Wow... so this has been in the works for a bajillion years (one year aprox).
This story is my tribute to the wonderful world of Ivalice, and the fantastic shenanigans of Pirates of the Caribbean (1). It's not a crossover or anything, but PoTC has been a heavy influence over the writing process.
Pirates of Ivalice - Chapter 1
A Pirate never leaves the way they came in.
The body of a Dalmascan guard hit the floor with a soft leathery thud; a far cry from the tin-can clang of Imperial armour in times past.
"This new regime certainly makes crime a great deal quieter, at the very least," announced Balthier, the famed Sky Pirate and self-proclaimed Hero of The Bahamut. For his and his partner's limited purposes in the Dalmascan Royal Palace, it was probably the only thing that had changed.
"If only that you might fill the silence up again," caustically remarked Fran, his Viera partner, as she rolled the last unconscious Dalmascan guard into the shadows. It appeared Balthier either didn't hear her, or chose not to hear her, as they continued moving through the musty catacombs of the palace.
"I am convinced," he added as they were stalking down a particularly dank passage, "that our Lady Ashe still has enough of a fancy for me to allow these leniencies with us in mind."
Fran fixed him with a well-used steely look, as if she were asking herself for the thousandth time why of all the Humes in the world to partner with, she had to choose him.
"The ever-rising bounty on your favoured head?" she queried.
"Oh that's naught but flirtation," he replied far too confidently. While Fran couldn't lift her eyebrows in quite the same scathing way as he could when he wanted to ridicule something, her frostiest tone usually served just as well.
"So fond of you is she, that she did not extend an invitation to this festivity," she pointed out, as high above them in the palace the faint whine of trumpets sounded. It was 'Restoration Day' in Dalmasca, celebrating the return of the monarchy to power, and no expenses were to be spared. The invitations had been flown out to the noble and fashionable all the way from Arcades to Rozzaria months in advance.
Balthier had consquently made no small show – meaning a spectacularly large one – of his disapproval that he hadn't been on the guest list; especially considering as he played a more than significant role in restoring said monarch not three years ago. His relations with the Queen, as always, swung from perfectly amiable to quite literally at each other's throats – usually within the space of a few sentences. If they were not getting along, then they were fighting horribly, and Fran often didn't have the patience to work out which it was.
"My dearest thanks for reminding me of that," he said entirely insincerely, then made a hasty hushing gesture and flattened himself against the wall. At the end of the passage ahead of them, two guards walked by, chattering in the dialect they'd heard Penelo and Vaan use at times, but did not sight them.
"No matter to the party anyway," he continued once the guards were out of earshot, and the two quickly walked in the direction the men had come from.
"She is bitter about the ring still," his partner explained.
"I returned her damnable ring to her did I not?" he said indignantly. No response came from Fran, but her lack of one proved answer enough. "I only shaved a little off it. Hardly anything at all... Well at least it fits better now," he pointed out exasperatedly.
"T'was not the amount that disturbed her," she countered – which Balthier knew well enough, but that hadn't stopped him protesting it each and every time. As valuable as Dalmascan white gold was, the Queen had personally boosted the bounty on their heads tenfold the trifling amount they'd sheared from the ill-fated wedding ring.
It hadn't been malicious, he'd just needed to pay a rather pressing tab in a tavern, and had been caught extremely short on gil; at the time he'd praised himself for his resourcefulness, even if it had brought far more trouble upon him than it was worth.
"This here will hardly ease her temper," Fran reminded him as he slunk further down the hallway, pressing his ear to every door he passed. "Or – do you know that?"
"Fran, you talk as if we were doing this just to spite her," Balthier tutted, halting at a particular door and pulling a canvas bag off his back. He held one finger to his lips and looked around, then made a double-fingered motion for her to keep watch, as he quietly opened the door and slipped inside.
Fran rested against the far wall with her arms crossed over her chest. As much as he denied it, she knew that her partner was far from ignorant of how this latest caper was going to take with the Queen; more likely it was intentional from the very moment he suggested it. There was certainly no great treasure to be had, just a lost temper, a little profit, and the pointless Hume notion of 'revenge' because one or the both of them had taken umbrage at the other again.
However, she didn't have too long to muse, as Balthier emerged a few minutes later with the bag over his shoulder stuffed to the seams, meaning that it was time for their swift departure.
What patrols existed inside the palace were limited and easy to predict, but that was only because security was so strict around the exits. It was taken for granted that any miscreants out for trouble would be caught trying to get in or out at some point, so that was where they would be caught.
