The sorcerer and his two new wards spent stomach churning seconds shooting across the astral plane before falling hard into a large metal skip. They picked themselves up slowly before brushing themselves down. They were in a small back alley which was absolutely filled with foul-smelling black bin-bags, the stench of which caused the three new arrivals to wrinkle their noses. Simon Liberthine looked at his umbrella, which had been warped and twisted by the rough journey. He waved his hand and the metal cracked and strained until the umbrella looked as good as new.
‘What happened…where are we?’ Bianca asked, still dazed from her unnatural sleep and the impact of her arrival.
‘I have absolutely no idea.’
Jason and Bianca looked up at the tall man in the battered hat and suit. Friend or foe, they didn’t care, they just wanted answers.
‘Who are you?’
‘My name is Simon Liberthine; I work for the Elder Conclave.’
Recognition filled the faces of the weary teenagers.
‘Oh yes… we learnt about you in class.’
‘Oh.’ The Arbiter’s face flushed with something akin to pride.
‘It wasn’t complimentary.’
Jason leant hard against the wall of the alleyway, slightly taken aback at the banality of the conversation Bianca was having with the stranger.
‘What happened back there? The students…’
‘I’m afraid there’s nothing I could do. William Griffon is back and right now, all we can do is hope that I managed to get us as far away as possible.’
‘So what do we do now?’
Before the Arbiter could answer, there was a shrill scream from the bottom of the alleyway. A woman was standing there, clutching two more bags to throw on the pile.
‘Okay, who are you and what the hell are you doing here?’ The woman demanded in a high pitched voice. She was a few inches short of five feet, but something about her temperament and the way she held herself suggested she should be taken seriously. The Arbiter got up and cautiously walked over to her.
‘My name is…’ he glanced quickly at a bottle that lay near his feet. ‘Jack…’ he scanned the floor for further assistance, finding his answer on a discarded pamphlet. ‘York. And I’m here to…apply for a job.’
‘A job?’ The woman cocked her head. ‘You’re quick aren’t you? I only put the flier up two hours ago.’
‘And why are you standing in the alley?’
The sorcerers responded with non-committal shrugs. The woman raised an eyebrow.
‘Ok. Well, you’d better come in.’ She looked past ‘York’ and noticed Jason and Bianca, who looked nervously back.
‘These your kids? Hope ya don’t mind me saying, but they don’t look like you much.’
‘They’re…er… adopted.’ Simon replied, thinking on his feet.
‘Oh, I see. Sorry.’
‘That’s alright. I’m Bianca, and this is Jason.’
‘Pleased to meet you both.’ She smiled brightly. ‘Come on then kids; don’t stay out here in the cold.’ She turned on her heel and rounded the corner. The Arbiter shrugged to Jason and Bianca, before they followed suit.
The woman entered through the main door of the large building. It looked like it might have been a night club, though judging by the amount of dust gathered on the surfaces; it had apparently been some time since it had been filled with customers. The woman lifted the bar hatch before turning to her would-be employees. She spoke quickly, as if her words were all struggling to come out at once.
‘Well, this is my place. Ran it for six years with my brother Joel before he moved to LA. It’s been a struggle to carry on since then but still, mustn’t complain. I’m Lauren by the way. You guys new in town?’
Simon blinked in surprise, taken aback by her rapid-fire delivery, before answering quite slowly and deliberately.
‘Uh…yeah. We came from England…you know, fresh start.’
‘Ok.’ Lauren turned on the light, and they saw her properly for the first time. She had blonde hair that was cut so it reached to her chin and her eyes, her expression, betrayed a great deal of weariness. Despite this, Simon noticed even through his fatigue that she was quite attractive; although his professionalism and natural uptight nature would not allow him think on it for long.
‘Meaning you don’t have a place to stay?’
‘Great! New employees and new tenants! Although I’ve only got one spare room…which unfortunately means someone’d have to share…’
‘The kids can share… I’ll sleep on the sofa…its fine.’ Simon interjected quickly, not wanting to lose the room. ‘If that’s okay with you of course.’
‘It’s fine. Just great.’
Lauren took Jason and Bianca up to the small apartment immediately above the club. It was small, but comfortable, with a little living room that had two bedrooms and a bathroom adjoining it. The young sorcerers immediately retreated to their bedrooms, to the silent delight of the pint sized proprietor, who was staring at Simon Liberthine with a longing that made him deeply uneasy.
‘You don’t look like most of the Brits we get in here. They’re mostly middle-aged alcoholics with wandering eyes…and hands.’
‘Well, I had an old fashioned upbringing, if I didn’t behave like a gentleman I’d get a clip round the ear.’ Simon quickly changed the subject. ‘So, what happened to your last tenant?’
‘Oh him? He said there was no future in this back-end of town with a nobody like me.’ She sniffled slightly, and Simon began to look uncomfortable. He’d never been good with domestic situations or small talk. Or women for that matter.
‘Still, he won’t be forgetting me anytime soon.’
Simon managed the impossible task of looking even more uncomfortable.
‘So, what did you used to do in England?’
‘I was a… an accountant.’
‘I never would have guessed. Most accountants I know are generally boring little men with no lives and no spark.’
Simon raised one eyebrow at this comment, but Lauren took no notice.
‘Well, make yourself at home Jack. Tomorrow, we’re starting work.’
No interview, no other applicants? Simon thought fleetingly. But his tiredness allowed him to ignore the thought. For now, he was just happy to be alive.
In the upstairs room, Jason and Bianca lay down on the beds, still wearing the simple clothes from Griffon’s Facility.
‘I didn’t know anyone could be that peppy.’ Bianca chuckled, receiving no response.
‘Jason…don’t you think this seems a little bit…convenient? I mean… finding somewhere to stay so quickly.’
Jason still didn’t reply. His entire life was changing; he had finally escaped the hellish Facility, yet he was now stuck in a foreign city, his only protector a man he had only just met. Still, at least he had Bianca.
‘Worry about it in the morning B.’ He put his arm around her shoulders. ‘We’ve got all the time in the world now.’
Later that evening, after sharing an uncomfortable supper at Lauren’s insistence and saying the last of several goodnights to his new employer, Simon Liberthine gently opened the door to his new wards’ room. They were fast asleep, their faces peaceful. Simon sighed. They were bound to be exhausted. He thanked God that they had not been conscious when Griffon returned. In particular, his heart went out to Jason, who had thankfully not been forced to witness the death of his mother. He shut the door gently, and to himself, repeated the words of the Conclave’s address:
‘To love, honour and protect our fellow sorcerers, to remain united against evil and adversity so that one day, we may all be as one.’
For better or for worse, they would have to live a new life in this strange city.