Chapter 8: Quoth the Raven
"Now do you believe me when I said I fought a Grimm that could use Dust?" Ruby asked a blonde girl. Her name was Yang, and apparently they were sisters. Odd, Elwyn thought. They don't look much alike.
Yang put her hands out in front of her defensively. "Okay fine, fine, I believe you, now can we please focus on the birdie in the sky?"
So essentially this was a real Nevermore they were about to engage. Much realer than those replicas that the labs created. A living, breathing, live Nevermore. It was large, its feathers the color of the night, and it had several, blood-red eyes on its head, which was topped with a bony crest, similar to Beowolves and Ursas. It also had Lightning at its disposal. Great. And he even thought they were about to get some leisurely, stroll-y walking done after all of what happened in the forest. Not that the ride getting there was leisurely or stroll-y at all. Following that nauseating teleportation spell, he was thrust into the Emerald Forest to fend for himself. Cripes this forest was a deathtrap. The Beowolves individually didn't pose as much of a problem as the Flaeowolf (Blake got the name to stick with him), but in a group he almost thought it was impossible. Then he found Blake, or rather, she found him, speak of the devil, like some sort of cosmic coincidence, as if an entity just said 'You said she was your partner, well there you go'. Together they managed to dispatch the rest of the Beowolves easily enough.
Hunters are never alone.
He liked those words. And it was a feeling he hadn't felt since he was back in Atlas Academy. Having comrades stand side by side with you. Close comrades. Not something like the military, where you're all thrust into a chain of command. He respected them, and even got close to some of them, sure, but he was never one for the stuffy protocols. He wanted to joke around and be a teenager. While fighting giant, life-threatening monsters. Yeah. That's what he wanted.
Then they found that girl with the dark red highlights in her hair. Ruby was her name, he remembered. She was facing that large Alphawolf, again, Blake named it. They helped her kill it, with some trouble. He shuddered to think what would have happened if something like that had gotten the flame Dust powers. These Grimm that have fought Hunters were huge, around one and a half times larger than even that Flaeowolf. It was probably around two and a half of him, if he measured right. And after that they fought through more Grimm before they found the ruins. He remembered the chesspiece he got, a white pawn that he tucked into his coat pocket. Wonder if they have any bearing on how we're graded.
"I don't think we should fight it here," Jaune 'the Blonde' Arc, as Blake put it, shouted. "Those feathers will rip us apart without cover," he looked around at all of them. He looked like he was assessing each of them. "Cardin, you hang back a bit, try to get it to bother you as much as you can. Your Semblance can handle it right?"
A tall, armored, brown-haired boy Elwyn didn't recognize spoke up. "You bet your ass it can."
Jaune nodded. "Right. Everyone else, regroup in the forest, we need to think of a plan."
"Who died and made you leader?" Yang asked, her arms crossed over her chest.
"It's not like you've got any better ideas, Yang," Ruby interrupted. Yang puffed her chest out.
"As a matter of fact, I do. We hit it fast, hit it hard, ask questions later."
Blake spoke up. "That's being too reckless isn't it?"
"I'm game for it," Elwyn said. Blake snapped her gaze to him. He raised his hands in front of him. "Now one second real quick, if we can distract it long enough to find out what it can do, Jaune and the others can figure out a plan. And if we can take it out even without a plan, even better right?"
Blake relaxed a bit. "… you've got a marginal point, but it's still dangerous."
Yang wrapped an arm around Elwyn's shoulder. Her hair was really soft. "See? He agrees with me. C'mon hot-shot, let's go bag ourselves a Nightingale."
"Nevermore," he corrected.
"Potato-Tomato, now let's go," Yang started to walk off, priming her gauntlets.
"Wait, do we even have to fight it?" Jaune said suddenly, like a lightbulb just popped. Everyone looked to him.
Yang stopped and turned back, looking exasperated. She looked like she wanted to punch something. "You were the one who wanted to think up a plan, weren't you?"
So she's impatient. Figures. Elwyn observed.
Ruby stepped in. "Wait a minute Yang, Jaune's right," she began. Yang's expression softened. "All we had to do was to get the relics and get back to the cliff."
Yang looked less fired up than she was a second ago. "You've… got a point, Rubes."
Elwyn whispered to Blake. "Wow, didn't think that would work."
Blake looked at him discreetly. "I guess we know who the voice of reason is."
"Guuuys~?" Nora sing songed from the back. "I think it wants to plaaay."
They all turned their attention to the Nevermore. It suddenly picked up speed. The air around it was crackling. Was the Lightning Dust doing that? More than that, as it neared below it a purple haze began to form, before Lightning emanated from below it. It was like a concentrated storm, and it razed the open field not too far from the ruins. They all jumped out of the way quickly. The ruins were caught in the storm and promptly exploded. The blast pushed flung them all further than what they wanted. The Nevermore looked back at them, and for a moment, flashed purple. It did a complete three sixty in a second, and it was going towards them for another bombing run. That was way faster than what Elwyn studied a Nevermore was capable of back in the labs. At this point if it's spewing Dust everything I know about that particular Grimm is pretty moot. He looked at the pathway the lightning went through. Everything was scorched black.
