Tag Archives: fiction

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.

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Chapter Twenty-Five: Sorrento

The plane touched down two hours after leaving Gatwick Airport. It was something of an ordeal getting through customs with false passports and several weapons, but after Miguel caused a distraction, Miranda and Rosemary managed to slip through inspection with a minimum of fuss, most of the security staff seemed rather tired and unobservant. The rest of them were preoccupied with chasing Miguel through the corridors. He gave them the slip shortly afterwards, and joined his friends for a coffee, before they picked up an arranged rental car and headed for the coast.
‘You seem to be thoroughly enjoying yourself.’ Rosemary remarked to her husband as they sped along the coastal road.
‘Of course I am. It’s great fun being me.’

The group soon arrived in the city of Sorrento, which was bathed in golden sunlight. The taxi stopped outside a large villa on the outskirts of town.
‘Why have stopped here Miguel?
‘We’re here to visit an old friend of mine, who may be able to help us. One who always has his ear to the street.’
‘You mean a…’
Miguel winked.
‘I try not to get on his bad side.’

They left the car and knocked three times on the villa door. A small Italian woman opened the door with a frown, before spotting Rosemary and beaming enormously.
‘Hey, bella, where have you been? We haven’t seen you for three years.’ She embraced her before turning on Miguel and berating him in Italian. Miranda stifled a giggle.
‘And who is this?’ the woman asked in heavily accented English.
‘This is Miranda; she’s a very good friend of ours.’ The woman smiled warmly and kissed Miranda on both cheeks. As she lead the guests through the house towards the back garden, Miguel whispered something to her in Italian.
‘Miranda èla moglie de Fortuno.’
The woman looked at the haggard guest and crossed herself.
‘Madonn’, il bambino compassionevole.’
On the patio, a man in a blue shirt and Panama hat was sitting on his deck chair, playing with two small children. There was a record player next to him, playing Antonio Prieto’s ‘La Novia’.
‘Hey Mario, Rosemary e il pagliaccio sono qui!’
The man turned in his chair. He was in his early sixties, but had a youthful exuberance and welcoming smile that helped shed several decades.
‘Well, this is a coincidence. Only the other day that ruffian son of yours decided to pay us a visit.’
‘Luke? You didn’t give him money did you?’
‘No, but Simona did have to save him from some very angry German tourists. Some little misunderstanding with their daughter.’
‘Like father like son.’ said Rosemary, and everyone laughed.
‘And how are your other children? The little ones giving you any trouble?’
‘It’s not them, we’re worried about, it’s Mia. Who ever invented the term ‘sweet sixteen’ has a very dark sense of humour.’
Cecchini laughed again and rose from his seat before gently shooing the children away.
‘Forgive me. My son Guido’s children.’ He kissed Miguel on both cheeks. ‘Miguel my friend, it’s been too long. Three years at least.’
‘Three years exactly.’ Miguel smiled. ‘I only hope you will accept…my apologies.’ He drew two bottles of dark red wine from his coat before placing them on the table beside the patio.
‘Bordeaux. ’47. Very good year. Thank you my friend. I shall save these for a special occasion.’
He turned to Rosemary, pinching her cheek and whispering something in her ear that made her giggle with delight.
‘And who is this beauty?’
He took Miranda’s hand and kissed it with perfect courtesy.
‘Mario Cecchini, this is Miranda Warwick.’
‘Charmed.’
‘This is…’ Cecchini gesticulated to Miguel and said something hushed under his breath. Miguel nodded, before turning to the two women.
‘Now, ladies, Mr. Cecchini and I need to talk a little business, so why don’t you stay out here, make yourselves comfortable?’
Miranda and Rosemary happily agreed, and Mr. Cecchini fetched a second chair.
‘If you want anything, just call my wife.’

