Chapter Forty-One: Sunshine

The winter’s sun reflected magnificently off the ice, dazzling the remaining combatants. Yet where Jason Fortuno stood, there was no light, just a human silhouette, impossibly dark, as Griffon had been upon the day of his resurrection. Around its form was a vicious, cutting wind that made it impossible for anyone to get within two metres of him.
‘Jason?’ Echoed a hollow, cautious voice.
The figure turned to look at Bianca, but it was impossible to determine whether it acknowledged her presence. Griffon was shocked, but the fear on his face quickly vanished and his expression returned to one of self-confidence as he stepped forward to confront this new challenge.
‘At last, an equal.’
He thrust his arms outwards to blast the silhouette with another torrent of fire, but the figure seemed to absorb the flames, which spread across its form, giving it the appearance of being shaped from molten liquid. Griffon tried again, this time with sparks of electricity, but he was met with a similar effect. That which was once Jason began to walk towards him, effortlessly absorbing all subsequent assaults. Griffon grew desperate, and he began muttering an incantation, exhaustion causing sweat to come pouring down his face.
‘No, stop him!’ yelled Simon Liberthine, but no one dared to interfere. The necromancer raised his arms and screamed at his terrifying opponent.
‘You think you can take this away from me?’
With every last reserve of his strength, Griffon sent an almighty shaft of dark energy at Fortuno, sending him toppling. The acolytes that Griffon drew his energy from were falling one after the other, their essence drained entirely.
‘I’ve waited too long for this! Sacrificed too much! This…is…my…victory!’ He roared, punctuating each word with another stream of energy that knocked Fortuno to his knees. Both men were exhausted, but Griffon was an experienced necromancer, while Jason Fortuno was still a relative novice in the sorcerous ways. He held up his hands to withstand the assault, and a beam of energy pushed against the combatants, each struggling to force it towards his opponent.

Outside of the cyclone, sorcerers and necromancers all watched and waited. Their skirmishes meant nothing compared to the clash of titans within the circle. Simon Liberthine watched with helpless dread, he knew Jason could not withstand the barrage for much longer, and the effort made to rejuvenate his power without a conduit was draining his life at an alarming rate, despite utilising the life force of his wounded enemies, who seemed to shrivel up as their essences were sapped away. Making one final effort, the young sorcerer flung his arms outward, reflecting the beam of energy back into Griffon. With a mere flick of the wrist, he sent his remaining enemies tumbling into the grass. Griffon’s hooded acolytes seemed to explode from the inside, reduced to dust in seconds. There was a hollow laugh, and no one on the field recognised it as Jason’s own.

‘Jason! It’s too much, you’ve got to stop now!’ yelled Bianca from outside the cyclone. But her friend did not hear her, and continued with his violent onslaught. Sorcerers and necromancers alike were trying to stop him, but he cast them aside indiscriminately. The necromantic corruption fuelled his actions, but the young sorcerer’s life-force was almost depleted, and every use of his new powers sapped away at his strength.

William Griffon had been too transfixed with terror to move, but now he pulled himself off the ground and began preparing the teleportation incantation that would take him away. Jason Fortuno’s corruption by necromancy would ensure that all his enemies were dead; the boy would not be able to stop his newfound power destroying himself and all he cared for. When the dust had settled, and he had licked his wounds, Griffon would return with a new army and finally reign triumphant. His plans had failed, but the necromancer was always quick to think of new ones.
‘Why, William?’ came a voice from beside him. Cornelius stood beside his master, his expression stoic.
‘Cornelius… you traitor! If you hadn’t concealed him… it wouldn’t have come to this if you hadn’t…’
‘It would never have happened if you had swallowed your pride. You killed your greatest friends without remorse; you’ve destroyed life after innocent life pursuing a twisted dream. Your bitterness and hate cost you everything in the end.’
The necromancer angrily went to reply, but could find no answer. Cornelius was right. He sank to his knees, and remained very still. Alice, Bernard, Vladimir, Sarah, even Evanna, who had eventually been consumed by necromancy and died an insane wreck, pleading for the end at the hands of Vladimir and Thomas Marshall. Everyone who he ever loved or who ever loved him was lost. And all because of him.
‘No…I simply will not give in!’ Griffon protested, but with little conviction. He had been fighting for so long to build his dream and make others see the right way, when maybe he was the one who had been wrong.
‘William… there used to be so much good in you. There is still time. Do some good now.’
Swallowing hard, and lifting up his head to the sky, William Griffon, his energy already greatly reduced by his exertions, extended his arms to Jason Fortuno. He called out, his voice rising above the tumult.
‘For all I’ve done… and all I might have done… I’m sorry.’ Then, Griffon took the young man’s head in his and kiss his forehead. The great wind was stilled, and the darkness that surrounded Jason began to fade. The necromancer smiled despite his pain as he absorbed the darkness into his own body. As the remainder of his life ebbed away, he whispered to his dying familiar, once again reduced to the form of a crow;
‘Why ever did I do that Cornelius?’
‘Peace.’ came the serene reply. As the wind died down, William Griffon thought of Alice, smiled, and closed his eyes for the final time.

