Chapter 11: Battle in the Snow
Jaune walked toward the lodge the Atlasian students told them to enter. Was it just him or was it getting colder and colder as the day broke? A warm, orange glow slowly peeked above the mountains surrounding the village. The pass that they were to defend seemed so far away. He got into the lodge and waddled and shook the cold off. At the corner of his eye, he saw Cardin being stretchered into a room. He was still out like a light.
Images in his head flashed like a strobe. Cardin's words reminded Jaune of a horrible time in the former's family. Around five years ago, he remembered. There was a riot in Atlas, some White Fang members were causing an uproar, managing a small contingent to attack Schnee Dust Company's main factory, on the dot after the city's curfew was initiated. They 'freed' some of the local workers, mostly Faunus. Some joined up with the attacking force while others simply fled. The few who reportedly had some remorse for their benefactors sounded the alarms to the company's security force. First to arrive was the head of security, Trent Winchester, Cardin's father. It's said that he dealt with thirteen of the attackers alone, before their leader stepped up and took care of it personally. Whoever led the attack was swift, ruthless. On a completely other level than Trent. Cardin's father died that night, despite how valiantly he reportedly fought. The strike-leader and the remaining of the contingent broke into the company vault and stole something, something valuable enough that the entirety of the private defense force of Schnee Dust Company was called on to try and catch the assailants. Their leader and a few others escaped with the item, while the ones who were captured chose suicide over captivity. The workers who assisted the assault were put to death.
Jaune's father never told him what the item was. He didn't know if his father even knew. He attended the funeral, and maybe that was the start of when they all started to drift apart from each other. Weiss was subjected to stricter time tables, and she had to stop seeing them altogether. After that, he and Cardin just stopped hanging out at all. He long realized that their friendships were fickle to begin with. Just a coincidence, he thought, that they hung out together. Just because of Weiss.
"Some friend you are!" Jaune remembered Cardin shouting at him.
Well you're no friend to begin with. He really didn't want to think that way. Maybe there was some part of Cardin that believed in a silly little thing called friendship. Weiss too. Maybe. Just maybe.
In gods-forsaken irony, Weiss walked by. She couldn't meet his eyes. He saw her during his fight with Cardin. She was ready to strike, and he was sure it wasn't at Cardin. Man, did she play him like a fiddle, even until now. Weiss stopped suddenly.
Jaune felt his breath catch in his throat. No, wait, that's not fair.
"I… I believe I was out of line," she tried to sound as usual, trying to be haughty like normal. But it wasn't working with him.
He crossed his arms. "What makes you say that?"
She shifted her weight. The big white parka ruffled as she did. She put her hands on her hips, still looking adamant. "I was… caught up in the moment. With Cardin."
With Cardin. Something about that line just tasted foul in his mouth.
"Don't apologize to me, I mean despite the fact that you did kind of threaten to stab me," Jaune crossed his arms. "And I don't think anyone expects you to apologize to all the Faunus here either. Just," he paused. He couldn't find the words. "Just remember we're here to protect these people. Please."
She shrank, just a bit. He could tell. "Understood."
Jaune nudged her into the meeting room. He realized they were standing idly by the entrance for the last several minutes. They entered into a large room, what you could consider a war-room similar to one of the rooms they had in Beacon near the sparring area, where they discussed tactics and other battle pointers with Ms. Goodwitch. The wooden floorboard creaked as they stepped. A hearth burned in a stone fireplace to one part of the room, a welcome warmth from the cold of the outside. The room smelled like incense. Other than all of this, they were greeted by the looks of the entire team, including the Atlasian recruits. The Faunus girl who suppressed Cardin, Alice, with her blonde hair and auburn eyes, nodded her head at them. Her ears twitched and her mouth curled into a mischievous smile.
"Gosh having a lover's quarrel this early in the morning?"
Their response was as abrupt as it was deadpan. They walked to either side of a large, round, wooden table, squeezing between their teammates to find their space. In the middle of the large table was a small hole that looked like something could jump out at any moment. With a small click, something did. A projection popped up from the middle, showing a model of the town, and the surrounding area, along with the valley that they projected that the Grimm would pour out from.
"Good morning recruits, my name is Hathwar Krieg, the chief of this small, humble town," a gruff voice came out from a heavily clothed figure. He unfurled his hood, revealing a gaunt face that radiated a sort of ethereal wisdom, with short, graying hair, heavyset bags, but attentive, bright eyes. At least Jaune thought so. "I thank you all for coming here. We're positioned near a large Dust deposit just on the opposite side of the valley. We have our own role in maintaining the Dust supply around the world, so don't think you're just here to hunt some Grimm, understand?" he looked around the table. Everyone nodded. "Good. I'm assuming you've all met?"
"Slightly acquainted, I'd say," Alice tapped on the table with a quick jab of her fist. "Introductions then? Oh oh oh, I'll start!"
Her accent was a lot thicker than Weiss or Cardin's, or even Elwyn. Jaune may have lived in Atlas for a few years, but coming from a small town in the boonies near Vale, his accent was cemented as a child, a regular local Valean accent. Atlasian accents varied greatly, which he found interesting.