Cecchini and Miguel disappeared indoors into a lavish study on the upper floor of the villa, sitting down on two leather chairs placed either side of an oak desk. There was a set of glass doors on one side of the room that led to a balcony, looking out onto the tree tops below. Behind Cecchini’s head was a detailed portrait of a bearded sailor dressed in red, a gold handled cutlass in a scabbard at his side.
‘A new painting?’
‘We found it on our travels to Corsica last year. My great-great grandfather, apparently something of a pirate, provided supplies for Garibaldi during the wars. You wouldn’t suspect that pirate blood ran in these veins would you Miguel?’
‘I might have suspected.’ Miguel remarked wryly, casting another glance at the almost perfect likeness of Captain Sherman Fraser that hung on the wall. His host took a bottle of Grappa out from a small cabinet beneath the painting, and poured it out into two glasses.
‘Now… my intuition tells me you’ve not just come here for the weather and the wine. What can I help you with Miguel?’
‘What, a man can’t simply come to visit an old friend every once in a while?’
Cecchini smiled.
‘Seriously though.’
‘Mario… you’re a well-connected man.’ Miguel said, looking into his friend’s eyes and giving a wicked grin. Cecchini acknowledged the compliment by raising his glass. ‘I have reason to believe that there is a facility nearby… off the radar as it were… where several people are being held against their will. Maybe a school or academy of some sort?’
‘Hmm… there is only one facility I know of that fits your description, about five miles away… my cousin Giacomo makes deliveries there occasionally…but it is a private school, a respectable institution.’
‘Have you ever been inside?’
‘No. But I have met the owner; his name is Dr. Orphal. An Englishman, very genial, if a little withdrawn, he seems to be trustworthy.’
Miguel did not respond for a moment, choosing his words carefully.
‘I know you are an excellent judge of character… but I would still very much like to find out for myself.’
Cecchini frowned and poured another glass before offering it to Miguel. The sorcerer held up a hand politely.
‘Abbastanza, grazie.’
‘Well, it would be difficult. Their regulations are very tight… the children of the very rich and powerful apparently go there… but I suppose that would not stop a man like you?’
‘You know me far too well Mario.’
He rose to go.
‘Are you sure you won’t stay, help me finish off the bottle? I was planning on sitting down with a glass on the porch; watching “Ricomincio da Tre”… Simona has just made some of her delightful ciabatta…’
Miguel gave a smile of regret and downed the rest of his glass.
‘Another time, my friend.’

Miguel found Rosemary playing with Cecchini’s grandchildren on the terrace, whilst Miranda was trying to hold a conversation with Mrs. Cecchini in somewhat broken Italian.
‘Are we leaving already?’ asked Rosemary, prompting complaints from the infants.
‘I’m afraid so.’
After saying their goodbyes, they returned to the car, which Miguel started before the two young women had time to get comfortable in their seats.
‘Er… Miguel?’
‘Yes Miranda?’
‘You couldn’t possibly go a little slower could you?’

Chapter Twenty-Four: Angel of Death

The Arbiter flashed an identity card at the reception and briskly made his way through the corridors to a lift. The three were silent as the lift ascended to the fifth floor. Eventually, they reached a door which, unlike the others, had no viewing window. The Arbiter thumbed in a code and opened the door carefully.

The trio entered the room cautiously, with The Arbiter leading the way. It was dimly lit and sparsely furnished, with only a bed, a small bed-side table and two small plastic chairs to the right of the bed. In it, sitting bolt upright against the bed head was a woman who Rosemary only just recognised as her old friend. She did not look up; the former servant was virtually catatonic.
‘Miranda… Miranda, it’s me, Rosie.’
She went over to her friend and gently touched her cheek, but Miranda did not respond.
‘We found her abandoned in the middle of nowhere in Italy. She was crying uncontrollably… didn’t seem to comprehend we were there. Ever since then she’s just been…’ The Arbiter shrugged. ‘Completely unresponsive.’ He sighed. ‘I had been on my way to tell them that their exile was over.’
Rosemary sat down slowly on the bed, facing Miranda.
‘Miranda… if you can hear me… we found him… your son. We found Jason.’
There was still no response. Miguel laid his hand on Rosemary’s shoulder and gave a long, heavy sigh.
‘I’m sorry Rosemary. I don’t think we can help her.’
Rosemary nodded slowly. The Arbiter, tactfully realising they needed to be left alone, soundlessly moved out of the room, while Miguel moved over to the door.
‘I don’t know what I’d do without you Miranda. You were always there for me when I needed you; stopping me getting out of hand, defending me… you were like family to me. Please… wake up…’
‘Rosie… come on.’
Rosemary choked back a sob, squeezed Miranda’s hand, and went to follow her husband.

