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Uncharted: A Fox's Legacy

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Darkness...flashes of light and faded images...the musky smell of earth and tropical plants...the chirping and calls of wildlife, they all assaulted Nick's senses relentlessly as he drifted in and out of consciousness. He wasn't sure how long this went on for, but after entirely too many nonsensical visions, he finally managed to force his eyes open. Everything was a blur as he struggled to adjust to the bright light now assaulting him as he came to.

 

Huh...wha...what happened? The fox either muttered or thought, he was too disoriented to tell. The last thing he remembered was clouds...an island...and then fire...followed by falling. He tried to let out an exhausted groan, only to be surprised when his mouth refused to budge. 

 

Wait...I can’t open my mouth...why can’t I open my mouth?!?!

 

He pawed at his face, trying to figure out what was wrong. He felt something wrapped entirely around his mouth, constricting all movement.

 

What the hell is it? Is it a muzzle? It’s a muzzle, isn’t it?!?! Oh gods! Muzzle! Get it off! Get it off!

 

The fox launched into a panic, thrashing around as he tried to pry and claw at whatever had wrapped his mouth shut. He finally managed to grip something in his paws only to realize that it couldn't have been a muzzle, it didn't have the same harsh, constricting feel that had inspired so much dread in him in the past. Looking down, he noticed that it was some sort of lightweight rope.

 

What the? Is that...a cord?

 

That’s when it all came racing back to him. The plane, the island, Coastline ambushing him and his friends, getting blown out of the sky, being forced to bail out with a faulty parachute and crashing into the trees below.

 

Phew, it’s not a muzzle after all, looks like I just got tangled up in my chute and…

 

The fox strained to get a better look, his vision finally starting to clear up enough for him to make sense of his surroundings. It turned out his parachute had not only managed to tangle him up, but had also gotten caught in the branches of the forest canopy. He craned his head to look down and saw that he was hanging a good fifteen to twenty meters above the ground.

 

Oh...crap…

 

Given everything that happened, he should've been pretty grateful that he was lucky enough to make it this far in one piece. Being alive was good and all, he wouldn't argue that; he just wished his luck wasn't so double edged all the time. It seemed like whenever anything good happened to him, something equally bad or worse had to come along just to make sure he couldn't enjoy it.

 

Okay, take it easy Nick, you’ve got this, just take it slow. You can start by figuring out how to untangle yourself...without falling and shattering every bone in your body...

 

He took a moment to unsheath his claws and look them over. They had recovered somewhat since their short stint as an improvised climbing pick back at the temple wall, but it would still be a while before they were fully healed. Still, they would do in a pinch as improvised cord cutters to untangle himself from the chute with.

 

Easy Nick, watch where you cut, try to make sure you don't end up cutting the wrong cord and plummeting to your death…

 

The treasure hunter carefully raked his claws over one cord after another, his mobility and freedom of movement increasing with each cut as the parachute's grip on him steadily loosened.

 

Almost there...nice and easy...that’s it...just a few more, then you can just swing yourself over to a branch and- The fox never managed to finish that thought. He wasn't sure what happened, maybe he cut one too many cords, maybe the parachute just gave out on its own. It didn't really matter much at this point, the end result was the same, the chute had completely unravelled and Nick was falling towards the jungle floor. 

 

“Oh crap!”

 

He reached out and grabbed the first thing he could, wrapping his paw around what turned out to be a loose parachute cord. He dug in as hard as he could, his paw burning from the friction as it slowed his descent. He finally wrenched to a stop a few meters above the ground with a  jolting pain in his arm and a burning sensation in his paw. Not taking any chances, he reached up with his other paw and got a firm grasp on the loose cord.

 

“Ha...ha…” Nick laughed exhaustedly. “That was a close one...a second longer and I’d have splattered against the grou-”

 

*Snap*

 

The tautness of the cord fell away and the vulpine dropped to the jungle floor, landing flat on his back with a painful thud. He looked up and his eyes went wide as he saw the source of the snapping noise, a large branch falling straight towards him. He instinctively rolled out of the way with a surprised yelp as the branch crashed right on top of his landing spot. He let out a relieved sigh at his close escape only for everything to suddenly go dark as the parachute itself came loose and dropped on top of him.

 

“Think I might just...stay here for a moment,” a dazed Nick decided as he lay there in the darkness beneath his chute. “Wait for the world to stop spinning…”After a few minutes of just lying motionless and letting his mind wander, he finally decided he was ready to get going. He tried to move, but the chute was heavier than it looked, weighing him down and stifling his movement as he struggled to crawl out from beneath it.

 

“Stupid...crappy...chute,” the treasure hunter mumbled as he struggled to pull himself out from beneath it. "Ah, finally,” he grunted once he was greeted by daylight again, free of the chute and getting back on his feet. He took a single triumphant step forward, only to stumble and land flat on his face. "That's probably gonna bruise," he groaned as he looked back and saw that the parachute had managed to wrap itself around his foot, tripping him in the process. “Get...off!” he growled as he tried to shake the chute loose with a kick, but it refused to relent, clinging firmly to his foot. "How the hell did you wrap around my foot so tightly? Find a new friend!" he yelled as he kicked repeatedly in frustration, finally managing to shake it off.

 

“Cheese and crackers, I’ve only just got here and this island’s already trying to kill me,” Nick sighed as he got back up on his feet. "Wait...did I seriously just say ‘cheese and crackers?’”

 

You’re talking to yourself too, he realized.

 

“I’ve been hanging out with that damn bunny too much…”

 

That or taken one too many hits to the head. Nick was seriously wondering if he was starting to lose his mind.

 

“You know what? Just don't dwell on it,” Nick tried to reason. “I’m just...thinking out loud! Yeah! That’s right!”

 

You keep telling yourself that…

 

The treasure hunter shook his head, trying to push those thoughts down. He had enough problems to deal with already, he didn't need to add arguments with self to the list. “First things first,” Nick started, trying to brush past his, hopefully minor, mental crisis. “Need to figure out where I stand."

 

The fox started trying to organize his thoughts. If he was gonna be able to pull this off, he'd need to figure out the situation, then he could form a plan. "Okay...so you have no idea where you are...your plane was shot down...you’re stranded...no food...no supplies...your friends are missing..."

 

Probably dead…Yeah, those doubts weren't going away anytime soon.

 

“Shut up,” Nick bit back. “And stop arguing with yourself…” He tried to bring his focus back to summarising the situation. “Okay...so on top of all that...you’ve got two psychos with gods knows how many mercs after you…” Nick continued, his ears and tail sagging as it became apparent just what kind of situation his poor decisions had landed him in. “That’s… that’s great...great start Nick...way to keep things under control....” He felt his doubts starting to mount again, but he tried to shake them off. “Don’t dwell on it, that won’t help, you've done this kind of thing before and you can do it again. Just gotta take this one step at a time.”

 

The red fox looked in one direction, then turned around to look in the other. “Starting with figuring out where the hell I am...” He reached for his side pack, thankful he had it on him when he jumped out of the plane. He pulled out the map he had drawn of the island, frowning as he looked at it. “Son of a bitch...I’m really starting to regret the rush job I did when I sketched this…” The map was cruder than he would’ve liked, but it was still enough for him to make his way around the island once he had an idea of where he was. He started with looking around at his surroundings, searching for any distinct details or landmarks, but all he saw in every direction were similar looking trees and vegetation.

