The night was not one of the best night's sleeps Basch had. His bed was too soft, too aristocratic for someone like him. It made him feel guilty for sleeping in it. The room was not too big, but cozy enough to bump into the furniture in methodical pacing, which he had become prone to do. He did not enjoy being here in Archades. Ever since Landis, he felt unwelcome here. The murderous rampage his brother had shoved upon him left a bitter taste in his mouth whenever he thought of him. His sword arm itched, hoping he would encounter him again.
Next door, Ashe was having a fitful sleep, as well. Rasler had been in her dreams for some time now, but he was speaking to her forcefully, demanding Justice for Nabradia. At the Stilshrine, she had seen him in front of her waking eyes. Had Vaan seen him, as well? She felt quite uncomfortable thinking about it. Her husband's spirit would not rest until he was avenged. He had said it himself. He would not let her rest until she had. Tonight, it seemed, was no exception.
Fran was sleeping well, on the floor. She had mused over the family's strangeness. The father killed her partner's brothers for disobeying his orders. Was that normal for the Humes? Her sister had kept the tribe together for many ages. When she had left, Jote had not raised a hand to stop her, but had forbid her re-entry. She did not mind. Why had Balthier's father not just done the same? Was it so shameful to him for his sons to not comply with his will? More importantly, why had they defied him? After all of this, this adventuring, she would have to ask him. But for now, it would have to be left alone.
Vaan and Penelo were in the same room, nowhere near asleep. Originally, they had chosen separate rooms, but the two had thought better of it. They stayed in the room Vaan had picked first. Penelo had to look at everything, pick up anything in the room. Vaan was uneasy about prying through Balthier's family's things. He just wanted to sleep and be ready for the next day. The thought of a light breakfast prepared by their hostess comforted him slightly. She had no one to care for and looked very eager to help. He hoped that she had helped Balthier find something that would make this easier.
"Hey, Vaan, look at this," Penelo whispered loudly. He sat up on the sofa, looking to what she was holding. A painting or something. He must've looked less than thrilled about it. She brought it over to him, so he could see. It was almost as tall as she was. "Light that candle, will you?" He did so with a subdued Fire spell, just enough to melt about the top of the candle. It flared and she tilted the painting against the wall.
It was a family portrait. The elder gentleman looked slantways at whoever was viewing it. His gaze was quite unsettling over the rounded spectacles he wore. A woman, a little younger than he, sat amongst the clan. Her light hair was drawn back tightly, curls spilling down her back. "That must be Balthier's mother, Strahaliane. She's beautiful," Penelo, said. The boys looked just like Balthier did now; the auburn hair and thin nose. One stood next to his father, almost a mirror likeness. His hair was longer though and a bit fuller of face. On the other side, stood another son. His look was regal, a tight vest with a light shirt under it, an aristocratic frown on him. He held his hands in front of him, a large blue ring peeked through his fingers. Another was sitting on the floor, resting on a large pillow. He had spectacles, too, but not the same style as his father's. He wore a high collared jacket with large brass buttons and tan breeches. The fourth stood next to his mother, in front his father. This one was holding his mother's shoulder. He had a devious smirk painted on him. This had to be Balthier.
And then there was Treska. If the boys were all near the same age, she seemed a bit of an afterthought. She sitting across from her brother, on another pillow, a porcelain doll with big dark eyes. She was in a blue dress, buttoned just under her throat. She did not look happy to be there.
"This must've been before Doctor Cid killed the first one of them. They don't look that far apart in age, do they?"
No. Bet it was hard for them," Vaan said, staring at the family. He wished he had more brothers than just Reks. Maybe things would've been different for him. "Come on, Penelo, let's get some sleep."
She looked at him, disapprovingly. She had been exhausted since they stepped onto the airship, but seemed to be way passed her second wind. "But I'm not sleepy, Vaan!"
"Well I am," he snapped. Penelo was taken aback. She spun on her heel and jumped onto the bed. Like a child, she kicked her boots off at his head. He was far too tired to fight with her. "As soon as you quit moving, you'll fall asleep." She petulantly crossed her arms and threw herself back onto the mattress, legs dangling off the edge. He said, more gently, "We're going to need to be well-rested tomorrow, and if you're less than your best, you won't be any good out there. We all need you at your best, Penelo." He looked up at her, but she was already unconscious. He shook his head, laughing to himself and fell into a deep sleep as well.
