Chapter 17

Ghaleon watched as Nall, Sephiroth and Aeris left the cottage.

So, Althena had not gone with them.

She had been wise not to do so.

Ghaleon looked away from the retreating trio as soon as he thought it safe to do so. The man’s aura still unnerved him. The air was thick with it, now. How dare that abomination approach Althena? Her magical senses should not be affronted by such things.

Well, there would be time enough to mete out punishment. Later.

He waited until her guests were out of hearing. If they were to return, matters could become quite... uncomfortable.

When he was certain that they were gone, he stepped into the clearing.

Why had Althena chosen to live in such a remote place? Perhaps that was easily enough explained. From what he had seen of the rest of Lunar, it was clearly unfit to be her dwelling place. Here, at least, she was free from contact with her lessers.

His gaze flickered to the overgrown path.

Mostly free, at least.

He opened the cottage door.

“I will see no one else, Nall,” Althena said. She did not look up. “Please understand.”

Ghaleon paused. Her voice was unchanged after all these years, but for the sadness in it.

And soon, that alteration would be taken away as well.

But hearing her speak brought back a flood of memories. Ghaleon stood in the doorway, unable to so much as move.

He recalled the first time he had met her. Dyne had gone to Althena’s Temple to be formally recognized by the Goddess as her Dragonmaster. He had asked Ghaleon and the others to accompany him there. Ghaleon had not wanted to go, for he had been in the midst of what had seemed at the time an important scholarly work. At last, though, he had agreed.

He had never gone to the Temple before - he’d been too busy with his studies and adventures to pay attention to religion. He had heard of the great beauty of Althena’s singing, and rumors that her face was more radiant still, but those had seemed trivial exaggerations.

From the moment he’d entered that soaring hall, he known otherwise. Althena’s voice had filled the grand chamber, echoing from the walls and ceiling. Truly, there had been no exaggeration there.

The recognition of a new Dragonmaster was an event important enough for Althena to leave her sanctum and appear in public. While Dyne had knelt before her, Ghaleon watched, etching every inch of her into his memory. There had been no exaggeration of her beauty, either - it had been understated a thousand fold.

From that day onward, Ghaleon had served Althena in everything he did. His every moment was dedicated to her cause.

In a sense, he was the most fanatical of worshippers. But in truth, though even he had never realized it, he had never worshipped her as a Goddess. Always, as a woman.

And then, all that had come to an end. Althena gave up her powers and was reborn. She and Dyne disappeared.

She had left him all alone.

It had broken him. He had turned his back on all that Althena represented, and sought the power to make himself as she had been. If she would not accept her responsibilities to the world - and to him - he would fill them himself!

He had found her again, but she had changed. She’d grown younger. No longer a Goddess, she had been only a girl.

For abandoning him, he had hated her. For returning other than as she had been, he resented her.

Hearing her voice now, once more as it had been when he was young and she divine, he worshipped her again.

But this time, he understood perfectly. He understood her better, perhaps, than she understood herself.

“Nall...” she began again. Her words trailed off.

“It has been far too long, Althena.” He took a step toward her.

She tensed. He could not see her face, as she wore a long black veil. She was in full mourning garb, of a sort that had not been worn on Lunar for centuries. “Ghaleon?” she whispered.

“It is I,” he said.

He strode across the room and, before she could react, pulled back the veil. She had matured since he’d last seen her as Luna. In face as well as in voice, she was as she had been in those long-past days of the Four Heroes. And, as then, her face was marble-white, as though the sunlight had not touched her for years. Perhaps it had not.

Althena raised her gloved hand and touched the side of his face. She took a halting step back. “How can you be alive?” she asked.

Ghaleon smiled. “To live forever is my destiny,” he said, “just as it is yours. We are alike, dearest Althena. You, too, have not felt the ravages of time.”

“No!” she said. She stumbled backwards.

He caught her easily.

Her eyes locked with his. Her beautiful face was contorted with fear. And indeed, in his pride he had very nearly done her harm. She was right to be afraid of him.

No longer.

Fear turned to anger. She struggled against his grasp. “Release me,” she said.

Ghaleon shook his head.

And anger, in turn, to sadness. “Can you not see that I am in mourning?”

Ghaleon looked her over, then his eyes returned to her face. “I can see, but I do not understand.”

She looked away. “I mourn for the man I love,” she said.

So, young Alex still held sway over her even in death. This, Ghaleon had not anticipated. “And will you mourn forever?” he asked.

She said nothing.

“I would free you from the endless cycle of love and death, Althena,” Ghaleon said. He turned her face to his. “Ten thousand years is a long time to be alone. But it need last no longer. We, dearest Althena, are alike."

“We are alike?” she said quietly. She seemed to weigh it in her mind.

He nodded. His arms slid around her waist, and he pulled her close to him. This time, she gave no resistance to his touch. “You need never be alone again.”

Althena closed her eyes. “I am not mortal,” she said. “No one else can share the life I lead.”

“No one,” Ghaleon said, lifting her face to his, “but another immortal.”

And soon, very soon, that was what he would become.