Chapter 1: Is Another Bird's (or Bat's) Treasure
Of the many, many, many places Malachi had visited, human settlements were still his favorite places to go treasure hunting in. They threw away anything and everything. Perfectly good food, electronics, furniture, shiny things, even entire vehicles. He had thought his new companions would be as excited to delve into the scrapyard as much as he was, but he was beginning to see not everyone had his tastes.
“Ugh,” Dart groaned.
Malachi glanced over as she pulled her tail feathers up off the ground. The lovely bluish teal and black feathers were smudged brown with grease.
“Couldn’t have gone scavenging somewhere clean for once, could we, Malachi?” She eyed him disapprovingly.
Malachi hopped on top of a mountain of used lawn mowers and gestured with his wingtip. “It’ll all come out with a little soap and water. Just try to have a good time. Mischief is having a good time, aren’t you?”
A large brown Harpia lifted her head out of a collection of broken couches. “I’m not sure ‘fun’ is the word I’d use to describe what he’s doing.”
Malachi sighed and rocked back on his haunches, observing the scrapyard from his elevated perch.
Jade was a new addition to his currently cobbled together scavenging team. Neo was her rider and stuck close to the Harpia, the pair of them mostly keeping to themselves. He hoped they at least found something interesting while they were here.
Dart, on the other hand, had been adventuring with him before, much to her disgust. Swamps and silky feathers didn’t mix that well. Or so he had been told.
Mischief could be seen over the heaps of junk to the front of the scrapyard where the bat sat on the dusty ground haggling with the owner. What he was haggling over, Malachi had no clue. The guy had said they could pretty much take what they want as long as they didn’t wreck the yard. He’d received similar responses from humans before when he’d dropped a couple gold coins in front of their faces.
He turned his attention to the lawn mower he was standing on. Maybe there would be something interesting under the hood. He wedged his beak into the seam and worked it open with a grunt. The hood popped off completely and went end over end down the heap. It kept tumbling on its side, drawing the eyes of Dart, Jade, and Neo as well until it finally crashed into another pile of junk, specifically hubcaps.
The pile teetered.
“Oops.” Malachi winced.
“Nice going, genius,” Neo said.
It tipped further.
Jade pushed Neo behind her and they stepped back.
“Malachi, seriously?” Dart asked.
“I said oops!” he squawked.
A cascade of silver and rusted hubcaps spilled out through the alleys between the piles of junk. A cloud of dust clotted in the air around them and an angry shout came from the front of the yard.
Silence hung in the air while the cloud settled.
Malachi dropped his wings from where they had been covering his face. “Well, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”
“Don’t jinx it,” Jade grumbled.
“Maybe there’s something cool down there,” Malachi said and glided off the lawn mowers. He landed on the wake of destruction with a flourish.
Hubcaps of all shapes and sizes littered the pathways between the various collections of junk and old equipment. He turned a couple over with his talons. Some were newer with silver shining in the sunlight while others were nearly rusted through and flaked off when he touched them.
He cocked his head to the side and pushed a rather large hubcap out of the way. It looked like a leather strap. It cracked a little as he tugged on it, but held fast. He pulled harder and yanked it and the hubcap it was strapped to free of the others. Turning it over in his wing claws, he noticed it had a second strap on the opposite side of the partially rusted hubcap. It almost looked like…
“Hey guys! Check this out.”
* * * *
Dart shook her head at the strange little Corva when she turned around to see what he was cawing about. He had strapped a hubcap to his head like a helmet. If he continued to lead her to the dirtiest places on the planet, he might need to keep his makeshift helmet on.
She stepped over the strewn out hubcaps and tried to find a grease free spot to put her foot as she made her way over to what she hoped was a more promising pile of junk near where Jade and Neo were. Jade had a refrigerator in one set of talons and was shaking its contents out onto the ground, contents which looked mostly like garbage. Dart left Malachi to continue strapping on various pieces of hubcap armor by himself.
“This guy would go swimming through a lake of mud if he thought there was something shiny in it,” Dart said.
Jade flipped over an old, turquoise refrigerator with a wing claw. “No fear isn’t a bad thing.”
“Maybe not for him, but some of us prefer to keep our feathers their original color,” Dart said and shot a glance at Malachi. He had grease streaked across his normally tan and silver feathers and was slowly becoming an entirely different color between the dust and grime.
She huffed and looked down at the appliances stacked before her.
“Do you really think there’s anything worthwhile here?” she asked and delicately opened the door on the refrigerator Jade had flipped over. Empty.
Jade grunted. She thrust her beak into the pile and tugged a couple mini-fridges down to the bottom where Neo could sort through them. The controlled avalanche of mini-fridges revealed a dented white side of a much bigger appliance. Jade clamped her beak around its edges and pulled a deep freeze chest off the mountain and plopped it in front of her and Neo. Dart leaned in as Neo lifted the lid and immediately slammed it closed.
She gagged. “I have regrets.”
Dart wisely leaned away and kept her distance while Jade curiously opened the lid again. The raunchy stench of death pierced Dart’s nose immediately and she echoed Neo’s gag. Jade hummed and closed the lid.
“Spoiled meat,” she said and shoved the freezer out of the way.
“Not human or Stryx, I hope?” Dart inquired.
“Not unless they were rabbit shaped,” Jade said and pulled a black double door refrigerator off the top of the pile. She shook a single rotten watermelon out of it and the swarm of flies and ants that had been feasting on it.
Dart shivered and eyed all the other refrigerators and freezers warily. Who knew what else was lurking within them. Jade seemed unfazed with whatever nastiness she and Neo may find, but Dart was not Jade. Looking around the yard, though, didn’t yield much hope for anything nicer. It was mostly metal scrap and old equipment and broken furniture. Not something she’d like to decorate her den with or would be able to trade for something useful. Unless it was with Malachi, who would hand over gold for nuts and bolts.