 

“Great...guess I should be disappointed if it was too easy..." he started. "Actually you know what? Screw that! I just got blown out of the sky, separated from my friends, my parachute nearly killed me twice and then it made me fall on my face, I'm allowed to wish things were easier!” He looked back down at the map and noticed sketches of raised ridges and cliffs on the western edge of the island. “Okay, then, maybe if I reach higher ground, I'll get a view of the whole island. Should make it easier to figure out where I am as well as where Judy and Finnick ended up.”

 

Assuming they’re not dead…

 

“Stop it! Just keep a clear head, Nick...you’ve got this.” He pulled a compass out to check his bearings, steadying it until he was certain he knew which way to go. He then drew the gun from his holster, checking the magazine to make sure it was loaded as well as looking over the two spare magazines he had in his pack. "Really hoping I won’t be needing this…”

 

Coastline just shot you and your friends down, idiot, you're definitely going to need it.

 

Nick holstered his gun and placed the rest of his gear back in the pack. Once he was certain that he was as ready as he would ever be, he started heading west in search of higher ground.

 


 

Two Hours Later

 

It’s all your fault, you let this happen.

 

“Dammit, come on, Nick! Really?!?! Now is not the time for this,” the fox grunted as he shimmied along a small ledge outcropping, reaching to pull himself up to a nearby pawhold. He had spent the better part of the last half hour gradually working his way up the cliffside in search of a good vantage point of the island, hopefully without plunging to his death in the process. Self-doubt and guilt were hardly conducive to accident-free climbing, so he'd shoved those thoughts to the back of his mind while he scaled the cliff. But he couldn't hold them off forever, and in a case of horrible timing, said doubts and guilt came back with a vengeance.

 

“Besides, there’s no point in worrying about them, not really,” Nick tried to rationalize. “Judy got out of the plane, even saw her pull her chute.”

 

Can’t say the same for Finnick…

 

“Doesn’t matter...he had his chute with him, he’s probably fine.”

 

The one he wasn’t wearing…

 

“Ugh, why do I keep doing this to myself?!?!” the fox growled in frustration, making a small leap upward to another pawhold above and gripping it tightly. “As if climbing up a cliff with nothing but my paws wasn't hard enough already, now I gotta deal with this crap!”

 

Face it, they’re both dead because of you. You hustled them into helping you rip off Dante, and now they're dead because you hustled them again into coming with you. 

 

“Okay, first of all, they’re not dead...probably, and second, they wanted to come as much as I did.” Nick was really hoping he could either come to terms with these doubts or at least push them aside again until a point where a moment's distraction wouldn't lead to him losing his grip, falling, and being reduced to a fox shaped stain on the ground.

 

Trying to hustle yourself, now?  Judy just wanted to go home and Finn wanted to get drunk and chase tail in Bochi. Face it, you hustled them. Said doubts and guilts did not seem to sympathize with his situation.

 

“I didn’t have to make that big of a sales pitch, they both wanted to be here, I just had to remind them of that.” The fox pressed his feet against the face of the cliff and reached up towards another pawhold. “And rough landings aside, they’ll be fine, they’re both tough, I just need to find them.”

 

Face it, they’re dead, it’s what happens to anybody who makes the mistake of trusting a shifty fox like you. Eventually, you always let them down and they're the ones who suffer for it.

 

“Okay, this is seriously getting dark...” the treasure hunter took a deep breath. “Come on Nick, stop thinking about it, don’t focus on the negatives, it's not that hard, just think positive. I’m sure they’re perfectly- Wooooaahhh!!” 

 

The fox cried out in surprise as he lost his grip on the pawhold and fell away from the cliffside. He quickly shot his paws out and caught a small ledge a few meters below him, it cracked from the force of the impact and one of his paws slipped loose. He dug in hard with the other paw though, maintaining his hold on the ledge, if only barely. The sudden stop was still enough to spin the fox around, painfully slamming both his back and tail against the cliff face, leaving him with another pair of bruises to add to the collection as well as causing him to swing around and face towards the jungle. Looking down, he was treated to a view of the jungle expanse below that was actually quite breathtaking, although as beautiful as the view was, it was more of the bad kind of breathtaking given how it was reminding him of just how far the drop would've been if he hadn't grabbed that ledge in time.

 

“Son of a bitch!” he yelled. “This is why I didn’t want to have to deal with this crap until after I made it to the top!” With an exhausted sigh, he swung himself back around and grabbed onto the ledge with his other paw. Once he was certain he had a secure grip, he took a minute to calm down and get his breath back. “Okay, Nick, no more screwing around. Shelve the bad thoughts until you’ve made it up there,” he tried to instruct himself. “Seriously, I doubt I have it in me to pull that off a second time…”

 

The fox shimmied along the ledge to the nearest pawhold and resumed his climb up the cliffside. Thankfully, he didn’t give Judy or Finnick another thought until he reached the top.

 


 

“Finally,” Nick gasped as he pulled himself over the ledge and onto the top of the ridge. “I hate cliffs so much…” The vulpine rolled over and lay flat on his back, finally able to take a moment to catch his breath and wait for the feeling in his arms to come back. Treasure hunting was certainly a physically demanding line of work, he would know, but spending nearly an hour climbing a cliff with nothing but his bare paws and a grappling hook was just insane, even more so when he managed to add one instance of nearly falling to his death to the mix.

 

Once he was ready, Nick got back up on his feet and took in the view he had nearly died trying to reach. As exhausting, unpleasant, and downright nerve-wracking the last hour had been, his gambit had managed to pay off. From up here, he could see almost the entire island. The ridge continued all the way to the south end of the island, gradually decreasing in height until it finally disappeared below the jungle canopy. Not far from the ridge was a series of small ruins, nothing large enough to be the fabled city of Henosia, but they seemed consistent with what looked like some sort of town on the map. To the north, he saw several more ruins that may have been outposts at one point. To the east, there was a series of small to medium sized mountains running close to the shore with visible ruins and walls built into them that looked far more elaborate in build and detail than any of the other ruins he could see.

 

“Hmm,” the fox began to speculate. “Good location for a city, close to the shore, highly defensible, matches the location on the map... could that be Henosia?” He considered it for a moment before shoving the thought aside, “Can figure that out later. For now, gotta figure out where Judy and Finn ended up.”

 

He scanned the island, turning his gaze back south until he spotted a plume of black smoke rising in the distance. “Okay, I’m guessing that’s our crash site,” Nick pointed. “So Finn’s probably in that direction.” He then spun around and pointed to the north, “Which means Judy will probably have landed somewhere over there.” He looked back and forth at the northern and southern edges of the island, his ears sagging as he realized the conundrum this posed. “So whoever I go looking for first...will put me even further away from the other. Great...as if things weren’t complicated enough already…” It was then that Nick looked out at the ocean water, seriously starting to wonder if he was tempting fate given what he was seeing out there. 

