Ah, thank you all again for reading! I'm a bit late updating, but my schedule is getting a bit crazy. It's not because I'm being lazy for once (well…not entirely)

Disclaimer: I don't own FFXII.

XxX

Balthier sighed as he exited the washroom

Balthier sighed as he exited the washroom. A visible cloud of vapor blew through the door as he did so. He finished lacing his shirt and buttoning his cuffs.

The water pressure of the shower would be the next item to receive an upgrade once they'd cashed in their next plunder…and maybe some new tile too.

Running a hand through his slightly damp hair, he made his way across the bridge. From there, he could see the tips of Fran's ears from behind the co-pilot seat.

So she was already awake.

She must have risen quite a bit earlier for her to have beaten him to the controls, as it wasn't especially late when he'd decided to start the day.

He studied Fran for a few moments from his place at the edge of the bridge. She seemed rather pensive this morning. Her eyes were remained on the faintly light sky in front of her, and her body was tilted slightly to the left side as she thought.

Balthier made his way to the cockpit, mindful of the squeaky platform, and folded his arms over the back rest of his chair.

Fran looked up at him in one fluid movement, as if his presence hadn't disturbed her thoughts at all. Balthier shook his head. He was going to have to get use to the notion that she was constantly aware of everything, even if her mind wasn't focused on it. It was definitely a useful skill, but such awareness as a little unsettling.

He cleared his throat before looking out the window as well. It was early, and the sun had already started to rise. He supposed there was a certain beauty to it, but not one so important to wake extra early for. He looked at Fran out of the corner of his eye. "The washroom is free, if you're going to use it."

Fran nodded. "In a moment." She sat back a little, and continued to gaze out the window.

Balthier watched as she drifted back into her thoughts. This wasn't such an unusual answer. In fact, Balthier almost expected her to subtlety ignore him, but in an effort to understand his partner further (and due in part by his strange curiosity this morning), he decided to pry just a bit.

He sat in the pilot seat, and laced his fingers together behind his head. He pushed his earlier opinion about the view aside for a moment to open the door for his inquiry. "It's not a bad morning, is it?"

Fran blinked. A small smile appeared across her lips before she answered. "This is true." She thought for a moment before continuing. "I suppose views like this are sweeter when you rarely experience them."

Balthier nodded. "I can't imagine you've flown over many oceans." He shrugged. "Living in an area of constant greenery would make that a logical possibility."

Fran's tilted a silver brow. "Are you referring to the Wood?"

He shrugged. "I can understand your decision to leave. Remaining in one place for a long time…can get rather tedious…" He was quite aware of that sentiment.

Fran turned to look at him. "It is the way of the Wood. Those few Viera that leave are renounced. She forbids them from returning."

Balthier couldn't help but snort. "So, you aim to convince me that 'The Wood' speaks to you? As in, it's capable of forming words and carrying on comprehendible conversation?"

Fran grunted, her ears twitching in annoyance. "Not exactly…no…" She struggled to come up with an explanation that someone who had never experienced the manner of The Wood could understand. "She communicates, in a very delicately…in a whisper of sorts. Only Viera have ears sensitive enough to hear it."

Balthier nodded. He wasn't quite sure what she meant, but he didn't think any further explaining would make it any more sensible. "Well, it seems a bit pointless to follow orders from an overgrown plant." He shrugged. "I suppose you felt the same, as you're here with me instead of twiddling away in Eryut."

Fran nodded with a small sigh. "She didn't respond too kindly when I left…"

The sky pirate lifted a brow. "What does an irate plant sound like?"

Fran stared at him indignantly, before she answered. "…She wept…but however bitter sweet the decision to leave was, it was necessary." She sighed. "I will not return to that life."

Balthier examined her closely. For the first time, he could see a distinguishable emotion on her face. It wasn't overtly clear, but he could tell by the slight tightness of her jaw and small arch in her brows that she was a little troubled.

It struck him. He would take her puzzlingly blank expression over this mildly bothered one any day.

He sat up, resting his elbows on his knees. "I'll try to make your sacrifice worth it then."

Fran lifted her face to just slightly, and offered him a brief smile before standing. "I trust you will." She stretched slightly before walking to washroom.

XxX

Balthier decided it was high time that they continue with their gil retrieving exploits. He didn't have the slightest hint as to where a sizeable amount of treasure would be stowed away, so he decided the best way to gain any insight would be to travel to a tavern. He knew there were scores of people that flooded in and out frequently, and where there were people, there was information.

Of course, it wasn't that long ago that they'd run into a rather ingraining bit of trouble in a similar institution involving a certain Bangaa. Balthier was well aware of this when he first planned to visit this tavern. However, the information gained at such places was invaluable. He wasn't going to let one (extremely terrifying) experience deter him from the possibility of riches.

They stopped at a town near the East coast of Ordalia. It was a port town, so the mix of people of various cities, classes and professions was quite robust.

The air had a definite marine scent to it, but the odor wasn't too overbearing. In fact, it was a little refreshing in comparison to the dusty atmosphere the two had been traveling through of late.

