Tag Archives: Jason Fortuno

Chapter Forty Two: A Brighter Future

Griffon’s remaining acolytes surrendered swiftly afterwards. None of them posed any real threat now that Griffon was dead and the Gentleman had disappeared. Against his will, Simon was proclaimed the new leader of the free sorcerers, much to Miguel, Jason and Bianca’s amusement, and he was instantly called upon to form a new Conclave. The sorcerers seemed determined that everything would return to normal, as if none of the terrible events of the last year had taken place. Still exhausted from the battle, and still reeling from recent revelations, Simon straightened his tie and ascended to the top of the hill. Below him was Maurice, the current leader of the defeated necromancers, who stood stoically, head bowed, awaiting his fate.
‘I know that all of you here today are eager to return to normality following these dark and troubling times. You may feel that we once again need the guiding hand of a Conclave to lead us.’ There were murmurs of approval from the crowd.
‘But I say not.’

Gasps and angry words quickly replaced the show of warm support.
‘We had… we had a group that provided order and rules to our society, but at what cost? The laws our leaders created constricted us until someone was bound to break them. Yes, I enforced these rules, but I have learnt from the mistakes of the past. If we don’t do that, we cannot hope to move into the future. If we don’t trust ourselves, and our future generations to do what is morally right without laws to bind us, how are we different to the beasts which crawl upon the Earth? We must have faith, trust in each other… and in ourselves. Not so long ago, someone much younger than me showed me that sometimes we must act with our hearts, not our heads. And that is what I plan to do from this day forward.’ He stepped down to face Maurice. ‘Maurice, you and your followers are free to go.’
The necromancer looked at him with astonishment and respect.
‘This is a new day for all of us. Let us make it one of freedom, understanding, and peace.’ He paused. There was a long silence, before soft clapping came from Jason and Bianca. It soon spread to Miguel and Edward Hartnell, and before long, the entire gathering was cheering and applauding. Former enemies turned to warmly shake hands, realising that, despite conflicting views on the nature of sorcery, they were not so different after all.

The sorcerers began to disperse soon afterwards, each heading off back to their own home awaiting the next new challenge. Despite Jason’s role in turning the tide of the battle against Griffon, his succumbing to necromancy meant that he had been treated with barely concealed fear and disdain by some of the ‘pure’ sorcerers, and he decided to leave them as soon as possible. The records of the Facility would have to be recovered, and parents reunited with their children, and Maurice had volunteered to help Edward Hartnell in this act. He immediately dissolved the elite school of sorcery, much to the joy of its captive students.

Miguel Carrera was reunited with his wife, who had, like several rebellious students from the Facility, been guarded under the watchful of eye of several of Griffon’s novice necromancers, the few who had not been involved with the battle. Rosemary embraced her husband in silence, and the two disappeared for several hours to rest. Their experience in Griffon’s captivity had left them drained, but news of his defeat had invigorated their spirit and gladdened their hearts.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the casualties of the battle were buried, and a ceremonial funeral was held for the Elders and high ranking casualties of war whose bodies were not found, but most notably for Alexander Fortuno and Miranda Warwick. There was a surprising turn-out of those wishing to pay their respects, many people who had never even met the two, but who laughed and cried at Miguel’s speech all the same. After the eulogy, Paul Spencer slowly walked up to Jason, his head bowed low. He was still bedraggled and ravaged from the battle, but the most terrible scars he bore were not physical.
‘Listen… Jason…’
Jason looked at the pathetic figure in front of him. He felt so much hatred for Griffon’s most devoted acolyte, and yet, for some curious reason, he felt pity.
‘It’s alright.’
He thought about embracing his enemy, before settling for a handshake.
‘That’s past now. Just promise me you’ll make something better out of yourself.’

