A Great Treasure, And One Man Leaves.

After the raid on the enemy base, and fighting the two mysterious women, the gang was back on the road again. Iris was still sitting in Asuka's lap as Ignis drives them down the road towards their destination, Cape Caem. Noctis was not allowed to drive for as long as Iris was with them, mainly because neither Ignis or Gladio wanted to take any risk of Noctis getting reckless. It was a little cramped, but Asuka wasn't complaining. Iris was light as a feather to her, so as long as she don't move around to much, they'll manage.

"I coulda gone another round" Gladio said, refering to their fight with the two women.

"Given their prowess, you should be glad you didn't" Ignis said.

"I hate to admit it, but they were tough. That younger girl kicked my ass real good. I'm not sure I would've survived if she was really trying to kill me" Asuka said, she didn't handle loosing a fight that well, so she was a little bitter about it. Shows that she still needs more training.

"Yeah, that Loqi guy was nothing compared to them" Prompto said.

"Though we may not have fared so well without the marshal" Ignis reminded.

"Think things would've gone differently if he were here now?" Prompto asked.

"She offered to play again. Maybe we'll get the chance to find out" Gladio answered.

As they continued to drive, hey got closer to a forest. Prompto looked at it "Is it me, or is this place beggin' to be explored?".

"Never been one to turn down an invitation" Noctis said.

"If what they say about the Malmalam Thicket is true…" Ignis wondered.

"Then we might just find what we're looking for here" Gladio said.

With that they decided to explore, and Ignis begins driving down a path to the right of the main road. Stories of a treasure traveled around this area, so it couldn't hurt to check it out and see if they find something worthwhile.

"I don't like the woods. Too many monsters" Prompto said.

Gladio looked at him "You kidding? What could be better than roughing it out here?".

"A million other things could be better" Prompto said.

"Come on Prompto, you were the one who said this place was begging to be explored" Asuka said.

"Yeah, but not all places should be explored" Prompto said.

Asuka rolls her eyes as Ignis parks the car in the designated parking area for the Malmalam Thicket area. Everyone gets out of the car and looks around for a bit.

"Oh! While you guys were gone, I saw a chocobo run past and it had a person on its back! Have you guys ever ridden one? I bet it'd be super fun!" Iris said.

Prompto chuckles "Funny you should ask…".

"Noct, call a bird for the lady" Ignis instructed.

Notcis smiled and did just that. Soon everyone were riding a chocobo... Iris got a pink one, which Asuka thought was really unfair, given how rare those types of chocobos are. Still they began riding through the woods, searching for the path that would lead them to the treasure.

"So, Noct. What're you gonna do when we get to Caem?" Iris asked.

"Me? Get ready to go to Altissia, I guess" Noctis answered.

"Right. Can't keep Lady Luna waiting" Iris said. Asuka gave her sister a sad smile, knowing about Iris' secret crush on Noct. It was sad that her poor sister couldn't be with the one she wanted to be with.

"Hey, what's the matter, Iris?" Gladio asked.

"Nothing! I'm having the time of my life out here on the road with you all" Iris answered.

"Well, there you go" Noctis said.

"It's too bad things can't stay this way forever, y'know? But hey, enjoy it while it lasts, right?" Iris said with a sad smile.

"Don't worry Iris, this will not be the last time you hang with us" Asuka assured, earning a grateful smile from her sister.

Soon they arrived outside the entrance to Malmalam Thicket. It looked pretty big, so they would need to walk for a bit.

"You up for it?" Gladio asked.

"I'm down" Noctis answered and they entered.

"Step lightly in here" Ignis instructed.

"There's no telling what'll come crawling out of the woodwork" Gladio said.

"Let em come. I am itching to punch something" Asuka said as she cracked her knuckles.

They headed inside and sure enough they had to deal with some local wildlife. Few animals out here were kind. Most of the animals out here just wants to kill you and eat you. Asuka didn't mind, she needed to take out some frustration after her embarrassing defeat against Kunimitsu, and some wild dangerous beasts were a good way to do that. One they were done dealing with the beasts, they continued on.

"Wouldn't wanna squish some slimy bug and ruin my nice kicks" Prompto said.

"Eh, you can just wash them of" Asuka said before hitting a large bug away, they were more annoying than anything else.

"Find anything rare or exotic yet?" Prompto asked.

"Slow down. We just got here" Noctis said.

"Y'know, if treasures were easy to find, they wouldn't be rare" Gladio said.

"We'll see about that" Prompto said, like he was accepting a challenge.

As they explored, they gathered some stuff Ignis could use for cooking. Once they did, Ignis suddenly perked up "That's it!".

Asuka almost jumped "Whats what?".

