Chapter 10: The Motherland
Things that annoyed Elwyn:
Lack of sleep
Lack of sleep
LACK OF SLEEP
When they were called on to be deployed that night he wasn't in the best of moods. He was used to it because he had to wake up at precise times back in the reserves, but right now he could be cranky. Probably because no high ranking officer would reprimand him this time, he was pretty willing to show it. Sour face, check. Putting on clothes with a 'hmph', check. Forgetting there were women in the room when he was putting on said clothes, check. Getting ousted from the room because he forgot there were women in the room, check. He leaned his head back on the hallway wall and tried to get some more shut eye. But time would not have it, oh no. At the back of his head he knew that they were going to be deployed back near Atlas territory and his brain would not let him sleep soundly because of it. He heard a creak to his right. Ren, Pyrrha, Cardin, and Weiss stepped out. Ren waved at him.
"We'll go on ahead, don't take too long now," he said gently. Elwyn gave Ren a thumbs up before he left. Pyrrha smiled and bowed a little too formally, leaving with Ren. Weiss huffed and Cardin just nodded.
Well at least the other two were warming up to us.
Cardin wasn't the most amiable of people. But he was good in a fight when he could put his differences aside. Probably survival instinct. Weiss was still a little bit… stiff? Awkward octopus? Was that the term? She's been trying to warm up to them. She's closest, Elwyn noticed, with either Cardin, who she apparently knew from childhood, or Jaune, oddly enough. Maybe it was the latter's natural charisma. Sometimes he felt like they seemed to know each other better than they let on.
Aside from the two of them everyone else in the team were all really chummy with one another. The atmosphere was a lot more relaxed compared to the rigidness of military hierarchy. It was pretty great. Pyrrha's amazingly kind, Ren's insightful, Nora's happiness is contagious, Yang's such a go getter, Ruby's so innovative, and Jaune just seemed like a swell guy. He felt like he was forgetting someone.
"Hey," he called out. He'd heard the door creak open. Blake stepped out of the room and sat down beside him.
"Please don't do that again," she said, deadpan.
Do what…? Ah, right. "At least I had my boxers on."
"The one with the pink hearts on them? Yeah. Everyone saw that."
"Pink is a man's color."
"I never said it wasn't," she chuckled.
Elwyn twiddled with his thumbs. "You nervous?"
Blake looked at him and tilted her head. "No, why? I'd think you and I would be used to deployments."
"Well I'm used to deployment, just not real ones," Elwyn replied softly. "Every single fight I've been in has been regulated by my father's R&D lab. You know, controlled environments? I mean they were still dangerous, they threw me out of aircrafts and stuff, but still. I feel like this'll be a lot different."
Blake patted his head. "Well don't expect it to be a cake walk."
Elwyn turned his head slightly to look at her. "It's kind of exciting though, right? It'll be our first deployment as one big team."
Blake smiled. "I guess. I've always only ever been with A-…" she was about to say a name. Probably Adam. She looked glum, shaking her head. "It'll be… interesting to work with such a large group," she looked behind her slightly. It was still dark in the hallways, but Elwyn knew she probably heard or saw something. "I think we're all ready," she suddenly said.
"How'd you know?"
She leaned in close. "I heard them lean against the door. They're eavesdropping."
"Well that's not nice," his eyes lit up. "Your hearing is always amazing," he said quietly.
Blake stood up and offered a hand. He took it and steadied himself. Without another word he twisted the door knob and several of their team members flooded out onto the ground. Yang, Ruby, Nora, and Jaune were in a pile of limbs. Elwyn feigned ignorance. "Oh. Sorry about that. Didn't know you guys were all leaning against the door. Almost like you were trying to listen to something."
Well, he almost feigned ignorance.
"It was all Jaune's idea," Nora shouted happily. "Totally just following his lead."
"What, excuse me?!" Jaune looked aghast. "I was just following Yang!"
Yang looked solemn for a moment. "You know guys the important thing is that we're all a team, and we need to get to the landing port or else they might slap some extra homeworks on our asses, all right? Okay? Okay," she was gone in a flash.
Jaune sighed and looked at the time. "Well, we've got five minutes to haul our butts, so we'd better get on that."
"Right behind you!" Nora ran after Jaune as soon as he bolted.
Ruby looked apologetic. "Sorry, I was caught up in the moment."
Elwyn blinked. "What were you expecting to hear exactly?"
Ruby's eyes lit up a little. "Oh you know, the superior officer and his subordinate, the night before their big first battle, hearts a flutter, emotions stacking-"
Elwyn and Blake chopped Ruby at the same time on the head.
"No," they said simply in unison.
"Owie… okay okay," Ruby rubbed her head. "Let's go then?"
Blake and Elwyn nodded and ran after the others. By the time they reached the landing platform, they were greeted by the other squads, already lined up at their respective transports. Pyrrha waved at them from theirs, and signaled them to hurry up. Their squad lined up in front of their airship, and in front of them all, at the tip of the landing strip nearest to the docked transports, was Ms. Goodwitch. She raised a hand, and the students fell into a hush. Elwyn looked around. They were all in their battle gear. Glynda went ahead and spoke.
