Chapter 2

The sun streaming through the sitting room’s ornate window caught Celes in the eyes, momentarily blinding her. Then the light was blocked off as Locke stepped in front of the window.

“Nice day, isn’t it?”

Celes fixed the back of his head with a glare. “You’re dodging the subject.”

“But it is, don’t you think? Birds singing, flowers blooming, all that great junk.”

“There are no flowers. We’re in the middle of a desert. And even if there were, why do you want to spend this fantastical ‘nice day’ five hundred feet under the ground?” Celes asked, walking over to stand next to him.

Locke leaned out the open window, deftly avoiding eye contact once more. “Tomorrow, Celes, it’s tomorrow I want to spend underground. It’s nice today, but it hasn’t been nice two days in a row in, hell, two years.”

Celes put her hand on his shoulder. “This is ridiculous, Locke. What possible reason do you have for poking about in that ancient castle?”

Locke turned to her and, his face perfectly straight, said, “Because it’s there.”

She spun around and gave an exasperated sigh. “Fine then, you just go and have your fun. But you know very well that it’s dangerous down there.”

“Nothing we couldn’t handle together,” Locke said softly.

Celes didn’t dare turn to face him again. He’d have that lopsided, hopeful grin on his face and... “I’ve got work to do,” she said. That was certainly true. Ever since Kefka’s defeat, she hadn’t had a moment’s rest. Ever since she’d agreed to apply the skills that had made her a successful general to the process of rebuilding. The leadership abilities she’d spent a lifetime being trained for were, according to Edgar, absolutely essential.

Not that she blamed him. She knew for a fact that Edgar was doing more than she was - she’d seen him do it. God alone knew how he managed it.

And the others, each in their own way, were caught up in the effort to rebuild. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen Cyan - and, as head of Figaro’s military, he was in residence right here at Figaro Castle. She was just too busy. As was everyone else.

Everyone except Locke.

He’d had little to contribute to the rebuilding effort - he lacked Sabin’s strength, Cyan’s discipline, Edgar’s all-encompassing sense of duty toward his people, her own talent for organization. Locke’s skills and his way of life had been of great help during the war against the Empire, and against Kefka.

But what could a treasure hunter do in a world where there was no treasure left?

Celes knew that it was killing Locke that he couldn’t help more than he did. But a part of her, the part of her that was tired and overworked and above all bored out of her mind, resented how little he had to do.

“You always have work to do,” Locke said.

It was that part of her that snapped, “Meaning?” She whirled to face him.

He shrugged. “Just that I hear that a lot these days.”

The same part that just wouldn’t give it up. “Oh, do you? Well if you prefer, I’m sure you could do my work just as well.”

“Look, Celes, maybe there’s something down there that could help out. Ever think of that? There’s got to be something I can do, dammit!” Locke flexed his fingers. “Maybe, just maybe, I can actually do something for a change.”

Celes lowered her head. “I’m sorry, Locke. If you must go, one of the digging units won’t be in use tomorrow. You can borrow that.”

“Thanks,” he said stiffly. “I really appreciate it.” He started toward the door.

“Locke, I...”

In a flash, he was back, pulling her into his arms. “You sure you’ve got all this work to do? It’d be kinda fun to go down there together. Safer, too, like you said...”

Celes allowed herself to smile when she imagined such an expedition. She wasn’t the dedicated treasure hunter Locke was, but it would feel so good to get out of Figaro Castle. Or not...

“Heck,” Locke said, seizing the moment and pulling her closer, “you sure you’re busy now?”

Yes. She was. The moment was over. The work she’d agreed to do, wanted to do, hadn’t begun to pay back the damage she’d done as an Imperial general. And she would pay it back. Sooner or later.

“I’m sorry, Locke. I’ve simply too much to do.” Celes extricated herself from his arms.

He sighed. “Yeah, well, have a good time.” At the door, he looked over his shoulder. “I’ll see ya later, Celes.”

Before she could say anything more, he was gone.

.
Celes neatly stacked the ream of building material requisition reports on a corner of her desk, and stood and stretched her back. She’d approved every one of them, though she had no idea if the materials could actually be provided - mining operations in Narshe had been shut down for days due to equipment failure, the Albrook dockworker’s guild had went on strike for two weeks, Zozo bandits were again becoming a problem for the caravans... She shook her head. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another.

