Category Archives: Fiction

Chapter Forty-Three: A New Mystery Begins

The telephone rang, rudely waking Oliver Black from his blissful slumber. He lifted his head up from the desk, glared at the phone, let it ring several more times, and then picked it up.
‘Hello, Oliver Black, private investigator speaking.’
He frowned and listened attentively. The voice at the end of the phone did not have the tell-tale cough of his father, nor did it clear its throat before beginning the call like his mother. Most importantly, the caller did not begin mid-flow, berating Oliver and his incompetence or lack of progress. This led the young man to believe that, auspiciously, he was talking to a potential new client.
‘Ah yes. I wonder sir, if you could meet me at the Museum of Natural History as soon as possible.’ The voice was crisp, thin and with a distinctly Irish accent.
‘Erm… might I ask who is calling?’
‘Cameron. Reginald Cameron. I’m the museum’s curator. Could you come quite urgently, it is an emergency.’
‘I’ll be right over Mr. Cameron.’
The caller hung up, leaving Oliver to stare, perplexed, at the receiver, the way characters in films do when they have received an unusually abrupt or obscure telephone call. He then dropped the receiver, opened his desk drawer and took several pep pills, before beginning his arduous morning routine.

At about the same time, Lisa Rickman was rapidly moving between tables at ‘Le Plateau Argenté’, ensuring everything would be perfect for the critics’ night later that evening. The manager, Charlie Amylase, was following after her, checking each table a second time to ensure they were spotless, his round physique, red face and flapping jacket giving the impression of a sunburnt penguin. Despite having seen hundreds of similar occasions and served men and woman of the highest celebrity (which he never tired of telling his staff) he always became particularly flustered on critics night.
‘Hurry up, hurry up, everything must be…’
‘Perfect, I know. Oh, the party from Toynbee & Mortimer cancelled their reservation.’
She picked up a goblet and began to polish it so that the crystal gleamed, waiting for Charlie’s inevitable panic.
‘What! Now we’re going have to reshuffle everything…’
Lisa’s best friend Amanda, the restaurant’s three star soùs chef, came out from the kitchen, her smock immaculately white in preparation for the propitious evening. From back inside the kitchen, Primo Ciccaglione, the restaurant’s continental chef, could be heard alternating between singing and shouting at his juniors as he ensured the kitchen was immaculate and ready for custom. They tried to do as he asked but his instructions were often lost amidst his thick Southern Italian accent.
‘Calm down Mr. Amylase, the restaurant doesn’t open for another seven hours.’
Amanda tried to reassure her anxious employer. The manager went to protest, but he knew that despite Amanda’s elfin exterior and pleasant nature there was a woman to be reckoned with. Lisa finished checking the cutlery on nearest tables and began laying out the napkins.
‘It’s never as bad as all that Mr. Amylase. You’re going to make yourself sick again, remember Dame Woodall and the concert party?’
Amylase went red and walked off as he remembered spending three hours alternating between serving the British singer and her entourage and rushing off to the bathroom to be violently ill.
‘Nothing will go…’
Suddenly, Lisa’s phone rang, playing a light, polyphonic pop beat. She pulled it out of her pocket and snapped it open, ignoring her boss’s protests.
‘Hello?’
‘Lisa. It’s me.’
‘Oliver? Do you need bailing out again?’
‘No…I need you to meet me at the Museum in five minutes.’
‘Oliver, we’ve talked about this, this is hardly the time for a date, not that I’m interested anyway. I’m working my backside off seeing as Ellouise called in sick, its critics’ night tonight, and we need the place gleaming…’
‘Lisa, I think we’ve got a client.’
‘Oh.’ Her rapid-fire delivery was halted as Lisa Rickman was rendered speechless for the first time in many years. ‘I’ll see you there then.’

She arrived at the museum exactly five minutes later. Lisa Hannah-Marie Rickman was a striking, attractive woman in her early thirties with sleek brown hair that fell down to her shoulders, meeting a silver locket necklace that hung delicately around her neck. She had hastily thrown a grey jacket over her working clothes, but despite her unusual attire, still managed to receive winks and wolf-whistles from several workmen who passed her along the street. Lisa had lived in this city since she was ten years old, and had no intention of leaving anytime soon. She had a well-paid job that she enjoyed, a good home and a reliable circle of friends. Her parents had moved away several years ago having to relocate because of their jobs, although they stopped by occasionally to see how Lisa was doing. Her parents had always been good to her, even during her difficult adolescence, when strange things kept happening to her. Sometimes it had been things as minor as giving people an unusually strong static shock when she touched them, other times it was as extreme as having objects fling themselves from their places when she was in the room. Her parents seemed to take it all in their stride, saying that absolutely nothing was wrong, and acted as though this was perfectly normal. Over time, Lisa had come to agree with them.

