Conversations and Interrogations
Disclaimer: All known and recognisable characters are property of Square Enix, all unknown and unrecognisable characters are mine.
The Archadian Judicial Bureau; Judge Magister Gabranth's private offices
A/N:This story is a sequel to 'Conversations and Negotiations' you do not have to read that one to understand this one, but it might help
P.S: I'm a slave to instant gratification and hate to wait for updates, therefore I endeavour to update my own stories at a rate of knots…so here is the start of the sequel, I will try to update soon, but as I'm floundering in the dark plot wise I can't promise.
'I am opposed to this, Gabranth, it is not right to treat an ally in such a manner.'
The youngest serving Emperor in Archadian Imperial history folded his arms across his chest as he unconsciously twisted his swivel chair slightly as he sat dwarfed behind a glossy, polished desk.
Balthier, currently reclining in a chair facing that monstrous desk, one wrist shackled to the arm of his chair, continued to play despondently with the embroidering on his gold and green vest.
He cheered on the little figurehead. Fran perched on the edge of the desk near him sighed and shook her head; she was used to his occasional childish sulks and did not rise to his bait.
Basch, responsible for the shackle he could have picked in less time than it took to tell about it, did rise to the bait however, casting a frosty glare his way before attempting to appease his lord.
' Lord Larsa there is a grave need to safeguard your life…'
Larsa waved a hand in imperious fashion, 'I am well aware of the alleged conspiracy to take my life Gabranth, but that does not give us the right to force a man to risk his own to save mine.'
'Thank you, Lord Larsa.'
Balthier purred affecting a pretty good imitation of polite respect, and raised an eyebrow insinuatingly to Basch, 'It is good to know someone still values the precepts of freedom and liberty.'
Basch turned to a wire mesh in-tray sat atop a filing cabinet against the wall and picked up a sheaf of papers which he then held them out to Balthier, who had to reach around his inert right hand to take the heavy pile with his left.
Balthier looked down on the first page and read the beginning paragraph, dropping the papers onto the desk after a second with a look of disgust.
'Those are the transcripts of your crimes within the territories of the Empire from Itgar village to Safrosa Bay.' Basch rumbled in his deep bass tones.
'Pretty words on paper. Where is your proof, Your Honour, or does the Judiciary no longer bother with the pretence of gathering evidence to support their allegations?'
Basch simply looked at him a long moment, then pulled a key, dangling on a keyring, from the in-tray with slow and ironic movements.
'We have been forced to convert a small supply room for the purposes of storing the evidence of nigh near eight years of your offences.'
Balthier tossed his head with an air of mild irritation, though a dark part of him was rather pleased his infamy was such that Archades could fill a Judiciary store room with the detritus of his crimes.
'Balthier.' Larsa turned to him, clasping his hands together in penitent sincerity which was so terribly un-Archadian.
'On my word I swear that if you do not wish to assist with this,' here the little lord paused and considered his words, 'endeavour then you will not be forced. I had no prior knowledge of the extradition that bought you here and promise you Archades will not pursue any move to prosecute you.'
Balthier smirked as Basch shook his head clearly irritated, 'May I have that in writing, your Lordship?'
Larsa opened his mouth and then hesitated, the boy was too decent a soul to survive in the empire he thought to rule, but he wasn't stupid, such a written declaration would essentially grant Balthier immunity from the laws of the Empire forever, regardless of what he did hereafter.
Basch's still accented words fell into the ears like the dull ringing of a heavy bell, the warning explicit in his tone.
Balthier continued to smirk contented as a lounging predator in the chair, careless of the shackle around his wrist or his current circumstances, forced back to his country of birth to either face trial or serve as secret protector to the young emperor who was the target of choice for all and sundry assassins and conspirators.
'I'll want payment, compensation for my troubles.' He purred and saw Fran shake her head minutely, the curtain of her loose flowing hair disguising the long-suffering look on her face that only he could read.
Larsa, for all that he was ostensibly willing to set Balthier free, nevertheless looked relieved that he was discussing terms of employment.
'The Lord Larsa does not have a wedding band for you to hold hostage, Balthier.'
Basch sounded increasingly displeased with him, though Balthier did not know why. He had never fully understood why the former Knight felt such antipathy towards him.
' True, your Honour,' Balthier enjoyed using the title against the man, ' however Lord Larsa does have the authority to grant me the rights to my inheritance and assets, which I believe House Solidor has been holding since Dr Cid's death.'
Even Fran looked at him askance at this statement, she knew how he felt about his former life, but whether as Ffamran or Balthier, he was a pragmatic sort of chap.
