Prologue

A chill wind passed over the moors. A wide expanse of fields, completely silent and empty. Then, the horseman arrived. He was clad in a full suit of armour, clasping a finely decorated standard in his left hand. The man steadied his horse, dismounted, and removed his plumed helmet with a grunt. Behind the helm was a handsome man in his mid thirties with keen green eyes that surveyed the landscape with the precision of an automaton. ‘No sign.’ There was a stirring from his saddlebag and a small cat poked his head out, struggling against the blustering wind that had been raging for most of the day. He had a small bib of white fur under his neck and stomach, but other than that, he was completely black. ‘Would you mind telling me what we’re doing here? It sounded like the King could have used your valued assistance.’ ‘Something’s not right here Sam… there’s something here that shouldn’t be…’ Sam jumped onto Fortuno’s armoured shoulder and began to clean himself. ‘Oh spare me the clichés… I hardly think riding into the middle of nowhere just because you feel something’s wrong is a particularly wise idea. If I deserted you every time I felt unsettled then you’d never have me around to protect you.’ The cat paused to reach a particularly difficult spot. ‘You, protect me?’ Fortuno laughed heartily. ‘I seem to remember it was you who flew into the saddlebag the moment the enemy came over the hill.’ Sam did not reply, because at that moment, the wind abruptly stopped. The cat’s ears pricked up and he arched his back, before quickly returning to the saddlebag with a yowl. Fortuno drummed his fingers expectantly on the hilt of his sword. Suddenly, there was an almighty screeching noise as an enormous dust column appeared in the centre of the field. The dust appeared to settle after a few seconds, revealing another figure in the grass.

He was tall, with a face that might have been called handsome if it had been covered with a little more flesh. Instead, it was a frightfully thin, skull-like visage that sat upon a barely visible neck. He was wearing a suit of jet black armour and no helmet, with a sword in a leather scabbard. A gloved hand rested on a black baton that was looped through his belt and a raven perched on his shoulder, a raven with eyes that seemed too intelligent to belong to an animal. The man smiled coldly at Fortuno and gave a theatrical bow.

‘It’s good to see the avalanche didn’t rid you of your flamboyance Mr. Griffon.’ Fortuno remarked. ‘Merely a little theatricality Mr. Fortuno. You wouldn’t deny me that after all you’ve done would you?’ Griffon’s voice grew cold. Their last encounter had not been pleasant for him. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the two of them continued their conversation with a sort of mocking courtesy. ‘I missed you at the battle. I had to make do with fighting your King instead. Hardly a worthy substitute.’ The two men began to circle each other like hungry sharks, waiting for an opening. ‘I’d heard rumours… I thought you were gone for good.’ ‘Hah…What does not kill me simply makes me stronger, Mr. Fortuno. It will take more than the meagre craft of a lucky apprentice to defeat me this time.’ Griffon smiled confidently and pulled the baton from his belt, using it to salute his opponent. As he did so, it extended to the length of a staff. He simultaneously pulled his sword from its scabbard with his right hand. ‘How fortunate that I’ve managed to complete my training then Mr. Griffon.’ Griffon’s confident smile did not waver. ‘I cannot die Mr. Fortuno.’ ‘But you can long to.’ Fortuno followed his opponent’s actions and thrust his standard towards him, and, shouting an oath in some forgotten language, sent a bolt of lightning from the staff’s head towards Griffon’s chest, incinerating the flag in the process. Griffon span his staff in an arc, reflecting the lightning bolt at Fortuno, who merely stepped aside. ‘You’ll have to try harder than that my friend!’ Griffon taunted, knocking his foe to the floor with a bolt of his own. He swung his sword up, bringing it down with force towards his enemy’s neck. ‘Thank you for the advice!’ Fortuno tensed and fired a salvo of molten energy at Griffon, who dropped the sword, cursing as he was engulfed by its flames. Fortuno covered his eyes, and when he uncovered them, he let out a gasp of surprise. His opponent had vanished into thin air. ‘He’s…gone. Just like that…’ ‘Your powers of observation serve you well my friend.’ said Sam, emerging from the saddlebag. ‘Now maybe instead of spouting clichés you can utilise your powers of haste and get back to winning the battle.’ Fortuno swiftly mounted his horse and rode back to the field of battle, but it was far too late, the King was dead. That was 1485.

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