"As you all know, you were called here tonight for an emergency deployment. There have been reports at the edge of several small settlements near Atlas. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Sophomores, Juniors, as well as your Seniors, are all deployed on missions across the continent, and will not make it in time for this operation. As such, you are all being deployed on your first ever mission. I will be frank. It is an extremely dangerous mission for new Hunters like yourselves. As always, your lives are at risk. We expect only the best from all of you."
Elwyn raised his hand. "Ma'am?"
Goodwitch, as well as the entire platform, shifted their view to him. He gulped. "How many teams do the older batches have?"
Glynda adjusted her glasses. "Why do you ask?"
An awkward pause. "Just curious, ma'am. I mean, just how spread thin are they that the Freshmen are required to deploy?"
Their instructor kept a straight face. "Fair enough, Mr. Albion. As of today, Beacon Academy has two Senior teams, two Junior teams, and three Sophomore teams. But as you may know, before this year, teams only consisted of four members each," she adjusted her glasses. "All in all, there are 28 individuals who are of a higher batch than all of you. And their missions can last weeks, even months, and like all of you today, some of them work in conjunction with one another."
"28, ma'am? All in all? That seems a bit…"
"Underpopulated?" she cut Elwyn off. "Let me be very clear Mr. Albion. Over the years, while we always hope for the best, your ranks will more often than not thin out, either due to unforeseen circumstances resulting in a student's resignation from the school, permanent incapacitation due to injury, or, quite simply, death."
The silence that followed was almost eerie. Nothing but the cool night wind and the crickets filling the void.
Right. It's not sunshine and rainbows anymore.
While the school life did sort of give them the illusion of a normal high school life, they were trained from the ground up to be anything but normal. It was always something, Elwyn thought, was imprinted in the back of their heads. The fact that they were still young, and yet were trained to be on par and even better than current military forces. It was a great juxtaposition. And there goes his vocabulary bucket list for the day.
Glynda unsheathed her riding crop and made a thunderous crack. "As we speak, groups of Grimm are on their way to enter Atlas territory. This is not the first time that this has happened. But it's the first time in over a century."
She continued. "The Atlas Military Forces have been deployed throughout their territory. However, some of their defensive lines need to be reinforced. These are areas near outlying villages on the outskirts of the Atlas region that are susceptible to enemy forces can easily slip past. While these villages are less populated, it does not make their lives any less important. As such, they have requested the aid of Beacon's students to help with their defense," she took her scroll and tapped a few buttons, before laying it on the ground. A projection of the map of the Atlas region appeared before them.
"Squads A and C will handle the fortifications along this area," she pointed to two small villages along the fringes of the Atlas territory, along the northern border. Atlas was situated near the southern tip of a continent called Mantle, a frozen, almost frigid place, but also rich in natural Dust reserves buried deep underneath the ice. It is for that fact that Atlas came to be, and also for that reason that the Schnee Dust Company has its main base of operations there. "Squad D, handle the territory west of this mountain range. And finally Squad B, you will take point in this village, here," she marked the point on the map. It was northeast of Atlas, near a valley. It seemed like a good chokepoint. In fact most of the areas that they were defending were good chokepoints against an invasion.
Wait, just how many Grimm are there?
"Ms. Goodwitch," Blake suddenly spoke up. Elwyn looked at his partner. "Just how many Grimm are there that the Atlas Military don't have enough men to allocate to these areas?"
Glynda stood for a good second in silence. Before she waved her hand in front of the projection. Her scroll beeped, and revealed red dots on the map. Now Elwyn's seen maps of the Atlas region since his birth. It was always white to symbolize the cold surrounding climate. The only reason why Atlas had such a stable, green living condition was because of Dust technology, keeping generators and pseudo-environmental fields alive. But the amount of red on it was unsettling. He's had military drills where an army encompassed a blot on the continent. This was a stain. An angry, forces-of-darkness type of stain. The red looked like a wound on the southwestern area of the continent, a jagged line that broke the white background.
Gods above, what the hell is going on?
"Numbers such as this have not been observed for a long time. While we expect the Atlas Military to mop up most of them, some forces may get through. The outskirts of Atlas is a harsh wasteland, and vision and detection equipment are highly impaired. All of you are to exercise caution. Keep your Aura up at all times. More orders will be relayed to you if or when the mission drags on. Your expected time of arrival at your posts will be tomorrow before the sun breaks. Get some sleep on the way there. Now," her Scroll levitated toward her, and she swung her arm so her riding crop gave out a satisfying crack. "To your transports."
"Ma'am!" Everyone shouted in unison.
Squad 2 made their way to their aircraft, a large, almost pristinely white beastie. They piled into it one by one. The inside of the ship, what Elwyn now vaguely recognized as a larger variant of the Quezacoatl, had two columns of seats to either side of its fuselage, with enough space in the middle to be roughly considered an aisle. Above them, their weapons were already on metal racks, waiting to be claimed. They each found the seat underneath their own weapon, and buckled in. A chime sounded through the cabin.
"This is your Captain, Garlock speaking," a gruff, authoritative voice grunted. "We'll be arriving at our destination after an estimated eight hour flight. Buckle in and get some shut eye kiddos, we're dropping you off on a battlefield in the morning."
