Chapter 1

Your Majesty, your last audience for the day has arrived.”

Edgar Roni Figaro shifted on his throne. How lovely. Once he was done with the audiences for the day, he could move on to the paperwork, or the inspection tours, or perhaps a diplomatic reception or two. He sighed. “And who is it this time, Vesper?”

The Chancellor bowed his head. “The musician, Your Majesty.”

“The musician?”

The Chancellor nodded expectantly.

Edgar rubbed his eyes and sighed again. Must he deal with every detail of the day-to-day operation of Figaro Castle? Did he not employ faithful retainers for that very purpose? What next, must he do the marketing and the cleaning too? Surely someone, anyone but him, could adequately conduct an interview with one of the many, invariably transient musicians who played from time-to-time at Figaro Castle.

“For the anniversary celebration, Your Majesty,” the Chancellor prompted.

Anniversary. Good Lord, had it already been a whole year? The time certainly had flown, though not, Edgar reflected, because he was having fun.

It had been a whole year since Kefka’s defeat.

A whole year of living hell.

Edgar smiled ruefully. He should have known. Everyone had been so certain that the lion’s share of the work was over. After all, they’d defeated Kefka. What task that lay ahead could possibly compare in importance or difficulty?

In the privacy of his chamber, Edgar could laugh at these thoughts. Without humor, though. He’d been so sure that what remained would amount to a simple tying up of loose ends that he’d volunteered Figaro as the administrative centre of the rebuilding effort.

That year of Kefka’s domination, Edgar had been desperate - so much so, in fact, that at one point he’d resorted to masquerading as a common thief. At first, he’d thought only of finding the others. Finding Terra. But duty had won out over... whatever other concerns he might have had. So he’d worked long and hard to discover what had happened to Figaro. He’d found it, all right, and he’d saved his castle.

Then it had been the whirlwind of effort, the monumental struggle, to destroy Kefka.

In all that time, Edgar had not once realized, had never even considered, just how bad things had become.

When he’d made his promise of Figaroan aid, he’d had no real idea of what it would entail.

His rude awakening had been immediate, and close to home as well. South Figaro’s government offices, suffering from extensive structural damage, had literally collapsed while he was on an inspection tour of the city. The accident had very nearly killed him. It had indeed claimed the lives of four of his citizens.

From that point on, Edgar had barely had time to grab a bite to eat and catch a wink of sleep here and there, much less think about celebrating.

Although the most pressing concerns should have been providing shelter, maintaining security, and rebuilding, he’d almost immediately had to wrestle with local governments over the issue of refugees.

The smaller villages and rural communities, especially, had suffered during Kefka’s reign of terror, not so much because of Kefka himself, but because of the creatures he had unleashed or mutated by his powers.

The country folk had attempted to stand their ground and fend off the rampaging monsters, but it hadn’t been enough. They’d been forced to seek safe haven in towns and cities.

At first they were welcomed, but all too soon many civic leaders came to resent this influx of destitute, desperate men and women. Already weakened city walls came to be fortified not just against monsters, but against refugees as well.

Edgar could understand the sentiments of those civic leaders. The refugees arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs, and often with no skills they could apply to urban life. Many of the youths turned to crime. The elderly, to begging.

But these people were in need of every bit as much protection as the citizens of the towns and cities. Figaro, Edgar soon made clear, would not bar its gates to those who sought entrance. Nor would it stand by and allow others to do so.

So Edgar had invited his troops into the cities to help with the rebuilding. The local authorities would, it was made clear, have his full cooperation. The troops would offer skilled labour, trained engineers, protection against monsters...

And in return, the local authorities, those same civic leaders, would give Edgar their full cooperation. Especially in regards to the refugees.

Figaro and its king had become the de facto law in most of the world.

Most, but not all.

First and foremost among the exceptions was what remained of Kefka’s tower. Neither Figaro nor anyone else had much interest in claiming that burnt-out reminder of a year of terror, and certainly no one had the resources to tame its monster-infested rubble. Instead, Edgar had made it known that those ruins were well outside Figaroan protection, and that those who entered them did so at their own risk.

Zozo retained its independence through violence. Normally, Edgar would not have tolerated the threats, even attacks, that what passed for authorities in Zozo had made against his troops and, on occasion, his person. But with his relationship to the occupied towns tenuous at best, he could ill afford to actually invade a city, no matter how good the cause. Besides, most of the refugees were smart enough to know they were better off taking their chances with the bestial predators outside Zozo than they were with the human ones within it.

Jidoor had, much to Edgar’s surprise, never barred anyone entry. The rich Jidoorans had sent the poor packing on a regular basis before Kefka’s reign, but now the refugees were welcomed with open arms. The Jidoorans offered them decent housing and adequate food, and, in return, any men of legal age were required to serve in the dramatically understaffed Jidooran militia.

