The bullhead's engines thrummed, a drone of background noise that pervaded the craft. Yang leaned her head against the wall and let the noise soak into her skull. She had always been fond of engines and the sense of power at your fingertips they provided. Being in the passenger compartment of an aircraft didn't quite generate as much thrill as her motorcycle, but the sound of a running engine was still music to her ears. She closed her eyes and tried to let the comforting murmur lull her back to sleep.
She had been dragged out of bed at the ungodly hour of seven in the morning by Professor Goodwitch. She had told the groggy members of Team RWBY that Team Shadow was going to be interrogating the criminal they caught two nights ago at Vale's prison. And since RWBY had met that person's teammate, Ozpin wanted them to be there, since they might pick up on something the members of Shadow would miss. When complaints that Dom had been there the whole time as well had gotten no ground, Yang and her teammates had dressed hurriedly and rushed over to an idling bullhead, the four members of Shadow waiting for them.
"Does anyone else think something's not right here?"
Yang cracked an eye open and gazed blearily at Argos. "No, I go to prisons to interrogate rogue Huntresses all the time."
"Blondie, it's not what we're doing, it's who." Argos replied. Yang was fairly certain he enjoyed winding them up and didn't feel like giving him the satisfaction of asking what he meant. Ruby, sitting next to her, didn't share the feeling. "What do you mean?"
Argos leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "While you guys were dealing with Mordred, the three of us" he gestured to San and Will sitting to his left, "were fighting the other two members of Phantom."
"Right…" Yang said slowly. "And you captured one, and now we have to go play twenty questions with her. What's your point?"
"Why her?" San said from the end of the row. "Why was Morgan the one we caught?"
Blake rolled her eyes at him. "We weren't there. Why was she the one you caught?"
"Because she stayed behind holding us off while Lance escaped." Argos answered. He folded his arms crossly. "Which doesn't make any sense."
Yang made a quick, silent prayer for patience. "Why does that not make sense?" Dom looked up from his scroll.
"Morgan's Semblance is making shockwaves. Powerful, but not exactly the perfect decoy skill. Lance's Semblance, on the other hand, is creating clones of himself. Clones that are visually indistinct from the original and can be easily replaced if he has the stamina. Which is pretty much the perfect decoy ability."
"So you're confused because Morgan stayed behind as a rear guard despite Lance being far better suited to the role?" Blake summarized.
Dom nodded. "Right, because our enemies will always make perfect strategic decisions, even in the heat of battle." He directed his sarcasm over his shoulder at Argos, who rolled his eyes back at him.
"Phantom's too experienced to make that kind of rookie mistake and you know it."
"Enough." San said firmly. "You've been arguing this for hours and going nowhere. Even if you're right, what would we do differently? She's already under guard with the most security we can muster."
"True." Argos begrudgingly admitted. "I'll just be happy to be done with this."
"Wouldn't we all." San muttered. A heavy silence descended on the airship. For her part, Yang was fine with dozing the rest of the way, and she did. She was jarred awake by Blake gently shaking her shoulder. "We're almost there." The Faunus said. Yang craned her head to look out the window. "Are you sure?" They didn't appear to be near much of anything, if you don't count trees.
Blake nodded. "We had to loop out over the wilds a bit to approach the prison from an approved vector." Vale's council had decided that it would be better for everyone if the prison was as far away from the city proper as they could put it. The complex was shoved up against a corner of the kingdom's wall, nothing but miles and miles of forests surrounding it on two sides. In fact, some parts of the prison were actually integrated with the wall. Yang remembered hearing something in the news about how one convict had been caught tried to tunnel his way out and ended up digging through the wall, and right into a pack of Grimm. That had prompted some serious discussion about moving/altering the prison, which the then fifteen year old Yang had been happy to ignore.
