In the Great Crystal, Balthier had hoped that familiarity would breed a certain edge of speed when traversing the bizarre structure inwards and downwards, but alas, not to be. Even Fran granted that the spaces looked all of a like. Fortunately she also possessed some unerring sense of direction, one capable of recalling in her memory the number of turnings and their degree, of how their path twisted and back-tracked upon itself. The tip they had received led them through to unlock doors that existed only as force and light, and onwards, until they reached the alleged resting place of the tainted angel herself.
The battle with Ultima was long, a battle more of attrition than brute strength, for how else could two humes and a viera, however well equipped destroy one who had been a Goddess? And when she fell, the grand chamber resounded with her death cry. The shattering of her form and the maelstrom of dust and light coalesced into her soul crystal, which fell, with no more than a light ping, to the translucent floor.
Balthier took up the crystal, pocketing it. Such a small thing, to contain such power and fury. They'd sell the armour and weaponry they had recovered from this place, but the crystal, that would be hidden, and forgotten. Ultima would be no later scientist's secret weapon.
He sensed movement behind him, Fran followed by Basch, and Fran with her bow unsheathed, arrow poised and pointed across the wide span of floor.
Ultima, it seemed, had also left behind a chest. It was of broader dimensions than others they had encountered within the Great Crystal, though similar in appearance.
"Well, that wasn't mentioned in our tip."
"A trap?" Basch asked.
Never a man of many words, he spoke even less since their grand adventure. Of course, Balthier was used to a companion of few words, but Basch had not Fran's dry wit, nor even the gallows humour he had bantered with as they travelled when their three were six. Basch fought as well as ever if not better for the year of good, decadent pirate living with plenty of healthful hunts and swift getaways. He was better with a task before him, on the job, one could almost forget how Basch became in Balfonheim, with no interest in revelling in the spoils of their conquests, only attending to repair and resupply, more crewman now than friend. Balthier and Fran both missed the friend.
"It could be. Thoughts, Fran?"
"I like this not." Fran closed her eyes, lifting her nose. "It smells of the esper, of Mist and machines, but also--" Her eyes opened, blinked as her head tilted in her confusion. "--of something I can identify but cannot place."
"There's one way to find out. Cover me?"
"You are fool-hardy," Fran answered, bow once more at the ready. "And always."
"My sword will be at your defense," Basch added.
One can hardly open a chest with firearm at the ready, and the size of this chest demanded both hands free. The chest itself remained pleasingly stationary as Balthier approached it, and even after he reached fingers beneath the lip of the lid.
The catch proven stubborn. Not locked, Balthier thought, but stiff and requiring of a certain show of force. He stood feet square on the hinge side, fingers caught under the lip, and pulled, and pulled, with his weight adding to the force.
The catch snapped open, bringing the chest over with Balthier's momentum. Black oil splashed over the floor-- what? Full of oil? -- and Balthier jumped backwards quick-footed as the pool spread, the chest as inert as ever, and all their attention on the mass that had tumbled out from within.
It seemed inconceivable. "A hume?" Balthier called across the pool.
Fran answered in assent-- and why was her bow down? --but Basch's cry drowned them both.
Basch called, "Vossler!", and then he was down in the muck, his knees sliding in it, uncurling the man from a fetal position to his side, Basch's hand smearing oil away from the man's face, his nose and mouth. The man was naked, dark oil matting dark hair against his bare skin.
Balthier might have misheard one utterance, but Basch repeated himself, the name again and again. It was the most emotion he had heard from Basch in months.
From across the pool, Fran's arms cast through the motions of Arise, its gentle warmth surrounding the man in Basch's arms.
All of a sudden, the man's body shuddered, animated with no co-ordination-- and with oil coating all of him, no wonder. The whites of his eyes were stark against the ichor black of the oil; he struggled to find his knees, but Basch was beside him, easing him up.
Balthier heard gagging, and turned to avoid seeing what he couldn't escaping listening to, as the man evacuated the oil he must have once drowned in.
After multiple applications of cleanse and cure and esuna and their entire combined store of handkerchiefs, the hume they had recovered from the chest looked enough like the fallen knight of Dalmasca for Balthier to concede his captain's veto: it was Vossler. The likeness was also improved by the spare set of clothes Basch had donated, not caring that Vossler was still leaving greasy footprints. Basch's own clothes had suffered for their own encounter with the oil.
After demanding to know, from Basch, the state of Dalmasca's fortunes and the whereabouts of its now queen, Vossler had remained silent. It was not the moody silence Balthier would have expected. He remembered his acrimony with the knight, but it was more difficult to resurrect than its object. The man in his current state was pitiful, clearly bewildered to be standing there eighteen months past his last memory.
Basch stood beside Vossler, near but not as near as he had been on the floor, nor as near as he clearly wished to be. He looked as stunned as Vossler, albeit with a much missed smile stupefied on his face.
"I think we've now found everything we came for," Balthier said, because someone should.
"He can wash in the sea, on the shores of Giruvegan," Fran suggested, in a tone of navigator's command. "Follow me."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
After they stepped out of the gates, Vossler raised a hand to shield his blinking eyes from the sun. He looked over the path onwards. He looked well about him, and then shook his head, walking down to the water's edge. He stripped, borrowed sword and borrowed clothes, and dived from the bridge into the crystal blue water below, as naked as he had fallen from that chest.
Basch turned to face Balthier and Fran, who stood with weapons balanced upon their shoulders.
"We can cover you," Balthier said.
The water was warm, and clear, sunlight reaching to deep sand below. Basch saw no fishes bigger than his own palm. Vossler's dark head surfaced nine yards off, looking after Basch's splash, perhaps, before jerking his head in the direction behind him and dipping under once more. Basch followed.
He remembered Vossler teaching him the stroke in the Nebra. Basch had come to Dalmasca knowing enough to avoid drowning, but no one swam for pleasure in Landis' frozen rivers and cliff-churning swells.
Finally, Vossler stopped, some distance but still in eyesight of the pier. Together, they treaded water.
"I have no recollection of this place, Basch. I have no memory of how I came to be here, but what I do remember, I prayed--"
Vossler bit off whatever he had meant to say and began again.
"You say Dalmasca is free and her majesty is crowned?"
"And you still travel with pirates."
The question came without the disgust Basch expected, but a considering tone.
"I am a pirate," Basch corrected, watching Vossler carefully and trying not to hope. "My brother works to regain his honour in Archades, supporting the young Lord Larsa. My name is still that of a traitor in Dalmasca. I am more use to peace as a pirate."
Vossler looked at the shore for long moments.
"I thought to answer for my actions, for my betrayal of my duty and my honour, with my death."
"I am not sorry to be alive," Vossler said. "I do not know when I will be ready to return to Dalmasca, but I am not sorry that you found me."
Vossler's face did not show a flush the way Basch's fair skin did, but the way that Vossler could neither keep Basch's gaze, nor stop seeking it, was a more subtle tell.
"Do you think your pirates could use another sellsword?"
"I'll have to ask the Captain."
"The captain says if he fights only what the captain tell him to, he can stay!"
Vossler jerked around in the water at the sound. On the pier, Balthier stood, waving with the hand that was not cupped by his mouth.
"Fran has big ears," Basch explained. "You'll get used to it."
Vossler looked sceptical, eyes narrowed as he faced the pirates. Basch felt a grin appear at the once familiar dour expression on his friend's face.
"We'll see," Vossler said, frown lightening as he turned to face Basch. "Race you back to the pier?"