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    • CHROMA Volume I Epilogue

      2 years ago

      rin1990

      chroma_chapter_12_5_epilogue_by_kurokami


      GELB’s 2nd member. Eirlys Vanitas. Or should that be Eirlys Schwarze?

      The glass cannon of the team.

      In that metaphor, she’d be a laser cannon, made entirely of sugar glass. 

      If Gelb was to begrudgingly acknowledge his role as the father figure in the metaphoric family that was this team, then Eirlys would fit the role of the rebellious teenager to a tee. High strung, high pressure, all too proud and eager to show off her power. 

      The master tactician was no family man, but his dexterity in handling this particular case was praiseworthy even by his standards.

      The problem?

      Eirlys’ semblance, more specifically, its nasty tendency to launch her into uncontrollable outbursts. Her desire to be recognised and the failure of satisfying this desire only add to her instability.

      The solution?

      It was very simple.

      If she is too delicate for reality, too brittle for the truth, then he would bend the truth to suit his own rhetoric. Factoring the need to fill her heart with a sense of contribution -however misguided- into his tactics, he would fabricate a reality with each battle. So long as the Grimm were dealt with, the means didn’t matter. 

      The alternative? Isolate herself emotionally, lessen the likelihood of an outburst.

      …And? What would that leave the team with? An emotionless, extremely powerful ‘weapon’. Apathetic to the world. Nothing short of a sociopath in the worst case scenario. 

      With this argument in hand, he commanded his team. 

      A beautiful lie indeed.

      He couldn’t do this alone, of course. Nor did he anticipate to. From the very beginning, the preservation of this lie would require intense planning and would need leave room for improvisation. 

      Of course, this is all meaningless now. 

      It was a blunder in all aspects. Strategic, tactical, personal.

      The girl who- to everyone’s mind- was only supposed to be a sniper had showed the world a fraction of her true power. 

      It was a power that could truly destroy a battlefield. 

      If he were to classify the team, he would be an anti-personnel combatant. The same applied to Blaze. Levant would balance this out with her attacks being focused on an anti-army scale.

      In this comparison, Eirlys’ power would unquestionably fall into the category of anti-city. 

      A strategic weapon, so to speak. 

      A weapon with a radius measured in kilometers. A weapon that could level a military base with ease.

      He had only seen this power in its full strength once. It was this one time that finally united the team, and it was at that point that he began to set things into motion. His scheming and hiding, all his actions stemmed from the epilogue of this story.

      To its leader, this marks the start of his plan’s unraveling. To the girl manipulated by the plan, this was the first display of the power that will overpower even the most intricate planning of a tactical master.

      This is the story of GELB’s first, proper sortie. 

      ---

      “Mr. Jaeger…thank you for joining us today…especially under such trying times. I trust you know why you’re here. If so…you may begin.”

      “Before I begin, may I request you entertain me and allow me to speak uninterrupted?”

      The panel gave a nod in unison. 

      Formalities quickly dispensed with, Gelb began to speak. 

      “The Schwarze family from which she came was new money.” 

      Bounty hunters who got lucky. A…sizeable investment made at the right time in Atlas’ industrialisation yielded the family its small fortune. However, their first steps in life were walked as bounty hunters in Vacuo. Nothing too special either, a dime a dozen there. No notably high profile cases, but high enough success rate to keep the couple off the streets. 

      The family has since cleansed its hands of its mercenary roots. At least, nearly all of it.

      “What you’ve brought me here to explain, that energy and what little knowledge I have of it, is what remains of this brief lineage.”

      Gelb’s cold eyes stared dead ahead, unfazed by the room of generals and politicians. He spoke with a rare poetry. Concise but tactful, his explanation seemed almost deliberately convoluted. The round table of silhouettes permeated a silent irritation. 

      “In a rush, gentlemen?”

      His otherwise stoic expression slackened and allowed himself to smile. Without speaking a word, the stillness within the room seemingly confirmed his suspicions. 

      “I’ll cut to the chase then. Discounting yesterday’s debacle, my knowledge of its abilities are based off observations made two years ago.”

      Gelb remembered the scene all too well. 

      Black wings. 

      The absolute barrier materialised for the first time. 

      Extending from her back, a haze of black erupted outwards in that shape.

      Of course, now he knew that it was incomplete. 

      In an abstract sense, a set of ‘wings’ overlaid Eirlys’ own. They flickered in and out of existence, but with each flicker, they grew in size. Her semblance had yet to develop enough to sustain their presence. As the black phased back into view, all that it touched began to crumble.

      This pitch black energy surged forwards. 

      Two years ago, an all consuming energy was unleashed onto Forever Falls. 

      Gelb watched from a distance. Even from afar, he could all too clearly see the rage twist its way into her pale complexion. The pained expression carried with it a feral beauty. It bewitched him as much as her fury frightened him.

      On his order, the rest of the team had fallen back. They had formed a triangle with Eirlys in the center. Blaze had darted off, closing in on the melee. Levant was on standby, ready to disable Dust use once the rough size of the perimeter was established. 

      But of course, there was no need for any of that. 

      The grasslands immediately containing the ambush featured grass as tall as the combatants. It was an expanse encircled by maroon trees, a situation that should have given the assassins every advantage. However, from his vantage point, he had a bird’s eye view of the situation. 

      They moved through the darkness with expert silence, utilising the tall grass to taunt and distract. Flashes blinded her, gunshots ricocheted off her Aura. Time and time again, they played out their battle of attrition. Within the darkness, it was almost impossible even from his height to make out when and where strikes were thrown. 

      The sudden nature of the ambush left him unprepared. It would be the first and final time he allowed this to happen. Without so much as a flashbang or a hand grenade, he could do little to assist in the fight. 

      The young, innocent girl at the center of it all had finally understood. It was a harrowing conclusion. The evidence overwhelmingly pointed towards this answer. 

      “It’s all because of this, isn’t it?”

      The unstoppable force that she was. The immovable object that she was. 

      In a fragile, barely audible voice, she cursed and blamed it all.   

      She cursed her weakness, she cursed her strength, she cursed her family and damned its name. The mercenary times had left the family with as many enemies as it had provided riches. With her every movement under observation since her induction at Beacon, the pieces all finally fell into place. 

      From the moment her semblance was first tested, she had become a target for retribution. 

      Above her, anomalies began occurring. The maroon sky flickered and warped. Flashes of polarised light circled and danced around her. It wildly lashed out at the environment, striking the ground with each second. With each second, the local environment seemed to glow with increasing brightness. 

      The epicenter of it all erupted in a blast of white light. 

      eirlys__unassuming_past_by_kurokamirin-d

      The band of assassins lurking in the grassland found themselves suddenly standing in an open plain. The flash of light gave way to a burst of black. A circular section, several tens of meters in diameter, had been all but eroded away in that singular outburst. The absolute boundary established itself in that flattened land. 

      Caught out in the open, the bandits found themselves without cover. Their crate upon crates of weapons were scattered throughout the forest, but at this moment, none of it amounted to anything. Their projectiles vapourised before they could harm her, their smoke vanished before they could escape. 

      Shockwaves rushed through the air. Sections of Forever Fall’s massive trees crashed into the ground as their trunks were crudely severed by the mist. It lashed out relentlessly from all angles and seemingly coiled around each and every assassin.

      They were close enough to see the fear in each other’s eyes, but none had the courage to so much as move. A single flinch, one wrong step, it was all it took. Like the trees, they too would be mercilessly cut down.

      The battle had ended.

      His attempts at providing ranged support were completely unneeded. 

      “Mr Jaeger, if I wished to listen to prose and poetry, I would listen to an audiobook. We understand what we see. We just need to know the fundamental properties of this…ability.”

      “In short, her semblance erases mass and energy alike. Its activation and effective radius is completely tied to her emotional state. On that night, she found grounds for sympathy within the eyes of the terrified aggressors. As such, of the ten within the unit, none were injured in the incident.” 

      “By no means should you assume this makes her vulnerable to her soft heart. The bandit’s weapons had completely disintegrated by the time it hit the ground. She had laid her domain so close to their feet that they truly had no place to run.”

      Gelb took a deep breath, reeling himself out of the vivid memories.

      “Going by what you say…if it truly works as you describe, then becomes a matter of security. The power to neutralise Umbral grimm cannot be shielded away on the basis of schoolground camaraderie, as someone of your background and capability would surely understand.” 

      “Naturally, it can’t be helped.” Gelb gave a small smile and shrugged. He had been cautious, and that statement had all but confirmed his fears. His mind seemed to instinctively write out the dialogue in order to end the conversation. He treaded between the lines of what needed to be said, and just as importantly, what did not need to be said.

      “It equally can’t be helped that you will try to utilise this semblance to your own gain. So heed this warning. What operations you use to try and obtain her will be beyond my boundaries to comment on. But rest assured. They will all fail. What attempts have been made in the past have all come to that end. Lies and deceits only strengthen her. A Kingdom-wide covert initiative would be tantamount to war, and that girl will win.”

      ---

      “Last night, Vale was assaulted by a surprise Grimm invasion, in a scale not previously seen before. The Knights of Vale, Huntsmen and Beacon students alike all assisted in bringing an end to the invasion. To that end, they were successful, but with massive losses.”

      On a hastily set up television, the choppy footage of the following day’s news report played out to an audience of citizens. Some had lost their jobs and homes to the falling grimm, and some had lost even more. However, amidst this noise and chaos, the city’s bars and taverns echoed to the sounds of celebration.

      “Every Grimm was sighted during the invasion. In light of this, the Council states that the resources allocated to Vale was insufficient, and will launch an investigation.”

      The transition to the aerial footage revealed the true extent of the damage. 

      Citizens were treated to the rare and harrowing sight of skyscrapers severed in half, raining ruin over the streets beside them. The city’s financial center- established throughout the Kingdom as the cornerstone on which everything now revolves around- was buried in amongst a mass of fading black and red. The corpses of Grimm and huntsmen alike littered the stage of the most fierce battle in Vale’s recent history. 

      Of course, on this stage lay the haunting corpse of the largest Grimm to date. Despite being decapitated some hours ago, massive sections of its necks still remained. It was a slow dissipation that seemingly haunted Vale, serving as a reminder of the ever present threat of the Grimm. 

      “The Umbral Grimm- codenamed Hydra- was the main cause of the extensive damage. Though huntsmen and civilians alike have reported sightings of a black storm, experts on the matter have not determined the origin. However, its formation has been tied to the rapid maturity that many Grimm displayed that night.” 

      As the voiceover continued, footage from the citywide battle continued to play. Despite the heavy mood, the news station still found time to insert some honorary mentions. Perhaps they deemed it to be the most suitable manner with which to lift the mood. 

      “…Puria Anaconda of SPHR, for playing a major role in containing the Hydra Grimm threat. This was in the form of showing great defiance in face of immensely unfavorable odds. A truly remarkable contribution to the effort, in which she almost single-handedly brought down two Hydra heads.”

      The powerful voice that conducted the ceremony continued, and so too did the celebrations within the bar. The gathered huntsmen paid tribute to the fallen and celebrated their rising heroes. 

      “There has been no reports pertaining to the weapon that destroyed Hydra yet, but investigations are being carried out. There were also rumors of a bandit invading Beacon Academy. No further information is available at this time-”

      Sat around a small table, GELB and SPHR watched the news report play out. 

      Bandit, they say? I don’t know if that’s more insulting to her, or to those she’s killed.” Blaze nonchalantly spat out his remark. With whiskey in hand, he swirled the cut glass and let the orange spirit settle at the bottom of the glass. Seeing the otherwise neutral expression on Hayasa’s face twist in silence, Blaze took the hint and wiped the smile off his face.

      “Well…that’s as good a start as any. Judging from your reaction…you seem to know a fair bit about this intruder of ours. Let’s hear it…who did our little snowflake pick a fight with?” 

      “Her name is Helen Herja. She took over from me when I…defected from them…but that’s a story for another time. I was among the elite of Sanguis’ guards, and she replaced me. But she’s become even more powerful now.” 

      Hayasa’s voice weakened as she begrudgingly admitted this. Pausing to rearrange her thoughts, she sifted through her thoughts and dredged up what scraps of knowledge she had of Helen.

      “Of the Four Horsemen of the Legion, she’s been active for longer than the other generals on the battlefield. I’ve only got so much knowledge of her. Semblance-wise, it was a mystery even within the legion, she so rarely used it. ‘The Horseman of War, swayed by neither bullet nor sword, fights with the strength of a thousand men’. A rather gifted writer wrote this within propaganda, such was her reputation.”

      As Hayasa spoke, she prepared herself for the accusations and rejection for her past. It didn’t come. 

      “I see. That explains the tough armor. My spear could barely penetrate it, and that’s not something I can say has happened much before.” Gelb gave an understanding nod, but for the most part remained composed. 

      “…As for your time with them, well, if nothing else, it means you understand their next moves better than any general in the Kingdom’s armed forces will. Or at least, if you’re willing to open up to them, anyways.”

      The round table made up of the remaining members of GELB and SPHR spoke in an orderly manner. Though it was a casual gathering, the mood was notably heavier than the last time this had happened.  

      “She isn’t that much older than us, but the difference in strength is…evident.” With a heavy sigh, Hayasa broke the silence again. 

      “…And Eirlys just beat the crap out of that. Huh.” Saphir spoke with disbelief dripping from every word. “I would be less shocked if she had sniped her down, but strength on this level…”

      “I wouldn’t call it strength. Strength is something that can be controlled to my mind. It’s simply power. Unbridled and unrestrained…and something the council’s taken a quiet interest in.”

      “Well, we’re talking about something that beheaded Hydra from several kilometers away…and can’t be too surprised.” Hayasa recalled the sheer power she had witnessed just the night before. The pitch black streak that cut across the sky seemed so otherworldly to her, she couldn’t help but burn it into her memory. “You’d think she’d be prouder of herself. This kind of power isn’t something anyone can just stumble across.”

      “Well, that was what I told the council. An omnipotent semblance that serves as an absolute offense and defense. And what’s coming up next…is what I didn’t mention.”

      Pausing and sternly scanning the backdrop, Gelb’s otherwise empty expression concealed his sharp instincts. He withdrew his Scroll, laying it in the center of the small table the group sat around. He opened the team page, and as ever, the four members’ aura bars materialised on the screen. 

      In silence, Gelb then double tapped Eirlys’ image. Though this action normally yielded no results, this time, the Scroll’s screen faded into a translucent grey. A dashboard of information appeared. Information normally not applicable nor available to anyone else was laid out in a neat row.

      “…What’s this all about?”

      “This is everything to her semblance we could figure out. That incident, though it’s true that she did spare them, that was not how it ended. We were shown its power, and all of its weaknesses. Eirlys’ behavior became erratic, and her Aura drained at an ever increasing rate. To cut a long story short…this is what we’ve determined of her abilities.” 

      Gelb sighed, once more checking his surroundings. 

      “Firstly, her semblance requires both her Aura and a sufficient emotional reaction to activate on large scales. It is, after all, her most powerful defense mechanism. It activates out of instinct. In this form.”

      “Secondly, the longer she uses her semblance, the quicker she runs out of Aura. If I assume it to be an exponential increase over time, the theoretical limit is 5 minutes, being conservative. However, this places an immense strain on her. Even if she was able to fight on after burning all her Aura, she could not possibly operate beyond the five minutes we’ve given her.”

      “Hence this timer…I assume?”

      “Yes. However…the most important discovery from that night would doubtless be this point. Once activated, her emotional reactions will become increasingly drastic, getting worse as time goes on.”

      “…So that storm…and the grim all maturing…?”

      “…They’re all side effects of her emotional state, most likely.” The harrowing thought lingered over the group. Gelb’s cool reply couldn’t hide the fact that he, too, was surprised by this development. Levant broke the silence with a realisation. It was the most obvious one, but it seemed no one wished to acknowledge it.

      “To draw out so many grimm, and to cause them to evolve so quickly…”

      “Whatever happened, it must have hit her really hard…and for it to have the impact of an entire community falling apart…this can’t be something as simple as petty insults.”

      Gelb paused once more, letting the information sink in properly.

      “Given her fragility…”

      “Ahh, bullshit warning coming up. I’ve kept quiet up to this point but I cannot stand hearing this part. I’ll be back when he’s done making excuses.”

      Blaze nonchalantly interjected and, before anyone could reply, stormed off towards the bar. 

      “…Before you continue, let me ask some questions. This is all a lot to take in, after such a fight no less.” 

      Saphir spoke up, picking up the conversation immediately. The tone of his voice straddled between irritation and caution, the former doubtless not helped by the fact his small stature was called into question by the bar’s bouncers. Though the invasion was over, between learning of Puria’s recklessness, rushing back to her side and hearing about Hydra’s dramatic end, Saphir’s mindset had not changed. He, unlike the rest of his team, was still very much on high alert.

      Saphir paused, taking a gulp of coffee down and wiping the grimace from his face.

      “Why didn’t you bring this up before? Shouldn’t this be serious enough to warrant a discussion with the headmaster at least? Or Miss Stardream? You know you could at least tell us about this, and we could have helped you guys in dealing with this.”

      There was a brief pause before Gelb shot back. Levant tried to answer for his sake but was stopped before she could do anything.

      “Well then, this links right back to what I was saying. I appreciate your concern, but please, don’t condescend. Secrecy on this level was perhaps the best way forward. She was already being hunted down within the first weeks of her arrival. If word gets out about her abilities developing, what do you think will happen? It was, and always will be, a disaster waiting to happen if we exposed this.”

      “…What happens then is for the future to decide, not you. You don’t get to play god with someone else’s life-”

      “Even if it benefits everyone else’s life? Including the person most affected by this situation? Someone who I have, may I remind you, been tasked to take care of under the team system. If you can’t see that this is the most effective way of containing the situation, then I’m sorry, but as leaders, we just will never see eye to eye.”

      “You do realize this isn’t going to help her when she catches up with your act, right? You ever considered long-term well-being of this? Maybe that’s why she lost it yesterday, she couldn’t stand being bottled up for three years at long last.”

      Saphir sighed, his tone turned even more cynical. Gelb, unfazed by his senior’s remark, simply sighed and returned his own sharp gaze towards Saphir’s amber pupils.

      “On the contrary. This is for her well-being. An inferiority complex is nowhere near as bad as going down the path we saw her threaten to walk. Eirlys Vanitas is, thanks to this, the shy sniper of GELB, not the mad psychopath with a monster’s power. Of course, this is all academic now.”

      Seeing Saphir’s unconvinced face, Gelb prepared to resume explaining, but there was a distinct sense that this was only to humour his senior.

      “I’ll bring things back on course first. Then you can pass judgement for what little worth that may have. Over the past two years, we’ve been building up her world. Her short term aspirations, her way of thinking, her kill records, we’ve had a hand in shaping them away from extremities. It may be cruel to dash her dreams and reputation before they’re formed…but for a living time bomb, that might be the best.”

      “Has he finished?” Blaze sauntered back in with his deliberately obnoxious voice booming through the room. Levant brought herself to his side, helping him lay out the tray of drinks he had brought for the table. Despite the heavy nature of the topic, she still found enough within her to concern herself with Blaze’s wellbeing. 

      “…Thanks to this-”

      “Oh, so he hasn’t. Dammit. Down the hatch this goes then.” Blaze gave his disgusted response before instantly flicking the shot of spirit down his throat. Feeling a rush of fire shoot through his system, Blaze clenched his fist, though Levant was just as quick to quell this burst. 

      “…she doesn’t default to her semblance in battle, and she understands her strength. I don’t punish her for using it, nor do I subject her to any form of torture to keep it under control. I would say that, on both my part and her’s, we’ve been relatively successful with very little active intervention.”

      “The end justifies the means, right. Got it.”

      Saphir bluntly spat out his cynical words, his eyes blinked in mild disappointment.

      “Alright, break it up you two.” Rosea gave a tired sigh and hooked her fingers into Saphir’s collar. The gesture caused the fabric to tug against his neck, forcing him to back away from his increasingly confrontational stance. 

      “No need to start a scene here, we’ve all had it rough, so let’s not get worked up any further than we already have been.”

      “But I am calm, Rosea.”

      “No you’re not. Now drop the attitude. You’ve not got any stake in this…certainly not enough to pass criticism.”

      “...Fine.”

      Saphir sighed in defeat and leaned back to the couch. Rosea naturally took over the spot after the Faunus left a spot for her to sit next to.

      “Gelb…let’s take a few steps back. I don’t want to make this any more of a confrontation than needs be. Eirlys and I are close together…not something a lot of people can say. You could have told me about her condition. We are both close enough to earn her trust and know what to do to take care of her and this...unique situation she has. Haven’t you ever considered at least talking to me about this?”

      “I couldn’t risk it.” Gelb replied after he sipped his tea once more.

      “There are some people who live their lives not knowing of their true potential. In this case…I wished we never saw hers. For her sake, for everyone else’s, keeping this under wraps would have been the best way forward. But, this is no longer the case. Eirlys’ powers are not to be taken lightly. Given what we saw, given the reactions from then and now, I couldn’t have another person know about it until we’re certain. Even without this incident, I wouldn’t have let this be known until our graduation.”

      Gelb’s unwavering voice answered Rosea’s concerns. 

      Rosea paused to take in the reply, only to let out a wry smile. “…You’re nowhere as cold and distant as I first imagined. Or, is that yet another façade for her sake? What do you find more appealing, the notion of saving the damsel in distress, or the power of holding her life in your hands?”

      “…Hmm. Ignorance is bliss. Both to what you imply, and to what she is.” Gelb caught on to Rosea’s implications, and between the two, the mood lifted just a touch. 

      “That girl…is the responsibility that we, as a team, have decided to take on. For now, that’s all that matters. My bringing it up tonight was merely to let you know. If you wish to see it as a violation of your morals, then let them blind you. Her future is already being thrown into the unknown. This world is harsh…but she will punish it for rejecting her. It’s up to you if you want to see the result of that, or if you’re willing to accept this as an extreme measure that removes this risk.”

      A cold silence fell on the small table. In response to Saphir’s irrational reaction, Gelb had provided an impenetrable defense. With his disdain becoming increasingly visible, Saphir finally reacted to the stern glares his team had been giving him.

      “…Are we done here?”

      “I suppose so. This wasn’t meant to take long. You should probably head back to the hospital now.” Gelb delivered his distant answer with a small smile. “How’s the hero doing? Puria I mean.” 

      “Last I checked, out cold. What, you feel like following?”

      “Another time, perhaps. We’ll visit later today.”

      “Figures. Let’s go, girls.”

      Saphir made his way to the exit of the bar as the Faunus maids bowed and opened the door for him and his teammates.

      “By the way...Saphir…” Gelb’s voice stopped Saphir and his team right before the mat on the marble floor. “Tell Puria that she did a good job, and give her my best reg--”

      “Cut the act, please.”

      “Saphir…” Hayasa looked at her leader, mildly shocked and concerned at the sudden tone change. Rosea simply looked at him with the same unpleasant expression quietly.

      “Don’t you have someone else that needs more attention?” Saphir walked outside of the bar, followed by his teammates shortly.

      “T-Thank you, please come again!!” The maids stuttered a bit before bidding farewell to the team.

      ---

      3:12 PM in the afternoon, the weather was mildly cloudy in Vale, but with birds chirping around charred trees filled the sights of a still functional hospital with the air of bittersweetness.

      Miraculously, the facility was hardly damaged despite the major Hydra crisis last night. On the third floor’s hallway inside the hospital, Saphir and his teammates walked through room after room while avoided the equipments carried by the doctors and nurses that are transferred to tend to their respective patients.

      “Can’t believe you will yell at him like that, Saphir…” Hayasa began.

      “I honestly think it’s nothing to get worked up for. I just can’t stand people who put up false act of kindness to kiss up.” Saphir continued his path with a mild sigh. “Pretty damn sure you girls know how I feel about that before back in a few years.”

      “Still...I think you’re a little too harsh to Gelb, despite knowing what he did and all…”

      “I think I am being fair enough.” Saphir stood firmly with his opinion. “Knowing how bad my teammate had it going against the Hydra, a false display of concern from a friend is the last shit I need on my plate now in worrying about Puria’s well-being after the ordeal.”

      “Sincerity is important, we all know that.” Rosea shifted her position closer to Saphir. “You’re just concerned for Eirlys, I can see that. That’s why you are feeling skeptical of Gelb’s display of it. I think you’re right about this at least.”

      “Mm.” Saphir gently nodded, admitted without a word.

      “Anyway...do you think Puria will be alright?” Hayasa asked.

      “She’ll be fine. If she can bring down a Hydra head, she’ll make sure she lives to tell the tale.” Saphir found himself grimacing as he spoke. Somewhere within his remarks was an air of hope that she’d pull through. Or was it a sliver of doubt over the feasibility of that matter? His fatigue prevented him from being able to tell. 

      At this stage, he couldn’t tell if his concern was genuine or if he was merely going through the motions. 

      “That reckless idiot doesn’t know how else to fight. Besides, can’t you feel that distinct, bone-headed Aura of her’s get stronger as we get close?” Rosea chuckled and searched the corridor for Puria’s ward. 

      “…We’re already here. Let’s not pick a fight with her right off the bat.” Saphir stopped at a room registered as number sixty-five. The door was open, and the light by the door indicated that visitors were allowed. It was among the many green lights along the corridor, as would be expected in a ward of recovering Huntsmen.

      “Yo, Puria…” Saphir began, slowly walked right in the room with the other two girls followed. 

      Puria was sat upright. Her left arm was in a cast, while the right arm was wrapped in bandages. It was hard to make out what kind of wounds she had suffered, given how extensively her limbs and torso was bound. 

      “Sup.”

      She tried to force a smile, but the movement of her face was otherwise rigid. The magnitude of her wounds was not so great that she would be paralysed from it, but that knowledge served as very minor consolation.

      “How are you feeling?” 

      Saphir unfolded the stacks of chairs lined against the room’s walls. He took a seat, facing her directly. Puria kept her silence, be it due to restrictions placed on her by the bandages or just from pain. 

      “You did a number on the Hydra.” Saphir pressed on with the conversation. “Hell, you even made it to the news headline. How does it feel to be called a hero for once?”

      “Eh…” Puria looked at her right arm, tried as she may, she received no feedback from that limb of hers. Everything connected to her right arm remained numb and motionless despite being intact. “Well, I…can’t, if I am honest.”

