• Published 14th Aug 2020
  • 1,224 Views, 147 Comments

A Different Kind of Treasure - Mechawrecker

What's the most valuable treasure in the world: Family? Money? Revenge? Love? Depends on who you ask...

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Hoof and Claw

Sky, Flitter, and Cloud gazed at the concealed castle in astonishment. After a week of fruitless searching, they had finally located the ancient cathedral described by Kaya in her scrolls.

The outer walls were coated in a thick layer of grass and moss while the battlements near the open gate crumbled with age. A catapult, no doubt left by raiders hundreds of years ago, lay broken near the overgrown entrance to the decaying mansion.

“Woah… No wonder it took us so long to find this place. It’s practically part of the forest at this point!” Cloud mumbled, staring open-mouthed at the rusted iron fence.

Sky nodded, running a hoof along the discarded catapult ammunition. “If Kaya hadn’t mentioned that the castle even existed, I would have never guessed there’d be one this far into the jungle.”

Hearing no reply, he turned and asked, “Flitter, what do you think?”

Flitter jumped and turned to look at him. “Oh, what did you say? I’m sorry, I got distracted.”

Cloud gave her a curious stare. “You’ve been on edge ever since we left town. Is there something bothering you?”

Running a hoof along her bow, Flitter’s eyes darted from side to side as she whispered, “I can’t help but feel like we’re being followed. I’ve been catching movement out of the corners of my eyes for days now, but every time I turn, there’s nothing there.”

Sky and Cloud both turned to look at the area around them, but the dense trees made it hard to see very far.

Cloud narrowed her eyes before flapping her wings and flying above the treetops. “Hmm… I don’t see anything, Flitter. Everything around us is either green trees or green grass. There isn’t a single other colored thing around us for hundreds of yards.”

Sky rested a wing on her body. “Maybe we should take a break. If you’re starting to hallucinate, we really shouldn’t go any further until you’re better.”

Flitter brushed him off with a shake of her head. “No… I’m fine. It’s probably just my imagination. Let’s go and get the sword before it gets too dark.”

Flying over the ruined walls, the three entered the main hall of the castle. Searching around, Cloud let out a groan at the sheer volume of the structure. “Oh man, this place is HUGE! It’ll take hours just to search the first floor, let alone the entire building.”

Flitter put a hoof to her chin. “I don’t think we need to search the entire castle. Don’t you remember the dungeons where we found the goblet and the diadem? Both of them were underground and were guarded by something that tested whether we were worthy to claim the treasure at the end.”

Sky clapped his hooves. “Right! The diadem was protected by a rockslide trap and that cryptic riddle Flitter solved.” Scrunching his muzzle, he added, “There were also those Diamond Demolishers too, but I don’t think they were part of the original design.”

Cloudchaser frowned, “But what about the goblet? There wasn’t any test at the end of the cavern, and the rockslide there wasn’t triggered by any tripwire, it felt natural.”

Sky’s eyes widened. “No, it wasn’t!”

The two mares gave him an incredulous stare. Seeing their confusion, he clarified, “I never told you two this since it didn’t seem important, but the goblet wasn’t actually in the room when I first got there.”

Flitter blinked in surprise while Cloud’s eyebrows raised another inch. “What are you talking about? You had it in your pack when Flitter and I got into the chamber a few minutes later.”

“Right, but while I was in the chamber, the room was empty until the goblet’s pedestal suddenly rose out of the ground."

Sky flapped his wings excitedly. “That was the test! The rockslide that trapped you two and the pedestal that rose for me weren’t natural; they were magical. I’m guessing they were set to trigger once more than one creature was past the falling boulders.”

Flitter stomped her hooves in realization. “I see! The purpose of those mechanisms was to test our cooperation and teamwork since no creature could have moved all those heavy rocks by themselves!”

A snort sounded from behind them as Cloud tried to hold in her laughter. “If that really was the test, then I’d say we failed it considering Sky tackled me to the ground, and Flitter tried to use his head for target practice.”

Flitter blushed before countering, “Hey, don’t act like you’re the morally correct one. You guys would have killed each other if I hadn’t gotten everypony to calm down and talk things out.”

“Eh, fair enough. We still got the treasure out of there, so I’d say those tests are far from foolproof. I mean, they were built using magic from hundreds of years ago.”

Sky scanned the crumbling stone walls. “So, where would someone hide the sword in a castle like this?”

Flitter shrugged as she pondered the location of the sword’s hiding place. If the pattern continued, the sword would be hidden underground just like the other two. Also, since the sword was hidden in an abandoned fortress, it would probably be buried somewhere secure with systems built to keep out unwanted trespassers.

