Chapter Thirty-Seven: Abandoning the Past

William Griffon had been in Romania when he received the summons, standing in the ruins of Vladimir Serapus’ old fortress. When the last war began, the castle had become a prison for necromancers who had been captured, the most notable being the man who Griffon had arrived to visit: Andreas Macellan, former Arbiter of the Elder Conclave and later Griffon’s deputy in the ‘Shadow Conclave’ of necromancers. If he had not been captured, it was highly likely that the necromancers would have triumphed.

Griffon walked almost blindly through the remains of the skirmish happening all around him, his black cloak whipped by the wind as his acolytes, led by Maurice and Paul Spencer, cast down the guardians of the prison with little effort. Though he was so close to achieving victory, Griffon’s mind was far from easy. A little way behind him walked Cornelius, as pensive as his master. A sentry hurried up to the necromancer and bowed.
‘We’ve found him sir.’
Maurice, lighting a torch with a wave of his hand, escorted Griffon along the dark hallways, where several of his men were busy setting free key members of the old guard from their cells. Those who remained were enraged, shouting and screaming themselves hoarse, but the acolytes paid them no heed. Griffon did not hear them; he was deep in thought; remembering his first visit to the castle, a memory that remained clear in his mind even after over a thousand years. Back then, the castle had been filled with the smell of freshly cooked meats, its hallways illuminated by torchlight. It had been a place of welcome hospitality. He and Bernard had stridden into the great hall where Vladimir Serapus waited, clad in robes of rich silk. The room was imposing, with great portraits hung in ornate golden frames. A large oak table had been set out before them, laden with a bounteous feast. That day, a friendship had been made that he had thought would endure forever. But for an immortal, forever is never as long as it seems.

Stirring from his reverie, Griffon eventually arrived at a great chamber, larger than the rest of the cells. In the centre of the room on the cold stone floor sat a dark, hunched figure that flinched at Griffon’s approach, before recognising his old ally. Macellan had wished to be given a seat on the Council, but was granted the Arbiter’s position for his years of faithful service. When the war began, Griffon had played on his ally’s disappointment at not being accepted into the inner circle and won him over to the side of necromancy.
‘Now here is a welcome face. They told me you were long gone William.’
‘They were right… in a fashion.’
Andreas Macellan had never been a large man, but centuries of captivity had left him emaciated to the point of being skeletal. His face had been handsome, but was worn from years of neglect, and was mostly covered by a large black beard. His entire body was a framework of skin stretched thinly over old bones that seemed to radiate a great sense of weariness. But in his eyes there still shone some cunning, a remnant of his days as councillor to Bernard King, and later Griffon himself. The memories of wild hopes and dreams that had once driven him lurked beneath the deep hazel eyes.
‘I tell you, if I had been there, things would have gone a little differently.’ He chuckled, the sound rattling around in his throat. ‘You actually managed to return then, come back from beyond?’
‘I did, and here I stand for all to see.’
Macellan’s eyes gleamed, and a crooked smile came over his bony face.
‘I knew it could be done.’
Griffon smiled as well, but there was something threatening in the gesture as he leant in closer. Macellan spoke again, and this time there was some genuine concern in his voice
‘Tell me, what became of my wife?’ For a moment an expression of concern appeared on the man’s treacherous face.
‘Katarina? She’s eluded me so far.’
‘Well, I am sure she will return once I am free of this place.’
Griffon made a murmur of agreement, but his face remained suspicious.
‘They named Simon Liberthine as your successor. Do you remember him?’
Macellan frowned and mused over the name before a flash of recognition came to his face.
‘Thomas’ lapdog? That subservient cleric boy? I presume you put that young upstart out of his misery swiftly and effectively.’
Griffon’s face darkened.
‘As a matter of fact, he still eludes me. He was never one to confront an enemy directly.’
Macellan rose to his feet, though the exertion was clearly an effort for him.
‘Well then, now that you have your old councillor once again, it’ll take no time at all before we find him… and crush whatever resistance remains.’

Griffon did not respond immediately, and when he did, his words were spoken with such abruptness and venom that Macellan recoiled.
‘You aren’t going anywhere.’
As he spoke, Griffon took a step towards the skeletal man, forcing him to cower back into the corner of his cell. Macellan looked out into the doorway for help, but the two were completely alone.
‘William?’
Griffon sealed the door behind him with a flick of his wrist.
‘I was secure in my fortress at Dijon. We had turned the tide of the war. Then I was forced to flee to some godforsaken cave in the Urals, because the Elders had discovered where I was. How did they do that Andreas? How ever did they find me?’
Macellan paled, and his hands began to shake, though his voice was calm and persuasive; the years in prison had not taken their toll in his sharp mind.
‘They could have intercepted a messenger, or deduced it from your past behaviour and attack patterns… how should I know William? I was in captivity by then.’
‘And that, Andreas, is when you betrayed me. What did they promise you? A more lenient sentence when I was found? The restoration of your abilities and station?’
He gripped the former Arbiter tightly by the throat and lifted him high above the ground.
‘Never trust a betrayer they told me. Much suffering and pain could have been prevented if you had held your tongue. Now, I will see you pay for it.’
Struggling to speak, Macellan managed to rasp out a few words:
‘There was… no bargain. If you had endured what I did… you would have submitted as well. Day after day, praying that the next turn of the wheel or lash of the whip hurts just a little less than the last. But they don’t stop; they never stop, not until you give them what they want.’
Griffon’s grip tightened.
‘Then why not lie, for all they knew I might have left long before they even arrived.’
‘It would… have done no good.’ He grimaced through his pain and glared at Griffon. ‘If you’re going to kill me…do it now. Finish this.’

