Chapter 2: Derailed
The Schnee employees were very skeptical when Elwyn said he was from the Atlasian Militar and that Blake was his partner. First of all, he didn't even have his ID on him. He remembered placing it down next to his seat on the Quezacoatl and forgetting to pocket it again before he dropped. Very careless of him, but what's done is done. Or wasn't done. Second, Blake wasn't wearing a uniform. He was, but they were cautious in saying that he could have just stolen it. The employees were right to be paranoid given that their transport had just been attacked, but it was starting to get on his nerves, and there were only three of them. It had been a long night, and he just wanted to sit down and drink a cup of hot chocolate or something. The train probably had it. The passenger car they were on was a lush and pompous, homey sort of thing, nothing like you'd expect from a cargo train. But hey, the Schnee company had free reign of what they would do for their assets. If they wanted a bowling alley, they would probably place it there.
"Can we just knock them out please?" Blake whispered harshly. The Faunus girl was starting to get a migraine from all the incessant questioning. Not that they weren't misplaced. She was part of the White Fang barely an hour ago. Before Blake could even attempt to make a move, they were shoved in a room with a laser-gate, one of the three employees saying that 'their identities would be confirmed once they got to Vale, and this was only a precaution'.
Elwyn poked at it curiously with his broken pilelance. Energy arced through the metal and shocked his arm. He let out a growl in surprise and annoyance. As he turned around Blake looked at him with a raised eyebrow. 'Really?' was plastered all over her face. He merely shrugged. His left hand reached up for the communication node on the left side of his visor. Nothing but static. It was too damaged to try and contact his father. He'd told Blake he would try every five minutes. She was skeptical about it. Sure enough, around fifteen minutes passed and still nothing from his father.
"Shouldn't he be checking up on you and hailing the train by now?" she asked, swinging her legs while she sat. The cell wasn't a five-star hotel, but the seats were comfortable at least. The laser gate barred their exit, but she was already tracing the power-lines into the walls, trying to get a feel of how she could go about deactivating it from the inside.
"Not really," he replied, slumping down near her. "We had this silent agreement that if I didn't contact him, I was fine."
"That's stupid," she looked at him judgingly. "For all he knows you're dead by now."
He met her gaze with his own. He made a little face that said '… Actually. You're right, I guess.' And shrugged again. "Eh."
"Some soldier you are."
"I'm not technically part of the military, actually," he admitted. He looked around, as if anyone who would hear it would immediately say 'Aha!' and arrest him on the spot. No one did. Maybe the cell was sound proof. "I trained at a hunter academy in Atlas. I'm only part of the military because my father is a weapons researcher there," he looked sheepish. "So by technicality, my dad uses me to test weapons for the military, but I'm not conscripted. They allow me to participate in drills and exercises though, because my dad needed me to be in shape for weapons testing."
She regarded him for a moment. His attack patterns, she remembered, while having that stiff, systematic, military feel to it (except for that jump. She's never seen anyone from the military do that), did have some personal flavor. Hunter-Huntresses and the Military all underwent combat training, but the Military was taught to work in large platoons, acting as a single cell. Hunter-Huntresses worked in smaller groups and had personal fighting styles that they molded to work well with their teammates. Not to undermine the Military, but a few teams of Hunter-Huntresses with their unorthodox fighting styles could easily route a Military regiment, or so she's heard.
She wanted to become a Huntress, but not because of that. It was something more personal, something grounded on her beliefs.
"Your fighting style's a lot stiffer than a Hunter's though."
"Ugh," he said, exasperated. "I knew joining all those drills were dulling my style."
"Style huh?" she laughed a little, before continuing, a glint in her eyes. "You should really get out of the military business, become a Hunter, I bet you'd be great," She didn't know why she was encouraging someone she'd just met. Maybe she just needed someone to confide in. She'd just made a huge decision in life leaving the White Fang like that, and she wanted to vent. "I was planning to apply for Beacon academy once I got to Vale."
He blinked at the statement. "I dunno if you've heard or not, but, you don't really 'apply' for Beacon. You need to have graduated from an Academy with high honors, by recommendation, or hand-picked as a testament to an instructor witnessing your skill. The last one rarely happens."