"We don't want to get caught in that, I don't think our Aura can handle all that energy."
"Well okay birdbrain you asked for it," he heard Yang to his side. Now she was pissed. She rose and took a stance. Their group was split from dodging the lightning. Yang was to his side, and he saw Nora to his left. The Cardin fellow was shaking his head and getting himself together, and Ruby was dusting herself off and reached for her Scythe. She eyed the Nevermore carefully.
"I still say we make a break for it, there's no point in fighting that thing!" she tried to plead with her sister.
The electricity the Nevermore was giving off was getting stronger, the very air around it began to charge with static. It did another bombing run before any of them could react. He saw the lightning crash down around them. He thought they were goners.
As the sounds of the lightning faded, he looked up and saw Cardin lifting his tower shield above him, not even paying attention to them. A large dome appeared above them, like clear glass, emanating from his shield, but with hairline cracks near the center point. "If you wanna run away like a coward Red, be my guest," Cardin primed his mace, and the mace-head expanded, revealing a dust crystal inside. "I don't plan on kicking the bucket any time soon."
There was a beep on Ruby's scroll. They could hear Jaune's voice on the line. "Ruby? Are you guys alright?"
"We're fine Jaune, we've got the Nevermore's attention."
Jaune sounded worried. "Okay, we got blown into the forest on the other side of the ruins. We'll circle around and give you support," Jaune paused. "If you don't beat it by the time we get there, hopefully we can figure out a plan. Be careful now."
Ruby clipped her scroll on her belt. "I'm leaving my scroll on so you guys can get some info while we fight," she told Jaune, and readied her Scythe. The Nevermore came back, lightning fizzling off of the purple sigil near its belly.
Cardin raised his shield again. "C'mon you black chicken, I dare you to break through!" he taunted. He regretted saying that as the lightning pounded on the glass-like dome, and the cracks got bigger until finally, his semblance shattered. Some lightning arced around them, but the brunt of the attack had already been deflected before the dome crashed. Cardin crumpled. Elwyn went over and checked. Cardin was knocked out cold.
"The strain was too much," he checked his scroll. The statuses of the people he was near to popped up. Everyone's Aura readings were healthy except for Cardin's. It was in the red. "His Aura's dangerously low."
"Way in over his head," Ruby shrugged. "We can't leave him though, and we've got to keep the Nevermore from doing another carpet bombing."
Great. "Anyone want to provide support while some of us try to distract it?"
Nora popped up from behind them. "Oh oh oh, me me me, I can I can, pick me, pick me!"
Elwyn smiled a bit. He liked Nora's eagerness. "Alright soldier, hold that thought."
Nora fist pumped the air. "Awwwwlright, grenade lawncher time."
Elwyn had to think fast. Cardin's Aura was slowly regenerating, but it wouldn't be fast enough before the Nevermore came around. It seems to have backed off after the dome shattered. Maybe instinct told it they might have had something up their sleeve. It was good enough to buy them some time. From how he saw Ruby fight, her semblance, which Blake nicknamed 'Rosewind', might be able to get her high enough to fight the Nevermore. He could get up there too with a shot from his pilelance, and Nora and Yang could help defend Cardin if anything goes wrong. "Yang, think you could-"
"Whoa there hot shot, I ain't taking no orders," she barked, her eyes glowed red. The air around her sizzled. Without warning she charged forward and away from them.
Well there goes that idea, he thought. The field didn't provide much for ways to get to higher ground. It was a relatively large circular clearing, with the small ruins in the middle. But the ruins had spires on it that someone could jump off of. The Nevermore was fairly low while it did its bombing runs, and Elwyn figured Yang was going to take advantage of it. He was a bit annoyed by her attitude. He had no authority over her to be fair, but it still annoyed him.
"Cripes, she's going to get herself killed."
Ruby patted Elwyn's shoulder. "She can handle herself I'm sure."
"Do you want to go help her? I can hang back and help carry Cardin off if things get dicey."
Ruby converted her scythe into its sniper rifle. "While she's angry like that? No thanks, I have a better chance of surviving the Nevermore."
So she trusts but fears her sister, when she's pissed at least. "Well I'm not letting her go in there alone."Elwyn converted his piletonfas into a twin-headed lance. He swore he heard Ruby mutter 'Your funeral…' under her breath.
"BOMBS AWAY!" Nora converted her warhammer into a grenade launcher. As she did this, Ruby dug the end of the scythe blade into the ground in front of her to maintain her balance while sniping. Nora and Ruby fired in unison, and Elwyn jumped before he blasted the other end of the pilelance at full strength, once, twice, and three times, gaining speed and altitude with each detonation, laughing quietly in the face of conventional physics.