      “Well, you completely overdid it with your semblance, didn’t you?” Saphir sighed, placed his hand gently on her left palm. “That stunt against the Hydra heads…I can’t tell if you’re trying too hard to be the hero or trying to get yourself killed before finals stress gets to you. It’s fine if you feel the need to do something…but at least wait for backup.”

      “Haha, it’s an emergency.” Puria chuckled nonchalantly, trying her best to tighten her grip on Saphir’s warm hand. “...Shit happens you know?”

      “You’re still the same, always making others worried for you…” Hayasa added, her expression was just as concerned as Saphir’s. She refrained from crossing her arms.

      “…and how was your time in the hospital, Hayasa?” Despite her wounds, Puria’s sharp tongue shot back at the comment almost instantly.

      “Easy now, girls. Volume~! Or we’d get thrown out and that’d be no fun…” Rosea placed a finger on her lips cheerily and the girls. Saphir sighed, rolling his eyes at the sight of the group getting into an argument so quickly.

      “So what did the doctors say about your body?” Saphir began.

      “Take a good look…or you can just ask them.” Puria gave a cheeky smile before focusing on her right arm once more. “My whole body’s still a bit numb. And as for my right arm, it might be intact, but the tendons and tissues are all busted up. Doesn’t hurt much now though…apparently it’s trauma or something.”

      “You’re hella lucky then. You can’t feel them yet, but at least you still have all your arms and legs. Given how close to the fight you were…swooping right up to a Hydra head and personally punching it down isn’t something you just walk away from.”

      “Eh, don’t worry. I’m out of action and short of a weapon, so you can save the lecture for when I get back to fighting.”

      “What happened to your gauntlets?”

      Hayasa’s stern expression gave way to a puzzled frown. Too much has happened too quickly, and her cool, distant self found it hard to keep up. 

      “One went pop when I landed on it, the other just melted away as I was fighting.”

      “At least it only fell apart after you took Hydra down…quite unlike yourself.”

      “Beauty of technology, right there.” Puria turned her head away from Hayasa, clearly not interested in yet another argument. “I’m pretty sure if I got an arm chewed off or something, I could get a robotic replacement. Then maybe I can beat your snobby ass up without it hurting me!”

      “Cool it, the both of you!” Saphir rubbed his forehead with an exasperated sigh. “Still, you’ve enough spirit in you to argue with Hayasa, so you’re basically fine.”

      “Mhm. Just tired after delivering that show-stopping crowd pleaser of a fight, thank you very much.”

      “I don’t think anyone is too excited watching you burn out all the time when you fight…”

      “Hmm…hmmmmmm…” With her willingness to speak slowly coming back to her, Puria found herself shortlisting her friends to find something to prove Saphir wrong. “Welll…I wouldn’t say anyone…Yeah, I mean, that one time we teamed up with Blaze! He loved watching me fight, so there!”

      “Well…yeah, because the both of you can’t seem to find better ways of winning fights than just throwing yourself into it.”

      “What can I say, guy lives up to his name. Fights like a blaze! That was a lot of fun…I need to team up with him again sometime.” 

      “No, no no no. I’ll have to stop you two and I’d hate to do that.”

      “Stop us? You? Maybe when you grow a bit taller, kid!” 

      “Rosea’s on my side about this at least. Gotta keep an eye on you or who knows what kind of shithole you may drop yourself into next time.”

      “Hey, you know I’m the age as you, right? Quit treating me like a baby.”

      “Who said anything about that? Just telling you to not be too hot next time, understand? I really worry for you, you know.”

      “Yeah yeah, I get it. Back off please~! Just because your big kitty’s out of town. Wait till she’s back, you can cling to her like catnip then.”

      Saphir raised an eyebrow with a forced smirk, his eyes narrowed in annoyance.

      “What are you implying there? You know, I’m more than capable of making things hurt for you right now.”

      “Pffftttt…I’m sorry…pftt-ahahaha, you? Being threatening? Ahahahaha-”

      Puria’s cackling was drowned out by the ensuing chaos. In between Saphir pinching at her cheeks and Rosea’s desperate clambering at his torso, the quiet room began echoing to the sound of the team squabbling. 

      Hayasa watched in silence as she watched on. Though she would normally have gone on a lecture as to why Puria’s recklessness had earned her this punishment, her tense expression softened instead. She could find neither the energy nor fortitude to ruin this moment with her discipline. 

      Things…sure got back to normal quickly, huh.  

      With a weak smile, she cast her gaze over to her recently reunited team. 

      ---

      7:00pm. 

      Stepping out of the bar, the remaining members of GELB gazed up to the sky. The mid-April sun lingered just above the horizon, peering through the dashed buildings and ruined mountains. Though spring was about to give way to summer, this particular 16th of April was distinctly more turbulent than preceding years. The trees rustled and the empty streets echoed to the whistling of the winds. 

      “Remarkably quiet on the streets today, huh.” Blaze opened the conversation as he stepped forwards into the stiff breeze. “I thought they’d be rushing to repair and remove all the bigger chunks of Grimm like in the news report.”

      “Look around, hotshot. See any damage on this street? Should answer your question.”

      Blaze cast his glance down the alleyway in response to Gelb’s retort. Though he found himself staring into the sun, the intense glare and sense of claustrophobia from the alleyway’s uneven stone walls gave him his answer. 

      “Completely untouched by battle, huh. I know they pay cheaper rent, don’t think better defense from Grimm invasions came as part of the contract.”  

      Gelb gave an apathetic click of his tongue, ending the conversation without so much as looking in Blaze’s direction. In turn, Blaze found himself searching the scenery as they walked towards the junction, the glum silence gnawing at him with each step. The wind had died down, leaving only the sound of their footsteps to break the silence.

      “Ahh, speak up a bit, Levant, talking to the stiff gets on my nerves too easily. Or are you filling in for the snowflake while she’s in hospital?”

      “I’m not going to be much better to talk to today. How could I, it feels like, after something so big…when we should be bringing people together, this has been the most divided we’ve ever been…”

      “…You know, I say you’re too sober most the time, but this takes it a bit too far today. Think of it this way. Irrespective of her behavior, it’s what save Vale from destruction. No matter what the future may hold for her, or for this team, it doesn’t stop today from happening.”

      Bringing his pace down to match Levant’s steps, he paused as he constructed his reply. A breeze began to blow once more. It pushed back against their bodies, the strength of the wind seemingly deterring them from advancing too quickly. 

      “I guess what I’m saying is…relax. She’s not a kid, you of all people should know that best. I’d like to believe she got her softer side from you. No point worrying about what might be, especially when it’s Gelb managing her. I disagree with his method entirely, but he is plenty capable.”

      With Gelb now waiting at the junction a good distance ahead, the two took their time to approach him. Be it due to the headwind or the fatigue from the previous day’s battle, the two found the gap between the edging to a close. As their shoulders rubbed against one another, Levant gazed up at Blaze’s towering stature. The two exchanged glances, slowing the pace of their hurried steps. 

      Though Levant felt a slight unease linger on the surface of her heart, Blaze’s ever confident gaze seemed to melt away at her muted silence. The mildly lost expression that she wore on her face soon gave way to something altogether more sincere.

      “Even if it’s already April…it sure is cold today…”

      Reciprocating Blaze’s reassuring words, Levant returned his gaze with a gentle smile. It was one which seemed more grateful than amused, one which didn’t reveal that which she held closest to her heart. The intense warmth radiating from Blaze’s skin encouraged her to shuffle in, Blaze found himself taken aback by this. 

      Well then…that’s a deadly smile if ever I saw one. 

      With the weight on her shoulders visibly lifted, Blaze snickered and let his more playful side take over once more. He suddenly stopped and stared, a blank expression filling his face. 

      “…help. That smile…i-it’s so innocent! But, precisely because of this innocence, it’s a smile more lethal than any other!”

      Levant stared back at Blaze, completely taken aback by his sudden outburst. Her gentle smile broke out into a soft laugh. For just a moment, the immense gravity of Vale’s destruction was cast away, and the two allowed themselves to play.

      With most huntsmen and students gathering in the bars celebrating their success, and those without a cause to celebrate having flocked to the hospital or shut themselves away from the chaos, the streets were empty for them to frolic and chase. Like children, Levant and Blaze scampered about the narrow streets as they played their game of tag.

      “…Levant, you can go on ahead to the hospital wards.”

      As the two finally arrived at the junction, Gelb made his sudden announcement. Levant instantly stopped to question, but Blaze continued his carefree saunter, loitering around a nearby lamppost as he waited for her. He didn’t so much as turn to look at his leader, his early childishness seemingly still not worn off. 

      “Where are you off to? At this hour no less?”

      “Resupplying first thing in the morning. I used up most the Crowd Control I had, and given the caliber of our new foe, I might just need to prepare for the worst.”

      “Really, all that talk about being concerned for her, and you’re sneaking off to those shady places again? Or are you just feeling a bit insecure, walking around without the weight of three grenades in your coat?”

      Though the two refused to make eye contact, the tone of their exchange was remarkably flippant. Levant watched the antics continue, unsure if she should take this as mere banter or a serious clash, she simply continued to wear a tired smile on her face.

      “Well, if you want to fight fair against the Legion, be my guest. I was cheating, technically, and I still didn’t make a dent.”

      “So how about you let the girl fight-”

      “We just got out of this discussion, give it a rest already. Honestly, for someone who tries so hard to look cool, you sure like killing the mood.”

      “Would the Dust prodigy want something new to play with? I’ll be enlisting your help in developing some new toys once I get back, so the least I could do is buy you a souvenir.”

      “Hmm…When you put it that way!” Levant’s expression shifted from concern to something considerably more excitable. With their disagreements straining the group’s relationship, Levant found even this small gesture to be enough to lift her mood. 

      “Oh…looks like my wallet’s going to take a bit of abuse then.” Gelb smiled understandingly as he turned back to face the pair. “Well…as thanks for pulling us out of a potential confrontation, make a list. It’ll be on me, and naturally the hothead is included in this deal too.” 

      “I’ll toss you a text when I think of something. Come on then, we’ll go see how the snowflake’s doing, she’ll be upset her boyfriend’s not here to give her praise though.”

      “Ohh, I doubt that. I don’t anticipate you two to take too long, that was a hard fight for her.”

      Turning his back away from them, Gelb made his way back towards the dorms. As he walked, he found his gaze settling over Vale’s horizon. The war-torn landscape glimmered as the sun finally sank beneath the mountains. 

      As he stepped out onto a main street, he was greeted by a small group of officers as they passed him by. Vale, after such a battle, was naturally on high alert. Despite word of intensified fortification, the winds blowing through from where towering skyscrapers once stood left the city feeling eerily exposed. 

      This discomfort, the silent tension that filled the air, it harked back to a certain memory. This final piece of information went unmentioned by all. But, while unnecessary for the councilmen to know, it was perhaps the most important memory that held this ordeal together.

      It was the last moment of her battle.

      The true reason she didn’t lose herself in the madness of her mind.

      Gelb had allowed himself to speak out. For once, he spoke not out of any twisted will of the people, but truly from his heart. He spoke of a realisation that had finally clicked in place in his head. 

      Her alias, and the reason behind it.

      “You may begrudge them for burdening you with their power and their notoriety, but perhaps this alias was your parents’ way of freeing you of it. Vanitas. Emptiness. White as snow. A clean canvas for you to start anew. They most likely had prepared as best they could for your first steps into this world, but knew they could do little more than not burden you with their reputation.”

      He had quite brazenly walked up to her and uttered those words. GELB was but 2 weeks old, he was no more a stranger to her than the bandits she had defeated. 

      But, somewhere in her mind, this reasoning sufficed. She bought into this idea with all her heart. The storm that had accumulated above her began breaking up, allowing the navy blue night to light up the battlefield. Her twisted expression crumbled, and so too did the black wings.

      “…Of course, that outburst brought about its own problems soon enough.”

      Muttering to himself, Gelb glanced up to the sky. The white glow of the fragmented moon was becoming apparent as the orange glow of day finally gave way to night. Faced with the navy blue skyline, he felt a distant but very familiar emotion cling on to him. 

      No matter how well you do, no matter how good the original intentions, only the most direct resolutions would bring out the desired results.

      In watching Eirlys’ struggle, this became the first and important lesson he had learnt. In this unforgiving world, he would confront it with his all. 

      He would lie. He would cheat. All, for the sake of survival. 

      …Such is the zero sum game that we play, everyday. 

      ---

      Footsteps echoed through the beautiful hallway of a scarlet fortress.

      Helen’s imposing form, clad in her broken armor, continued towards the inner depths of the stronghold with a cold air of confidence. Although it was unsuitable, she felt she had to maintain some form of dignity before those under her command. Or rather, it was the only way she knew how to face this matter. 

      At the end of the hallway was a towering oak door. Facing the closed entrance, Helen lightly waved aside the elite guard standing by, and firmly made her presence known. 

      The room was small, but its shelves were loosely lined with books. The lighting was best described as just right, not too dim as to make it hard to see, but not too bright to tire the eyes.  A rich aroma of fine-roasted coffee beans tickled her nose as she walked into this inviting environment.

      “Helen, what did I say about coming into my personal library without knocking?”

      “My apologies, master. W-what has become of Mistral since we last spoke?” With a rigid expression, Helen boldly initiated the conversation. Having caught sight of the folder in Sanguis’ hand before she began reading, she instantly put that information to use. It was rare, but she felt her gut compel her to speak. 

      “Ohh, Mistral huh?” Sanguis replied with her typically airy voice, her head still buried reading battle reports. “He’s fine…doing as his job description entails, I could say.”

      “…Huh…?”

      “Conquest. Doing conquest things, and ending said conquests with above average results for once in a long time.” Letting out a somewhat disappointed sigh, Sanguis elegantly ran her pen along the bottom of a page. “Ahhh, honestly. Mistral’s costing us a lot lately. Don’t mind me, I’m just tossing millions away writing off our air force because he can’t look after his toys.”

      “…S-sanguis, is this a bad time?”

      “Not really. You asked, I just answered. But really…” The Legion leader lifted her head out from the yellowed paperwork and scanned Helen’s battered armor. “That’s not what you’re here to talk about.”

      The strained silence gave Sanguis all the confirmation she needed. 

      “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.”

      “I…cannot apologise enough. But please hear me out. This is important.”

      “You didn’t think I wouldn’t know by now? Your order was so rash, the command ship asked me if there was any jamming in the area. They said they wanted to make sure they heard right.”

      Before Helen could speak up, she shrank away in defeat.  

      “You failed to invade Vale despite having the advantage of an Umbral Grimm causing havoc and being a distraction.”

      “There was a major setback, master. Things weren’t as planned because of it.”

      “You reported to me last night that there was- No, sorry. The problem here isn’t the fact that there was a specific issue blocking you. The problem is that, having been pushed that far, you still chose not to use your Semblance, correct?”

      “Y-yes, master. Embarrassingly I misjudged that child’s power...”

      “Incredible. You have one of the finest Semblance’s I’ve heard of at your disposal, and you still choose not to use it even on a potentially dangerous foe.”

      “My shame knows no boundaries, master...i-it won’t happen again, I promise.”

      “…Well. This time, fate worked in your favour.” Sanguis closed the file gently, and stirred the cup well and took a sip of the warm coffee. “All the better you didn’t. Things would have been much worse if you actually did use it.”

      “W-What do you mean? I-I failed my mission, didn’t I?”

      “Yes, and no...you did well enough. Vale’s military outpost was completely destroyed at least.”

      “…Right, and…?”

      “That little girl managed to cover up your failure for you. With the amount of collateral damage you described and little to no survivors at Beacon, surely you should know what would come from that.”

      “...I…don’t follow.”

      Sanguis smiled at the Black Valkyrie with an amused expression.

      “She unknowingly did all the work for you. She might have killed our distraction, but she did it at Vale’s expense. You should rejoice. Come, take a seat.”


      chroma_v1_end_by_kurokamirin-db5dkwn.jpg

    • CHROMA Chapter Twelve

      2 years ago

      rin1990

      Beacon’s courtyard fell silent.

      The clashing of blades and heavy gunfire paused. 

      The purple silk carpet behind the towering door had been stained a murky red. Beacon’s grand entrance lay in ruins. At the center of the grey rubble was Eirlys’ motionless body. The blood streamed down her pale complexion, her soft white hair dripping scarlet.

      Those fighting on the courtyard found themselves at a loss of words. The strength of the impact alone would be lethal, but her breathing was distinctly audible. It was a sharp gasp that punctured the shocked silence of the courtyard. 

      “W-What just happened?! Who did that to her?! I-Is she DEAD?!?!”

      A mad panic slowly gripped the students as they scrambled to determine the origin of the attack. The courtyard had long been cleared of Grimm, but this sudden turn of events left them feeling eerily exposed. 

      Amidst the barely suppressed panic, Helen’s battered silhouette appeared. She descended from above, landing with a thunderous crash. Despite the gaping holes in her armor, her very presence still managed to strike fear into the hearts of the students. 

      “W-Who goes there?!”

      Directly before her, a male student shakily barked out those words. 

      Though Helen found herself surrounded from all sides, it was hardly an equal match up. The students generally large axes and swords. In any normal circumstance, she would shrug them off as trivial threats, unable to so much as put a dent in her Aura. 

      But the events thus far could hardly have been considered ‘normal’.  

      As the students raised their weapons, she made her move. Lunging forward, she instantly closed in on the male. A single blow from her fist landed before he could bring himself to block. 

      A cool blue glow wrapped itself around the student. 

      A muffled stab followed in the silence. 

      “K-Kill her!! KILL HER!!”

      Before the shock of this intruder’s power could settle in, the panic that the group had tried to keep down finally took hold. Mounting their desperate charge, they buried their fears and raised their blades.

      The outcome was as predictable as it was tragic. 

      ---

      Eirlys opened her eyes.

      In the mere seconds she was knocked out, Beacon’s courtyard had become a bloodbath. 

      Weapons and bodies lay far and wide. 

          I-is…

                  W-was i-it…m-me?


          Yes.

                  It’s my fault. All my fault. 


      My fault. I killed them. I brought her here. 


                  They died, fighting my fight. 


      I picked this fight. To have killed so many… So quickly…


                  Thanks to me.

      Eirlys clenched her hands. A warm, thick fluid greased her touch. The same, vermillion fluid tainted her vision. She shivered and trembled. The debris fell off her shoulders. Her ears still rang to the blunt sound of her hitting the walls. Mixed in with that was most likely her Scroll’s warning. 

                  I lost my Aura. 

      They lost their lives. 

      Her flank in general should have suffered extreme internal damage from the impact, but still she prepared herself. 

      It didn’t matter how much she bled.

      Compared to the blood shed to keep her alive?

                           Pathetic. 

             I’m weak.     Still too weak.      It’s all me.


                      I brought her here. 


      All killed.     No mercy.      Slaughtered. 


                      Every.      Last.      One.

      Dark, thick mists of black encroached on her vision. Within the rattled, shaken confines of her mind, the first signs of buckling began to show. The pain, the shock, the guilt. It ate into every fibre of her being. 

      Behind the cover of the nearest wall, a dulled jet of obsidian began to bleed out. Feral edges formed as quickly as it dissipated into mist. Spreading over the length of several meters, the mist rose to cloak the interior in a curtain of black. 

      Helen began to move. Step by step, she began to put distance between them. Without breaking eye contact, Helen’s weapon began to charge. A crimson ball, the size of a head. 

      At the center of her vision, that Valkyrie. 

      At the core of all her hate, that Valkyrie.

      Her Aura, she would erase. Her body, she would break. Her weapon, she would hold. 

      At my mercy, that Valkyrie will lie. 

      Across the length of Beacon’s entrance, a barely visible incision several meters wide was made. The thick black mist rushed out over the wall, delicately avoiding further contact with Beacon’s structure while keeping firmly in the shadows.

      Covering the sea of corpses to each side, the mist veiled the massacre within the darkness. A chilling calm settled within the chaos of her mind. 

      Her attack will need several seconds to reach completion. In those seconds, she’ll be defenceless. 

      Defenceless. 

      Blinded by that hateful light. Though she would most likely be on guard now, it’s all meaningless in this place.

      No matter where she moved, what she did or how she did it, her speed of sound cannot outrun the speed of light. The Valkyrie was already at her mercy. 

      …As they were at yours.

      Helen watched as Eirlys’ bloodied body rose from the debris. Her movement was awkward, her steps uneven. But that wasn’t what unnerved her. That black mist may well have inspired awe, but the lack of primal aggression was eerie. The surrounding structures did not collapse, the black vapour did not take any form. The Faunus’ light blue eyes, the hypnotic rage that those eyes exuded still stalked Helen’s every move. 

      In the distance, the airborne Grimm began to swarm. Doubtless, it came from having witnessed the slaughter. Though Helen broke visual contact to assess her situation, a creeping paranoia gnawed at her mind with each moment she was distracted. 

      I have enough of the Opal Dust crystals to take two shots. Given tonight’s poor performance, full power seems to be the best option. Though I’m loath to using it all on this…monster. 

      A faint snap rang out within Spirastella. Underwhelming as it was, Helen strengthened her grip. The trigger had been pulled, and she unleashed her greatest trump card.

      No matter how strong your semblance is, everything has a breaking point. Let’s see when you’ll break.

      Its potent ammunition was released from its shell and into the weapon’s rotating internals. The engravings on the weapon began to glow red and black. Rays of scarlet balled up at the weapon’s blunted tip, rapidly growing in size and brightness.

      The sphere hollowed inwards. Pouring out from within, the power that could tear down a city began to take form. Spiraling, charging and growing, the energy began to overflow. Every discharge that hit the ground tore away at the stone. Spirastella bucked and kicked in her hand, the wind from each impact managed to challenge her balance. The act of keeping a steady aim was becoming a challenge, to say nothing of pulling the trigger. 

      To have brought me to this disgraceful performance…An admirable feat…but still futile. If you don’t die from the blast, the winds from its impact should finish the job. 

      IjDsXOr.jpg

      “Begone!”

      A faint click resounded through the chaos. 

      The scarlet light blinded Helen’s eyes, the sound of destruction rang in her ears. The blast barely cleared the ground, ripping up chunks and shreds of land as it shot forward. 

      Till the end, that awkward, limping figure in the distance never dodged.

      There was never the need. 

      Before the scarlet storm, a black barrier had formed. Stretching the width of the courtyard, towering the height of the colonnades, it left Helen’s ferocious attack nowhere to run. As the two rays crossed paths, the scarlet blast eroded and faded away. 

      Without drama, without further destruction, Helen’s trump card was simply erased. 

      T-that…isn’t…

      The truth stared her in the face. At this moment, she could only curse the speed at which she analysed what her eyes saw. A semblance that defended against all but wind-based attacks.

      …And even then…

      The sheer threat this semblance posed to her at this moment, to the Legion’s future all became harrowingly clear. 

      Eirlys held out her hand, aligning it with Helen’s beam. 

      Once…more…!

      One eye blinded by blood, the other blinded by light, she stood helplessly defenseless to attacks from every direction but her front. Through her extended hand, she felt the extreme power of the Valkyrie’s attack as it phased into her territory. 

      A complex image flashed in her mind. Like viewing a rapidly rotated kaleidoscope, the vision was in a constant state of flux. The sole constant in that image was a vivid white that engulfed the variegated world. The very sight of it was nauseating.

      W-what…is this…! 

      A pounding headache gnawed at her head. Her already weak stomach churned and her steps stumbled. 

      “Ur…ur…ugh!”

      The rage that brought out her power, however savage, was now isolated from her consciousness. Likewise her physical pains and her thoughts. They yearned and screamed for their release, but she was unable to comply. 

      Piling on unaddressed, this sole pain that registered crushed her mind from all sides.

      She raised her hand to her head. She placed open palm over the brightest patch within the abstract world, as though shielding her vision. 

      The calm shattered. 

      Boiling over, whatever restraints had held her down completely gave way. Like a lit fuse, a pitch black ray punched into the stream of red, tracing the beam back to its source.

      Helen’s eyes widened. 

      I...Impossible…

      A barely visible sliver of black flashed before her eyes. It perfectly traced back to Spirastella’s opening and through its entirety. Having witnessed this flickering before, she instantly threw herself away from the still discharging weapon. 

      Not a second too soon, Helen watched as Spirastella’s compact form crumble in the subsequent blast. 

      My...Spirastella...even using the one trump card for this mission…to think a child can push me this far…!

      ---

      “Shit!”

      Puria bitterly spat out her disgust as she backed away from Hydra. The armor on her gauntlets was barely holding up. By contrast, the armor on the three Hydra heads was barely scratched. In the brief moment of respite, she glanced down at her Scroll’s display. 

      Current time…10:05pm…We’ve been at this for ages!

      Without so much as checking the rest of her notifications, she threw the Scroll back into her pocket. 

      “…shit, shit, SHIT!!”

      Having been thrown around like a pin ball between the thrashing necks of the Umbral, even if her pain receptors had been shut off, the disorientation made leaping back into action difficult. The awkward angles that her limbs moved at, the thick dampness that caused her clothes to cling to her sides, the thought of the pain alone made her shudder.

      Hydra gave a hoarse bellow, readying to strike. Though surrounded from all sides, a single ram from it could fell a building. Rearing its head, the three heads aimed up at their respective targets. 

      “Now what?!”

      Her vision still blurred at its edges, Puria instinctively leaped away from the crumbling rooftop. In the split second between Hydra’s lunge and her own, she flung herself within arm’s length of the Grimm. 

      “JUST! DIE!”

      Her fist lashed out, driving itself into the grimm’s lower jaw. The impact punched through Hydra’s armor, but its immense momentum was barely slowed by Puria’s attack. 

      At full speed, Hydra’s head smashed itself into the huntress. Her torso and legs took the brunt of the ram, knocking her into the air. Puria’s eyes lit up a bloody crimson. The surprise had yet to register and her semblance kept the pain at bay. She now found herself staring down at Hydra’s head, with only a split second to pin it down.

      “…DIE…!”

      Burning more intensely than ever before, screeching louder than before, the ruined jets were pushed to their maximum output one final time. The violet blast slammed itself into the head. It kicked Puria into the sky once more. From above, she watched the aftermath of her successive blows play out. 

