Hunting Monsters

Prologue

"What were you thinking!?"

The edge in Abigail Woden's voice could have cut down a beowolf. Judging by the expressions of her students, they would have preferred to face the Grimm. The spearman's cocky smile had long since withered while the muscular young man next to him had his gaze pinned to the floor. Even the silent Faunus' mouth had quirked in disapproval as the condemnations rolled over them.

"I gave you express orders to keep a low profile, and you decide to start brawling in the street with the first people to pass you by? What possible reason could you have had to do something so incredibly foolish?"

A sharp contrast to his teammates, Sanguin faced his headmistress with a perfectly calm expression. He stood there like he'd been chiseled from stone, standing at attention with his hands clasped behind his back. He looked as if Woden was yelling at an entirely different person than him and he was just causally observing.

"I had expected the four of you to act as Huntsmen, not children, but I see now I was wrong,

Glynda wasn't exactly pleased with the four of them either, but the way Dominic flinched at the words like he'd been struck still made her sympathize. Though Shadow squad did have the lion's share of the blame for the incident earlier that afternoon, Team RWBY wasn't entirely blameless either (Someday, Glynda was going to find out exactly how those girls managed to find trouble everywhere they went). Dominic himself hadn't been involved at all, spending the time his teammates had been fighting apprehending the criminal. But those distinctions didn't seem to matter to Woden.

"Well, do you have any excuse for your behavior?" Woden demanded of them, finally running out of steam for her rant. The normally spacious headmaster's office in Beacon's central building felt a bit cramped, solely through the older woman's sheer force of personality. Glynda was standing behind Ozpin, seated at his desk, while his counterpart paced angrily in front of her students. As far as Woden was concerned, Ozpin and Glynda might as well not have been there at all. It appeared she expected them to wait quietly until she had finished admonishing her pupils. But then, that was to be expected.

The town of Nox was the largest and longest lasting settlement outside the four kingdoms. The town's survival was almost entirely thanks to the beneficial geographical features of its location. Situated on a peninsula, sheer cliffs served to protect Nox from aquatic Grimm attacks from three sides. The northern side of the town was guarded by a mountain range. Thus, the only way for Grimm to attack Nox aside from flying was via the passes through the Gnomon Mountains.

Obviously, guarding the passes has always been a matter of extreme import to the people of Nox. With the Night Lands on the other side of the mountains, Grimm were constantly flowing south to attack the mass of humanity living so close to them. Unfortunately, Nox had no Hunting academy, so any talented young people looking for training had to leave to one of the kingdoms. Most, finding kingdom life better than the constant struggle to survive out in the wilds, stayed and left their homeland to its fate.

But Abigail Woden had returned.

An exemplary Huntress, Woden rapidly became rather influential in Nox. Eventually, she had enough public support to finally push through her project, a new Hunting academy in Nox. It would be for the city's benefit, she had said. With an academy here, we would no longer lose so many of our best and brightest to other nations. And, if we put it up in the passes, the students can get firsthand practice at fighting off Grimm.

With the overwhelming public support she had accrued thanks to her prowess as a Huntress and the citizens' deep grudges against the kingdoms for poaching so many of their skilled young men and women, Nox's governor had no way to refuse. And so, Umbra Academy was born in the shadows of the mountains. And, as anyone could have predicted, Nox's children began to die.

In Glynda's tenure at Beacon, there had been 24 students who had been killed or permanently injured. At Umbra, that number was 25 percent of all students. Each year. In a society that lived in constant fear of Grimm attacks, there would of course be strong social pressure for young men and women to do their duty to their homeland and step forward to serve, regardless of actual aptitude. And with the passes being the only real barrier between Grimm and the city, retreating or fleeing from Grimm meant giving them a free pass to attack the city. The end result was plenty of unskilled students having to face Grimm they weren't capable of fighting and withdrawing from the battle meant placing their friends, families, and neighbors in peril.

