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.’

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Chapter Thirty-Five: The Gentleman

Jason Fortuno glanced at his watch. Six thirty. He packed his day’s work into a black satchel, waved goodbye to Leonard, and left the office, briskly making his way to the lift.
But before he could summon it, there was a mechanical ping and the doors opened, allowing a man to step out.

He reminded Jason of an actor he had seen in one of the old black and white films Lauren had made them watch, resembling a Basil Rathbone or George Sanders, yet much more sinister. He was tall and thin, with one eye a dark blue, the other a deep green. He was wearing a white suit, with a yellow shirt, black waistcoat and red tie. And in his hand, the man held a black cane, topped with a silver dragon’s head. He looked every inch a gentleman, yet there was something malevolent about his demeanour, and Jason backed away.
‘Jason Fortuno?’
His voice was crisp, polite and British.
‘I’m afraid you made a mistake, I’m…’
‘Please, I know full well who you are. You look very much like your father.’
Jason flinched.
‘Who are you… and what do you know about my father?’
‘Our paths crossed before…. several times in fact. A decent fellow, and quite the swordsman. I don’t suppose you know much about the art of the blade?’
Jason hesitated and did not reply.
‘Oh of course, you’ve spent most of your days in that dreadful Facility.’
‘How do you know so much about me?’
‘All will become clear in time. Now, while this may seem frightfully rude, I must ask you to come with me.’ He extended a hand, and Jason felt compelled to follow him.
‘I promise that I will not hurt you Jason.’ He smiled. ‘Come along.’
‘No…no I don’t think so. Now if you don’t mind I’d like to leave now.’
The man sighed, but his pleasant expression did not change.
‘Now that makes things more difficult. And this can be over so quickly.’

Jason made a move as if to follow the man. As he turned his back, Jason extended his hand and, remembering back to his dreadful days in the Facility, allowed energy to flow through his fingers, sending out a bolt of crackling energy towards his would-be abductor. The man was thrown into the wall with a crunch and Jason immediately began to run towards the stairwell. But he was too slow, the man leapt up with cat like grace and landed in front of him.
‘Impressive, but unwise. You used up a considerable portion of your energy and now you have nowhere to run.’ He took Jason by the arm, not roughly, but with sufficient restraint to compel him into compliance.
‘Now if you will come with me.’
Jason sighed. Using unchannelled magic required great exertion, and the man didn’t seem at all harmed by the energy itself, or his collision with the wall.
‘Alright.’
‘Thank you.’

The man escorted Jason back towards the lift, and as he did so, the youth yelled and, using up what strength he had left, sent another wave of energy coursing through his hands at the man, crackling his skin upon impact and sending him reeling through the air and out through a glass window. Gasping for air, Jason swiftly took the lift down and made his way back to the club as quickly as his fatigued legs could carry him.

On the paved courtyard outside the building, a large crowd had gathered, gaping at the splattered corpse. Had he been depressed and thrown himself out? Before they could continue in their conjecture, the body peeled itself from the pavement.
‘My sincere apologies about the mess.’ He mumbled, clicking his splintered jaw back into place. The gathered crowd were too shocked to say anything, although the most curious thing they noted was that despite falling at least thirty stories, there was not a single drop of blood on the man’s white suit.

Jason stumbled into the club and made his way straight to the bar, where Simon and Lauren were deep in conversation.
‘And so Nessa and he finally made up and are living it hot out in the country out east somewhere, and so she says to me … sweet Lord, Jason, what happened to you?’
‘I er… got knocked down by a bike. Do you mind if I have a quick word with my Dad?’
Lauren frowned at his abruptness, but quickly resumed her normal cheery disposition and smiled.
‘Sure.’
Simon threw the cloth over his shoulder and took Jason to a table.
‘What’s wrong Jason?’
‘A man tried to take me away with him today…he knew who I was…he spoke about my father…’
Simon’s eyes widened, his unflappable exterior visibly shaken.
‘Did he tell you his name…? What did he look like?’
‘He was tall and thin and he was wearing a white suit. And he’d got a very posh English accent…’
‘Was he…by any chance carrying a silver cane?’
‘Yeah…why…do you know who he is?’
Simon frowned deeply.
‘He doesn’t have a name, at least, not one we’re aware of. Calls himself ‘The Gentleman’. I’ve met him on several occasions.’
‘Is he an assassin?’
‘Not an assassin. The assassin. The ultimate professional, a contract killer who’ll work for whatever reward he chooses, as sharp with his sword as his with his tongue. He’s always polite, even when he’s about to cut your throat. As long as he’s alive and his contract remains valid, he’ll never stop hunting you Jason.’
‘Well… I left him splattered on the pavement.’
‘I’m afraid it’s not that simple. He’ll be back. You at least held him off for a while; he’ll be distracted trying to cover up the evidence of your little fracas. Now, go upstairs and rest. You’ll need your strength if he finds us here.’
Jason nodded, and headed up to the backrooms. People had begun to enter the club for cheap cocktails and early drinks so Lauren quickly got to work, setting down salted snacks on several of the tables she had neglected earlier. Jason dropped onto the sofa and fell promptly asleep.