They tilted as the bullhead banked into a turn and there it was. Rising out of and around the wall like a concrete growth, the Vale Penitentiary certainly looked imposing. Three towers kept watch over the yards and open spaces, with another trio on the wall watching for Grimm. The inward facing walls, though barely half the height of the Kingdom's wall, still seemed pretty much impassable, lined with searchlights and patrolling guards. As they drew closer, Yang noticed something about those guards.
"Are those robots?"
Blake nodded. "Vale's military has been moving more and more into using automated forces to handle routine assignments like guard duty." Across the plane, Dom tsked.
"AK 130s." He said disdainfully. "They really need to upgrade. The new Knights have much better reaction times and target identification protocols."
"I knew it." Argos whispered. Goodwitch entered the cabin from the cockpit. "Everyone make sure you're strapped in. We're touching down now." A thump and a sudden lurch confirmed her words. Yang unstrapped as the ramp descended. They crossed the landing pad in a disorganized mob, Professor Goodwitch looking a lot like a kindergarten teacher on a field trip. A platoon of robots led by an armored solider met them halfway and escorted them inside. The entryway looked more like a waiting room than Yang had expected. Receptionist's desk, some benches to sit on, a fake plant in the corner, Yang half expected to see a stack of old magazines lying around somewhere.
A line of human guards were waiting for them. In the middle was a grim looking man who Yang guessed was in charge. "If you're coming in here, you need to surrender your weapons." His pointing finger seemed more aimed at the members of Shadow than the rest of them.
San crossed his arms. "Would you like us cuffed and bound too? No thanks." Behind him, Will had a hand on one of his dagger's hilts and Argos' eyes were flittering around, taking scope of the situation. The guards kept their weapons lowered, but some of them had fingers on the trigger. To use a cliché, you could cut the tension with a knife.
Or a scythe. Ruby stepped forward and held out Crescent Rose. "Here you go." The guard she approached hesitantly holstered his gun and took it from her hands, looking over at his superior with a puzzled expression. Nice move there Ruby. Following her sister's lead, Yang slipped Ember Celica off her wrists and offered them to another guardsman. She was impressed. Ruby reading the atmosphere like that and offering up her precious scythe to dissolve the situation was the kind of thing Yang expected from a leader. My baby sister is pretty mature now. Guess she really does have what it takes to be in charge. Though Yang would never have admitted it, she had thought Weiss had a bit of a point when she said Ruby was too childish to be a leader. But if she kept this up, then she'd be more than capable. By then, Blake and Weiss were also surrendering their weapons.
The members of Shadow looked between themselves. Finally Dom shrugged and slung his swords off his back and handed them off. He then bent down and pulled a pair of throwing knives out of his boots and started to reach under his arm for another one. The dam broken, Argos gave up his spear with a flourish while Will unclipped his daggers from his belt. San's expression soured, but in the end he unslung his sword sheath from his back and held it out for a guardswoman to grab. They had to wait a minute for Dom to finish pulling knives from various parts of his body before they could proceed. Even then, he still managed to trigger the metal detector, but once he produced a scroll from his pocket they waved him through.
"What was that all about?" Weiss asked as they were led into the bowls of the prison. Dom pointedly looked at the warden leading them. "We're from Nox, so we're dangerous. Everyone knows you can't trust people from the wilds." The warden didn't acknowledge his words but oddly enough Professor Goodwitch looked a little guilty.
They wandered through the prison's halls, turning seemingly at random. The way the walls were all the same dull white with little in the way of ornamentation only reinforced the feeling of going in circles. Thankfully, Ruby had always had a pretty good internal compass and managed to not get completely lost. The only thing that broke up the monotony was the combat androids that were standing at attention, guarding doorways throughout the halls.
Finally, they were ushered into a room with a polarized glass window and really wasn't built to have ten people in it at once. Ruby squeezed in behind Dom and somehow ended up in front, right next the window.
"The prisoner is in the other room." The warden said. He pressed a button on the wall and the glass lightened. "We can see her, but she can't see us."