She did not expect to feel her hand squeezed back.

‘Miguel!’
The sorcerer turned back into the room and almost yelped with surprise. Miranda was had her hands pressed onto the bed, as if to support her. She looked uncertainly at Rosemary, then, as if a veil had been drawn away from her face, her eyes brightened as she recognised her old friend.
‘Rosie?’ she asked; her voice hoarse, filled with the fearful curiosity of a child.
‘Yes Miranda it’s me.’ Rosemary shed tear after joyful tear as she embraced the woman who had been like a sister to her. When they finally parted, Miranda embraced Miguel in turn, before turning to the Arbiter and intoning dryly:
‘I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I don’t hug you.’
‘I’m used to it.’
The Arbiter reached inside his jacket and handed a rapier, the blade divided from the hilt, to Miguel. Upon touching the former sorcerer’s hand, the metal seemed to strain and twist until it was whole again. It was the sorcerer’s ancient weapon, and also the conduit for his powers.
‘It’s not often that they grant second chances. I shall be ever-present to ensure you don’t abuse this privilege.’
‘You’re coming too?’
‘Of course. As soon as you have determined the boy’s location, I shall be around to assist you.’
Miguel gave a pained look over his shoulder to Rosemary, but whether the Arbiter noticed or not, he was unsure.
‘Miranda, Jason is somewhere in the south of Italy and we’re on our way to find him. As soon as you feel up to it…’
‘I’m ready now.’ Miranda slowly moved the bed covers aside and slid her legs over the edge of the bed. She was only wearing a plain white hospital gown that came up to her knees, which were quite visibly trembling.
‘Mrs. Fortuno, you’ve been in a coma for nearly twenty years…’
Miranda held up her hand, and the Arbiter was silenced.
‘I’m ready now.’ she repeated, rising unsteadily to her feet.
‘Well, perhaps we should find you an outfit that might be a bit more practical… and that comes with some underwear.’ Rosemary smiled, but got a minimal response from Miranda.
‘As soon as you can.’

Rosemary and Miguel sat in silence outside the room as Miranda changed. Miguel held his head in his hands, lost in thought. Rosemary caressed her husband’s cheek and he smiled. He knew exactly what she was thinking of. When he learnt of Alexander’s death, Miguel became a changed man, he was distant from Rosemary, and was sharp with their children. They had endured it for several years in silence, before Rosemary had decided to speak with her husband. He wouldn’t want you to live like this. She had told him. Do you remember the way we used to be, so carefree and reckless? The world was our oyster. He had replied coldly. That was then. This had been too much for Rosemary, and she had given him an almighty slap across the face and called him and very crude name in Spanish, shocking him out of his stupor. I had almost forgotten how passionate you could be. Miguel laughed, rubbing his cheek. That day had been a step out of the darkness, although the shadows still lingered.

Simon Liberthine cleared his throat, nervously interrupting the moment of remembrance between the couple.
‘Mr. Carrera, whilst we are waiting for Miss Warwick to prepare, I was wondering if you might want to find another old friend of yours?’
‘Of course. Rosemary do you…?’
‘I’m fine. I’ll stay with Miranda.’
Miguel walked over to the Arbiter, who had taken his umbrella out.
‘Can I not teleport myself?’
The Arbiter gave him a withering look.
‘The Conclave did not allow the return of your powers merely so that you could break the rules Mr. Carrera. Now hold on.’