"My name is Alice Chernizelt, Leader of Squad Kerno from the Atlas Academy of Combat," she gestured to her teammates. "Introduce yourselves, everyone!"
"Tanya Ranikov. 2nd in command," she saluted, her axe clinking behind her. Her red hair was striking for sure, a darker crimson than Pyrrha's. She smiled slightly. "Charmed."
The shorter boy spoke up. "Lindgren Zeleny," He grinned from ear to ear. "We'll all get along I hope," his dark green hair was cut military style, and now that Jaune got a good look at the scar on his face, it looked like a claw mark. He had a rifle slung on his back, a large, broad blade underneath the barrel.
The girl with the pink hair in a bun coughed. Jaune believed she was also part Faunus. As she went to speak, he noticed she had amazingly pronounced canines inside her mouth that lined up properly enough with the rest of her teeth. He realized now that the fluffy belt that she had wrapped around her waist was most likely a tail.
"Kari Rosovy. You freshmen from Beacon keep each other in line, or we'll have to do it for you."
Her voice didn't match her fierce, foreboding aura at all. It was like hearing the voice of a kitten come out of the body of a lion. Her weapon of choice looked like the gauntlets she had on her forearms. She could probably give Yang a run for her money. The Beacon students all nodded. They caused enough trouble already. Alice tapped the table again to get everyone's attention.
"We're a second-year squad from Atlas. Been deployed here for a month now. I think we missed our freshmen's inauguration. Do our freshmen have teams of ten now too?" she looked to Tanya, who shook her head and massaged her brow, frustrated.
"We do indeed have 3 new teams which have 10 members each. I told you last week."
"Must've slipped my mind! Anyway, I'll get you all up to speed then. Reports have been trickling in from the army scouts on the frontlines, the Grimm force is large, but the contingent heading our way will be forced to take the route through the valley. It's happened before in smaller squads, and the four of us have held them off quite nicely," she looked around the table. "With all fourteen of us an incoming company shouldn't be too hard to mop up. And before you ask, no, flying Grimm aren't a thing here. The headwinds are too strong in this area for natural flight. So that scraps the idea of them flying over that tall mountain, so you can rest assured the only route they can follow is the route they've been taking this entire time."
Lindgren tapped the table, and a new projection came about. "The Grimm forces," he started. "Are made up of the common kind native to most continents, Beowolf, Ursa, and Boarbatusks. Goliaths are too large to enter those routes, the Nevermores aren't native to our continent of Mantle. Now Monoceroses-"
"Monocerosi," corrected Kari.
"-Monocerosi, are the ones you'd have to watch out for here. They're like your Nevermores. Well. No they're nothing like your Nevermores. They're like," he snapped his fingers repeatedly, trying to find an appropriate simile. Then eureka plastered itself onto his face. "They're like underground Narwhals. They burrow through the ice, but not too far and not too deep. Think land sharks. With horns. That look like drills. They're Drill-Horned Ice-Narwahls that slink near the surface of the ice like sharks," he looked very satisfied with the description he just gave.
Everyone was quiet for a moment.
Jaune's eyes went wide and his face scrunched up. "That sounds horrifying."
"Oh they are," Lindgren tapped a button again, changing the image to what the Atlasians called Monoceros. Jaune's never seen one during his visits to Atlas, but they looked menacing. A body type similar to a shark that was easily twice as large as a human's, with a horn right at the tip of their foreheads. The iconic Grimm boneplate mask covered its head to its belly and along its spine. It looked like a nightmare to fight. "Their preferred way to hunt is by waiting near the surface for unsuspecting travelers, animals, you name it. Then they skewer them, right through the torso. We've lost several careless comrades to these things. Once saw one dive through a man's head, severing it clean above the neck, before diving back into the ice," he provided graphic imagery at the flick of a switch.
Several of Jaune's teammates just shouted in surprise. He kept his surprise to himself, but he felt like that image wasn't going to leave him for a while.
"They usually don't leave their usual hunting ground farther north of the valley, but whenever there's a movement of Grimm like this one, they accompany their Grimm brethren to fight."
Tanya tapped the table this time, bringing up a map of the area again, with several highlighted areas. "We'll be positioning you all into four groups. Since there are ten of you, we'll be split into two teams of three and two teams of four. The Grimm's estimated time of arrival will be in an hour. After you receive your posts, you are all to head out and setup camp immediately, understood?"
A resounding 'ma'am yes ma'am' within the war room.
Tanya started giving them their areas. As he saw his name flash with those he was assigned with, he groaned.
I can't catch a break today, can I?
Ruby tried to shake the cold off. Not happening. Too cold. Even with the fluffy red parka she had on.
She could see the mist from her breathing as she paced near her assigned post. It seemed to get colder as the sun broke over the valley. She sniffled a bit before turning back to her teammates. She was teamed up with Elwyn, Yang, and Lindgren.
Elwyn stood at attention, looking far into the valley crevice. Lindgren stood with him with his rifle scope up. They mumbled to each other something Ruby couldn't hear all the way next to Yang, who ignited a shell from Ember Celica, and controlled a small ball of flame in her hand to warm herself up. She looked really content with it. Ruby walked to the flame and put her hands out. It was a very welcome warmth.
