Tag Archives: Lauren Sanders

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-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.’

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Englishman in New YorkThe sorcerer and his two new wards spent stomach churning seconds shooting across the astral plane before falling hard into a large metal skip. They picked themselves up slowly before brushing themselves down. They were in a small back alley which was absolutely filled with foul-smelling black bin-bags, the stench of which caused the three new arrivals to wrinkle their noses. Simon Liberthine looked at his umbrella, which had been warped and twisted by the rough journey. He waved his hand and the metal cracked and strained until the umbrella looked as good as new. ‘What happened…where are we?’ Bianca asked, still dazed from her unnatural sleep and the impact of her arrival. ‘I have absolutely no idea.’ Jason and Bianca looked up at the tall man in the battered hat and suit. Friend or foe, they didn’t care, they just wanted answers. ‘Who are you?’ ‘My name is Simon Liberthine; I work for the Elder Conclave.’ Recognition filled the faces of the weary teenagers. ‘Oh yes… we learnt about you in class.’ ‘Oh.’ The Arbiter’s face flushed with something akin to pride. ‘It wasn’t complimentary.’ ‘Ah.’ Jason leant hard against the wall of the alleyway, slightly taken aback at the banality of the conversation Bianca was having with the stranger. ‘What happened back there? The students…’ ‘I’m afraid there’s nothing I could do. William Griffon is back and right now, all we can do is hope that I managed to get us as far away as possible.’ ‘So what do we do now?’ Before the Arbiter could answer, there was a shrill scream from the bottom of the alleyway. A woman was standing there, clutching two more bags to throw on the pile. ‘Okay, who are you and what the hell are you doing here?’ The woman demanded in a high pitched voice. She was a few inches short of five feet, but something about her temperament and the way she held herself suggested she should be taken seriously. The Arbiter got up and cautiously walked over to her. ‘My name is…’ he glanced quickly at a bottle that lay near his feet. ‘Jack…’ he scanned the floor for further assistance, finding his answer on a discarded pamphlet. ‘York. And I’m here to…apply for a job.’ ‘A job?’ The woman cocked her head. ‘You’re quick aren’t you? I only put the flier up two hours ago.’ ‘I’m…keen.’ ‘And why are you standing in the alley?’ The sorcerers responded with non-committal shrugs. The woman raised an eyebrow. ‘Ok. Well, you’d better come in.’ She looked past ‘York’ and noticed Jason and Bianca, who looked nervously back. ‘These your kids? Hope ya don’t mind me saying, but they don’t look like you much.’ ‘They’re…er… adopted.’ Simon replied, thinking on his feet. ‘Oh, I see. Sorry.’ ‘That’s alright. I’m Bianca, and this is Jason.’ ‘Pleased to meet you both.’ She smiled brightly. ‘Come on then kids; don’t stay out here in the cold.’ She turned on her heel and rounded the corner. The Arbiter shrugged to Jason and Bianca, before they followed suit. The woman entered through the main door of the large building. It looked like it might have been a night club, though judging by the amount of dust gathered on the surfaces; it had apparently been some time since it had been filled with customers. The woman lifted the bar hatch before turning to her would-be employees. She spoke quickly, as if her words were all struggling to come out at once. ‘Well, this is my place. Ran it for six years with my brother Joel before he moved to LA. It’s been a struggle to carry on since then but still, mustn’t complain. I’m Lauren by the way. You guys new in town?’ Simon blinked in surprise, taken aback by her rapid-fire delivery, before answering quite slowly and deliberately. ‘Uh…yeah. We came from England…you know, fresh start.’ ‘Ok.’ Lauren turned on the light, and they saw her properly for the first time. She had blonde hair that was cut so it reached to her chin and her eyes, her expression, betrayed a great deal of weariness. Despite this, Simon noticed even through his fatigue that she was quite attractive; although his professionalism and natural uptight nature would not allow him think on it for long. ‘Meaning you don’t have a place to stay?’ ‘No.’ ‘Great! New employees and new tenants! Although I’ve only got one spare room…which unfortunately means someone’d have to share…’ ‘The kids can share… I’ll sleep on the sofa…its fine.’ Simon interjected quickly, not wanting to lose the room. ‘If that’s okay with you of course.’ ‘It’s fine. Just great.’ Lauren took Jason and Bianca up to the small apartment immediately above the club. It was small, but comfortable, with a little living room that had two bedrooms and a bathroom adjoining it. The young sorcerers immediately retreated to their bedrooms, to the silent delight of the pint sized proprietor, who was staring at Simon Liberthine with a longing that made him deeply uneasy. ‘You don’t look like most of the Brits we get in here. They’re mostly middle-aged alcoholics with wandering eyes…and hands.’ ‘Well, I had an old fashioned upbringing, if I didn’t behave like a gentleman I’d get a clip round the ear.’ Simon quickly changed the subject. ‘So, what happened to your last tenant?’ Lauren frowned. ‘Oh him? He said there was no future in this back-end of town with a nobody like me.’ She sniffled slightly, and Simon began to look uncomfortable. He’d never been good with domestic situations or small talk. Or women for that matter. ‘Still, he won’t be forgetting me anytime soon.’ Simon managed the impossible task of looking even more uncomfortable. ‘So, what did you used to do in England?’ ‘I was a… an accountant.’ ‘I never would have guessed. Most accountants I know are generally boring little men with no lives and no spark.’ Simon raised one eyebrow at this comment, but Lauren took no notice. ‘Well, make yourself at home Jack. Tomorrow, we’re starting work.’ ‘…Great.’ No interview, no other applicants? Simon thought fleetingly. But his tiredness allowed him to ignore the thought. For now, he was just happy to be alive. In the upstairs room, Jason and Bianca lay down on the beds, still wearing the simple clothes from Griffon’s Facility. ‘I didn’t know anyone could be that peppy.’ Bianca chuckled, receiving no response. ‘Jason…don’t you think this seems a little bit…convenient? I mean… finding somewhere to stay so quickly.’ Jason still didn’t reply. His entire life was changing; he had finally escaped the hellish Facility, yet he was now stuck in a foreign city, his only protector a man he had only just met. Still, at least he had Bianca. ‘Worry about it in the morning B.’ He put his arm around her shoulders. ‘We’ve got all the time in the world now.’ Later that evening, after sharing an uncomfortable supper at Lauren’s insistence and saying the last of several goodnights to his new employer, Simon Liberthine gently opened the door to his new wards’ room. They were fast asleep, their faces peaceful. Simon sighed. They were bound to be exhausted. He thanked God that they had not been conscious when Griffon returned. In particular, his heart went out to Jason, who had thankfully not been forced to witness the death of his mother. He shut the door gently, and to himself, repeated the words of the Conclave’s address: ‘To love, honour and protect our fellow sorcerers, to remain united against evil and adversity so that one day, we may all be as one.’ For better or for worse, they would have to live a new life in this strange city.

