Chapter 29

Celes glanced at the note in her hand, then at the guard who had brought it. “My thanks,” she said. “You may tell the prisoner to expect me in a few moments.”

The guard bowed and turned on his heel in a brisk manner that spoke of the hours Cyan had drilled his troops. Celes approved of the crispness of the guard’s actions. She wondered if he was as disciplined in his speech.

From her experience with soldiers, she doubted it.

But what was there for him to say? She glanced down at the note. Even if he had decided to read it, there was nothing contained therein but an innocuous, even valid request.

For all Celes knew, the request was all Ghaleon wanted from her.

From her experience with Ghaleon, she doubted it.

But this time, he would be disappointed. She thanked whatever higher powers might listen that she’d had time away from him since his incarceration. Paperwork had occupied her quite completely the past few days, both the regular business of Figaro and, amazingly, still more as she’d helped finalize the preparations for the Rift Expedition.

And now, that last endeavor had paid off.

Celes still did not know what the last delay had been, the one which had kept them in Figaro until the morning light.

She supposed Edgar had indeed wanted to open the Celebration personally. He would consider it his duty to his people - by necessity he had not been there to lead them during Kefka’s reign, but he would at least lead them in remembering the end thereof. In the flurry of activity over what had become far more important, Celes had nearly forgotten the Celebration, and suspected the others had done the same.

But Edgar’s intent to leave the night after his announcement had always been clear.

It didn’t matter. They were off, now.

Celes took down her sword and buckled it on - she was not in the habit of going unarmed while out of the castle, and, if her will held, she would not shirk from using the blade on Ghaleon.

The corridors of the airship, the newest in Figaro’s ever-expanding fleet, were impressive for their size. Unlike those of the castle itself, they did not boast much in the way of finery or decoration. But then, the castle did not have to fly. Weight was simply not a great concern.

Celes herself had only seen the ship once before boarding it, and she had to admit she hadn’t realized just how large it was. Setzer, she supposed, would have either been very jealous, or very amused. Probably the latter - the opulent Blackjack and sleek Falcon both in their own ways seemed more properly airships than this royal behemoth.

For an airship, it was large. But compared to Figaro castle, it was still small, and Celes was surprised at how quickly she reached Ghaleon’s quarters. Too quickly.

Those quarters were easy enough to spot. Only Edgar’s own chamber had the same defenses. But while the two Royal Guards outside Edgar’s quarters were meant to keep enemies out, the two here were meant to keep an enemy in.

An enemy.

Celes steeled herself with that admonition. Ghaleon was, had to be, her enemy.

“I would speak with the prisoner,” she said to the guards.

Both nodded, their faces impassive, and opened the door to allow her to pass.

She entered the room.

It was a fine prison cell, indeed, with a large desk, a large bed, and, perhaps most to Ghaleon’s tastes, a large bookshelf, as well stocked as weight would allow.

Ghaleon was seated in the simple, plush chair at his desk, reading one of the books from that shelf. And humming. “Good afternoon, my dear,” he said, his silky voice lingering on the last words. “I trust my missive found you in good health, though I have not been able to ascertain whether or not that would be the case.”

From his tone, it was obvious Ghaleon had resented their time apart as much as Celes had rejoiced in it. She fought to keep her anger down, but did not entirely succeed. “It is not my habit to appraise prisoners of my health,” she said.

Ghaleon turned. His arrogant smile was there, as always, and he had never, even while speaking, lost the lovely melody he was so fond of. “My dear,” he said, matching his words to the music, “I trust I am no mere prisoner.”

Celes’ anger boiled over, and she took a step toward him. How dare he! What right had he to speak thus to her - to anyone!

His humming grew louder. At the same time, he said, “I am displeased.”

Celes’ eyes flashed for a moment, then she felt her rage drain from her. She took a deep breath, then sank to the floor. “I’m... sorry,” she said weakly.

Celes could not believe her words. How could she be sorry? She wasn’t sorry in the least, she had no reason to be. Ghaleon had never shown such overt power over her. No magic was involved - it couldn’t be. How could he do such a thing?

“My dear,” he said, tilting her head up to face him, “all is forgiven.”

And Celes, though she tried to stop herself, was thankful.

Ghaleon’s cold, arrogant smile shone upon her like an eclipsed sun - blindingly bright, but dark at its core. “Now rise. I had hoped you would be more receptive, but it seems I must resort to extraordinary means.”

