Chapter 29

Jowy raised his swords. The True Lightning Rune would have killed him easily if he’d been hit by it, and Leon had not been as powerful a runecaster as Jowy was. A great dragon had crumpled like paper before its bolt.

Ghaleon Dyne did not seem to be particularly disturbed by it.

With only five True Runes, and those far from the strongest, how could he remain standing before such an onslaught?

Jowy’s eyes flicked to Jillia and Pilika, safe for now under the canopy of the Bright Shield Rune.

He would save them.

Dyne was powerful. But not powerful enough.

The man chained to the wall was unfamiliar to Jowy, as was the woman standing beside Dyne. Jowy didn’t know if they were friend, foe, or even if they were there at all. Dyne’s illusions were extremely good.

The woman’s sword was pointed at Dyne. If she was real, then she was more likely than not an ally.

Jowy hoped that she would stay out of his way.

He lunged for Dyne, lashing out with both the Star Dragon Sword and the longer King Dragon Sword. The magical blades weighed no more than a feather, but he was unused to fighting with two weapons.

Dyne held up his hand.

His magical barrier was all that stood between him and death. And the Star Dragon Sword had said it could break any barrier.

There was a bright flash.

When Jowy opened his eyes, Dyne still stood before him. But he was no longer clad in the elegant purple robes he had worn. In their place was a suit of plate mail, black, stark and angular, leaving only his head exposed.

“Who are you, Dyne?” Jowy whispered.

“Who am I?” Dyne laughed. “I was hoping you would ask that. First, you may dispense with that false name that I took - I am no more Dyne than you are. Second, you may address me by my proper title.”

Jowy did not allow him to finish. The Star Dragon Sword clanged against Ghaleon’s armour, but did not break through.

Ghaleon did not flinch from the blow. Nor did he pause in his speech. “From this day forth, you will all know me as I am - Ghaleon, Magic Emperor of Lunar, and future god of this and every other world.”

Jowy slashed again, with no more effect. The woman at Ghaleon’s side raised her own sword and plunged it toward him. It was deflected just as easily.

“Really, my dear,” Ghaleon said, looking at her, “this is quite simply out of your league.”

His gauntleted hand lashed out, sending her tumbling to the ground.

Jowy faced him alone. “Why doesn’t his barrier fall?” he shouted.

The Star Dragon Sword squirmed in his hand. “I don’t know!” it said. “The only barriers this strong are those of the creators themselves, and this fellow certainly isn’t among their number!”

“What is the matter, Atriedes?” Ghaleon asked. “You seem to be having a difficult time injuring me.” He laughed.

Jowy let the Star Dragon Sword slip from his grasp. “I can’t wield two swords,” he said.

“I was afraid you were going to say that.” The sword floated into position at his side.

Jowy struck at Ghaleon’s chest at the same time as the Star Dragon Sword swung toward his bare head. Both blows were deflected without so much as scratching Ghaleon’s armour.

“When you promised me a slow death, dear Atriedes,” said Ghaleon, “I did not know quite how slow you meant. Several years, perhaps? I fear I tire of our little dance. I really must be going, and you are preventing my exit.”

He extended his hand, and flames leapt forth. It washed over Jowy, forcing him back. He raised the King Dragon Sword and willed it into action. The blade’s barrier formed around him, deflecting the fire.

“Well, well,” Ghaleon said. “You are not so weak as you appear to be.”

Jowy’s Black Sword Rune glowed on his forehead. It was his First Rune, the marking which had been his before any other rune. Its power and his were inexorably intertwined. The black crystal blade shot out.

Ghaleon looked down. For the instant before it dissipated, the Black Sword Rune’s projectile had lodged itself in his armour. Blood - red blood, not black like that of the Espers - began to pump from the wound.

Ghaleon’s eyes blazed. “You arrogant little whelp!” he snarled. His hand again glowed with dark power.

Jowy braced himself for another blast. But instead, he felt nothing. Nothing but... exhaustion. He was so tired...

Ghaleon smiled as the wound in his chest closed.

A life draining magic. Jowy steeled himself. Twice, one of his True Runes had failed with its supposedly invincible power, for the King Dragon Sword’s protection had not kept Ghaleon’s spell from working on him any more than the Star Dragon Sword had shattered Ghaleon’s defences.

But Ghaleon’s own barrier was not impenetrable. And once broken, if it bore any resemblance to the magical shields Jowy had encountered before, it would be less difficult to break again.

He focused his power into the Black Sword Rune once again. He would only have one more good strike with it. If he could not shatter Ghaleon’s barrier now, he would probably be unable to do so.

But he would do so.

Jillia and Pilika needed him.

The Black Sword Rune glowed hot enough to burn his forehead. He ignored the pain. The Rune’s power focused into another crystal blade, this time aimed directly at Ghaleon’s heart.

Jowy hoped the Star Dragon Sword could see what he was doing. If it struck at the same time...

Ghaleon raised his hands and began a chant. Jowy had heard of ancient sorceries that employed hand gestures and such incantations. He did not intend to discover the power Ghaleon could wield with yet another supposedly lost mystic art.

Jowy struck.

The black crystal stabbed at Ghaleon’s heart from the front, and the Star Dragon Sword swooped in from behind.

They struck Ghaleon’s barrier.

And bounced back.

“Fool me once, dear Atriedes,” Ghaleon said. He shook his head. “Shame on you. But I trust you know how the saying goes, and I am not in the habit of bringing shame upon myself.”