The ship lurched as it slowly lifted into the air, and Penelo, strapped into the passenger seat across the aisle from Vaan, felt her stomach lurch with it.
This wasn't the first time she'd experienced such a feeling. When she'd boarded that imperial airship (the legendary Shiva no less!) with Larsa Solidor not so long ago, she'd felt her stomach roil like an untamed sea in much the same way it was now. And although at the time she'd been happy enough to put it down to the gravity of her situation, there could be no mistaking the true cause of her discomfort here. Surrounded by friends, or at the very least people who didn't didn't wish to cause her any immediate harm (and weren't the Princes of the nation responsible for invading her home, which despite his adamant objections to the contrary, was really what Larsa basically was), Penelo was forced to admit what she supposed she'd kind of known all along.
She was airsick. Completely, truly, awfully airsick.
She could successfully take out a squadron of imperial soldiers in a battle spanning hours, but she couldn't handle five minutes on an airship... Go figure.
As the Strahl eventually reached the appropriate altitude for take off, Penelo – cold dread squeezing her heart – turned as pale as Fran's hair. This was the worst part, if she recalled correctly; the part when the engines fired up and would launch them through the unresisting sky like a bullet fired from a gun. Her fingers dug welts into the fine leather of her armrests at the very thought.
She couldn't help but note, with some bitterness, that her fellow orphan didn't seem to be affected at all. In fact, he was positively lapping it up.
It was as she observed this that an even less appealing notion occurred. And although doing so made her feel worse (if that were possible) Penelo turned her head and stared determinedly out the window to her left, glaring fixedly at the roof of the Bhujerban Aerodrome and ignoring the knots twisting inside her abdomen.
She could absolutely not let Vaan find out about her ailment. And have him lord it over her until the end of time? She'd sooner have her teeth removed.
Up front, the sky pirate who called himself Balthier flicked a few important-looking switches, casually trading a handful of technical terms Penelo had never heard before with his Viera companion, and laughing that smug, self-assured laugh at whatever it was she said in return.
Truth be told, Penelo didn't know quite what to make of Balthier. She was a good judge of character for the most part – after all, it had been her who'd selected the tradesmen for the various orphans of Rabanastre to approach seeking work, and her choices had been met with considerable success so far. But with Balthier she found herself somewhat torn.
On the one hand, he had been nothing but kind and courteous to her since they'd met. More importantly, he'd been remarkably good to Vaan, going as far as to help him break out of Nalbina prison (as he'd promised he would) and then aiding him in her rescue – both things for which she was very grateful.
But on the flip-side of the coin, there was something about him that had her intuition screaming in alarm. Some unidentifiable quality that put her instantly on her guard around him.
If only she could put her finger on it.
There was no more time for a systematic analysis of Balthier's character, when at that moment the Strahl suddenly shot forward without warning.
Penelo – who had been entirely unprepared for the movement, lost as she'd been in her private meanderings – swore she'd to lose the contents of her stomach there and then. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly, hands flexing jerkily over the already abused upholstery of her chair, praying to any number of deities to please not let her throw up all over the cockpit. Quite apart from the never-ending teasing she'd be subject to from her best friend, Penelo suspected Balthier would be less than thrilled at having his airship defiled in such a manner.
"Isn't this great, Penelo?" Vaan enthused as the airship sped through the skies and away from the floating city of Bhujerba. "We're finally in an airship! With real sky pirates!"
Had she the strength to do so – had Vaan, in fact, been paying her any real attention in the first place – Penelo might have pointed out that they'd both been on airships rather extensively (too extensively) in the past few days. She might also have taken that moment, while Balthier and Fran were both too involved in safely piloting the Strahl away from the sky city to be listening, to warn her excitable and simple friend against the man who'd saved both their lives several times already.
But as it turned out, Penelo couldn't find the strength to tear her eyes away from the window, her stomach heaving and twisting with the ship's every tiny movement.
And Vaan, so fascinated with the flurry of activity at the front of the cockpit, didn't notice when his exclamations went unanswered.
To be continued... Possibly.