"What's up Rubes?"
"What kind of place is this?! It gets colder the farther in the day we get! How do Atlasians even live here?"
"It's why towns have a small dust field around them to regulate temperature. We were talking about this on the plane," Yang raised an eyebrow.
"Oh blah blah," she looked at the two Atlasian boys discussing quietly in the distance. "They seem right at home."
"Well they do live here. Well, Elly used to live here, but you get the idea."
Yang smiled as she mentioned her pet name for Elwyn.
Yang blinked. "What?"
"He's okay, I mean he throws a good punch."
Yang stuck her tongue out. She took the flame of Ember Celica away. "I mean it's not just Elly. There's Garet from history, Azul from combat class, that upperclassman named… Holt? Horace? I forget. Anyway, I'm just keeping my options open."
"If you say so, sis," Ruby scoffed. Rubbed her gloved hands together. "I'm worried about Jaune."
Yang's brows furrowed. "With that group? I feel bad for him too," she looked at her younger sister. Ruby looked sad ever since Jaune got into a tussle with Cardin. "C'mon Rubes, he's old enough to handle himself."
Ruby kicked some snow out of the way lazily. "You know you're the same age as him, and that's not what dad says about you."
Yang scowled. "Dad's too protective. We're old enough to be Huntresses, we're old enough to handle ourselves," she trailed off a bit. It looked like she was lost in thought, being reminded of their father.
Ruby agreed with her sister on that note. It was weird how her father always worried that they were going to become Huntresses when he was a Huntsman himself, and he knew that they grew up learning how to fend for themselves. Maybe it was just a father being a father. Ruby always thought that if she had kids, and they wanted to be Hunters, she'd be all for it. It was amazing being a Hunter, being with comrades and knowing that you were doing your part in protecting the world.
"Hey," a voice suddenly made Ruby and Yang jolt. The former looked behind her. It was just Elwyn. He tilted his head. "What?"
"Don't sneak up on us like that!"
"That was not nice, Elly."
"I called out at least three times on my way here. Neither of you were answering," he raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah well," Yang stammered. "What is it? Any spooky scary Grimm coming our way?"
Elwyn nodded. "I was just about to head to our snowmobiles to radio the others. Lindgren said the alarms he set along the valley were triggered. They're coming soon."
Yang looked confused. "Why didn't he just, I dunno, set traps instead of just piddly alarms?"
"If you mean the big, explode-y kind of traps, you risk a rockslide. The valley's an important route to a Dust deposit, remember?" Elwyn raised an eyebrow.
"Now if you mean the tiny bear-trap kind of traps, well he did. It won't stop a group of around two hundred or more Grimm though."
She raised her arms in surrender. "Fine, fine, fair enough."
"I've been meaning to ask," Elwyn focused on Yang, scanning her. "What even is the point of that parka if you're still just going to wear your shorts and your vest underneath?"
Yang put her hands on her hips and laughed mockingly. "My semblance lets me warm up despite the cold. I'm hot," she winked. "Get it?"
The other two groaned.
Yang coughed. "It also means I don't mind the heat either. I could've gone out here in my regular get up and I still would've been a-ok."
Elwyn didn't look convinced. "But what if your Aura runs out?"
"Like that'll ever happen."
"It did happen a few times before though," Ruby interrupted.
Yang put a comforting hand on Ruby's shoulder. "Those days are behind me Rubes."
Her younger sister shrugged. "If you say so."
As Elwyn broadcasted the signal, and Yang annoyed him as he did, Ruby walked up near Lindgren's perch. They were stationed on a ridge that was elevated near the valley entrance, letting Lindgren use his rifle's scope to keep an eye out for anything coming through the valley. As she approached him, Lindgren waved, smiling at her. He was only slightly taller than her, probably by an inch. That weapon on his back caught her attention from the moment she saw it earlier. "Full-auto default setting with semi-auto sniping capabilities for long-range engagements?"
Lindgren whistled. "You know your stuff, freshman."
Ruby held her head high in pride. "I am a weapon connoisseur."
He gave her a quick once-over, and noticed Crescent Rose neatly tucked into her holster. "I recognize a high-caliber sniper rifle when I see one. Can you really handle that thing?"
"Yep! My uncle taught me, and he's the best of the best."
"And who would your uncle be, Red?"
Of course he'd pick that as my nickname. "Qrow Branwen. I'm not sure if he's famous here in Atlas."
Lindgren's features scrunched up in thought. "I may have heard of him once or twice before. Not entirely sure," his expression changed into a smile. "So can I see that weapon of yours?"
"Hm," she hummed playfully. "Trade?"
He gave a toothy grin. "Deal."
Lindgren tossed his weapon to Ruby and vice versa. He observed Crescent Rose meticulously. "Bolt-action sniper and regular rifle modes, scythe transformation. Healthy weight distribution from what I can observe," he carried it in one hand and tried to balance it along the middle. He flicked the transformation sequence and it unfolded into a scythe. "Seems like a hassle in close combat though. I wouldn't have the patience for it. I'm still not fully convinced you can use this properly," he stuck his tongue out.