As he soared, Yang already managed to get to the top of the highest spire of the ruins. She launched herself off, and the two of them converged on the oncoming Nevermore. But as he got closer, Elwyn noticed that every time the Nora and Ruby's rounds got close to the Nevermore, a spark of lightning flashed around its body, and the round was forcibly redirected around it. Ruby's rounds circled wildly around and into the ground around them, while Nora's grenades exploded away from their target. He felt the pull on his weapon when the lightning barrier flashed, like it was being wrenched out of his hand. A magnetic field?
In the span of a few seconds from their lift off, they were already about to collide with the Nevermore. It was large up close, larger than Elwyn first thought. Jeez what did we get ourselves into? The moment before impact, it vanished, leaving Elwyn and Yang on a collision course with one another. They exclaimed in unison, and in a split second decision, decided to use their weapons to soften their impact. Two explosions happened in mid-air and they were concealed by the cloud. They collided with less force than they were supposed, but their faces kind of crashed against each other. He could taste blood from his lip, and something else. He couldn't place it at first because he was dazed, but then he recognized it.
Ah, lemon chapstick.
They were a tangled mess when The Nevermore appeared behind them. Several feathers jettisoned from its body and shot at them.
"Throw me!" Yang fumed. Being this close to her he felt like he'd entered a sauna.
"Just do it!" she barked. Elwyn gripped her right arm with a free hand, and fired his pilebunker with his other to force them to spin, and he flung her right at the Nevermore. Yang tanked through the feathers, punching, breaking, and shooting each of them out of the sky. Elwyn primed his lance again and fired a fourth time, jettisoning himself right after Yang. He deflected some feathers that came his way, and aimed right for the Nevermore's head. Instead of teleporting again, the Nevermore let out a huge wave of electricity from itself. Elwyn felt his weapon pull him forwards, before he was finally blown back by the blast, Yang with him. She crashed back first into him and they were floored back down to the ground. The Nevermore loomed over their position, but Nora and Ruby kept up a barrage. This time bullets and explosions hit home, and it caused the Nevermore to fly off from the assault. It was a bit sluggish compared to just moment before. Elwyn helped Yang up by the shoulder. Her eyes were still red and the air was still sizzling. She elbowed him in the gut. He gritted his teeth as he was shoved back a foot or two.
"Not a word," she growled. He wondered what she meant, before it hit him.
"Consider it forgotten, Lemon-lips," he made a zipping motion over his mouth. She stared daggers into him. No, that wasn't his first, so he wasn't traumatized or anything, and he wasn't the type to be flustered, and he had a feeling neither was she. It was an accident for both of them, and they would probably never speak of it ever again.
The Nevermore circled around. As it neared it had its purple aura again, and the faint crackling returned. It started to gain speed again. Elwyn and Yang fell back to their original position, meeting up with Nora and Ruby. Cardin was still out.
"What the heck happened?" Ruby asked.
"It… teleported, or it just moved really fast," Elwyn grunted. "I've never heard of Dust magic that could teleport matter, let alone Grimm," he cricked his neck. "So it moved really quickly with the lightning Dust. Then it ran out of juice when it purged that electro-barrier."
He heard a deep breath being exhaled to his side. It was from Yang, who began to speak. "Alright then Cadet Grimmfacts," Yang's eyes went back to their normal shade of lilac. She was smirking too. She seems to have calmed down. She even winked. Does she have a split personality or something? "Why'd it get its powers back if it ran out of Dust?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "I've only ever fought one other Dust Grimm, a Beowolf, and it needed more sources of Dust when it did something spectacular. Maybe the Nevermore can carry more Dust because it's larger? I dunno okay, I'm not a scientist. It's a big damn bird."
"It's one of the biggest birds I've seen in my life that's for sure!" Nora shouted.
There was a slight pause, before Ruby looked at Elwyn. He had a feeling she was thinking something along the lines of 'oh man me and Jaune aren't the only ones'. He really didn't know what was up with all of the elemental Grimm. Dust had always been at the beck and call of humanity. What did it mean that the ones they'd defeated all those years ago with the stuff suddenly developed the ability to use it? Maybe it was an evolutionary thing? But why now, of all times, so long after the war? He looked at Cardin's Aura gauge it was orange now at least, he was out of danger. He would regain consciousness after more than half of his Aura recharged. You wouldn't usually pass out until your Aura got dangerously low, or even ran out but in Cardin's case he used his semblance too much and it was even overpowered. They'd have to keep their position until Cardin wakes up. Elwyn heard a beep on his scroll. It was Blake.
"Howdy partner," he saluted. Blake wasn't amused.
"What's your status? We're getting near and we all saw that Cardigan guy's Aura was low."
"Cardin," he corrected. "His semblance got overpowered, we're defending him until we actually have a plan," there was a pause. "Did you guys see what it could do?"
"We did. We're trying to think of a plan right now, just hold on a bit more."
They all turned to the Nevermore again. It was about to engage them again. "Better make it quick."
