Chapter 16: The Darkest Storm
Akaitora raced up the stairs, dropping his notepad on the floor. At the top, he met his quarry, shouting one word, elongated, over and over. Tears dropped one by one onto the bed spread, his hand dropping to reveal a note. Akaitora picked it up and read the words etched across it. As he read, his face grew pale, and his pupils widened to encircle his entire eye.
'We have taken this creature as our prize. We want the florins. If we don't have them by sundown on Friday, she's dead. You will bring all the florins to the alley behind the west grocery in Hoofington. You will come alone. If you call the guards, or fail to meet our conditions, she will be killed.
He read it over four times, just to make sure he had read what he thought he had. His fears were only confirmed. They had taken Twilight, and they were going to ransom her back, for a price that would ease the financial status of the entire country with room to spare.
He rushed out of the library. There was only eight hours left of daylight left, and six of those would be spent getting to Hoofington. That left him only two hours to gather everything up, or formulate a plan to get her out. He had to do something. He couldn't just leave her to die.
He galloped at a speed to rival Rainbow Dash, his cape tearing at his neck, begging to come off, but he either didn't notice, or didn't care. He pressed on, his mind aglow, trying to come up with something, anything, to save Twilight without giving in to their petty whims. It was unjust, and there had to be a way around it. Even if he couldn't see it...
By the time he'd arrived at the castle ruins he called home, the door was open. He thought it strange, but paid it no mind beyond, deciding that one of his guests must have left it open. He galloped past his workshop, down the stairs, to the very bottom of every flight, past the kitchen, greenhouse, and cellar, ramming the treasury door with his left shoulder, splintering it into innumerable tiny fragments that burst in every direction, the shards spraying unceremoniously across the ancient stone floor.
He turned to his left, then his right. His eyes widened at what he saw, or rather, what he didn't. His moderately sized chest, filled to the brim with gold coins was nowhere to be seen. He had nothing to give in return for Twilight. The only thing left in the room was a small scroll, bound in twine. He pulled it over to examine it. For the second time today, he couldn't believe what he read.
'I Trust that by now you've been to see Twilight. If so, good. I've taken the liberty of cleaning out this room. Don't worry, your coins are safe with us. However, since we had to get these ourselves, we will not accept them as payment. Now, we want blood. The blood of the one who betrayed us. You know where to find young Usutora, yes? Bring him, alive, to the location mentioned in the other missive. We'll not accept unless the terms are still met. See you at sundown.
Several citizens of Ponyville stopped what they were doing and turned all around, looking to find the source of the profanity echoing off the buildings. Mothers quickly covered their children's ears, small animals ran and hid, and birds took off to the north, even at the approach of Winter. Some of the windows of buildings closer to the Everfree even shattered.
Fires blazed behind Akaitora's eyes as he stomped up the stairs, and down the hall to where he had left his brother. His face showed no other signs of emotion as he opened the door. If Usutora had left he castle grounds, there would be blood, and Usutora may not live to reach the meeting. The door burst open, and all blame for Usutora was released to the metaphorical wind. He even chuckled a bit at the situation before his eyes.
Hanging by his tail from one of the tapestries, surrounded in an anti-magical field, bound and gagged, was Usutora, a look of both pain and annoyance emanating from his face as he swung back and forth. He seemed to be emulating the thought, "Get me down from here, now." The field was only breakable by whomever, or whatever, held it in place, so all Akaitora could do was lower the tapestry, and untie him by hoof.
"Thanks for that. We need to get Tundra to drop this field if I'm to help you get Twilight back."
"How'd you know about that?"
"Let's leave it at this: Frostbite needs to learn to keep quiet."
"Is Fluttershy safe, at least?"
"No idea. I told her to go hide in the greenhouse as best she could the moment I heard voices coming down the stairs, with any luck, she's there now."
"You couldn't hold them off? I understand Tundra, He gave me quite the challenge yesterday, but Frostbite's a weakling."
"Three against one isn't a fair game. Not that I was expecting fair, but still..."
"Understood." By now, they had reached the greenhouse door, Akaitora opened it, half-expecting his assailants to be waiting on the other side. Thankfully, the room was empty, or so seemed to be. He called out to Fluttershy, who timidly poked her head out of the wheat field she had hid in.
"So what do they want?" Asked Usutora.
"Really? That begs the question, then, why didn't they take me when they had me?"
"I assume it's because they wanted me as well, to eliminate me so I can't stand against them, which is probably why they cut off my resources as one of the requirements for getting Twilight back."
"What happened to Twilight, is she okay?" asked Fluttershy, concern growing throughout her mind.
"She's been taken captive by common thugs. They want Mine and Usutora's lives in exchange for hers."
"I wouldn't put it past them to not hold up their end of that bargain if you go in there."
"Nor would I. That's why I need to work fast. If you'll both follow me to my workshop, I'll explain the plan."