My name is Turgay Corvi. I am eighteen years old and an ave anthro—an eagle, to be exact. It was only about a week ago that I got my feathers. It was an expensive and mostly useless procedure, but it was the last in the long list of toys that made me a full anthro. Hollow bones, improved eyes, talons, beak…any one would have been expensive for me, but Soaring Eagle paid for them all.
It was my reward for stealing the toy box from Necessarius.
It was Friday morning, and it was a bit cold in the back of the shipping truck where we were keeping the device. The most recent screamer attack was yesterday morning, and it had the ‘sarians scrambling to patch giant holes in their defense. Apparently they lost a full company or more, and so they needed every man they could get on duty.
That meant they weren’t paying attention to a couple of aves trying to smuggle the hottest item in the city.
I didn’t have anything against Necessarius, and neither did Soaring Eagle. They were just in the way, that was all. She had given us all direct orders to not kill anyone unless absolutely unavoidable, which I was grateful for. I had never killed anything sentient, and didn’t feel like starting now. Besides, the ‘sarians could forgive grand theft. Murder made them vengeful.
I hadn’t been involved in stealing the toy box back from the Guruhi a couple nights ago. That had been left to a different group, who were not under orders to minimize casualties. It might sound harsh, but the Niktuku had done worse than leave a few bodies around when they stole it from us, and the Guruhi did the same to them.
“We need to make sure it doesn’t get nabbed again,” Pigeon said next to me. I had no idea why he was called that—he was a crow anthro—but I didn’t ask.
I rolled my eyes. “If I had been in charge of security from the start, this wouldn’t have happened. Skies above, what idiot thought it would be a good idea to drive through Nosferatu territory anyway?”
Once the box was on the truck last Monday, I had gone separately, with most of the grab team. We just weren’t built for the physical task of securing it from hostiles. Clearly, at least one of us should have gone with them regardless as an adviser, but the guards were arrogant bastards, and no one wanted to deal with them.
Of course, now that they were dead, we all missed them, but that’s normal. Just because they were jackasses doesn’t mean they deserved to be tortured and killed.
Pigeon shrugged. “Dunno, Guy. But I’ve looked at the maps, and the choices were Nosferatu or Necessarius territory. Guess they thought they chose the lesser of two evils.”
I sighed. The ferrets were significantly less organized than Butler’s men. There would have been a good chance the truck could have gotten through their domain without being noticed. Just bad luck.
I felt the truck roll to a stop, and someone pounded on the side. That was the signal. Pig and I grabbed opposite sides of the box and started rolling it towards the doors at the back. The device itself didn’t have wheels, but we had it in a crate on a roller pallet.
One of the fledglings, who didn’t have any noticeable ave toys yet, opened the doors as we reached them, and helped us bring it off the truck. It was only a hundred and fifty pounds, but that’s a lot to aves. We’re built for speed, not strength. It would have been easier if our truck had an elevator pad, but nooo…
We got it down without too much trouble, and I looked around. We were inside a small warehouse, maybe ten stories tall, that was almost entirely empty. Our drivers had found more than enough room to bring the truck in completely and close the big entrance gate, so we could unload our stolen goods in private.
“Open it up,” a woman said, stepping out from behind one of the few crates in the warehouse. “I want to see it.”
The woman was one of Soaring Eagle’s most trusted lieutenants, Delia. She was a hawk anthro, with dark brown feathers, a sharp black beak, and keen eyes. She was wearing a tight short-sleeved shirt and jeans, but didn’t seem bothered by the cold. She just stared at the crate we had pulled out of the truck, fixated.
I opened it up quickly; I didn’t need a crowbar, my talons were strong enough to pry off the top. The inside was filled with golden straw, and some of the lighter pieces stirred into the air as I lifted the lid. Pig and the fledgling finished pulling it off and putting it to the side, while I brushed aside the packing to expose a pallet of shotgun shells, carefully packed away in their individual boxes.
Delia narrowed her eyes. “What is this?”
“Patience, Honored Hunter,” I advised. “This is just the smokescreen.”
The three of us—the Alpha didn’t help at all—unpacked the shells carefully. Under the second layer of them there was a plywood false bottom, which I removed. Underneath…was the toy box.
It didn’t look like much. If anything, it looked like a mirrored metal coffin, though with air vents on the sides. There was a small keyboard for controlling it, but that was hidden under a recessed panel for the moment.
Delia, however, was entranced. She brushed the reflective surface lightly with her talons, but flinched back as if worried she would hurt it, though she shouldn’t. The thing was covered completely in that amorphous metal stuff. She wouldn’t be able to dent it with a sledgehammer.
She licked the edge of her beak. “It…works? You tested it?”
I shook my head. “No, unfortunately. That was the plan, but then the ferrets intervened. We figured taking it straight here would be the best option.” We were still under orders to maintain strict radio silence. The ‘sarians would be tearing the city apart looking for this thing, and advertising ourselves was a horrible idea.
The Alpha nodded. “Good. It’s good that you don’t know. The less people that know the details, the better.”
I frowned. There’s a trick to doing it with a beak that I can’t really describe, but rest assured I managed it. “Honored Hunter, if there’s been some change of plans that we need to be aware of…”
She waved her talons, dismissing my worries. “No, no, of course not. But if you’re tortured, it’s best if you don’t know where this is going. That way, you can’t sell us out.”
I sighed. What did that have to do with knowing whether the thing even worked? But I nodded as if I understood. “Where do you want this, then?”
The hawk paused. “I’m not sure. One moment.” She turned and called to someone I couldn’t see. “Kioman! Where’s your car?”
“Look, we can just leave the toy box with you,” I pointed out. “Pigeon and I—”
I stopped as I saw my friend.
