A/N~ So, it's been forever. I don't have an excuse for you guys, except maybe writer's block, but I promised to finish this story and that's what I'm doing.
I had this burst of inspiration and I think this final chapter came out how I planned. Thanks for all your continued support, and I hope this ending is everything it could be to you! I plan to write oneshot "additions" for this story, but this is still the end.
Thanks again! Now, enjoy!
I shut my tired eyes, but I could still see where they were taking me. I heard the elevator rise ten floors, though it was well-maintained and did not shudder, I could still hear the faint mist shift and speak to me. Then I felt their bodies turn as they exited the lift and moved down the halls. I could retrace the path with ease, if my body would permit it. I kept myself as relaxed as I could. I took deep breaths, stretching my lungs, preparing them for the strain they would soon face.
Where were they taking me?
I did not know this part of the building. They had never allowed me up so far. Never in so deep as I was currently. It didn't belong to mechanical science. I knew not what.
I had to risk an escape. But was my body ready for it? Though my wounds had been healed, my body had not refilled my veins, and that left my mind in a haze.
Oh, this haze…it was becoming worse. I opened my eyes, but there was a glossy film obscuring my vision. The air was hot, and my nostrils stung as if there was a sharp spice in the air. I closed my eyes tightly, and suppressed my urgent gasping.
It was not haze…it was mist.
A door opened and I impulsively lifted my gaze, as a dozen scientists looked up from their clipboards as well.
Judge Ghis was among them, grinning eagerly at my entrance.
"Ah, so we may begin at last." He said, stepping to the side. There was a machine behind him. Humes created such strange things. I'd never seen anything like it, but they carried me towards it. And the closer I came, the stronger the mist burned me. It even began to sting the very flesh of my body. A harsh, burning sensation as if I'd cut my skin with sanding paper and poured fruit juice over it. I'd never been so close to such a strong source before. And I could not let it happen now.
I dug my nails into the man's arm, wedging the sharp edges under his armor, and he hissed and dropped me.
I hit the floor on my hip and shoulder with a loud clang, and scrambled to my feet. The armed guards gasped and clutched their weapons. My wild eyes frightened them. Good.
I bolted towards the door, but I never made it that far.
Ghis did not move for his sword. He was the only one who did not flinch. He moved forward the moment I was lost from my guard's grip and caught me by the hair instead. I came to such a forcefully halt that my legs slid out from underneath me, and I fell awkwardly back onto the ground. I grabbed the Judge's hand, and tried to claw my way under the chain mail glove so I could make him release me.
"Useless soldiers- come and take her!" He shouted to the guards, pulling at my hair to lift me higher. My heels scraped at the floor as I kicked, and I hissed through my bared teeth. He took another fistful and pulled at one of my ears. The pain was so sudden that I gasped loudly and stiffened in pain, and he gave an amused scoff.
The guards held my arms and walked me back towards the machine. They set my body across a metal stretcher that was attached to the machine and restrained me with bindings across my arms and legs. I'd struggled and fought and screamed and broken one of their noses so it bled all over his angry face, but they had me now. And so now what? What was my fate now that they could do whatever they wished to me?
Ghis strode over to me, then leaned close and stroked my cheek, twirling my bangs in his armored fingers. I saw his old eyes wander my face for a hint of reaction.
"You have nothing to say? Something for their log books, perhaps?" I wanted to kill this man. I hated the scent of metal that he reeked of. I hated him for touching me. "No? Well, we'll have our data soon enough."
Ghis nodded to the scientists, and they flicked switches and pressed their buttons. My body heaved with my rapid breaths as the air became thick and hot. I felt both strength and exhaustion overwhelm me. My muscles clenched so tightly that I could hardly breathe. I closed my eyes and tossed my head. The embers of mist clung to me despite my efforts to rid them. The musky air filled my lungs and pumped through my thin blood, causing it to broil. My body jerked against the bindings. I could not control my own motions. I heard the bindings creak against my muscles, and my eyes rolled back in my head as I let out a guttural howl.
That hume was laughing at me. Barking about his precious data and weapons…
Then I heard nothing except a white noise. A screeching howl that came from my own throat as I ripped myself free from the machine.