Elwyn and Blake were seated in the very first row, across from Jaune and Ruby. As Elwyn buckled in, Nora, who was sitting beside Ren just behind them, tapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, Elly, how come Ms. Goodwitch said that Atlas' detection thingies have a tough time detecting stuff in the blizzard? Shouldn't they have, I dunno, made a better detector thingo by now?"
He looked back ever so slightly. "No one really tries to invade Atlas from that direction. There's nothing out there, nothing that requires better surveillance equipment anyway. Ever since the Faunus War," he froze real quick. He saw Blake's bow twitch ever so slightly. "Atlas had always expected any opposition, if any, to come from the sea. Other than the port towns of Seydon and Tunea, there's no other way to get to Atlas other than the mountains that surround Atlas and its outlying settlements," he took a breath. He hasn't given an explanation to anything other than class subjects in weeks. "And even if any sort of army attempted something like that, Atlas has underground railways that lead to the very edge of their territory for its forces to travel through, and those cost a lot to maintain, especially with all the Dust technology that keep it and its settlements safe from the harsh, snowy weather. Not to mention mining sites, actual army funding," he realized it was starting to sound really boring. "And stuff."
But Nora seemed really eager. "Oh oh oh okay, that's really neat. You excited to go back to your homeland, Elly?"
Ren spoke from his seat. His eyes were closed, and he looked serene, even as the jitter of takeoff made him bounce around a bit. "Nora, we need to get some shut eye, don't bother him so much."
"That's alright, Ren," Elwyn said. "I don't mind. I'm still kind of restless."
He nodded without opening his eyes. "Just don't stay up too late."
"Anyway," Elwyn looked at Nora again. "I guess. I mean it's been a few months," he paused.
Because we got shipped to Vale by R&D.
"But I don't think we'll be going to the big city any time soon."
"Oh righhht, you mentioned you were from Atlas-Atlas!" she quietly exclaimed. Elwyn looked around the ship. Most of the others were sleeping already. Only ones left awake were Nora, Blake, Yang over there sitting with Pyrrha, and himself.
Nora can read the atmosphere better than I thought.
"What about you Nora? You've never told us where you were from."
"Me and Ren?" She paused. "We're from Mistral. Actually went to Haven with Pyrrha, but we weren't that close," she yawns. "I'll save my dramatic backstory for another day then Elly, I'm pooped," she whined.
Elwyn laughed a bit. "Go ahead. Sweet dreams." He leaned back into his chair and looked to Blake's book. Ninjas of Love 3: The Tower of Dreams "Did you finish book 2 that quickly?"
Blake flipped a page, not making eye contact. "Yep. I'm a fast reader," she smiled.
"So what happened to Azai and his beloved?"
Her bow twitched a bit and she turned to face him, a small glint in her eye. "They managed to escape the Grand Master's castle with the help of Yamada's special black ops forces but," she really exaggerated the word. It was nice to see her breaking out of her shell every now and then, when he'd ask about the novel. "the Grand Master shot an arrow that hit Azai right on the shoulder, laced with a deadly, foreign venom!" she hush-shouted so no one would be bothered. "Now he's trapped in his dream world, and only by realizing that everything is an illusion and ascending the tower in the middle of his subconscious will the poison stop coursing through his body."
Elwyn's eyes widened. "That's pretty intense."
"And it's only a few chapters in I swear this series-" She coughs and regains her composure. "Anyway. Yeah. That's about it so far,' her cheeks redden a bit.
"I might try reading it at this point," he said. Blake smiled at him.
"Just say when and I'll lend the first one to you," she put her book away and yawned as she did. "Just make sure you take care of it," she finished before settling back into her seat.
"Taking a catnap?"
Blake slugged him on the arm. "Harhar," she closed her eyes. "Get some rest, idiot."
Blake murmured in reply. Elwyn looked out the window. It was pitch black, but he could make out the silhouettes of the clouds. He closed his eyes and let himself drift off to sleep.
"How are those reports coming along, Lucrea?" Deakon took a sip of his coffee. Elwyn had contacted him before their deployment. He wasn't supposed to be that worried, but as it happens, that's what single fathers do best for their only son. For him at least. Maybe he was getting too soft on the boy. He and Lucrea had been hard at work on their own little pet project since he saw Elwyn and that girl Blake off several weeks ago. Hopefully sometime soon, they'd have what they needed.
Lucrea put some of her strawberry blonde hair behind her ear. She'd been working for six days straight. She was looking haggard, and quite a bit tired. "Collar 352's electromagnetic pulses have stabled out for our latest subject. Given it's only a Beowolf, we might not be able to see it work on the bigger fish for a while."
Deakon grimaced. "That fiasco with the Nevermore must not be repeated. It could have killed everyone at that school. I told them they should've checked the collar before sending it out."
"But it didn't," Lucrea replied, not looking up. "You must be proud of your son. He's got a good team."
"I am. But it doesn't stop me from worrying."
Lucrea finally looked up. "I didn't actually think all those years ago you'd take this adoptive-father role so seriously."
