Chapter 9

Ghaleon closed his eyes and tried to imagine himself somewhere - anywhere - else.

After a careful consideration of his options, he had decided that taking on a partner, namely the obnoxious Locke Cole, would serve him well until he could regain his powers.

But that did not mean he was going to enjoy spending another half-hour cooped up with the man.

It did not help that the only distraction was the creaking of the digging module, which gave every impression of wanting to burst apart - or cave in. Neither scenario sounded particularly appealing.

As if in retaliation, the accursed machine vented its steam engine again, sending a cloud of hot gas passing through the interior. And making the smell even worse.

All through the trip down, Ghaleon had been unable to determine if it was the digging module that had not been washed since its inception or Locke himself. He supposed it didn’t matter - in either case the machine’s interior was sticky, sweaty and unpleasant.

Ghaleon ran his hand over the thick book laying beside him. He had been right to deduce that they had stumbled upon a library. Right to deduce that it was a library of such age that it would contain the information he needed.

In essence, he was even right when he told Locke that it contained the locations of great treasure. Perhaps even of the baser sort that the man was interested in. But it certainly contained the locations of the treasures Ghaleon was looking for - treasures of knowledge... and perhaps, from that, power.

In spite of the dry desert air, there had been few intact books. There were machines that Ghaleon suspected contained still further information, but they were far more advanced than those with which he was familiar. Perhaps another time.

Ah, but what books there were contained just what he needed to know.

He had spent the previous afternoon, the night, and the better part of the day studying those books, and of them all, the one he had thought most important was this. Several others that seemed promising he had stashed along with Mr. Cole’s so-called treasures.

“Where’re we headed, anyway?” Locke asked.

“To the best of my knowledge, we are returning to Figaro Castle,” Ghaleon said dryly.

“I mean after that. Where’s the treasure?”

Ghaleon opened his eyes and glared at Locke. “I will need time to study the texts we recovered.”

“Geez, you had all night to look at them.” Locke scratched his head. “You sure there’s something to find?”

“There is most certainly that.” Ghaleon glanced at the book. What he had already read within its pages fascinated him. It confirmed many of his suspicions regarding the contact between this and his own world - once, it had been commonplace. He was sure of it! And it reaffirmed his resolve - he must return to his own world. That would be the place to once again begin his ascent...

“Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it,” Locke said. He banged his fist against the metal side of the digging module, causing it to vibrate in a manner even more alarming than usual.

“If you wish to live to see your riches, I would suggest you stop doing that.”

Locke shrugged. “This thing is sturdier than it looks,” he said. He pounded his boot on the metal floor. “See?”

The digging module shuddered, and then stopped.

Locke’s mouth hadn’t closed. He looked very slowly down to his foot.

Ghaleon rubbed his eyes and sighed. “If you care to check the depth gauge, you will discover that we have reached our destination.”

“I knew that.”

“Of course,” Ghaleon said. He rose and placed his hand on the iron handle which opened the digging module. Escape at last. “Would you be so good as to collect our treasures? It would be best to get them to a secure location before an unwelcome welcoming committee discovers our return.”

“Don’t worry about that.” Locke pushed open the hatch and crawled out. “I’ll smooth things over if anybody gives us any trouble.”

Ghaleon nodded. He sincerely doubted that Locke Cole could smooth over a glass of water, much less an inquisitive Figaroan guard. Still, the man had contacts enough here that perhaps he would succeed in spite of himself.

Hopefully, it would not come to that. Ghaleon tucked the book he had been glancing at into his satchel, away from prying eyes. He would not entrust those precious tomes to Locke Cole’s careless mercies.

Figaro Castle’s air, if not exactly fresh, was certainly moreso than that within the abhorrent digging module. Here, he was able to at least imagine being clean again.

Ghaleon glanced over his shoulder. Locke, grinning like a fool, hefted an open-topped box of golden statues out of the rear of the module.

Ghaleon wordlessly covered the box with a cloth. He was rewarded with an expression first of disappointment, then comprehension. Ignoring both, he gathered the rest of his own spoils into his satchel.

“We’ve gotta get this stuff someplace safe,” Locke said.

“I see that your talent for understatement remains unfettered by wealth, Mr. Cole,” Ghaleon said. He was almost disappointed, but hardly surprised, that he received only a neutral stare in return.

