Mia sat in one of the enchanted gardens in Vane, reconstructed in detail by her wishes since the magic city's fall from the sky. This garden was one she had visited often as a child, and held fond if sorrowful memories. She remembered walking here once, late on a cloudless night like this, when she was only seven. Her mother, Lemia, would not normally allow her to stay up so late, but that night was special, because Lunar would eclipse the Blue Star in such a fashion as it would make a perfect black circle on the face of the blue-white globe. Everyone in the floating city of Vane had come out for the view. The air was thin and crisp where they were in the air, and that made the event that much more spectacular.
Lemia had wanted to watch the event from the balcony of her quarters as guildmaster, but Mia had other ideas. She did not want to stay near any buildings because she felt she would loose the feel of the magic. Legends spoke of powerful mages who had harnessed the magic locked within the heavenly bodies involved in eclipse. Though no known records of such an event remained in the city's libraries, there were always those tomes whose ink and paper had deteriorated with time. And Vane being a city populated by magicians, everyone could sense when there was magic in the air.
And there was magic that night.
Mia had led the way, laughing and giggling into the garden, where no one would be at this time or on this night. Everyone else was at the city's edge, where no obstructions save the Goddess's own tower could possibly mar their view. Mia knew she would not get a good view if she was with the crowds. She was too small. But she brought a companion with her, and with his help she knew they would have no trouble seeing.
"Look! We're almost there! See?" She had pointed at a small clearing ahead of her. It was lined with rosebushes on two sides and a white-painted gazebo on a third. "I want to watch from there!"
Her companion appeared out of the darkness, on foot, though to the unprepared he seemed to seep from the night itself. He was a tall man; slender, but athletic. The starlight shone off his pale skin, reflected in his lavender eyes. His silver hair, bereft of the dark skullcap Mia once teased him unmercifully about, was long and as a disciplined as his composure. Though Mia felt he was pleased to accompany her--somehow she never could call him "happy"--his face was expressionless, even guarded. This man, Ghaleon, was premier of the guild, adjunct to Lemia, and it was well-known that he had had a shadow cast over him ever since the death of his best friend, Dyne.
Mia understood little of it, but accepted him for what he was. Now she pointed eagerly at the small domed roof of the gazebo. "Up there." She smiled, and accustomed to doing rather than asking of him, took hold of his hand expectantly.
Ghaleon looked down at her and nodded. He gestured, uttering words in the language of magic Mia was only beginning to comprehend. The air took hold of them, and they floated over to the roof of the gazebo. As soon as they set down Ghaleon spoke another spell, and the perimeter of the roof flashed. Mia instinctively knew it was something to prevent her from falling.
She then sat down and asked when the show would start. He had replied that it would take some time. The Blue Star looked very big and thus should be moving fast. But in actuality the Blue Star was even bigger, just farther away, and thus it seemed to be moving slower.
Mia did not understand the answer yet, but she pretended she did. She forced her young mind to be patient, and when the eclipse finally happened she cheered with the rest of Vane and felt the magic that was truly in the air.
The Mia of the present recalled all the feelings associated with the memory, if not the details themselves. This garden always conjured up memories. She could not have known that the very tree she now ruminated beneath was the same one the Magic Emperor sat beside when he came to the decision to destroy the world he knew. But she would not have been surprised. Like the deceased Magic Emperor had done, she was now thinking about the loss of someone dear to her. But unlike the Magic Emperor, she was not about to destroy the world on a quest of vengeance; for it was the Magic Emperor she mourned.
Almost five years had passed since Ghaleon's death. Tomorrow was the anniversary of his defeat, and Mia was now a young woman of twenty-one. Ghaleon's mad scheme had robbed her of the innocence she had as a girl, but she always allowed herself a few days at this time of the year with which to remember him as he was long ago. She kept reminding herself that Ghaleon was once one of the Four Heroes of Althena, and that he was not always evil. There was a time when he laughed and cried with the rest of humanity. And perhaps even in the end there might have been a shred of good left in him. After all, he had bequeathed his final journal to her, and the saber-toothed cat that always obeyed him had now established himself as her silent protector.
She found it strange, yet touching, that she had been the one to inherit that which had been most dear to him. Ghaleon had no children of his own, so there was no one to officially care for his possessions, such as those left behind in Vane, but Mia took it upon herself to preserve them. She told people that his possessions were of immeasurable historical value, and if they dissected his journals they might discover what drove him to such madness. But inwardly, she admittedly that she looked out for his possessions because she cared. In a world that hated Ghaleon, she might be the only one who still did.
Or almost. She turned her gaze from the night sky and looked down a ways from where she sat. The giant saber-toothed feline who had been Ghaleon's companion in years past was lying only a few body lengths from her, watching her through slitted emerald eyes. She was not afraid, she had never been. Since the cat had come to her, she felt that a bond had been forged between the two, and they could sense each other's thoughts. She finally understood why the cat would sometimes take actions that benefited Ghaleon without the former premier having breathed a word. She doubted her link with the cat ran as deep as Ghaleon's had, but she wondered about the beast.