Blake dashed through the brambles of the forest. With her reflexes it was easy for her to navigate the sudden dips and turns and branches. Their group kept seeing the Nevermore flying overhead, and the sounds of shouts and lightning strikes. They fought a few straggling Grimm along the way, with five of them, they managed to take them out without too much of a fuss. She reached the position that they agreed on for their plan. From here, if they dashed for the cliffs, it would be a relatively straight path. They kept getting information from the other team's scrolls. That Cardigan guy's Aura meter was almost recharged to half. The others had been stalling for around ten minutes.
Their preparations were almost complete. Her ears could pick up the faint sound of Grimm in the distance, and she plotted a path that had the least amount of it once all of them made a break for the cliff. When they asked how she knew, she just told them her father taught her how to track Grimm as a child. It was slightly true, but it wasn't her father who taught her, it was the White Fang.
The plan was as follows: they'd meet up back in the forest once Cardigan woke up, and they'd attract the Nevermore back to the Cliffside where there was a large, abandoned tower ruin. Pyrrha said she saw it when she was teleported to her spot. They'd use the trees as cover for the Nevermore's attacks, and once they were there they'd use the ruins to get to higher ground and force the Nevermore to use its abilities until it was exhausted of Dust, then they'd strike. They had to be quick, and they had to be precise, or they'd miss their chance. The Blonde flirt took into account that the ruins might crumble once they were there and they stressed it out with the fight, so they'd only get one shot at it.
As the others patiently waited at their posts to guard the pathway, she was lost in her thoughts. Personally Blake was fine with just getting out of there and surviving. They didn't have to face the Nevermore, or rather, if they could outrun it, it wouldn't follow them into Beacon, right? She thought back to Flaeowolf back at Vale. It stopped at nothing to get its fix of Dust.
But if we lead it back to Beacon, the instructors would surely intervene if it followed, right? Or… maybe they'd just wait until they were all dead.
The instructors at Beacon were a bunch of hard asses, Blake thought. She understood survival of the fittest. But would they not intervene if it risked the lives of more than just the initiates? They all agreed that they couldn't take that risk. She wondered if the instructors could see the Nevermore from far away, and think that the lightning was just a trick of the eyes. If the plan failed, they had to just run. She wasn't sure that everyone could make it up the cliff, or if everyone could properly evade the Nevermore's feathers or the electricity. It was really something she wasn't used to. She'd fought one or two Nevermores when she was still with the White Fang, true, but they were the garden variety, and she had much more professional back up, back up she trusted. She couldn't trust any of these people, not just yet, not even Elwyn. She wouldn't feel bad if they had the same sentiment for her.
And by all means, she wanted to get out of this forest already. She'd heard the other initiates' dying screams as they were killed off somewhere far away in the forest. There were 16 of them who entered the forest, and only ten of them managed to get to the ruins. She knew some of them were dead. She didn't want to tell everyone else because she had a feeling they might have panicked. She doubted any of them knew what it was like to watch another person die.
A beep on her scroll snapped her out of her daydreaming. It was Elwyn.
"Cardin's up, we got the coordinates on our scrolls, we're heading there now."
Blake got up and readied herself. "Alright. You might meet some Grimm on the way. Just ignore them and get to the tower."
"Roger that, Kat."
Ugh. First him now even the Nora girl was calling her that. She waited in her position. The first 'checkpoint' had Pyrrha waiting, then Ren, then herself, then Weiss, and finally Jaune was waiting at the very end nearest to the tower. She heard the squawks of the Nevermore getting closer and closer. She heard rustling all around her. The Grimm of the forest were getting restless hearing the Nevermore's cries. She keened her eyes on the pathway behind her. She could see shapes coming right at her. Ruby dashed right by her. Why was she Rosewinding? Then Yang, blasting her gauntlets each time she could. What was going on? They all looked panicked. They had a plan, did something go wrong? Cardigan rushed by her position, then Ren and Pyrrha, who used their weapons to shoot directly behind them. Ren called out.
Blake snapped her gaze to the trail they came from. She was too busy keening her senses to the area leading to the Cliffside that she had totally forgotten to check behind her. She concentrated, and the ground rumbled and trees were knocked aside in the distance. She saw Elwyn running up to her. He did a quick one eighty and slammed his dustlance down into the ground and a large explosion ensued, a large wall of sharp ice encasing the area immediately in front of him. He ran up to her, panting.
"We gotta move. Like, now."
"What's going on? Ren said Death Stalker!"
The ice behind them crashed in a moment. A large creature appeared. It looked like a large scorpion, its entire body encased in the bony substance that was present on the heads of other normal Grimm. Its body was covered in several patches of moss and plantlife, and embedded in its shell were broken weapons of what she guessed belonged to Hunters of the past, the ones who fought and failed to slay it. She could see several bloodspatters on it. They looked fresh. Some poor soul from today's initiation was probably caught unawares. Several, dark orange eyes searched frantically around it, before they all pivoted in their direction. It was only slightly disturbing. With her instincts kicking in, Blake took Elwyn by the arm and dragged him as fast as she could through the forest. He had to jump and sprint his hardest to keep up with her movements.
"This is going to change our plans a little bit, don'tcha think?" Elwyn called out from behind her.
