Chapter 19

Locke looked up at the Academy’s main library. It was a hell of an easy place to break into, near as he could tell. Too easy.

Way too easy.

There was no way anybody with any sense’d put anything as valuable as those True Runes in a place like that. And Ghaleon, even though he was a real jerk, had a hell of a lot of sense. Too much.

Which meant there had to be a trick.

He glanced down at the magical gadget his new ‘pals’ had given him.

He sure hoped it would work.

He didn’t trust those guys as far as he could throw ‘em, that was for sure. The regular grunts were just plain weird, and their thin, black-haired boss was too much like Ghaleon not to give Locke the creeps. But they were the only ones who’d believed him about Ghaleon. Hell, they’d known about Ghaleon already.

And they said they’d help him find Celes.

That was a promise worth sobering up for.

It was a promise worth risking his life for, too.

Well, if he was gonna do something more with his life than risk it, he needed to get the lead out. He didn’t need any fancy gizmo to do what he needed to, either. The ivy-covered brick of the library had to be pretty old. They kept it in good shape, but not so good that he couldn’t climb it, especially with a rope.

He could have just busted in through the front door. But it was a library, and you were supposed to be quiet, right? Locke didn’t want to wake up any angry book spirits that were offended by loud noises - and he didn’t want to alert any guards that were around, either.

He took the rope he had slung over his shoulder and looked for a place to toss it. He narrowed his eyes and nodded. A minute later, his rope, weighted by a loose brick, spun around a gargoyle carved onto the top of the library.

He tugged on it to make sure it was sturdy. Yep. Perfect.

The climb was pretty easy - the rope held his weight without any trouble, and the gargoyle was pretty solid itself. He was about six feet away from it when it shifted.

At first, he thought his rope was pulling it off. That would have been pretty damn bad - if it fell on him, he was gonna hit the ground real hard.

On the bright side, that wasn’t the problem.

The problem was that the gargoyle was waking up.

“Ah, hell,” Locke muttered. He scrambled up as fast as he could. Good thing the thing was slow to get its bearings. If it’d decided to fly off about then, he never would have made it.

The gargoyle stretched its stone wings and looked down at him. Its eyes were shaped just like Ghaleon’s.

That made it a hell of a lot more satisfying when Locke shoved his sword into its throat. He was worried that the blade wouldn’t do anything to a stone creature, especially at the angle he had to try and hit it from. But the sword was one of the tools he’d been given, and it was sure magical. The gargoyle didn’t even get a chance to make a noise - if it could make a noise.

Locke hauled himself up and looked down at the dead creature. He should have known they wouldn’t have gargoyles on a library. Stupid. He couldn’t make that kind of mistake twice.

Hopefully, it hadn’t let anyone - or anything - else know that he was there.

He looked around. There didn’t seem to be any more of them. Hopefully, that was because there weren’t any.

Locke pulled his rope out from under the gargoyle and walked over to one of the wide-open skylights which lit the library. Nice design - he’d have loved to see it in the daytime. It was a nice design for him to get in through, too.

He pulled one of the stained glass panels off and looked inside. He couldn’t see much, since it was pitch black. Just great.

This time, he made real sure that the stone molding he tied his rope to wasn’t going to get up and walk away. A couple of kicks and a poke with his sword seemed to be about as good as it got, and besides, it was a pretty innocent looking chunk of stone.

He let the rope drop into the darkness. After a deep breath, he climbed down it.

When he got to the bottom, he could see a little better. The stained-glass skylight let in what little light there was from the sliver of moon above him and the stars. Not enough to work by, though.

Locke lit the lantern he was carrying - boy was it nice to have that instead of a torch. Besides, he’d hate to carry a torch in a library. Books were pretty flammable, after all.

He’d managed to land in just the right spot, too. Maybe somebody up there really was looking out for him this time. The five True Runes were on pedestals all around him. He walked up to one and held the magical icon next to it.

There was a bright flash in the air between them.

Locke covered his eyes. When he looked back, nothing seemed to have changed. “I sure hope that worked,” he said, grabbing the Rune. It started to glow. The one in the weird ruins had been glowing when he’d found it, but it had stopped when he’d taken it out of its holder. How come this one was different?

It was getting hot, too. Real hot.

Too hot.

Locke threw himself back just before the Rune erupted with magical energy. He didn’t get very far. Its power caught him in the side, and he stumbled to the ground. His skin felt like it was being eaten away - when he looked at where the rune had been, he realized just how close he’d gotten to getting blown to bits.

Another shockwave hit him, making the feeling in his skin worse and sending him rolling across the wide marble floor of the library. He tried to get to his feet, but a third shockwave knocked him back down.

He held up his hand to shield himself from the energy. He gasped. His skin didn’t just feel like it was being eaten away, it looked it, too.

A fourth shockwave rumbled toward him, bigger than the other three combined if the noise was any indication. Two of the pedestals with the Runes on them were torn from the floor, and bookshelves were tumbling everywhere. The pretty stained glass of the skylight blew out, then came tumbling down toward him.

He closed his eyes and clasped the Phoenix magicite hanging from his neck. It looked like he’d failed again. And for the last time, too.

He was engulfed in fire.

Locke screamed.

But the fire wasn’t burning him. It was... healing him? Healing and protecting. He looked down. The magicite was pulsing with light, just like when he’d used it in the old days.

And then, the shockwave passed, and it was over.

Locke slumped to the ground and closed his eyes. That had been a close one, that was for sure.

He looked up.

Someone was standing over him. A pair of black boots, a long purple robe, and -

“You do manage to survive the most extraordinary events, don’t you, Mr. Cole?” Ghaleon said.