A short while later, Simon Liberthine had just dealt with the removal of a particularly inebriated customer from the dancefloor when the doors of the club opened and a tall, thin man entered, smiling at him.
‘Simon. A pleasure to see you again.’

Chapter Thirty-Four: Revelations

The following evening, whilst most of Griffon’s war party were preparing for their next campaign, the necromancer summoned Paul Spencer into his presence, much to the young man’s delight. The older man was seated on a deck chair, with another set out opposite him.
‘You summoned me my lord?’
‘Yes Mr. Spencer. What is your opinion of our campaign?’
‘Excellent sir, we have made better progress than we could have hoped for.’
‘I asked for an opinion, not a report.’
‘Oh’. Spencer was taken aback and struggled to muster up a suitable answer. ‘We… we do what must be done sir. For our enterprise to succeed, the ends must justify the means.’
‘Hmmm.’ Griffon paused for a moment. ‘Bring Thomas Marshall to me at once.’
‘As you wish sir.’
He bowed and quickly departed, leaving Griffon to his thoughts.

When Spencer returned soon after, he brought with him the emaciated form of Thomas Marshall, who was being supported by two necromancers. Marshall’s familiar, Clavius, had taken his usual form as a magpie, but with a white bib that was strangely reminiscent of the shirt he wore as a human butler, and was perched on his master’s shoulder.
‘Leave us.’
The necromancers obeyed. Griffon waved his hand and a chair moved out for Marshall, who wearily slumped into it.
‘How fortunate that I decided to keep you alive Thomas. For you see, now that I have eliminated my opposition, there is a little unfinished business I wish to complete, for which I need your help. Where is Andreas Macellan being held?’
Thomas looked up at him under hooded eyes. His face was haunted and drawn, while his eyes, always so stern and calm, were bloodshot, the right twitching dangerously. He spoke in a voice that was devoid of his usual professionalism and control, but that retained a flat monotone.
‘Why would I help you? I’ve told you too much already. You can rot in Hell Griffon.’
‘And you can be there to keep me company.’ Griffon retorted. ‘Don’t forget Marshall, it was your mistress who led me down this path in the first place. You were as willing a servant as any.’
‘I changed Griffon. I changed; because I knew what I was doing was wrong.’
‘Don’t try to take the high ground here. You changed because you saw your downfall approaching. The rat fled the sinking ship.’ He curled his lip at the former Councillor. ‘And I’m sure the fact that your mistress no longer found your company…’
Thomas had moved faster than Griffon had expected, and the necromancer was left holding his bloodied nose. He laughed, spitting blood onto the grass.
‘I haven’t…been taken by surprise like that for quite some time.’ He paused. ‘My apologies. There was no need for me to speak of Evanna like that.’
Thomas made no attempt to hide his surprise at this show of courtesy.
‘Why are you apologising to me?’
Griffon sank into his chair and gave a long sigh. The coldness seemed to drain from his facade, replaced with a deep melancholy. When he finally spoke, it was in a low whisper.
‘Because I’m turning into her. No matter how hard I try to stop.’

Griffon had not been present when his old co-conspirator died. While he was safely concealed in his lair in the Urals, he had received an urgent distress call from Evanna’s avatar. However, by the time he had got to her lair in Greece, she was dead, finally consumed by necromancy. Vladimir Serapus had been waiting for him, Miguel and Thomas at his side. His old friend had a great cut across his eye, and it appeared that he would be unable to see from it again. There was a great sense of unease in the air, but none of the men attacked.
‘Griffon.’
‘Gentlemen. So who did it? Vladimir?’
‘It was me.’ Came a voice from behind, the voice of Thomas Marshall. Griffon had not expected that. He had considered the former necromancer to be little more than a lackey.
‘She asked me to. Better to die, she said, than to live with the knowledge that she had caused such suffering. Her works brought about her ruin.’
‘I see.’
Vladimir Serapus spoke up, his voice wearied from battle.
‘Do what you have to do Griffon.’
Griffon paused for a long-time, and looked down at Evanna’s fallen form, her face finally peaceful in death.
‘No. You once spared my life for the sake of our old friendship. I owe you the same kindness. But the next time we meet, I will not be so lenient.’