Though this journey took slightly longer than the last, it was still not long before Miguel Carrera and Simon Liberthine arrived in Geneva.
‘Beautiful city don’t you think Mr. Liberthine?’
‘I have no strong opinion.’ came the bland reply.
They arrived at a small unassuming building in the city, and the Arbiter knocked politely on the door, where he was let in by a vulture-like man in a dark suit.
‘Hello Sam.’
The man nodded in greeting, and stepped out of the way as a younger man arrived, with the appearance of one who had dressed in haste, the upper buttons of his shirt undone and only one shoe on his feet. He was handsome in a messy sort of way, and youthful, but his eyes belied many years of experience.
‘Ah Simon, one of my favourite people. Official business is it?’ It was then that he noticed Miguel for the first time. ‘Well well, Miguel Carrera. I never expected to see you again!’
‘Matthew.’
They shook hands warmly. Matthew Dent was a sorcerer, though he had not been attached to the practical side for many years. An orphan, he had been the apprentice to Jeffrey Holmes, an Irish sorcerer who trained many during the war, but who had accepted Matthew largely out of sympathy. A kindly soul, he had taken a job caring for familiars in place of their owners when they had been left in cases of exile, or worse.
‘I’ll just take you to him shall I?’
They passed down a corridor and up a set of stairs, as Dent attempted adjust his clothes.
‘Doorman of yours is a bit quiet isn’t he?’ The Arbiter commented, swinging his umbrella in time with his strides.
‘Yes. Not quite right in the head, I’m told. Took him in as a favour to my friend Gabriel. He does what I tell him and doesn’t need much.’
Miguel leant in and whispered mischievously:
‘Matthew, I can’t help but notice your current state of undress…’
‘Ah yes. Well until your arrival, I was enjoying a rather delightful young lady’s company.’
‘I hope for your sake that Brittany doesn’t find out.’
‘I’d be very surprised if she didn’t. It was her company I was referring to. Not everyone has your overactive libido Miguel.’
The Arbiter smirked, but disguised it with a cough as the three reached their destination.
‘Hello Eduardo.’
‘Miguel?’ The cub looked up at his master and his eyes widened. He spoke coolly, trying to swallow a spontaneous purr of delight that he felt in seeing his old friend again. ‘About time you visited.’
‘This isn’t a visit Eduardo. I’ve come to take you with me.’
For once, the familiar was at a loss for words.

Miranda Fortuno looked at herself for the first time in many years in the full length mirror. She had slowly replaced her simple hospital gown for a black tunic, knee-length coat, gloves and trousers. At her waist she wore a belt with two long daggers sheathed at each hip, generously donated by Miguel. Her body felt heavy, she was still drowsy after recovering from her near-comatose state, but her mind was sharp, and directed at a single objective; no matter what, she would find her son.

Chapter Twenty Three: Freedom’s End

Jason reached the bottom of the hill, where he could hear the steady crashing of the
waves against the shore. He had never heard the sound before, and it soothed his aching
head. He sat down at the foot of the hill to catch his breath. Suddenly, there was a
crunching noise, and a pair of yellow lights shone brightly into his face. A woman
emerged from behind the lights, which, to Jason’s relief, were coming from a small Fiat.
The woman yelled at Jason in a thick Italian accent.
‘Hey! Why are you sitting in the middle of the road? Come on, move!’
Jason stood up slowly, taken aback by the small, angry woman. He spoke slowly in his
best Italian; one of the few benefits of attending the Facility was that it included intensive
linguistic training.
‘I’m really sorry ma’am, I don’t know where I am and I need to find the police or the
carabinieri as soon as possible.’
The woman’s features softened, and she shouted in the direction of the Fiat.
‘Luke, take the children to bed!’
A tall, gangly Spanish man a little older than Jason opened the passenger seat and
staggered towards the woman.
‘But I was gonna go back with…’
‘Oh no, you cause enough trouble tonight already. You listen to me, stay away from that
puttana. Otherwise your parents will hear about what happened this evening.’
The youth sighed and opened the back door for a younger girl, who was carrying a small,sleeping toddler over her back.
‘I’m taking this young man into town. I trust you’ll have no more ‘accidents’?’
‘No Mrs. Cecchini.’
‘Good.’ She smiled, and beckoned Jason to step into the car, and he hopped in without
hesitation.