Grinning at her brilliant deduction, Flitter opened her muzzle and exclaimed, “I got it! The sword is obviously in the guard armory!”

“The sword’s in the prison dungeons!”

The two sisters stared at each other, neither believing what the other had said. Eventually, Flitter broke out of her trance and huffed, “The prison dungeons? Why would the sword be down there? If it’s weapons and armor we’re looking for, the guard armory should be the first place we look.”

Cloud countered with her own reasoning. “That’s exactly why we shouldn’t go there. I don’t believe that we’re the first ponies to stumble across this place, even if it was hidden by the jungle. Anypony that wanted to salvage valuable gear would have gone straight to the armory, which would not make it a good hiding spot.”

She flicked her head to the descending steps. “The dungeons, however, would be perfect. It’s underground, there’s nothing valuable down there to pillage, and it’s literally designed to keep ponies from breaking in or out, which is exactly the kind of place we’re looking for.”

Sky and Flitter couldn’t hold back a look of astonishment. It was no secret that Flitter was always considered the brains of the two while Cloud was relegated to the role of brawn with her tomboyish attitude.

However, as Sky remembered, Cloud had proven herself to be much more intelligent than most ponies gave her credit for when she uncovered his deception in their first encounter.

Humming, he rubbed his chin with a hoof. “Huh… when she puts it that way, I can see the merit in her observation. What do you think, Flitter? I say we give Cloud’s idea a sho--”

Flitter drew back her bow and fired an arrow towards his head. Sky yelped in shock and closed his eyes as he felt the arrow whiz past his left ear and out of sight.

Before he could shout at her for giving him the closest shave of his life, a cry of pain sounded from behind him. Turning around, he had just enough time to make out a griffon falling from behind a stone column before a hail of arrows returned fire.

Sky yanked the other two down and raised his shield above them. Most of the incoming projectiles landed on the stone floor, but a few that surely would have put them underground thunked against the sturdy metal.

Not wanting to get caught in another hail storm, the three pegasi ran for cover behind another crumbling column. As they caught their breath, Sky panted, “Flitter, what the hay was that? How did you know they were behind us?”

Flitter nocked another arrow as she replied, “I knew I wasn’t hallucinating! Those griffons have been following us for days! I think I recognized the one I shot down. It was the same griffon that was ordering meat from Griffy the day his mom gave us the job!”

Sky’s eyes widened. He too remembered the large, mean-looking griffon that interrupted their private conversation.

Leaning out of cover, he called, “You griffons that are shooting at us, we’re not trying to steal your nation’s sacred relic. We’re returning it to our client who wants to take it back to the Griffon Empire’s capital to preserve your founder’s legacy!”

Praying this was all a big misunderstanding, Sky hoped the attacking griffons would stop firing and believe their noble purpose.

His hopes, however, would not be realized as the leader of the raiding party replied, “We are the assassin guild, The Wind Slashers. We don’t care about your client or your treasure. We just want you dead.”

Another arrow flew by Sky’s muzzle, missing it by centimeters. Pulling back, he turned to see his own fear reflected in the sisters’ worried expressions. “These guys aren’t treasure hunters. They were hired to assassinate us! It doesn’t look like we can talk our way out of this.”

Trying to formulate a battle plan, he asked, “Do either of you know anything about these Wind Slashers? I’ve never even heard of them before.”

His initial hopes rested with Flitter and her vast encyclopedia of knowledge, but, like the location of the treasure, the answer came from Cloudchaser. “They’re a clandestine society of talented aerial archers. They’re known for swooping down and hailing arrows on their targets before flying away to avoid prosecution.”

The other two blinked in surprise at Cloud’s knowledge of dangerous assassin guilds but held back their questions as a bomb arrow blew apart the top of the column they were hiding behind.

“Alright,” Sky whispered, lowering his voice so as not to give away their plan, “we need to beat them at their own game. Cloud and I will attack them to draw their fire and force them out of their trench. Flitter, I need you to hang back and shoot any we manage to push out. No offense, but I don’t think you can out-play an entire squad of veteran archers.”

Flitter gave a nod of acknowledgement and flew towards an alcove to wait for an opportune time to strike.

Cloud, however, spoke up to voice her concerns. “Sky, there’s no way we’ll make it to their encampment. They’ll shoot us down before we get anywhere close, even with your shield!”

Smirking, he raised his trusty shield to show her a hidden switch on the back near his hoof. “Don’t worry about me. I can take care of myself.”