 

Boats. Lots of boats. Enough for a small fleet. And all of them were heading straight for the southern edge of the island. Flying over the fleet was a single helicopter. Nick narrowed his gaze, certain of the mammal that was on board.

 

“Dante…”

 

Things were bad enough when he’d discovered there was already a Coastline scouting party waiting for them at the island. But now, as if being stranded in the middle of nowhere wasn't bad enough, there was an entire army about to make landfall. “Dammit...Judy...Finn...wherever you guys are…you watch your backs…”

 

He couldn’t waste any more time, he needed to hurry up and find the others before Coastline did. The only question was who did he go looking for first? He glanced at the northern end of the island where Judy had landed, then back at the smoke on the southern end where Finnick and the Coastline fleet were. 

 

They’re probably gonna head straight to that plane wreckage, Nick realized. Which means...

 

He didn’t like the idea forming in his head, but he knew it was the only real option if Finnick was still alive. “Sorry, Carrots, looks like you’re gonna have to sit tight for a bit. Finn’s the one short on time,” Nick decided as he started following the ridge to the south. “Can’t believe I’m seriously about to head towards the army of trigger happy lunatics. Bet they’ll make me into a fur coat or something if they catch me…”

 

Or Finn…

 

“Oh great...more of that to deal with… how swell...”

 


 

Things were rather uneventful as Nick made his way south along the ridge, moving from one traversable passage to the next in the hopes of finding a safe way back down to the jungle. “So far, so good, guess Coastline hasn’t made it this far north yet,” he noted. He tried to appreciate the lack of action while he could, if this job had made anything clear, every time Coastline showed up, things quickly tended to get loud and frantic, also, shit would usually start exploding.

 

As the passage started to curve around a large rock outcropping, something leaning against the base of the rock managed to catch Nick's eye. On closer inspection, he saw that it was the skeletal remains of a mammal. “Hello...what have we here?” The treasure hunter moved closer, bending down to investigate the dead mammal. It was some sort of ungulate, probably a sheep from what he could gather. The mammal’s clothing was worn and faded and the shortsword gripped in it's hooves was covered in rust, but the fox could still make out the dragon and lion insignia of House Leodor on the blade's pommel.

 

“Huh...you must've been part of Wilde’s crew. So he made it after all...” Nick started rifling through the mammal's clothing. “Maybe you can tell me what happened out here.” He eventually found a journal, opening it up and flipping through the entries until he found something relevant.

 

March 2nd, 1585

There is much to say, but time is short so I will have to summarise to the best of my abilities, Wilde needs all paws and hooves on deck if we’re to remain one step ahead of our Blackhorn adversaries. His instincts were as sharp as ever when his theory about the temple proved to be true, for we found the coordinates to  Henosia within. All did not go as planned though, a Blackhorn armada managed to track and ambush us at the site. It should've been our downfall, their fleet was far larger and better equipped than ours, but Wilde is a crafty captain. Not only did he turn the tables on our ambushers and get us back to the ships, he even managed to break through the Blackhorn blockade with minimal losses. 

There was a time when it would have brought me shame to say such things, but Wilde is a truly exemplary sailor and I can think of no other capable of performing as admirably as he has. He may be a fox, but we all owe him our lives, and I consider it an honour to be by his side as we claim this city of legend in the name of House Leodor and the Pine Isles. Still, it is too early to speak of such things as certainties, for the odds are stacked against us. Even with the successes we’ve had, claiming the city before the Blackhorns will be no simple task. The trek will surely be a dangerous one and I pray that our fortunes continue to hold once we reach our destination.

 

Nick looked through the proceeding entries, but few were of any real interest. They were mostly accounts of the mammal's activities on the ship as they sailed for Henosia with the occasional brief skirmish against the Blackhorn fleet or encounters with rough waters and stormy weather. It wasn't until the final two entries that he found the answers he was looking for.

 

August 14th, 1585

The gods certainly aren’t making this easy on us. We reached the island where Henosia resides, but the Blackhorns finally overtook us. Wilde is a genius sailor but even he has his limits, the Blackhorns vastly outnumbered us and their crews were far less exhausted than ours,  we never stood a chance. Most of our fleet was destroyed in the fighting, the rest were dashed against the rocks trying to escape.

But all is not lost yet, Wilde and several teams have made it to the shore. The Blackhorn fleet may outnumber and outgun us, but all those advantages amount to naught within the confines of the jungle. With Wilde’s ingenuity, the determination of our surviving crew, and the favour of the gods, we may just be able to salvage this situation yet. I go now to rest and prepare myself, the days to come will no doubt push all of us to our limits, and Wilde will need all of us at our best if we are to prevail.

 

“Wow, sounds like both Wilde and the Blackhorns went to some pretty extreme lengths to find this place," Nick said as he flipped to the last entry. "Now how does your tale end, buddy?" Judging by the blood that was staining the final page, it probably didn’t end well.

 

August 17th, 1585

I pray to the gods for deliverance, for at this point, nothing short of a miracle will save us. Fate seemed to on our side, for a time. The first few battles against the Blackhorns were decisive victories. Wilde is as clever on land as he is at sea, having us strike where they were weak and disappear into the jungle before they could respond. But the Blackhorns vastly outnumber us and they knew how to press that to their advantage. As savvy as Captain Wilde is, even he couldn't stop them from forcing our mammals into a battle we could not possibly win. We must have killed at least ten of them for every one of us that fell, yet it still wasn't enough. The Blackhorns forces shattered ours and we scattered into the jungle. I can only pray that Wilde managed to escape, he's the reason we've made it as far as we have, and any hope of victory is truly lost if he has fallen.

I had to push my way through one of their lines in order to escape. I must've cut down at least a dozen trying to get away but it was still too much, I didn't even see the cursed weasel before he jammed his knife between my ribs. Not that it saved him since I still put my sword through his skull. I was able to escape and seek refuge in the cliffs above, but I fear the weasel's blow may have struck truer than I thought as the wound still hasn't stopped bleeding.

The Blackhorns haven't pursued me so I have stopped to rest and tend to my wounds. Should I survive the night, I will see if there's another path down. Before that last battle, Wilde spoke of a fortress he was searching for that may hold the key to our victory. I pray that he is right and that I can meet up with him again to find this place. Gods willing, it may hold the key to getting us off this island alive. 

 

"Looks like that wasn't how things turned out for you," Nick took the dead mammal's journal and placed it in his pack. "Sounds like Wilde's expedition turned into quite the shit show…one more thing the two of us have in common, I guess. At least this 'fortress' might make for a good lead to check out once I find the others."

 

Nick started moving along the passage again. As he turned around another corner, he jumped at the cracking of several gunshots. His hackles raised instinctively and he immediately dove behind a rock, pulling out his gun and chambering a round.

 

“Hey, hey! The hell you shooting at, bru?” he heard a voice shouting in the distance.

 

“Saw something, maybe...looked like movement in the trees,” the 'bru' answered.

 

Curious at what was happening, Nick peeked over the edge of the rock to get a better look. He saw two Coastline mercenaries, a jackal and hyena, on a raised cliff path further ahead separated from his own by a small gap. The two of them were staring down at the jungle below, the jackal aiming at the treeline with his rifle while the hyena stood right behind him, looking down in the same direction.

