Chapter 5

Ghaleon looked over the small, battered metal tube with a wary eye. Perhaps this was not so prudent a course of action. There was the obvious risk in descending hundreds of feet underground to explore an area that undoubtedly held dangers he was presently ill-equipped to deal with, let alone in this contraption. The thought of spending any length of time with Locke Cole only heightened Ghaleon’s reluctance.

And yet, he must.

His hope that Figaro’s library would provide him with answers was becoming increasingly dim. The scores of books he had already examined, including that oh-so-promising tome he’d been called away from to perform for Edgar and his loathsome sibling, had offered nothing. What he had thought might be a crucial piece of information had turned out to be a red herring. The script was perhaps based on ancient writing, and it was interesting in that it constituted a translation of some long-lost manuscript dated at least fifteen hundred years before. The contents, however, contained dry, mundane materials that were ultimately useless for Ghaleon’s purposes.

But what Locke Cole had found was different.

Not only did Ghaleon recognize the script and style of that pottery fragment, he had seen the exact same inscription before.

In his own world.

Examining it more closely had further brought back memories, and more than that, deductions. While he had studied under Damon, the so-called Master of Knowledge, one of Ghaleon’s assignments had been to investigate certain archaeological finds, and, specifically, such pottery. What he had found was that, for the age that had produced them, these containers were cheap, mass-produced things, probably never even touched by human hands until they were placed in a shop.

And one of them was here, in this other world.

“You coming, or what?”

Ghaleon was startled out of his reverie. “Indeed I am,” he said, wrinkling his nose at the thought of sharing the cramped vehicle with Mr. Cole. It was not a pleasant thought - the man practically screamed peasant, and Ghaleon was certain his hygiene would be less than adequate.

The sacrifices one makes for godhood, Ghaleon thought to himself with a chuckle, and, thus persuaded, he seated himself.

It was with no small sense of relief that Ghaleon shrugged on his pack and stepped outside the digging module. He took a deep breath of not-quite-fresh air.

A magician by training, he was uncomfortable with the fruits of technology, especially when he was forced to rely on them . Even considering its intensely magical nature, the Grindery had been his last resort, and the need for it had disturbed him even as he had recognized it.

There was nothing magical about the nuts and bolts Figaroan digging module, and Ghaleon felt very much at its mercy. The thick cable that connected it to Figaro Castle was cold comfort in the face of its stark, fallible mechanisms.

The cavern they had ‘landed’ in was little more than a partially collapsed hole that Ghaleon assumed had been produced by Locke’s previous investigation of it. Light was provided by a string of frail gas lamps tied to the ceiling by a thin rope.

Locke reached up and grabbed one of the lamps. “I’m not gonna wait around for you, so if you don’t pick up the pace you’re liable to get lost down here. Now, Celes’ll probably kill me if that happens - hell, Edgar might if he likes your music - so keep up, huh?”

“You needn’t worry, Mr. Cole,” Ghaleon said. He, too, took down a lantern and strode forward. His longer legs quickly propelled him into the lead, but he kept pace a mere half-foot ahead so that Locke would be able to direct their progress.

“So, what do you want to see?” Locke asked, trying to keep up. “Me, I don’t care much - the way I look at it, it’s all damn fine.”

Ghaleon’s first instinct was to descend directly to the lower levels. But would that not arouse suspicion? After all, castles held “treasure” - and to a man like Locke Cole it would be inconceivable not to seek it. No, best to play along. Ghaleon had waited six months to get this far. He could certainly wait another day or two. “The castle first, I think,” he said. “It is best to get a feel for the area.”

“OK.” Locke pointed down one of the tunnels that led off from the landing site.

The tunnels were of a reddish-brown color that Ghaleon knew as sandstone. It was not in the least unusual to find such material in the midst of a desert, certainly, nor for it to form complex structures. However, he was unused to seeing entire caverns of it. Perhaps a consequence of the War of the Magi that had, by all accounts, buried this castle he was about to arrive at.

“Hey, hold up,” Locke whispered.

Danger? Ghaleon stopped abruptly and stepped aside. Without his magic, he was not inclined to face a threat. Let Locke suffer the fangs of any beasts that might dwell in these sandstone corridors.

“Watch where you’re goin’,” Locke snapped, kneeling on the sandy floor.

“Is something amiss?” Ghaleon asked, trying to see what he was doing.

“Nah,” Locke said, holding up the remains of a sword. “No thanks to you.” He brushed the broken blade off with his sleeve. “Thought it might be real treasure, but I’m pretty sure it’s just that one of Edgar’s that Terra accidentally snapped with her ice spell.”

Ghaleon sniffed. He wasn’t particularly interested in the remains of any weapon, let alone one of such recent vintage.

“Some monster must have dropped it.” Locke shrugged. “It sure as hell wasn’t here last time.”

Ghaleon had no doubt that in spite of Mr. Cole’s obvious limitations, his “treasure hunter’s” instincts were well honed. He would indeed prove useful.

“Oh, well, too bad,” Locke said, stuffing the broken sword in his pack. “But the good stuff’s coming up.”

Ghaleon was beginning to wonder if there was any ‘good stuff’ to be found. So far, he was not impressed with this winding series of tunnels and caverns.

And then they emerged into the castle’s tomb.

