It was by his voice that Balthier first knew him: deep, resonant, commanding. Was it the sound of that voice that brought him back to his year as a Judge -- uncertain, uncomfortable, second-guessing his every move -- or was it merely being back in Draklor that made him sweat as though he were locked in armor? And then the pace of events quickened, keeping Balthier from further analysis of the stranger's voice, or his own reaction, or the contemptuous familiarity with which Cid had greeted the man. But now, striding through the halls of Draklor to make their escape, he took the opportunity to sort through what facts he knew of their new companion. By the time he reached the Strahl, he had reached a conclusion as well.
He boarded the ship, turned to Fran to share his discovery, then paused. He knew well why a man might want to shed a past along with a name. If Reddas numbered among them, who was he to unveil that secret?
Fran looked at him. "What is it?"
"Nothing of import." He shook his head, then raised his voice. "Start-up sequence. We make for Balfonheim. Watch for uninvited guests."
Time passed. Their passage to the Feywood and subsequent trek through its dangerous byways, the mysteries of Giruvegan and the Occuria, the unknown whereabouts of Cid and the increasingly-disturbing glimmers of his true purpose: all of these demanded Balthier's immediate attention. And yet, deep in the back of his mind, he continued worrying at the question of Reddas. If he was who Balthier believed -- and the more he considered it, the more convinced Balthier became that his memories were not simply playing tricks on him -- why had he chosen this path? What could have driven Judge Magister Foris Zecht, Gramis's spymaster and Cid's right-hand man, to abandon not only his command and his name but the Empire itself?
Stepping out of the crystal fog and onto the streets of Balfonheim, he could stand the churn of his thoughts no longer, and as the others split up to re-provision before heading to the manse, he pulled Fran aside with a glance, and by unspoken agreement they headed for the Aerodrome and the privacy of the Strahl. Once there, he told Fran of his theory. "So," he concluded, "it is a curious thing to me. Why is he here, under a false name and false pretenses? Why does he work for Ondore and against the Empire?"
Fran looked thoughtful. "Surely it is not difficult for you to believe that a man might find a Judge's armor to be ill-fitting."
"You did not know him as Zecht. I did." Balthier shook his head. "That helm never rested easy on my brow, not even when I believed it signified a noble calling. Zecht wore it as though he were born to it. I should know: I was under his command. No, it cannot have been as simple for him to leave that world as it was for me."
"Perhaps you'll have more opportunity to speak with him soon." Fran tipped her chin. "Do you think he knows who you are?"
Balthier shrugged. "Almost certainly. And that is as odd as anything, if he works against my father. Why trust me, any more than I may trust him?"
Fran half-smiled. "You pulled your weapon on Cid in Draklor. He may see you as a more likely ally than enemy."
"Perhaps." Balthier unfolded himself from the captain's chair with a sigh. "Very well, time to find the others and head for the manse. We can only hope that his lead panned out better than ours."
The council had been held, their information exchanged, a plan set. Directly after, Balthier had sent Fran to the Aerodrome, to see to the installation of the new skystone in the Strahl. If the upgrade behaved as promised and allowed his ship to navigate Jagd, that alone would make everything he had endured throughout this journey worthwhile.
Though eager to see if the stone would work, he was even more keen to speak with Reddas alone, and so he stayed behind. Ashe was last to leave; she glanced at him, brows raised as if wondering at his purpose, but then she merely shook her head and continued out of the room, letting the door shut behind her. For a moment he stood still, eyes on the closed door, composing his thoughts. When he was ready, he turned around.
Reddas had returned to his desk to shuffle through papers, but at the sound he looked up. "What keeps you here, pirate?"
"I might ask the same of you." Balthier crossed the room and leaned a hand casually on the desk. "Sir," he added, tone casual, as though speaking an afterthought.
Reddas set down the sheaf of reports in his left hand. For a moment he sat in silence, looking up at Balthier, his expression cool. Then he stood, and motioned toward the bar. "Have a drink with me."
He gave the words the force of an order, but Balthier chose to take it as a request instead. "Thank you, I believe I will." He turned and followed Reddas to the bar along the side of the room. Reaching beneath the counter, Reddas pulled out two green bottles of an ale that Balthier recognized as a fine Archadian brand. He held out one, and Balthier reached for it, their fingers brushing as he accepted it from Reddas's hand. He stepped back and took a drink.
Reddas leaned against the bar, holding the his bottle in both hands, but he did not partake. "So," he said. "Have you told them?"
"Only Fran." Balthier took another swallow; the ale was cold, a refreshing contrast to the warm, humid day, and welcome on a throat suddenly dry with unaccustomed nerves. It was, he told himself, simply that he had not expected such a direct response. It had nothing to do with Reddas himself, or his unflinching stare. "I know better than to reveal the secrets of a fellow pirate."
Reddas nodded. "And your companions know of your true identity?"
Balthier fixed his gaze upon Reddas, eyebrow raised. "True identity? I should think you of all people would understand how fluid a notion identity can be."
Reddas lifted his bottle in a mock salute. "Point." He tipped his head back and drank, his throat bobbing as he swallowed.
"Still, you ask a fair question." Balthier shrugged. "I told Ashe of my history some time ago. She needed to understand what drives me down this path. Fran, of course. The others, well. They have the pieces of the puzzle, should they wish to assemble it."
"I guessed right away, but only became certain while watching you in battle against Cid. You've refined your shooting stance in the years since, but I recognized the set of your shoulders immediately." Reddas tapped his fingers on the bottle, his nails ringing dully against the glass. "You were developing into a fine marksman. It seems your promise has paid off."
