Chapter 22

Ghaleon stood in the shadows, watching Althena with Atriedes and Sephiroth. She had to go with them, of course. Even Ghaleon knew that. Otherwise, they would have become suspicious. Atriedes could sense his presence, and possibly trace him.

But it pained Ghaleon to think of her in the company of the Beast Rune’s bearer, and... whatever the other man was.

Again, that black, living aura clawed at his mind. He tried to look away, but something about it compelled his attention. His magical senses all seemed to be drawn into it. Alive, moving, crawling, hungry-

No!

He would not be distracted by fear, even that which the man’s horrible aura instilled in him. Fear was a weakness which he could no longer afford.

He knew what his role would be.

Until the time of the Convergence, he would serve as Althena’s protector. The dragons, Nall excepted, were dead. They could not confer their power. Without a Dragonmaster, without dragons, Althena had no guardians.

Could not a Magic Emperor do better, though?

Yes.

And, when the Convergence was complete and the ultimate power Althena and her sisters would unlock free for the taking, he would become immortal. He, and Althena with him, would be truly divine. They would reshape this accursed world into a form more worthy to contain them.

To do that, he would need the help of his fellow Destined Ones, no matter how much he despised them.

Well, so be it.

It was obvious why the future would be in his hands, not theirs.

But how to get Althena away from them? She could not be allowed to remain in their custody.

He followed them, hidden by trees and by a few simple illusions. They would not stand up to closer inspection, but such inspection was not likely to be a problem. Atriedes had not, it seemed, detected Ghaleon’s aura at the cottage.

Ghaleon had nearly been forced to intervene. He hated to feel a debt to his enemy, but it was only because Atriedes had halted Sephiroth that Ghaleon had not been called upon to do so himself. And if he had done so, it would have been impossible to remain hidden.

When the time came, Sephiroth would regret profaning Althena by his touch. But that was for later. For now, Ghaleon could not afford to take overt action, not against two such powers.

What was needed now was a diversion.

He stretched out his magical senses, exploring the path ahead. There must be something there...

He stopped in his tracks.

Someone was waiting in Burg. Ghaleon had never encountered power quite like this. It reminded him of that which the Four Dragons had wielded, but this was far greater than even the strongest of them.

This was a power which could be dangerous to Ghaleon. It could be dangerous to his fellow Destined Ones.

It could even, he suspected, be dangerous to an immortal.

They were waiting for Althena.

It was the only possible explanation. Whatever it was that now dwelt in the village of Burg could have no goal but that which had brought them all there.

He would not allow them to do her harm.

But, perhaps, it could be turned to his advantage. Here was a third party strong enough to distract both Seeker and Bearer. While they, and this unknown foe, were occupied in battle, it would be a simple matter to spirit Althena away.

Ghaleon smiled.

Once again, destiny had delivered an opportunity to him.

He would not allow it to go to waste.