquarters office. All it will take is one leak as to the true location to ruin the plan.”

“I assume that Edouard and Renée will be given false locations?” Michael inquired.

“Yes. I will brief them privately and separately, and instruct them to keep the information confidential, that the location is top secret and not to be discussed with anyone else. Not even their co-workers at headquarters. They would not consider this to be an unusual order, since they are quite accustomed to compartmentalization of information for security concerns.”

“That is a very juicy plum to dangle before our enemies,” Marcel said. “All of the station heads gathered in one place.”

“It is my hope that the mastermind who planned the attack on us will find the bait to be irresistible, and thereby reveal his spy to us,” the Director agreed. “I have chosen locations that would be good meeting places, but isolated enough to minimize potential civilian casualties from any confrontation with demons. Renée will be informed that the meeting will take place at a chalet near Les Signaraux, in the French Alps about eighty kilometers from the Italian border. The second false location I have selected is in eastern France, an abandoned winery near Meursault, in the Burgundy region. This is the meeting site that I will convey to Edouard, and this is where I want the three of you.”

“Where will the actual meeting take place?” Michael inquired.

The Director shook his head. “I am sorry, my friends, but that is need to know, and you do not need to know.”

Michael nodded. “I understand, sir. How do you want us to handle this? What do you want us to do?”

“Your mission is mainly to observe and report.” Kriger smiled tightly, an expression without the slightest trace of humor. “I have made other arrangements to deal with any demons that might show up. This morning, before the service, I spoke with Henri Girard, the Deputy Commissioner of Interpol. That was the man seated to my right, here. He is going to arrange for a welcoming party at each of the locations, a strong force of the National Gendarmerie that will remain concealed until needed.”

“Ah!” Marcel exclaimed. “And they will give les démons a very warm welcome!”

“Indeed. We know, from your experience in London, that small arms fire seems to have little effect on demons, but the Gendarmerie will be equipped with heavy weapons. I do not think that even the hide of a demon can stand up to large-caliber fire and armor-piercing and explosive rounds.”

The four of them sat in silence for a moment, savoring the image. “We will have justice for our fallen comrades,” Michael said, at last.

“I think it likely that the enemy will send a large force, intending to take out all of the station chiefs. I would prefer that the three of you not engage the enemy. That is the job of the military, and they will be well-prepared for their mission. I do not intend to lose any more of my best agents. We have lost too many already.”

Michael frowned. “Sir, I hardly think we can just stand by and watch.”

Kriger sighed, and rubbed the back of his neck. “I know, I know. Use your own judgement as to whether you are needed. Just try to stay alive, please. Our ranks have been decimated, and the agency needs all of its experienced agents.” He paused. “And I have lost too many of my friends.”

The Director stood up. “Tomorrow, I plan to interview that necromancer woman, to see if she knows anything of use. Michael, I would like you to be there, ten o’clock sharp. Afterward, I would like you and your team to meet discretely with Edouard to arrange security and transport to the Meursault site, three days from now. Of course, he is to know nothing about the Gendarmerie presence at the false meeting site! That is part of our trap, should he be the spy. Also, emphasize to him, as I have, that all these arrangements are top secret. He is not to discuss these plans with Renée or anyone else who has no specific need to know. In the meantime, Renée will be making arrangements for security and transport to Les Signaraux, with similar instructions not to inform Edouard.

“One or the other of these two will, I hope, spring the trap, and we will have our spy. Report back to me immediately afterward. Now, I must get back to the office and start making my own preparations. Any questions about your mission? No? Then let us be on our way.”

Michael and his two French companions waited in the pew while the Director walked to the front of the church. As he approached the door, it was opened for him by one of the waiting security men, who fell in behind him as he passed through it and was preceded outside by the two others who had been stationed outside the doors. “We have some planning to do, my friends,” Michael said.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 8:04 pm; edited 3 times in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:19 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

M. E. Velli

Part 4

“So,” the vampire known as Mack Velli observed, “the Director suspects that there is a spy in his house.” Dortmund only grunted, being completely absorbed in the layout on the chessboard before him. A moment ago, the warlock had mentioned this fact without elaborating, as if it were of no particular consequence.

Mack and Dortmund were again seated at the glass-topped table in the warlock’s office, contemplating the chessboard between them. The hour was approaching midnight; the vampire had arrived a few hours after sunset, dressed as usual in an expensive tailored suit. Although Mack had now only been in Dortmund’s employ for three days, this was becoming something of a routine for them. Every evening, the two of them would battle it out over the chessboard while discussing strategies that would serve to strengthen Dortmund’s position in the corporate world.

The results of the attack against Directorate 14 had occupied much of their conversation for the first couple of days, but the warlock was satisfied that he had dealt a crippling blow to the agency and there would be little interference from the Directorate for some time to come. In any case, the Directorate had been little more than an annoyance, and he had considered the matter closed. Dortmund had many plans unfolding, strategies that would result in the acquisition of smaller companies and strategies that would weaken his more powerful rivals. It was all a game to the warlock, for he had more money than a man could spend in a hundred lifetimes and power equivalent to many heads of state. It was not about the money, anyway; it was all about the acquisition of power, and money was simply a convenient way of keeping score. The world was his chess board, and he played power games for the sheer pleasure of destroying his opponents.

Another minute passed in silence. It was Dortmund’s turn, and as usual, Mack had sprung a clever trap upon him that he had not foreseen. Dortmund was considering the complex possibilities of outcomes for each potential move he might make in an effort to extricate himself from this trap. Chess was a game of tactics and strategy, and the best players were able to think several moves ahead, a situation which became increasingly difficult since the number of possible permutations increased geometrically into the future. The warlock at last made his decision, and reached out to take one of his knights and move it forward so as to provide a threat two moves down the road should the vampire continue to develop his present maneuver.

Mack, however, made no move toward the chessboard but continued to gaze at him, lifting an eyebrow in unspoken query. Dortmund sighed irritably. “Yes, he suspects, although he does not know for sure, and of course, has no clue as to who might be behind it.” He paused to pick up the glass of Bordeaux wine on the tabletop and took a small swallow before replacing it. “My spy, as I told you, is a shape-shifter who took the place of Kriger’s personal assistant, Edouard Leclerc, a few weeks ago. At the same time, I also instructed a few of my imps to follow Kriger whenever he left the building and eavesdrop upon him, to report on his activities and any conversations he might have. Yesterday, Kriger met with one of his agents in a park in Lyon and informed him that he suspected there was a spy in his office, either Leclerc or the woman Renée DuPont.”

Mack nodded, and then focused on a part of this report that greatly interested him. “These demon imps, they cannot enter the Directorate building?”

Dortmund made a dismissive gesture. “Of course they can. They can teleport anywhere.” He paused, and then grudgingly amended his statement. “Well, almost anywhere, I suppose. This morning, my imp was unable to enter the church where they were having the memorial service. That priest, Mendez, would probably claim it was divine interference, but I suspect it was more likely they had some sort of magic wards in place. As to the Directorate building, it probably is warded, and I did not think it worth the risk that the imps might be discovered. I already have my spy inside, and Kriger apparently has complete confidence in Leclerc.” Actually, Dortmund had already been sending his little demons into the building to complete a very special task, a bit of insurance, but Velli did not need to know all of his plans.

Mack filed this information away for future consideration. “Well then, Signor, if this Kriger expects to discover a spy, let us by all means give him one. It should not be difficult to plant some convincing evidence on this Renée DuPont.”

Dortmund looked thoughtful. “That is an excellent idea. Give it some thought. I would like to hear your suggestions as to what sort of evidence you think would be appropriate.” He glanced at the chessboard. “It’s your move.”

The vampire nodded and turned his attention to the board. Dortmund suspected that, regardless of his efforts now, defeat in this game was ultimately a foregone conclusion; Velli had proved his ability to consistently outplay him, time after time. Rather than being irritated by this, Dortmund was delighted to have finally met an intellect that was equal to his own. In fact, he probably would have hired the vampire just to play chess with him in the evenings, but Velli was a master strategizer in the business world as well, just as he had claimed. Already the vampire had made several suggestions that, when implemented, would likely drive down the stock value of his chief rival. He leaned back in his chair and studied his opponent as Mack concentrated on the board.

It really should not be any surprise that the old blood-drinker could play the games of politics and economics with such skill. The man had been a legend during his lifetime, and today his best-known work was, along with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, required reading for any business executive. Dortmund had a sudden thought, and interrupted Velli to ask, “I don’t suppose Sun Tzu would happen to be a vampire, too?” What a coup it would be if he could enlist such a man! A team with both Velli and the Chinese strategist would be unbeatable.

Mack shrugged, slightly annoyed at the interruption but careful not to show it. “Ah, Signor, I am sorry. I have no information about this man, though I suspect I would have heard if he was in my world.”

Velli had been rather reticent as to exactly how he had been turned into a vampire – Dortmund suspected it had been a woman, from the few clues he had dropped - but his biography was well known to Dortmund. He smiled slightly, considering the name now used by the vampire: Mack E. Velli. Really, a little too obvious, in his opinion. The dapper vampire had been born Niccolò Machiavelli in 1469 in Florence, Italy, at a time when a succession of popes were aggressively waging wars against Italian city-states such as Florence, Venice, and Milan, and nations such as France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire struggled for regional influence and control. It was a tumultuous era in which alliances were continually being formed and dissolved, and city-states fielded mercenary armies who were liable to change sides without warning. Considering this, Dortmund liked to think that if he had been alive at that time, he would have risen to become one of the power players. A conceit, perhaps, but then again, he had managed to do just that in the equally complicated and far more sophisticated modern era.

Although not a member of the nobility, “Mack” had nevertheless managed to acquire power for himself in the Florentine republic. He had served as the second chancellor under Piero Soderini, chief magistrate of the city-state, and was frequently sent as a diplomat on behalf of Florence to negotiate with the papal states in Rome, to France, and to the notoriously brutal Cesare Borgia. Borgia was the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI, and with his father was busy trying to conquer central Italy. Machiavelli was given charge of the Florentine military, and introduced a standing army to replace the mercenaries whom he distrusted. Under his command, Florence defeated the competing city-state of Pisa in 1509. Three years later, in 1512, the Medici family, who had formerly ruled Florence until expelled in 1494, launched an attack against Florence using Spanish mercenaries and captured the city. Machiavelli had been stripped of his offices, and within a few months, accused of conspiring against the Medicis and was imprisoned and tortured. Released after three weeks of this ordeal, he spent the rest of his life writing about politics.

Dortmund’s personal copy of The Prince, written by Machiavelli in 1513, was tattered and dog-eared from frequent reading and he practically had the contents memorized. The principles of political theory that the vampire seated across the table from him had developed from observing the ruthless Italian leaders in their quest for power emphasized the need for a ruler to be able to pragmatically apply brute force or deception when necessary to eliminate political rivals, coerce resistant populations, and remove any others who might, one day, be strong enough to challenge the ruler. Exactly the qualities needed by a businessman to survive in the highly competitive world of the twenty-first century, often summarized by the phrase, “the end justifies the means.”

Mack finally made his move. Damn! Dortmund thought. Although he himself was nearly of grandmaster skill, he had failed to anticipate this particular maneuver, in which the vampire had not only negated his threat but had in the process reinforced the trap he had blundered into. He leaned forward and propped his elbows on the table, steepling his fingers, and carefully considered the pieces displayed on the board.

The vampire leaned back in his chair, satisfied that he had now led his opponent to certain destruction. He picked up the glass of Bordeaux red wine that rested on the tabletop beside him and took a small sip, savoring the delicate bouquet. He did not need human food, of course, any more than he needed air to breathe, but even as a vampire he retained the ability to enjoy the sensual delights of fine food and drink. He rather expected that his employer would be occupied for some time in trying to find an exit from the trap he had so carefully laid, but the outcome was now inescapable. Dortmund was an excellent chess player, but no match for five centuries of experience.

He was still rather astonished at just how completely the warlock had taken him into his confidence. In a matter of days, based solely upon his reputation for devious strategic planning and, so it seemed, the ability to offer a challenging game of chess, he had become chief advisor and counselor to Dortmund, more or less the equivalent of consigliere to a Mafia don. Perhaps the man was just lonely, he mused, a slight smile playing briefly on his lips, and sought the companionship of someone he considered to be an equal. It was a role he was more than willing to play to achieve his goals. Deception and trickery were his stock in trade. Oh, he always told his clients the truth…but never the entire truth, and always slanted to further his own interests.

Not that Dortmund trusted him without reserve. The warlock thought he had his secrets, but there was very little Mack did not know about him. The vampire collected information, and was very good at ferreting out the deepest secrets using not only his numerous contacts among the supernaturals, but also availing himself of the technology of this era. The Internet was a marvelous invention, he thought, all the secrets of the entire world at his fingertips, if one only knew where to look.

There were so many companies involved in data mining, gathering all the minute and intimate details of the lives of individuals, from legal documents to banking and credit information to their shopping behavior to what they liked to eat and drink. And all of it for sale. He subscribed to numerous data services, and since he needed no sleep, spent the long hours of daylight combing through and collating the information to determine how he might best profit from it. Mack possessed a luxury apartment in the West End of London, one of dozens of residences he maintained around the world, and like all the others, it was completely outfitted with the latest computer technology. Although Dortmund had no suspicion, Mack was himself extremely wealthy, based on careful investments yielding five hundred years of compound interest.

Before approaching Dortmund, Mack had spent half a year studying him. He knew everything he needed to know about Dortmund in both of his roles, as businessman and as warlock, and in fact the two were inextricably linked. He knew the source of the warlock’s power, the Tenebris Magicae, the long-lost book of dark magic by the legendary Belarius of Byzantium. The discovery of the ancient grimoire and its bonding to Dortmund had sent ripples through the aether, alerting the supernatural denizens of the world that the book had been found and activated. A great many magic-users had been drawn to the city of London, lurking about the precincts of the office tower, lusting to possess the ancient tome, but none possessed sufficient power to confront the warlock directly. Mack smiled. His way - deception - was better.

Mack had followed the tendrils of power emanating from the grimoire, making the journey from America to Britain, determined to possess it for his own. It was in this building, he knew, hidden somewhere deep in its foundation, though as yet he did not know its precise location or how he would obtain it. The radiation of sheer power from the ancient tome was almost unbearable. The necessary strategy would become apparent as he further insinuated himself into Dortmund’s confidence, and, after all, had he not written in The Prince that “No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution.”

The book had served the upstart warlock well, since he had found it. Dortmund had used the arcane knowledge in the book to advance his rise to power and wealth in the human world. From the grimoire, the man had learned the lost art of summoning demons from the Underworld, and his first efforts had rewarded him with the services of a number of the tiny demon imps capable of teleporting in and out of any place and learning whatever secrets might be found. Dortmund had employed them well in industrial espionage, using them to steal cutting-edge research and technology from other firms and to quickly patent it, leaving his competitors bewildered as to how Dortmund had managed to beat them out.

But for all his business acumen and raw magical power, Dortmund was remarkably naïve about the supernatural world. He had used his power crudely, a ham-fisted approach, picking and choosing what he needed, lacking the comprehensive understanding of the holistic nature of magic necessary to become a true adept. He was one of the few true warlocks on the planet today, but he had no idea how the power he expended had resonated through the supernatural world and alerted others to his presence. Mack was not the only one who coveted the grimoire, but he was the only one in a position to take it away from the warlock.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:21 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:20 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 5

There was a chime from the direction of Dortmund’s desk, and a small blue light began blinking steadily on the desktop. The warlock reluctantly took his attention away from the chessboard. “It seems that one of my messenger demons has information it thinks important,” he explained to Mack, as he pushed his chair back and walked over to his desk. “I cannot have them popping in and out of my office unexpectedly, since there might be someone else here with me. I set up a system by which they can let me know when they need to see me.” The imps would materialize in a closet attached to his office, where there was a small button they could push and await permission to enter.

Standing in front of the desk, he pushed a button next to the blue light. The chime stopped repeating, and a second later there was a faint popping sound as one of the tiny messenger demons materialized on the desktop, facing the darkened windows beyond the desk. As soon as it realized that Dortmund was not in his chair, it gave a shrug of its wings and turned around to face him, miniature claws clicking on the glass that covered the desk. The creature stood there, crouching slightly, and waited for permission to speak.

Impatiently, the warlock made a beckoning gesture with his fingers. “What news do you have?”

“Master,” the demon shrilled. “The shifter bade me bring you important information.” Its mouth gaped open in a grin, displaying miniature fangs.

Dortmund’s brow furrowed, and he raised a hand. “Do not presume to make me wait. Tell me.”

The creature cowered, and said quickly, “There is to be a big secret meeting of all the Directorate leaders in two days.”


The little demon fumbled at its waist and pulled a tiny, tightly rolled paper from a skin pouch and held it up to the warlock, bowing as it did so. Dortmund took the paper and carefully unrolled it, read the message from the Leclerc demon, and nodded to himself. “Very good. You may go now, but hold yourself ready in case I need to send you somewhere tonight.” The demon, visibly relieved at having been spared any chastisement, flapped its wings a couple of times and disappeared.

Holding the paper in his fist, Dortmund walked back over to the dining table where Mack waited expectantly. “You heard?” the warlock asked, and the vampire nodded affirmatively. Dortmund handed the little scroll of paper to Mack and sat down in his chair before the chessboard and reached out for his wine glass, frowning as he noticed it was nearly empty. He topped it off from the bottle of Bordeaux and sipped appreciatively as Mack quickly read the message.

The vampire tossed the paper onto the table. “This is from your spy in the Directorate, yes?” When Dortmund confirmed it with a nod, he continued. “This presents a rare opportunity that should not be overlooked.”

Dortmund snorted. “An opportunity for what? It will be a gathering of desperate old men to commiserate over their losses,” he sneered. “I have pulled their teeth.”

Mack shook his head. “Do not underestimate the Directorate. They have considerable support among the supernaturals, especially the various shape-shifters. They offer protection against rogues and criminals of their own kind and thus help them to remain hidden from humans. The agency is made up largely of such, and they will soon be able to fill their ranks again. You have obtained merely a temporary relief from their interference. Consider this,” he said, holding up a finger. “You have removed the pawns from the board. Now you have an opportunity to sweep away the major pieces, and perhaps even to topple the king piece, this man Kriger.”

Dortmund looked thoughtful, but seemed unconvinced. “It could be a trap. I could be exposed. Right now they know nothing of me, but suspect a spy. At the very least, it could be a subterfuge intended to expose my agent among them.”

“Perhaps it is a trap,” the vampire agreed. “What of it? You do not strike me as a timid man, Signor Dortmund. I know you did not rise to your present position of wealth and power without taking risks.”

“I went to a great deal of trouble to insert my spy into the organization,” Dortmund said slowly, “but perhaps it would be worth taking a chance of losing him if I could eliminate the Directorate altogether.”

“Think about it, Signor!” Mack now laid out the political implications with irrefutable logic. “This Directorate 14 is something of an experimental venture by Interpol, and does not have the full support of all of the top executives in that organization. Furthermore, it is now in rather foul odor because of the debacle in London. The political repercussions of the deaths of so many of their police are not inconsiderable. The British government is quite annoyed with Interpol at the moment. Add to this the recent slaughter of so many of their agents, and it may well be that, if you destroy the Directorate, Interpol may well cut their losses and decide not to reconstitute the agency.”

Dortmund slapped his hand down on the tabletop. “You are right!” The wineglass rocked with the impact, and the chess pieces danced on the board. “It would be worth the risk if I could eliminate them permanently.”

The warlock raised his voice. “Computer! Unit 8. World map.” The LCD wall screen at the lower right, nearest the dining table, shifted from its muted view of CNN News to show a map of the world. “Zoom. France,” he ordered, and the map obediently enlarged the view to show the French nation centered within the borders of the screen. Dortmund issued more verbal orders to the computer, and the screen just above the map now displayed a close-up view of the Burgundy region southwest of Dijon, and the one beside it displayed information about the abandoned winery once operated by the Delacroix family. Satisfied, Dortmund leaned back in his chair and smiled at Mack. “We have some planning to do, my vampire friend!”

Mack gave a small, polite smile. “Yes, Signor, indeed we do!” This was his element.

“Before we begin, however,” and here Dortmund smiled broadly at his guest, “I have a small surprise for you.” As Mack lifted a curious eyebrow, the warlock raised his voice again. “Intercom! Security.”

In seconds, the reply came back. “Security, Tredegar speaking. What can we do for you, Mr. Dortmund?”

“Mr. Tredegar, please show the visitor from Elite Services to my office. That will be all.”

After a few minutes, there was a polite rap on the office door. Dortmund ordered the computer to unlock it. There was an electronic click, and the door opened to admit a tall and lovely blonde dressed in a dark green evening gown, holding a matching clutch purse. Seeing Dortmund and Mack seated at the dining table, she walked over to them, a restrained but provocative sway in her movement.

“So good to see you again, Mr. Dortmund,” she said in a low voice, full of promise, and turning to Mack, “and this must be your special friend. My name is Deidre.”

Mack stood up immediately, and took her hand. “Piacere, passerotto mio!” He leaned over and kissed her hand.

Dortmund smiled. “I have taken the liberty of ordering dinner in for you, Velli. Deidre is quite accustomed to the needs of gentlemen such as yourself.”

Still holding her hand, Mack beamed. “How very thoughtful of you, Mr. Dortmund!”

Dortmund simply nodded, saying, “I have some business to take care of while you two become acquainted. I shall return shortly, and we can continue with our planning.” With this, he turned and left the office by a side door.

Deidre sat down in the chair that had been occupied by Dortmund at the table, and Mack resumed his own seat. She extended her arm gracefully, palm up, and he took it carefully in his own two hands. “Bellissima!” he said, catching her eyes with his own and smiling in appreciation, and fangs extended, bent down to feast.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:26 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:20 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 6

Deep beneath the streets of the lower Presqu’ile in the city of Lyon, France, in the lowest level of the headquarters building of Directorate 14, the accused necromancer, Marie Rose Saint-Just, sat in a small, undecorated room devoid of any furnishings but the table before her and a few utilitarian chairs. She wore a one-piece orange coverall issued to her shortly after her arrival at the facility nearly two weeks ago, and sat calmly with her hands folded on the tabletop, waiting patiently. Marie Rose had been brought here an hour ago from the detention cell where she had been lodged during all this time, told only that she would be questioned “in due time” about her role in the London affair. Apparently, it was now time.

In the corner of the room, near the door, Colette Roche leaned against the wall with her arms folded, visibly bored. She had been assigned to guard the prisoner until the Director arrived, but hardly considered this petite black woman to represent a significant threat. Nevertheless, orders were orders, so she stayed alert and kept a watchful eye upon the woman at the table.

The door to the interview room opened and the overlarge form of Director Bjørn Kriger walked inside, followed by Father Michael, dressed in a black cassock, with Marcel and Simone close behind. Kriger nodded to Colette, and she exited the room, closing the door quietly behind her. Marie Rose looked up at the imposing figure of the Director, apprehension plain in her eyes, but Kriger only smiled gently at her, trying to ease her fears somewhat, and then took the seat on the opposite side of the table, laying a thick blue file folder on the tabletop and handing her a cold bottle of Perrier water. He cleared his throat. “Madame Saint-Just, I believe you are acquainted with these others?” He turned and looked at each in turn as he spoke. “Father Michael Mendez…Marcel Guillon…Simone Bataille. These were the agents present in London when you were taken into custody.” The three so named also smiled in a friendly manner, and remained standing to either side, just behind the Director.

“Yes…,” she said in a small voice. “The Father was very kind to me.”

The Director continued. “Everything you said to Father Mendez is privileged under the seal of the confession, so he has not spoken of it to me nor will he take any active role in your questioning. I have, however, asked him to be present here today should you feel the need of counseling. Monsieur Guillon and Mademoiselle Bataille are under no such constraints, since you made a legally valid confession to them, having been apprised of your rights under both British and French law.”

Marie Rose uncapped the bottle of water and took a small sip, replacing the lid before she spoke. “I understand. Sir, may I have a lawyer?”

“Certainly, Madame. Your request has been anticipated.” Kriger gestured to Marcel, who went to the door and opened it to admit a tall and slender man of about thirty-five years, dressed in a business suit with black hair and a pencil mustache, who carried a slim attaché case. “This is Monsieur Mathieu Bouquet, who has been appointed to represent you as your avocat.” Bouquet nodded in greeting to Marie Rose, saying, “Bonjour, Madame Saint-Just. I am fluent in English, and quite familiar with British law and that of the EU.” He then sat down in the chair next to her, facing Kriger.

The Director opened the folder before him, flipped through a few pages, reading quickly, and then closed the folder and clasped his hands on the table, now wearing a grim expression. “Let me acquaint you with your situation, Madame Saint-Just. The creation of zombies posed a real danger to the citizens of London and resulted in several deaths. You have been indicted in Britain of manslaughter by gross negligence, having exhibited such a reckless indifference for the life and safety of others as to amount to a crime and deserve punishment. In other words, by your actions in creating zombies, you did not give any thought to the possibility of there being any such risk, or else had recognized that such risk existed and had nonetheless persisted in your activities.”

Hearing these charges, Marie Rose put her fingers to her lips, visibly frightened. Bouquet had extracted a yellow legal pad from his briefcase and was writing rapidly. Father Michael came around behind her and placed a comforting hand upon her shoulder.

Kriger now resumed his explanation. “The British authorities have had second thoughts about allowing us to remove you from their country, and are now exerting pressure to extradite you back to Britain to face these charges. The London police are, shall we say, rather irate because of the deaths of four officers during the course of your apprehension. Despite this, because of the nature of the crimes, the judiciary has no real desire to embarrass the government by conducting a public trial in which you would be charged with the use of black magic. However,” and here he paused for effect, “under British law your case can be heard without a jury trial, under the authority of a judge or a panel of judges who would provide a summary judgment. It is very likely that, under the circumstances, you would be sentenced to life imprisonment if found guilty.”

Marie Rose closed her eyes and bowed her head, obviously greatly distressed. At her side, the attorney Bouquet stopped writing and leaned close, whispering in her ear. After a moment, he straightened and looked at the Director. “But?” he asked briskly. “I am assuming, Monsieur,[/i ] that there is a ‘but’ or a ‘however’ implied by all this preamble?”

The Director nodded acknowledgement. “There is indeed a ‘however,’ [i]Monsieur
Bouquet. Although Britain has recently chosen to withdraw from the European Union, there still remain numerous international agreements in place and they are still members of Interpol. I think that it would not be difficult to persuade them to allow us to handle this situation. Supernatural crimes are, after all, the purview of Directorate 14. It has only been the loss of the members of the Metropolitan police that has them in such an uproar. A justifiable attitude, to be sure.”

“And, so what are you offering?” Bouquet asked. “What do you want from my client?”

Kriger leaned back in his chair. “First, we at the Directorate recognize that there was no mens rea involved in her actions.” For the benefit of Marie Rose, he explained. “That translates as ‘guilty mind,’ and is a measure of culpability in the crime. In other words, Madame, you had no intent to cause harm, but are guilty of extreme negligence in the actions you took in the effort to restore your husband to life.”

In a small voice, Marie Rose said, “I just wanted him back. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone.”

Her attorney made a slight chopping motion with his hand. “Please, Madame. Say nothing now. Let the man speak, and we shall see what he will put on the table.”

Kriger continued. “As a magic user, your client represents a continuing danger to the public and must be controlled. She must remain under the authority and supervision of the Directorate, but we will not find it necessary to confine her in prison to do so.”

Bouquet pounced on this statement at once. “This is guaranteed? That she will serve no prison time?”

“No prison,” the Director agreed. “But here is one of the howevers. She will have to be strictly confined, but under a form of house arrest rather than a prison. After all,” he added, “people died as a result of her actions. There are consequences.”

Marie Rose started to speak again, but halted when Bouquet placed a cautionary hand on her arm. “What else?” the lawyer asked. “Please continue.”

“Madame Saint-Just will become, in effect, a probationary employee of the Directorate. We will want to work closely with her to explore the nature and extent of her powers, although human necromancy will be completely prohibited. In addition, because she has extensive medical training – quite a good doctor, actually, I am led to understand – we will want to take advantage of that experience.”

Bouquet was making notes on his legal pad. “And?”

“There is not much more.” Kriger sat forward and consulted the blue folder. “Obviously she can never return to Britain again. Ah, here is what I was looking for.” He scanned the page and closed the folder. “Because the circumstances have been kept quiet, the British medical community is unaware of the unusual nature of her crimes, the creation of zombies. I rather doubt that they would believe it even if they were informed. However internal auditing at St. Bartholomew’s has revealed the theft of hospital supplies and, more seriously, of bodies from the morgue which has been traced to her. Although she disappeared from the country before they could make further inquiries as to what she was doing, these charges were serious enough that your client was fired from the hospital and her medical license revoked. She can never practice medicine in Britain again.”

The former doctor covered her face with her hands. She had lost everything: her husband, her reputation, her career. She dropped her hands down into her lap. “What am I to do? Medicine was my life.”

Kriger spoke to her directly. “As I said before, your medical experience is too valuable to waste. We are – and by this I mean the Directorate, not the government of France – we are willing to allow you to practice as a physician’s assistant, in effect, under the supervision of one of our own doctors.”

Bouquet had been writing furiously during all this explanation, and when Kriger finished he looked up, pencil in hand. “I see. That seems a rather generous offer, Director. What is it that you wish from my client in exchange for this largesse?”

“Not so much, Monsieur Bouquet. First,” and he raised a finger. “We wish your client to sign over all her assets to us. We will liquidate them and pay compensation to the families of the officers who were killed in the line of duty in this affair.” The next finger came up now. “Secondly, we wish a full accounting of her activity, from the moment of her husband’s death to the time of her arrest. In complete detail, leaving nothing out. Right now, we have the verbal statements that were given by her to Monsieur Guillon and Mademoiselle Bataille, these being the basis upon which charges were brought. In addition, she will continue to cooperate in the future, to answer any additional questions that might be raised about her necromancy. These are the conditions.”

Marie Rose managed to combine a look of both relief and apprehension on her features. Bouquet sat back in his chair, visibly astonished. He leaned over and whispered to his client again, and answered the few quiet questions she voiced. After a few minutes, they both sat back upright. “We agree to your terms.”

“Good,” the Director said. He pulled a blank yellow legal pad out of the blue folder, and placed it and a pen before the woman. “Madame Saint-Just. I want you to write out everything that happened, everything that you were thinking, clearly and in as much detail as possible. Once this is done, I will have it typed up, and will return it to you for your examination and signature.” He now pulled a document from within the folder and laid it on top of the legal pad. “This sets out the terms of this arrangement, as I just outlined. Have your attorney look it over, and sign where indicated. Tomorrow you will be brought before one of our judges, where you will enter a guilty plea on the charge of manslaughter by negligence. Afterward, you will belong to the Directorate.”

Marie Rose was nodding as he spoke, and reached for the pad and legal document even before he finished. She thought it was all very fair, and actually far more than she deserved. She was still, even after all the time that had passed, in rather a state of shock from the violence that had taken place in the depths of the London Underground, and from witnessing the bizarre and frightening creatures that had taken control of her laboratory. She had, it was true, never given a thought to the possibility that anyone could be hurt by her research, that people could die as a result. She was about to begin writing when the Director cleared his throat to gain her attention.

