Hello there. So, another prologue for you to enjoy. So far we've had The Monster, and Wendy parts One and Two. I'd recommend that you read them before this instalment. But if you're ready, here's The Killer and The Witch.
Mathieu stood in the centre of the room, back straight, eyes front. He kept his mind on the situation at hand. He was trying not to think about the blood that had caked the hair under his armpits into clumps or the drops of stale sweat that were drying in the small of his back. He was trying not to think about the fact that his brother’s corpse was still somewhere in this house. Having escaped with his life less than twelve hours ago, he was trying very hard to not think about the fact that he was now back in the very same house, the very same room. He had done his job and got his employers to safety. He had returned to the city because he had an obligation to his brother. He had washed the blood from his face and hands and he had not been surprised to receive the summons. He would mourn his brother later. For now, he would maintain respectful eye contact with Émilie Étienne, the head of the Paris coven of witches, and do his very best not to say anything that would lead to his joining the piles of body parts that were stacked outside the door.
Émilie Étienne sat in her chair. It wasn’t a throne. Just an armchair, really. The last time Mathieu had seen it it had been on its side and thrown some way across the room. Now it was back in its rightful place at the far end of the room from the doorway, sat in front of the gigantic windows looking out over the city. She was the first thing a visitor would see. She had made no effort to fix her appearance. The black hair that normally fell down past her shoulders had spiralled into unruly curls and there were strands that were visibly singed. The smoke had smudged dark patches on her cheeks and streaks of tears had run her mascara down her cheeks. Her hands were stained a deep, dark red. Mathieu suspected that this had been done for effect. It was working.
While men and women bustled about around her with sponges and buckets of water, she sat perfectly still, watching him. She didn’t even break eye contact when one of her servants exerted audible effort tugging a fingernail out of the windowsill. He’d stood in front of Étienne before and he knew that this stare was part of the routine, that it was supposed to intimidate him. It didn’t make it any less intimidating. She shifted her weight a little and cleared her throat.
“So, Mathieu,” she said, “tell me what you saw.”
No pleasantries, then. Given the circumstances, he could understand.
“Madame,” he replied, “You were there. What can I tell you that you don’t already know?”
“Humour me. Weren’t you always the talkative one? You came here with Isobel Fisher and her two tourist friends. You and your brother were acting as her bodyguards. Now I know that her intentions beyond Paris are unimportant to you, whatever she’s doing now, otherwise you would not have returned. But you were here last night. You helped get them out. I was busy trying to help my friends; you were busy trying to help yours. Tell me what you saw.”
This would be difficult. There had to be a way to relate the events without implying anything unfavourable either about himself or Madame Étienne. After all, they were both still here while others were not. He hoped his tongue would work quickly enough to find it.
“The patchwork. I didn’t hear her come in. Perhaps Vincent did. It was the patchwork that Isobel Fisher had told us about, named Charlotte, the one that had been following her. Charlotte told you that she was acting under orders, and then...”
He paused. It had not been the first time he had seen death like this and had no problem with continuing his story but it was appropriate to pause. She gave him a small nod, which showed both appreciation and an indication that he should continue.
“And then she attacked your coven, Madame. She seemed unconcerned with Miss Fisher. She went after the witches. It was...efficient.”
Étienne gave a hollow laugh and Mathieu thought he felt the floor underneath him weaken.
“Efficient? Yes, I suppose it was. Then what?”
“I saw you escape. You fire walked out through the fireplace. Then my brother and I helped Miss Fisher and her companions to escape.”
Émilie stood up. Mathieu straightened his back again and assumed his most respectful expression. It was her turn to talk now.
“I appreciate that you must have wondered about my reasons for the invitation, Mathieu. You must have wondered about the wisdom of accepting it. After all you were here, working for a guest who brought a patchwork into my house.”
She spat the word patchwork with all the hate that she could muster. Mathieu felt his courage waver and felt it necessary to establish the facts.
“Madame Étienne, there was no way she could have known.”
“Oh, of course she knew. She knew that she was being followed, and she knew that there was a possibility that the patchwork would come here. But what she couldn’t have known was that the patchwork would attack my coven. There has never been anything like this. Of course, there have been isolated incidents of patchworks attacking witches out by themselves, but never a group, and never anything this overtly political. This is a statement, do you understand?”
She paused. Mathieu knew better than to interrupt, that had not been a question. She was building towards something, he would just have to wait and see what that was.
“And now I have...pieces of my sisters all over the room. I know you saw me leave, but I was the first one back in here. I still stink of smoke and blood but I will not leave this place until my coven are buried. But this affront needs to be answered. Now, you and your brother haven’t worked for us for some time, is that correct?”
Mathieu nodded. Before Isobel Fisher had asked them for help, he’d enjoyed many quiet years with his brother. They had perhaps grown a little content, a little slow. But there hadn’t seemed to be any reason not to. The coven had been strong; they had no need for two Parisians approaching middle age whose muscles were slowly turning to fat. Without thinking he adjusted his stance and tucked in his gut. Étienne cocked an eyebrow and gestured towards his waist-line.
“I never held the work you did in particularly high regard and clearly we haven’t needed you for a while. I never understood what it was that you did that a witch could not do by herself. You are killers, of course. But so are we.”
