Chapter 27

"Do wake up, Mr. Cole. I have brought a very special guest to see you.”

Locke forced his eyes open. Ghaleon was standing right in front of him, smirk in place.

“Good evening. You sleep at the oddest hours - one might almost think you hadn’t seen the sun for a week. Ah! Silly me. Of course, you haven’t seen the sun for that long.” Ghaleon stepped back.

“What do you want?” Locke asked. He tried to step forward, but something held him back. He looked down. Ghaleon must not have trusted his old barrier any more - the glowing shackles around Locke’s wrists and ankles were new.

“What do I want? Why, Mr. Cole, you think me more selfish than I am. This fine evening, I am here to give you what you want.” Ghaleon smiled and took another step back.

Locke looked around. He was chained up in a different room than the one he had been in - bigger, with some thick beams holding up the ceiling, but the same kind of dirt walls. And at the other end of the room was -

His breath caught in his throat.

“Celes,” he whispered.

She was so pale, almost sickly. But even with that, she was more beautiful than he’d remembered her. He wished he could run to her and take her in his arms, ask her how she’d been, if Ghaleon had done anything to her, to make sure everything was alright.

But the manacles held him back.

Ghaleon motioned for her to come forward, and she did so. He turned to her and said, “What do you think, my dear. Does this rather plain face bring back memories?”

Celes didn’t say anything.

Ghaleon looked back to Locke. “Perhaps your voice would do the trick, Mr. Cole. I do hope we are not reduced to so maudlin a cliche as you having to kiss her awake, but whatever must be done, will be done.”

“What the hell have you done to her?” Locke demanded. He’d, he’d...

Ghaleon sighed. “Once again, Mr. Cole, you display a remarkable tendency to think that the whole world revolves around me. It does not... not yet, anyway. I cannot claim responsibility for this - so far as I can discern, she has done it to herself. I am rather hoping that you can do something about it, actually, for she has been a frightful bore.”

Locke ignored his tirade. “Celes,” he whispered again.

Did she look up a little?

If Ghaleon hadn’t done it to her, well... well, Ghaleon had done enough already to deserve worse than Locke could do. But that didn’t matter any more. All that mattered was fixing whatever was wrong with Celes.

“Celes, it’s me.” He tried to meet her eyes, but she was looking down. “It’s Locke.”

Slowly, she raised her head. Her lips parted. “Locke?” she said. Her voice was a dry croak. Locke couldn’t think of another sound he’d rather here. Her eyes widened. “You’re here?”

“I’m here,” he said.

She stepped toward him.

“Excellent work, Mr. Cole.” Ghaleon held up his hand. “I do so hate to interrupt this tearful reunion, but we are somewhat short of time.”

“Ghaleon,” Celes said, turning to him. She took a step back. “You...”

Ghaleon smiled. “Yes, yes, it is I. We shall have plenty of time to catch up on old times, the three of us, but not right this moment. I am expecting another guest, and when he arrives, we simply must be ready. I am going to have to ask you to prepare to leave, my dear.” He pointed to the runic blade lying on the ground next to him.

“We’re not goin’ anywhere,” Locke said. He struggled against the magical shackles, but they held him fast. There was no getting out of them.

But if they were attached to a dirt wall...

Ghaleon raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t we? And what gives you the idea that you have any role in the decision-making process?”

Locke yanked on the chain. It came lose, and his fist almost caught Ghaleon on the bridge of his long, skinny nose.

And then the chain snagged.

Ghaleon looked at Locke for a moment. “How violent,” he said. “But, let no one say that I began such drastic measures.” He turned to Celes. “Mr. Cole’s feeble attempt to threaten me aside, this should go smoothly. No one has to be hurt, if we are simply reasonable.”

Celes lowered her eyes. “I heard everything,” she said slowly.

“Hmmm?” Ghaleon asked.

Locke tried to pull free again, but the chain was anchored to something a lot stronger than dirt. Dammit!

Celes continued. “I heard everything you said. I heard your plans, your ambitions, your wants. Your needs. All that time when you thought I could not understand. I heard everything.”

Ghaleon nodded. “Then you are already aware of what I am asking you to do.”

“I will not be a part of what you intend to do,” Celes said.

Locke hadn’t seen Celes fight in over a year, two from her viewpoint. Who the hell knew how she’d been for the past year - she sure didn’t look healthy. Even with that, she moved so fast his eyes could barely follow. The runic blade was on the floor one second, in her hand the next -

And easily held by Ghaleon the second after that. “I suspected you might be difficult about this, my dear. I shall ask you once again, and only once. Prepare for our departure without further nonsense.”

“Never,” Celes said.

Ghaleon sighed. “Very well. Mr. Cole, I once again leave it to you to smooth out this matter. Your intervention has gotten us this far.”

“I’m not gonna help you-” Locke began. And then the pain started. It was just an itch at first, around the areas where the manacles held him. ‘At first’ wasn’t very long.

Ghaleon, still holding the runic blade, said, “Pain is merely a sensation in your nervous system, Mr. Cole. Theoretically, you should be able to ignore such a sensation at a conscious level. Sadly, theory and practice are often...” Some of the smoothness left Ghaleon’s voice as he said, “... too very different things.”

Locke gritted his teeth. His body twitched, but the manacles didn’t come loose.

“Enough, Ghaleon!” Celes said. She let go of the runic blade.

“Is that a yes?” Ghaleon asked.

“No!” Locke managed to shout. “Don’t listen to him!”

Celes lowered her head. “I cannot do this,” she said.

Ghaleon rolled his eyes. “Then, we shall have to increase your incentive?”

Locke gasped. The Rift had been nothing compared to this.

“Please,” Celes sobbed. “Let him go.”

“You need only say one simple word, and he will be released. I will even bring him with us, as he is evidently able to survive in the Rift. You can have a proper tearful reunion, and then be on your way. So long as you simply agree.” Ghaleon cocked his head. “Perhaps you need a reminder of what will happen until you do?”

Locke shook his head. “Don’t,” he said, choking back the pain.

“No,” Celes said.

And the wall across from Locke exploded.