Balthier grunted as a sailor carrying a suspiciously lumpy sack bumped into him. The man offered a gruff "Move" before continuing on his way to the dock.

That was the third time someone had run right into him!

Balthier rubbed his shoulder with irritation. It may have been a nice town for gathering information, and a little less dusty than the last town, but the place had plenty of negatives.

Fran looked at him with a small smirk. "We should get to the pub quickly, lest something tragic happen to you."

Balthier snorted, ignoring her comment. "I imagine it isn't too far away." He took a moment to scan the light crowd. He could make out a row of shops a little further ahead. As they worked their way through the people, he could make out the specifics of each building. One was for a wide range of groceries, another for various types of fish, and at the very end, there was a shop with the very characteristic Balthier was looking for: a group of wobbly men who sang folk songs in a key all their own all the while tripping over their feet.

A bar trademark.

"I believe we've found our pub." He said triumphantly. He led Fran toward the area.

Before they were even at the door, Fran's nose twitched. The smell of salt air, smoke and especially strong spirits didn't mix well with her senses. She looked at her partner as he corners of his nose twitched, but he entered in with little hesitation.

She forced herself to follow him inside, feeling just a little ill as the scent of liquor, salt and sweat hit her at full force.

Balthier paused, and frowned. He could see the definite uneasiness in Fran's face. "Are you alright?"

Fran nodded. It was times like these that made her miss the fresh floral scent of The Wood. Humes produced some ghastly smells at times. "I will be fine."

Balthier nodded and chose a table just a little ways away from the bar. They were in earshot of whatever the barkeep happened to say, but far enough in the crowd to where whatever they discussed couldn't be heard without some difficulty.

Balthier sat facing the bar, and Fran sat in front of him, folding her long arms across the table top.

"All we need to do now is wait for someone to mention a topic of interest," he said with a grin.

Fran didn't seem to like the plan at all. A firm frown curved her lips. "I don't think that will work out as well as you seem to think."

Balthier frowned. "I can't think of a better way. It wouldn't be wise to go up and ask him where we could find some treasure. That would most likely give away our…profession." He sighed looking around. "We'll just wait for a little while. It shouldn't take too long."

A small smile crossed his lips. "Of course…" he tipped his head toward a pair sitting a few tables away. They sat close, eyes darting back and fourth nervously as they spoke quietly. "Since you aren't using your senses to pick up the delicate sounds of whispering vegetation, you can use them to pick up on…conversations."

Fran sent him an indignant glare, but she couldn't deny that it would get them out of there faster…

Wordlessly, she focused in on the conversation.

Balthier watched as her ears twitched. Hopefully this would turn out well. He was eager to get started.

A moment later, Fran turned her attention back to him and glared.

"I'm not sure what a very long list of numbers, the color yellow, and the market value for Behemoth fur has to do with treasure. Unless you Humes believe colors and numbers have some sort of direct monetary value, it is a code."

Balthier growled. "Well, there are at least half a dozen more tables with shady bandits. Perhaps one of them will produce some information we can use."

Fran exhaled silently, and turned her attention to another table.

XxX

Nearly thirty minutes later, a slightly pale fleshed Fran had listened in on every conversation within the bar. Of all the discussions, five were spoken in code, three involved a black market scheme, two involved a woman, and the rest were drunken slurs Fran couldn't even begin to repeat.

Balthier drummed his fingers in irritation on the rickety table. All those discussions and not one of them could help in the least. Breaking codes could take a significant amount of time, and they'd been there long enough. The smell was ebbing at his senses too. "Alright Fran, we move to plan B immediately." He shifted his gaze to the bar.

"And that is?" Fran asked crossly.

"We bait the bartender." He answered in an annoyed grunt before standing and making his way to the bar. Fran followed.

The old man tending to the drinks was engaged in conversation with a pair of bar goers, laughing heartily. He slapped the counter with his thick wrinkled hand as the two got up to leave, but as soon as Balthier chose a seat, he was immediately silent.

He looked at Fran oddly for a moment, before shaking his head, and muttering something under his breath. "What'll you have?" He asked after a time.

Balthier sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. It was best to get this done and over with. "A tall glass of your--."

"We've only got ale here. One type." His reply was short.

Balthier nodded. "Okay, I'll take two then." Perhaps this was going to be a bit harder than he thought.

The bartender lifted one of his hairy brows at the two, shrugged, and filled two mugs of frothy ale. He slid them down the counter, and Balthier grabbed his, and slid Fran's toward her.

The Viera wrinkled her nose at the drink before picking it up. She imagined it would have made a much better impression if she partook, but the smell was almost unbearable.

Balthier slid the mug across the counter between his palms as he mentally refined his plan. It was a given he knew something, but the man seemed to be rather tight lipped. He kept his eyes low, and concentrated on the mug he was filling. Of course, he knew he wasn't going to give up such information easily, and that was why Balthier had to play his cards very carefully.