When they were very small, Mathieu’s parents had taught him why he and his brother had their life chosen for them. It had all seemed very romantic. Looking around at the assembled men and women wiping the last traces of the Paris coven off the marble floor, he thought that Étienne was probably right to hold him in so little regard. But she was not finished.
“And yet, while I have not changed my mind, exactly, I have thought of a way that you could be useful to me. And a way to redeem yourself for the insult you gave me by stepping into this house in the employ of another.”
Mathieu nodded. There was nothing else to do.
“The patchwork was one of Chalk’s. We know that. What do you know about him?”
He cleared his throat. His reputation as the talker of the partnership was more than justified, but he had always been careful to know what he was talking about. In his line of work knowledge was invaluable.
“Chalk is based in Scotland. He’s the oldest that we know of, but he’s been around for going on a hundred now. We don’t know who he took over from, only that no one seems to threaten him. He doesn’t stray from the United Kingdom, or at least he hasn’t before. The only members of his flock that we’ve seen have been women, which is not uncommon.”
Émilie smiled. She would never tell him that she was impressed, but she could grace him with a smile.
“So you would agree that this is out of character for him?”
“I wouldn’t go that far, but he’s never done anything this...big before. No one has.”
“He’s made us look weak. Of course we can rebuild but our position is...unsteady at the moment. Not only do we need to reform the coven, we need to assure our sisters around the world that we are as strong as we ever were and find out whether this is an isolated incident. Not to mention the fact that there are bound to be some who will see this as an opportunity to take Paris. The fucking vampires will almost certainly be up to something. Did you hear they’ve come to an agreement with the wolves now? Some kind of partnership to keep the peace?”
He had. While he had been living in peace and quiet it was impossible not to stick your head out of the door every now and again just to see what was going on. They were working in partnerships, one wolf and one vampire. A way of monitoring each other, he’d heard, a way for the vampires to assure the wolves that they would stop trying to eat them and start trying to get along. It wouldn’t last. He told her he was aware of it and Émilie sat back down and folded her arms.
“It will end in tears, you’ll see. But that’s beside the point. What do you know about patchworks, Mathieu? Since you’re clearly up to date with current events.”
He ignored the taunt and told her what he knew.
“The history? Not much, but no one does. They first appeared around two hundred years ago, picking off tourists, occasionally something more challenging. But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been around for longer. It’s rare to run into one and live to talk about it. They’re nasty but they’re territorial. Like I said, this is unusual.”
“And how does one kill a patchwork?”
He snorted. He didn’t mean to. Étienne nodded at him to continue.
“With difficulty, Madame. It’s extremely hard to put a patchwork down. Cut it, shoot it, burn it. It heals. No matter how many holes you put in it, it gets back up.”
He and Vincent had come across a patchwork only once before, on the side of a forest road near the Alps. Vincent had pushed Mathieu to the side of the road and brought an axe down on the creature’s arm. She had laughed and taken the weapon from him. By the time Mathieu had managed to get his brother in the car Vincent had barely been conscious. He had heard the patchwork laughing as they had sped away. He had no illusions of his chances facing one by himself.
“You’ll be working for me from now on. You’ll be accompanying a small team, I will tell you where and when. I don’t expect you to be too much of a help but you will go and you will do your best to keep them out of trouble.”
Mathieu had no choice but to accept. It was time to ask his favour.
“My brother. May I take his body?”
“Of course. Ask for it on the way out. Go and bury your brother, I’ll call you when it’s time. I’d much rather be talking to your brother now, he was always more reliable, stronger, a superior fighter. But cheer up. We’ll find Chalk. You can tell yourself that we’re doing it for Vincent, if you like.”
Mathieu nodded and turned to leave, trying not to slip on the wet floor.
Hi there. Hope you liked that.
I was worried about this, and still am. I'm much more comfortable writing characters like Wendy who are awkward with their supernatural nature. Here we've got a witch queen, and we've got a werewolf and a vampire coming up. I get very self-conscious when I start to feel things getting over the top, but sometimes you just need to write a witch queen. I make no apologies for Émilie Étienne being a bit grandiose or campy. The person who would be the head of a coven of Parisian witches looks and sounds, to me, like she does. There's work to do on Mathieu, however. Originally he was going to be the tougher of the two brothers, with all the middle-aged gut and revenge issues of a hard-boiled hero, but I liked the idea of making him the weaker one. Not massively original either, if we're being honest, but it's more to play with and it will make him more fun to write once he's in his element. The thing for me is trying to find ways to make the characters a bit more interesting. There is too much INTONING OF EXPOSITION here but it had to come out at some point.
Time continues to be a horrific constraint, as I've added yet another "thing to do by a certain time" that will probably come to nothing. Because of this, all I will say is that it's not creative but it's something I'm very passionate about. So there's a lot of work to do for that. I've left the script for a little bit in the hopes that I will return to it feeling fresh and be able to edit the hell out of it. Let's see how that goes. There will also be a Christmas horror story because if you can't find time to write a Christmas horror story then you've lost the fight, really, haven't you?
But all this constant stress and time pressure is good because it means things will get done, which is the important thing. But enough of my whining. Please let me know what you think of Mathieu.
I would also like to take the opportunity to
Hope you enjoyed the story. Here's a song that never fails to cheer me up: