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.’

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