Ten minutes after Lisa arrived, she saw a taxi pull up to the curb, and Oliver Black threw himself out before it had even stopped moving. She sighed at his dramatics, and handed over a crisp note to the driver, before pulling the dishevelled detective from the pavement.
‘Ah… Christ…easy… mind the shoulder.’ He pulled at the creases of his rumpled suit.
‘Oliver, why didn’t you just take your moped?’
‘I lost the keys.’
‘Again? This is becoming a habit isn’t it? Are you sure they’re not in the fridge like last time?’ She smiled at him in spite of herself; it was difficult to stay angry at Oliver for long.
‘I don’t know…I was in a hurry. Honestly, all this complaining, you’re just like my sister Mary.’
‘That’s probably why she and I get on so well. We share the same opinion of you.’ She smiled again, affectionately smoothing his hair back and straightening his tie.
‘It’s an opinion that many share.’
Oliver Black was a scruffy looking Irishman of thirty five years. He was tall and thin, and had often been referred to by his classmates and by colleagues as a ‘beanpole’. His impish good looks were somewhat masked by an air of grubbiness, as well as a large explosion of unkempt, frizzy hair that sprouted abundantly from his scalp. He was, in virtually every sense, the exact opposite of his partner. The two had met whilst still engaged in other professions, Lisa had been working freelance as a journalist, while Oliver had been a lowly beat cop who was generally assigned whatever job kept him far from his superiors. The two had bonded over their mutual interest in films and fiction, before deciding to pool their collective resources and start a firm. Initially, they had some success, but job offers had dried up over the past year, and Lisa had jumped at the chance to take a second job as maitre d’.
‘Oh, I finished that book you gave me…’ he handed over a battered biography that if one squinted, they could just make out the title: ‘One, please’ by Lucy Cardoni.
‘It’s got coffee stains on it. And… I don’t even want to know what that is.’
‘Ah, yeah, sorry.’
‘Oliver I had to go all the way back to England to get her to sign this.’
‘I know it’s just… I’ve never been very good at keeping things tidy.’
‘Or returning things on time. I gave you this three months ago.’
‘I know.’ He shuffled awkwardly.
‘Oh don’t give me that look; you know I can’t be mad at you when you do that.’ Oliver’s face brightened. ‘You owe me big time mister.’

The duo ascended the museum steps and entered the great stone building, which, despite the early hour, was absolutely full of people. However, instead of bored schoolchildren and middle-aged history enthusiasts, the lobby was filled with policemen. There was also a puckish, slightly-built, excitable gentleman with gray fuzzy hair and enormous spectacles who was gesticulating wildly to the head officer, a man built like a rugby player. When the officer saw Oliver and Lisa approach, he groaned.
‘Well, well, Black and Rickman, detectives. I didn’t think you were still in business.’
‘Inspector Marks. Let’s not make this more unpleasant than it has to be.’ said Lisa, ever the voice of reason.
‘On the contrary, I was just leaving. I advise you to do the same, rather than embarrass yourselves.’ Marks turned on his heel and went to march away, before turning slowly back to face the detectives. ‘Do anything to disturb this crime scene and I’ll have your hides, understand?’
Lisa nodded and tried to smile cordially, but Oliver scowled at the Inspector and held his gaze.
‘Good day.’ And with that, he strode off. It was at this point that the museum director noticed the detectives and swiftly made his way towards them, to the obvious distaste of the remaining policemen.
‘Ah you must be Black and Rickman, the detectives. I found your advertisement and called the moment the police refused to press an enquiry.’ He looked over to the policemen and lowered his voice conspiratorially. ‘Cameron’s my name. Reginald Cameron, I’m the curator here.’ The man spoke quickly, as though his words were fighting to escape from his mouth. He shook hands with the two detectives, shaking nervously as he did so.
‘We were your first choice?’ Oliver asked hopefully.
‘Well I did work alphabetically through the phonebook, and since Mr. Ampleforth was away on holiday… here you are.’
‘Oh thanks.’ muttered Oliver, receiving an elbow in the ribs from Lisa for his troubles.
‘So what seems to be the trouble?’
‘Well, last night, an incredibly valuable piece of our Egyptian collection was stolen.’
‘Why?’ asked Lisa. ‘How on Earth would anyone be able to sell something like that?’
‘There are private dealers and black markets that would leap at the chance to own such a prize. But these officers here seem to think that thefts of this kind don’t fall under their jurisdiction.’ Cameron gave a disgruntled nod in the direction of the officers, who were idly scribbling in their notebooks.
‘I see.’ Lisa cut in before Oliver could make any of his usual comments about Inspector Marks. ‘And do you have any leads, any idea as to who may be interested in the results of such a theft?’
‘You’ll be looking for a higher class of criminal. Someone who knew the proper value of the piece. I’m afraid that’s all I can think of. The security tapes don’t seem to be much help, they only show three men dressed entirely in black, which unfortunately isn’t very useful in terms of identification. They’d covered their faces you see.’
A comment about stating the bleeding obvious crossed Oliver Black’s mind but he decided it would not be profitable to voice it. Lisa seemed struck by a sudden thought, and she smiled brightly at Cameron before taking his hand to shake it firmly.
‘Well, thank you for hiring us Mr. Cameron. We’ll do whatever we can to help you find the culprit of this theft and hopefully get your artefact back to you in one piece.’
‘Given a reasonable fee.’ muttered Oliver, just loudly enough.
‘Ah yes… would one hundred dollars a week be enough?’ That stopped Oliver in his tracks, his eyes gleaming, and he could only nod dumbly. ‘Excellent. Well detectives, good luck. Please keep me informed of any progress. Here is a photograph of the piece in question, and there’s a detailed description of it in our guide book on page 6.’