 

“Well, that’s thick jungle, eh? Isn't it all moving?” The hyena leaned over to take a closer look at the treeline, “I don’t see anything down there.”

 

“Damn it…” the canine shook his head. “All right everyone, false alarm!” he called out.

 

“Great...” Nick quietly muttered as he watched the hyena mercenary disappear behind a curve in the cliff, “Was really hoping I'd have more time before dealing with these idiots again.” There wasn’t much room to maneuver around these cliffs and Nick had no idea how many mercenaries were patrolling the area, both of which made for less than ideal conditions for trying to sneak around. But they didn’t know he was here yet, which meant they probably weren’t alert. He could use that to his advantage.

 

“Just gotta hop over to that ledge and shimmy my way around the side of the cliff,” Nick said, starting to form a plan. “There's gotta be a passage or something that they used to get up here, I just need to find it.”

 

He made a short leap over the gap separating him from the path, quietly pulling himself up and moving into some tall grass to conceal himself. Peering through the grass, he noticed the jackal was alone now, standing way too close to the edge of the cliff and just staring out at the island wilderness below.

 

Not paying attention, should be able to quietly take him out, Nick planned. Can just stick to the cliff's edge after that. 

 

He slowly crept forward, making sure any rustling he caused as he moved through the tall grass could just be attributed to the wind. Once he was nearly on top of the jackal, he burst forward and planted a foot square in the back of the canid's knee. The mercenary stumbled forward with a pained grunt and Nick followed through, throwing his weight into the jackal's back and shoving him over the edge of the cliff. The mercenary only managed to get out a single surprised yelp before he was gone.

 

“Mind the landing, pal,” Nick quipped as he paused to take a breath. “Well, that wasn’t so bad.”

 

“What now, bru? You stub a toe or something?” Nick heard the hyena call out from behind, his fur standing on end again as he realized he wouldn't have enough time to get out of sight. He turned around just in time to see the mercenary stepping around the corner.

 

Shit!

 

There was a brief pause as the hyena looked up, taking a moment to register that the mammal he was looking at wasn’t the same one who had been treating the trees as hostiles a minute earlier. His eyes went wide in alarm and he gritted his teeth when he realized who it actually was.

 

“Hey! You!”

 

The mercenary immediately went for his rifle, but Nick was already one step ahead, sprinting towards the larger mammal as fast as he could. As he charged the mercenary, Nick reached for the grappling hook at his side and threw it straight at the surprised mammals face. The hook connected against the hyena’s muzzle with a crack and his head snapped backward, a pained growl emerging from the mercenary followed by the deafening crack of a gunshot as he fired wide.

 

The treasure hunter quickly moved to grab the hyena’s rifle and disarm him, but the mammal was too strong and too quick to recover. Nick quickly came to regret his decision as the rifle refused to budge in his grip and he instead found himself being lifted along with it into the air. He held tightly onto the rifle as the hyena flung him back and, forth trying to shake him loose before just slamming him into the stone wall of the cliff instead. The blow stunned the fox and his breath was cut off as he felt the rifle slammed against his throat. The hyena got right in his face, snout bleeding, teeth bared, and eyes ablaze with fury as they locked onto his own. This was the look of a mammal who had no intention of taking him alive.

 

This seemed like such a good idea about ten seconds ago... he probably would've said if he wasn't currently having the life strangled out of him.

 

Nick tried to shove the rifle back, but the mercenary had him pinned. As he struggled for breath, he switched tactics, using one paw to try and shove the hyena back as a distraction while reaching for his holstered pistol with the other, shoving it into the larger mammals exposed side and firing several point-blank shots. The hyena cried out in pain, dropping the fox to grasp at his wound for a moment before slumping over, silent within moments of hitting the ground.

 

With the mercenary dispatched, Nick gasped for air, slowly pulling himself up and grabbing his thrown grappling hook. He bent over and looked at the hyena lying on the ground. The eyes were now empty and lifeless without a trace of the fury that had been there moments earlier, this mammal would not be getting back up soon, or ever. "Asshole..." the fox grumbled before noticing a radio on the ground, the mammal had probably dropped it as soon as the fight started. "Hmmm, this might come in handy," he figured as he bent down and picked it up, attaching it to his belt.

 

“What the hell are you guys shooting at, now?" a voice called out from behind the rocks that seemed to be rapidly approaching. "This isn't a pillage or raid job, you idiots, Cackler and the rich boy want these guys found, and we sure as hell won't find them if they hear us coming because you're shooting everything that moves!"

  

Crap...more of them!

 

Nick quickly ran for the cliff's edge and dropped down, grabbing onto the ledge. Looking down, he noticed a second smaller ledge just below and out of sight, dropping down to it and grabbing on with both paws. He planted his feet against the face of the cliff and tried to stay motionless as the sound of padding footsteps steadily increased in volume just above him.

 

“What's got you guys so quiet all of a sudden? Don't tell me you're still pissed about...the...hell?” the approaching voice changing from casual to confused to alarmed as it got closer. “Shit! We got a mammal down over here! Somebody took out Tuan!”

 

“Anybody see anything?” another voice asked.

 

“Spread out and search the area!” the first voice ordered, the patrol leader if Nick had to guess. “Whoever did this, they can’t have gone far!”

 

“You think it’s Wilde?” the other mammal asked.

 

“Well Tuan sure as hell didn’t shoot himself several times,” the leading mercenary answered, sounding even closer than before. He was probably standing right above Nick, but the fox dared not crane his head up to take a look, lest he attract the mammal’s attention.

 

Quiet, Nick...quiet...if they see you now, you’re dead for sure.

 

“No sign of Jax, either,” the other mercenary noted. “Think our mystery mammal got him, too?”

 

“Possibly...” Nick heard the sound of feet shuffling, it sounded like the leading mammal was moving away, probably back to the rest of the patrol. “Make sure the others know to stay on their guard, this guy's gotten one of our boys already, probably two. I do not want to end up having to tell Cackler this guy managed to kill several of our mammals and slip past.”

 

Once he was certain the other mammals were gone, Nick took a deep sigh of relief. The relief quickly changed to stress and frustration once he realized how badly he'd miscalculated and how much more difficult it had made things. Well, now they know I'm here, which means they'll be watching the passage. So...my options are trying to reach that passage, probably getting spotted and shot in the process...the fox thought as he looked up at the top of the cliff ledge, or trying to climb down without any planned path and likely falling to my death...he turned to look at the long drop down. Nice job Nick, way to take something as simple as shoving a clueless mercenary off a cliff and let it spiral completely out of control...He braced himself and started moving along the cliffside, focusing on staying out of sight and hoping maybe he'd stumble on some other alternative.

 

Progress was slow as he quietly made his way along the cliff, the frantic sounds of footsteps above him the whole time as the Coastline patrols searched the above passageway. He tried to focus on the task at paw and not think about what would happen if they managed to figure out where he was.

 

“There’s no sign of him, you think he slipped by?” he heard one of the mercenaries ask.

