Chapter 31

"It would seem,” Ghaleon said, “that the two of you are rather insufficient for the task.” Atriedes and Celes weren’t beaten, certainly, but they were fallen for the moment, and likely to run out of magical power soon. Atriedes talking sword hovered in the air above them, but it had already proven that it would be no trouble.

“My offer still holds, Ghaleon,” Atriedes said, getting to his feet. He grasped his sword. “Give me back my family, and give me your Runes, and I will kill you quickly.”

Ghaleon smirked. “That course of action held rather greater appeal prior to my handily defeating both you and my dear Celes. Considering your present position, it seems highly unlikely that I would agree.”

Ghaleon felt a force pressing at his back. Had that sword flown behind him? No, it was still floating there. Then what...?

He turned.

Locke Cole raised the Relic Weapon higher and pulled the trigger again.

Ghaleon focused his magical barrier against the technological weapon’s blast. Here, in a world with magic, its power reserves were even greater than before. He was thrown back by the impact of the full-powered beam.

When he rose, he fixed Mr. Cole with a glare. “I am truly and deeply tired of your interference, Mr. Cole,” he said. “And it is time for it to end.”

Atriedes’ runic spell hit Ghaleon in his weakened flank barrier. The magical flames curled and whipped at Ghaleon’s armour, and he actually felt some degree of heat from them. Damn Locke Cole! Ghaleon ignored the flames. He had another enemy to deal with.

Celes raised her blade and began to chant. Ghaleon ignored her, as well. There would be time enough to punish her for her disobedience.

He extended his gauntleted fist toward Mr. Cole. “Time to die,” he said, throwing open his hand as he did so. A beam of purple-black energy shot forth. Celes runic power diverted only a tiny fraction of its full wrath, and it washed over Mr. Cole. He was thrown against the wall. The Relic Weapon flew from his hands and landed on the ground beside him.

Ghaleon smiled.

“No!” Celes screamed. She charged at Ghaleon, her now-functional Magitech enhancement propelling her forward with super-human speed. Her sword, still charged with the power of Ghaleon’s own spell, smashed into his barrier. Still, the magical shield held.

Atriedes was at his side now, too, his heavy magical broadsword tearing at Ghaleon’s defences.

But their attacks were not strong enough. Even the Relic Weapon hadn’t been strong enough to fully shatter his shields, and they would do no better than it.

He clenched his fists and pushed them back with a wave of multi-coloured energy.

Celes stumbled, but Atriedes stayed on his feet and swung again. Ghaleon reached out and caught his sword, holding it fast. “You have certainly proven a fascinating opponent,” Ghaleon said. “Almost a pity to end our duel, but time, I fear, is becoming altogether too short.”

Atriedes spun away, dodging Ghaleon’s spell.

Ghaleon raised his hand and spoke a few simple words of power. He had prepared well for this contest, though he hadn’t expected it to be anywhere near this dangerous. He had learned well the value of preparing for the unlikely.

Two large simulacrums rose from the magic circles he had inscribed to summon them. One loomed over Atriedes, bringing its claws around to slash him. The other rose behind Celes. It reached out and -

- was vaporized by a blast from the Relic Weapon.

Ghaleon looked up.

Locke Cole was still alive? Impossible!

But the insufferable man was definitely still there - battered, but unbroken, and aiming the Relic Weapon right at Ghaleon.

Atriedes sliced the simulacrum he was fighting in half with a double blow - one from the blade he held, the other from the talking sword.

“I seem to have grievously underestimated your potential, lady, gentleman... and you, Mr. Cole,” Ghaleon said. He raised an eyebrow. “Fortunately, for me at least, I have... other methods of persuasion.”

None of them had time to react.

Ghaleon’s eyes settled on Atriedes’ family. “Come here, ladies,” he said. His beckoning finger called them to him, albeit with a teleportation spell. Each stood on one of Ghaleon’s magic circles.

Atriedes took a step forward.

His wife slumped to the ground.

“Now, now, dear boy. One more step, and the pain will become far greater. Those agony symbols are quite unpleasant, as Mr. Cole can attest.” Ghaleon waited until he got a reluctant nod from the aforementioned victim before continuing. “As I am quite simply out of time to chat, and as you have been such persuasive bargainers, I shall alter my offer. Myself, the relic weapon, the Runes I carry, and you, dear Celes, will leave this place in peace. In return, these innocents will be allowed to go free.”

The girl screamed as Ghaleon began to activate the symbol beneath her. A perfect highlight to his statement.

He looked up.

Celes and Mr. Cole had lowered their weapons, and even Atriedes’ talking sword had floated farther back.

Atriedes took a halting step forward, his head bowed.

“I greatly regret the need for this action,” Ghaleon said, “but it really is the only course left to me. Now allow me to leave, or they die.”

Atriedes raised his eyes to meet Ghaleon’s.

Ghaleon did not like what he saw.