Chapter 4

Ghaleon picked his way through the rubble that had once been the entrance to Vane. He focused his whole mind into each step he took - it was the only way he could keep from thinking about what he now knew to be the case.

He had been gone sixty years.

Vane had never risen again.

Ghaleon laughed bitterly. It seemed he’d been right. The world did need Althena’s guidance. But he had not considered how low it could have sunk in the time he was away - that Lunar would have become no better, perhaps worse, than any other world. Even Figaro or Jowston would surely have raised Vane back to its rightful place, if only they had been blessed to have the Magic City in the first place.

Althena had tried to give up her powers. To become mortal.

He stopped.

What if she had succeeded?

If Althena was dead, there was nothing in this fallen world for him.

And he had lost his only means of leaving when he allowed Celes Chere to escape from him with the relic weapon.

He took a deep breath. There was no reason to think about such nonsense. No matter how hard she tried to believe otherwise, Althena was a goddess. She could not put that aside and live - and die - as a mortal woman.

She could not!

He would find her. He would attain his godhood.

Nothing could stop that.

A bolt of lightning crashed into the rubble in front of Ghaleon. He took a step back, his eyes flashing from the blackened cobblestones to the shadows of the still-intact buildings.

Someone in the ruins shouted, “Don’t come any closer! I won’t warn you again!”

Ghaleon narrowed his eyes. He knew that voice, or one much like it. But who-

“Vane is no place for you,” said the speaker - a man, Ghaleon thought, and an old one. “Go!”

“Who presumes to tell the Premier of the Magic Guild that he may not enter it?” Ghaleon asked, stepping forward.

The man didn’t answer.

Ghaleon continued to approach. “Show yourself, little magician, before your identity is revealed by my will and not your own.” If need be, Ghaleon would make good his threat by tearing the roofs from the buildings. It wouldn’t even be difficult.

I am the Premier of the Magic Guild,” the man said. He stepped into the light. His brown-grey hair and beard were long and unkempt, and his face was pale and drawn. Despite his claims to the Premiership, he was clad not in ceremonial robes, but in rags. “For what it’s worth, anyway,” he added.

But... perhaps those rags had once been robes.

It took Ghaleon a moment to match this pathetic old man with the fastidious young magician he’d known. But yes, the ravages of age and disease had not erased the face of Nash entirely. “You are ungrateful, apprentice,” Ghaleon said, “to greet your old master in such a way.”

Nash’s blurry eyes focused on Ghaleon’s face. He took a step back.

“Do you still say that Vane is no place for me?” Ghaleon asked.

Nash whispered, “Master Ghaleon..?”

Ghaleon nodded.

Nash fell to his knees. “Master! I...”

Ghaleon walked over to where Nash knelt. A disgusting display of fealty, really. Particularly considering the role his apprentice had played in his downfall. But then, all that, too, had been necessary. “Your treason is forgiven, apprentice,” Ghaleon said, “though not forgotten. But in exchange for my clemency, I require a service from you.”

Nash nodded vigorously. “But, what service can a phantom want?” he asked.

Ghaleon almost corrected him, but then reconsidered. Let Nash think his old master was yet dead. No lingering sentiment for his youthful rebellion would lead him to deceive if he thought he was speaking to a mere spirit. “You must tell me all that has happened since my... death.”

“Master Ghaleon,” Nash said, “I cannot.”

Ghaleon frowned. “You defy me once again?”

“I cannot think of what has happened,” Nash said. “You were right all along. Without Althena’s guiding hand, Lunar is finished. And n... now... M... M... Mia is dead. With her died all that was good in this world. If you returned for vindication...” He sighed. “You will find it.”

“Where is Althena?” Ghaleon asked. “I have returned to save this world, and her with it.”

Nash didn’t respond. His head sunk lower.

“Answer me, apprentice,” Ghaleon said coldly.

“I don’t know,” Nash muttered. “I don’t know where she is. Dead, perhaps-”

Ghaleon leaned closer. His hand closed around Nash’s chin and forced his head up. His eyes met Ghaleon’s fierce gaze. “Do not speak of her death. She is immortal. She cannot have given that up.”

“Nall will not tell me!” Nash protested. “I’ve given up asking him.”

So, Nall was alive. Yes, that made sense. Although the four dragons had proven far from invulnerable, they were surely immortal if left to their own devices. Ghaleon smiled. The dragons were easily bound to his will, although that one had escaped in the past. “Nall knows where I can find Althena?” he asked. He released his hold on Nash - it was not needed.

Nash said nothing for a moment. Then, he nodded. “If she liv... if anyone knows, it would be Nall. He’ll come here, sooner or later. He is searching for the lore of the dragons. For what it’s worth, I help him search the library.”

Ghaleon straightened out and took a step back.

He looked down at the pathetic wreck of a man who had once been his apprentice, then his enemy. And now?

Now he was nothing.

Just like this world.

Althena should not live in such a place, Ghaleon thought. She would not. Someday, he would remake this world. But for now, he would be content with taking her from it.

He spun around and walked into the ruins, leaving Nash to his memories.

Sooner or later, Nall would arrive, he’d said.

It could not be soon enough for Ghaleon.