Being locked in a chamber with a room full of panicking maids wasn't too bad, was it? Balthier pressed himself against the door, listening to clanking metal suits out in the hallways as the call of "INTRUDER" rang throughout the palace. Fran desperately tried to keep the panicked housekeepers as quiet as mice. Whenever the viera would get too close, however, they'd shriek like children and shirk back with brooms and dusters in hand, prepped to use them as impromptu weapons against the "attackers." The guards outside hustled and bustled, the halls filled with their threats and orders.

This? This was not good. This was far from good. This was nightmarish.

Things would have been okay, had Balthier known the place was full of more Imperial personnel than Draklor, Dreadnought Leviathan, and Bahamut combined. If he had known that, he would have told Fran "no" and scaled buildings in Tsenoble to find her damned honey, and all of this could have been avoided. All of this. This was crazy. This was stupid. This was...

This was stupidly crazy. Or crazily stupid. Whichever floated your boat.

"Out of morbid curiosity, what other ingredients do you need if we get out of here?" Balthier asked, arms spread wide against the door with his feet planted firmly on the ground as he leaned his weight into it. Fran considered, tapping her lips. She waved her finger as though to indicate a direction, stating, "The ears of a dreamhare, throat wolf blood, some must from a rare strain of basilisk, six pinches of stardust, two malboro flowers, unpurified ether, and a couple of sticks of white incense. Along with some herbs and plants."

He blinked.

"So, we need to fight bunnies, dogs, and snakes? You mean to tell me that gathering HONEY is the most dangerous part of this little quest of yours?"

"I had no idea that we would have to ask Larsa for some," she replied. "I had no idea that it would be so hard to get to a kid that we know."

"I hear them! They're in here!" a voice boomed from outside. Fran's ears twitched as she and Balthier stared at each other, Balthier's eyes wide in terror as he braced himself for the coming impact. Fran, however, was much less concerned. If anything, she was intrigued. Stepping away from the maids, who all seemed to squawk and scatter like hens, she slowly approached the door. She could have, and probably should have, instructed Balthier to move. However, the words didn't slip out of her mouth fast enough. There was a loud bang, cracking wood, and Balthier flipped forward like he was launched out of a catapult. Going head-over-heels, he landed with a loud crack and hiss of pain on his back in the middle of the floor, clutching the back of his head and quite thankful that he didn't feel blood. He looked up at Fran (a nice view) and grunted before flopping back, raising his hands over his head as he remained sprawled on the tile, never looking as he sighed, "Oh, alright. You caught me. I know it's not Nalbina again, since its no longer yours, so you better hope wherever you send me doesn't have an equally obvious hole in the wall."

Silence. The advance of the soldiers stopped, all except for one seemingly very heavy one. Armor clopped and clanked and clanged, the approach slow and cautious. Balthier could see the look on Fran's face; she was far from concerned. He was confused as to why she was so calm, until the visage of the approaching guard (or Judge, as it were) was suddenly hovering over him. Balthier was expressionless as he gazed up at that familiar face, with the blond facial hair, blue eyes, striking features, and facial scar. The only thing missing was his long, unkempt hair. No, it seemed he had learned what a pair of scissors were. All in all, he looked dashing enough to give Balthier a run for his money. Although, Balthier mulled with a stupid grin, he would always be younger.


His voice was shaken, confused, and flustered. The pirate couldn't tell if he was aggravated, surprised, or relieved that it wasn't anything too big. Balthier positioned his hand in a mock wave on the floor, uttering the words, "Hello Baaaaa... Gabranth."

He almost forgot that fon Ronsenberg no longer went by his real name. He was filling in for the former Gabranth, a Mr. Noah fon Ronsenberg. Nobody had noticed the switch, apparently, despite Basch's severe lack of his twin's beauty mark. Mayhap the other soldiers and the surviving Judge Magister just imagined that he lost it in a fight. Or something. Maybe that he traded it in for that manly scar of his. Or maybe they knew and just didn't say anything because they damn well didn't care. It could be any number of reasons, really.