Said prisoner was cuffed to a table. With good reason, she looked like she could rip the door off its hinges if she were free. The interrogation room was otherwise empty, only the softly glowing blue Aura dampeners set in the stone walls and ceiling.
San glowered at the glass. "When do we get to go in?"
The warden narrowed his eyes. "You don't. You're going ask whatever questions you have from this side of the glass."
"How on earth do you propose to do an interrogation without even being in the room?" San folded his hands.
"You ask questions without relying on violence and intimidation." Professor Goodwitch put in. Her tone could have frozen a lake. A small pond at the very least.
"And what have you learned thanks to this gentle questioning?" San asked archly. "Where Lance and Mordred are? What they're after? Who they're working with, if anyone?"
"That is what you are here to do, but I won't allow your usual savagery in my prison."
Ruby cut in. "Uh, guys?"
"What?" The warden and San asked simultaneously, glaring at each other when they realized what they'd done.
"Why don't we actually try asking first? If that doesn't work then we can… try something else." Ruby ventured. She wasn't going to offer any suggestions for a plan B if it didn't work.
San made to speak, then shared a long look with Dom. He shrugged. "Fine. Let's give it a shot. I'll do the talking for the beginning."
The warden pressed another button on the wall and the color of the glass shifted just slightly. Morgan, who had been staring aimlessly at her hands, looked up. When she saw who it was, she smiled. There was something off about it, though. It looked a bit too… genuine for someone cuffed to a desk.
"Sanguin," Her voiced issued from a speaker mounted on the wall. "Argos, Dom, and Will. Looks like the gang is all here. And you brought some little friends with you too."
"I'll ask once, Morgan. You and Lance played decoy so Mordred could kidnap Weiss Schnee. Why?"
Morgan sat back in her chair, or as much as she could with her hands held in front of her. "Isn't it obvious?" When there was no response, she continued. "We were going to hold the girl for ransom and become filthy, filthy rich." She smirked.
Ruby hadn't thought San's expression could get any harder, but here they were. "Don't lie to me."
"Whether you believe or not is none of my business. I've got better things to do with my life than look at your mug." Putting action to her words, Morgan faced the wall.
"Right." San looked back at the warden. "Now we do things my way."
What the warden was going to say, Ruby didn't know. And probably never would, since the air was filled with a howling siren. "What?" Goodwitch started and looked at the flashing red light now sprouting from the ceiling. The warden didn't respond, too busy looking at the display on his wrist armor.
Yang sighed. "Let me guess, someone's attacking the prison."
"Some of our friends, I bet." Argos cracked his knuckles. "Orders, boss?"
She saw San's tongue flicker out, just enough to wet his lips. "We get our gear and take them down." There was no one in the room who didn't know what he meant when he said 'take them down'. "Let's go."
The warden blocked the door. "You're not going anywhere."
"You have got to be kidding me. There are people quite literally assaulting this place and you're first concern is us?"
"You are staying right here until I know you're not involved in this."
"What?" The air froze. Behind Ruby, Dom stiffened. Will's fists were clenched and Argos' smile looked strained. San looked downright murderous. Professor Goodwitch stepped between the warden and him quickly. "Johnson, this isn't helping. Go see to your security, I'll handle this."
The warden nodded and left, breaking into a run when he was out in the hallway. San glared fiercely at Goodwitch. "You can't expect some security drones handle a pair of trained, battle-tested Huntsmen."
"I am aware of how dangerous your former colleagues are." She pulled out her riding crop and raised it menacingly. "That is why I will be taking care of them myself. You will be staying here."
San raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
"They are here to rescue her. Someone needs to be with her to keep them from succeeding, should the worst happen."
"Being armed would really help with that." Argos commented drily.
"I have no doubt you will be able to manage barehanded." She gave San an odd look then and turned to leave.
Blake stepped forward. "Professor, what about us?"
