There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.
- Sir Francis Wilde, 1584
On a remote chain of islands in the ocean, far beyond the reach of greater mammal society, an ancient stone road ran through a verdant area lush with vegetation. While some plants had managed to grow through cracks in the stone, the road itself remained relatively intact. The place felt abandoned, but it still felt very much alive; trees and bushes swayed in the wind and the chirping of birds and reptiles resounded throughout. Old ruins resided on either side of the path, giving the area a feeling of the serene as well as the mysterious. There was history to the place, it almost felt like one could take in the details just by breathing in the misty air and listening to the ambient sounds. It all helped to make the place feel peaceful, even tranquil.
Said tranquillity was disrupted however as a jeep recklessly tore through the area, sending primal animals scattering in all directions. On this jeep sat a grey-furred rabbit with black tipped ears wearing a purple sleeveless t-shirt and light brown cargo pants. She was awkwardly gripping a steering wheel that was slightly too big for her, trying her best to maintain control of the speeding vehicle. Behind the rabbit was a russet coloured and very panicked looking red fox. The fox was sporting a white shirt with its sleeves rolled up to the elbows and navy jeans, he also had an empty shoulder holster and a belt buckle sporting the image of a fox skull with crossbones. He was currently holding on for dear life to a weathered machine gun that had been mounted on the back of the vehicle.
The jeep was chaotically barreling past the ruins and down the ancient road. In any other situation, the fox would have taken the time to study such a fascinating find. Given how this island had supposedly been abandoned for hundreds if not thousands of years, it was strange that this path and ruins were still so intact and hadn’t been reclaimed by the jungle. Unfortunately, contemplating this mystery was not a luxury he could afford at the moment given the current company he and the rabbit had to deal with. The company in question consisted of several pursuing jeeps filled with armed and very unfriendly looking mammals, mammals who the fox was fairly certain did not share his same sense of archaeological curiosity. If his past experience with mercenaries was any indicator, they generally preferred to solve their problems through quicker and more violent means, and right now they viewed him and the bunny as one of those problems.
“Carrots! They’re gaining on us!” the fox yelled, trying and failing to hide the panic in his voice. This was definitely not how he imagined this job going, but then again, things not going as expected was pretty par for the course in his life. The pursuing jeeps were rapidly closing the distance between them. It wouldn’t be long before they were close enough to open fire on them, and even then, there was no telling how much longer he and the rabbit could keep this up before they either hit a dead end, wiped out, or were hit by some other stroke of bad luck.
“I’m pushing this thing as fast as it’ll go, Nick!” Carrots yelled back. “You’re the one clinging to a machine gun, how about using it to get them off of us!”
Nick wasn’t like some of the other psychos in this line of work, he didn’t enjoy killing, but he also knew that it was often unavoidable given the cutthroat nature of most of the competition. When it came to treasure hunting, those that weren’t able to kill either quit or wound up as fertilizer, and Nick wasn’t keen on either of those options. He firmly gripped the mounted gun hard and aimed it at the approaching jeeps; poring some fire in their direction might just be enough to force them back, that or make them crash, whatever, as long as it reduced the likelihood of him or the rabbit catching a bullet. He took a deep breath before pulling the trigger.
* click *
“Uh oh…”, maybe the gun was just jammed. He ejected a round from the chamber and tried again.
* click *
“Crap….” he tried pulling the trigger a third time.
* click *
* click *
* click *
* click *
“Crap! Crap! Crap!” He would’ve asked himself if his luck could possibly get any worse, but he was pretty that would have been taken as a challenge and he'd just end up having to deal with something even worse.
“Nick! What’s going on back there?” The rabbit yelled, concern bordering on panic becoming apparent in her voice, she probably wasn’t looking to get shot or run off the road any more than he was.
“This piece of crap is busted!” Nick called back, slapping his paw against the gun in frustration. “I can't get these guys off of us!”
Unsurprisingly, the answer did little to calm the rabbit. “Can’t you figure something else out then? You were the one who said good treasure hunters know how to improvise!”