"Balthier, what in the Emperor's name...?"

"I can explain, really," the pirate groaned, trying unsuccessfully to sit up. "While it looks like I took a room full of housekeepers hostage, I assure you that's not the case."

"We were hiding," Fran interrupted. Basch looked up at the viera and nodded, holstering his sword and dismissing the others with a wave of his hand. One of the soldiers began to protest, but was cut short by a scowl and cold stare. Deciding that his superior obviously knew what he was doing, he bowed respectfully and scampered off after his brethren. Seeing their chance to flee, the maids stampeded out like a herd of cattle, their heels clattering against the tile as they moved as fast as their pumps would allow.

"With all due respect, you must understand that when a couple of suspicious looking characters come in through the bloody fourth-story window, we have to wonder just what the bleeding hell is going on," Basch snapped, obviously annoyed. "You... you two are beyond me. Do you always enter buildings like this?"

"We would have came in through the front door, but given our reputation we'd likely be turned away," Balthier responded. "We came in the only way we knew how. We weren't intending to steal anything, pirate's honor."

"Do pirate's have honor?"

"I'd like to think the pirate that helped put your princess in her throne has some. You know, the one who got you out of Nalbina? And kept Rabanastre from going up in flames? Show some respect for your leading man, Basch. I think I've done enough to prove myself to the likes of you."

"Technically, Vaan and I got him out of Nalbina," Fran corrected. "Vaan attracted the guards, and I was forced to drop the cage because of it."

"Well, I kept Vaan from killing him."

"True," Fran replied, reaching down to aid her partner to his feet. Balthier staggered and brushed himself off, coughing a bit as he still struggled to recover from having the wind knocked clean out of him. The world spun momentarily, the pirate carefully shaking his head until it stopped twirling and dancing around him.

"What brings you here?" Basch demanded. "I see no reason for your presence, aside from thievery."

"You'd have to ask Fran. Surprisingly enough, this was her idea," Balthier spat. "Go ahead, Fran. Tell the man about your dire need for Tsenoble honey."

Basch's brow furrowed, Fran merely smiling at him and saying quietly, "I think it would be best if we saw Larsa first."

Black hair shining in the sunlight and desk piled with papers that he had to sign, he could hear the whir of airships outside, as they zipped to and fro in his airspace, flagships and Imperial fleets constantly circling the palace to ensure there was no attack. That didn't stop intruders from getting in anyway, apparently. He had heard the soldiers out and about, screaming and yelling and carrying on. He probably should have cared, but he couldn't bring himself to. Those who found the fourteen-year-old Emperor an easy target would soon find themselves sorely mistaken. He knew how to use a sword for one, and he had cut down things many times worse than a common assassin.

Like the moss-covered wyrm in Golmore Jungle, or the terrifying Tiamat at Henne Mines. If he could assist in felling a beast that was likely eighteen times the size of a full grown man when he was twelve, a couple more years of experience would prove to make him almost invincible.

Like his late brother. Only significantly less violent and crazy.

Signing another paper and setting it aside, he looked up at the old Judge Magister by his side. Judge Zargabaath was the only Magister who managed to claw his way out of the incident with Vayne Solidor alive. Judge Ghis, ambitious, had somehow managed to sink a dreadnought and the entire fleet through the use of nethicite. Judge Drace had been killed on Vayne's command after figuring out that Emperor Gramis' assassination was carried out by his son rather than the Senate. Judge Bergan? Oh, that madman laid waste to a holy mountain after lacing his bones with nethicite, only to be slaughtered by the now queen of Dalmasca and his current Gabranth replacement. Zargabaath? Quiet and out of the way, he stayed out of the crosshairs of either side. While he obeyed his orders, he did so in the most efficient and least bloody way possible. He was a man of duty who truly cared for his post and the people, constantly exposed to corruption yet never falling to it. He almost lost his life, two years prior. The massive flagship, Bahamut, suffered an engine failure and almost crashed into the royal Dalmascan city of Rabanastre.

