Chapter 17

Leon looked around the room. Dark, dank and dingy, it was the absolute worst in city living. There were no windows, and it was set into the ground beneath an abandoned tenement. The only furniture was two plain wooden chairs and a battered table, both of which had been there when he’d purchased the place. It was certainly inferior to his usual haunts, at least aesthetically. Not that he particularly cared. Location was everything, and this was the best location. For now.

“I have come to a decision,” he said.

Zalbard bowed. “And that is?”

“Bring the out-worlder to me.”

Leon watched the dark one’s movements very closely. He’d learned to read Zalbard quite well in the time they’d worked together. The stiffness with which the dark one straightened out told Leon that this was not a course of action favored by his allies.

What a pity.

It was a course which Leon had been favorable to ever since it had become a possibility. He had been quite surprised indeed to hear that the Player and his fellow off-worlder were not allies in the least. One of the Greenhill militiamen who was, in addition to taking bribes from Mr. Ghaleon Dyne, in Leon’s employ, had brought the information to his attention.

So Leon had come to Greenhill.

What better way, after all, to attack the Player without revealing himself? Playing on existing enmities was one of the simplest strategies Leon could think of. Often, the simplest were the most effective.

So he had watched this... Locke. The out-worlder had taken to drinking as heavily as the Player’s men had claimed he did. It had to be very frustrating for him, after all. Who would believe his tales of other worlds?

Who? Why, Leon Silverburg would believe those tales. He would even encourage them. All, of course, without giving his name or his face away. Either he would get the True Runes from Greenhill, or he would test the Player’s defenses without revealing himself.

Either was fine with Leon, although he suspected the out-worlder would prefer the former.

The door to his dark, dingy office opened. “Mr. Locke Cole to see you, milord” one of his guards said. The guards were dark ones, albeit less powerful than Zalbard or Yuber. Their true, quite monstrous, forms were hidden by spells of transformation.

The wiry, grizzled, dirty-looking man who was shown in hardly seemed like one who would travel the worlds. But when Leon employed his magical senses, he could feel the man’s strange aura. Definitely an out-worlder. “Sit down, Mr. Cole,” Leon said.

With a grunt, the out-worlder dropped into the offered chair. “What do you want?” he asked.

In the dim light, Leon could see the red under the other man’s eyes. He must truly have let himself go. “I want to help you, Mr. Cole.”

“How do you know my name?”

“I know many things.” Leon smiled. “For example, I know that you are not of this world.”

That got the out-worlder’s attention. His eyes, previously blurry, now focused on Leon. What he would see, of course, was a man less than half Leon’s age, with long black hair and sharp features. If Mr. Cole here was forced to talk, he would give a perfect description of Minister Shu. That was a touch Leon was particularly fond of.

“I also know that the man known as Ghaleon Dyne is your enemy.”

“Damn right,” said the out-worlder.

Leon folded his hands on the table. “You will be pleased to hear that I consider him an enemy as well. An enemy and... a threat. I am hoping that you can assist me in dealing with that threat.”

“How?”

“By stealing the True Runes from Greenhill’s library and bringing them to me. You are, I am told, a treasure hunter of no small ability.” Leon reached under the table and pulled out a small metal icon. “Using this, you will be able to take the Runes without fearing Mr. Dyne’s defensive enchantments.”

The out-worlder took the icon and held it up. He looked it over, then turned back to Leon. “Do you know about a woman with Ghaleon? Tall, beautiful woman, long blonde hair, blue eyes. Named Celes.”

Leon considered for a moment. He had never really believed that the woman who the Player claimed to be his sister really was. After all, she wasn’t even from the same homeworld. Better not to distract his agent, though. “I’m afraid I don’t know of such a woman, Mr. Cole,” he said. “I will endeavor to gather more information, however.”

The out-worlder hung his head. “Oh.”

“Perhaps we should discuss the matter of your payment,” Leon prompted.

“I guess so.”

“We are prepared to give you one thousand Potch for each of the True Runes you retrieve. A further two thousand if you get all five currently in Greenhill’s possession. Is this acceptable?”

The out-worlder didn’t say anything. He just sat there, looking down at the icon in his hand.

Leon leaned forward. “Mr. Cole, will that be adequate payment?”

“Fine. Better than fine. But... I’d give it all up if you could just tell me where Celes is.” The out-worlder sighed.

Leon nodded to himself. This one was almost not worth manipulating.

But he’d proven his worth fighting Belselk, and getting into that facility in the first place. He would surely give the Player’s defenses no small amount of trouble. Leon said, “As I explained, we don’t know. But... if we do find out, we will of course tell you. And offer any aid that you may require. It is the least we can do.”

The out-worlder got to his feet. “Mister, you’ve got yourself a deal,” he said.