‘I know you loved her Thomas.’
Marshall did not reply.
‘She was not a cruel person. Necromancy… it does something to you…’
‘You would know of course. The most beloved son of the Elder Conclave, hero of our race…’
‘It’s all a matter of perspective.’
Marshall scoffed.
‘Alright. I’ve done things… terrible things… things I can’t just blame on being under the influence of necromancy…’
‘Back in the old days you claimed that you could control that influence.’
Griffon laughed, a brief, mirthless chuckle.
‘That’s what I like about you Marshall, argumentative to the very last.’
‘It’s one of my few redeeming qualities.’
‘I know about your son.’ That comment stopped Thomas in his tracks. ‘The son she bore you in one of her last loving moments.’
‘My son is a dead man. If he hasn’t died already, then I’m sure you will show him no mercy when you find him.’
‘Why did you lie to him?’
‘Would you tell your son that his parents were monsters? A failed necromancer and a power addict who abandoned him at birth? I should have been damned for loving her…’
‘You don’t choose who you fall in love with.’ said Griffon, so softly that Thomas was barely sure he had heard him.
‘You and I are not so different are we… William?’
He stood up, and moved towards the cliff edge.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’
Marshall did not turn around. He smoothed down his coat and did up the buttons on his jacket, before responding in his famously calm and collected manner:
‘I have become deeply and thoroughly unsatisfied with the present company.’
‘You’re not just walking away…’
‘You will find Mr. Macellan at Serapus’ old castle in Romania. We always used it to house undesirables after the war. Jeffrey Holmes was the guardsman, but knowing him he will have done the sensible thing and found somewhere to hide.’ Thomas took a deep breath, as though in preparation. ‘I’m sure you will enjoy renewing old acquaintances.’
Thomas looked out into the black, unforgiving sea and was reminded of Evanna, his untameable, ever-changing love. He remembered the carefree days of their youth, and the passions they had shared as they reached maturity. When he had finished reminiscing, Thomas turned to Griffon with a sharp intake of breath, looking deep into the necromancer’s eyes.
‘Tell Simon the truth for me.’
He clasped his hands together, as if in prayer, before stepping over the precipice.

Griffon walked slowly over to the edge. There was no sign of Marshall. Slowly, calmly, he walked through his encampment and went up to the tent where Miguel Carrera was being held.
‘I have something I need you to do for me.’

Chapter Thirty-Three: Fragments of a Dream

From atop the cliffs, William Griffon smiled as he surveyed the ruin in front of him, delighted to be back on English soil once again. He looked wild as the breeze from the sea swirled his cape around his legs. It was not the carnage that pleased him, but the feeling that the end was near, that soon the world would be as it should be. His only regret was that Alice would not be at his side, their son at hand, watching with pride as the new world he worked so hard to achieve was completed.
‘Wonderful isn’t it Cornelius?’
His familiar did not reply.
‘Don’t you ever speak anymore? I think I preferred you as a raven, at least then you’d screech every now and then.’ He forced a chuckle, but Cornelius did not react, staring blankly out to sea.
‘It seems none of my captives are willing to converse with me. I can’t imagine why.’
The familiar’s face remained stone and Griffon sighed.
‘Very well. Rosemary?’
‘Yes…master?’
Rosemary Carrera slowly made her way towards Griffon. Her face was drawn and haggard, marked as much by the mental trials she had endured as the physical ones. She was pushing a stark metal wheelchair, occupied by a man so gaunt and lifeless that he was barely recognisable as Miguel Carrera. He was sitting rigidly upright, but his eyes had the same glazed look as Griffon’s familiar. Upon his lap sat the lion cub Eduardo, who was as lean as his master, with a silent, stoic temperament to match.
‘Fetch me some refreshment. Eliminating upstarts always leaves me parched.’
Rosemary bowed sarcastically, and went to wheel Miguel away, but Griffon raised his hand.
‘No, leave him here.’ The wheelchair moved effortlessly towards the necromancer’s hands.
‘Oh don’t give me that look Rosemary. I’m not going to hurt him. I promise.’ Rosemary gave her husband a look and glared at Griffon, but left without a word.
‘I do enjoy our little talks.’

Griffon leant in towards the skeletal sorcerer, as though he were speaking in confidence.
‘Still not planning on coming back to us then Miguel?’ Griffon taunted, clicking his fingers in front of Miguel’s face, but he did not respond. Griffon sighed. Despite his mocking, he wished that Miguel would answer. He had not spoken with another sorcerer properly for decades, save for a few brief exceptions, and most of those times were during the interrogation of his enemies, which hardly counted for intelligent conversation. He lowered his voice and spoke softly, as if explaining something to a child, sitting down on the grass so his head just reached above Miguel’s knee.
‘I know you never will come round to my way of thinking, but just consider what I’m trying to do here. A world liberated from the restraints of the Conclave and their outdated dogma, where sorcerers and necromancers need not fear each other. We might even have the humans accepting us one day.’
And then, he said something that made Miguel momentarily break from his trance.
‘You know, I despise myself sometimes. I despise that I have had to do all this to bring about peace and order. But if I ever thought, for one moment, that my sacrifice was unnecessary, that all this ruination was in vain, I wouldn’t have thought twice about handing myself into the Conclave years ago. And then, that day when Fortuno killed me… I would have been happy to have died… after all I had done, maybe it was my time. Clearly someone didn’t agree with me. Given a second chance, I felt I had to resume my duty to bring freedom to all sorcerers. Everything I had risked and lost… it had to be worth something.’
He paused, and curled his hand tighter around the chair, as if physically weakened by this outpouring of his soul.
‘I had hoped that you would accept my way, all the things you’ve seen and changed. You shied away from the norm, you consorted with pirates and lawbreakers, participated in revolutions and counter-coups…. what is necromancy to all the anarchy and revolution you’ve seen?’ He paused again, taking a deep breath. ‘And I want you to know that… I always respected you.’
He did not continue, for Rosemary had returned with refreshment. The necromancer stood up, his face returning to its usual mocking, death’s head grin.
‘Well, enough talk. You two can go.’