"Less talking, more running, we'll figure it out later," she replied. She could see their group not that far from their position. They broke through the edge of the forest and right into the ruins that Pyrrha had mentioned. Grey, crumbling columns stood to either side, towering and menacing, and if they weren't running for their lives Blake would have wanted to know what the history behind the architecture and the design was. A tower stood in the distance, just beyond as stone bridge, tall and majestically decrepit.
"How'd a Death Stalker end up following you guys?!" she asked while she kept pace.
"Funny story, there was a rock right a little ways after we entered the forest, and Cardin hit it out of frustration since, you know, he got knocked out. So long story short he woke up a Death Stalker."
"Not so funny if it decides to kill us all."
"Pretty sure it got someone already."
Blake paused a bit. "You saw the blood?"
"I saw the body while we were running. Mangled up and against a tree. I didn't tell anyone, didn't think they needed to know."
"That must've been hard for you."
"Kind of? It's hard to sympathize when all you could recognize is a torso and legs that bent where they shouldn't."
They reached the bridge with the Death Stalker in tow. The bridge was too small for it to cross, thankfully, which means they could go ahead with dealing with the Nevermore without a hitch. A scree caught their attention as they were crossing. The Nevermore suddenly appeared right on top of them in a burst of electricity. A bubble formed around it, and it screeched violently as arcs of lightning poured out around it, assaulting the bridge and its surroundings. They were only halfway across when the bridge was taken out. Blake put on her breaks, and stopped, Elwyn with her. Their group was separated again. She and Elwyn were stuck on the side with the Death Stalker along with Yang, Ren, and Nora. The Death Stalker took no pause in destroying the bridge. It brought its gigantic pincers down with ample force onto the crumbling concrete. They could hear the foundations that went on and on down the ravine shatter, and they ran in the direction of the Death Stalker to get back to safe ground. Blake leapt over the giant Grimm gracefully, and the others found their way safely as well. But as Elwyn vaulted over, its tail swung viciously at him. He brought his lance up to block, and he was knocked into a grey pillar not too far away with a powerful thud. Blake could see his eyes shut, gritting his teeth in pain.
You careless idiot!
"No choice, we can leave the Nevermore to Blondie and the others," Blake shouted. Yang looked immediately in her direction. "The Blonde flirt."
Yang kept looking at her with a raised eyebrow. Blake slapped her forehead. "JAUNE."
They engaged the Death Stalker. Ren went forward first and barraged it with his submachine guns. It curled up its pincers to defend itself, though Blake had a feeling it was instinct more than anything. Nothing was getting through that thick shell. Nora was up next, and she slammed her Hammer right onto the Death Stalker's head. Its tail flinged forward, and Nora fired a grenade to propel herself off of it and avoid the tail. Yang unleashed a barrage of shots before going in. The shotgun shells ignited but barely did any visible damage other than staggering and annoying it. Yang grabbed onto the great tail for leverage and swooped right onto the Death Stalker's back. She tried slamming at it repeatedly, but the Death Stalker's shell wouldn't budge. It threw her off and swiped her away with its tail. They all regrouped near the ruins pillar Elwyn was crumpled near.
"You alright?" Blake asked. The Death Stalker screeched in a high pitch and charged all of them.
"I've been better," he had a wry smile. That was more like the Elwyn she fought the first time. Nothing like life or death to fire you up, she guessed. That probably meant he was fine. He shouted to all of them. "JUMP!"
The Death Stalker slammed into the ruin wall. The pillar collapsed on top of it, burying it in rubble. They cautiously took a few seconds to observe the pile. Blake looked to the others and their fight with the Nevermore. Ruby kept closing in on it with her Rosewind while Cardin kept his semblance up to protect them from the barrages of feathers. Weiss kept firing little dust bullets that homed in on their target. Jaune and Pyrrha took care of any stray feathers that embedded themselves into the ruins so that they wouldn't explode near any of them. The Nevermore looked like it was running out of steam.
"Let's go help them with the birdie!" Nora shouted. Yang looked back at the pile of rubble that covered the Death Stalker.
"Was that it?" Yang asked. "That was anti-climactic."
They felt a loud rumble right before the rubble broke away and the Death Stalker came charging at them again at full speed.
Elwyn groaned. "You just had to ask." They all rolled out of the way. "Got any ideas guys? They need our help."
If they couldn't take the Death Stalker out quickly enough the others would be in a battle of attrition with a super Nevermore, and none of them wanted to drag any of the fights on any longer. They were all starting to feel the fatigue. Blake heard a beep on her scroll, as did everyone. Ruby was on the line. Blake looked to the ruins, she was taking a breather underneath Cardin's field.
"Guys, one last barrage and we think we're about to force it to purge," she said. They were still dodging the Death Stalker as it flailed and tried to dig its pincers into each of them. "I've got an idea on how to deal with the Death Stalker too."
As they fought, Ruby explained her plan. After she was finished, Blake couldn't believe it.
"That's insane!" she shouted. "How are we going to coordinate that well with each other, if it fails the Nevermore's just going to recharge and we'd all be sitting ducks out here in the open with no cover!"