He took a sip of the ale, trying not to cringe at its strong bitter flavor and tried to speak evenly. "It's kind of busy today."

The tender shrugged before voicing a simple "Eh."

Balthier nodded. "It's my guess they've just got in some big shipment of--what's the main trade ware here?"

The bartender paused and eyed Balthier suspiciously before answering. "…Fur, leather and the like." When he seemed convinced that Balthier was genuinely interested, he continued slowly. "It's doing quite well this season."

"Really?" Balthier asked, sitting back in his chair a little.

"Yeah," he shrugged. "Lotta people comin' 'ere tryin' to make money. It's natural for us to have a lotta wares with so much interest these days."

Balthier offered him a shrug. "We're looking for a way to make a little gil, but fur trading isn't something we're…qualified for."

The bartender put down his glass, and faced Balthier, curling his lip. "I don't know what kind of business you're lookin' for, but I ain't runnin' any kinda scheme here. What the customers talk about ain't got nothin'—"

"We're mechanics." Fran answered, leaning in a little. "Nothing too high paced for us."

"Oh." The bartender said. He nodded, and picked up a glass to polish. "Well, you ought to take up a job like bartendin' then." He chuckled. "Not much to do in the action department unless there's a fight." He set the glass down and rubbed his chin. "Cept, you look a little young for that though." He shrugged. "Might wanna consider it in a few years. Never a shortage of people that want a little liquor."

Balthier looked at Fran briefly before answering with a smirk. "I'll look into it. It seems steady."

"Sure is. Ain't like them marks, or nothin' or them kids that go out lookin' for treasure…"

"Treasure?" Balthier's eyes lit up at the mention of his prize.

The tender frowned, and Balthier caught himself. He took another sip of the ale and tried not to sputter. "--I heard a few people were interested it on my way in. Is there really anything like that here?"

"I don't know." He shrugged, and focused back on the glass.

Balthier grunted. This would require a bit more word maneuvering. "Well, either way, I leave that kind of lunacy to the people that haven't quite found what it is they're good at."

The bartender nodded. "That's right. Ain't got nothin' securing them someplace. That kinda thing is dangerous, they're just throwing away their time like they got it to spare…'Sides, no one ever said what they were lookin' for is actually worth it. It's all a big gamble."

Balthier nodded, having a difficult time agreeing with sentiments he hardly believed, but did so for the benefit later on. "I heard there was kind of a hot spot for treasure a little to the…West?" He shrugged. There's nothing but desert over there. I can imagine how dangerous it is." It was time to start getting some results.

The bartender looked quizzically at Balthier for a moment before scratching his chin. "I don't know nothin' 'bout that. Most of the younger ones come in here braggin' 'bout how they're going to get the one South of here." He waved his rag around. "Somethin' about a cave…I can't remember the whole story. Either way, it's cold business down there. Nothin' but them Yetis 'n things." His eyes bugged a little, and he shook his head. "Whole nest of 'em. Right around that cave…Southern part. In the…Silver…Sliver something." He tapped his chin. "Silv—Silver Flow!"

And for the kill…

"Has anyone found it yet?"

The old man shook his head. "I can't say I've heard anyone has. Too dangerous." He leaned back a little, a reminiscent gleam in his eyes.

Balthier nodded. "I see. Well--."

"I remember this one time, a few years ago, a buddy 'a mine went out there, on a…a…campin'—"

"I—"

"No no, it was a dare! A dare."

"We've really got to be moving..." Balthier said, not bothering to hide the smirk on his face. It disappeared shortly, however when he reached in his pockets for some gil to pay with.

Fran shook her head before placing a small handful of gil on the counter.

"What's that?" He asked, snapping back from thoughts as the gil hit the surface. "Oh yeah…" He shrugged and pocketed the gil. "We'll see ya later."

Balthier nodded, and followed Fran who was already a few paces in front of him. When she pushed the door open, she at once felt the salty afternoon air cleanse her lungs of the potent bar fumes. After a few breaths, the color returned to her cheeks. Balthier wasn't aware of the oxygen he was lacking until he stepped outside. There was just enough difference in the atmosphere to make him slightly light headed for a moment.

The two took a few moments to re-orient themselves with normal atmospheric gasses before proceeding back to the Strahl.

Balthier grinned. That information was extracted in due time, and before long, he would be rewarded with properly pressured water in the shower.

"Not a bad job Fran. It seems we have a rather good lead on some treasure."

Fran nodded, she couldn't help but feel a slight bit of satisfaction in the fact that the plan had worked. Occasionally, she would have to admit her partner was quite sensible. She was a little excited about the next hunt as well. Since the treasure was so hard to retrieve, it would add a bit of prestige to their skill.

Balthier plopped down in the pilot seat. "I'm glad I bought a few extra shirts and some more bullets before we decided to repair the ship. I fear we wouldn't be allowed to consider such a thing if I hadn't."

Fran frowned. "Perhaps we will need more."


And that concluded chapter 8. Whew…please take a few minutes to tell me what you think!