Ozpin and Woden had clashed repeatedly over the years on that issue, to no avail. No matter how high the death toll at Umbra rose, Woden continued to insist her way was the only path to survival for her homeland. Even as she said that, however, she was reducing the fully trained Hunters at Umbra, placing more and more responsibility on her students. And it wasn't as if her curriculum was dedicated solely to defending against Grimm.

Since Umbra took so much of Nox's resources to maintain and support, Nox's police and military suffered from a lack of funding. Thankfully, Woden was willing to lend some of her students to any problem areas to lend a hand. Of course, those students had to be prepared for what they were about to face, so Umbra had several classes teaching how to combat human enemies. Which meant that the supposed Huntsmen and Huntresses-in-training were in effect a paramilitary force.

By now, Woden effectively ran Nox. The city's governor capitulated almost immediately to everything she demanded, and if it ever came down to it she could probably take over the city with her students if she wanted. She embodied the most detestable aspects of a Huntress, someone who would use their power to assert dominance over others. A merciless woman, who held everyone to the same high standards she held herself and expected people to bend to will without protest.

To such a woman, her students' needless, pointless error was intolerable. A small, rather more spiteful part of Glynda than she preferred to listen to, wondered if Woden's rage was because of Shadow had behaved unprofessionally, or because she and Ozpin had witnessed said behavior.

Sanguin faced Woden's glare without withering. "Shadow deployed itself on my orders. I made an error in judgment, so the blame for this incident rests solely on my shoulders."

"Such errors are intolerable, even more so given the current situation. It will not happen again." Woden's words had the iron weight of an order.

"Of course not." Sanguin said, his expression still unchanging. Woden sighed and finally turned to face Glynda and Ozpin. The look in her eyes dared them to say anything.

Glynda didn't really have anything to add. It wasn't within her or Ozpin's power to bar the young men from Vale, only from Beacon's grounds. If they were going to be in the city, it would be best to keep them close, where Glynda could keep an eye on them. And after the dressing down they had already received, any further criticism would be pointless.

Ozpin, however, was being unusually caustic. "Are these really the best men you can provide?"

Woden glowered at the doubt in his voice. "They are, though today's mishap does leave me questioning that as well."

Behind her, Dominic's shoulders slumped as if beaten and Argos winced. Sanguin half turned to the motion. His shoulders stiffened, an almost imperceptible motion but one that sharply contrasted his almost robotic lack of reactions throughout his dressing down.

Is he angry at Ozpin for the insult, or his teammates for their reactions? Glynda couldn't tell.

Truth be told, that young man unnerved her. He had eyes that she had only ever seen before in seasoned warriors, men and women who had been fighting for decades. Eyes you only get from killing. She wondered how many lives ended in a flash of crimson.

The sound of a door opening echoed through the room. And in walked someone Glynda was glad to see.

"Hello Professor Ozpin, I… ah. I was unaware you had company, sir." He rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously. "I hope I'm not interrupting."

"Not at all, Theron." Ozpin said with the first hints of levity Glynda had heard from him all day. "You can wait there. Our conversation was just wrapping up."

Theron stepped back to lean against the wall. Of all the students she had trained over her years as a teacher, he was one of her favorites. Theron Samia was the rare gem every instructor yearned for, a talented pupil willing to put in as much effort as a complete novice would need. A pleasant and charming young man, Theron would have been popular with his peers even if his skills had been abysmal. Instead, he was the strongest student Beacon had produced in years.

Woden cleared her throat. "Has everything been prepared for my students' transfer?"

Is she trying to avoid mentioning their mission in front of Theron? If so, it was a wasted effort. That mission was the reason Ozpin had called Theron away from his much needed vacation. It had been surprising when a Huntsman as dedicated to the job as Theron has asked for a few months off, but he had certainly earned them.

"Yes." Ozpin clearly wanted to end the discussion quickly. "Glynda, would you show Shadow squad to its new accommodations?"

"Wait, the Shadow squad?" Theron asked from near the door. They all turned to face him.

"You've heard of us?" Argos asked.

"Yeah. You're the guys who broke my record for surviving out in the Night Lands, right? What'd you guys get, twenty-five days?" Theron was smiling, clearly he wasn't too broken up about it. Glynda remembered hearing that his record had been broken but not by a group of students.

