Chapter 6

Ghaleon turned a page in the book he was reading, raising an eyebrow at the illustration on the next. “Impressive,” he whispered. A glance at the text confirmed his first reaction.

This ‘Soul Eater’ was a Rune he needed, and soon. How to attain it without attracting undue attention, though? Certainly its current owner was too well known a man to be quietly disposed of, and stealing it, even if possible, would also attract attention. He wouldn’t be able to keep it on his person, not in public where its powerful magic might be noticed. And he had no ready-made hiding place for so coveted and powerful an artifact.

Still, if ever there was a sure way to achieve his ends, it would be that Rune. If the legends were to be believed (and Ghaleon had rarely encountered a legend that was not at least partly based on fact), it had caused terrible strife for centuries, and promised unspeakable powers to one who could control it.

And eight years past was no legend - that was recent history, and the danger the Soul Eater had presented then had been immense. Danger, of course, was also opportunity.

But-

There was a knock on the door.

Ghaleon stifled a curse and set his book down. “Come,” he said.

The door burst open, revealing the last person he wanted to see, particularly at that moment.

Ghaleon sighed.

“What is the meaning of this?” Nina demanded, slapping a newspaper onto his desk with no regard for the reports already on it. He would have to tidy up.

He picked it up and glanced at the headline, keeping his face calm as he did so. It was not an easy task. “I have no idea,” he said truthfully.

She glared at him. “I’ll bet.”

“If I may?” he asked, waving his hand at the paper.

“Go ahead,” she said. “I can’t wait to see how you weasel out of this one.”

He scanned the headline again. It was a Gregminster newspaper - the Toran Republic was practically bursting with the things, which were rare in Greenhill and unknown in the rest of Jowston.

There were two stories competing for the front page.

The first was an obituary for Lord Joshua, leader of the Dragon Knights - an event that would have been far less remarkable had not the famed commander possessed a True Rune which granted him immortality. His death, according to the paper, resulted from the theft of that Rune.

The second, and, to Ghaleon, the more disturbing, recounted a second theft - this from McDohl, the young nobleman who had founded the Republic. Theft of the Soul Eater Rune Ghaleon had just been researching.

“This is... most disturbing,” he said.

“So you claim you didn’t know about this?” Nina put her hands on her hips and leaned forward.

Ghaleon had participated in enough illicit activities during his life that he disliked being accused of something he wasn’t guilty of. “Of course. I am, as you are well aware, a peaceful man - and a law-abiding one. While I have, at Lady Teresa’s request, pursued the True Runes which are not in another’s possession, I would never think of stealing them, much less doing harm to another to procure one.”

He would have begun humming the Song of Althena, but while his ‘colleague’ in Greenhill’s government was not immune, she was quite uncomfortable when he tried to employ it, always telling him to ‘cut it out with the humming’ or some such.

Unfortunately, other means of persuasion were no more effective - even when he was telling the truth.

“If you didn’t do it - or get someone else to, more likely - who did?” Nina asked. She was starting to lose her initial anger. Good.

“That is a question which I very much wish I could answer,” Ghaleon said. He frowned. “Whoever they are, they may well attempt to take Greenhill’s True Runes as well. We shall have to increase our security, at the very least. And it would be prudent to discover the identity of this thief, so as to be better prepared.”

Nina reluctantly nodded. “There’s more to it than that - those Runes, especially the Soul Eater, are dangerous. You’ve heard about what happened eight years ago.”

“And prior to that, as well. The Soul Eater seems to bring strife and darkness with it wherever it goes. And, of course, there are the warnings never to use it in conjunction with another True Rune.” Ghaleon rose. “I thank you for bringing this to my attention, Vice Mayor - as a humble servant of Greenhill, I am always pleased with new information that I can use to help the city prosper.”

Ghaleon had not done anything illicit, aside from his control of Teresa, since his arrival, and had no intention of starting until he was ready to leave. He was far from ready to leave - not only did he want to collect the remaining True Runes, he was unsure how effective Celes’ Runic ability would be, if at all, in her present state.

Fortunately, his position in Greenhill was secure. No matter how much he and Nina despised each other, neither could remove the other from the position they held. Nina was the only one who actually knew how to keep the city running, and Ghaleon held no official position from which to be dismissed.

A most curious, most difficult state of affairs.

“If you’re lying, Ghaleon...” she began, but then stopped and studied his face. “You know, I honestly think you’re telling the truth... this time. If I find out anything else, I’ll let you know.”

“I shall, of course, reciprocate.” He walked over to the door and, with exaggerated courtesy, opened it wide. “Have you no further business?”

Nina glanced once more around the office, probably searching for some evidence to support her suspicions. Seeing none, she left with no more than a curt nod. It was well she hadn’t seen what reading material he’d been absorbed in when she’d entered. Ghaleon shut the door behind her.

He returned to his desk and picked up the Gregminster newspaper. “Damnation!” he hissed, throwing it aside.

Nothing irked Ghaleon more than having a plan stolen out from under him by a rival - except possibly having a rival about whom he knew nothing. That, and having a simple task become suddenly more complicated.

And this task had certainly become more complicated.