Deakon grimaced. "Neither did I," he sat down and looked at the reports that were splayed on his desk. Reports of a Grimm force over a thousand strong were headed right for Atlas territory. How this was happening, he didn't know. There haven't been numbers like this for over one hundred years. Why now, of all times? If they had done this back then, even with the help of Dust, it could have been a crippling blow to humanity. Humans and Faunus weren't as advanced as they were now. And Grimm naturally adapt to their adversaries. That's how they'd survived all these years. They were much smarter than they appeared. They bided their time and waited, he was certain of it. But for what? What did they wait for all these years?
Lucrea let out an exasperated breath. "I'm taking a break. You should too, Deakon. You look like shit."
There she was with that mouth of hers. "Same coffee shop?"
They both got up and walked to a reinforced door. They scanned their IDs and the giant metal slab hissed open. Their facility was located right in the heart of Atlas, deep underground. They'd gone back after collecting the data from the Nevermore that attacked Beacon several weeks prior, an unforeseen event. The facility that had held it, a facility to the south of Vale, had lost control. The collar that they had tried to use on it still lacked proper testing. The idiots attempted it anyway. That's the problem with this little Fairy Tale. They had to supplement hypnosis or magical control with science. Science that was new and untested. And see where that got them. It caused it to go berserk. The entire cell was destroyed, but they managed to salvage some data within the backup blackboxes.
Humanity thinks they've done everything they could with Dust. Scientifically grounded 'magic', power sources, ammunition, medicine, you name it. But those that worked within the labs of Atlas saw greater potential, untapped, and unfulfilled. Even until now, Humanity has lived in fear of the Grimm. While they had the power to fight them, they did not have the power to destroy them, at least, not permanently. The Grimm had always, always, recovered from every war after the first time mankind had harnessed the power of Dust. They treat Grimm like some sort of natural part of life at this point. It was saddening. Because of that mentality, instead of dealing with the Grimm, it had divided humanity over the years. Power, resources, weapons of war against each other. Greed and corruption had seeped into the recent generations like wildfire. It did not help that the White Fang began its uprising several decades ago. With how much power mankind held in their hands at this point, they have never been more divided.
And perhaps, the Grimm knew that. There was no grounds to prove that this was the case, but it was entirely possible that they have some sort of sixth sense about these things. While the Grimm seemed like a group of like-minded monstrosities, humanity put a schism in between one another as the years passed. Political debacles, civil wars, the threat of a worldwide war. You'd think that in an age of prosperity such as this they would put behind all of their differences.
No. They could not. In his thirty eight years of life Deakon Albion has watched two civil wars break out in his own country. Atlas was a militaristic state, and it did not become one overnight. From generations of stories of its founding, it began as an expedition to find a brave new world.
While everything originated from the world's central continent, explorers and scientists wanted to discover more of what was out there. When they had founded the rich, Dust laden fields within Mantle, it was nothing more than the drive of helping out their comrades back on the mainland that drove them to find ways to acquire all the Dust hidden beneath the thick layers of ice. It was then, so they say, that one Nathaniel Ironwood, founder of Atlas, hired the best and brightest engineers and scientists to create a habitable environment so that their people would be able to extract these resources quickly and effectively. And they had. With the help of all these scientists and engineers, they began to develop new technologies. Airships, communication towers, and of course, weapons.
But not everything could prosper forever. Entropy would see to that. It was under the leadership of Nathaniel's successor, Richard Ironwood, that Atlas would experience their wake-up call. Their settlement was attacked by voracious Grimm that came from the north of Mantle. As it was mostly a frozen wasteland, they had thought that nothing could have survived there. Perhaps from the last war, or from somewhere else entirely, they were not sure. But perhaps on their way to find new settlement, a horde of Grimm happened upon Atlas in its position on the southern border of Mantle. Some experts say the Grimm knew that there was already a settlement there, and only bided their time to strike. Others thought it was merely an unfortunate coincidence. Whatever the reason, on that day, almost three thousand of the population of Atlas had been slaughtered, and only by the intervention of allied forces from Vale and Mistral did they succeed in driving the Grimm back into the harsh, cold wasteland. It was at that point, that Richard Ironwood, had begun to change the foundations of Atlas itself. At the behest of his right-hand man, Matthias Schnee, who at the time was the head of Atlas' Dust Research and Development team, they began to bolster Atlas' defenses.
They put their manpower into creating a military, far more advanced than the rest of the world. For their own protection, and perhaps at first, the protection of allies across the world, they became the first kingdom to develop mechanized droids that would make up more than sixty percent of its forces. The first of the AK line of droids were put to border defense. It was an astounding success. Grimm that strayed too near to their settlements were immediately expunged on sight. Along with the advancement in weapons technology, soon no Grimm had been spotted near Atlas for many, many decades. When the rest of the world asked for their technology, however, Richard Ironwood, who had become an embittered, old man haunted by his failures simply had this to say.
To say that this refusal of aid to their allies began the eventual crumble of society despite how prosperous each kingdom had become was arguable. But Deakon had always believed, at this point, there was no going back. That known equilibrium that Atlas had shared with the rest of the world had shattered. It was quoted, in an old autobiography, that this was Richard Ironwood's final words to his closest staff members.
"We had provided for them for so many years. It's time that they provided for us."