Nick was about to retort but instead found himself slamming down onto the jeep floor as the roar of machine gun fire broke out, followed shortly by a hail of bullets flying through the space he had just previously been occupying. He kept his body as flat against the surface as possible while bullets whizzed over his head, bouncing off or tearing through the vehicle's frame. All he could do was lay flat against the floor bed and hope that he and the bunny didn't end up catching any strays.
Once the firing had stopped, he grasped the machine gun, trying to pull himself up so he could figure out what had just happened. The jeep had taken a beating from that salvo, but given the fact that it was still tearing through the jungle at an alarmingly fast speed, he guessed nothing important had been hit. It seemed the fox still had at least some luck, if he wasn’t trying to keep from being thrown off the jeep by the rabbits evasive driving, he might’ve even taken a sigh of relief.
Any relief he felt rapidly disappeared as he saw one of the jeeps speeding up beside them to his left, a Kudu helming the wheel and an African wild dog in the back giving them a rather irritated glare as he fumbled to try and reload his jeeps own mounted gun. The fox turned to warn the rabbit only to see the path they were driving on disappear over the edge of a cliff that overlooked a massive body of water.
“Cliff! Cliff! Cliff!”
Nick yelped in panic as the jeep swung to the left, plowing through the bushes and driving onto a rocky outcropping along the edge of the cliff. Much to his chagrin, the pursuing jeeps copied the maneuver, swerving to avoid the drop-off and following them onto the same rocky cliffside. Now that he and the rabbit were caught between a deadly drop off on one side and an impassable barrier on the other, there was very little room to maneuver. The fox seemed to have unnatural levels of luck when it came to being shot at, but he doubted he’d be lucky enough to escape unscathed from another salvo in such a tight corridor.
“Uhh Carrots, we’re kinda boxed in right now!” he shouted, “the minute they reload that gun of theirs, we’re dead!”
The rabbit reached for something next to her and handed it back to him. “Try this.”
Nick grabbed for it before realizing it was a grenade, his brow furrowed, “Uhhh...are you sure you don’t have a gun?”
“Not exactly the best time to be picky Nick!”
The fox turned to face the closest of the pursuing jeeps and took a deep breath, lobbing a grenade from one speeding jeep to another wasn't exactly the simplest of tricks.
Please let this work.
He pulled the pin on the grenade and tossed it towards the other jeep, to his delight, he saw the beeping explosive land right in the bed of the jeep, only for that delight to turn into a combination of dread and embarrassment as the grenade continued to bounce out of the jeep, and over the adjacent cliff before harmlessly exploding far away from its intended target. Nick briefly saw the face of the wild dog mercenary on the gun, he seemed rather unimpressed by the whole display.
Nick’s companion seemed to have noticed his failed throw. “Let me guess, you missed,” it probably had to do with the distinct lack of an exploding jeep.
Nick struggled to come up with an excuse, “It bounced...funny,” he realized how bad that sounded as soon as he said it. Really Nick? That’s the best you could come up with?
“It bounced funny? You know, for all your bragging, I’d expect you to be a lot better at this sort of thing!” the rabbit exclaimed in an exacerbated tone.
“Hey, I’m not the one who picked the jeep with a busted gun!” Nick countered. “You’re so quick to call me out but how about you try getting rid o-” he was cut off and quickly found himself slamming into the mounted gun he was holding on to as the rabbit shifted the jeep to the right and slammed it into the side of their pursuers. The kudu driver was caught off guard by the maneuver and lost control of the jeep as it swayed from side to side before veering off the cliff, taking both of the mercenaries with it into the abyss below.
“Oh….well that works...” Nick sputtered through pained gasps as the jeep evened out and he pried himself off the mounted gun that had so rudely slammed into his rib cage.
“What was that? You were about to say something about me doing it myself?” he heard the bunny gloat, even with the sound of the engine and the rushing wind, he could still hear the cockiness in her voice.
“Ya, ya, very nice,” the fox sarcastically shot back, “now tell me how you’re gonna get their buddies to fall for that trick, then I’ll be impressed!”
