Chapter 27

Edgar looked over the advisors standing around the conference table. He could not remember a time when it had been quite so crowded as it was these days. Not in all the years he’d been King of Figaro, not in all the years he’d been old enough to see his father serve as King of Figaro.

There were the imperial scientists, nervous still, but perhaps at least certain that he wouldn’t have their heads. Now that they had begun to settle into a routine, they had made great strides.

None of which had solved the problem.

To the left of them sat Professor Cid. He remained ill, and he remained brilliant. Or perhaps... Edgar wasn’t entirely certain if Cid himself was brilliant or if he simply had an astonishing talent for bringing out the brilliance of others. Perhaps both.

He had also acted as a calming influence on the other Imperials. Having him there, knowing that he at least was greeted not as a criminal granted reluctant pardon but as an honored guest, had made them less apprehensive.

None of which had solved the problem.

And then there was Ghaleon. If he had served the Empire as he claimed (and for all the thought he’d given the matter, Edgar could think of no better explanation), he certainly stayed apart from his former colleagues now. He seemed to stay apart from everyone around him, hidden behind a wall of arrogance.

Of course, to an extent, he had a right to arrogance. His understanding of the rift, if not as theoretically complex as that of Cid, had a practical aspect none of the others could match.

Edgar shuddered to think what might have happened had Ghaleon’s ‘Portal-Field Relations’ group had any more time to perfect the practical side of their technique. Would Figaro bend knee to Emperor Gestahl now, its leaders simply erased from existence? Or would Imperial troops be marching in the castle, having entered without ever traveling the distance in the conventional sense?

Edgar did not know. His speculation was that such would quite possibly have been the case.

And Ghaleon’s supreme confidence had another useful, if disturbing, byproduct. The man had no qualms about proposing solutions that would involve sacrifice, large or small.

None of which had solved the problem.

And Celes. Her razor-sharp mind and practical knowledge of magic had been the focus of many of Edgar’s hopes. Even in her distracted state - another matter to attend to, if possible - she had, with Cid, done fascinating work in regards to her Runic. Her ability to translate theory into practice would, Edgar thought, have made her no poor engineer.

None of which had solved the problem.

And... Terra.

She of all of them seemed least suited to this place, this time. Her sweet, gentle demeanor was so distant from the often cold logic the rest of them relied upon, it was in fact as if she were in a different place, a different time.

Edgar wished more than anything that he could join her there.

Almost every day, she would quietly propose her solution to the problem. And each time she did, Edgar would refuse. He would never allow her to make that sacrifice. But he was running out of ways to say no.

He sighed. By his ancestors, by the glory and honor of Figaro’s history, by his own honor, he would solve at least that one problem. He could do so, he knew.

He hoped.

He had dispatched Cyan to deal with the matter. Now he had other matters, the matter of his kingdom and that of his world, to attend to.

“When this council was first gathered,” Edgar said, addressing the advisors who had assembled before him, “we set a date at which it would come to an end. That date, as you know, was set for three months hence.”

There were nods around the table. Celes already knew what he was about to say, so she did not join in that activity. Ghaleon merely raised an eyebrow.

“That date is no longer valid.”

The murmurs around the table then were as universal as the nods. Edgar wondered just how much of what he was about to say was known to Ghaleon. It was not unreasonable, considering the source, to think that the answer was ‘everything’.

“Based on our findings in regards to the size and behavior of the rift,” Edgar said, “It seems likely that it will begin to effect the outlying settlements around Albrook within the next week. Already, the trade route between Albrook and Tzen is threatened.”

It had been Ghaleon’s latest revised calculations that had told them this. Edgar would not have believed it so readily, were it not for the disappearances reported along that trade route.

Cyan had insisted that it was the work of monsters, perhaps driven from the tower ruins by the rift’s more controlled expansion.

Edgar thought that a strong possibility.

But if what Ghaleon had said was true, time was of the essence. There would be no time for even the strongest possibilities.

“With this in mind,” Edgar continued, “I have decided that we must immediately decide on a course of action and begin preparations.”

Now even Celes joined in the clamor, the gist of which, Edgar gathered from what snippets he could make out, was that there was no course of action upon which to decide.

“I may have a solution,” Ghaleon said, holding his hand up for silence as if it were he, not Edgar, whose council it was.

From the reaction he got, it might as well have been.

“You Majesty,” he said, inclining his head to Edgar, “would you be so good as to summon Mr. Locke Cole?”

Celes drew in her breath, and Edgar raised an eyebrow. “Locke,” he said, curious.

Ghaleon nodded. “He, or rather what he shall bring, is... necessary to my explanation.”

Edgar’s curiosity was hardly abated, but he saw no harm.

Ghaleon’s smug smile was a better indicator of his feelings than the polite nod he had given before. “Excellent. Ask him to bring the relic, as well.”

Edgar dispatched one of his guards on the errand.

What had Locke to do with this? Edgar knew that his friend had been away quite often of late, but he’d certainly never suspected that he was working with Ghaleon. Working with Ghaleon, and keeping it to himself.

Of course, where Ghaleon was concerned, that was not necessarily an indication of Locke’s own will.

The guard returned a few moments later, Locke in tow. Edgar searched his friend’s face for any answer to what was going on, but Locke wouldn’t meet his eyes. His gaze instead went to the canvas sack he grasped in his hands.

“How good of you to join us, Mr. Cole,” Ghaleon said, the smile on his face as genuinely cordial as any Edgar had ever seen him wear.

Locke returned it with a glare that would have backed down a man twice Ghaleon’s size. Ghaleon didn’t flinch.

And Edgar tired of the exchange. “What is this ‘relic’ you speak of, Ghaleon?” he asked.

“Please show it to them,” Ghaleon said to Locke.

And Locke did so.

The relic certainly didn’t look old. It’s gleaming metal surface and smooth lines made it seem far newer, more advanced, that the clumsy steam and combustion engines that ran Figaro, or even the magitech devices which had powered Vector.

Its surprising appearance had, for a time, obscured its shape. But when Edgar looked closer, he could see that it bore no small resemblance to a small cannon of the sort stronger magitech armors had carried. “A weapon?” he asked.

“It could be used as such,” Ghaleon said. “But according to my research, it is more like a scalpel. It can be used to open an incision... or, heated, to cauterize a wound.”

All heads turned to Ghaleon, Edgar’s among them. Edgar narrowed his eyes. “Seal the rift?” he asked.

“Is not the rift, in essence, a wound upon the fabric of this reality? As such, it ought to be treated as a wound. If we cannot sew it up, we ought to apply... heat, to continue the metaphor... and close it in that manner.” Ghaleon rested his hand on the relic. “I have been looking into this matter for some time, and I am quite confident of its usefulness.”

“And yet,” Edgar said, “you did not see fit to inform either myself or any of your colleagues of this discovery until now.”

“I did not have the pertinent information. And until quite recently, I was unsure if I would be able to procure the device at all.” Ghaleon’s smile had never wavered. He let his eyes shift to Terra for an instant. “Of course, Your Majesty is free to accept or reject this proposal, as with any other.”

Edgar fought to keep his own eyes from following. “And I shall do so. Have we any other ideas?” he asked.

No one answered.

He waved them back to their seats, adding another place for Locke. “Then we must begin our preparations for the journey.”

As if on cue, the door to the conference room opened and Cyan stepped in. His gaze met Edgar’s, and he bowed.

Edgar sighed once again, this time in both relief and fresh worry.

For better or worse, everything had been set into motion.