As the sun began to set on a green field where lay the flower strewn graves of Alexander and Miranda Fortuno, Simon Liberthine approached his two ‘foster children’.
‘Well… these have been hard times. The Conclave has gone, only time will tell if any of the old guard survived the attack, so… well I guess I’m out of a job. We’re trying our best to reunite the students with their parents, but in some cases… not a lot of luck. But now that’s it over, well… I don’t know where I’m going, but you’re more than welcome to come along.’
Jason smiled at the man who he would have been proud to call his father.
‘We’d love to, but I’m afraid we’ve both got other obligations now.’ His eyes flitted proudly down to Bianca’s stomach.
‘You mean…ah.’ His face flushed. ‘Well, I wish you both the best.’
‘This isn’t goodbye Simon.’ Bianca grinned, standing on tiptoes so that she could kiss him on the cheek. ‘We’ll see you again soon.’
Simon smiled, and walked off along the country road. Jason and Bianca watched him go, embraced, and left in the opposite direction.
‘Er…Jason?’
‘Yes B?’
‘Where exactly are we going?’

Later that evening, Simon and Miguel attended a small, quiet service in a London churchyard. While most of the sorcerers had celebrated his demise, they two knew the goodness that had remained in the man, even to the very end. As they took a moment to mourn William Griffon, laid to rest next to his beloved wife, the sorcerers, even the usually talkative Miguel, were silent. An era had passed; a new one would soon begin. As they left, they did not notice a small figure quietly approach the grave and leave a single lily behind on the freshly dug earth.
‘Goodbye William.’

Lauren Sanders forlornly wiped the bar top clean. She had been happier in the last six months than in her whole life, and then everything was suddenly turned upside down. She was so lost in her thoughts that she barely even noticed the front door open.
‘We’re clo…’
‘I thought I might stick around…if that’s okay?’ asked Simon Liberthine. He looked out at her with a shy grin, clutching his hat under his chin like a bashful schoolboy.
‘Oh…that would be…just perfect.’

That night, they sat on the rooftop, high above the lights of the City, gazing down at the people in the square below them
‘You’re sure I’m not going to fall?’
‘I’m absolutely certain.’ He clinked wine glasses with her, and they both looked up into the night sky.
‘To the future.’

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Chapter Forty-One: Sunshine

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Forty: The Battle of Ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Thirty-Nine: Under the Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Final Council

It took two days for all the sorcerers to arrive in America, and the former Arbiter was silently dismayed to notice that there were far fewer than he had hoped for. Still, he arranged for them all to meet that evening on a field some miles from the town where he had called them from. Griffon had slain many of the pure sorcerers, but a few remained, having taken refuge from the storm that had taken Europe. There was Jeffrey Holmes, once the prison warder at Serapus’ castle and a trainer of sorcerers during the first war, Matthew Dent and his partner Brittany Rose, Alexia Bishara, daughter of the late Elder Cassim, and Caroline le Fleur, a sorceress and healer from England. Most comforting to Simon was the arrival of Edward Hartnell, formerly the Castellan, who had survived Griffon’s attack having been hiding out in South America with his wife Eilish and her brother Edmund. Hartnell had sent his familiar to gather more troops upon his arrival. However the sorcerer and former official was wracked with guilt, he had been unable to attend the Conclave’s meeting where the councillors had been massacred and the security detail had been left to lesser men.
‘If I had been there… perhaps things would have been different. I could have stopped Griffon right there…’
‘There’s nothing you could have done Edward. But perhaps now, we can make things right.’
He ascended a small hill overlooking the field in order to gain a better view of the assembled masses, who were indulging or nostalgic reminisces about the past rather than facing up to the terrifying reality of the present. Simon took a deep breath and spoke clearly, causing all assembled to stop and listen.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, I have called you here at a most troubling time. The Elder Conclave is no more, and though there are reports that some of them may have survived, we cannot count on their leadership and guidance any longer. Sorcerers all over Europe and Asia have been massacred. And yes, the rumours are true; William Griffon is the one responsible.’
There was uproar from the assembled sorcerers and sorceresses at this comment, and Liberthine had to shout to return order to the proceedings.
‘William Griffon is responsible, and he is hell-bent on annihilating anyone who stands in his way. We must stand together against him, or divided we will fall.’
‘You must be crazy Simon!’ came a voice from the crowd. ‘If Griffon has done that much damage then he must have at least three hundred men on his side.’