I couldn't exit through the doors. I could hear the guards, however relaxed, still mulling about outside. The ceilings were too high for me to reach the vents, and Archadia had already taken precautions in preventing such forms of escape. I moved silently about the room, thinking. Thinking…thinking like what? A rich scientist's son? No! I was no longer that person. I had a new way of thinking.
I pulled open the curtains, and the evening light cast a grey hue into the room, pooling through the dusty window. An airship flew past, and I could feel its engines humming. I closed my eyes for a moment and imagined the feel of the mechanical vibrations against my feet and hands, and the gust of wind against my face.
Yes, that was how I needed to think. Like a pirate.
Pirates value their freedom above all else. And how did they attain it? They reached for the skies, of course. The open air.
I unbolted the window, and the powerful gusts pulled the glass inwards and wide open. I felt the cool air chill my sweaty skin, and I inhaled until my lungs were ready to burst. I practically tasted the oil.
I opened my eyes, and stepped onto the narrow balcony that lined the outside of the window. It bordered the entire outside of the building- just wide enough for my feet, and that was if I angled them sideways.
All I needed to do was reach the next room, and I could escape through that hall instead. The guards were occupied elsewhere. I hugged the wall as I made my first step outside. The air clawed at my back, trying to reclaim me. My thin shirt tugged against my skin and billowed to my left, following the air currents. I pressed my forehead against the dirty stone and gasped for breath. The ground was so far below me…this seemed like such a better idea when I was thinking metaphorically. I needed to regain that mindset before I lost myself to the fear. I could not be afraid now. The sky was mine now. She would protect me. Yes, personify her. That helped.
As if she heard my pleas, the wind died down enough for me to resume my tightrope walk. My hands felt for the window, and it was a great relief when I touched cold glass. I stepped in front of it and pushed, but it was locked and if I applied too much pressure I would only succeed in throwing myself off the building. How could I break the glass without using so much strength?
An airship roared past, and I hugged the stone desperately as it flew along. It was difficult to think properly when hovering hundreds of feet above the ground. I would have to improvise again.
I took another earring out of my cartilage; a silver stud in the shape of an arrowhead. I felt it in my hand, memorizing the shape and texture. How can I use you…?
I set the sharp end against the glass, and smacked my hand against the flat side. It embedded itself in the glass- sending shockwaves through the rest of the window. I hit it once more, and the glass shattered. The wind pulled the shards towards me, and I shielded my face until the slivers were gone, or scattered about my hair and clothing. Though the edges of the window were lined with sharp broken glass, it was easy enough for me to then reach inside and unlock the window. I stood to the side as it blew open, then hopped deftly into the room.
How much quieter it was now that the wind was not rushing through my head…
I turned back and admired my handiwork of broken glass and flowing curtains.
"Now that's an escape…"
An echoing howl vibrated through the ceiling and to my ears. I braced myself by bending my knees, my eyes wide. What in the name of the Goddess was that? A bahamut? Spirits help us if that was true.
Where was Fran?
Of course, I imagined a worst-case scenario; her being the object of the bahamut's horrible cry, as Ghis and the others watched behind a shock-proof glass wall.
Humans were too easy to understand. Their emotions are so predictable and violent. And always, we are always so desperate to see creatures unlike ourselves have emotions. To make them react too. So maybe we can feel less guilty about our dramatic impulses, since we wouldn't be so alone.
I stopped with my hand on the door, and closed my eyes for a painful moment. Had I just had an epiphany? There was no time for that. I had to focus on one thing and one thing alone. I could contemplate my humanity while I had Fran over my shoulder while I waved goodbye to Archadia for good.
I opened the door, and instead of sprinting into the hall, I came to another room. A room filled with women. They gasped and blushed, and clutched white coats to their scantly-dressed bodies when they noticed me. Ah, the women's' changing room, it seemed.
I smiled and bowed suavely.
"Excuse the intrusion, ladies. I'll be on my way presently." And I scurried through the room as the girls pinned themselves against the walls, screaming and red in the face, until I reached the door and made my exit.
I guessed they had taken her to the twelfth floor; a laboratory where my father had spent most of his days. That made me run even faster.