      The head was buried under a mountain of rubble. The building she stood on now pinned the Grimm down. Its serpentine neck lay twisted facing downwards, sprawled out over the width of the road. With one head now vulnerable to attack, the huntsmen on the ground began to shift their attention towards it. 

      Plunging into the swords and sparks, Puria speared down into the Grimm. She smashed into the armor with more force than before, cracking the armor plate. Though very aware of her gauntlet’s state, her pace escalated. Her movements became a barely visible flurry of grey and purple.

      “DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE!!!!!!”

      Each punch that landed sent white shards flying, the Grimm’s dense body trembled with each impact. Her punches tore through its armor and dug into the body beneath. The loud and crisp snapping sounds made by each fists connecting echoed as one unified roar through the streets.

      Her gauntlets shattered, Puria finally pulled her bloodied fists from the remains. The opening Hydra had as much of her gauntlets’ armor driven into it as there was shards of its bones. 

      As she pulled her arm back, readying to deal the head a finishing blow, a split second of crippling pain bit into her body. She felt the blood rush to her head as she suddenly stopped moving. Beat after beat, she could feel her own heartbeat squeeze down on her thoughts. Even so, she snatched control back from the pain and forced her feet forward. 

      I-I’m…running out, huh...but all I need is to blast the neck apart! Fuck it if my arm’s no longer usable after this, I’ll take my chances!

      Puria glanced down at Sidewinder. The right gauntlet seemed in better condition, despite being on her dominant arm. The left gauntlet looked more like a patch of torn cloth by comparison. Flicking the left loading chamber open, Puria pulled the last Dust crystal out from its slot before letting the ruined weapon fall to the ground.

      The purple crystal was crudely wedged in between the plates of her remaining gauntlet. With a deep breath, she drew her right fist back and launched forwards.

      “HUAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHH!!!!!”

      puria_destroys_by_kurokamirin-dazpztd.jp

      As her fist found its target, the thruster gave a final howl amidst the blast. A fireball began to form at the center of the shockwave.


      Beneath the orange fire, a amethyst wave rushed into Hydra’s open wound. Igniting as it spread, the rich violet flame roared as it scorched through the Grimm’s internals. Between its white armor, rays of violet shone through. It ate away at Hydra from within, rapidly becoming a purple inferno. 

      The fire scorched through the full length of the felled Grimm. Its bony armor plates soon followed. The violet flame surged down the neck. Temperatures along the street soared. The heat haze rose several stories high, veiling the sight of the dissipating Grimm from the world.

      With a primal roar, the remaining heads tugged and thrashed. Desperate to separate itself from the encroaching inferno, the main head began to charge up the energy beam. Its pale, yellow light pulsed and grew. Robbed of their vision, all lifeforms within several streets of Hydra found themselves moving within an indistinct, white void. 

      “Puria..!!!”

      Epli turned to face the glaring white light. The collapsing buildings, the purple fire and the distinct lack of Aura from her student, it sent her mind into a mad scramble. 

      No…!! No, no no…!! I am coming after you, child!! Please, just hold on!

      Epli immediately rushed back the way she came. Lunging over rooftops, diving into alleyways, the teacher flung herself into the glaring light once more. Though Hydra’s energy beam had only just started charging, the teacher could feel her impatient terror eat into her judgement.

      “Buuu….BLUAAAARRGGHHH!!! GAHHHH…!!”

      Puria spasmed and thrashed. Seconds after she managed to retreat, the last of her Aura was expended. On top of the semi-collapsed roof, she grasped at her own body in agony. Her eyes lost its glow. Seemingly possessed, she kicked and twisted herself, trying to escape the torturous pain. 

      “Arr--aarrrrggggggghhhhh!!! Guuaaa..!!”

      It hit her like a train. It knocked her off her feet and savagely ripped at her very being. Her pain receptors seemed only too eager to show her the battering her body had taken. The pain and damage done by Hydra’s ramming finally began to register. It was overlaid above the smarting from cut wounds, felt within the blunt pain of bruising and buried under the sharp pain of burns.

      Her voice could only scream for so long. The wounds she’s sustained began cataloging in her mind, though any attempt at making sense of it was pointless. Blood sprayed out from her open wounds. She clawed at the tiles, pushing through the pain to reach a safe distance. 

      Her vision grew hazy. The pain that tore at her body subsided. 

      With a truncated groan, her thrashing came to a complete stop. 

      “Puria, please hang in there! You’re going to be alright, child!”

      Epli held on to Puria’s unconscious body. Her eyes showed no reaction, nor was there any change in her blank expression.

      You’ve fought well to the end, child...I’ll be sure to get you to safety...back to Beacon!

      Epli increased her pace and jumped as high as her body can carry through with what remained of her Aura and rushed to the Academy post-haste.

      ---

      “Well then, what do you say? Worse day in Vale’s history? Seems pretty up there. Let’s make a list of what’s gone wrong while we wait, he’s not listening anyway.”

      10:09pm. In a matter of minutes, his explosive departure from his previous fight brought him to an inconspicuous apartment block. By the time he rushed up the metal steps to the top floor, another minute had passed. 

      Though time was of the essence, he still found himself taking the precaution of inspecting his surroundings as he entered. Blaze’s complaints echoed within a small room. Despite being nothing more than an unlit and sparsely furnished studio, every surface of it was remarkably well looked after. The ground didn’t creak under his steps and the concrete didn’t crumble at his touch. 

      “By the way…I know the girl’s loaded, but does she actually spend her allowance maintaining these spots? This is far too clean and prime a location for me to believe it was just left to rot.”

      Hunched behind the single large window sill, he surveyed his surroundings as he waited for Gelb to deliver the rifle to his hands. Beacon’s courtyard marked itself out within the urban landscape as an open expanse in the distance. He had only just sent his confirmation, but the mark on his palm was already glowing. With little time left, he took his attention off the horizon and waited. Within a split second, a lengthy light blue rifle had materialised from the glowing yellow mark.

      “This is really light for what it is…Hey, you still listening, or am I just talking to myself?”

      With Eden’s End in his hand, Blaze took the time to familiarise himself with the weapon. He placed his scroll beside the rifle on the window ledge. Holding the weapon with both hands, he brought the barrel to bear on the courtyard.

      “Yes, yes, I can hear you. I’m in position now, was being tailed by a pack of beowolves that know what they’re doing. The mature ones are really hard to shake off.”

      Levant’s soft voice broke up the otherwise silent studio. Her voice was ever so slightly breathless, but she still maintained her composure. 

      “Oh? I thought you’d have figured out how to deal with creepers and stalkers by now. Only difference here should be that you’re allowed to kill these ones if you catch them behind you…I’d imagine even you’d find some joy in doing that.”

      “Going around beating up people who look in my direction for too long isn’t my thing. Besides, you’d probably end up being on the top of that list. Anyway, I see the courtyard in the distance…and that red glow. Can you see what’s happening?”

      “Let’s see let’s see…that glow is coming from the person with the suit of armor. It looks pretty beat up. I can’t see anything else.”

      Silence fell over the comms. 

      “By the way…I’m not going to just let that comment slide, you know. It’ll tarnish my rep as a hero and all that.” 

      “But it’s equally true, isn’t it?” 

      “…Guilty as charged. Can we talk about anything, anything else, but this…it might strain our ability to co-operate if we continue.”

      “I’ll just keep it between us, for banter’s sake if you will. Anything else you wish to add?”

      Levant replied in her usual, gentle voice. Given the context of their discussion, Blaze found himself feeling more confused than guilty. He gave a wry laugh and wormed his way out of the awkward corner the conversation had backed him into. 

      “Yes. I wish to add…holy shit, the sky is pretty terrifying over here. Forget the giant scary snake heads in town, we’d have our hands full just clearing this up.”

      Blaze pulled his head away from the digital scope, scanning the panoramic view before him. Nevermores circled above Beacon and Griffons finding their way to the Academy from the burning city behind him. He could all too easily bring down a few from this range, but given their immense numbers…

      …I wouldn’t get away with it, would I?

      “Levs, there’s a lotttt of Grimm in the sky and I’ve got an idiot-proof, long range weapon with next to no lead time. Talk me out of shooting down some Nevermores.” 

      “Oh come on, really?”

      “We’ve not got instructions yet and they need all the help they can get on the ground. Talk me out of it.”

      On the other side of a building that let the observer watch the entire Beacon’s view from a fair height, Levant stood by herself, accompanied with no one except for pulsing red signal lights observed the main gate with the monsters continued to spawn relentlessly around the building.

      “You don’t have that much ammunition.”

      “I do, she loaded a full clip into this before she was disarmed. It’s got…enough.”

      “No…It has a minute-long cool down time-”

      “During which, I can keep the trigger pulled for as long as I want and take down as much as I want. The sky would be clear in seconds-”

      “-During which, instructions can likely come, and you’ll be sitting there unable to do anything about it.” 

      Levant gave a tired sigh, her stern voice softened.

      “You’re just doing this to wind me up, aren’t you? Stop being so irresponsible and just wait it out. Is irresponsibility infectious? First Eirlys now you…” 

      “That’s basically what this is about, isn’t it? Playing cover up for her because great leader doesn’t want the world to see it. The fact is, like how I could clear the skies if I was allowed 10 seconds to fire this thing, she could have ended this fight long ago if she was allowed to.” 

      “…I won’t get into this. I agree with you but equally, there are other things at stake. You of all people should understand, being a hero isn’t as easy as using brute force for the greater good.”

      “Ahhh, fine. I’ll save it for the serious talk that’ll inevitably happen after this.”

      “Likewise, I’ve decided. We do in fact need to talk.”

      “Aw come on, Levant. You’re still holding to me on that?”

      “Sheesh...something tells me that I won’t be sleeping well tonight.”

      “…Assuming there’s even a ‘tonight’ for this mission. Any last words, should things go wrong?”

      The conversation was swiftly silenced at Levant’s grim words. With a defeated sigh, Blaze held his tongue and lined up his shot. Though his instructions had yet to arrive, they were all too easy to deduce. The question simply became ‘where exactly to aim the shot’. 

      He centered the reticle over the patches of exposed skin peeking out of the target’s broken armor. On the high resolution display, a blurry motion danced across the background of the screen. From within Beacon, by the darkened window sill which lined its front, he could make out the details of a small group’s movements. 

      What…are you doing? Whoever you are…

      Inside the dormitory, footsteps echoed through the empty hallway as a figure rushed towards the exit. She brushed her navy hair away from her eyes. Disappointment and concern filled her heart as she took in the scene that greeted her. 

      The thick smoke veiled the grounds, forcing her to move in closer.

      Damn…What’s happening? How long have I been out?

      “Hey, you!”

      A young male student, armed with a bow and arrow called out to Hayasa.

      “You really should get outta here, it’s no longer safe in the dorm! Get your weapons and get ready to fight! Those things could crawl their way here at anytime before the cavalry arrives!”

      “I know, I’ll catch up.” 

      Hayasa calmly answered, her voice still lacking its usual fortitude.

      “I can’t contact my team yet, but I can cover you so try not to linger too long.”

      Hayasa gripped Kazehana’s scabbard firmly, trying to bring herself to step onto the battlefield.  

      ...I just recovered not long ago...I don’t have enough Aura to hold my own against any large Grimm…should they jumped in the dorm ...but it’s not like I have much of a choice either…

      “I can, but I’ll definitely need your help for the time being...hate to admit it but I’m really not in form.”

      “Well, that explains the bandages and your patient outfit. Stay close, we’ll have to go.”

      “Right. Let’s get out of here first.”

      With a nod, the young archer led the way down the hall. His light steps barely echoed as he carefully approached the blind corners of the building. Hayasa followed, her footsteps kept as light as possible given her injuries. The silence within the hallways all too easily put her on edge.

      “No Grimm’s broken inside the Academy yet it seems…” 

      The archer scanned the surroundings one last time just to be sure.

      “Come on.”

      Following his lead, Hayasa followed closely with her katana now drawn. The pair scouted their surroundings with textbook accuracy, soundlessly making their way out the abandoned dormitories and into the surrounding land.

      Between the flickering lights, the duo hurried out under the cover of darkness. The aftermath of the earlier battle littered the landscape. Countless vehicles lay abandoned along with empty vials of Dust. In amongst them were doubtless the numerous casualties of the battle. 

      Their blood splattered across the tarmac. One might even describe its uneven pattern as a piece of grotesque, abstract art. Beacon’s flanks had been secured, but at a heavy cost. 

      “Look at this mess...dammit, I wasn’t quick enough...I couldn’t save all of them in time…”

      “You’ve been supporting them from the dorm all this time?”

      “Yeah...but…”

      The archer bit his lip, the weight of his defeat visible in his eyes.

      “There were just…too many of them. Damn creatures just won’t stop spawning. I’m down to my last set of arrows. That sky…whatever happened, it did something to them.”

      As he lamented, he felt the air tremble. The surrounding trees fluttered and swayed. Though he had yet to see it, his hands had already begun moving. Clutching a handful of arrows in the gaps between his fingers, the bow was drawn and ready to fire by the time he caught sight of the incoming attack.

      In that split second, a spread of black and red swooped down onto him. 

      The neon blue tips struck home at point blank range against a Nevermore’s wings. Shattering on impact, they took effect.

      The freezing rapidly spread upwards, an ice cold chill filled the air. The frozen parts became as brittle as glass and knocked it off balance. As it lost its means to fly, it swooped over their heads and spiralled into Beacon’s tower. 

      “Hell of a shot.”

      “I’ve been doing this for a while. It’d be pretty tragic if I missed at that range. Even so, I guess there’s only so much a second year can do. Especially when only providing support fire.”

      “You can’t always save everyone...but it’s the thought of doing something about it that counts.”

      “Heh...right.”

      Peering around the main building, the pair turned their attention to the city of Vale in the distance. Their narrow view of the courtyard placed the burning wreckage of Bullheads in the backdrop. Hydra’s towering silhouette dominated all else. 

      “How are we ever going to hope to fight against something so grand?”

      “We’ve survived Umbral attacks before. If we’ve done it once, we can do it again.”

      “Hate to sound cynical, but there’s just times where things feel hopeless.”

      The archer looked around once more before continuing his way to the academy building’s main door, followed closely with Hayasa on the rear.

      “Now that we’re in the clear, I’ll have to ask. How’s the situation since the Grimm Invasion warning? Have you any intel?”

      “Plenty. Where do you want me to begin?”

      “About the time when the invasion warning went off, I guess. I was still unconscious that time...I think.”

      “Well…8:15PM was when the official alarm was raised. The invasion began from Forever fall, however, things only got out of hand when they spread to here. Everything seems pretty standard until the military outpost was destroyed. Big flash of light, apparently.”

      “By who? Any idea?”

      “No one’s been able to identify it. As far as I know, this intruder may well just be taking advantage of the chaos. That would mean they have prior warning to the Grimm’s movements though…and that just sounds…impossible.”

      A bandit...sounds too organised for those people. To invade with any degree of success…it must be them.

      “-Then some time later the Umbral Grimm popped up and…well…”

      The archer’s voice clicked in Hayasa’s head and brought her out of her thoughts. Turning her attention to the distance, she caught sight of the towering beasts. Amidst the smoke from the smoke, a hazy flicker of yellow found its way into the side of the city’s buildings.

      “That’s a Hydra. There used to be two heads, but after one was destroyed, two more respawned. There are a total of 3, all of which are even harder to damage. Mentions of a storm that brought them to maturity also contributed to this, I imagine.”

      “How did they destroy it the first time? If it worked once, this method would work again, right?”

      “I don’t have any specifics yet, but they say that the first head erupted in a pillar of fire after some purple flames rushed up its side. The network’s been very quiet for a while since then, and we’re too far away to make visual confirmation. We’ll just have to hold them off for now.”

      ...Purple flames…

      “I… see…”

      ...Puria…

      But as the pair discreetly rushed towards the courtyard, Hayasa’s attention was suddenly fixated on a danger altogether more immediate. Pitch black armor. Hazelnut hair. She felt her heart skip a beat out of sheer fear. 

      Stood in the center of yet another massacre, she saw the Legion’s own Valkyrie.

      ---

      “Do you see her?”

      Gelb’s voice rang out over Blaze’s scroll. Compared to his gentle reaction to Levant’s voice, he treated Gelb’s grating orders with visible disdain. From the magnified image, he saw Gelb positioning himself at the top of the marble encirclement. 

      “Yes. Now, headshot, immobilizing shot, armor stripping shot…what do you want?”

      “Hold your fire until the target’s ceased its attack. Aim for skin if you can. We’re not remotely prepared to bring down someone this strong…nor do we have the authority. Eirlys is holding her own…just be there to provide fire support when she can’t keep it up.”

      “…Are you serious…”

      “Quite. Tell us when you fire. Levant will follow up immediately after and take over providing covering fire after that. All the best.”

      The seconds of silence between their exchanged felt eternal. Through the display, Blaze could see the two jets of energy clash. The fight in the courtyard had become a matter of endurance. 

      This…isn’t his usual style. This tactic is far too loose…what are you getting at? 

      The courtyard shimmered. He could barely see Eirlys behind the heavy wall of black. By contrast, the intruder’s immensely destructive attack continued to lacerate the stone ground, but hardly caused the barrier to shift. 

      Just tank that as much as you can, you can do it…prove that prick wrong for me. 

      A stream of black pierced through the scarlet outburst. Beacon’s courtyard flashed that vivid scarlet for a single, final time. 

      “I’m taking the shot.”

      With a muffled blast, Blaze pulled the trigger. 

      The cyan laser beam instantly found its target. As Helen jerked away from her weapon, her sudden movement threw off Blaze’s aim. Though it hit, the beam only made contact with her leg’s armor for a split second before it overshot, freezing the ground behind her.  

      Arcing across the sky, a glittering burst of white shot over the courtyard. The colours that made up the glimmering white separated at an altitude of several hundred meters. Each colour plunged into the ground, framing Helen within an encirclement as large as the courtyard itself. 

      Barely reoriented, Helen found herself instantly dodging the ice cold blast homing in towards her. Disarmed and seemingly surrounded, she instantly leapt for the skies as soon as she had found her footing. But as she shattered the ice encasing her leg, she felt no movement from her cape. 

      It’s…not responding? 

      Helen’s glare sharpened into a gasp as she suddenly darted away from her position. In amongst the dispersing, glittering particles raining down from the sky were larger, altogether more familiar shapes. 

      A series of violent explosions rang out. 

      The ground she had stood over just seconds ago had been bombarded with small shards of Dust. Despite their small size, the explosion threw her sideways, toward the edge of the strange barrier.

      That…wasn’t just a blast. 


      There was a distinct suction from it, not too unlike a vacuum. 

      That…was shaped inwards, for the blast to knock me out?

      The strength of the blast would have easily given her concussions in her current, exposed state. Though her strength was more than enough to shrug off such antics, she found herself taking cautions against this unseen enemy. 

      As she raised her head and glanced around, a glimmer of yellow flashed towards her. Instinctively, she guarded against the incoming attack with the length of her arm, only to realise her shield had long been lost. 

      The incoming streak of yellow struck home before she could react. It shot into her armored forearm, but failed to penetrate the black plating. The force of the impact sent Helen sliding backwards. The projectile glowed a blinding yellow as she slowed, the weight of the penetrator faded with the momentum. 

      Barely lowering her guard, Helen once again attempted to take stock of her situation. The intense succession of the attacks took her by surprise. However, no matter how unpredictable, they still failed to damage her.

      No. That’s the wrong assessment to make. No matter how little damage, the unpredictable direction and almost instantaneous speed of these attacks make blocking impossible in my state.

      I’ll take this as a warning.

      Begrudgingly.

      As she drew this conclusion, a bizarre phenomenon almost instantaneously took place. The surface of the yellow projectile shifted and warped, fading away into a translucent, polarized colour. By the time she dropped her arms, the glowing yellow had faded away entirely. Though not a clean penetration, it left yet another kink in her armor. 

      Scanning her surroundings, taking the impact head on now left her just meters from the edge of the encirclement. The environment before her eyes hadn’t changed. Whoever launched the attacks had took great care to keep themselves hidden away. 

      “Tsk…”

      Discretion is the better part of valour, huh. 

      Edging closer and closer to the limits of the boundary, she wearily prepared for the worst. 

      I can either leave this field…or it could be a trap. But to remain within it, in this situation, is nothing short of suicide. 

      She passed over the marked area. 

      The machinery within her armor began to move once more. Her cape tensed up and the Dust within ignited. The reactivation was unstable, the raven wings kicked and flailed against the ground as she scrambled to escape. But, as quickly as possible, Helen thrusted herself into the air.

      Dodging and swerving through the limited anti-air fire from within the Academy, she rapidly gained altitude and fled Beacon’s airspace. As she climbed, Helen reopened her communications channel once more.

      “My lord, what’s the status?”

      An agent began with a concerned tone.

      “Change of plans. We withdraw for now. I’ve miscalculated. Tonight is not the right time for an invasion. Call off the advance and return immediately.”

      “…Understood.”

      I’ll…have to bring this up with Sanguis…

      ---

      10:23 PM, Beacon Academy.

      The intense atmosphere eased with Helen’s retreat. 

      Rushing to Eirlys’ side, Gelb carefully tucked his hands behind her bloodied back. Supporting her extremely light body, he examined her complexion and felt her pulse. The slivers of black mist did not go away, despite her Aura being completely drained. It rushed across the palm of her hand, prepared to defend against any follow-up attacks that may come their way. 

      ...Did I miss something? How is Eirlys still able to do that? Her Aura’s completely drained, but she could still do something on that scale? 

      “Eirlys...are you alright?”

      Though confused, Gelb hid it behind his concerned expression. Despite the fact she had stood her own and even drove the intruder off, she was still in a terrible way. As he looked into her eyes, he could sense her dazed vision zoning out. Eirlys’ body tensed and limped as the sporadic pain caught up with her. 

      “I..I…I can keep going…thanks…”

      “…I don’t know, you might think you’re hot shit with that fancy black stuff but that’s an awful lot of blood. By the way, I’ve got your gun here, it’s quite a piece!”

      From over their comms, Blaze’s typically flippant voice interrupted Gelb’s otherwise discreet conversation with Eirlys. With a stubborn silence, Gelb distanced himself from the conversation. Instead, he found himself focusing his attention on the towering silhouette in the distance. 

      No matter what we’ve done so far, it’d be meaningless if this invasion isn’t stopped.

      The courtyard’s ground was soaked in blood. There was no eyes nor ears left, no eyewitnesses to interfere. Gelb found himself gradually buckling to an ever growing temptation. Her immense power had already been revealed to an unknown threat. 

      Doubtless, there would have been witnesses throughout their fight as well. 

      Using that power to end Vale’s struggle would be the best way of salvaging the situation. 

      It would go against everything he had done thus far. It would place the spotlight firmly on fragile girl he held in his hands. Certainly, in saving Vale with this power, his command could lay waste to her future.

      But as a blinding yellow glow tore into Vale’s skies once again, he found the command creeping up his throat. Time was well and truly running out. 

      “…Eirlys, can you still fight?” 

      The bloodied girl gave a feeble nod. She stumbled and staggered onto her feet, fighting off the immense pain from her torso. Though they both knew that she was far from ready, both Gelb and Eirlys accepted this weak affirmation as all that was needed. 

      “Gelb, be reasonable, she’s not got any Aura left to fight with-” 

      Before Levant could finish her sentence, Gelb muted her distant protests with his words. 

      “This is the most effective way, and you know it too. Those swords and bullets, those mechs and huntsmen, they’re all out of its league. Hydra just fired again. Soon, there won’t be anything in Vale for us to save.” 

      Turning back to Eirlys, Gelb’s exhaled and gave the order. Though he spoke with his typically cool voice, Levant could hear the uncertainty within his words from within the static.

      “Hydra’s in the commercial district, and it needs to be put down before it causes any more damage. Take it down by any means necessary…Semblance included. In its current state…I can’t say for certain if targeting one specific head will be enough.”

      Eirlys followed Gelb’s gaze out over the forest and into the city. Even from afar, Hydra’s silhouette remained an awe-inspiring sight to see. It towered over the cityscape, setting it ablaze with its breath. Showered by barrage after barrage of artillery fire, the flaming ruins that encircled the Grimm launched its counterattack. However, as the batteries reloaded and the smoke began to clear, it was all too apparent how ineffective it was. 

      As she watched the destruction unfold, Eirlys felt each and every strike from Hydra pound at her heart. She winced at the sight of the carnage. The headache that crippled her took hold once more. The scene of Hydra’s destructive beam attack looped infinitely in her mind, each time more vividly than the last. 

      The countless deaths that would result from this fight, how many would have made a difference? 

      How many of them would have been in vain, saving something or someone that would only be destroyed or killed in the next invasion?

      How much more time must I waste…there is no other option.  

      Though it only lasted a split second, the thought was enough to sour her mood and twist her fragile expression. Further images flashed into her mind. They were the blank, cold faces of those who made up the graveyard around her. The vanity of their struggles, the helpless sadness they must have felt in their last moments trampled on her guilty heart. A cold chill ran down her back from the touch of her own blood. 

      The dying rage in her eyes lit up once more. Sharply spreading her wings, she kicked off the ground as best she could, bringing herself higher and higher into the sky. As she rose, her semblance bled off her arm. The single bat wing took shape, its pitch black form pointed itself in Hydra’s direction. 

      Eirlys steadied herself as best she could. Even the slightest brush from the winds caused her to wince in pain. The wounds she took from being thrown into Beacon made the act of breathing a task. Deprived of air, blinded by her blood, she found herself yielding to the unbearable sadness in her heart as each second passed. 

      Her vision was fading. In the center of her darkening world were the snaking necks in the distance. Before she collapsed, she unleashed her full fury upon the Grimm.

      A black blaze cut across the sky. 

      86VYmPl.jpg

      Through shells, buildings and armor, the ray sliced through all that stood in its path. In that moment, the battle was over. It was as awe inspiring as it was silent and instantaneous.

      In the distance, a muffled crashing boomed through the night. The towering shadows collapsed. Surrounding buildings caught in the blast followed. Even from afar, the mist from Hydra’s disintegrating body could be seen. Its distinct upward stream set itself apart from the rain of debris that filled the airspace. The ground trembled as chunks of building and Grimm crashed into the streets. 