Zargabaath was willing to end his life and sink his ship it order to ram it out of the way. His attempts had been stopped by a transmission from aboard the Bahamut, a set of criminals, a duo of sky pirates who Zargabaath had never met, having holed themselves within to jumpstart the engine just enough to steer it to someplace safe to crash. Said pirates were feared dead for a year, until Larsa found himself entangled in their affairs with a peculiar individual who sought eternal life. It was enough to reassure the young emperor that the good people still lived, and he had since been writing them fairly often. They never responded, but it was good to let them know he still thought fondly of them.

"Do you think they found the intruders?" Larsa asked Zargabaath bluntly. The judge laughed, responding, "I no longer hear a commotion. Either they escaped, or Gabranth managed."

"I wonder who it was."

"A rat and a rabbit," a voice called from the entrance of the chamber. Donning his helmet and cape flowing behind him, Basch slowly strode up to the Emperor, bowing a bit as a show of respect. Larsa nodded in response, glancing past his judge once he realized a couple of figures tagging along behind him. It barely took him a second to recognize the man who looked suspiciously like Dr. Cid, and the woman with the tall, speckled rabbit ears standing tall atop her head. Well, speak of the devil! The pirates had arrived!

With childlike impatience, Larsa immediately lost his composure and leapt up from his desk. Zargabaath seemed a bit shocked by the unprofessional show, Basch only laughing as he sat his helm on the side of the desk and looked back at his two former comrades and the young emperor. Larsa basically threw himself on Balthier and Fran, managing somehow to wrap the two in a giddy hug despite the distance between them. Some things never changed. Larsa's loyalty to those who had done him well was one of them. To the kid, it mattered not that the people who stood before him likely had bounties on their heads worth more than the entirety of his palace. No, he just remembered them as the ones who helped him stop a war, and saved him from his brother.

"Fran! Balthier!" Larsa's voice chimed, dripping with excitement as he spoke. "I had heard you two were in town."

"Word travels fast in Archades," Balthier chuckled, patting the emperor on the head and rustling his hair. He may have been a teenager now, but he'd always be that same little kid who seemed too smart for his own good.

"I heard a beggar attacked you in Tsenoble," the emperor stated worriedly. "Are you alright?"

"That was no beggar. That was Jules. He's like a nanna in human skin. He's about as stupid, and his job is only slightly less degrading," the pirate grunted with a roll of his eyes. "Anyway, dear Larsa, we were just in the neighborhood and decided to swing by, jump in a window, get chased by your guards, and end up accidentally taking a bunch of your housekeepers hostage. I hope you're not offended by our sudden dropping in."

"In retrospect, we probably should have just pulled the Strahl around front and asked to speak with Ba... Gabranth," Fran added. Balthier waved his hand dismissively at her, snorting as he answered this with, "Pfff, that wouldn't be very sky-pirate like, now would it?"

"No. But Gabranth wouldn't have laid you out."

"Laid me out? Fran! I am invincible. Merely a shock to the system is all!"

"You flew the length of a baratine croc. And you thought you broke your skull on the floor."

"That was a show, Fran. To make Gabranth feel better about himself."

"You are a good actor."

"You forget: leading man."

Larsa laughed and made his way back to the desk, gesturing to a couple of seats that sat before it. Fran nodded a thank-you and gracefully took her seat, holding herself straight and proud in the presence of such nobility. Balthier apparently found this unnecessary, understandable considering that he did believe he was the most important man on earth. Throwing himself into the plush seat and leaning on his elbow, he crossed his legs and grinned dumbly at the kid. He was itching to announce what it was that brought them there. He was eager to see Larsa's face when he learned Fran had been wanting to inquire about his bees. Before he had the chance to blurt it out Basch opened his big mouth, however. Balthier clenched his fist and bit his lip, feeling the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity being stolen away by the middle-aged bastard in a tin can.