Due to the fiasco with Ashe and the trial in Dalmasca, he was effectively without a profession, unable to turn back to piracy, and a man, regardless of status or liberty, needed Gil to live.
It was convenient that House Bunansa happened to have eleven generations of accumulated wealth behind it and the deeds to huge swathes of profitable arable and grazing lands between Archades and the border with Landis.
A man could live very well on that revenue and never need set his hand to honest labours, even as he choked on his broken principles and his own hypocrisy.
'I am more than happy to sign over your inheritance to you, Balthier.'
Larsa said a slight frown puckering his pubescent brow, 'However to do so will involve acknowledging your continued existence to the general populace of Archades, I had thought that this might not be agreeable to you.'
Balthier scoffed derisively, 'Most of Archades is well aware of my identity and continued existence and have been since our little excursion to Draklor to years ago.'
He retorted mildly, though in truth the thought of taking on the mantle of Sir Bunansa made him feel faintly ill.
But the wheels in his head were turning, plans within plans, half obscured from conscious thought by the veil of self-denial. He would need his title and his wealth soon enough if he was to affect an escape from this most recent calamity to befall him.
Larsa smiled, the smile of a small boy filled with hope, idealism and forthright conviction.
Truly, Balthier thought unkindly, it was no wonder his life was in the target hairs of every killer for hire and deranged malcontent in the Empire. What else could you do with such an angelic paragon of virtue but kill him?
'Thank you, Balthier, and to you also Fran, I am glad to have such allies as you both.' The blue eyed boy looked over to the metallic visage of his protector, still smiling.
'And you also Gabranth.'
'Lordship.' Gabranth nodded deeply, a slight smile touching his lips.
Balthier was fast developing a tension headache behind his right eye, and sighed noisily at this saccharine display, awarding him a slight frown from the silent Fran.
' Well now we are all friends again.'
Balthier drawled dispassionately, 'Perhaps Gabranth would be so kind as to release me from this chair? I have had a trying few days and would like a bath and a square meal before setting about ensuring your Lordship's rightful longevity.'
Basch twitched slightly at the mocking lilt Balthier put to his assumed name, but moved over to unfasten the shackle for him.
' Of course Sir Bunansa.'
Balthier met the cool blue eyes of the former Knight, current Judge Magister, and self-appointed thorn in his side, unable to hide his ire. He and the Magister were going to have to have words or this arrangement would not last long.
Really, Balthier thought irritably, he was already sharing Fran with the man, and without complaint, it was quite intolerable that the Judge persisted in persecuting him for his dalliance with Ashe.
'Lord Larsa, I will escort Balthier to his accommodations.' Basch declared and Larsa nodded, stifling a yawn. It was late and probably well passed the Emperor's bedtime.
Balthier frowned slightly at Fran who remained perched on the edge of the desk, He raised an eyebrow inquiringly.
'I will remain here with Larsa.'
She stated calmly leaving Balthier to wonder if the boy was in more immediate danger of his life than he had thought or if prolonged exposure to Basch had left Fran with an over-developed sense of both loyalty and paranoia.
He hoped not, he had spent years diligently behaving in the most self-centred and care free of manners, simply to give Fran a chance to live a little. He did not want to see his friend become a slave to duty where once she was a slave to an unfeeling and decidedly overbearing collection of mystical flora in Golmore.
Balthier sauntered along the almost glossy, red pillared, corridors of the Judiciary building trying not to note the changes made to the building since his time clanking up and down its corridors as Archades most dedicatedly awful and inept Judge since the inception of the Judiciary.
'We had an agreement, Balthier, I had thought you a man of your word.'
Basch spoke coldly as he led the way through the building towards a new annex that had not existed when Ffamran had called Archades home.
'An agreement I adhered to, to the letter. If there is fault, look to your own self, your Honour.' Balthier rebuffed him equally coldly.
To think if it had not been for his own open mindedness towards the notion of evil twin brothers, Basch might still be swinging from a giant cage in the depths of a dungeon, or worse, skewered on the sword of an angry, impulsive, street urchin's sword.
'My fault?' Basch never grew angry, or raised his voice, but his accent grew deeper and his enunciation more guttural with his ill-temper.
'I asked you in good faith before Bahamut to leave Ashelia be, you agreed to the terms.'
Balthier smirked, though a hot wedge of irritation shading towards anger tightened his chest and twisted his heart.
He remembered that conversation well enough. Basch's calm and reasonable request made as the man methodically and deliberately sharpened his Save the Queen and fixed Balthier with a gaze that spoke clearly of much experience killing his fellow man.