No- it would not be my father of all people to harm her. I couldn't live with the same blood running through my body as the man who would hurt her.
I rounded a corner just as it occurred to me that I should have looked first. My mind had wandered to Fran again- blast, even now she was distracting me!
Certain enough, a Judge caught my arm and swung me against the wall before I could react. And then I reacted.
I exploded against him, not giving him the time to pin me securely. His strong fingers clutched my shirt and the skin underneath, directing me back towards the wall.
"Ffamran!" He hissed into my ear. My rageful eyes opened, and I saw a bit clearer. I craned my neck and looked at the man out of the corner of my eye. The metal helm hung over his eyes, but he lifted his head and I saw the face underneath.
"Ransh-" He hushed me, and gave me a firm shove against the wall again.
"Quiet you!" He growled. I winced- I'd never noticed how strong he was before.
"Ow- by the Goddess what are you-" He hushed me again, and I finally heard the footsteps coming toward us. Another Judge had located us, and was coming to help. My breathing deepened.
"Found him just now!" Ranshal said- his accent much thicker than usual.
"Ah, brilliant. Vayne is getting upset of all this ruckus. First that viera, and now this dumb-" Ranshal spun around, and brought his cane swiftly up and flicked the man's helm off. A split-second, almost blind, he brought his weapon back down on the man's exposed head. The Judge crumpled to the floor without making a sound.
"Well then," Ranshal twirled his cane. "Shall we be off?" It took me a moment to recover. Ranshal lifted his cane again, and I quickly brought my arms up to protect myself. Ranshal's mouth widened into a smile. "Atta' boy. Come along then!" Ranshal started off, then hobbled on one foot and pointed at the unconscious soldier. "Ah, shove him in a cupboard or something, won't you?"
My eyebrows still quite lifted in shock, I did as he told and dragged the armored man into the nearest broom closet.
I caught up with my doctor, who was moving rather quickly despite his limp.
"Ranshal, I don't want you involved anymore." I said. He lifted his head back and laughed.
"You're welcome!" I sighed.
"Yes, I am grateful, but-" He twirled and pointed that fearsome cane at my head.
"Gone for over a year, renaming yourself Balthier without permission," He looked up at the ceiling. "running off with a viera, impressive I suppose," His gaze returned to me. "You may not remember, but no one infiltrates this building." He struck me on top of my head with his cane. "Not alone! Even Balthier had a partner. So, tonight, I will be your partner in crime." He faced me, planting his cane on the floor and folding his worn hands over the top. "Understand?" It took me a moment, but then I smirked.
"Impressive speech, for an old man." He shrugged.
"Not that old."
"Come on then," I said, racing past him. "Try to keep up!"
He couldn't keep pace with me, that was a fact, but it was also a helpful fact. More than once, his presence behind me caused me to remember not to race through an open door or down a seemingly empty hall. He showed me the security lasers that line the rooms at ankle-height, and awkwardly hopped over them to show me where they were aimed.
He also had the access codes to disable them. And open doors. But to my knowledge, mere doctors were not granted such privileges.
"I've always believed you weren't some simple physician." I said, leaning against the wall as he picked away at a security box. He chuckled.
"I'm glad for that." He paused and looked at me- up and down as if sizing me up. "And I'm glad for you, my son. I thought I would soon be dead. But you have given me new life again." My eyes creased with worry, but I tried to smile. I swallowed, and lifted my lips higher, pretending that his words hadn't shaken me.
"You, die? Rubbish, you'll outlive me, old man." Ranshal pushed a lever down hard and stepped back from the console.
"Ah! I'm certain I will! Now, duck!" I swung his cane again, and I reacted just in time for him to strike the oncoming Judge instead of myself. The rest of the alarms were either disabled or ringing instead on lower levels to draw the guards elsewhere. Soon, we were inside the elevator leading to my father's laboratory. Sharing the lift was another unconscious Judge. I shook my finger at Ranshal's cane.
"What is that made out of?" I demanded, grinning wildly. "It's a more fearsome weapon than a crossbow." Ranshal grinned back at me, and tapped his hip. I frowned, urging him to explain further, but he gestured for me to lift up the Judge. The lift came to a stop on the highest level.