"I've come up with a new recipe" Ignis said in satisfaction.

"Heh, can't wait to try it" Noctis said with a small chuckle at Ignis sudden revelation.

They continued on the path until they could hear the sound of water nearby.

"That a…brook I hear babbling?" Prompto said.

"A regular river, I'd say" Gladio said.

"Oh, think we have time to cast a line?" Noctis asked, sounding like a child.

"Sorry, bud. Need to reel yourself in this time around" Prompto joked.

"Booo" Asuka said at the silly pun.

As they approached the river and the nearby, Prompto noticed something "Hey! I know those runes!".

"It's a sign. We should set up camp" Gladio said.

Noctis gave him a look "You a fortune-teller now?".

"We can rest up or move on. It's your choice, Noct" Ignis said.

Noctis thinks about it and decides it couldn't hurt to take a break. If more dangerous beasts were waiting for them, it would be good if they were at full strength. And Noctis could use this as an excuse to sleep for a while. So they set up camp, giving Ignis the chance to try out his new recipe. It tasted real good, and they expected nothing less from their world class cook. After a nice meal, they spent some time talking, going through some of Prompto's pictures, one of which showed Asuka nearly getting bit in the butt, much to her annoyance. After that, they settled in for a good night sleep, with Iris and Asuka holding each other close.

The next day, after having some breakfast, they began walking near the waterfall downstream from the haven.

"Don't think we can go any further down without winding up at the bottom" Prompto said.

"Time to start moving upstream" Ignis said.

"Aw, man, my underwear's soaked!" Prompto complained.

Noctis looked a little worried "I…really hope that's from the river".

"Weighed down a wee bit" Ignis said.

Asuka couldn't help herself and whispered in Prompto's ear "If your underwear are soaked. Maybe you should take them of. I can help you".

Prompto's face got so red he ended up sticking his head in to the water. Everyone looked confused why he would suddenly do that, while Asuka covered her mouth, trying so hard not to burst out laughing.

"What did you say to him?" Iris asked.

"I will tell you some other time" Asuka said between giggles.

They make, their way upstream. Being careful not to slip in to the water.

"Take care the current doesn't carry you away" Ignis warned.

"I'm not sure my footwear is up to this!" Prompto said.

Gladio pulled him away from the water "Don't let yourself get pulled in".

When they walk near the waterfall that flows into the river, the water kept splashing them every time they had to go near it. Sometimes they had no other choice but to step in to it, which was not very pleasant.

"Ah! Cold! Cold!" Noctis said as he hurried over.

"Freezing cold!" Prompto complained.

"You oughta stand under that waterfall and let it toughen you up a little" Gladio said.

"I don't think that would be good for my camera. Or me" Prompto said.

"Man you guys are weak. I used to swim in much colder water as a training exercice" Asuka said.

"Oh yeah, you swam naked in the city canal. A miracle that no one saw you... then again, maybe some did but never said anything" Iris remembered.

"Wait, what?" Noctis asked.

"Never mind" Asuka said giving Iris a small glare, but her sister just giggled... and Prompto blushed at the mental image of Asuka skinny dipping.

They continued on before taking the path leading through a crevice of the rock wall beside the waterfall.

"Just keeps going on from here" Noctis said.

"Then we keep going, too" Gladio declared.

Noct and the others make their way through the narrow path. There weren't many more animals around, so the path was relatively safe. For now at least.

"This place is…cozy" Prompto commented.

"Well, I wouldn't get too comfy if I were you" Gladio warned.

Ignis nods "Right. We're not out of the woods yet".

Soon after, they exit from the crevice into a clearing of the woods. Prompto smiled as they could finally see the sky again "Man, am I glad to be out of there".

"Don't speak too soon" Gladio said.

Prompto becomes aware of the large Bandersnatch creature coming toward them. Wide-jawed beast that literally fumes with rage when angered. Little beyond that which is apparently observable is known about this curious species. The bandersnatch is a feral and savage beast feared by all others. Many a bold cameraman has risked his life trying to capture this moment of vulnerability, only to find himself helpless before the bashful terror. Fabled "pet" of the Witch of the Woods. The Malmalam Thicket is off-limits to hunters, who can thus neither confirm nor deny the beast's existence.

Well, it sure looks pretty real for our group of heroes. And they remember spotting a similar looking creature their early exploring. But they were to outmatched to even attempt to fight that one. But things has changed since then. They were good enough to take down a Behemoth now, so this creature shouldn't be to dangerous to bring down.

"Not so glad anymore" Prompto said.

"Not surprised either" Nocti added.

"It's what we came for" Gladio reminded.

"Let's have it!" Ignis declared.

