That day, to avoid provoking suspicion, Simon Liberthine arrived in a more conventional sense than he was generally accustomed to, travelling by plane to the nearest airport. When he encountered Miguel outside Sorrento, he was still looking a little green.
‘Good flight Simon?’
The Arbiter did not reply before intoning heavily: ‘If I had to choose between repeating the Battle of the Urals and two more hours with Airtours, I’d be sharpening my sword right now.’
Miguel sniggered at him. The Arbiter looked at him wearily.
‘Can we get on with this?’
Once again, the functionary found himself regretting this assignment. He had never even liked Alexander Fortuno, largely because acting as the Conclave’s hatchet man was bound to make you some enemies, especially if you were dealing with a man whose best friend was the most notorious maverick in the organisation. Fortuno had finally stopped trying to talk to him after the ‘Salem Incident’. Many years ago, Fortuno and Councillor Nikolai’s affable apprentice Edmund Kraven had been sent to investigate the soon to be infamous witch trials, in case sorcery was discovered to have been practiced and a cover-up operation was required. Upon discovering the truth, Fortuno and Edmund had been able to persuade one of the leading authorities to return to his post and begin denouncing them, but before they could effectively put a stop to the killings, Simon came to withdraw both sorcerers, for the Elders were getting concerned that they might reveal the existence of sorcery. Fortuno had been furious with him, and it had nearly come to blows between them.
‘You’re amoral Liberthine. If the Conclave makes it so, then it is so. You disgust me.’
‘I am only doing my duty. Perhaps you should reflect on yours.’
Those had been the last words he had said to him before the trial in 1873. But Simon had believed in the rules he carried out. He had been willing to endure the hatred of his peers, to stand alone on the high road as the Conclave’s representative whilst they united against him and all that he stood for. Simon knew right was on his side, his mind told him that he would win out in the end, and that they would see the error of their ways, and the wisdom of his words. But his heart told him otherwise.
The sun was just beginning to set when the group arrived on the lip of the hill, which led down a great bowl of earth. Simon turned to look at Miguel sceptically.
‘You see, nothing there.’
‘Perhaps we’re looking in the wrong place Miguel. Besides, it’s getting late, maybe we should come back in the day, otherwise we won’t see anything.’
‘We won’t see anything anyway, because there isn’t anything there.’ Simon retorted.
‘Are you prepared to bet on that?’
‘I don’t see why not.’
Miguel sighed and threw a small rock into the middle of the bowl. There was a dull thunk as it bounced off the thin air.
‘Sorcery… that’s an old trick from the war…’
‘A very old trick… so either our new friend is a sentimentalist, or, his skills are somewhat lacking.’
‘Or they could simply not wish to draw too much attention to themselves.’
He marched up to where the wall would be and beckoned for the others to follow him. He pointed his rapier-staff at the wall, and a thin line of energy shot out.
‘Simon, would you…?’
The Arbiter nodded, and extended his umbrella towards the invisible wall, pointing it at the same spot as Miguel had. Suddenly, a mighty flash of light shot outwards and lit up the entire crater.
‘Now that was too large just to be…’ Miguel started, before noticing that his companions had already begun walking towards the already materialising double doors.
Jason was dreaming again. He was walking in a vast garden, which was almost dwarfed by the shadow cast by the adjacent house. A handsome man in a waistcoat was standing there smiling at him, and Jason recognised him as the spirit he had seen the previous day in the Director’s office.
Suddenly, his smile turned dark and he began to laugh, a cruel, mocking sound that echoed throughout the garden. There was a great ripping sound and the hooded figure was now standing before him, a blood stained dagger in his hand. Around him lay the bodies of Bianca, Lewis, Patricia and nearly a dozen more.
‘Hello young Jason. Wonderful to see you again.’
His voice was a low whisper, but it seemed to echo through Jason’s head.
‘Who are you?’
The man lowered his hood, and the face of the Director stared back at Jason, his usual black glasses discarded.
‘Time to wake up now Jason…’
For an instant his face became that of a younger, thin man with deep, dark eyes.
Jason blinked as he slowly became conscious. He found himself lying on a cold operating table that was tilted at a diagonal angle, with several straps holding him down. He struggled to turn his head, but as he looked around the room, he noticed Nurse Ellis and the Director standing over a similar table. He could not see who lay upon it.
‘Ah, so you’re back with us Mr. Fortuno.’ The Director turned and began to walk towards him. There was a sinister smile on his face, which Jason could not read. ‘I am most disappointed at your little escape, and I’m afraid you shall have to be punished for it. Miss Ellis?’
The Nurse nodded and pressed a button on the table next to her, pivoting it upwards to face Jason. Atop it, strapped down in the same manner as Jason, was Bianca White, her eyes cold and distant, staring straight ahead. It was now that he realised they were in the sick bay. Curiously, the exercise pool at the far end of the room was filled with water.