"Let's return this fellow to his friends, shall we?" The double doors opened, and Ranshal and I flung the Judge at the others waiting for the elevator's doors to open. They scrambled wildly, and Ranshal and I sidestepped past the confused mob and drew our weapons. Ah- well, I lacked a weapon it seemed, when I reached for my belt and found it empty. But Ranshal was intimidating enough for the both of us.
He pulled and aimed a brown silver shotgun at the crowd. I would recognize that weapon anywhere- a vintage Altair. Old, but just as reliable, and just as deadly. Those who knew how to still use one were usually obeyed promptly, if the weapon was so much as pointed at. And Ranshal had them at loaded gunpoint- his aged, but steady hand on the trigger.
So why did the Judges not stop?
They left their fallen comrade and scrambled to fill the elevator- throwing those who did not fit in the cramped space back. The rejected Judge threw his fist on the gates, screaming incoherently before abandoning the lift for the stairs.
Ranshal lowered the Altair- a questioning look on his face.
"Why on Ivalice…-"
The bahamut let out a window-shattering howl, and I dropped halfway to the floor and covered my head. Ranshal swayed and hit the wall, struggling to aim his gun at the new threat. I looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to shoot, but then he lowered the gun again. He looked at me, then back into the room.
I followed his gaze.
The laboratory was a mess. Sparking coils hung from the ceiling where tiles had been ripped free, and bodies clad in armor or lab coats were strewn across the debris. A strange machine sat in the middle of the room, sputtering gas and fumes into the foggy air. The smell was horrid. When I gasped form the sight, I broke into a fit of coughs that caused my eyes to burn. I looked up again, wiping my tearing eyes.
"Where's the bahamut?" I demanded to Ranshal. He shook his head.
"There is no such creature here, my son."
Someone else had appeared among the wreckage. No, she had been there all along, hunched over that armored figure, but so still that my eyes had passed her by.
"Fran?" I whispered. Her ears flicked wildly and turned my way. "Fran!" I called. Her head jerked to face me, though her tangled hair covered her eyes. I could only see her mouth, which was plastered into a bloody gnarl. The air stung my eyes, and I had to shut them.
"It's the mist." I told Ranshal.
"I know." He answered. "That machine must be turned off." I rose to my feet, keeping one arm at nose-level to wipe back the flowing tears.
"I'll distract her, get the machine." I told him, taking short steps towards Fran. As I got closer, I saw that she was grasping a Judge's arm. It was bent back awkwardly over his shoulders, certainly broken. She tapped the metal with a chipped claw, and crouched lower over him. "Fran," I gently called. I remembered how she had acted in the mountains, when she encountered the mist before. "My dearest, can't you hear me?" Her eyes widened, and I smiled hopefully.
"Dearest?" Ranshal repeated, inching his way towards the machine. I couldn't tell though if he sounded amused or…something else.
"Yes, dearest." She rose onto her heels, but remained hunched over, watching me with calculating eyes. "Oh, look at you, you amazing thing you. You certainly showed them." I said, scanning the hordes of bodies of I wasn't sure were alive or not. But nowhere among them could I find my father. Of course he would be the one to escape.
Fran demanded my attention as she stepped off the Judge's body, Ghis, and stalked towards me.
"You didn't need my help at all. I didn't need to come up here." She hadn't blinked once since setting her gaze on me. Her lips trembled. I recognized nothing of her there. Where was she? There was no elegance to this creature, only mindless anger in a beautiful body that was no longer her own. That horrible, frightened yell that I'd mistaken for a bahamut had been hers.
I did not want to woo her with silky phrases anymore. I just wanted to apologize. Because it was my fault that she had been hurt. And mine to blame that they had taken and hurt her again.
"Oh Fran, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I wasn't quick enough." She continued to approach me, moving faster as I spoke. I backed against the wall, and tried no further to avoid her. "I'm so sorry." Ranshal was at the machine now, glancing frantically back and forth between myself and the wires tangled in his fingers.