The sorcerer and his two new wards spent stomach churning seconds shooting across the astral plane before falling hard into a large metal skip. They picked themselves up slowly before brushing themselves down. They were in a small back alley which was absolutely filled with foul-smelling black bin-bags, the stench of which caused the three new arrivals to wrinkle their noses. Simon Liberthine looked at his umbrella, which had been warped and twisted by the rough journey. He waved his hand and the metal cracked and strained until the umbrella looked as good as new.
‘What happened…where are we?’ Bianca asked, still dazed from her unnatural sleep and the impact of her arrival.
‘I have absolutely no idea.’
Jason and Bianca looked up at the tall man in the battered hat and suit. Friend or foe, they didn’t care, they just wanted answers.
‘Who are you?’
‘My name is Simon Liberthine; I work for the Elder Conclave.’
Recognition filled the faces of the weary teenagers.
‘Oh yes… we learnt about you in class.’
‘Oh.’ The Arbiter’s face flushed with something akin to pride.
‘It wasn’t complimentary.’
‘Ah.’
Jason leant hard against the wall of the alleyway, slightly taken aback at the banality of the conversation Bianca was having with the stranger.
‘What happened back there? The students…’
‘I’m afraid there’s nothing I could do. William Griffon is back and right now, all we can do is hope that I managed to get us as far away as possible.’
‘So what do we do now?’

Before the Arbiter could answer, there was a shrill scream from the bottom of the alleyway. A woman was standing there, clutching two more bags to throw on the pile.
‘Okay, who are you and what the hell are you doing here?’ The woman demanded in a high pitched voice. She was a few inches short of five feet, but something about her temperament and the way she held herself suggested she should be taken seriously. The Arbiter got up and cautiously walked over to her.
‘My name is…’ he glanced quickly at a bottle that lay near his feet. ‘Jack…’ he scanned the floor for further assistance, finding his answer on a discarded pamphlet. ‘York. And I’m here to…apply for a job.’
‘A job?’ The woman cocked her head. ‘You’re quick aren’t you? I only put the flier up two hours ago.’
‘I’m…keen.’
‘And why are you standing in the alley?’
The sorcerers responded with non-committal shrugs. The woman raised an eyebrow.
‘Ok. Well, you’d better come in.’ She looked past ‘York’ and noticed Jason and Bianca, who looked nervously back.
‘These your kids? Hope ya don’t mind me saying, but they don’t look like you much.’
‘They’re…er… adopted.’ Simon replied, thinking on his feet.
‘Oh, I see. Sorry.’
‘That’s alright. I’m Bianca, and this is Jason.’
‘Pleased to meet you both.’ She smiled brightly. ‘Come on then kids; don’t stay out here in the cold.’ She turned on her heel and rounded the corner. The Arbiter shrugged to Jason and Bianca, before they followed suit.