The cat was not natural as near as she could tell. It had never appeared to age for as long as she could remember, and Ghaleon spoke of spending years with this very beast before meeting Dyne and leaving Caldor Isle. An ordinary animal would be dead or ripely old by now. Yet the cat kept his sleek, athletic form still in the prime of life.
Perhaps aware of her questioning, the cat met her eyes as he stood up, then yawned deeply. The baring of his razor teeth had scared many a mage away since Mia had brought him into the city with her. After Ghaleon had founded Ruid he no longer took his cat into Vane. The giant feline had probably remained in Ruid. But the cat did not seem fazed by his long absence. And after years of living with him, the people of Vane once again grew used to him, if not actually friendly. Some people believed the cat served Ghaleon still. Mia could say nothing to console them, because the very fact he bonded with her was proof enough that he followed his late companion's wishes. But what she wanted to say was that there was nothing beyond that. The cat was her friend now, as Ghaleon wished, but everything else was either the cat's choice or hers.
The cat finished his yawn and twitched an ear before walking beside her and laying down again. He rolled over on his back, paws tucked in, as he continued to regard her. The cat was big, nine feet from head to rump, and even laying down he reached Mia's slender shoulders.
"Oh, so you want to be scratched, do you?" she asked, smiling wanly. "I doubt Ghaleon did this for you very often."
The cat narrowed his eyes and purred as she stood and began rubbing his belly. He had succeeded in lightening her mood. That was good.
Not for the first time she wondered if the cat had bonded with someone before Ghaleon. The former premier could never remember when he had gotten his friend, nor where. Mia once asked him about his parents and Ghaleon refused to respond. It was another of his secrets locked away where the world would never know. From the journals Ghaleon began keeping when he met Dyne, Mia had begun to piece together the events of his life, but there was a haze of memory from before he met Dyne. Ghaleon had not kept track of time until Dyne, and all he could remember of before then was raising sheep and an encounter with the strangest of ghosts. There were no parents, no friends, no family. It was as though Ghaleon appeared out of nowhere, and that did not make sense.
"You know, you need a name," she said to the cat, dropping to his side and laying her head on him. "But if you ever lived with anyone before Ghaleon you might already have one. And unless you learn to speak I'll never know."
The cat's emerald eyes fixed on her blue ones. He knew something, but she could not tell what. The cat languidly slipped out from under her and stood on all fours. He looked at her again, then began to silently pad away.
It was a long while before Mia followed it.
"All right! Look lively, everyone! Just because we're still stuck on the ground doesn't mean we can't look nice. After all, we finally look like a city again after all this rebuilding." Nash wildly directed the errant people beneath him a multitude of directions. "Hey, be careful with that statue of Althena! If the Dragonmaster's wife caught sight of you acting like that she'd have a fit." The young man glanced up at the morning sun, the abominable cowlick of his hair defying gravity and reason as it had for as long as Mia had known him. "Speaking of which, they should be here soon."
Mia watched Nash from afar. Like him, she was busy, but while he tackled the grunt management, she sat at a table in a fenced off area trying preparing her speech for this afternoon. After five years everyone involved with the battle against Ghaleon was meeting in Vane. Well, not really everyone. Mia had long lost count of the friendly people who offered them shelter in their homes, the people who went out of their way to hide them from Ghaleon's forces. But at least Alex, Luna, Kyle, and Jessica were coming. And Mel, and Nall. Of course she should not forget Nall. Mia smiled a little. He would not let her live it down otherwise.
Lemia's health was not what it was since Ghaleon cast his spell on her, so Mia tried to take over as many of her duties as she could. That was not very difficult, because she had already done most of them while the fake Lemia pretended to be unfit for duty, but this speech, where she would have to speak her heart out to the people of Vane, was difficult. She could not avoid touching on Ghaleon, but she did not want to hear people decry his name. There had to be a good way to explain herself. One day, the guild would truly be hers, and she would have to manage it as best as possible.
"Mia? Are you all right?"
She turned and found Nash looking at her with concern. She shrugged weakly, returning a small sad smile to her lips. It became her all too often these days.
"Yes, I'm all right," she said. "Just a little tired. I was up late last night."
"You should know better than that." Though he chided her, his tone was gentle. She wondered what this anniversary meant to him. Like her, Ghaleon was important to him--once.
"I know, but I had to think." She gestured to the paper in front of her. "I couldn't get the words to my speech down and I couldn't sleep. I'm doing a little better now though. I think I got to mull over a lot while I was up last night."
Nash came beside her and looked down at the lines she had written. The speech was not finished yet. Many lines had been crossed out and new words written above them and in the margins. Mia had not bothered to be neat about her corrections, which was unusual. But then she did have less than five hours with which to finish and memorize it. And that was not counting the time she would have to spend greeting their guests.
