Chapter 34

Jowy blinked.

Where was he...?

He’d used the Beast Rune. It had given him power, yes, but...

Jillia! Pilika!

He opened his eyes.

Jillia’s face smiled down on him.

He breathed a sigh of relief. A moment later, he sat up and looked around.

Pilika ran up and threw her arms around him. He hadn’t revealed himself to her during the whole time he’d been in Greenhill, hadn’t seen up close how much she’d grown. “I missed you, Uncle Jowy,” she said. She stepped back and wiped the tears from her face. “Mama said you’d come back, but... sometimes I wondered. I should have known you would.”

“Of course I did,” Jowy said, pulling her into a tight hug.

He had almost harmed her. Harmed them both.

He looked to Jillia. “You were right,” he said quietly.

“About the Beast Rune?” she asked. She shook her head. “No, my husband, you were right. You did use its power for good, not for evil. In your hands, I know it will be safe.”

He looked down at Pilika.

Safe?

He had nearly killed them both.

“You did us no harm, Jowy,” Jillia said. She lay her head on his shoulder. “In the end, you were stronger than the Rune.”

“My strength came from the two of you,” he said.

Pilika looked up. “That’s not true, Uncle Jowy,” she said. “Mama couldn’t stop her brother from being a bad man.” She snuggled closer to Jowy when she spoke of the last bearer of the Beast Rune.

“She is right, Jowy,” Jillia said. “I should never have doubted your strength.”

He was unworthy of the trust they placed in him. How could he be? He was but a man.

But he could not disappoint that trust.

To live up to it, he had to leave them behind.

Jowy got to his feet, gently pulling free of Pilika’s grasp. “I must leave again,” he said. “I must find the last five Runes, and then... even afterwards, I don’t know how long it will be before I can return.”

Jillia put her arm around Pilika’s shoulder. “I understand, my husband,” she said. Her eyes welled up with tears. “But... promise that you will return. It is wrong of me to ask this, but... I do not wish to wait until the end of my life to see you again. I know if you swear this oath, you will live up to it.”

Pilika nodded. “Please, Uncle Jowy?”

He took a deep breath.

What if his oath to them and his duty to the world were in conflict? Which would he betray? Who would he fail?

He would not allow that to happen.

“I swear. I will return to you,” he said.

“I will wait,” Jillia said.

Pilika nodded. “Come back soon,” she said. She ran up and hugged him again.

“As soon as I can. I promise.” He bent down and kissed the top of her head.

Jowy’s eyes met Jillia’s. He nodded slightly, and she did as well. The oath was made. He would live up to it.

“Come here, Pilika,” Jillia said. Reluctantly, Pilika detached herself from Jowy and ran to Jillia. To her mother.

Jowy turned around and held out his hand. “Star Dragon Sword,” he called.

The sword slid into his grasp. “This has been, I think I may safely say, what you might call a ‘close shave.’”

“I noticed,” Jowy said. He held the sword up and looked at its unmoving face.

“You know,” it said. “I... I am going to miss this place.” Despite everything, hearing the magical weapon getting choked up was enough to bring a smile to Jowy’s face. “Oh, blast it! I’m going to miss that big lug, Viktor, too.”

“We’ll be back,” Jowy said.

“If you say so, Bearer,” it said. It didn’t sound like it believed him, though. “You know, that Ghaleon fellow seems to have thought better of remaining in the vicinity.”

As Jowy bent down and picked up the King Dragon Sword, he looked around the room. There was indeed no sign of Ghaleon, or of the woman who had aided in the battle against him.

The man was still there, however. Jowy strode over to him and grabbed his arm. “Where is Ghaleon?”

“Gone,” said the man. He scowled as he turned to Jowy. “Through the rift. Again.”

The rift, Jowy assumed, was the tear in the magical fabric of the world situated against the wall. It was invisible to the naked eye, but he could see it clearly with his magical senses.

“You’re the one who helped Jillia and Pilika escape from that cell,” Jowy said.

The man nodded. “Yeah. Name’s Locke Cole.”

“Yes, I know him,” the Star Dragon Sword said.

Jowy was pretty sure it added “... unfortunately.” under it’s breath - if it could even be said to have breath, anyway. He smiled.

Jowy held out his hand. “I am Jowy Atriedes. Thank you for helping my wife and daughter.”

“Don’t mention it,” Locke said. “Are you goin’ after Ghaleon?”

Jowy nodded. “Yes. I have to get the last five True Runes. He took the woman with him?”

Locke stepped toward the wall. “Yeah, he took Celes again. Look pal, if you’re goin’ after him, I’m coming with you.”

The swirling rift was full of incredible magical power. Jowy knew he would have to focus a great deal on remaining unharmed by it. That a man who radiated no magical power at all could survive inside was unthinkable. “If you do, you’ll die. There is no way you can survive in there.”

Locke grinned. “Are you kidding?” he said. “I already have.” He took a step forward. “You comin’?” he asked as he disappeared into the rift.

Jowy looked back one last time at Jillia and Pilika. How long would he be away? Too long, that was certain. But perhaps when he came back next time, he wouldn’t have to leave them again.

He followed Locke into the rift.