Chapter 32

How very touching, Ghaleon thought as he watched the King and Terra Branford. How very untimely.

For everyone but him.

The spectacle had been worth witnessing, he had to admit. Not the King’s pathetic pleas - although Ghaleon had personally enjoyed those to no small degree - but rather the far from pathetic results of the King’s planning.

It had taken a moment for Ghaleon to recognize the small, sleek airship which had banked into a landing behind them. He was glad he’d been facing the rift when recognition struck. Had the guards, perhaps even Celes, seen his expression, there would surely have been questions.

If they, or the newly-arrived Setzer Gabianni himself, had seen the icy glare Ghaleon had sent his way, there might have been more than questions.

But Ghaleon had masked his feelings, and he’d looked away before the gambler could recognize him. No need for complications from one such as that.

For whatever it was worth, perhaps Ghaleon had underestimated Gabianni’s moral fiber. While his Jidooran exploits earlier in the year had left him no friend to Ghaleon and proved him an unreliable guest, he was surely a reliable friend to the King. His bringing the girl had halted Branford’s futile advance quite handily. Ghaleon had no doubt that it was the King alone who had thought up that particular masterstroke.

Admirable cleverness, even if, in Ghaleon’s opinion, it was rather wasted on the object.

But wasted or no, it had served as a truly superb distraction. If Ghaleon’s attention was fixed on the now oh-so-happy couple (and never mind the rift behind them, for all was right with the world), then surely he was not the only one.

His eyes shifted to the two Figaroan guards assigned to watch him.

They were not doing their duty.

Ghaleon smiled.

He’d always known that the King’s one weakness was his affection for Terra Branford. Thank you very much, Your Majesty, Ghaleon thought. You’ve given me a golden opportunity.

He wished he could have said it to the King’s face.

Perhaps, he thought smiling wider, one day, he would. And let the petty Figaroan monarch call for guards to clap him in irons. It would avail him little against Ghaleon the god.

But that was in the future - well in the future.

For now, there were more pressing matters.

Ghaleon’s long fingers worked their way under the relic weapon and undid the clasps which held it to its tripod.

He raised an eyebrow as he cautiously lifted it from its stand. It was surprisingly light for its size - more evidence of the mastery of those who’d made it, he supposed. He set it back, glad to see it stayed in place on the tripod.

He could take it, and swiftly, when he was ready.

And he had best be ready soon, he realized. The King, Terra Branford and the child turned away from the rift. They spoke too quietly now to be heard over the din, but their expressions bespoke the King’s success.

Which meant that Ghaleon must act now.

Regardless of the fact that he had just prevented his ladylove from sacrificing herself, the King would be no more willing to allow Celes to do so instead - even if it would mean dispensing with both the ‘court musician’ and the rift at the same time.

Ghaleon’s eyes turned to Celes, standing at his side. Her positioning herself there was the only indication Ghaleon had that she was willing to go along with his plan.

It had to seem madness to her.

Would she take the chance? He didn’t know. If not, he likely would remain trapped on this accursed rock for a very long time.

He also likely would die on it, along with the natives. He had spoken truly about sealing the rift - insofar as his research told him, he and she alone could stop it.

But would she believe that?

Indecision, not a feeling Ghaleon was comfortable with, swept over him. Should he wait? Desperation could be given time to take its toll. When all other avenues were exhausted, she would have no choice.

His eyes went to the King, Terra Branford, and the child. They were already on their way down, the rift forgotten, or put out of their minds. For now.

To the Captain of the Royal Guard, standing watch over the Vectran researchers who’d accompanied them without seeming to stand watch. The Vectrans, though they had no stake in the matter, were also caught up in the spectacle of King and no doubt future Queen. For now.

To Gabianni, wearing the same disarming grin he’d borne in Jidoor when he’d out-gambled one of Ghaleon’s past employers into near-ruin. He’d aided the King quite a lot this day. He seemed quite satisfied with himself. For now.

Even to Locke Cole. What was going through his limited mental faculties as he watched the King? Envy? Admiration? Both, and a healthy dose of being happy for his friend, Ghaleon supposed. For now.

For now, they were focused on the moment, on Edgar’s exploits and his personal victory. But they would not be focused on that forever.

And when they were not, they would find another way to overcome the rift. Perhaps not in days, not in weeks, not in months. Perhaps it would be years, and much of the world would be endangered. But sooner or later, they would seal it up.

And in doing so, they would put an end to Ghaleon’s chances to return to a world of magic, to fulfill his destiny.

His gaze turned back to Celes.

If the rift was sealed, she would have no reason to go with him. He could no longer flatter himself that he could persuade her by other means.

Yet he could not escape without her.

There would be no more waiting.

He silently took her hand. “We must act now,” he hissed.

She turned to him and nodded. But he saw her gaze sweep past the King’s little retinue. To Locke Cole.

Ghaleon grasped the relic weapon.

He could see the tears welling up in Celes’ eyes.

His fingers tightened around her hand.