 

“No way, those shots went off right before we got there. He wouldn't have been able to slip past without us noticing," the commanding mammal speculated. "He’s still here, he has to be. The only question is where?”

 

As Nick was listening in, his foot slipped against the cliffside, knocking several rocks loose. “Crap,” he whispered as the rocks cracked and broke away, bouncing down the cliff and making entirely too much noise, in this case, too much being any at all. He silently prayed that the mercenaries above wouldn’t pay it any notice.

 

“Hold on, what was that noise just now?”

 

Nick froze, his ears and tail completely stiff as he hung there in tense silence, hoping the mercenaries weren't smart enough to put two and two together and figure out where he was.

 

“The cliff! He’s hanging off the edge of the cliff!” the leader shouted, dashing said hopes. Unfortunately, it seemed they were smart enough.

 

Maybe I should've thought about what would happen if they found me after all...

 

Nick tried to flatten himself against the side of the cliff as mercenaries started peering over the edge looking for him, but it was a doomed effort. The climbing surface was simply too flat, there was nowhere for him to hide. His whole cliff shimmying plan for getting past them had hinged on the assumption that the mercenaries wouldn't think he was suicidal enough to try a stunt like this...

 

Maybe it's my terrible decision making that always lands me in such tight spots...

 

“There! He’s down there!” one mercenary shouted before opening fire. Chunks of the cliff started splintering off as bullets peppered the surface the fox was clinging to, narrowly missing him and causing him to flinch.

 

Not one to sit idly while some asshole took potshots at him, Nick reached for his pistol, craning his neck up to see a light brown furred caracal firing at him. Not having time to line up his aim, he quickly snapped off several shots at his attacker, most of them missed the mark, but he managed to hit something as the feline fell backwards.

 

“Eina!" the caracal cried in pain. "Damn brak pegged me in the arm!"

 

“Somebody kill that damn fox, already!” the leading mammal ordered.

 

Taking that as his cue to start moving, Nick glanced over and saw a rock outcropping further along the cliffside that would work as cover and started recklessly scrambling towards it. Bullets rained down from above as the mercenaries started firing with reckless abandon, hoping a stray bullet might be able to send him falling before he could reach cover. But the fox's luck and speed managed to be enough as he quickly hopped from pawhold to pawhold, successfully bracing himself behind the cover of the outcropping before any of the mercenaries could get a bead on him.

 

“He still down there?” somebody asked.

 

“What kind of moronic question is that? Of course he’s still down there!” the leader shouted. “Hurry up and finish him off!”

 

The mercs continued pouring firing in Nick's direction to little effect, the bullets just ineffectually chipping away at the massive rock outcropping he was hiding under.

 

“Dammit, can’t get a clean shot!” one mercenary shouted in frustration.

 

“Me either.”

 

"This is going nowhere, hold your fire!" the leader ordered. On his command, all the gunfire died down and all that remained was the sound of the wind blowing against the cliffside. "Come on out, little fox," the leader taunted, breaking the silence. "I promise we'll make it quick!"

 

Nick carefully peeked out to get a look at the leader as he was leaning over the cliffside. It was a brown and white coloured tankwa goat, a very impatient looking one from the looks of it. “Thanks, but I think I'm good,” he shouted back, firing off several more shots. They hit the base of the ledge the goat was leaning on, startling him and causing him to jump back out of the way. All of a sudden, the cliffside was lit up with gunfire again as the mercenaries began resuming their attack. Nick quickly ducked back behind cover though, the bullets once again bouncing ineffectually off the outcropping. 

 

"Cease fire!" the goat ordered a second time. "You domkops are just wasting ammo at this point."

 

"He's right, you know," Nick shouted up at them. "Coastline must have really low standards, you guys wouldn't even be able to hit a sloth. Should just run along and grab a can for your goat officer pal to chew on, might improve his mood." 

 

He hung there in silence, waiting for whatever angry taunt the goat mercenary was going to respond with. "Uhhh, that wasn't too specist was it? It's not like I have a problem with goats or anything...just don't like assholes trying to kill me is all..." Nick asked when the silence dragged on for too long. On some level, he was seriously wondering if that taunt had been a bit much, but mostly, he was just stalling in the hopes he could figure out some sort of super reckless escape plan with a high chance of getting him killed before the mercenaries had time to come up with one of their own. Not that either option was preferable, but if he had a choice, he'd probably prefer to be the accidental cause of his own demise rather than give some other asshole the chance to do it. 

 

“To hell with this, get the C4!” the goat ordered. “We’ll bring the entire cliff down on this asshole!” Okay, so apparently Nick had misjudged how reckless and impatient mercenaries could be. 

 

“Oh, come on! Seriously?!?! The can thing wasn't that bad!” Nick shouted before deciding to just wing it and started rapidly working his way down the cliffside. If he was fast and lucky enough, he might be able to find a decent escape route or at least some more suitable cover from the inevitable explosion and rockslide that would be coming his way. Given the fact he was improvising, he had no idea if there was any safe way down to the bottom, but it was certainly better than sticking around waiting to get blown up by Coastline.

 

He didn’t get very far before he discovered that no, in fact, there was no safe way down to the bottom. The pawholds and ledges came to an abrupt end, leaving nothing but a smooth rock surface almost all the way down to the jungle floor. The cliff did start to slope out closer to the bottom, possibly enough for him to be able to safely slide the rest of the way, but it was way too far of a drop from where he was hanging. While he was not generally one to dismiss an idea just because it was reckless, one that broke his neck in the process was perhaps a little too reckless.

 

“Wonderful...What was that old saying, something about rocks and hard places?” Nick looked down at the slope below and back up at the ledge where the mercenaries were probably setting up the explosives. "But what if I could…” he took a look at his paws. He was too high up to safely drop down to the sloped section of the cliff, but if he managed to slow his descent enough… 

 

*Boom*

 

A thunderous explosion interrupted his thoughts and he felt a heat wave wash over him followed by the sound of cracking as the cliff above starting to crack and break apart. He looked up just in time to see a boulder falling straight towards him. "Woah," he shouted in surprise as it nearly struck him, knocking away a good portion of the ledge he was hanging from and nearly taking him out with it. He tried to make himself as small as possible, looking around as he saw huge chunks of the cliff falling all around him.

 

"Okay, this is bad..." suddenly, the ledge he was hanging off of started to crack, shifting downwards and causing his legs and one of his paws to slip loose. "Very Bad! Very bad!!!" The ledge broke away entirely and the fox let out a panicked shout as he fell with it. He unsheathed his claws and slammed them into the smooth cliff surface, trying to dig into the rock with all his might, feeling his paws flare in agony as the claws screeched and tore against the surface. The friction it generated was able to slow his descent, but the rock surface was quickly wearing his claws down. Not that it mattered when another boulder smashed into the rock surface right above him, knocking him loose. There was a brief feeling of weightlessness followed by a painful impact as he landed on the cliff slope and started sliding downwards. It looked like he had managed to get far enough down to survive the fall after all, didn't stop it from hurting like hell, though. Fighting through the pain, he struggled to control his slide, orienting himself so that he faced towards the jungle as he slid down, pieces of the shattered cliffside smashing into the slope all around him as he went.

