Chapter 21

Althena had called his name. At first, he had not believed what he heard, for it had seemed impossible. But impossible or no, it was real.

"Ghaleon!" she called again, a desperate song to bring him to her before...

Before...

Ghaleon’s face clouded with rage.

"Althena!" he cried, and, not waiting to explain himself to those fools, his companions, he teleported. The last he saw of the other Destined Ones was Atriedes spinning about, his mouth open in an exclamation that Ghaleon was no longer there to hear.

The wards were strong, and the latent energy was everywhere. It should have been impossible to teleport past such magic.

It should have been, but it was not.

Ghaleon’s power, fuelled by righteous rage, was too much for the wards. He shot through in the blink of an eye, his body reforming in the chamber where she waited for him.

His vision cleared.

But he did not see the plush chamber around him, the light streaming in from the window, the terrible storm forming below it, the walls and curtains that might have hidden an army.

He saw only Althena.

She was bound, her wrists above her head, to a massive bed. Blood trickled from her wrist where the too-tight bonds held her. There was a bruise on the side of her face, a worse one on her bare shoulder. The rest of her body was hidden by a silk sheet.

Even in such a state, her beauty took his breath away.

She opened her mouth to scream, but Ghaleon could not hear her. He half-ran, half-stumbled toward her, reached out his hand -

- and was knocked to the floor, a terrible weight pressing on his back.

He tried to rise, but whatever held him had him pinned fast.

He snarled, a wordless cry as much animal as human, and energy pulsed around him in waves. He heard a howl of pain, and the weight on his back was gone.

But before he could rise, another, even heavier, slammed into him, and his face smashed into the smooth black floor.

He spat blood, but again he tried to throw off his attacker. He must reach Althena, save her from -

It was no use. The strength that held him was phenomenal. Surely, it was an Esper, one of the massive warrior-beasts, that pinned him.

And he’d lost control.

All his carefully studied power depended on his control, all the force of his magic was strong precisely because of it. Without control, he was nothing. Without it, he was useless to Althena.

He looked up. "Althena," he whispered.

But he could no longer see her. Long silken robes filled his vision, blocking his view of Althena.

"I am afraid that our little -Heir- had to take a nap, Player," Zalbard said. He stood between Ghaleon and Althena. "After all, she’s been exerting herself quite a lot."

Ghaleon snarled again, all thoughts of regaining his control gone. The record of millennia of civilization, knowledge and discipline, all that he had learned in his life, was gone in an instant. The raw, unfocused hatred he felt was not that of a sorceror or a scholar, but simply that of a man.

His power was unfocused, poorly shaped. But his rage made it greater, as well. It lashed out at Zalbard almost without Ghaleon’s direction, a manifestation of the hatred he felt for this monster who dared touch Althena.

Zalbard made no attempt to avoid the blast. It struck his barrier and bounced off, its power great, its direction poor.

The green-skinned Esper leaned down, a smirk on his thin face. "I’m pleased to see you, too, Player," he said.