In the wake of his death, his right-hand man Matthias created his foothold in Atlas, and even more so, the world. He had created the Schnee Dust Company. It became the most successful provider of Dust in the world, and at this point, perhaps, the only one that could afford to ship their product across each and every continent. While Vale, Vacuo, and Mistral had their own mines, none of them compared to all the hidden Dust beneath the ice on the continent of Mantle. And because of that, the rest of the kingdoms had no choice but to abide by their terms. Atlas would provide their Dust services, and sometimes, a little extra on the side, for a premium. Atlas became the world's military leader, and the first to establish their own Hunter's Academy, even if Beacon in Vale was at present the most esteemed for producing only the best of the best. Because of this, perhaps, began the downward spiral of each kingdom, each establishing their own Hunter's Academy. The treaties back then had clearly stated that these academies were created for the sole purpose of training willing men and women to fight against any and all threats that included the Grimm. But there are also whispers that these Academies also have elite, the best of the best, graduates and students that served as each Kingdom's most prized, covert soldiers, having secret wars across the years that no one knew about, a silent struggle between each kingdom to become the most superior.
These claims were all said to be nothing more but rumors, to be sure, but one cannot help think about the possibility of it all. At present, the Schnee Dust Company has gone under much scrutiny to the public eye. Rumors of shady dealings with third parties, some of which include the White Fang themselves, abusive labor policies against both Faunus and Humans, and even political nepotism. The Ironwoods and the Schnees have always been close ever since Atlas had been founded. Its present Grand General, Sir James Ironwood, refutes such claims, but no one can be completely sure anymore at this point. Civil wars have broken out because of the SDC's dealings and political intrigue, each one bloodier than the last. But of course, none of these have reached any other kingdom. Atlas became experts at keeping to themselves at this point.
It's because of all of this present turmoil that Deakon and several likeminded people had begun Project: Fairy Tale.
"Something that would force humanity to work together," Deakon said, sipping from a black coffee he'd ordered. They went to their usual place, a coffee shop just outside the base, right on the fringes of the mainland city. It was quiet little place. They sat outside. The night was cold due to the temperature regulators being deactivated. The Dust systems were under maintenance. The cool, natural breeze of Mantle enveloped them.
"Hm?" Lucrea looked at him, sipping from her hot cup of espresso. "Mmm, that's the stuff."
"That's what Fairy Tale is supposed to be about, right? The grand plan that would lead to a 'happily ever after'."
Lucrea leaned back on her seat. "Still having second thoughts?"
"There will always be second thoughts with what we're doing, Lucrea. We're trying to play god."
"No we're not, we're playing Scientist," she said, taking another sip. She shivered. "And scientists aim to better their world, don't they?"
"That's what Dr. Solomon said about the Rust Bomb half a century ago."
"So wiping out two Atlas settlements along with the invading Grimm force weren't in his plans. You can't make progress without breaking down a few walls."
If only he could be as carefree with human lives as she was. He still had his conscience.
Or so I'd like to believe. "If everything goes accordingly we won't have to worry about secondary casualties. But it's still an area that we do not have complete control over. I feel as though history will be repeated," he looked to the shining, glowing, white shape in the sky. "Except this time instead of a broken moon, it will break the world itself."
Blake awakened as someone tapped lightly on her shoulder. She groaned. "Five minutes."
"Catnap's over, Blake, we're here."
Ugh. El and his stupid puns.
"Fine, I'm up, I'm up," She felt her ears twitch a bit under her bow. Still a bit tired. She almost mewed as she yawned.
"G'mornin' sleepy heads!" Nora shouted from behind them. "Up and at 'em, seize the day, Carps and Dye ems!" she happily exclaimed to the entire ship.
"May the All-father bless us today," Blake heard Pyrrha say in almost a whisper, two rows behind them. She stood up and took Gambol Shroud from the ceiling rack. She put it into her belt holster and looked at Elwyn. He unmounted his Frigor Spicas and latched them onto his arms. Everyone else did the same. There was a ding again.
"This is your captain speaking, we've arrived at the town of Montero. Your orders will be updated at 0800 Hours, three hours from now. There are insulated coats for all of you attached right next to the weapon racks on the ceiling. As a precaution to the weather, please put these on before exiting the aircraft. Good luck, and good hunting."
Blake looked up at the weapon rack and saw the container the captain had mentioned. She clicked a button and a coat dropped down and into her arms. It looked really cozy. She immediately wore it and regarded herself. It was a fluffy parka coat. She only noticed now that her hands were already a bit cold. She looked at the outside of the plane. They landed a ways away from a group of lights, what she could assume was the village of Montero. She heard Elwyn stifle a giggle.
"What?" she raised an eyebrow at him.
"You look like a cute little hairball."
He was getting really familiar with her. He'd crack a joke her way every now and then more often lately. She wasn't sure what to make of it. She didn't totally mind. And he seemed sincere. At least, she thought so. Adam was always sincere when he told her something. Things like 'You lack training', or 'You're getting sloppy'.
Adam was still in her head after all that's happened. Did she betray a friend, or did he think of her as nothing more than a protégé? It's probably a question she won't get to answer soon.
"Did they even sterilize this coat? It might have lice… or fleas on it," Weiss said from the back.