      As the blast flickered and faded, Eirlys staggered and faltered mid-air. Her gentle descent only lasted for a split second before darkness engulfed her vision. Gelb instantly darted forward, preparing to cushion Eirlys’ fall. 

      Despite the altitude she fell from, Gelb caught her without issue. Cradling her in his arms, he took the moment to brush her messy hair aside. 

      “D-did…I do well…?”

      Eirlys’ feeble voice took hold of Gelb’s attention, but she had passed out by the time he glanced down at her. He gave his belated response, lightly touching her bloodied face with a restrained fondness.

      “Gelb? …What’s that about?”

      From behind them team, a stern voice called out to them.  

      Between Hayasa and the archer, the pair exchanged the same, puzzled glance. Having arrived on the scene just seconds ago, they rushed up to Gelb’s side. 

      Before the students could begin to talk, the sound of an approaching jet engine broke up their conversation. A white Bullhead, marked with a red cross on its side, rapidly descended into the courtyard. With its engines smoking and its hatches wide open, its medical crew readied itself to rush into action. In among the medics, an unconscious Puria was laid out on a stretcher and carried off into Beacon.

      “Children! Are you all okay?”

      Seeing the students’ concern grow on their faces, she paused and cleared her throat.

      “Don’t worry, she’s just overworked herself...as usual. She’ll live. I…see, there’s been…quite the tragedy here. Grimm attacks?”

      “…Th-they…were killed by an intruder.”

      Among the emerging students, they stuttered and paused as the cold truth was eventually spoken. A heavy silence followed. It was hard to continue with the topic, but any emotion besides sadness felt painfully out of place to express. Those present found themselves struggling to begin speaking of any details. 

      “Did any of you recall how she looked like?”

      Hayasa finally broke the silence unable to hold her curiosity any longer. 

      “…N-no…we only lived because we were indoors at the time…”

      “More to the point, Hayasa, you’re not cleared to fight. What were you doing-”

      Before Epli could finish her sentence, the Archer stepped in.

      “Beacon was under attack. She had to defend herself and I managed to get her out before things got worse. Nobody knows if the dorm would be next, and this was simply to prevent any further losses.”

      A stern silence fell once more. Epli paused, still trying to evaluate Beacon’s current situation. Seizing this opportunity, Hayasa pressed on with her questioning. 

      “Please…can anybody tell me about this… intruder?”

      “S-she uses a strange…sword. W-we really can’t tell what it was. When she arrived, her armor was already in very bad shape, but she still fights like a monster...however, apparently we had a monster of our own…”

      Hayasa listened bitterly. Discussing this topic only brought up the memory of the Valkyrie’s immense strength and reminded her of her humiliating defeat. 

      ...Helen Herja…You will be stopped…I will stop you…

    • CHROMA Chapter Eleven

      2 years ago

      rin1990

      Stop me if you’ve seen this before…


      Erupting into the sky, a blanket of black smeared itself over the night. With the observation tower at its center, a single pulse of energy spread over Vale. Soundlessly, it swallowed the clouds and cloaked the moon. The battlefield darkened as the moon’s white radiance was swept away.


      Street lights cut. Signals were lost.


      With the observation tower at the center, every electronic item within its radius was shut down. The only light permitted to the affected areas was the scarlet glares from Grimm.


      Shimmering, flickering, the darkness that clouded the sky began to shift. Spiraling and receding, the otherworldly black expanse formed a towering storm. The area just above Eirlys’ shoulders formed the eye of this storm.


      The silent outburst was met with a rousing roar at ground level.


      In the distance, a thin streak of violet soared into a towering mass of black. It was familiar enough, yet what her eyes saw, her brain could not decipher. Against the grim black backdrop, the arcing afterglow became the focus of her attention.


      It…would be so easy…like this…


      The swarming mist by her shoulder tensed and compressed, undulating with her rapid heartbeat. Her eyes tracked the purple afterglow. It impacted and coiled around the black, writhing mass, but never seemed able to do more than distract its movements.


      Is that the best our “record holder” can do…?


      Eirlys’ eyes focused as best they could onto the violet ray’s movement. As she did, the mist pouring out into the surrounding realigned and took shape. It was a large, black haze, in state of constant flux. Like a flame, it flickered and licked at the surroundings. Like electricity, it buzzed and kicked.


      That…won’t do…that weakness…would never do.  


      But then again, who am I to speak?


      I’m part of the ‘weak’, aren’t I?


      A souring disgust tore at her heart. Though the words amounted to no more than idle conversation, now they only served as salt kicked into her pride’s wounds. The repulsion she felt was all too vivid.


      “Generic trash.”


      Those were the witch’s words, weren’t they? If that Valkyrie had heard…she too would agree.

      Or perhaps, in that exchange, she had already spoken.


      The rabble. A statistic, powerless to the truly strong.


      Kicked aside to take meaningless, ‘support’ roles.


      Should I be glad, then? Is this what it is? I should feel gratitude, to be graced by her shield?

      Compressing the otherworldly energy into a paper-thin surface, the shapeless pane began to take form. The black mist criss-crossed her body, her Aura’s lucid purple corrupted into a distinctive black, one which marked itself out from her semblance’s wild dance.


      S-something l-like that…


      Eirlys grit her teeth, clenched her fists and closed her eyes. Without Vale’s chaotic skyline in the background, she could truly pay attention to every detail of her outburst.


      The anger, the bitterness and the self pity.


      The outrage, the sour sadness and the self-doubt.


      From every corner of her mind, from every fibre of her body, she could only reject the Valkyrie’s conclusion.


      How could I possibly accept something like that?!


      --


      The sky was smeared in black.


      Epli watched as light left Vale. From the industrial district, street by street, the battlefield was plunged into darkness. An eerie silence fell as stomping mechs ceased to move. Weapons dependant on electricity shut down. But it meant little compared to the chilling cold that ran down her spine.


      In the darkness, she felt the grimm’s strength grow. Their snarls echoed through the streets, the ground cracked to their rapid growth. The negative energy that they fed on had been smeared across the sky.


      Such tremendous negative energy...is the main head emerging? No....this is...I am fairly certain that this is Aura I am sensing…!


      The expanse of black began to swirl. From the gaps in its coverage, brief rays of moonlight lit up the darkened battlefield. The power she sensed was not driven by despair nor fear. It was a display of power without an audience, a brash and ill-timed burst of anger. It left her confounded. On this scale, it was too early for meaningful analysis.


      This much power…is it Hydra…or that monster again?


      At this point, she wouldn’t know what she’d fear more.


      At this point, she couldn’t afford to fear. From all around her, smears of black began to form. In alleyways, on the crumbling roads, the same viscous substance that dripped from Hydra began to flood the streets. From her vantage point, she saw the reflective sheen encroach and corrode its way into the commercial district’s heart. The distinctive stingers from Deathstalkers rose from the ground.


      Two…four…six…no…


      Epli paused as the futility of her actions dawned on her. It wouldn’t matter if she knew how many Deathstalkers were in the distance. Their spawning was as relentless as the huntsmen’s killing. Prior to this point, for each grimm they killed, two more would spawn. Now…those two Grimm would have spawned before the first had been killed. Out from the black mud, the harrowing orange glow lit up Vale from every observable corner.


      On the street below, the prowling packs of grimm began reacting to the sudden change in atmosphere. Flinching and growling, their bony spinal armor further developed. Within the space of several seconds, the ground trembled to the sound of the grimm’s rapid evolution. The black of fur was all but covered now by large, bony plates of armor. Freshly spawned Alpha Beowolves and Ursa Majors joined the march. Claw by claw, they hauled themselves out from the sludge.


      Puria…


      Epli squinted, focusing her attention on her student as she confronted the towering mass of black and white. The relentless assault on Hydra was all that kept it pinned down. With no concrete defense between the Grimm and Beacon, confronting the Umbral here and now would at least buy enough time for Beacon to increase its defenses.


      Though the situation had compounded itself and though Hydra continued to drip Grimm from its skin, the building ledge kept Puria at a safe height. The impromptu tactic here seemed simple enough. Puria defaulted to taking Hydra head-on, her stubborn bloodlust launching her into combat without any prior negotiation. All other huntsmen divided themselves between off lesser grimm and attacking from the Umbral’s blind spots.


      However…


      In her ear, she heard equally harrowing words ring out through the static.


      “The base had fallen, military support is now firmly focused on evacuation.”


      With that message in mind, she stood and re-evaluated the state of the battle. The street they stood on had become the midpoint between the black storm in the distance and the incoming waves of Grimm. As grimm approached her, they grew and matured. The more grimm approached, the more readily their large numbers adapted.


      If Puria takes too long…forget the Deathstalkers, airborne grimm of any kind would complicate matters.


      Epli began to shape the metallic cube, but she knew she was merely going through the motions. No single huntsmen could hope to dent these numbers on their own. Her evaluation of the situation hardly mattered at this point. Vale’s fate, at this rate, was inevitable.


      ...This…whatever that storm is…to spawn Grimm on this scale…is this an Umbral’s true power?!


      From four stories high, the metallic cube shimmered. Epli had abandoned the idea of singular, elaborate attacks to mount offensives. The sound from launching such an attack would only alert the surrounding Grimm of the open space now available for them to rush into. Instead, she focused on re-establishing a line of defense. From the cube, bursts of grey shot out. Each shot found its target, though some failed to penetrate the Grimm’s unprotected fur.


      The wolfpack matured Grimm had wised to her attacks. Dancing between the main street and alleyways, dodging and diving behind buildings, they exploited the gap between the huntsmen’s strikes to push on. Sooner or later, the Grimm would find their way onto the rooftops.


      The only saving grace here is we still maintain air superiority…but even that’s-


      A harrowing roar boomed through the streets.


      At extremely close proximity, a burst of heat scorched through the chilling despair.


      Epli felt the shockwaves in her skin, the side of her body facing this eruption instantly warmed up. The blinding purple light tore into the landscape, its vicious flame only matched by the savage roar that followed. It inspired as much confidence within Epli as it did cause her to worry.


      ---


      Puria’s crimson eyes glowed intensely.


      Her breathing sharpened with each breath. Masking the agony from the scalding heat with increasingly primal growls, she clenched her aching fists and backed off.


      Stood several stories above ground, she allowed herself to take stock of her situation for the first time since she launched into her assault. Epli was twenty or so meters away, and she was easily the next closest huntsmen to her.


      The grey asphalt was swamped in black, white and red. The combined firepower of the dozen huntsmen on the roof was barely enough to keep the Grimm down. She looked upon this sight and grit her teeth.


      Oh, to pass up this opportunity would be criminal…No matter how much you armor up, these fists can easily take you small fry down!


      Even in the brief glance she took, her instincts began mapping out a route for her. With a regretful grunt, Puria turned her gaze away from the horde. The sight alone had rekindled her bloodlust. She flexed her aching fists, vectoring the thrusters in her gauntlets as she did. The armor plating that protected her fingers were worn thin from the combat.


      “…But a task…is a task!”


      With a flex and a hop, Puria launched into the fray once more. Her gauntlets propelled her down into the sea of Grimm. Her streamlined form found traction as the sole of her shoes dug into the swarm. As efficiently as she could, she pointed herself towards her target. Sidewinder raised to the sky, she kicked off once more.


      The thrusters flared open. Vectoring the immense flame away from Puria, the fire caught on the dense black masses by her feet. One after another, the sea of black began to light up violet.


      “DIE, YOU OVERSIZED PIECE OF TRASH!!”


      Puria charged towards the Hydra’s towering neck. Her ascent was marked by the purple flame arcing into the sky. Against its exposed black scales, the purple blaze shimmered and warded off the giant Grimm. It reared its head, backing away from the heat.


      Reaching the peak of her climb, Sidewinder’s afterburners shut down. Puria arced her back, grit her teeth and let her body fall. At an altitude above Hydra’s head, she prepared to land her strike.


      The rising air beneath her wreaked of Dust, the surroundings were warm from the Dust’s combustion. Despite the strange sky, she focused her eyes on the Grimm before her. Tightening her fists, a dim whine pricked at her ears. Her aim was set, all that was needed was for the afterburners to deliver the blow.


      The moment that seemingly hung for eternity ended.


      The dim whine became a roar. From a distance so close she couldn’t hope to miss, the purple streak brought itself down on its target. Her gauntlets tore into the side of Hydra’s unarmored lower jaw, her speed carried her through the strike. A black haze burst out from the other side. Within the flurry of black and red, Sidewinder’s signature purple flame shone through.


      Crash landing onto a nearby rooftop, Puria found herself isolated within the debris. With scarlet eyes surrounding her, she grunted and hauled herself out. The pain of the impact was taken care of by her semblance, and physical damage was soaked up by her Aura.


      In other words…I’m still golden. Once or twice more I reckon, then this big bastard’s done!

      Bringing her eyes to bear on Hydra’s writhing body, she turned her gaze skywards. A vivid red glow leaked out from the gaping holes she had punched into its head. Its flat black scales regained its shimmer. As the liquid dripped off its body, the black teardrops began to take shape. Some grew claws, some formed tusks, others spread their wings and circled the sky. As each second passed, Hydra recovered its army.


      ...okay, what the fuck gives now?


      Puria stared in awe. In a span of several seconds, there efforts had been completely reset.


      You’re fucking joking…And they’re born Alphas and Majors too. Brilliant.


      Hydra was still wounded, but griffons now circled the height of its neck. The formation meant that Puria could no longer launch herself at Hydra’s head without interference.


      Tsk…since when did they learn to be team players?!


      Stood facing the formation of grimm, she grit her teeth and stepped forward. Puria flexed her muscles and reloaded her gauntlets. The light clatter of the emptied canisters hitting the ground rang out across the roof.


      The thrusters powered up once more. Directing the flow toward the sky, the violet jets lit up rooftop as she advanced to the building’s ledge. Kicking off the ledge, she launched herself towards Hydra once again.


      As predicted, the flock of Griffons dived down onto her line of fire. The ensuing melee rapidly culled the grimm’s numbers. Puria’s shin armor blunted their beaks, her fists crushed their necks.


      Despite her strength and speed, the numbers refused to drop. The airborne grimms viciously protected its territory, her upward momentum was rapidly blocked by the rushing air of the swarming Griffons.


      Patch by patch, the swarm wrapped itself around the purple blaze from every angle. As they fell to the ground, the grimm increased their numbers, ferociously pinning Puria to the ground.


      C-rgh…come on now, don’t make me waste time on small fry…!


      From within the pile of grimm, a purple burst began to charge up. The blinding light cut its way through the swarm. What wasn’t blasted aside by the energy was set alight by the heat. The Griffons scattered. Feathers ablaze, their mad scramble to the sky lasted mere seconds before losing flight capabilities. One by one, they spiraled into the nearby buildings as the fire made short work of the grimm’s decaying body.


      Puria raised her body from the tarmac.


      Drip.


      Drip.


      With each step she took, her blood stained the surrounding road. The clawing and pecking had left her body in an extremely bad way, but without so much as flinching, she carried on. Hydra’s newly spawned defenses were quick to enter the fight. Its wounded jaw was now left hanging open and the slick black liquid had stopped forming on its scales.


      Its head reared back, Hydra swiped and bucked as it dodged the hail of incoming fire from all sides. Now unable to close its mouth, the huntsmen’s tactic shifted, revolving around focusing fire into that opening.


      Right then…let’s try this again.


      Flipping and throwing herself up the rubble, Puria hauled herself back to higher ground. The streets had already begun filling up with grimm once more. Her bloodied fingers found traction on the debris, her legs kicked against the crumbling wall and launched her over the ledge. Her landing was unsteady. Though she didn’t feel pain, her movement was made awkward by the wounds.


      The rooftops ahead roughly formed a path back to Hydra. Though she was but some hundred meters away, the crowded battlefield of each rooftop complicated matters. With Hydra at the center of her vision, the surrounding firefight was but a blur to her.


      …Actually…better idea. I knew hanging around freelancing drunks would pay off one of these days.

      Her bloodied fingers slid into her inner jacket pocket. From it, she drew out a flat black cylinder with chalk white markings. Along its shaft, precisely milled holes ran down its length. The markings had long since become illegible, but she knew its strength well enough. Its appearance was a world apart from the Dust crystals she was used to. So to was its lethality.


      “2 Stage Explosive”, was it?


      Gripping the device in her hand, she adjusted her position and aligned her gauntlets’ thrusters with her target. As she launched into a sprint, the surrounding grimm reacted. One after another, they broke free of their fights to strike at her. She vaulted over the first building, her charge propelled by her gauntlets’ jets.


      The beasts immediately leapt towards Puria.


      Vaulting and dodging the overwhelming number of Grimm, she fought to keep her speed up. The duration between her steps widened as each lunge took her further. She soon outran the grimm’s reaction times, leaving them no time to obstruct her charge.


      The opaque white of Hydra’s spinal armor filled her vision. In a single lunge, she made the seamless transition onto its back. She quickly regained her momentum, her feet quickly finding the traction to send her lunging forward. She followed the arc of Hydra’s back, the steep incline to the top of its head only took seconds for her to cover.


      The bony white horizon dipped away to reveal the night sky. Puria dug her feet into the armor, her hands armed the weapon and she readied herself. Slowing as best she can, what momentum that remained from her charge sent her over the edge, face to face with Hydra’s head.


      Her stop was brief. Puria kicked off Hydra’s hanging jaw as soon as she had released the weapon. The hiss of pressurized air being released filled her ears, an even more potent stench of Dust spread into the surroundings. This Dust was a fine, dulled black. Like confetti, the area around Hydra’s mouth sparkled.


      As she fell to the ground, the countdown ended.


      The sparkle disappeared.


      In its place, fire.


      Erupting from within, a concentrated wave of fire forced its way out from the Grimm. From her distance, she could see the fierce orange tinge eat its way through Hydra’s black scales. It ate its way out, thundering against its thick hide and armor plates. The intense pressure from the blast ripped through the armor like paper. Within the brief exchange, the towering black mass was reduced to shards and cinders.


      ---


      From the receding, condensing black mist, a glowing pair of blue eyes lit up the darkness.

      With a heavy breath, Eirlys spread her wings open and scanned the sky.


      She could still taste the Valkyrie’s aura in her mouth. The more she spent time attempting to rationalise the hateful flavour, the more the black mist surrounding her began to take shape. From where her wings protruded from her top, the very same mist leaked out and mixed with its surrounding darkness. It bled out and gathered behind her, offset slightly to the left.


      The mist spiralled and shimmered. Its shape was simple. Modeled crudely after one of her wings, the trail of black positioned itself above her left shoulder. Though double the width, it retained otherwise similar dimensions to her wing.  


      eirlys_using_her_semblance_by_kurokamiri


      Like a spark, her emotions brought the wing into life.


      The moment it became opaque, it unleashed its attack.


      Some 5 kilometers away, Helen’s supersonic approach to Beacon was suddenly interrupted. The rooftops beneath her had become the target of something. Like a spotlight, the area caught within the light began to glow. Before she could adjust her course, the strike had landed.


      In a line stretching from 5 kilometers behind her to the mountain in the far distance, everything within the light had vanished. Without a sound, without debris, sections of the evacuated buildings simply ceased to exist.


      Whatever it was, it had missed.


      Or perhaps, it was a warning.


      The Aura in the vacant air beneath her spelled out the origins of this attack. Helen brought her advance to a halt, quickly allowing her eyes to analyse the trail of destruction. In the distance between herself and the observation tower, something had rushed after her.


      She was too exposed. The higher she flew, the more disadvantageous it would be for her. She could see the mist approach. It was a world away from her speeds, but to turn her back against this threat would be suicide. The raven wings folded back and Helen instantly dropped beneath the roofline of the street.


      At ground level, there’ll be enough huntsmen and commotion to keep her from indiscriminate firing. No matter how powerful your trick shot is…huntsmen will always be huntsmen. Soft to the end.


      Now hovering two stories above ground level, Helen prepared herself to take the charge head-on. The streamlined mist receded. A pair of light blue eyes fixed onto Helen’s position. The trailing mist twisted and took shape as a single claw. Its size alone was twice that of its owner, and fully formed seconds before impact.


      Helen’s instincts acted. She easily slipped past the hasty slash and found herself between the mist and her charging aggressor. She had one, rapidly closing opportunity. Clenching her fist, the Valkyrie instantly took aim and threw her punch. Even as her armored fist moved forward, she found herself second-guessing the strength she employed.


      This child’s doubtless thrown her life my way with little to no Aura remaining…this will be a bloody sight. The blow would easily crush bones, her jaw would almost certainly be destroyed. At which point, death would be preferable to the pain.


      A chilling crack rang out. The distinct sound of Aura dissipating accompanied the impact. The pair lost their balance in the collision, bringing the battle down to ground level. Eirlys stumbled as she attempted to regain her footing.


      Helen staggered back.


      Staring down at her arm, she slowly shifted her fingers and felt the air. A rare alert sounded in her helmet, one she hadn’t heard in far too long. Unfitting a time as it may be, it left her dumbfounded. However impossible it seemed, the reality had dawned on her.


      The cracks, the dissipating. They were from her fist.


      Both her Aura and her armor had been penetrated in that single instance.


      Helen collected herself as best she could and shifted her exposed hand behind her. Her eyes began searching the Faunus before her, quickly finding the answer she sought.


      The black mist had materialised before Eirlys’ chin. It was a broad patch, easily covering her jaw and neck. Helen’s armor had hit the mist and as with the buildings, simply disintegrated. As quickly as it appeared, its form was returned to the darkness.


      Tsk. So she anticipated this?


      Before Helen could continue, the mist shimmered its lustrous black. At point blank range, the obsidian ray was unleashed.


      Helen dived for cover. She could barely raise her shield or spread her wings. The first flicker flashed out. The reflective surface of her shield dulled against the strange light. In the fraction of a second Helen used to move away, Eirlys’ attack took effect.


      Like sand in the winds, the shield crumbled.


      Her armor’s unrivaled integrity was gone.


      Helen gritted her teeth and shrugged off the loss.


      In that instance, she had sidestepped the attack. Once more, she was presented with a closing opportunity to strike. Sharply digging her feet into the tarmac, she tensed her legs and raised her weapon. Rapidly rotating her body, she pointed herself at the source of the attack. Her view was blocked by the black light, but it didn’t matter.


      Within the very same instance, Helen counterattacked.


      Though they stood a hundred meters apart, that distance meant little to Helen’s speed. At speeds that could pass for teleportation, she had positioned herself by Eirlys’ side. The tarmac cracked beneath her feet as she was violently brought to a stop. Spirastella drawn back, Helen’s amber eyes fixed themselves onto the student, aiming her strike squarely at her head. As the blow closed in, the very same black mist began to form around Helen’s target. It covered the entirity of the impact point.


      W-what…Her body’s only just started moving, but it’s already there?!


      Helen violently aborted the attack, sharply veering away from the wisps of black. Spirastella’s ornate barrel tip grazed the mist, too close to avoid contact. Like the shield and armor, all that came into contact with it dissipated.


      The shockwave from Helen’s movement finally caught up with a sharp boom. Eirlys stumbled back against the force of the wind, her feeble phsyique unable to withstand the sudden gale. Between the two, a gap of several meters had opened up.


      Helen paused as she collected herself. The fight had lost its momentum and head on attacks were clearly not the way forward. She examined Eirlys’ glowing blue eyes, searching the girl for weaknesses, for any information at all. The longer she looked, the more outraged she became. The light blue eyes glaring back at her held no fear nor courage. It was an indecipherable combination of emotions she could only describe as rage. It sent chills down her spine.  


      “You…! This negative energy!!? It’s coming from YOU?!”


      In response to Helen’s observations, the hazy mist atop Eirlys’ shoulder tensed.


      It took shape as a wing once more, spreading to their full width. The area around it began to shimmer, as it would with a heat haze. Helen’s words had only served to further increase the energy output. The mist encompassed her torso and masked her features in black.


      “You think you can just walk away from me?! YOU THINK I AM JUST GOING TO SIT HERE AND TAKE THAT?!”


      Though damaged, Spirastella was still more than capable of a devestating attack. But Helen had no time to prepare. The fight’s momentum picked up as quickly as it had slowed. The wing fired off its next attack.


      Helen was instantly put on the defensive. Standing directly in front, she had little to no chance of avoiding the almost instant energy burst. However, the brief exchange hadn’t been in vain.


      Her reflexes aren’t as quick as the mist. She must have seen me as I turned…so an attack launched from her blindspot could still work!


      Helen dodged and weaved down the street, finding cover in the shape of alleyways and Grimm. The strength of the incoming fire was excessively aggressive. It cut through structures and caused needless collateral damage, all in the name of pinning her down. Seeking refuge in the sky was suicide, and the swarm of grimm and huntsmen did little to conceal her presence.

      As confused huntsmen flung themselves away from their fights, the street began to clear. Though Helen had opened the gap, she couldn’t break line of sight. Every inbound attack struck closer and closer to home. Though she understood what she had to do, the current environment gave her little room to execute the tactic.


      Spirastella still loaded, Helen fired a broad beam at Eirlys’ general direction. The orange ray of an incendiary crystal shot out into the nearest building. Starting at rooftop level, the beam cleaved downwards, drawing a diagonal line of fire on the city streets. In contrast to the clean cuts made by the wing’s energy, Helen’s wild attack set fires and rained debris onto the ground.  The countless skirmishes taking place on buildings were all brought crashing down by the exchange.


      Eirlys’ view was now blinded by fire and debris. Patches of black not of her own began to form. More grimm were spawning. As she approached, the size and frequency of claws grew. The beowolves moved up to her side. As they did, their bodies rapidly matured.


      The grimm seemed weary of her presence, choosing to stalk her surroundings rather than engage in combat. The huntsmen knocked aside by Helen’s sweeping attack had quickly withdrawn into the shadows. Their presence could still be felt within the silence, their confusion at the turn of events was all too apparent. The slight sound of firearms being reloaded echoed through the alleyways. The hushed whispers of hasty regroupings encroached from all sides.


      Light faded from the scene. A muffled boom echoed down the street. The sound of glass shattering trailed closely behind it.


      The beowolves scattered.


      Before Eirlys could begin to react, she felt a sudden presence behind her.


      It appeared as quickly as it hit her. A blunt point impacted against the center of her back. It swept her off her feet, the force and location of the impact threatened to tear her in half. Eirlys’ back shimmered black, with what Aura she had left taking the brunt of the impact.


