Chapter 4

It was truly an impressive place.

In better times, Ghaleon might have spent days, weeks, even years exploring the Core’s depths, its ancient secrets. No doubt within these strange repositories of knowledge, not unlike those in Althena’s Fortress, the long-sought secret of godhood could be found.

And Ghaleon, who had nearly died for that secret, who would have willingly sacrificed whole worlds for the sake of it, did not care.

Perhaps one day, he would return here to claim his immortality.

First, he must, he would, find Althena.

The other two Destined Ones, Sephiroth and that blasted Atriedes, would seek the other -Heirs-, doing what they thought best for the sake of their precious Prophecy.

But what did the worlds matter? If they were destroyed, he and Althena would remake them, better than they had ever been. They meant nothing. They did not matter!

Only Althena mattered.

Ghaleon’s fingers flew across the flat screen, parsing the databank as fast as the system would allow, absorbing all he saw. The Cetra script scrolled past his eyes, illustrations and diagrams flashing into his mind. He’d learned this language over years of study, and he most probably read it faster than any Cetra ever had.

The records of a civilization more expansive than any Ghaleon could conceive of. Ships that crossed the stars. Weapons that destroyed planets. Life, not mere simulacrums, brought forth by magic and technology. Libraries larger than an entire world. The lives of countless billions, the Cetra and their children.

Knowledge enough to sate even a divine curiosity. And yet, not what he sought. The word "Esper" appeared here and there, never clearly, and always in references to some veiled threat. Ghaleon frowned. He wasn’t interested in Cetra fears or superstitions.

Closing the public library with a tap of his finger, he tried the Core facility’s own records. There was nothing about Espers in them. Not in the logs, at least - they ended abruptly with the arrival of some other threat.

But the Cetra’s public libraries had seemed to indicate that the Espers were creations of the Cetra. Perhaps they had brought such creations with them into this facility?

Ghaleon backed out of the logs, switching to the personnel records.

"Authorized personnel only."

He frowned. He did not know enough about such technological wizardries as had created this system to know how to break the codes. Perhaps no one alive knew a method.

Ghaleon knew it was a risk. But he had no time to be cautious.

His hand crackled with magic, concentrated into the form of electrical energy. He tapped the screen with his finger, and the electricity connected his mind with the screen. For just an instant, he was inside the system, and a part of it, and the key was... there!

"Password accepted."

He smiled.

The records were extensive. How many inhabitants had this facility had, prior to the disaster that befell it?

Most of the names were familiar to Ghaleon, who had studied the Cetra long before he knew what they were. He doubted that any of the three entries for ‘Aeris’ referred to the one he’d met, any more than the two ‘Amons’ were any relation to the ancient poet Ghaleon had once studied. These names were, no doubt, as common among the Cetra as Alex or Dyne among the people of Lunar.

There were clear designations of rank, gender, age. But none for species.

Ghaleon backed up, scanned several options, and chose one. A search for the word ‘Esper’ might yield some result.

"There is one entry for Esper," said the system.

Ghaleon raised an eyebrow, surprised at the scarcity of such presumably useful creatures amongst the Core’s personnel. On the other hand, he supposed, useful could become dangerous.

And yes, the word Esper was indeed contained within one entry, buried in dozens of words Ghaleon didn’t recognize in the slightest, words he‘d never encountered in all the Cetra texts he‘d translated. Whoever this particular individual was, he or she had apparently been involved in some arcane matters.

One word, recurring throughout the entry, was especially odd. Perhaps this was the key to the rest. The others were all constructed like most Cetra words, orderly and elegant. This was... different.

It must be the answer!

He must find Althena.

But he could not understand the word. Was it in that ‘second language,’ the high script Ghaleon had never been able to decipher? It did not resemble those words, either.

He spoke the word, pronouncing it phonetically in the hopes it might trigger some recognition. "Bugenhagen..." It was nothing like the other words. Nothing!

"What did you say?" The voice of the Cetra girl, Aeris, came clearly through the communication device Ghaleon had set aside.

He glanced down at it. He hadn‘t realized it was active. "I said, ‘Bugenhagen.’"

There was some commotion on the other end, no doubt the girl telling Sephiroth what he had said.

Ghaleon strained to overhear their conversation. But they must be standing far from the device, or else muffling it intentionally.

He would not allow them, nor Atriedes, to ignore any possibility, however slight, of finding Althena!

The door opened.

Sephiroth and Aeris stood outside. "You may have found something significant," the Seeker said, striding into the room.

"Bugenhagen is not a word," Aeris explained. "It is a name."

Ghaleon rose. "And do you perhaps know of this individual?"

She nodded. "More than know of him. I’ve met him."

"Met him? How? When? These records are thousands of years old." Ghaleon almost laughed. It was impossible... wasn’t it? Yet Althena and the dragons had lived for millennia, and he had sought such eternal life.

And if it was a chance, however slim...

"Well," Aeris said, "I guess it couldn’t be the same person-"

Ghaleon cut her off. "It is the only lead we have. We must follow it."