A request that involved Balthier engineering his own disappearance upon Dalmasca restoration and promising never to return to darken the Queen's doorstep again.
The reward for breaking all contact with Ashe was supposedly his freedom to continue his business unmolested by the Archadian Judiciary. It seemed to Balthier that, present circumstances considered, Basch had been the one to break faith first.
'I fulfilled my end of the bargain, as I have said. It was not my fault that Ashe herself had other ideas.'
Balthier snapped trying to walk by the man through the open doorway he could see led to a private apartment of rooms hidden, within a labyrinth of narrow, curving corridors, from the hive of activity that made up the rest of the Judiciary building. The perfect place to secret a fallen gentleman turned unwilling spy master.
'I pretended to be dead for a year, allowed Vaan, of all people, free reign over my most prized possession all that time simply to ensure your precious Ashelia was unmolested by my corrupting presence.'
A hand, covered in a metal gauntlet, caught his arm and prevented him from entering the suite.
'Do you intend to tell me that you do not now pursue her Majesty as you once did when we travelled together?' Basch sounded disbelieving.
Balthier looked from the man's eyes to the man's metal sheaved hand on his pristine white sleeve and swallowed down his anger.
'I do not intent to tell you anything, Basch Fon Ronsenberg, I owe you no explanation and will offer no justification for any of my actions.' He sneered.
'Now kindly let go of me before you soil my sleeve, I doubt a civil servant could afford the repair bill, should you stain my shirt.'
Basch let go but his eyes said clearly that he had not let go of the issue between them.
'Fran tells me you did not contrive to be captured by the Dalmascan Guard that this trial was of Ashelia's devising. That it was she who sought you out.'
Basch frowned thoughtfully, 'I find the notion that you are innocent of any connivance in this matter difficult to accept.'
Balthier smiled coldly, 'Then you call Fran a liar and will have to live with your conscience on that.'
He turned and walked through the threshold of the doorway into a lavishly appointed sitting room, the walls decorated with gilt inlay and the crystallights diffused in red stained glass wall sconces.
Balthier experienced a moment of paradoxically panic and elation, he was home, in a world as instantly familiar as his own face in a mirror, and he hated it to the very core of his being.
As he stood looking over the fine cherry wood furniture and damask and brocade upholstered sofa, the huge roll top desk pushed against the wall and the secluded, covered balcony, Balthier spoke to the man who was once an ally, but who now lingered in the doorway like a gaoler.
'You do not know me, Basch Fon Ronsenberg, and that you presume to judge me says more for the deficits of your character than it does of mine.'
He walked forward across the lushly carpeted living room and opened a door at random, revealing a moonlight bathed bedroom and a simply staggeringly large four poster bed, mounded with pillows. The bedroom walls were lined with books.
Ignoring Basch, Balthier walked over and pulled one volume from the shelves, as he expected the book was one of his own, removed from the numerous chests hidden in the Strahl's hold by Fran.
A quick perusal of the wardrobe confirmed that Fran had also transported his clothing (all of it, which was no small task) and furnished his wardrobe ready for him. No doubt the adjoining bathroom would be equally filled with his personal affects.
So it was all done, was it? He thought wryly, he had been smoothly moved from one gilded cage to another and there was nothing to do but sit pretty and sing for his masters.
Distantly, as he looked disconsolately around his new prison, he heard Basch close and lock the main door of the suite behind him, reminding him, in less than subtle manner, of his true status here as prisoner.
He knew as surely as he knew his own name (both his names) that Fran would be here shortly, with key to his cell and floor plans so he would have the knowledge he needed to grant himself the illusion of freedom.
She would no doubt grant him the chance to escape, if he desired, though he knew she would not accompany him, her mind and will was set on this task, to save the life of a boy-emperor, and nothing would dissuade her.
Of course if Fran stayed he stayed, though he was man enough to admit, in the depths of his own thoughts, silent under the Archadian moon, less sweet than the one that hung over the Fortress of Nalbina so many miles away that he feared he was losing his partner.
Balthier slumped down on the edge of the over-fluffed bedspread and peeled off the gloves from his hands, looking on the rings that adored his index finger and fore finger, pink and blue, the one, green and yellow, the other. He had rarely felt so bereft or alone.
He missed his airship, his freedom to roam, his peace of mind that he was governed only by the whims of his own capricious will, but most of all, and unavoidably like a dull ache and a sense of vague disassociation, he missed her.
Balthier missed his Queen.