Chapter 16

Ghaleon leaned back in the plush chair at his desk and sighed.

Nothing. No further information had come to light from his reading that told him anything about how, having entered the rift, he might then move through it.

There had to be a way.

There had to be.

“How?” Ghaleon said aloud, louder than he’d intended. But there was no answer.

He wondered idly if, when he himself had attained divinity, he would answer such a cry. Most probably, he would, if only to misdirect and defuse potential rivals in godhood.

But he would not attain godhood any time soon, and if he did not attain the means to escape from this world far sooner, he would be forever trapped here, or in a place even worse than here.

The rift is growing.

The words spoken with Strago Magus’ dying breath rang in Ghaleon’s ears over and over again. They confirmed his own suspicions about the rift’s nature. Perhaps, rather than suspicions, he should say fears.

For Ghaleon, future god of all worlds, future ruler of all things, was afraid.

Failure, which had seemed consistently impossible, now stared him in the face, and it was grinning at him in anticipation. Failure would condemn his immortality to the tides of a shapeless and alien world, never moving but constantly in motion, separated for eternity from all that he desired. Unable forever to offer his benevolent guiding hand, his all-seeing fatherly eye, to the world.

Ghaleon cursed. He rarely did so, but the prospect of failure was bringing out the worst in him.

There would be no way to hide, no way to fight back.

How could he escape if he could not propel himself through the rift? He could not.

But what remained in this accursed magic-dead world for him if escape was impossible? Nothing.

The rift was growing.

In his mind’s eye, Ghaleon saw it growing over all of this world, consuming and bringing to nothing all those who were too weak to survive its raging currents of power, trapping in maddening eternity those strong enough to live.

Those strong enough to bend it to their will alone would leave the void behind, return to physical existence.

Return to godhood.

Ghaleon’s hands were clenched so tightly on his small desk that he had, after four days and four sleepless nights, actually begun to make an impression in the implacable old wood.

“My destiny, I shall prove worthy of,” Ghaleon muttered. “My purpose, I shall fulfill. My ambition, I shall make reality.”

But how?

The question which rolled over and over again in his mind tormented him just as much as the old Mage Knight’s dying message. Neither offered any solution, though, and that made Ghaleon not just afraid, which could be banished by resolve, but also frustrated.

Frustration and fear were a dangerous combination. Together, they could lead to despair, and if he gave in to that, he would be doomed.

Fear was not easily alleviated, but frustration could be laid to rest even if he had no way to solve the problem.

Yes, it would be not only therapeutic, but prudent, as well, to pursue more intensely his attraction toward Celes Chere. Ghaleon could sense the tension in her when they were together, and he knew that it would not take overmuch to make her desire flare beyond the limits of her conscience.

Yes, it was high time for him to leave behind the quarters where he had confined himself since hearing Strago Magus’ last words.

Ghaleon rose from his chair and walked to the mirror which hung above the paltry sink. He nearly winced at the sight of himself. Four days and four nights had taken their toll. He was most disturbed to see that his hair, carefully arranged to cover his pointed ears, had fallen away.

“I must make myself presentable for the lady,” he said.

A tiny part of Ghaleon’s mind, that from which sprang the cold, disinterested scientist side of his nature, told him that he must truly be going mad.

“Then I shall be a mad god, but a god in fact and in name.” He smiled. Madness and genius were but a fine line apart, and upon which side he trod, only he himself, as the great winner and writer of all history, would declare.

And he would be a satisfied god, be he mad or brilliant. Deprivation had never been something which Ghaleon considered a prerequisite, or even an aid, on the path to power.

It took only a few minutes to restore himself to the fastidious elegance which he had always prided himself on, and perhaps even affected more of since coming to this world. When he was done, he returned to the mirror.

Ghaleon smiled. “Presentable indeed.”

He made his way as quickly as graceful appearance would allow, for it was about the time that, if her schedule had not been greatly altered, Celes would be returning to her quarters.

The hallway outside of her door, which he had identified with typical foresight the very day after he had first decided she was of interest, would make a fine place for a ‘chance meeting’.

For the logical side of Ghaleon’s mind, he had to provide some small measure of excuse for his excess. And yes, there was one indeed - the King of Figaro would be taking action, and if, in his limited but not insubstantial wisdom, he decided to seek out scholars of magic, his inquiries could lead him, not pleasantly, back to his ‘court musician’.

It would be worth Ghaleon’s time to have some safeguard, or, more likely, forewarning against such discovery. And surely Celes, as influential as she was beautiful, as connected as she was malleable, would have access to such information.

His concern for his time thus laid to rest, he strolled down the halls of the large castle at a far more casual pace, so as not to attract attention.

But he was not, it seemed, the only visitor to Celes place of residence.

Ghaleon paused, considering for a moment whether or not to approach, and attempting to determine if Locke Cole was coming or going.

Before he could come to any decision, Locke came to one for him.

Ghaleon had not missed the company of his easily-duped ‘ally’, but his return might herald great things. “Ah, Mr. Cole,” Ghaleon said.

“What’re you doing here?” Locke demanded. He shoved his plebeian features altogether too close for Ghaleon’s comfort.

“Am I not as free to wander the castle as any other humble servant?” Ghaleon asked. With Locke, he need not check his sarcasm as he did with the King. “Or perhaps your objection is of a more personal nature?”

Locke glared at him. “You know damn well what my objection is.”

Ghaleon raised an eyebrow. “You overestimate my ability to perceive such things, Mr. Cole. Rather than dwell on whatever petty dispute you have with my presence, though, it would be rather more profitable for both of us to discuss the results of your hunt.”

“Well... okay,” Locke said after a pause.

Apparently, Ghaleon wasn’t the only one who would rather not discuss their personal conflict. In truth, he was rather pleased that Locke would be so distressed. It would be even less trouble to... persuade... Celes if even the noticeably dense treasure hunter had picked up on the mutual attraction between them.

“My hunt didn’t go so hot. I couldn’t make it all the way down to the area you wanted me to this time, so all I ended up hauling back were some of these.” Locke reached into his pocket and pulled out a small silver figurine.

Silver... or not?

Ghaleon peered closer at it. Perhaps it was simply silver. But he thought he recognized the shiny material as something else entirely. It resembled nothing so much as the material from which the Fortress of Althena was constructed.

Excellent. Precisely the sort of material, or rather technology, that he would need to escape this magic-dead world.

But that did not change the fact of Locke’s failure. “It is a matter of some urgency that you retrieve the objects I requested,” Ghaleon said.

Locke shrugged. “Then I’ll get ‘em next time.”

“See that you do,” Ghaleon said. He supposed the treasure hunter must be dejected about the news of his compatriot’s death. How much of the import of that news he’d heard was, most probably, irrelevant.

“I said I would!”

Ghaleon nodded, as patiently as one might to an unruly child. He had no further business with his unsuccessful ‘ally’, not yet. No, the time for business was done.

There were other activities which he intended to pursue.

“If you don’t mind, Mr. Cole, I have other matters to attend to,” he said, intentionally letting his eyes shift to the hallway outside Celes’ quarters.

Before Locke could say any more, Ghaleon brushed past him.