She stood up and inclined her head politely to him. "Don't worry about me, Nash. I'll be all right. Now if you'll excuse me..."
Mia entered the guildhouse, now almost completely empty with everyone outside preparing for the festivities. Here it was quiet, and while closed in, she thought she might better organize her speech here. Perhaps she would visit Ghaleon's study, or rather what used to be it. It was Paln's study now. Vane needed a premier, especially now because of Lemia's ailing health and because of Mia inexperience. It was the first time in Vane's history that a new premier was not appointed from a pool of applicants selected by Guildmaster for the retiring premier to choose from. Ghaleon was not sick, save perhaps in mind, and no one expected him to pass on. Thus he had not been pressured to select a successor.
Mia gently pushed open the old wooden door to the study and looked at the office within. Ghaleon's enchantments had preserved it from the damage Vane's fall had caused, and although the minor decorations and books had changed, the room still possessed the hesitantly given comfort she had known as a child.
Paln was out, attending to festival matters like everyone else. Mia doubted he would much mind her using his office while he was gone. He always did his best to support her with her newfound duties. Besides, she was not yet guildmaster and had no office of her own. And she did not feel it appropriate to use her mother's. Not today.
She sat down at the desk, his desk. It was a fine desk and despite the evil that may have been plotted upon it, Paln decided to keep it. He could have thrown it out if he wished, but he stated that it was a good desk and that it should not be wasted. In addition to the desk, the chair and bookcases were also Ghaleon's. But all else had changed.
Mia ran her hand across the surface of the worn wood, recalling fond memories at the sight of an old ink strain or a small notch in the wood. But he was not the man she knew. Drawing in a slow breath as words came to her, Mia again set her quill to ink. Sadness, hope, and regret filled the space on the pages before her. She wanted to cry, but found she could not. The quill kept moving, and she was silent.
Daylight shifted the shadows it cast through the windows as she wrote. The words had to be said and the present reconciled with the past for Vane to move on. Perhaps in some twisted manner Ghaleon had shown them the way. The lesson was hard, but Vane would endure, just as it had for millennia. She would go before her people and speak so that a voice, nearly silenced by the pain of years past, could be heard and remembered.
By late afternoon the festivities had already begun and the time for the speech soon came. On a plain wooden dais, flanked by the forms of her mother, Paln, and Nash, Mia stepped forward to the podium to speak. Her skin was pale beneath the light of the sun, and she appeared frail as though she would break. But there was no fear, no anxiety in her young face as she looked from side to side at all the people who had gathered. Instead there was a sadness unbecoming of the celebration.
She saw Alex, Luna, and others of her friends in the audience. Nall flapped his small wings and hovered in the air above Alex. To one side of her, Nash smiled encouragingly.
Mia nodded, then lifted her gaze to encompass every person she could.
"Today," she said, "we come together to remember and honor the events of five years past. Five years ago we learned of a grave evil: that Premier Ghaleon had deceived us; that he was the Magic Emperor bent on destroying our world. And the danger did not end there.
"But today I do not want to focus on the evil itself, but the result, and the cause." She paused, letting her words sink in. Gaining confidence in herself, her voice became stronger as she continued to speak.
"Look around you. You will see a humbled Vane, one that no longer flies and perhaps never will again. You will see people who have become strong through work and hardship. You will see a love that did not exist before. Yes, all this was bought at a heavy price, but look at us now. Look at what we have learned. And look at the world before now.
"Years ago, Lunar believed to have lost the beloved Dragonmaster Dyne to the rage of the black dragon and only Ghaleon returned alive. Whatever happened there, whatever caused Ghaleon to claim that Dyne's death turned him from the path of good, has died with him. I don't pretend we can ever understand what drove Ghaleon to the evil he caused, but we can try.
"Any of us who were old enough to know him in the days before he founded Ruid remember how he always kept to him, never showing anything of his pleasure or pain. But that did not mean he did not have any. If we had been the type of people we are now, we would have asked him how he felt; searched for what was wrong. Now we know every single soul is important, and no one should be left alone when he needs friendship the most. Floating through the skies as we were, Vane was above the petty troubles of the world below. And supposedly, so were the people of this city. But the people weren't invulnerable, and neither was the city itself.
"I want each of you to look in your hearts and ask yourselves this. Do not think of the deaths that have happened, but can you honestly say that you as a person are not better now than you were before? How many of you have taken in strangers, or been taken in by strangers, since the battle began? How many of you would have done this before the attack?
"I do not condone what Ghaleon has done, but look at what he has shown us. There was something among us--a friendship, a love--that was lost and perhaps would never have been found if he had not come. If we had been the people then that we are now, perhaps Ghaleon never would have left us, and those deaths could have been avoided.
"If. We have only 'ifs'. I cannot divine the past, nor can I the future. But one day I hope to be the Guildmaster of Vane and that you will support me. I want to see that this love between people is never lost again. And perhaps one day, there will be no need for tears."
Back to the Library of Vane.
Back to the Shrine to Ghaleon.