"I'm sorry, Fran." I whispered, as she was close enough to hear just that. I closed my eyes and held my breath, expecting the worst. She was standing only a thin inch or so away from me, when I felt her head fall and land on my shoulder. And there is stayed. A soft, growling sound vibrated from her throat and almost tickled my neck. I remained very still, even when I realized that she was not going to sink her fangs into my neck and rip my throat away.
"Got it!" Ranshal shouted.
I listened to her breathe into my ear. "Did I hurt you?" She asked, her voice as soft as a feather.
"No." I told her. She relaxed a bit, and sort of nuzzled her forehead on my shoulder. I felt her brow crease.
"It's there. The mist. In the back of my mind. Waiting. It shall never stop waiting." I finally moved, and I held onto her tightly as I felt her body sink against mine.
"Well," I said, before gently clearing my throat and stepping to the side to see her face. She eventually met my eyes. Hers looked sore, a bit confused, looking for an answer, but she was there. I cracked her a smile. "Shall we run?"
"So you're certain you're fine now?" Ranshal asked again, loping in front of Fran to try and look into her eyes and examine her as the three hurried down the hall. Whatever he'd been in a past life, he still had the instinct of a doctor now.
"I am." She said briskly, while guiding him out of the way of her long strides. "I seemed to have used up all of the rage against those who tried to use me as their lab toy."
"On just the right people." I added, smiling as I recalled the mangled form of Ghis. "Ah, so, Ranshal, I can see we're making our way to the hanger. Do you expect us to just…waltz back onto the ship?" He frowned at me.
"The ship? You still haven't named her?" He scolded. "That's bad luck! No wonder you two have has so much trouble!" Fran smiled a bit.
"He's right. You should have accepted my suggestion." She said.
"We're not naming her after constellation." I grumbled, shaking my head. Then I tossed her a sleek smile. "Now dear, we need to decide on a proper name for our lovechild."
"Our? As I recall, I birthed her without you help." She said, continuing the metaphor I had set up already. Ranshal sighed.
"Look at you two, squabbling already. I can tell this is a romance that will last." He added. Fran and I glanced at each other. I winked, and she rolled her eyes. "And, of course we won't waltz in!" Ranshal hit a lever and the garage door entrance to the hanger rolled upwards. "I prefer a good two-step." He slid under the door before it had fully opened, using his cane as a prop. Fran and I followed.
There were no Judges in sight. But moogles abound.
All of Nono's infamous siblings were hovering around the airship. Even Montblanc greeted us with a swift bow as he floated by on short red wings.
"All right children!" Ranshal said, clapping and rubbing his hands together. "Is everything ready?"
"Some of the levers are too heavy!" A moogle in a lace dress whined.
"Then we pull it together." Ranshal sighed. He snapped and gestured to the stairwell. "Up you go! Come along, you two!" He said, beckoning us as well. Fran and I looked to each other again, and simultaneously shrugged.
Ranshal flicked switches expertly, an excited grin lighting up his face.
"Ah, how I've missed this." His eyes flickered to Fran, before setting them back on his work. His smile seemed to have gone. "Fran, I have a personal question for you. I know you have left the Wood behind, and do not wish to speak of her, but may I ask which forest you came from? I knew someone, and…" Fran was taken aback by the question, as was I. Not even I had asked something so specific. "I know it is unorthodox to ask-"
"It is very." She cut him off, flicking some of the switches as well, and the airship vibrated and starting coming to life. Ranshal waited another moment, and he and Fran stood still and said nothing.
"They will be coming soon." He said, breaking away. I followed him.
"How much longer until she can take off?" I asked.
"Not long, but…" He swallowed and shook his head. As we stood there together in the cramped hall, I noticed that I was taller than he was. Had I grown so much in our short time apart? That, and he was leaning heavily on his cane. He noticed me staring, and tapped the cane on the floor. "Ah, all this running about has taken its toll on this old leg of mine." He said, sounding his age for this first time. He grinned sideways at me. "It's been fun though, has it not?" I nodded, looking back down the stairs, just waiting for someone to start running up them.
"Aye, it has." My eyes once again wandered down his cane, to his thin, worn leg. "How did your leg become like that?" I quietly asked. He did not move, or look at it. He continued to stare straight ahead.