“Before you begin, I have a few specific questions that I would like to ask you. Afterward, I will take my leave, and Marcel and Simone will remain to assist you, should you need any reminders as to what happened during the attack on your lab. Father Michael will also remain with you, should you need any counseling.” He pulled yet another yellow pad out of the bulky blue folder, on which he had some notes jotted down.

He consulted the list of questions he had prepared. “The creatures that were present in your laboratory at the time it was attacked have been identified as demons.” He ignored the little gasp she gave at this news and continued. “I want you to think back to the time you spent in your lab. Did you have any sense of their presence at any other time? Did you, for example, ever have any feelings that you were being watched?”

She was silent for a moment, reflecting. “No, sir, I cannot say that I had. It was a complete shock to me when I heard the commotion outside my husband’s chamber and I came out to find a horrible monster tearing things up and fighting with the police officers. I never felt like I was being watched, or sensed any other presence there. Sometimes, my brother-in-law, Imasu, was with me down there, but I don’t know if he felt anything.”

Kriger made a few notes on the pad. “I understand that you learned the technique of necromancy from a practitioner in Haiti, a Janjak Pampil. Do you think that he, somehow, attached himself to you, that he may have had something to do with all this?”

Marie Rose made a helpless gesture. “I have no idea. I never sensed anything of him after I left his hut in Cap Haitien.”

“Hmm,” Kriger murmured. “Very well. Now, you told my agents here that you were able to carry out reanimation of the dead with the assistance of a spirit called Baron Samedi, a type of being known in Haiti as a ‘loa.’ Tell me how this was accomplished.”

She closed her eyes and shuddered briefly. “There…was a ritual involved. I had to lay out offerings for him, cigars and rum. I had to use human blood to draw his ‘veve,’ a sign or symbol representing the Baron…I drew it on the bare chest of the cadaver.” She kept her eyes closed. “There had to be music…not music, really, but African drums. And, I had to cut myself…I had to add my own blood.” She paused, and in a very small voice she added, “This was supposed to bind them to me, to let me control them.”

“From the accounts I heard, you were not controlling them at all, at the end,” Kriger pointed out. “Very well, then. So, when you did all this, the spirit of the Baron came to you? What was this like?”

“Yesss…he took my body, came into me. I can’t explain what it was like, not very well…it was wonderful…and frightening. I could feel a vast, strange power flowing through me and into the body on the table.”

“Did you…” the Director started to say, and then she interrupted.

“It changed, though. It was never the same after that first time. There was still the same feeling of great power being channeled through me…but it was colder, somehow…more alien, even…it’s hard to describe!”

“And was it always like that, after the first time? More…alien, you said?”

“Yes! The Baron was a spirit, but I could feel no malice in him. He felt…human, I guess is the best way to describe it. More than human, I guess, but still something derived from humanity…I don’t have the words I need. Afterward, it was very different. Like it was not the same spirit. There was not the same…tie? human kind. What I could feel most, was hate. Like it hated all life.”

There was a rather prolonged silence as Kriger made some rather lengthy notes based on her responses. At last he sat back and just looked at her for a moment, and then stuffed the pad back into the blue folder and stood up. “Madame Saint-Just, I will now leave you to look over the agreement alone with your attorney. Marcel and Simone, I want to see you outside for a moment, and then you can return.”

The Director and his two agents left the room, closing the door behind them, and stood in the hallway outside. He looked back and forth between them. “Impressions?”

Simone spoke first. “Monsieur, I believe she tells the truth.”

“As far as she knows it,” Marcel added.

“That is also my feeling. It seems that there was a demon presence that took over from this ‘Baron,’ after the first time.” He made a sour face. “Unfortunately, this does not bring us any closer to discovering who was behind the demon attack there, or anywhere else.” He made a dismissive gesture. “Give her a few more minutes with her attorney, and then go back in there and encourage her to write down everything. And I mean, everything.” He turned and walked away.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:27 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:20 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 7

Klaus Dortmund stood alone in the center of the darkened room, his hands in his pockets, silently contemplating the stone monument before him. The vampire Machiavelli was not present. It was the middle of the afternoon, and the blood-drinker was not free to move about during the daytime and so was sequestered within his own lair. Not that he would have allowed him to be here, in his most private place. Some secrets were his own to keep, not to be shared with any employee no matter how valuable that person might be in other regards.

This was his workshop, the focus of his power, the private space he had created in the basement level of his building when it had been constructed, deep beneath the three-level underground parking structure. The high-rise had been constructed to his own design, and contained several features that were not usually found associated with typical modern office towers. This hidden vault, nearly a hundred feet across with several smaller chambers on one side, was accessible only by the private elevator that connected it with his office and penthouse apartment. Dortmund used the space to conduct the magical rituals that had secretly propelled his rise to prominence in the mundane world and from which he would now launch the attack against the despised Directorate 14. The space was large because he needed room, plenty of room, for the summoning of the demons and other creatures that comprised his power base.

He mixed no potions or powders, employed no herbs in the exercise of his powers. Such things were for the feeble efforts of witches and magicians who needed such chemical crutches to focus their weak magics. He dealt with raw, untamed magic, evoked by incantations and diagrams that tapped into the trans-dimensional powers of the Underworld, forced to serve his will. The ancient grimoire, the
Tenebris Magicae,
that he had so long ago liberated from the bowels of the British Library, had revealed the necessary spells and runes and enhanced his own natural abilities, but it was the strength of his will and personality that allowed him to control that arcane power.

He was nearly ready to begin. Dortmund was dressed, as usual, in an expensive business suit; an eminently practical man, he scorned the idea of wizard’s robes or other exotic garments as pretentious and unnecessary. Similarly, he found the use of candles or torches distasteful, unless specifically required by a spell. He was a modern man, and the magic he employed represented the best of both worlds, the arcane rituals of ancient times and the modern technology in which he had made his fortune. The room was illuminated by electrical lights in chrome sconces on the walls, three to each wall, turned down to provide a dim light. Overhead lights were present, but remained dark. Numerous long shadows spread across the floor and up the walls, cast by the figures of the stone pillar and the warlock.

There would be no need for use of the pentagram for this. He was not summoning demons from the Underworld, but was instead gathering the demonic forces that he had already brought to this world. These were demons who were bound to serve him, had been forced to accept enslavement. At his summons, they would come to him from their hiding places around the globe, in the locations to which they had been sent on various assignments in the past and now awaited further orders.

The stone in the center of the room was a portal stone, a gateway that allowed instantaneous travel across the globe, and it was through this stone that his demonic servants would arrive when summoned and it was through the portal that he would launch his attack upon the meeting of Directorate executives. The stone was of his own construction, using the instructions provided in the grimoire, two meters tall and a meter wide, carved from hard black basaltic rock. The monument was in the shape of an obelisk, a stone pillar with four flat sides and at the top, coming to a point in a pyramid. The sides were covered with strange symbols, combinations of which could be activated to select particular destinations.

Travelers could only go from portal stone to portal stone, but the stones were numerous throughout the Old World. In most of the older cemeteries throughout Europe and Asia, similar stones had been erected by warlocks of the ancient era, blending in among the thousands of other monuments and differing from them only by the presence of arcane writing that none but the initiated could read. There were, however, very few such portal stones across the Atlantic in the Americas, because the last of the ancient warlocks had perished long before the colonies had spread much beyond the coast.

Portal stones could be found in Central America, Peru and on several Caribbean islands, set up by warlocks who had accompanied the Spanish conquistadores in their ventures of brutal conquest, and in Canada at Quebec and Montreal, erected by French magic-users during the colonial period. There was a portal at St. Augustine in Florida, the first European settlement in what would later become the United States, and further north, portals at Boston, Salem, Roanoke, Providence and a handful of other communities established prior to 1650. Other than these few locations, the vast expanse of the Americas simply could not be accessed through the portal stones. The New World had its own ancient magics, however, and Dortmund planned to investigate these one day.

He placed his hands flat on one side of the stone, and to his senses, the power flowing through it was immense. Each stone was linked to its location on the pattern of ley lines that tapped into the mystical energy of the Earth. The intersections of such lines were locales charged with magical power, and he had built his office tower on one such nexus, and placed his workshop deep underground, in order to access this energy. Establishing the link had not been an easy task, and in fact had required from him a greater expenditure of effort than had been needed in sculpting, by hand, the obelisk stone itself from the dense black volcanic rock. Once the connection had been made, however, it permitted him to travel around the planet from stone to stone, or to send his demonic servants wherever he wanted them to go, provided there was a portal at the destination.

Anyone could use the stones, if they knew how. It did not require a magic-user to employ them, for the magic was in the stones themselves.

There was but one more thing left to do before he committed to the attack and launched his demonic hit squad off to the Directorate gathering in eastern France. Earlier in the day, he had dispatched one of his little messenger demons to the site to spy out the terrain and see if, indeed, preparations were being made for the meeting of station chiefs. The imp had reported back that there were no Directorate personnel yet at the old winery. He was now waiting for a second messenger to arrive with a more up-to-date report.

A faint pop heralded the arrival of the messenger demon, back from its scouting trip. It perched on top of the obelisk, lightly fanning its wings, and briefly dipped its head. “Master,” it squeaked in its shrill voice. The warlock gestured impatiently for it to continue, and listened carefully as it described what it had seen, frequently interrupting with requests for more detail.

The scene at the winery was now bustling with activity, according to his tiny spy. The information given to him earlier by the shape-shifter, Leclerc, had now been proved accurate. Shortly before two o’clock, several vans had arrived, and grim-faced men in black suits (exactly how many men was unclear; demons were not very good with numbers) had emerged and taken up stations around the perimeter and inside the building. These were obviously the personnel who would be providing security for the meeting. Dortmund smiled wickedly as he considered just how inadequate such a defense would be against an attack by his demons. Shortly thereafter men and women dressed in caterer’s uniforms had begun unloading supplies and food for the anticipated meeting.

From the look of these preparations, it seemed that the meeting would be held in the evening; that meant that he might be able to send some of his vampires along with the demons. Like the demons, vampires were not easy to kill, not at night when they were in their element, and they were very, very fast. He was certain that the Directorate was not aware of the existence of his messenger demons and their unique ability to pop in and out of places unobserved; his attack should come as a complete surprise and be utterly devastating. With a wave of his hand, he sent the messenger demon back to France to continue observing. He retreated, temporarily, to one of the side rooms where he had a chess board set up on a table, and setting up a problem, settled in to await further news.

Periodically, the demon imps reported back to inform him of the developing situation. At last, shortly before sunset, one of the imps arrived to inform him that a large group of men, dressed in business suits, had arrived at the winery and were immediately escorted inside. Here, at last, was the news he had been eagerly anticipating. Very shortly, he would launch his strike force against the Directorate heads.

He was considering whether, once the Directorate had been destroyed, whether he should employ the shifter in a different venue…perhaps as an aide to a prominent politician? Perhaps, even replacing the politician with his own creature? That might be worth considering… Something the imp was saying interrupted his musing and brought his attention back abruptly.

“What was that? What did you say?” he demanded.

The messenger demon blinked its yellow eyes and regarded him with alarm. “Master! The priest is there!”

Dortmund quickly stepped forward and snatched the imp from its perch atop the stone, holding the struggling creature in his fist and shook it as he snarled, “What priest?”

It stopped squirming and blurted out, “The priest from London, Master…and his two servants, the shape-shifters! They are there now!”

The warlock opened his fingers and released the creature, which flitted briefly around the room before coming back to rest on the point of the obelisk, where it stretched its wings and began grooming itself, whimpering in a low tone. Dortmund stepped back from the stone, and grasping his hands behind his back, began pacing back and forth before it.

Well, this was an interesting development. Perhaps not so unexpected, considering. This priest, this Michael Mendez, had proved to be a major irritant, having disrupted his plan to build a zombie army in London. More than that, the priest had eliminated two of his most powerful demon soldiers. The loss of the demon that channeled power to the necromancer was a great loss, indeed, for magic-users were hard to obtain and he had only been able to summon one other of its type from the Underworld. The priest and his companions apparently were held in very high regard by the Director of the agency.

The priest had a magic sword, the shifter had informed him. Now, wasn’t that interesting! It was this sword that had allowed him to defeat the demons in London. Most mortal weapons had little effect on demons, who were able to shrug off small-caliber bullets as minor annoyances. Apparently, their bodies were extremely dense. Possibly, larger caliber weapons or explosives might be capable of killing a demon. He made a mental note to run some experiments in this regard. According to the Leclerc demon’s information, when pierced by the priest’s sword, the demons had burst into flames and been consumed. That was a potent weapon, to be sure, and one he could not afford to let his enemies possess.

The priest and his companions had been able to dispose of two demons and a couple of dozen zombies, but the strike force he had assembled now was much larger and more formidable. They were potent adversaries, but even with the aid of the security force that had been posted, they should not be able to withstand his strike force. In this way, he could not only dispatch the station chiefs but also rid himself of this troublesome priest and capture the sword as a bonus. He smiled, recognizing the irony of his mental phrasing. In 1170, the English king Henry II, annoyed with Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had exclaimed, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!” and four of his knights had taken it upon themselves to go and slay the Archbishop. Appalled by the deed, King Henry had been forced to endure public humiliation in atonement.

Well, he was no Henry, and this priest was no archbishop. The warlock made his decision and stopped pacing. “Imp!” he barked. The little creature stopped grooming its wings and returned its attention to the warlock. “Go to your brothers, the other messengers. Summon my demon war chiefs, and the vampire leaders. Bring them here, and then return to me,” he ordered. The messenger demon nodded, once, and disappeared.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:28 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:20 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 8

His demons should be arriving soon. Dortmund turned and walked to one side of the room, putting some distance between the stone and himself. It would not do to be trampled underfoot as his demons came pouring out of the stone; he needed to give them room to arrive and assemble. He had a few minutes to spare, now, for it would take a little time for the messenger demon to contact the others and bring them here. He walked over to one side of the chamber where he had several boxes full of electronic equipment on a table, just to make sure that all was ready.

The first demon to arrive was of the same sort that he had employed to funnel magic into the London necromancer, Saint-Just. In its present form, it appeared to be made out of sticks, like some horrid scarecrow. He was not sure exactly how to classify it. It was capable of absorbing power from the earth to enhance its size and power, turning into an enormous blocky creature seemingly made of solid rock. A stone demon, perhaps, or possibly an elemental type. It mattered little; what was important was that this was the most powerful of the demons he had been able to summon from the Underworld. Most demons did not possess names, except for the most powerful, and names were a carefully guarded secret, for to know the name of a demon was to possess absolute power over the creature. This demon was exceptionally powerful in its own world; named and described in the grimoire, it was known as Zorug. He pointed to the far wall and told it to stand there and wait, for there was already another demon emerging from the portal stone. Zorug nodded and reluctantly grated out, “Master,” showing long, sharp fangs and hate-filled yellow eyes.

The demon chiefs came swiftly now, five horrific shapes, bursting from the stone, glaring and snarling at each other as Dortmund sent them all to form a long line against the wall. Each was of a different type, the strongest and most ferocious of its kind. This was the basis of their leadership; they were able to dominate the others of their ilk through intimidation. All demons were natural enemies to each other. They chose no companions, formed no alliances, and a cooperative venture such as Dortmund planned was completely unnatural to their natures and possible only because of the control he had over them. In the Underworld such a grouping would not have long survived, since they would have immediately plunged into a death-battle, the stronger killing and consuming the weak until only they remained. These formidable creatures were held now in check only by the force of Dortmund’s will and the strength of his magic, and stood glowering and resentful, baring fangs and glaring at all the others.

The last demon arrived, scale-covered and reptilian in form, as black as night, crouching and hissing as it came out of the stone and caught sight of the others. It spread its great bat-wings ready to take flight, but subsided as Dortmund ordered it to take position against the wall. Two and a half meters tall, the creature returned his glance with cold yellow eyes, and let its mouth fall open in a wicked lizardy grin to reveal a red cavern full of teeth, but did as it was ordered.

All his demon chiefs were now present. Dortmund stood next to the portal stone and studied the leaders of what he liked to think of as his demonic strike force. With the arrival of the winged demon, there were now six nightmare creatures posed unwillingly against the wall of his sanctum, who would launch a combined attack of nearly a hundred demons against the unsuspecting Directorate leaders at their secret meeting. Zorug was easily the most powerful demon in the group and would be his “general,” in overall command of all the others. The bat-winged demon would be in charge of five similar creatures, who would be his aerial assault troops and provide surveillance from above. Dortmund next turned his gaze upon a tall demon covered with razor-sharp crystalline spikes, and smiled at the thought of the destruction such beings would bring upon the Directorate agents. The fourth demon chief resembled a giant upright beetle-like insect, its body covered by a hard, external carapace. Dripping venom, its mandibles opened and shut hungrily with loud clacking sounds, and it slowly waved a number of limbs terminating in pinchers or blades like curving sickles.

Beside it - but at a safe distance - was a powerfully muscled demon having a general humanoid shape, covered with coarse black hair. It had the head of a great horned bull, but when it opened its mouth rows of shark-like teeth were revealed rather than the blunt dentition of a placid bovine. These were the most numerous of the summoned demons, nearly half of his force, but despite their intimidating appearance they were the least formidable. The last of the demon leaders resembled a huge black dog, more than a meter and a half high at the shoulder, with enormous paws and claws and eyes that glowed redly. It was no werewolf, but a hell-hound, a creature far more dangerous. These six he had selected for his leaders, stronger and more cunning than their fellows. He had, long ago, showed them the symbols that would bring them through the stones to his workshop, but they knew better than to try to come without being summoned. He had set powerful wards around this place, now temporarily deactivated.

There was a series of simultaneous muted popping sounds as his messenger demons returned from their errands, all but the one who was still in France keeping a watch on the Directorate meeting site. There were five altogether, who materialized in various places around the room and flew straight to the top of the portal stone, where they perched like so many malignant birds, keeping anxious eyes on the demons across the room and ready to instantly disappear should one make a move in their direction.

The demon troops these war-chiefs would command were now scattered in groups across the European continent, hidden in caves and crypts and abandoned tunnels and other secret places, never too far from a portal stone that would allow him to summon them at will. The demons were always hungry, and he had given them permission to hunt discretely for food in the darkness of night, away from prying eyes. Since he was certain that they would not limit their prey to the limited quantity of animals available in the forests, he shifted them around to new locations from time to time, so that a rising human body count in their vicinity would not draw attention. Dortmund knew better than to think, no matter how strong his control, that they would completely submerge their predatory instincts to avoid human prey, especially since all demons possessed an unrelenting hatred for all humans. Damage control was better than issuing orders that would not be obeyed.

He glanced at his watch, and frowned. The vampires were late, as usual.

Unlike the demons, who were bound to his will by the summons that had brought them to the human world, the vampires served him only by their own desire and through fear of his power. Early in his rise to prominence, he had located several nests of vampires in London and offered them a “deal,” to serve his will or be exterminated. In exchange, they were paid very well, a situation much to their liking since vampires tended to interact with the human world and enjoyed many of the same material comforts as mortal beings. The carrot and stick approach had worked rather well, for the most part, although vampires often tended to be insufferably arrogant and could never be completely trusted. Fair enough. Dortmund himself placed no trust in any person or creature.

Just as his anger was beginning to peak, two vampires stepped through the portal stone, a male and a female, modern-day Goths, both with long black hair framing their pale vampire faces, lips painted black and eyes darkly shadowed, draped with silver jewelry. These were the leaders of a small nest of vampires who had chosen to adopt a Gothic persona. Their apparent age was in the early twenties, and Dortmund knew this was not far off from their real age. All of the vampires who served him were young, no more than a half-century at most; the older ones were more adept at avoiding his attention.

As soon as the Gothic blood-drinkers appeared, the collection of demons across the room became agitated, crouching and snarling. In return, the male Goth opened his mouth to show his fangs, making an obscene gesture, and then contemptuously turned his back on them, lowered his head and bestowed a long, sensuous kiss upon his companion, caressing her intimately. He parted from her slowly, draped his arm about her shoulders, and turned to look at Dortmund. “Wot’s up, gov’ner?” he smirked. “Ugly mates yer’ve got 'ere.” Coldly, Dortmund pointed to a spot near the stone, saying only, “Wait here, and be silent.”

A few minutes passed by, and then another pair of vampires stepped out of the stone. These were the leaders of a different nest, which had adopted the identity of a gang of female bikers. Like the Goth vampires, they were young in appearance and dressed all in black, but sported more leather and wore boots upon their feet. The taller biker vampire was a rather heavy-set, dark-haired woman who wore her hair tied back and, from her possessive attitude toward her companion was obviously the dominant member of the pair. Every inch of skin visible on her arms was covered with tattoos. The other vampire biker was a slightly built girl, almost emaciated in appearance, with stringy dirty-blonde hair of shoulder length and fewer tattoos who wore a white tee-shirt featuring the grunge band Alice in Chains. On her left cheek was the image of a pale blue butterfly. At the warlock’s order, they took their place with the other vampire pair, and the biker leader nodded cordially to the Goths. Between the two groups, Dortmund expected that they would be able to bring a dozen or so vampires to the assault.

Of all the supernaturals in this world, the vampires were the most useful. They could not compare to the demons for sheer ferocity and near-indestructibility, but in their own element, the dark of night, the soulless creatures were swift, silent and deadly. Humans were their natural prey, and these young vampires had no reservations about killing for hire. Older vampires tended to be more cautious about casual killing, since they did not want to bring attention to their activities. Although having great destructive potential, he had not been able to employ shape-shifters such as werewolves because their loyalty to their packs was too strong, and despite their fearsome reputation in human folklore, they simply were not the wanton killers he needed.

There was a quiet < pop > that announced the return of the last of his little demon messengers. Dortmund turned to the demon imp, perched again atop the portal stone. “Go again to the meeting place and observe. See if anything has changed, and report back. Be quick about it! Do not keep me waiting!” The little winged demon vanished immediately.

While he waited for the final report, Dortmund busied himself preparing his forces. He walked over to the table and picked up one of the boxes containing electronic devices, and came back to stand before the demon Zorug. The demon’s hide resembled old, brown leather wrapped around sticks, deeply furrowed and wrinkled; its eyes were sunken pits. This was its normal appearance, but it was capable of pulling power directly from the earth and stones, expanding hugely in size. “You will be in command of all these others,” Dortmund informed it, speaking loudly enough for all to hear. He reached into the box and took out a miniature wireless camera and held it up to show the demon. “This is a magical amulet that will allow me to see what you see. It will be my eyes.” He set the box down on the floor, continuing to hold on to the miniature camera. Taking a small tube out of his pocket and unscrewing the lid, he squeezed a smear of adhesive on the creature’s chest. Irritated, Zorug showed fangs as the pungent smell of the chemical came to its nostrils, and flexed its claws. Dortmund capped the tube, picked up the camera, and pressed it securely onto the adhesive.

He bent down and reached into the box again, retrieving a transmitter. “This will be my voice. You will obey the commands I give you. Lean down.” Malice filling its eyes, the creature reluctantly bent its head. Dortmund examined Zorug’s head. It had nothing that resembled human ears, but there were two small openings on its head in approximately the same location. He started to press the ear bud into one of the openings, and halted as the demon growled and raised one of its arms, claws spread. “Be still!” Dortmund ordered. The demon subsided resentfully, and the warlock pressed the device into place.

He turned away from Zorug and approached one of the bat-winged demons. Hate smoldered in its eyes, but it bent its head submissively and allowed the warlock to equip it with a camera and transmitter. Dortmund repeated the process with the four remaining demon chiefs. Finished, he turned next to the vampires.

Seeing him approach, the male Goth, whose name was Billy, shook his head. “If yer fink yor gonna glue one of them fings ter me, yer can forget it!” All four of the vampires bared their fangs at the warlock.

“No glue,” Dortmund said. “No camera. Just transmitters, so I can speak to you. Here,” he said, holding out a handful of the ear buds, “place them yourselves.”

The vampires regarded him suspiciously, then Billy shrugged and took one from the warlock’s palm and worked it into his ear. “Smashing,” he said without enthusiasm. The other vampires followed suit.

“One more thing.” Dortmund pulled a larger device from the box. “This is a satellite relay,” he informed Billy, handing it to him. “When you arrive in France, set it on the ground next to the portal stone and flip the switch on top. This will allow me to be in contact with the communication devices. Do not fail me in this, or there will be consequences.”

Dortmund glanced at his watch. It was nine o’clock now, full dark.

The messenger demon now returned, blinking into existence atop the portal stone. “Master,” it piped. It informed him that the lights were on in the winery building, and that the security guards patrolled the grounds. Excellent. It was time. He went to the portal stone and, kneeling, activated a series of sigils located near the base of the stone. The portal would now transport the demon war-chiefs to the interior of an ancient crypt located in the churchyard burial ground of Saint Mary Magdalene in the environs of London. From there, they would transport themselves to the locations where the others of their respective tribes awaited their return.

Dortmund stood back up. He could feel the power in the stone. Making sure that he had the undivided attention of his war-chiefs, pointed to the combination of symbols that would lead to a cemetery in the small village of Meursault in eastern France, not far from the winery. “These are the sigils that will take you to a location near your target. Remember them well!” he admonished.

He stepped back from the stone. “Go now,” he ordered. “Gather your forces! Use the symbols I showed you to take your followers to France. Wait at the rendezvous until all are present, and then the imps will guide you to the target. Be silent, draw no attention until you arrive at the place of my enemies.” He took another breath. “Go now! Go now! Kill everything there! Bring me the sword!”

The demons roared their approval and lunged forward, running toward the portal stone. As each came to the stone, it disappeared into it headfirst and was gone. The vampires, waiting with smug aloofness until the last demon had vanished, sauntered over to the stone and stepped casually through, the two couples holding hands as they departed.

Dortmund watched them go, his hands clasped behind his back. It would all be over very soon. Although he had set up a means of communication with his demon forces, it was unlikely that he would be required to do anything but observe. There was no tactical plan. These were not soldiers. They were vicious killing machines with enormous destructive capability; like a guided missile, he simply aimed them at their target. No mortal force could possibly withstand an attack by a hundred demons and more than a dozen vampires. In an hour, the leaders of Directorate 14 would all be dead.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:29 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:20 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 9

Earlier that same day, Father Michael had driven one of the agency’s black Renault vans due north from Lyon, one of a convey of four such vans that headed out of the city on the A-6, the “Autoroute du Soliel,” shortly before noon. The vehicle was equipped with a GPS navigation system, a necessity once they got off the main roads. In the passenger seat beside him was André Thibodeaux, head of the security forces employed at the Directorate 14 headquarters in Lyon. Thibodeaux, an apparently humorless man in his early thirties with a military haircut, was also the leader of a large pack of werewolves who resided in a small commune just outside the city, and whose members made up most of the security team for the agency. He wore dark glasses and an earbud receiver and had a microphone clipped to his collar to allow him to communicate with the rest of his team. Marcel and Simone were in the back seat; Marcel’s head was slumped against the headrest, his eyes closed, although he was not really asleep. His female companion alertly studied the passing landscape, but her attention was not really on the scenery.

They made good time, cruising up the six-lane highway that followed the broad, flat Saône River valley from Lyon through a landscape checkered with agricultural fields and occasional tracts of forest. About an hour out, as they entered the Burgundy region, vineyards became more numerous in the landscape, long rows of post-and-wire trellises a little over a meter in height upon which the vines had been trained. Now, in early June, the vines had already finished flowering and had set the fruit which, in the autumn, would be harvested and converted into the product for which France was famed the world over. With their thick stems, Michael knew, many of the plants were nearly a half a century old; there was a common belief among vintners that older vines produced the best grapes.

Michael studied the reflections of his two young comrades in the rearview mirror. The two were obviously irritated with one another, and the silence between them was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Neither one had said a word to each other since getting into the vehicle back in Lyon. At last he sighed. “All right, my friends. Enough is enough. What is wrong with you two?”

Marcel merely opened his eyes a slit and closed them again, choosing to ignore the query, but Simone turned her view away from the French countryside and glanced briefly at Marcel before answering. “This pig-headed Frenchman must have his own way, all of the time!”

At this, Marcel sat upright and thereupon ensued a rapid and heated exchange in French that Michael had trouble following. The priest was relatively fluent in the language, but when two native speakers go at it hammer and tongs there simply was no way he could keep up. He exchanged a glance with Thibodeaux, who merely raised an amused eyebrow and commented, “They are arguing about where to go on their honeymoon.”

Simone broke off her argument with Marcel. “Father, this barbarian wants to spend our honeymoon in some jungle in the middle of nowhere!” She was still speaking in French, but in deference to Michael spoke more slowly and precisely.

Marcel leaned back in the seat. “Australia is not the middle of nowhere,” he grumped. “It is a perfectly civilized place.”

“Hah!” Simone exclaimed. “You want to take us into the outback. If that is not the middle of nowhere, what is it? Nothing but desert and kangaroos!”

“I hear kangaroos are very tasty,” her fiancé said sullenly, and crossed his arms across his chest while she glowered at him. If she had been in panther form, Michael surmised, her tail would have been lashing.

“So, Simone, where is it you want to go?” Michael asked. He knew they were both upset because the current crisis at the Directorate had resulted in the postponement of their June wedding plans. They were both very much in love, as anyone could tell, and normally were very easy-going, but in their frustration had become rather short-tempered.

“I want to be pampered!” she exclaimed. “I want a romantic paradise, someplace beautiful, someplace where I don’t have to think about demons or vampires or zombies. I thought, the Côte d'Azur, but this, this stubborn Frenchman wants to honeymoon in the dirt or jungle or someplace awful like that! He wants to go hunting!”

Michael and the security chief exchanged another amused glance. Marcel wanted to take this lovely Frenchwoman somewhere to rough it and go hunting on their honeymoon?

“It’s not like that!” Marcel said hastily, also speaking in his native tongue. “Yes, I want to go hunting, but mostly I just want us to be able to go someplace where we can just be ourselves. If we want to be cats, we can be cats, without worrying about upsetting someone. If we want to be human, then we can be human.” He heaved a great sigh. “I just want to be alone with Simone, where we can be completely natural. The Australian outback just seemed like a good idea. Miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles, and no one around to worry about if we want to shape-shift. We could just be panthers and live off the land.” He was silent a moment. “There is no place in France where we can do this. There is no game to hunt. I grow tired of killing things I cannot eat, demons and such.” It was the longest speech Michael had ever heard him make.

“Canada,” Thibodeaux said suddenly. The two in the back seat turned their attention to him. Michael spared him a quick glance, and then focused back on the highway.

Thibodeaux turned around in his seat to face them. “You should consider Quebec. I believe it would have everything you might want. Think about it. French-speaking, for a start. Quebec is a big city, where the young miss can shop and be pampered to her heart’s content, but outside the city you will find an enormous wilderness. Plenty of big game in the region, deer, moose, caribou.” As he saw them considering the idea, he continued. “I spent a couple of weeks in the province back in ’08, and was quite impressed. Rented a cabin in the Jacques Cartier national park, and did quite a bit of hunting. My style, that is,” he said, and exposed his teeth in a very wolfen grin.

At Merceuil, about one-thirty in the afternoon, they left the A-6, turning onto a two-lane country road that would take them the last five kilometers to Meursault. Just before arriving at the community, which harbored about 1,500 residents, Michael turned south on another road. The area around Meursault was entirely devoted to grape culture and all the fields were vineyards; the region was noted for white wines made from Chardonnay grapes. After a few minutes’ travel, Michael turned the van onto a long gravel drive that led back through the vineyards to the old winery, a huge stone structure originally built as a monastery by Cistercian monks more than 800 years before. The monks had made wine here for many years until the building came into private hands, and thereafter eight generations of the same family made award-winning wines until the last remaining vintner in the family passed away a few years before. The property was now under dispute by an assortment of heirs and wine was no longer being made, although the vineyards had been leased out and were still in good condition and the cellars were full of wine in large wooden casks, awaiting final disposition.

