1. Chapter 1 (1/2)

he tossed the cards down on the table.

"i'm out," balthier grumbled, backing up his chair. the

dealer nodded politely, and the other players did nothing at all. he

knew the bastard to his left was counting cards, but he'd been booted

from this establishment before for daring to accuse someone. he was

already down 14,000 gil and didn't need to lose any more to this


of course, balthier was usually in

better spirits when he was the one doing the cheating. his remaining

gil pieces purchased a nice mind-numbing ale from the bar. he hated

archades. one would think balfonheim the greatest den of villainy,

but the gambling houses in the capital were far worse. but, he mused,

the drinks were better.

the strahl was in rotten shape - some

jealous rival had dared to muck about with the engines when he'd

docked in nalbina the week before. he and fran had all but crashed

into the aerodrome in archades, effectively stranded until nono could

work all the kinks out. balthier leaned on his elbow, marveling at

his poor luck in the skies and at the tables. the thunderclaps

outside mirrored his present state of mind all too well.

he felt a familiar set of fingernails

rustling his hair then. "go away, fran. leave me to my sorry

display, would you?"

his partner clucked her tongue at him.

"lost all your money so quickly?"

damned viera always read him like a

book. he held out his empty satchel, devoid of gil. "black hair,


oidered coat. second table to your left."

"counting cards?"

balthier nodded. "you guessed it."

she frowned at him. "i do not like

when you stew so. you act as though the world is ending whenever the

ship needs repairing."

"how do you know it's not ending,

hmm?" he complained, sipping his ale. "that is cataclysmic rain

out there."

fran sighed. "looks as though we've

got some company." he turned on the stool to follow her eye line to

a rather drenched looking judge. his armor was going to rust, and

that made balthier the slightest bit happier. what did this fool


"are you the sky pirate balthier?"

the man inquired.

"depends on who's asking."

"judge magister ga

anth, sir."

fran raised an eye

ow, and balthier

took a long sip of his ale. he looked at the sopping wet judge

warily. "then i'm definitely not the sky pirate balthier."

"sir, judge magister ga

anth says it

is of the utmost importance that you and your companion report to him

immediately. i've been given authority to arrest you if you refuse to

cooperate." balthier glanced at fran, and she twitched her ears in


"fine," he answered. "lead the

way." he slid from the bar stool with a groan. no airship, no gil

and now a meeting with that killjoy. fortunately, he didn't get

terribly wet since the judge had arrived in a shuttle craft, and he

and fran were whisked away to the royal palace.

judge magister ga

anth was pacing his

chambers when they arrived. "took long enough to find you," basch

muttered once the three of them were left alone.

balthier smirked. "and good day to

you, sir."

the man ignored him, moving to fran's

side. he'd always trusted the viera more anyhow. with good reason, of

course. "i've asked you here because i require your help."

fran nodded, but her eyes were still

suspicious. "what matter is of such great import that you would

need two humble sky pirates?"

basch sighed, leaning heavily on his

desk. "we've had reports of flash flooding in the uplands. i need

you to go retrieve some very important persons."

"and you're incapable of sending your

own people because?" balthier inquired, seeing basch sink further

and further into worry. this had to be good.

"lord larsa and his two dalmascan

guests were picnicking, and the rain came so suddenly…"

"wait a moment," fran interrupted.

"dalmascan guests?"

basch frowned. "queen ashelia and


balthier smiled. no wonder basch was

fretting so. "picnicking you say?" larsa and ashe didn't strike

him as the picnicking type. two royals, a plucky girl, and a secret

meeting in the uplands. the thought of one royal in particular

getting drenched amused him greatly.

"lord larsa has…" basch looked

uncomfortable. "this meeting today was need to know, which is why

i'm trusting you both to keep this quiet. he wishes for penelo to be


ide, but he needs the queen to grant her a title, bequeath some


he waved his hand. balthier wasn't

exactly a stranger to the ways of the archadian aristocracy. "yes,

yes, the prince and the pauper girl, all very touching.

unfortunately, fran and i are unable to mount a thrilling flood water


"why not?" basch demanded. it was

clear that serving as larsa's protector was quite a challenge,

especially when one's charge departed for secret diplomatic sessions

with the dalmascan queen.

"the strahl is being repaired,"

fran admitted. "unless you wish for us to swim to lord larsa and

his guests…"

basch considered his options while

balthier helped himself to some fruit the judge magister had on a

side table. two drowned royals, one of whom was secretly trysting

with a dalmascan maiden. the archadian senate and dalmascan royal

council would fight one another over who got to execute the

long-suffering judge magister ga

anth for letting this mess happen.

"her majesty arrived in her own

vessel," basch said. "i wonder who taught her to fly on her own?"

balthier shrugged. "haven't the

slightest idea. but you know ashe. she simply has to do everything


basch scowled. the man saw himself as

caretaker of emperor and queen both, even after all these years. "so

perhaps you could take the queen's transport and go find them?"

heaven forbid balthier allow an

international incident to occur. especially not when the two

potentially drowned royals in question tended to give him safe harbor

when he rarely deserved it. "fran? shall we mount a rescue before

our dear friends are washed away?"

fran's face was impassive, although

balthier knew she was ready to burst with amusement. "palace

aerodrome?" basch nodded, and fran departed to prepare her

majesty's ship for the rescue operation. balthier lingered behind.

"so basch," he teased. "do you

not check weather forecasts before allowing your little emperor to go