"As we've decided, I was not always such a simple man. And one day I was cut by a Klipspringer Broadsword." I almost jumped at the name.
"Those are Imperial Swords. Issued for The Dalmascan Guard." Ranshal nodded absentmindedly. He was caught up in the past now.
"It was those damn headhunters, gave them the tip off and they found us when we were least expecting it. Cut me behind the knee, almost severing my leg halfway down. It wasn't just him though. A mage was backing him up, and casting all sorts of things his way. I couldn't hardly touch him with my Altair. But she could, with her magic." Ranshal shrugged. "She wasn't the best at it- all too stubborn to learn even esuena, but she knew up to Fira, and she used it until she couldn't have lit a straw of hay. The soldier burned up in his armor, but then the mage turned on her. I fired Altair off a second later, but it was a second too late." He brushed his fingers past his nose. "Crushed her bones with Graviga. She was dead before I could reach her." I swallowed hard.
"Lemos." Ranshal said, tilting his head back with a sigh. "I apologize, you wanted to feel special that you're traveling the skies with a viera, but I daresay you weren't the first."
"It was Eruyt." Fran said. We hadn't noticed that she'd moved into the arch between the control room and the hall, but she had obviously heard the recount of the tale. Her eyes wandered before she finally looked at Ranshal. "Of Golomore Jungle. She was my eldest sister before she left. I soon followed her." Ranshal inhaled shakily. "She was lovely." Fran said. Ranshal laughed uneasily.
"Yes." He looked down at his feet. "So much."
An adventurous past of traveling with a viera in an airship…
I knew that story. Ranshal had told it to me himself. And in such detail.
"Ranshal…was that always your name?" Fran asked. He looked up, and slowly grinned, as if she had finally noticed something so very obvious. Now that I saw it as well, I realized it was.
But there was no time for that. We all heard the Judges approaching. Their loud armor was not meant for stealth- but just raw defense so they could attack without restraint. I started towards the stairs, but Ranshal beat me to it. From the back of his coat, he pulled out Altair.
"Take her up!" He ordered, his voice once again firm and eager. "I can hold these dogs back." He added with a wink. I nodded and dashed down back into the cockpit. It was difficult to focus on something as complicated as the workings of an airship while gun fire rung in my ears. The ship lurched, and I pressed the wrong key, and the ship let out a whine.
"Fran!" I called, frustrated that I was not getting the job done as quickly as she could be.
"I'm here." She said to the left of me, taking my place in front of the controls. She flicked a few switched and forced a stubborn lever down, and the whining engines calmed. That was why she was the navigator! But still slowly, too slowly, the ship began to hum, and the rings began to turn.
"Ffamran, any time now!" Ranshal urgently yelled.
"I've got it!" I called back. "The stairs are coming up- get back inside!"
And then, Ranshal's startled yell, drowned out by a gunshot, echoed through the entire airship. I felt a jolt of fear snap through my limbs, and I sprinted back to the stairs in what felt like slow-motion. The ship was now inches from the ground, and rising very quickly as the stairwell slowly folded back up.
"Ranshal!" I cried, leaning out of the doorway. He had fallen back to the floor, and his cane had rolled far away from him. The Judges were abundant, and closing in with their swords. "Hang on! I'll lower the stairs!" I shouted back, punching codes into the control panel to reverse the stairwell's movement.
"No!" He bellowed. He threw Altair back at me, and I instinctively caught it. With my hands away from the console, the stairs began rising again. But Ranshal was grinning. I shook my head.
"Please! Don't do this-"
"Balthier!" He called me by that name with such force, I had to believe it was mine. Ranshal forced himself uneasily to his feet, dusting his arms off. He finally, at those last moments, looked back up at me. The gust from the airship tugged at his coat impressively, and he stood tall and strong and unarmed. "Fly! You're a sky pirate, aren't you!?" And the stairs closed, sealing tight.
I finished setting the directions in the navigation system and set the ship on autopilot. The steering wheel shifted on its own accord, and I let my hands relax.
"I've set our course to the neutral territories of the southern sky islands." I said. Ffamran took the seat beside me, discreetly chewing on his thumb. He sucked in a deep breath, and straightened up in his seat.