      Without showing any intent to stop, Helen crudely grabbed and gripped for Eirlys’ flailing limbs. The collision caused further damage to Helen’s armor, shattering the metal plates on her other fist. Still travelling at supersonic speeds, momentum carried the pair far into the distance.


      Eirlys’ vision returned. The immobilising pain prevented her from moving. It began in her back, and worked with the immense air resistence to paralyse her limbs. Her reactions couldn’t keep up. The black mist trailed behind her. It materialised as quickly as before, but she was simply traveling too quickly for her to maintain its position.


      The crushing strength placed on her shoulder pressed her into the winds and kept her from turning around. Against the strength of the oncoming winds, Eirlys’ wings acted like parachutes. She spread them to their full width, letting their immense drag pull her free from Helen’s iron grip.


      Spiralling out of the sky once again, Eirlys rapidly shed speed. Helen’s feathered wings spread as she repositioned herself for another attack. The Valkyrie arced up into the sky. Her slowing pace was a perfect chance to strike.


      Eirlys didn’t pass up on the opportunity.


      With pinpoint accuracy, a black ray cut across across the distance between the pair. Helen’s helmet crumbled, struck in the back by the attack as the Valkyrie stalled at the peak of her climb. It lasted for all of a second before the quick burst veered off target.


      Helen felt it once again. The sensation of her Aura being severed as her armor crumbled away, her movements freeing up as the weight of the plates were lost.


      Tsk…at this rate I may as well be fighting in a dress for all the protection I’m getting!


      Helen pulled herself away from the fight. Dodging and weaving between the incoming fire, her vision danced across the horizon as she tried to regain her bearings. In the distance, she found her target in the form of the CCTS. The hazy black figure beneath her was aligned perfectly with the tower.


      As much as I hate to admit, I’m at a huge disadvantage at close ranges. Judging by her movements, she’s hardly experienced in physical combat. But so long as she sees me coming, I’ll end up taking all the damage. That…whatever it is…is troublesome.


      Troublesome, but not unmanageable.


      Helen glanced down at her weapon. She opened its breech without taking her eyes off the threat before her, reloading it as subtly as possible. In place of the glittering scarlet remains, Helen slid a translucent white crystal into Spirastella’s breech. Its uses thus far as a melee weapon has had little effect against Eirlys’ strange defenses. However, Spirastella’s true strength lay in its ranged capabilities. The several kilometers between herself and the CCTS could easily be laid waste to, given the correct ammunition.


      Dust in place, the sections of the weapon began rotating once more. A light neon blue ran throughout the engravings on the barrel. The neon blue soon engulfed Spirastella’s barrel, only broken up by the rapidly forming column of grey air. It swallowed up the weapon, tapering into a high pressure column, not too unlike a tornado.


      Helen pointed the charged weapon at its target, leveling herself with Eirlys and luring her in. Though her grip remained steady, Helen could already see the strength of the wind in her hand. Eirlys’ wings fluttered unnaturally against the gale, the howling winds making closing in further an impossibility.


      Seizing her chance, Helen pulled the trigger.


      The distance of a less than fifty meters between them was ripped wide open. Unleashing the full force of her attack, winds well in excess of 200mph struck Eirlys square from the front. The winds blew past her impenetrable defense, catching on her wings and thrusting her into the distance.


      Eirlys covered the several kilometers to Beacon within a matter of seconds, taking a battering every second of the way. She smashed through Beacon’s landing pad, the speed of her impact tore through everything that stood in her way. The Bullheads stationed there were no exception. Her Aura was almost completely expended, her torso and limbs sliced through the Bullheads’ wings.


      She shot out the other side, still travelling at high speed. Her crash had slowed her, but not enough. Her tumbling body was smashed into Beacon’s towering gates. A full meter above ground, she was firmly planted into the center of said gates, her body barely passing through the entirety of the stone structure. The stone surface crumbled under the impact.

      So too did her Aura.


      A distinctly crimson fluid seeped out into the stone. The entrance to Beacon Academy collapsed. Eirlys was pinned down beneath a thin layer of rubble, bloodied and immobile. A faint, electronic crackle was all that could be heard.


      Helen withdrew her weapon, exhaling as she did so.


      I see...so current and winds can get through her Semblance…if I assume that to be what it is.


      Her steady grip faltered as she evaluated the results. A distinct vulnerability haunted her every action. The means with which her own defenses were defeated confounded her. The unity of her Aura had been fractured in the affected areas. With her hair fluttering free and her armor compromised, even she felt her cool arrogance was mildly out of place.


      …The best way to kill her would be with wind-based attacks then. Capitalise on open wounds. If she survives, her Aura would most likely have gone. An attack at point blank range should then punch through her body-


      Finally, the penny dropped.


      Intentionally or otherwise, that student may well have won…


      She had been caught off guard and got swept away by the pace of the battle. She had let the fight get in the way of the objective.


      No. Not yet.


      After all, she had saved her trump card for last.


      Beacon Academy. 


      ---


      4:01:323.


      4:00:---.


      A large, digital countdown popped up over Gelb’s Scroll. The interface was completely overlaid by this red display. Though the milliseconds were rendered unreadable by a sudden distortion, it hardly mattered in the grand scheme of things. The fact that a full minute had already passed-


      No.


      The fact that this countdown was triggered in the first place is a failure in itself. To play this card in this situation, you’ve put me in a tough spot…


      The multitude of issues occurring within the last minute alone spelled the situation out to Gelb. News of Vale’s military base being destroyed, distinct sonic booms ringing out in the skies, the brief communication outage, reports of a black storm allegedly tied to Hydra suddenly appearing, the concentrated spawning of Grimm between Hydra and said storm…the list went on. These were rare occurrences even in this situation.


      But among the many dead giveaways, one lay quite literally behind the countdown. The team’s otherwise healthy Aura bars had one exception. Eirlys had lost well over 30% of her own in a single instance, and losing a further 30% within the last minute. Cross-referencing the hitlog with the information feed only made him more confident of his assumptions.


      Between the base’s destruction and her taking her first hit, the location and timing matches up. Anything that can take off over 10% to her Aura would take down 60 or 70% of the average huntsman…so the scale of the damage seems about right as well.


      From the grounds just outside of Beacon, Gelb had withdrawn from the fighting in the courtyard. He positioned himself in the shadows of the academy. Beacon’s flat, open courtyard was hardly ideal as a return point, there was little to hide behind. It left him with little breathing space, but he’d have to make do. The increased spawning had yet to spread this far, and Beacon’s defense had reached a stalemate.


      Being realistic, I have 3 minutes. Communications are still unreliable and the team’s dispersed. Beacon won’t be overrun nor cleared in that 3 minutes, but with her here…


      No. I can’t think of this like that. Too many eyes and ears, too close to Beacon.


      15 seconds had passed.


      Just over 3 minutes remained.


      With a silent wisp, a discrete portal opened before him. Within this human-sized portal was the rooftop of the observation tower. Though it was more apt to say that what he saw was Vale’s skyline, with the tower’s rooftop littering its ledge as debris.


      Good girl…at least you’ve marked this spot. I’ve taught you some good habits after all.


      Before continuing, he placed a finger over Beacon’s tiled ground. A faint yellow glow marked the cold surface. As Gelb stepped through, the mark on the floor faded away.


      The observation deck lay in ruins. Though his soft steps concealed him from any hypothetical enemies’ ears, the demolished structure left him standing in the open from all directions. Now, without moving so much as a step, he had a panoramic view of Vale in battle. Towering above all else was Hydra.


      6HQwOOE.jpg


      Though its body still remained underground, the heads above ground now totalled 3. A distinctly decorated serpentine neck seemed to hold itself above its peers. White scales armored its length, with crimson markings crisscrossing each plate.


      Even from this distance, he could see trails of violet light clash against the Grimm’s armor.

      Tsk…that purple blast was from that fight then. Whoever’s handling its take down, its only going to make things worse. Hydra…those heads looks more armored than before.  


      But…


      There was a distinctly disturbing sight. When viewed from the correct angle, an eerily straight line had been carved out, originating from the tower. Sections of housing and landscape had been erased. It was a scale beyond what Eden’s End was capable of. The damage done was also too clean to have been done by whoever destroyed the base. No fires and no noise. For so much damage to be done this quietly, he could only draw one conclusion.


      If this was her…


      It didn’t make sense. For a girl who loved her rifle as she did, to attack without it shouldn’t be something that’d cross her mind normally. Given her Aura loss and all evidence on hand, the conclusion seemed pretty simple. A quick patrol of the deck’s perimeter would lead him to his answer.


      On the ground, far far below, a light blue length of metal lay abandoned.


      3 minutes remained.


      “Tsk.”


      Against Hydra, Eden’s End stood a chance of actually being able to damage it with minimal casualties. Retrieving it now would also give him greater flexibility at range. But to reach it quick enough would require him to start burning through his otherwise untouched Aura.


      “…Self preservation be damned, time is running out.”


      Gelb moved himself towards the ledge, aiming the tip of his spear down towards the rifle. A bright yellow burst fired from the edge, impacting against the flat side of the barrel. As quickly as the shot hit, the rifle dissipated.


      With his palm open, Eden’s End materialised. At the same time, the slight mark on the hand began to fade. The spear retracted into its most compact form before being placed into his pocket. As best he could, Gelb held the large rifle in both his hands.


      Despite its fall, the digital display was barely scratched. With the aid of its scope, he began scanning the landscape for any signs of large scale combat. From the commercial district, a blinding yellow light illuminated the dark skies.


      Hydra…?


      It was an unmentioned ability. Either that, or no Hydra had matured enough to have allowed this ability to be used. But he couldn’t deny it. From the mouth of the main head, the light welled up and charged itself, ready to fire its first shot within the next seconds.


      The energy from that storm…it most likely caused Hydra to reach maturity even quicker as well. A Huntsman’s level of anti-personnel weapon was marginally effective at best, but they can’t do anything to it now.


      A sudden, blaring alarm sounded in his ears.


      Over Eirlys’ name, a simple [No Signal] began to flash.


      With 20% Aura remaining…?


      Last known location was…


      Beacon Academy.


      His mind began to race.


      The fact that this had led him on a wild goose chase didn’t bother him, neither did the fact that his every fears were being realised within minutes of this battle. The sudden arrival at beacon was beyond her body and her semblance’s abilities. The Aura readout equally served to remind him of how pressed for time he was.


      After all…the 5 minute countdown ran under the assumption her Aura isn’t being drained by battle. The reality could be that her operation time is even shorter than that.


      Bringing up a map on his Scroll, he expertly moved his fingers over the holographic screen, running through the search filters to find his teammates’ location. He then brought the immediate area around Beacon academy under scrutiny. His fingers danced across the virtual keypad as he relayed his instructions to Blaze and Levant.


      “To both- go to marked points ASAP. Notify when ready.


      Blaze: transferring mark to rifle “EE”. When received, target Beacon’s courtyard. Set to Cyan. Await orders.

      Levant: after EE fires, neutralise Dust usage within courtyard.

      All the best."


      Two and a half minutes left. It’ll take them one minute to reach that position, another 15 seconds to get set up.  


      He had no time to spare. His Aura’s yellow glow surrounded him once more as he prepared to return to Beacon’s courtyard. As the portal opened, a chilling scarlet glow filled his vision.


      Whoever she was, she was ready to deal the final blow.



    • Jaune's Determination (Oneshot)

      2 years ago

      rin1990

      “Alright Jaune…”


      An earnest voice reached out to the blonde boy. Though he knew it was merely a replication, he still felt his heart jump at the mention of his name. It surprised him to this day that he still hadn’t become accustomed to it.


      The person who had spoken those gentle words had come and gone. Only these small, precious reactions remained.


      These guiding words have long since been engraved into his mind. He memorised every word, felt every intonation. The voice and images were synthesised, unable to recreate the finer details of her voice. But the goodwill in her words, the slight fragility behind her stern gaze, his mind easily filled in the gaps.


      Shield up.


      “Shield up…”


      Grip tight.


      Front foot forward.


      An aching regret struck his heart. These instructions counted down to this exercise. Some mocked and laughed at the farcical nature of this act. Some sighed and berated his slow progress. But he had long committed himself to engraving these motions into his being.


      “Go.”


      “Go…!”


      Upon that command, he felt his grip harden and his blood boil. He thrusted his sword forward and flung his shield back. As the displaced air subsided, his cleared mind began to cloud once more. His movement seemed smooth, but his strike rebelled against that very instruction.


      Those words, perhaps they marked the turning point. For that night, for his team.


      On that forsaken night, a deep bellow thundered through the ground. It felt as though the very foundations of Beacon had crumbled in the blast. The impact shook him to his core.


      But then…you…


      It was in that moment the pair understood their opponent’s true strength, and it was that moment in which her fate was sealed. The heart wrenching words she uttered from then could only be matched by the bitter defiance in her voice.


      “Call for help”…you say?


      What are you going to do…? What could you do?


      Really…what else could you have done?


      He grit his teeth at the thought. Perhaps deep in his heart he still rejected her loss. It still coiled around his conscience and haunted his dreams.


      “Again…”


      The still night shuddered to the wind from his blade.


      Swung down in denial, he aimed his strike at the resurfacing sensation that paralysed his body. It was a distinct, uneasy tug that muted his body’s protests. It was the power of Pryyha’s polarity at full strength. His back recalled its violent crash against the capsule, his senses screamed in rejection at the harrowing claustrophobia.


      But that was all for naught. Their bravery, their sacrifices.


      First Ozpin.


      Then Beacon.


      Pyrrha…gave herself to that cause.


      The village was torched. Along with it, memories of his childhood.


      “…and again!”


      The losses mounted.


      Frustration and despair creeping into his voice, he gave a final heave and swung. The arming sword arced above his head and slashed at the air behind him. Though he held his form, the last of his strength of was expended.


      His gasps for air concealed the cries in his heart.


      One by one, he began to lose all that gave his life meaning. The things that he had accepted as the cornerstone of his life started to disappear. At some point, it had ceased to hurt. The pain only registered as a brief shock.


      In his desire for strength and respect, he had neglected the one person who had stood by his side through it all. In his search for a place to fit in, he refuted the one person who offered him unconditional protection.


      “Jaune…”


      His iron grip laxed as the thoughts rushed on. His eyes refocused and his heartbeat slowed. The next lines in the recording ripped into his guilty conscience. Any wounds he’d likely receive in battle were merely scratches in comparison.


      He averted his eyes from the screen. His ears searched the surrounding wildlife for distractions. The silence between Pyrrha’s compliments and the following confession seemed eternal, but he had no wish to listen on.


      “I…”


      Pyrrha’s face was turned away, her speaking was slow. With each pause in her sentence, she seemed to fight herself away from the words that shouldn’t have needed to be spoken.


      Jaune turned his forlorn gaze back to the screen. Though he forced himself to watch, his ears still refused to listen.


      Pyrrha was always an easy one to read. Watching her wrestle and suppress those words brought on a souring agony. Had he not only rejected her helping hand, but also selfishly denied her of her own desires? Had his blindness brought on this painful, strained confession?


      “…I’ll always be here for you.”


      Static.


      Rewind.


      Wiping the thoughts from his mind, Jaune raised his sword once more. Thus, the countdown began yet again.

    • CHROMA Chapter Ten

      2 years ago

      rin1990

      8:01 PM, 15th of April.


      It was a night Vale would never forget.


      The last of the light fell over a war-torn battlefield. Stray shots and large Grimm carcasses had left Vale in various states of disrepair. The battle had moved from Vale’s commercial district and spread into the residential area of the city.


      A cluster of sparkling blue ripped through the torso of a fully-grown Ursa. A cobalt blue blade tip protruded from the end of the carcass. Using the dissipating carcass as a shield, the owner of the blade charged forward. Through the black haze, a deep bellow rang out.


      The lower torso of a Beowulf collapsed onto the pavement. A smoking gun barrel was pointed at where the Beowulf once stood. Without waiting for the smoke to disperse, Saphir charged forward.


      Shot after shot, Saphir continued to fire his weapon. All 12 shots found their targets. A clumsy ring of corpses fell to the ground, giving himself enough space to reload. However, in this context, the commendable effort of 12 grimm kills barely registered as a scratch to their numbers.


      “I’ve been through the Levanthan Crisis before but this is just a damn chore…”


      Ejecting the empty magazine, Saphir assessed his surroundings as he reloaded. The open ground that made up Vale’s outskirts had become a sea of black and red. As he slid a new magazine in place, he scanned his surroundings for the next group to target.


      The narrow suburban street funneled the grimm towards the city. From the low rooftops, supporting fire rained down onto the advancing horde. Those fighting in front of Saphir had already retreated. In obtaining his kill streak, he had been left as the spearhead of this road’s defense.


      Lightly touching his Scroll, Saphir unmuted his phone and gave a simple command.


      “Rosea, take over. Search and Rescue is more my forte.”


      “Gladly!”


      A familiar voice answered before the line was muted once again.


      The fragmented moon’s silhouette was obstructed by a shadowy black. Stood atop a street light, Rosea cracked a small smile. She ran her hand through the bandage, and with a gentle pull on the knot, the white fabric slacked and unfurled in her hand.


      rgFwDlY.jpg


      Her right eye opened. The blackened sclera made the piercing glow of her pink iris all the more apparent. Her smile widened, her expression twisted. The already potent Aura she gave off became a visible purple haze.


      Saphir watched as he retreated to higher ground. Despite the intense hostility Rosea’s aura emitted, the Grimm horde remained unfazed. With defiant roars, the wave of over twenty Grimms charged towards their new target.


      It was a defiant, but futile struggle.


      The pouncing Beowolves fell to the ground, one by one. Each with enough force to drive a crater into the ground with their landing, the grimm were crushed. Rosea’s slight gesture had reduced the incoming threat to a black smear. With pinpoint accuracy, all Grimm within 4 meters of her were pounded into the ground. Wave by wave, the Grimm fell. However, as each perished, more came in their wake. In turn, the support fire from the street’s rooftops intensified.

      Their battle had reached a stalemate.


      Pulling himself away from the building’s ledge, Saphir studied his surroundings once more. The invasion began in Forever Fall. From there, the city’s commercial district has been locked down in combat. Saphir turned his gaze towards the towering silhouettes that made up the commercial district. Even from his position in the residential district, the sound of battle echoed to his ears.


      But that wasn’t his concern. So long as the invasion was kept above a stalemate, assisting in the district’s evacuation should be his top priority. He stood in silence with this in mind.

      Eyes closed, ears alert.


      The deep rumble of conflict, the confident orders of team leaders, one at a time, he filtered out these distractions. Faint but distinct, a voice reached his ears. A desperate cry for help echoed through the dark alleyways.


      Saphir rushed across the rooftops in pursuit of the cry’s source. It was close by.


      A chilling hiss rang into his ears. From the gaps in the buildings, a white snake’s head reared up into view. The King Taijitu’s twin heads prepared to dive down on its prey. With a flick, his shotgun’s barrel collapsed and retracted behind the sword’s blades. Before the twin heads dived down onto its target, a cobalt streak flung itself into the base of the Grimm. Still on the move, Saphir unmuted his Scroll and barked out a command.


      “Rosea! King Taijitu to your six, need it dead, now!”


      Without hesitation, Saphir leapt into the alleyway. His Aura took the brunt of the impact from his fall. Ignoring the agony in his legs, he rushed towards the civilian. Cradled in the adult’s arms, the young child clung his mother in fright.


      His sword pinned the Grimm in place, but all three of them were still within strike range. The serpentine body thrashed and writhed in pain. Its twin heads slammed into the surrounding buildings, raining a hail of debris over the alleyway.


      Saphir held his ground, readying to defend the lives behind him. The King Taijitu raised its heads from the rubble, having determined Saphir to be the cause of its suffering. It let out a deep hiss, baring its fangs and readying to strike.


      A brick red mass hurtled into the Grimm. Before his eyes, the King Taijitu was brought crashing down. Pierced down the side by large chunks of flying debris, Saphir’s encounter with the Grimm was brought to an abrupt end.


      “…Go on then.”


      A high pitched cheer snapped Saphir out of his daze.


      “What should you say to me, after I do all that?”


      Saphir put Rosea’s words to the back of his mind, focusing instead on guiding the civilians to safety. As he felt his pulse settle, he rushed to retrieve his sword. It had penetrated the width of the King Taijitu, with an inch of its tip buried in the ground.


      “…Thanks for the help, Rosea.”


      “Were you off being a hero again?”


      “It’s what we were told to do. Stay behind and rescue those in need-”


      “Yeah, yeah. I get it. So, you should save your thanks for just a bit longer.”


      “Hmm-”


      In a few seconds, Saphir understood Rosea’s words. An armored van pulled up at the collapsed building. Painted in military markings, it was unmistakably one of their own. Through the vehicle’s speakers, an electronic voice broke the eerie silence.


      “Search and Rescue. Ms Khara requested we be dispatched here, how can we help?”


      “E-er…Y-Yes. These two here, take them to the evacuation zone.”


      “Certainly.”


      The back door swung open with a heavy thud. As the personnel helped the mother and child onboard, Saphir toggled Blauen Kristall between its forms. It shifted between its forms with a clean series of clicks. Locking it in shotgun form, he pointed its barrel at the nearest building's ledge. With a barely audible hiss, a streak of grey fired into the sky. Latching to the ledge with a metallic clink, the grappling hook instantly reeled Saphir in.


      Saphir observed the surroundings from his new vantage point. Rosea’s silhouette poked above the row of buildings, illuminated by sporadic flashes of purple. But from across the river, the next challenge had already revealed itself.


      Blood red eyes, several tens of stories high, at stared back at him. The large, mammoth-like Grimm marched towards the bridge.


      “…Rosea. Across the bridge…”


      “…Ahhhh, I really don’t have time for that.”


      With a frustrated groan, Rosea turned to face the new threat.


      Out of the corner of his eyes, a pink flash pierced the night. Immediately, the Goliath over ten meters in length was launched off the bridge. In a feat that defied all logic, several tons of Grimm was blasted off the tarmac at that instant. It was a truly surreal sight.


      The space around the Goliath twisted and contorted itself, as if swallowing the Grimm. It spiralled around a singular, black speck. The Goliath’s proportions rapidly warped and distorted as it was crammed into the spiral.


      A blinding flash of pink lit up the night once more.


      The incoming Goliath was no more.


      “…I take it we’re in a rush.”


      His sarcastic comment belied his shaken emotions. The neon pink light from Rosea’s attacks stung his eyes, but was the power of her attack that left the lasting impression. It was awe inspiring, but at the same time left him fearing for what lay ahead. For the first time, even this display of power might not be enough.


      “We can’t do search and rescue while fighting them off as things are. Figured that I’d speed things up. Besides, you know why I can’t stay like this for too long.”


      “Yeah, this…something’s off about this. There’s too many, even for an outbreak. Let’s turn back, focus on getting people out. As you said…we’re tight on time.”


      “No need to run, I’ll bring you there along.”


      ---


      A flash of green followed a burst of purple.


      A Goliath was tossed high up in the air. As its large form arced across the sky, a slight shimmer wrapped around its form. Soundlessly, it fell to the ground in dissected chunks. In between the black haze, a wisp of grey danced through.


      A swarm of lesser grimms rushed forward, pouncing over the remains of the Goliath. They rushed down the wide city street, their eyes centered on the sole figure stood at the center of the crossroad. Four pairs lamp posts- one on each side of the street- conveniently marked out the distance between the grimm and their target. With Beowolves filling up the width of the street, this fight could only be considered one sided.


      But for all their numbers and noise, they would never reach their target.


      The black night before the Grimm shimmered green.


      A grotesque groan echoed through the streets. As the Grimms passed the second lamp post, the momentum from their charge was brought to a crashing halt. The grating sound of metal bolts shearing rang out.


      The sole figure gave a weary sigh, before stepping off the road and into the light. Her long, purple hair flowed down to her ankles. Puria raised her gauntlets and gave a thumbs up, though her hands were pointed towards nothing but the darkness.


      “Hey, Miss Stardream! Think it’s wise to use your Semblance so early on? I could have easily handled them, it’d just be a bit sore afterwards, I reckon!”


      From within the shadows, Epli’s stern voice replied.  


      “A Goliath must be put down before anything else, so its usage there was given. Though you could well have handled it, how long would that have taken? Their speed and numbers could have put you at a disadvantage…this just makes use of their momentum to finish them off.”


      As Epli spoke, the two approached and inspected the collateral damage. The Beowolves had long since dispersed, but the force with which they hit Epli’s trap remained. The two lamp posts were barely held down by one remaining bolt. The base had been ripped off the ground, with the lower end of the post taking the brunt of the impact.


      Puria knelt down and squinted her eyes, trying to find what had caused all the damage. Lightly waving her hands at the air before her, she felt a thin force push against her gauntlets. She pinched the thin strand and traced it towards Epli’s direction.


      The wire, barely visible to the eye, suddenly lit up green before snapping back to its user’s side. It flexed and looped around itself like string before pooling up in a solid, grey mass in Epli’s palm. The two exchanged a childish grin before moving on.


      “Eh, I guess you’ll disapprove if I say I wanna look for a challenge. Time and place and all that, right?”


      Epli gave a calm nod, but her smile froze as she raised her gaze. The glowing green cube flashed once more. The buckled lamp posts shimmered green.


      cdsbWUA.jpg


      “I’ll need your help with this, but for now, some space please, child.”


      “What now- Woah!”


      Puria quickly leaped out of Epli’s way as the two posts were sheared off the ground completely. They collided directly in front of the teacher, grazing by Puria’s face. In the time it took for her twist around, her startled rage had found its targets.


      Beyond her teacher, the street they had just swept echoed to a primal snarl.


      Blood red eyes peered out from the uniformed darkness of the alleyways. Their rough sounds of movement betrayed their numbers. The reflective particles of Dust on their bodies marked their battle experience.


      Pair by pair, they bled out into the street.


      One by one, they stalked the girl from the shadows.


      Puria turned to warn her teacher, but she was already deep in preparation for her next attack. Seizing the opportunity, the pack of Beowolves pounced. With a unified growl, they launched themselves onto the student.


      The weight of the thirty odd beowolves crashing into her back knocked Puria off her feet.

      “Urgh…! GET! OFF!”