Lisa and Oliver made their way down the steps, Lisa taking long strides while Oliver struggled to keep up.
‘You’re marching very purposefully.’ Lisa did not reply. ‘Where are we going?’
‘Well, the best place to look for criminals of a higher class is usually the club.’
‘What club?’
‘Rondinelli’s of course.’

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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.’

Chapter Thirty-Nine: Under the Stars

Simon Liberthine walked over to the centre of the campsite, joining the pensive Miguel, wrapped in a blanket in his chair as he gazed up at the stars.
‘No matter how depressed I’m feeling, no matter how hopeless everything seems, I can look at the stars and there seems to be just a little less darkness in the world.’ He sighed longingly. ‘Quite a day you have ahead of you tomorrow Simon.’ he remarked, not looking back.
‘How did you know it was me? I didn’t make a sound.’
‘Precisely.’ Miguel smiled, and a little of the old twinkle came into his eyes. He turned around in his chair.
‘Where’s Eduardo?’
‘Gone for a walk. I never thought I’d envy him for that.’ There was an awkward silence before he added: ‘Won’t you sit down? There are some chairs around here somewhere…’
He gestured to a seat a little way from him. Simon reached into his coat and extended his arm, causing a shooting stick to appear from his sleeve. He pegged it into the grass beside his comrade and caused the seat to unfold with a flick of his wrist.
‘Very impressive.’
Simon sat down on the seat and sighed heavily.
‘Why did he let you go Miguel?’
‘I told you… so that I could inform you where the battle will be tomorrow.’
‘He could have sent an avatar to do that.’
Miguel sank back in his chair.
‘To honour a last request. William Griffon is many things, but he has always been a man of his word.’
‘Whose last request?’
‘Thomas Marshall’s.’
It took every ounce of strength and every last inch of his famed resolve to stop Simon from gasping in shock. He knew it was unlikely his mentor was still alive, but to have it confirmed dealt him a blow greater than any earthly weapon could deliver.
‘How did he die?’
‘He survived the attack on the headquarters…. Griffon wanted him alive to provide information. His methods of persuasion remain very… effective. Thomas talked, and then…’ He faltered, and Simon impatiently pressed on.
‘What?’
‘He couldn’t live with himself. Whether Griffon would have killed him or not, I don’t know.’
‘And his last request?’
‘He left a message for you.’ Miguel leant in closer and his voice lowered. ‘Simon… you parents weren’t killed by raiders so many years ago. Evanna Rosemunde was your mother… and Thomas was your father.’

The two men were silent for a long time. Simon was speechless. He had his head rested in his hands, and he stared at the floor through his fingers.
‘Simon…’
‘It’s fine Miguel. Just fine.’

