Chapter 11

Ghaleon looked over the array of panels and devices. Most of them remained foreign to him - technological wonders which he had never had the opportunity to understand.

But he knew enough to use some of them.

He glanced over at one of the larger fish which swam through the chamber. They didn’t seem to comprehend the nature of this strange visitor to their domain, so they gave him a wide berth.

Ghaleon had been surprised to find so much of the Fortress of Althena intact. The explosion which had consumed it, and torn open that fateful rift through which he had fallen, had been a massive one.

But the Fortress, or at least most of it, had survived the blast. This command center, which he had discovered when he’d first come here, so long ago, had not even been scratched.

Of course, it had become a somewhat more hostile environment since its immersion. Most of the Fortress was completely flooded, as the fish which filled this room could attest. It listed badly in the silty ocean floor. Only a water breathing spell allowed Ghaleon to survive.

His long fingers played over the controls.

One system he had learned to operate immediately upon his first arrival was the network of monitoring stations which filled the Fortress. Using it had saved him from the risk of revealing himself through scrying.

Althena’s touch had been required to activate the system initially. Ghaleon had never shut it off. If it was still operative, it would work at his command.

The monitor sprang to life.

He smiled.

“You made a serious miscalculation this time, Nall,” Ghaleon said, though there was no one but the fish to hear him.

On the screen appeared Nall and the two others he had brought with him from Althena’s Temple. Ghaleon had followed the white dragon’s teleportation traces here through magic. He was glad to be able to watch in this manner, far less easily detected than the scrying spells he had used.

Ghaleon tapped a few more buttons on the panel, and the voices of Nall and his companions filled the room. They seemed to have entered one of the sections of the Fortress which still retained its air.

“If you’re really one of Althena’s people,” Nall was saying to the girl on whose shoulder he perched, “you should be able to turn on these... things.”

The girl nodded. “I’ll try,” she said.

Ghaleon raised an eyebrow. What in the world..?

She put her hand on one of the systems. Nothing happened.

Then, the system activated.

Impossible. Althena alone could access those systems. Perhaps it was one which had been left on since Ghaleon had himself occupied the Fortress? But no, that was a section of the massive structure which he had never had the chance to enter.

“So it’s true,” Nall said. From his tone, he was as shocked as Ghaleon.

“We have passed your test, Dragon of Althena,” the man who Nall had brought said. “Now take us to your lady.”

“Not yet, Sephiroth,” Nall said. “You’re right. Aeris here is one of Althena’s people. But I still don’t understand what is going on.”

Though Ghaleon did not understand it, either, he could not help but think it was shameful for one of Althena’s dragons to be so ignorant.

Apparently, this Sephiroth thought the same. “How can one of Althena’s four guardians be unaware of her true nature?”

Nall hung his head. “Well, I... The truth is, the reason I brought you here is because I’d hoped you could tell me what it’s all about. It’s a long story, but the gist of it is this: I’m not one of the original four dragons.”

“What?” Sephiroth asked.

“Yeah, it’s true. The original four are... all dead.”

Ghaleon folded his hands. This promised to be a most revealing conversation. It seemed he would know his enemy extremely well by the time it was done.

Nall continued. “I’m the only one of Althena’s Dragons left. And I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do, other than protect her. I’ve been searching for dragon lore, hoping it might tell me something. Until now, though, the only one who could turn these things on was Althena, and... she won’t.”

“We do not have time to give you a complete explanation,” Sephiroth said. “You must take us to Althena now.”

Nall shook his head. “Not until I’m sure you guys are for real.”

“Please, Nall,” the girl - Aeris, Ghaleon supposed - said.

Nall lifted off his perch on her shoulder and landed on one of the boxy systems. “I have to know.”

Before Sephiroth could say anything more, Aeris nodded. “I’ll tell you as much as I know, if you like. As one of the four Dragons of Althena, you were assigned to protect her until the time came for the Convergence. Althena possesses, along with her three sisters, the key to unlocking an incredible power. Because of that, the three were separated at birth and sent away to different worlds.”

Ghaleon narrowed his eyes. This was a stranger revelation than he had expected, certainly.

“Ten thousand years later, according to the Prophecy, Althena and her sisters were meant to return to their homeworld, so that they could guide the power they were given toward saving all the worlds. But something went wrong, and those who were supposed to find her... couldn’t.” She looked down.

“That is enough,” Sephiroth said.

She shook her head. “No. It isn’t. Sephiroth and I found out, and we decided to try and find the three sisters. Please, Nall.” She looked up at the dragon. “You must take us to Althena.”

Slowly, Nall nodded.

Ghaleon silently watched them leave, recorded Nall’s teleportation coordinates in his mind, then sank back into the chair. He’d never suspected anything like this. Althena was... not a Goddess? She had been born, just as any other mortal?

If it was true, then what had he fought for?

What did he believe in?

He pounded his fist on the panel.

It changed nothing. If Althena had been born a mortal, she was not one any longer. He had been a mortal, yet he had dared to take upon himself the mantle of divinity. How was this any different?

It was no different.

If anything, it proved what he had thought all along.

Ghaleon nodded to himself.

He looked back at the screen.

The records which the girl, Aeris, had activated, remained open.

It was time to complete his understanding.