Upon their departure from the cliff top, they passed Paul Spencer, his clothes stained from the blood and dirt of the battle. He approached Griffon with his head slightly lowered, a soldier who was both in awe of his commander, and yet afraid at the same time.
‘Mr. Griffon sir, the enemy have been completely routed… those who haven’t been killed have fled into the hills. Shall we give pursuit?’
‘No, we have broken their spirits; they wouldn’t dare come out to challenge us again.’ Griffon turned away, but Spencer did not leave, he was waiting, hoping for some commendation for his progress today.
‘Sir?’
‘Oh yes… you may go.’
‘Sir.’ Spencer bowed and walked off, more than a little disappointed.

‘William.’
Griffon turned in surprise. Sarah was standing behind him, her face betraying nothing.
‘Yes my dear?’
‘William, I’m leaving.’
For the first time in decades, the necromancer was shocked.
‘What did you say?’
The woman who had been his only comfort for the past seven years nearly choked on her words, but stood firm.
‘I’ve had enough William! I stood by you through all those horrible experiments, all these massacres because I actually thought that you were doing it for good. But I was wrong… I’ve been so blind. There’s not one shred of goodness left in you… you’re so wrapped up your own hatred you’ve forgotten everything it means to be human. And I can’t stay with you anymore…goodbye William.’
The necromancer remained silent for a long while, before turning slowly to face her. When he spoke, his voice was like ice.
‘Do you think it’s that easy? Do you think you can leave me here flat?’ His eyes flashed menacingly and he raised the former Nurse of the ground. ‘And before you forget… I have always been so much more than…’ he spat the next word out with contempt. ‘…human.’
‘Please…’ The former nurse struggled to speak, overwhelmed by the tremendous physical pain and the raging emotions that she tried to suppress.
‘You were quite content to sit back and watch the show, and now you get cold feet?’
‘William…’ Sarah Ellis’ voice was almost a whisper. ‘I’m pregnant…it’s…it’s yours…’

There was silence, and Sarah fell to the ground. For once, Griffon was speechless, he turned away.
‘Go.’
Sarah wiped away a tear from her eye and vanished into the night. Griffon slowly, heavily sat down on the grass. Cornelius watched him from far off, almost pitying his master. Their souls were linked, his brain told him not to care, his heart disobeyed. The necromancer closed his eyes, perhaps out of weariness, or perhaps in order to stem the tears that flowed from them.

There had been no unusual circumstances surrounding the birth of William Steven Griffon on the 28th October 533 in a small town on the Scottish border. He had been born on time, with no signs off ill health or outward deformity. His early years also passed on unassumingly, and it seemed that Griffon would live a quiet, simple life, before assuming his father’s mantle as the village’s healer.

All that changed when he was fifteen. Without warning, there was a vicious raid conducted by the Picts from the other side of the border, and young William was one of several youths taken as hostage. Sitting huddled together in terror; the children were looked over by the Pict Elder, a tall, thin man in his forties with a long black beard who inspected the children imperiously. Upon seeing Griffon, he motioned to his two escorts, who pulled the young man from the line and escorted him to the Elder’s tent.

William stood petrified as the two soldiers left the room, leaving him alone with this imposing man. To his surprise, he was offered a seat, and the man addressed him in perfect English.
‘What is your name, lad?’
‘Griffon…William Griffon.’ the boy stammered.
‘Don’t be afraid William. I am no Scotsman. My name is Bernard King and I have been looking for someone like you for a long time.’
‘Someone like me?’
‘You are more special than you think, William. You are one of the few people in the world with the potential for sorcery.’
‘Sorcery?’
‘Let me show you.’

King took a gnarled wooden pole that was leaning against the side of the tent. As the young boy sat, fascinated, the man made several motions with his free hand, and the chair Griffon was sitting on ascended slowly.
‘How did you…the stick?’
‘The ‘stick’ is merely a conduit… something through which I can channel my energy through.’
‘And I’ve got the power to do…’
‘Almost anything you could imagine William.’

After being returned to his village, William Griffon acted as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred during his kidnapping. Yet once every week or whenever he could find the opportunity, the boy would seek out Bernard King and learn the ways of a sorcerer. When he was twenty, the Romans came to the village, and many of the men were enlisted into their army, Griffon included. But one night, during a campaign in the east of Europe, Bernard found him once again and the two of them made off across the continent, seeking other sorcerers. It was not until they reached Romania that they found anyone else of their kind. Invited to dine one night in the castle of warlord Vladimir Serapus, the two men discovered that their host was also a sorcerer, and Griffon first laid eyes on the warlord’s niece, Alice. However, that very night, the people of Serapus’ town also discovered Serapus’ secret, and the sorcerers were forced to flee across the country. They became good friends, enlisted the most powerful sorcerers from regions around the world and formed the Elder Conclave, which would maintain order and peace. Griffon made new friends, like Andreas Macellan, the Conclave’s Arbiter and Maurice Kendall, a great sorcerer from the Dark Continent. That was before the war, before the schism tore them apart and before William Griffon murdered the two men who had been his greatest friends.

