A/N: This is my first story. Ever. I'm not really a writer, but I thought I'd give it a shot anyhow. Hope you like it, and thanks for reading!
Balthier had never had aspirations of heroism. Having spent his most recent years thieving and the years before that as a rebellious, spoiled aristocrat, he had no delusions about himself. He was a rogue, yes, but a hero? Certainly not. Those roles were reserved for soldiers and people who sought to make a difference in their world. Dreadfully dull, that. So the experiences of the past few months puzzled the sky pirate.
He'd had his usual goal of treasure in mind when he and Fran made their fateful decision to sneak about the Royal Palace of Rabanastre that night. But he was as shocked as anyone to find himself on a quest to restore Ashelia B'Nargin Dalmasca to her rightful throne. At the onset, treasure had been his objective, but along the way, that aspiration had fallen along the wayside. Now he was a hero in a way, having vanquished a deadly foe in Vayne Solidor. And what's more, here he was aboard a sinking juggernaut attempting to save Dalmasca yet again. It was enough to make him laugh.
But there was little time for joking, what with the crashing and the injured partner and the ridiculous judge threatening to crash right into him. He and Fran had managed to set the glossair rings to rights, and he now carried his companion through the Bahamut as it fell from the skies. That the massive vessel would crash was obvious, but at the very least, he and his partner had saved the city below from certain destruction.
Panic was not an option. He allowed Ashe to panic in his stead from the safety of the Strahl. He heard her voice echo throughout the entire ship. He enjoyed the sound of his name coming from her in desperate cries, his mind wandering to places it probably shouldn't be when fleeing for one's life. Thinking of the perennially grumpy, but lovely young monarch was not something he needed to preoccupy himself with at present. Escape pods were located at the end of the hall here…
…Or was it the other hall behind him? No matter, he thought as he tightened his grip on the injured viera. It wouldn't do to drop her while dallying about. As the ship plummeted, it began to list to the sides, making navigation through the halls more difficult. Balthier decided to take a brief respite to catch his breath.
"You are lost," Fran remarked quietly, perhaps more injured than she let on. He regarded his best friend with a wide grin.
"Surely not, Fran. But if you have a better idea, then I'd be more than happy to let you carry me about this rotten place," he retorted and resumed his pace through the ship. He would not give her the satisfaction of knowing he was in fact quite lost, although if he knew Fran, she was already well aware of their present predicament.
This also puzzled the sky pirate. He and Fran always had a set escape plan for any mission they had undertaken in the past, but in this instance, "Save Rabanastre!" had outweighed "Save our bloody behinds!" Perhaps he was really getting used to this hero business. They passed several Archadian soldiers along the way, running to and fro in extreme confusion, which didn't exactly help Balthier locate the escape pods.
A pair of soldiers appeared around the corner then and signaled to them. "Are you the Lady Ashe's companions?" one of the soldiers shouted. Balthier nodded, and the other soldier ran up and took Fran from his arms. The viera visibly stiffened in the soldier's arms, but she said nothing. The soldier hurried ahead with Fran while the one who had spoken trailed behind with Balthier. The floor shuddered greatly as the Bahamut collided with the ground beneath them.
"I would hope you know the way to the escape pods," Balthier said as he followed his partner and her rescuer. The other soldier said nothing as they hurried down the narrow passageway. It was then that Balthier noticed their uniforms. They were not of the same metal as regular Archadian armor, nor were their helmets in the same style. They were…Rozarrian in origin, he quickly surmised, but why would they be traipsing about the crashing ship? "Wait just a second here," Balthier began, but just as he was about to accost the soldier carrying Fran, the other rushed him from behind.
The Bahamut shook violently, throwing Balthier off balance. He struggled against his attacker, but the world went black as he was hit in the back of the head. The other soldier hoisted Balthier over his shoulder and followed his companion to a small ship moored at the end of the passageway. With the Bahamut crashing and sending up clouds of dust, neither the Imperial nor resistance fleets saw the small vessel pull away and rocket off into the western skies.
Ashe gripped the intercom in her hand as the Strahl flew away from the crashing Bahamut. It was all happening so fast. Vaan piloted the ship towards the Marquis' flagship, the Garland, with Penelo urging him to be careful. The intercom crackled suddenly, Ondore's voice booming over.
"Princess, we must make haste away from the Bahamut. Have the Strahl dock in the Garland's hangar" her uncle's voice demanded. The words floated past Ashe's ears as she clutched the intercom so hard she thought it would crumble in her fist. The shattering noise of grinding metal signaled the Bahamut's meeting with the harsh desert climes and dry rocky plateaus of the Westersand. Behind the Strahl, the giant structure plummeted downward, an enormous dust cloud mushrooming upwards.