The building, three stories in height, was surrounded by a circular gravel roadway. Michael halted the van before the main door, the other three vehicles pulling in behind him. Michael opened the vehicle door and got out, stretching to relieve the cramps produced by a long drive from the city, as did Marcel and Simone. Thibodeaux, the security chief, instead was immediately on guard, scanning the terrain and building for weak points as he strode back along the line of vehicles where the members of his team were now emerging. Two were female, sister-wolves of the pack, as well. All were wearing dark suits over black shirts and dark glasses, rather the standard “uniform” for any security force. Each also was wearing an earpiece headset with microphone for communication among themselves and the other personnel on site, including Michael’s team, who were similarly equipped.

Michael and his two companions walked around to the rear of the van and opened the back door to retrieve their weapons and supplies. Although their part in this mission was intended to be primarily “observe and report,” after their experience with the demons in the London subway tunnels they were taking no chances. The priest would carry the sword Tizona, of course, but in addition, each was equipped with a sawed-off shotgun. Marcel would be toting his preferred 10-gauge Remington SP-10, and Michael had followed his lead in this, but Simone had again provided herself with the similar but lighter-weight Browning Auto-5. There would be no further nonsense about salt-loads for the weapons, of course; this time there would be full loads of armor-piercing shells in the magazines, solid sabot slugs capable of piercing nearly ten millimeters of steel plate.

“Very glad to be outside again,” Marcel observed in a low voice, speaking English, this time. “Two hours in a car that smells of dog is just too much!” Were-panthers and werewolves did not associate under normal circumstances, but they were all employees of the same organization and accustomed to working together from time to time.

Simone hushed him. “Ssshh! Imbécile! You know what good hearing these wolves have! Be nice!”

They heard a quiet cough at the moment and looked up to see Thibodeaux grinning at them from two car-lengths away. “No offense, mademoiselle! I expect your friend is just in a bad way from an urgent need to visit the kitty-box!” Marcel just grinned back at him, without a word, completely unembarrassed. It was all in good humor; the security chief and Marcel had often been known to go drinking together in Lyon after work hours and the back-and-forth ripostes relating to their polar opposite shape-shifting forms were just a normal part of their relationship.

Thibodeaux directed most of his men to take up stations around the perimeter of the building, each toting a fully automatic Aitchison Auto-Assault 12-gauge shotgun slung to his back and a Glock-17 sidearm at the hip. The AA-12s had been recently acquired by the Directorate for special operations against especially dangerous supernatural threats, and sported a 32-round drum and a switch that allowed the user to select semi-automatic or full automatic fire, the latter at a rate of more than 300 rounds per minute. Like the agent’s weapons, these were loaded with armor-piercing rounds. Two of the security team accompanied Michael and his companions to the front door, which they pushed upon and entered ahead of the agents.

High above, on the slate roof next to one of the chimneys, one of Dortmund’s demon imps observed the arrival and deployment, yellow eyes narrowing at the sight of the priest and the two were-panthers. It was due back to report to the master soon, who would be very interested to learn of these latest arrivals. It jumped with a start, and began vigorously scratching its side with one of its hind feet. It seemed that this world had its own tiny demons. It stopped scratching and searched carefully until it had located the little irritant, popping it into its mouth. At least these little flea demons were crunchy and delicious.

Inside, Marcel, the last one in, closed the door behind him. A uniformed officer of the National Gendarmerie who had been standing off to one side, out of sight through the briefly opened door, came forward to greet them, extending his hand. “Welcome!” he said cheerily in French. “I am Commandant Rosseau of the Mobile Gendarmerie.” The commandant was a short, slim man in his early thirties, with sandy hair and a faint moustache, and carried himself with an air of obvious competence. “You must be Father Michael Mendez from the Directorate.” He took Michael’s hand and pumped it vigorously, and then paused, still holding Michael’s hand in his grip. “Ah, Father…is that a swordstrapped to your back?”

Michael chuckled. “Indeed it is. My personal weapon and a family heirloom. Perhaps an idiosyncrasy of mine, but it has served me well in the work we do.”

The commandant did not exactly roll his eyes, but it was clear he considered the sword to be a rather strange and anachronistic weapon to be taking into combat. “I see…and your companions?”

Marcel stepped forward and introduced himself, while the two security men took stations on either side of the door, not bothering with the introductions. Rosseau turned next to Simone, and raised an eyebrow. “Mademoiselle, it is a pleasure to meet you, but truly I must admit that I am not used to seeing warriors in such small packages. Nor so attractive, either!” She shrugged, adjusting the shoulder strap on her shotgun, and took his hand without comment.

“There is much more to our Simone than you might think,” Marcel said, dryly. The commandant just smiled and shrugged and then turned to business.

“I expect you will want to review our arrangements?” When Michael nodded, Rosseau said, “Please, follow me,” turned and led the way out of the room. They went into an interior room which had no windows, where the commandant opened a door in the side wall that revealed a flight of stairs down into the basement level.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:39 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:20 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 10

At the bottom of the stairs was a large room with mortared stone walls, the ceiling spanned by enormous wooden beams; on either side of the space were long rows of large wooden wine casks, laid on their sides and stacked two high; presumably still filled with the most recent vintage produced by the former winery and awaiting sale. The room was dimly lit by a series of ancient light fixtures dangling at intervals from the ceiling beams, and by this light Michael could see that the room was filled with troopers in combat fatigues engaged in a variety of tasks. Some were field-stripping and cleaning their weapons, some were sharpening combat knives with hand-held whetstones, and several small groups were amusing themselves by playing cards on some of the tables that were scattered about the room.

“I have a full squadron here, a little over a hundred men,” Rosseau remarked as he led them toward the far end of the room. “Not all of them are in this room, of course, about half are getting some sleep elsewhere in the building, a few are upstairs in full combat dress - discretely hidden, of course. We have been here for two days, and, as ordered, we completed all of our exterior preparations on the first day and have remained here in the cellar, out of sight, since then.”

At the end of the room were two wooden tables that had been pushed together and set against the far wall, and on the tables was a bank of large flat-screen computer monitors that showed shifting views of the exterior grounds of the vineyard. Seated before the monitors, with his back to them, was an enormous bald-headed black man with an athlete’s build, who was absorbed in watching the landscape as it changed from one camera to the next. Another trooper sat beside him, focused upon a monitor with an aerial view of the property, his hand on a joystick. An officer wearing the insignia of a captain stood behind the large black man, his hand on his shoulder, speaking to him in a low voice. As they approached the tables, the standing man sensed their arrival and turned, snapping off a crisp salute as he identified the commandant.

“Sir!” he said, quickly. The two technicians remained fixed upon their duties.

The commandant returned the salute, rather casually. “Captain Berger, these are the agents from the Directorate who will be assisting us with the operation,” Rosseau advised him. “Father Michael Mendez, Marcel Guillon, and Simone Bataille,” indicating each in turn. If the captain was surprised to find a priest and a petite blond female participating in a combat operation, he gave no sign, merely acknowledging the introductions with a nod to each. “Would you be so kind as to brief them on our preparations and the tactical situation?”

“Yes, sir,” the captain agreed, and turned his attention to the trio of civilians. “What we have here is an eminently defensible position. This old building has stone walls at least fifty centimeters thick which should withstand anything short of field artillery, and with small windows on all floors which will provide good firing points with minimum exposure of our men to incoming fire.” He turned and gestured toward the monitors, which displayed the vast fields of trellised grapevines that surrounded the winery building. “As I am sure you saw on your way in, it would be virtually impossible to approach our position by coming across the fields since those trellises completely surround this location and are more than a meter in height. The only routes in are the access roads, or by coming down through the rows themselves. Only the ends of the building would be vulnerable to hostiles moving through the rows. On the front and back sides, the only way in is straight down the roadways that come in to the building.”

Marcel raised a finger. “Pardon, Captain, but I would think all that greenery would provide good concealment for anyone coming in low?”

“That is true,” Captain Berger acknowledged. “We do have cameras positioned at rooftop level on the building which gives us something of an elevated view, at least for the closer rows. But we are not depending on visual surveillance alone. We came prepared with quite of bit of tech to make sure we have a secure perimeter and to give advance warning of any enemy approach.”

“Please continue, Captain,” Michael encouraged.

“We have…oh, before I forget, I should mention that our camera surveillance can be switched to a light intensification setting at sundown, which gives us night vision as well.” The captain seemed slightly embarrassed at this minor hiccup in his presentation. “We also have a small drone circling over the property at about 2,000 meters. It is capable of both visual and thermal imagery, and is periodically relieved when low on fuel to maintain a constant presence, night and day. After dark, we will bring it down to a lower altitude. I was about to say, we have set up a perimeter of motion sensors around the building, at about 200 meters out.”

“Anything larger than a mouse comes this way, we will know about it,” Rosseau added, with satisfaction. “Very good briefing, Captain. Thank you. I’ll take it from here, but please accompany us.” Rosseau led them to a side room, which he had obviously set up as a temporary office, and closed the door after the three Directorate agents and his captain had filed in. He gestured at some chairs clustered around a long table covered with maps and papers. “Please be seated. Would anyone care for some bottled water? No? Very well, then.”

The three agents unslung their sawed-off shotguns and hung them from the back of their chairs before taking a seat. Michael also unbuckled the leather baldric slung across his shoulder and laid Tizona, in its half-scabbard, on top of some papers on the table. Captain Berger viewed the weapon with great interest, and stepped forward to inspect it. He turned to Michael. “May I?” he asked, and when Michael nodded his approval, the captain slid the sword out of its scabbard and held it at arm’s length across the table, the tip dipping slightly, and then brought it up vertically. As the commander watched with some amusement, he stepped back and made a few experimental passes with the blade. “Not as heavy as I might have thought, for the length…nearly a hundred centimeters, I would guess?” he commented. “A fine weapon, well-balanced.” He held it up to catch the light and studied the inscriptions. “The Ave Maria on one side, I see, but my Spanish is…rather inadequate. That is Spanish, on the other side? What does it say?”

“It says, ‘I am Tizona, made in the year 1040’” Michael informed him.

“That is amazing! You carry a thousand-year-old sword!” Berger walked back to the table and, now with considerable reverence, slipped the sword back into the scabbard. “Thank you, sir, for allowing me to handle such a remarkable weapon!”

Michael nodded. “You showed rather good form, just now. Have you trained with this sort of weapon?”

Berger grinned. “Not really, but I do like to fence…”

At that moment, the commandant interrupted by clearing his throat, rather pointedly, and focused a not-quite-severe frown upon his officer, who grinned rather boyishly and ducked his head without embarrassment and pulled out a chair at the table. After all had taken their seats, the commandant turned to Michael. “What can you tell us about the nature of the enemy we face? I received a rather disturbing briefing from your Director himself. I am not quite sure I believe everything he told me.”

The three Directorate agents exchanged meaningful glances, and then Michael spoke up. “What exactly did Director Kriger tell you about the opposition?”

Rosseau reached up and took off his cap and set it on the tabletop, and ran the fingers of one hand through his hair. “Just enough to make me doubt his sanity, but…orders are orders. He said that this position may be attacked by creatures that are enemies, not only of France, but of all humanity. He said that they were…not quite human?…and very hard to kill. He suggested that we make preparations as though we were going to be facing light armor and troops in Kevlar vests.” He paused for a moment. “What did he mean, not human? Are we going to be facing some kind of space aliens, or what?”

Michael drummed his fingers lightly on the table. “Tell me, commandant. Do you believe in monsters?”

Rosseau cleared his throat. “I quit believing in monsters when I was a child, but your Director seemed quite serious about this, and he had the backing of Interpol and the government. So, if he says we are going to fight monsters, then my men will be prepared to fight monsters.” Michael waited patiently, and then the commandant added, “Since you and your team appear to be the resident experts, perhaps you could tell us exactly what kind of…monsters…we face?”

Michael was not quite sure what to tell Rosseau, thinking that it might strain the commandant’s credulity beyond repair by informing him that he faced supernatural demons, but then Marcel came to the rescue. “Mutants, Commandant Rosseau. You will be facing mutants. They will be somewhat humanoid in shape, but will be covered in scales or natural armor and possess fangs and claws. They are savage beyond belief and will not hesitate to kill you or your men if you do not kill them first.”

“My God!” Captain Berger exclaimed. “Where do these things come from? Why do they attack us?”

Michael took back the conversation at this point. “We do not really know where they come from, sir, although we very much would like to find out and put a stop to further incursions. As to your second question, we believe that there is someone directing these attacks, someone who has some unknown purpose in mind. I need to point out that there might not be any attack here at all. This is one of two possible locations that these creatures might strike, and similar preparations have been made at both sites. We learned there was a spy in our organization feeding information to the master of these creatures, and so we planted disinformation to encourage a possible attack upon the Directorate leadership.”

Both the commandant and the captain were obviously shocked by the information they had just received, but recovered quickly. “Yes, yes, your Director told me something of this,” Rosseau replied. “This operation is being set up to give the appearance of a meeting of Directorate leaders, but really is just bait to lure in your enemies. My instructions were to quickly prepare this site to withstand a determined attack, then remain concealed but alert while your people set up the façade of the false meeting upstairs. I assume your security agents, who just arrived, will be lending their support if an attack actually comes?”

“You can count on it,” Michael assured him. Marcel and Simone, and the werewolf security team, all had strict orders from the Director not to shape-shift, but only to carry out the fight in human form. There was no sense in risking a friendly fire incident; in the heat of combat, some of the Gendarmerie troops might be startled into accidentally shooting a panther or werewolf that suddenly appeared in their sights. “They will be supplemented by others, all well-armed, who will be arriving soon, posing as caterers. This evening, more will come, disguised as our station chiefs.”

Commandant Rosseau laid his hands down flat on the tabletop. “That is good! From your description, the enemy force sounds quite formidable, if not quite believable - no offense to you or your Director! My men are all seasoned veterans, so you can be assured that we will defend this place against any attacker, man or monster. My superiors, in consultation with your Director, have authorized the use of deadly force. Our rules of engagement are quite clear: we are prepared to drive away or kill anything that comes against us here.” Michael was well aware that the troops in this building were members of the Groupe d'intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale, known as GIGN for short, an elite force of professionals who conducted special ops both in France or as an adjunct to the French military overseas, when needed. Such men would be hard to rattle, even when confronted by something far beyond their experience.

There was a moment of silence in the room after the commandant’s confident assurances, and then Michael asked, “How are your men armed? These creatures have hides, that in our experience, are capable of deflecting the standard 7.62 mm NATO rounds, and they seem to be impervious to pain.”

Rosseau nodded. “Yes, your Director mentioned something of this, as I said.” He turned his attention to his second in command. “Captain. Will you please fetch one of the Barretts?” Captain Berger immediately rose to his feet and went outside the room, returning almost immediately with a scope-mounted rifle, all in matte black with a metal stock, which had a small bipod attached to the front. On seeing the weapon, Marcel smiled wickedly and extended his hands, taking the rifle and examining it with obvious pleasure.

“This is the Barrett M82A1 recoil-operated, semi-automatic sniper rifle,” the captain said briskly. It is a bit heavy, at thirteen and a half kilos, but since we have a stationary position weight is not a major consideration. This is the short-barreled version, about 51 centimeters, but can be fired accurately out to nearly 1,000 meters. Most of our men have been outfitted with this weapon for the operation.”

Marcel passed the rifle to his fiancée, who hefted it experimentally, feeling the weight. Simone aimed it at one corner of the room and peered through the extra-large scope. “Night vision?” She asked.

“Yes, mademoiselle.” He came around the table to her and pointed to the top of the scope. “The switch for night vision is on the top, here. This is the American-made AN/PVS-4 scope, a very advanced design capable of adjusting to changing light conditions.”

She expertly detached the large box magazine from beneath the weapon and pulled out one of the rounds, inspecting it carefully. “This is very unusual, is it not?” The heavy shell was nearly the length of her hand.

“Our mission parameters called for armor-piercing rounds to be used in an anti-personnel role. This is the first time we have ever had such instructions, but given the Father’s description of these creatures, I expect they’re just what we need.” The captain smiled, an expression which made him look almost boyish despite the severity of the subject. “These are Raufoss Mark 211 rounds, 12.7 mm. They are armor-piercing, with a tungsten core, and both explosive and incendiary components. These rounds are quite capable of penetrating lightly armored targets. I can’t imagine any sort of creature that could withstand a hit from one of these. That magazine holds ten rounds,” he added.

The Raufoss had proved to be quite lethal and controversial in the international community. The International Red Cross had been trying for some time, without much success, to have it banned for use as an anti-personnel round. Most nations continued to use the ammunition; the attitude of the American military was pragmatic: a target was a target. Tests had shown that about half the rounds would detonate after striking a soft target (a human body), the explosion occurring roughly half a meter after impact. This meant that the round would usually pass completely through the body before exploding, so that the cone of fragments would affect others standing nearby. If the targets were wearing body armor, this produced a much higher rate of detonation. Given the demons’ proven resistance to ordinary projectiles - the Directorate weapons specialists had speculated that this was due to a much greater body mass density than human flesh - most of the rounds should detonate immediately on impact with a demon’s hide.

Simone reloaded the round back into the magazine, and started to pass the weapon on to Michael, but when he shook his head slightly, she just laid it on the table next to Tizona.

“Very impressive, Captain,” Michael acknowledged. “Like you, I expect the effect will be devastating on our opponents, should they attack this place. What other weapons have been issued to your men? Anything heavier?”

“Heavier? Ah, yes, we have some heavy weapons! We have Browning M2HB heavy machine guns concealed at windows on all sides of the building, two each in front and back, and one at each of the narrow ends. Each of the guns is served by a three-man crew, and capable of firing more than 400 rounds per minute, although sustained fire at that rate would quickly wear out the barrel. These use the same ammo as the rifles, the Mark 211, although every fifth round is a tracer.”

“That is still going to leave some gaps in your field of fire, near the building corners,” Marcel observed.

“Yes, sir, that is true,” Berger acknowledged, “but the best we can do from a fixed position. However, the machine guns are not the only heavy ordnance we have. The men are divided into four-man fireteams, and one man on each team has been issued an ABL light anti-tank weapon. The projectiles have heavy nose caps which allows them to be skipped off the ground for an airburst.” He grinned, rather wickedly. “That should give them something to think about.”

The commandant now spoke up, for the first time since Berger had begun his briefing on weaponry. “We do have one other little surprise. You are familiar with the American Claymore anti-personnel mine?” When the members of the Directorate team nodded, he continued. “The French army uses something similar, the MAPED F1, a fragmentation device with a shaped charge. We set them up around the building, about fifty meters out, most of them in the lanes leading in, and have them rigged to detonate on command.”

“Sounds like you have the defense of this place well in hand,” Michael commented.

“Yes, sir. We plan to give your…mutants…a hot reception if they show up.” Rosseau briefly dry-washed his hands, obviously relishing the prospect.

“Well, commandant, it may be that they will hit the other site and we will just spend the evening here cooling our heels,” the priest observed. “Once the ‘caterers’ arrive to augment our numbers, and then the fake station chiefs, the stage will be set. All we have to do is wait, and keep a sharp lookout.”

“That we will do,” Rosseau agreed, and then paused. “One thing, however. My information was rather vague about what sort of weapons these hostiles might be carrying…?”

Michael frowned slightly, drumming his fingers lightly on the tabletop. “I see you still don’t quite understand the nature of our opponents,” he said quietly, trying to be tactful but still get the point across. “They don’t carry weapons of any sort. They don’t need them.”

The commandant and the captain just stared at him.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:41 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:20 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 11

Jacques Fournier emerged from the front door of the neighborhood bistrot in the south end of Meursault, patting his belly in appreciation of the fine meal he had just consumed. It had been a most excellent cassoulet of pork sausage and white beans served with fresh bread, a specialty of the little restaurant. Jacques was fifty-two years old, a rather thin man with a slight potbelly and a day’s growth of whiskers on his face, and lived alone. Most evenings he could be found at his favorite table in Clement Mathieu’s café, close to the kitchen door. This evening he had been joined by two of his friends from the winery down the street where they all worked, and had ordered an extra bottle of wine to go with their dinner. Shortly before nine o’clock, when the bistrot officially closed, his friends had taken their leave, but he had lingered on to finish the rest of the bottle, reluctant to return to his empty apartment. After receiving some rather pointed looks from Madame Mathieu, who clearly wanted to close up the restaurant and, with her husband, was bustling about gathering up the tablecloths and putting chairs up, he at last stood and stretched and headed for the door.

As he stepped out into the night, he heard the latch of the bistrot door click firmly into place, and moments later the light shining through the narrow windows went out, leaving only the dim pool of illumination cast by the carriage light hanging from a bracket above the door. There were no other lights in the vicinity; the street was dark and deserted. Although Meursault received quite a few tourists during the summer months, it was, after all, an agricultural community and most of the population went to bed rather early. The street was lined with a hodge-podge of one- and two-story structures, most built of mortared limestone, some few of brick, and some coated with a smooth white stucco finish. The buildings nestled tightly, forming a continuous line down either side of the street. The few gaps between buildings were occupied by rock walls of one or two meter’s height, access to the interior courtyards provided by brightly painted wrought-iron gates.

He took a couple of steps, finding himself a bit unsteady on his feet after having consumed more wine than was his usual habit, and leaned back against the limestone masonry of the building. Pulling a rather shabby gray beret out of his jacket pocket, he gave it a shake and put it on his head. He extracted a packet of filtered Gauloises from the opposite pocket, and then began patting his trousers, trying to recall where he had placed the small box of wooden matches he favored.

An odd greenish light coming from the walled cemetery down the street caught his attention as he tapped a cigarette out of the packet and tucked it between his lips. Damn kids, he thought, up to their pranks again. He shrugged - what can you do? - and fished a match out of the little box (it had been in his shirt pocket, after all) and struck it against the side of the box. It flared briefly, and he was just about to bring the flame to the end of the cigarette when he heard a muted rumbling sound coming down the street towards him. It sounded rather like a herd of unshod horses, or perhaps a stampede of oxen, and kept getting louder, although he could as yet see nothing in the darkness of the street. He peered down the street, and then swore as the match burned his fingers and flung it to the ground, the cigarette still dangling from his lips.

Jacques froze in disbelief as an enormous shape came out of the darkness into the faint light from the fixture, trotting down the center of the thoroughfare. It looked like a lumpy collection of boulders fastened together in a man-like form, but it towered far above him, able to peer inside the second-story windows if it chose to do so. Each footfall sounded like a pile-driver striking a wooden post. Riding on its shoulder was a small, bat-like creature that hissed when it saw him. The huge thing turned its massive head to look at him, and opened its mouth in a malevolent grin that exposed a dark cavern full of sharp teeth, and then it turned its gaze back forward and continued down the cobbled street and disappeared into the night.

As he stared after it in shock, another creature came into the light, smaller but even more bizarre than the first, a thing out of a nightmare, bristling with spikes from head to toe that sparkled in the light. It was closely followed by another thing, just like it, and then another, and another, perhaps a dozen all together, and then a host of man-like things with animal heads, oxen, goat, and ram, a whole parade of horrible monsters trotting swiftly down the street. He shrank back against the wall as each one, in turn, swiveled its head and fixed him with a brief stare such as a cat might give a cornered mouse, each briefly flashing him a gruesome fang-filled grin. There was a short gap in the procession, and then came a swarm of monstrous beetles, like giant cockroaches, clicking and clacking as they scuttled on six legs after the spiked monsters, and then more monsters, and still more, each seeming more awful than those who came before.

The last of the monsters passed him by, and then, after a long gap, came a procession of a half-dozen snarling motorbikes, Triumphs and BSAs and American Harleys, wheeling slowly down the street, the riders lightly gunning the engines. Lights began to wink on in second-story windows as they passed, sleeping citizens at last roused by the noise. The riders were all female, his dazed senses noted, all dressed in black leather, with faces that were unnaturally pale even in the faint light of the crescent moon and the carriage lamp above the doorway. The women also smiled at him as they rode past, with their thin bloodless lips, and somehow those smiles seemed even more horrible than the fang-filled grimaces of the monsters that had come before.

As the last one passed him by, Jacques waited for what seemed to be an eternity, flattened against the wall, before he could take a few tottering steps out into the middle of the street, and stared into the darkness into which the cycles had disappeared. He was still staring, the unlighted cigarette still in his mouth, forgotten, when the vampire came up from behind and took him in its embrace.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:41 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:21 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017


Part 12

“Sir, we’ve got movement on the outer row of sensors,” Sergeant LaCroix calmly informed Commandant Rosseau, his eyes riveted to one of the monitors before him. There were now two additional technical specialists seated at the electronics table to assist LaCroix and to handle communications for the command center.

It was now shortly before ten o’clock, full dark, and the GIGN force had been on high alert ever since seven-thirty, when a dozen Directorate agents posing as station chiefs had arrived in two black vans. The basement area was now nearly deserted, the majority of the troops sent to their positions on the upper floors. Only the command center team and Michael’s team remained below ground. Michael had strict orders from Kriger to remain out of the fighting unless absolutely necessary; this was to be a GIGN operation and he and Marcel and Simone were only to observe and report. The commandant had seemed quite confident that he and his men could handle anything that might come their way, but the Directorate agents were not so sure, and kept their weapons handy.

The lights had been turned on in the main and second floors. The shutters of the first floor were closed, concealing forty troopers armed with Barretts and ABL anti-tank weapons like their counterparts in the upper floors. The shutters of the second floor had been left open deliberately for the benefit of anyone who might spy upon the “meeting” being staged there. Two large wooden tables had been shoved together and draped with a tablecloth. The agents - all members of the Directorate security force and thus also members of the same werewolf pack as those outside - had earlier consumed a meal provided by the “caterers” (also werewolves). The remains of the meal had been cleared away and the men at the table had continued the charade of a meeting for anyone who might view them through the windows. Beneath the table, and stacked out of sight next to the windows, was an impressive array of weaponry. Another twenty men, members of the GIGN force with Captain Berger among them, were concealed on this floor and ready for action.

The third floor remained dark, but was not empty. Behind each window were armed men, six fire teams manning the Browning machine guns and another two dozen each armed with Barrett rifles; all wore night vision goggles. The higher elevation was not ideal, because the men would be unable to depress their fire to cover the base of the building, but was deemed necessary to position the men so that they would be firing at a downward angle to reduce the chance of stray rounds from the Brownings finding their way into the homes of the local population. The nearest house was nearly a kilometer distant, for the vineyards of the estate were extensive, but rounds could carry for a considerable way.

Rosseau quickly stepped over to see, leaning forward and placing one hand on the tabletop and the other on the sergeant’s shoulder. “Where?” he asked curtly. “Show me.” Michael and his companions, who had been idly conversing a few meters away, now moved forward to observe, but careful not to interfere.

LaCroix tapped the monitor with his right forefinger. “On the lane leading in to the building, right in front.”

“Menard…what have you got on the drone?” Rosseau snapped.

The technician with the joystick controlling the airborne drone indicated a monitor showing a surreal greenish landscape with a large number of white dots moving down from the top of the screen. “They’re coming in fast and dumb, sir…straight down the lane. I make it as eighty to a hundred hostiles, coming in bunched up.” He hesitated a second. “The heat signature for the one in front is awfully big, sir…do you suppose they have some sort of armored unit?”

“Not according to the intel I was given, but if it is, we’ll deal with it. Looks like we will see some action today, after all. Alert the troops!” he ordered the man in charge of communications. “Instruct the perimeter guard to pull back in behind the wall and be ready to engage the enemy.” This last order was intended to bring the Directorate security force, who had been patrolling the perimeter near the winery building, back into prepared positions behind a low rock wall that ran across the front of the building, which contained some rather unkempt and overgrown landscaping.

“Good!” The commandant smiled confidently. “Let’s give them a little welcome. Arm the mines in that sector, front and back.” LaCroix used a mouse to open a window on one of the monitors, and selected a group of MAPED mines with the cursor. “Active, sir.”

“Wait for them to get inside the kill zone,” Rosseau instructed. The mines on the access roads had been placed in two lines, twenty-five meters long, on either side of the road, facing each other. Anything caught in the zone between the mines would be shredded.

“Fifty meters, sir,” Menard reported. “They’re moving pretty fast.”

“Be ready, Sergeant.”

From his vantage point, Michael could see the oncoming invaders progressing down the screen toward two lines of red dots which had been superimposed upon the monitor and which, he supposed, represented the rows of MAPED mines. As he watched, the lead elements of the demon force entered the gap between the explosive devices.

“Wait a bit, wait a bit…” Rosseau cautioned. “Let’s get as many as possible inside the kill zone.”

Unseen by the commandant, who was behind him, Sergeant LaCroix, a seasoned veteran, rolled his eyes. Like he needed some officer to tell him when to spring the trap.

“Now, Sergeant!” Rosseau ordered, anticipation gleaming in his eyes.

The center of the monitor flared brightly as the mines detonated, and from outside the building the sound of the explosions worked its way down to the basement level as a low rumbling.

“Report, Corporal!” Rosseau was tightly gripping the back of the man’s chair, his teeth bared in a predatory grin.

Menard examined the monitor closely. “They’re still coming, sir! Only seven…no, eight…down!”

“That’s impossible!” Rosseau shouted. “Nothing could have survived that! That whole force should have been annihilated.”

“Sir! They’re almost on us!” Menard was obviously struggling to retain his professional demeanor.

Rosseau whipped around to Lefebvre, the communications technician. “Quick! Tell the men to fire at will!” The tech relayed the order, and moments later they could hear the muffled sound of the heavy machine guns opening fire, and the staccato reports of the Barrett rifles mixed with thumps from the explosions of the ABL shells.

“Sir! We’ve lost Kite One!” Menard exclaimed, referring to the drone stationed overhead, which had been dropped down to about a hundred meters’ altitude.

“Malfunction?” the commandant asked quickly.

“No, sir. I think something took it out!”

“Well, man, launch Kite Two. Quickly, now!” In a farmyard about a mile distant from the winery, a small military helicopter-style drone which had been on standby, waiting to relieve the one now overhead, began to power up, startling the two men of the troop who had been detailed to hold it in readiness since they had received no indication that it would be needed so soon.

Rosseau quickly turned to Michael. “I thought you said these things did not have weapons,” he accused.

Before Michael could reply, there was a series of loud simultaneous crashes from upstairs, and then a louder explosion. Rosseau swore violently “Now what!” There were no cameras inside the building, since no one had foreseen the need. “Get me a report!” he ordered Lefebvre, pounding the tabletop with his fist. “Find out what’s going on!”

The third floor of the building was a scene of total chaos, and no one had time to answer Lefebvre’s urgent requests for a sitrep. The crashing they had heard was the impact of a half-dozen of the bat-winged flying demons who had swooped in, above the surveillance drone, and burst through the upstairs windows. One of the creatures, as it dived toward the winery, had casually knocked the drone out of the sky with a single swipe of a clawed foot. The man-sized creatures, the jaws of their reptilian heads filled with razor-edged teeth, were now rampaging among the men in the upper floor. Despite their long experience and professionalism, the GIGN troops were panicking as the savage beasts ripped at them with teeth and talons. One man, carrying one of the anti-tank weapons which he had been about to fire out the window at the onrushing demons, reacted instinctively when he was seized by one of the horrible creatures, and jammed the ABL into its chest and pulled the trigger. The shell pierced the creature’s body and detonated a half-second later, disintegrating the winged beast and killing the trooper and five other men nearby.