‘A spectre, you say?’
‘Yes sir. He claimed it materialized over the sea, disclosed the location of his son and
vanished. Preposterous.’
‘I wouldn’t be so sure.’
Councillor Thomas Marshall sat reclining at his desk in the London townhouse where he
dwelt, his hawkeyed butler Clavius keeping silent vigil at his master’s side. Simon
Liberthine stood awkwardly in front of him, appearing like a schoolboy giving a report.
Marshall was one of the only men who could make him nervous.
‘You’ve lived long enough to expect the unexpected Simon. Spirits becoming lost in
between worlds… it has happened on occasion. Remember William Griffon fooled us into
thinking he was dead by casting himself into the ether? What’s to say Fortuno didn’t do
the same… but less successfully?’
The Arbiter turned. It sounded like his mentor was not explaining his thoughts to him, but
hypothesizing, theorizing for his own benefit. Marshall extended his arm out sideward
and Clavius thrust a glass of liquor into his master’s outstretched palm.
‘Drink?’
‘You know I don’t sir.’
‘But of course. Almost like a proper man of the cloth, just as I used to be. Alas, I have elapsed into
sin in my old age.’ He took a sip from his glass. ‘This spirit business, better not tell
young Miranda, no sense in raising her hopes.’
Simon was puzzled by this and raised one eyebrow quizzically.
‘You mean to say you want me to go ahead with this?’
‘Of course.’
Thomas placed his glass on the table, deliberating for some time.
‘Do you enjoy your position Simon?’
‘Sir?’
‘Don’t you ever question the decisions we make, decisions whose results you have to
enforce?’
‘I…’ Simon began with difficulty. ‘The decision of the Conclave is final. My job is not to
question, but to carry out orders. And if people falter… I relish the challenge of bringing
them back to our side.’
‘But of course you do.’
Simon paused for a long time before he spoke.
‘What about you sir?’
Thomas’ sombre façade slipped for a fraction of a second before he took another sip of
his glass.
‘I simply accept that life is unfair.’
Thomas made a lazy motion with his finger, and a dossier flew out from the shelf into
Simon’s hands.
‘The most recent whereabouts of Mrs. Fortuno.’ Thomas smiled wryly, the only non-malignant expression he seemed capable of. ‘It’s most unlikely she’ll have moved on.
Good luck Simon.’
‘Thank you sir.’
Simon disappeared in a flash of light and Thomas, slowly, wearily got out of his seat and
gazed at the ancient portrait of the raven-haired sorceress on his wall. Clavius moved to
offer him some assistance, but Thomas waved him away. He sighed, sipping the last of
the wine.
‘Life is unfair.’

On the way into town, Jason learnt that his driver’s name was Simona Cecchini and the
young man she had dropped off was Luke Carrera, son of one of her friends, who had
decided to pay them an unexpected visit. He was supposed to have been babysitting his
younger siblings who had been staying with him that week, but had attempted to combine
the occasion with a party with his friends, and the whole evening had gone disastrously
wrong. The woman spoke good English, but she would occasionally lapse into thickly-
accented Italian, which Jason struggled to understand. He said little about himself, only
that he urgently needed to speak to the police. Simona seemed content to leave it at that,
and in a short while they arrived at the police station.
‘You want me to help you speak to them?’ Jason assured her that he would be fine. He
thanked Mrs. Cecchini for her help and marched swiftly into the station and launched into
a stream of his best Italian to the desk sergeant who looked highly startled.
‘This sounds serious young man. I think I had better contact the Chief.’
Jason nodded frantically as the sergeant left his post and disappeared out of Jason’s
eyeline.
The Arbiter was brisk and to the point upon his return to Miguel’s café.
‘They have agreed. Come with me.’
He held out his umbrella to Rosemary and Miguel, who took hold of it tightly.
‘Don’t let go.’
Before he had finished the sentence, they were off.
Jason sat waiting for what seemed like forever before he heard the sound of approaching
footsteps. He turned to the desk to see the Director smiling back at him, waving a finger
and tutting with mock disappointment. Jason ran out of the building as fast as he could…
before feeling a sharp pain in his arm. He turned to see Nurse Ellis clutching a vicious
looking needle, its tip suddenly dripping red. As he fell into unconsciousness, all Jason
could think was:
‘I was so close.’

