Chapter 24

They know as much as I do, Ghaleon thought to himself. It was not a pleasant reflection - and it wasn’t one he was going to make public, either.

It was, nonetheless, true.

They were the King, Terra Branford, Celes, and a handful of genuine Imperials that the Figaroan authorities had tracked down.

When the last group had first begun to trickle in, Ghaleon had worried that his story would fall apart then and there. He did not want to explain his true origins... and did not want to find our how much more angry the King of Figaro would be at being lied to once again.

So Ghaleon had made a point of looking down his nose at them, and they had, much as he’d suspected they would, simply assumed he’d outranked them, or been in a more classified research group.

He had the disturbing suspicion, though, that had he been a genuine Imperial Magitech scholar, they would have outranked him.

His knowledge was, essentially, practical. Oh, he’d done more work on magical theory than anyone else on Lunar - anyone he knew of, at least - and fancied himself a true expert on the subject. But they... they had researched magic at a far more elemental level than he had. They knew things about it on a scale he could never have duplicated, for lack of instrumentation if nothing else.

He shuddered to think what power they must have had.

Of course, anything he learned here would be of great use to him later, when he could apply it in a world suffused with magic rather than dead of it.

When, Ghaleon repeated vehemently.

“We are again brought back to the question: What caused this rift?” the King said, looking around the table.

“It was not any action of the Empire!” one of the scientists immediately said. He was a nervous, twitchy sort, and obviously believed that Figaro was going to execute him at any moment.

Since he was the least useful, and most annoying, of his little band, Ghaleon wondered if that wouldn’t be a bad idea. “How can you be so certain? Are we then to assume that you were privy to all Emperor Gestahl’s projects?”

That silenced the man, a bead of sweat forming on his brow.

Ghaleon chuckled to himself. “To the best of my knowledge, however, you are correct. This was not Imperial doing.”

“Why do you say that?” Celes asked him. She did an admirable job of separating business and pleasure, as did Ghaleon himself. Admirable, and necessary.

“Because I suspect the Empire would have created a rift over their enemies here in Figaro, not over themselves in what was once Vector.”

That drew nods, either of understanding or of relief.

Except from the King. “You assume that it is performing according to plan. Vector, and everything in it, did not fare well under Kefka - who is to say it was not originally meant for Figaro?”

Personally, Ghaleon wished that Vector had been the winner of the world war it had fought. If these scientists were any indication, it had far greater stores of knowledge. His eyes flicked to Celes. Of course, had Vector won, certain other diversions would have been denied him.

“In any case, without the data from our central files and with none of us on the project, we can’t know if it was an Imperial construct or otherwise,” another scientist said.

Ghaleon nodded. “This is true. Beyond that, I find it unlikely that a magitech device or spell would continue to function under the present state of things.”

“The rift is magical, though,” Terra Branford said. “Strago said it was.”

Which was one thing Ghaleon did know more about than the others. Since his point of view was not limited to just this one world, he could more easily see those outside it. This was a salient point. But how much could he safely reveal?

Quite a bit. His supposed area of expertise, revealed as slowly as possible so that he could check it against the other Imperials - they were as vulnerable as anyone to the power of his music - was Portal-Field Relations. A Vectran term. In Vane, it would have simply been called teleportation.

Which was more efficient?

Before Ghaleon could speak up, there was something of a commotion outside.

“Enter,” the King said.

The contrast between the two men who entered was striking. The one was, unsurprisingly, the ubiquitous Captain of the Royal Guard - a person Ghaleon would just as soon not have seen. The other was...

“Grandfather!” Celes said, rising from her chair immediately.

Ghaleon raised an eyebrow. The man she called grandfather was not much older than Cyan, although he looked to have far fewer years left to his life. His skin was almost as yellow as the coat he wore, and his eyes were sunk deep inside his head.

Ghaleon recognized, academically, the symptoms of Magical Poisoning. Those not trained in the use of spellcraft often suffered it when they were exposed to too much latent magical energy. On Lunar, it was easily cured - how many Vile Tribe workers would have been lost before the Grindery was completed if not for that cure? Here, it evidently was not so easy.

“Professor Cid!” the Imperial scientists all chorused a moment later. Perhaps they hadn’t recognized him before.

Ghaleon’s eyes widened. So this was the famed head of magitech research. He would be more difficult to fool. Vector had, most likely, not even laid claim to a working Portal-Field Relations group. Was the game up?

