Chapter 21

There was no time to waste!

Ghaleon had been able, indeed, happy, to maintain an air of unconcerned detachment about King Edgar’s plans. In public.

In the privacy of his room, he had been worrying over it since the moment he’d heard.

Curse the King for such an idea. Curse that fool Locke for leaving at just the wrong time! Most of all, Ghaleon cursed himself for being so foolish. If he had just come straight to Figaro, he wouldn’t be in the danger he now was.

His time in Jidoor would be his undoing. One or another of those wealthy fools would tell all if they thought they could become wealthier still in the telling. Just as they had been willing to part with some of their precious gold in return for Ghaleon’s knowledge of, if not ability in, magic, so too they would be willing to part with some small tidbit if the King of Figaro was willing to return more than ‘some’ of that gold.

And servants, they would be even easier to bribe. Some of them were gifted and educated enough to recognize what he’d been reading and writing in Jidoor.

They would be gifted in a different sense, soon enough. Perhaps already had been.

Ghaleon’s only salvation was that the enmity between first Jidoor and the now defunct Empire of Vector (from which, in a rare display of narrow-mindedness, the King and his council assumed all magical researchers would hail) and later the Kingdom of Figaro itself, getting information from Jidoor was neither simple nor, at first glance, profitable.

But it wouldn’t last. Ghaleon had no doubt of that. Sooner or later, Figaroan agents would have combed every city, town and village in search of magical researchers.

It was what Ghaleon would have done, had his position and the King’s been reversed.

How long, though?

And how was he to continue without access to the castle?

Oh, he could leave at any time. He might not have quite a King’s ransom, but he had more than enough to pay off the servants and guards he would need to in order to escape.

But once he left, how was he to make contact with his unwitting agent, Locke? Even if he could manage that, and money might buy him at least a safely passed-on note, he did not have all the information he needed yet, and this was the only place he could think of to find it.

Already, he had discovered more, much more, in and around Figaro Castle than he had in all the rest of his ill-spent time on this accursed world.

Leaving this place behind would almost be regrettable, though he would have taken even the most ignorant backwater on Lunar, even thrice-damned Burg, over the finest libraries and palaces here, where his magic was useless and his problems legion.

And yet, there was much here to commend it to his interests. If he but had his magic, he would have been quite fond of Figaro.

Besides, there was the matter of Celes.

Ghaleon knew that he would leave her behind without a second glance if the situation warranted. But he strongly disliked the idea.

Such attachment was foolish, of course. She was a useful, pleasant tool, and nothing more than that. But aside from the ease with which he had manipulated her, he felt a certain degree of respect toward Celes. She had once had many abilities even he could not yet boast, she was still clever and a fine strategic thinker.

And she was, he thought with a chuckle, most pleasant indeed.

“A difficult state of affairs,” Ghaleon said aloud, pleased to hear the sound of his voice again. He had been too long in the habit of sitting silently in his chambers, lost in thought. If he drifted off to sleep at night, he did not notice.

Unfortunately, the break in the monotonous silence his voice caused was not enough to outweigh the truth of what he had said.

His hand rested on the ancient text he’d found underground. So many answers within... but not to most of the right questions.

If the ancient people who had built beneath Figaro Desert (which, had it existed then, would not have been Figaroan at all) had written on the subject at hand, he did not possess those writings. If they were anything like modern man, they would have. But they also would not have had the answers.

“Another benefit to godhood,” Ghaleon said.

As if he needed a more compelling reason to continue his quest to transcend mere human limits.

But that would come in good time, and only with good planning. For now, he had to either stop the investigation - an impossibility - or escape without losing contact - a mere difficulty.

Ghaleon was resolved, then. Leave Figaro, bribe a servant to make contact with Mr. Cole and possibly with Celes, as well. The latter seemed frivolous, but Ghaleon contented himself with the belief that it had rational arguments in its favor.

So long as he could remain appraised of comings and goings at the Castle, he would maintain an advantage. Celes was far better equipped than Locke or any servant to keep him thusly appraised.

It was not perfect - perfect would, in Ghaleon’s opinion, have been King Edgar abdicating in favor of his imbecile brother - but it would do.

He gathered the books from his underground sojourn into the large case he had purchased before leaving Jidoor. He disliked having to haul the thing about, but he couldn’t risk hiring someone, not this time.

Ghaleon’s hand closed on the doorknob, but before he could turn it, he found the door to which it was attached opening.

He stepped back, thinking only at the last second to kick the heavy case out of immediate sight, and bowed to his guests.

“You have much to explain,” King Edgar said as he entered the chamber, “and less time to do so.”