"Twenty-three." Sanguin said. "Really, it's not much of an accomplishment. If you can survive three days out there, you can stay indefinitely. Until your supplies run out, of course. We only lasted longer than you because as a group we could carry more with us."

"Heh, true enough. Guess next time I'll have to bring some friends." Theron didn't seem to notice the dismissive tone in Sanguin's voice.

Glynda had started to reevaluate her estimates of Shadow squad's abilities. The Night Lands were the region to the north of Nox's barrier mountains and had the largest concentrations of Grimm in the world. Theron's own record of seventeen days had been remarkable at the time. And if that had been surpassed by a group of students…

"You'll have more time to get acquainted I'm sure." Woden said. "But at the moment I need to depart shortly and my students need to get settled in."

Glynda nodded. "Then if you'd like to follow me, we can do just that."


Sanguin had already unloaded his gear and was watching as Dom and Argos struggled to free one of Dom's cases from the pile without jostling the contents when he stiffened from the presence that had approached from behind him. He relaxed when he heard the headmistress' voice, but only a little.

"Remember, no one is above suspicion. Shadow alone is-"

"I know. We won't fail." He said, with the conviction of an absolute fact.

"I have the utmost faith in your ability to prevail." She withdrew before Goodwitch could notice.

I'm the wrong person to say that to. Sanguin thought, looking at Dom, who was chewing out Argos for just yanking the case free and possibly damaging the computer components inside. Even while on a mission, he still brought along his technological toys. Considering the origin of the radio and tracking devices in Sanguin's bag, he wouldn't object to any other tinkering on his squamate's part, especially if it got rid of that static problem his earpiece had developed lately.

When everything was unloaded, the headmistress gave a farewell that consisted of nothing more than a nod to them before climbing in the bullhead and firing up the engines. As the craft disappeared into the horizon, Goodwitch cleared her throat.

"If you have everything, I'll show you to your room." She turned on her heel and strode off without waiting for a reply.

That one either doesn't like us, is suspicious of us, or both. He had seen the look in her eyes during the earlier meeting. It was probably just Beacon-Umbra tensions, but he'd be keeping an eye on her.

They walked in silence, drawing a few looks from students who were probably curious about their luggage. People joining a school three months into a semester were rare, that was one of the reasons he had objected to that particular cover story. And with their little rumble in the streets earlier, their cover might well and truly be blown. Not that Phantom had been likely to buy it in the first place.

And now we have a new problem. Theron Samia. The man they called invincible. Renowned for wading through small armies of Grimm without taking a single scratch, winner of several tournaments, a man who never lost.

In short, he's a bigger monster than I am.

There were a dozen innocent reasons for Ozpin to want his best soldier on hand. He could be helping to shore up Vale's defenses after the recent Grimm incursion, or here to lend a hand against Phantom. Sanguin was just far too much a suspicious bastard to actually believe any of them.

He brooded until they had reached their new dorm room. Goodwitch opened the door and was about to let them in when Argos decided he hadn't been enough of a smartass today.

"Wait," he said as he looked through the door. "Is this our room? Do we have to share it or something?"

Goodwitch looked at him like he was a particularly ungrateful ant. "Yes, all members of each team live in the same room."

"No, I mean do we have to share with another squad?" Argos feigned confusion.

Now Glynda looked confused. "No. Why would you think that?"

"Well, this room is so large, I just assumed."

"You know what happens when you assume." Dom chimed in.

"Actually I don't, but you assumed I did."

Sanguin fought the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose, as that would be unprofessional, and the much stronger urge to smack Argos upside the head, as that had never actually accomplished anything in the past. He settled for sighing under his breath and pushing past Argos into the room. Truth be told, it was a lot larger than their room back at Umbra had been. Of course, in the mountains space was limited but he was well aware Umbra's living conditions were unpleasant on purpose. 'Hardship breeds hard men, and hard men survive' is what Professor Zeus liked to say, often before doing things like sending squads on multi-day hunts with no food, or making one student fight three, blindfolded.