Ruby scoffed. "Oh you'll see me work my magic soon, I can guarantee that. She looked to Lindgren's weapon. "Does it have a name?"
"A name? That's kind of childish isn't it?" he laughed nervously.
Ruby didn't stutter. "So does it?"
"…I call her Matryoshka. She's a Bladed Full-Auto Assault/Sniper."
Now that she had it in her hands, it was a bit bulky for her tastes. Crescent Rose didn't have full-auto mechanisms inside so her sweetheart was a bit lighter despite how large its scythe form was. The blade that started bellow the muzzle, running down along the barrel shroud and stopping near the trigger guard. The stock seemed to allow the user to wield it like a two-handed sword or axe. In its current form, it was a sleek sniper-rifle-claymore-axe thing. Upon careful inspection, she found the mechanism that transformed it into a fully-automatic assault rifle. The weapon transformed, and the blade started to look like a bayonet instead. She looked down the iron sights into the valley opening. She transformed the weapon again and looked down the rifle scope. It zoomed far into the valley opening. She noticed shapes stirring in the distance. They were here.
"We sent that signal just in time," she tossed Matryoshka to Lindgren, and she caught Crescent Rose as it flew toward her.
"You know why Alice put you in the forward base right?" Lindgren primed Matryoshka and took steady aim. The mass of black shapes were crashing forward at an alarming pace. Ruby looked worried.
They look… frenzied. "It's because of my Alacrity, right?"
He smiled at her. "If that's what you named your Semblance, you got it, Red."
"It sounds cool!"
He laughed and took a prone position. "Yeah yeah," he pulled the trigger, and the roar of a bullet being fired filled Ruby's ears. Sweet, sweet music. "I'll pick some of them off before the main body gets here. Tell Elwyn and Yang to get ready."
"Aye aye, sir!"
Ruby rushed to her sister's side. The gust of wind in her wake from her Semblance blew everyone's parka's in one direction.
Yang started fixing her hair, looking a bit annoyed. "Whoa there, what's up?"
"The vanguard is here, Lindgren ordered the final signal to be sent out."
Elwyn nodded. As he spoke into the snowmobile's receiver and sent out the warnings to everyone, Ruby and Yang made their way down the edge of the cliff they were on. Ruby understood why they had to be split up into several groups. The valley was directly north of the town, and they were the lead group. As the lead group, their job was to soften the initial assault. Two groups were stationed on a western and eastern limit a bit south of them to funnel Grimm and keep them from surrounding the town. One final group was stationed near the town itself, to be sure no Grimm would break their lines. Under normal circumstances the tactic sounded unorthodox. Maybe even stupid.
But they were Hunters were never one to stick to a set of rules. And they could handle whatever tactic they asked to accomplish. At least, that's what everyone believed, and what they would strive for. A company of Grimm against a platoon of Hunters. It was time for their first field mission.
The first wave of Grimm flooded in, Beowolves, Ursa, and Boarbatusks. Some of them stopped to assess Ruby and Yang, while the others just shot past them. They were immediately picked off by Lindgren on his sniper's perch. Ruby unsheathed Crescent Rose and got to work, her scythe blade singing as she dashed towards a Boarbatusk, cleanly slicing it from head to rear. It fell over in a shower of dark, oozing blood that partially melted the snow that it was standing on, turning the ice into an angry, dark mush. She backflipped to avoid the Ursa that threatened to smash her flat, Yang jumping in and firing Ember Celica, punching it right in the temple of its skull plated head, crushing it beneath her strike. The sisters danced their way through the battlefield as Elwyn and Lindgren picked off the ones who tried to break through.
Ruby charged again and again, picking anything apart with her scythe-work. She relayed orders through the earpiece they were given to contact the teammates in their immediate vicinity. She repeatedly updated Elwyn and Yang about any of the stragglers, and Lindgren helped her reposition and get the oncoming wave's attention. These Grimm were tougher than the ones she'd fought in Vale. They were accustomed to the harsh climate of Mantle, and with each breath she took she could feel her Aura draining faster than it should have. She checked her Scroll to see the status of her teammates. Everyone was still in the green, but even though they haven't received any direct hits from their enemies their Auras were slowly trickling down, with the exception of Lindgren and to an extent, Elwyn. The environment was foreign, and she realized they needed to pace themselves if they wanted to last the entire skirmish.
"Guys!" she shouted, speaking into her earpiece again. "We're running out of steam faster than we should, pace yourselves!"
Yang smashed another Beowolf into the ground. "If we cool off on the offensive some of them will get through."
"That's why we have everyone else to pick up our slack!" Ruby bounced from a Beowolf to an Ursa to evade. "We have to trust them!" She smashed Ursa's head with the broadside of her scytheblade. Their Auras were still steadily draining. "Believing in your comrades isn't a weakness," She remembered how she trusted everyone during that fight during the initiation. "It's what being a team is about, isn't it?"