The part of Celes which was still under her control told her to recoil in horror from his words. But the part that should have told her to draw her sword and run him through, the animal part of her revulsion, was missing. In its place was a feeling of utter contentment. She was lucky to be given such a chance by him after how she’d reacted.

“I find it necessary, due to circumstances outside my control, to be completely honest with you.” By the way he said it, Ghaleon thought this a great injustice.

“I am grateful,” Celes answered, hating herself for it. What power did he hold over her instincts? And how did that power seem to grow like a cancer in her mind, keeping her servile and obedient?

She thought back to the times she had seen him with others. Yes, the more she thought about it, the more she realized that he’d employed that same technique against them. How often had they had service more prompt, or more willing, because he had employed that song at table? How often had one of the other Imperial scholars given his assent to one of Ghaleon’s ideas thanks to it?

How often had she yielded to his desires because he had used that song?

Celes honestly didn’t want to know.

Ghaleon, thankfully, did not tell her. But he was certainly not silent. “My dear Celes, you have no idea how delighted I was when I discovered your... hidden talents.”

She had never seen him like this before. His voice was still completely in control, still setting his words to the tone of that - Celes could not bring herself to curse the song, even in her thoughts. But his words were a cacophony more than a serenade, harsh on the ears even though they should have been beautiful.

“Oh, yes, that was the last key I needed. I had always assumed you would be useful as well as-” His fingers stroked her chin. “- so very pleasant. But crucial, why, the thought had never crossed my mind.”

“I don’t understand.” Celes spoke the truth freely. She wondered why that statement was not forbidden, but could only guess it was to assuage Ghaleon’s ego.

“Of course. Because you do not understand me.” His smile seemed almost genuine as he seated himself again. She hadn’t even noticed him rise, she’d been so distracted. “I am not of this world, Celes,” Ghaleon said. “I am a guest not just of this rather lacking establishment, but also of your world itself.”

Celes gasped.

“Allow me to clarify. I did not intend to come here, and I have long intended to leave. But until now, leaving this world would have meant wandering that troublesome rift for eternity. Powerless.” His crimson eyes flashed. “And you can probably deduce what I think of being without power, my dear.”

Celes had discovered an amazing thing. She should have been petrified of Ghaleon - she was in his power, and he was quite obviously ranting like a madman. But whatever effect his music worked on her, it prevented any such elemental thing as fear from entering into her head in regards to him. Instead, she was simply growing, quite rapidly, bored.

“I have been inside the rift, Celes. I know how to close it. And it is not,” he waved dismissively in the general direction of the bridge - and of Edgar’s quarters - “by activating that clumsy machine.”

Celes forced herself to pay attention to his words, not his tone.

“Oh, yes, I have fooled His Majesty quite well, my dear. Even your dear ‘grandfather’ doesn’t realize it. You see, the relic weapon simply cannot be aimed from inside this world. Even if the rift is fully visible, the precisely calculated points which it will have to target will be completely outside our ability to pinpoint.” Ghaleon leaned down to face her, humming still. “But inside the rift itself... it would be child’s play. I remember it - it occupies a discernible area, if such a concept can be said to apply - quite well.”

Celes nodded stiffly. Was he mad - or brilliant? If the latter, she decided, he had to be both.

“Even then, though, it would not seal. You see, once it has been, shall we say, heated, it must be brought together. Which, as you may have discerned, is where you, or rather your Runic power, comes in.” Abruptly, Ghaleon released her from the control of his melody. “You and I, my dear, can seal the rift. No one else. And we can seal it only from the inside of it. And then, we can, we must, return to my world, and never return here.”

Celes tried to find the words to answer him. They remained out of her reach.

“Think about it, Celes,” Ghaleon said, his voice as calm as it had ever been, the turmoil within it gone. “You and I will save this world.”

Celes nodded slowly. She took a step toward the door, then glanced back at Ghaleon. He was scowling, no doubt at her decision to leave.

“Do not tell the King,” Ghaleon said, “for his nonsensical ethics would prevent him from allowing any such sacrifices. I doubt he would even sacrifice me, though he would certainly shed no tears to hear of my death.”

Celes left Ghaleon’s warning hanging in the air without a reply.

As she made her way back to her quarters, she pondered what he had said. Her anger had rendered her vulnerable to his music, she could see that now. She wondered if dispassionate hatred would do the same, and doubted it.

If she agreed to do what he’d said, she would have to leave behind all that she loved.

If he was right, she had no choice.