"Ah, yes. Thank you. Neutral sounds quite appealing."
"I agree." I said. Without a word, he stood up and walked to the back of the ship. I shut my eyes, and allowed my aching limbs to open and close and relax for a moment. The mist had bruised me under my skin, invisible to the untrained eye. But it was better that way. I would recover without him noticing I was unwell, and I could focus on him. I gave him, and myself, a few minutes more before taking two glasses and a bottle of hidden wine from the cooler, and walking to the back as well.
I did not find him right away. I had to search until I noticed the door leading outside was a bit ajar. I slid past it, and found him on the very small patio area that led to the top of the ship. The balcony was tucked against the ship so the wind did not pull one right into the sky, but there was still a forceful breeze.
"Here you are then," I said, pouring some of the deep crimson drink into his cup. He took it with both hands, and sipped half of it down at once. The rest, he just wet his lips with.
"I-I apologize for earlier." He said. I shook my head.
"It was natural for you to react that way." I consoled him. He hadn't actually hurt me when he tried to take control of the wheel and land the ship to retrieve his friend. A few moments of persistent stubbornness, and he'd collapsed into the pilot's seat and taken his place, and I'd seen the hume boy die.
"I've decided on a name for this ship." He said.
"Ah, Balthier." He corrected me. I tapped my glass as I thought.
"You wish to name it after the sky pirate?" I clarified. It was an unusual name for a craft, but I had already decided to let him chose whatever name he liked. But he was shaking his head, and I was slightly relieved.
"No, my name. That's what the papers are calling me already. It would simplify things." I knew that there were other reasons, one in particular, but I accepted his explanation, and I never spoke the name Ffamran again. "As for the ship," He leaned over the railing, and I stepped a bit closer to keep an eye on him. "How does the Strahl sound?" I smiled, and he raised an eyebrow.
"It sounds like the name of the West Star." I informed him. His face lit up with realization and he leaned back and laughed. He faced me, leaning back against the thin railing precariously. He watched me watch him, and intentionally leaned further back just to make me step closer. He looked over her his shoulder and stared out across the cloudsea.
"Then we can both be happy with it." He held out his glass and I tapped mine against his. The different amounts of wine in them, his half full and mine just an inch, created a resonating chime when the glass hit, and the sweet sound was carried away by the raw gusts.
I sat in the reserved balcony table of the tavern on the second level, nestled right in the long shadows cast by the kerosene lanterns that were clipped to ceiling beams. The open doors let the light flow outside and bathe me in gold. Inside, I could see the dust floating lazily through the air. The place smelled like pine saw dust and sweat, but there was a sweet rosy smell lingering in the air as well, which made it bearable. Thankfully, I was also exposed to the fresh night's air, and I could breathe evenly.
It was a slow evening- a weeknight, and many people had gone home to sleep while they had the chance. Even in the streets below, only a few runners and young couples were still making their rounds.
But not I. I had better things to do than sleep or run mail. Sleep was quite dull. Everything happened while you were asleep, and I couldn't afford to miss it.
The tavern's doors were swung open, and the hinges creaked loudly. I lifted my eyes past the rim of my glass, and smirked behind my ale. I quickly tipped it back and downed the rest of it. It stung my throat a bit, and my lips curled until the sensation passed. Never chug ale.
The newcomers spread out, and finally walked upstairs when they saw no sign of me below. By the time I set my glass down, three bangaa had surrounded me.
"Good evening, Balthier." Ba'Gamnan hissed.
"It was." I replied, rolling my shoulders. "To what do I owe this unexpected…" I frowned. "Well, it's not a treat, so I don't know what to call it." A clawed hand slammed down on my table, and the glass jumped and rolled off and broke on the floor. Luckily it was empty.
"You think you're so sly, sky pirate. But you left a stinking trail wherever you went. You were easier to find than a street wench." I raised my eyebrows.
"Yesss…" He said, leaning close until I could smell his musky breath. He opened his claws, and revealed the brown silver helm on the table. My eyes locked on it for a moment, before flickering back to the bangaa. I fanned the air in front of me.