The others filed in after him, with Goodwitch hovering at the doorway. "You'll be expected at classes tomorrow, so I suggest you familiarize yourselves with your new schedules. I'll bring by a printed copy for you later. If there's anything else unclear to you, don't hesitate to ask." She turned and left, shutting the door behind her.

Sanguin waited as the footsteps receded down the hall, before nodding to Argos. The spearman closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He opened them a few seconds later, and the now almost shining blue eyes quickly roved around the room, covering everything with his gaze. After a few tense seconds, he blinked and his eyes' brilliance faded.

"Nothing."

"You're sure?" Sanguin asked.

"Yup. No recording or observational devices of any kind. Just like I said there wouldn't be."

"Doesn't hurt to check." Dom supplied.

"Doesn't hurt you, maybe." Argos fired back, while rubbing his eyes. "Using my Eyes is a pain in the ass, especially when it's just to resolve your paranoia. Beacon isn't the enemy, in case you forgot."

"That remains to be seen." Sanguin said darkly.

Argos arched an eyebrow. "You don't really think that's the case, do you? If Beacon is really behind-"

Sanguin cut him off. "It might not be Beacon as a whole, just an individual. Or it could be Ozpin himself and everyone who works for him. We don't know and we're not taking chances. End of discussion."

But like always Argos had to have the last word. "And what happens when they decide the correct response to us treating them like an enemy is to respond in kind?"

Sanguin was silent for a moment before turning to Dom, who was unpacking his computer case.

"Dom, can you get into Vale's civil security systems?"

Dom frowned. "Hacking into municipal grids is illegal, so I'm not going to even try."

Sanguin folded his arms and stared at him. Most of the time, he wished his teammate had a bit more inner fortitude. But there where times when you needed to pressure Dom into doing something. After meeting Sanguin's stare for a few seconds, Dom wilted.

"Fine." He said, pulling out his patchwork computer. "I could probably get in pretty easily. The real question is if I can without them catching me doing it and I'm not sure. I'll have to see what kind of security they have up first."

"How long will that take?"

Dom was already buried in his computer. Without looking up, he shrugged. "Couldn't say. I'll let you know when I've got something."

Sanguin nodded. "Just be as quick as you can. I want Phantom found as soon as possible, and those surveillance systems are our best bet right now."

Dom looked up. "I'll work fast, but having to go to classes is gonna take a big chuck out of my free time."

Speaking of… Sanguin opened the closet and started to examine the Beacon uniforms within. They were what he expected, the formal wear of students not expected to be ready to fight at a moment's notice. He flopped onto his new bed, feeling drained. At times he hated being in charge.

Things were going awry already, and they hadn't even moved in yet. Phantom probably knew they were in town and it wouldn't be too hard to guess why. Ozpin was bringing his own weapons to bear, so San had to make sure not to piss him off further and be ready in case he was planning on turning on them. Dom disapproved of them even being here, much less what they were doing. Argos would undoubtedly be keeping up his backtalk for the mission's duration and even Will was silently making his displeasure known. It was amazing how someone who almost never spoke could be so expressive.

And of course, should they fail, it would be Sanguin's fault for not having his squad under control and dealing with the problems as they occurred.

He missed the old days when all he needed to do was fight. That was something he could do, something he actually liked doing. Which was its own problem. He hadn't even tried to talk down that team of rookies because he'd just wanted to cut loose for a while. He hadn't really thought about it at the time, but sending Will after the thief was the best choice; the silent Faunus was the fastest among them and the best tracker if it came down to that. But if Dom had stayed, he would have dissolved the conflict before it had even begun.

With a grunt, Sanguin rose off the bed and walked over to the door. When he opened it, His squadmates glanced at him.

"Where you going?" Dom asked.

"I'm gonna run for a while, get some exercise and a lay of the land."

"You need to exercise after all that fighting we did?" Argos asked as Will joined Sanguin at the doorway, clearly intending to accompany his captain. A dark part of San wondered if he was coming to burn off some energy, or keep his captain out of trouble.

"We can't all be as lazy as you." And with that parting dig, Sanguin and Will were off.

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