The other two jeeps were closing in, staying directly behind them where the rabbit wouldn’t be able to ram them. Despite his sarcastic jab, Nick was disappointed to see that the pursuing drivers would not allow her to repeat that trick, as much as he'd hate having to deal with the bunnies gloating later, it still beat dying. While these jeeps were not equipped with the same mounted guns as the one the rabbit had knocked off the cliff, the closest one had something much more bizarre and alarming. Despite his disbelief, Nick saw a lion mercenary as he worked his way onto the hood the vehicle he had been riding.
What the hell is he doing?
The lion proceeded to crouch down in preparation for what the fox could only assume was a forward leap.
There’s no way he’d-
The lion sprung off the hood and landed on the back of their jeep, his legs dangling over the edge. The jeep buckled from the impact but managed to maintain its momentum. The larger mammal was quick to dig into place with his claws to keep from slipping off the back.
Okay, maybe he would.
Nick sprang forward to try and shove their newest passenger off, only to find himself crashing into an immovable wall of kevlar. In the heat of the moment, he'd forgotten that there was no way he would be strong enough to shove back something as large and strong as a lion. This realization was followed shortly by a heavy force smashing into the fox's forehead. Nick flew backward as stars exploded around him and he collided with the back of the driver's seat. Ignoring the pain, he quickly shook his head and his vision began to clear. He saw that the lion was bleeding from the nose and still trying to pull himself up onto the truck, it looked like the genius had failed to connect properly with the headbutt, hurting himself in the process.
Guess I should be glad he didn't go for the muzzle.
The fox looked around for a solution, he needed to stop that lion from pulling himself up onto the jeep, he wasn’t sure what the lion had in mind, but it would probably end with Nick being turned into a scratching post.
Crap, I really wish I had a gun working gun right now. He looked at the mounted gun. Although...
He grabbed the gun's barrel and viciously swung it down right into the lions face. The sound of metal colliding against flesh and a pained grunt could be heard as the barrel smashed into the lion's muzzle. Nick wasn’t sure how much damage he'd done, but judging from the cracking he heard and the much larger amount of blood now squirting from the large mammal's nose, he was pretty certain he had broken something. This lion’s grip on the jeep started to falter and he dug his claws further into the metal in a desperate bid to keep from falling off the back.
“No free rides!” Nick yelled as he swung the gun down into the lions face a second time. That did the trick and the mercenary's grip finally gave away. He let out a panicked cry as he fell tumbling onto the ground only to be run over by a pursuing jeep. The driver attempted a swerve to avoid the large mammal but only succeeded in rolling the jeep over as it hit the unexpected speed bump.
The other jeep swerved to avoid getting caught up in the crash, giving the rabbit and fox some much-needed room. The hyena gunner on the jeep fired at them with his assault rifle but the jeep was moving too much for him to make any steady shots, the bullets all missing their target by a large margin. There was always the risk he would get a lucky shot but that was a pretty minor concern, especially given the much larger concern of two additional jeeps with mounted guns that had managed to catch up to the action.
Nick groaned in frustration, “These guys just don’t give up!”
“Uh Nick, we’ve got a problem, more up ahead!” Carrots yelled in a worried tone. Nick turned to see what she was yelling about, only to see three more jeeps mounted jeeps and an alarmingly large number of armed mercenaries setting up a roadblock right in their path. “What do we do?!?”
“Uhhh...I don’t know.” Nick stammered, his mind racing to come up with some sort of plan. He looked over at the cliff they were driving next to, he hadn't really had a chance to look before, but now he noticed the large body of water below was actually a large lake.
Maybe we could… no, that would be insane.
The rabbit seemed to have noticed the lake as well and gave Nick look filled with determination before turning back to face the rapidly approaching roadblock.
“Carrots...no!” Nick tried to reason. “Best case scenario, we break our damn necks from a drop like that!”
“Not like our other options are any better!” she responded, not looking back.
As soon as the mercenaries ahead of them began opening fire, the rabbit swerved the jeep to the side, sending it over the cliff and into the lake below.
The fox’s screaming continued until the jeep connected with the lake's surface and he was promptly thrown from it. The sudden rush of water shocked him and his vision rapidly darkened as he sunk into the murky depths below.