Goodwitch started, like she'd forgotten they were there. "You will stay here as well, and assist Shadow squad." Or, sit quietly in the corner while the adults do all the fighting. Ruby had heard that before. Before she could protest, Goodwitch was gone.
A tense silence descended in the interrogation room. Blake paced restlessly, Yang loudly tapped her foot and Dom played with his sleeves. Ruby felt like she should say something, some words of encouragement or inspiration to get them all fired up, but nothing came to mind. A female voice, electronically stilted, intruded into the quiet.
"You don't think very much of me, do you? Explaining all your plans right in front of me isn't a very good idea, is it?" Morgan was smirking again. With a sinking feeling, Ruby realized she was right. But, she reminded herself, what was Morgan going to do?
"As a rule, I don't really worry about what people chained to tables think." Argos clearly agreed with Ruby.
"You should." The lights flickered in the ceiling. "You might be surprised what you miss, thinking like that."
Suddenly, they were plunged into darkness. Ruby jumped in surprise and caught Weiss with a flailing arm. Over muffled objections and her hushed apologies, Ruby heard Dom. "They cut the power." He sounded begrudgingly impressed. "But the emergency generators should kick in in a few seconds."
"Too long." Argos sounded urgent. "She's going now!"
Ruby heard a crashing, rumbling, noise. The lights slammed on a second later, to reveal a little pile of shattered metal where the cuffs had been and a gaping hole in the wall.
"Damnit." San glared at the glass. "She was waiting for that the whole time."
"Well, what are we standing around here for?" Ruby was out in the hallway without another word. She pulled up short when a gun barrel was pointed in her face.
"Return to your cell, inmate." The electronic voice droned. The android gestured with its gun-arm. "Comply or face immediate disciplinary action."
Before it could make good on its threats, its chest caved in. Even without Ember Celica, Yang could really throw a punch. A whirring noise down the hall alerted them to another robot spooling up its weapons. A white blur flashed past Ruby and turned into Weiss, who was using her glyph to boost her speed. She landed lightly on the android's chest, wrapped her arms around its head, and with the boost from another glyph was back beside the sisters. She dropped the chunk of metal, dripping some sort of oil, with distaste.
"Well, that wasn't too bad." Yang said. Since the universe loves to punish those kinds of statements, another pair of robots rounded the corner at the end of the hallway, too far for them to reach. "Oh, crap."
The guns spun into activity. A black clad body moved in front of the trio. The sounds of gunfire filled the hallway. Dom shielded his head with his arms, but otherwise did not move to avoid the bullets. After several seconds, the hail of bullets stopped. Instead of falling over in a bleeding mess, Dom thrust forward his arms and sent two silver blurs hurtling down the hall. The robots had just enough time to look down at the knife hilts sprouting from their chests before explosions engulfed them.
"How many of those do you have?" Weiss asked incredulously.
"None, at the moment." Dom rubbed his forearm. "They hacked the security drones too. Those things may only shoot rubber bullets, but damn they still hurt."
"Enough chit-chat." San surveyed the destroyed machines. "If the security units are against us too, we need our gear. We get to the armory and then, we hunt down Morgan."
"We're coming too!" Ruby declared. "You might need our help."
"Hmph. Right." San said, making it clear what he thought of that. "Let's move."
They managed to reach the armory with little trouble. The few security androids they encountered were dispatched easily enough. The worrying thing was, they didn't see any actual human beings at all. Ruby told herself that was because they were all off dealing with the other intruders.
The walls of the armory were lined with weapons lockers, most of them open and empty. Thankfully, Team RWBY's weapons were tucked away inside an unlocked locker and the team suited up. Shadow wasn't so lucky.
"Locked." Argos tried a few random numbers on the key pad, with no success. "Hey Dom, crack this thing open."
"Right." Dom shouldered past him to stand in front of the locker. He gripped the doors near where they met and pulled. The metal creaked, but even with his strength it didn't seem likely to give any time soon.
