Chapter 28

Ghaleon spun around at the sound of an explosion behind him.

Jowy Atriedes, his cloak whipping about his shoulders like a living thing, stood where one of the dirt walls had once been. The wind around him settled, and he stepped into the room.

“Why, Jowy Atriedes,” Ghaleon said, “how nice of you to drop by.”

“Where are they, Dyne?” Atriedes demanded. He drew two swords, each of which looked too heavy for his frame. He strode toward Ghaleon.

Not quite there yet. Ghaleon raised an eyebrow. “Whom do you mean?”

“Where are Jillia and Pilika?” He took another step.

Ghaleon waved his hand.

The magic circle he had inscribed in the dirt floor leapt to life, creating a shimmering wall of force around Atriedes.

“They, dear Atriedes, are right here.” Another wave of Ghaleon's hand dropped the illusion behind him. Both the stone wall to which Mr. Cole was bound and the cell in which Atriedes' family had been held appeared where there had once been only dirt. “As you can see, quite unharmed.”

Atriedes stepped forward again and called, “Jillia!”

“Now, now,” Ghaleon said. He raised the hand on which the True Earth Rune, no longer masked by illusion, was inscribed. “They still cannot see or hear us, Atriedes. And at a simple command from me, their cell will become... rather cramped, I’m afraid.”

Atriedes looked to the cell. Ghaleon almost allowed himself a bit of pity for the man. He was so completely outmatched. But no, the expression Atriedes wore as he looked upon his wife and adopted daughter was too close to that Ghaleon’s old antagonist Alex of Burg had worn. No pity for one such as he.

Ghaleon smiled warmly. “But I am a reasonable man. I require only your True Runes, and they will go free. As I am in an extremely good mood at the thought of returning to my home, I will even allow you to live! Such generosity, dear Atriedes, should be taken advantage of.”

“I cannot,” Atriedes said.

Ghaleon sighed. “Oh really. Then you do not mind if their cell becomes rather less spacious?” The True Rune on his hand glowed, and the dirt ceiling of the cell began to lower.

“Stop, please,” Atriedes said. “They are not a part of this.”

“I suppose it is between you and me, hmmm?” Ghaleon laughed. “I fear not. This is between me, and your True Runes. Your family are a part of it as much as you are - a mechanism to deliver the power into my hands.”

Atriedes shook his head. “I cannot give you the Runes.”

Ghaleon shrugged. “It is, of course, your choice. You do not have much more time to reconsider.”

Celes, standing at his side, tried to grab his arm. It was a pity he had not had time to properly deal with her and Mr. Cole. But he did not even need to break his concentration to deflect her hands.

The True Earth Rune’s glow continued to brighten. Indeed, it was growing brighter than Ghaleon was used to seeing it. Almost as though there were more power being drained from it than should be necessary.

He looked over his shoulder. His eyes widened. A glowing white shield was holding aloft the ceiling above the heads of Atriedes’ terrified family. But how? The magic circle should have sealed in all Atriedes’ power!

The smaller of the man’s swords sliced through the wall of energy that held him.

Ghaleon took a step back.

“I have another proposal,” Atriedes said darkly as he stepped out of Ghaleon’s magic circle. “Give me my family back, and I will kill you quickly.”

Ghaleon raised an eyebrow. Impressive. He had underestimated the young man’s power, obviously. Indeed, he radiated an aura far stronger than he had before. Apparently, he had managed to gather a far greater number of the oh-so-precious True Runes.

But Ghaleon was not the only one who had underestimated. “As tempting as that offer is, I fear I must decline.”

“Then, Ghaleon Dyne, you die slowly,” Atriedes said, quite matter-of-factly. He crossed his swords, gathering energy into them.

The lightning bolt that shot forth was perhaps the single most powerful attack spell Ghaleon had ever seen. It lashed across his barrier with a flash that would have blinded an unprotected man - not that an unprotected man would have lived long enough to be blind.

And then, it was over. Ghaleon’s magical barriers had held easily against the assault.

Atriedes had apparently not expected this, for he was not prepared to send another bolt at Ghaleon.

Celes had risen to her feet. The barrier had shielded her and Mr. Cole as well as Ghaleon, but she did not seem exceptionally grateful. Somehow, it did not come entirely as a surprise.

“This should be... interesting,” Ghaleon said with a smile.