The necromancer stretched his arms out onto the grass and stared up into the night sky, obliviously to the passing of time as he became lost in his reverie. The white lights of the stars offered him no solace as he considered the slaughter he had sanctioned and everything he had sacrificed for his bloody crusade. In the land of his birth, thinking of what he had striven for centuries to accomplish, he recited the words of an old poem:
‘I will not cease from mental flight… nor shall my sword sleep in my hand: till we have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant land.’
William Griffon did not seek to build a new Holy Land, but somehow, he found the poetry bitterly appropriate. He would make it right; he would not give in, he would make the sacrifices worthwhile.

Chapter Thirty-Two: Where the Heart Is

Simon Liberthine shivered, despite the warmth of the day. He looked quite a sight in the football shirt and shorts Lauren had found for him, apparently left behind by her ex-boyfriend, clearly a shorter and wider man than he. He had wanted to play in goal, thus sparing himself exertion, but Jason had cheekily taken the position upon seeing his foster father’s discomfort, forcing him to the front. Israel Bolt stood at the side as referee, and seemed extremely amused by Simon’s behaviour.
‘What’s the matter, you never played before?’
‘I’m not a sports type person. I’ve played polo and croquet, that’s about it.’
‘Well lah di dah Mr. Englishman.’ came the chuckled response from the opposing team captain, before kicked he ball hard in the general direction of Jason’s head.

‘Yay! Go Jason, go Jack!’ cheered Lauren from the sidings. She was sitting beside Bianca, who was trying not to giggle too much at Simon’s embarrassment. The game soon got off to a bad start, as a failed pass resulted in Simon being tackled and nearly crushed by Liam Cranham.
‘Play on.’ called Bolt Sr., chuckling.
‘Oh come on… that was a foul…’
‘You’re playing in the big league now Mr. York.’ replied Cranham, breaking through a score of defenders but failing to swarm past Jason.
‘Big leagues my a…’ Simon muttered, before being brought back to the real world as the ball sailed past his head.

As Jason’s team scored their first goal courtesy of Leonard’s friend Roger, Lauren whooped and passed a can of fizzy drink to Bianca.
‘So, you getting on okay here in the big city?’
‘Oh yeah… it’s great.’
‘You don’t feel homesick or anything?’
‘Oh no… believe me, if you saw the last place me and Jason were living, you’d understand why.’ Bianca then added hastily. ‘And you’ve been so accommodating with us, helping Jason get a job and letting me work in the club…’
‘Hun, forget about it. You guys are like family now.’
Bianca smiled at her, as Simon ran up the field with the ball, pursued by several teenagers who all looked stronger than the older man. I survived the sorcerers war, I can win a simple little football match.’ thought Simon. He ran at full pelt towards the goal and nearly knocked out the goalkeeper with a fierce kick that rolled past the line, much to the delight of his teammates. A thought came to him, and he had to suppress a chuckle at the accompanying mental image. If only Bernard and Griffon could have settled their differences like this, things could have been quite different.
‘Offside!’
‘Oh shut up Jimmy.’

An hour later, when the game was over and a fatigued Simon had received multiple pats on the back for scoring six goals, he walked up to Jason, who was equally exhausted from his considerable, though fruitful, exertions.
‘Good show Jason. And you too Mr. York. Perhaps we can all get together for a beer sometime.’ said Israel Bolt, shaking Simon’s hand.
‘I’d like that, thank you.’ He smiled at Bolt and walked away.
‘I’d have to echo that Jason. Good job today.’
‘Thanks.’ He walked up to Simon, and spoke in a whisper. ‘Seriously, thanks. I know you didn’t have to do this…’
‘Hey, I had fun today. And don’t mention it.’
Jason’s thanks had suddenly brought Simon Liberthine back to Earth. He was the Arbiter, notorious for being distant and businesslike; in fact his job required it. But after all, wasn’t he also a priest, a man who had to become closer to his brothers and sisters in God in order to save them? He thought he had lost his humanity many years ago, but maybe now it was finally beginning to resurface. Perhaps he could allow a little to warmth to come into his life.
‘So, are you gonna stop dithering or are you gonna come for a late lunch? My treat.’ Simon barely registered Lauren’s questions and replied with a simple ‘Sure’. She regarded him with concern.
‘Are you alright, you look…whacked out.’
‘Oh yeah, I’m fine. Lunch, great, excellent, I love lunch.’ Fortunately, Lauren didn’t seem to mind his babbling, and just laughed.
‘You do act funny sometimes.’ She turned to Bianca, who was in the middle of giving Jason a congratulatory hug.
‘Hey, you two. Coming or what?’
‘Let me just get out of these clothes.’

Jason and Leonard were the last ones to leave the changing rooms, and they sat talking about the match while they finished getting dressed.
‘Hey, Len, thanks for letting me come today.’
‘Hey don’t worry about it Jason. Why wouldn’t I invite you, you’re my best friend.’
After everything he had been through, Jason could do nothing but smile at that.
‘Hey, did you see that Violet girl Roger came with? Beautiful. I tell you, everyone’s getting tied up except me.’
‘What about me?’
‘Oh… I just assumed you and Bianca…’
‘Oh no…no…’
There was a pause before Leonard asked:
‘So does that mean that I can ask her out?’
There was another pause and a thump.
‘Ow. I’ll take as a ‘no’.’