Asuka smirked and took out her gauntlets "Yes! Iris, stay back and let us deal with it. No offence, but as strong as you are, this thing is to dangerous".

"Alright, I will be ready to support you whenever you need it" Iris said.

With that, the others got ready to fight the Bandersnatch. The massive creatures roars as it charges at them like an enraged bull. The group split up to avoid it, as grouping up wouldn't be a good strategy against this beast. They had to be careful as the Bandersnatch was covered in spikes, which can be dangerous if it hits. Ignis instructed them to go for the legs, and they did but had to avoid being trampled by the beasts' large feet. Asuka slammed her fist in to it's foot, causing it to roar and stomp the ground which forced her to jump back, allowing Gladio to charge in and deliver a strong hit to it's leg with his large sword. While they did that, Prompto brought out a heavier weapon and unleashed a barrage of bullets to the beasts face, distracting it long enough for Noctis to use his warp ability to strike it at several weak points.

The Bandersnatch roars in both pain and anger before spinning around, swinging it's spiked tail. Asuka was not able to dodge in time so she had to block it. The impact sent her flying back and she hit the ground hard. Iris was quick to run up to her and healed her. Asuka stood up feeling like she was back at full strength.

"Thanks sis, you are a life saver" Asuka praised.

Iris smiled at her "Happy to help. Not get back in there and kick it's ass!".

Asuka smirked, happy to oblige. She chraged back in calling out to Gladio to give her a boost. Knowing what she was planing, Gladio held out a hand, allowing Asuka to grab it before using his amazing strength to toss her towards the Bandersnatch. Asuka prepared her fist before delivering a massive blow to the side of the beast's face, causing one of it's bladed jaws to break of, and causing it a lot of pain. This allowed Noctis to use a large blade to strike it's leg, causing it to lose balance and fall over. The group gathered up before attacking at the same time, each delivering a devastating blow to the bandersnatch's weak spots, before Noctis warps high in to the air with a large spear in hand, before dashing down and rams the spear in to the bandersnatch's head, killing it on the spot.

"Oh yeah! We are the beast slayers!" Asuka cheered.

"Move over hunters, a new big game team is here!" Prompto cheered as well, before he and Asuka high fived.

"Noct, you might want to see this" Ignis called out.

"Score! It's all about that treasure" Prompto said happily.

The treasure turned out to be a royal tomb, meaning Noctis could gain another new weapon from it, to make himself stronger and be more ready for his destiny. Noct and the others enter the royal tomb, where he acquires the Scepter of the Pious.

"Feels good to get it done" Gladio said.

"Yeah! Almost makes up for the soaked socks and bug bites" Prompto agreed.

"This was good training too. I already feel a little stronger from it" Asuka said.

"Indeed. This was a worthwhile experience" Ignis said.

With that they left. It was time to continue on.

Soon, they were on the road again, heading to Cape Caem.

"Are you guys excited to visit Altissia or what?" Iris asked.

"I guess" Noctis answered.

"I'm so jealous!" Iris said.

"We're not going on vacation" Gladio reminded.

"Oh, yeah. You're right" Iris remembered, but she sounded sad.

Ignis glanced at her through the back mirror "Iris?".

"Something wrong?" Prompto asked.

"What? No, I'm fine. I-I'm not jealous. I just…had a lot of fun hanging out with you guys. But that'll all be in the past once we hit Caem" Iris said sadly.

"What're you talking about?" Gladio asked.

"We can hang out anytime! Right?" Prompto asked as he looked at Noctis.

Noctis nodded "Yeah".

"Hey Iris, how about after all this chaos blows over and things start to calm down. How about we go on an family adventure together? Just me, you and Gladio, exploring the world together, as a family" Asuka offered.

"That sounds wonderful! I love that idea! What do you think Galdio?" Iris asked her older brother.

Gladio thinks and smiles "That does sound like a good time, if Noct here allows it".

"Of course, who am I to get away of some family time?" Noctis asked.

Prompto looked back "What about me?".

Asuka thinks before she smirks "Only family members will be allowed. So if you wish to come along, you need to marry me first".

Prompto blushed "Oh... well then maybe... I... Ummm...".

Everyone shared a laugh at Prompto stumbling over his words. after passing Leirity Seaside, Iris perked up as she smelled the air.

"Smells like there's…salt in the air" She said.

"Sea breeze, we're on the water" Ignis said.

"Wow, it's beautiful!" Iris said happily.

Ignis smiled "Picture-perfect".

Finally the group arrives near Cape Caem, where a large bridge were waiting for them.

"Wow! Look at that bridge up ahead!" Iris said.

"Hmph. Some piece of work right there" Galdio said.

"The rivers run wide out here, so the bridges run long" Ignis informed.