One Week Earlier
“You got us lost again, didn’t you?” a deep voice growled, snapping Nick out of his thoughts. He turned over to look at the mammal in question, a sandy coloured fennec fox that seemed far too small to have such a deep voice. The small fox wore a red pocketed t-shirt with tan cargo pants and was currently gripping the steering wheel of their motorboat. He was showing signs of old age with streaks of grey fur visible on his muzzle, but it hadn’t done too much to slow him down, or least he’d often boast that it didn’t. He was Nick’s grumpy partner, mentor, and best friend; while most mammals knew him as Finnick, Nick had a much more aggravating nickname for him.
“Ah, come on Gramps, you worry too much! Besides, we’re treasure hunters!” Nick threw his arms in the air, gesturing dramatically. “Adventurers!” he only managed to get an irritated scowl from his diminutive partner for his efforts. “Real treasure hunters never get lost! We’re just on the way to finding new adventures!”
“Yeah, well if we’re finding new adventures, they’d better be the kind that gets us paid,” Finnick responded, the scowl loosening a bit but still remaining plastered on his face.
“And we will little guy,” Nick said, patting the smaller fox on the head. “In the twenty years we’ve known each other, have I ever given you any reason to doubt me?” A smug grin appearing on the larger fox’s face as he said it.
Finnick bared his teeth, “You don’t want me to answer that,” he growled before slapping away Nick’s paw. “And if you touch me like that again, I’ll-”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ll bite my face off. You really need to change up your comebacks,” Nick interrupted, dismissively waving his paw in the direction of his aggravated partner.
He reached into a small pack attached to his belt, pulling out a worn journal that had a piece of tape slapped on the cover with the words ‘Francis Wilde’ written on it. He flipped through the pages until he found what he was looking for. He pulled out a map that was yellowish in colour and faded with age, it depicted a coastline with one area circled in red ink. Above the circled area was a drawing depicting a distinct looking rock formation with a natural archway that ran underneath it as well as four spires shooting upwards that caused it to resemble a paw with an arched hole at the bottom. A phrase had been written next to the picture in the same red ink that had been used to mark the map: ‘The paw will show the way.’
“And seriously, we’re not lost. Sir Francsis' expedition definitely came this way.” Nick gestured to the map, pointing at the picture, “All we have to do now is find this landmark and it should lead us to whatever he was looking for out here.”
Finnick simply grunted before turning his attention back to the steering wheel. That was usually as close as he ever got to being in a good mood without alcohol or a girl being involved so Nick decided to accept the victory and move onto other matters.
The red fox took the opportunity to take in his surroundings, he had spent so much time either navigating or planning that he never really had a chance to really look over the shoreline they had spent the last several hours coasting along. As far as he could see, the shore was covered in sheer cliffs of white limestone. The surfaces were mostly straight, although signs of erosion could be seen from the endless crashing of ocean waves against them, and the way the sunlight reflected off the surface caused it to glow. This combined with the glittering of the water created a brightness that many mammals would have thought was quite beautiful, but to a nocturnal mammal like Nick, was just irritating and gave him a headache. All of a sudden, taking in the scenery didn't seem to so appealing anymore. Instead, he distracted himself with the ring tied around his neck, rubbing it between his thumb and index fingers. It wasn't anything fancy, a silver ring band with an engraving that read 'Sic Parvis Magna' on it and nothing else, but it was still important to him, it reminded him of why he followed this path in life. Treasure hunting was a rough and dangerous way to live, but he had a hard time imagining himself doing anything else. The ring certainly did a lot to inspire him to keep pressing on, but he still couldn’t help but wonder how things could have been if his life had gone in a different direction.
Before he could continue that line of thought, Nick found himself snapped out of his thoughts again by Finnick as he spoke up. “Maybe you should let our friend over there know what’s up instead of staring at that damn ring all day.” The desert fox gestured over to a small grey rabbit near the back of the boat. She held a camcorder in her paws, one of those fancy Pandasonic models that would probably get her mugged by most mammals in this line of work if they knew how much those things were actually worth. She was recording the cliffs they had been sailing past, taking in every single detail from the looks of it.