In the lane outside, the pack of demons was now only twenty meters from the building. The blast from the fragmentation mines had taken out five of the spike demons, who despite their formidable appearance were rather delicate, and three of the minotaur-like monsters. The rest had ignored their fallen companions and rushed forward, tattered and bleeding but still intently focused on their goal. The massive rock monster was in front of the pack, its hide cratered and pitted from the blast fragments and dozens of hits from the Raufoss rounds, but in its present form, it could take a tremendous amount of punishment…and it was very, very angry.

The bulk of the demons were now so close to the winery building that the troops on the upper floor could no longer bring their weapons to bear, not that there were many of them able to pay attention to what was going on outside given the carnage that was occurring in their midst. The Brownings had been abandoned as the men sought to defend themselves in desperate individual battles, all semblance of organization and discipline lost. Nearly as many troops were being taken out accidentally by their companions as were killed by the demons, caught in the weapons crossfire.

Despite the loss of the Brownings, the remaining floors were pouring a concentrated fire upon the invaders that would have been deadly to any human force. Adding to the storm, the men of the Directorate’s security team, who were now kneeling behind the one-meter high rock wall across the front of the building, began to pepper the onrushing monsters with armor-piercing sabot slugs from their AA-12 automatic shotguns. The armor-piercing rounds and explosive shells of the defenders were taking a toll among the demons, their numbers now reduced almost by half, but were far less effective than had been expected. It took multiple, well-placed hits to put a monster down and keep it down. The intense fire directed at them knocked down many of the demons, but most quickly scrambled to their feet and kept coming, leaving only a handful of mortally wounded monsters in their wake.

The rock demon roared at the impacts on its hide and continued to run forward, crouching slightly but otherwise ignoring the firestorm, much as a man might be moderately inconvenienced by a sudden summer rain shower. Several more of the demons dropped in their tracks to fall writhing upon the ground, their bodies smoking and hissing as they shriveled into little more than a black and greasy stain in death. Only three of the spike demons were left, but there was still nearly half a hundred monsters running toward the building.

“Mother of God,” the man beside Thibodeaux gasped as he caught his first full view of the rock demon through his night-vision goggles. “Look at the size of that thing!”

“Just shut up and keep firing,” Thibodeaux shouted.

Zorug, the rock demon, reached the front of the building and, without slowing its pace, crashed through the wall, taking out the door and a substantial amount of masonry surrounding it. The creature took three large steps inside before its great weight caused the ancient floorboards to give way, dropping it down into the basement level command center in a splintering crash.

The horde of monsters poured in through the opening like a dark flood and began to spread through the building and up the stairs in search of prey, as the startled troopers inside whipped around and tried to bring their weapons to bear on this assault from an unexpected direction. Abruptly, all fire to the outside ceased as the firefight began inside the lower floors.

Outside, the last of the demon horde, the hell-hound pack, paused in its rush toward the opening in the building and stopped a few paces short, sniffing the air and bristling, seeming oblivious to the torrent of shotgun projectiles that continued to lash at their hides. There was a dozen of the savage creatures, huge beasts that measured nearly 120 centimeters at the shoulder, covered with shaggy black hair and with flames burning in their eyes. As one, they turned left and right to face the security team crouched behind the walls, sensing a natural enemy in the presence of the werewolves.

“Oh, crap,” Thibodeaux muttered. “This is not good.”

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:42 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:21 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017


Part 13

On a low rise about half a kilometer from the battle, the two groups of vampires, the bikers and the Goths, loitered beneath the cover of a grove of trees and watched the fireworks. The bikes had been left in a convenient barn outside the town, since the vampires could move much more quickly and silently on their feet; the bikes were, after all, just for show, part of their assumed persona. They had no way of knowing that they were completely invisible to the aerial thermal imaging sensors of the drone overhead, although their keen senses had picked up the faint buzz of its motors and they had made an astute guess as to its nature. Vampire bodies always assumed the ambient temperature of their environment, and so could not be distinguished from the background by heat sensing devices. There were fourteen vampires beneath the trees, four couples, male and female, attired in Gothic fashion, in addition to the six members of the gang of female biker bloodsuckers.

Black-haired Sheila leaned closely against the shoulder of her lover, Billy, the leader of the gang of Gothic vamps, making small pleasure sounds deep in her throat, her forefinger winding and unwinding the silver chain around her neck, as the light show before them continued to escalate. “Ooooh, that’s so pretty!” she exclaimed, her eyes wide, as the Browning machine guns opened up on full automatic, the tracers sketching arcs of light through the night. His arm around her waist, holding her possessively, Billy explained what they were seeing, and then swore as high-explosive rounds began landing among the group of silhouetted monsters pounding toward the winery building. “Well, pet, I'm glad it’s that lot takin' an 'idin' from the Frogs, and not us! Only a bleedin’ git would run straight into that sort of fire. Demons,” he said contemptuously, and spat on the ground. “Barkin’ mad, the lot of ‘em.”

Randi, the muscular, tattooed leader of the female bikers, glanced at him with distaste. Although the two groups were both under the shelter of the trees, they did not mingle and remained with their own kind, disdainful of the lifestyle chosen by the other set. “The warlock’s gonna be cheesed off if we don’t cop into the fight,” she commented. Her companion, the scrawny, dirty-blonde Libbie, nodded vigorous agreement, and quickly stared down at her feet. “But I’m so ‘ungry,” she whined, in a low voice. “Can’t we just go eat them?”

“Oh, sod th’ warlock!” Billy released Sheila and turned to face the other leader. “How’s 'e gonna know? This?” He reached up, pried the radio receiver out of his ear, and held it up between his thumb and forefinger. There was a sharp popping sound as he crunched it flat. “Oops. I fink its broken. Shame.” He flicked it away into the darkness. “We'll do us part, right, but we're gonna be keen about it. Not walkin’ up into th' guns like a pack a nutters. We'll just sit tight 'ere wile that lot softens them up a bit, right, and then stroll in and pick up th’ leavin’s.”

When Randi did not respond but began to look thoughtful, he added, “Besides if this is so important ter the bloody wizard, why ain't 'e 'ere?” He spat on the ground again, for emphasis.

Randi was silent a moment longer, and then nodded. “Yor right. Why should we risk ourselves in this crazy attack? I might already be dead, but I don't fancy bein' blown ter bits and spendin' eternity that way.”

“Right. So just set back and enjoy th’ show.”

“Oooh, look!” Sheila tugged on his sleeve. “They’ve broken into th’ buildin’!” She clapped her hands in her excitement. “Them demons will eat them right up!”

Billy put his hand on her shoulder and gave it a fond squeeze. “That's awright luv. I expect there will be plenty of treats left for us.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a packet of Gauloises that he had just recently acquired, and lit one with a wooden match. Vampires did not need oxygen to survive, any more than they needed to consume human food, but their lungs were perfectly functional at moving air in and out; otherwise, how could they speak? He drew in a lungful of smoke and contemplated the long-distance carnage below with satisfaction.

Back at the winery, the din inside the building was rising to a crescendo comprised of gunfire, occasional explosions, the shouts and curses of panicked men battling for survival, the shrieks and growls of monsters, and other sounds too horrible to describe. The scene before the building was almost peaceful by comparison, a frozen tableau of motionless men and demons that belied the tension of the moment. The hell-hounds had stopped in their tracks, confronting the security team but not advancing. Thibodeaux and his pack members stopped firing and cautiously rose to their feet, uncertain just what was happening.

The largest hell-hound took a step forward, and then another, its companions remaining in place, until it had approached to within two meters of Thibodeaux, and stopped again. It fixed him with a hard, unwavering stare from eyes the color of blood, its lips curled back to reveal gleaming teeth, yellow saliva dripping, the coarse hair of its body bristling and tail tip twitching slightly, and it snarled a harsh challenge. Its breath was vile, and its body reeked of a foul, musty odor that Thibodeaux inhaled with distaste. The creature snarled again, and then whipped its head around and trotted back to rejoin the other hell-hounds, leading them out into the space in front of the building where they formed a half-circle and waited for the humans to respond. All stood stiff-legged, mouths agape to display moist red fang-filled caverns.

“What do they want?” the man beside Thibodeaux whispered, tightly clutching his weapon, ready to bring it up and fire upon an instant.

The security chief made a slight gesture with his hand, palm down, never taking his eyes from the alpha leader of the hell-hounds. “I think…” he said slowly, “that it is a pack challenge. They want us to fight them as werewolves, not in human form.”

“But what if they attack us while we are changing?” There was uncertainty in the man’s voice, but no fear. “It takes a moment…”

Thibodeaux could feel his skin beginning to tingle, the first sign of an impending change into wolf form. His body was reacting instinctively to the threat posed by the hell-hounds, and he could tell that the others of his team felt it also, the beginning of an involuntary shift. “I don’t think we have any choice,” he said. There must be something about the hounds, some pheromone or some magical aura that they gave off, that was prompting the change. The men and women of his team exchanged looks, and gathered behind their captain, laying their weapons on top of the stone wall as the hell-hounds waited, the demon leader pacing back and forth in anticipation.

There was no time for the careful removal of their clothing; Thibodeaux and his people were fully in the grip of the change. As one, they fell to their knees, the cells of their bodies beginning the painful realignment that marked the transition to werewolf. Bones crackled and clothing shredded as their bodies grew and limbs stretched into canine form, thick fur sprouted and canine teeth elongated. In mere moments, a dozen werewolves crouched in the narrow space before the winery building.

Thibodeaux shook his head vigorously and fixed narrowed eyes upon the leader of the hell-hound pack. It would be hard to say which form had the advantage. The werewolves were heavier in build, more massive, but the hell-hounds were larger, taller, and light on their feet, moving with an almost feline grace. Their numbers were equal, a dozen on each side. Well, very soon they would find out which was meaner and tougher, hell-hound or werewolf.

He stalked forward slowly, lips retreating in a silent snarl, hackles raised, the members of his pack following behind, until he was but a few paces away from the hell-hound leader. The two groups stood in silent confrontation for a moment, and then each began to move sideways, circling around each other in the space before the building, looking for weakness. There was a sudden explosion of glass above them as one of the minotaur beasts was propelled backwards through a window, landing in a motionless heap a few meters away from the circling packs, who were so focused on each other that none spared a glance for the creature. The minotaur beast began to smoke and shrivel, and soon there was nothing left but an oily smear.

The windows of the third floor were now awash with a flickering yellow light from fires ignited by the incendiary Raufoss rounds, never intended to be used on targets inside the building. There was a brief chatter of machine-gun fire as one of the embattled occupants of the floor wrestled one of the heavy weapons around and turned it upon the bat-winged invaders, but it quickly fell silent amid a chorus of blood-curdling screams. The flames sprang higher and higher until the entire floor was ablaze. On the main and second floors, gunfire rose to a crescendo as demons clashed with soldiers in pitched battles.

Thibodeaux-wolf suddenly launched himself at the hell-hound leader, nearly two hundred kilograms of cold canine fury hurtling through space. The hound sprang up to meet him and the two collided in mid-air, slashing at each other with their teeth. The greater mass of the werewolf knocked the hell-hound to the ground, but it nimbly scrambled to its feet as Thibodeaux lunged after it, seeking to fasten teeth in its throat, and danced away. This was the signal for a general melee, as all the members of both packs now closed for one-on-one combat. The air was rent with snarls and growls, and involuntary shrieks when fangs tore at tender flesh. In moments, half of the werewolf pack was down, their greater strength proving to be no match for the unnatural speed and ferocity of the hell-hounds.

Thibodeaux was bleeding from a dozen wounds, but was still on his feet, nearly exhausted, tongue lolling. He was now facing three of the hell-hounds, the leader plus two of his pack who, having dispatched their opponents were now free to combine against the remaining wolves. He lowered his head, guarding his throat, and took a few cautious steps backward, the hounds pacing forward as he retreated, until finally his rump backed into the stone wall and there was nowhere else to go. The hell-hound leader now sat down and glared at him, a gaze filled with both malice and satisfaction. One of the two hounds dashed in and slashed at Thibodeaux’s side and dashed away, tearing open a long gash, and immediately the other hound rushed in from the other side, ripping at his hide. Again and again they came, as he spun wearily to try to meet the savage attacks, always just a little too late to counter the slashing teeth, until finally he began to totter and sway from the loss of blood. In moments, he would be on the ground, and that would be the end.

From out of the night, like a guided missile, a jet-black feline form collided with the hell-hound nearest Thibodeaux, and the two bodies went rolling across the yard in a tangle of claws and teeth, the hound shrieking as long fangs fastened into its throat. The newcomer shook its head, and dropping the limp form of the hellhound to the ground, opened its mouth in a scream of panther fury. At the same time, another silent black missile smashed into the other hound, bowling it over, pinning it down and ripping at its exposed belly with the long claws of its hind feet. The hell-hound writhed and twisted briefly under the were-panther, and then stopped moving. Marcel and Simone planted their front feet on the smoking bodies of their victims and snarled at the hell-hound leader, who had risen to its feet at their arrival and was rapidly backing away.

Minutes earlier, the enormous rock demon had crashed through the floorboards of the main floor and dropped into the basement, the unexpected arrival shocking the command team. Zorug, the demon, landed heavily in the center of the room, crouching to absorb the impact, and immediately fixed his gaze upon the human occupants. It grinned with evil delight at the sight of the puny humans, and let out a roar of challenge that shook dust off of the ceiling. Commandant Rosseau gaped at the unbelievable sight, momentarily frozen into immobility, and then his warrior’s instincts responded to the threat. “Weapons!” he shouted, and raced to the wall where a group of Barrett rifles was leaning against the wine-casks, close at hand. He snatched one up and threw it to Sergeant LaCroix, who had immediately leapt to his feet when the monster came crashing in upon them and who snagged the bolt-action rifle out of the air and quickly chambered a round, taking aim at the advancing demon, all the while muttering “Crap, crap, crap” under his breath. The huge man, naturally known as “Tiny” to his comrades, was hard to rattle, but this creature was not like anything he had ever seen. Rosseau barely had time to grab another rifle for himself, because the creature had begun advancing upon the small knot of humans by the electronics table, but the other techs had scrambled to their feet and jumped out of the way, grabbing weapons from a stack on the opposite wall.

Father Michael, sword in hand, crouched near the stack of wine-casks, ready to move in any direction, waiting for an opportunity to get close enough to the monster to strike. Tizona, alert to the presence of this and so many other demons, was shining with a brilliant white light, emitting a high-pitched wordless song of challenge that seemed to goad the demon into a fury. It swiveled, faster than Michael had thought possible for a creature of its bulk, and swung a massive fist at him intended to smash his head into pulp. Michael ducked instinctively and stepped back quickly, and the demon’s fist smashed into the row of casks, splashing them with Chablis and releasing a flood of wine that cascaded down onto the floor. Rosseau and “Tiny” LaCroix were now in action, sending round after round of the explosive 12.7 mm Raufoss projectiles at the demon, and Marcel and Simone had brought their shotguns into play, peppering it with sabot slugs, but the weapons fire seemed to have little effect other than to spall off small chunks of the creature’s rocky hide.

“Get back! Get back!” Michael shouted. “You can’t hurt it with those!” Rosseau, who did not lack in courage, ignored his warning and stepped forward, aiming his Barrett up into the monster’s gaping mouth. Before he could pull the trigger, the demon slammed his fist down on the commandant’s skull, driving him to the ground where he flopped for a moment, his head pulped, and then stopped moving. The rock demon now strode up to the end of the room and, with one giant fist, swept the electronics table clear of equipment, sending computers and monitors flying in a cascade of sparks. Dropping his rifle, LaCroix dived between the creature’s legs and rolled clear, but the other three technicians were less fortunate, cornered with no place to go, and the monster slapped them against the wall in a broken heap.

As the demon paused, staring down at the smashed bodies, Michael saw his opportunity at last. He swiftly crossed himself, and raising Tizona, ran forward to plunge the blade into the monster’s back. It sank deeply, without resistance, as though the rock-bound hide of the creature was no more than soft butter, and the demon Zorug froze in place, reaching back with both hands to claw at the sword impaling his back, hissing in pain and disbelief, while Michael twisted the weapon. The wound in its back began to smoke and sizzle, and in an instant the demon burst into a brilliant white flame, roaring in agony as its flesh was consumed by the magic of the enchanted sword. In moments, there was nothing left of the creature but sodden ashes, awash in the pool of wine spreading across the floor.

Michael let the point of the sword drop to the floor, and staggered back to be caught and steadied by the strong arms of Marcel. Sergeant LaCroix, in the center of the room, rose to his feet, his uniform soaked with wine and dripping, and ran to the corner to his fallen comrades, ignoring the body of Commandant Rosseau, who was obviously beyond help. He knelt down to examine the bodies, checking for pulses, and then, swearing foully, stood up and glared at Michael. “That was no damn mutant! Just what the hell did you Directorate people get us into!”

Recovering quickly, Michael pointed above his head, where there was a tremendous racket of gunfire, screams and growls. “Sergeant, there is no time to explain! Your men need help, and they need it right now!” LaCroix curtly nodded agreement. He picked up one of the Barrett rifles, checked the action, scooped up a handful of clips and stuffed them into one of his large uniform pockets, and raised an inquiring eyebrow at Michael. “Awright, Father, let’s go kill some mutants!”

Michael turned to Marcel and Simone. “Go, Father!” Marcel said quickly. “We’ll be right behind you!” Michael raised Tizona in a two-handed grip and, leading the way, raced across the room and charged up the stairs, Sergeant LaCroix right at his heels.

Back in the basement, Marcel and Simone began quickly stripping off their clothing. In less than a minute, both stood nude and ready to begin the change into their panther forms. Marcel looked up at the gaping hole in the floor above their heads, and then placed his hands on Simone’s shoulders. “This is going to be bad, sweetheart. We might not make it.”

“I know,” was all she said, and rose up on tiptoe as he cradled her face in his hands, and kissed her tenderly.

“We’re going to have to be fast and smart, if we’re going to survive this,” he said, when at last they parted. When she nodded, he said, “Ready?”

Seconds later, there were two massive, jet-black cats crouching on the basement floor. As one, they leapt upward, through the hole, and into the fight.

The Warlock Executive
continues with Part 14
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:43 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:21 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 14

Michael came through the doorway at the top of the stairs, followed by LaCroix, and the two men emerged into a scene that literally resembled a Hieronymus Bosch painting of the torments of Hell. The overhead lights illuminated a sea of bodies, among which roamed an assortment of monsters, diverted from joining in the attack upstairs by the opportunity to feast upon human flesh. Immediately before him were two of the minotaur-like beasts, one with a bull’s head and one bearing the features of a ram, with horns curling backward, who were engaged in a tug-of-war over a dead trooper’s body. The creatures were snarling at each other, baring shark-like teeth. The GIGN soldiers had taken a toll of the demon attackers, however, for there were numerous black, oily splotches on the floor marking where monsters had fallen and, in death, shriveled away. The floor and walls were liberally dabbed with sprays and swatches of blood, and a foul, greenish ichor was splattered about. Just to the left of the struggling beasts, one of the insect creatures lay on the floor, its carapace shattered and leaking green goo, its legs kicking it slowly around in a circle as it died.

The two minotaur beasts were too absorbed in their contest to notice the arrival of the humans, but in the background another bull-headed creature, clutching a severed arm in its mouth, noticed them and, removing the partly devoured limb, bellowed a warning and challenge at the intruders. Across the room, other monsters, all of the minotaur type, threw aside the body parts upon which they had been feasting and, growling, began to converge upon Michael and Sergeant LaCroix.

Angered beyond reason, Michael heard himself screaming as his lifted the blazing sword and lunged forward to decapitate one of the two minotaurs fighting over the body before him, as LaCroix stepped up at the same time and shoved the end of his Barrett into the snarling mouth of the second and pulled the trigger. The creature’s head exploded, and the two monsters dropped to the floor and began smoking. Michael raised his sword again and prepared to meet the demons charging across the room toward them.

At that moment, two panthers suddenly appeared at the near edge of the gaping hole before the space where the front door had been, having leaped up from below, and took a quick look around, looking for something to attack. LaCroix swore, and swung his rifle around to deal with these new threats, but Michael quickly blocked the movement with his hand. “Stop! Not them! They’re on our side!” The huge black man swore again, and gave him a dubious look, but turned his weapon back toward the approaching minotaurs.

From outside the gap in the front wall, they could hear a ferocious snarling and squeals of pain. The two panthers exchanged a glance; they knew the sound of a wounded werewolf. The security team outside was under attack, and these were their own people. Instantly they turned and sprang across the hole in the floor and raced outside.

Inside, the minotaur beasts were almost upon them now, at least ten, perhaps more, for it was difficult to make an accurate count in the middle of a fight. Fierce bellows emerging from fang-filled maws, hate-filled yellow eyes glaring, clawed hands raised for disemboweling swipes, the creatures rushed forward in a mass intended to overrun and crush the puny humans beneath their hooves. Michael and LaCroix raised their weapons and braced themselves to receive the monsters. Tizona rose and fell, a shining pillar of white flame. Michael hacked and stabbed, danced and weaved among the fallen monster bodies, shouting at the top of his voice, calling upon God for strength to slay these vile foes, as LaCroix fired shot after shot, no time to aim, simply firing from the hip, and at last, with no time to change clips, forced to use his rifle as a club, beating down the monsters with sheer brute strength.

On the small hill to the east, Billy dropped the stub of his cigarette onto the ground and scuffed it out with the toe of his boot. “Well, ‘ave a lookit that. Th’ ‘oole place is on fire.” They could see that flames were shooting out of the windows of the top story of the winery; it seemed that soon the entire building would be consumed. He closed his eyes and sniffed the night air, and sighed with satisfaction. “Blood, luvly blood. Plenty o’ blood spilled tonight. Time we took us share.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I guess we should go cop wot we can find.” Billy turned and cocked his head at Randi and her lover, Libbie. “Well are yer lot comin' or not?” Randi made a disgusted sound and gestured for him to lead the way.

Billy jerked his head sideways at the building, and Sheila and the six other Goth vampires, and then the six female bikers, fell in behind him as he silently flowed down the hill, drawn by the coppery scent of blood like moths swarming to a candle flame.

Michael fell to one knee, holding the hilt of Tizona in one hand, point down in the wooden floorboards, perhaps all that kept him from collapsing. Beside him, LaCroix also sank to his knees, clutching the bent barrel of his battered rifle in both hands, using it as a prop to keep him upright. The last of the monsters was now a smoking heap of meat on the floor that shrank rapidly to a black smear as they watched. The clothing of both men was shredded from the grasping claws of the monsters they had battled, and both were covered with blood from dozens of small wounds. Michael reached up to push his hair out of his face and to wipe away the blood from a scalp wound that was trickling down into his left eye.

LaCroix let out a deep breath. “My friend, you do this for a living?” Michael could only shake his head, too exhausted to reply. From upstairs came a constant rattle of gunfire, mixed with bestial roars and the shouts of beleaguered men fighting for their lives.

The sergeant sighed, and rose slowly to his feet. “It seems it is not yet over, Father.” He extended a hand to the priest, who took it gratefully and struggled to get his feet beneath him.

At that moment, there was a great sound from above of wood popping and cracking, accompanied by terrified cries. A rush of men and monsters came swarming down the stairs in a great hurry, no longer fighting, the panicked demons shoving the smaller humans out of their way, and rushed for the opening to the outside. Michael and LaCroix shrank back against the wall to let them pass, and then there was a tremendous crash and a gout of flame blasted down the stairs, throwing the last batch of humans and demons into a tangled, snarling heap at the bottom. They struggled to their feet and also ran for the ruins of the doorway, one demon roaring in outrage and panic as another elbowed him aside, falling into the gaping hole in the floorboards. One of the troopers shouted at LaCroix as he ran past, “Get out! The whole place is going up!” and his warning was accompanied by a loud groaning sound from the floorboards overhead, and a furnace roar of flames that could be heard through the stairwell. The sergeant tossed his useless rifle aside and ran for the outside, skirting the edge of the gaping hole, with Michael, clutching Tizona, close behind.

At the sound of the crash, Simone looked up from where she knelt in the short grass before the winery building, trying to staunch the bleeding of the wounded man who lay before her, using a scrap of cloth from the clothing shredded during the werewolves’ transformation. Michael, along with the two remaining team members who had survived the hell-hound battle and whose injuries were moderate enough to allow them to assist, were dragging the more severely wounded farther away from the intense heat of the burning building. One of the female wolves, Aimée, had been killed in the fight with the hell-hounds; she was survived by her sister-wolf, Claire, who was among the injured being assisted. As werewolves, they would heal quickly, but perhaps not in time to be ready for further combat any time soon. All were completely naked, now that they had reverted back to human form; the wolves’ clothing was no more than scattered scraps behind the wall, and Simone and Marcel’s garments remained in the basement, but under the circumstances they worked without embarrassment.

The hell-hounds had all been slain; as fast and vicious as they were, they had been no match for the greater speed and agility of the panthers. The victory, such as it was, had come at a terrible price; of the dozen men of the werewolf security team, only six remained alive, and all bore grievous wounds from the fangs of the hounds. Even the were-panthers had been marked with painful gashes that continued to seep blood, though none were serious. Marcel, who had been the first subject of Simone’s ministrations, wore a blood-soaked cloth tied around his back and neck, and she sported a make-shift wrapping around her upper left arm.

As the slate roof of the burning winery building caved in, the heavy debris collapsed the upper floor and pancaked it down into the second story, sending a gout of flames and sparks billowing skyward. As she watched, the flaming figure of a minotaur beast leaped through one of the broken windows and plummeted to the ground, followed by another, and another, desperate to escape what had suddenly become an inferno. The gunfire in the upper stories ceased immediately, and was replaced by the bellow of monsters and screams of humans trapped in the fire.

She leaped to her feet as a swarm of monsters came rushing through the gap in the front wall of the building, but they paid no heed to the people outside but kept running, disappearing into the darkness down the road from which they had launched their attack. There were no more than a dozen of the creatures, minotaurs and insectoids, the last remnants of the invading force. Close upon their heels came the human survivors, a mixture of GIGN troopers and Directorate security men who had been fighting the demons on the second floor. Most having lost their weapons in the chaos, they ran out into the cleared area before the building and looked frantically about, expecting to be attacked at any moment, coughing and hacking from inhaled smoke. Their agitation subsided quickly when they saw that there were no more monsters in the vicinity, only a handful of naked human beings, and their eyes goggled at the sight of Simone before them, magnificent in her nudity despite the blood and dirt caked upon her. Several of the men dropped to the ground on their hands and knees, for the moment, no longer able to stand upright.

Michael and Sergeant LaCroix now came staggering out of the building, not a moment too soon, for behind them the remaining floors now collapsed down into the basement level, leaving only the ancient and massive stone walls starkly standing, flames shooting out of the window openings and a burst of flame erupting from the former doorway opening. When the sergeant saw Simone, he quickly stripped off his overlarge shirt and walked over to her and draped it across her shoulders. She gave him a quick smile of appreciation and put her arms through the sleeves. It hung on her like a circus tent, but she rolled up the sleeves and tied a strip of cloth around her waist to gather it in, and knelt down again beside the wounded man.

The men of the GIGN force had just been ground up between Hell and a hard place. There were now only thirteen men left of what had been a troop of more than a hundred, and a casualty rate of nearly ninety percent was virtually unheard of in the annals of modern warfare. It was no wonder that their professional composure had been shaken. These men were the best police officers that France had to offer, veterans all, and many had served in military operations overseas, including Opération Daguet during the 1991 Gulf War, in Afghanistan, and on various peace-keeping missions in northern and central Africa, yet nothing in their experience had prepared them to deal with the sheer ferocity of an assault by creatures straight out of their worst nightmares.

The men of the Directorate security force had fared little better, with only three survivors escaping from the building, which, added to those who had fought the hell-hounds outside, left nine alive out of the original complement of thirty. Being werewolves, the men of D-4’s security force were accustomed to dealing with the supernatural, but even they had been rocked by the horrific forces arrayed against them. Once they were outside, however, and saw so many of the other members of their pack dead or injured on the ground, they sprinted over to help, followed by Father Michael, who plunged his sword heedlessly point-first into the ground and dropped to his knees beside a wounded man. Tizona was no longer glowing, assuring the priest that there were no longer any demons close by. Despite their own injuries, in short order, the surviving members of the pack had carried the wounded away from the fire and had the dead lined out in a row, while Marcel, Simone and Michael tended to the injuries of the fallen.

The first of the GIGN troopers to recover was Captain Berger, who considered his escape from the chaos of the second floor to be nothing short of a miracle. The defenders on this floor had just a few seconds more to prepare when the demons had crashed through the front of the building and massacred the men on the main floor, and they used these moments well, overturning the heavy tables used for the conference and taking up positions behind them. Even so, the battle went badly for them from the very start. The first creature to reach the top of the stairs was a damned enormous bug, a man-sized cockroach, and it scuttled across the room on six legs with astonishing speed, seizing the first man it came to and ripping him apart with its pinchers before his comrades could bring their weapons to bear. An instant later, the thing exploded in a hail of projectiles, splattering green goo over everything in the vicinity. It only went downhill from that point, as more and more nightmare creatures swarmed into the room.

Berger took a couple of steps back from the crowd of traumatized men, toward the burning building, and put two fingers in his mouth and let out a piercing whistle. “Listen up!” he shouted, over the roar of the flames. The men turned toward him. His figure was only a dark silhouette backlit by the flames, but his men knew his voice, and he had picked this position so that he could scan the faces now turned in his direction. So few, he thought, so damned few.

“You men have been through Hell,” he said, speaking loudly to be overheard. “But you survived, and we’ve got a lot to do before we can get out of this place.” Seeing that he now had their full attention, Berger began issuing orders. “Duval, Barbier, you’ve had advanced first aid training. Go help the lady,” and he pointed to where Simone was still tending the injured man, whom he saw was Thibodeaux, head of the security force, and who was now sitting up as she wrapped a make-shift bandage over the wound. “Any of you men with serious injuries,” the captain continued, “go with them.” The two troopers indicated by Berger helped a third man hobble over to Simone, supporting him between them, but there were no other takers. The GIGN men had regained some of their professional confidence and were not concerned with minor wounds.

“Legrand, Clement, I want you to head over to those vehicles and look for water and any first aid supplies you can find.” Off to his left, about fifty meters distant, the Kangoo vans that had transported the Directorate team were lined up in front of a smaller outbuilding, along with the larger van used by the “caterers” and several additional vehicles that had brought in the security men posing as D-14 station chiefs “While you are about it, check them for any spare weapons, and get on the radio and let HQ know what has happened here. We are going to need some help, and right away. Snap to it!”

He smiled with relief when he saw the huge form of Sergeant LaCroix. “Sergeant! Take the remaining men and get those weapons off the wall, there, and form a defensive perimeter.” He was referring to the automatic shotguns that had been left behind when the security team outside had changed to werewolf form to fight the hell-hounds. “We’re going to be stretched pretty thin, but do the best you can. We have to be ready in case any of the creatures come back at us again.” LaCroix strode over to the wall and picked up one of the 12-gauge Aitchison Auto-Assault shotguns and inspected it carefully, and then grinned broadly and began issuing orders of his own to the seven men now detailed to protect their position.