She was more than apprehensive about the new plan. Even Jaune's plan was already far-fetched but this? This required team work, this required more preparation than what they had, the plan required-
"Just trust each other, we can do this!" Ruby smiled. Blake'd be lying if she said she didn't find her enthusiasm infectious. She almost believed they could for a second. Right now they didn't really have a better plan. Blake withdrew her doubts.
"Everyone okay with the plan?" Ruby asked. The Death Stalker crashed its tail again. It almost mauled Ren and Elwyn. Yeses were heard across their scrolls.
"Ohhh I'm so excited this is going to be great," Nora exclaimed as she parried the Death Stalker's pincer with her hammer. Elwyn took over in distracting it with his pilelance, shooting a few fire cartridges right in its face.
"Just be careful Nora," Ren called out as he laid down cover fire. He furled his weapons back in his sleeves and prepared to start. Blake looked to Yang.
"Careful with my ribbon."
Yang beamed. "Don't you worry buttercup, I'll be gentle."
That doesn't make me feel better.
Elwyn jumped back near her and primed another Dust chamber. "This is going to be great. I can feel it."
"Can you really be so sure? What if we screw up?" Blake said. She was going to do it anyway. She felt like she'd just asked him a rhetorical question. While she was with the White Fang, she always just had one thing in mind. Finish what you need to do, no matter what.
"Then don't screw up," he replied, crouching low.
Blake laughed slightly. "Fair enough."
There he sat, in the satellite office near the outskirts of Beacon Academy, just overlooking the Emerald Forest. Ozpin looked at the reports that the other instructors sent him. Three dead. Five dead. It was the same every year with the teams. Some of them didn't make it out of that feeding ground. Some may think that this kind of initiation would be too cruel for children. But they aren't mere children anymore. They were training humanity's last line of defenses against everything that would threaten it. Let the dead judge the dead, and the living judge the future. From the initiates in the west and east, out of thirty two, nineteen made it back alive. One team was comprised of eight members, while another was left with eleven. Nineteen dead in total, including the ones reported for the north forest initiates.
If he remembered right, Qrow's niece was there, Ruby Rose. She was alive and kicking, to be sure. He hadn't checked back on the observer drones that they set up over the initiation areas just yet. He was busy milling over the thought of the next batch of initiates. Even more will die, for the sake of preserving the future. How the families of the lost would grieve, and perhaps, curse him, for what he'd done to their children. But they knew the risks. Every year, more and more initiates came. Death was as much of a yearly occurrence as the seasons that passed. He'd grown accustomed to it. It's been so long since he became headmaster.
"Sir, the northern participants have just finished their initiation," Glynda reported. She was the one watching the live feed from the observer drones. Just something she did as a courtesy to the students. She' watched many initiates die, and perhaps found comfort in watching them in their final moments, just so that somehow, they wouldn't be alone.
"Hm, really now? How did they do? I believe there are only ten of them left, out of the sixteen we sent out earlier."
"They fought a Nevermore with Dust capabilities, sir, as well as a Death Stalker."
Another one of those mysterious evolutionary mutations? They've been coming out of the woodwork lately. "Really, I'm quite curious to how they managed."
"I'm relaying the recording to you now sir. I'm sure you'll be quite pleased with them."
Glynda handing out praise? Now that's new. He took a sip from his mug and brought up the holo panel installed on his desk. The video played, showing several different angles of the fight at once. It started with their fight at the ruins, how the Nevermore could use lightning and quickly retreat, before releasing a large shockwave very similar to the burning Beowolf. They'd found a plan then, but they were derailed by the Death Stalker's appearance. It led them to the ruins near the Cliffside, and the Qrow's niece suggesting a plan. Ozpin's eyebrows raised slightly. It was bold, but also very reckless.
It reminded him exactly of what Qrow would have thought up.
It zoomed into the fight with the Death Stalker. After Ms. Rose relayed the plan, they put it into action. The girl in black, Blake Belladonna was her name, if he recalled right, threw he pistol on auto-fire around the Death Stalker's legs. The ribbon on her arm extended, incapacitating the Death Stalker as it tried to charge them once enough of the revolutions wrapped the Death Stalker's legs up. The pistol landed in the hands of that Yang Xiao Long girl. The young man called Ren punched at the ground in front of him. The ground distorted, and a small bump rushed right at the incapacitated Death Stalker. Was that his Semblance? Ozpin wasn't quite sure. As the bump reached beneath the Death Stalker, it erupted from underneath the Death Stalker's position, throwing it airborne. Ms. Xiao Long heaved with all her might. She was quite strong, he noticed. She used the lasso from Ms. Belladonna's weapon to slingshot the Death Stalker into the air. The Death Stalker slipped out of Ms. Belladonna's weapon and flew skywards.
"Head's up Elly!" a girl, Nora Valkyrie, shouted.