Guess I'll see it when we cross" Iris is quiet for a few seconds "Wanna get a closer look?".

Noctis blinked "At what?".

They stopped for a little bit to admire the view and allow Prompto to take a nice photo. After that they continue on and passes through the tunnel on the other side of the bridge.

"So, you're the one doing all the cooking?" Iris asked.

Ignis nods "More or less".

"Gladdy, don't you help? Noct?" Iris asked.

"Eh, on occasion" Noctis weakly defended himself.

"What occasion?" Ignis asked.

"I do my part! I always set the table" Prompto stated.

"That's some arrangement you guys have there" Iris said before looking at Asuka "What about you sis?".

"Iris, have you forgotten the last time I tried to cook?" Asuka asked.

Iris shuddered "Oh, right".

They finally arrived at their destination and parks the car.

"This the place?" Gladio asked.

"Sure is! Thanks for the lift, Ignis" Iris said.

Ignis nods "My pleasure".

"Can't wait to see my buddy Talcott!" Prompto said.

"Whoa. Pretty impressive lighthouse" Gladio said as they began walking.

"What say we head on up?" Prompto asked.

"Ought to be a nice view, if a bit blustery" Ignis said.

They run into Cindy, who is waiting for them along the path. It was nice to see a familiar face again after everything that happened.

"What's up?" Gladio asked.

"Knew it was y'all! Recognize the purr of that engine anywhere!" Cindy said in her angelic accent.

"Whew! You know your stuff" Prompto said impressed.

"Thanks for the ride. It was fun!" Iris said as she continues on up the path quickly while the others walk more slowly.

"How's the boat?" Noctis asked.

"Paw-paw's tinkerin' away. Reckon he'll be tinkerin' for some time" Cindy answered.

"Trouble at sea?" Ignis asked.

"Seen her share, by the looks of her. Some parts we can fix, others need replacin'" Cindy answered.

"Huh, an overhaul" Gladio said.

"Don't y'all worry. Paw-paw ain't goin' nowhere 'til the job's done. Parts won't fetch 'emselves, though. Was kinda hopin' y'all wouldn't mind helpin' out with that?" Cindy asked.

"We're at your disposal" Ignis assured.

"To tell the truth, we already got a couple hands on deck: Dustin an' Monica" Cindy said.

"You can depend on the Crownsguard" Ignis said.

"Trouble is, they ain't had much like findin' a certain somethin' by the name of mythril. Apparently the stuff's hard to come by around these parts, least accordin' to the little fella from the city" Cindy explained.

"Talcott?" Prompto asked.

"You betcha! Sharp as a tack, that one. Could tell y'all more about the stuff'n I could" Cindy answered.

"We'll be sure to ask" Noctis said.

"Cindy comes to a stop at the top of the path "Paw-paw's down on the dock. Now, if y'all'd excuse me, I'm gonna grab my tools and skedaddle. Got a garage to look after".

"Go ahead Cindy. It was nice to see ya again. Next time we should try catching up some more" Asuka said, allowing her own accent to come out for a bit.

Cindy smirks "You betcha! Always nice to speak to a fellow country gal".

Cindy leaves and they head up to the nearby house, where Talcott was eagerly waiting for them.

"I think Miss Cindy might've told you already, but she needs a very special kind of ore called mythril to fix the boat. Remember the waterfall? I read in Grandpa's notebook there's some ruins near a lake just north of there. It said you'll find mythril inside!" Talcott said.

"Nice going little buddy" Asuka said with a smile.

Talcott smiled back and heads inside, and Iris speaks up "About that lake: preeetty sure he was talking about the Vesperpool. I asked Monica to look into it, and she told me the road leading there's under imperial lockdown. You'll want to be prepared for anything. So, how's that coming along?".

"Yeah, just…give us a second" Gladio said. But something wasn't right.

"Uh, okay? I'll be inside, then" Iris said as she goes inside.

"So yeah, gonna have to ask you to handle this boat business without me" Gladio said.

"Say wha?" Prompto asked surprised.

"Got some business of my own to deal with" Gladio answered.

"Hey bro, what's the matter? This is so out of the blue" Asuka said.

"Don't worry sis. Just a little hike to help me clear my head" Gladio assured, but it was obvious there was more to it.

"Then, how long will you be gone?" Asuka asked, she was getting worried now.

"Not long enough for you to miss me" Gladio assured.

"Do your thing. Not like we could stop you anyway" Noctis said.

Gladio smiled "You know me too well".

Asuka sighed before giving him a hug "Fine, but you better come back, ya hear?".

Gladio hugged her back "No worries sis, I always come back".

With that they watched as Gladio walked away. All of them hoping he would be ok. But Asuka was worried about what made him do this in the first place.


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