      Squirming and pushing against the beasts on her back, she fought the blunt pain of her fall. She couldn’t stay down for long. Most had focused on pinning her down, but some had charged through to attack what was behind her.


      The beowolves’ scalding breath stung her exposed skin, their large claws planted down at the joints in her arm. She couldn’t overcome the resistance. Not quickly enough to keep them away from Epli. In a massed frenzy, they began slashing at the Aura protecting her flesh. Puria gritted her teeth and closed her eyes.  


      An intense jet of purple cleaved through the mass of black in a matter of seconds. The nozzles at the ends of her gauntlets flicked upwards and gave out a sharp hiss. The air above her shimmered to the scalding heat. The grimms’ black coating cracked and shattered.


      The deafening whine from the jets shut off. Unable to withstand the scorching heat around her back, she quickly kicked herself off the ground. She felt the pain from the heat twist at her nerves.


      “Ah! Ow ow ow ow ow!! That’s…reallyyyy hot!”


      “Stop playing around! Weren’t you supposed to be keeping my back clear?”


      “On it, I’m on it, okay?!”


      Her teacher’s stern voice snapped her back to the task in hand. A green glow still enveloped the lampposts, holding them in their place. At a glance, around ten beowolves now circled Epli. They stalked and pounced at the teacher, but each and every blow was expertly deflected away. With every deflection, a translucent green would materialise at the contact point. Corresponding to the impact, the suspended objects would shimmer and dip towards the ground.


      The earth shuddered. A violet streak leaped into the sky. Epli’s ears rang to the screech of jet engines toggling between shutting off and full power. The tarmac cracked with an echoing boom as one by one, the encirclement was broken. With the aid of her gauntlets, she bunny hopped some meters into the sky before driving her feet into the grimm below. One after another, the ten beowolves faded into the wind.


      “Ahh, that was fun. It’s really not good for my feet though…shame really. I’d love to do that again!”


      Puria flexed her joints and kicked at the rubble.


      “Concentrate. You really are still a child, huh. We merely got sidetracked, and no matter how high you jump, I doubt it’d get you through that.”


      Epli brought her attention back to the task in hand.


      The ground rumbled once more. The Goliath’s charge could be felt from far in the distance. Watching it lumber down the undulating road was a surreal sight on its own. If its aggression didn’t strike fear into one’s heart, its size definitely did. It was easily double the height of the tallest building. Its armor plated skull was a dulled grey by the ineffective fire. Shrugging off incoming attacks, its tusks battered aside the barricades laid out before it.


      Groaning and cracking, the lump of metal before Epli began violently warping its shape. The glass protecting the light bulb shattered, its housing flattened and the posts wrapped around one another along its length. With a flash of green, the posts’ grey paint was stripped off the four meter length of metal. From top to bottom, the paint fell away. As it did, the shape of the metal began to drastically change. The top of the lamp post tapered to form a pin sharp penetrator. The warped metal streamlined itself into a javelin spanning over 8 meters.


      “I’ve done my part. You send it to its target.”


      “…Is this going to do it?”


      “If you aim it high and avoid its skull, it should go through. We’re too far away to kill it, but this should at least hold it in place.”


      Epli placed the lance in Puria’s hands before quickly backing away. Gripping her new weapon, she raised it above her head and wound her arm back. She aimed it down the center of the road and launched into a sprint. Holding off the release, she increased her speed until she saw the white armor glint in the distance.


      Puria’s gauntlet gave out a deep bellow. A jet of purple accompanied the throw. In a smooth, swift action, the javelin was released from her hand. The grey projectile arced into the sky, rapidly covering the ground between its launch point and its target.


      Arcing above the Goliath’s armored front, a shuddering crack rang out as the javelin found its target. Cleaning puncturing the Goliath’s spinal armor, the weapon cleaved through the grimm with ease. It penetrated the Grimm and stabbed deep into the road beneath. Lodged between the ground and the grimm, it served to further impede its progress.


      “That’s as much as we can do from this range. In hindsight, that was probably not the best way to deal with it, but they at least have an opening to attack from.”


      The ground trembled once more.


      The Goliath had stopped moving, but still the ground rumbled.


      “So, what’s next?”


      “It’s…not over yet.”


      Puria moved ahead, examining the destroyed cars and stores block by block while Epli continued her search. She stood, rooted to the ground. The tarmac trembled, the pavement groaned and cracked.


      Tremors like that of an earthquake moved ever closer towards her. Roads buckled, street lights cut out. Row after row, dust rose to the sky as the foundation of buildings were disturbed in rapid succession.


      “Whoa…”


      Stunned by the surreal destruction, Epli found herself unable to react. She struck a defensive stance, but could only follow the cracking ground. The serpentining halted at the center of the road. But the brief silence was quickly broken.


      Charging forward, whatever was beneath the ground had found its target. The two lane road was ripped open from beneath. Pushing its way through the tarmac, rows of white scales punctured the surface of the road.


      “Below you, child!!’


      “Huh?!”


      Puria failed to react in time as the block of metal warped its shape into a thin layer of cylinder and enveloped her body, and at the same time pushed her to the other side before the ground Puria stood on cracked and erupted with a violent quake.


      The ground crumbled. Sections of road vanished in a matter of seconds. Thundering out from beneath the road, a scaly black tower coiled and rose from the depths. Soil and earth fell to the ground in sizeable chunks.


      5KNFBcX.jpg


      The two watched in awe as the serpentine neck extended to its full height. Reaching up some 30 meters into the sky, it easily dwarfed goliaths in size. A thick coating of black covered its gigantic form. Glistening under the moonlight, the viscous substance slopped off its towering body and hit the ground with a splatter. With a wild thrash, the length of its body collided into the structures to its side. In a single strike, it cleaved through the concrete structures surrounding it and brought them to the ground.  


      The stunned silence was broken by massed panic.


      Caught off guard by its sudden attack, the gathered huntsmen scrambled to regroup. Those attacking from the rooftops suddenly found themselves vulnerable. From the tar-like pools, white claws reached out towards the sky. One after another, the huntsmen found themselves mobbed by sinister growls and scarlet glares.


      “That’s...is that what I think it is?”


      “...No doubt. An Umbral…and the army of Grimm it spawns. That’s.. a Hydra’s head. Which means…”


      Quickly escaping to higher ground, the pair grappled and climbed their way to the nearest rooftop. From their new vantage point, Epli breathed out a worried sigh. The lack of a reflective white from its head could only mean one thing.


      “...there’s more than one head somewhere. This is bad, we won’t be able to kill it until the main head emerges.”


      “Hate it when you say it, since that means I would need to get serious too!” Firmly stepping forward, Puria fixed her eyes on the writhing Grimm. With a determined smile, she fired up her gauntlets. She took a deep breath and stepped forward. Standing on the ledge, she closed her eyes.


      “Miss Stardream, I’ll be taking this one. You’ve done your share of damage, lemme take this.”


      “You and your glory-hogging ways are always such a pain...Fine, I’ll be your backup then. Be quick though. You know what happens when you push too far with your Semblance on.”


      “That’s all I needed to hear, ma’am.”


      Puria’s eyes opened once more. They were vermillion, bloodshot eyes.


      With a wide, crazed grin, she began her fight.


      ---


      Somewhere far away from the city of Vale, stood a familiar figure on top of a steel platform, high above the skies. Her brown hair fluttered freely in the strong winds. With cold eyes, she braved the gales and surveyed the ground below her.


      “Lord Helen, we will reach our destination soon enough. Only 5 kilometers away.”


      An indistinct voice reported through the open speakers next to her vantage point. The open expanse beside her rumbled to the sound of jets warming up. Even from this altitude, she could see Vale beneath her. What streets that were still lit, anyway.


      “Good work, officer.”


      Below her, the centerpiece to their blitzkrieg sniffed its way out towards the city. Despite its immense size, the grimm was remarkably well camouflaged in the night. However, no matter what the distance, its piercing, scarlet eyes would strike fear in even the most seasoned huntsman.


      But Helen viewed its existence with a painful indifference.


      Something feels off about the energy. It’s...weak. Perhaps too weak to buy us enough time. It’s about all I can expect if that’s not Hydra’s main head.


      Time for me to act then…


      “Slight change to the plan. I’ll go on ahead first to cripple the defenses of the city. Wait for my orders. Maintain optical camouflage and radio silence.”


      “Yes, my lord.”


      With her orders issued, Helen leaped down into the darkness.


      Her unfurling cape hitched onto the oncoming winds, allowing her wings to spread and herself to take flight. From the air, she allowed herself a moment to take in Vale’s sheer size. Countless fights took place across the large expanse of land. Off in the distance, a rhythmic flare of white and yellow rained down on the city. She traced the trails of Dust back to their origin. A flat silhouette of concrete and steel poking out from the edge of the docks.


      The muzzle flashes from a second battery lit up the the night with an almighty roar.


      There you are…Those make quite the noise. In turn, let me show you my thunder.


      Sliding a small crystal of Dust into its housing in the weapon, Helen locked it in place as she adjusted her position. Slowly, Helen pointed Spirastella towards the base in the distance. Rapidly twisting and rotating, the weapon’s blunt tip formed the eye of her storm. The weapon bucked and kicked as the calm winds were compacted together. The storm of black and red grew, quickly gaining the shape of a vortex.


      From the edge of the blackening clouds, bursts of red flashed through with a harrowing rumble. The period between each flash narrowed, until the navy blue of the storm was barely able to shield Helen’s eyes from the white heat of her attack.


      Click.


      Helen pulled the trigger.


      A loud crack reverberated through the sky. Streaking through the black of night, the blinding scarlet was dragged towards the military outpost.


      Within the base, the personnel scrambled amongst themselves to mount a defense against the incoming entity.


      “Unknown target inbound, sir! We can’t determine that is coming at us but it’s…approaching at over mach 1!”


      In one radar sweep, their target had lunged ahead to an uncomfortably close range. The array of long range defenses barely had time to act before it flew out of range.


      “Ready all artillery fire, concentrate on the incoming unknown target!”


      The blinding scarlet continued its seemingly suicidal charge towards the tower. At ground level, all manner of unguided munitions were flung skywards. It was futile.


      “We can’t hit it at all, everyone, brace for impact!!”


      The night sky flashed crimson.


      In the midst of the chaotic situation she just triggered from her violent breach inside the city of Vale, her heightened senses picked up an unusual amount of Aura. The texture felt by her body was filled with killing intent from a direction that she couldn’t make do of yet, but it is there and it’s steadily building up.


      Such murderous intent...But...where? A Huntsman is here already huh...I suppose I should expect this much now that I’ve got their attention.


      Slowly, the Black Valkyrie closed her eyes and focused her Aura senses to track the source of this killing intent.


      Some kilometer away from Helen, a gun barrel zeroed in on Helen’s position. From atop the observation tower, this vantage point held a commanding view of Vale all the way to the dockyard. Via a digital screen, Helen’s black armor sat in the center of the reticle on a backdrop of fire and ruin.


      The figure’s long, snow white hair fluttered in the wind. The battle cries and pleas for help, the Grimm’s grow and shrieks, they echoed through the towering city blocks to the watch tower’s position. She felt her skin crawl. As disconcerting as it was, she had no time to be put off.


      The night had not been particularly successful. From supporting fire to anti-air duties, her roles in this battle were each short and unremarkable. With a cooldown time of 60 seconds, the usual Beowolves and Ursas were too small and spread out to be worth expending her shots on.

      But this new threat?


      It had razed an entire base in a single attack. Irrespective of the fact that it was human, this was a threat she had to respond to.


      …If it’s responsible for that attack, they’ll be on the move soon enough. Just entertain your pride for a bit more…so I can entertain mine in turn…


      Her target’s armor plates shifted. Her window was about to close. Delicately, she adjusted her aim. From an immobilizing shot to a head shot, the barrel was raised ever so slightly to suit.

      She had to commit now.


      A navy blue stream of energy shot out from Eden’s End.


      With the darkened sky between them, her attack should have been well camouflaged enough. If not, she still had surprise on her side.


      But as the navy blue collided with its target, the blast was redirected. A reflective surface shone as it shrugged off the discharged energy. Helen clicked her tongue, her eyes searching the sky and glared directly at the observation tower.


      Eirlys felt all her instincts scream in blind panic.


      Shit! She’s spotted me!!


      Before she could even react, a black and silver blur rushed up towards her. An indistinct crack rippled through the airwaves. Her eyes could barely keep up. 

       

      Dammit, too la--


      Eirlys was smacked clean off balance by the Valkyrie's shield. A burst of white air further battered her aside as the soundwaves played catch up to Helen’s supersonic pace. The impact sent the frail girl flying. Her body collided into the brick wall behind her, easily punching a hole into the building’s aging structure.


      Within the darkened top floor of the tower, Eirlys lay sprawled out against the inner wall. Gasping for air, her body flinched as the crippling pain gnawed at her senses. She fought the double vision and darkened environment, trying to get a sight of the intruder.  The Valkyrie glared at the downed Faunus with a silent, disgusted glare. Their eyes met, filled with disdain for each other.


      Tch...of all the people to sneak up on me...just a child. One as sickly as this girl too. I’ll just let this one go, that smack is more than enough energy wasted.


      With these thoughts in mind, Helen simply tilted her head and gestured to one side. Her leg lightly kicked at the rifle on the ground, knocking it off the side of the tower. Her message was clear.


      …”Get out of my way”...is that what...she saying?


      There were no words spoken from either one of them. Eirlys blankly stared out into space. Truthfully, the impact she received was immensely powerful. The pain that gripped her body paralysed her even now. But compared to the wounds her glare inflicted on her pride, it was nothing.


      Sure…y-you got the better of me there…


      But to not even fight?


      Rather than any gratitude for potentially being spared her life, a flame seemed to ignite in her heart. It burned with a souring ache, increasingly gaining momentum from within the innermost depth of her heart.


      Helen’s wings spread once more, and without so much as a second glance, the Valkyrie took off. Seconds later, a muffled boom dislodged any crumbling brickwork as Helen once again reached supersonic speeds.


      Silence fell on the observation tower.


      Her performance thus far had been inadequate.


      Unremarkable.


      Unsightly.


      The team had split time and time again in response to the battle. She was well and truly alone now. Unable to keep up, unable to even perform the bare minimum of delaying this new threat.

      This…this is the best I can do without them?


      Eirlys found herself retreating into the dusty shadows of the observation deck.


      The aim was perfect. Should I have used a darker colour to hide the shot?


      No.


      The sequence played back in her mind in slow motion. The beam was suddenly intercepted by a metallic disc. Even if the Valkyrie saw it, the fact that it was deflected could only mean power was lacking.


      Perhaps the black tracer would have been more suited for this. Perhaps I should have broken the promise for that shot. Gelb would agree…right?


      She destroyed that base in one shot, I’d only be returning the favour…


      But such thoughts were meaningless. They were purely academic now. Her weapon was no longer in her hands. Even if she retrieved it, it’d need full maintenance before it could be fired again.


      Disarmed before she could fight back, trampling on her pride, mocking her weakness as it happened.


      Eirlys’ frail figure trembled. In her mind was only a single consideration.


      A power neither demonic or divine, but one which offered her pride the most basic of recompense. It was the power to create an area where all simply ceased to exist. In the solitude of the observation tower, the miserable surroundings guided the girl towards this all-consuming resolution.


      Just once…to embrace that power just once…


      You’d be ok with that…right?


      A flicker of distortion played in the background of her mind. Sounds of…some form of communication. Perhaps it was her Scroll. Perhaps she was in a blind spot with poor signal.  


      No.


      Iy383U5.jpg


      The distortion wasn’t merely aural. It resonated with her rage.


      She felt its deep grumble reverberate within her body. The buzz clouded her thinking, blinded the pain and sealed off her rationality. She was only permitted her rage. It carved its presence into her veins, poured out from her core and coiled around her limbs.


      The rage stabbed at her heart. Time after time, a rhythm began to form. With each second, her breathing sharpened.


      Her grip on the wall tightened.


      What little strength her fingers exerted failed to damage the crumbling brickwork, but the encroaching darkness crushed it beneath her fingers. A jet black mist veiled her form from view. The features on her plain black top now hid behind the shimmering darkness. Like a smouldering flame, the black mist erupted around her. It ate into the concrete beneath her feet and spread across her back.


      It was a darkness that mocked the night sky. A darkness that could end this farcical conflict.


      Stop me…if you’ve seen this before…


      t9LJOdQ.jpg

    • CHROMA Chapter Nine

      2 years ago

      rin1990

      The sun set over Forever Fall. The sky shimmered a lustrous gold, but the light failed to make contact with the earth.


      The jet black bodies marching across the landscape blocked out the horizon. What remaining light glinted off the creatures’ armored skulls. Sweeping through the forest, their very presence filled the atmosphere with death and despair. Their footsteps seared the earth black and red.


      The Goliaths marched forward in steady synchrony, their tusks bulldozing their way through the landscape. Beneath their feet, lesser Grimm scattered as the trees fell. Ursas old and young circled around the now flattened land. Stretching across the horizon, wave upon wave of Grimm advanced towards civilisation unobstructed.


      iax8AwG.jpg

      As light began to fade, the silence crumbled to the sound of the Grimm’s deep, primal roar.


      As the dark returned once more, the only light to be found was in the crimson glare of the unprecedented gathering. Drawn out like a moth to a flame, they blindly lumbered towards their target.


      ---


      “Eirlys, have you finished doing Blaze and Gelb’s?”


      Levant peered over at her teammate and watched as her fingers slowly fumbled with the paint brush. Their sunday evening had been spent indoors working on Levant’s whim.


      “Y-yes, I just finished it. Though truth be told, I was never one for believing in superstition. If carving wood in a set way would be enough to protect you, no one would fall victim to Grimm attacks.”


      Eirlys gave a typically quiet reply and passed the neatly made charms towards Levant. The colourful charms piled up on Levant’s bed. Each charm was colour coded to match its recipient, and a total of eight were being made.


      “That may be true, but really, it’s the thought that counts. Think of it this way, if you ever need something to place your belief onto, you can place them on these. If not, it’ll at least provide you with a sense of accomplishment when you see them all finished.”


      “Huh…” Eirlys frowned as she continued painting the wooden charm, this one with purple snakes. “If there’s something to be believed in…then surely that’d be to believe in your own actions?”

      Eirlys looked away to the outside of a window. The sparse treeline that greeted her eyes did little to ease her mood.


      “Sitting here all comfortable won’t help the issue...at least not how the way things are are the moment…”


      “Maybe not. But you can say that because you’ve always had the power to headbutt the issue away. There may come a time where you simply can’t do anything. Nothing can be totally in your control. Where did this cool-headed pragmatism come from? Trying to impress someone?”


      “I...I don’t know what you mean.”


      “Huh, I guess Gelb’s personality must’ve rubbed off on you more than I expected.” Smiling her usual gentle smile, Levant placed the charms by the window sill. Under the sun, the paint on the charms began to dry out. “There we go...all done!”


      Eirlys fixed her gaze upon the woodwork as the paint’s shine dulled under the sun. Her pale features remained stoic, but the cynicism had been softened by a small, childish sense of accomplishment.


      Stretching her arms, Levant tapped her teammate’s shoulders and gestured towards the door. “Well, let’s get moving. You can admire your work when it’s dried off. For now, let’s join the rest of the group.”


      “Y-yeah…”


      The pair left their dorm and made their way down to the foyer. Typical of a Sunday evening, the foyer was heavily crowded with students. Even from within the crowd, Eirlys and Levant easily picked out their teammates. They, along with team SPHR, sat around a round table with drinks in hand.


      “Hey guys! How are you all doing?”


      “Oh, hey! The cure for my boredom has arrived! Sitting here telling Saphir to play the game a certain way is yielding no results. He’s just banging his head against the wall time and time again.” Blaze chuckled.


      “Shut up. I told you this is harder than it looks.” Saphir frowned and mashed at his handheld console’s buttons.


      “Geez, your fingers ought to make for a fine keyboard or piano player. Don’t be smashin’ those button’s too much though.” Puria teased with a smirk.


      “I really don’t wanna hear that from someone who spent most of her time smashing away on drums in her own garage when she’s not off tearing stuff up with her bare hands, Puria. You’re the last person to educate me on how to do brutal inputs on things when you’re so good at it yourself.”


      “Hey, that’s only on Thursdays after class.” Puria dismissed the retort nonchalantly. “Besides, I ain’t THAT loud.”


      “To be fair, I can hear your screams even from the dorm. You’re quite far away when you’re practicing. Hehe!” Rosea laughed. “Gotta admit, you’re the pinnacle of what drummers ought to be these days with their hardcores solos!”


      “Glad someone agrees!”


      The warm glow ambiance of the foyer was shattered by the sound of sirens. Chatter ceased and a tense silence gripped the hallway. In a split second, the students lept to their feet and began combat preparation.


      “Grimm Invasion alert, risk level is at level 5. Authorities have been alerted to defend the civilian areas, please evacuate to safety as you follow the local guardsmen instructions.”


      The monotone soundtrack of the pre-recorded announcement continued as the city prepared itself to fight. The calm roads trembled to the unified march of Vale’s defenses. As the students rushed out onto the courtyard, a foreboding darkness loomed into view.


      The orange sky was smeared black with Grimm.


      In the distance, a storm of black encroached. Patches of Grimm littered the sky, a wall of Grimm blocked out the ground.


      “Holy crap….that’s a lot of Grimm.”


      Staring blankly at the sky, Blaze could only bring himself to utter those few words. As the students exchanged worried glances, Saphir began scanning the crowd. Teachers, graduates, anyone with authority would do.


      Right on cue, Saphir’s Scroll buzzed in his pocket.


      “This is about the Grimm invasion, isn’t it, Miss Stardream?” Saphir began. “What’s the situation around Vale? Any news yet?”


      “No, but the Vale guardsmen have almost completed the city’s defenses. There’s too many for the turrets to deal with, so there’s no backing out of this fight. So, here’s the plan.”


      The two teams gathered around the Scroll and awaited their orders.


      “I won’t go into too much detail, however, Saphir and Rosea will stay off the front lines to provide support for escaping civilians. I’ll meet up with Puria and head to the city’s edge. As I understand, team GELB is also with you. Your supervisor simply said, ‘Words are cheap, do what needs to be done’. He’s already out on the field. I’m keeping orders brief too, best of luck.”


      The line cut before the students could give their reply. With a quick push, Saphir rushed Puria towards Beacon’s gates.


      “You heard her, Puria, off you go.”


      “No need to worry, Pury~” Rosea chuckled. “I’m sure the opportunity to sortie with Saphir will come your way…one of these days anyway! I know how much you loooove teaming up with Saphir on large scale missions like these!”


      “Must you really rub it in?” Puria sighed and gave a disgruntled groan as Rosea clamped herself around Saphir’s torso. “That’s it, I am off!”


      Puria leaped off the ground with a violent kick. Nimbly working her way to the top of the courtyard’s structures, she was joined by another person as she passed the school gates. The pair leaped from roof to roof as they advanced down to the city center.


      “So Gelb, ‘do what needs to be done’, he says. Got anything more to add?” Blaze gave an almost childish smile as he turned to face the gates. “Or, do we finally get to just get on with things?”


      “Save the jab for later, Blaze. You know that rushing head first won’t work. These things require time to plan. But if you so insist on throwing yourself into battle, you take point in the city. Eirlys, Levant, supporting fire.”


      “Alright then...Levant, shall we?”


      “…No, it’s okay. You go ahead first. There’s something I need to talk to Gelb about. Let me know when you’ve found a good spot, I’ll catch up with you then.”


      “Why the secrecy?”


      “Sorry, it’s just a bit personal...I hope you understand, Eirlys.”


      “...alright then.”


      With an uncertain frown, Eirlys parted ways with her team. Lightly touching her Scroll’s screen, a muffled hiss escaped the armory. A streak of grey plunged down from the skies, puncturing the courtyard ground in front of her. Quickly snatching the light blue weapon from the capsule, she readied the rifle and departed.


      Again with this...distrust? How many times has this been…? SPHR lost a team member but you’d never be able to tell...but here...everyone seem to be hiding something...why the distrust? What do they have to hide from me?


      As Eirlys disappeared from view, the two remaining team members began their conversation.


      “So, what is it?”


      “I’d give her some more room to move this time around. She’s not stupid, she knows what she can do-”


      “…‘and given the scale of this sortie, if she doesn’t achieve good results, she’d never forgive herself’, or words to that effect?” Gelb nonchalantly completed Levant’s sentence and gave an understanding smile. “Has she been complaining again?”


      “Not complaining, as such. But her concern is visible though.”


      “She cares about results far too much, really.”


      “Who do you think she learnt that from?”


      “Yes yes, it’s all me, isn’t it.” Gelb called up his spear from the armory. In the distance, a deep bellow echoed through the empty campus. “That’s beside the point now. You heard our great supervisor, didn’t you? She might not know it, but he’s basically given her a blank cheque.”


      As the grey capsule nosedived into the ground, Gelb turned to face Levant one final time

      .

      “She’s still not up to it. She still won’t understand the price of the success she’s seeking, not until the damage has been done.”


      ---


      Helen squinted her amber eyes.


      Helmet in hand, she tapped her fingers against the equipment impatiently. All the while, she observed the advance of her own armada. An officer in his early twenties approached the Valkyrie. In his hand was a small device.


      “My lord, we’ve deployed the last of our troops bound for Vale. Your armada is ready for the assault orders at anytime. Here is your transmitter for them.”


      “Good, go to the control tower and await further instructions. Dismissed.”


      “Of course, my lord.” As the officer turned away, something held him back and he returned to face the superior once more. “As for the inspection carried out on that cargo plane found over Mistral, it’s holding blueprint data of those rumored prototype weapons developed by Atlas military. Your orders?”


      “Take the data. And spare no one.”


      “As you wish.”


      The officer gave a swift bow to Helen. Facing a flickering holographic, Helen prepared herself. After the flickering cleared, an image of the supreme ruler of the Legion appeared before her.


      “Master.”


      “Hello there, my little birdy. How is the preparation coming along?” Sanguis’ cheery voice threw Helen off. “I hope you’re ready to go Grimm hunting. This time, it’ll be something worthy of your Spirastella.”