"Weiss, it's either you wear the coat, or you freeze to death out there," Jaune almost immediately replied. That boy seemed to be able to get Weiss to do anything, for whatever reason. "We-," Jaune caught himself for some reason. "You should remember how cold it is."
Weiss held her head high. "My family's lot always had their temperature regulators on at all times, so no I don't remember how cold it was, especially not along the outside of the city. Do you think someone of my stature would ever venture to such a hazardous place?"
At this point most of them were used to Weiss boasting about something in her past. 'There she goes again guys, typical Weiss, am I right?', or 'Oh Weiss, you and your rich problems'. Blake was not one of those people. She always thought it was rude of her to even assume anything in that little, elitist brain of hers. Okay so maybe her thoughts were a little elitist too. But having grown up amongst the unfortunate Faunus masses that were living the life of poverty, she always thought she had leeway to say such things. Weiss wouldn't know what she's gone through, being born with a silver spoon in her mouth.
"Either you wear it, or that title our batchmates gave you becomes literal because you're going to freeze out there," Jaune replied.
The others were already piling out the hatch behind them, including Weiss' partner, Cardin. Maybe he got tired of hearing stuff like that too. Whenever Weiss would have a hissy fit, Jaune would always intervene. Most of them agreed that he had a thing for her, if he kept defending her like that all the time.
"W-what title?" her brows furrowed.
With almost comical finality, Jaune zipped up his coat before he replied. "Ice Queen."
How fast her cheeks flushed red was almost comical. She grumbled before putting on her coat. "Fine."
They all filed out of their transport. The moment Blake stepped out, she could already see her breath forming each time she exhaled. What happened to the regulators out here? While the place wasn't that covered in snow, it was colder than she expected. The lights in the distance were clearer now, as the sun started to break over the eastern sky. Several houses stood in the distance. Montero was a sizable village, with their own livestock and plantation. Only slightly covered in snow, it looked like a scene from a snow globe. Behind them were two vast mountains, forming a valley with a path leading to Montero. A suitable chokepoint for Grimm on the ground, but what of their flying species? Their scrolls beeped suddenly. They looked at the message. It was from Ms. Goodwitch.
[Squad B make your way to the village square. You will be briefed by the town chief of the situation, and your designations. There is a team from the Atlasian Academy in your area, please do cooperate with them. Good luck, and good hunting.]
They gathered their rations and belongings and each took something, hoisting the containers over their shoulders. They made their way to Montero, which wasn't that far away, now that they looked at it. Their transport took off vertically, before speeding away, probably going to the mainland for resupply. As they got closer, Blake realized the village houses were very similar to the ones back at Patch. Simple, cozy looking homes, each probably having a special temperature regulator powered by Dust to compensate for the harsher climate of the continent of Mantle. Blake noted that once they stepped into the village itself, the temperature became more amiable. There were no streets to talk about, as they probably didn't need transport such as cars in such a small village. Instead, most of the ground was still freshly cut grass, with nothing but gravel and stone interlacing each and every house together, leading to one big square in the middle. As they walked through the village, various people came out to greet them. Human and Faunus children poked their heads out of their doors. Many of them started exclaiming that more Hunters had arrived, their eyes filled with admiration. Some of them even went up to take a closer look. Blake and many others on the team waved kindly at the kids. Sleepy parents finally corralled the kids back into their houses.
"Faunus," she heard Cardin say under his breath. There was a tone to his voice. "Living together with humans? I'd expect as much from a rundown shanty group living on the fringes."
"I bet some of them work for the White Fang, and the others don't even know. How unfortunate," Weiss said, almost as an afterthought.
Jaune, who was somewhere in the front of the group, suddenly stopped. Their entire group followed suit. "Guys what the hell?" he sounded agitated.
"What, come on Jauney, really? Some of them are Faunus. We're just getting our kicks," Cardin almost laughed. Blake felt her blood start to boil.
"It's not even a baseless assumption. I'm sure some of them are part of the White Fang. It's just statistics."
Jaune went up to Cardin and jabbed a finger into his chest. "No, now you two listen here, you are not going to be saying any of that stuff while you're on this mission, do you understand?"
"Whoa calm down Jauney," Cardin sounded calm, but his body language said otherwise. He'd already dropped his part of the rations. His fist was balled up.
"No, you listen here Cardin, even when we're at Beacon you pick on all of the Faunus like they're nothing but garbage, but you don't get to do that here, not today, These kids have done nothing to you, their parents have done nothing to you. Drop it," he stared at Weiss with a steely glance. "You too Weiss. You're over the line."
Blake was a little surprised. This was totally different from the timid Jaune they always saw at Beacon.
"Listen here you little punk," Cardin grabbed Jaune by the collar. "I've been going soft on you because Weiss told me too but you talk to me like that again and I'll-"
Blake was about to lunge at him when Elwyn grabbed Cardin by the arm. "Stop it. We're on an assignment."
"You stay out of this Atlasian, you don't know what they're capable of, none of you know. Only Weiss and I are smart enough to know that no Faunus can be trusted," There was venom to Cardin's words. Ren tried to talk him down.
