Chapter 23

Jowy kept a wary eye on Sephiroth during the descent from Althena’s cottage. His compatriot’s methods were harsh, and he was quick to attack a possible ally. More than that, though, there was something about his aura which disturbed Jowy. Almost as though the aura itself, independent of its owner, was alive.

But that was ridiculous.

He hoped.

After Nall had brought him to the village of Burg, they had been met by a girl named Aeris. Nall seemed to know her, and they had spoken about a man named Sephiroth. The Seeker. He had gone missing, and when she couldn’t find him, Aeris had worried he was going to do something to Althena.

So, Jowy had set out for Althena’s cottage.

In the chaos of his battle with Sephiroth, Jowy hadn’t had an opportunity to properly scan the area with his magical senses. He’d thought there were traces of Ghaleon’s aura, but he could not confirm them.

He looked up.

They had reached Burg.

Althena looked away from the small village. Whatever memories she had of it, she clearly did not wish to face them.

“Something is wrong,” Sephiroth said.

Jowy’s eyes weren’t as sharp as Sephiroth’s. But he had other senses to draw upon that the Seeker did not seem to possess. He probed the village.

Something was wrong. The auras within were... espers?

“We would seem to have a serious problem,” the Star Dragon Sword said.

Jowy nodded. Nall, Aeris and the villagers were probably already in the hands of the espers. The ones Jowy had encountered seemed to have a kind of honor, but they had also been quite violent. He didn’t think they would treat human captives well.

“Strange creatures,” Sephiroth said, speaking in the clipped soldier’s dialect that Jowy remembered from his days in command of Highland and which seemed to be universal. “Ten visible. Perhaps more hidden.”

“There are twenty eight of them, just in the town,” Jowy said.

Sephiroth glanced over at him and nodded in approval. “They have hostages,” he said.

Jowy nodded back.

“Hostages?” Althena asked. “You mean the people of Burg?”

“At least,” Jowy said.

She closed her eyes for a moment, then looked into the woods. He tried to follow her gaze, but she turned back to the village before he could. What had she been looking for? “This place alone on all of my world remained unharmed by my decision,” she said quietly.

“We waste our time here,” Sephiroth said, interrupting her before she could say more. He turned to Jowy. “Take Princess Althena somewhere safe and join me at the first opportunity.”

“What are you going to do?” Jowy asked.

Sephiroth did not answer. He turned back to the village and sprang into the air. The energy blade he wore on his belt slid into his hand and flickered into life.

“You fool,” Jowy muttered. That was no way to rescue innocents! Against so powerful a foe, careful planning, even a few minutes worth, could save dozens of lives.

He looked to Althena.

She stood facing Burg, her head bowed.

“Please, return to your cottage,” Jowy said quickly. “You’ll be safe there until we’re finished with these enemies.”

She didn’t answer.

Jowy put his hand on her shoulder. “I must help Sephiroth. For the sake of the people of Burg-”

She opened her eyes. They were no longer a clear, bright blue.

The glowed red.

Jowy paled. “What are you doing?”

“A duty I have forsaken too long,” she said.

She threw her head back and began to sing. The ground around Jowy shook. He struggled to keep his footing. The clear sky filled with deep black clouds, crackling with lightning.

So this was the power of the -Heirs-.

Althena looked down. Even after her song stopped, its effects continued to grow. She stretched out her hand, and a gate opened.

Jowy reached out to stop her, but a strong barrier held him back.

She stepped forward.

And as she did so, she called, “Ghaleon, aid me!”

The gate closed behind her.

Jowy looked toward the town and used the Rune of the Gate to open a portal of his own. He grasped the Star Dragon Sword with one hand and drew the King Dragon Sword with the other.

So much for planning.