It was the only way Ghaleon could think to describe it. The flickering gas lamp could not illuminate the corners of the vast, silent cavern, but it played shadows on the walls of what surely must have been a mighty fortress. By the visible facade alone, and that stretching into the sandstone walls in such a way as to hide its true length, this citadel was easily the size of the Grindery, perhaps even larger. And yet, there was no sense of open space, only of confinement.

A magical tomb.

Could he have mustered the power to create such an edifice in his own world? Could even Althena herself, unleashing her full reserves in a moment of anger, have done so? Ghaleon was not sure.

It would have been a truly humbling experience, had he not known that, once he could return to a magical world, such power would be his to employ at will. For Ghaleon would not leave this world without the broken fragments of its magic, fragments he was almost certain would, if exposed to a source of magical energy, function once more as if nothing had happened.

Oh, yes. Such power would be his.

If he could only find answers.

“It sure is somethin’,” Locke said quietly. “Every time I see it, I figure, I’ll be used to it, but I never am.”

Ghaleon nodded. “I am inclined to agree with you.”

“Yeah, well, the inside doesn’t look so hot, but that’s where the action is.”

The cavern leading to the castle’s entrance was even more vast than Ghaleon had first suspected. It took them several minutes just to cross to the castle’s gates.

And what gates they must have been. Even with the damage they had incurred during the castle’s fall, the gates were massive and intricately carved, inlaid with still-shining gold leaf.

Hardly worth his attention.

His willingness to wait had been a mistake. He was not willing. He would not wait another day, another hour.

Purely in an academic sense, there was no doubt much to recommend this castle to his interests. Certainly, the construction of so mighty an edifice was worth noting. But he would have time for academic pursuits later.

Ghaleon registered everything as he made his way through the castle - the formidable walls, the massive arches and doors, here and there a relic of a thousand years past. But the answer was not to be found.

He let his thoughts wander. He would know what he sought when he found it. Until he did, there was no use thinking about his questions, or lack thereof. Not until he was ready to answer them. Instead, he thought of Celes Chere. The golden Magitech general with her elegant beauty would be a very useful, very pleasant tool. How best to secure such a tool? How best to employ it? How best to -

“Hey, get a load of this!” Locke stood beside a sand-filled opening in the floor. “It’s some kinda pit,” he said, scratching his head. “This wasn’t here last time, either.” He looked up to the ceiling. “Something must have caved in.”

Ghaleon nodded. Or burrowed up, he thought.

He fingered one of the vials of combustible liquid he had brought with him. Deprived of magic he was, but no longer defenseless. This world was commendable in that, at least. For those with wealth and ingenuity, the King of Figaro came to mind, there were many weapons available. Technological weapons, of course, crude and difficult to control. But powerful.

Ghaleon had been forced to rely on them, and so he had forced himself to learn their uses.

Certainly, he would prefer to avoid conflict. Even with these scientific marvels, he felt naked when he could not call upon his spells. But if conflict became unavoidable, he would be ready.

Locke drew the sword from his belt and began poking at the sand. “That’s funny. It’s kinda wet.”

“Move away from there,” Ghaleon said calmly.

Locke backed up a step. “What? Did you see something?”

As if in answer, a thick, glistening tentacle shot out from the sand and wrapped itself around Locke’s leg. The sword fell from his grasp as he frantically tried to scramble away.

Ghaleon considered his options. Mr. Cole’s death was not something he would particularly mourn, but he could ill afford to be accused of murder. Not with the king’s obvious suspicion. Besides, although it seemed increasingly unlikely, Locke might yet prove useful.

Ghaleon grabbed the treasure hunter’s arm with one hand, and a heavy, broken flagstone with the other. But whatever had wrapped around Locke’s leg was strong, far stronger than Ghaleon, and blows were utterly ineffective.

Locke had drawn a dagger and was furiously stabbing his attacker. Though bloody welts formed on its sand-yellow surface, it did not loosen its hold on his leg.

Ghaleon dropped the heavy stone and pulled one of the vials from his waist. He had paid dearly for them in the Black Market of Zozo. Now was the time to see if they were worth it.

It seemed they were.

Fire exploded out of the vial as it hit the sand and shattered. Flames licked up the tentacle, and it spasmed and pulled away, abruptly releasing Locke.

“What the hell are you trying to do,” screamed Locke, beating frantically at the flames on his leg. He struggled to his feet and ran from the room.

Ghaleon, choking on the oily smoke the creature’s flammable slime had produced, made to follow him. Another tentacle whipped out, but flames also ran along its length, and it immediately retracted into the nearly airless safety of its pit.

Ghaleon did not hesitate. He ran in the direction he had seen Locke take. Through the heavy smoke, he could barely make out the treasure hunter.

“C’mon,” Locke yelled, “get it in gear!“ He waved Ghaleon into a much rougher tunnel that led down. Down, and hence, hopefully away from the smoke.

At the bottom, Ghaleon gulped in a breath of somewhat fresher air. The ceiling was very low here, and he could just barely stand up straight.

Locke came up right behind him. “What the hell is that stuff,” he asked, pointing to the vials hanging from Ghaleon’s belt. “You coulda killed me back there!”

Ghaleon did not grace him with an answer. He stared open-mouthed at the walls of the chamber in which they found themselves.

From floor to ceiling, every square inch of wall was covered with the same symbols that appeared on the pottery fragment Locke had found.

The answer.