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.
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.