Balthier's hands went slack with surprise, and the bottle almost slipped out of his grasp; to cover, he tightened his fingers, then raised the ale to his lips, taking a moment to recover as he drank. Once ready, he lowered the bottle and raised an eyebrow. "I hadn't thought I'd particularly distinguished myself in your service."
"You were Dr. Cid's son, and the youngest judge in a generation." Reddas let out a soft snort. "I would have taken note of you regardless of your considerable abilities." His voice grew more serious as he continued. "Mind, your face would have been enough, even had I not remembered you from the Ninth. The family resemblance is striking, and your sudden departure was the subject of much conversation in certain circles. I should be most surprised if Vayne did not draw the same conclusions, assuming that Cid has not already informed him of your presence in Ashe's party."
"It matters little; I am nothing to Vayne. Disgraced third sons with little influence over their fathers are beneath his notice. Still, given a choice, I'd prefer my anonymity to have lasted a touch longer." He cast Reddas a sharp look. "And you? How long do you expect to elude Vayne's notice, and Cid's, here in your bolt hole?"
"Ha!" Reddas set his bottle down on the bar with a bang. "I am not so naïve as to believe that my whereabouts are unknown. Especially not after my fishing expedition to Draklor. We may not have seen Vayne's lackeys, but mark my words: they followed at a discreet distance."
"Indeed." Balthier finished the ale and let the bottle fall between his fingers, dangling it by the neck. "So. Once judges together, now traitors together. Would it be too forward of me to ask why?"
Reddas did not speak for a moment, and his eyes focused off into the distance. The silence spread to fill the entire room. When he spoke again, it was with the force of passion: anger and fear intermingling and cutting through the air straight to Balthier's core. "No one can be allowed to use nethicite again. No one. Not Cid, nor Vayne, or Ondore, or the lords of House Margrace. Not even the Lady Ashe." He dropped his chin and looked Balthier straight in the face, eyes blazing. "They must be stopped. All of them. The tragedy of Nabudis must never be repeated. To ensure that, I would gladly die."
Balthier could not look away from the intensity of that fire, and his next words were soft, remembering Reddas's mad rush against Cid in Draklor. "Or kill?"
"If I must." Reddas looked away, and Balthier could breathe once more. A weariness akin to death passed across Reddas's face as he dropped his chin. "If I must."
The rumors that had swirled around regarding the conquest of Nabradia -- a Judge Magister, using a terrible weapon on the orders of a scientist -- crystallized in Balthier's mind, and at last the shards of truth fell into their logical order. He stepped closer to Reddas and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You cannot blame yourself."
"Ah, but I can." Reddas looked up again; the fire was gone from his eyes, replaced by a look so haunted that Balthier's breath caught in his throat again. He tried to back away, his hand sliding from Reddas's shoulder, but Reddas stopped him, catching Balthier's hand in a crushing grip. "I held the nethicite in my hands. I felt its power course through me, through the ship, through every living thing in the city. Their deaths are on my head, a sin for which I can never atone."
The power was still in Reddas's hands; Balthier could feel it, pulsing and hot as his fingers tightened. The empty bottle fell from his free hand, its thump against the carpet reaching his ears slowly, as though the air had thickened with tension. "The head that should hang in shame is Cid's," he said. "Not yours."
Reddas's voice deepened further, into a near growl. "I am no automaton, carrying out orders with no thought to the consequences!"
"Naturally not." Balthier shook his head. "I am not suggesting that you disclaim all responsibility. But you need not turn so much rage inward. Save it for the men who deserve it: for Cid, and for Vayne. Perhaps Vayne even more so, for pushing a man on the brink of madness full over the edge in his lust for power."
A furrow crept onto Reddas's brow, and the fire in his eyes, banked earlier, began to burn again. "Make no mistake, pirate." He stood up straight, and finally released Balthier's hand. "I hold them responsible for their part in this crime, and for that, they shall pay."
"As well they should." Balthier took a deep breath as he stepped back, shaking the cramp out of his hand, then closing it in soft fist, still shaped by the memory of Reddas's grip. "And if you wondered why I take my own father's downfall as my cause, then now you know. For you are right in this respect: they must be stopped. At any cost."
"We are agreed on one thing, then." Reddas spoke heavily, jaw clenching with determination. "Tomorrow morning, we travel to the ends of the earth in order to save it. But for now, leave me. I must prepare for our journey."
"As you wish." Balthier stepped back with a nod. "The Strahl is in the Aerodrome. Slip Seven. Thank you for the drink, and the enlightening conversation." He turned to go, picking up the bottle and setting it on the navigation table as he passed, then pausing with his hand on the doorknob.
Balthier turned to face Reddas again; he still stood at the bar, arms now crossed against his chest. "Yes?"
His voice was calm, but the snap of his eyes and the tension in his arms belied his tone. "I do not forget that you were first to speak of using power against power. And so you would do well not to forget what I said here today. To stop another from wielding the nethicite, I would kill."
Looking in those eyes, Balthier knew that Reddas meant what he said. He would have killed Cid without a second thought had Venat not intervened. What was to stop him from killing Cid's son in the same circumstance? He wanted to prove his intent, to challenge Reddas to a duel and wrestle him to the ground, to run as fast and far from Balfonheim as the Strahl would take him. Instead, he simply nodded. "If you must," he replied. And without another look back, he pushed through the door.