Blake leaned back, looking at the ceiling. It was true. She'd heard that before already. Guess I didn't really think this through, huh? She looked at him, a lightbulb pinging imaginarily above her bow. "I most certainly haven't graduated, but haven't you?" She gazed at him expectantly, hope renewed in her eyes. It's not like me to ask favors like this, but I'll take what I can get. "Maybe you could, I dunno, put in a good word for me?"
Her large amber orbs swallowed him whole. It was like he was under a spotlight at a theater performance, and literally, all eyes were on him. He didn't want to say what he was about to say, but he didn't want to get her hopes up over nothing. Meeting her gaze, he awkwardly scratched the back of his head.
"I never got to graduate, unfortunately," right then and there he saw her deflate. It was like kicking a puppy, or a kitten in this case. "My father pulled me out a few weeks before I did. Kinda sucked, really."
If he could see her ears right now, they'd be drooping a bit. Her options were running thin. If she were really desperate, she'd have some of her old comrades stage a fight in Vale. Given if those comrades were willing to help her with something like this. Hey guys, could you help me get into Beacon Academy? I want to become a Huntress. Oh, and I betrayed the White Fang, hope that's cool with you guys.
Yeah, probably not happening.
"You said you were technically part of the military, right?"
"Like I said before," he paused for a moment. He had a feeling he knew where this conversation was going. He'd bite. "Sure, why not. Why?"
"Wouldn't that be enough to let you apply to Beacon? I mean, you've been training and everything."
"I could if I would, really," he sighed. "My father doesn't really approve of me becoming a Hunter. Says it's a glorified life. That and the Military and the Academies aren't exactly on the best of terms."
Blake's ears perked up. "What do you mean?"
Elwyn looked around the room again, rechecking if there were any surveillance equipment. None that he could visibly see. "Just like I said. They're not on the best of terms. A lot of the Soldiers I've spoken with think that Hunter-Huntresses are nothing but show boaters. They're the ones getting the praises all the time while the Military stands back and takes care of things on the down low. They don't think it's fair."
It wasn't a sentiment that he shared. Some people were just selfish that way, he thought. They wanted to be praised for doing their duty to the people. In retrospect, he wanted to become a Hunter neither for the glory nor the notion of protecting the world. It was a lot simpler than that.
He wanted to Hunt. That was it. The knowledge that what he wanted to do caused him to save others was just a plus factor. Guess I'm selfish in my own way.
Blake looked toward the laser door. Her eyes were set on it, but her gaze went further, looking contemplative. "Humans have in-fighting too, huh?"
He shrugged, laughing unironically. "I think it's a universal thing."
A noise startled him. Elwyn's eyes fluttered open. How long had they been on the train? He spied Blake on one side of the couch curled up. They must have fallen asleep from the fatigue. He got up and stretched. He heard a distinct noise to his side, a low, reverberating sound. It was coming from Blake. Purring? He listened intently again. Soft Rrrrs permeated the silence. Yep, definitely purring. A temptation akin to petting a stray cat you knew would kill you arose in him. The temptation was strong, backed by the cloudy-minded grogginess of having just woken up. But he won in the end.
He took note of the ruined pilelance on his right arm to get him thinking again. Might as well keep his mind on something while he waited. He fiddled with the components, and found that it was salvageable somewhat, or it looked like it, anyway. The damage was more or less superficial. Well, hopefully. He snapped a few of the moving parts back into place. He actually wasn't sure on the maintenance of the weapon. He was more used to maintaining his old Fragor Spicas from his time at the Atlas Academy. His father based the concept of the pilelance on his old pair of D.I.P.S., trying to make the concept stronger and more versatile. Truth be told, he thought it became needlessly complicated. But his father enjoyed creating new things, and he was just happy to test things out.
After a few more little clicks and whirrs, the pilelance did what he was almost expecting it to do.
The gauntlet fell apart from around his right arm and fell to the floor, the rest of the weapon going with it. The resulting collision made several metallic clanks. Blake jerked awake, looking around attentively like an actual cat would if they were disturbed from their rest. She groaned groggily.
"What the heck were you doing?" she asked as she started to rub the sleep out of her eyes.