‘Closer to five hundred.’
Simon turned to face whoever had just spoken. He almost leapt back upon seeing the skeletal form of Miguel Carrera, who looked as if he was using every last reserve of strength just to stay sitting upright in his wheelchair.
‘Miguel? We thought you were…’
‘No. He sent me here… to tell you where our fates will be decided.’
‘Miguel… what happened to Rosemary?’ His companion sighed wearily, and coughed. His voice was thin and rattled as he spoke.
‘She’s… he has her.’ Miguel coughed again, more heavily, and his equally fragile familiar continued in his stead.
‘He’s gathered together all his acolytes from across the globe… all the students from the Facility… summoned creatures from beyond… and you’re the only ones left who can oppose him.’
The sorcerers all began to speak at once.
‘We’re two hundred and fifty men at the most; we’ll never manage to…’
‘There’s still a chance of getting away before morning, we could…’
Simon sighed heavily, before raising his umbrella and firing a bright light into the air with a bang. When the sorcerers were silent, he intoned gravely:
‘There will be no more running. We face them at dawn.’

The crowd of sorcerers began to disperse, hastily setting up temporary camps in the field before preparing for the upcoming battle. Simon Liberthine remained where he was, thoughtfully staring off into the distance. Why couldn’t Griffon have left them alone? He had been alive for centuries, but he hadn’t lived a day of his life until arriving in New York. He had got used to life at the nightclub, grown fond of his young wards and… though it brought a blush to his cheeks to admit it… the woman who showed them so much kindness. The former Arbiter sighed. He had been unnecessarily blunt with her… if he survived, the first thing he would do was to go back to the city and apologise. If he survived… He was a bureaucrat, not a warrior, even in his mortal disguise he was a missionary, never raising arms against his fellows; his duty had been to save his neighbour, his flock. And now look at him. The leader of an exhausted, disorganised, hopelessly outnumbered resistance against William Griffon’s trained necromancers, the students of his academy and all their unnatural legions. For the first time in his life, Simon Liberthine prayed for himself.
‘Please…help me… to save my family … to defeat Griffon … to make things right.’
Because he knew that only a miracle could help them now.

Simon was not the only sorcerer who was trembling as the day drew to a close. Jason Fortuno entered his tent and sat down on the camp bed, his head in his hands. He had never been in a real battle before… despite all the training he had received at the Facility, hours of drilling , practice with the swordmaster and the endless demonstrations of practical sorcery, he could not feel more unprepared. This was all too real, and there was so much at stake.
‘Jason?’
He looked up, startled, to find Bianca standing over him.
‘Hey. You er… ready for tomorrow?’
Bianca smiled and sat down on the edge of the makeshift bed. She tried to hide the fear in her voice and her heart.
‘As ready as I’m ever likely to be.’ She put her hand on his shoulder, and he relaxed.
‘It’s been a funny couple of months hasn’t it?’
Jason chuckled despite himself.
‘Well, that’s certainly one way of putting it B.’

He kissed her, tentatively at first, before they both fell into a deep embrace. All those years of torment, all those fears of tomorrow vanished for just a few precious moments.

Jason Fortuno walked alongside the roadside, a change from the glade he usually saw in his dreams. He did not know where he was going, he felt as if he were moving on automatic pilot, as though his legs had their own momentum. He started. The hooded figure was there again, his blue eyes glaring down at Jason, his arm poised to strike. But then the figure looked up, gave a scream of terror and vanished.
‘Jason?’
Jason turned. There was a man standing behind him, the same man who had appeared that night in the Facility, and later in his feverish dreams induced by Griffon’s sedatives.
‘Dad?’
The man smiled.
‘That’s right. You’ve grown into a fine young man… I always knew you would escape somehow.’
‘Dad… I’m frightened. Tomorrow, we face Griffon and I’m just going to freeze…I look at everyone… Simon, Bianca, Mr. Carrera… they say we can win but I see it in their eyes. We’re doomed.’
Alexander placed a reassuring hand on his son’s shoulder.
‘Don’t be afraid. You have my stubbornness and your mother’s fighting spirit.’ He grinned. ‘I believe in you. Do what your father never could.’
He began to slowly fade, and Jason reached out, but his hand passed right through his father.
‘No… don’t go… I need you.’
Alexander smiled sadly.
‘I’m always with you Jason. Never forget that.’
‘Dad!’

Chapter Thirty-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.’

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.’