Chapter 28

Ghaleon kept his face calm. He projected nothing but the same grim determination worn by the King, by Celes, and by a few of his so-called colleagues.

But inside, oh, how he was laughing.

Everything was falling into place just as he had hoped.

Oh, there had been a few setbacks along the way, more than a few, even. At times, he had almost crossed the line from idle speculation to an honest belief in his own inability.

But he had known better. Yes, he had known better, and now he was proved right!

Celes was the key. A very pleasant tool, indeed, and now a crucial one. Just, he congratulated himself, as he’d always thought she would be. She was the missing piece of the puzzle.

Mr. Cole’s pathetic attempt at stalemate had gotten him nowhere. Ghaleon didn’t care about his embarrassment, although it had proven a delightful contrast to the pigheaded confidence he had displayed before.

The King, for all his cunning and his suspicions, was too blinded by his desire to protect Miss Branford to see what Ghaleon was doing.

The other Imperials, even Cid, dared not speak against Ghaleon - his position in the hierarchy seemed to be above their own, and unless they could find a way to displace him, how could they dare oppose his will? It simply wasn’t in their nature.

Such a delicious victory.

“Ghaleon,” the King said, “I would appreciate your attendance for a while longer.”

A raised eyebrow was all that drew from Ghaleon, and even that was gone from his tightly controlled features by the time he turned around.

What did his ‘employer’ want? “Your Majesty?”

“Be seated,” Edgar said cordially, indicating the chair across from him. His eyes told Ghaleon that this was no request. It was an order.

Someday, years, perhaps decades from now, Ghaleon would return to this accursed world as a god. And he would be the one giving orders. What a truly delicious victory that would be.

Would be.

Was not now.

Ghaleon sat.

Still smiling, Edgar reached under the table and pulled out a bottle of wine and two glasses. He poured them both and slid one over to Ghaleon. “To success,” Edgar said, raising his glass.

“To success,” Ghaleon repeated. He had little choice but to do so.

They both drank.

“I understand,” Edgar said, putting his glass down, “that we are all grasping at straws, so to speak. I want to know honestly - what sort of chance does this ‘relic weapon’ really offer?”

Ghaleon almost answered, ‘none whatsoever.’ His eyes darted to the glass, then back to Edgar’s smiling features, as unreadable in their expressions as his own were in their coldness. What was in the wine?

“Roughly eleven percent,” Ghaleon said.

Edgar sighed. “I thought as much. I take it you have no other ideas, then?”

Again, the urge to tell the truth was almost overpowering. Almost. Ghaleon had always been resistant to medications, particularly those which affected the mind. That was the only reason why he could even begin to lie. “None,” Ghaleon said. He put a touch of resignation into his voice, so that the King would think he’d lost the battle against whatever drug had been put in the wine to make him speak truly.

“That is truly a pity, my dear court musician.” Edgar’s voice was less guarded than Ghaleon was used to hearing it. The King sounded tired. Desperate and tired, as he had to be. Even if he knew of the existence of other worlds, he wouldn’t have left his own - his sense of royal duty, however ill founded to Ghaleon’s sensibilities, would not allow it. It was simply unusual for Edgar Roni Figaro to show how he felt, especially to Ghaleon.

But it made sense, of course. After all, the King had drank the same wine, hadn’t he? And lacking Ghaleon’s resistance, he would have to speak nothing but the truth.

That would be very useful indeed - and it had been a dangerous gamble on the King’s part. Which meant he, too, must have felt there was much to be gained.

“Tell me,” Edgar said, pouring another glass of wine for both himself and Ghaleon, “Now that you have given us the specifications for the use of this relic, and provided us with it, what need have we of you?”

Ghaleon did not even have to wrestle with the drug coursing through his mind to say, “I can find the rift for you - a central point which can be targeted. My calculations of the chance of success were based on the assumption that such a point would be reached.”

Ghaleon smiled to himself. Even telling the truth could deceive. His calculations had been made with that in mind - no need to tell the King that he had lied about what those calculations were.

“I see,” Edgar said. “And why did you not tell us any of this before?”

“If I had, you might have found a way to accomplish the act without my help, Your Majesty. Whatever you may think of me for it, I serve my own ends. So long as I live on this world, I will help you protect it. To do otherwise would be suicide.”

Inwardly, Ghaleon shuddered. But no, the King had not noticed the particular turn of phrase which Ghaleon had used - a dangerous, automatic way of telling the truth.

“I find such unapologetic selfishness appalling, but I see your point.” Edgar raised his glass in silent salute.

Soon, Ghaleon promised himself, he would leave behind this accursed world and its accursed leader.

Edgar did not know that, of course. In his mind, his pathetic little planet was all the known universe - anything beyond it merely the object of idle speculation or clumsy exploration via telescope.

Ghaleon didn’t like to consider that, less than a year ago, he hadn’t known of anything beyond his home world. How much did he still not know, even now? How many worlds? Were there other worlds? All things to consider later.

For now, he had his plan mapped out. He and Celes would enter the rift, taking the relic weapon with them. The use he had first described, that of cutting a small incision in the fabric of reality, was something he was sure of. So they would use that to re-enter Lunar.

And transportation had ceased to be a problem. Celes’ Runic drained magic. The rift was full of nothing but magic. Ghaleon had laughed out loud in the privacy of his chamber at the beautiful simplicity of it all. Nature abhorred a vacuum. Absorbed magic would leave a vacuum - into which the absorber would be drawn.

Yes, it was a perfect plan.

There was, of course, one small problem.

“Your Majesty,” Ghaleon began. So long as he kept his thoughts focused on his own escape, what he was about to say would not be a falsehood. As such, there would be no strain. “I have one last request in return for my help. I will require freedom of movement during the process, and I will need to control the relic myself.”

Edgar nodded thoughtfully. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. And afterwards, I suppose you will expect to be set free?”

Not that it will be in your power to determine, Ghaleon thought. But he couldn’t say that. “That would be... preferable.”

“Of course.” Edgar pressed a small button on the side of his desk. “Guards, please escort the court musician to his quarters.”

The guards, three of them, entered the chamber. Two of them took Ghaleon by the shoulders and lifted him to his feet.

Edgar smiled warmly at Ghaleon, but spoke to the guards. “Keep a close eye on him. No matter what, he is not to be allowed to go free until after the rift is sealed, lest he think he can negotiate a better deal by escaping.”

Ghaleon glowered at Edgar. “You lied to me!” Ghaleon said, genuinely surprised. How was that-

“You must be rather fond of this vintage, Ghaleon,” Edgar said, holding up the wine. “I’ve found that it can be quite difficult to resist unless one has... shall we say, made a point of indulging in it as often as necessary?”

Ghaleon’s eyes blazed as the guards took him by the shoulders.