She circled around the pile and found a refrigerator that at least looked fairly clean and was a pretty rose color with silver trim. She righted it with her beak and slid her wing claw around the latch. It swung open quietly and was thankfully empty except for one sole item.
She carefully extracted the glass bottle with the very tip of her wing claw and held it up to the light for further examination. It had a vaguely green tint to it and a red label that was surprisingly still vivid with white lettering scrawled across it.
“Find something worthwhile?” Jade asked with a smirk.
Dart lowered the bottle and hid it under her wing. “Don’t you dare let Malachi know. He’ll think he can continue taking me to dumps like this in the future.”
Jade kept her beak shut and didn’t say a word.
* * * *
Mischief sauntered away from the owner of the yard. He had smoothed things over after the hubcap landslide and had managed to swipe a keyring loaded with keys off the man’s belt. Poking his nose through junk for hours on end, getting bruises, scrapes, splinters, and filthy wasn’t really his style. His odd little Corva friend may have not been opposed to breaking a sweat to find something of value, but Mischief knew an easier way.
“Work smarter, not harder,” he said and flipped the keys around on his thumb claw.
He awkwardly climbed aboard the backhoe. It was an enclosed cab, which made it difficult to situate himself properly, but he finagled his way to a semi-comfortable position. He could see Dart and Jade digging through appliances while he sorted through the keys until he found one with yellow tape on it.
The engine roared and he took the brake off.
He gripped the steering wheel with his wing thumbs and guided the hulking piece of equipment to the backlot where he had spotted several stacked cars earlier. His horns didn’t let his head come up very high in the cab so he had to stay crouched, one foot working the brake and the other the gas.
He rolled up alongside the appliance pile and paused.
“You poor peasants doing such menial labor,” he yelled over the engine.
Dart fluffed up her feathers indignantly.
“Are you…driving a backhoe?” the small bright green rider questioned. He felt her name was Neo.
The big brown Harpia ducked her head to look in the cab. “Did he let you borrow it?”
“Borrow, yes. Let, not so much,” he said.
The Harpia’s eye narrowed. “Did you hotwire it?”
“Come now. While I’m smart enough to hotwire a crudely made machine, I have no need when there’s such a thing as keys,” he said. He eased off the brake and started rolling forward. “Happy hunting! I’m off to find something better than hubcaps and rotten produce.”
Dart mouthed something he interpreted as obscene at him as black smoke puffed out of the exhaust and blasted her feathers. He laughed.
The backhoe trudged down the dirt path toward the back of the scrapyard where piles of cars three and four high formed a three sided wall. Now where was that car he had seen earlier…there. Third one down on the right side. The beautiful frame was smashed under two ugly lemons, but he hoped beyond hope that what he was after was still attached.
He threw the backhoe into reverse and backed up to the cars. He pulled the parking brake and lowered the stabilizers.
“And here we go,” he said and grabbed the handle. The front bucket lifted up. “Maybe not. Let’s try this one instead.”
The arm groaned and squeaked as it uncurled. Mischief’s grin broadened as he directed it to stretch up and out and dig into the side of the top car. The machine protested. He pressed it forward. The car tipped and fell off the opposite side with a racket. He lowered the arm and attempted to shove the next car off. Its backend slid off and came to rest partially on the other car and partially on the fence surrounding the backlot.
Mischief killed the engine and dove out of the cab. He scurried up the arm of the backhoe and dropped onto the car. The paint had long since been scratched all to heck and the hood was crushed in, but there was a slightly tarnished figure at the front of the car. His eyes widened and a beaming smile split his face. Whoever had dropped off a Rolls-Royce at a scrapyard was a fool, and the owner was an even bigger fool.
Yelling rose between the mounds of junk and shadows flew overhead.
Malachi landed on a nearby car. “Come on, we gotta go! You really made that guy mad and I’m pretty sure he has a shotgun.”
“In a moment,” Mischief said. With little regard for the already totalled car, he ripped the entire hood free and grasped it in his hind feet.
“Really? There was a whole pile of car hoods over there!” Malachi said.
“This isn’t any hood. It’s a Rolls-Royce and it still has the Spirit of Ecstasy on it,” Mischief said. He flapped his wings, struggling with the weight of the old hood.
“For crying out loud!” Dart swooped in and snagged the hood in her talons. “This man is going to make a hood ornament out of you if you don’t hurry!”
Mischief righted himself in the air and opened his mouth to protest when a shotgun blast sent birdshot over the edge of his tail. He sped up and put the Gryph between the ground and himself.
“I’ll concede that you might be right this time,” he said.
Fields of alfalfa and houses passed under them as they left behind the scrapyard and headed downtown. Mischief eyed his prize. That hood ornament could fetch a handsome price if he talked to the right collectors.
“Well since Mischief looks like he’s about to start drooling over that car hood, I’m guessing he found what he was looking for,” Malachi said. “What about you, Dart?”
“Me? Find anything in that trash heap? I don’t think so,” she said. “Next time take me to a diamond mine or something.”
Mischief chuckled. He hadn’t missed the way she was hiding that empty glass bottle.
Malachi seemed a bit deflated, though. “Jade, you find anything?”
Jade replied something indistinguishable around the retro turquoise fridge in her beak.
“Cool,” Malachi said.
“And I see you have acquired a new set of armor,” Mischief said.
Malachi nodded and flapped a little harder, weighed down with his hubcap helmet, breastpiece, and shield.
The little Corva was odd, but perhaps Mischief should go scavenging with him more often. While not interested in high value items himself, he seemed to know where they were. And Mischief liked that. He liked that a lot.