Chapter 10

Tension filled the reception hall of Greenhill’s mayoral manor. It was, Ghaleon thought, a real testament to the gravity of Teresa’s summons that academics, bureaucrats, soldiers and courtiers had awaited the facts of the matter without starting even a single argument as to how to deal with it.

All that, and the exact nature of the problem still was not revealed.

Unfortunately, he was as worried as any of them. Teresa had not had an opportunity to inform him of the situation before calling the meeting. Perhaps she didn’t know herself - it was rare for her to make any decision of note without his approval.

Ghaleon folded his hands into his robes and adopted a neutral expression.

Before he’d been interrupted, he had been on the verge of making an important discovery, he was sure. His research had indicated that this world was regularly subject to miniature, and stable, rifts of the sort he needed to enter the void. There would be one such rift occurring in Greenhill, and fairly soon. He had to be ready.

But before he could determine the exact time, he had been called away by Teresa’s summons.

Ah, well. If it was unimportant, he would receive his apology from her later.

“Gentlemen,” Teresa said, “I have received word of a terrible tragedy. There has been an attack on the capital.”

Ghaleon raised an eyebrow.

The others immediately launched into a barrage of questions. “Is his lordship well?” asked one. “Will there be war?” a soldier questioned. “Greenhill will not be formally involved,” one of the academics declared, rather presumptuously.

Teresa raised her hand. “Fear not. All is well now. The attack was by a small group, and no one was seriously injured. However, his lordship’s Bright Shield Rune has been... stolen.”

Ghaleon stiffened. “Are we certain of this?” he asked.

Teresa nodded sadly. “Absolutely. The messenger from Minister Shu was most specific.”

Truly, there was cause for distress. There were few places in this world more carefully defended than the capital of Jowston. Ghaleon could hardly help but admire the cleverness of Minister Shu - both times they had met at state functions, Ghaleon had seen in him a worthy opponent indeed. That an enemy could snatch a True Rune out from under those watchful eyes was disturbing indeed.

“Are our Runes safe?” one of the bureaucrats demanded. “Mr. Dyne, they are your responsibility - how can you guarantee that they won’t be stolen as well?”

“They’re our responsibility, not just his,” Nina said. She met Ghaleon’s eyes. “But it’s still a good question.”

“I have had powerful spells of warding placed around the True Runes in Greenhill’s possession. I do not believe there is a power in all the world capable of taking the Runes from the main library.” Ghaleon returned Nina’s gaze, challenging her to find any fault in his words.

She accepted the challenge, and met it. “I don’t think any of us believed that the symbol of the Jowston Alliance would be stolen from our capital, either, Mr. Dyne. Your wards are more powerful than those at the castle?”

“Actually, yes,” he said. He held up his hand to stay her protest. “Runes worn by an individual cannot be warded in the same way - the spells would tear a human body apart. Of course, I will confess that I was not aware of a method for ‘stealing’ a Rune while it is being worn.”

“There are theories, Mr. Dyne,” one of the academics said. “Aligning one’s magical signature with a rune-bearer’s, and then causing his own to go into disharmony, could have the desired affect. Purely theoretical, of course.”

“Of course,” Ghaleon said dryly. He knew just how theoretical, because it was a question which had concerned him for some time. It was possible, he was sure, for him to do so. His sorcery would provide the answer. But for a native of this world, unschooled in the mystic arts? Impossible.

Nina interrupted his thoughts. “Well, it’s happened. Something has, anyway. Lady Teresa, considering what’s occured, I think we should stop collecting the True Runes in Greenhill. It’s too dangerous.”

Ghaleon looked to Teresa. She lowered her head, considering Nina’s words. At last, she asked, “Ghaleon, what is your opinion on the matter?”

He paused for a moment. “My opinion is completely contrary to that of the Vice- Mayor. Far from abandoning our search, I believe we must redouble our efforts. We must bring the Runes safely here, where they can be observed and protected.”

“And invite whoever did this to Greenhill?” Nina demanded.

“That will be enough, Nina,” Teresa said, more gently than Ghaleon would have in her place. Still, the Vice-Mayor of Greenhill did not seem inclined to argue. “What you have both said bears consideration. But I find myself more inclined to Ghaleon’s way of looking at things. We shall further increase the guardians of our Runes, and do everything in our power to acquire more - before this mysterious enemy does so.”

“There is, of course, the question of our ability to defend the Runes,” one of the military officers said. Ghaleon had discerned, from rumors and snippets of conversation, that the previous leader of Greenhill’s military had been a far more capable man - and far closer to Lady Teresa. The circumstances of his leaving were not discussed. The inferiority of the present soldiery, on the other hand, was a common subject.

“We must defend the Runes,” Ghaleon said. “It is as simple as that. If the wards cannot protect them, then surely our watchmen and soldiers will. Or do you doubt your ability so much?”

The man shifted nervously under Ghaleon’s mocking gaze.

Perhaps to spare the officer, Nina interrupted. “Do we have any clues about the thieves’ identity?”

“Minister Shu could not discover any,” Teresa said. She handed the written message to Nina. Ghaleon watched her face as she read. He did not like what he saw. It took a great deal to disturb Nina, and she certainly looked disturbed. Perhaps, even a little afraid.

“That kind of mass teleportation should be impossible without the Rune of the Gate,” Nina said. “I’ve never heard of anything like it since the Toran Liberation War.”

“And can we truly rule out the possibility that our enemies possess one or both halves of the Rune of the Gate?” Ghaleon asked. “They have, after all, proven quite resourceful. If memory serves, the half once used by Lady Windy was never recovered.”

“Never officially recovered, anyway,” Nina pointed out. “It hasn’t always been calm waters between us and Toran.”

“Even if the Republic did previously have the Gate Rune, who is to say that they do now?” Ghaleon cocked an eyebrow. “After all, their greatest hero lost his Rune. Could not their government not misplace its ‘secret weapon’, as well?”

“In any case,” Teresa said, rising from the table, “we must increase our guard. I intend to request that a company of the Matilda Knights be assigned to Greenhill for a time. As this matter chiefly concerns the True Runes, I will place the knights under Ghaleon’s command for the duration of their stay. By the leave of Commanders Camus and Miklotov, of course.”

Ghaleon stood as well, bowing so low that his head nearly touched the table. “You are most gracious, my lady.”

Nina nodded to Teresa. “If I may be excused, ma’am,” she said, “I have business to attend to. Obviously, I’m not needed here.”

“Of course, Nina,” Teresa said. If she caught the anger in her subordinate’s voice, she gave no sign of it to Ghaleon. “Everyone, return to your work. Until we have more information, there is little that we may do.”

Ghaleon forced a satisfied smile. But his mood did not match his appearance.

More than ever, he hoped that the rift would occur soon.