 

“Too fast! Too fast! Too fast!” he screamed as he slid down the slope at an alarmingly fast pace. He quickly curled into a ball to help soften the blow as the ground began to even out, rolling along and smashing through way too many bushes before finally wiping out and faceplanting into the ground. Dazed by the impact, he slowly struggled to pull himself up until a tree crashed right next to him, shocking him out of his daze and reminding him there was a collapsing cliff that still might bury him.

 

"Are you kidding me?!?!" Nick yelled, ignoring the pain he was feeling as he took off running from the landslide as fast as his battered body would allow. Chunks of the collapsing cliff bulldozed their way through the jungle, shattering and knocking down trees as they went. It was all he could do to keep moving and hope he didn't wind up buried under it all.

 

“Rocks! Too many rocks!” The fox yelled, instinctively ducking to the side when he saw a large shadow looming over him and barely dodging out of the way of a slab of rock that would have flattened him completely. “Wait, what the hell am I doing?” the fox asked himself, suddenly realizing how pointless it would be to try and outrun a landslide. Instead,  he made a sharp turn to the left and started sprinting out of the way of the mass of tumbling earth. He managed to narrowly dodge his way past several more boulders as they smashed through the jungle before throwing himself safely out of the landslide's path with a desperate dive, crashing right into the middle of a large bush.

 

As the thunderous rumbling of the landslide and the cracking of broken trees eventually began to die down, Nick was finally able to take a moment and process what had just happened. He had managed to get himself completely tangled up in the bush up, somehow hanging upside down with his tail dangling in front of his muzzle. "Ow...my...everything...hurts," he groaned as he slowly dislodged himself from the bush, his whole body feeling like one giant bruise at this point. Once he'd managed to sort himself out, he looked over at the area that had been caught in the landslide, seeing the widespread devastation it had caused. Boulders and broken trees littered the ground with large patches of the canopy now completely gone. He could see through the patches to the sky and cliffside above, the part of the cliff where the landslide occurred had been completely transformed, large parts of it now missing or dislodged, like somebody had taken a giant chisel to it, or more accurately, an excessive amount of explosives. "Who the hell brings an entire cliff down just to kill one mammal?"

 

He looked down at his mangled claws, they were still flaring with pain and had been practically worn down to nubs by the rocks. "Dammit, it's gonna be months before they grow back, now... " He took a step forward hissing as a whole new set of sharp pains shocked his system. “There’s gotta be a less painful way to make a living…”

 

The treasure hunter would’ve loved nothing more than to just sit down and rest again until everything stopped hurting, but he couldn’t afford to stick around. Odds were those mercenaries would be coming to check the landside, he needed to make himself scarce before they realized he survived and tried to finish him off. He double checked his bearings to make sure all the climbing, running, explosions, and flying rocks hadn't thrown off his sense of direction before limping off into the jungle, wincing in pain with each step he took. "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Stupid cliffs...Finnick better appreciate all the crap I'm going through just to find him...”

 

 


 

Nick had spent the better part of an hour limping through the jungle, his pace picking up as the sharp pains of his injuries and bruises gradually faded to a dull ache. “Not the worst I’ve ever felt. Had hangovers worse than this, that’s for sure,” he said, trying to keep himself from becoming discouraged. “Course after nights like those, anybody chasing me would, at worst, just stuff me in a trash can and roll me down a hill…” As lucky as he had been so far, he still barely managed to get out of his last few scraps with Coastline by the skin of his teeth, and certainly not unscathed if the soreness he was feeling indicated anything. Now that Dante and Cackler had brought a small army with them, he wouldn't be able to keep this up on his own, not with the kind of beatings he had been tanking. He needed help if any of them were going to survive, and that meant finding Judy and Finnick as soon as possible.

 

Assuming they’re still alive…

 

“Gotta hurry up and find them before these damn doubts drive me up the wall,” Nick furrowed his brow in thought. “Come on Nick, think, Gramps' given you tons of tips over the years, there's gotta be one you can think of that'll help you out of this mess.” He took a moment to stop and began reflecting back on the various pearls of wisdom the grumpy fox had shared with him over the course of their partnership.

 

Kid, don't bother wasting your time on all those Hollywool punches and haymaker crap. In a real fight, always go for the face. If you can’t reach that high, bring 'em down to your level, a whack to the balls oughta do the trick. Then, go for the face.

 

“Nope.”

 

Swapping the artifact with something the same weight is usually 50/50. It either goes off without a hitch, or you'll set off the pressure plates, then ya gotta start running your tail off as all manner of darts 'n boulders 'n shit start flying at ya.

 

“Nuh, uh.”

 

There’s nothing wrong with trying to charm a nice gal just 'cus she has a boyfriend. Just be sure you can either outrun him and any pals of his or that you can take ‘em in a fight. That or get some pals of your own to back you up.

 

Nick shook his head. “Why is this guy my mentor, again?”

 

You’re not Blake freaking Vicious, kid. Don’t think you can just blast your way through any rival crews you run into during a job, that’s how you wind up as some asshole's new fur rug. If you're gonna go up against another crew, then you're gonna need every edge you can get. Don’t be afraid to fight dirty, hit 'em where they're blind, use their own tools and weapons if you can get your paws on 'em. Playing fair is for idiots, the competition sure as hell won't be, so you shouldn't either. Remember, this business is all about doing whatever it takes to come out on top, there ain't any prizes for coming in second.

 

“Use their own tools...” Nick pawed at the radio he 'borrowed' from Coastline. “Not much, but it's a start if I can get in touch with the others.” Nick grabbed the radio and flicked it on, “Please don’t be broken...”Despite the beating it had taken during his escapades back at the cliff, the radio was still in working order, static and voices erupting from the speaker as it came on. He was about to key the button when he suddenly stopped. “Wait a minute...how the hell do I know if either of them even has a radio? And what channel would they be using? Coastline's bound to be using a bunch and it's not like I can just start chatting in any random channel without drawing attention...”

 

Think Nick, what would Finn do in this situation?

 

He focused hard, thinking back to past jobs he and the desert fox had done that might be relevant. One particular job he had pulled with Finn in Sanad Kavos came to mind with a potential solution when he thought back to a specific exchange. 

 

“You sure it’s a good idea to use the police channels, Gramps? They’ll be all over us if they figure out we’re on there, and believe me, you do not want to wind up in a Kavos prison...”

 

“Yeah, yeah, everybody knows about Kavos prisons, Kid. My guy says that as long as we stick to channel thirteen, we should be fine, they don’t use that one. So quit getting your panties in a twist, already.”

 

“Bingo,” the fox smirked. “Just gotta find an empty channel.”

 

He turned the radio back on and started flipping through channels. “Just gotta hope the others figured that out as well...and that they have radios…” With a flick of his thumb, he flipped to the first channel.

 

*Kssh*

 

“Find anything?” a voice asked over the comm.

 

“Nothing,” another voice answered. “Just an empty chute. Probably ditched it and took off into the jungle.”

 

“Finally some good news,” Nick sighed with relief, the burden he was feeling starting to lift. “An abandoned chute might mean at least one of them’s still alive…”

 

"Found some pawprints in the dirt, looks like he started heading west towards the cliffs," one of the voices described.

