The Arbiter flashed an identity card at the reception and briskly made his way through the corridors to a lift. The three were silent as the lift ascended to the fifth floor. Eventually, they reached a door which, unlike the others, had no viewing window. The Arbiter thumbed in a code and opened the door carefully.
The trio entered the room cautiously, with The Arbiter leading the way. It was dimly lit and sparsely furnished, with only a bed, a small bed-side table and two small plastic chairs to the right of the bed. In it, sitting bolt upright against the bed head was a woman who Rosemary only just recognised as her old friend. She did not look up; the former servant was virtually catatonic.
‘Miranda… Miranda, it’s me, Rosie.’
She went over to her friend and gently touched her cheek, but Miranda did not respond.
‘We found her abandoned in the middle of nowhere in Italy. She was crying uncontrollably… didn’t seem to comprehend we were there. Ever since then she’s just been…’ The Arbiter shrugged. ‘Completely unresponsive.’ He sighed. ‘I had been on my way to tell them that their exile was over.’
Rosemary sat down slowly on the bed, facing Miranda.
‘Miranda… if you can hear me… we found him… your son. We found Jason.’
There was still no response. Miguel laid his hand on Rosemary’s shoulder and gave a long, heavy sigh.
‘I’m sorry Rosemary. I don’t think we can help her.’
Rosemary nodded slowly. The Arbiter, tactfully realising they needed to be left alone, soundlessly moved out of the room, while Miguel moved over to the door.
‘I don’t know what I’d do without you Miranda. You were always there for me when I needed you; stopping me getting out of hand, defending me… you were like family to me. Please… wake up…’
‘Rosie… come on.’
Rosemary choked back a sob, squeezed Miranda’s hand, and went to follow her husband.
She did not expect to feel her hand squeezed back.
The sorcerer turned back into the room and almost yelped with surprise. Miranda was had her hands pressed onto the bed, as if to support her. She looked uncertainly at Rosemary, then, as if a veil had been drawn away from her face, her eyes brightened as she recognised her old friend.
‘Rosie?’ she asked; her voice hoarse, filled with the fearful curiosity of a child.
‘Yes Miranda it’s me.’ Rosemary shed tear after joyful tear as she embraced the woman who had been like a sister to her. When they finally parted, Miranda embraced Miguel in turn, before turning to the Arbiter and intoning dryly:
‘I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I don’t hug you.’
‘I’m used to it.’
The Arbiter reached inside his jacket and handed a rapier, the blade divided from the hilt, to Miguel. Upon touching the former sorcerer’s hand, the metal seemed to strain and twist until it was whole again. It was the sorcerer’s ancient weapon, and also the conduit for his powers.
‘It’s not often that they grant second chances. I shall be ever-present to ensure you don’t abuse this privilege.’
‘You’re coming too?’
‘Of course. As soon as you have determined the boy’s location, I shall be around to assist you.’
Miguel gave a pained look over his shoulder to Rosemary, but whether the Arbiter noticed or not, he was unsure.
‘Miranda, Jason is somewhere in the south of Italy and we’re on our way to find him. As soon as you feel up to it…’
‘I’m ready now.’ Miranda slowly moved the bed covers aside and slid her legs over the edge of the bed. She was only wearing a plain white hospital gown that came up to her knees, which were quite visibly trembling.
‘Mrs. Fortuno, you’ve been in a coma for nearly twenty years…’
Miranda held up her hand, and the Arbiter was silenced.
‘I’m ready now.’ she repeated, rising unsteadily to her feet.
‘Well, perhaps we should find you an outfit that might be a bit more practical… and that comes with some underwear.’ Rosemary smiled, but got a minimal response from Miranda.
‘As soon as you can.’