‘Bianca! If you touch her… I swear…’
‘Ssh.’ The Director put one finger to his mouth. ‘Such bravado is impressive, but pointless. You are in no position to threaten us young Jason.’ He smiled again, and Nurse Ellis began to untie Bianca, assisted by the silent Dr. Mutor, who Jason had not initially noticed.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Providing you with a little incentive for assisting me Jason.’ He added as an aside. ‘You’ve done quite a lot already… your little escape actually managed to accelerate my plans. It was only a matter of time before the Elder Conclave was alerted to my presence. But this is something a little more… personal.’ He turned to Bianca and began to speak to her in a slow, hypnotic voice. She immediately got up off the table and stood bolt upright, eyes open but facing off into the distance, unseeing.
‘Usually, we use this area for fitness, as you know, but today, I have something rather different in mind.’ He smiled. ‘Miss White… step into the pool.’
Without any visible emotion, Bianca obeyed, literally stepping out into to thin air and falling face down into the pool.
‘Normally this wouldn’t be possible, but the effect the sedative creates makes her mind much more open to suggestion. And I always have been very convincing.’
‘Sorcerers are immortal, you can’t kill her like that, we learned that in class.’
‘Oh can’t I? Well that’s one lesson you can forget all about. The water will go into her lungs and eventually she will simply burst. Not even a sorcerer could survive that.’
‘Well even then, you can’t make her drown… even ordinary people can’t drown themselves. The body won’t let itself die.’ Jason was babbling, unconvinced of his own words as they spilled out.
‘I wouldn’t be so sure young Jason.’
The Director smiled at Jason with mock regret and shook his head.
‘With sorcery, anything’s possible. Particularly if the person is not in control of their faculties. I just thought I’d give you one last unhappy memory before you die… and before I am reborn. Or you can join me, and she will be safe.’
‘What do you mean, reborn?’
‘For many years, I have been unable to perform sorcery at all. This body you see here? A mere shell of some unfortunate human who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But your escape yielded unexpected results. Any moment now, the chosen agents of the Elder Conclave will burst in here, and I shall take their sorcery. Only then will I be whole again.’
Jason glanced at the pool, where Bianca lay face down in the water.
‘If you join me, then she will live… otherwise… I’m afraid she will be the first casualty of this war.’
‘Nothing?’ Hissed Lewis as the students were filed into the cafeteria.
‘No. I spoke to Millie, and she said that the Nurse took Bianca away about fifteen minutes ago, but Jason was nowhere to be seen.’
Her voice lowered as the burly head of security walked past their table.
‘You don’t think they’ve…’
Patricia was cut off by a blaring alarm and the garbled, emotionless voice of Dr. Mutor over the intercom.
‘Intruder alert. Guards report to your stations immediately. This is not a drill.’
The guards immediately made their way to the armoury as the canteen descended into chaos.
The immortals made their way down the hallway towards the armoury, hoping to catch the guards mid-way through their defensive preparations. They turned the corner and stopped abruptly. Twenty or so security personnel waited, patting their weapons.
There was a second or so of hesitation before the battle began. Simon and Miguel leapt into action, their staffs and swords flashing in the weak clinical light, while Rosemary took on several guards with her bare hands. The most vicious of all however, was Miranda. Moving like a panther, she struck down her foes with such speed that their faces barely had time to register surprise before they passed on.
‘I see he taught you well.’ Rosemary shouted to her friend, knocking a guard unconscious with a high kick to the face.
‘You should see me when I’m warmed up. This is thirty years without practice.’ Miranda replied, digging her dagger deep into a guard’s shoulder blade. It was a relatively one-sided fight, and it was not long before the guards had begun to fall back.
‘We’re wasting time with this!’ Miranda growled, seizing the nearest guard by the throat. ‘Where’s Jason Fortuno?’
The guard scoffed and spat in Miranda’s face.
‘Why would I tell you? Nothing you can do to me is worse than what’ll happen when he finds out we failed.’
‘Oh no?’ Miranda whispered something in his ear, and the guard went deathly pale.
‘Down the hall, to the left, keep going through to the sick bay at the end of the corridor.’ he instructed with one breath.
The guard’s parting shot died on his lips as a blow with the hilt of Miranda’s dagger knocked him unconscious.
‘Alright! Just let her go!’
The Director smiled as the alarm continued to blare. He clicked his fingers and Bianca burst out from the pool, panting and coughing, petrified at finding herself there.
‘Oh you are so much like your father. He would risk the world to save a pretty face.’ The Director reached out his arms to Bianca, and she grabbed them, climbing dripping wet from the water.
‘Nurse Ellis… you are to remain here. I will take these two to my office… then all we need to do is wait.’
The Nurse nodded.
‘Is it almost time sir?’
‘Oh yes. I do believe it is.’