More missing hunters.
While Noct didn’t mind retrieving the tags of hunters that never made it back, it was still a rather depressing task, knowing it was the only form of closure the family would get. The worst ones were the tags that had no one to go to. Dave kept these. Noct didn’t know how the man could stand this part of his job.
“How much farther?” Prompto asked, his breathing slightly labored as the team
reached the top of a large plateau.
Ignis stepped forward, surveying the area below them to the north. “There, I believe that outcropping of rocks may be what Dave was talking about.” the adviser stated, pointing to the location. It was just across a small canyon, maybe little more than 500 yards away from where they stood. Noctis sighed, giving a short nod.,
“Well, better get going then.”
“Something bothering you, Princess?” Gladio asked as they began their descent into the canyon.
“Just…lets just ind the tags and get ‘em back to Dave.” The prince replied. The loss of his father was still too fresh in his mind. While he was sure that looking for the remnants of fallen hunters wasn’t the best way to deal with everything that had happened, moving forward was better than doing nothing at all.
Once in the canyon, it wasn’t hard to spot signs that they were definitely on the right path. Deep gouges lined sections of the canyon walls, some in the ground as well, vegetation slashed and damaged. The most unsettling piece of evidence was the blood. It created a trail that led them further and further into the canyon, causing Noct’s stomach to twist itself into one big knot. Were they about to stumble upon the mangled remains of this lost hunter?
What if the beast they were after was still there?
As they drew closer to a clearing, Noct couldn’t help but draw in a breath, bracing himself for what lay ahead.
But there was nothing.
Where he had expected to see Coeurls devouring what remained, there was only the clearing and some drag marks that continued further inward. Noct let out a shaky breath, somewhat relieved, though there had been a part of him that had hoped they might find this one alive.
“Look!” Prompto called, jogging forward to pick up the silver tags that lay, gleaming in the grass in the dimming light. The blonde held the chain up, examining the information printed on them.
“Nova Fortis. Poor guy…looked like he put up a pretty good fight.”
“Not good enough.” Gladio snorted, crossing his arm across his chest.
Noct barely heard their words, his eyes tracing the trail of drag marks that led out of the canyon. He couldn’t explain it, but he felt something, almost a nagging feeling telling him to follow it. Without a word, he moved past his companions to the other side of the clearing, watching the marks as they snaked off further ahead. He heard Prompto call after him, but he continued on, focused on the trail. They would follow.
Ignis was beside him in an instant, almost as if he had simply materialized from thin air. He said nothing, noting the prince’s focused gaze trained on the grooves left in the dirt. The light was fading and they were getting further and further from the outpost.
“Noct, we should turn back.” Ignis stated, beginning to worry slightly. Being out in the wilderness at night was not a place they wanted to be.
It was Prompto who first alerted them to the sound, stopping just as he had caught up to Ignis and Noct.
“Did you hear that?” he asked, head swiveling about to find the source of whatever he had heard.
“Hear what?” Gladio growled in frustration.
They all fell silent for a moment, just listening. At first, it seemed as though the blonde might have simply been hearing things Noct was almost ready to tease his friend and ease the tension when they heard it ; the sounds of a person in distress just over the next ridge. Noct and Prompto were the first to dart off in the direction of the sound, Gladio and Ignis quickly rushing after them.
Coeurls were circling a young woman as she thrust her halberd towards them, managing to keep them pushed back but not striking them. It was clear this had been going on for some time, giving the beasts the chance to learn her moves and know to keep back. With their attention on her, they didn’t sense the prince and his team until they were already upon them. By then, it was too late. The battle was a quick one, thanks to the element of surprise, leaving the bodies of at least six coeurls dead on the ground. The four surveyed the area for any other beasts and once it was certain everything was safe, they turned their attentions to the woman.
She was wounded, her leg bloodied and mildly damaged, leaning heavily on her polearm to keep her weight off it. Though the wound wasn’t threatening, it would need to be tended to as soon as possible.
“Are you okay?” the prince managed to ask after catching himself staring at the woman.
“Been worse.” came the reply, a small and slightly pained smile crossing her lips as she shifted, gripping her pole arm for support. Brilliant blue eyes that rivaled Prompto’s scanned her four rescuers, falling to the blonde sharpshooter. She made an attempt to moved forward, reaching out to Prompto as she stumbled.
“Those are mine.”
All eyes turned to him, catching sight of the silver tags that currently hung around his neck. Noctis felt relief wash over him as his best friend reached to pull the chain over his head. “You’re Nova?” he asked as he moved forward to return the tags to their owner.
She smiled, a bit brighter this time. “Yep! And i’m glad that you boys showed up when you did. I wasn’t sure I was gonna make it .”
“What happened?” Ignis spoke up. Dave had said she had been missing about a week or two at least.
Nova raised her head to look at the sky, noting the fading light. “ Its a bit of a story and we’re a long way from the outpost. But I know there’s a haven nearby. If one of you wouldn’t mind carrying me, I’ll tell you on the way.”
Being so overwhelmed with the fact they had more than just tags to return to Dave, the four men had no objections to the request Nova had made. Gladio carefully carried her as she told the story of how she had been out on a simple hunt taking out a couple of Dualhorns that had been causing some trouble. On the way back, she had stumbled upon a wandering behemoth. Not wanting to risk the beast catching her scent, she had taken quite a detour just to avoid the monster. When she had made it back to the canyon, she was ambushed by coeurls and dragged off when one of them had grabbed her leg. She wasn’t sure how far they carried her before she was able to get herself free, only that it had been relatively slow going trying to get back to safety with her leg.
“ I was about to give up when you guys appeared.” she confessed once camp had been made and Ignis was tending to her injury. “If I hadn’t lost my curatives from being dragged across the ground, I would have made it back ages ago.”
“Well, you’re safe now. You should be able to walk on your own in the morning.” the strategist assured her. She had protested when he had produced a potion for her to take, not wanting to take from their supply. She gave in when he insisted, stating that it wasn’t a bother and it would make travel easier.
She enjoyed dinner with her saviors, another protest about Ignis cooking anything for her dying on her lips when he shot her a look that just said “Don’t.”
When they finally made it back to the outpost, Dave and the others were more than surprised to see Nova still alive. It was a rare occurrence to have one of their own returned to them after being reported missing. After being praised and thanked by other hunters, Gladio reminded the others that they needed to be heading to Lestallum to pick up Iris. Nova followed them to the where the Regalia was parked, hands on her hips as she watched them climb in.
“You guys be safe out there. And if you ever find your way back to the area, come by and see me.” she smiled.
“Count on it.” Prompto nodded, giving her a enthusiastic thumbs up.
“Keep yourself safe, Miss Nova.” Ignis added, giving the hunter a soft smile.
She stepped back to allow the car to pull away, watching the dust billow up behind them as they drove off into the distance. She really did hope she would see them again.