"Cardin this isn't how a Huntsman should act," he tried to reach for Cardin but the latter jerked away.
"Shut up! Do you think I care? I only got stuck with this pitiful excuse of a team because of that stupid initiation, if I had my way I wouldn't even be ten feet near any of you sadsacks!"
Oh that's it, you're in for it now you meathead. Blake's eyes narrowed and she unsheathed Gambol Shroud. Before she could act Jaune already landed the first blow, a hook right into Cardin's jaw. Cardin released Jaune and reeled from the blow.
Jaune stared Cardin down. "Stand. Down."
Weiss was about to unsheathe Myrtenaster but Blake stared daggers at her. "Are you really going to attack the only person that has ever defended you on this team?" Weiss looked like a deer caught in headlights. She sheathed Myrtenaster and cussed under her breath. Blake chuckled. "Not very ladylike of you."
Ruby stepped forward. "U-uhm, guys, come on, let's not fight," Ruby shouted, trying to get everyone to calm down. "We're a team, aren't we? Come on guys!"
Yang clasped a hand on Ruby's shoulder. "No use Rubes, boys will be boys."
"But what Cardin said was pretty bad, I mean we shouldn't fight but what he said…"
Yang looked at Ruby like a mother would, concerned for her child. Blake noticed it too. Despite how amazing Ruby was, she was still a kid. Her ideals were too pure for her own good.
"You aren't the boss of me, Arc…" Cardin said, spitting out some blood. "I'm going to make you regret that."
Thankfully, the square was pretty much empty at this hour, and it was a ways away from the residencies. No one had to watch this debauchery. Elwyn and Ren were about to jump in, but Pyrrha stopped them.
"No, they have to work it out themselves."
"Pyrrha, are you crazy?" Elwyn shouted. "Cardin's going to kill him!"
Cardin already landed the first hit. "What would you know, Arc?!" he landed a vicious kick to Jaune's side. "You've never seen slaughter!"
Jaune caught Cardin's leg and threw him outward. Cardin landed on a patch of grass and snow not too far from them. "What are you even talking about Cardin?!" Jaune lunged and tried to tackle Cardin. Big mistake on Jaune's part. Cardin was almost at twice his size. Cardin pushed Jaune back like he weighed nothing.
"Did you already forget?! Some friend you are!" Cardin launched a forward kick. Jaune sidestepped and elbowed him right in the face. Cardin flipped over once and landed square on his back. He collected himself almost immediately and got back up. "The night the White Fang murdered my father!"
Grim realization suddenly plastered Jaune's face. "Cardin these people, our batch-mates at the academy, they had nothing to do with that!"
"YOU DON'T KNOW THAT!" Cardin lunged at Jaune. They both fell to the ground. "NONE OF THEM CAN BE TRUSTED. NONE OF THEM," Cardin unsheathed his family mace. His eyes were red.
Blake threw out Gambol Shroud without saying a word. It extended and wrenched Cardin's family mace right out of his hand. Cardin looked at Blake, there was delirium in his eyes. "You bitch!"
Something tackled Cardin to the ground. He could only grunt in surprise as he was forced onto his chest and his arms were wrenched around his back, restraining him. He shouted profanities before a straight chop hit him on the neck. Cardin's head lolled to the ground. He was out cold.
"Is this what Beacon has to offer this year? In-fighting?" a female voice sounded. The figure stood up and looked at Jaune. "You okay there blondie?" Jaune nodded before standing up. Weiss tried to attend to him, but as she extended her hand, he nudged it away.
"Not now. Please," was all he said.
Several other figures joined the first one who had intervened, two young women, and a young man.
"What's going on here?" the boy asked.
"I was informed that the students from Beacon had arrived. To my great surprise, they were slugging it out right here in the square," the girl who'd subdued Cardin looked at Blake's team. "Is that some ritual thing you all have down there in Vale or…?" her Atlasian accent was thick. Much thicker than Elwyn's was, Blake noted.
Ruby stepped up. "We're sorry we caused so much trouble, we just had a little bit of an incident," the little scythegirl bowed. "We're really sorry."
"Are you the leader?" the girl asked. As dawn started to shine some light onto the square, Blake noticed a very telling trait. The girl was a Faunus, a feline to be exact. Her short, wild, blonde hair had two cat ears peeking out of them. Her light colored hair was contrasted by her tanned skin. Her eyes were auburn, and her uniform was standard Atlasian Academy issue. She had a weapon similar to Elwyn's latched onto her forearms. In fact, it looked a lot like his Frigor Spicas, with some changes here and there.
"N-not exactly. Our team doesn't have a designated leader yet," Ruby replied.
"Ah, right. We'd heard that Beacon had changed their team policies this year, my apologies."
"No need to apologize ma'am, we should be thanking you for breaking up the fight."
"We can't have students fighting each other while there's a Grimm army out there now can we?" she replied gleefully. "Whatever their reasons, they can talk it out later when he wakes up. Kari, Lindgren, please take their comrade inside. He'll freeze to death out here."
One of the girls, tall and slightly muscular with dark pink hair wrapped in a bun, and the boy, a little shorter than the girl with a buzzcut and a scar under his left eye went to take Cardin away. She pointed to a building as she regarded all of them. "Come, the village chief will see you now-" when she looked in Elwyn's direction, her ears twitched and her mouth curled into a smile. "Well I'll be damned."