‘He… gave his life to end what he started.’ Simon remarked, his voice catching in his throat. The battlefield was completely silent as the combatants all pondered William Griffon’s final act in life. ‘Gentleman, your troops are to stand down. There will be no further bloodshed today.’
He looked around for the assassin, but he had vanished from sight.
“I guess… the war is over.”

Chapter Forty: The Battle of Ages

William Griffon stood confidently at the head of his army, clad in an elegant black robe and red lined cape which swirled dramatically in the wind. He wore no protection or armour, so sure was he of their success. At his side was the Gentleman, silent and implacable, his hand resting on his silver swordcane. The necromancer’s acolytes and their legions of the dead vastly outnumbered Liberthine’s forces and Griffon’s powers outclassed any sorcerer on the field. Crushing these meagre foes would leave him completely unopposed. And yet… what did it matter in the end? His friends lay dead or scattered, opposing him from afar. His wife and child were long gone, and now even Sarah had deserted him. Could he not just give it all up, leave this place and never return? No. He had passed the point of no return; there was nothing to be done. He turned to Paul Spencer, one of the few willing alumni of the Facility on the field that day, and smiled.
‘This is our day. Today is where the old world ends, and a new world begins.’ He gave a signal to the men at his side.
‘Prepare to attack.’

On the other side of the field, where the rain had settled and hardened to become ice, Jason Fortuno tightly gripped the white staff that Simon had fashioned for him. He had expected to feel nervous, but there was nothing, just a cold sense of purpose. Beside him stood Bianca, who managed an anxious smile. For her sake, and for the sake of his family’s honour, he would find William Griffon on the field and wipe the wicked necromancer from the face of the Earth. In front of them was Simon, his face stern, prepared for the battle. His suit was once again immaculate; bowler hat placed firmly on his head, umbrella grasped tightly in his fist as he looked across the field.
‘There are a number of young sorcerers under Griffon’s control today, most of whom have no desire to fight. Deal with them carefully.’ Then, to Jason, he spoke softly.
‘Your parents would be proud of you Jason…don’t forget that, no matter what happens. Stick close to me.’

Jason smiled at the closest thing he had to a father on this Earth, and tensed. The other side were signalling for a parlay. He followed Simon forwards, as they walked to meet Griffon, Cornelius and the Gentleman in the centre of the field. The assassin smiled at Jason politely, with no hint of menace. Griffon strode up to Simon, a confident grin on his face.
‘Simon Liberthine… last of the old guard and now leader of the sorcerers’ ragtag resistance. Quite a promotion. But you’re no Macellan I’m afraid.’ Griffon turned to Jason and spoke as if giving a lecture. ‘You remember Andreas Macellan from your studies don’t you? He was Machiavellian before Machiavelli… nearly fought me to a standstill several hundred years ago with half the force you’ve gathered today before finally seeing the light. But his successor apparently prefers the bureaucratic side of his position. The priest, the functionary who abhors fighting… because he is terrified of it.’
Simon gritted his teeth and bore the insult the way only an ambassador could.
‘One last gloat before the battle… you never change Griffon.’
‘Oh you’re quite mistaken…I’ve changed considerably since our last tête-à-tête. Enhanced, you could say.’
‘I’m tired of talking William. Let’s just get this over with.’
‘Ever the professional, Liberthine? Very well.’
He turned to go, but Simon stopped him.
‘It’s not too late Griffon… it’s never too late. We can set you free.’
Griffon’s confident smile turned to puzzlement.
‘The old ‘last minute second chance’?’ He sighed and lowered his head. ‘No… it is too late for that I’m afraid, Simon. After all I’ve done, the work must be carried out.’ He bowed ceremoniously. ‘Farewell young Jason. I’ll look for you on the field.’ With that, he raised his staff in salute, turned, and walked back to his army.

‘My fellow sorcerers and sorceresses… we stand about to face the greatest battle of our time. We may all meet our maker today… but we can certainly give them hell before the end. It has been an honour and a privilege living and fighting alongside you…’ His voice faltered, for the first time in his life, Simon realised he could not hide his feelings.
‘Good luck… and Godspeed.’
There was a roar as the sorcerers drew their weapons. Despite the massive advancement in technology since the last war, they still fought with swords and melee weapons; a gun was no use against a sorcerer.