"Trying to fix it," he replied sheepishly, sifting through the parts. For the most of it, the lance was still in-tact, so at least he had that going for him. He lifted it up and plinked it cautiously against a wall. Seems like it would hold. A lightbulb popped above his head. It was probably the fatigue, but he was desperate enough to find out if it would work.
"Stand back for a bit."
"What are you-"
Before she could utter another word Elwyn loaded his weapon. It screeched in protest, but it managed to load a cartridge. Blake tried to protest further.
"I don't think-"
Elwyn fired Yellow Dust into the laser-gate. The lightning that ignited from the Dust collided with the gate. A few seconds and a whole lot of lights fluctuating later, the gate dissipated. The devices that had kept the gate alive sparked and slowly silenced in defeat, some parts falling onto the floor and clinking with electricity. He could feel static coming from his clothing. When he looked back, Blake's hair was slightly frizzled and floating, before settling down again. He shrugged at her with an apologetic look. She on the other hand let out an exasperated breath.
"Whatever works, I guess," she fluffed her hair back to normal.
"After you," he motioned towards the door.
"How are we going to explain escaping from the cell?" Blake asked as she stepped over the remnants of the laser-gate. Elwyn paused to ponder on it.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get there," he said finally. "I just don't like enclosed spaces."
The moment that they exited the cell room, they thought something wasn't right. There was this lingering feeling in the air. And a very distinct smell. Unlike the previous cargo cars, the passenger cars were connected via an airlock of sorts between each car, probably to trap the air conditioning in. It also worked to connect the three cars' exhausts, and it carried it all the way to the last car. For Blake, it was clear as crystal, though she didn't want to admit it. It made her stomach churn thinking where it could have come from.
She smelled blood.
Elwyn noticed her stiffen. "What's wrong?"
Blake turned to him and whispered, her expression urgent. "I smell blood."
It took a few moments before he realized she wasn't joking. She didn't have any reason to in the first place. His vision suddenly narrowed. The cell they'd just exited was on the far end of the first of a few passenger cars that accompanied the cargo. Around two more were ahead of them. The corridor that lead to the next car lacked any sort of light source aside from the moonlight that shone through the windows to their left, running along the passenger car from end to end. Did shorting circuiting the gate do that? He readied his pilelance just in case. Blake withdrew her katana while it was still in its sheath. He noticed it looked like a giant cleaver. It gleamed in the moonlight, a wicked metal-black.
They proceeded forward cautiously, the shadows of the landscape around them changing constantly as the train continued to make its way to Vale. The mechanical door that lead to the next passenger car hissed open. The sight startled the two of them. They both had some nerve one way or the other, but seeing something like this was utterly surreal.
One of the Schnee Dust Company employees lay on his back. He was lying in a pool of his own blood. An arm was missing right at the socket, and something had mauled his face to hell and back. It was an unrecognizable stump on his neck. The blinking passenger car lights accentuated the atmosphere. It looked like what a bad fever dream would be. Elwyn felt yesterday's lunch churn in his stomach. Blake powered on.
"What the hell?" He whispered harshly. They approached the corpse. Blake felt for the body temp. Still warm.
"Must've happened while we were asleep."
Was that the noise that woke me up? "What the hell could have done that?"
The claw marks were very distinct. Blake recognized them.
His blood turned to ice at the mention of the name. "A Grimm? On board the train?" Not too far from their location, the sound of breaking glass startled them. They looked to their right. It was a metal door like what connected the train cars, and the man's blood trail lead under it. Blake motioned for Elwyn to keep quiet and follow her. He obliged, facing his back to hers, guarding her flank. Beowolves weren't too much of a challenge on their own, but in a confined space they would be at a disadvantage. The door hissed open. Blinking lights highlighted the inside of the small room. It looked like a lab.
"Well, definitely not what I was expecting," Blake whispered. Elwyn looked over his shoulder.
"What the heck is a portable lab doing on a Dust Cargo Train?"
"Maybe we could ask him," she said, motioning back to the corpse.
"Funny," Not really.