Simone cinched the bandage tight around Thibodeaux’s waist. “Do you think you can stand up?” she asked, quietly, and when he nodded in the affirmative, she put her right arm around his back, just above the wounded area, and let him drape an arm around her shoulders and slowly rose to her feet, bringing him up with her. He winced as he regained his footing, and staggered slightly while she steadied him.

“Mademoiselle, you are stronger than you look,” he murmured, as she stepped back. “Remind me later of how embarrassed I am to be rescued by a couple of cats.” She gave him a mildly reproving look. “In all sincerity, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We would all be dead on the ground if not for you and Marcel.”

Simone started to reply, and stopped abruptly, turning to the east. Her nostrils flared as she sampled the air, and she turned quickly to Marcel, who had been wiping blood from one of the walking wounded a few meters away, trying to determine the extent of the man’s injuries. His attention also had suddenly been diverted by the scent he had picked up.

“I smell vampires!” Simone hissed.

“Yes…” Marcel replied, all senses alert, “…and a great many of them!”

Around them the men of the werewolf pack had also paused in their activity, wolf senses detecting a malign presence out in the dark.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:44 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:22 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 15

“Vampires?” Michael stood up quickly, pulled Tizona out of the ground, and came over to his friends. “Where? How close?” he shot off rapidly. “Do you have any sense of how many?” The priest was covered in blood, some of it his own, and his cassock was in tatters.

His two young French friends stood looking out into the night, their senses straining. Simone pointed to the east, out among the vineyard trellises, and shook her head. “Father, I don’t know. They’re out there somewhere, not far away.”

Michael nodded grimly. “We have to move fast.” He turned and strode quickly over to the cluster of men with Captain Berger in front of the wall, who had armed themselves with the automatic shotguns the security team had left there, and were familiarizing themselves with the mechanism in the flickering yellow light provided by the fire behind them. “Captain Berger!” Michael shouted, in his best, pay-attention voice. “Get all your men together here, right now! There is an imminent threat!”

Berger looked up, startled. “What is it, Father?”

“No time! Just get everybody here in front of the building, and I’ll explain! Anyone by themselves is liable to be picked off!”

The captain fixed the priest with a look, just for a moment, and then jerked his head in the direction of the parked vehicles. “Fontaine, get those men back here, right now. Hurry!” The trooper rushed off to do as he was told, and Berger immediately bellowed, “Troopers!” and made a circling motion with his hand over his head, and then pointed to the front of the building. Sergeant LaCroix and the six men with shotguns had been listening to this exchange, and were already in motion. Just a little farther out, the Directorate security team, already alert to the threat, began helping the wounded to stand up and join with the GIGN troops gathering before the winery building, assisted by the two troopers Berger had sent to aid them.

While Michael waited impatiently for the men to return from the vehicles, he filled Berger in on the situation. “Captain, we’ve got vampires out in the vineyard, and they’re coming toward us.” One of the listening troopers, upon hearing this, spat on the ground. “Vampires. You got to be effin’ kidding me!” Berger shot him a look, and the man subsided, muttering. Michael continued, urgently. These men had seen so many crazy things on this night that he was not concerned whether or not he would be believed. “They’re fast, and dangerous, and there are enough of them to wipe us all out if we don’t work together. We’ve got very little time to prepare, they could be on us any moment!”

Berger didn’t waste any time asking if he was serious. “What do you want us to do?”

“Get your men in a tight group, and back them up as close to the building as they can stand. Vampires don’t like fire, and this will cover their backs. They are so fast that they will be very hard to shoot.”

“Can we kill them?” Berger asked. “In stories, vampires are already dead, and bullets don’t affect them.”

“You’re right, ordinary bullets won’t kill a vampire. But the rounds you are using are explosive, and if you blast one apart with enough rounds, I don’t think we need to worry about it doing much of anything after that. If you take down a vampire, toss it into the fire. That will make a permanent end to it.” He took a deep breath, and continued to speak rapidly. “There’s one more thing you and your men need to know. My friends here, Marcel and Simone, have some rather unusual abilities, and so do the men of the Directorate security team.” Before Berger could interrupt, he hurried along. “They can change their bodies into animals, fast, fierce and powerful, and they are the best chance we have of fighting off the vampires. Just don’t shoot them…they are your allies!”

To his credit, Berger didn’t even blink. “You hear that, men? Don’t shoot our friends, no matter what you see.” In a lower voice, he continued, “God knows we can use all the help we can get.” The pitifully diminished remnant of his troop exchanged glances, but no one said a word. After the events of this night, they were prepared to believe anything.

Michael turned and nodded at his friends. “Change, as fast as you can. Cats to the east corner, by the vehicles, wolves to the west. Stay out of the line of fire of the troopers, and protect the flanks!” At this signal, Simone quickly shrugged out of the shirt LaCroix had provided her and, together, she and Marcel dropped to the ground on hands and knees. A few meters away, seven members of the security team, including Thibodeaux and Claire, whose wounds had proved less serious than had been immediately evident, did likewise, and, before the astonished eyes of the GIGN troopers, began to transform. In less than a minute, the wolf pack was loping across the ground to the west side of the building, and two sleek, heavily muscled black panthers were now standing beside Michael, tails lashing. The troopers looked at each other, shrugged, and moved back toward the building, where the flames were beginning to diminish but were still providing an intense heat. Panthers, werewolves, bug-eyed monsters…what the hell.

The warrior priest strode quickly over to the wall and picked up a set of discarded night-vision goggles. The subsiding structural fire provided a flickering illumination of the area near the building, but beyond, the landscape was pitch dark, the moon having dropped below the horizon. His panther friends might not find the night to be much of a handicap, but not having their enhanced senses, Michael would need the image intensification provided by the goggles to navigate through the darkness. He settled the mounting frame over his head, while the panthers waited impatiently, and flipped the switch, careful to keep his eyes pointed away from the building to avoid a sensory overload. The landscape in his vision was now brightly illuminated in monochromatic shades of green, the magnification provided by the goggles rendering the scene almost as good as a daylight view. The only drawback was the relatively narrow field of view provided. He raised his sword in a tight, two-handed grip, and followed the panthers into the night.

Michael was worried. This was the worst tactical situation he had ever been in, since he and Marcel had faced the vampire nest in the catacombs of Rome. The long, parallel rows of trellised vines surrounding the winery building meant that they could not patrol as would have been their choice in a different environment. If they got among the grapes, the chest-high trellises would restrict their movement to following the rows, since it would be very difficult to move across them. Normally, when hunting vampires, they worked as a team, the panthers bringing the creature to bay for him to decapitate with a quick slash of the sword, but under the circumstances this would be a very difficult task. He prayed that God would provide him with the strength and the speed that he would need to cope with an unknown but probably large number of vampires who were in their natural element, the dark of night.

Not for the first time, Michael wished that the panthers had the ability to communicate more directly with him. In their panther forms, Marcel and Simone retained all of their human intelligence; they could understand him perfectly well, but feline vocal cords and lips were not equipped to shape human words. In a volatile tactical situation such as this, that could be a serious liability. Michael had worked with Marcel for many years, and although Simone was a more recent addition she had blended perfectly with the team. They had come to know each other so well that body language served as an unspoken form of communication in most circumstances. In the dark of night, however, the jet-black panthers would be nearly invisible, and he would have difficulty “reading” them and coordinating his actions with theirs.

Captain Henri Berger was also a greatly worried man. His men were warriors all, and tough as nails, but the night had taken a toll upon them, and not just in terms of the casualties that had whittled down his force to a scrap. No one could have faced the sort of creatures that had assaulted them tonight without being shocked to the very core of their soul, and he was concerned that these vampires might just be the very last straw to push them over the edge. Although they had fought well and furiously in the winery, against creatures of impossible strength and ferocity, discipline had been all but abandoned in the chaos, and without discipline, how could his men withstand yet another attack? He was also becoming more and more alarmed because the man, Fontaine, he had sent to retrieve Legrand and Clement from the vehicles had not yet returned. He was very pleased to see Father Michael and his two strange friends heading off in that direction.

The vehicles were parked in front of a more recent, single-story metal utility building about fifty meters from the winery that was probably used for storage of agricultural equipment and supplies, so it only took a few moments to reach them. As they approached, the panthers came to a halt, laid their ears back and began to bristle. Michael did not need words from them to understand that there was an immediate threat in the vicinity, and it must be the vampires they had scented earlier. He laid a hand on the back of the nearest cat, feeling the strong muscles twitching slightly, and studied the scene. The fires of the burning building made greenish reflections from the tinted windows and black paint of the Kangoo vans, now only a few paces distant. He could detect no movement in the vicinity, but then Michael spotted huddled shapes on the ground in front of one of the vehicles.

The two panthers exchanged a look and then peeled off separately, left and right, circling to either side of the collection of vehicles, as Michael advanced slowly toward the shapes on the ground, sword at the ready, slowly scanning from side to side. One careful step, then another, until he had reached the van. His eyes widened, and he sucked in a breath as he took in the gruesome scene before him.

The corpses of the three missing GIGN troopers, their helmets removed, had been carefully arranged in sitting positions in front of the van, leaned back against the bumper, sadistically mutilated to resemble the “three wise monkeys” of Japanese folklore. The ears of the first man, whom Michael recognized as Clement, had been torn off so that he could “hear no evil.” Next to him was Fontaine, whose eyes had been gouged out. The last man, LeGrand, completed the macabre tableau, his mouth hanging open and his tongue ripped out. The front of their shirts were soaked with blood from the terrible wounds, their faces unnaturally pale, and on the neck of the nearest man the priest could see two small punctures that he knew were the mark of the vampire. Shocked beyond words, Father Michael stared in disbelief, but never relaxed his guard for a moment.

A voice came out of the darkness from just above him, mocking and insolent. “Bloody good joke, don't yer fink, guv’nor?”

Michael jerked his gaze upwards from the corpses to see the form of a pale-skinned young man in Gothic dress, lips painted black and draped with silver chains, grinning down at him nonchalantly from a sitting position atop the van. He had not been there a moment ago, he could swear.

The Warlock Executive
continues with Part 16
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:46 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:22 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 16

Billy rose to his feet in one fluid motion and stepped down onto the hood of the Kangoo van, and then leaped to the ground to stand a few paces away from the priest. Michael was enraged almost beyond reason. Those poor men had survived the carnage of the winery only to be slaughtered and vilely degraded for the amusement of this devil’s spawn. The grip on his sword was so tight that his knuckles were white on the hilt, as he spoke through gritted teeth, “You foul creature! You murdered those men!”

Billy only shrugged and grinned disarmingly. “Ah well, it were me mates mostly, just a bit of a lark, right.” Michael raised Tizona as if to strike at the vampire, and Billy took a careful step backward, swallowing. “That’s a bloody great tooffpick yer 'ave there, guv’nor. Yer a priest an all, wotcher doin' carryin' 'round a nasty pointy fin' like that?”

“Step just a bit closer and you’ll be sure to find out,” Michael replied, ice in his voice.

“Wot, and spoil the bloody fun, then? That just wouldn't be sportin'!” Billy chuckled wickedly. “Tell yer wot, yer just 'and over that toadsticker and we'll be on us way. No muss, right, no fuss. That’s wot th’ boss wants. Give us the sword and yer and yor wee pussycats cop to live.”

“Boss? What boss?” Michael lowered the sword, just a fraction. This was the first indication they had of just who might be behind the demon attacks, and the urgent need for this information broke through his rage.

Billy looked surprised. “Why, right, the warlock o'course.” His eyes narrowed. “Oh, right…yer didn't know, did yer!”

At that moment there was a loud shriek from behind the vehicles, and the fierce scream of a panther. At the same time, gunfire erupted from the direction of the winery building, and the snarling of wolves could be heard in the distance. Distracted, Michael turned his head for an instant, and when he looked back, the vampire was gone.

The first warning the GIGN squad had that they were being attacked again was just a flicker in the night. Half of the troopers were equipped with the light-magnifying night-vision goggles, salvaged from those left by the werewolf defenders of the wall since those they had been issued had been dropped in their flight from the burning building, and the other half, on Captain Berger’s orders, were depending on their natural vision, with its wider field of view. Likewise, most had been forced to abandon their weapons on the headlong plunge down the staircase to safety, and so all but two, who still had their Barrett sniper rifles, were now sporting the automatic shotguns collected from the wall. All that were left of the company were nine men, including Berger and Sergeant LaCroix, and one of those was too badly wounded to stand upright but had to sit on the ground, holding his shotgun. The burning building was at their back, almost too hot to bear, but, abiding by the priest’s advice and their captain’s orders, they kept as close as possible. Before them was the darkened vineyard.

All of the men were wearing their black combat helmets, except for Berger and LaCroix, who had laid theirs aside while manning the combat center in the basement, and all save these two were wearing their full complement of field gear, including Kevlar armor, although somewhat tattered and singed. They had plenty of ammunition. The men with shotguns each had at least one additional drum for reload, and the two men with Barretts had been given all the spares carried by the other men. All had their weapons at the ready.

“Ssssttt…did you see that?” one of the men hissed, keeping his voice low.

“What? What did you see?” whispered another.

“I thought I saw something…just for an instant, out in the field. It was just a flicker.”

“Wait…there’s another!”

At that very moment, to their left, there was a flash of movement, and…something…was among them, moving as fast as thought. There was a scream, and a gurgle, and the men turned to see one of their number - it was André Perrin, a corporal - pulled upright and bent backwards, shotgun dangling uselessly from his fingers, a ghastly pale female figure behind him, lovely yet horrible, teeth fastened in the neck of the helpless trooper, long black hair falling forward, piercing black eyes glittering with malice. Frozen with disbelief, they were slow to react, and before they could raise their weapons the luckless man was being dragged away into the darkness.

“Shoot!” Berger shouted, and some of the troopers began to fire their weapons, the chatter of automatic fire deafening, but others were at a loss for a target, for there was nothing to see in the darkness before the building. Nevertheless, they raised their shotguns and fired into the night. Suddenly there was a shriek in the darkness, as one of the rounds from a Barrett connected with a vampire, more by accident than design, and with the simultaneous detonation of the Raufoss incendiary shell, they saw a flaming figure dancing in agonies twenty meters out, falling over and swiftly consumed.

At the same time as the firing began, concealed from their hearing by the noise of their weapons, there was a savage snarling from the opposite corner of the building, off to their right. The werewolves were now in the fight.

The voices had come out of the darkness around the wolves, soft and seductive, filled with mocking laughter. “’Ere, doggie, doggie,” said one. “Nice doggies, come ter mama,” said another. “Wee puppies, come play wiv us,” came another, accompanied by a muted giggle. The presence of the vampires was no surprise to the wolf-pack, who had scented them long before they had arrived, and the creaking of their leather attire was loud to their keen hearing. Foolish vampires, to come in from upwind. This was no pack of feral dogs, without discipline or organization. This was a wolf-pack, in which each member thought with a human brain and acted with pack discipline and military training. The wolves were in a tight group, rumps backed up together in a circle, facing outward, alert and ready to deal with any threat. They had already identified the vampires against them as only four in number. They might not be as fast as vamps, but speed wasn’t everything.

The voices circled around them, their owners invisible to human senses, but whose locations were clear to the heightened senses of the seven werewolves. “Oh, sod this!” one voice said suddenly, shrilly. “I’m hungry!” The vampire Libbie dashed in from the encircling darkness, only to be met by Claire-wolf, who, swift as lightning, lunged upward and seized the female bloodsucker by the throat, toppling them both to the ground. As Libbie screamed and thrashed about, the wolf planted both paws on her chest and worked her grip deeper and deeper on the vampire’s throat, sawing away with razor-edged incisors and pulling hard until, at last, there was a sharp cracking and ripping sound and the vampire’s head came loose in her jaws. Claire shook the head vigorously, growling fiercely, until it suddenly fell into dust, and the vampire body on the ground also instantly decomposed into a pile of debris.

There was a despairing shriek from the darkness. “Libbie! My baby girl! I’ll kill you lot, yer mangy dogs!” Randi now came rushing in, straight at Claire, who snarled, her fur bristling, and prepared to meet this new challenger with fangs bared. The vampire never made it that far, because Thibodeaux and two of their brother-wolves intercepted the creature, seizing it by its legs and arms, and swiftly ripped it to pieces. The head continued to scream curses at them until Claire rushed over and tore it from the body, silencing Randi forever.

In the darkness beyond, the two remaining biker vampires looked at each other, their eyes wide, and decided it was time to make a hasty retreat…but it was already too late for them. The pack leaped forward as one, taking to the offense, and surrounded the tardy vampires before they could escape. In a matter of moments, there was nothing left but two piles of dust upon the ground. Out in the vineyard fronting the building, the last of the biker chicks, blood on her face from the trooper she had just drained, suddenly realized that she was now alone, with a pack of werewolves coming fast through the vineyard after her, and raced down the gravel lane at top speed, feeling the hot breath of angry wolves close behind. Putting on a burst of speed, she left them far behind and did not stop running until she reached Meursault and the shed in which the motorcycles had been stashed.

Billy and his vampire comrades had made a serious miscalculation. Even much older vampires, grown in strength and supernatural power with the passing of centuries, might have hesitated to tackle a pack of werewolves or two were-panthers in their prime, but these juvenile vampires, inexperienced and cocky in their youth and numbers, certain of their invincibility, had not for an instant considered that these shape-shifters might be smarter, swifter and more dangerous than themselves.

Marcel and Simone were no strangers to hunting vampires. Marcel had been doing so for years before he met Father Michael, and together the two of them had faced a huge nest of vampires in the catacombs beneath Rome, a terrifying environment of endless dark and dusty ancient tunnels. After Michael and he had, for a while, gone their separate ways, Michael being transferred by the Vatican to the United States, he had trained Simone as his partner, and the young French couple had dispatched dozens of the vile creatures in many parts of the world. This place, this vineyard, with its corridors of trellised grapes, was just as challenging an environment as the catacombs, and would need a smart approach, especially since they were seriously outnumbered. Their keen panther senses had now informed them that there were at least eight vampires in the vicinity, perhaps more. It would be a difficult task, since they were used to working in concert with Father Michael, but the darkness and the number of vampires against them would force a different approach.

After leaving Father Michael, a minute or so before, they had separated and made a broad circle around the parked vehicles, without trying to confront any of the vampires, to assess the disposition of the forces against them, and met on the far side. These vamps were being pretty dumb, Marcel thought, as he rubbed his shoulder against Simone’s flank. They were scattered out through the area instead of clustering together to concentrate their strength. He could hear Father Michael having a conversation, for pity’s sake, with one of the vampires, and wondered what that was all about. They could both smell the blood of the troopers who had just been slain by the vampires; it was not like the Father to be so restrained when it came to vamps. There did not seem to be any creature that Michael hated more than vampires, not just for their evil natures but for their petty cruelty.

It was rather odd that the vampires were not trying to attack them. Just as their panther senses had detected the presence of vampires, the vamp senses would have let them know that there were panthers about. Perhaps they were waiting for some sort of signal from their leader.

No matter. It was time to get this party going. He did not expect that Michael would be speaking to the vampire for very long, and they needed to thin out the vamp numbers pretty quickly. The only sure way to put a vampire out of action permanently, short of exposure to the sun, was to decapitate it, but there were more ways to take the head off a bloodsucker than using a sword.

Like invisible shadows in the darkness, the two big cats glided through the night, seeking their prey. Fast as any blood-drinker, they cornered a vampire against the side of one of the vans, and Simone latched her teeth into its leg so it could not escape while Marcel tore its throat out and ripped its head from its body, flinging it into the darkness with distaste where it turned to powder. That’s one, he thought. Seconds later, they caught up to another vampire, trapping it in one of the vineyard rows. It tried to leap straight up to escape them, but Simone was ready for this move and, leaping upward at the same time, caught it by a foot and brought it down onto the trellis fence. Speared through the chest by one of the posts, it fought violently to free itself, shrieking its rage, until Marcel dispatched it in the same manner as the first. That’s two, he thought smugly. But it would become more difficult, now that the vampires were aware of how deadly the panthers could be.

Michael spent no time wondering where the arrogant young vampire had gone. He looked down at the three dead troopers and made the sign of the cross over their bodies, and then took Tizona back in a firm two-handed grip and set off to kill vampires. The screaming he had just heard, which had prompted the vamp’s disappearance, was obviously his friends at work. All he had to do was just follow the sounds of carnage, and he would come up to them soon enough and lend his aid.

Just as he came around the end of the last of the parked vehicles, the large caterer’s van, the night-vision goggles showed him his two friends beset by three vampires acting in concert. One of the creatures, a female, had its arms wrapped around the neck of a panther, and with its great vampire strength was slowly bending the massive feline head backwards, trying to snap its neck. The panther was kicking, trying to free itself, but the vamp had gripped it from behind and was just too strong. On the ground nearby, the other of his panther friends was on its back, locked in combat with two vamps; having sunk its teeth deeply into the shoulder of one, it was trying to fend off its other attacker with its hind claws, tearing deeply into the flesh of the creature.

Michael ran forward, raising his sword, and with a powerful blow swept off the head of the vampire trying to break the panther’s neck. The panther, whom he now recognized as Simone from her eyes and muzzle, fell over on her back but, snarling in fury, instantly leaped onto her feet and plunged headlong into the vampires that were attacking her lover, bowling over the vamp that was trying to come to grips with Marcel. Before she could seize it, the creature sprang to its feet and raced away. Simone, seeing it vanish, spun around and sank her teeth into the neck of the other vampire, which was held fast by Marcel’s fangs. In a blur of motion, she whipped her head back and forth, the vampire screaming at the top of its voice, until finally its head popped off and the sound ceased abruptly.

All this had taken place too swiftly for Michael to participate, but seeing his friends out of immediate danger, he smiled and let the point of his sword rest on the ground. “Good work, my friends,” he said, “but there are still more of the foul things about. Stay together, track them down, and let’s be rid of them. I will do the same, here.” The two cats were panting from their exertions, mouths open, but now they put their heads up and sampled the air. In moments, they had the scent, and disappeared into the night.

Neither of the vampires he had just seen fighting Marcel and Simone had been the young Goth who had spoken to him, but he supposed that the panthers might have killed him before he arrived on the scene. The gunfire he had earlier heard had ceased, so evidently the battle at the winery was over, for good or ill. In any case, there were still several vampires in the vicinity, and he needed to be on his guard. God had provided him with this amazing sword, and his faith was strong, but he had not the vampire’s speed, strength or agility. He would have to be very careful.

Sword at the ready, he adjusted the goggles, whose mounting had loosened somewhat with his recent exertions, and then took an involuntary step backward as something unexpected came into view. Tizona began to shine again, with that fiercely brilliant light.

Approaching him was a minotaur beast, but it was far larger, taller by a head, than any of those he had seen or fought in the winery. It had the head of a bull, with great meter-long horns sprouting from its skull and curving to either side, like a Texas longhorn. Like all the others, it was entirely naked, but its loins were obscured by a thick growth of coarse hair, which also formed a thick mat on its muscular chest. It came to a halt no more than five meters away, and stood motionless, the claws on its hands twitching slightly, and stared intently at him for a moment. Then, its lips spread wide in a wicked grin, exposing the shark-like teeth that filled its mouth, and it did something very strange. It held its hand out, palm up, and nodded toward the sword Michael held raised up in defense.

The transmitter in the demon’s ear buzzed loudly with the excited voice of the warlock, who was also watching via the video camera glued to its chest, commanding it to step forward and seize the sword. The minotaur was no fool, however. It was a demon chief, leader of the minotaurs summoned to this dimension by the foul warlock, and was not only more powerful than the other minotaurs, it was far more intelligent. It had seen this puny human slay many of the other demons with the blade, and was not about to step within range of the sword until it could be certain of taking the weapon without injury to itself. The minotaur would wait a bit, while the irritating warlock screamed in its ear, and see what opportunity presented itself. The creature would far rather crush the warlock into a bloody pulp, and eat the little bits, but, within limits, must obey his commands.

The voice of the detestable warlock stopped screeching in his ear, while the human stood there, puzzled, ready with his sword to defend against any attack. It seemed to be a stalemate, but then the opportunity it had been awaiting suddenly came. From out of the night sky, one of the little messenger demons bulleted in, and collided with the back of the human, sending him staggering, tripping over some obstacle and falling forward in a sprawl. The goggles came loose and fell from his head, and the great sword went flying from his hands, and landed on the ground at the demon’s feet. The demon imp flew away, screeching with laughter.

As Michael desperately scrabbled after the fallen sword, he watched in dismay as the demon smiled again, even more broadly, and leaned down to pick Tizona up. As the demon’s hand neared the hilt, the sword began to glow even more brilliantly, and Tizona’s song soared upwards in a frenzied pitch that was almost beyond his hearing. The minotaur closed its fingers around the grip, and then stopped, frozen, a look of confusion and horror etched upon its coarse features. It began bellowing then, as the glowing white light spread from the sword up its arm, and suddenly burst into flame, screams still audible through the consuming inferno, until suddenly, all sound ceased, and the glow slowly died away from the sword, now resting in a pile of ash.

Greatly relieved by this sudden reprieve, Michael raised himself up on his knees and reached for the sword. Just as his fingers were about to close upon the point, so that he could draw it forward, a dark figure slammed into him, throwing him on his back, and then he felt the pressure of a person kneeling on his chest, and foul hot breath in his ear.

“’Ello, sweetie,” the female vampire whispered, low and sultry, holding his head still between her hands, her long black hair hanging down in his face. She had eyes like a raccoon, painted with dark eyeshadow, and black lipstick. “Didn't spot this comin', did yer now, right?” She giggled girlishly, rather spoiling the menacing aspect she was trying to project, for a moment. “I never drank a priest before. Do yer spose they taste different than ordinary blokes?”

Michael, unable to move in the grip of this evil little pixie, heard a new voice, one that he recognized as the swaggering young vampire he had spoken with earlier. “Just drain 'im pet, and be done wiv it. We need ter be out of 'ere before them pussycats show up.”

Sheila turned petulant. “Right, but yor spoilin' all me fun, Billy.” She sighed, and then leaned closer.

Michael had been inching his hand down his leg during this conversation, and his fingers touched the top of his boot and then felt inside. Swiftly, he drew out the silver-palladium alloy dagger that had been presented to him posthumously by Father Raphael, and quickly plunged it into the chest of the vampire girl. She shrieked and convulsed as the seeking point found her heart, and then went completely rigid, collapsing atop the priest and twitching until, with one last convulsion, she fell into dust. Michael struggled to turn over, the dust falling from his clothing, so that he could seize Tizona and make an end of this young male vamp.

He looked up and saw that Billy the vampire was now holding Tizona, wrapped carefully in his jacket so that no part of it touched his flesh. Tizona was quiescent now, with no song or glow; briefly he wondered why the sword did not react to vampires as it did to demons.

“Aw, now guv’nor, I wish yer 'adn't done that,” Billy said in a tone of mild regret. “I ravver liked Sheila, right, I did, an’ we been togeffer a long time.” He shrugged. “Oh well, right, time ter be off.” And with these words, he turned and vanished into the night, leaving Michael gaping after him, his heart in a pit of despair.

Off in the distance, he could hear the two-tone wail of sirens.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:47 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:22 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 17

Klaus Dortmund was in a foul mood. It was a little after one o’clock in the morning, and he had just returned to his office, taking the private elevator up from his secret subterranean workshop where he had been supervising the operation against Directorate 14. Actually, his role had been more an observer than commander, given that his “troops” were a willful and savage collection of demons rather than disciplined soldiers. For that reason, his orders had been very simple; locate the humans, and kill them all. He had counted upon their natural blood-lust and hatred for humans to assure that the destruction of the agency chiefs and their flunkies would be complete.

At first, everything seemed to be going according to plan. His demon “general” had crashed through the front of the building and the monster horde had poured in after it, ready to slaughter every living creature inside. Watching the action through the miniature cameras fastened to the tribal leaders, he had been shocked to discover the size of the opposing force and the heavy weaponry they had employed. No matter that his demons had virtually annihilated the French police company, they had themselves almost been wiped out in the battle. Drinking hot tea from the thermos he had brought down, Dortmund had watched with increasing fury as his demon army was whittled down to a handful of survivors who had cowardly fled the scene even though a number of humans remained, disorganized and virtually helpless to resist.

Even the damnable priest had managed to survive. The only bright note in the whole episode was the capture of the magical sword by Billy, but even that was diminished because the vampire had the priest at his mercy and could have easily killed him, but did not. Nevertheless, when Billy presented him with the sword, he had complemented him on a job well done, commiserated with him over the loss of his doxy, and promised a magnificent reward as soon as he had finished this business. The pitiful handful of demons who had returned to him through the portal stone were sent back to their hiding places to await further orders, and, dismissing Billy and the only other surviving vampire, a female of the biker gang, he had returned upstairs, sword in hand, to find Velli awaiting him, having let himself in using the pass code Dortmund had given him. The warlock was no fool, however; the code only allowed the vampire into the office, not into the private elevator with its access to his hidden basement lair or his private quarters above.

Dortmund was now pacing back and forth in front of his desk, loudly expostulating to the vampire Velli, who was seated at the glass-topped dining table sipping AB-negative delicately from a Waterford crystal champagne glass. One of the rarest of blood types, a superb vintage to the vampire, Dortmund had laid in a stock especially for him in the refrigerator beneath the wet bar, and Velli had simply microwaved it to approximately human body temperature. On Dortmund’s desk, the fabled sword Tizona reposed, its cloth wrapping (used by Billy for safe transportation) unfolded to reveal the gleaming blade. The bank of television monitors on the wall were alive but the sound muted, several of them providing coverage of the breaking story of the winery fire and alleged gun battle that had taken place in France. According to the news feed streaming across the bottom, the authorities were withholding details but speculation ranged from a terrorist attack to a conflict between two rival biker gangs.

“What a bloody cock-up!” the warlock exclaimed. It was a sign of Dortmund’s agitation that he would resort to using British slang, a habit that he had determinedly excised at an early age. “What an absolute, unmitigated disaster! Who would have thought that the Directorate would have an entire military company detailed to guard the meeting! They’re not even a military agency!”

Mack regarded him owlishly over the rim of the glass, which he held in both hands, elbows resting on the chrome armrests of the chair. “I suppose the worst of it, is that we still don’t know if it was an actual meeting of the D-14 chiefs, or just a ruse.”

“That’s right!” Dortmund stopped pacing, and turned to face the vampire, who as usual was impeccably dressed in the latest of London fashion. “My demons killed almost every single person there, but I have no idea if any of them were even important. The whole point of this operation was to take out the heads of the agency!”

“I think we can safely assume that at least some of them were Directorate personnel, can we not?” the vampire quietly observed.

“Yes, but at such a cost!” The warlock now sounded petulant. “It will take me months to summon up replacements, and you have no idea how much energy it cost me. Even a single summoning leaves me exhausted for hours, and I lost nearly a hundred demons, nearly all that I had. Now there are only about a dozen left to me, even counting that miserable creature, there.”

Dortmund was referring to the ram-headed minotaur-beast he had brought up with him, which was now standing stolidly in the corner of the room, awaiting instructions. Instinctively sensing that it was being referred to, it glowered sullenly at them from beneath heavy brow ridges, rubbery lips parting slightly to reveal rows of very sharp teeth.

“Well,” Mack said, optimistically, “at least you have the sword.”

“Small consolation, that. It had better be worth it.”

“Um. What do you plan to do with it?” the vampire inquired.

