Chapter 2

"I must say, my dear, that I am very disappointed in you.”

Ghaleon did not, of course, receive any answer. He wagged his finger at Celes.

She did not respond to either his words or his gestures.

He sighed. “You were once such an amusing companion, but these days... I simply find you rather boring.”

She had been in that state for almost a year. Ghaleon wasn’t entirely certain what the cause of her malaise was. His best theory was that, separated from all that she had known, and with her silly devotion to duty sated, she had simply shut herself out of the world.

A rather pathetic thing to do, really.

“But at least you know how to listen,” Ghaleon said, chuckling. He turned away from Celes and appraised the image which greeted him in his ornate, gilded mirror. “And I do have so much to tell.”

His garb was once again properly regal, simply and elegantly made, with cloth-of-gold trim. He rather thought the stark cut and geometric lines suited him. He would not have been ashamed to wear such clothes on the streets of Vane.

Thinking of his homeland, though, brought a scowl to Ghaleon’s face. “Perhaps you have the right of it,” he said, turning back to Celes. “This world is not worth any more attention than you pay to it. Of course,” he added, “compared to your own, it is truly a paradise.”

His calculations had been wrong. It still galled Ghaleon that he could have made so critical an error when planning his escape from the magic-dead world he had been trapped on for so long.

He had indeed escaped that world, and he did indeed have his magic again.

But he was not home.

Everything about this world struck him as a pale imitation of Lunar, closer by far than Celes’ repulsive homeworld, but still all too far away. Its people, its cities, its magic, even its conflicts were so... minor. A detail, a second thought, a sideshow to the main event.

“Petty leaders of petty nations fighting petty wars with petty weapons.” He sniffed and shook his head.

But for all that, it was still a vast improvement for one simple, obvious reason. Here, his magic worked to its full effect, even if the natives were too lazy or too ignorant to have ever mastered sorcery. Their reliance on runic magic, a branch which scholars in Vane had all but ignored, was laughable to Ghaleon.

Except in the case of the True Runes.

No, he was not laughing at those. It had not been long after his arrival that he had learned of their existence, and he had immediately resolved to be master of them. If even half the accounts were to be believed, here were objects of such power that to hold them all would truly make him like unto a god.

“And that I will be the first to have collected them all speaks far more eloquently about the imbecility of the natives of this world than I could hope to, wouldn’t you agree, my dear?” he asked.

He took Celes’ silence for an affirmation.

It had not even been so very difficult. And while there was more - far more - to be done, Ghaleon was quite satisfied with his progress. Four True Runes were already in his possession, and he had not had to personally retrieve even one.

It had been a simple matter to ingratiate himself with the local authorities. He had settled upon Greenhill as a base of operations. It was a poor excuse for a university city, but at least it made the attempt. And Greenhill did have certain other amusements.

He smiled. The lovely mayor, Teresa Wisemail, had welcomed Ghaleon with open arms - both publicly and privately. He had hardly even needed the power of his music to bend her will to his, although he had employed it just to make certain.

He glanced at Celes. “I do not even much regret your incapacitation, my dear,” he said, “when I have found a more useful - and nearly as entertaining - puppet to dance to my strings.”

He held no official post in Greenhill, but he wielded more power here than he ever had as Premier in Vane. His word, so long as he was circumspect enough to not attract attention from Jowston’s central government, was very much law.

How easy, then, to send out the many war veterans and would-be adventurers who frequented the city, paying them handsomely for information on the True Runes, giving them kings’ ransoms if they recovered the Runes themselves. All, of course, under the official auspices and with the official funds of the City of Greenhill.

When recovered, the Runes were placed on display in the main library, free to be viewed by all. The general populace could not, of course, be allowed to study them in detail. Officially, it was because they would present too great a danger.

Unofficially, it was because the Runes displayed weren’t real. The real True Runes in Greenhill were kept safely on Ghaleon’s person. Those on display were mere illusions, crafted with Ghaleon’s sorcery. He had neglected to mention that detail either to Teresa or to her meddling subordinate, Nina. The former, he could easily have convinced. The latter, on the other hand...

Not wanting to further spoil his mood by thinking of his uncooperative ‘colleague’, Ghaleon glanced at his face in the mirror. The True Rune he wore on his forehead was an unsightly thing, so he did not regret the need for secrecy. Its markings did not mar his features or his plans, as it remained safely hidden behind another simple illusion.

He looked back to Celes, who was seated by the ornate room’s only window.

Whenever he needed to consider a course of action, he had taken to explaining it to her. While she was hardly full of ideas, the mere act of speaking his plans made them easier to consider and, if necessary, to revise.

One touch of which he was particularly fond was the deception he had woven around Celes herself. Soon after his arrival in Greenhill, he had introduced her as his sister, tragically withdrawn from the world and beyond all hope of a cure. Sadly, he had informed Teresa, Celes had a tendency to wander off and hurt herself, and so guards had to be posted at Ghaleon’s chambers at all times - guards who not only kept Celes safely out of the public eye, but also protected the valuables Ghaleon kept in the suite.

And a side benefit to this fanciful tale had soon presented itself. Mention of his ‘sister’s’ presence never failed to engender sympathy with the overly kind locals, and was often all he needed to quell the most exuberant criticisms.

It was, all in all, a most satisfactory arrangement.

Except, of course, for the fact that he was in no way satisfied.

“It is interesting,” he said, leaning over the chair where Celes was seated, immobile and unresponsive, “that I should be so much more restless here, where I hold every advantage, than I was in your detestable excuse for a world. I suspect that it is because there, I was fighting even for mere survival, and had little genuine relaxation. Now that I am quite often free to reflect on my lot, I more often find it unacceptable.”

He looked down at her pale, expressionless face. Relaxation was certainly a commodity she had in abundance. Without warning, he began to laugh. “I cannot imagine, my dear, how dissatisfied you must be!”

Celes did not contradict him.