"I feel all fuzzy inside, Red," Ruby could hear Lindgren's voice in her earpiece. "I feel like you've got the chops to be a leader."
Ruby felt her cheeks heat up. "Oh well, you know, I try," she giggled. A bullet whizzed past her ears and shot a Beowolf right between the eyes, splintering its faceplate to pieces.
"We're going to have to trust your teammates sooner or later comrades, the cavalry's coming," Lindgren's voice sounded again over their earpieces. "Monoceros, on your twelve, Red."
Those Narwhal things?
Ruby looked directly in front of her, and saw a sharp fin skidding through the snow, breaking the surface. She jumped out of the way not a moment too soon, as a giant body emerged from the ice and pierced through an Ursa about to maul her, sending the hapless Grimm into the air, a giant hole in its chest. To its credit, the Monoceros did look menacing. It landed on its front, a thunderous roar escaping its maw as it faced Ruby. Its dark mass didn't have any trouble moving on land, and its wicked horn looked like a drill. Thankfully it didn't actually spin, well, not to what Ruby could notice. The horn was made entirely of bone like the faceplates of Beowolves and Ursa. It melded into a similar faceplate that extended until somewhere on its back, and around its mouth a bit down the front of its neck. Its eyes were two, small, yellow slits that blinked vertically rather than horizontally. It gave Ruby chills just looking at it. With speed belying its size, it charged at Ruby with sudden ferocity, forcing her to use her Semblance just to get out of the way. Lindgren shot at its head, but this only seemed to anger it. The faceplate was much sturdier than Ursas and Beowolves. He kept her covered from his perch from the other Grimm that tried to surround her, but many of them were rallying to the Monoceros.
Ruby readied Crescent Rose as the Monoceros took a sharp turn and dove back into the ice. She eyed the fin that raked through the surface of the ice at an alarming speed. The Monoceros jumped at her from beneath the surface, and Ruby just barely parried the horn as the rest of the body slammed into her, knocking her far back into a crowd of Grimm. It was just like getting rammed by an Ursa, only worse. She struggled to her feet, winded, as other Grimm tried to take advantage of her respite, only to be mowed down by a hail of sniper-fire.
"I've got your back, Red. Stay calm."
Ruby coughed as another round pinged the Monoceros on its head, forcing it off course from Ruby as it tried to charge again. "Thanks, but what do I do against this thing?!"
A poignant pause. "Don't die. Go for the belly. Like other Grimm."
She heard a crackle from her earpiece. "Elly and I've got other Grimm on our hands," she heard her sister grunt as something sounded like it cracked. "These bastards are tougher than normal. Can you handle that thing on your own?"
Hearing her sister's voice calmed her down a bit. "I got this, just caught off guard is all."
The Monoceros roared at her again. The wind was starting to pick up. Vision of the battlefield was getting worse and worse. Other Grimm were either rallying to the Monoceros or were going past their line of defense. "We just gotta trust Jaune and the others to pick up our slack, got it?"
A resounding 'Roger that' from all three of her comrades.
No brakes today. None at all. First it was that tussle with Cardin in the morning. Now he's going to tussle with a bunch of Grimm, alongside Cardin. But wait, there's more! Oh no, that's not where the gods of 'let's make Jaune have a bad first deployment' planned to stop. He got shoved into the south perimeter group, the ones that protect the village entrance, with not one, but two Faunus-haters. And their final member was the Faunus leader of the Atlasian students. He wondered if they could get along. Maybe he could just hope for the best.
A blizzard was heading their way, obscuring his view of the further off terrain. The distance from the entrance of the village to the valley entrance was about two kilometers, give or take. At around one kilometer out, the west and eastern perimeter groups were stationed a kilometer across from each other. At this point, Ruby's forward group were probably engaged in combat. Only a matter of time before Pyrrha and Ren sent their signals. Jaune was worried about how well they would be able to keep the Grimm funneled in this weather. He shivered against his will.
"So friends!" Alice shouted. Jaune was amazed at how unfazed she was against the cold. Then again, Cardin and Weiss seemed to be fine, albeit on a lesser scale than Alice. This was probably their first time in actual, raw Mantle weather, and not behind those Dust Environments in the mainland. "Do we have a plan, or do we just smashy smashy?"
"Aren't you the senior here?" Jaune looked at her funny. "Why're you delegating the leading to us freshmen?"
"You gotta learn sooner or later!" she winked.
"I'm not taking orders from you," Cardin snapped under his breath.
"And that's why you'll be taking orders from blondie over here," she pointed to Jaune. "I trust there are no complaints?"
"Fine, whatever, I'll go along with whatever you say," Cardin looked at Jaune briefly. "Got that Arc? I owe you for losing my head," he shrugged and mumbled. "I guess."
Well that was unexpected.
"Just don't expect me to be buddy buddy with you," he looked right at Alice. "I'll fight with you but don't expect me us to be friends."
Alice grinned. "That's good! As long as you watch my back, I'll watch yours."
"I don't need my back wat-"
"Anyway!" Alice whooshed to Cardin's side. "So what's your story, big guy?"
"I just said I didn't want to-"
"Come on now don't be such a spoilsport!"