"I was thinking you would hack the thing open." Argos commented drily as he watched his teammate struggle.
"It's a locked box, there's nothing to hack." Dom fired back, voice thick with exertion.
"Move." San pushed Dom aside and bent down towards the lock. There was a small flash of red light and the locker swung open. San handed out the sharp implements within, including two armfuls of knives. He slung his sword sheath over his back and in a single motion drew his sword and pointed it at Ruby's face. No, not at her, at Blake, who was likewise aiming Gambol Shroud at his chest.
Ruby had never heard such vehemence in her teammate's voice. "You're the grandson, aren't you? They said you-"
"I know what they say." San cut her off. "Either put that thing away or use it. But if you pull that trigger, I won't hold back."
Ruby was now thoroughly lost. What did Blake mean San was "the grandson"? Most people had grandparents, it was something that guns needed to be brought into. There was that sense you get when a fight was about to start, the little tingling in the air. Yang moved up behind Blake, cracking her knuckles, Will grabbed the hilts of his daggers.
Argos put a hand on his leader's arm. "Guys, we have way more important things to worry about now. Like the prison break in progress." He said to the room at large. "This can wait for later."
"Indeed." Weiss moved in between the two would-be combatants. "There are more pressing issues at the moment."
San rammed his sword back into his sheath. "Just stay put and out of the way." He turned and left the armory at a run, his teammates behind him.
Blake slowly lowered Gambol Shroud, her eyes fixed on the door. Ruby tentatively put a hand on her shoulder. "What was that all about?"
Blake was spared having to answer by a faint booming noise in the distance. "That was an explosion." She said, her ears faintly twitching under her bow. Ruby realized they were wasting time.
"Come on!" She was out the door before she could check to see if they would follow, not that she needed to.
Morgan moved fast. She was aware that she had precious little time to get who she came for and get out. The sense of a monster looming over her shoulder put a little extra hustle in her stride. She ran down a line of cells with glass fronts instead of the usual (and cheaper, this particular brand of plexiglass was as hard as steel and twice as expensive) bars. These were the kind of prisoners who you didn't to have anything to possible hide something behind. Aura dampeners lined the walls of each cell and there were vents to pump in knockout gas if the occupant started to act up.
She had to commend the builders of the maximum security wing, they really knew their business. However, the myriad of escape prevention measures all shared one weakness. They were useless against someone outside the cell.
Morgan counted as she ran, ignoring the barrage of shouts from the prisoners she passed. Most of them wanted her to let them out, of course, but she was only here for one man in particular.
48, 49, 50, cell 51. Here he is. She took a second to catch her breath. "Hello, doctor."
The cell's occupant took one look at her and pressed himself against the back wall. "W-who are you? How did you get in here?"
"That's not important right now. What does matter is that we leave at once."
"What? Oh no. You- you're after Icarus? No, I won't let you have it. You can't make me."
"That's where you're wrong." She placed her hand on the glass and let her power flow down her arm. A spiderweb of cracks spread out from her arm, until the glass wall shattered into pieces. She stepped in and grabbed him by the collar. He struggled, of course, but he was a scientist by trade while she was a trained warrior. Even so, his squirming was annoying. She was tempted to knock him out with a quick punch to the head, but it was too easy to cause some accidental damage. Scrambling his brains would ruin everything.
"You appear to be in difficulty." A voice commented. Unlike the others, shouting and screaming for attention, this voice was smooth and conversational. Nevertheless, she wasn't here to chat. She pulled the struggling doctor out of the cell. The man in the cell opposite them spoke again. "Are you sure you will be able to escape alone, while having to carry him along with you? Perhaps you would like some assistance?"
She looked him in the eyes and knew who he was. "Are you making an offer?"
There was a hint of a smile. "A rather simple one, yes. You do that little shattering trick on my cell, and I will eliminate any and all pursuers, allowing you to escape with the good doctor."
Morgan thought it over. It was a catastrophically bad idea, probably the worst idea she'd ever even considered in her entire life. And yet...
