I don't own anything-just playing in Square Enix's worlds.

Spoiler warning: this vignette takes place after the events of the Pharos Lighthouse.

Thank you for reading.

-andi

Clouds

Balthier sees pictures in the clouds. They tell him stories.

The armor of a magister is heavy; the weight of its duty pinned him to the ground. He watched the sky, and it showed him beautiful ladies and horrible villains and a hero without a name who made everything right. He thought perhaps he could give the hero a face. This is why all those years ago he took to the sky, watched his city shrink to nothing, and never turned to look back.

It's also why he calls himself the "Leading Man," ridiculous as that is.

In truth, he was running away. Running from responsibility and from duty, yes. But mostly from his father. There were no mad fathers in the clouds. The hero's father was wise, noble, and proud of his son. The father in the clouds didn't chat gleefully to an imaginary friend about weapons powerful enough to level capitals. So when he ran, he changed his name.

He stands now at one of the Strahl's many windows, and watches the clouds. He still sees stories. Dark clouds churn toward the east. The clouds are heavy with pain, thick with regret, and swirling with rage. They show him kingdoms left with nothing but their ghosts to haunt them.

They show him his father, now. His real father, who raises the ghosts. He watches the life leaving the body of a man who, fully sane, gave his soul to darkness for power. His father dies aware of his condition and completely unrepentant. Balthier sees the hero looking on, speechless.

He sees a man die to save a princess he barely knows, to avenge two kingdoms he never served. He sees the hero looking on, dumbfounded.

He sees a girl in so much pain she almost sells her soul. Sometimes, the girl's eyes become his father's. He sees her grief and anger and desire for vengeance; but the clouds will not show if she breaks or holds fast. He sees the hero standing by, impotent.

He turns his head just enough to see my reflection in the window. "So, then, the a dramatic moment to reflect before the last stand?" I step beside him, but he still looks at me through the window. He smiles, but his eyes betray the happiness in the gesture.

"Perhaps. That sounds better than wallowing in fear, anyway."

"You are troubled."

"The sky, this ship, it was once my escape. Funny: now they're leading me to the gates of hell. I suppose I feel a bit betrayed."

"I know." I put my hand on his shoulder. He continues to gaze toward the gathering storm. Once, long ago, the trees told me stories. I went out into the world to see with my own eyes the wonders I heard from the Wood. Now, I hear nothing. I, too, am betrayed.

"Fran." He finally looks at me, eyes glassy. He knows my story. I told it to him myself. In the distance, the Strahl's doors are opening, boots clank on metal, children's voices clamor in the halls. He puts his hand on mine, then lowers it back to my side. He blinks, smirks. "Time for act four."