Chapter 14

"How, I wonder, did you survive, Mr. Cole?” Ghaleon glanced at the spot where Locke had been sprawled after his ill-advised attack. It was inconceivable that such an individual would be able to survive in the rift! No real mental strength, and certainly no magical power. Why, he wasn’t even in good physical condition.

He certainly hadn’t gained some hitherto unknown power, either - he had been easily downed by one of Ghaleon’s weaker spells, one even an apprentice in Vane might have withstood if properly prepared.

The magical energy of the rift was, if less focused, a thousand times greater than that simple attack.

And yet, Locke Cole was here.

Had his friend the King sent him, perhaps? If those foolish Figaroans had discovered a means of traveling the worlds...

No.

If that were the case, Mr. Cole would have known to whom he was delivering a True Rune. And he would have been accompanied by far more dangerous allies.

So he’d stumbled through on his own, had he?

That was something which simply demanded further inquiry. If it was possible for one as hopelessly mundane as Locke Cole to survive in the void, then it had properties Ghaleon had not previously understood. And once understood, those properties might be put to good use.

His use.

Ghaleon bent down and picked up the picture of Celes. It wouldn’t do to have Teresa or Nina or one of the guards see his reminder of his beloved sister lying on the floor. The glass had been cracked. Ghaleon frowned. He’d have to replace it. A few muttered words and a wave of his hand solved that problem.

He started to put the picture of Celes back in its place. Then, an idea occurred to him. He looked at her blank expression in the picture - that unchanging stare was little different from her demeanor in life.

“But what if her dear Mr. Cole’s life were at stake?” Ghaleon asked himself, setting the picture down. “Oh, yes, I think perhaps she would awaken for such an event.”

It was a pity that he’d already sent his guest away. Ghaleon had thought it better to sow distrust between Mr. Cole and whatever compatriots he had found in this world than to keep him in custody, which could draw questions which Ghaleon did not intend to answer.

He would have to retrieve Mr. Cole, certainly. But that would hardly be difficult.

Ghaleon set the picture back on his desk and took his seat.

He knew how much time he had before the next rift in Greenhill. Not so much as he would have liked, but it should be adequate. If he had to leave without a few of the True Runes, so be it. The five he had already obtained greatly increased his power - enough, certainly, that his dear little friends on Lunar would receive an unpleasant surprise upon his return.

Thinking of his home world always made Ghaleon impatient.

If he could not return home just yet, at least he could do something. “I will not be seeing anyone else today,” he said, knowing that a simple incantation tied to that phrase would carry his words to anyone who might send business to him.

He stepped onto an area of the carpeted floor behind his desk, where he had carefully inscribed a hidden magic circle. It made teleportation far easier, either coming or going, and Ghaleon had never been fond of unnecessary difficulty.

A few words later, he was standing in the parlor of his suite in the mayoral manor, on another magic circle. This one was kept hidden from prying eyes by a carpet far thicker and softer than the one in his office. One of the many benefits of manorial life.

Ghaleon had many such wards and symbols hidden around the room. Some he had inscribed into the walls and then covered with wallpaper, while others were carved into inconspicuous places, so faintly that no one who was not actively looking for them would ever see them. They were his eyes in the world, his shield against other eyes, his means of transportation, and, if need be, one of his most dangerous weapons. Since he seemed to be the only practitioner of true sorcery in all of Jowston, perhaps they were his most dangerous weapons.

He looked in on Celes, who was in her customary position. Outside of the most instinctive functions, she never moved of her own volition, although she would perform simple tasks if ordered.

Ghaleon smiled. Soon enough, she would be performing a far from simple task, and although it would be ordered, he preferred to consider it a... request. She would have to be, after all, quite aware of what she was doing.

But he passed Celes’ chamber without another thought. There would be time enough to deal with her soon. For now, he had a Rune to prepare.

He took the True Rune from within the folds of his robe and held it up before one of those hidden magic circles. The Rune glowed in reaction to the other source of magical power.

Ghaleon turned up his nose at the color of that glow. So this was the True Earth Rune, hmmm? It was no doubt one of the weaker True Runes - all those which had served as templates for common Runes were. But even if it was relatively weak and gave off the most unpleasant brownish glow, it was another addition to his power.

He spoke a simple magical incantation, and a wispy, ethereal duplicate of the Rune is his hand appeared atop the circle, floating in mid-air. Dipping the Rune into its illusionary counterpart, he gestured for it to remain in place. It joined the illusion in the air. He stepped back and made several passes with his hands.

The spells he was weaving now were far more powerful than those needed to create a mere illusion. If anyone with magical sense were to look at the increasingly solid duplicate, they could easily be fooled into thinking it the genuine Rune. Only if they attempted to use it would they discover the truth - that Ghaleon had woven a powerful destructive enchantment into each false Rune. They would not live to tell of their discovery.

He took the original True Rune - the true True Rune, he thought with a chuckle - and held it up, forcing his mind to attune with it. The Runes did not seem to react favorably to him. Perhaps it was a function of his out-world origins. In any case, he had learned to force their power into himself. The energy flowed into his body, and he could feel the uncomfortable sensation of it burning another runic tattoo into him.

A few simpler illusions hid that unsightly tattoo.

He would deliver the false Rune to the library soon. But for now, he needed rest. Preparing a Rune always exhausted him.

But oh, it was worth it.