The two of them carried on a conversation, albeit one of them was a little unwilling. Jaune was surprised Cardin cooled off when he woke up.
Maybe there's hope for him yet.
Wishful thinking, he thought, but it was better than nothing.
I doubt I can talk to him about his dad right now. Do I even want to? Man…
He decided to check up on Weiss, who was standing alone near the edge of town's perimeter. She looked off into the distance silently. He walked up to her, standing beside her in silence for a moment.
He decided to try and lighten the mood. "What's the Schnee Company prodigy doing all alone over here? Don't get picked off by the Grimm now."
"As if I'd let myself be snuck up on by some disgusting Grimm," he realized she was holding her hand up in front of her. "I'm merely setting my Glyphs up as traps. They won't even know what hit them until it's too late. This town won't have a single blemish on it as long as I'm standing by this gate."
That sounded a lot more like the Weiss he was accustomed to.
"I expect only your best today."
"For you, Snow Angel? Of course."
Her stare was as sharp as her rapier. "When will you stop using that absurd pet name?"
"When I feel like it."
He had a smug smile on his face. A groan escaped her lips. "You're insufferable."
"And yet you talk to me anyway."
She did a subtle sideways glance at him. "It's not out of actual interest, I assure you."
He felt like he could believe that. Down as he was, he wasn't going to show it. "Too bad we're teammates until further notice then, eh?"
She just shook her head. "Indeed."
Oh whatever. Even he was starting to get annoyed with her attitude. How fleeting these previous feelings were, he thought. "Well as long as we're still here, remember not to get your blatant prejudices get in the way of protecting these people who are oh so beneath you, Snow Angel."
He left Weiss to her devices before she could reply. Alice, suddenly stood in front of him, with an oddly bubbly smile. He double backed on what he said. "I don't actually think the Faunus are beneath her, or us, I mean-"
"I know buddy, I know," she laughed. "You did stand up for Faunus-kind against your friend over there," she pointed to Cardin, who approached Weiss. "I couldn't get anything out of him. He's stubborn, I'll give him that," she shrugged. "How can you stand to be on the same team as those two?"
Jaune smiled wryly and shrugged. "You tolerate it, and believe deep, deep, deep down that they're good people."
Alice laughed rather audibly. "Oh man that's good. Well at least they apologized, right?" She gave him a sympathetic smile. "It's more than most people get."
Jaune couldn't begin to imagine just how hard it was to be a Faunus in a place where no one accepted you. A beeping came up on their snowmobile's radio. Ren and Pyrrha ringed in at the same time. They had begun combat with their groups, and the Grimm were starting to trickle in.
Alice tapped Jaune on the shoulder as soon as he sent a signal of acknowledgement from the radio. "So, what do you think?"
Jaune tilted his head. "About what?"
"Ah, well," he took a moment to gather his thoughts. "I trust Ren and Nora with their end of the perimeter as much as I trust Pyrrha and Blake with theirs. Of course you probably trust your teammates as well with the situation."
"With my life," she smiled.
Her frank and bubbly personality was a fresh view from Weiss and Cardin. "I doubt we'd be seeing much of the action, give or take a few stragglers. With this weather, I wouldn't be too relaxed though."
"Good observations." She patted his head.
Jaune wasn't really sure how to react. "Th-thanks?"
Weiss laid down the last few glyphs of her traps, and not a moment soon after, one of them triggered. A pillar of ice shot out from the ground and impaled something in the distance. It looked like a Beowolf. The amount of wind that roared and the snow that fell obscured any vision they had on anything farther than a stone's throw. Three more glyphs triggered, but that was all Weiss knew. She didn't know if they were kills or false alarms. Jaune readied Crocea Mors and stood at the front of their group. Alice shouted and got everyone's attention.
"By the way, don't tire yourselves out too early in this blizzard. If your Aura runs out, you might freeze your butt off out here."
Suddenly Jaune noticed his own breathing. It was ragged and panicked. While the initiation was no better, this was live combat in a hazardous environment. A lot more dangerous than the initiation just half a month beforehand.
"I guess," Jaune's voice was shaky, even though he tried to sound brave. "We have to try our best not to die on the first day on the job, huh?"
"No one's dying today, Arc," Cardin called out from behind him. "If I let any of you sad sacks die it would be a blemish to my family name."
Right. The Winchesters, the Bulwarks of Atlas. Jaune looked back at Cardin. "Good thing you're here then."
A small, wry smile appeared on Cardin's face. "Damn straight."
"Aww," Jaune heard Alice somewhere in the back. "You freshmen are so cute."
A small hush besides the roar of the blizzard filled their ears. Now and then a Glyph would go off in the distance. Then, a body broke through the blurry white background. It couldn't have been more than ten meters in front of them, the large body of an Ursa suddenly sprung up and threatened to swipe at all of them. At the same time, Jaune heard a blast from behind him. Alice sprung into action before any of them could react, and she jabbed her pilebunker right into the Ursa's chest, before another explosion detonated and sent it flying backwards back into the white wilderness, dark, angry blood making a trail as it flew backwards.
"But I can't let you all steal the spotlight now can I?"