Her eyes were drawn to her Runic Blade, hanging on the wall behind the desk. She liked to think of it as a reminder of what might be, if one were not vigilant.

Increasingly, though, for all the pain and all the horror, Celes was beginning to look upon the sword as a symbol of what had once been. What she missed.

The freedom of the open skies, the wind in her hair as she rode a chocobo to some new adventure. The comfort of just being one among many, neither a leader nor a follower. The sense of immediacy and purpose that came from a life and death struggle against evil.

The soft light of a dying fire and a full moon the last thing she saw before falling asleep in Locke’s arms.

She forced herself to look away from the sword and all that it represented. She didn’t have the time or luxury for even purposeful reflection, much less this over-sentimental nonsense. “What next,” she wondered aloud, “Am I to wish for Kefka’s return?”

“I am certain no one wishes for that.”

Celes gasped. As she turned, her hand went instinctively to where she had once worn her sword.

The speaker was a tall, elegant man dressed in robes that would rival Edgar’s in richness. She was certain she’d never seen him before, certain that if she had, she would have remembered.

He smiled. “My apologies, if I startled you.” His eyes, of a striking ruby shade, both captivated and unsettled her.

“Not at all,” Celes said, feeling her face grow hot. She struggled to recover her poise. This was ridiculous. She must get control of herself. “May I help you, sir?”

“I was looking for the library,” he said, and his voice, the way he looked at her, made her feel like he had found something of more interest.

“Then, sir, you are looking in the wrong place. The library is in the east wing of the castle.” Celes pointed in that direction.

“Thank you,” he said, with a little bow. “I am, you see, quite new to this castle, having only arrived yesterday afternoon.”

That certainly explained why she hadn’t seen him before. “If you like, I can show you the way there,” Celes said without even thinking.

“I would very much appreciate that. But surely the schedule of the great Celes Chere would not allow for such distractions.” He bowed again and stepped toward the door.

“You have me at a disadvantage, sir.”

He stopped, turned, and strode to her desk. “I am called Ghaleon,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it. “I am honored to make the acquaintance of one of whom legends are told.”

“Legends, indeed,” Celes said. But it was most flattering, nonetheless, especially from this man. She smiled and stood. “Really, it would be no trouble to show you the way - the library is not far.”

“If it would not trouble you, then I shall accept.”

It would trouble her. What was she thinking? She had no time for this. Her work must be her first priority. Hadn’t she just said as much to Locke?

And yet, she found herself leading Ghaleon down the halls of Figaro Castle. Although, leading was perhaps the wrong word, as Ghaleon easily matched her pace. A casual observer might have thought him in the lead. “So, if I may ask, Ghaleon, what is your business here at the castle?”

He turned his head to speak. “I am a musician, here to play at the coming anniversary celebration.”

“A musician?” Celes couldn’t keep the surprise out of her voice. She had assumed from the richness of his garments and his cultured manner that he was a wealthy Jidooran, probably of some importance.

“It is one of the many pursuits in which I delude myself into believing I am talented.” Then, glancing at his robes, he added with a smile, “Though I am often able to delude others into believing the same thing.”

Celes laughed. “Perhaps that is the true mark of greatness.”

“Perhaps,” Ghaleon said quietly.

Celes found herself irrepressibly curious about this man. “One of the many pursuits?”

“Indeed. I have, from time to time, fancied myself a scholar, a buyer and seller of antiquities, many things really. I have tried my hand at the visual arts as well, but found them rather less to my tastes than music.”

They walked in silence for a few moments, and Celes decided she could put her finger on exactly what it was about his manner that so intrigued her. Ghaleon moved like a man used to being in command.

More than that, like a man used to having his commands obeyed without question.

Celes had known two kinds of commanders while she was an Imperial General. Some had authority only because of their uniform. Stripped of their rank and raiment, they would not have commanded the respect of their troops. Kefka had been such a commander.

But others had authority because of a quality within themselves. It was not just a sense of military discipline that compelled soldiers to follow their orders. Both General Leo and Emperor Gestahl had been commanders who were obeyed without question - one, because he was loved and admired, the other because he was feared and respected.

Ghaleon, although he had said nothing to indicate he had ever been a commander, gave the impression of being such a man. A leader. Celes wondered, whenever, wherever he had led, which sort he had been.

She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she nearly missed the double doors that led to Figaro Castle’s library.