It turned out Shadow could really move. They also liked to travel in straight lines, regardless of what was in the way. The holes knocked in the walls and floors did make it easy to figure out which way they had gone, though.
Team RWBY caught up with Shadow at a T-intersection. A sign on the wall said that to the left was the maximum security wing, to the right were the loading bays.
"I'm telling you, this was planned. This is why Morgan played decoy instead of Lance; he'd still be trapped in the interrogation room. She's after something and there's no way it's the fastest way out of here." Argos was saying. Dom shook his head. "Why take that kind of risk? With Lance and Mordred, the three of them could have hit this place and been gone before anyone could stop them."
"Maybe they needed a way inside or something, you don't know." They continued to bicker, San brow furrowed as he listened.
"Does anyone else feel a draft?" Yang asked. Ruby knew that sometimes she got distracted but wow that was off topic.
"We are in what very well may be the most secure, well-built structure in all of Vale. There is not going to be a draft." Weiss reminded her testily.
"I feel it too." Will said, surprising Ruby. He was so quiet compared to his teammates she'd almost forgotten he was there. "That way." He pointed down the left hallway.
"Morgan." San set off at a run, the rest of his squad falling in behind him. Ruby shot off after them, trusting her teammates would follow. They raced into the maximum security block and past rows of cells, the prisoners all shouting at them. Some begged to be released, some hurled vicious insults, some made… offers… that made Ruby blush redder than her cloak. She followed the members of Shadow around a corner and the noise receded behind them. They were in a service passage now; if Ruby's internal compass was accurate they were getting near the prison's wall.
They were. The first thing Ruby noticed was at the end of the passage there was a gaping hole ripped in the wall, the sunlight and wind coming in. The second thing she saw was an older man in a blood splattered prisoner's jumpsuit leaning against the edge of the hole. Only then did she see the pair of bodies on the floor in front of him, blood pooling underneath them.
Blake slammed to a stop at the sight of the scene. Her mouth worked, but nothing came out beyond a few choked sounds. Weiss let out a gasp, and Argos muttered a horrified "Oh, fuck." In front of them all, San was almost trembling. "You." He said, his voice quivering with raw fury.
"Is that any way to address your grandfather?" Mortis Manus asked.
Grandfather? San practically seethed. "We aren't family, you bastard."
Mortis smiled slightly. The expression of calmness and serenity looked unnatural on the face of a mass murderer. "Such rudeness. I had been looking forward to seeing you again."
San stepped closer to him. "So had I. This time, there's nothing keeping me from killing you."
The words seemed to amuse Mortis. "Oh? Those are some big words from a mere boy." He held out his hand beckoningly. "Shall we dance, then? Perhaps you might learn a thing or two." His outstretched hand blurred as red light covered it.
San sheathed his sword. "I swear, on my Bloody Hand, you will not leave this place alive." San held up his own left hand, a similar energy flaring into being around it. Ruby felt nauseous just looking at it. Like a blob of congealing blood, the crimson field drooped down as if it were going to drip down to the floor. Something just felt very wrong about that hand.
San shot forward, Mortis rushing to meet him. They met with a flurry of flashing red strikes, hands almost chiming as the energies around them collided. Ruby was no stranger to combat, but this was different than an ordinary battle. The glowing red hands clashed and whirled, their owners twisting to avoid even the slightest touch from their opponent. This mortal dance, with not even the slightest room for error, was so unlike anything she had ever seen before.
Despite being in the throes of battle, Mortis seemed to be enjoying himself. His smile had only grown, not even being fazed when San drove a knee into his stomach and kicked him back. Ruby was suddenly reminded of the way San had grinned during his fight with her and Weiss. The similarity was… unsettling.
San wasn't smiling now. His normally stoic features had been twisted into a snarl.