"Fran came with a peculiar request," the Judge proclaimed. Larsa raised an eyebrow and looked up at Basch with a perplexed expression.


"She came to inquire about your hives. Apparently she has been searching high and low throughout Archades for honey made by bees in Tsenoble. A hapless endeavor, unless one were to count His Highness' hives in the garden."

"Is there a reason?" Zargabaath asked before anyone else could, obviously bewildered. Balthier supressed a laugh, it coming out as a strange muffled noise that tickled the back of his throat. The looks on their faces were priceless. Sure, he was laughing at his lady's expense, but she seemed not too bothered by it. It's not like she expected them to understand, in the same way she didn't expect Balthier to understand.

"I need honey made from the flowers of Balthier's home. He was born in Tsenoble. The vegetation around here, Central, and Tsenoble is similar, but vastly different from that of Nilbasse and Old Archades. It is because you can afford all manner of exotic flowers, which have become naturalized in more moneyed areas of Archades."

"Why Balthier?" Basch asked skeptically. Fran swallowed hard, especially when she noticed Balthier looking eagerly at her, chiming in with the words, "Yes, Fran. Why me? I've been dragged on this goose chase since you found that weird plant at the Estersand, and I've yet to be told why this is such an important errand."

"It is a personal viera matter I cannot discuss," she replied bluntly. "Not in front of people."

That sounded much more insulting than it should have. She could see Larsa, Basch, and feel Zargabaath looking at her with hurt or anger on their face. Clearing her throat she bowed her head, muttering, "My apologies. I can tell you as much: it is necessary for an augmenting elixir that I wish to administer to Balthier."

"Augment? What do I need to augment?" Balthier demanded, slightly offended. "Are you insinuating that I..."

He suddenly remembered: kid in the room. He let his words drawl and die off, but glared at Fran to try to drill in what he meant. It seemed all but Larsa understood as well, as Basch uttered a laugh that he tried to mask as a cough, and Zargabaath fell more quiet than usual. Larsa, ever innocent, only stared dumbly at the duo before asking, "Insinuating what?"

Zargabaath, at the opposite side of Larsa, shifted his weight uneasily. He was far, far too old and far, far too dignified for this sort of thing. It worried him that this pirate was the sort of person Larsa at one time did regular business with.

"I am not insinuating that you are... inadequate," Fran replied coldly, a bit bothered by the subject being brought up in front of the young emperor.

"Then what does it... augment?" the mildly embarrassed pirate asked.

She tried to think of the best way to put it. It was difficult. She couldn't come right out and say "it'll make you twice as longevous." That would clue the others in on just exactly what she meant. She had to think of a more subtle way of putting it. What was the closest thing she could say to that, without actually saying it...?

"Stamina?" she stated with a shrug. Balthier only bowed his head and coughed, scratching the side of his nose as he huffed, "By the gods, Fran. How many hours are you pushing for?"

"Hours of what?" Larsa asked, lost in the entire conversation. Zargabaath sputtered before trying to explain, "Erm... Um... Strenuous activity, sire. One you will not have to worry about for a long... long time. I would hope."

"It's not like that," Fran calmly responded. "Not that kind of stamina."

"There's a certain kind of stamina?" Larsa mulled. Zargabaath dropped his head; he would have slammed his palm so hard into his forehead it would have broken his skull, had he not been wearing the helmet. It very well saved his life, so it seemed. Waving his hand to Basch, he grunted, "Ask your guard later. He'll tell you."

"I didn't mean it in that way," the viera repeated, waving her hand. "This has nothing to do with things of that nature. If I may say so, I find you quite..."

What would be a good word to restore Balthier's obviously wounded ego?

"Divine," she finished, adding a small smirk for emphasis. "You needn't worry about such a thing."