After packing up and saying goodbye to the other players, Simon, Lauren, Jason and Bianca made their way to a small café near Central Park. While Simon and Lauren went off to order, Bianca and Jason sat quietly at their table.
‘It seems so long ago, doesn’t it?’ asked Bianca, suddenly breaking the silence.
‘What?’
‘Those days.’ said Bianca with a whisper.
‘I try not to think about it. This place is our home now… and I don’t know… but I kinda like it here.’
‘Well, anything’s preferable to the Facility.’
Jason murmured in agreement. ‘I wonder how Lewis and Patricia are doing?’
‘They’ll survive. They’ve got each other.’
‘Do you think they realise that?’
‘Lewis certainly does.’ Bianca smirked playfully. ‘He never looked at anyone else.’
‘Well, that’s love for you I guess. It can thrive in even the most heartless place.’
‘Lunch is on its way guys!’ called Lauren, walking over to them with a plate. Behind her, they could just about make out Simon, his face hidden behind a stack of plates, glasses and snacks that wobbled dangerously as he walked.
‘Need any help S…Dad?’
‘Oh… only more than you can spare.’ deadpanned Simon, collapsing into the chair as soon as he had placed all the plates on the table. Lauren grabbed her glass and piped up chirpily:
‘Well, I say we all drink to a day well spent.’
‘And many more.’

Chapter Thirty-One: A New Life

‘Somewhere…beyond the sea…’
The man who was formerly known as Simon Liberthine sang enthusiastically along to the record as he turned the seats over. Over the past fourteen months, he had grown accustomed to life in America. But now and then he would be reminded of the past, of the friends he had lost in Europe, and he would grow quiet. Lauren tried her hardest to cheer him up, but sometimes he was inconsolable. Occasionally he would smile sadly to himself as he remembered the days long past, when Councillor Thomas rescued him from his burning village and trained him in the arts of sorcery, as well as helping him achieve his mortal disguise as a missionary in the English Church. Thomas had taught him everything; he had even been responsible for Simon’s professional demeanour and sometimes icy exterior. But he had cared; he had vouched for Liberthine to succeed the treacherous Macellan as Arbiter and despite all his cynicism and dry wit, Simon missed Thomas most of all. He stopped quite still and his brow darkened.
‘Jack? You okay?’
Lauren tenderly laid her hand on his arm, but he did not respond.
‘You can tell me you know? I’m always right here.’ Still he did not respond.
‘You know what, you need cheering up, and I know just what’ll do it.’ She changed the record and took him by the hand.
‘When marimba rhythm starts to play…’
‘Come on… let’s have a bit of fun.’
She walked towards him, her hips swaying and arms outstretched, inviting him to dance.
‘Lauren, I really don’t feel like…’
‘Hey, I’m your landlady, and I say you’re gonna dance.’
Sighing, Simon complied, taking her hand and leaning in, having to stoop a little to facilitate his partner’s slight stature. Surprisingly, he soon found himself getting into the moment, in spite of his former solemnity. The life he had here wasn’t so bad; he could easily have had it worse. He moved his feet in a languorous rhythm with the melody.
‘You’ve got quite a skill considering you’re so damn uptight all the time.’
‘Well, I don’t like to boast.’
Simon had become so embroiled in the dance that he made no attempt to resist when the song reached the end and Lauren kissed him quite gently on the lips.

‘Sorry…erm… I’m just getting off now.’
Simon quickly moved away from his dance partner as Jason Fortuno slowly made his way down through the bar and out into the nightclub. He was dressed in a smart white shirt and black jacket, ready for another day as an intern down at the office of Blakely, Cranham and Bolt, solicitors. He had managed to gain the job after Lauren had almost intimidated the manager into giving him a place. She could be quite formidable when she wanted to be.
‘Well, if it isn’t Tom Cruise himself.’
She grinned, looking up at Jason, who blinked in confusion.
‘What?’
Lauren sighed, exasperated.
‘It’s a joke, it means you look handsome. Don’t you go to the movies? Honestly you guys, sometimes it’s like talking to a wall.’ She brushed his hair out of his eyes and smiled.
‘There you go. Knock ‘em dead hun.’
‘See you later Jason’ Simon called from the tables at the back of the club, which he had swiftly retreated to. Jason walked out; raising his eyebrows at the situation he had interrupted.
‘Erm… Jack…sorry if I seemed kinda…’
‘Forget about it.’

