Spring Rains - Part 03
The group returned to Wiz who had just finished unloading the chocobos and fitting them all with saddles. He turned and saw the concerned looks, but more importantly the empty hands.
"Were they out of teriyaki?" He asked.
"No, some Hunters decided to start something with us," Gladiolus replied.
Wiz groaned. "You know you boys have a tendency to piss a lot of people off wherever you go?"
"That's what we're known best for," Prompto replied.
"So, what's the deal now?" Wiz asked. "They complain about you stealing their signature look?"
"Apparently they're seeking the same mark as us and don't fancy competition," Ignis explained.
"But you're still gonna go anyways," Wiz said.
"Of course," Noctis nodded.
Wiz handed the reins of one of the birds to Noctis. He patted Dave on the shoulder and gave Sania a hug. He made his way up the stairs and at the top he turned to the boys.
"Well, boys. I, uh," Wiz faltered for a moment, and then took an unnatural inhale. He then clapped his hands together and made a dusting motion. "I'm gonna get something to eat. You all have a fun trip."
Wiz turned and made his way for the market.
"What was that about?" Prompto asked.
"I believe Wiz just washed his hands of your mess," Dave commented. "Come on, we'd better get going. We'll want to be up the mountain before noon."
The mountain trek wasn't exactly easy on chocobos, but it was much better than hiking. The only person who really struggled was Sania, who was desperately trying to keep her balance as she rode side saddle on the massive bird. Her chocobo in turn was trying to balance Sania's lopsided weight and the saddlebag full of research tools she had packed, all of which she had insisted were vitally important to their task.
"Remind me again why we couldn't have taken a car for this journey?" She complained as she part-hugged, part-throttled the chocobo's neck.
"Do you want to pay Cid to repair a Crown City car that gets flooded?" Dave replied, gracefully sprinting ahead of her.
"We're almost at the top, Professor," Ignis said reassuringly.
Almost was a subjective term as the trek took another hour before they reached the Meldacio Hunter HQ. The safe haven for the realms monster hunters was built beneath the barrier mountains that separated Cleigne from the Vesperpool. A small stretch of road was ceilinged by twisting gnarled earthen arches that jutted out from the mountain side, making the place a natural tunnel, at the end of which was the man-made variety.
"Through the tunnel and we're going to be in a downpour," Sania said. "With the lowlands completely submerged I've had to hire a ferryman to get us to Myrlwood. But we can take the highway for a good chunk of the way to start with."
"Better get these ponchos on then, huh?" Prompto said pulling out his own small rubber poncho. It was bright orange with white stripes and lining for improved visibility.
Gladiolus looked at the markings and rubbed his chin. "You think wearing that is really such a good idea?"
"Well we'll be more visible to human adversaries, certainly," Dave said, noting Gladiolus's concern. "But it would be a hell of a way to go, falling out of a boat and drowning because we can't see you in a sea of black water."
"It'd be a hell of a way to go being sniper from afar because you were wearing a bright orange target," Gladiolus said. "Prompto, you're the sniper, isn't this basically gift-wrapping a kill for them?"
Prompto shrugged. "It's dark, rainy, windy and the field is surrounded by trees. I literally cannot think of worse sniping conditions."
Ignis nodded and put on his poncho. "That would be the 'expert opinion' Gladio."
Gladiolus grudgingly put his on as well. They grabbed a quick bite at the restaurant before remounting their birds and heading into the tunnel.
"It's a good thing chocobos can swim," Gladiolus said as they exited the other side.
The Vesperpool was not simply overfull from the wet season. Gladiolus had seen it like that on a couple of occasions, though usually on television as the season came about so rarely. But this was a whole other level. It was as Sania had said. The lowlands were gone, the tops of some of the taller trees jutting out defiantly like the bobbing head of a shipwreck victim stubbornly defying death. The midlands and the rocky outcroppings around the edges of the vesperpool were soaking wet with water and threatened to be overtaken in mere days. Even the mountainous region near the Myrlwood was looking part waterfall.
"Steyliff Grove has vanished," Dave said. "And I can barely see half of the usual landmarks. I wonder what the Marlboro population has done to survive. If they survived."
"Are you concerned about… Marlboros?" Prompto asked.
"They may be nasty buggers, kid, but they're an important part of the food chain around here. Namely, they're in charge of eating other things that would eat us," Dave explained. "Cockatrice herd'll be alright I think. They usually roost near Myrlwood."
"How shall we proceed Professor?" Ignis asked.
"Let's cross the highway and meet up with my ferryman. It's about 3 kilometers wester of here. He said he'd meet me on the peninsula near the old Haven. Assuming that wasn't completely swallowed up too," Sania said.
"And if it was?" Noctis asked.
"Well, we cross that bridge when we get to it," Sania replied - seemingly unaware of the irony that they were, in fact, crossing a bridge at the moment.
The rain was beating them down, and even the chocobos were having difficult staying energetic under the torrent. The crossing on the highway was slow and methodical, as neither birds nor riders had the energy to take the passage swiftly.
Gladiolus felt a shudder beneath his bird's feet.
"Hey, somethings happening Dave," Gladiolus said.
"I feel it too. Probably the rushing water beneath us," Dave replied.
There was a sudden lurch and a loud snapping sound, like the bone of a giant being cracked down the middle. On one strut of the bridge was Sania, Ignis and Prompto. On the strut that was currently collapsing into the pool of water below was Gladiolus, Noctis and Dave and their respective mounts.
The three safe companions shouted, but there was nothing else they could do within the three second span it took the endangered to meet murky water. Gladiolus was submerged for a few minutes but fought against the current and managed to breach the surface of the water with some difficulty. He was being swept down a massive flowing stream of water, fighting for each breath. His chocobo had, thankfully, managed to find its way back out of the water and was fleeing the scene in a sensible but regrettable decision to focus on self-preservation. Gladiolus didn't see Noctis or Dave's birds, but he did see them. Dave was clinging to Noctis by his fingers as they too were swept along downstream a few kilometers into the murky and drenched valley below.
"Noct!" Gladiolus shouted as he tried to swim closer to them. "Dave!"
A sudden jerking sensation gripped his middle. He had hit a submerged rock quite hard. The stream was now branching out in two paths: Dave and Noctis floating off in one direction, and Gladiolus in the other. He fought desperately to correct his course, but in doing so only managed to exacerbate his newfound injury. He tumbled down a few rain-formed waterfalls before landing in the larger still body of the Vesperpool proper. Finally able to swim for himself, he made his way to the closest thing resembling dry land, a bit of rock connected to the cliffs of the midlands.
He stood up and scanned the horizon for any sign of his friends. He could see the highway in the distance, and prayed that they at least had the good sense to stay put. Unfortunately he knew that would not be the case. As for Dave and Noctis all the shouting in the world wasn't going to make them magically pop up in the middle of this ceaseless storm. He gripped his side and took a look at it to see a massive gash, openly bleeding. He leaned down beneath a rocky outcrop and began to patch himself up with the small emergency first aid kit he kept in his belt. A few sutures later and the bleeding had stopped.
He rested his head against the rock behind him and sighed. He reached for his phone, which was gratefully still on him, but drenched as it was the device had been demoted to the role of an expensive paper weight.
"Great," Gladiolus groaned, folding his arms. He wouldn't be able to move for a while with his injury. And sleep seemed to be quickly overtaking him.