Time seemed to stand still for one tense moment before Griffon threw Macellan to the ground. The fallen necromancer clutched at his throat, coughing and rasping as he struggled to regain his breath.
‘You will remain here until the end of days…. or until someone with a greater sense of mercy than I come to find you. Maybe they’ll free you from your miserable existence.’
He stormed out of the room and sealed the doorway.
‘Why didn’t you kill him sir?’ asked Maurice as they walked away from the cell.
‘I have seen too many old friends perish to have another die at my own hand. His captivity is punishment enough.’
Maurice sighed, and for one moment, his tough façade disappeared.
‘I’m tired sir.’
‘So am I Maurice. So am I. But think of your family. You love them don’t you?’
‘Of course.’ Maurice stiffened.
‘Then you’ll want your children, and one day their children to live in a better world. And they’ll know their grandfather was a great hero… a powerful necromancer, someone who helped to bring about peace and order to the land.’
‘Sir.’ Maurice shuffled off, not entirely convinced. Beside him, his owl familiar, Amos, had landed, carrion-like on a corpse, before pecking at it and disappearing. Seconds later, the corpse stood up, rather unsteadily, its own features now curiously owl-like. Griffon turned to the acolytes who remained in the area and spoke softly.
‘I require a moment alone. Finish the scouring of the castle, and meet me outside in ten minutes.
A great hero… someone to be proud of. If only there were someone left to think that of me Griffon thought to himself. It was then that he received the call from The Gentleman, and he immediately began mustering his forces for the greatest battle of their time.

Chapter Thirty-Six: The Professionals Meet

The Gentleman made his way across the nightclub floor. There was no visible sign of his earlier fall and impact with the pavement; even his suit remained spotlessly white.
‘Remember me?’
‘Jack, do you know this guy?’ Lauren asked, turning from the man she was serving. ‘And why did he call you…’ Simon cut her off with a whisper.
‘Lauren, take the kids and go.’
‘But…’
‘Now!’
She looked at him with alarm, but complied, swiftly but silently making her way towards the stairs.
‘You’re looking very well.’ He made his way past the table and onto the circular dance floor, which had now been hastily vacated. The crowd, sensing trouble, parted like the Red Sea to let The Gentleman pass. Simon came out from behind the bar and joined him, while the crowd looked on hungrily awaiting a fight.
‘Thank you. I might say the same of you, all things considered. I thought Freya dispatched you back in Munich.’
The Gentleman smiled in reminiscence.
‘Her effort was admirable. But I had a contract to complete, and my employer would have been so disappointed for it not to have been fulfilled.’ The two men circled each other like animals ready to pounce.
‘Where is the Fortuno boy?’ The Gentleman asked with cool authority.
‘Far away from you, and I intend to keep it that way.’
‘You can try sir, you can try.’
With that, the Gentleman’s hand shot outwards, and a thin blade extended from the base of his cane. From the inside of his coat, Simon pulled out his umbrella, revealing the rapier concealed with in its handle. The crowd scattered as the two men began to fight.

In the living room above the club, Jason sat on the cracked leather sofa, still drowsy from his sleep and lost in thought. His whole life had been spent adhering to a monotonous unchanging routine, and now everything had begun to happen all at once. He had finally found a surrogate family with Bianca, Simon and Lauren, a family which could now be under threat from the same fiend who had killed his parents. Jason’s knuckles whitened as he clenched and unclenched his fists. Someday, he thought, he would have his revenge.

His violent thoughts were disturbed as Bianca emerged from the bathroom wearing nothing but a robe, her hair still wet.
‘Oh… sorry Jason… I didn’t know you’d be there.’
‘Sorry. Do you want me to go while you get dressed?’
‘Oh after the Facility I don’t think there’s anything you haven’t already seen.’ They both giggled, and Jason turned away to allow Bianca some privacy as she changed.
‘Jason?’
‘Yes Bianca?’
‘Simon told me what you did today… you were very brave.’
Jason laughed.
‘I was lucky.’
They looked at each other in silence. Jason brushed a stray hair from Bianca’s face.
‘You are so beautiful.’
The tender moment was suddenly broken as Lauren burst into the room, gasping for breath as she spoke; unaware of the intimate scene she had interrupted.
‘Guys, we need to go.’
‘But…’
‘Now!’