 

"Oh, wait...that's my chute..." Nick realized, the burden slamming back into place. "Shit...well, never mind then."  He flipped to the next channel, jumping into the middle of another conversation.

 

*Kssh*

 

“...I can't believe they blew up the damn cliff,” one mammal was saying in disbelief. "Which one was it?”

 

“Wilde, they think,” a second voice answered. “Shot at least one of our guys, and they think he pushed another off the cliff. Caught him hanging off the side of the cliff so they brought the entire thing down on him.”

 

"Eish, talk about excessive..." the original mammal muttered in shock. "Did they at least get him?" 

 

"Don't know," the second merc answered. "They're still checking the area. Last I heard, they hadn't found a body yet."

 

"You know the rich boy wants him alive, right? That zebra's gonna be pretty pissed if that fox turns up dead before he's had a crack at him. You sure they know what they're risking, operating like that? He's got a pretty nasty temper from what I hear."

 

I would know, Nick thought, thinking back to some of the stories he'd heard about Dante as well as his own personal experiences with him.

 

“Yeah, well, nobody really cares about that prick, he's Cacklers headache to deal with. Besides, we both know how little that sort of thing matters to the crew when their pride is at stake,” the other mercenary responded.

 

“Well…that’s just lovely...nice to know Dante's planning all sorts of 'creative' surprises for me. And that Coastline is kind enough to spare me that pain, if only because they'd rather kill me themselves...” Nick shuddered as he switched channels again.

 

*Kssh*

 

“So, Baju, how's the head doing?” a familiar sounding voice asked, although Nick couldn’t quite remember who it belonged to.

 

“Still sore,” another equally familiar sounding voice groaned in response. "Starts throbbing if I think too hard."

 

Why do I feel like I should know these two?

 

“Who the hell could’ve guessed a little runt like that could pack such a wallop?” the second voice continued.

 

“Wait a minute…” Nick paused, starting to recall who these mammals were.

 

“At least he didn’t nail you in the blimming balls!” the first mammal grumbled, letting out a pained grunt over the channel.

 

“Oh crap…” Nick whispered as he finally managed to put faces to the voices. The hapless nyala and cheetah back at the temple, the ones Finnick and Judy had beaten the shit out of.

 

“Damn that little brak, it still hurts to piss,” the nyala growled over the radio. “And I still can’t see the other one…”

 

Nick cringed as the memories of that fight came rolling back. Finnick always had a mean swing and it was hardly the first time he'd seen the small fox take down somebody many times his size, the guy was a natural at that sort of thing. Still, he couldn't even begin to imagine how painful a hit like that would be, that one especially, given how it so brutally connected with the antelope's... unmentionables...He almost felt sorry for the guy...almost...He couldn't exactly forget about the whole trying to kill him thing.

 

“And that rabbit breaking off your horn!” the cheetah, evidently named Baju, said, giggling slightly. “Eish, you had it rough, Tanger. How long before the missing one grows back?”

 

“Grows back?!?! The hell you...” the nyala angrily sputtered. “Those are antlers, you dolt!”

 

“Wait...so that means...” the cheetah started.

 

“It means it’s gone! Finished! Never growing back!” Tanger practically shouted. “Damn Wilde and damn that crew of his, can’t wait to get my hooves on the whole lot of those assholes. By the time I'm done with them, a broken horn and bruised balls will be the least of their worries...”

 

“Uhh, bru? Foxes and rabbits don't have horns...” Baju pointed out, seemingly having missed the point of Tanger's rage-induced rant.

 

"...Shut the hell up you mangy ca-"

 

"Yikes!" Nick shut the radio off, having had enough of that discussion. “I don't suppose it would be too late to just give them an apology...” Trying not to think about what those two probably had in mind for him if they ever crossed paths again, he turned the radio back on and switched to the next channel.

 

*Kssh*

 

“Team 6 reporting in,” a voice called in after a few moments.

 

“Status report,” another voice answered. It didn’t sound like Cackler, but it was probably a Coastline officer.

 

“We’ve finished scoping the caves in the area, if they’re laying low, it ain’t down there.”

 

“Well one of the other teams reported getting into a firefight with somebody along the western ridge, they think it was Wilde,” the officer responded. “Might want to head in that direction, see if the others are trying to link up with him.”

 

“We're on it,” the mercenary affirmed before killing the conversation.

 

“Great...they’re crawling all over the damn place looking for us already. Guess they don't want to make this easy for us...” Nick groaned as he switched channels again. “At least they seem to think the others survived, that’s...probably a good sign...right?”

 

*Kssh*

 

“Supplies moving in?” the voice on the next channel asked.

 

“Yeah, offloading from the boat, should be set up at the camp in a few hou-”

 

“Booooooring,” Nick yawned, having listened in for a full five seconds before deciding it was time to switch again.

 

*Kssh*

 

“Hey.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Do you ever wonder why we’re here?”

 

The fox left that channel behind with an irritated sigh. “This would be going a lot faster if there weren’t so many bored idiots jamming up the air waves…"

 

*Kssh*

 

Silence was all that met him on the next channel. He waited a few moments to make sure there was, in fact, nothing going on, before finally keying the button to talk. "Uhhh...hello? Anybody reading me on here?"

 

There was a pause as he released the button before another voice answered.

 

"Swiftah? That you? What's going on? Why you calling in early?"

 

"Crap…" Nick winced, recognizing the gruff voice of Cackler. This was the exact sort of thing he didn't want to happen. He braced himself as he keyed the radio again to answer.

 

"Uhhh...ey, mam! Everything's good...just messed up the report schedule...heh…" Nick stammered out, trying his best to imitate a Southern Savannah accent. "Bllimming dumb move….yah?"

 

Please let that be a passable accent...

 

"Who the hell is this? Are you drunk?" the hyena commander barked over the channel. "Never mind, where's Swiftah? Why are you on his channel?"

 

Nick winced even harder this time, he really needed to get better at doing accents.

 

"Uhhh, Swiftah went to take a piss... I'm just calling in for him," the fox improvised. "That's...that's why I called early! Didn't know the schedule. Honest mistake for anyone, right...bru?"

 

Nick smacked himself in the face. Godsdammit Nick, why the hell did you call him bru?

 

"Okay, you're either drunk, an idiot, a liar, or some combination of the three," an incredibly agitated Cackler growled over the radio. " Either way, I've heard enough! Who is this? What's your call sign?"

 

"Uhhh...uhhh…" Nick's mind was racing as he struggled to come up with a response, any response. "Just...give me a sec…I've got it...right...here...uhh...Oh crap! What the hell is that?!?! Swiftah, look out! It's heading straight for us! Take co-"

 

Nick shut off the radio mid-sentence, he'd done enough damage already. "Well that went horribly..." he said, slapping himself across the side of his own muzzle. "Way to be subtle, you dumb fox." Nothing had been going to plan ever since they found that damn temple, and it seemed with every move he'd made, things only further spiralled out of control. "Just hope I can find Finn and Judy soon before I manage to somehow screw this up even more," the fox said as he turned the radio back on and resumed his channel surfing.

