Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Final Council

It took two days for all the sorcerers to arrive in America, and the former Arbiter was silently dismayed to notice that there were far fewer than he had hoped for. Still, he arranged for them all to meet that evening on a field some miles from the town where he had called them from. Griffon had slain many of the pure sorcerers, but a few remained, having taken refuge from the storm that had taken Europe. There was Jeffrey Holmes, once the prison warder at Serapus’ castle and a trainer of sorcerers during the first war, Matthew Dent and his partner Brittany Rose, Alexia Bishara, daughter of the late Elder Cassim, and Caroline le Fleur, a sorceress and healer from England. Most comforting to Simon was the arrival of Edward Hartnell, formerly the Castellan, who had survived Griffon’s attack having been hiding out in South America with his wife Eilish and her brother Edmund. Hartnell had sent his familiar to gather more troops upon his arrival. However the sorcerer and former official was wracked with guilt, he had been unable to attend the Conclave’s meeting where the councillors had been massacred and the security detail had been left to lesser men.
‘If I had been there… perhaps things would have been different. I could have stopped Griffon right there…’
‘There’s nothing you could have done Edward. But perhaps now, we can make things right.’
He ascended a small hill overlooking the field in order to gain a better view of the assembled masses, who were indulging or nostalgic reminisces about the past rather than facing up to the terrifying reality of the present. Simon took a deep breath and spoke clearly, causing all assembled to stop and listen.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, I have called you here at a most troubling time. The Elder Conclave is no more, and though there are reports that some of them may have survived, we cannot count on their leadership and guidance any longer. Sorcerers all over Europe and Asia have been massacred. And yes, the rumours are true; William Griffon is the one responsible.’
There was uproar from the assembled sorcerers and sorceresses at this comment, and Liberthine had to shout to return order to the proceedings.
‘William Griffon is responsible, and he is hell-bent on annihilating anyone who stands in his way. We must stand together against him, or divided we will fall.’
‘You must be crazy Simon!’ came a voice from the crowd. ‘If Griffon has done that much damage then he must have at least three hundred men on his side.’

‘Closer to five hundred.’
Simon turned to face whoever had just spoken. He almost leapt back upon seeing the skeletal form of Miguel Carrera, who looked as if he was using every last reserve of strength just to stay sitting upright in his wheelchair.
‘Miguel? We thought you were…’
‘No. He sent me here… to tell you where our fates will be decided.’
‘Miguel… what happened to Rosemary?’ His companion sighed wearily, and coughed. His voice was thin and rattled as he spoke.
‘She’s… he has her.’ Miguel coughed again, more heavily, and his equally fragile familiar continued in his stead.
‘He’s gathered together all his acolytes from across the globe… all the students from the Facility… summoned creatures from beyond… and you’re the only ones left who can oppose him.’
The sorcerers all began to speak at once.
‘We’re two hundred and fifty men at the most; we’ll never manage to…’
‘There’s still a chance of getting away before morning, we could…’
Simon sighed heavily, before raising his umbrella and firing a bright light into the air with a bang. When the sorcerers were silent, he intoned gravely:
‘There will be no more running. We face them at dawn.’

The crowd of sorcerers began to disperse, hastily setting up temporary camps in the field before preparing for the upcoming battle. Simon Liberthine remained where he was, thoughtfully staring off into the distance. Why couldn’t Griffon have left them alone? He had been alive for centuries, but he hadn’t lived a day of his life until arriving in New York. He had got used to life at the nightclub, grown fond of his young wards and… though it brought a blush to his cheeks to admit it… the woman who showed them so much kindness. The former Arbiter sighed. He had been unnecessarily blunt with her… if he survived, the first thing he would do was to go back to the city and apologise. If he survived… He was a bureaucrat, not a warrior, even in his mortal disguise he was a missionary, never raising arms against his fellows; his duty had been to save his neighbour, his flock. And now look at him. The leader of an exhausted, disorganised, hopelessly outnumbered resistance against William Griffon’s trained necromancers, the students of his academy and all their unnatural legions. For the first time in his life, Simon Liberthine prayed for himself.
‘Please…help me… to save my family … to defeat Griffon … to make things right.’
Because he knew that only a miracle could help them now.

Simon was not the only sorcerer who was trembling as the day drew to a close. Jason Fortuno entered his tent and sat down on the camp bed, his head in his hands. He had never been in a real battle before… despite all the training he had received at the Facility, hours of drilling , practice with the swordmaster and the endless demonstrations of practical sorcery, he could not feel more unprepared. This was all too real, and there was so much at stake.
‘Jason?’
He looked up, startled, to find Bianca standing over him.
‘Hey. You er… ready for tomorrow?’
Bianca smiled and sat down on the edge of the makeshift bed. She tried to hide the fear in her voice and her heart.
‘As ready as I’m ever likely to be.’ She put her hand on his shoulder, and he relaxed.
‘It’s been a funny couple of months hasn’t it?’
Jason chuckled despite himself.
‘Well, that’s certainly one way of putting it B.’

He kissed her, tentatively at first, before they both fell into a deep embrace. All those years of torment, all those fears of tomorrow vanished for just a few precious moments.

Jason Fortuno walked alongside the roadside, a change from the glade he usually saw in his dreams. He did not know where he was going, he felt as if he were moving on automatic pilot, as though his legs had their own momentum. He started. The hooded figure was there again, his blue eyes glaring down at Jason, his arm poised to strike. But then the figure looked up, gave a scream of terror and vanished.
‘Jason?’
Jason turned. There was a man standing behind him, the same man who had appeared that night in the Facility, and later in his feverish dreams induced by Griffon’s sedatives.
‘Dad?’
The man smiled.
‘That’s right. You’ve grown into a fine young man… I always knew you would escape somehow.’
‘Dad… I’m frightened. Tomorrow, we face Griffon and I’m just going to freeze…I look at everyone… Simon, Bianca, Mr. Carrera… they say we can win but I see it in their eyes. We’re doomed.’
Alexander placed a reassuring hand on his son’s shoulder.
‘Don’t be afraid. You have my stubbornness and your mother’s fighting spirit.’ He grinned. ‘I believe in you. Do what your father never could.’
He began to slowly fade, and Jason reached out, but his hand passed right through his father.
‘No… don’t go… I need you.’
Alexander smiled sadly.
‘I’m always with you Jason. Never forget that.’
‘Dad!’

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