      “I...don’t share your enthusiasm, I’m afraid, my master.” Helen awkwardly replied, unsure of what emotion to convey. “As discussed, it’s simply the most efficient way to take over Vale. Hydra’s presence is simply a means to achieving this. Even as a Grimm, I have little expectations for the challenge it’ll present to me.”


      “Feeling nostalgic of your old Huntress days? I wonder if your passion as a Grimm-killer still remains…”


      “Please, master...That’s all the past. My days as a Huntress are long over.”


      “Hmm, no matter.” Sanguis shrugged. “Whoever you end up playing with, don’t let it get in the way of the mission.”


      “Somehow I don’t feel all too comfortable hearing that last bit, master. Are you...serious about that?”


      “Nevermind that. Now...get prepared.” Sanguis ordered. “Take no prisoners, standard protocol, you know the drill.”


      “Consider it done.” Helen’s tone changed. Even from a great distance, Sanguis sensed the air of intimidation emitted from the black Valkyrie’s voice. “No creature or Huntsmen would escape me.”


      “Anything less than that would be insufficient from you.”


      “Of course.” Helen bowed as transmission ended. She put on her helmet and walked out in the open of the colossal hangar as the planes took off one by one with the heavy carriers.


      She took a deep breath and focused her Aura at the core of her body. Her cape spreaded freely from the winds of Vacuo blown over the Valkyrie.


      Still...there’s one thing that concerns me...I wonder how Gull is doing there in Mistral? He must’ve had his hands full against the mysterious third party that kept interfering our plans…Investigation was never my true forte, but I ought to assist Gull in dealing with this after I finished my business with Vale...it shouldn’t take too long to chew through those worms.


      Though her thoughts drifted, a single belief remained unwavering.


      Your days are numbered, Vale. Let the Kingdom’s end begin...


      ---


      A spark of crimson flew.


      Undeniably, it was the sound of swords clashing.


      Upon the uniformly black background, she felt her hands swing down.


      Strike after strike, in the blinding darkness of her surroundings, she parried an invisible opponent.


      Her eyes zoned in and out. There was little for them to focus on. Skillfully dancing around the void, she launched her strikes from every angle imaginable. Each attack was stronger than the last. Each run up was shorter, each approach faster than the last. The spray of sparks flew from the clashing blades with frightening succession.


      Hayasa felt disjointed. She felt the impact of each clash knock the wind out of her with each clash. Her movement as she backed off from crossing swords jarred her mind. Her strikes were weaker, yet bore more fury than she would ever use in battle.


      Kazehana swung down once more.


      Once more, it was met with an unmovable force.


      A crimson flutter shifted before her.


      Hayasa staggered back. Slicing down towards her was a glittering stream of scarlet. The blade’s uneven edge revealed its outline. A crimson claymore, shrouded in red and black.


      T-This pattern…


      As she parried, the penny finally dropped.


      The scarlet afterimage. The resolute resistance that withstood each and every one of her strikes unflinchingly.


      “Hmph. Is this all you’ve got?”


      S-San…guis…


      Hayasa’s katana ignited upon hearing that voice. A stream of high pressure air launched her forwards into the darkness. Putting all her weight behind her swing, Kazehana drew an orange arc within the void.


      With a deafening blast, the blades clashed once more.


      “Did you think you could just…run?”


      Thrusting the claymore aside, Hayasa lept away from the slowly forming figure.


      “To have betrayed me as you’ve done, did you not once consider my feelings?”


      Spoken with a mocking arrogance, Sanguis’ voice pierced her ears.


      Betrayal? All that was betrayed was my innocence…for that, I only have you to blame!


      “Hmph. Tell me then…did you enjoy it?”


      As if I could enjoy such senseless killing! I only did it because…!


      Hayasa raised her sword once more. A burst of wind thrusted her forwards. She felt her heart scream. It was a hateful feeling that ate away at her composure. It was one of intense repulsion and rage. For the normally collected warrior to be moved by such emotions, just the thought alone added to her overflowing anger.


      The katana and the claymore intersected one another yet again. This time, the claymore received the impact on its blade.


      r4igCQt.jpg

      “Ah, yes. You would say that. After all, you did look up to me…hence, to you right now, rejection of this aspiration is only natural. However…Your intense passion for strength is something remarkable. Did you not watch in awe at every display of this strength I put forward? Did I not, at that moment, inspire your bloodlust?”


      …W-what are you saying…


      “Then let me ask you.”


      Sanguis’ voice dissipated in the void. As she posed her question, a soft crack spread across Kazehana’s blade.


      “Did you really just follow orders?”


      O-Of course! That’s the only reason anyone could ever have! T-To have done what I’ve done…to have taken what I have…


      The crack spread. As Hayasa resisted, the rough chip in the katana became a deep incision. The scarlet claymore continued to push down on Hayasa’s hands, slowly but surely working through the katana.


      “Hmph. Yes, following orders to preserve one’s life. If this is indeed true, you would not be the first, nor the last to have done so. Act indifferently as you carried out your orders, one slaughter after another. Even if you did not understand why, even if you didn’t feel the need to do so. You would still swing your sword down.”


      Sanguis’ voice smoothed over the sharp grinding from the clashing blades.


      “That, however, was not you. ‘The Howling Winds of Blood’ is not a name that belongs to some yes-man, mindlessly appeasing their way through their lives. You did not understand why, but you felt no need to understand. You didn’t kill because you felt it was needed, but because you wanted it.


      “The warm, slick feeling of blood flowing onto your skin. That distinctive crunch as your prided blade impacted against the bones of your victims. Your display of power was often one of excess.

      “Change your ways? Salvage your innocence? Don’t make me laugh. A cold blooded murderer like you, trying to pass yourself off as merely the victim of oppression…”


      With a sudden jerk, the claymore sliced through Kazehana’s blade in its entirety.


      7WKFCny.jpg

      “…That alone is the height of hypocrisy!”


      A scarlet sweep swung across. Neck height.


      Hayasa felt a gruesome chill pierce her spinal cord.


      She gasped for air.


      A blinding white light pierced her eyes. Her body trembled, covered in a cold sweat. The grey ceiling flickered red. Inaudible noises bombarded her ears. But all she could feel was the heavy thunder from her racing heart.


      In the empty emergency room, Hayasa had finally regained consciousness.

    • CHROMA Chapter Eight

      2 years ago

      rin1990

      Upon the backdrop of a scarlet dawn, a black silhouette loomed into view.


      Eclipsing the rising sun, the 20 meter tall embodiment of Remnant’s greatest horrors homed into view of civilization. As though filmed for a movie, the scene of its relentless march towards Vale was accompanied by its own soundtrack. It was the stunning sound of silence, but it seemed to articulate the uncertain despair in the air better than any orchestra could.


      Codename: Levanthan.


      Best described as an 80 meter long Grimm lizard, its heaved and muscled its way towards its target. Shrouded by the dense treetops of Forever Fall, the creature had approached largely unnoticed by long range surveillance. The only saving grace was its lack of speed. However, for certain people, that too, was its strength. Should things go wrong, it could only spell a slow but inevitable end.


      It was in this climate of doubt and despair that the Umbral-class Grimm Levanthan attacked. It was not the first to have been spawned, but was easily the closest one had come to the city. Given this, nothing was spared. From fully fledged huntsman to academy freshmen, all were deployed for this battle.


      Within this situation, SPHR stepped onto their first true battlefield.


      Four years…


      Watching the scenes play out, Rosea’s mind began to fill in the blanks.


      My my…time’s really gone by.


      As she mused, the cinematic flashback faded into the background. Levanthan’s grotesque appearance, the army of Grimm it spawned in its wake, it all faded away into indistinct movements.


      Her thoughts wandered as the dream played out. The focus shifted, bringing the camera down to a first person view. Stood in amongst the masses, the students waited as Bullheads lifted teams towards the battlefield. Although their faces were blurred out, Rosea recalled her every interaction with those she did cross paths with.


      Protecting them from flanking, aiding the civilians…yup yup, fair to say I did my share of work that day. It’s been so long though, why do I still remember this?


      I guess I’m still proud of it, huh.


      How did this one end again?


      I can’t even remember.


      A complete victory, of course.


      Heh…else I won’t be here to tell the story, I guess.


      The ground beneath the beast cracked. Its squat, imposing form was engulfed by the earth in an instant. It struggled and flailed, locked into the ground by gravity several times that of the norm.


      Oh, I remember this bit. Holding it in place was the most the me from then could handle…at least that witch has me to thank for everything that happened afterwards. Fighting delaying actions really isn’t my thing, but this was spectacular in its own way…


      Right on cue, a spherical mass crashed down onto the Grimm’s head. The force plunged it into the ground, shattering the scales and stripping it of its protection.

      As the battlefield fell silent, so too did Levanthan.


      The ground trembled. Out of the corner of her eyes, a towering figure loomed into view. Its body was crudely shaped into a humanoid form. Perched on its palm, a girl looked down onto the battlefield.


      Her face was shrouded by a witch’s hat, her form likewise hidden away by a cape.


      Although this memory’s marked by those I’ve helped…That girl really didn’t need it. But, I’ll take credit for letting her secure the kill.


      “Still. As ever…your arrogance has yet to go away…”


      “Hmm?”


      A small voice brought Rosea out of her daydream. Her distant thoughts of the battlefield were disrupted by the bright summer sun. Its white heat radiated off the pavement, the sun’s reflection off the surroundings blinded her. Sat facing her, Eirlys cocked her head and gave Rosea’s hands a gentle poke.


      “Ah, sorry. It’s just a bit early…Oh, thanks for this.”


      With a lazy yawn, Rosea raised the cup of coffee resting beside her hand and smiled. Reaching for the sugar, she crudely tipped the packet’s contents into the dark liquid before taking a sip. As the coffee’s strong, bittersweet taste brought Rosea out of her sleep, Eirlys’ confused gaze became a disapproving frown.


      “What? I’ll pay you back for the coffee if that’s what you’re worried about.”


      “N-no, it’s fine, but…isn’t that really sweet?”


      “Bittersweet, just like love and exactly as I like it~”


      “…Are you sure you didn’t put too much in? I d-don’t think I’d be helpful on that topic-”

      “I’m joking, princess. Besides, it’s coffee, why do you care for how I drink it? I thought you hate the stuff.”


      “I guess…at least it seems to have woken you up.”


      “Yup! It’s done its job so can you stop judging me with those pitying eyes?”


      “I-I’m not judging you! I just don’t think you should use so much…”


      “I can take care of myself…or is this the mini-princess inside being disgusted at my crude use of sugar?” With a teasing smile, Rosea brushed her junior’s concerns aside before restarting the conversation. “Anyway, how are you feeling today? Were our antics yesterday a bit too much? Sorry for not being able to meet much, fourth year problems means I’m not on site a lot.”


      “I-it’s fine really. Yesterday was good, I honestly didn’t know Puria had so many friends there...Faunus friends no less. She’s...nothing like what I assumed her to be.”


      “Ohohoho...you’ll be surprised. What did you think she’d be like?”


      “I imagined her to be a straightforward and arrogant brawling type, not one for tact or deliberation.”


      “…Ouch, you sure don’t pull your punches when you speak your mind, huh.”


      “W-was that out of line? I don’t mean any of it offensively, but that’s what I think…”


      “Well you’re not too far off the mark, if anything I’d say you’re being too generous. She’s as crazy as everyone is making her out to be.”


      “But still, she was...surprisingly friendly…”


      Eirlys’ hesitation was visible. She shuffled about and attempted to bring herself to speak her mind, yet seemed to throw all self confidence away as her eyes met with Rosea’s own.


      “Hmm? What is it?”


      “That Levanthan Crisis...What was it like? To participate in the main fight…to fight amongst the teachers in such a large battle, to be able to prove your worth…”


      “Ah...so that’s what’s bothering you all the time? Really, was Puria’s storytelling that good? It was just last night that we had this conversation.”


      “W-Well...it’s one of many things at least...but, as a start…”


      “Hmm…It was awe-inspiring for us all. But…it’s not as great or valiant as we cracked it up to be. Make no mistake, we were scared.”


      Glancing around her surroundings, Rosea smiled and slid deeper into her chair. A warm, familiar comfort embraced her as she turned her gaze to the sky. The light blue expanse soothed what little worries she had from her mind.


      It’s a peaceful day today too…huh.


      Taking a deep breath, the light, bitter scent of roasted coffee beans worked to stimulate her memory.


      “Have you ever seen Vale completely empty?”


      “N-no…”


      “During those few days, these streets were converted into our last line of defense. Key positions aside, the entire city was shut down. Naturally, the military lined the streets. Mechs and automated turrets. There were no signs of life. That was the Vale we left behind that day. Sure we make it sound amazing, but there weren’t grand sendoffs or ceremonies…we simply put our differences aside for the fight, and that was that. Nothing more.”


      Eirlys watched as her senior lazily sat up for another sip of coffee. Rosea sighed and let out a tired yawn before resting her head on the table.


      “Haaa…can we talk about something else pleasee…I’m already feeling my age, it’s too early for me to be telling bedtime stories.”


      “…You seem to be quite jaded by the whole ordeal.”


      “Well, of course!”


      Rosea gave a disgruntled bark in response.


      “The whole ordeal, as you put it, didn’t need to happen. Someone somewhere slipped up and let it go unnoticed for far too long. The only reason Puria’s got so many stories to tell is because even first years were sent off to the front line. Granted, she’s not the only one who racked up the kills…but still.”


      “So who else was there?”


      “All of Beacon for a start. It really is a lot bigger than just a team…But, of the people in my year…Well, there’s always the arrogant witch. Battered the giant lizard into the ground and won the battle for us, annoyingly. ”


      “A...witch?”


      “Yeah, she’s a friend but can be very in-your-face at times…but, let’s talk about some people you actually know. How about I go debunk some of Puria’s more…outlandish stories.”


      “Are you sure you should be talking behind her back like this…?”


      “Pft, it’s fine. I’ve known her for long enough to say this with certainty. That girl’s not just ‘a bit aggressive’, she’s practically powered by blood-lust. The bigger the Grimm, the more fun she’ll have. During the Levanthan Crisis, that girl was basically in heaven. I’ve never seen a wider grin on her face since…nor have I seen her break her gauntlets since. So…yeah, she’s a scary one.”


      Casting her mind back, Rosea recalled the bloody ballet that Puria danced. Each and every move found a target. Her fists powered through what her claws couldn’t cut, her legs kicked aside corpses and launched her towards the next target. The flurry of purple that glimmered between the black fog was a sight that was cemented into the team’s memory.


      “That battle crazed loon is still really proud of herself for that, boasts that she scored the highest kill count that will ever be recorded. What she won’t say, however, is that she spent two days moping about as the pain caught up to her. Just this once though, I agree. Nobody can kill as many as she could in one go!”


      Nobody…huh…


      Eirlys’ amused expression sharpened upon hearing the words. Before Rosea could notice, she restored her attentive smile and meekly nodded. The sentence didn’t sit right with her. It was said in jest, that, she could understand. She simply couldn’t accept the idea.


      M-Maybe that’s it…quite literally “too good for one’s imagination”?


      “Y-Yeah...haha. I guess that’s fair…”


      But with just her fists…?


      “What’s wrong? Is the topic making you queasy? You seem agitated.”


      “O-Oh...nothing...I-I guess I’m just amazed…” Unsteadily brushing her thoughts aside, Eirlys cleared her throat and continued. “Well, what about you then…you didn’t talk much about yourself last night, how did you fair back then?”


      “Oh, you learn to just let Puria talk after a while. It’s more fun that way most the time. Me? Well…consistently above average~!”


      Rosea punched at the air with a sudden burst of energy and beamed proudly at her junior. With a casual shrug, she wiped the childish smile from her face before continuing, paying no heed to Eirlys’ completely bewildered expression.


      “I’m not really competitive, but I can look after myself. Not far off a proper huntsman’s skill, I guess. Hehe, I even landed a couple of major blows on Levanthan, very few people still in Beacon get to say that!”


      “Is that so…I guess most who could fight it have graduated…”


      “Yup! We’re the last of a breed here, so ask questions while you can~! But, really, the Umbral Grimm class is just an entirely different type of enemy. They say that once you lay eyes on one of them, you’ll instantly be able to judge if you’re capable of taking it down or not…hence I was never in any doubt that I couldn’t hurt it, you just to know the limits of your abilities to do so.”


      “I…see.”


      “…Yup. Umbral engagement rule one: Discretion is the better part of valor, don’t overcommit. That’s what the first years were all told, anyway. On top of the standard ‘your teams are temporary, your skills are forever’ stuff, basically, don’t be Puria.”


      Know my limits…?


      Eirlys averted her eyes from Rosea’s increasingly hyper behavior, her mind caught up in her senior’s suggestions. However simple the phrase, she couldn’t relate it to herself. She couldn’t find a concrete answer to that question. The extent of her powers, what she can and can’t do, she was truly confounded.


      Her mind searched for an example of these limits, but only to draw blanks. Not once in recent memory has she exerted herself in battle. Her role as the team’s sniper has been low risk, low effort. Onesidedly attacking unsuspecting Grimm who had no chance to retaliate, like shooting fish in a barrel.


      Teams are only temporary…so what does one do alone…?


      What future is there for a huntress, one who can’t do any more than a bounty hunter…? I…can’t be the only one to fight like this…right?


      A disheartening weight dropped on her shoulders.


      “H-Hey...tell me.”


      “Hmm?”


      “Could you...tell me more about your friend? I mean...the witch. H-how did she fight?”


      “Oh? Why the sudden interest in her?”


      “Y-you make her sound like the center of attention in that ordeal. Even Puria’s stories couldn’t get away from mentioning her…I…just want to know what she did…”


      “Her name’s Ceresia Walpurgis. Same year as me. A member of Team EGWL. Eagle, that is. She’s no leader, but she’s easily the strongest of the team. She ‘fights’ by sitting on her broom and pointing at things. Whatever Golem she then summons will do the rest. She usually only summons one, but it’d at least be four stories tall. Instead of a golem…it’d be better to think of it as a moving fortress.”


      With a slight pause, Rosea emptied the cup of its contents and gestured towards the street. Seeing Eirlys’ reluctance as she cupped her still half full cup of tea in her hands, Rosea perched herself atop the table and continued to talk.


      “Whatever it’s defined as, it does all the fighting for her. Even back then, anything below a Goliath wouldn’t be seen as a threat. Her ego almost certainly makes sure of that.”


      “…She sounds…pretty confident of herself.”


      “…You have no idea. No matter the situation, she’ll find a way to run her mouth. Just in the Levanthan Crisis, her words after bringing it down should sum her up. And so I quote…”


      Clearing her throat, Rosea coughed and tuned her voice to match the pitch of Ceresia’s voice before flamboyantly pointing down at the ground.


      “…To be lumped together with the generic trash in this ‘academy’…it’s fucking repulsive. Let this lizard’s death be my declaration! Burn into your memory the name of the most powerful being in Beacon! I, Ceresia Walpurgis, dare any and all to challenge my strength! I fucking dare you all!!”


      Stunned, Eirlys could only stare in complete shock at Rosea’s performance.


      “Hmm…I think that was a perfect re-enactment, I got every word in! Yeah…That girl’s funny. Though that particular time, it kinda fell flat since the staff were calling for a retreat. But, that’s just how she is...always in-your-face for anything competitive, especially when it's about raw strength.”


      Beyond the absurdity of Rosea’s acting, a conflicting sense of repulsion gnawed at her heart. It sparked a fire within her, soured her mood and silenced her pride.


      “Eirlys...?”


      Rosea poked at Eirlys’ still hands and searched for a response from her.


      “O-oh...sorry. Forgive me...I’ve been...spacing out a lot, haven’t I?”


      “Not really, it’s fair to be speechless after witnessing Ceresia’s arrogance, even if it’s through a re-enactment. But, if you’re tired, we can go back to your dorm and talk more there. It’s rare that we’re both not on a sortie, may as well catch up.”


      “Y-Yeah…it’s just a bit much to take in, I guess…”


      “It’s alright, the world’s full of strange people after all. Wanna change things up a bit and head for the dorms? You don’t really like the sunshine, right?”


      “I’d prefer to stay in the shade if possible, yeah.”


      With a feeble smile, Eirlys responded to Rosea’s invitation and finished the last of her tea in a swift gulp. The tea’s usual flavours went unnoticed, the only flavour she tasted was an unsettling bitterness. Trailing behind Rosea, Eirlys brushed the confused emotions within her aside and hurried after her senior.


      ---


      Sat in the corner of the library, Gelb flicked through the pages of a textbook with a sigh. The ‘brief’ history of Mountain Glenn and its geography was hardly the most gentle start to one’s day. However, with a flask of coffee by his side, Gelb continued digesting the blueprints and reports within the textbook. Pencil in hand, he began marking the pages. A series of lines and circles covered the map of Mountain Glenn, showing the team’s every sortie. Sternly narrowing his eyes, Gelb mused over the blueprints as he began planning.


      That was our third sortie there this year. This forsaken place’s only redeeming feature is its lack of civilians…The urban warfare environment is at least an interesting change.


      As the site of the Remnant’s largest failed expansion project, it only made sense to plan each sortie in advance. Going through the archives simply gave him something to cross reference with. The positioning of each team member, the surrounding infrastructure, he carefully dissected the blueprints in search for any and all advantages.


      “Miss Stardream, you don’t seem to be here looking for books. The library’s been empty since it opened as well. Can I help?”


      Without looking up, Gelb called out to the teacher as she approached.


      “Oh…so I’ve been spotted. Good day, Mr. Jaeger.” Epli began with a smile. “What’s today’s subject?”


      “As you can see…Mountain Glenn.” Pushing the textbook over the sheets of paper laid out on the table, Gelb continued the conversation without looking up. “Our sortie schedule’s come out and we’re basically assigned to that no man’s land now. May as well brush up on some general knowledge.”


      “Does general knowledge include the entire district’s blueprints? I understand that being a leader has its pressures, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t take me for a fool. It’s no different from any other regions, even to my knowledge.”


      “It’s part of the job description. I’d at least like to know that the buildings my sniper shoots from won’t collapse from old age and jeopardise the entire operation. Likewise, regardless of how easy the mission brief ranks the task, more information is never a bad thing.”


      “Knowledge is power and all that, is it?”


      “Yes, though for me, it’s just a force of habit now.” Gelb carefully tidied up the sheets of paper on the table. “Do take a seat. Doubtless this is one of the few breaks you’re allowed, given recent events.”


      “Well, reinforcing Beacon’s security is not as simple as signing off paperwork, so yes, staff have been working around the clock since the breach.”


      Gelb let Epli’s words linger briefly before gesturing in agreement.


      “…Fair enough. All in the name of security, is it not? Certainly, if even the safehaven can be breached, one cannot begin to imagine the dangers of acting in the outskirts, now can we?”

      Epli could only reply in silence. Gelb’s words had, intentionally or not, hit far too close to home. His choice of words and tone of voice seemingly called her out for glossing over her recent sortie results.


      “We can only do so much…no one claimed it to be completely safe either. Even so, we just have to take it in our stride and push on. Contribute to our cause as best we can, as we come and go.”

      Picking up the first article in Gelb’s stack of papers, Epli found herself skimming over a collection of old newspaper articles. Each cutout that made up the collection was dated at the top, spanning a period of over twenty years. Although times have changed, the focus of the articles did not. In each cutout, the image accompanying the article captured a certain fighter plane.


      “He’s probably doing that too, you know. You’ve been lucky to not suffer any major loss…I doubt it’s the same for him. Accepting it and moving on. It’s the only way forward.”


      “Please don’t look through my papers, you’ll be reading the relevant ones when homework’s due.” Gelb nonchalantly extended his hand and gestured for the piece of paper. “My father’s long since grown jaded of the fighting. The Red Swallow’s legends are exactly that, nothing more. In that regard, I guess you could say he’s moved on.”


      “It’s something your father should be proud of, Mr. Jaeger. I’ve heard numerous stories of him. Some were outlandish, some were more believable. But your father is easily considered a legend even now. All the more given his…interesting choice of aircraft.”


      “That’s why I once felt that I should be able to do better than him. His sentimentality holds him back. I’m…without that, and perhaps it can be said that I’m better a huntsman than he is a pilot.”

      “What I didn’t realize was that times have irrevocably changed. Now anyone can be their own legend as long as they have enough Aura and combat training to let them use their semblance without killing themselves, whatever that may be. Battlefield heroics can be achieved through brute force alone now…so in a way, I do share my father’s vice.”


      “Is this why you restrict your team’s usage of their semblance?”


      “…I don’t. If it comes across in that manner, I assure you it’s purely coincidental. It’s not a video game, there’s no achievement to unlock for fighting without its aid. If we aren’t seen using it, then it simply isn’t needed in the circumstance.”


      At least, that’s the case for most of the team.


      “To a point, it’s a mark of skill. However, past that, you’re simply operating in your comfort zone. Success breeds complacency, complacency breeds failure…you know all that. I assumed that’s why your father chose to make his name with equipment that’s just behind the cutting edge. A sense of challenge keeps you on your toes, and all that.”


      “These are some very unexpected words to hear a teacher utter. I would imagine the more accepted line of thinking would be to place efficiency ahead of all else. Pursuing the joy of battle at every opportunity will only endanger the mission.”


      “I’ve been in your place, so of course I at least understand the battle hungry mindset. I equally understand that, no matter how fun it may be, it will rarely be efficient. These missions, these battles…understand that really, they’ll never come to an end. However, the period in which you can truly bring yourself to enjoy these battles…that is short lived. Surely, allowing for a moment’s inefficiency to let loose wouldn’t be out of order?”


      “I don’t have a choice in the matter. Although it was never written out, I’ve come to understand what my life should be put towards.”


      “Do you want this? Is devoting your life to a family legacy what you want?”


      “What do you mean?”


      “Ultimately, it’s not about what your family or your father want, Mr. Jaeger. It’s about what you want.” Epli fixed her glasses and let out a sigh. “You should do things because you want to. If it contributes to the kingdom, then all the better. It might not feel like much right now, but for the commitment required in later missions, a half hearted sense of duty won’t be enough.”


      “…Hm.”


      With a confounded sigh, Gelb slid back into his chair.


      “You seem to have some things on your mind, so I’ll leave you to it.”


      ---


      System recalibrated.


      Standing by…


      All data backup completed. Combat simulation session ended.