Though they were both obviously skilled, it seemed San was a bit better. The younger man's vitality was slowing gaining an edge. Mortis was fast enough with his Hand to match San's blow for blow, but San was landing successful counter attacks with his feet or free hand. This wasn't enough to land any serious blows, but Mortis was slowly being driven back to the opening in the wall. Was that San's plan, to push Mortis out into the open ground so the rest of them could flank him?
She cocked Crescent Rose and got ready to move when her path was blocked. Argos had positioned his spear to block her despite his eyes being fixated on the fight.
"Don't. Those Hands of theirs will go straight through your Aura and weapon without even slowing down. If you jump in out of nowhere, San will have to check himself to avoid killing you. And that will be enough of an opening for Mortis."
"I won't just stand around doing nothing!"
"Even if you did manage to bring down Mortis, San would just get pissed at you. He doesn't like to share his prey." His voice was jovial, but his eyes never left the duel and on his spear his knuckles whitened.
The clashing noises had stopped, the two combatants in a deadlock. San had Mortis' Hand in a death grip. Their competing bloods sparked and crackled as they strove against one another. San's other hand rose, closed around the hilt of his sword. He swept it across, a line of steel scything through Mortis' neck.
The clatter of metal hitting the floor was like a gun shot in the silence that followed.
Mortis serenely looked to his left hand, still sparking as its energy fought against San's grip, and to his right, whose crimson field had neatly bisected the incoming sword. His smile widened at the stunned look on San's face.
"I told you you might learn something." He swept his hand down. San was already leaping backwards, but not fast enough. Mortis' Bloody Hand tore him open from shoulder to hip.
San fell backward in a rush of blood. Mortis stood over him, his hands burning. He looked disappointed, more than anything else. "Such a waste. It seems the pride of the Manus dies with me, huh?" He raised his hands.
A sudden, powerful wind pushed Ruby aside, into the wall. The wind picked up Mortis and threw him and threw him backward like a fallen leaf. Will sprang after him into the sunshine of the open ground beyond the wall. Dom and Argos were already kneeling around San. Ruby picked herself up and moved to join them. She heard Dom speaking, almost panicking.
"Two? That's impossible!"
"Apparently not." Argos looked grim, glancing around. His eyes fixed on Ruby and he grabbed her cloak, pressing the red cloth into the wound. San's eyes were closed, but he was still breathing. Argos jerked his head towards the outside. "Go. Will can't win alone."
Dom nodded, composing himself. He rose and ran for the hole, pulling knives loose as he went. A chorus of explosions rang through the air as her team joined them. Blake didn't as much as pause, heading straight past them to the battle. Yang glanced down as she ran, but followed her partner. Weiss slid to a stop next to Ruby. The heiress was muttering. "Okay, first thing is to put pressure on the wound, we've done that, next comes a tourniquet? No, you can't wrap a tourniquet around the torso, it wouldn't work…"
Argos glanced between the stricken San and the battle raging outside. With a groan, he picked up his spear and bolted for the hole. "Take care of him." He called back.
"Uh, right." Ruby looked helplessly at Weiss. She knew some first aid, sure, but not the sort that let her treat gaping wounds.
"Here." Weiss pressed Ruby's hands into the sodden cloak. Ruby was suddenly glad it was already red. "We need to get the wound closed someh-"
San's eyes slammed open. He sluggishly propped himself onto his arm, despite their protests. He blinked slowly, not seeming to see them as Weiss gently pushed him back down.
"What-" His eyes widened. "Mortis." He pushed Weiss and Ruby away roughly, rising to his feet. He drew back his left arm.
"MORTIS!" Red burst from his hand. It almost looked like fire, it was surging so wildly. "DIE!" He swept the arm across the air in front of him and the flame took flight. It jumped from his hand, flying down the corridor in a burning crescent. It grew as it flew, the edges slicing through the walls on either side of it. In its path, Dom tackled Black and Yang to the ground, Will and Argos leaping into the air.