Does she know him?
Elwyn smiled back and waved. "Hey there Alice. Been a while."
What Blake thought would have been a nice little reunion between what she assumed were friends, did not turn into a nice little reunion. In fact, it looked like a brawl. Elwyn's expression immediately changed from timid to fired-up. The Faunus girl, Alice, threw a punch right at Elwyn with her right arm. He obliged and clashed with her with his own weapon. They were both laughing as they did.
Blake sidestepped to Ruby and Yang's side. "Is… Is this how they greet each other in Atlas?" she asked. Yang and Ruby were as dumbstruck as she was.
Nora shouted gleefully. "BREAK HER LEGS, ELLY! COME ON YOU GOT THIS!" Ren shrugged in the background as she walked with Pyrrha to the lodging that Alice had pointed out.
"What interesting culture these Atlasians have," Pyrrha side commented.
Probably because of the mood from a while ago, most of team had this bad cloud looming over their heads. Jaune in particular, who looked straight at the ground as he walked to the lodge. Blake decided it would be best to follow suit. She dragged Nora with her and followed the lead of what she assumed were Alice's teammates. She could hear the clashing of metal in the background. Was she the one Elwyn had mentioned that time? The one who forged his weapons for him?
So that's what she's like.
Blake looked ahead at Cardin, who was knocked out cold, hanging from that Kari girl's shoulder. Weiss was right behind them. Her strut was less dignified, and she was looking straight down as well.
She knew that Cardin had it against the Faunus from day one, sure. Even Weiss, whose family had always been under public scrutiny in both the eyes of the Faunus and Humans alike. But what was this feeling in her gut right now, when they said those words. Did she feel betrayed? Perhaps she'd put too much faith into the good will of these people she called her teammates right now. She bore no ill will against anyone else on the team, but that little outburst reminded her of what Adam said to her a long time ago.
"Friends are nothing more than distractions. Have no ties. Watch your own back. That's the only way to survive in this world."
It had been significant to her when he said that all those years ago. But even then, she thought that it was Adam's way of watching out for her, perhaps his own little way of showing it. But maybe he was right. Maybe she shouldn't get too close to anyone. Not even Elwyn.
Maybe it was for the best.
Half a minute. It took half a minute for Alice to lay him on his butt with his Aura in the red. Same spitfire. She cut her hair from their time in the academy. It looked good on her. The Atlasian Academy uniform was the same as ever.
"Man, you still can't hold a candle to your ex, can you?" Alice laughed. He got her down to the yellow at least. He saw her status bar on her scroll, mounted on her arm. "I can't believe you're still using those old things," she said, pointing at his Frigor Spicas.
"What can I say, I love the classics."
"Pretty sure a three year old weapon isn't a classic."
"Shhh, let me have my witty one liner."
"It wasn't that witty either."
She slugged him right on the chest. "Good to see you again. I thought you went with your dad to the military or something?"
"Yeah well, I got scouted. It was the best day of my life."
"Really?" she pouted. "Best day of your life huh?"
Elwyn scowled. "Stop that, that's not fair."
Alice twirled on her heel. "I'm joking," she laughed. She called the last member of her team over. "Elwyn, this is Tanya."
The girl, lean and athletic with red hair up to her neck, carrying a large axe behind her, regarded him for a moment. "So this was your…?"
"Yep," Alice replied immediately, mischief in her eyes.
Tanya extended her hand. Elwyn shook it. "Tanya Ranikov. Pleasure," she smiled sweetly. He was lost in her eyes for a second.
"Oh no, El," Alice pushed the two away from each other. "This ship has sailed already," she wrapped an arm around Tanya. The latter gently lifted Alice's arm off of her.
"Not while we're on duty."
Alice pouted. "Fiiiine."
Elwyn was a little speechless. "So you and," he pointed to the two of them. Alice nodded energetically. Tanya smiled. "Ah. Well that explains a lot."
Alice burst out laughing. "I know right?" She leaned close and hugged him tight. "It's good to see you again."
"You're holding him up, Alice," Tanya said. "The chief is waiting."
"Right, right," she said. They all walked together towards the lodge.
With all that had just happened, Elwyn wasn't sure what to make of his situation. That and he just met up with Alice again in three years. But what Cardin said, what Weiss commented. He remembered Alice during those moments. The times they spent together, the stories they shared, and all the other Faunus he'd met during his stay at the Atlasian Academy. If Atlas did something right, it was that it treated its citizens the same. Whether negatively or positively, he noted. When they said all of that, all he could think of was how they were out of line.
But he couldn't bring himself to speak out against them. Oh gods. Blake. What did she think of all of that? He was mentally beating himself up over it. He had to apologize to her later. He noticed Alice looking at him funny.
"What?" he asked.
"You have that look again."
"The 'I'm beating myself up over something that happened' look," Elwyn grumbled. Alice smiled. "Still the same after all these years."
Elwyn snorted. "We were kids back then."
"We're still kids you know."
The cold morning air enveloped them. It was kind of comforting. It brought memories along with it.
Welcome back to Atlas.