Jason Fortuno awoke with a start and sat up. He looked to his right. Bianca had not stirred, she still slumbered on peacefully. Trying not to wake her, he slipped on his jacket and left the tent. In the centre of the campsite, Simon sat with Miguel, the stranger, who was the first to notice Jason’s arrival. His cub familiar, Eduardo, padded up to the chair at Miguel’s side, looked up at the boy, and tried to smile, but only succeeded in baring his teeth oddly. Simon seemed lost in thought, but upon Jason’s arrival, he stiffened and tried to smile encouragingly.
‘Jason. Couldn’t sleep?’ Miguel asked, offering him a seat.
‘Just a little… well, petrified.’ Jason laughed nervously. Simon smiled knowingly.
‘So am I.’
‘But you… you were the Arbiter… you fought hundreds of battles during the war…’
Simon winced and Miguel smiled a little at his fellow sorcerer’s discomfort.
‘Well… I may have exaggerated the truth a little… you see… the moment the war ended, I took up the Arbiter position so I would never have to fight again.’
Miguel put his hand on Jason’s arm and spoke to him in a paternal tone.
‘But that doesn’t make him a coward, and to be afraid of fighting tomorrow doesn’t make you a coward either. Sometimes, it’s the braver man who walks away.’

‘Ah… before I forget.’ Miguel sighed wearily and placed his hand inside his pocket, bringing it out again with a silver necklace clasped in his palm. It held a locket in the shape of a heart on a fine thin silver chain.
‘This was given to your mother by your grandmother… for when she got married… I acquired it from Griffon during my time in captivity.’ He opened the locket, and there was a picture on either side. Jason realised that they were images of his parents. He recognised Alexander from his visions, and saw that his father’s eyes were as his own, while Miranda Warwick had the coffee brown hair, slender neck and cheekbones of her son.
‘’I’m sure she would have wanted you to have it… to give to your young lady.’ He winked, handing the locket over.
‘Thank you.’ Jason replied, his voice catching slightly. ‘What were they like… my parents?’
‘Your father could be a difficult man sometimes. He was stubborn, and an unrelenting cynic, but I loved him, and I never doubted that he cared. Your mother got him out of his shell; he fell for her at first sight. Perhaps they fell too quickly. But he’d been very depressed with life, perhaps he saw her as a beacon of light in his life. Maybe that’s why he fought for her so fiercely. As for your mother, my wife… my wife tells me that although she’d never admit it, she was quite the romantic, and your father came along when she had given up hope on love. She was a bold woman, she wouldn’t take any of his nonsense, and perhaps why that’s why they were perfect for each other.’ Miguel’s eyes had grown misty, and he had to stop himself. Simon saw this, and tried to cover up for the older sorcerer’s show of emotion.
‘You’d better get ready for tomorrow Jason. Give my best to Bianca.’ he added, conspiratorially raising an eyebrow. Jason blushed. Miguel wheeled himself over to him and placed an arm on his shoulder.
‘And remember this; there isn’t a man or woman in this army who isn’t shivering at the thought of facing Griffon tomorrow. But they fight because they know it’s the right thing, no matter how scared they are.’
‘And although he doesn’t want to admit it, he’s just as scared as you. Even if he won’t be fighting.’ Added Eduardo, cleaning his paws.
‘Yes… thank you Eduardo.’ Sighed Miguel. ‘You spent too much time with that…’ he froze mid-sentence and smiled up at Jason. ‘Well anyway, time to get some sleep. Tomorrow is the big day.’

The two old sorcerers sat silently for the rest of the night, each knowing what the other was thinking. Simon thought of his father, and Miguel… his thoughts turned inwards. It had been Simon who had broken the news of Fortuno’s death to Miguel one cold night all those years ago. The former sorcerer had nodded, before numbly disappearing into the house. Rosemary and Simon had sat quietly downstairs with Rosemary’s son Luke, only a toddler, and tried to block out the sound of Miguel’s haunting sobs. They found Miguel’s crucifix, which he had always worn around his neck, cast aside in the road the following day. None of them had spoken of that night since. Only once before had Simon seen Miguel so vulnerable and wracked with guilt, and that was after a mission in France, where he had began an affair with an abused, married woman. Upon discovering the affair, the husband had stabbed them both. Miguel had of course recovered and taken revenge, but that the lady was lost and he would not speak of it to anyone, not even Alexander, confessing his sins to Simon and trying to forget about it. But this had been worse, Fortuno’s death had broken his carefree spirit, despite his best efforts to return to normal following his argument with Rosemary, the toll it had taken was evident.

When dawn broke the next morning, Simon rose unsteadily from his chair and embraced Miguel.
‘Well this is it. I’d hoped my fighting days were over.’ He paused. ‘I was always a coward.’
‘No, you were simply… sensible.’
Simon straightened up, and looked up at the rising sun.
‘I promise I’ll make him proud of us.’
‘I know you will.’

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!’

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.’