Because of the brisk wind and pleasant atmosphere, Jason decided to avoid the subway and walk into work that day, his Walkman turned right up as he half-sang to himself.
‘Oh, you’re the best friend that I ever had…’
He managed to make it into the office in about three quarters of an hour. The perky receptionist smiled as he came in.
‘Good morning Jason.’
‘Morning Karen.’
He enjoyed his internship, even if it was somewhat monotonous, he managed to fill most of his time engaged in idle conversation with the solicitor’s young son Leonard, whose father wanted him to go into the family business, but he had his heart set on a career in politics. They would converse about everything and nothing, and occasionally drive the staff insane by humming the latest pop hit around the office until it became stuck in everyone’s head.
‘Ah, TGIF eh Jason?’
Jason turned to find his friend sitting in a revolving chair with his feet up on the desk.
‘Makes no difference to you Len. When was the last time you actually did a days work?’
Leonard laughed and took his feet down.
‘Hey, the world doesn’t need another lawyer. I’ve got bigger plans.’
Jason, who had heard this sort of talk from his friend before, smiled and turned on his computer, which whirred with energy as it slowly fired up.
‘Hey Jason, do you fancy joining us for a game of soccer in the park tomorrow afternoon? It’ll be the guys from the office, Roger Darning, you remember him… Oh, and it’s sort of a father and son thing if you want to…’
‘Soccer?’
‘What you Brits call football.’
‘Hey, our game came first; you give your one a new name. Yours is just…rugby in padded suits.’
‘Oh, you crack me up Jason. So can we count on you joining us?’
‘Well, I’ll have to check with my… my dad.’ It still felt strange referring to Simon as such, but deception was necessary if they were to survive in this city.
‘Call him now, Dad won’t mind.’
‘Won’t mind what?’ came the voice of Israel Bolt. The man himself followed shortly afterwards. He was in his early fifties, and every aspect of his appearance was neat and professional, dressed in a pinstriped suit, red tie and thick reading glasses. ‘No personal calls during work hours Leonard.’ He wagged his finger at his son.
‘But Dad…’
‘No exceptions.’ He turned away and added mischievously: ‘At least… not while I’m within earshot.’

He walked off to join Mr. Blakely and Mr. Cranham, his partners in the firm, who stood by the door to the boardroom. They were all the sons of Irish or Jewish immigrants, like so many others in the city, but had managed to work their way up through the world until they ran one of the most prestigious law firms in the state.
‘Hey Israel, you figured how we’re gonna whip Callahan at the murder hearing next week?’ asked Blakely, a tall, stern faced man with dark eyes.
‘I’m only a humble solicitor; I leave all the courtroom stuff to you and Liam.’
‘Is that wise?’
‘Eh, Callahan’s an ass…’ piped up Cranham, a small round man with thinning red hair.

When the men had left, Leonard eagerly handed Jason the phone handset.
‘Hello… err hi its Jason… is my dad in? Thanks.’ He paused and waited until the mellow tones of Simon Liberthine sounded down the receiver.
‘Hello, Jason?’
‘Hi, yeah, is it alright if I go and play football with some of my friends from work tomorrow?’
‘Yeah, sure, bonding. Don’t see why not.’
‘Oh, and… it’s a father and son game.’
There was a long pause on the other end of the line.
‘Oh. Ah.’

It may have just been coincidence that it was this night Bernard King found himself thinking of his two greatest apprentices, and how similar they had been. Both had been eager to learn, and swift to understand the ways of a sorcerer. Yet William had always been a force of brute strength, a hammer to Alexander’s rapier. He would pepper Bernard with questions and he, with the patience and tolerance of a loving parent, would answer them as best he could. The young Griffon had been an idealist even then; frustrated that he could not fix the wrongs of the world by himself. Fortuno, on the other hand, had been more patient, willing to do things one step at a time. The Elder breathed out heavily, and frowned. Because of him, they were both dead, his staunch refusal to help Griffon in his time of need had torn the world in two and robbed him of the closest things he had to sons. He had never had a family of his own, upon discovering his sorcerous abilities, he had avoided settling down for fear of loss, and fear of endangering the lives of anyone he loved. Bernard King had lived a sad and lonely life, but he had strived to continue for the good of his brothers and sisters in sorcery, so that they might learn to manage their Gifts.

He sat up in his chair and cleared his throat. The Elder Conclave sat, reposed, at their council table. They had assembled in haste, and haste was not something they usually did well. Edward Hartnell was on leave in South America, and the Conclave’s security was entrusted to other men, strong warriors but with less potency in the art of sorcery. But the Conclave were not concerned, there had not been a breach in security since the days of Griffon.

This was the time that Liberthine had promised to report by, and they trusted him not to be late. Yet he had been acting unusually lately since the reports of Jason Fortuno’s whereabouts and some of the councillors were considering having him honourably retired from his post.
‘Nine thirty.’ Remarked Vladimir, checking his fob watch. ‘He should be here anytime now.’

The signature three knocks were heard on the exterior door, followed by the scrape of the stone door moving back. Footsteps echoed along the staircase and the councillors turned to the sound of the noise.
‘I’ve come to retake my old position.’
The councillors stared in shock at the necromancer, who nonchalantly went to take his place. The council members rose to their feet as one. Bernard spoke for them, his voice calm and level.
‘You are not welcome on this Council anymore. You are no better than the rogues and abominations we sought to destroy when this council was formed half a millennia ago. You are not one of us.’
‘How…disappointing. But not entirely unexpected.’
Griffon coldly surveyed his former friends with a casual disdain, showing neither fear nor remorse.
‘Well, I offered you a chance.’

The sorcerers attempted to attack, but Griffon was too swift for them. With a wave of his hand he threw them to the ground. The energy he had received in Italy had strengthened him impossibly; he was casting magic without drawing upon his staff, charged with the energy of every student of the Facility. The councillors own weapons were summoned to the necromancer’s hand in an instant and turned to dust. Griffon saved Bernard’s until last, breaking the head from the wooden staff with his bare hands and casting it to the floor at the Elder’s feet.

