Chapter 21

Jowy stared out the window of his room.

“He had the element of surprise,” the Star Dragon Sword said. “And I was not accompanying you. Next time, you can simply dispense with stealth, and this Ghaleon fellow won’t stand a chance.”

The sword was probably right. After all, it was able to break Jowy’s concentration. Why not Ghaleon Dyne’s, as well? Jowy was confident in his powers. He could fight Dyne, so long as he could escape the effects of that music.

But how did it affect him?

It wasn’t magic. It didn’t exactly place him under Dyne’s control, the way magical domination would. It simply weakened his resolve and made him susceptible to any suggestions that its user chose to offer.

How?

“Have you ever heard of anything like it?” he asked the sword.

“I’ve heard of everything, dear Bearer. You will recall, of course, that I’ve been around here and there for ten thousand years. At least, I’ve heard of something very much like it, though I find that unlikely to be exactly what is being employed. In any case, it isn’t effective against me, so you have nothing to worry about.” The sword hung upside down in the air, eye-to-eye with Jowy. “I really didn’t mind you remaining here for the sake of your wife, but I must say, fear doesn’t suit you.”

“I was powerless,” Jowy said.

“Certainly. But you wouldn’t be powerless a second time, would you?

He turned back to the window. “I hope not.”

The sword was right, of course. He was afraid of Ghaleon, afraid of what that song had done. Jowy hadn’t felt so powerless since he’d watched Luca Blight about to strike down Pilika all those years ago.

Then, Jowy had been determined to get more power.

He’d gotten it, all right, but when he’d tried to use that power, he’d ended up losing everything. What was he more afraid of?

Ghaleon Dyne?

Or the power he’d have to use to defeat him?

In either case, he was going to have to do something. He had to collect the Runes, and if that meant facing Dyne again, he’d do it. Whatever power he needed, he’d simply have to contain.

If that power destroyed him, so be it.

“Odd... there is a single True Rune approaching our location,” said the Star Dragon Sword.

He spun toward the sword. “What do you mean, approaching? I thought you were the only Rune that can move on its own.”

“Clearly then, the Rune in question is being borne by a human,” it said. “Most likely, a human who wishes to interact with you, as he or she is entering the building even as we speak.”

“Why didn’t you warn me sooner?” Jowy demanded. Without waiting for an answer, he pulled on his cloak and extended his hand. Wordlessly, the sword returned to his control. He faced the door.

He almost didn’t recognise the slight, bedraggled figure that stumbled into the room. Fortunately, the Star Dragon Sword did. “Luc? What has happened to you?” it asked.

Leknaat’s apprentice looked up at Jowy and the sword. For a moment, he seemed not to see them. Then he met Jowy’s eyes and gave a sigh of relief. “Bearer,” he said, “I’ve finally found you.”

He stumbled. Jowy caught him, surprised at how little he weighed. “What happened to you?”

“I... I... Lady Leknaat told me to find you. W, warn you,” Luc stammered. “It was her last request.”

“Lady Leknaat is dead,” Jowy whispered, not really believing the words. “How?”

Before Luc could answer, he slipped into unconsciousness.

Jowy picked him up and laid him on the bed. Luc twitched.

“Dear me,” said the Star Dragon Sword, hovering over the bed. “This is a very serious turn of events.”

“What’s wrong with Luc?” Jowy asked. He’d never seen symptoms quite like these before.

It was strange to hear the sword sigh, as it wasn’t really breathing or even exhaling air to speak. “Luc was more than Leknaat’s apprentice. He was her familiar, as well. As such, he had a close mental connection with her at all times. Sometimes, when the master dies, the familiar does as well. The reverse is also true, by the way. Not something one normally sees in a human, as a familiar is generally some less naturally loquacious variety of animal.”

“Will he be all right?”

“Most probably. He appears to be suffering from exhaustion as much as anything else. Having survived the initial shock of her death, he is unlikely to die of it at a later date. Of course, some familiars simply lose the will to live after their masters’ deaths.”