They found the source of the glass. And another body. It wasn't as mauled as the corpse outside, but the jugular had been ripped hastily. He was stuck in a perpetual look of disbelief at what had just happened to him. Behind him was what looked like a containment tank that was hooked up to several Dust cylinders that had broken, spilling the shards around the area. The fluid that was once in the tank had spilled out. It smelled organic and heady and made Blake's senses go into overdrive. A migraine followed. "Whatever was in there is gone now," she said, trying to fight the dizziness. "Can we get out of here?"
Just as they were about to leave and look around the other rooms, they heard a sound. It was more of a howl really. An angry howl, loud and clear as the moonlight, coming from the lead passenger car. They nodded to each other and bolted for the next car. Whatever it was, it was killing civilians and had to be stopped. If it was a Beowolf, they could take it.
The next door hissed open, and they found themselves in the lead car. It was a spacious area, unlike the last two cars which had the living quarters (and portable lab, apparently) taking up most of one side of the car. This was the control center of the train. Lights and controls ran flush alongside each wall, the controls that took charge of the AK-130s, the row of machines only ever stopping to allow a window or two of moonlight to shine through. The last scientist lay in the hands of their monster. A Beowolf had a vice grip on the scientist's body. She squirmed as the air was forced out of her. She noticed the two of them had come through the doorway. She called out in a rasp.
"G-get out of here!"
Blake and Elwyn were in action before she could finish. The Beowolf was too preoccupied with the scientist, and they took the opportunity to force it off her. Blake slashed at the Beowolf's powerful arms. Her blade met its mark, but it didn't cut all the way through. The dense bone-matter prevented a clean cut. It was enough that the Beowolf roared out in pain, and lost its grip on the scientist. Elwyn scooped her with left arm and bounded backwards. He propped the woman against a row of consoles and looked back at Blake as she kept the Beowolf at bay. Thankfully the car was much wider and taller than the previous two cars, and she managed to play keep away with the beast while still going for its arms. With two well-placed strikes, the Beowolf's forearms tore from their connecting ligaments. The beast roared and flailed, jumping backwards to escape Blake's assault. She backed off as well. She knew a cornered animal fought at its most feral. She retreated to be beside Elwyn and the scientist woman, ready to engage again if needed.
The woman looked up at the two of them with urgent eyes. "You have to get out of here," she started, coughing in intervals. "I need to terminate this car, the Beowolf mustn't be allowed to escape…!"
Elwyn knelt down next to the scientist. Her tag read Lucrea. Behind them the Beowolf was still backing into a corner, roaring and barking at them. "What do you mean?" He didn't understand how one Beowolf was worth blowing the train up. "We can kill it right here and now."
Lucrea grabbed him by the collar. Her eyes were plastered with stark panic. "You've already begun to enrage it. A little more and-"
As if on cue, the Beowolf let out a terrible roar once more. Its body began to glow red, the area around it seemingly starting to melt. Lucrea scrambled to her feet and punched a button on the console. The metal door behind them hissed open, and she shoved Blake and Elwyn through the hatch, both of them letting out a cry of surprise. Before exiting she clicked another button on the threshold of the way out. A high-pitched beeping sounded, mixing with the Beowolf's cries, getting louder and louder. They scrambled through the doorway, Blake almost tripping over Elwyn. Lucrea followed right as the door slammed shut.
"What the hell was that for?" Elwyn shouted. He felt the rumble of the passenger car as a reply. They looked to the clear glass window on the metal door. The two of them saw the lead car inching away. The car they were on had been detached. The sight mesmerized them for some reason, and he and Blake watched as the lead car got further and further.
Before it burst into an inferno.
The shock from the blast rocked them. The car came close to teetering off one edge of the train-tracks, before settling down again. All the while Lucrea had sat up against the metal door, closing her eyes like it was all one big nightmare that she would wake up from. She got up slowly and peered out the glass window with them. She waited a few moments. The burning debris from the lead car slowed to a melted halt. Sparks screeched and embers soared as she tried to get a good look if she'd gotten her mark.
They were greeted by two glowing-red eyes. The fire seemed to bulge out and distend, before spraling into the Beowolf, disappearing into it. The Beowolf stood there, glowing an angry crimson. Its severed hands were replaced with an outline of one made of flames. It sniffed at the air, appearing to have lost interest in its earlier assailants. It gave off another howl, before it sped off along the train tracks, bounding high into the sky, using the flames as a means of temporary propulsion, before landing and repeating the process. In a short time, it became a glowing red blip in the distance. Lucrea leaned her head against the glass window, muttering something incoherently under her breath.