Nick furrowed his brow as he watched the bunny, he didn’t know much about her beyond the fact she was some reporter from Zootopia who had been focusing on stories pertaining to archaeology. He had never been a fan of working with mammals who were unfamiliar with the treasure hunting business, especially those coming from Zootopia of all places, but money had been pretty tight and she had the funds they needed for this trip, he couldn’t afford to be picky.
“Hey, Carrots!” He called out to the rabbit, not getting a response back. With ears that large, there’s no way she would’ve normally missed that, she must’ve been too focused on filming.
He got a bit closer and tried again, “Hopps?” Once again, she failed to notice, her attention still fixed on the cliffs along the shore. This bunny was clearly stuck in her own little world right now.
Deciding that enough was enough, he approached her from behind and bent down so that his muzzle was right next to her ears before yelling loud enough to ensure she would finally take notice, “Hey Judy!”
The next thing Nick knew, he felt something small and grey connect with the side of his head, everything went fuzzy after that. The next thing he knew he was flat on his back with his arms, legs, and tail all sprawled in random directions. Once his vision stopped spinning, he saw a worried looking bunny in a purple t-shirt standing over him, the camcorder she had been holding was swaying back and forth from a strap around her neck. She was trying to say something that he couldn’t quite make it out. He also swore that he could hear a deep voice laughing in the background.
Nick let out a groan before speaking up, “You’re gonna have to repeat that, rabbit…”
“Are you okay?” the rabbit asked in a concerned voice. The deep laughing of what the red fox now realized was Finnick could still be heard, apparently he was laughing too hard to drive since the boat seemed to have stopped moving and he couldn't hear the engine anymore.
“I’m okay….I think…” Nick groaned as he shook his head and snapped himself out of his daze. Underestimating the bunny already are you Wilde? Nick silently chastised himself. Way to forget the first lesson of being a treasure hunter.
A relieved look appeared on the rabbit's face as she offered a paw. Nick reached forward and grabbed it, letting her help pull him up. “Cheese and crackers Mr. Wilde, you really shouldn’t sneak up on mammals like that!”
“Didn’t think you’d be so jumpy Carrots,” Nick grunted as he finished getting to his feet and brushed himself off. “Besides, I wasn't sneaking up on anything, I yelled at you several times before you decided to roundhouse me.” He groaned again as he rubbed at the side of his head where the bunnies foot had connected, “What the hell was that anyway? Some sort of bun fu?”
“I’m aware of how dangerous it can be out here Mr. Wilde, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t know how to take care of myself.” She grabbed the camera hanging from her neck and checked it over before glancing back at Nick with a mildly irritated look on her face. “And how many times do I have to tell you, it's Judy, not Carrots?”
“What? You don’t like my term of endearment?” Nick asked with a shrug, “also, call me Nick, Mr. Wilde is way too formal, makes me feel all weird and….wrong.” He made an exaggerated shudder to emphasize his point.
“Alright Nick ,” Judy conceded, “but can you at least stop calling me Carrots?”
He stroked his chin in mock thought for a second before speaking, “I could call you Fluff? Do you like Fluff? I think it sounds pretty nice.”
Judy raised a finger, looking as if she might try to argue some more before apparently deciding it wasn’t worth the effort and lowered it again. “Moving on...what was it you wanted to tell me so badly that you felt the need to start yelling in my ears?”
“Well Carrots , before you smacked me upside the head, I was going to let you know we found the area Sir Francis was evidently so interested in,” he gestured to the coastline they had been sailing past. “Those cliffs you were so enraptured with just so happen to be part of the coastline he charted.”
Nick retrieved the map from his journal and showed it to Judy, tapping at the circled landmark with a clawed digit. “Now all we have to do is find this ‘paw’ Wilde marked, and it should lead us to whatever he was looking for out here.” He passed the map to Judy before turning his head to yell in Finnicks direction, “Assuming some mammals can stop laughing long enough to get off their tails and start driving the damn boat, Gramps!”
“Come on kid, you can’t seriously expect me to handle the boat after watching you get laid low by a bunny,” Finnick managed to get out between fits of laughter, “that’s gotta be a safety hazard or something!”