Jowy closed his eyes.

“I didn’t know you knew Luc,” the sword said.

“We’ve worked together before.” During the five years of his travels, Jowy had often encountered Luc - sometimes as an ally, sometimes as an enemy. Now, he understood why Leknaat had sent her apprentice to involve himself in Jowy’s affairs, but it had been a mystery at the time.

Luc had never been exactly pleasant, but he and Jowy had, on occasion, saved each others lives. That bond weighed heavily on Jowy’s heart as he looked at the emaciated figure lying on his bed.

And the idea of Leknaat’s death was incomprehensible to Jowy. Her presence had been a constant in the world since long before he was born. He’d felt the power she wielded - the Rune of the Gate was among the strongest True Runes, and she seemed to have other, innate, magics as well. Who could possibly slay her?

“You do realize that if Leknaat is dead, then we are in a great deal of difficulty ourselves?” asked the sword.

“That’s... one way of putting it,” Jowy said. He looked down at the runic tattoos on his palms. He had a great deal of power himself.

Would it be enough?

“Perhaps you don’t realize the significance of her role, dear Bearer. Lady Leknaat was the last of her people in the whole of the world, and hence the last remaining guide for you. I simply do not have the knowledge to tell you where to go once you have found the twenty seven True Runes. And that knowledge is absolutely vital.” The sword floated over to the window and faced the setting sun. “Once you have all the Runes in your possession, you must go farther away than you can even begin to imagine. But I cannot take you there, nor even show you the path.”

“What are you talking about?” Jowy asked. He put his hand on the hilt of the sword and turned it to face him, though its unchanging face would not betray any more than its words. “Where must I go?”

It tried to squirm free, but he held it fast. “I shouldn’t have said as much as I did. It is extremely difficult to explain, but-”

Before the Star Dragon Sword could say more, Luc whispered, “Bearer?”

Jowy turned to him, releasing the sword. “I’m here, Luc.”

The young magician’s eyes focused on Jowy. “That’s good.” Then he blinked and said, “Lady Leknaat, she’s, she’s dead.”

Jowy sighed. So it was true. “How?” he asked.

“Betrayed by Leon Silverburg.” Luc was getting his voice back as he spoke, and the pace of his words quickened until it was almost feverish. “He’d been working with her for years. Even when he was helping you, in Highland, he was really working with Lady Leknaat. She never expected anything but loyalty from him, and he, he... took her Rune of the Gate! Doesn’t he know that Lady Leknaat will die if her Rune is taken from her? No, no, he doesn’t know. His allies are telling him to kill her, but he won’t. I think he doesn’t want to. His allies are Espers? But, but-”

Luc subsided into delirium, unable to go on.

Espers? Jowy frowned. He’d never even heard that word before. He wondered what it meant. Something dangerous, obviously.

“She tries to fight him,” Luc said suddenly, sitting up. “But he’s too strong. He has too many True Runes, and Esper sorceries, as well. He takes her Rune, but he mustn’t do such a thing! Why, she’ll... Lady Leknaat will... die. She tells me to find you, warn you, Bearer. But the Espers are after me, too! She’s dead, and I don’t want to leave, but I promised and I have to escape.” He shuddered. “They’re horrible creatures, Bearer, the Espers. Horrible, evil creatures.”

Jowy nodded. He put his hands on the young magician’s shoulders. “Luc, you must tell me. Where is Leon Silverburg now?”

“Magician’s Isle. He’s on Magician’s Isle. In Lady Leknaat’s tower. But you-”

Jowy rose. “Stay here,” he said to Luc. “Rest.”

Luc nodded. “But wait!” he cried. “I’m also to let you take my Rune. My True Wind Rune - it’s mine, I got it back. Take it, Bearer.”

Jowy hesitated for a moment, then his fingers brushed against Luc’s face. The True Wind Rune was absorbed into his body.

Exhausted, Luc slumped back down onto the bed.

The Star Dragon Sword floated into Jowy’s hand.

“We have business at Magician’s Isle,” Jowy said.