They'd managed to get in through the Garamsythe Walkway, quickly disposing of the few guards stationed by the remote entrance without raising alarm. Unfortunately, the watch would be discovering that roundabouts now, so would no doubt be waiting to ambush them on the way out.
With security as tight as it was, they eventually decided the best alternative escape route was simply to stroll out in broad daylight. Doing what was least expected gave them the element of surprise, if nothing else.
"Good day," remarked Balthier, making a jaunty farewell gesture with one hand as he strolled past the lone guard stationed on the quietest door that led, give or take a wall or two – which were very easily scaled with the flamboyant Dalmascan architecture – onto Rabanastre's streets.
"H-h... hold it!" the guard spluttered. "Wait up, just who ar'you two?"
"Oh, we're but passing travellers come to admire the grandeur of the palace on this festive day," Balthier answered with ease, boring an assured smile into the young man. "Having observed it, we'll be off. After you," he said to his partner suavely, and with a flick of his hand Fran strode past the guard in all of one step, and was half way through the next before he'd cocked his rifle and pointed it at her.
"St-stop right there!" he bellowed. "No-one enters or exits the palace without the proper authority!" Fran slowly turned around to face the young man and crossed her arms, landing him with him an icy cold look – the likes of which Viera were famed for – until it seemed like even the sweltering Dalmascan heat couldn't keep the chill off.
"My boy," Balthier began. "Does my companion here look like a thief to you?" Fran's gaze didn't budge and the unsuspecting guard began to shift awkwardly in his sandals.
"Look, n-no-one can..." he started.
"Tell me," he interrupted firmly. "Do you honestly think she has any room in that armour to hide even a single gil?" Their victim's face quickly defrosted, courtesy of a horrible blush. "Or would you like to check?" Balthier added, and for a moment the Shatterheart of all looks instead hit him right between the eyes. Far too many people said 'yes' to that question for Fran to be pleased with its asking, as much as it might amuse her company.
"As for myself, well, see here," he suggested, holding his bag out by the strap freely for the guard to feel its lightness. "Nought but our travelling provisions." Without needing to be asked he tugged the top open, allowing the guard to see the folded wads of clothing – most of which were his shirts, as Fran had a negligible amount of soft attire.
"Hardly stuffed with the jewels and gold of your radiant Queen, wouldn't you say? Though, exactly what malice would one get up to in the first place with a sack of dirty laundry is beyond my comprehension," he remarked with a guiltless, if not actually innocent, tone of voice.
"Well..." the guard hesitated, unable to think of a reasonable answer to the strange foreigner's logic – he'd heard that people from Arcadia were unusual, but this was something else. "You could still be up to no good... sir," he said shakily.
"Up to no good and leaving?" Balthier propositioned. "Forgive my lack of expertise in these matters, but if we were planning malicious deeds against crown and country, should not we want to be going inside the palace?
"... I... suppose... so," admitted the guard uncomfortably, certain that there was something he had to be missing.
"Though, if we are planning something wicked, surely the last thing you want to do is keep the culprits indoors?" the pirate pointed out cheerily, as if it had not occurred to him before.
"O'course not!" the young man stated confidently. "Of course, if that were the case... then... then I would be compelled to eject you from the Palace grounds at once. Her Highness would never tolerate the keeping of criminals inside the Royal Grounds – especially not on this most important day for Dalmasca!" The boy failed to notice Balthier's twitch of annoyance at the mention of the holiday, but he quickly resumed his false jolly temperament.
"That's a lad, so you assume that we are... say... thieving pirates come to wreak great havoc upon the Lady Ashe's festivities – I'll assume you've caught us, and then we'll throw ourselves out, to save you the all trouble of it," he explained, and after patting the boy amiably on the shoulder, turned on his heels and followed Fran out the door. Ducking out of sight fast, they easily clambered over the two walls that separated the formal grounds of the palace from the mobbed streets, and were lost in the crowd before the guard even managed to work out what had happened, much less run frantically to his superiors and tell them what had passed.
"That was a little too easy," remarked Balthier as he swung the bag more comfortably onto his shoulder.
"Luck favoured you," his partner pointed out. "The boy was inexperienced."
"Well, Fran, that is why we must take full advantage of it when the gods look our way," he replied, "for once." It did seem that the fates had not been smiling down on them as of recent. While professing to prefer things that way, Balthier also admitted that there was a point when it became ridiculous, and that point had long sine passed. "Now, where did we leave her this time?"