A flash of irritation crossed Nick’s muzzle that was mirrored by the rabbit next to him, “Really Gramps? Because I seem to remember you being the one who always goes on about how any mammal can be dangerous.” Nick would admit, he had made a big mistake in assuming the bunny wouldn’t have tried or even could've been able to knock him flat like that. Any mammal could be deadly in this line of work, regardless of size. Hell, the small ones frequently ended up being the deadliest since dumb rookies were often quick to dismiss them as an actual threat. It was easy to forget that the size of a mammal didn’t matter much they were holding a gun to your head or a knife to your throat. Nick rubbed his still sore head, they could also kick pretty hard it seems.
“I know, that’s what makes it so funny,” Finnick answered as his laughter finally died down. “That head of yours is already too big, you need a good humbling like that to remind you of the rules and why we follow ‘em,” his voice then took on a more serious tone as he shot his larger partner a piercing look, “because it won’t be nearly as funny if you screw up like that against some asshole who actually wants you dead.” Caught off guard by the jarring shift in tone, Nick was unable to come up with any retort before the smaller fox started up the engine again and returned his focus to driving the boat.
Nick looked over at Judy and saw a worried look in her eyes. He figured that despite her previous claims, a reporter wasn’t exactly used to the kind of dangers that came with treasure hunting. He tried to lighten the mood with an insincere smile and equally insincere laugh, “Ha...ha..., well that’s Gramps for ya, can be a real downer at times. Don’t worry about it, it doesn’t get as bad as he claims.” A lie, of course, it could and frequently did get that bad, if not worse. Regardless, turning back now would’ve been very problematic given the risks he had already taken to make this expedition happen in the first place. He needed to find a way to placate the bunny before she got any ideas about abandoning this whole thing.
Clearing his throat with a cough, the fox continued, “Anyways, we’re on the right track, if Sir Francis came out here, we’ll find what it was he was looking for once we hit that landmark.”
Judy looked down at the map, her brow furrowing in concentration. Nick wasn’t sure if she was actually mulling over the details or just trying to distract herself from Finn’s ‘uplifting’ little speech. She looked back up at Nick, “Did you seriously mark up Wilde’s 400-year-old map!?”
That wasn't exactly the reaction Nick had been expecting from her, still, it was better than having her dwell on Finnicks words. “What?” he shrugged, “he wouldn’t mind.”
The rabbit gave him an incredulous look, “I just can’t believe you would do something so thoughtless to an important artifact like that, especially one that belonged to your ancestor." She lectured, waving the map in his face. "I mean seriously Nick, this is a piece of history!”
The irony of her lecturing him on how to treat artifacts while waving the map around in such a reckless manner was not lost on the fox, but he decided against calling her out on it. “Trust me Fluff, that’s nothing compared to what we’re on to here.” A smug grin then started to appear on he noticed her choice of words, “besides, I seem to recall you not believing me when I said that.”
“Well I did do my research, and apparently Sir Francis Wilde didn’t have any heirs,” Judy stated, a healthy dose of skepticism in her voice.
“Well history can be wrong, that’s why you’re all the way out here with us, isn’t it?” Nick pointed a clawed digit at the rabbit. “Officially, historians say Sir Francis retired in 1596 and never left the Pine Isles again, and yet you came all the way out here with us because you intend to prove otherwise.”
Before Judy could respond, Finnick called over to them. “Hey, Kid! You and the bunny better get your tails in gear, ‘cause unless I’m seeing things, it looks we’ve just found that ‘paw’ of yours!”
Nick and Judy both directed their gazes over to the coastline. Just as the old desert fox said, the giant ‘paw’ they had been looking for was visible in the distance and rapidly growing in size as they sailed closer. It towered far above the cliffs around it with finger-shaped structures jutting into the sky and ring like patterns encircling them as they went down to what could best be described as the giant paw's 'pad.' At the base of it was a large opening leading to a bay with a beach landing visible on the opposite end.
Seeing that they had finally reached the next step in their search, Nick looked over at Judy with an eager glint in his eye. “Well then, I guess it’s time for us to get going,” he took the map back from her, placing it back in his journal. He placed a paw on the rabbit's shoulder and looked into her eyes, seeing a similar eagerness with a hint of what he assumed was nervousness. “Now come on, let’s go find out what it was our dear buddy Sir Francis was doing out here.”