He wondered if he might be able able to persuade the man to present some of his spoils to the King. There was nothing to quell suspicion regarding an unknown quantity of treasure quite like presenting a portion of it as the whole.

But that wasn’t likely or feasible. Locke Cole was many things, but willing to part with his precious treasure was not one of those. Lying believably was, Ghaleon assumed, likewise not among his talents.

They were fortunate that it was not necessary for him to try.

Ghaleon himself would have been loath to attempt deceit against so alert and capable a set of soldiers as Edgar had amassed at the castle. Good military discipline, when at work, was worth nearly as much as forewarning against the effects of his musical persuasion, and nearly as much so against a silver tongue.

Ghaleon adjusted the strap on his shoulder. “Remember, Mr. Cole. Not a word of this to anyone.”

“No problem,” Locke said. He started up the steps to the castle proper.

“Even to Miss Chere.”

Locke stopped, almost in mid-step.

Ghaleon wondered if he’d said too much. And if Locke’s imminent fall would attract the guards.

But Locke got his footing and resumed the ascent. “I heard you the first time.”

Ghaleon set the two books side by side on the small desk. He looked over their contents, making a mental checklist of the variations in them. Those variations were the inevitable result of time passing between the two accounts being written.

This was most certainly it. Exactly what he needed to return to his own world.

If he could only approach that elusive goal.

Ghaleon sighed. No, it was only half of what he needed, and outside his grasp in any case.

The object described in the books was large and bulky, and quite military in nature. Where would such a device, which could well be called a weapon as much as a tool of science, certainly moreso than a tool of travel, be found after so many millennia?

There was a knock on the door.

Ghaleon rose. “One moment,” he said. He closed the books and set them back into the shelves. On inspection, they would not stand out over-much from his other possessions, especially with three similar texts strewn throughout the room. But there was no need to take chances.

“Enter,” he said, facing the doorway.

Celes peeked into the room. “Good afternoon, Ghaleon,” she said with a smile.

“Why Celes, how good to see you,” he said, returning her smile. “By all means, come in.”

“Locke said the two of you had decided to return early.”

Had the fool told her? Just to spite him, even? But no, her conversational tone was not in the least unusual, not strained. An expert deceiver himself, Ghaleon was difficult to deceive. “I thought it unwise to remain away too long. One does not wish to tax a king’s patience, obviously. As for Mr. Cole, he was satisfied with his ‘haul’, as he put it.”

She laughed. “I don’t doubt that. But I must say that statue he brought back this time was very impressive.”

“I myself thought it an exquisite piece.” Statue. Not statues. Inside, Ghaleon was practically bursting with relief. He had, it seemed, underestimated Mr. Locke Cole.

Celes’ laughter faded all too quickly for Ghaleon’s tastes, though.

In its place was an uncomfortable silence. At length, she said, “There is... one matter, though, that concerns me. Locke said that you used some sort of weapon down there?”

“I did.”

“From his description, it sounds suspiciously like a sort produced and sold in Zozo. And which is quite illegal in Figaro.”

“These are dangerous times.” Ghaleon held up his long, thin hand. “As you can see, I am not a physically powerful man. For my own safety, I carry those flasks whenever I am in a dangerous location. And they have served not just me, but also those around me, quite well.”

Celes’ expression softened. “And for that, you have my thanks, and a pardon. From Locke’s description of the battle, I gathered as much.”

“What he lacks in tactics, he makes up for in enthusiasm.” Or stupidity, Ghaleon thought, but kept that very much to himself.

She laughed again. “That he does. That he does indeed.”

Ghaleon stepped closer. “You, I suspect, are more... astute in battle?”

“Were. I haven’t fought in nearly a year now,” she said.

His hand went to a glass of wine he had poured himself but not yet touched. He held it up. “I admire a good plan properly executed far more than a poor one forced by the best intentions and battle skills.” And he admired such a plan all the more when it was proposed by a beautiful tactician.

“Always, that is better,” Celes said. She took a step back.

“Would you like something to drink?” Ghaleon asked, extending the glass. To add weight to his pleasant request, he began to hum under his breath.

“I... no thank you.” She backed into the hall. “Perhaps some other time.”

Ghaleon nodded, hiding his smile. “I look forward to it.”