The siblings were losing their own battles of will. Balthier was trying to stay asleep, but kept awaking up every half hour or so. It was so strange to him to be in one place for a span of time and not be in danger for it. His mind would not let him rest. He rolled over and saw his guardian angel sleepily keeping her vigil. Treska was leaning against the post at the foot of her bed, watching her brother from reddening eyes. Her head kept hitting her chest, jerking her out of sleep over and over. She had a throbbing headache, but she was determined to watch him.
There was a some space of time, neither of them could be sure, when both were finally sleeping. Probably the first time in the whole night. The two were both dreaming the same dream: freedom. Treska's was freedom from her aristocratic prison and a life like Ffamran's. Going wherever she wanted, not dreading the connection to her name and her history. His was the freedom of being rid of his father's legacy, one of madness and bloodshed. And of a family. He had never dreamt of that before. A woman, unknown to him, standing with him on some windswept shore. He could not see her face, but knew he loved her. He felt free here, with his own sons and daughter. Was this how Cid felt, once upon a time? Balthier knew instantly he was dreaming and the surge of wake pulled him away from this fantasy.
He sat straight up on the settee. The dream was gone. He was not angry, but resolved to find it once again. When his vision cleared, he saw where he was. Treska was hanging over the side of the bed, completely asleep. Her hair hung like a curtain over her face. He felt a pang of brotherly guilt for her loving intentions. He crept across the floor in his stocking feet to her bed. Balthier stood a moment regarding her. She was still the same spoiled little dilettante he remembered. Only now, she had the same angry fire that burned under the cool exterior that he carried. He thought to bring her along, have her fight alongside him, stand against the evil that plagued them, more importantly, Ivalice.
She would be brave in battle, he thought. Treska, he knew, was not strong enought to wield a sword, nor any weapon. Never schooled in any magick, unless she had taught herself, something amongst the towers of books in the room. She would fall easily to her father, but would she die in vain? If she survived, and if it was he who fell, would she think him a hero? Balthier thought on her funeral, a morbid thought, from which he tried to distance himself. The image of her in a tomb of wilted flowers was stealing into his mind.
Carefully, he lifted her to a sitting position by the shoulders. Treska's head fell backwards as he put her to bed properly. Balthier pulled the blankets she was on top of out from under her and threw them over her. Her face was almost completely obscured by the pillows' edges. She would remain here. Treska's place was not in battle. She would never be fit for anything more strenuous than choosing dresses or tea parties.
Balthier once again stood. There was no timepiece anywhere in the room, but intuitively, he knew the time was nearing for action. Retracing his steps to the settee, Balthier began his preparations for the day. His vest was rolled under the makeshift bed. He unsnapped the buckle and pulled it over his head, checking over his shoulder if Treska had moved. His boots were difficult to don noiselessly, so he decided to put them on in the hall. The sky pirate picked them up with one hand and moved silently to the door.
The streetlamps shone through the balcony still, casting a shadow ahead of him on the wall. It was strange to see himself reach for the door before he had gotten to it. In a fleeting moment of vanity, he admired the dashing silhouette he cut. The key rested in the lock. It was a giveaway of his departure. He could pick the lock from the hallway to set the key back into the locked position, but he thought his sister would like to know he left through a more conventional route this time.
The key turned in his hand and the heavy door opened. Balthier pushed it open just enough to squeeze through and slipped into the corridor. He leaned in once more, desparately trying to remember anything he could about this place. Damn Ivalice, he thought. This is what I fight for. No treasure in it, to be sure, but perhaps this was enough this time.
With a final resolve, he inched the door closed and quietly brought the knob to position. Balthier set his boots on the floor and stood to put them on. He hated to sit and put on his boots; ruined his cuffs. As he moved for the second, he felt another presence in the hallway. One never to be taken by surprise, he glanced up just enough to recognize a soldier's boots coming slowly toward him.
"You had trouble sleeping, Balthier? I supposed this was your natural habitat."
"You know what they say, old man, about going home?" He buckled his second and pulled himself erect. Basch frowned.
"Some of us wish to try to return."
"And we shall, just maybe not from where we originated. Day is almost upon us. Let's get everyone up – quietly- and make our way to the pantry for a quick breakfast. Can't fight on an empty stomach." He started towards the first door.
"I prefer to fight that way," Basch supplied. "The hunger for retribution is harder to feed."