Fixing her with a tense gaze, he said, “You need to go around and hit them from behind. You should be able to fly through one of the holes in the ceiling and get the drop on them while I draw their attention.”

Seeing the trepidation lacing her otherwise beautiful features, Sky put a comforting hoof on her barrel. "I’ll be fine. I promise.”

Cloud bit her lip and lowered her gaze before wrapping her hooves around his neck and pulling him in for a tight hug. Whispering into his ear, she mumbled, “Don’t you dare die out there. I’ll never forgive you if something happens.”

Pulling back with a blush, she flapped her wings and took off through the open ceiling, leaving behind the faint scent of mare musk before disappearing from sight.

Feeling his cheeks burn, Sky shook his head to concentrate on the task at hoof. Stretching his wings to prepare for liftoff, he raised a practiced hoof and activated the concealed switch behind the steel plates.

Instantly, the sides of his shield expanded as the dual layers of metal split from each other, effectively doubling the shield’s area of protection. Grinning at the engineering marvel, Sky flapped his wings and charged towards the enemy archers, shield raised in a bashing formation.

As he flew through the air, multiple thunks sounded as arrows pelted the extended metal plates. Ducking behind another column, he adjusted the strap on his hoof and called out, “You know, for a group of infamous assassins, you all kind of suck at actually killing!”

An angry voice yelled back, “Stop hiding behind that stupid shield like a coward, and then we’ll see who sucks!”

Sky chuckled at the griffon’s frustration and beelined for their defensive trench. As he approached, the Wind Slashers parted to reveal a hidden surprise of their own.

Instead of being all archers like their reputation implied, two melee guards equipped with spears were waiting for him with weapons drawn and wings extended.

Moving too fast to stop, he charged towards one of the spearmen who panicked and dropped his weapon before Sky smashed him full force into the ground. Scrambling to his hooves, he turned to face the other spearman who thrusted the sharp spearhead forward toward his exposed body.

Rolling over, Sky caught a glimpse of Cloud and Flitter cutting down the panicking archers as they tried hopelessly to put some distance between themselves and Cloud’s aggressive swings. A grin split across his muzzle as a particularly incredible snipe from Flitter shot down one of the fleeing griffons that managed to get away.

Before Sky could stand up, the enemy spearman slashed at his face with a claw, leaving a large gash in his cheek. Wincing, Sky jumped back and prepared his shield for the oncoming spear thrusts.

In hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have pulled away from the attacking griffon. His opponent’s spear had superior reach, which meant Sky couldn’t effectively attack without closing the distance. Smacking himself for the momentary blunder, he hoofed the ground in preparation for another charge like a bull in a matador ring.

With a burst of speed, he rushed forward while trying to tackle the opposing assassin to the floor. As the distance closed, Sky leapt into the air and dive-bombed at his assailent.

Seeing this, the griffon spread his wings and flew into the air out of shield-bashing range, laughing as the failed attack sent Sky tumbling to the ground.

Sky fell back nervously. With the weight and bulk of his shield, aerial combat was never his specialty. As he brainstormed another plan of attack, he noticed the spear of the downed griffon guard laying near his back hoof. Seeing his opportunity, he grabbed the fallen spear and flew up to meet his opponent in the air.

The flying spearman narrowed his eyes, evidently not approving the idea of Sky using his fallen comrade’s weapon against him.

Raising his own spear, the opposing griffon taunted, “I’ve trained for years to master the ancient arts of spearmanship and aerial combat. Even if you carry my brother’s weapon, you’ll never have his experience. What chance do you have against my perfectly honed Assassin Style?”

Sky smirked as he took aim, spear tip pointed at the enemy griffon. Putting his full weight into it, he hurled the spear like a javelin, which sailed forward towards the flying spearman's head.

The griffon avoided the projectile by pivoting to the side and smacking it away with his own weapon. “Hah! That was your plan!? You couldn’t throw a spear to save your li--”

His voice cut off as Sky’s shield slammed into his beak, cracking it in the process. As he fell, Sky pinned him against the floor while knocking the spear out of his claw and snarked, “That’s Sky Style. Learn it.

Dropping the beaten griffon to the floor, he picked up his shield and tapped the hidden switch again, which caused the extended metal plates to contract back and reattach to their base.

As he turned to support his teammates, the body of one of the enemy archers landed at his hooves.

The griffon gazed up at him with pleading eyes and stammered, “p-please… save me…” before Cloud sprinted up and struck him hard in the head with the flat of her sword, causing him to collapse in a heap.

“Whew! Say what you like about these cowards, they sure know how to run away.”