"Show off…" Cardin muttered.
Several more bodies hurled themselves forward, and they each started to work. Weiss continuously laid down Glyphs along the perimeter entrance of the village, while Cardin and Jaune made short work of the straggling Grimm. They noticed that some of them were already injured or on the brink of death, probably escapees from Ren and Pyrrha's group. Fresh ones started to pour in. The other probably missed them because of the weather. Nothing they couldn't handle, just a stray Ursa or Beowolf there. There were barely any more Boarbatusks that got through. Jaune noticed that Alice's fighting style was a lot similar to Elwyn's, just more refined, being a lot more acrobatic than the latter. Cardin showed just as much ferocity as he always had, tearing through Ursa and Beowolf at the same time, smashing one's head into its shoulders with his tower-shield, and mauling another's faceplate with his mace. Weiss was much more graceful than the former two, going for precision strikes near their unarmored throats, weaving like a dancer through their retaliation, and dealing the final blow with a blast from a Glyph-reinforced Dust cartridge blast. For bigger groups, she froze some of the Grimm in place, before detonating their prisons, splattering gore and blood on the battlefield and distracting the other Grimm. Jaune did his best to delegate orders while he took his own share of one on one fights. Pyrrha had been helping him with his fighting style, being a similar sword and shield user.
Block, parry, thrust, slash… Block parry, thrust slash…
He tried his best to keep his breathing from going out of control. He could feel the weather becoming a bit of a nuisance on how much Aura he had to put behind each strike and each defensive maneuver. A Beowolf managed to tag him on his left side, but he brought his shield up just in time. He felt his breath leave him for a moment, and his concentration along with it. His Aura fleetingly disappeared, and he felt the full-on temperature of the blizzard, freezing, cold, and unforgiving. The parka only helped to alleviate it slightly. He thought about what it would be like to die out here.
He regained his composure quickly, along with his Aura. He sliced through the Beowolf's leg, and it toppled over into the snow. As it tried to get up, he mounted it from behind, holding onto the Beowolf's spines for balance. He raised his blade high, shoving the entirety of his sword through the back of the Beowolf's unprotected neck and out through the throat. The Beowolf thrashed as its own, wicked blood filled its lungs. The blood splattered on Jaune's armor, but trickled down harmlessly as it was protected by his Aura. In one final, guttural shout, the Beowolf heaved and fell over onto the ground. Dead. Jaune got up and wiped the blood off his armor, before joining the fray again.
As the battle went on, the entrance to the village was decorated with roiling, angry patches of Grimm blood mixing with the snow. It kind of looked like being in a swamp and a snow field at the same time. It took a bit shorter than expected when the forces of the Grimm began to thin, having to keep an eye out on one or two more strays every few minutes. The operation took just under an hour to finish. It was a good thing the Grimm dissolved after death, or they'd have to clean up after themselves.
"Well this was anti-climactic," Cardin pried his mace from the ribcage of a Beowolf, before it disappeared. The sick crunch was muffled by the slowly receding howls of the blizzard.
"That means everyone else did a good job," Jaune said, flicking his sword to get the blood off. "Everyone alright?"
Alice did some mock stretching. "A-ok over here. Good job," she whistled. "Not bad for the first wave of the day."
Jaune looked horrified. "Right, there's more."
"Did you really think it would be that easy?" Alice raised an eyebrow.
"All the better for me," Cardin planted his mace into the ground. "I need to let off more steam."
"That's the spirit, Carrot!"
He scowled. "Cardin."
"Did I stutter?" She gave off an eerie smile.
Cardin noticeably shuddered. "Fine."
The communicator on their own snowmobile sounded again. Two signals, one that told them Pyrrha and Ren's teams were done and safe, and another from Pyrrha's team that told them they'd received word from the Ruby's group that they were safe and done as well. A villager soon arrived with supplies for them to relay to their teammates. Alice mounted them on her snowmobile and strapped them in.
"You three play nice now."
Right. It's time to replenish everyone else's supplies. "Don't worry about us."
She gave them a wave, and revved the motor up.
He waved her goodbye, and turned to Cardin and Weiss. Jaune breathed in deeply.
"Jeeeeez," Ruby groaned. "What are these things made of?"
She stared at the Monoceros on the ground, finally unmoving, before melting away into nothingness. The stupid things were like lightspeed tanks. That could dig into the snow. And had a horn. It was the most annoying thing ever. And that was only one of them. Its hide was too thick for her scythe to break all the way through. It had a soft part on its belly that they could've exploited, but it knew how to protect it. It dove into the ice multiple times just to get away from their assaults. It did make it a bit easier to kill the Grimm that rallied to it. The Grimm that were left after they killed the Monoceros retreated back into the valley to lick their wounds and regroup. It was reported that there were at least three waves coming in today, and now they finally got their breathing room. They retreated to Lindgren's perch, where their makeshift forward base was located, a small tent that shielded them from the elements. Luckily the cliff was skewed to the direction the Grimm marched, so they mostly ignored it. It helped that Lindgren was on his sniper's perch to ward any of them that noticed away. By killing them.