He came to Ashe's room and paused a moment. Basch decided to wake the younger adventurers first. He could send the girl to awaken her Highness.
Penelo's room was unlocked. Upon closer inspection, it was found to be vacant. There was an adjoining door, which was also unlocked. Basch pushed the door open slowly. The youth was stretched out on the sofa, hair disheveled. He approached quietly. "Vaan," he whispered gruffly. "Get up."
Vaan threw a hand over his face and grumbled. The soldier bent down and shook his arm. "Vaan! The time is now."
"Alright, I'm awake, I'm awake." The boy sat up and stretched his arms over his head.
"Over on the bed," he yawned. "I'll get up." Bleary eyes beginning to focus, Basch headed toward the bed. She was still dead asleep acrossways, her legs hanging off the short end.
"Come on Penelo, time to go."
She sat straight up, eyes closed. "What? Now?"
"Yes Penelo," said Basch. He offered her his hand to pull her off. In her stocking feet, she was much shorter. Her boots must have had incredibly thick soles. "Penelo, go and rouse Lady Ashe. Vaan, gather up your and Penelo's belongings and wait on the lower floor."
Both nodded in assent and went to their duties. Basch exited the room by the front door, catching a glance at a painting standing near the fireplace.
In the hallway, Penelo was just entering Ashe's room, tiptoeing in, while Balthier and Fran were leaving hers. The Viera was wide awake, in her normal subdued demeanor.
"I was just telling Fran that our hostess will not be joining us for breakfast, but invites us to help ourselves." Balthier said coolly. "Let's be on our way, quickly."
Ashe and Penelo emerged in the hallway as the others began toward the corridor's entrance. Vaan brought up the rear with his and Penelo's armaments. The party stood on the mezzanine as Balthier took one final look into the blind darkness. He shut the door as quietly as it permitted and showed the others to where he thought the pantry stood.
The kitchen area was quite clean, perhaps from lack of huge banquets or family meals. The dry goods were kept in a large pantry, and the party made their selections. Fran gazed on the labels, not incredibly hungry. The odd palette of the upper crust turned her stomach vaguely.
"Balthier, where's Treskanatra?" Ashe asked. A split second of thought passed between them. "I see. Then let's be on our way." Vaan and Penelo were cramming the coldcuts from last night's tray into their mouths on the way out.
"I'm right behind you," the remaining Bunansa whispered. "Turn left at the end of the corridor and follow the stairs to the canal." The other five looked at each other questioning silently what he meant to do. Separately, led by Ashe, they departed.
He looked around for a moment, observed the dawn breaking through the high window here. Birds were beginning to wake outside. It felt odd to him, to be standing in the replica of his boyhood home. He wondered if it'd be too much to leave his sister a light breakfast, as an apology. It'd probably take up too much time and he couldn't spare it.
It was painful to open her eyes. Treska had had the oddest dream of her brother's return, and the plan- the plan! She sat bolt upright, eyes bloodshot. Fframran was nowhere to be seen. The sofa was empty, the blankets covered nothing. The window sashes were undisturbed. Stumbling dumbly to the casement, she held her breath as she peered outside. No sign of her brother. Please, no, don't do this to me again…
She ran for the door. The key sat in the lock still, but it had been used. He had left with out saying goodbye. Treska threw open the door and flew down the corridor, hoping she'd bump into him in the darkness. His comrades weren't in their rooms. Empty, empty, empty. Tears streamed from her eyes, heart pounding in her throat. Just like that night.
The door had been shut and locked. Her keys were still in her room! She let out a heartbreaking yelp of frustration as she double backed to her room. The key ring sat on her bedside table. Treska snatched it up and prayed she wasn't too late. In the corridor, she blindly felt for the correct key. A couple of false starts later, she found the right one and freed herself from the wing.
She leapt down the stairs, three, four at a time, leaping the banister to the first floor and ran at full tilt for the kitchen. They had to still be there. The sun was barely up. They were still tired, to be sure. They were still there.
"Ffamran? Where are you?" Coming in she opened the door to the pantry. Nothing but tall shelves and silence. She turned around into the main preparation area. A big island counter stood. A silver tray with a lid stood sat near the edge. Treska approached it like a feral animal, half curious, half terrified. Calming herself incrementally as her fingers lifted the lid, she burst into tears at what she found: Ffamran's ring with the family's crest sat solitary. Like her.
He was gone. Again.