Rosemary and Miguel sat in silence outside the room as Miranda changed. Miguel held his head in his hands, lost in thought. Rosemary caressed her husband’s cheek and he smiled. He knew exactly what she was thinking of. When he learnt of Alexander’s death, Miguel became a changed man, he was distant from Rosemary, and was sharp with their children. They had endured it for several years in silence, before Rosemary had decided to speak with her husband. He wouldn’t want you to live like this. She had told him. Do you remember the way we used to be, so carefree and reckless? The world was our oyster. He had replied coldly. That was then. This had been too much for Rosemary, and she had given him an almighty slap across the face and called him and very crude name in Spanish, shocking him out of his stupor. I had almost forgotten how passionate you could be. Miguel laughed, rubbing his cheek. That day had been a step out of the darkness, although the shadows still lingered.
Simon Liberthine cleared his throat, nervously interrupting the moment of remembrance between the couple.
‘Mr. Carrera, whilst we are waiting for Miss Warwick to prepare, I was wondering if you might want to find another old friend of yours?’
‘Of course. Rosemary do you…?’
‘I’m fine. I’ll stay with Miranda.’
Miguel walked over to the Arbiter, who had taken his umbrella out.
‘Can I not teleport myself?’
The Arbiter gave him a withering look.
‘The Conclave did not allow the return of your powers merely so that you could break the rules Mr. Carrera. Now hold on.’
Though this journey took slightly longer than the last, it was still not long before Miguel Carrera and Simon Liberthine arrived in Geneva.
‘Beautiful city don’t you think Mr. Liberthine?’
‘I have no strong opinion.’ came the bland reply.
They arrived at a small unassuming building in the city, and the Arbiter knocked politely on the door, where he was let in by a vulture-like man in a dark suit.
The man nodded in greeting, and stepped out of the way as a younger man arrived, with the appearance of one who had dressed in haste, the upper buttons of his shirt undone and only one shoe on his feet. He was handsome in a messy sort of way, and youthful, but his eyes belied many years of experience.
‘Ah Simon, one of my favourite people. Official business is it?’ It was then that he noticed Miguel for the first time. ‘Well well, Miguel Carrera. I never expected to see you again!’
They shook hands warmly. Matthew Dent was a sorcerer, though he had not been attached to the practical side for many years. An orphan, he had been the apprentice to Jeffrey Holmes, an Irish sorcerer who trained many during the war, but who had accepted Matthew largely out of sympathy. A kindly soul, he had taken a job caring for familiars in place of their owners when they had been left in cases of exile, or worse.
‘I’ll just take you to him shall I?’
They passed down a corridor and up a set of stairs, as Dent attempted adjust his clothes.
‘Doorman of yours is a bit quiet isn’t he?’ The Arbiter commented, swinging his umbrella in time with his strides.
‘Yes. Not quite right in the head, I’m told. Took him in as a favour to my friend Gabriel. He does what I tell him and doesn’t need much.’
Miguel leant in and whispered mischievously:
‘Matthew, I can’t help but notice your current state of undress…’
‘Ah yes. Well until your arrival, I was enjoying a rather delightful young lady’s company.’
‘I hope for your sake that Brittany doesn’t find out.’
‘I’d be very surprised if she didn’t. It was her company I was referring to. Not everyone has your overactive libido Miguel.’
The Arbiter smirked, but disguised it with a cough as the three reached their destination.
‘Miguel?’ The cub looked up at his master and his eyes widened. He spoke coolly, trying to swallow a spontaneous purr of delight that he felt in seeing his old friend again. ‘About time you visited.’
‘This isn’t a visit Eduardo. I’ve come to take you with me.’
For once, the familiar was at a loss for words.
Miranda Fortuno looked at herself for the first time in many years in the full length mirror. She had slowly replaced her simple hospital gown for a black tunic, knee-length coat, gloves and trousers. At her waist she wore a belt with two long daggers sheathed at each hip, generously donated by Miguel. Her body felt heavy, she was still drowsy after recovering from her near-comatose state, but her mind was sharp, and directed at a single objective; no matter what, she would find her son.