"The Westersand," Fran supplied, and started casting suspicious glances at the bag on Balthier's back. "You are cooing," she commented, causing him to look worriedly over his shoulder.
"Oh, am I? Damn, then we've got to hurry," he muttered, shouldering his way through the busy streets a little faster, with Fran following close behind.
"Please don't bother telling me that you ought to have cast the magik," he added resolutely, when he felt her questioning eyes on him. "That won't help us now." There wasn't much that would help them now, all they could do was try to the Strahl before the undesirable occurred.
It was a close call in the end; only with a great effort did Balthier manage to keep the bag closed until they were safely inside the cockpit of the Strahl, where he threw down the writhing package crossly. With ripping sounds that suggested all of the clothing he'd sacrificed for the disguise was well and truly ruined, over a dozen attractive beige birds burst out and took to the air.
"And for my next trick," he said with a circus-like flourish, at least seeing the amusing side of the unwanted release of the birds – unlike his far less amused co-pilot, who regarded the entire spectacle with frosty disdain.
However, when one of the incredibly valuable Dalmascan 'Desert-Lily' Doves defecated on Balthier's shoulder as it flew around the cockpit with its cohorts in a great frenzy, he began to lose his good humour too.
"The little bugger," he snapped as he realized and looked across the offending sleeve of his shirt. "Well, that's at least three things they've ruined now." Fran rolled her eyes back – there had been small wars fought over her companion's sartorial requirements on occasion, and she was not particularly in the mood to accommodate him.
"You will afford a new wardrobe soon enough," she told him coolly. "Once we collect the profit."
"That's all well and good, Fran," Balthier said crossly, "but it doesn't do much for the state of my shirt, and it is going to be an awful task to capture them all again before we take them across the border to sell." He was far too concentrated on the situation with the birds – and trying to avoid any further desecration of his attire – to notice Fran calmly stringing her bow.
"Did you not say the down was as valuable as the live creature?" she questioned coolly as her partner started to fuss with the bag from which they'd escaped and his ruined garments inside.
"If you go far enough north," he muttered grimly as he pawed through his things. "The feathers are the warmest lining material for winter clothes. It'd be well out of our way, though," he pointed out as Fran selected an arrow and hitched it to her bow. "Not to mention, they do make rather wonderful pets, their song I hear is rather exquisi-" he fell silent as the soft rush of air from her bow caught his ear, and only turned his head in time to see her doomed target fall limply to the floor.
"Fran," he scolded, and strode over to the corpse, lifting it by the flighted end of the arrow. The poor creature was impaled all the way through, so that both ends of the shaft stuck out from its body. "That was cruel," he informed her, and as always she failed to show the slightest recognition of it.
"'Tis quicker this way. Wooden-tip arrows won't damage the down or the ship," she replied obliviously and loaded another arrow, taking down two more with a single shot. With a great sigh, Balthier began to collect the fatalities as they fell, fetching another clean canvas bag to put the feathers in as he sat down and started to pluck the birds.
"I would've liked to keep one," he said dolefully as he cradled one in his hands for a moment, brushing its soft feathers with a finger tenderly before beginning to rip them out in handfuls. With the cloaking on the Strahl enabled, it would take an average guard unit about an hour at least to find them in the swirling westersands, which meant it'd be a about three for Dalmascan guards, so they had enough time to spare.
"Pigeon fancier," she accused; her mood had evidently been brightened with the slaughter of the doves.
"I would call you heartless if I didn't know it was a Viera compliment," he countered playfully, finishing the bird he was working on and tossing the bald carcass to the side. Once she'd slain all of the creatures in sight, Fran crossed the Strahl towards the pile of plucked birds with the intention of removing them before takeoff.
"Hold it," he interrupted her action without looking up from his work. "I have plans for those, leave them be."
"Very well," she sighed, hoping that whatever plan he'd contrived wouldn't make any more of a mess of their ship. "I shall ready us for take-off, then."
"Please," he quipped, finishing the last few subjects as quickly as he could before bounding up to the front of the ship.
"You know, I highly suspect there's some feathered friends amiss," he mused as he took the pilot's seat and went automatically through the motions of taking off, easing them into the sky at his own leisure.
"Well I counted two dozen in the Palace, but we have only one and a half back there," he explained worriedly. "I do hope they don't get into the engine room."