And Moblitz. Terra’s Moblitz. She had insisted that the children would need her help and had returned there after Kefka’s defeat. Edgar had tried anything and everything to persuade her not to go, but there was no shaking her resolve. Now Moblitz was a magnet for refugees from far and wide because Terra and the children were known as the most compassionate, generous hosts in all the world.

Edgar sighed, yet again.

It had been very nearly a year since he’d last seen her.

“Your Majesty?”

Edgar’s eyes blinked open.

“Shall I show the gentleman in?”

The musician, of course. Still waiting. His last audience.

There was a time, however limited, for reflection. It was not in the middle of the day when he had God only knew how much business to attend to. More important business than meeting with some simple musician. Solicited or no, what gave the man the astounding gall to seek audience with the King of Figaro?

Anyone who needs help, who has been wronged, or has any other business with myself or any other, he shall be welcome before me. Another ill-advised promise Edgar had made in the euphoria of Kefka’s downfall.

There was no avoiding it. “Of course, Vesper.”

“His Majesty, Edgar Roni Figaro,” announced the Chancellor as he waved the musician into the room. “Do be brief,” Vesper whispered anxiously to the man.

Edgar smiled and looked up. Whatever he’d expected as his final audience of the day would certainly not have included the man before him.

This musician was dressed in exquisite silks of a deep purple that contrasted sharply with his impossibly white skin and hair. His features were noble, aquiline, very much the sort Edgar would have expected of a fellow aristocrat, not a traveling entertainer. Nearly hidden in the folds of the silken robe, long elegant fingers grasped a beautifully carved lute. But it was the musician’s eyes that most drew Edgar’s attention. They were predatory, those eyes. Intelligent, cunning, callous... and a strikingly unusual ruby shade.

The musician bowed. “I am called Ghaleon, recently of Albrook.” His voice matched his appearance. Quiet, sophisticated, controlled, and with a definite edge to it. “I have come to offer my service in the celebration of the anniversary of Your Majesty’s glorious victory over the lord of chaos.”

Edgar dismissed this with a wave of his hand. “My role in the proceedings was small at best.”

“Your Majesty’s humility is as well known as his courage,” Ghaleon said. Despite his respectful tone, Edgar thought there was a hint of sarcasm.

“I thank you for your compliments, and for your offer of service,” he said. “But there are many musicians who come to Figaro - most of whom are quite decidedly in need of employment.” Edgar leaned forward. “You, sir, appear to be quite well off.”

“In addition to my success as a musician, Your Majesty, I have many hobbies that have the tendency to turn a profit.”

“Fascinating,” Edgar said. “Perhaps, though, we might be permitted to sample the musical talent that has allowed you to acquire such obvious wealth in a time of such deprivation?” Touche. Some sarcasm of his own.

Ghaleon bowed slightly, closed his eyes, and unslung the lute. He raised the instrument and his eyes shot open, boring into Edgar’s own. Edgar nodded and closed his own eyes to mask the discomfort the man’s gaze provoked.

Then Ghaleon began to play. The melody was haunting, soft - it seemed to hang just out of reach. It made Edgar uneasy, nervous, in fact, but at the same time he could not help but acknowledge its beauty.

Indeed, the longer the song went on, the more Edgar felt himself calm, at ease. There was something about it - not so much the way it was played as the music itself, he was sure - that took a load off one’s shoulders.

His eyes slowly opened when the playing stopped.

“I believe,” Ghaleon said, “that music has great power.” He smiled slightly. “And great beauty, of course.”

Edgar nodded. “Yes. Yes it does.”

Ghaleon bowed again, almost imperceptibly. “Does Your Majesty approve?”

“Indeed.” His Majesty approved very much, and that worried him. There was something about that song that had calmed him, soothed him in a way that was unnerving. Now that it was over, Edgar wanted nothing more than to hear it again.

It’s just nerves, he told himself. A lovely melody in the midst of all this work could be expected to make anyone feel better, and who would want it to end?

Ghaleon’s smile widened, but that hardly put Edgar at ease. Like his eyes, the man’s smile held no warmth. “Perhaps Your Majesty would deign to employ this humble musician for the celebration?” Ghaleon’s thin fingers moved gently over his lute.

“Why certainly,” Edgar said immediately. “I shall have Vesper provide you with accommodations here at the castle until the celebration.” What the hell was he thinking? The man was nothing but a common musician. Or was he? Wouldn’t it be best to keep someone who made him as nervous as Ghaleon did close at hand?

Yes, it was for the best. This way, Edgar would be able to, most likely, dispel his suspicions... or if he was right, confirm them.

“Your Majesty is most gracious,” Ghaleon said with a bow. “Now, with your permission, I have traveled far and would be pleased to be shown to my rooms.”

Edgar called out for his Chancellor. “Vesper, have this gentleman shown to the guest quarters without delay.”

“Immediately, Your Majesty,” the Chancellor said, bowing deeply. To Ghaleon, he added, “This way, sir.”

As Edgar watched the two of them leave the throne room, he found himself humming the melody Ghaleon had played.