‘Now you’re going to see why it was so unwise to deny me all those years ago.’
Griffon’s acolytes descended the stairs, led by the grim faced Maurice. They numbered fifteen in all, and were themselves accompanied by two dead creatures each, crowding the small room with their terrible presence.
‘Mr. Marshall, if you would come with me please.’
He looked over at Elder Thomas, who glared back at him.
‘You’ll have to drag me.’
Griffon smiled nonchalantly.
‘Very well.’
He extended his hand and Thomas was drawn to him as if by some invisible force. Griffon turned to his acolytes and said coolly.
‘Deal with them how you see fit. But save these two for me.’ He gestured to Vladimir and Bernard, who grimaced at him with hatred.
‘You monstrous…’
Griffon turned, his face contorted with rage.
‘If I am a monster Bernard, then it was because of what you did to me! I am your creation!’ He breathed heavily and turned to Maurice, quickly regaining his composure.
‘Have fun.’
He turned away from the Conclave and ascended the steps, shaking his head as the massacre began. Bernard and Vladimir were restrained, but were not allowed to leave the chamber until the last of the terrible executions was over.

Griffon joined Cornelius and Sarah outside. His familiar remained silent, staring into space, remaining in the almost catatonic state he had been in since his master’s return. Sarah, on the other hand, kissed him warmly, smiling as the raw energy coursing through Griffon touched her lips. Griffon smiled sincerely for the first time in centuries. Soon, the two of them would rule supreme, and he might at last fill the void that had occupied his soul for six hundred years.

When the dreadful deed was done, Maurice dragged the surviving elders outside, where they were flung to the grass. Next to him stood Paul Spencer and a number of students who were struggling to keep the bloodied Elder Thomas under control. Griffon ignored them and pulled Bernard King to his feet, spitting in his face with utter contempt.
‘Look at me now, you stupid old man. Haven’t I proven you wrong? Look at all I have accomplished! Twice I have cheated death, and this is just the beginning! A new age will soon be upon us, and there’s nothing you or your pathetic followers can do to stop me.’

Bernard lifted his blood stained face to look at Griffon, but instead of a fear or defeat, he gave a sad smile, a smile of pity.
‘William, William. Always getting it wrong… all you’ve managed to prove is that we were completely right.’
Bernard closed his eyes, accepting that his time had come. Two thousand, two hundred and twenty eight years he had been on the Earth, witnessing the rise and fall of empires, encountering figures out of myth and participating first hand in events scattered broadly across the history books. It had been long and often lonely, full of pain and suffering, but there had been happiness as well. He smiled as he remembered attending the Sermon on the Mount, fleeing the fire of Rome, fighting the French at Agincourt and meeting Shakespeare one rainy night outside the Globe, giving him warm praise and confidence after a poor performance. But the last thought that went through Bernard King’s mind before he died were the times spent with his two greatest friends, Vladimir Serapus and William Griffon.

Serapus could do nothing but stare as his oldest friend was reduced to dust and ashes. He turned expectantly to Griffon, who pulled the Elder to his feet.
‘Join me.’
‘What?’ Vladimir asked incredulously.
‘You don’t have to worry about Bernard anymore. It can be as it always should have been.’ The necromancer was speaking with genuine sincerity, his hand outstretched towards his old friend.
‘It isn’t meant to be. I’m sorry William. But you are destined to fail.’
Griffon’s smile faded sadly from his face, quickly turning to a snarl as he angrily thrust out a palm towards Vladimir Serapus’ face, sending him flying into a large tree. The Elder did not get up, yet there was a placid smile fixed on his face. Griffon turned away as his servants disposed of the dying sorcerer.

Elder Thomas looked down at him in silence, inert with shock. The acolytes turned to Griffon.
‘What should we do now Master?’ Their lord and master did not reply. For an instant a tear passed across his cheek and he was completely still. ‘Master?’ But an instant was all it took, and the necromancer’s face hardened once more.
‘Track down every sorcerer you can find and bring them to me. As for the Fortuno child… bring me the Gentleman.’

Later that night, Griffon and Sarah lay in each others arms looking silently looking up at the stars. She was surprised at his tenderness towards her despite his violent behaviour. Back at the Facility, she had seen past the mature, flawed body of Dr. Edwin Orphal and fallen in love with the mind of William Griffon, that brilliant force that imagined a great and glorious future, the mind that had made her willing tolerate his temper and the necessary cruelties her job forced her to inflict. She had struggled through beatings and mental abuse as a child, before moving into the monotony of a day-job as a hospital intern, never thinking her life would change until that day when she had caught William Griffon at her hospital, in the process of bringing a child to the Facility. It had been a strange first meeting, but his ideas and promises of a better life had won her over instantly, and there had been no looking back.

William Griffon had tried not to think of Alice as he made love to Sarah. She had stood by him loyally, but he didn’t feel love for her as he had with his wife, or even in his pursuit of Miranda Warwick. But behind all his cruel intelligence and necromantic idealism was a lonely man who wanted to see his vision come to fruition with someone by his side. No matter, once his world was established and the hatred had gone from his soul, he was sure that his heart would open up to her. After all, what was the point in creating a new world if you had no desire to live in it anymore?