It couldn’t be. It just wasn’t possible.
No one could be that stupid.
He was on the phone.
And the caller ID clearly said ‘MC.’
I grabbed his cell and threw it as hard as I could away from us. “You idiot!” I hissed, grabbing his shirt and pulling him close. “What is wrong with you?!”
“I was just checking my messages,” he insisted, as he tried to peel my talons out of their death grip. “Screw off. MC said I won a prize.”
I blinked. “You won a…” Realization dawned, and I wheeled back to a clearly confused Delia. “They know! They’re coming!”
Then the doors exploded.
I don’t know what they were using, but the shrapnel from the door hit Pig in the side and the fledgling full in the face. They both went down, but at least Pigeon would be getting up again. Seconds after the explosion, Necessarian troops began piling into the warehouse, guns blazing.
Delia cursed. “To arms, warhawks!” A dozen more hawks, all armed with machine guns, appeared from hiding and started returning fire.
I wasn’t getting paid enough to fight, and I was unarmed anyway. I worked at a gun store, how was I unarmed? Regardless, I just hunkered down as best I could and tried to drag Pigeon out of danger. Unfortunately, this seemed to attract the Alpha’s attention.
“Eagle!” she cried angrily. At least she had the sense not to use my name. “Take the toy box and run!”
I stared at her. “What?” That would never work. The only sensible option right now was to return the device and beg for the Big Boss’s mercy.
“Now!” she ordered, emptying an oversized pistol at the enemy.
I cursed. I had no doubt that if I tried to surrender or even simply ignore her orders, she’d turn that gun on me without hesitation. I had no choice. I threw Pigeon on top of the toy box, tossed my own phone away, and started moving.
Luckily, the device was still in the crate and on the roller pallet, so I just had to get behind it and push. Some bullets streaked past me, but they all missed. The ‘sarians were probably afraid of hitting the toy box. Apparently someone had forgotten to brief them on its durability.
The warehouse was small, but it was pretty much empty, so there was a lot of open space to run through. The warhawks covered me as best they could, but I wasn’t worried about the Necessarians inside, so much as the ones who would be waiting for me outside.
On second thought, as long as they didn’t shoot on sight, I should be okay. I could surrender, figure out where they were taking the device, and find a way to relay that information back to Soaring Eagle. It wasn’t perfect, but it would work.
I pushed on with renewed vigor. It took me a minute to find the exit; it turned out it was behind one of the only shipping crates in the place. I ignored the landing bay, going for the smaller double doors next to the giant gate. I pushed the doors open with the crate, held my hands up in surrender, and…
No one was here.
Well, this was arach territory, after all. The spider kemos were a small subculture, but they liked their ambushes, and Necessarius would have to be careful about sending troops into the area. I guess I had just gotten out before their men came around.
I realized that meant I had little choice. Soaring Eagle had managed to score alliances with both the Lolths and the Minervas. Great for her and all, but it meant that if they saw me captured by the ‘sarians, they’d just kill everyone and grab the toy box. Not to mention that Butler’s troops would know that, and would shoot on sight to keep their jobs easier.
“What’s going on?” Pigeon muttered from inside the crate. He tried to sit up, but stopped when he saw his torso. “Guy, why am I bleeding?”
“Because you’re an idiot, Pig,” I spat out. “Now shut up and lay down.” Finally making a decision, I began to roll the cart north. We were in South Middle now, but my warehouse and boltholes were at the edge of South Central, not too far away.
Even just getting out of arach territory would be helpful. They bordered a giant clan in that direction, but the Colossi generally stayed out of this kind of thing. It was as close to a safe run I would get. It would be best if I could steal a truck, but I wasn’t holding out hope on that. Besides, my skill at hotwiring was below average.
I quickly pulled into a dark alley filled with dumpsters. The smell was horrific, and worse yet, told me that these were restaurants. I didn’t need food.
But where there was rotting food, there were ghouls. I saw one nestled against a dumpster, glaring at me with one eye. He was mostly baseline except for the nighteyes, and wrapped in a big wool blanket that covered his ragged clothing. It was still pretty cold.
I licked my beak. He wouldn’t part with the blanket easily, and even if I was willing to, I just didn’t have the skill to take it from him by force. Instead, I went the other route. I took out my wallet.
He came fully awake as I pulled out all my cash. Not really all that much, but five twenties is still a lot to a homeless ghoul. I nodded and offered it. “Hundred bucks for the blanket.” I licked my beak again. “And to tell the ‘sarians I went down Hades street instead.”
He hesitated for a moment, then shrugged off the blanket. He exchanged it for the money quickly, fast enough that I think he could have just stolen the cash from me if he wanted.
I understood what his speed was supposed to imply. He could have robbed me blind. But he didn’t. I nodded my thanks, wrapped the cloak around myself to hide my ave toys, and pushed the crate carrying my bleeding friend and the most valuable item in Domina down the alley.
Behind me, the ghoul started whistling as he walked away, presumably to find a store to spend his money.
Behind the Scenes (scene 54)
I have a feeling I might be dumping too many plot threads at once with this, but the toy box kinda has to happen right now.
Oh, and about the amorphous metal stuff. This is a very real thing, in development right now. The name refers to its atomic structure, not its material state; it’s still perfectly solid. Long story short, it’s basically indestructible, and holds an edge very well. We’re still at the stage of “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we made surgical tools out of this stuff?” Domina, however, is a little farther down the line, though not by much. It’s still very expensive, but they have surgical tools made out of amorphous metal, and are experimenting with other applications. Armoring the toy box with it was ridiculously expensive, but worth the cost. Note that this is the original toy box that Necessarius bought from the fey: The copies are built out of cheaper materials.