Chapter Seventeen: Birth and Death of an Immortal

One hundred and twenty years later, Alexander Fortuno and the former Miss Miranda Warwick stood in a stone courtyard, watching the red sun set behind the mountains. They had spent many years trekking across Europe, removing all traces of Griffon’s former acolytes from the Earth, partly so they would not be disturbed by any old enemies, but also so that the Conclave might deem it fit to forgive Alexander one day and allow him to return to England. Alexander had passed the Gift to Miranda, granting her immortal life, and, now that their enemies had been defeated, the two immortals could be at peace.
The couple were at that moment living in a small, medieval town in the Umbria region of Italy, where they were enjoying a quiet existence of a café owner and his wife. Ten months following their escape from the Elder Conclave, they had managed to be reunited with Miguel and his new wife Rosemary, who had, surprisingly, been let off lightly despite his crimes. It seemed that the Conclave had been weary, and had followed procedure out of duty more than any real motivation. The influence of Vladimir Serapus as Deputy of the Conclave certainly contributed in Miguel’s favour, and Miguel’s role in bringing about Griffon’s defeat had also helped hugely. Whilst they would arrest Fortuno if he returned to England again,
they were not about to devote time and resources to finding him.
The Italianate-Spaniard had been sentenced to have his staff broken, a symbolic gesture
of his ban from sorcery, and he had been summarily banished from England for one hundred years. Rosemary received the Sorcerer’s Gift shortly afterwards, and the two of
them had moved to a small village on the Spanish Coast with their three children, Luke, Alonso and Mia, one of whom was just a toddling infant, although Rosemary was already
expecting their fourth child. Alexander and Miranda had been the only witnesses to the
couple’s marriage, an event that Fortuno was greatly pleased about, not only for his
friend’s happiness, but also because he felt that Miguel often needed someone to rein him
in. Rosemary’s father Lord Weaver had died peacefully in 1902, extremely fat but extremely content with the life he had lived.
As the last traces of sunlight disappeared behind the Umbrian mountains, a band in the courtyard began a soft Italian love song on their mandolins. The singer, a round faced man in his forties, winked at Alexander as he began to sing. The song reminded Alexander of the years past, and as he looked deeply into the eyes of the woman for whom he had risked everything to bring back from the dead, he was at peace for the first time in years. They began to dance around the courtyard, silent, their faces expressing what words could not.
Alexander dropped to one knee.
‘Miranda Warwick, will you marry me?’
‘Oh Alex, of course I will.’
‘Will you love him, cherish him and forsaking all others be faithful to him, as long as you both shall live?’
‘I will.’
‘May the Lord in His goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with His blessings. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.
You may now kiss your bride.’

Alexander lay sleeping across an inflatable water bed, not noticing his bride reach up and release the air from it, causing him to drop, startled, into the swimming pool.
They spent days under the Mediterranean sun, caring about nothing but each other. They visited Miguel and Rosemary in Spain, where the two men chased each other across the beach like children, whilst the women stretched out under the hot sun, trying hard not to get splashed.

‘Alex… I’m pregnant.’

The words drifted past as the lovers danced around the courtyard. The singing stopped, but the music played on, and so they did not notice the seven hooded men that approached them, moving silently from the darkness. Before the two dancers could react, the tallest of the figures fired two perfect, silent shots that pierced their chests. He grinned beneath his hood and nodded to the two men next to him, who picked up the fallen couple and carried them off into the night.

When Alexander awoke, a man was looking at him with an air of dark curiosity. He had silvery hair, and octagonal, black tinted glasses.
‘Who…who are you?’
‘Shhh.’ The man gestured behind him. The room looked like a hospital, with pale yellow, tiled walls and a white ceiling which had paint peeling off it. The man had been gesturing to a figure on the bed that was doubled up in pain. He tried to get up, to reach her, but his arms were tightly fastened to the chair, and his head still felt groggy from being tranquilised.
‘Miranda…what have you done to her?’
‘I’m not to blame for her predicament sir. You are.’ He indicated Miranda’s swollen stomach. ‘Don’t try to resist me, or she’ll be in even greater discomfort. Understand?’ Alexander did not respond. The man curled his lip.
‘Understand?’ Fortuno managed a brief nod. ‘Good. Now give Dr. Mutor some quiet.’
Dr. Mutor was a tall, bony, man with thinning brown hair. He was holding Miranda’s hand and whispering something to her that Fortuno could not hear. It was then he realised what was happening, and he fell silent. Next to him stood two tall, muscular attendants whose faces were covered in surgical masks.