“I plan to use it, that’s what! It can only give me still greater power to command demons, once they realize that I have a weapon that can destroy them utterly.” The warlock walked over to the desk and picked up the sword, holding it awkwardly and then making a few clumsy passes in the air. “It’s lighter than I would have expected.”

He moved to the center of the room, holding the sword out flat so he could inspect it more closely. “The blade is inscribed on both sides, a prayer on one side in Latin, and a date of manufacture on the other, I see. It appears that this sword is nearly a thousand years old. It’s magnificent!”

“What do you know of its powers?”

“I know something of it from my agency spy, the shifter posing as the Director’s personal assistant, Leclerc, and also from my observations during last night’s battle.” Dortmund smiled. “It glows in the presence of demons, and when they are struck by it, they are completely incinerated!”

“A potent weapon, indeed!” Mack smiled privately down into his glass.

“I intend to test this. I want to feel its power, discover its limits.” Enthused by the prospect, Dortmund appeared, at least for the moment, to have forgotten his irritation with the outcome of the recent assault upon the winery. He raised his voice, addressing the minotaur. “You! Come here!” He pointed with the tip of the sword to a spot on the floor directly in front of him. The beast curled its lips in a silent snarl, but complied, striding over to the location indicated, and stood there, warily eyeing the sword.

The warlock raised the sword vertically before him, and moved slowly closer to the minotaur, until the blade was only centimeters away from the creature’s chest. He frowned when nothing happened. No glow, no reaction of any kind from the sword. “That’s odd. The thing was glowing continuously when that priest was waving it about.”

“Try touching it with the sword,” Mack offered, helpfully. What an idiot.

Dortmund backed up a pace, to give himself sufficient room, and slowly extended the point of the sword until it just touched the demon’s chest. Still nothing. The warlock’s frown deepened, and as the minotaur scowled at him, leaned on it until it pierced the flesh a few centimeters, but still without any discernable result save to cause the beast to open its mouth wide, emitting a low growl of warning. Dortmund withdrew the sword from its flesh, the tip now covered in greenish blood, and examined it again, now angry. “Damned thing’s worthless! Why doesn’t it work?”

“Ahh…perhaps the sword just doesn’t like you.” Mack commented mildly, his eyes disarmingly wide and innocent.

In a rage, the warlock took six quick paces over to the dining table and plunged the blade straight into the vampire’s chest, the point extending out the other side. Mack set his champagne glass down and gave Dortmund a mildly reproving look. “Now, that’s a £1500 suit you’ve ruined. And, by the way, that rather smarts. Would you mind removing that blade?”

Dortmund stood there for a moment, and then pulled the sword back out. The vampire looked down and inserted the tip of a forefinger into the rent in the fabric of his jacket, clucking sadly. The warlock examined the sword with distaste, and then, in a sudden fit of pique, flung it across the room. It hit the floor and went skittering across the marble tiles toward the minotaur-beast, who raised a foot and stamped down upon it, rather spitefully, Mack thought. The moment the demon’s foot came down upon it, the blade burst into brilliant white light, and the hapless creature, bellowing with pain, erupted into flames. In seconds, while both Mack and the warlock watched in amazement, it was completely consumed, leaving nothing behind but scorched tiles and a small pile of black ash.

The warlock slowly walked over to the spot and stared down at Tizona lying atop the ash pile, without speaking, and then leaned down and picked up the sword. He turned to face the vampire, puzzlement clear upon his features. “But…” he started, and then cleared his throat and, in a small voice, started again, sounding much like a small child who cannot understand how his toy came to be broken, “Why doesn’t it work for me?”

The vampire steepled his fingers, and leaned back in his chair. “It is supposed to be a holy sword, after all. I suspect…no offense…that only one who is pure in heart can wield it.”

Fresh anger twisted the warlock’s lips, and he let the point drop to the floor. “Then it is nothing more than a bit of ornamental bric-a-brac, after all. No value to me.” He hesitated, reconsidering. “At least, without it, that cursed priest will no longer pose a threat. Ha! I have drawn his fangs!” Dortmund smiled, amused at his own little joke. He held the blade up and examined it once more, and then walked to the side of the room where there was a row of built-in cabinets, opened one, and placed the sword inside, leaning it carelessly against the back. After closing the door, the warlock dry-washed his hands dismissively and came back over to the dining table, where Mack had again lifted his glass for another sip.

Dortmund sat down in one of the chairs, and poured himself a glass of cognac from a crystal decanter of Rémy Martin on the table next to the chessboard. He toyed with the glass for a moment, twirling the stem slowly between his fingers, before lifting it for a sip. “I expect that I will have it mounted on the wall, sometime. It is a rather nice trophy, after all, quite an antique.”

He took another small sip from the glass, sighed, and set it on the table. He was quite calm now, his emotions finally in check, once again the icy calculating machine. “All in all, quite a disappointing evening.” He raised a finger. “One, I have lost nearly my entire army of demons, and it will take me some time to rebuild their numbers.” He raised a second finger, beside the first. “It is not possible to tell, at this time, if the Directorate chiefs were present at the meeting, so, for all I know, the Directorate command structure is still intact and capable of mounting a retaliatory operation against me. That brings me to my final point,” and he now lifted another finger, “If it was a ruse, which now seems likely given the magnitude of the force present at the winery, then my spy has been compromised. D-14 may have been able to identify me as the author of these attacks.” He closed his hand into a fist. “I am vulnerable now!”

Mack swirled a finger inside his glass, and extracting it, licked the blood from the tip. “Fortune governs one half of our actions, but allows us to govern the other half. This is not a time for caution, but for bold action!”

Dortmund’s composure was but a fragile thing, and now his anger came back to the surface. With a sudden gesture, he swept the glassware from the table, to shatter on the marble floor. “Don’t quote to me from your damned book! In fact, I’ve had enough of your oh-so-clever remarks for one night. This whole operation was a complete disaster, and it was all your idea! For someone who is supposed to be such a damned brilliant strategist, your ideas have proved rather disappointing.”

He jumped back up out of his chair and began pacing again. “Well, no matter. Bold action? You want bold action? I made my own plans, contingency plans, just in case this did not work out as well as you led me to believe.” He stopped, and whirled about to point a finger at the vampire. “My little demon imps have not failed me, as you have! For weeks now, they have been secretly transporting small blocks of plastic explosive, one at a time, hiding it within the walls of the Directorate headquarters building where no one could stumble across it by accident. By now there is nearly a quarter of a metric tonne in place, wired and ready to detonate!”

For the first time in as long as he could remember (and his memory extended back for centuries), the vampire found himself at a loss for words. He could only stare as the warlock continued, coldly. “When I send the signal, there will be nothing left of the Directorate but a smoking ruin! Is that bold enough for you?”

Mack found his voice at last. “Ahh…yes, a magnificent plan! And when will you send this signal, to utterly destroy our enemies?”

Dortmund looked at him through narrowed eyes. “In my own time….when I am ready. I wish them to suffer first, before I put an end to all their suffering.” He looked down at the scattered chess pieces on the floor. “Checkmate, Director.”

He raised a hand into the air and snapped his fingers, and uttered a single Word. An instant later, there was a faint < pop > and one of the little winged demons appeared on the edge of Dortmund’s desk and swiveled to face him, its tiny claws clicking on the glass surface. “Listen to me carefully!” he ordered. “Go to the shifter. Tell him he must kill the Director immediately, by any means necessary, and make his escape. His time at the agency is over. I want Bjørn Kriger dead!” The imp nodded, and disappeared.

The warlock glanced down at Mack, who still sat in his chair amid the shattered glassware. “I did not rise to my position by being a cautious man, vampire. Now, begone! And do not return until I summon you. I have work to do. I must go to my workplace and begin summoning more demons.” The vampire stood slowly and began dusting himself off, as Dortmund strode to the door of his private elevator. In the last view Mack had of his employer, as the elevator doors closed, the man bore a look of grim satisfaction.

“Checkmate?” Mack murmured, a faint smile playing across his lips. “Perhaps not, my friend. You think you are playing this game with the Director, but it is I who am your true opponent. And it is my move, now.”

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:48 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:22 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 18

Bjørn Kriger, head of Directorate 14, slowly replaced the phone in its cradle and leaned back in his chair, his face ashen. It was shortly after sunrise, and he had been at his desk all night, taking the reports as they came in, in addition to a rather unpleasant call from the head of Interpol wanting to know just what the hell had happened. The magnitude of the disaster was almost beyond reckoning: more than a hundred elite troopers of the gendarmerie slaughtered, and only nine survivors left from the more than two dozen members of the Directorate security force he had sent to Meursault. The first indication that something had gone wrong had been a garbled report passed on to him from the commander of GIGN at Paris, who had received a transmission shortly after ten o’clock last night that had been abruptly terminated before the sender could provide a full account. In the recording that had been played for him, the man quickly blurted out an urgent request for assistance, followed by “They’re all dead, the monsters killed them all!” The next sounds to be heard was a screech of tearing metal, and horrible screaming for a few seconds before the transmission cut off.

The commander had immediately ordered out another full troop of the gendarmerie with helicopter transport, accompanied by medical teams, but the first responders on the scene were civilians rather than military. The fire at the winery building had been clearly visible in Meursault, only a few kilometers away, and the sound of gunfire had aroused the citizens of the small community. Lacking a fire brigade of its own, the response had come from the larger, nearby city of Beaune, located about seven kilometers north of Meursault. Three pumper trucks and an ambulance from the Sapeurs-pompiers, as the fire service is known in France, followed by units from the local gendarmerie, arrived at the old winery at about ten-thirty and found a situation that horrified them.

They were greeted by a small group of men and women, seventeen in all, who bore a variety of wounds from moderate to serious, and nearly all of whom appeared to be severely traumatized by whatever they had experienced. About half of the survivors wore the combat uniform and gear of the national gendarmerie; most of the remainder, including the two women, wore the remnants of conservative black business suits. The spokesman for the group was a captain of the gendarmerie, but he was not at all informative as to what had taken place, telling the rescue workers that it was a matter of national security and unwilling to provide any details. Among the injured was a Catholic priest, dressed in a tattered and singed black cassock. The paramedics immediately radioed for additional rescue units to be brought in from the surrounding communities, set up a zone for triage, and started treating the most seriously injured. The wounds themselves were odd; aside from the burns, the men appeared to have been mauled by savage animals of some kind.

The pumper trucks pulled in close to the still-burning building and began hosing down the flames from their water reservoirs, while a number of the rescue workers began collecting the bodies of the dead. There were not many of these; according to the survivors, there were more than a hundred bodies still inside the building whose remains could not be retrieved until the fire was out. The responders found this information to be quite shocking; this would have to be one of the greatest catastrophes France had ever experienced, comparable to the ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris in November, 2015, during which more than two hundred people had been killed by bombs, grenades and shootings. They began to speculate quietly among themselves, and the consensus of opinion was that, like Paris, it must have been some sort of terrorist attack, although none could account for why such an isolated rural location had been targeted.

The first responders had been in action less than ten minutes when the thrumming of helicopters was heard in the distance, and in moments a group of four Eurocopter “Super Cougar” transport helicopters hovered over the vineyard. The open space around the building, which was not large to begin with, was so crowded with emergency vehicles and people that there was insufficient room for any to land, but in short order the side hatches opened and a rain of troopers began fast-roping down to the ground, the company dispatched by the GIGN commander. Captain Berger, after determining that there were no more hostiles in the vicinity, had immediately radioed his headquarters with a more detailed situation report, so that the incoming troopers knew that they would not be roping into a “hot zone” under attack. After they had safely descended and were out of the way, several cargo crates of supplies were lowered to the ground.

Immediately after discharging its human cargo, the choppers, all but one, veered off and returned back the way they had come. The newcomers quickly took charge of the operation, setting up perimeter barricades to keep out gawkers and the media, when they arrived, as they inevitably would. A squad of men began moving vehicles to clear out enough space for a helicopter, and as soon as this was accomplished, one of the Super Cougars descended to the spot. All of the survivors of the assault were quickly hustled aboard and the chopper lifted off, headed for Paris where they would receive further medical attention, hospitalization if necessary, and be debriefed at the National Gendarmerie headquarters.

Shortly after one o’clock in the morning, the firefighters managed to completely extinguish the fire in the building. Now the grim task of body recovery could begin. The firefighters and the gendarmerie troopers erected high-intensity floodlights and set up high-volume pumps to remove the water that had pooled in the basement to a depth of nearly half a meter as a result of their efforts to extinguish the blaze. It took more than an hour to pump the water out, before they could begin carefully to probe through the wet ash and debris. Locations of human remains were marked with small flags for the attention of medical examiners associated with the French Defence Health Service (the
Service de Santé des Armées,
or SSA) which provided medical services for the French military forces. Due to the intensity of the fire, little more was left than charred bone. As the work progressed, dozens upon dozens of colorful markers were placed. The heartbreaking work continued all through the night and well into the next morning, before all the bodies had been recovered and bagged for transport to Paris and DNA identification.

Kriger scrubbed at his face with both hands, exhausted from his long vigil and angered by his own failure to prepare sufficiently to have prevented this tragedy from occurring. He had expected demons, and demons were what he got, but who could have thought that their adversary would have so many! Or that the weapons and training of a full company of professional soldiers would be inadequate to deal with them. There would be consequences, he knew. Personal consequences, to be sure, because all this had happened on his watch and was his responsibility, but what happened to him mattered very little right now. He was far more concerned for the grieving families of the men and women who had fallen, and for the fate of his own agency as a result of the severe blows received in recent weeks. At least, thank God, Michael and Simone and Marcel were among the survivors. He had become especially close to them during the last year, regarding them almost as family, and to have lost them as well would have been a harder blow than he cared to contemplate.

At least one thing could be salvaged from this mess. He now knew the identity of the spy. Leclerc. He was very relieved it had not been Renée Dupont; bad enough that any of their own could betray them in such a manner, but had it been the brilliant and ebullient little computer technician, that would have been yet another heartbreak.

Kriger reached for the phone on his desk. “Colette. Please come to my office immediately,” he said curtly, and hung up. Leclerc had come to work this morning, just as if nothing had happened, as if he had no part in the disaster, and Kriger had wanted, so very much, to smash that bland face to a pulp with his fist. Colette Roche was the senior member of his security force currently present in the building, and a very capable woman she was, indeed. In very short order Leclerc, this miserable excuse for a human being, would be locked up, and the questioning could begin. He smiled with grim pleasure at the thought. They had their spy, and soon enough they would have the identity of the person behind these attacks. No matter what it took to extract that information. In fact, restraining Colette might be a major problem. She was a member of the Lyon werewolf pack, and as yet did not know what had happened to her brother and sister wolves at Meursault.

A few minutes later, there was a respectful knock at his office door, and Colette stepped inside and closed the door behind her, then walked to the Director’s desk and stood before it at parade rest, her hands behind her back, thumbs locked. He looked her over. Colette was dedicated to her profession; she was not a large woman, but possessed an athletic build that she maintained though constant training, and sported a short haircut in the military style appropriate for females.

“Colette,” he began, speaking softly. “I have a task for you. We have uncovered a spy in our agency, and I want you to arrest him and lock him in one of the cells under constant guard until he can be questioned.” He looked at her sadly. “But first, there is something you should know.”

In the outer office, the shape-shifting demon who had assumed the identity of the Director’s personal assistant was staring at the computer monitor on its desk, not really seeing it but instead considering the best way to carry out the orders it had been given by its master. The warlock had told it to kill the Director, which should be easy enough. This puny human body was not the only form it could assume; a shifter of his kind could transform itself easily and quickly into the shape of any body it had once possessed, and during its life in the Underworld, it had overcome many formidable demons and taken their bodies for its own. All of these demon forms were now at his disposal, at any time. It would be best if it could dispatch Kriger quietly, without raising any alarms. The difficult part would be escaping from the basement level of this building afterward, with all of its technological security measures. The security force this morning was minimal, however, since the Director had virtually stripped the building of trained personnel in order to provide security for the meeting site at Mersault (and Les Signaraux, as well, but the shifter did not know about this).

It would be so simple if it could just absorb Kriger and take his identity. But, as the demon metamorph had learned long ago, it was not possible to take the identity of another shape-shifter. Why this was so, it had no idea, but that was the situation. There was another person in with Kriger now, one of the female guards, but she was also a shifter, one of those that on this world were called were-wolves, and so she would not do, either.

Pseudo-Edouard swiveled partly around in its chair and studied Renée, the other occupant of the outer office, not bothering to conceal his interest. She was absorbed in whatever she was doing, the displays on the several computer monitors at her station rapidly changing, but she sensed his gaze, or perhaps saw his reflection on the screen, and turned briefly with a smile, waggled a few fingers at him, and returned her concentration to her work. The shifter smiled. This female would provide it with the perfect opportunity to escape. As soon as the female guard left the Director’s office, it would subdue Renée so that she could not give the alarm when Kriger was killed, and then afterward absorb her body and take her shape, casting off the form it now wore. She did not have to be conscious for the process, only alive, and any damage it did to her body now would be set right during the absorption. With her security clearances, it would be no problem to leave the building.

It frowned (learning human facial gestures had been one of the more challenging aspects of long-term inhabitation of these bodies, but by now it had become almost instinctive) as a thought occurred to it. The master had informed it that, since the meeting site had been so heavily reinforced with troops and weaponry, that Kriger must now know that his personal assistant was the spy. Maybe that was why the guard was in his office? The shifter was fairly confident, however, that the Director did not suspect that his aid was, in fact, a demon. They would be in for quite an unpleasant surprise if they attempted to kill or capture it. There was one other thing that concerned the shifter. It could sense that the Director was a shape-shifter, but did not know what kind. No matter. There were no cat- or wolf-shifters on this world that could stand up to its special abilities.

Before it could decide upon the best solution to the several nagging uncertainties, the Director’s office door opened, and Kriger stood in the doorway and told him, brusquely, to come inside. Just behind him, the shifter could see the tight-jawed features of the female guard, who stared coldly past the Director in his direction.

It was not to be a clean kill, after all. So be it.

The Warlock Executive
continues with Part 19
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:49 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:22 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 19

The shape-shifter got up from its desk and walked to Kriger’s door. The Director went back to stand before his desk, Colette beside him. It noticed that her hand rested, a little too casually, atop her Glock side-arm.

“Please close the door, Edouard,” Kriger requested in a chill voice, his arms folded across his massive chest, and the shifter complied, thinking quickly, and then turned to face the pair across the room.

Kriger stared at his assistant without speaking, for a moment. His features could have been chiseled from granite. This little man was directly responsible for the death of more than a hundred good people. At last he spoke. “It’s over, Edouard. You have been found out.” The man just stared back at him, his eyes narrowing. Angered, the Director’s brows lowered. “We know you are a spy. You have done a great deal of harm. You are going to tell us who your master is. Have no doubt about that.” He gestured to Colette. “Take him away. Get him out of my sight.”

Edouard did not react to the Director’s accusation but merely stood calmly before them, assessing the situation, ready to spring into action. Why, that’s a challenging look, Colette thought, surprised that the despicable man thought that he could defy them. She started forward, desperately hoping that the little weasel would resist his arrest, so that she could have the excuse to inflict a little damage. This bit of garbage was responsible for the murder of nearly a third of her pack brothers and sisters, and she would like nothing better than to sink her teeth into him and rip him into little bloody bits, but she supposed she would have to be content with a few bruises and broken fingers…or maybe a broken arm and a rib or two? It would be very nice, indeed, if the Director would allow her to assist with the interrogation.

Just as she reached out and seized him roughly by the shoulder, to spin him about and frog-march him out the door, Edouard…changed. His skin heaved fluidly under her hand, and the astonished Colette only had time to think, he’s a shape-shifter! before the short, thin, middle-aged man had disappeared and in his place stood an enormous bug, a head taller, clicking its mouth-parts and waving sharply serrated pinchers, one of which grasped her shoulder painfully, tearing the skin. Horrified, she cursed and drew her Glock nine-millimeter pistol and jammed it into the midsection of the creature, pulling the trigger repeatedly until the hammer came down on an empty chamber. All to no apparent effect, for the horrid thing now seized her with the pinchers on three additional legs, holding her fast, and, dropping the useless weapon from numb fingers, she could only close her eyes as it bent its head and those clicking jaws approached her face. Someone was screaming, and Colette realized it was herself.

At that moment, from behind her, came an enraged roar, deafening in its intensity, and the bug dropped her to the floor to face this new, greater threat. Seeping blood from the pincher wounds, Colette scrambled after the Glock, and as she scooped it up, she turned to see the insectoid locked in ferocious combat with an enormous dark brown bear, so huge that its head nearly scraped the ceiling, shaking off tatters and scraps of shredded clothing. The Director was now in the fight! She had never before seen him shift into his animal form, and it was truly awesome. Nearly two and a half meters high and more than five hundred kilograms of pure savage power, the bear embraced the insect in a crushing grasp. She could hear the hard chitinous shell of the creature cracking as it frantically waved its limbs, and as she watched Kriger-bear seized one of the legs in his jaws and ripped it from the body, leaving a gaping hole oozing greenish ichor.

Colette came out of her daze long enough to slap another clip into her Glock, but then the thing rippled - there was no other word to describe it - and suddenly the insectoid was gone and now the bear had a hairy and powerfully muscled creature in his grasp, nearly as large as himself. The thing had the head of a bull with curling horns, and it bellowed its rage, displaying multiple rows of shark-like teeth, lowering its head to try and gore the bear with the points of its horns. The bear ducked down and fastened its long fangs into the neck of the minotaur-beast, preventing it from connecting with its horns, whirling rapidly in a deadly dance, sending furniture crashing into the wall. A spiraling rain of blood splattered across the room. Locked firmly in the bear’s grip, the minotaur likewise buried its head into the shoulder of the bear, champing at it with those razor-edged teeth, but the bear’s thick fur defeated its efforts and minimized the damage it could do. Colette held her pistol up, ready to pump more slugs into the monster, but they were moving too fast for her to be sure of her aim.

The creature now began to bellow in pain as the bear’s fangs worked deeper and deeper into its neck, and then the sound of its anguish began to fail from the crushing pressure of those great hairy arms as the Director tightened his grip more and more, cutting off its air. Colette could hear sharp snapping sounds as its ribs began to break. The thing changed again, this time shrinking back into the Edouard form in an effort to break loose, and then into a bat-winged reptile, and then into a variety of other humans, some male, some female, then expanding back into the minotaur-beast, beating at the bear with its clawed hands, but through all these changes the great bear hung on with relentless determination, its jaws so full of monster flesh that its ferocious growls were muffled. Colette darted forward now and emptied her Glock again into the minotaur’s head, and jammed her hand into her pocket for her last reload.

The room was now filled with a high-pitched, breathless keening from the distressed creature. It started thrashing wildly, and extra arms and legs began sprouting from the shifter’s body, appearing and disappearing; multiple heads, some monster, some humanoid, screamed soundlessly, but the bear held on grimly and kept squeezing, and squeezing, tighter and tighter. The creature’s body began to sag and blur, losing any semblance to a recognizable form, and still the bear squeezed.

The shaggy brown bear at last stepped back, panting, and glared down at a pool of protoplasm on the floor, and then opened his mouth in a tremendous roar of victory. Lowering his huge paws, he staggered back, and Kriger-bear and Colette watched as the silvery pool began smoking and finally shriveled up to leave a large oily smear on the blood-splashed carpet. The bear now began shrinking in size, the hair being absorbed back into the body, and in a few moments the naked form of the Director stood before her, swaying briefly before collapsing to his knees, falling forward on his hands, sides heaving. Colette quickly holstered her weapon and ran to him, kneeling to put her arm across his shoulders. Kriger’s body was covered with small wounds, none by themselves apparently serious, but in combination resulting in considerable loss of blood.

Suddenly the office door was thrown open, and four men of her security force swarmed in, weapons ready, scanning the room and ready to deal with any threat. Just behind them, Renée hovered in the doorway, white-faced, one hand to her mouth, having summoned the security men but afraid to venture in on her own. Colette rose to her feet, raising a hand, palm outward, to assure them that there was no longer any immediate danger, and spoke quickly, “Parris! Get medical assistance for the Director! Quickly now! Run!” She winced and placed a hand on her left shoulder where the demon had cut her with its pincher, and brought it away covered in blood. Her shirt was soaked, as well; the thing had cut more deeply than she had noticed. Until just now, she had felt nothing, charged on adrenalin and caught up in the battle to save the Director. She wiped her hand on her pants; it could wait. “You men. Help the Director to a chair, and you, Renée, find something to cover him with.”

The men wasted no time in following her directions, dragging Kriger’s chair out from behind his desk to the center of the room and carefully lifting him into it, no easy task given the massive size of the man, while he grumbled. In moments, Renée came back into the room with a blanket, draping it over the Director’s shoulders and arranging it over his legs. An eternity seemed to pass while Colette waited impatiently, and then she heard the sound of feet running down the hallway. Two Health Services paramedics currently on duty in the D-14 headquarters building charged into the room carrying trauma kits and quickly assessed the situation. One of the men moved to the Director and began a rapid but careful inspection of his wounds, questioning him in a low voice, while the second man, noting Colette’s bloody shirt, came over to her. She tried to brush him away, but he just gave her a stony gaze and ignored her protests. He reached into his bag and came back with scissors, which he used to begin cutting away the fabric of her shirt.

With resignation, Colette submitted to his ministrations. Irritably, she snapped at the men of the security team, who were still hovering about protectively, “Go on. Get out of here. Guard the entry. It’s too crowded in here with all of you fumbling about.” She hesitated, and then added, “Good work on the quick response,” and indicated the door with her chin. Seeing that they were no longer needed, for the moment at least, the men headed for the outer office, only to stand politely aside as another figure ran into the room.

Marie Rose Saint-Just, also toting a trauma bag, rushed over to the Director’s side, where the paramedic had pulled the blanket down to his waist and was wiping him down with antiseptic pads, cleaning up the blood so he could assess the nature of his injuries. Kriger looked up and saw her standing beside him. “Madame Saint-Just,” he said wearily, and then turned to the paramedic. “Let her attend me. Go help your colleague with Sergeant Roche.” Marie Rose inspected his torso, noting the presence of several deep gashes in addition to numerous smaller cuts and abrasions, and opened up her kit, pulling out a syringe, a vial of Lidocaine, and a suture kit. “Sir, we need to get you stitched up,” she said, matter-of-factly, and when he nodded, she began to numb the first major gash.

He watched her work without comment, deftly handling the curved suture needle, pulling the edges of the wounds together and tying them off, knowing, as she did not, that most of the minor cuts would already be healed by the time she finished with the deeper gashes, due to the accelerated healing process of a shape-shifter. The Director pulled himself more upright in the chair; already he was feeling a little better, although the intense combat with the demonic shifter had left him exhausted. He smiled slightly as Marie Rose gave a slight exclamation of surprise, having discovered that some of his wounds had closed up on their own before she could get to them.

Just at that moment there was a light knock on the door-frame of his office, and he looked up to see Father Michael standing in the doorway, a look of concern on his features, and Marcel and Simone right behind him.

The Warlock Executive
continues with Part 20
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:50 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:22 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 20

As the Director waved them in, Michael and his three friends quickly entered the room. Michael took in the scene, the smashed and disarranged furnishings, which Renée was trying futilely to put back into some sort of order, the paramedics and the bandaged form of his superior, beside whom, to his surprise, Marie Rose Saint-Just was packing supplies back into a first-aid kit, and, facing the wall for privacy, Colette Roche, who was buttoning up a clean shirt, somewhat overlarge, that had been fetched for her. “Director! Are you all right? What has happened here?” he asked, his thoughts racing.

Kriger pulled the blanket up around him and stood up. “It seems that our spy, Edouard Leclerc, was much more than he seemed.” He turned to Renée, who was picking up the remnants of his desk supplies from the floor. He knew that this was just her way of keeping busy, and, out of her concern for his well-being, a way to stay close. “Renée, would you please fetch me a fresh suit out of the closet. I’ve been indecently exposed long enough. I need to get cleaned up,” and he turned to Michael, “and then we can talk. In the meantime, why don’t you let Colette fill you in on what has happened.”

“Sir, would you like me to take you to the hospital?” Colette ventured.

He shook his head, and started toward the door of the private washroom located in the side wall of his office, then stopped. “Colette, please clear everyone out of here, except for Michael and his team, and close the door. I’d also like you to remain, of course.” Renée handed him the requested clothing and, looking very tired, he stepped through the door.    

About twenty minutes later the washroom door opened and Kriger stepped out, snugging a dark blue patterned tie into the collar of a fresh white shirt with a suit jacket hanging over one arm. In his brief absence, Michael and his friends had managed to restore a semblance of order to the Director’s office, moving his newly scarred wooden desk back into position and cleaning the debris from the floor. The three agents were now seated on the couch against the wall, digesting what they had been told and quietly conversing among themselves, while Colette leaned against the door to the outer office, looking very alert.  

Kriger draped the jacket over the chair behind his desk, and came over to them and sat down heavily in the sofa chair at an angle to the couch. He sighed, and rubbed absently at the healing wound on his shoulder. “It has been an eventful day, has it not? More good people lost…Colette, would you join us, please.” He gestured at the other empty chair that made up the small grouping of furniture in the corner. “I’d offer you some tea, but it appears that my service has been smashed.” As he spoke, there was a discreet knock on the office door, and Colette, who had not yet taken a seat, opened the door (with her other hand on the butt of her Glock) to admit Renée, who was carrying a tray with a teapot and cups.

“My dear, that’s simply amazing!” Kriger exclaimed. “Now I must add mind-reading to your list of talents.” She set the tray down on the coffee table and started to pick up the pot, but the Director intervened. “Thank you, Renée, but we’ll just serve ourselves. See that we’re not disturbed, please.”

She straightened up, beaming at the compliment. “Sir, the agents you had me send to Les Signaraux have just returned to the building.”

“Very good, Renée. Inform their chief that I will speak to him a little later today.”

After his analyst had departed, Colette seated herself, and after everyone but her had poured themselves a libation, the Director continued. “Michael. Simone. Marcel. You have no idea how very pleased I am that the three of you survived the disaster at Meursault. What a tragedy this was! At least it uncovered our spy…but the cost was too high. Much too high.”

“Sir, we would have been here much sooner,” Michael apologized, “but the GIGN flew us and their own people directly to Paris for medical treatment and debriefing. It took several hours of explanations before they were willing to release us.”

Kriger paused to take a sip of tea, the tiny cup incongruous in his giant hand. “No help for that. I will assume that you were discreet concerning our agency?” When Michael assented, he continued, “I expect Colette filled you in on what happened here in the office…?” at which Colette nodded curtly, “…and we’ll discuss this presently, but first I want your impressions on Mersault. I have been taking reports all night, but I trust your instincts more than anything I might get from our GIGN liaisons.”

The three agents exchanged glances among themselves, and then Michael spoke up. “Sir, before I give my report, there are a couple of things you need to know right off. First…Tizona was taken from me.”

The Director’s face was grim. “That is distressing news, indeed. That sword was the most effective single weapon we had against demons, and I know that it must, as well, be a great personal loss to you. I’ll want to hear about the circumstances, and whether you think it can be recovered. What is the other item, that you think I need to know immediately?”

“I believe we have a clue as to who might be behind these attacks. The vampire who took my sword…”    

Kriger interrupted him immediately. “Vampire? Vampires were also involved?”

“Yes, sir, at least two separate groups. But, I’ll get to that. This vampire, called Billy, admitted that a warlock was responsible for the attack.”