“Hello, Celes,” Cid said, nodding to her. “It’s been a while.”

Celes stepped toward him. “Too long.”

He nodded again, then, turning to the King, asked, “May I be seated?”

“Of course, Professor,” the King said. “We are all very grateful to you for coming here.”

Ghaleon again raised an eyebrow. Why was the King so cordial to this one, when he had made it perfectly clear that he just barely tolerated the others - Ghaleon included?

Cid slowly lowered himself into the nearest chair, thanking the Imperial who had vacated it as he did so. He certainly had the respect of his peers.

Although his voice betrayed a terrible strain on his lungs - how much magic had he been exposed to? - he followed his thanks with a few rapid fire questions, getting more information from the other scientist in those seconds than the King had managed to wrest from him all day.

Once everyone was seated again, and the Captain sent forth back into the hall with no less that the proper formalities, Cid addressed the group. “What do we know so far?”

With admirable discipline, the officials related what information they had. Ghaleon did his best, which seemed to be more than adequate, to emulate the Vectrans. Terra Branford, the only other one not trained by either Figaro or Vector, didn’t have much to say at all.

Curiouser and curiouser - she had most certainly, he reluctantly admitted, had something to add before. She was also almost certainly incapable of deceit. So what was the cause of her reticence?

Ghaleon was beginning to wonder if he didn’t know less than he thought in fields other than magic.

“If the rift is magical,” Cid was saying, “what we really need is antimagic.”

“But antimagic doesn’t work anymore, either,” another Imperial said.

Anti-magic? Ghaleon raised an eyebrow.

“No,” Cid corrected, “it doesn’t work here. The real question is, would it work in there?”

Impressive. The man might not be long for this world, but he certainly had more than a few brains in his head. A pity there wouldn’t be more time to learn from him.

“Even if it would,” the King asked, “where would we find anti-magic? Unless you happen to have some stored away in your cellar, Professor, I fear it isn’t really an option.”

“Well...” Cid chuckled, although it was more of a cough than anything. “No, I’m afraid that’s one thing I don’t have.”

The nervous Imperial who had captured Ghaleon’s ire with his pointless denials at last decided to contribute something. “And we cannot find antimagic without magical detectors, which don’t work either.”

“Even if we could find it, even if it would work, it would not necessarily be wise,” Ghaleon said. “The very idea of a rift implies something on the other side. Destroying whatever is there - a magical existence, as near as we can understand - could be even more devastating than the rift itself.”

“We mustn’t do such a thing,” Terra Branford said. “We do not know what the nature of the rift is. There may even be something living inside it.”

Ghaleon’s eyes shifted to the King for an instant, long enough to see how his countenance changed at the sound of Terra Branford’s voice. Everyone has a weakness, Your Majesty, Ghaleon thought sarcastically. This one had already led to Ghaleon’s inclusion at this table.

He shook his head - on to more important matters.

Whatever was living in there had its own troubles, and did not concern him. The danger to himself, and certainly the difficulty of travel, did. “Precisely,” he lied. “We cannot afford to destroy the rift. What we must do is-”

“Control it!” Celes and Cid both exclaimed. They glanced at each other and smiled.

;They must have worked together for a long time. It was as if both knew exactly what the other was thinking.

Celes continued. “With my Runic power, I should be able to control the flow of... whatever is in there. If I could drain the rift, that would seal it up, wouldn’t it?”

Runic power? She had mentioned something along those lines, but Ghaleon hadn’t thought it was some form of control over magic.

“There is a problem with that,” the King said. “Aside from the fact that we don’t know if it would work or not - there were limits to your absorption ability, Celes, and there is an extraordinary amount of magic inside that rift, if it truly is magical. It would be a suicide mission.”

That silenced everyone.

“If we still had our magic, I could probably find a way to transfer Runic power through the rift without Celes herself going,” Cid said. “As it stands, the King is right.”

“I... do we have a choice?” Celes asked.

A pertinent question. Though Ghaleon hated to think it, the answer might well be no. What then?

“It is something to consider. Not to act upon - especially not on the basis of an unproved theory,” Ghaleon said. Logically, he needed to keep them talking, find out as much as he could. And what Celes had said intrigued him.

“Certainly. But if we can find a way to do it without the risk, it would be worthwhile to try,” Cid said.

For the rest of the afternoon, the rest of the evening, Ghaleon kept his thoughts closer to his chest, and his comments neutral.

He and Celes would have much to talk about... later.