"On it!" came his reply. It was the boy from Atlas, the military cadet, Elwyn Albion. Mr. Albion threw his lance right at the Death Stalker, a few explosions from the lance's Dust chambers to propel it further forward. It hit the Death Stalker right at its softer underbelly and was slightly embedded. Ms. Valkyrie shot up, using her warhammer as her propulsion, and swung her hammer dead center onto Mr. Albion's lance, pounding it like a nail. The resulting force caused another chain of explosions to happen and sent it flying right off to the other side of the ravine.
At the same time as that was happening, Ms. Rose's group was busy with the Nevermore. As it fired more feathers in their direction, Ms. Rose went in for the kill. Ms. Nikos propelled her upward by vaulting her off her shield. Ms. Rose closed in on the Nevermore which dodged to the left, but didn't notice what Cardin Winchester had done. He'd slammed his mace into the base of the tower. Explosions appeared around the macehead and continued in multiple directions, until the tower started collapsing, timing it exactly with the Nevermore's movement. The tower crumbled towards the Nevermore, and it would have smashed it into the ravine below were it not for the Nevermore instinctively purging its lightning as it did earlier, and forced the rubble away from it. Mr. Winchester took up his barrier again, and as the Nevermore thought to strike once again with its feathers, Mr. Albion's lance with Death Stalker in tow came speeding towards the Nevermore. The lance passed a few white glyphs as it flew, and it pierced through both the Nevermore and the Death Stalker, crashing into the cliff, leaving the Nevermore and the Death Stalker still high in the air and with the momentum going towards the Cliffside. The glyphs came from Weiss Schnee, the prodigal daughter of the Schnee family, and she caught Ms. Rose's momentum with another glyph, allowing her to use it as a platform to use her semblance to rush back right at the Nevermore.
A trail of white glyphs going upward appeared along the Cliffside. At the same time, the Death Stalker fell into the ravine, probably screeching its last curses to the Hunters that ended its life. Ms. Rose shot her rifle repeatedly to gain the last amount of momentum to reach the first glyph, choking the Nevermore with her scytheblade and slamming it right into the Cliffside. It flailed and writhed to try and break free, but she had it where she wanted it. The glyphs helped propel her upwards, dragging the Nevermore along. For a moment, it sparked purple. Its powers were coming back. He saw Ms. Rose close her eyes as she ran up. Probably in some panic, but she knew that she had to focus and hope for the best. A blade came spinning from below, going through several white glyphs to pick up speed before piercing right into the Nevermore's skull. It shrieked in pain, which distracted it enough for Ms. Rose to finish the job. As she reached the top of the cliff, with one last shot from her scythe, she decapitated the Nevermore.
She landed safely at the peak, with the Nevermore's head landing right beside her. Its body fell into the ravine below, sparking a few times, before dying out completely. She pulled the sword out of the Nevermore's head with some difficulty. It belonged to the… 'special case' this year, Mr. Jaune Arc. Ozpin turned the video off just as Glynda came up to his desk. He took a sip from his mug.
"Quite the show," he commented.
"All the initiates have been retrieved and are on their way back from the field. It's about time we prepared for the next batch."
"Ms. Goodwitch," Ozpin called out. She was just about to walk through the door. "What do you think of legends?"
Glynda gave him a curious look. "I'm not sure I follow sir."
Ozpin stood up and brought his mug with him. "To be honest, I'm not quite sure either," he chuckled. Glynda shrugged at her boss.
"If you say so sir."
The two of them walked out of the satellite office. On Ozpin's desk was left a half-played chessboard and an envelope with 'Candidates for the Checkmate Corps' written on it.
Ozpin adjusted the microphone on the auditorium stand. After the last group of initiates finished, the students were instructed to proceed directly to the main hall once more, where the students gathered just the day before. The students that were gathered were all either elated or shellshocked. Some of them probably watched others die. Some probably didn't care and were thankful they were alive. Others still probably just wanted to rest. Ozpin regarded each individual like a surrogate father. He could tell which were the diamonds in the rough, the starlets, the divas, the quiet storms. Nothing shone quite as well as Ruby Rose's group, however. The question remains if it was nothing but a spark, or an enduring flame.
He adjusted the microphone. Feedback screeched around the hall. The students quieted down. He addressed them all.
"Standing in this room, right now, is a victory in and of itself. Everyone, give yourselves a round of applause."
Some hesitation, before only a small amount of people started clapping, barely purging the looming quiet over the hall. Ozpin continued.
"You have all braved the wilds of the Emerald Forest, and have come out, hopefully, stronger for it. Some of you have bared witness to the harsh reality of becoming a Hunter: and that is, our mortality," he paused for effect. The quiet murmurs became an overwhelming hush. "Let us take a moment to honor our lost brothers and sisters who could not join us today, who are still out there, fighting the good fight, for only The Dark knows how long and where."
It was an old saying told to children during bedtime. Hunters never die, they are always out there, joining the good hunt amidst the shadows, fighting in secret. It gave a softening blow to those who've sent their children, so young, to become Hunters. They are forever honored, and are immediately promoted to the rank of Adept, those who've completed their training at Beacon academy. The cause of death would always be 'Died in the line of duty'.