The tent was a simple structure, just large enough to set up a table and four chairs. Ruby sat into one of them immediately as they arrived.
"How many of those Monoceros are there going to be?" Ruby mumbled into her sleeve. "Ow," she took a look at her leg. It had a small cut on it. She failed to take a look at her Aura that entire fight with the Monoceros. When she took a look, it was in the yellow. "Guess I kind of overdid it."
Lindgren put a hand on her head. "You did alright. A bit too reckless, but alright."
She smiled. "Couldn't have done it without you guys."
"Now regarding the Monoceros," Lindgren sat down at the table. "I take it you noticed that Grimm in this continent seem to be more organized than the ones in Vale, am I correct?"
"Well," Ruby thought about it. "The only Grimm we've fought in groups were the ones during the initiation, and they were kind of organized."
"Boost that amount of coordination by ten, and you have the Grimm on the continent of Mantle. The years these Grimm have spent trying to get through the defenses of the humans here on Atlas and the harsh weather they have to deal with have made them into a semi-organized pack. While they're not as effective as our own organized military, it makes you think doesn't it? What if the Grimm became intelligent enough for rational thought, for real coordination, instead of just animal-like pack instincts?" he shrugged. "I'm just saying, we're already having trouble with them while they're this disorganized, what if they suddenly got smarter, stronger?"
"The lesson's nice and all," Ruby scratched her cheek. "But about those Monoceros…"
Lindgren blinked. "Right, right. Well, given their pack instincts out here, the weaker Grimm, Ursa, Boarbatusks, and Beowolves, follow the stronger variants, which would be the Monoceros. While there aren't many of them, they're strong individually and serve as the 'commanders of their unit'. What we just fought was a juvenile, a bit up the food chain, but not at the top."
"It was a criminal?"
"No Rubes," Yang suppressed her laughter. "It was a baby."
"Oh," she paused. "… It was a baby?!"
"Wait," Yang interjected. "Grimm have babies?"
Lindgren shrugged. "We're not actually sure if they're traditional babies like how other animals have babies, but they do seem to be some sort of unfinished final product."
"I do not want to know about their mating rituals," Yang jokingly heaved.
"We're expecting at least one or two more juveniles, and one head of the pack, the adult, in the next few hours. How we deal with them will be the same as how we dealt with this one. The problem is if they attack in full force with all the juveniles and the adult, which is when we send the distress signal to get more people to the frontlines. And before you ask, we can't send everyone here because we still need people to pick off the stragglers that try and be cheeky and get past us. The weather doesn't help either."
Elwyn and Yang agreed to being on watch for Alice for their supply drop. Lindgren and Ruby were left for some express maintenance on their weapons. As Ruby cleaned Crescent Rose, she looked at Lindgren as he started to clean Matryoshka.
"You're pretty knowledgeable on Grimm."
"Thanks, I get that a lot," he didn't look up from his work, but the note of appreciation was there.
"How come what?"
Ruby set down Crescent Rose for the moment. "You're so knowledgeable?"
He finally looked up at her with an amused expression on his face. "Is it a crime?"
"No no," Ruby backtracked. "How do I put this, it's… interesting. Most people just want to kill Grimm and be done with it."
"Well I'm not one of those people," he looked thoughtful for a moment. "Well not entirely. I mean have you ever thought of ever trying to understand the Grimm?"
All the time. "Sometimes, yeah. They always want to fight so I haven't really gotten acquainted with any of them."
He laughed at the statement. "Sure, maybe in the end they really are just monsters that we have to kill, just one of those nature things, you know? But it never hurts to try and understand something that you don't, instead of just blindly believing that they were put on this Remnant as humanity's one true adversary."
Ruby remembered how she always thought about Grimm and if they had families. Hearing the word 'baby' in the context of Grimm interested her greatly, even if it was a bit skewed. "I agree with you, like, you have no idea."
He smiled. "Thanks, Red. I don't meet a lot of people who do. Well, most people consider this crazy talk but hey, you'd have to be a bit crazy to be a Hunter, right?"
Ruby put a hand on her chin, actually thinking about it for a bit. She just nodded and laughed.
"If you come to Atlas there's a ton of crazy people you can learn from. And as questionable as that sounds, I guarantee it wouldn't waste your time."
"After this and with everything I've heard, I wouldn't mind that at all," she smiled.
"I'll give you the grand tour!" Lindgren put down Matryoshka for a moment. "I doubt you'll all be sent back immediately after the mission. Hunters need some R & R too, especially after a big operation like this. Believe me, it's happened to us before when we were sent to different continents."
This all sounds so amazing. "If that happens, then I'll be looking forward to it."
The sound of a snowmobile's engine amidst the howling wind alerted them of Alice's presence. Ruby's stomach growled. "We haven't even had breakfast yet."
"Have fun eating military rations," Lindgren picked up Matryoshka again. "They're not as bad once you get used to them."
"Ugh," Ruby didn't enjoy the thought.
"I'll start replacing some of the traps near the exit of the valley," Lindgren stood up. "We've got around thirty minutes to rest up. Make sure you do, we're in it for the long haul today."
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