Chapter 33

Locke shook his head. How did Edgar do it, anyway? He’d managed to turn the whole crazy mission into maybe the strangest proposal of marriage Locke’d ever seen, and gotten away with it, too.

Somehow, seeing Edgar and Terra - and Relm, for that matter, even though she’d always liked to play tricks on him when he wasn’t looking - walking back from the rift made Locke a hell of a lot more confident that, somehow, they’d seal the thing up one of these days.

He grinned.

Another of the torches fell over with a crash, getting his attention focused back on the moment. Maybe they’d seal the rift up eventually, but right now, the relic weapon had made it an awful scary background for things.

Maybe dangerous, too.

He looked for Celes - she’d been standing a lot closer to the rift than him. He could barely make out the two guards who’d been keeping watch over Ghaleon, and they’d fallen back a little toward the lines.

So it took him another minute to see Celes, along with Ghaleon, making the climb toward the swirling vortex that marked off the rift’s center.

Why would she be doing that, he thought? Didn’t she realize she should be getting away from that thing?

Locke broke into a run. “Celes!” he shouted.

But the rift’s roar was getting louder, and she wasn‘t stopping.

So he kept running. The smoke was being sucked into the rift, and it was so thick it stung his eyes as he scrambled up the embankment. He tried to shout to the guards, to get them to stop her, but as he did, another torch blew up.

“Ah, the hell with it,” Locke muttered. He wasn’t going to get any help.

Running through those weird underground ruins had been no fun, not with water rising around him and his legs half not working because of how high it had already risen. But now he was glad for the practice - it made scaling the rough stone and sand of the hill a lot easier.

Because of that experience, and because he was running a hell of a lot faster than what anybody would call safe or sensible, he was close to catching up with Celes and Ghaleon.

“Celes!” he shouted again, and this time, he could tell she heard him over the rift. She stiffened and stopped.

He didn’t stop running.

But Ghaleon’s spidery fingers were white around Celes’ wrist, and the two of them started up again without looking back. Locke could see the relic weapon slung under Ghaleon’s other arm.

And all of a sudden, he had the most horrible feeling he knew what was gonna happen, and why.

Not if he could help it.

But how the hell was he supposed to?

Celes wouldn’t listen - not if she’d set her mind on what he thought she had. And Ghaleon wasn’t about to stop just because Locke told him to.

He knew he was no Edgar. He wasn’t a talker, or a commander, either. Hell, he wasn’t even a real warrior like Celes. Which wasn’t to say that he didn’t have his talents.

So rather than trying to overpower Celes and drag her back with him, which had been his first instinct, he lunged for Ghaleon and grabbed the relic weapon.

And then he slipped.

Ghaleon spun around, releasing his hold on Celes, and reached for the relic weapon. “You fool,” he hissed, trying to pry it free from Locke‘s fingers, “you doom us all!”

Locke didn’t give a damn. He struggled to his feet, not letting go, and kicked out at Ghaleon. It wasn’t much, but the jerk was pretty skinny - maybe he’d just give up.

He didn’t.

And skinny or no, he was standing higher up than Locke. He brought his foot up and kicked Locke in the face, pulling back on the relic weapon as he did so.

But Locke had a firm grasp on it, and no way in hell was he gonna let go. Even if one of his hands had flown free. He’d kept on his feet, and now he had the leverage. He threw a punch, yanking the relic weapon from Ghaleon’s hands.

Locke stumbled back and fell. The relic weapon went flying. He ended up flat on his back, a sharp rock poking against his side - a half-inch closer, and it would have been poking through him.

Ghaleon loomed over him, smirking. “You’d doom us all,” he said, “if only you had the talent for it. How ironic, that your incompetence should be the instrument of your salvation.”

“Like hell it will,” Locke said, knowing that somehow that didn’t sound right, but not caring.

On his back, he had a clean shot. He kicked upwards, catching Ghaleon where it hurt and knocking him back.

From the look of surprise on Ghaleon’s face, he must have thought Locke had landed on that pointy rock. From the un-Ghaleon-like grunt, that surprise had let Locke’s clumsy attack connect real well indeed.

Locke didn’t give him a chance to catch his breath. He scrambled to his feet and hit him in the stomach.

Ghaleon doubled over.

Locke hit him again, and Ghaleon went down.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Celes pick up the relic weapon. She slowly walked to where Ghaleon was sprawled, and knelt beside him.

Locke swallowed hard. “Celes...”

She wouldn’t meet his eyes. She whispered something to Ghaleon, so quiet that Locke couldn’t hear, then helped him to his feet.

“I’m not gonna let you do this,” Locke said.

“I must.” She looked down at the relic weapon. “This is not mere theory, Locke. Ghaleon and I can seal the rift. Of that, there is no question.”

“I don’t give a damn,” Locke said. He reached for the relic weapon.

She covered his hand with her own. “If the rift is not sealed, sooner or later, we will all die. I cannot bear for that to happen, not to you, not to our friends, not to everyone. And I know I can seal the rift, and how I can do so.”

“I don’t care about anyone else,” Locke said. “I just care about you. Let someone else do it!”

Celes shook her head. “I wish... I wish I could, Locke. But only Ghaleon and I can do this. You know what happened to Strago, and he a mage knight well versed in spellcasting. I believe that the energy within that rift is not so great that it will harm either Ghaleon or I. I, because of my Runic power.” She hesitated. “Ghaleon... because he has been through the rift before.”

For a moment, Locke couldn‘t find his voice. Then, he said, “I don’t believe it!”

“It is true,” said Ghaleon. He chuckled. Though a line of blood ran from his mouth when he spoke, and his sharp nose was a little duller than it had been, he still wore his smirk. “We must say farewell now, Mr. Cole. You have proven a more... interesting man than I thought you would. I will miss your meddling more than your friend the King’s - often, yours at least was amusing.”

“You shut up!” Locke said, raising his fist. It was Ghaleon who’d put this damn fool idea into Celes’ head in the first place. If-

Celes held up her hand. “Ghaleon is right, Locke - we must say farewell.”

She closed her eyes, but he could still see the tears running down her face. “I love you, Locke.”

And then, before he could say another word, they turned and stepped through the rift.

Locke stood there, unable to act, unable to move.

She was gone.

Then his hand closed on the magicite he wore around his neck. Even this close to the rift, it was cold to the touch.

He looked over his shoulder. Beyond the almost solid wall of charged, crackling smoke, he knew his friends were waiting. One way or another, he hadn’t been worthy of their friendship.

Maybe he’d make it up to them.

Maybe he’d find Celes.

Maybe he’d die.

He took a deep breath. Like Setzer’d always said, sometimes you just had to roll the dice.

Locke stepped through the rift.