Names flashed on the screen, as well as faces of young, bright and hopeful individuals. All of them, lost now. Some students looked solemn. Others looked indifferent. Perhaps it was their youth. Maybe one day, the others would understand.
"Alright then," Ozpin finally said. "Now that we're past that, we will now move on to the big announcement." He looked around. "As you all know, Beacon has had a long tradition of creating professional and tightly knit groups of Hunters. They treat each other with the utmost respect and camaraderie. As such, all of you will also participate in this long standing tradition. However, there will be some changes starting this year. Some of you may have already heard rumors of the team dynamic undergoing a slight change this year, and you would be right," the murmuring started again. "As such, let me enlighten you to our current situation.
A large projector descended behind him, and the hall went dark. A projection filled the screen. A blurry photo of what looked like a Beowolf filled it. Several of them in fact, and they were all surrounded by licks of flame or ice crystals. Some students whispered about conspiracies. There have been rumors already circulating for a few months now. Others thought it was a practical joke. But the ones who've encountered them already, they stood there in silence. Ozpin adjusted his glasses. "As some of you may have heard recently, there have been reports of several sightings of Grimm that have been able to control Dust much like humanity has. Ladies and gentlemen I won't sugar coat it. The rumors are true. And these Grimm are much more dangerous."
More murmurs of surprise and several of them being aghast. There were still skeptical ones. Some of the students were just waking up from a nap near the back. "Some of you today have already come into contact with these Grimm. North Team during the morning initiation and East Team during the afternoon initiation," Ozpin brought up replays of the fight of the team that had fought against the Lightning Nevermore during the morning, and another fight, with two Burning Beowolves fighting a team in the afternoon. If they didn't believe them at first, they did now. "In light of this, the changes to the teams will be as follows: Those who have survived their initiation, will be teamed up with those that they survived with. In short, your teams during the initiation, will be your teams for the remainder your stay here in Beacon."
As a professor Ozpin had grown accustomed to crowds of students being quiet and suddenly causing an uproar. Right now was one such time. Obviously these kids had something against each other already, if they didn't want to team up at this point. He was internally exasperated. He took the mic again and the feedback cut their complaints short. Ozpin's glasses glared against the light of the projector screen. To the students all they saw was a shadow with two large, ominously glowing eyes.
"It seems I must repeat myself. Your team, as we have said during your initiation, will be your family. Your colleagues. Once you are in this institution, there will no longer be room for the self, for the 'I'. Everything you do here, you do for the sake of others, for the future of humanity. Whether you entered because you knew of this, or because of the prospect of fame, reverence, respect, authority, no longer matters. Need I will remind you all that each of your teams have already suffered losses. Some of you chose to abandon their weaker companions."
Recordings of various people getting left behind filled the screen. Their shouts and cries for mercy and help echoed in the hall. Some students looked away, while others stared on. "Others fled while some sacrificed themselves,"
Recordings of the more valiant ones came up, the ones who fought to the death to let someone else live. "While some deaths could not have been prevented no matter how hard any of you tried. This is the world that you live in now, made even more dangerous by the uprising of the new Grimm. You may be children, but starting today, you are also Hunters. Hunters are never alone. Respect that old adage, and perhaps you will all survive your first year here."
Perhaps it was their training in their respective former academies, but after that little impromptu almost everyone in the room responded with a loud 'Sir!', to which Ozpin smiled ever so slightly, almost imperceptible. They were children, yes, and they deserved to have some of their childhood, but with how things were, they could not afford to be bound by thoughts and ideas other children their age were bogged down by. Normal teenagers worried about grades, romance, rivalries, the future, and perhaps they would too. They could bring these feelings to bear just like other teenagers their age, but if they could not set those aside for the better of their own team, if they could not grasp the very core concept of self-sacrifice, their future was bleak indeed. He was always hopeful, but year after year there were always those who could not rise to the challenge.
"Now, we shall move on to formally announce each team to each other."
The ceremony continued without much fuss. Some sort of fire welled up within the eyes of some of the students, many of them still had a little uncertainty in their gait and their step. Most teams had a little more than half their original numbers left. The original team system Beacon had placed two sets of partners into one team, and each team was quaintly named after the starting letters of each member's names. It felt like only yesterday. Now with the Grimm acting up they couldn't risk sending the teams out only in groups of four. The students didn't know, but a Senior team, a Junior team, and two Sophomore teams have already been wiped out due to lack of backup in the past week. It wasn't only happening in Vale, he'd received reports of teams around the Mistral and Atlas regions coming into contact with Dust Grimm. If this continued, they had to be prepared for the worst.
As the ceremony drew to a close, the freshman teams, all six of them, stood in line with their comrades. Right now they didn't know what to name their teams, and they'd be bothered to name them later on if they chose to. For now they were generically known as Squads 1 through 6.
Ozpin gave them all the once over again. In the coming weeks, they'd have their classes as normal. But unlike the previous years, they'd be summoned to the frontlines. All the students will. He didn't like thinking about it, but very likely, some of them would not see their graduation day.