Balthier sighed in relief, falling further into his seat as he dramatically slammed his hand into his chest as though recovering from a mortifying scare. Breathless, he announced, "Oh, thank gods. I thought I was losing my touch."

"Touch with what?" the suddenly indignant emperor demanded. Balthier looked at him and cocked an eyebrow, asking, "You're what? Fourteen? And you're so in the dark?"

"I am a fourteen-year-old boy who sits at a desk all day, signing papers thanks to my brother dissolving the Senate before my reign," the young Solidor answered. "I live a very sheltered life."

Balthier considered for a moment. Well, earlier in the day he was bemoaning the fact that he missed a rather comedic opportunity in earlier years. This would be an opportunity to make up for it. Clapping his hands together and standing up, he leaned over Larsa's desk and smiled. Basch should thank him for this, for not having to explain the basics later on. He didn't think the man's knightly attitude would allow him to bring up such a topic in the first place. Ha, if Larsa remained so sheltered, the end of the Solidor line would be the young lord.

"Well, Larsa, if you are as lost as you claim I must say that my faith in Archadian education is next to nonexistent. Let's say you let Fran go take a visit to your hives with Zargabaath and Gabranth? I have a life lesson to teach you in private."

"I should think not," Basch barked. "Balthier, you are the last person I'd want teaching a child about that subject."

"You think me a whore?" he gasped, feinting offense. "I assure you I am merely a womanizer. That woman with the big ears is the only person lucky enough to get any more than a kiss. Except a couple of times while I was drunk, but we don't bring up that because it ticks her off. I assure you, my old friend, that I won't destroy the boy's mind. Now..." He gave Basch a hard shove away from the desk. "... go be a good boy and help Fran."

Fran sat in the cabin of the Strahl on the edge of their bed, gazing at her Mesmer Bramble with a jar of fresh honey in her graceful hands. An extra jar was at her feet, Larsa insisting that they take a bit extra out of fear that they may need food. He was such a considerate kid, and obviously had been very happy to see them regardless of the fact that they only showed up to ask a favor.

She had been floored by his gardens, up on the roof of the palace. That boy obviously loved his flora, that was for sure. As soon as she stepped out with Basch, Zargabaath having took his leave after being summoned off to tend to more pressing affairs, the viera could have sworn she was in Eruyt Village yet again. Glittering flowers moist with dew sang in careful rows, blowing a sweet fragrance that danced about the lush dogwood trees and ferns that tangled with the vines that clung vigorously to lattices. Vegetables and fruit were fresh for the taking, butterflies and ladybeetles decorating the plants like fine jewelry. The hives were kept in the very back, Basch utterly surprised when Fran informed him they need not get the beekeeper. She had dealt with bees enough in her past to know what she was doing: a sleep spell on the hive, before reaching in to grab at a comb. She had broke off a chunk, insisting to take it as is before the Judge offered her a jar and told her it would probably be much more sanitary to do it his way.

Well, more convenient perhaps. She was pretty sure her hands were clean enough to handle the comb herself, but she couldn't argue that it was easier to carry in the little glass container.

She wished they could have stayed around longer but soon after Larsa emerged from having "the talk" with Balthier, and announced loud enough for everyone to hear that he was never having children, Balthier wagging his finger with the remark of, "You say that now, but everybody with kids says that at some point in their life." Basch had been a bit peeved, telling Balthier he should probably go before he destroyed the poor emperor's mind, which led to an argument between the two headstrong males over whether or not it was a good thing to shelter Larsa from everything but paperwork. It almost came to blows, what with Basch becoming more impatient with his gaining years and heavy duties, and Balthier being... well, Balthier. That man would punch a songbird for singing too early in the morning.

She tossed the jar back and forth in her hands before setting it next to the Mesmer Bramble's pot. Placing her hands in her lap, she glanced over her shoulder and called into the cockpit, "Balthier?"

"Yes, Fran?"