Flitter’s voice spoke as she joined her sister. “They’re also good at setting up an ambush. If that one griffon hadn’t lost his footing, I would never have known they were there.”

Glancing down at the griffon Cloud had just incapacitated, she added, “Cloud, take it easy with the finishers. I know they’re assassins, but we don’t want to kill. Otherwise, we’ll be no better than them.”

As Cloudchaser rolled her eyes at the sentiment, Flitter asked, “Why do you think they came after us? Better yet, who was the one that hired them?”

“There’s only one way to find out.” Sky made his way over to the griffon he had tackled out of the sky. As he approached, the defeated bird fixed him with a glare and tried to attack, but Sky grabbed his claw with his hooves and pinned him to the ground again. “Now, I’m only going to ask you once before I start resorting to other methods. Who sent you? Why did they want us dead?”

The griffon spat at him and growled, “Do whatever you want 'cause I’ll never talk. I’ve suffered much worse than anything you ponies could possibly do to me.” He flipped his head feathers to reveal a horrible burn mark that scarred his left eye past the point of recovery.

As Sky began to bend his elbow, Flitter averted her eyes with an expression of fear and disgust. Just before the griffon’s shoulder popped out of its socket, Cloud yelled, “Sky, stop for a second!”

Sky glanced up before finally relenting. He had the feeling that physical pain wasn’t going to crack the hardened assassin, so whatever Cloud thought of couldn’t possibly be worse. Keeping the griffon pinned, Sky forced him to look at her face.

Cloud leered down with a pitiless expression and said, “I’m not going to bother negotiating since you and the rest of your gang are already dead. Your little ambush was being watched by more than just my sister.”

She pointed a hoof at a balcony overlooking the castle. “Whoever your contractor was obviously didn’t trust you and your gang to finish us off because there was someone tailing you up there.”

A look of surprise flashed across the griffon’s face before being replaced by his usual cold glare. “You’re lying! My scout constantly scoured this entire area and never saw anyone following us.”

Smirking, Cloud pushed his head down with a hoof. “I’m not surprised. Even with your incredible griffon eyesight, you still aren’t able to see through disguises.”

She lifted his head to stare into his eyes and whispered, “You guys were being followed by a changeling.”

At this, the griffon’s façade started to crack. His pupil dilated as a nervous tremor shook his voice. “N-no way… if it really was a changeling, then how did you see it when my scout couldn’t?”

Cloud smirked, “No matter how good the changeling, it still needs to complete its metamorphosis, which creates a flash of light. I just saw it as Sky was bending back your claw.”

When the griffon didn’t seem totally convinced, she unleashed her trap card. “I’m sure you took note of the stone gargoyle near the upstairs banister. Take a look at it now.”

All four of them looked up. Sure enough, the decaying banister was completely devoid of any statues. Thinking back, Sky did remember seeing it in his peripheral vision as he circled the griffon during their aerial fight. Glancing around nervously, he wondered what other objects or creatures were also changelings in disguise, waiting for an opportune moment to strike.

The griffon’s face contorted into a look of terror. Sky felt all the fight leave his body as he buried his head into the ground. “T-That’s it… we’re dead…”

Cloud flashed the others a triumphant look before changing track and returning to the scared griffon. “You’re not dead until your heart stops beating. You still have a chance to survive.”

She lifted his head again and said, “Tell us who hired you, and we’ll take him out. We want him gone just as much as you do now that he’s placed a mark on us.”

Sighing in defeat, the griffon spoke in a much softer tone. “Alright, alright, I’ll talk. It’s not like I have much choice now anyway.”

Sky released him from the pin as the griffon sat up and rotated his shoulder to get the feeling back in his arm. Flitter took the initiative and said, “Let’s start with an introduction. What’s your name?”

The griffon raised an eyebrow at her before muttering, “My name is unimportant, but for now just call me Hawk.”

“So, Hawk,” Sky said with a bit of an edge, “now that we’re on the same team, it’s time to uphold your end of the deal. Tell us who hired you and why they wanted us dead.”

Chuckling to himself, Hawk grinned, “It doesn’t even matter if I tell you. You’re all dead anyway. But, since you insist, I’ll let you live out the short remainder of your lives in paralyzing fear.” He fixed them with a cold, unsympathetic glare.

“The one that hired my assassin guild to kill you was…”

Author's Note:

A/N: Yeah, that’s right, I’m leaving you on another cliffhanger. I know how much you guys love them if my view statistics are anything to go off of.

Who do you think hired The Wind Slashers to assassinate our three heroes? Leave your guess in the comments. 

Thanks for reading!