Chapter 17

Edgar looked around the table.

It was a painful reminder of what had happened to look upon Cyan, sitting even more stiffly at attention in the chair than he usually did. Edgar still could not shake the feeling that it was his decision to send Cyan and Strago to the tower that had led to Strago’s death.

As a king, he saw the need.

As a friend, he saw only the anguish.

Would he have to make that decision again? Could he?

Edgar quickly looked away.

Celes, too, sat stiffly in her chair. Although the black gown she wore was also a reminder, it was one Edgar was more used to, better able to confront.

Not that she herself didn’t concern him. On the contrary. Celes had seemed extremely distracted all morning, and he was at a loss to determine why.

Most probably, Edgar decided, something to do with Locke.

And the third seat, normally vacant or filled by his chancellor.

If it was a stark reminder to see Celes in mourning black, to see Terra in it was even moreso. Edgar, as much as he needed to banish the thoughts from his mind, could not forget, now or ever, the feel of her sobbing in his arms, of him comforting her.

He wished only that he could do so again.

But Terra, everyone, had been distant since Strago’s death. Edgar didn’t blame them. They’d all needed time to come to terms with it.

But the reason they were all here was not for mourning, but for action. Strago’s dying words had weighed heavily on Edgar’s mind, and no doubt on the others’, as well. It was a matter that could hardly be allowed to go unresolved. “Let us begin,” he said.

“Your Majesty.” Cyan pointed at the map on the table, indicating the region of the accursed tower. “Based on what we know of this... rift... we must take action immediately.”

“Agreed.” Edgar nodded. “The question, then, is what action to take.”

Terra shifted uncomfortably. Edgar understood why she’d asked to be included, but such discussions had never been something she’d been involved in.

“We must, at worst, halt the growth of the rift. At best, seal it up,” Celes said.

“Once again agreed.” Edgar looked over the three of them. “How?”

Celes turned to Cyan. “What exactly was the appearance of the rift? Did you recognize-”

“Similar to that ‘forbidden magic’ Strago used on the demon Wreksoul,” Cyan said. “Yet, I know the smell of magic in the air all too well. That wasn’t what it was.”

Celes shook her head. “Not as such, no. Obviously it is something we’ve never faced before. But perhaps if we considered what counters existed for the threat we are familiar with, we might be able to apply them, or modify them, to this new one.”

“Perhaps my recollection is poor,” Cyan said, “but is not the best counter for hostile magic the death of the hostile mage?”

Edgar raised an eyebrow. “You believe then that this rift is being controlled by someone, Cyan?”

“I do not know that, Your Majesty. But I know that if it is, we will find whoever is manipulating it and kill them.”

Edgar had not heard that grim determination in Cyan’s voice since he’d first joined the Returners, what seemed so many years ago but was so few. The death of a friend and being unable to take action sat no better with Cyan than with his liege.

But there were other considerations. “We should, of course, consider the possibility that the rift is a tool of our enemies.” Edgar said. “If so, we must find and, as you say, eliminate, whoever is causing it.”

Cyan met Edgar’s eyes. The Captain of the Royal Guard could tell from Edgar’s tone that he had more to say, and so waited until it was said.

“However,” Edgar continued, “there is also a possibility, a strong possibility, that this is no directed attack against us. After all, if we were simply content to leave the rift be, it would reach most of the rest of the world before it reached Figaro, and even within the area of its effect, it seems almost to strike at random. Such a weapon is terrifying, but of little use against specific foes.”

“It is a weapon Kefka would have appreciated,” Celes said quietly.

That thought had already occurred to Edgar. “I agree. It cannot be ruled out that this rift is a sort of vengeance weapon that Kefka left behind in case he was defeated. As such, it could be a spell that Kefka cast before his death, a magitech device he found or created-”

“Or the inevitable result of draining magic from the world,” Celes said.

Again, Edgar nodded. “Yes.”

“If so, or if by any other natural cause, then we must consider the possibility that the rift can never be sealed up. Indeed, we must consider the possibility that we would not want to seal it up.” Seeing the look on Cyan’s face, Celes quickly added,

“No matter what, though, we must halt its growth.”

‘No matter what’ were three dangerous words indeed. But accurate, Edgar supposed. He would not allow this menace to threaten his kingdom, any more than he had the Empire and Kefka before it.

He would not allow it to harm...

Terra rose from her seat. “I believe I can stop the rift,” she said.

All eyes turned to her with as much, though hardly quite the same, rapt attention as Edgar’s own.

Terra closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I am... I was... half-esper. Where there is magic, I would be half-esper again.”

“Where there is magic..?” Cyan asked.

“Strago said that there was magic... inside the rift. I think I can stop it, or seal it up, if I pass through it.”

“No,” Edgar said, too quickly.

Terra leaned forward onto the table. “But, Edgar, if I can help-”

“Absolutely not. I won’t have anyone going through that, that thing, and least of all you, Terra.” He would not allow it. Under no circumstances would he risk her life as he had so foolishly risked Strago’s.

Normally, Terra would not have pressed a point. But this was, no doubt, as important to her as to any of them. She seemed ready to speak again.

“Besides,” Edgar said immediately, “didn’t you promise Strago that you would take care of Relm for him? I won’t let you risk your promise to him.” His eyes, he hoped, told her more than he would dare say.

Whether it was his words or his expression, Terra was resigned. She sat back down.

Once again, Edgar had to fight the urge to rush to her side, apologize for the harshness he’d deemed necessary to keep her safe.

But he must not.

A decision had to be made, and he had to make it.

“We cannot fight what we do not understand. Learning as much as we can about this rift must be of paramount importance. Thus, we will tap the only resource I can think of that remains to us.” Edgar now rose, a signal to his two chief advisors that he had indeed come to a decision. “As you know, it had been my policy to prosecute former Vectran magical researchers for war crimes. Considering the nature of their ‘research’, I’m sure that you all know why. But we must issue a call for those researchers, and any other scholars of magic, wherever they may be found. Rewards and, for the Imperials, pardons, too, will be offered to anyone who chooses to aid us.”

Edgar looked over the three faces.

Cyan, of course, scowled at such a course of action. His hatred for the Empire’s magic had only become buried over time, not eliminated.

Terra sat with downcast eyes - the ‘research’ he was referring to had all-too-often been conducted on espers... or on her.

Even Celes, herself a product of that research, was biting her lip to keep from saying something. Most probably, she wanted to warn him of the danger they posed.

But it was Edgar’s decision.

He could only pray he’d made the right one.