"Could you come here?"

It was time, she decided. They were in private aboard his ship, nobody around to eavesdrop on what she was to say. She would now make it known to her beloved partner her intentions, and hopefully not scare him away in the process. As she heard his shoes pad against the metal floor of the Strahl, her heart skipped a beat. Would he turn it down, and if he did what would she do? She knew she would be crushed if such a thing were to happen, but surely a man as conceited as Balthier couldn't turn down the opportunity to bask in the glory of youth for an indefinite amount of him. She twirled her hair worriedly as she sensed him coming up behind her, ears drooping until she felt a hand snake around her waist and felt him take a seat at her side. Looking over at him, she saw him staring straight ahead at the Mesmer Bramble, moving his head this way and that to view it from different angles. As the lighting changed from his shifting position, so did its color. He seemed mesmerized, the plant obviously living up to its name.

"What a peculiar plant," he finally stated, pulling Fran a bit closer to him. "I'd dare say it's the prettiest little thing I've seen in all my life, but that would be a lie and we both know it."

"You flatter," she said coldly. Playfully, he tossed back his head and snorted, "Who said I was talking about you?"

She shoved him hard, him tumbling off the bed. Balthier hit the ground with a laugh. At long last, Fran was acting like herself once more. He had become a bit worried with her sudden, uncharacteristic shows of kindness, ambition, and the terrifying giddiness she had exhibited on a handful of occasions. He liked having "mean" Fran back. It was that strength of hers that always attracted him, the way she always seemed to exude an aura that let him know she didn't need him and he was fortunate she was putting up with him. It added an air of taboo to things, of risk. Sure, he knew she loved him and he doubted she'd leave, but there was always that sort of feeling he got when she acted like this, somewhat akin to the thrill of taking on a gamble.

"I can't help that I'm beautiful," he said, clambering up from the floor. She looked down at him and twitched her nose, simply stating, "If you insist on talking like that, I would advise staying down."

"Okay, fine. Fine, I'll stop."

He held up his hand as a sign of surrender, resuming his seat beside the viera. He stared blankly at the bramble again, tilting his head one way and then the other, watching it glitter from blue to orange to gold and green. It reminded him of a tuft of phoenix down, shining in a rainbow of hues that seemed to be ever-shifting. Fran chuckled at his seeming obsession with the plant, inquiring, "It is interesting, is it not?"

"Too bad I don't know what it does," he replied. "With how you were acting, I thought perhaps it had the same effect on a person as licking a toad."

"I was excited," she explained. "Do forgive me for such behavior. I know I am not oft given to moments of such emotion, and it may have very well been disturbing to you. However, just as any other living being, I experience a spectrum of feelings. Excitement is one I am not prone to, but one I am not skilled at controlling."

"Why so much excitement over a plant?"

"It is a sacred plant of the viera people," she explained, touching one of its leaves gingerly. "It is an entity not to leave the Wood, growing only in viera groves and typically wilting and losing its power after taken from the bounds of the land of my people. To see it alive in the world of Humes is an impossible thing, yet it has fallen into my care. Truly, the Wood has chosen to bless its daughter, though why I cannot say. Perhaps she knows of my deeds, or mayhap I have helped the viera of Eruyt in a manner it deemed suitable of reward."

"Well, you certainly have put up with enough to warrant a reward, though I had thought being graced with my presence was quite a reward in and of itself."

"You are possibly the most arrogant Hume alive."

"Not arrogant, Fran. Confident."

"Your confidence, then, borders on egomaniacal."

The two sat in silence, eying the plant still. Fran cleared her throat, picking up the pot from where it sat and holding in front of Balthier, urging him to take it with a nod and a slight shove forward. He grasped it in his hands, her releasing her grip when she was sure he had his. He lifted the pot up to the light and turned it, admiring the bramble's myriad of colors and distinct shine. She smiled, amused that the man was even capable of being so awestruck by nature. He had never seemed to care much for it before.