"We can catch them later," Fran assured him. "For now, it is best that we make haste away from Rabanastre."
"Why the hurry?" he queried as they cruised lazily across the desert. "It is not as if Her Majesty would send the skyforce after a few poachers; they'd laugh her off the throne."
Balthier had enjoyed the displeasure of knowing a number skyforce men during his youth in Arcades, and had found them all cast from such impressively identical moulds that he seriously doubted there would be great disparities in the Dalmascan counterparts. The sorts of men who carried out great airship battles did not tear across the sky to catch a couple of bird thieves, and he knew it.
He also knew that while the gold and more conventional treasures of the Palace would be under lock and key, few would expect the theft of equally valuable birds. However, most of all he knew that Ashe loved a spectacle, and an unexpectedly empty dovecote at a moment when they were meant to flock ever-so dramatically into the summery sky, would enrage her more than enough to dare snubbing him again. Especially after he'd saved her entire miserable capital city.
"True," began Fran cautiously, "but..." Balthier winced a little; he hated it when Fran had a 'but', because good things rarely followed. "Someone holds onto our tail." She tapped a stony talon on their radar screen, and sure enough another ship displayed no more than five lengths behind them.
"Now, how can that be?" he muttered, removing one hand from the controls to rub across his jaw. "I was certain we would make a clean run of it."
Fran did not respond, simply kept their radar focused on the continuing presence of the ship until her pilot had no choice but to accept the reality of it. The less she acknowledged his idle talk, the less she encouraged it as a whole; if there was one thing Balthier never needed, it was any more incentive to talk. Her own propensity for silence had suited him right from the moment they met – Viera were never the most talkative of species in the first place – and he'd always insisted his own endless chatter was more than enough for one airship crew.
"Well, we can dance a little I suppose," he relented with a sigh.
"They follow," she announced as he took the Strahl into a hard curve to the left, then swung around into a right. The distance between them and their pursuers didn't get any larger.
"So he knows his way around an airship," Balthier scoffed, when the follower didn't lose them after a tight figure of eight loop. "Hm. Well, we'll see how they like the taste of the desert, eh?" With this he pushed forwards on the Strahl's controls suddenly and plunged them into a sharp dive towards a large dune of the Westersand, as far in the distance, the cliffs that separated them from the Mosophian Highwaste slowly crept over the horizon.
"Wait for it," he murmured as the nose of their ship swooped ever closer to the ground, then wrenched the steering up at the last second and caught the top of the sand dune with ship's engine blast, kicking up a swirling cloud right into their pursuer's face.
However, it didn't stop them, and Balthier's hopeful grin quickly dropped to a scowl.
"Blast!" he snapped as he crossly twisted his ship into a steep climb. "Fran, you better hold onto something," he warned her as he pushed himself firmly back in his seat. "I don't know who taught this wretch to fly, but..."
"I do," she contributed knowingly, having carefully watched for the ship in the few scarce moments it had been visible.
"Oh, pray tell," he replied sharply. "Have we somehow chanced to pick up chase from an unknown prodigy of a famed piloting legend?" As he ranted, he pulled the Strahl back until she was almost vertical, then suddenly pushed it over, dropping all the way through into a nose-down freefall, tearing great lines of condensation across the warm Dalmascan sky as they hurtled towards the ravine of the Mosphoran Highwaste.
"You could say," she remarked with what Viera would call sarcasm; the inside of the ship unusually tranquil compared to the roaring winds outside. "He's yours."
"What?" he barked as they swooped down almost into the Mosphoran ravine and back up again, remaining so low to the ground that they splattered some unfortunate high-flying monster on the glass of the cockpit. "Damn," he hissed as blood and other grisly remains were streaked across with the wind. "I'll have to clean that later."
"Pirate Ratsbane," Fran finally explained, "–as he would be called. The Galbana pursues us."
End of Chapter 1
OMG first chapter is done! Good gracious me what is this madness? All will be revealed in good time! Better stay tuned.
Straight up warning/notification: I don't ship any one XII pairing specifically, so there is NO official pairing in this fic, all the characters just interact however inspiration decided they would. Doesn't mean there's no romance, just no set pairings, exactly as it is in the game. PoI (as I call it) is a plot-based gen-fic through and through. Hope that's not a deal-breaker for anyone.
Leave a review if you've got the time to, it'd make my day =D
Special thanks go to my faithful team who have been with me through all of this. Particularly Sylla, Mint, Lamanda-panda-pops and Penzie. X