‘After today…everything will be as it should.’
It was uncertain whether Griffon spoke to his army or to himself as he prepared to meet the assault. He tensed, and concentrated hard before sending a wave of dark energy at the sorcerers, who managed to deflect it, but at the cost of slowing their attack. Chaos descended in a matter of seconds. Jason was the second to run forwards, hot on Simon’s heels. He remembered everything he had learned in the Facility, all the tricks and underhand ways of achieving victory, for he knew there would be no victory through brute strength alone. He saw Simon leap through the air and bring his sword down on the heads of several acolytes, while further back, Bianca and the unarmed sorcerers continued to cast defensive sorcery around their fighters. At the rear of Griffon’s army, the unwilling students of his Facility served a similar purpose, while the more militant students seemed gruesomely delighted to be in the middle of the fray. They were led by Maurice, who was effortlessly knocking down all in his way, halting only when he locked blades with the Castellan.
‘Traitor.’
‘Bootlicker.’
‘Hypocrite.’
Maurice sighed. ‘This is going to be a long day.’

William Griffon felt the adrenaline surge through his body as he cast down his opponents with ease. He had not felt such raw power since the War, and he yelled in exhilaration as he struck out at the sorcerers, his dark eyes on the constant watch for Jason Fortuno. Never wanting to stray too far from his idol was Paul Spencer, who was fighting as ferociously as any of the adult sorcerers on the field. He halted his destructive frenzy as he reached the far end of the field, coming face to face with Bianca White.
‘Bianca. I’ve been looking forward to this. Mr. Griffon’s been particularly vexed by the trouble you’ve caused. Well…’
Before he could finish, Bianca knocked him out cold with a single punch to the face.
‘You always did talk too much.’

Bianca wasn’t the only one dealing with an old enemy. At the other end of the fracas, Simon Liberthine cut a path through the black clad acolytes with his rapier. While he had confidence in Jason, he knew the boy would be no match for Griffon if they met on the field. But the acolytes continued to swarm around him, and he lost sight of the young sorcerer amidst the chaos.
‘Having trouble Mr. Liberthine?’
Liberthine turned to face the Gentleman, who was standing unsullied and unharmed in the centre of the fracas, as though both friend and foe alike had cleared a path for him.
‘Not at all. Care to join me?’ Simon smirked with a great deal more confidence than he possessed.
‘But of course.’
The two professionals leapt at each other and began a vicious yet almost elegant battle that no sorcerer or acolyte dared to venture near to.

Jason ducked and weaved through the combatants, his heart pounding furiously against his chest. He stopped suddenly in his tracks. Griffon was standing, smiling at the young sorcerer as though he were a long-lost relative.
‘Ah young Fortuno. It’s been too long.’
‘Not long enough.’ Jason snarled, raising his staff. ‘But since you’re here…’
‘Oh please.’ Griffon smirked, batting the staff away. ‘You have your father’s penchant for cliché, but I doubt you have his skills.’
‘Of course not. I learnt them at your Facility.’
‘Touché. But rather childish don’t you think’ He raised his staff towards the young sorcerer. ‘Well, we might as well get this over with.’

The moment Griffon finished speaking; Jason hurled a ball of energy at his head, which dissipated in an instant. The necromancer deflected all of his attacks with ease, he had been a formidable sorcerer in the past, and his rebirth had only strengthened his abilities. He blocked all Jason’s attempts at attacks with a gesture of his hand before breaking the head from the boy’s staff with an almighty crunch. Jason felt like a child being toyed with as he prepared for the inevitable melee.
‘You can still surrender.’
‘No turning back now.’
Jason raised his sword to Griffon, but the necromancer was too quick, he viciously backhanded the youth across the face, causing Jason to fall to the floor, his mouth bloody.
‘Give my regards to your father.’
Griffon launched a blast of fire at the inert figure. As the flames surrounded him, Jason closed his eyes and raised his arms heavenward.
‘Reach out Jason…’
No one else heard the voice, though it echoed in Jason’s ears as clear as day. He reached his hands out further… and felt the presence of all the sorcerers and necromancers around him.
‘Draw on their strength… and strike!’
The combat seemed to grind to a halt as the flames around Jason licked up higher. Bianca gasped in horror and ran, uncaring, through the field to where her beloved stood, now completely hidden within the inferno.
‘Jason!’
The flames died down and there was a collective gasp amongst the warriors.
‘No… it can’t be.’