"It's sacred, eh?" he asked. "I can see why. This thing looks almost as though the gods dropped it out of the heavens."

"It is not just the appearance. It is a mystic plant, very powerful and the primary ingredient in the most potent of viera elixirs. It is a plant that absorbs copious amounts of Mist, growing more powerful with the passing days. Within a week's time, a sapling plant carries with it enough power to rival a crate of magicite."

"It's nethicite as a plant?" Balthier asked curiously. Fran shook her head, taking the plant back from him and setting it on its designated spot at the bedside table.

"No. It is a creation of life, not destruction. It does not harm. It does only good. One could never use it as a weapon, as it is meant to give life and never to take. Just as the Wood. The Wood gives, and never takes."

"I have scars that say otherwise," he argued, wincing in fond rememberance of a particular moss-covered wyrm that had set upon them in Golmore Jungle. Fran's sister, Jote, had warned that the Wood was jealous of the Humes that took its daughter, but it had apparently been very prejudiced against Balthier in particular. He could still remember inhaling lungfuls of toxic pollen and spores, being so disoriented and enraged that he almost shot himself on accident, and generally being swiped, raked, and trampled by the bastard. That creature had practically mopped the floor with him. The Wood never takes? He'd gamble his soul to say otherwise. That thing obviously wanted to take him somewhere.

"I digress," she coldly snapped in response, before regaining her composure. "The Mesmer Bramble is used in a potion that the viera of the Wood administer to themselves when they come of age. The Bramble slows aging to a crawl. While the effects wear off in due time, it can add a hefty amount of years onto one's lifespan. It works, regardless of species or race. This I know by accident. Jote, in her youth, once grew curious and fed some to a Mu. It... still lives."

Balthier raised an eyebrow, looking at Fran skeptically and slowly urging, "Aaaaand?"

"And, I think the Wood has gifted my deeds with the Bramble. Perhaps Jote did not lie when she informed me that the Wood did not despise me. Perhaps it was jealous of the Humes who took me. Mayhap it is over its jealousy."


"And, I would seek to bestow you with the Gift. Should you accept, your longevity will rival that of myself. Meaning that a fiery explosion will not end our ties, but rather time."

"You assume we'd last as long?"

Fran's ears drooped. How cold and callous of him. Looking at the ground, she simply muttered, "I do believe I have found what is mine, but should you seek your pleasure elsewhere you would merely find yourself blessed with your 'godly appearance' for a century longer than you should."

Balthier reached over and grabbed her chin, lifting it up and turning her to face him. He smirked, shaking his head as he laughed, "I didn't mean abandoning you. I meant, 'Do you think we'll live that long?' Fancy plant or not, a fiery explosion could be in our future regardless."

"I would like to think that our luck would last longer than your youth otherwise," was her blunt answer. Balthier grinned; she obviously had a lot of faith in his ability to think that much. Nodding slowly in understanding, he ran a hand across her cheek and smiled. There was an air of hope in her, some sort of strange ambition that he had not seen save a couple of times when they first began travelling side-by-side. Oddly enough, it was the same expression she had when she first laid eyes on the Strahl, when that mechanic urge in her prompted her to beg Balthier for permission to change it according to her ideas and plans. Plans, it turned out, that made the Strahl into a beast, in the best way possible of course. Perhaps, if he followed through with this plan, the outcome for her current venture would be just as rewarding.

"I do hope you are not offended," Fran spoke softly. "I did not ask your opinion. Humes are weird about longevity. Too much life seems to weigh on your kind much worse than it does my own, perhaps because you are so fixated on your gods who tell you that such lasting is against their will."

"Last I checked, I wasn't the one to fear divine wrath," he plainly answered. "And me? Offended by the fact you want to keep me around? What an idiotic reason to be offended. I'm actually all for this little plan of yours, though I wish you had told me sooner. I now fully regret being such a surly cur in Archades."