“A warlock!” Kriger set his cup down and leaned forward. “Actually, that makes sense. It would take a magic user of high caliber to summon and control demons. In a way, this is not really news, but common sense. Did this…Billy…tell you who this warlock is?”

“No sir, he did not. He spoke to me during a lull in the battle, which started up again before I could ask any more questions.”

The Director sighed. “That is disappointing. At least, if this vampire was not lying, it tells us that one person was behind it all. It would have been a very bad thing if demons had somehow gained the ability to bring themselves to our world, on their own. It is unfortunate that the shape-shifter who had infiltrated my office did not survive to be questioned.” Unconsciously, he stroked his beard. “I fear we really are no closer to discovering the identity of the mastermind than we were before.

“Very well, then. I’ll want your written reports on my desk tonight, all three of you, but for now, let me have the high points. I want to know how many of these creatures were in on the attack, what kind of demons were involved and any weaknesses you may have noticed. I want to know how effective conventional weapons were, and above all, how did it go so badly wrong.”

Marcel spoke quickly, before Michael could answer. “Sir, it would be a good idea to have Monsieur Thibodeaux in on this. We were not all together during the battle, and he may have some insights that were not apparent to the rest of us. He is in the building.”

At the Director’s nod in her direction, Colette unsnapped her radio from its belt clip, and spoke briefly into it. Although she wore a tiny receiver in her ear, like all members of the security force, she carried a radio rather than a lapel mike so that she could communicate on any of several bands. “He’ll be down in a moment, sir” she informed Kriger.

Michael launched into his report. “I was very impressed with the preparations the troopers had made to protect the site against attack. They had heavy weapons, electronic surveillance of the exterior, and had emplaced a minefield around the perimeter and on the roads leading in.” He hesitated. “One of the techs running surveillance thought there were about a hundred hostiles coming in, but after that nobody was counting. I think that no one could have imagined an attack from so many demons, or that they would be so resistant to damage. Once they got inside the building…that was pretty much the end of any organized resistance, sir. It was a bloodbath.”

At that moment, another knock came on the exterior door, and Colette got up to admit André Thibodeaux, her superior, who had changed into a clean uniform but still had the look of a man who was at the limit of his strength. From somewhere he had obtained a strip of black cloth, and wore it tied around his upper arm as a sign of mourning for the members of his pack who had fallen at the battle of Meursault. He gave Colette a weary smile, and she gave him a reassuring squeeze on the arm. Simone bunched up a little tighter against Marcel to make room for him on the couch.

Michael had just opened his mouth to continue his assessment of the relative strengths of the GIGN troops versus the demonic attackers, when there was a loud rumble from somewhere nearby in the building, and alarms began to sound. All of those seated in the Director’s office immediately jumped to their feet. “That was an explosion!” Thibodeaux exclaimed. “We need to evacuate the building, right now! Colette!”

Colette already had her radio to her mouth. “Code Jericho!” she shouted. “Code Jericho! Get everybody out! This is no drill!” She and André immediately grabbed the Director by the arms and hustled him out of the office, weapons drawn and alert to any threat.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:51 pm; edited 2 times in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:22 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 21

The street before the Directorate headquarters was crowded with emergency vehicles; fire trucks, ambulances, and, prominently, two Ford vans lettered Déminage, the French term for bomb squad. The authorities had been quick to respond to the alarms set off in the building by the blast. Orange police barricades had been set up on either end of the block, and a crowd of the curious, most of them workers from nearby buildings, loitered before them; only the presence of gendarmes kept the overly curious and the foolhardy from venturing closer.

Michael and the Director were seated at a little table beneath the awning of a sidewalk café across the street from the Directorate headquarters and a few doors down, just outside the police cordon. Thibodeaux’s men kept the area in front of the restaurant clear of spectators, glaring sternly at any who, in their opinion, came too close. The café had been commandeered by the security chief as a convenient location to keep an eye on the activity around their building, although the customers had been none too happy to give up their ringside seats. Marcel and Simone occupied a table next to theirs, with Colette and a half-dozen other members of the D-14 security force hovering protectively about them. Colette had tried, unsuccessfully, to get the Director to move to a less exposed position inside the restaurant, but he had gruffly brushed aside her concerns.

On the table behind Kriger, Renée had her laptop computer open, connected to the wireless network inside the nearby headquarters building, and was keeping tabs on the chatter as the Déminage investigated the structure. She had also, at the Director’s instruction, sent a warning out to all of the field offices to be on high alert in case this was not an isolated attack. The handful of other exterior tables were all occupied by Directorate employees, and a few still stood watching, but after four hours outside in the June heat most had quickly grown bored with the lack of visible activity and had gone inside the café where the proprietor served coffee and pastries as they waited for the squad to finish its work. André Thibodeaux was across the street with the bomb squad, his Interpol credentials allowing him access.

Marcel and Simone were sharing a plate of pastry and discussing, in their native language, the strange nature of the creature that had attacked the Director. Although they had not been present during the attack, Colette, as eyewitness, had been able to describe how it had assumed a variety of shapes in rapid succession before finally being crushed into lifelessness by the Director in his bear form. As were-panthers, anything concerning shape-shifting was of considerable interest to the pair.

“I have always wondered,” Marcel observed, “how it is that in our panther forms we can be larger and more massive than our human shapes. To simply say that it is “magic” seems to me to be an inadequate explanation. Even magic cannot create something out of nothing!”

Simone delicately broke a piece from one of the croissants on a plate between them, and dipped it into her cup of café au lait before tucking it into her mouth, while she considered his question. “This seems to be true for all shape-shifters, is it not?” she said, when she had finished with it. “The Director, he is much larger as a bear than a man. The Leclerc demon, did it not take shapes that were both large and small?”

“In university, did we not learn that matter cannot be either created or destroyed?” Marcel’s reply was somewhat muffled by the much larger chunk of pastry he was chewing. “Even magic cannot change the physical laws of the universe.”

Simone pushed the remains of her croissant around on her plate with one finger, but did not take another piece for herself. “Possibly, no such laws are broken? Plants can create matter out of air, do they not? Carbon dioxide and water vapor and photosynthesis, and, voila! The plant grows. Maybe we shifters do something of the sort, create mass out of the air when we transform into an animal larger than ourselves, and shed it back into the air when we become human again?”

Marcel just stared at her. It made perfect sense. “Sweetie…I believe you have just come up with the first scientific theory of shape-shifting!”

He was about to say more, when he saw the figure of André Thibodeaux crossing through the barricades, heading in their direction. The head of Directorate security came up to the Director’s table and began to brief him on the situation.

Monsieur, the men of the déminage have finished going through the building,” he reported, in English. “They were able to locate large quantities of plastique hidden throughout the structure, tucked into ceiling panels, beneath the flooring, and within the walls.” Thibodeaux wore a puzzled look. “It is a mystery as to how the explosives were placed. In many cases, it would have required the walls or flooring to have been torn out and replaced. How could anyone do such a thing without anyone noticing?”

As one, both Michael and the Director said, “Warlock.” They looked at each other and then Kriger nodded to indicate Michael should continue.

“We now have some evidence to indicate that a warlock is directing these demons,” Michael informed him. “Unfortunately, we don’t yet know who it is.”

Kriger now interrupted. “You said ‘large quantities’ of explosives. How large is “large?”

“They recovered several hundred kilograms, I was told.” Thibodeuax hesitated. “Quite a bit of it was in the flooring under your office.”

“My God!” the Director exclaimed. “That much would have leveled the building! But the explosion we heard seemed relatively small.”

“That’s the funny thing, Monsieur le Directeur. The wiring was an absolute mess! Some of it looked quite professional, and in other places, as though it had been rigged by a lunatic. Some of the charges didn’t even have any wires attached. It doesn’t make any sense!”

“I would have to say that it is a very good thing that they were incompetent,” the Director observed dryly, “or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Neither the Director nor any of the agency employees were aware of the existence of the tiny demon imps, who could teleport across long distances and rematerialize inside sealed spaces such as beneath the flooring or inside the walls of the Directorate building. For several weeks, they had been transporting miniature bricks of C-4 plastic explosive into the agency headquarters on the orders of their master, popping in and out of hidden structural spaces without anyone noticing. The warlock Klaus Dortmund had personally prewired all of the blocks with detonators, but he had been forced to depend upon the little demons to make the final connections, and unfortunately for his intentions, the creatures were neither very bright or very adept at following instructions of a technical nature. As a result, although the explosives had been placed perfectly to do incalculable damage, the wiring had been so botched that only one small section, less than two kilos of explosive, was actually wired correctly to explode.

Dortmund had been quite aware of the limitations of the little idiots, of course, but had counted on the sheer quantity of explosive that had been planted so that at least some of it would have been ready to detonate. As a last step, he had sent two of the imps to drop transceivers on the rooftops of buildings next to the Directorate, so that he could have the pleasure of triggering the explosion himself. By tapping into the Lyon network of street cameras, he would be able to watch the final destruction of his enemies.

When his little spies, watching from concealment across the street, had informed him that the damnable priest and much of the Directorate security force had returned to their headquarters, Dortmund had picked up the transmitter, and with great anticipation, pressed the button to detonate the explosive charges. His view of the building was, however, rewarded only by a small puff of dust surging out a couple of shattered windows at street level, not the wholesale devastation he expected. He had thumbed the button savagely again, and again, with no better results, before tossing the transmitter aside in disgust.

“So, André,” the Director now asked his security chief, “when can we return to our building?”

“It should be soon, monsieur. Once they have finished removing all of the explosives from the site in safety containers, I expect the gendarmes will give us the all clear to return.”

Colette, who had never relaxed her watch of the surroundings for an instant, now spotted a Fedex truck coming slowly down the street, the driver clearly taken aback by the police presence and the barricades blocking him from proceeding further. “Sir,” she said urgently, “please go inside, off the street. That truck,” she pointed with her radio, “might be carrying more explosives.”

Kriger looked away from Thibodeaux, up the street, and saw that the truck had stopped a half a hundred meters short of the cordon and the driver had climbed out and was talking to some bystanders on the sidewalk. He cocked his head, and then nodded reluctant agreement and rose to take shelter in the back of the café, followed by Michael and his team, Renée, and two of the security men. Thibodeaux made a gesture with his chin at Colette. “Go check it out. See what they’re doing here.”

Colette trotted down the street, radio in one hand and her Glock in the other. The driver saw her coming with her weapon out, and, visibly alarmed, looked around quickly and then put his hands up in a surrender gesture. When she came up to him, she began to speak rapidly to him, and he replied with expansive gestures, pointing to the interior of the truck. By this time, they had been joined by two officers of the city’s Police nationale force, and Colette holstered her weapon and the four of them went to the back of the truck. The driver and one of the officers went inside, and in just a minute the man returned with a long, thin, and securely wrapped package.

“Put it on the ground, and back away,” Colette ordered. The driver shrugged expressively, visibly annoyed, but did as ordered, standing on the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets. One of the officers spoke on his radio, and a minute or two later, one of the bomb squad handlers showed up with his dog. The dog sniffed around the package for a bit, unimpressed, and the handler then took his canine partner into the back of the truck. They came out in a few minutes and gave Colette and the officers a thumbs-up, while his dog sat down, wagging its tail. The bomb expert gave him a treat and patted him on the head, and then they returned back the way they had come.

The waiting driver now came back to the truck, giving Colette a told-you-so expression, and, reaching into the cab of his truck, brought out a digital pad and handed it to her for her signature. She scrawled her name with the stylus, reached down to scoop up the package, and trotted back to where André was waiting expectantly. Being at the moment in conversation with the Incident Commander of the Sapeurs-pompiers for this section of Lyon, he simply held a hand up and so she waited patiently for them to finish. As soon as the fire chief went back across the street, where the firemen were removing the barricades and the trucks were packing up, he took the package from her and inspected the label carefully. He frowned, but only said “Hmm,” and turned his attention back to Colette.

“The commander has given us permission to return to our building, so pass the word out here,” he instructed. “I’ll take this inside and let the Director know.” He tucked it under his arm and then disappeared with it inside the café.

The Director was now occupying a large dining table inside, around which were also seated Michael and his team. Renée had her laptop open on the table, but for the moment was not engrossed in its contents, instead quietly conversing with Simone. Kriger looked up as Thibodeaux approached, surprise on his face as he saw the package. Before the Director could speak, André informed him that the headquarters building had been cleared and it was now safe to return.

“Very good, André. It has been a rather long wait, and we did not need this kind of delay when our agency is in the middle of a crisis! We need to get our people back at their desks, ready to deal with the fallout from the Meursault disaster, and to find out who is responsible for the bombs in our building!” Kriger’s voice rose slightly, a remarkable occurrence but one that indicated that he was feeling the stress of recent events. Thibodeaux spoke briefly to one of his force, and the man began politely dislodging Directorate employees from their tables and sending them back across the street.

As this was being done, Kriger eyed the package Thibodeaux was holding. “Now what is it that you have there?” He reached up to take the package, but André merely shook his head slightly, saying, “Je suis désolé monsieur, it is addressed to the Father,” before handing the package to Michael. Momentarily startled by this turn, the Director smiled ruefully at his own presumption. “The déminage dog checked it out,” the security man continued, “and cleared it for explosives, but I would still use extreme caution in opening it. Director, if you would humor me, please, by stepping away from the table?”

Michael set the package down on the table and then they all stood up, the Director taking a few steps back but, to Thibodeaux’s unspoken displeasure, remaining close enough to witness the opening of the box. Michael leaned over and read the label. “There’s no return address,” he announced. The package was a little over a meter long and perhaps twenty centimeters wide by half that much. Marcel reached into his boot, pulled out a combat knife, and began to cut away the packaging tape. In short order, he had it all stripped away. “Father?” he inquired, raising an eyebrow. Michael nodded, and Marcel gingerly lifted the cardboard of the edge with the point of his blade until, impatiently, Michael took hold of it and folded it back to expose the contents.

Dios mío!” he gasped, staggered by the sight of Tizona nestled among the tissue paper packaging. He dropped heavily back into his chair, and then reached out to touch the shining blade with his fingertips, as though it might disappear before his very eyes. “It cannot be! But how?”

“There is something beneath it, Père.” Simone carefully reached into the box and lifted the point of the sword to extract the envelope that rested beneath. “It has your name on it,” she said, and handed it to him.

Michael took the envelope with trembling fingers and fumbled at the seal. Marcel reversed his knife and handed it to him, hilt first; Michael took it and slit the top of the envelope with great care. Inside, folded precisely with sharp creases, were three sheets of expensive linen stationary, the color of fresh cream.

The dumbfounded priest unfolded the first sheet. It was embossed in the corner with the initials “M.E.V.” On the page, written in an exquisite script, was a message in Italian. “It’s an archaic form of the language,” Michael commented, more to himself, and then he read it slowly out loud, translating for the others.

“Seek you the spider plotting in his web
Deep beneath the ancient London City
Evil are his creatures, bringers of death
Act swiftly now to smite this foul villain
Remove his evil stain upon this world

“The signature on the bottom is M. E. Velli,” Michael finished, and looked up at his friends.

Simone extended her hand. “Michael, may I see that, s'il vous plaît?” The priest handed the page to her, and while she examined it, the Director commented, “Rather bad poetry, but it gives us our first real lead on the location of the warlock, which is what I presume this ‘Velli’ person means by ‘the spider.’”

Marcel was not so sure. “If it can be trusted. It might just be intended to send us off in the wrong direction.”

“There is the fact of the sword,” the Director said flatly. “That is pretty convincing. It was taken from Michael during the attack, and now here it is. The warlock would not have wanted to give it up, so whoever sent it must be close to him but is obviously working against him.” He paused. “We need to know who this Velli is.” He sat back down at the table, and the others followed his lead.

Simone, during this exchange, had brought the page up close to her face and inhaled deeply, frowning as she did so. “Vampire,” she informed them. “Whoever handled this was a vampire.”

Marcel’s face darkened. “Vampires are all liars. We can trust nothing he says.”

Kriger turned to Renée. “See if there is a vampire named Velli, or some variant, in our database.” She immediately began to consult her computer, bringing up the Directorate’s extensive compendium of information on known supernatural beings.

Michael cleared his throat, and then laid the second page down on the table top in front of the Director. “I believe this speaks to his credibility. Velli warns us that the warlock has planted explosives in our building, and suggests that we immediately evacuate.”

Kriger snorted. “Hah! A bit too late, wouldn’t you say? But you are right, that is further proof that the author of these pages has firsthand knowledge of the warlock’s plans…and is trying to help us.”

Marcel continued stubbornly to insist, “I still do not like this. When has a vampire ever helped us, in anything? They are the enemy, not friends or allies.”

“True enough,” Kriger agreed. “But vampires are always self-serving. He would not help us unless there was something to be gained by it.” He tapped the page with his finger. “Take a look at this little postscript.” He spun the page around so Marcel could read it. “It’s in English.”

“Should our paths cross in the future, perhaps you will remember this little favor,” the young French agent read aloud. “It seems Velli expects his activities will bring him into conflict with us one day, and is asking to be treated gently.” He slid the page back across to the Director. “Merde. It’s not enough. Why would he risk angering a powerful warlock, in return for some future tolerance by us?”

Renée broke in, apologizing for the interruption. “I’m sorry, sir. We have no information on any vampire or other supernatural, or any person, named Velli.”

“It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” the Director observed, quoting Winston Churchill’s 1939 radio speech regarding the mystery of Russia’s intentions. “Regardless, we have to take it seriously. Michael, what is that third page you are holding onto?”

Michael laid the last document on the table. It was a hand-drawn schematic of the interior of a building, with a number of marginal notes in English, written in the vampire’s delicate script. “I suppose you might call this the pièce de résistance. It is a blueprint of the parking level of the Dortmund Building in London. According to the notes, there is a still lower level that is the workshop of the warlock, just beneath the garage.”

“Ah, the spider’s nest!” Kriger exclaimed.

Michael laid a fingertip on part of the diagram. “The plan shows a hidden elevator shaft, next to the public elevators. Velli’s notes state that this elevator connects the workshop to the office and penthouse of the building’s owner, Klaus Dortmund.”

The Director leaned back in his chair, drumming his fingertips on the tabletop while he considered this new information. “Well, there you have it,” he said, after a moment. “Whether or not we can trust this vampire, too many of the pieces are coming together. I think we need to act upon this information, and soon. We have some planning to do.”

Even Marcel found himself nodding in agreement with this last statement.

The Warlock Executive
continues with Part 22
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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:23 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 22

Cherie, you look absolutely magnifique!” Marcel exclaimed in a low voice. He and Simone were seated in a dark red 2016 Mini Cooper Convertible parked a few blocks down the street from the Dortmund Building in London, the top folded down. Simone was wearing a black silk blouse, cut rather low in the front with a choker of matched black pearls, and a straight black pencil skirt, all of which really set off her pale skin and light blonde hair. She had just applied glossy red lipstick, and a touch of eyeshadow accented her beautiful light blue eyes. Simone was dressed to kill, in a tastefully subdued manner. She pulled the visor mirror down for one last look, tucked in a stray hair behind her ear, and pushed the visor back up.

Further down the street, Michael sat on the left in the passenger seat of a parked nondescript dark blue Ford Transit Custom van with heavily tinted windows, André Thibodeaux behind the wheel on the right. Although they had brought their vehicles over from France, they were equipped to follow the English custom of driving on the left side of the road. The sword Tizona lay in her sheath on the floorboard between the two front bucket seats, blade pointing toward the back. Colette Roche was directly behind Michael, and behind her in the third row, two men hand-picked by André from the Directorate security force, also members of his werewolf pack. Beneath the seats were a couple of small, two-handled duffels and a backpack; they did not contain weapons, but a number of useful items they had purchased locally that afternoon.

Renée Dupont and her high-powered laptop occupied the back compartment of the van. Renée was having a little trouble repressing her excitement and assuming the professional demeanor of her colleagues, because this was her very first field assignment. She had just a touch of supernatural in her bloodline; her grandmother had been a full-blooded fairy and so Renée was one-quarter Fae. Her heritage had manifested in small ways, in her buoyant disposition, strict vegetarianism, and high level of nighttime energy, but she had inherited no supernatural powers of any kind. Kriger preferred to staff the Directorate with persons having some connection to the supernatural world, and thus more likely to accept the unusual nature of their work. Although a civilian rather than an agent, Renée’s technical expertise would be critical to the success of the mission.

All were waiting for the operation to begin. They had been given very little time by the Director to prepare. Velli’s note had suggested that time was a critical factor: “Act swiftly now,” it had read, and so now, less than twenty-four hours after the sword had been returned to Michael at the Lyon café, he and his team were waiting for the minutes to count down. The Director had decided, and Michael had agreed, that it would be best to keep the size of the strike team to a minimum. Only eight agency people would be directly involved in the operation.

This was going to be a “black” operation by necessity, because Kriger was certain that the British government was not in the mood to cooperate in a joint venture on British soil. The last such cooperative venture, the assault on the zombie factory of Marie Rose Saint-Just, had ended with the deaths of four London police officers. Moreover, Klaus Dortmund was a British citizen of considerable wealth and prestige, and the authorities would not favor an operation mounted against him on the sort of speculative evidence they possessed, never mind the supernatural aspects. As a result, the team had entered the United Kingdom surreptitiously on false passports, having made some minor alterations to their appearance, in order to avoid having their passports flagged at Customs and Immigration. It was not that they were on any sort of criminal or terrorist watch list, but simply to avoid coming to the attention of British officials who might wonder why so many members of an Interpol agency had come to their country.

It would be a very bad situation if the British authorities caught any of the team using false passports, certain to cause some sort of diplomatic incident. The necessities of the operation required them to maintain a covert presence in England, and so Kriger was willing to take the heat if they were discovered. This was his call, and there was to be none of that “Mission Impossible” nonsense about the agency disavowing any knowledge of their existence.

They had come over through the Eurotunnel beneath the Channel on the Shuttle, their vehicles loaded onto the train at Calais, France. None of them had been able to bring weapons, since all passenger luggage is x-rayed, and all vehicles closely inspected for contraband. Michael was able to bring Tizona and his ornate dagger into the country, although there were a few tense moments at Customs until he had been able to present his phony but convincing credentials as a dealer in medieval antiques. The trip beneath the English Channel had taken little more than a half-hour, and they were able to drive their vehicles off the train at the Folkestone Terminal on the English side in mid-morning.

There was one additional member of the team, one who was not part of Directorate 14, one whose official position in Britain would be sorely needed if things turned out badly for the team. Detective Inspector Ian Mackenzie of Scotland Yard was waiting in an unmarked police car about a block away; he would be in constant contact with the team during the operation, although he would not otherwise take part unless needed. The Inspector would be their escape plan if the operation went wrong. He would be able to use his authority to delay any response by the London police if alarms began to sound in the Dortmund Building.

Recruiting Mackenzie had required a considerable amount of persuasion. He had taken quite a bit of flak from his superiors after the zombie affair some weeks previously when four police officers had been killed. The authorities had been more willing to place the blame on Interpol and the Directorate than one of their own, however, and the Inspector had managed to emerge with his reputation and rank still intact. Michael had quietly contacted Mackenzie soon after their arrival in London, and arranged for a lunchtime meeting on the Thames waterfront a few blocks from Scotland Yard. Mackenzie had been rather reluctant, at first, to have anything further to do with D-14 and supernatural creatures, but at heart, he burned to have revenge against the person responsible for the death of his men and so Michael had been able to talk him into a supporting role.

Renée had been hard at work on her computer for most of the last twenty-four hours, going with virtually no sleep at all, fueled by strong French coffee, to gather the intelligence needed before they went to London and confronted the warlock. There had been a ton of material on Klaus Dortmund; he was a billionaire, one of the richest men in the world, and a power player in the world of high-tech electronics. There was, however, very little concrete information about the man himself, apparently a very reclusive individual, and no indication that he had any connection to the supernatural. It had been no particular surprise to discover that the construction blueprints for the Dortmund Building on file in the city did not completely correspond with the diagram Velli had provided. The official plans did not show either the deep, hidden space beneath the three-level subterranean car park (as such garages were termed in the United Kingdom) or the private elevator from the penthouse to the secret lair of the warlock.

The trickiest part of the mission, for Renée, would be to hack into Dortmund’s security system. So far, she had been unable to break through. As the seconds ticked by toward the designated mission launch time, the team waiting patiently in their vehicles, she directed one unsuccessful cyber-attack after another at the building’s network with mounting frustration. Renée was a world-class hacker, and had been living very much off the radar when Kriger had located her and offered her a legitimate job with the agency, one that would make good use of her exceptional skills, but she had never encountered anything as tough as the firewalls that guarded this building’s security. Dortmund made his living in computer electronics, and his safeguards were as good as anything she had ever encountered, maybe even as good as the Pentagon. She bit her underlip, almost to the point of tears; more than anything, she did not want to let down the Director and these good people.

Suddenly, just minutes before the scheduled jump-off time, the last firewall came down, and she was able to insinuate herself smoothly into the network without setting off any alarms. Renée almost shouted in triumph. Quickly she collected herself, and simply announced quietly, “I’m in.” One of the men in the seat just ahead of her, Louis Reux, turned and gave her a “thumbs-up” with a big smile, while in the front, Michael gave a small sigh of relief. The men in the van had kept very quiet, making little conversation, knowing that Renée needed her full concentration to do what was needed to crack the net. Now that she had access to the security cameras, she located the ones in the parking structure, and most particularly the ones that watched the entry into the underground levels.

The most critical part of their hastily-conceived plan was how to gain access to the lower levels undetected, and this meant defeating the cameras, in such a way to make it look as though nothing was happening when in reality quite a bit might be going on. She had been able, earlier, to pull up information on the company that provided security for the Dortmund Building, and determine what type of system was in use there. It would have to be a hard-wired system, since wireless surveillance was just too easy to jam, even by relatively unsophisticated amateur criminals.

Dortmund’s security system employed a large number of Internet Protocol cameras, which used cables to tie into the building’s Internet. This was a much more versatile system than analog closed-circuit cameras, and protected against hackers by a series of formidable firewalls. But Renée was no ordinary hacker, and now she not only could control what the building’s security force was able to see on their cameras, she could also disable the alarms. Right now, she was busy creating a number of short video loops, which she could insert into the feed of specific cameras, that when activated would show nothing at all out of the ordinary taking place.

“Okay, I’m done,” she informed her companions. “I can interrupt the camera feeds in the car park and replace them with what I want them to see.”

André Thibodeaux glanced at his watch, for perhaps the hundredth time since they had arrived in their present positions, and relayed this information to Marcel, who was also waiting impatiently in the little red Mini about fifty meters further up the street, listening through his earbud to hear when Renée had succeeded in her important task.

Marcel turned to Simone, literally grinning from ear to ear. “Well, mon chaton, it’s showtime!”

It was precisely seven p.m.

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:53 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:23 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 23

Marcel leaned over and gave Simone a long and sensual kiss, squeezed her neck affectionately, and then unfolded himself out of the Mini. She shifted into first gear and, checking her mirror carefully - it would not do to have a traffic accident at this stage of the game - pulled out into the street. Her fiancé stood waiting in the empty curb space for no more than seconds before the dark blue van pulled up beside him and the side door slid open. He climbed into the back and pulled the door shut, and the van sped off, close behind the Mini.

Simone handled the little car expertly, shifting smoothly as she maneuvered through traffic. The Mini was a pleasure to drive; in fact, her personal car was a Mini very much like this one, except silver in color. In France, as in the United States, cars drove on the right, and so there might have been some slight awkwardness in having the steering wheel on the right side, but she had practiced with this car for about an hour in a parking lot in Lyon until her reflexes were automatic. The Dortmund building was only a couple of city blocks away, and the traffic light at this hour, so in only a few minutes they had arrived.

The Dortmund Building was no architectural showcase, being more-or-less an upright rectangular box of thirty-five stories, a somber-looking structure clad top to bottom in a black-tinted glass curtain wall. Although at 160 meters in height, it was overtopped by many other buildings in the London metro area, it visually dominated the skyline of the block on which it resided. The building’s footprint was eighty meters by fifty; access to the three-level underground car park was via a street-level ramp that was equipped with a guard booth and a barrier gate with a mechanical boom arm. Over the garage entrance was a sign in large letters that read:

Permit or Visitor Pass Required

The entire building was occupied by the Dortmund Power & Automation Group. Employees of the company would simply swipe their cards at the gate, which automatically raised the boom to allow them to enter or exit. Visitors, however, had to check in with the guards at the gate to obtain a temporary parking pass, which, when swiped, recorded the log number and the times of arrival or departure. This information had been determined by Renée during her online research on the giant corporation, along with high-resolution satellite imagery and several panoramic street-side views that were readily available on the Internet using a popular virtual globe utility program.

As she approached the garage entrance, Simone flipped on her turn signal, announcing her intent to other vehicles, and, at the exact same moment, Renée inserted the thirty second, seamlessly looping shot of an empty entryway. She had, carefully, and with great difficulty, managed to capture a clip in which the street visible outside was devoid of vehicles, so anyone watching the footage in the building’s security operations center would not see the same cars passing by, over and over. Even so, a long period in which the street view remained completely empty would be nearly as suspicious, so they had to move quickly.

The Mini pulled into the entryway and came to a rather abrupt stop before the gate, as if the driver had not been expecting such a barrier. The guard in the booth beside the gate, wearing a blue uniform with the Dortmund logo on his breast pocket, slid his glass window open, and then his eyes widened slightly as he took in the sight of this delicious young blonde creature in an expensive and sexy dress, driving a jazzy red sports car. Behind him, his colleague was watching the bank of monitors that represented the cameras mounted throughout the three levels of the parking structure. He frowned slightly at the view of the entryway, which had become fuzzed with static, and reached out to tap the glass of the monitor with his finger. The views on these monitors were duplicated upstairs in the security center, with this one exception. Obviously the view of the entry in the guard booth could not be empty, since there was a car sitting in it right now. The talented Renée was very busy right now, juggling many plates.

“Can I help you, miss?” The guard at the booth inquired politely. “Who are you here to see?”

Excusez-moi monsieur est-ce pas l'Hôtel Intercontinental?” Simone rattled off in rapid French, batting her eyes at him shamelessly. The man was staring down appreciatively at the curving landscape of her bosom from his slightly elevated position.

He recovered quickly and became politely professional again. “Umm…I am sorry, miss, I do not speak French. This is not a hotel, if that’s what you’re asking. This is the headquarters of the Dortmund Group.”

“Dortmund Group? Qu'est-ce qu'un Groupe de Dortmund? J'essaie de trouver…I am…looking? Yes, looking…for…hotel mine?” The girl was clearly flustered and getting upset. “So many streets…they all look alike, no? Si confus!” The man could swear that, any moment, she was going to break into tears. He would love to buy this beautiful girl a drink and give her some consolation, but he knew that wasn’t going to happen, not with this woman in her expensive dress and jewelry. Besides, his shift wasn’t over until eleven. Regretfully, he decided he needed to end this conversation, as charming as it might be, and send her on her way before other cars showed up at the entry, even though it was after hours.

“Ah, excusez-moi, mademoiselle,” he said, “vous avez…the wrong place.” He spoke slowly and loudly, as people tend to do to foreigners and the hard-of hearing. The man was proud that he could remember that much French, at least. “You have to go.” He pointed back out the entryway, hoping that she got the picture.