‘It’s coming sir.’ The Doctor had a soft, pleasant voice which held more than just a trace of weariness in its tone.
‘Very good.’
Mutor reached for a thin syringe, but the man stopped him.
‘But surely sir…’
‘No.’ There was such finality in this single word that the Doctor ceased immediately. Miranda’s cries became more and more pained and Fortuno felt like crying with her, enraged at his own helplessness.

The following morning, the son of Alexander Fortuno and Miranda Warwick was born, after a painful five hour labour. The tall man left following the birth, and Dr. Mutor immediately began to do his best to make Miranda feel more comfortable. Alexander was also weary, but it was his mind, rather than his body which had suffered. Now he was staring at his newborn child with a mixture of pride and misery, knowing that he may never get the chance to hold his child. The tall man returned and sat down in front of Fortuno, regarding him coolly through his dark glasses.
‘Who the hell are you?’
‘Now now.’ He gestured in Miranda’s direction. ‘She’s just been through labour. We don’t want to distress her further.’
‘What do you want with us?’
‘I want your son.’
‘Why? What has he ever done to you?’
‘Nothing. But soon, I shall have need of him and I can’t have you interfering with my plans.’
‘You’ll regret this day mortal.’
‘Oh I think not Mr. Fortuno, I think not. Now, perhaps you’d like to name your son before he vanishes from your life.’
Fortuno did not answer.
‘Wait for your wife to wake up. Give me a name and then it will all be well.’ He spoke in the manner of someone comforting a young child, but with a cruel mocking tone to his voice. He then left, leaving Fortuno to brood over the impending loss of his progeny.

‘Jason. We’ve decided to call him Jason.’
The tall man nodded. Dr. Mutor was holding the newborn baby with a resigned sadness.
‘Very well. Say your farewells.’
Miranda kissed the baby’s head, sobbing uncontrollably as she did so. Alexander also kissed the baby’s head as his wife had done, but instead of weeping, he glared at the tall man. If it were possible for a gaze to pierce flesh, the man’s head would have been reduced to pulp. Dr. Mutor carried the baby away, doing his best to keep it quiet as he left the building.
‘Right, now I shall bid you adieu. Mrs. Fortuno.’ He bowed with mock courtesy, and forced Fortuno from the room, grabbing him by the scruff of his neck.
‘Alex…nooo!’
The tall man threw Alexander to the floor and followed him through the doorway, waving at Miranda as he did so. The attendants followed him, slowly closing the door.

Alexander Fortuno tried to rise from his knees as the tall man separated him from the two people in the world he loved the most. He cried out in anguish, but it was no good. The tall man pulled a gilded dagger from his jacket.
‘We shall see if you bleed as easily as the rest of us.’
‘Just tell me this… why?’
The man leant in, and whispered in the sorcerer’s ear.
‘I give you a chance to make a difference. Choose wisely.’ he said, moving away. The sorcerer’s eyes widened, before he shook his head and closed his eyes.
‘Well, I offered you the choice. So now, your charmed life comes to end.’
He pulled the dagger swiftly across the sorcerer’s throat, standing back to avoid the spray of blood.
‘Goodbye Alexander.’ He turned and walked off down the corridor. ‘Dispose of him.’

Alexander did not regain conciousness as he was impaled against the wall of the cellar. Even a gallon of petroleum failed to rouse him as the two brutish attendants went about the grim and nigh impossible task of destroying an immortal. Whilst the mutilations, immolations and explosions resulted in no trace of a body being left behind, it is possible that his spirit had left some while before.

That was 1973.