"As you well should."

Nice one. Balthier raised his eyebrows and looked away with a sputtered cough. She really didn't mince words, and she didn't spare feelings. Patting her on the back, he slowly edged away. She was amused by this show, this grown man acting like a boy who got the wind knocked out of him. Words had such an impact with him, but so was the price of a man whose ego was as inflated as a Bomb King. After a moment of watching him squirm, she did feel a bit sorry for him. After a moment to let him wallow in his own shame, she smiled and chimed, "I forgive you."

"I thank you. I don't mean to act so... ungentlemanly. While I doubt that is a word, I cannot think of a better way to describe i-"

"You were acting like an ass."

Balthier winced, muttering, "Okay, maybe there is a better way to put it."

"I still forgive you. I would ask that you refrain from behaving in such a manner in the future, however. We have many ingredients to gather and you should do well to remember that this is for your own benefit."

She stood and began to walk from the cabin, sauntering to the cockpit with the intent of hunting down their next target. Balthier sat in silence, mentally scrolling over the list of ingredients she had hurriedly shot off while trapped in Larsa's palace. He chewed on his lip in deep thought, mindlessly standing and strolling after his viera partner who was sitting in her seat, patiently waiting for him to take his post. He obliged her, flopping into his seat while still gnawing on his lip. She watched him, curious. He seemed quite lost in thought.

"Fran?" he finally spoke, after an awkward quiet befell them. She twitched her ears nervously.


"Do you have to use ingredients from Golmore? I would assume not, as there are viera everywhere there are forests. Is it a necessity that we go to Golmore? I mean, do you think it would be a good idea?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what if we went to the jungles of your birth? What then? If your sisters found you out and about, you can be sure that they'd be inquiring the Green Word just what it is you're up to and they may not like what answers they find. Your kind aren't known to be very forthcoming with the sharing of their secrets, nor are they known to be fond of my kind. I suppose they probably know by now anyway, but they can't leave Eruyt or Golmore."

"What are you getting at? I am not following you. Are you saying that this is impossible?"

Balthier waved his hand dismissively, barking, "No, no. Of course not. I'm just asking if you think it is possible to bypass Golmore altogether. You mentioned... throat wolf blood, for example! There are hellhounds in Golmore, yes. However, there are worgen and silver lobos and tartari and cerberi elsewhere. All equally capable of being throat wolves, all equally capable of being bled. I mean, it seems viable that this would work. Yes? Eruyt isn't the only grove in Ivalice, and Golmore isn't the only densely forested area where viera live. Yet they all make similar elixirs."

Fran seemed unnerved.

"I do not wish to risk it," she admitted.

"Then ask a viera from another village."

"How do you propose we do that?"

"Not every viera walking freely in Ivalice is from Eruyt, are they?"

"No, but do we even know anyone who...?"

"The one that helped Vaan, Penelo, and I when Vaan stupidly accepted that hunt for Clan Centurio. The one for the giant malboro? What was her name again...?"

"Kjrn," Fran announced almost immediately. It was a name she didn't find hard to remember, seeing as it was merely a letter off from that of her younger sister. She had remembered that viera well, the one who saw Vaan take the hunt for the malboro called "Carrot." She had doubted their abilities, offering her assistance under the guise of being bored. It was a lie that fooled the others, but never Fran, and a lie that made Fran rejoice when the rival viera found herself too weak to fight, and the teenage Humes and her sky pirate persevered.

"She wasn't from Eruyt, was she?"

"No. She smelled of fog, moondust, lillies, and heated Mist. I'd dare say that she was from the Salikawood."

"Ah," Balthier mulled. "Perhaps we could compare recipes, then?"

"I would rather not speak to her."

"Well, it's either that or we risk running afoul of your elder sister and turning the entire village of Eruyt on our hides. Which would you prefer? Fighting your blood, or asking for advice?"

Fran grimaced.

She hated when he proved more logical than her.