"Good. I didn't want to wait too long, you see." I said. Ah, the reaction on his face. Pure confusion. My words made no sense to someone who thought they were in utter control. I'd practically cuffed him across the snout. I stood, and the bangaas reached for their respective weapons.
"Ah, no need for that, I'll just be taking the helm and we can be off." Ba'Gamnan chuckled. The sound was like he was choking. Perhaps because it was so alien to him.
"Foolish hume boy, I only brought the helm to dangle it in your face. I want to see the look in your eyes when I tell you that you can't have it. And what else, my siblings?"
"That this is a trap." The pale-skinned one added. I feigned surprise.
"So, when I left the message asking for an exchange of this helm, for your priceless hoverbike, you just used it to find me?" I clarified, opening my eyes wide. He grinned, pulling his lips back over his dirty maw.
"There's a fine price on that pretty head of yours. Why would I trade a cheap trinket like this when I could just have you?" I nodded.
"Good. Because my friend has become rather attached to that bike of yours." He closed him mouth with a distinct 'snap'. I shook my head. "And she's got a very mean kick. Something a bit like this." I jumped onto my chair, swinging my leg up against the bottom of his jaw. It snapped shut, with his tongue between his teeth, and he jumped into the air, howling. I snatched the helm, and leapt backwards off the balcony. I blew them a kiss as I fell, and winked at their bloodshot eyes. I wanted them to remember me this way, since it would surely not be the last time we meet.
I landed heavily on the back of the hoverbike, wincing from the rough landing.
"Did you get what you were after?" Fran asked, casting a quick glance back at me. I thought I heard her giggle. "You must keep your legs together when you fall, or you will hurt yourself every time."
"Ah, well it's hard to keep my legs together at all when I'm around you." I teased. She took a sharp turn, almost tossing me off the bike. "Ah, forgive me, dearest! And yes, they delivered the loot right to my table, and I took it from under their claws. Ha! They honestly thought they had tracked me down of their own accord." The hoverbike was quick, and we had soon reached the edge of the city where the Strahl was docked. She set the bike down inside the garage, and I walked back outside. The cool, desert air felt heavenly against my slightly sweaty brow. I stretched, and dusted off the helm in my hands. It was still beautiful. Could use with a bit of metal buff, but Fran would know how to deal with that better than I.
"Well?" She asked, coming up from behind me. I clasped the helm in both hands, hiding it from initial view as I looked at her from over my shoulder. She was wearing one of my shirts, well, we hadn't decided whose they belonged to yet. A flowing white blouse that went down to her hips, and then a pair of black lace trousers. I noticed that she had let her hair down. It flowed almost to the ground, hovering precariously at ankle-height.
I smiled, and turned and offered her the helm. Her ruby eyes set on the gift in my hands.
"What is that?" She asked. I laughed dryly.
"You know what it is, now try it on!" She accepted it with some hesitation, brushing her fingers over the scratched brown silver. "Do you like it?" I asked, suddenly nervous. I hadn't considered that there may be a vieran custom against wearing another's armor.
"It is a hat." She said. I frowned.
"Well, technically it is a helm, a vieran one at that-"
"It is a hat." She said firmly. I lifted an eyebrow, and she smiled at me. Her eyes were bright, flickering onto mine with an electric jolt. She fitted the helm over her ears, and onto her head. She flicked at her bangs until her hair was settled. She smiled warmly at me- the curves of the armor accentuating her high cheekbones and inquisitive eyes.
"Fran, it's lovely." She blinked. "You're lovely."
"I do not need your approval." She said. I rolled my eyes, but when i looked at her again, her smile had returned. I'd obviously done something right, and it felt fantastic. "But thank you, Balthier. Thank you for the hat."
We were outlined by a square of orange light falling from the open stairwell of the airship. She started up, and i broke into a run after her.
"If it's hats you want, I know the best little shop in Dalmasca- I'll buy you all the hats in Ivalice, my dear viera!" She turned around and tapped my nose with her finger, before gently cupping my face with her warm palm.
"And my silly hume."
Our shadows cast long and dark onto the sand, and slowly faded as the stairs of the Strahl rose and locked.