Elwyn looked to Blake. She nodded and tapped Lucrea on the shoulder. "I think you owe us an explanation," Blake said firmly. Lucrea turned around and took a deep breath.
"Before I continue," she said, her voice shaky. "You need to promise me that the two of you will pursue that Beowolf. It has to be stopped."
Lucrea shifted in her sleep. They'd been on the railways for a few hours now, coming from an outpost far east of Vale. It seemed like only yesterday that they were flying in from Atlas to pick up the specimen.
When she first heard of it, she and her team were skeptical. Barton thought it was just a hoax. Jameson wanted to go anyway to see, just in case, if the rumors were true. Lucrea herself was curious. In all her years as a biological researcher for Atlas, she hadn't once heard of anything like it. The Grimm were a very mysterious race, true, and not much was known of them. So the first time they'd heard of the report, they were skeptical. Rather more aptly put, they were in denial.
They got off the Dustplane that day at daybreak. They landed near a mining area, where the Schnee Dust Company had been burrowing into Remnant to continue their acquisition of Dust.
Dust was an odd thing. Despite humanity knowing its fundamentals and how it could be used to power things from weapons to transport and even to cities, the underlying history of the mineral was shrouded. It was something that they could not just crack. Research over the course of thousands of years have only hypothesized its origins. Nothing concrete, just assumptions that perhaps it was the energy of life itself crystallized, that it came from outer space, that some omnipotent being had granted it onto humanity to aid them in the fight against the Grimm. That kind of stuff. But they were all just theories in the end. To this day, it was always regarded as this all-encompassing mystery that they didn't necessarily have to solve. Maybe Dust just was.
But the fact that Dust was what set humanity apart from the Grimm was something that humanity had taken pride in. It was a weapon, and a resource, that the Grimm couldn't hope to understand, to manipulate.
They thought that until today.
Lucrea and her colleagues stepped off the Dustplane expecting it to be a farmer having hallucinations. But then if it were the case, why were they called down? The Atlasian soldiers that guarded the perimeter didn't make it seem like a joke. Maybe it was real. A tall man, gaunt soldier went up to the three of them and saluted.
"Acting General Tully, 6th Shock Troop Division of the Atlasian Military, at your service," he said, saluting with his Dust Rifle. Lucrea's group saluted back. She tucked her shoulder-length strawberry blonde hair behind her ear and adjusted the spectacles that framed her auburn eyes.
"Acting General?" she asked.
"General Kalashnikov was killed in the skirmish to capture the beast," Tully said darkly. "The General had underestimated it. We mourn his loss, but we must act fast."
A beast strong enough to take down an Atlasian Military General? She thought. Generals in the Atlasian military were basically an equivalent of a Hunter-Huntress, some even were just that before starting their career. They rose through the ranks quickly due to their skill on the battlefield. He should have been more than enough to fight off the supposedly singular Beowolf they came to collect. Of course, the reports stated it was no ordinary Beowolf.
They were lead to a clearing a ways off from the mining facility. The residue of the battle that Tully mentioned happened the night before as apparent in their surroundings. The ground was scorched and tussled over in multiple areas, and the rock wall that guarded the entrance to the cavern had sections of it chunked and broken. The trail of the battle lead them to a large pillar of Dust-Ice. A section of it was missing.
"We'd managed to freeze it somehow. It was no small feat, given that it could emanate heat from itself at extremely high levels," Tully explained. Lucrea's group listened on intently. It seemed as though the rumors were true. From word of mouth, in any case. They didn't see it in action. If the rumors were true, perhaps they didn't want to.
The Beowolf was placed within a containment tank hooked up to several Dust generators that powered it. The tank was enchanted with a mixture of Dust called the Sandman, putting it in a deep sleep. It wouldn't last forever, of course. They had ample supply for now.
"The containment unit is too large for the Dustplane we rode in on," Lucrea said, eyeing it carefully. The Dustplane they'd ridden was a small, high-speed personnel carrier. It wouldn't be able to fit technology like this.
