Spring Rains - Part 02
The six of them wouldn't fit in the Regalia, even with Sania's suggestion that maybe it was Dave's turn to travel in the trunk. So Wiz drove Dave and Sania back to Lestallum, along with a convoy of six of his finest chocobos. They would be leaving the cars at Lestallum and then taking the birds up the mountain the rest of the way. The slow convoy (keeping pace with Wiz's rickety old truck) gave the others ample time to tease Gladiolus some more.
"So, you have a soft spot for Sania huh?" Prompto asked.
"Didn't realize you were in to older women," Noctis added casually from the front seat.
Gladiolus shrugged. "She's not that much older. Mid thirties, I think. Besides she's brilliant."
"I figured you'd be more into the muscle-bound femme fatale type," Prompto suggested.
"It's possible, but looks and strength fade, but a keen mind lasts you a while," Gladiolus said. "I'd like to point out that during these road trips of ours, I'm the one with a book in hand."
Noctis and Prompto exchanged a glance, before going on the defensive.
"Well, we read stuff on our phones," Prompto said.
"What's the last story you read?" Gladiolus challenged.
Noctis, without missing a beat, replied "The instructions for King's Knight."
Ignis decided to enter into the fray. "So what do you propose, Gladiolus? Do you intend to sweep Professor Yeagre off her feet? The strong, silent guardian helping the damsel in distresss?"
"Oh so that's your type," Noctis shucked under his breath.
Gladiolus smacked the back of his head before continuing. "Jeez, what's with you guys? We said two sentences to each other."
"It was magical. I'm already hearing wedding bells," Prompto sighed dramatically.
"You'll be seeing stars in a minute if you don't cut it out," Gladiolus warned.
They parked at the public overlook lot. It jutted out over the chasm, giving a stunning view of Duscae and the Disc of Cauthess. The wild wetlands, the vast forests, and the stone archways that criss-crossed the valley. The smells of the Lestallum marketplace, fresh produce and spices along with the unique culinary flavor of the city made Noctis's stomach growl in protest.
"Perhaps we grab some breakfast before heading up the mountain," Ignis suggested.
"I could do with a bite. Your mind performs better on a full stomach," Sania said.
"I'll wait here with the birds. You go grab anything you might need, then get back here on the double," Wiz said. "And you damn sight better bring me back some teriyaki."
The group traveled as one down the streets to the massive open-air market in the center of town. This was Ignis's idea of heaven. Every time he came there were more and more ingredients to create his tantalizing recipes.
"Hey, you better get a full compliment of groceries. I doubt we'll be able to do much hunting when we get to Vesperpool," Gladiolus instructed.
"Already on it," Ignis nodded. "The trick is finding easy to carry and long-lasting produce and meats."
Prompto and Noctis had each grabbed some Roti and Curry bowls and were sitting at a table on the side of the street to eat. Dave chided them.
"Shouldn't you be getting some supplies too?" Dave asked.
"I can fish for food," Noctis explained. "I don't think we'll have problem finding fish there."
"And I'm basically just the looks of the group," Prompto added.
"Yeah, looks through a camera lens all day," Noctis replied.
Eventually the others returned from their shopping trip and sat down with the boys to eat their own meals. Gladiolus got a massive pulled pork burger, Ignis chose to try a spicy chicken salad concoction of his own design, and Dave and Sania each treated themselves to the honey bread and egg sandwiches.
"This is more 'breakfast food'. Do you all seriously just eat whatever you want, whenever you want?" Sania teased.
"Sometimes we eat Cup Noodle," Prompto replied. "But otherwise, yeah."
Gladiolus stopped eating and tilted his head slightly to the left. The others stopped talking and looked at him.
"What's up?" Dave asked.
"Those three over there by the wall have been following us since we got here," Gladiolus said quietly.
Dave took a surreptitious and indirect glance at them using the reflection of a nearby window.
"They look like Hunters," Dave said. "But they're not my guys."
"Do we engage them directly?" Ignis asked.
"Dave and I will have a word with them," Gladiolus said, standing up. Dave followed suit.
"I'm coming too," Noctis said, standing up as well. "May as well make it even."
Gladiolus nodded and the three approached their followers. They were dressed in the usual grey attire of Hunters. The leader was a giant man with a bald head wearing a grey sleeveless shirt and black hunting vest over it. To his left was a woman wearing a thick grey jacket and wearing a mechanical eye-piece to match her rifle slung over her back. On his right was a smaller man in grey camouflage, wearing a hood.
"Can we help you?" Gladiolus asked, standing at his own impressive height with nearly matched the man he spoke to.
"You're heading to the Vesperpool, right?" The man asked in a bored sort of way. Clearly he was not impressed by their show of force.
"What's it matter to you?" Dave asked.
"We got wind of you through our network," the woman replied. "We're after the same target it would seem."
"Now how the hell do you know what we're after?" Noctis asked, figuring it was his turn to speak.
The smaller man followed up. "It's enough that we know. Just because our mark is the same does not mean our goal is the same. We, for one, don't like to share credit."
"Fine, then work alone. We don't care as long as the monster winds up dead," Gladiolus shrugged.
The tall man smirked as though he'd just figured something out. Gladiolus had let something slip.
"If we find you to be in our way, we'll remove you. I suggest you call off this venture of yours," the man said. He looked over Gladiolus's shoulder at Sania. "I would hate to be responsible for the loss of such a credit to academia."
Gladiolus grabbed the man's shirt collar but he broke out of the grasp with only the slightest effort and knocked Gladiolus on the ground. The woman raised her rifle and the smaller man raised his hands, charging up a spell of some kind. Prompto and Ignis rushed into action, each readying their own weapon, but the tall man shook his head and just laughed.
"Five on three? Not very sportsmanlike is it? Besides we don't to scare all these nice people here. Turn back now, kiddos. If we find you in the Vesperpool, we will kill you all."
The man turned around and began to walk away. His cohorts followed suit.
"Gladio, are you alright?" Ignis asked.
"Just my pride," Gladiolus hissed, getting back up.
"Who were they?" Sania asked.
"No idea," Gladiolus replied. "But they're going to be trouble."
"We're still going to the Vesperpool though right?" Noctis asked.
"Of course. When did threat of certain death ever stop us from doing anything?" Prompto asked.