A furious battle played out downstairs, each man matching the other blow for blow with text book swordsmanship. The music continued to play at a great volume, as though dramatically underscoring the conflict.
‘I congratulate you on hiding place Simon. It was not an easy task to find you here.’
‘Oh that was nothing. The hard part’s yet to come.’
He grabbed a wine glass with his free hand and flung its contents into the Gentleman’s eyes. The assassin stumbled backwards and Simon took advantage of this lapse, stabbing him through the chest.
‘I sincerely hope that hurt.’
He removed the blade and crossed himself before turning and running towards the backrooms. The crowd looked open mouthed as the Gentleman slowly raised himself up, brushed himself down and set off after him.

Simon managed to reach his silver Bentley and quickly ushered Lauren, Jason and Bianca into the back. While he knew that he couldn’t have defeated the Gentleman, he had bought them enough time to escape. As he moved off, he spied the Gentleman in the rear view mirror, his sword cane glinting as he sprinted to reach them.
‘Everybody, close your eyes.’
Simon swerved the car round and drove full speed towards the assassin, catapulting him several feet into the air before he was dropped to the pavement with a sickening crunch. Simon put his foot down and didn’t look back at, as his passengers stared at him, bewildered.
‘What just happened?’

Twisting his mutilated joints back into place for the second time that day, the elegant assassin watched as his quarry escaped his grasp again. Instead of making off in pursuit, he made his way to a telephone booth and inserted several coins into the slot, before dialling a number.
‘Sir, Fortuno has escaped.’
The voice on the other end did not explode with anger as the Gentleman had expected it to. Instead, there was a long pause, after which William Griffon’s cool, collected tone came through.
‘He won’t go far, not if he knows you’re after him, it would be hopeless.’ There was a few seconds of silence. ‘That was a compliment.’
‘Thank you sir.’
‘He knows he’s trapped… so he’ll call them altogether, whatever’s left of the old guard. All that remains is for us to meet them in battle… and crush them.’

Simon tried to collect his thoughts as he drove aimlessly along a country road that seemed to lead nowhere in particular.
‘So what was with tall dark and handsome back there? And who’s Simon?’
‘Simon is me.’
He pushed his foot down hard on the accelerator. The Gentleman could have easily procured a car by now and could well be on their tail.
‘Hey wait…what do you mean you’re Simon? You mean you lied to me?’
‘I have got much more important things to worry about right now!’ yelled Simon, shooting an angry look at his passenger, before swerving to avoid an oncoming car.
‘You lied to me… even after I took you in, got you up on your feet..?’ The catch in her voice nearly broke Simon’s heart, but he gritted his teeth and thought back to his days as the Arbiter, the days where the slightest sign of emotion could have brought his negotiations crashing down.
‘I’m sorry, but, we have to go back to England.’
‘What? Why?’ Asked all three of Simon’s passengers.
‘Did you not just see that man? He won’t stop until you’re in Griffon’s hands. And Miss Sanders, I’m sorry…’
‘But I’m coming with you right? I mean, that guy might come after…’
‘Why? Why would he come after you? He’s after us! You’re just unfortunate enough to have gotten caught up in this mess.’ Simon screeched the car to a halt, and lowered his voice, all the while avoiding Lauren’s gaze. ‘Take this car back home; once he sees we’re not with you, he’ll leave you alone. Jason, Bianca, come on.’
‘But Jack… Simon… I don’t care; I just want to be with you.’
‘Find someone else. There’s no future with someone like me.’
He got out of the car, Bianca and Jason following on behind. Lauren sat dejectedly in the front of the car and Simon was almost tempted to turn back, to apologise, to do something, anything … but eventually his professionalism won over and he walked along the road, not looking behind him. He couldn’t risk letting himself look back, he couldn’t have the luxury of emotion. The young sorcerers followed Simon along the path, wearied by the day’s events and saddened at leaving their life in New York behind, sorry to leave Lauren and have a chance to be ordinary. There was a small town up ahead, and they managed to sit down in a small booth at the local bar.
‘Where are we going?’ asked Jason.
‘We’re not running, or hiding anymore. I have a few friends to contact… then we must prepare to fight.’

Jason and Bianca sat silently nursing two lemonades whilst their protector made several brief calls on the telephone next to the bar.
‘Well, there goes our life.’ remarked Bianca bitterly. Jason put his arm around her and tried to smile.
‘Simon will make it right. Maybe we’ll even find your parents someday.’ Just a shame we’ll never find mine, Jason lamented to himself. As if she knew what he was thinking, Bianca moved in a little closer to him.
‘You’re bound to miss them Jason. But feeling bad will never bring them back, you can’t change the past. All we can do is decide what to do with the future.’

Their tender moment was interrupted by the return of Simon, who stood over the table, his face grim. He’d settled the bill, leaving a barely touched cup of hot coffee on the counter.
‘Time to go I’m afraid.’
They silently followed him out of the pub, leaving their own half finished drinks behind. Simon stood perfectly still outside for a moment, gazing up at the heavens.
‘Soon, every loyal sorcerer will arrive here.’
‘What for?’
‘One last gathering. For the final council.’