The woman entered through the main door of the large building. It looked like it might have been a night club, though judging by the amount of dust gathered on the surfaces; it had apparently been some time since it had been filled with customers. The woman lifted the bar hatch before turning to her would-be employees. She spoke quickly, as if her words were all struggling to come out at once.
‘Well, this is my place. Ran it for six years with my brother Joel before he moved to LA. It’s been a struggle to carry on since then but still, mustn’t complain. I’m Lauren by the way. You guys new in town?’
Simon blinked in surprise, taken aback by her rapid-fire delivery, before answering quite slowly and deliberately.
‘Uh…yeah. We came from England…you know, fresh start.’
‘Ok.’ Lauren turned on the light, and they saw her properly for the first time. She had blonde hair that was cut so it reached to her chin and her eyes, her expression, betrayed a great deal of weariness. Despite this, Simon noticed even through his fatigue that she was quite attractive; although his professionalism and natural uptight nature would not allow him think on it for long.
‘Meaning you don’t have a place to stay?’
‘No.’
‘Great! New employees and new tenants! Although I’ve only got one spare room…which unfortunately means someone’d have to share…’
‘The kids can share… I’ll sleep on the sofa…its fine.’ Simon interjected quickly, not wanting to lose the room. ‘If that’s okay with you of course.’
‘It’s fine. Just great.’

Lauren took Jason and Bianca up to the small apartment immediately above the club. It was small, but comfortable, with a little living room that had two bedrooms and a bathroom adjoining it. The young sorcerers immediately retreated to their bedrooms, to the silent delight of the pint sized proprietor, who was staring at Simon Liberthine with a longing that made him deeply uneasy.
‘You don’t look like most of the Brits we get in here. They’re mostly middle-aged alcoholics with wandering eyes…and hands.’
‘Well, I had an old fashioned upbringing, if I didn’t behave like a gentleman I’d get a clip round the ear.’ Simon quickly changed the subject. ‘So, what happened to your last tenant?’
Lauren frowned.
‘Oh him? He said there was no future in this back-end of town with a nobody like me.’ She sniffled slightly, and Simon began to look uncomfortable. He’d never been good with domestic situations or small talk. Or women for that matter.
‘Still, he won’t be forgetting me anytime soon.’
Simon managed the impossible task of looking even more uncomfortable.
‘So, what did you used to do in England?’
‘I was a… an accountant.’
‘I never would have guessed. Most accountants I know are generally boring little men with no lives and no spark.’
Simon raised one eyebrow at this comment, but Lauren took no notice.
‘Well, make yourself at home Jack. Tomorrow, we’re starting work.’
‘…Great.’
No interview, no other applicants? Simon thought fleetingly. But his tiredness allowed him to ignore the thought. For now, he was just happy to be alive.

In the upstairs room, Jason and Bianca lay down on the beds, still wearing the simple clothes from Griffon’s Facility.
‘I didn’t know anyone could be that peppy.’ Bianca chuckled, receiving no response.
‘Jason…don’t you think this seems a little bit…convenient? I mean… finding somewhere to stay so quickly.’
Jason still didn’t reply. His entire life was changing; he had finally escaped the hellish Facility, yet he was now stuck in a foreign city, his only protector a man he had only just met. Still, at least he had Bianca.
‘Worry about it in the morning B.’ He put his arm around her shoulders. ‘We’ve got all the time in the world now.’

Later that evening, after sharing an uncomfortable supper at Lauren’s insistence and saying the last of several goodnights to his new employer, Simon Liberthine gently opened the door to his new wards’ room. They were fast asleep, their faces peaceful. Simon sighed. They were bound to be exhausted. He thanked God that they had not been conscious when Griffon returned. In particular, his heart went out to Jason, who had thankfully not been forced to witness the death of his mother. He shut the door gently, and to himself, repeated the words of the Conclave’s address:
‘To love, honour and protect our fellow sorcerers, to remain united against evil and adversity so that one day, we may all be as one.’
For better or for worse, they would have to live a new life in this strange city.