Chapter 24

Ghaleon seated himself in one of the comfortable antique chairs in Celes’ chamber. He raised a glass of wine to his lips, then, on a whim, held it up. “A toast, my dear,” he said. “To my ascension.”

Her expression did not change.

Ghaleon frowned. “It would be such a pity if you were unable to see it, as you, perhaps more than anyone beside myself, have truly made it possible. But I’ve prepared for that, as well.”

It was, as the old expression went, like talking to a wall. Of course, Ghaleon thought, when he merely wanted to see his ideas reflected in a different light, a wall was perfectly adequate.

“Everything,” he said, his smile returning, “absolutely everything is as it should be. Perhaps I will not be able to take all twenty seven of these precious True Runes with me, but, oh, my dear, I shall settle for a mere eleven. And then... home. For me, anyway. You won’t be returning to dear Figaro and environs any time soon, I fear.”

He drained the wine glass. “This, I shall miss. Terribly expensive here, of course, but truly a fine vintage. Perhaps the second most delicious gift Lady Teresa has given me - herself being the most, of course. If I had more time, I would send to the Toran Republic for another case of this wine. But the shipment would not arrive in time, so -”

He dropped the glass and let it shatter on the floor. Celes did not register the noise. “- what is one to do?”

A wave of his hand first melted the glass fragments, then lifted them into the air. By the time it settled into Ghaleon’s hand, the glass was whole again. He cocked his head. “Your people, my dear, were utter barbarians. These locals, as well, I’m afraid. All you ever seem to have used magic for is war, war, war. Did you ever think to lift your cities into the sky? To construct buildings out of nothing? Or of even so simple an incantation as the one I just used?”

He poured another glass full of wine and took a sip. “No. You didn’t. All of this -” He waved his hand around the lush Greenhill suite. “- is purely physical. Outside of the enchantments I have added, of course. Such a waste.”

Ghaleon set the wine glass down and got to his feet. “Unfortunately, such barbarism has forced even I to master the sorceries of battle. I am truly almost brought to tears at the thought of how much study I have had to expend on so wasteful an activity. If you and yours were not so damnably stubborn...”

He sighed.

Ah, but they were. Stubbornness was practically a characteristic of intelligent life. They could be manipulated, coerced, fooled, threatened, controlled, duped and beaten into submission, but simple persuasion? Hah!

This Jowy Atriedes was one of that sort, from everything Ghaleon had seen and read of him. He would never consider giving up the power he had, even to so obviously worthy a recipient as Ghaleon.

Well, he would have to reconsider. “If he doesn’t,” Ghaleon said, walking over to stand by Celes chair, “things could quite possibly get... most untidy.”

He put his hands on her unresponsive shoulders. “It will be a true pity if he refuses to co-operate, my dear. A true pity. I have been reviewing my records, and it seems that both his wife and their adopted child are genuine worthies, at least for natives of this primitive land. I will regret it to no end if any harm comes to them. He, I suppose, will regret it even more.”

Ghaleon’s fingers tightened. “I am counting on that.”

“Oh yes,” he continued, “I most certainly counting on that. And when dear Jowy arrives to save his beloved family, he will have to make a choice. I want only his Runes. Frankly, I couldn’t care less about his fate or that of his loved ones. Trapped within sorceries he cannot possibly break, he will either give me what I want and go free, family in tow, or fight. And if he attempts the latter, of course, all three of them will quite simply have to die.”

He leaned forward and peered into Celes face. “You would be scandalized at what I am saying, I suppose. Perhaps, somewhere in that lockbox you call your mind, you still are. Well, let me tell you, my dear, I scandalize myself. But people refuse to co-operate. I cannot allow them to continue with their foolish courses when those run contrary to my own. To do otherwise would be unconscionable. After all, what need will there be for wars or sacrifices when I am in control? I simply won’t allow that sort of thing to go on.”

She didn’t refute his claims. Of course, it would be difficult, as they were so manifestly true.

Ghaleon relinquished his hold on her and turned to the window. The cool morning air filled his lungs. He looked thoughtfully at the dawn light. “It is odd, really,” he said. “Whatever deity is responsible for all this did such a wonderful job with the scenery. But the script, my dear, is a travesty. And the actors! Hah! I do not speak of the direction, for there quite simply is none. A mess was made of this grand play. Is it any wonder I wish to do it justice?”

One of Ghaleon’s simulacrums fluttered over and landed on his shoulder. He closed his eyes and saw what the creation had seen. “My men have returned, hmmm?” Ghaleon smiled and dismissed the simulacrum to its perch.

He strode to the door of his quarters and opened it.

Two of the Greenhill Watch stood outside. They bowed to Ghaleon. “Sir,” said one, “the prisoners have been taken into custody.”

Ghaleon smile widened.

The trap was baited. Now, he had only to wait for the quarry to arrive.