Loud…it was so loud, Ashe thought to herself. She stared ahead out the front windows of the airship as the Strahl weaved among resistance and Archadian ships alike. She could only hear the thundering cacophony of the crashing structure behind them, her thoughts preoccupied with the knowledge that her friends remained on board as it fell from the sky. How could we leave them behind to die in a wreck of twisted, burning metal?
The intercom came to life again, the Marquis repeating his message. This time the words registered more clearly with the Princess as her reverie was broken. She opened her mouth to reply over the intercom, but the horrific screaming of metal battered her eardrums. She closed her eyes and concentrated hard, pressing the intercom's button.
"We must go back for our friends. They remain on the Bahamut!" she declared, her voice trembling but with authority.
"Lady Ashe," the Marquis replied with a sternness that was more desperate than cruel, "The Bahamut crashes before us now. We can mount no rescue. Come to the Garland at once." The crashing sounds of the Bahamut faded into the background as the airship flew further away.
Basch stood up from his place at his dying brother's side. "Highness, we must do as the Marquis requests. We will search as soon as the Bahamut has settled."
Ashe turned to face the knight, seeing the anguish in his and Larsa's features. She turned back to see Vaan's determined face as he piloted the airship in Balthier's place. Penelo looked to her and smiled sadly. They had gained so much that day, but they had now lost almost as much, Ashe thought.
"Very well," she sighed, relaying her message back over the intercom. "We will join the Garland, then land beside the wreckage. We will search until we find Fran and Balthier. I will enter Rabanastre only when I am satisfied that we have exhausted every means to locate our friends."
Vaan piloted the Strahl into the Garland's hangar bay as Ashe slunk downward into the cockpit seat behind Penelo. Larsa stood and walked to Ashe's side, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Lady Ashe, I am certain that they were able to find an escape pod. Sky pirates are always more resourceful than we give them credit for."
Ashe looked up at the young man, who had lost a brother but gained an empire in one fell swoop. "I pray you are right, but I will not rest until I am certain of their safety," she muttered. The ship successfully docked, and the Marquis himself boarded with his ministers. A medical team tended to Gabranth under the watchful eye of Basch and Larsa. Ashe stood and approached her uncle. "How soon can we launch a rescue party? I would lead it myself."
The Marquis grimaced. "Out of the question. Even with the Bahamut fully fallen from the sky, the site will be unstable for days. I cannot allow you to endanger yourself. I will send my own men to…"
"Unacceptable," Ashe interrupted, "We search for our friends at once. And I will not be made to sit and wait. Send as many of your men as you would like, but we do not leave our comrades behind." The princess stared daggers at Ondore, daring him to tell her no yet again. The Marquis sighed loudly and nodded. He placed his hands on the young woman's shoulders.
"The moment that my men declare the structure unsafe is the time you will leave. Dalmasca needs you now, and you may have to accept that your friends are lost," he said gently, exhaustion marking his features. The long weeks of preparation for war against Archadia had wearied him.
Ashe lowered her gaze and exited the Strahl. Ondore's crew was already preparing to land the Garland in the Westersand, while the deck crew began to look the Strahl over for damage. Penelo accompanied Larsa and Basch to the sickbay with Gabranth's body while Vaan waited with Ashe on the hangar deck.
They stood in silence for a few moments. Vaan fidgeted with a loose string on his vest while Ashe stared at the Strahl across the hangar bay. Vaan tugged at the string and began to unravel it as Ashe began to pace frantically.
"We are losing time waiting for this enormous ship to anchor itself! If we had simply turned the Strahl around…" Ashe began.
Vaan looked up from his string pulling, a sad look crossing his youthful face. "He's right though, Ashe. We have to wait. I'm sure they'll turn up and ask what took us so long. I can just see Balthier cursing me for scratching up the paint or pressing the wrong button or moving his seat, something like that."
Ashe stopped pacing and stared angrily at Vaan. She opened her mouth to deride his flippant tone, but she knew that he was just as worried about their friends as she. Her anger misplaced, she softened towards the young man and smiled. "Balthier's said all along that he's a leading man. I've wanted to smack his arrogant pirate face every time he uttered that silly phrase, but I would give almost anything to hear him say it right now."
They returned to their silence, this time more comfortable. Ashe fiddled with her wedding ring, wondering where its partner was at this moment. Vaan watched her do this, some confusion spreading across his face. He decided to change the subject.
"You know something though? It's just like you said on the Strahl, Ashe. We're free! You're going to be queen, and Dalmasca will be strong again. We've had quite a day, huh?" he said excitedly, interlacing his fingers behind his head. The Garland rumbled under their feet as it set down on a plateau in the Westersand.
Ashe and Vaan ran hurriedly to the hangar exit, eager to head out to the wreckage in search of their companions. Penelo returned, explaining that Basch would remain behind to discuss plans to return to Archades with Larsa and Ondore. Penelo was followed by a contingent of the Marquis' men, and the group set off into the hot desert to look for their friends.