The girl appeared to understand at last, and reached down to the stick-shift. He rolled his eyes as she managed to put it into reverse with a grinding of gears, and with only a quick glance into her rear-view mirror, let up on the clutch. The Mini jerked backwards, just in time to collide with the front bumper of a dark blue Ford van that had, just at that moment, pulled in behind her. The guard swore, and the blonde in the Mini exclaimed something that he was sure must be very unladylike language. The door of the van opened and the driver stepped out, a tall and rather stern-looking man with a military haircut.

Behind him, the other guard looked up from the monitors. “What’s going on out there, Fred?”

“Got an accident at the gate. I’ll be back in a moment, soon as I get this straightened out.” Fred pushed the button to raise the boom arm and stepped out of the booth. His companion got up from his seat in front of the monitors and came to the window to see what was going on.

As André made a show of inspecting the bumper of the van for damage, Fred walked around to the right side of the car to speak to Simone. “Miss…would you drive forward, through the gate? Park in the visitor’s space beside the booth.” She only looked at him with bewilderment. This woman was becoming less enchanting by the moment, he thought, and turned to André, who had finished his examination and now was standing beside him. “Sir…by any chance, do you speak French? This lady does not seem to understand English very well.”

The security chief looked at him and said innocently, in perfect Cockney, “Sorry mate, I don’t speak a word of Frog.”

The guard turned back to Simone, and with exaggerated gestures indicated that she should pull forward through the gateway. Now she rolled her eyes, obviously put out, and shifted into first, again accompanied by a clashing of gears which made Fred wince. She popped the clutch and the car lurched forward a few feet and stalled. Muttering under his breath, the guard demonstrated with his hand that she should start the car again and give it another try. At that moment, André asked the guard if he had called the Metro police, diverting his attention. Simone reached under the dash and inconspicuously flipped a switch that had been installed before they left France.

In the back of the van, Renée was sweating. They needed to finish this little comedy up quickly. If it went on for much longer, someone up in the security center might notice that the camera with the street view had not shown any activity for a curiously long time.

Impatiently, Fred motioned for her to try again. Simone turned the ignition key, and the starter cranked and cranked, but the engine would not catch. Unknown to him, the hidden switch had cut off the fuel pump, so it did not matter how long she held the key down, the engine would never start.

By now, Fred was desperately wishing that this female, no matter how attractive she was, had never showed up at his garage. Feeling a lot less polite, he made a chopping motion with his hand for Simone to desist in her efforts to start the car, and turned to the booth, where the other guard was smiling, highly amused at his colleague’s distress. “Kenny, get out here. We are going to have to push this thing out of the way.” Without a word, Kenny merely raised his eyebrows and started for the door of the booth.

Fred pointed to the gearshift. “Miss, please put it in neutral, would you?” Evidently she caught his meaning, because she immediately complied. The two men got behind the car and began to push. Despite its small size and light weight, the car did not move. Fred and Kenny stood up. Fred walked back around to the driver’s side of the car and looked in. “Christ, miss, you’ve got the parking brake on!”

She blinked in confusion, blue eyes innocently wide. “Qu'est-ce qu'un ‘parking brake’?”

Exasperated, Fred leaned over into the car to point at the designated apparatus. “That is…” he started to say, and stopped abruptly when Simone reached up and stabbed him in the neck, directly into the muscle, with a small syringe loaded with succinylcholine, a paralytic agent similar to curare in its effects, but safer. “What…!” he started to say, and then she threw her arm around his neck and pulled him down against the door frame, holding him tightly while the drug rapidly began to induce muscle paralysis. At the same time, André turned to Kenny and punched him in the stomach, very hard, knocking the wind out of him so that he doubled over, clutching his abdomen and unable to offer any resistance. Marcel threw open the side door of the van and scrambled out, followed by Colette and the two other security men, and they quickly moved to help André hustle the two guards inside the booth, out of sight.

As soon as Fred had been taken off her hands, Simone reversed the fuel pump cutout switch and turned the car’s ignition. After a long moment in which she thought maybe it would not start for real, the motor caught, and she threw it into gear and drove it forward into the garage, pulling into an empty parking space about fifteen meters inside, shutting off the engine and getting out. She stood by the car, waiting for the van, now driven by Michael, which had followed her inside and now stopped beside her, the side door still open and the engine running. Colette and Marcel trotted over from the entry and stood beside her, all carefully scanning the parking level for any evidence that the activity at the booth had been observed. Both vehicles were now out of view of the cameras at the entryway, but Renée could not yet return the cameras here to a live feed, not until the action at the booth was over.

Inside the booth, the two Dortmund guards were quickly bound with a roll of duct tape that had been inside one of the duffels in the van and were tucked out of sight beneath the counter at the window. André reached into his shirt pocket and extracted a small syringe. He uncapped it and leaned down to give an injection to the man who Simone had incapacitated with the paralytic. The man was having some trouble breathing, which was to be expected, and was why the security chief had not put any tape over his mouth, not yet, at least. For the moment, the man was incapable of moving, let alone speaking. André’s syringe contained pyridostigmine, which would soon counteract the effects of the succinylcholine. They did not want to hurt anyone, after all, or at least not badly, since these booth guards were probably just working stiffs doing their job and had no idea what their employer, Dortmund, was actually up to.

The other two men of his team, Julien and Louis, were already wearing uniforms identical to those of Fred and Kenny, right down to the Dortmund logo on the pockets. They would be manning the booth for a time, while their comrades carried out the rest of the operation, so that all would appear normal to anyone who might come by. Both spoke flawless English, one reason that Thibodeaux had selected them; he only hoped that no one from the building would come by and recognize them as not belonging. The guard’s shift was not due to end for nearly four hours yet. He straightened up and put the cap back on the empty syringe, returning it to his pocket, and then nodded toward the paralyzed man.

“We’ll keep an eye on him, sir,” Julien reassured him. “Soon as he’s breathing a little better, we’ll get some tape on his mouth. You go do what you need to do, and good luck to you! Please do kick his butt, for me.” Although everyone in the Directorate was grieving for lost comrades, and the men killed at Meursault had been members of their pack and close friends, they had a critical job to do now and would mourn later. The Mini Cooper had been left for them, should they need an escape vehicle later. Both the Mini and the van would be abandoned in London; neither vehicle was traceable to the Directorate.

André smiled grimly and nodded back, and then left the booth, swiftly covering the short distance to the van. Seeing him coming, the two agents and Colette scrambled inside, and as soon as he reached the vehicle he did the same, forcefully sliding the side door shut. Michael fed gas to the engine and took off, taking the ramps down until he had reached the lowest level. As soon as they arrived at their destination, the bank of elevator doors, Renée killed the loops for all of the cameras on the upper two levels, allowing them to return to normal operation, heaving a silent sigh of relief as she did so.

Michael found a parking space very close to the elevators and eased the van into it, and then turned off the ignition. “Well, here we are.”

André turned around in his seat and addressed Renée. “Inform the Inspector,” he directed, and then slid the van door open again. The three men of this operational team, André, Michael and Marcel, and the two women, Simone and Colette, got out of the van, extracting the backpack and duffel bags as they did so, and together, they turned to look at the elevator doors.

“That warlock skum is down there,” Colette said, her expression cold and fierce. “It’s time for him to pay for what he did.”

In the back of the van Renée, who would keep the seamless video loops running on this level to conceal their movements, and who would assist in other important ways as the operation progressed, sent a text message to Inspector Mackenzie, who was waiting patiently in his car a short distance from the Dortmund building. He was very much hoping that his services would not be needed, and this mission by the Directorate would not turn into a bloody balls-up like the last one.

His phone beeped, and he opened it to find the message waiting for him. “Stage One complete. No problems. Now beginning Stage Two.”

The Warlock Executive
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:54 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:23 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 24

The five members of the Directorate strike team stood in front of the row of three elevators, or “lifts” as they were called in Britain. All were wearing black denim jeans and black tee-shirts, Simone having changed in the van from an extra set of clothing in one of the duffels. Michael had foregone his usual cassock for this operation, and now had Tizona in her scabbard slung diagonally across his back, the hilt protruding above his left shoulder where he could seize it quickly at need. This and the dagger in his boot were the only weapons among them all, since smuggling guns into Britain or attempting to purchase them here was just too risky. Over the sword, he wore a small black backpack, and on his forehead was an LCD electric light, held in place by an elastic strap.

Marcel and André were carrying the two small duffels that had been stashed in the van. These contained a few items that would be needed, but were mostly empty. The bags would be used to stash the clothing of the shape-shifters, to be retrieved as soon as they had carried out their attack on the warlock. It simply would not do to have four naked people strolling down the streets of London, nor were-panthers or werewolves.

The elevator shafts were the key to breaking into the warlock’s secret lair. They knew its location, from the marginal notes the vampire Velli had penned, in tiny script, on the hand-drawn diagram he had sent. His hideout was connected to his office on the thirty-fourth floor and to the penthouse above, but had no other access within the building. The official blueprints Renée had obtained showed that the Dortmund Building had two separate banks of elevators, as required by law for large office and other high-rise buildings. For this building, the elevators were located at the opposite ends of the structure, front and back. Both sets would convey employees and visitors to and from the parking levels, but access to the warlock’s secret space was provided only by a concealed shaft in the rearmost set.

The number of elevator cars that could be housed in a single shaft, known as a “hoistway,” was set by building codes. By law, no more than three adjacent cars could move up and down through a single hoistway. The Dortmund Building had been designed so that two sets of three high-speed elevator cars could handle the daily traffic. On the front end of the building, this had been accomplished by the construction of a single, three-car hoistway made of poured concrete reinforced with steel bars. The presence of the warlock’s private elevator car at the rear of the structure, however, meant that there would be four adjacent cars in the grouping. In order to secure approval of the building inspectors, there had to be two separate hoistways, side by side, to house these cars. Three of the cars were public; the fourth was the warlock’s alone.

This was accomplished by construction of two adjacent hoistways that each accommodated two cars. For the Directorate operation, the beauty of this arrangement was that the warlock’s secret elevator door, in the hidden level, could be accessed from the bottom of the hoistway that also contained a public car. This was a significant mistake on Dortmund’s part. The building regulations would have allowed an arrangement of two hoistways, one of which housed the three public cars, the other holding only the private car, and there would have been no practical way to get into the private shaft short of using explosives or powerful tools to cut through the reinforced concrete in between.

They were standing in front of the elevator door furthest to the right. Immediately to the right of this last door was nothing but a blank concrete wall, but they knew that the shaft for the warlock’s private car was right behind it. André rummaged around in his duffel and extracted a rod about fifteen centimeters long, with a “tee” handle at the top. This was a drop key, used by building inspectors, emergency personnel, and maintenance workers to open the elevator’s exterior doors to access the shaft. Such keys were only sold to authorized personnel, since it allowed a person to open the doors right into an empty shaft, but Mackenzie had been easily able to provide one for them despite the short notice. He did, however, want it back, if possible.

André spoke into the microphone clipped to the collar of his shirt. “Renée. We’re ready.” In the back of the van, Renée used her control of the security system to take over the elevators, and instructed the two elevators in this hoistway to go up one floor, and locked them in place. André inserted the base of the key into a small hole near the top of the right-hand elevator door, and turned it to release the door locking mechanism. The doors could now be easily pushed apart, giving them a view down into the elevator pit. Exactly where they needed to go.

They looked down into the pit, which was illuminated by light bulbs in waterproof housings at either end, and then at each other. This was it. None of them knew what they would find when they broke into Dortmund’s private sanctuary. Michael had visions of a vast cavern, a true warlock’s lair, filled with enormous stalactites and stalagmites, bats swooping among them with shrill cries, torches burning on the walls, perhaps a sacrificial altar in the center. The reality would probably be nothing like he could imagine. For all they knew, they might enter to find a vast horde of savage demons that would overwhelm them effortlessly, or the powers of the warlock might be so great that he could obliterate them in the blink of an eye. No one on the team had any illusions that they would survive this encounter unscratched, or perhaps even at all.

“Cheer up, mes amis!” Marcel said quietly. “We are: two magnificent panthers, two fierce wolves, and a priest with a magic sword that utterly destroys demons.” He grinned in that disarming way he had. “He won’t stand a chance!”

“Humph,” André said. “Well, if you need help…just meow.”

Marcel, standing beside him, poked him in the ribs with his elbow. “And you’ll come running, with stupid face, wagging your tail?” He paused for effect. “More likely, you’ll need us to save your butt. Again.”

They fell silent, and the grins faded. Rolling her eyes expressively, Colette pushed her way in between them. “If you two boys can stop being cute, we have work to do.” She turned around and started down into the pit, climbing the metal access ladder that hung just below the threshold. André and Marcel tossed the bags down after her, to the side, where they hit with soft thumps. One at a time, they followed her down, until all were gathered at the pit bottom. The pit floor was about two and a half meters down, and the surface was interrupted by two buffers, cylinders about twenty centimeters in diameter and a little over a meter high, that served to cushion the impact from a rapidly descending car in an emergency. The elevator car hung ominously over their heads, though all knew Renée would not let it come down and, in any case, the bumpers assured that there would be sufficient room beneath the car even if it did.

Silently they made final preparations. Michael shrugged out of his backpack and fished out some tiny electronic devices that were now needed. The four shape-shifters began to undress, placing their clothes into the duffel bags, and then made the transformation into their animal forms. The bottom of the pit seemed a bit crowded, with the massively muscled but sleek bodies of the panthers, and the two werewolves in the confined space. Simone came over to Michael, and rubbed against his leg, and then turned her head up expectantly. He took one of the items in his hand and carefully placed in the ear of the great panther. These devices were receivers, that had been carefully fabricated, albeit in something of a hurry, by one of the tech wizards at the Directorate, made to fit comfortably in feline and canine ears. There was no provision for a matching transmitter, since assorted snarls and hisses did not translate very well over the radio, but would allow Michael and Renée to communicate with them. In short order, all of the shifters were so outfitted.

The priest spoke into the collar transmitter that he wore, along with an earbud receiver. “Renée, we’re set. Give us a radio check.” She did so, and the panthers and wolves indicated, by nodding their heads, that everything was working properly.

It was time to face the warlock, and put an end to his plots. With Michael leading the way, they crossed the short distance to the other side of the hoistway to reach the door into the warlock’s secret lair. Michael froze, a look of dismay on his features, and pointed up to a spot on the wall about two meters up. There, plain to see, was a video camera.

“Renée!” he hissed, urgently but quietly. “There’s a camera here in the bottom of the shaft. Did you disable it, with the others?”

Her voice, when it came back, sounded upset. “Father, no, I had no idea. It’s not part of the network, there was no indication it existed! It must be a separate system he set up to keep an eye on his private door!”

Michael turned to his friends. “He knows we’re coming.”

The Warlock Executive
continues with Part 25
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:55 pm; edited 1 time in total

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PostEaster01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:23 pm

The Warlock Executive
A Father Michael Story
by Joanne and Richard Easter (c) 2017

Part 25

The operation had suddenly become a whole lot more dangerous. They had counted on the element of surprise to give them an advantage at the start, at least, but if the warlock was watching them on camera, he would be ready.

“No help for it,” Michael said softly. There was probably no longer any need to keep their voices down, but it still just seemed to be a good idea, regardless. No point in delay; one way or the other, they had to confront the warlock. He resheathed Tizona in her scabbard on his back and, reaching down to his boot, pulled out the dagger that had saved his life at Meursault. Clamping it between his teeth, he put his foot on the first rung of the ladder leading up to Dortmund’s private elevator door, and began to climb. This was likely the most hazardous part of the entire operation. He would be extremely vulnerable to attack as he opened the door from the inside, and for a time would unable to defend himself. Michael comforted himself with the thought that they were not even sure the warlock would be inside his lair. Perhaps he had stepped out to Starbucks for a quick latte, and they could just stroll in….

At the top of the ladder, he braced himself by hooking one foot inside the rung and reached up to disengage the door’s safety interlock mechanism. This was the same piece of equipment that André had unlocked on the other door with the drop key, from the outside. Michael winced as it made a sharp click and came free. He reached around to the back of his jeans and pulled out a small, flat pry bar, about twenty-five centimeters long, from where he had thrust it through his belt. He switched off his light and slipped the tool into the crack between the doors. As carefully and quietly as possible, he forced them open a couple of centimeters, just enough to peer through into the space beyond. There was nothing to be seen but utter blackness. A cool breeze blew through the crevice into his face, but whether it was from an air-conditioned room or a vast cavern chamber, he could not tell. Slowly he backed down the ladder.

Whispering, he informed his companions of the situation above. Both the panthers and the werewolves could operate effectively in low-light situations, the cats more so, but neither could see in total darkness. Michael took off his backpack again, rummaged around, and came out with a handful of pencil flares. These would burn with a brilliant white light for about ten minutes. Good thing they had come prepared for almost anything. As soon as he was up and through the door, he would pop the plastic lids off a couple, ignite them, and toss them left and right to light up the room. For now, he slipped them into his pocket.

Back up the ladder, the silver-palladium alloy dagger in his teeth, headlight still switched off in case they had not yet alerted anyone to their presence, Michael put both hands on the edges of the doors and slid them open, stepping through onto the landing. This was the moment of greatest danger. If anyone was waiting for them, they would have been alerted by the light coming through the slit of the door when he pried it open a moment ago, and now he would be a clear silhouette backlit by the light coming up from the hoistway pit.

Quickly he stepped off to the side, out of the doorway and out of the way of his companions. There was a whisper of sound as the panthers sprang up through the opening, and he felt, more than saw, their furry forms as they came to his side and brushed against him in greeting. Then they were gone, silent shadows, moving into the room, with just enough light from the elevator shaft to see their way. The wolves came next, landing more heavily and scrabbling with their feet to keep from falling back into the pit, and they, too, glided silently into the room.

Michael shoved the dagger back into his boot and took two of the flares out of his pocket and was about to ignite them, when the room was suddenly flooded with bright light, leaving him blinking in the glare. He dropped the flares unlit to the ground and quickly pulled Tizona, holding the long sword up and ready.

“You must be that priest who has been giving me so much trouble,” came a voice from the center of the room.

The speaker was a man dressed in an expensively tailored business suit, his hand clasped behind his back. The space in which he stood was enormous, square and easily fifty meters across, and was certainly no rough cavern but a sleekly modernistic chamber unlike anything Michael had ever seen before. The walls were silver grey, the ceiling starkly white, and the illumination came from what must have been nearly a hundred recessed fixtures overhead. Additional lights, in chrome sconces, lined the perimeter of the wall.

The most striking feature of the room, however, was the floor. Michael stood at the edge of a broad band of some dark stone, highly polished and speckled with tiny inclusions, lighter in color. Black granite, he supposed, although he was no expert in either geology or architecture. The granite was a border that went all around the room, perhaps twenty meters in width. The central area of the vast space was dominated by a chessboard pattern, black and white squares each about two meters across. Dortmund, whom he supposed this must be, was standing on a black square near the center of the giant chessboard. Near the far end of the room, across the chamber from the elevator door, was a large black stone, taller than a man with squared-off sides that came to a pyramidal point at the top, and beyond the stone, there were several doors in the wall that presumably led to adjacent rooms.

The two panthers were together at the edge of the chessboard, crouching low, tails lashing, ready to spring forward in an instant. The wolves were slowly circling around the perimeter, lips curled back to expose sharp teeth, but like the were-panthers, as yet made no move toward the warlock.

Michael kept his sword up, holding it in both hands. “I am Father Michael Mendez,” he said, wariness in his voice. I assume you are the warlock, Klaus Dortmund.” It was not a question.

Without looking at the animals, Dortmund said, sharply, “Tell your pets to be still! Their posturing is beginning to annoy me.” One of the panthers rumbled angrily; Simone, Michael thought, although sometimes it was hard to tell them apart at a distance. The wolves narrowed their eyes and stopped circling, coming back to the front of the room where they stopped, not far from Michael, and glared at the warlock, legs stiff, hackles bristling and tails straight out from their bodies. Still paying no attention to these four very dangerous and infuriated animals, Dortmund continued. “Warlock…yes. I am that, I suppose. But, I am a businessman first. If someone opposes me, I eliminate the threat. I use the tools I have. That is just good business.”

Michael was astonished that the man would use this as a justification for his acts. “You are responsible for the murder of a great many people. Some of them were my friends. That was an evil act, not ‘good business.’”

Dortmund smiled, but there was no humor in his eyes. “Your Director should have known that interfering in my business was a very risky thing.” He paused. “I see that you are carrying that antique sword again. I find that to be a very interesting thing. I believe I am going to have to have a conversation with an old friend about that.”

Before Michael could reply, the warlock made a chopping gesture with his hand. “Enough of this! You have invaded my home, and now you will pay the price.” He extended his right arm up into the air and snapped his fingers.

From one of the doorways in the back of the room, two imposing figures stepped out, and Michael’s heart sank even as Tizona began to glow in response. The demons trotted across the room. Each was slightly more than two meters in height, and the ceiling lights sparkled off the hundreds of crystalline spikes, large and small but all razor-edged, that covered their bodies. Deep-set yellow eyes glowered from within the crystalline mass that formed their heads. Spike demons! These were, in his experience, among the deadliest of the creatures Dortmund had at his beck and call, capable of shredding a human body to bloody pieces simply by seizing it in their grasp. His mind leaped back to the abandoned subway tunnel, where three elite officers of the Met police had been butchered in seconds by one of the dreadful things. They had proved vulnerable to heavy weapons fire at Meursault, but Michael had no weapon but his sword. He gritted his teeth. Tizona had, in the end, made short work of the spike demon in the Underground. The magic sword was designed to kill demons.

To kill one, though, he had to get very close, and there were two of them! Michael had been able to dispatch the spike demon in the subway by plunging his sword into its back while it was distracted with a victim. Here, while he focused on one, the other demon could tear him apart. Nor could he count on help from the panthers or the wolves, because their flesh was just as vulnerable to the savage spikes as that of any human, and they would probably break their teeth if they were able to get close enough to bite it.

“Kill them!” the warlock hissed, and waved his demon slaves forward. They went by Dortmund on either side and advanced toward Michael, the panthers backing up, snarling in frustration, as the formidable creatures approached. The werewolves, to his right, leaped forward, charging the warlock, who quickly spoke a word of Power. A shimmering sphere of transparent blue light immediately surrounded Dortmund, and as the wolves sprang toward him, they were violently repelled by the barrier and fell to the floor, quickly scrambling to regain their feet. Wolf-André and wolf-Colette howled in frustration and began rapidly circling the sphere of light, looking for any opening that would let them in upon the warlock. Dortmund simply crossed his arms over his chest and smiled at them, maddening them even more. The were-panthers moved to protect Michael, staying just out of the range of his sword, trying to distract the spike demons long enough to allow him to connect with a blow.

One was all it would take, Michael knew. He moved quickly away from the wall, giving himself enough room to maneuver. Lightning-quick, the panthers weaved about the demons, darting in and leaping back before either of them could connect with a swipe from the wickedly-sharp crystal spikes that served as claws. It was a deadly dance, and one that could have only one ending, if Michael could not strike the demons down before they killed his feline companions.

Dear Lord, please give me the speed and strength to save my friends! Michael prayed, fervently, backing up, giving way before the advancing demons. The panther’s strategy was working for the moment, as the monsters kept trying to strike at them instead of finishing the priest, but it was only a matter of time before the cats tired, and, just once, reacted too slowly to escape a killing blow.

His desperate prayer was answered when one of the demons, irritated beyond its tolerance by the constant nuisance of the panthers, stopped and turned its back on the priest, roaring its anger at the retreating cat. Michael lunged forward with the brightly glowing sword and impaled it in the center of its back, but had to pull away almost immediately to escape the other demon. Nevertheless, the brief contact proved sufficient, for the spike demon stopped absolutely still, its head thrown back, a thin whine escaping from the opening that served as its mouth, as the wound began to smoke. A brilliant glow began to spread from the cut, and seconds later, the body of the creature was enveloped in flames.

Now there was only one of the things to deal with, and Michael began to feel more confident. Enraged by the death of its companion, who was now little more than a greasy stain on the black granite floor, the remaining demon charged at Michael, wildly swinging its arms in hope of intimidating the priest and connecting before the sword could be brought into play. Michael simply side-stepped, and as the monster whirled to meet him, thrust the point forward at the beast. He had intended to stab it in the middle of the body, but the thing was just moving too fast; by luck, rather than design, Tizona bit deeply into the arm of the demon. Paralyzed by the magic of the sword, the creature was consumed in seconds.

Michael turned to face the warlock. He did not know what that blue barrier was, but maybe Tizona could somehow penetrate it. The warlock bared his teeth at the priest, and once again he raised a hand to snap his fingers in summons. Dortmund was beginning to panic. He had never expected that the priest would be able to take out both of his personal bodyguards, not with the were-beasts essentially neutralized by the formidable spikes. He still had potent magic at his fingertips, but he was unable to use it while the barrier was up, and if he dismissed the field, then the cats and wolves would be on him in seconds. He could bombard them with fireballs, but, he reflected sourly, they were so fast that they could probably just dodge them and then tear his throat out. He had been working almost nonstop for days to summon more demons, but as soon as he had brought one over and bound it to his will, he had sent it off through the portal stone to a refuge, to await his call. Dortmund needed a more potent demon to take care of this problem, and he needed it right now.

The warlock gestured, and the magical barrier surrounding him expanded outward to a diameter of ten meters, giving him room to work. Stretched out in this manner, it would be weaker, but still strong enough to protect him. As he pulled a thick piece of chalk out of his jacket pocket, his earlier summons was answered by a half-dozen of the little demon imps, who materialized within the chamber to hover over the portal stone. They buzzed with alarm as they saw the priest and the wolves and panthers in the room. “Attack them!” Dortmund shouted, pointing at his enemies, and the imps hesitated, but there was no defying the will of the master. The tiny creatures flew across the room at the four were-beasts, who were now circling the barrier again as Dortmund bent to draw the outline of a pentagram on the floor.

The little imps were hopelessly outmatched, despite their winged agility and ability to teleport in an instant. They stayed well away from the priest and his dangerously glowing sword, and focused their attention upon the panthers and wolves who were so near to the master. The imps were fast, but the panthers were faster. They simply batted them out of the air with lightning swipes of their paws, and before the dazed creatures could recover, crunched down on the imps with their fangs.

But it was a distraction, and it worked as the warlock had intended. He was tired from all the summoning he had done, but as he drew upon the inherent magic of his own body and from the grimoire hidden beneath his feet, the power surged. Dortmund had drawn a huge pentagram, far larger than anything he had ever created before, to encase and control a powerful demon. He sent his will casting about in the Underworld, seeking the greatest demon in that foul place. The warlock bit his lip, concentrating, seeking, seeking.

There! A powerful presence, stronger and more wicked than anything he had ever before encountered in his quests for demon servants. Such power it had! Such a thing should be able easily to destroy the pathetic priest and his animal servants. He seized upon it, wrapped his will and desire about it, compelling it to come through the barrier between worlds. Sweat began to bead on his forehead; it was like trying to move an enormous boulder…no, like trying to move a mountain! It resisted so strongly that he began to despair of his ability to bring it through…and then suddenly all resistance ceased, and he nearly fell backwards from the release of pressure.

Within the confines of the pentagram, a small black dot appeared, and began to expand, larger and larger, a sphere of swirling vapor, blacker than the darkest night. It grew, and grew, until the poisonous mist entirely filled the confines of the pentagram. Now, in the center of the mist, a great eye appeared, half a meter in diameter, the pupil a black reptilian slit, the iris yellow, and surrounded by blood-red. The pupil slid back and forth, taking in the scene before it; the animals, backing away in fear, the human, with its little sword, frozen in place, mouth gaping in astonishment, and then it turned its attention to Dortmund.

Dortmund was both elated, and appalled. The demon he had just summoned was incredibly powerful. It would be very difficult to bend it to his will, to turn it into a slave to do his bidding. The huge eye gazed at him, unblinking. “Do…do you accept your bondage?” the warlock demanded, becoming more forceful as he regained his confidence.

The eye continued to regard him.

“Accept your bondage, or be destroyed!” Dortmund shouted, gathering a fireball into each of his hands.

Michael could sense a vast, malignant amusement emanating from the thing inside the black mist. Dortmund repeated his demand, expanding the size of the fireballs and raising his hands to threaten the thing before him.

From within the unearthly mist, an enormous arm, covered with glistening black scales, reached out and wrapped its taloned fingers around the warlock. As the inhuman grip tightened about him, Dortmund screamed. The fireballs blinked out of existence and he began to beat with his fists at the huge fingers, each the size of the trunk of a small tree. The arm withdrew, bearing the screaming warlock into the heart of the mist, where his terrible cries suddenly ceased. The swirling vapor began to shrink, and in moments had disappeared entirely. There was no longer any sign of the warlock, and the transparent blue barrier he had created vanished with a slight popping sound. Up in the corner of the ceiling, where the last two flying imps had taken refuge out of reach of the leaping cats, the little creatures were suddenly gone, sucked back into their own world with the release of the spells that bound them. Elsewhere, throughout the world wherever Dortmund had hidden his demons, they, too, disappeared back to their own realm, no longer bound.

Just like that, the battle was over.

The remarkable turn of events had left them all a little stunned, so swift had been the reversal in their fortunes. Michael remained standing on his guard, sword raised defensively, waiting to see what might happen next. The two panthers and werewolves came over to stand in a protective group before him, their sides heaving from the efforts in combating the demons. In addition, the chest and belly fur of the wolves was a little bit singed, evidently from contact with the magical barrier Dortmund had erected to keep them out.

Several minutes went by. Michael spoke briefly into his transmitter, to tell Renée that the battle seemed to be over, and the warlock apparently vanquished. He did not bother to try to explain the details of what had happened; he was, himself, rather unsure as to what had just taken place. She acknowledged his report, and assured him that she would update the Director immediately.

After another quarter-hour had passed, with no sign of the warlock nor any activity around the pentagram, Michael finally relaxed, and let the point of his sword drop to the floor. Taking this as a signal, the shape-shifters transformed back into their human shapes. Marcel went back down the ladder to fetch the duffels and their clothing. Tizona back in her scabbard, together they explored the room; as they walked by the pentagram, Michael broke the lines with the toe of his boot, just in case. One of the rooms in the back was filled with computer equipment, including the monitor that kept watch on the hoistway pit outside the room. In another room, they found two half-eaten corpses, chained to a wall. Colette, who normally was as tough as nails, abruptly turned white and ran outside the room.

“Well, now we know how Dortmund fed his demons,” André observed grimly. Michael knelt down beside the two victims, and made the sign of the cross over the bodies, silently praying for the peace of their souls.

The large black stone was a curiosity, covered with arcane symbols. None of them had any clue as to what it might be or how Dortmund had used it. The tech wizards back at the Directorate would no doubt enjoy studying it and trying to puzzle out its function.

The team, Michael, Marcel, Simone, André and Colette, made their way back out the way they had come, and picked up the other two men from the booth on the way out in the van. Simone and Marcel departed together in the red Mini; no point in leaving any more evidence behind than need be.

They had done their part. The warlock and the threat he represented was over. The investigation of Dortmund’s hidden lair, and the extent to which others in his employ might have been involved, would be left, initially, in the capable hands of Inspector Mackenzie. The Inspector would be quite out of his depth of course, and would need to bring the Directorate back in to handle the supernatural aspects, such as removing any magical artifacts (the black stone came immediately to mind, of course).

But, it was over. At least, they hoped it was.

The Warlock Executive
continues with Part 26
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Sep 12, 2017 7:56 pm; edited 1 time in total

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