Mortis, however, had no intention to evade. He raised crimson cloaked hands and caught the scything energy. The explosion completely enveloped him. Dom slowly got off Yang and Blake. "It exploded? Since when does it do that?"
"We've never seen two Hands collide, who knows what can happen?" Will landed beside him. Oddly, Ruby noticed his daggers were still sheathed at his side.
"Focus, guys!" Argos was peering into the cloud of dust, spear held in an attacking position. Will moved beside him and stretched out a hand. A gust of wind blew away the dust and there he was.
Mortis looked distracted. He absently stared at a glowing hand, turning it this way and that. "Interesting." He said to himself. "To be able to throw the Hand, I had not known that was possible…"
San was panting heavily. The crimson around his hand surged, again growing in size. "Mortis… you bastard… I'll… kill you." He staggered forward a step then collapsed, his Hand fading into nothingness. Mortis eyed his prone grandson critically while Dom darted to San's side and Argos and Will moved to block him. Dom rolled San over and Ruby once again pressed her blood-soaked cloak over the wound.
Swords fell from the sky. Argos stepped in front of Will and deflected them with a whirl of his spear. It was then Ruby noticed two very strange things about them. First, the swords had no hilts, both ends tapering into points. Secondly, instead of obeying gravity and falling they hung in the air. With a sinking feeling, Ruby counted ten hovering swords. Then he appeared, walking out of the distant trees.
Mordred looked gleeful at the scene before him. He tsked, full of mock concern. "Oh dear, Sanguin. You look absolutely terrible. I take it I have you to thank for that?" He directed the words at Mortis.
"Correct. You have some relation to my grandson?"
"He's an old rival. Suffice to say, I enjoy watching him bleed."
"Something you never accomplished?" Mortis asked fairly. "He is a Manus after all."
Mordred's frowned. "Careful, old man. I came to give you a ticket out of here. I could leave you behind just as easily."
"We do have a debt to pay." Walking out of the woods behind Mordred, another man appeared. He had on the same black combat outfit the members of Shadow Squad wore and had a spear slung over his back. "He helped Morgan escape, now we help him."
"Do you think I need help from a pair of striplings?" Mortis asked.
"Defeating these people? No." The newcomer said bluntly. "Evading arrest afterwards? You tell me."
Mortis laughed. "Very well. You've convinced me. Let us go."
"But first, I have some debts of my own to pay." Mordred raised his hands. The swords swiveled about, ready to skewer them.
"Not my grandson." Mortis warned. "He must die at my hands."
"Heh, fair enough." Mordred cocked his fingers. The hiltless swords drew back like arrows on a bowstring.
The newcomer grabbed Mordred's arm. "No. Have you forgotten our orders?" He jerked his head back to the trees. "We're leaving now. That includes you." He raised his voice towards Mortis. "If you want to stay, you're not coming with us."
Mortis looked back over at his bleeding grandson. If eyes really were the windows to the soul, Ruby was fairly sure she could see the madness simmering in his. "Boy! Come find me again once you understand the true nature of our power! I'll be waiting." He turned to leave.
"You're not getting away!" Blake rushed at them, Will falling in behind her with his hands on his daggers' hilts. Argos pointed his spear in her face, forcing them to stop or impale themselves.
"What are you doing!? Get out of the way!" Blake screamed. Argos ignored her, instead turning to Mordred and his companion. "Orders, was it Lance? That's not surprising, you're a natural follower. The question is, who are you following now?" He spoke lightly, like they were discussing lunch plans.
Lance stood there for a long moment but didn't respond. "Come on." He turned and ran into the forest. Mordred shrugged and followed him, Mortis close behind them. Blake rounded on Argos. "How could you just let them escape!?"
Argos sagged, as if deflated. He dropped to the ground as if his legs couldn't support him anymore and ran a hand through his hair. "Haaah man. We really got our asses kicked, huh?" He looked off in the distance, seeing nothing. "It's been a long time since we lost this badly."
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