 

He flipped through several more channels, nothing of interest in any of them beyond reports from patrols, inane arguments between bored mercenaries, and the occasional singing mammal who was either drunk or hadn't realized somebody was listening in. Nick might've even found some of the conversations and impromptu karaoke sessions hilarious if he wasn't so tired and anxious, with every channel he flipped through making him more paranoid that something terrible had befallen his partners. The next channel managed to help him ease up a bit, if only because of how bizarre the conversation was.

 

*Kssh*

 

“So…would it be called a box? Or maybe a funny?” one curious mercenary was pondering.

 

“What kind of stupid ass question is that?!?!” responded a very perplexed sounding mercenary on the other end. “There’s no way a fox and rabbit would even be able to do something like that. I mean how the hell would he even manage to fit his-”

 

“Okay then...moving on…” Nick shut off the radio, feeling awkward as hell. “Bet if Carrots heard that one, it probably would’ve been enough to kill her from the awkwardness alone, no bullets necessary.” He turned the radio back on and flipped to a channel with an equally perplexing conversation, albeit with a different topic of discussion.

 

*Kssh*

 

“No.”

 

“Come on!”

 

“I said no!”

 

“Bru, you’ll barely feel it! Besides, it’s not like we don’t suffer worse injuries on the job all the time. Hell, the burns from your shell casings would probably hurt more.”

 

“For the last time, Wes! I am not going to let you bite my arm ‘just to see what it tastes like!’”

 

“Yikes,” Nick shuddered as he switched channels again. “I knew these guys could be on the depraved side, but that one's in serious need of some sort of intervention…”

 

*Kssh*

 

There was no activity on the next channel from what the fox could tell, perhaps he had finally found one that was empty. He opted to wait anyways, just to be sure. After the awkward conversation he'd gotten himself into with Cackler, the last thing he needed was to raise even more suspicions. He already had way too many mammals trying to kill him, he didn't need to help make their job easier by drawing even more attention to himself. Two minutes ended up going by with no activity before Nick finally decided to go for it and keyed in on the radio.

 

“Hello? Anybody there?” he let go of the key and waited in silence, hoping for a response of some kind, a quiet voice in the back of his head reminding him that he was running out of options, that maybe he'd never find the others... Finally, that voice was silenced as static erupted from the radio, followed by a familiar voice.

 

“That you, Kid?”

 

Despite his soreness, the fox jumped with joy. Thank the gods, that old bastard is alive!

 

“Of course I’m alive, you ain’t getting rid of me that easy,” Finnick answered, perplexing the fox and causing him to stop mid-celebration.

 

“Wait...did I say that...or think it?” Nick asked.

 

“What the hell are you talking about? You practically shouted it into the radio,” the old fox responded. “What’s the matter with you? You land on your head or something after you fell out of the plane?"

 

Wow, I really am starting to lose it...plus, I just ruined my chance to try and play it off cool.

 

“No it’s nothing, I’m fine,” Nick keyed back, feeling a little embarrassed. “Just...been in a weird headspace the last few hours, that’s all. Forget about it, what happened with you and Marian?”

 

“I did my best, but Marian's gone,” a hint of sadness was present in the desert fox’s voice before it took on its normal grumpier tone. “Bailed out before she flew too low, but there’s no salvaging her now, not with the way she lit up when she hit the ground. You owe me big time for that, by the way...”

 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can worry about that after we deal with the armed psycho’s trying to hunt us down,” Nick brushed off. Listening to the grumpy fox's unique brand of 'charm' made for a surprisingly refreshing change of pace. Several hours alone with his own far less appealing personal thoughts and doubts did a lot to make him appreciate the little things, or in this case, the angry insults and occasional threats coming from a little fox. 

 

As positive of a development this had been, though, there was still one other mammal he had to find. “Listen, have you been able to reach Judy? I haven’t seen or heard from her since she bailed out of the plane.”

 

“No, haven’t heard from the bunny, you’re the first mammal I've actually spoken to since we got here, I’ve just been focused on heading north and avoiding Coastline's search parties,” Finnick explained. "They didn't exactly seem to be in the most chatty of moods..."

 

“Nah, blowing shit up and shooting mammals tends to be more their speed," Nick joked. "As for Judy, though, don't think she has a radio to call us with. We didn't exactly have time to gear up when we first got here."

 

“That's putting it mildly. You didn’t have time to grab one either,” Finnick pointed out. “I grabbed mine before I bailed, but I’m guessing you swiped yours off some Coastline idiot.”

 

“Pretty much,” Nick said with a grin.

 

“Huh, so guess you’ve been paying attention after all,” Finnick remarked. “Nice to know some of my advice managed to penetrate that thick skull of yours.”

 

“Just that, your tips on how to pick up girls, and your various approaches to biting off faces,” Nick snarked.

 

“Well at least you made sure to remember the important stuff," Nick could imagine the old fox's grin as he said it. "Anyways, enough messing around, we need to meet up, and soon, Coastline's crawling all over the place. If you’re lucky, I might even not bite your face off for getting Marian shot to shit and just settle with some Coastline asshole, instead." Nick wasn't quite sure how serious the face biting threat was. Finnick usually was more bark than bite, and he'd never actually seen the old fox do it, but that plane did mean a lot to him...

 

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing, then we can head north and search for Judy,” Nick explained, hoping that if he didn't bring up the face biting part, then maybe Finn would just forget about it. “Any chance you know of a good landmark where we can meet up? It'll take forever to try and find each other in the jungle, assuming Coastline doesn't find us first...”

 

“I saw some old ruins a few miles from the ridges along the western side of the island when I was parachuting down, probably an abandoned outpost or something,” Finnick explained. “Should be there soon. If you’ve been heading towards the crash site, it shouldn’t take much longer for you to get there.”

 

“Think I can figure out where those are,” Nick said as he pulled out his map to get his bearings. “I’ll meet you there.”

 

“Sounds like a plan, Kid,” Finnick answered. Nick was about to put the radio away when the Finnick spoke up again. “Oh and Kid? Just a heads up, but Coastline’s got way more than a pawful of scouting and seach parties on the island.”

 

“I know,” Nick answered. “I saw the landing boats, looks like Dante and Cackler are going all in on this, they've brought a small army's worth of mercenaries and gear with them.”

 

“You just watch yourself out there," Finnick warned, genuine concern in his voice. "You know they'll be gunning for you. Just remember what I taught you and don’t take 'em lightly, these guys are playing for keeps. Besides, if anybody gets to kick the shit out of you, it's me!” His voice took on its more traditional mix of grumpy and cocky as he said the last part.

 

“Don’t worry, Gramps, I won’t let some Coastline asshole rob you of that pleasure,” Nick chuckled. “Just try and stay out of trouble until I get there.”

 

“Don't worry, Kid, unlike you, I actually know how to keep a low profile,” Finnick shot back. “Just keep me posted if anything happens, I'd rather have a heads up if you wind up doing anything stupid.”

 

“Too late for that last part, but I'll keep you posted of any future actions of the stupid or idiotic variety,” Nick said before keying off the radio. He took one last look at the map, making sure he knew which way he was going, before putting it back in his pack and resuming his treck through the jungle.