Tully looked toward the railway line not too far from the mineshaft. "We will load it up onto the next shipment of Dust headed for Vale. Once you arrive in Vale, there will be a transport Dustplane waiting for you and your team," he gave the beast one last look of contempt before saluting the three scientists. "There will be a regiment of AK-130 droids and one AK-135 Arakne for safety purposes of both the shipment and the specimen." He lowered his hand and finished. "I bid you good travels."
It was good travels for the most part. The first few hours went on without a hitch. Sometime in the afternoon however, the train was attacked by what the AK-130s had identified as two Faunus. The White Fang, no doubt. At first they thought the droids would be enough, but the life signals of each droid rapidly blinked out. They gathered in the lead passenger-car and sent out a distress signal to hail any nearby transports of their plight, even perhaps manage to get into contact once more with Acting General Tully to send in backup. They did manage to contact him, after contacting a nearby Quezacoatl that replied with its confirmation to aid them.
"Do not let them know of the experiment," Tully said over the fizzling static. The signal was getting bad around the mountains. "Who knows what rumors might spread if anyone else got wind of this. There will be panic," a dark look set upon his middle-aged features. He stroked his growing beard lightly, pondering on the correct way to handle the situation. A loud rumble went through the train. Something had just happened. From the onboard monitors, it read that the entirety of the Dust cargo had been severed from the lead cars. A few moments later, they saw a young man in an Atlasian uniform and a young woman with a black bow on her head. Lucrea didn't question military uniform etiquette at this point. She was just relieved that the White Fang had been dealt with.
"Seems like the unit that responded took care of the White Fang. The cargo is gone, however," Lucrea relayed.
"And the specimen?"
"Still asleep in the pod."
"Alright," Tully said finally, as if it suddenly dawned on him. "When they come in, keep them in a cell for the time being. Make it seem like you don't trust them."
Lucrea butted in. "Sir, with all due respect, wouldn't it be wiser to get the word out faster? If this is really happening on a global level, we have to sound the alarm as soon as possible."
Tully looked solemn. "That's true. But there's no need to get ahead of ourselves here. If there is panic without cause, everything will devolve into anarchy. The tensions with the White Fang have already brought the world to a tipping point," he paused a moment, before the last few words came to him.
"If the world finds out that Grimm, these creatures that we have managed to push back all these years with Dust-technology, can now also manipulate Dust for themselves, who knows what will happen?"
The two of them stood there processing the information from Lucrea. It honestly seemed like one of the most outlandish things someone could have tried to convince them of. But they'd already seen it in action, when it absorbed the flames from the burning wreck of the lead-car. The Grimm have started to gain control of Dust. Elwyn spoke up first.
"How the hell did it escape the pod then?"
Lucrea grimaces. "It could have been the Dust in its system that shortened the effective length of the Sandman. I'm not entirely sure," she starts. "But one thing is certain. They don't generate Dust. They have to feed off of it, rather, acquire it, like we do, and according to the field reports from General Tully, they need to 'recharge' after a while. Their reserves run out, just like us. But it acts like a drug to them. While they're off it they retain some of their manipulation, but they become more aggressive and immediately go for the nearest supply of Dust they can find," she shudders. "which was, as the report states, at the time, General Kalashnikov's Dust-Rifle."
Elwyn felt a chill run up his spine. He could only imagine how that went down. A sound from the outside startled the three of them. They peered out the window and saw a Quezacoatl coming down from above. "I think that's my dad's Quez," he said, relieved. The valley was spacious enough to allow the Quezacoatl passage. He primes the pilelance with the hydraulics and pounds the metal door open. Sure enough, he sees his father at the controls and a ladder extending downwards to the exit of the passenger-car.
"You said that it would be looking for a place to recharge itself," Elwyn said.
Lucrea nodded. "That's right."
"There's only one place I can think of with Dust enough to lure it away from us."
From this distance, they could already see it. If the train had continued, they'd probably have been there in less than half an hour. Its bright lights lit up the late-night sky like neon signs. Blake finally spoke up to finish Elwyn's train of thought.
"It's headed for Vale."