      A young female removed her visor and got off her seat. The masses of wires attached to the visor collected at the now empty chair in a messy bundle. Exhaust vents dissipated the heat from the machines with a heavy hiss. Taking a step forward, she stretched her arms and reached towards a keyboard. The monitor flickered into life and presented the results of the simulation in a new window.


      “Ah, that was such an underwhelming test! So much to do but all of it mundane…since when did weapons testing become a chore?”


      The girl complained nonchalantly, seemingly hoping for a reply from the empty room. Right on cue, an electronic voice responded.


      “Master, with all due respect, this is the highest difficulty setting.” The voice, that of well spoken male, entered her ears from every direction within the small confines of the studio. “As you yourself laid out, it is mandatory to maintain a regular training routine. However, I fail to feel sympathy in this case. No matter how one cuts it, even proper deployments only entail you sitting here and moving your thumbs.”


      “You don’t feel anything anyway. Controlling more than 20 drones, fighting your way through waves and waves of mooks non-stop…I’m sure you’d get a kick out of that, Alexandrite.”


      “I am afraid it is as you say. It is not in my programming to ‘feel’ anything. However, when you do eventually reprogram the system to control said 20 plus drones, these training sessions will most likely end as well.”


      “Mhm. I oughta reprogram your A.I. a bit when I next remember, brings me closer to an early retirement! The students at academies complain about their Grimm hunting all the time. All this work I’ve done to help make things easier for them, but nooooo, the Council won’t have it! ‘Noo, difficulty spikes are too extreme for trainees who aren’t prepared’!”


      “Umm...master, actually --”


      “Well guess what, no amount of miniscule Grimm training is gonna prepare you for war! You wanna be a defender of Remnant, you gotta take the whole package with you! Fight in war, battle against creatures of evil, Grimm! Whatever supernaturals are out there! Thugs, burglars, soldiers, warmongers, veterans! You can’t have one without the other!”


      “I...think that’s going a bit far, master. In the end, the students in the Academies are just inexperienced children growing up to be Huntsmen. They’re green trainees, not prodigies like you back then.”


      The female typed away at the console at blazing fast speed, her swift and precise input was almost like playing a complex instrument of some sort that only she knows how to operate.

      “Oh please, Alex. The only thing ‘prodigal’ about me is having photographic memory.” The master insisted, her tone changed to that of a mildly annoyed young girl. “Everything else can be improved through persistence!”


      “Your sentiment is understandable, but I don’t think assaulting students in Beacon was the optimal solution. Compared to the Huntsmen the drones were designed to fight, it was hardly suitable for students. A single encounter would only serve to weaken the academy’s position.”


      “…Yeah, alright alright. Don’t you have a report or two for me? Let me hear that instead.”


      “Maintenance of the drones is proceeding without issue. The data accumulated from combating the Legion in Atlas’ airspace should be sufficient for our next --”


      Beep.


      Alexandrite’s report was abruptly interrupted by a notification.


      “Ah, looks like one of the boys at Mistral spotted my spy drone.” The girl jumped up from her seat and touched the global map hologram, homing into Mistral’s location. The map zoomed in to the battlefield, the screen lit up with red and blue.


      In between the mass of blue and red, a small butterfly symbol danced across the map. Swarmed behind it was a division of red. With a touch, the symbol immediately brought up a live video feed. Playfully swivelling the controls, the camera was brought to bear on the pursuers. Clustered in a tight pack, the pursing squadron frantically rushed to shoot down the intruder.


      “Nice. That means we’ve got their attention. Time to see what this new toy can do.”


      aRNhG4C.jpg


      The female dismissed the hologram without a second’s thought before punching a code into the keyboard. In the split second before the computer executed the command, she threw herself back into the seat. Enveloping her body, the seat strapped her down and, in a series of quiet hisses, began its transformation. Like a video game, an array of holographic displays flickered into life, accompanied by a simple phrase.


      [Skipper: Deployed]


      High in Remnant’s skies, a streak of black and orange finely parted the deep blue expanse.


      “Mission start!”


      ---


      Deep in Remnant’s oceans, a sharp crimson glared into the darkness.


      The sparse, hostile environment matched the eyes’ empty, hate-fueled glare. From its surroundings, a primal, guttural groan echoed. The blood red eyes grew in number with each passing second.


      Even within the hostile depths of the ocean, ‘it’ had a presence that struck fear into the heart of what little life around it. The seabed thundered at its every movement. Glinting white, streaked with red, the writhing creature snaked forward. Undetected, unnoticed, an all engulfing darkness drew the Grimm towards the nearest landmass.


      ‘It’ was a creature that dominated folklore. A rare Umbral that, even when compared to others, struck fear into heart of huntsmen.


      Grade 8 Grimm, codename Hydra.

    • CHROMA Chapter Seven

      3 years ago

      rin1990

      The fragmented moon hung above the silent desert dunes of the Legion headquarters, its radiance ever so apparent. The gentle light embraced the throne, its golden radiance lit the room in a warm ambience. With a warm breeze washing across the throne room, the serene silence had lulled Sanguis to sleep. Amidst the rhythmic winds, a rush of displaced air brushed against her hair. She opened her eyes and smiled.


      “Looks like my sentient newspaper has arrived. Finally. I was nearly worried.”


      Sanguis chuckled softly as her eyes followed the armored warrior’s entry. The metallic armor moved to kneel soundlessly before her. Up close, Sanguis noticed silver flakes marking the armor’s paint. The slight damage stripped the shine off the armor in vertical streaks. The valkyrie's shield showed similar markings, with countless scratches overlapping across its center.


      “Forgive me, master. Something happened after the regular patrol, hence the delay. It has been dealt with.”


      “I trust you’d explain?”


      “A band of Huntsmen formed by a combination of both Atlas and Vacuo trespassed into the Huntsmen Graveyard. Their intentions were hostile. Of course, they were hardly a match for me.”


      “Is that so?” Sanguis tapped her fingers on the throne. “I must say, it’s grown more frequent since the last meeting with the Council.”


      “The Kingdom Council? Did you talked to them today?”


      “Yes, of course. But really, it’s all just empty threats…”


      “...I see. So shall I proceed with my report?”


      “Speak.”


      “The larger Grimm surrounding Vacuo’s outskirt has been disposed of. However, the city is in ruins, and most of the civilians have already evacuated to the main capital. The outskirt is now a ruin of its former self.”


      “Anything else?”


      “During the clearing, I fought with former Legion member Fuunami. As such, I felt it justified the use of the opal crystal…even if you instructed otherwise.”


      “…Hm. Against someone who once turned against us, I’ll pardon this. Continue.”


      “It seemed to have missed her vitals, but the trauma from its blast should have incapacitated her. Although I have no visual confirmation of her death, I couldn’t sense her Aura after the attack. Even if she survived the initial attack, she’d likely succumb to her wounds.”


      Sanguis sank into the throne as she processed the information. Resting her forehead against her fingers, she let out a disappointed sigh. With her hand still covering her face, she allowed herself the luxury of musing over the assertion.


      After so long, for it to end in such a manner feels almost disgraceful. That is, If her death can be assured at all. Your Aura was always remarkably resilient, wasn’t it?


      It’s a shame…


      Sanguis peered through the gaps between her fingers at Helen’s kneeling form. Despite her fierce loyalty, Sanguis felt an almost insulting apathy for her in comparison to her former apprentice.


      That’s a slightly incorrect evaluation. My valkyrie, you may have simply become too powerful to warrant this care. Few can come close to your strength, after all. The two simply cannot be compared. Much as I dote…there simply has been little need for it. Both your strength and our adversary’s lack thereof so far…hmph.


      Perhaps this laxed arrogance will be what takes you away from me.


      “I see. Well done, even if the outcome was inevitable. Anything else to report?”


      “The 4th Legion Fleet is almost ready. There was a delay due to sabotage, but the situation is under control and the spy taken care of. Repairs are underway, and the schedule remains unchanged.”


      “Ah yes, that’s good to hear.” Sanguis’ expression lifted and gave a nonchalant smile. “It’s about time they took us more seriously. No matter what tough front they put up, their actions contradict their words. Damage report?”


      “The damage was focused around the supply barracks. One destroyed, one heavily damaged. One Bullhead was taken and subsequently crashed by the spy. However, given the nature of the 4th Fleet’s next sortie, I believe that it can still be carried out without issue.”


      Sanguis gradually rose from her throne and approached the Horseman. Slowly but surely, Helen could see her superior’s shadow loom above her. However, it was without the commanding presence that so often accompanied Sanguis.


      “Then I suppose there’s no problem. However…”


      “Yes, my lord?”


      “Do you have any news from Conquest? What happens in Mistral has to coincide with the 4th Fleet’s actions, so I trust you’ve been in touch with him.”


      “Yes, of course…”


      The soft shuffling of fabric and metal filled the pause. Helen raised her head as Sanguis’ footsteps began to echo through the grand hallway. Sanguis casually gestured for her to stand before calmly strolling towards the terrace. In the brief gap within the conversation, Helen cast her gaze along the throne room’s opulent furnishing. The room’s ambient, golden glow was a sight she could never tire of. Compared to the aging interior of her own base, it was a stark contrast.


      Not that I care. The lavish gold and decor is best saved for Conquest. So long as the Legion progresses towards its goal, luxuries such as this can be forsaken as far as I’m concerned. No amount of gold could buy a worthy opponent anyway.


      “So how is that giant nugget of gold doing?” Sanguis began once again as she stepped out onto the terrace.


      “Gull’s plans for Mistral is still going as planned, but is delayed due to disruptions from an unknown party.” Helen answered, her eyes looked into the distant night skies briefly before returning her gaze to Sanguis’ back. “The main fleet’s units are still largely unaffected, including the flagship. The losses have been focused our front line planes. However expendable they may be, the losses are slowly eating into Gull’s reserves.”


      “So what’s caused the losses?”


      “From Gull’s last update, there was no Kingdom markings on this plane.”


      “‘This plane’. Let’s forget its allegiance for a moment. Do I have this correct, it is one, single plane?”


      “…Yes. A fighter jet of unknown origin.” Helen nodded. “The only thing we have to track it by is its yellow butterfly emblem.”


      “…My, my. We do seem to be quite good at making enemies. I can’t imagine that perfectionist taking the news well. Hey, why don’t you join me when I next call him? It’ll be fun, watching him swallow his pride while I reprimand him for being unable to handle this situation.”


      “E-uh…I think I’ll have to respectfully decline.”


      “…I guess seeing someone you respect reduced to a ranting, hopping mad fool is not going to be for everyone. Especially someone close. You know…you two do spend a lot of time talking. Far too much time for it to be purely for communication’s sake. Should I be making room for a horseman in training? Or are you two not quite there yet?”


      “S-Sanguis!”


      “…Oh my. Did I touch a nerve? I’m just teasing. We’re too old to be playing with romance anyway. At ease, I’ll pardon the informality, no need to kick yourself for it. So…fun and games aside. A single fighter plane of unknown allegiance is making a fool of our air fleet. Said fleet is arguably more advanced than anything the Kingdom has on offer…and the only thing we have to track it is a butterfly emblem.”


      With an exasperated sigh, Sanguis moved towards the terrace railings, gazing down at the fortress beneath her, she set her mind to work once again.


      ---


      “Are you done yet, Eirlys?”


      Stood outside GELB’s dorm bathroom, Levant casually knocked on the locked door. The first day of the weekend left the academy largely empty as usual. Students of all ages flocked to the city’s streets for a chance to unwind. Whiling away her time as she waited, Levant turned her attention to the only source of noise within the room. Taking advantage of the silence in the academy buildings, Blaze allowed himself to take the morning to catch up with sleep. Sprawled out messily across his bed, he grunted and buried his head into the pillow to avoid the sunlight.


      You must be pretty tired by now, after all, we ended up calling it a night at 3am. The sortie alone didn’t finish until 1am…


      Levant glanced at her scroll as she checked the time. before bringing her focus back to the room’s beds. Beside Blaze was Gelb’s bed. The bed had been made and all traces of his presence had been removed. Although she herself was the first and only one to be notified of his leaving, her hazy memory of his words left her bemused.


      …It’s still only 9, where could you possibly need to be this early on a weekend?


      With the summer sun shrouded by clouds, the sweltering heat too had been taken away. The sky framed by the dorm’s windows was filled by stagnant grey clouds. As Levant waited, the comforting sounds of wildlife teased her back to sleep. She let out a tired yawn and wiped the sleep from her eyes. Her eyes felt weary. Her concentration was dulled. Resting her head against the room’s wall, she allowed herself to catch what little sleep she could.


      Take your time, Eirlys…the longer the better…


      A sharp click echoed into her ear, waking her from the brief nap. Levant felt a slight disappointment as the bathroom door swung open.


      “I’m ready. Sorry for keeping you waiting.”


      Eirlys smiled weakly as she stepped out. A slight beetroot lit up her pale face. Uncertainly, she shuffled about and extended her hand to Levant.


      “No need to apologise or be embarrassed, it’s fine. Rather, I’m happy you still wanted to go outside today. I imagine you’d opt to stay in after yesterday’s late night. Anyway, let’s step out quietly if we can, I don’t want to wake him.”


      Levant quickly tidied up her hair as she prepared to leave with Eirlys. Taking her hand with a small smile, Levant escorted the Faunus across the room and quietly opened the door. As they tiptoed out the room, she glanced back at Blaze. Seeing his peaceful sleeping face, devoid of its passionate flair and aggression brought a warm ambience to her heart.


      Sleep well, ‘hero’. No matter the outcome, you’ve played your part well.


      With the door softly shut behind them, the two girls made their way down from the academy’s dorms. As they strolled past the lecture theatres and hallways, they were met with the familiar faces of students. Admiring juniors, fellow third years teams, the students’ cheery chatter filled the academy’s corridors. The contents of the conversation ranged from casual gossip, open flirting between couples and homework panic. Although she found the brazened flirting a bitter pill to swallow, Levant buried the slight ache in her heart.


      It’s not what I’m here for anyway...More to the point…


      A recurring, altogether heavier topic was brought up in the chatter. The news of the small city’s spectacular destruction had spread like wildfire. A day after the incident, the media had swarmed around the once forgotten city’s remains, squabbling and debating over what had happened. A suspected WMD with a 2 kilometer blast radius that reduced everything within its reach to rubble. That much, everyone already knew. At this point, the details of the incident had been burnt into memory. However, the concern that gnawed at her mind was not the possible threat this weapon posed. It was altogether more immediate.


      A distant memory slowly surfaced in her mind.


      On the dark colour palette of the night, a torrent of black split the sky. It was as though this blackness was showing the night what true darkness was. In a soundless sweep, the jet of pure black ripped through the landscape. Like a heat haze, the disparate black shimmer radiated into the surroundings. At that instant, skill and armament held no meaning. With all weapons stripped of their lethality, all cover removed from sight, the playing field had been leveled. Mercenaries reduced to fleeing refugees, a section of forest erased and flattened. It stifled arguments, ceased combat. Its very presence subdued all retaliation.


      The sight shook her to her core.


      What would she be feeling right now…


      Glancing to her side, Levant watched with concerned eyes as Eirlys walked in amongst the echoing corridors. The awkward, complex expression with which she tried to cover up her angst spoke volume of her fears. Even as other students waved at the pair, Eirlys’ response was confused and half-hearted.


      “Worried about home?”


      Unable to watch her struggle any longer, Levant cut straight to the chase. Lightly petting Eirlys’ shoulder, she tugged her back and gave a small, understanding smile.


      “...N-no, not really. It’s not close enough to be a problem. I don’t know where that place is, but, I mean…what are the chances? I-It’s not that I’m not concerned either…”


      “…But you’re scared that if you do get worked up, you can’t perform and we’ll leave you?”

      Eirlys’ jumped upon hearing these words.


      “Don’t be too surprised, it doesn’t take much to come to that conclusion. After all, you never were one to hide your feelings well.”


      “I-Is that so…”


      “Being easy to read isn’t a bad thing…certainly, it makes things a lot simpler sometimes.” With a sigh, Levant took a step out into the courtyard. Eirlys held back and shrank under the building’s shadow. She firmed her grip on Eirlys’ shoulder. “It’s not hot or sunny, your preferred weather. Come on.”


      Reluctantly, the ghostly pale girl stepped out from the dark. The cloud cover isolated the summer heat from the light breeze. Softly, the wind brushed against her skin and refreshed her mind. Continuing their stroll, the pair made their way down Beacon’s main avenue.


      “Ugh…Levant, did we have to walk? The Bullheads would have been quicker and require far less effort.”


      “It’s good exercise, don’t you think? Besides, we’re in no rush. Let’s take our time, who knows, maybe I can even help settle some of your doubts.”


      “D-do we have to talk about it-”


      “Have you called home yet?”


      “N-no…I’ve not had the chance to. We had the mission last night when it happened so-”

      Levant placed a finger over Eirlys’ lips and smiled once again.


      “It’s fine to be worried about home, it’s normal to. Although Gelb draws the line between his emotions and his task very clearly, he doesn’t hold the rest of us up to that standard. You’ve worked hard to get here, we recognise that-”


      “But isn’t that all the more why I shouldn’t be distracted? Or else everything I’ve done would all be for naught-”


      “It’s not what you feel, it’s how you deal with it. It’s fine to be concerned, in fact, it’d be more worrying if you weren’t concerned. But, burying it in your heart is probably not going to help. More to the point, we’re not monsters, you know. One mistake won’t reset your reputation or destroy your track record.”


      Eirlys’ stressed expression finally showed slight signs of lifting.


      “You’ve done your part for the team wonderfully, alright? The team will be here for you if you’re ever in a pinch. Just shout, and a certain yellow spear will probably be the next thing your attacker sees.”


      At least…I pray it’s only a spear.


      “I guess so…”


      “In any case, as much as you don’t like the discomfort, worrying about home is a luxury that we’re lucky to have time for. Even the luxury of being around each other for extended periods is not going to last. Sorties will get longer and more sudden, we’ll have even more responsibility. It’s already happening, isn’t it?”


      “Mhm…but then again, it’s part of the job description.” Eirlys agreed with a more resolute voice.”It’s not tiresome, but it feels like everything has settled down into a routine. Our roles have all been decided on and I’m not getting any better. The team’s reputation may be good, but I don’t see how we’re different to the rest…’what if we can’t do much when the Umbral’s do show up?’ ‘What if we fail?’, it’s...a pretty scary thought.”


      “Cold feet?”


      “No, not really.” Eirlys shook her head. “The Umbral invasion is bound to happen...I just hope I can play my part when the time comes.”


      “It’s been three years, you’ve come a long way. Besides, it’s not like we’re fighting alone. There’s always the fourth year students. This generation did participate in fighting off the last recorded Umbral attack after all. It’s a hard act to follow, but it works wonders for boosting morale.”


      “I’m...honestly a bit envious of them.” Eirlys stuttered, her walking slowed down. “I mean...they always get to take on amazing missions and return with every student cheering and singing their names in victory. I think they’re honestly charismatic...and I really want to be like them one day. You know, to be someone the world can be proud of.”


      “I’m sure that’ll happen. We’ll be there to watch you take every step towards that goal. But, let’s focus on more immediate concerns first. Where do we want to go? The Red Lavender?”


      “Yeah. I love that cafe…” Eirlys chuckled. “They have some of the best tea.”


      ---


      The air is tense in medical room number 3.


      It was just past ten in the morning when the team was finally allowed to enter. No matter how much they prepared themselves for the worst, the sight that greeted them still struck a dread deep into their hearts.


      Hayasa’s beaten body lay unflinchingly in the bed. Her heavily wounded torso had been bandaged and her dislocated shoulders placed in a cast. The only sound to break the concerned silence within the room was the life support system’s regular, monotone feedback.


      Gathered around the bed, Hayasa’s teammates could only watch. It had barely been a day since the incident. The shock had yet to fully take hold of the team. From her being rushed back to Vale, placed in the infirmary to the doctor’s diagnoses, it had been too clean a process. Rightly or wrongly, not once were they allowed to truly understand the extent of her injuries.


      On the opposite side of the room, Epli immersed herself in the reports of her student’s condition and fixed her glasses. With a sombre sigh, the teacher closed the file and glanced out the room’s window.


      A heavy guilt weighed down on her heart.


      “I…cannot apologize enough. I did all I could…but it was not enough.”


      Saphir brought himself closer, giving him a better view of Hayasa’s unmoving face. The color had returned to her skin, though her unconscious state had yet to change.


      “No, it’s alright...If we’re talking blame…we can only share that responsibility for not being there with her.”


      Dammit...if only I wasn’t so careless that time…I could have…


      “…I could have…”


      “Don’t blame yourself. We all got caught up in the heat of battle, there’s nothing more we could have done.”


      “Yeah...I mean we could’ve reacted faster...but none of us wanted this.” Rosea moved to Hayasa’s bedside and held her bandaged hand in her own. “Besides...we were never told that the Legion would still be active in the area...not even Miss Stardream knew of this.”


      Epli turned away in a swift silence, placing her papers on the bed’s desk. Her timing allowed her to dodge Rosea’s sharp glare, and let her muse over the student’s question.


      ...There were details of the Legion’s stronghold being close to the edge of the operation zone...but even so, there is a time and place for revealing this knowledge.


      “Miss Stardream?”


      “Oh, sorry…” Epli fixed her glasses once more, bringing herself to finally face the three students. “No, we weren’t told of their activity. However…everything that can be done has been done. She is stable now, this much we’re certain of.”


      “So I’ve been told.” Saphir nodded and stood up. Slowly looking around the empty room, his eyes fell on the remaining members of the team. “It’ll just be us three for now, huh.”


      “I swear...whoever that Horseman is…” Puria cracked her knuckles, grinding her teeth in fury. “If I see that bitch, I am gonna tear her throat out!”


      “No.” Firmly denying Puria’s aggressive suggestion, the teacher rested a hand on Puria’s shaking shoulder. “I understand what how upset you are, but please listen to me when I say this -- you’re all not ready to face her yet. That Horseman, Helen Herja is to be avoided at all cost. Understand? Do not find her, do not fight her, and above all, do not let her see you.”


      Before Puria could open her mouth, Rosea immediately grabbed her by the hand and slowly shook her head in disapproval.


      Not now, Puria...please.


      Reluctantly, Puria relaxed her clenched fist and swiped Rosea’s hand away. With a weak sigh, Epli redirected her gaze towards Hayasa. Her last interaction with the student and the subsequent damage done made the limits of her power painfully apparent.


      This is the least I can do. I can’t control their actions forever...but for now, keeping them away is probably the best option.


      I know the team is concerned, however, we must keep moving. I’ll keep an eye on her, for now, we should all get some rest. Dismissed.”


      Saphir got up with Puria holding onto his shoulder and Rosea by his side. With a quick bow, the trio made their way to the door.


      “Thank you for taking care of Hayasa, Miss Stardream. We’ll be on our way now.”


      Making their way out from the room, Saphir walked across the hallway of the dormitory and examined the environment. It was peaceful. Lively. A world apart from the tense atmosphere in Hayasa’s room.


      “Cheer up, Saphir...Miss Stardream is with her. She’ll be fine.” Puria wrapped her strong arm around Saphir and smiled reassuringly. “I’ve tangoed with Hayasa countless times before, I know she’s not gonna let this kill her. She’s too stubborn to die from just that.”


      yeI1454.jpg

      “Thanks...but I want to keep it real, too much optimism might only be setting us up for a nasty fall. It’s hard to stay calm about this…”


      “Well it’s understandable. But I have faith in Hayasa being able to pull through…it’s really all we can do.” Rosea’s voice faltered briefly. There really was little else that could be said. “When Hayasa inevitably starts chasing the Legion down for this, we’ll be there for her.”


      “With three of us together supporting Hayasa in the next encounter, we’ll make sure to make that Horseman pay, alright?”


      Saphir allowed himself to crack a small smile. The least he could do was acknowledge his team’s efforts in cheering him up, even if the effects were only temporary.


      “Thanks, both of you.”


      I am not one for hope, but…just this once. I know she’s strong enough to pull through this.


      With the newfound optimism lightening the team’s mood, they were greeted by a familiar face. The fiery red hair and bright green eyes could only have belonged to one student. Although there was a touch of fatigue showing under his eyes, the energy that defined his character was still there.


      “Heyo, Saphir!”


      “Blaze, you sure seemed to be in high spirits today.” Saphir sighed.


      “Hey, hothead.” Puria greeted from behind the Faunus.


      “Howdy, Blazey.” Rosea greeted the last.


      “Sup, snake gal and Rosey.” Blaze walked forward to the team, his hands stuck in the pockets. “You girls don’t mind if I borrow Saphir for a moment, right? Gotta talk to him about something.”


      “Hmm…it’s not like we got any plans or whatever, right?”


      “Well, I’ll be off for a moment. Just call me if you need anything.”


      Saphir and Blaze walked off waving the girls goodbye, with the girls doing the same in response.


      “Well, Saphir’s gone. What now?” Puria looked at Rosea with an equally clueless gaze in her eyes. “It’s cloudy today, so…”


      “Ah, I know! Why don’t we go and pay the girls in The Singing Wolves a visit? It’s been a long time since we last went there.”


      It was a second home of sorts for Puria. For the battlehungry girl, the soothing atmosphere of the bar was perhaps the most fitting place for her to unwind after each sortie. Naturally, she had become friendly with the bar’s staff over the years.


      The Singing Wolves….heh, sure brings me back to the rowdier days…


      “Yeah, why not? Might as well take some time off to relax.” Puria stretched her arms and wrapped it around Rosea. “Besides, we got a lot of juicy stories to share to the girls there, maybe we could get some discount on drinks or something!”


      “Haha...you wish.” Rosea chuckled.


      “Oh yeah, I have a way with words sometimes too!”


      With Puria’s voice booming through the corridors, the surrounding students gradually moved aside. Watching the pair disappear in amongst the crowd, Saphir turned his gaze back ahead. Dragged along by Blaze’s large steps, he found his legs awkwardly lagging behind as he struggled to keep pace.


      bpzuA14.jpg


      “So, oh great lord of harems. Anything amazing to share lately?”


      “Tsk…are you going there right off the bat?”


      “But of course! I’m just so amazed you wound up in a team with three girls…and still have a girlfriend, and somehow you’re still alive! All without once jeopardizing the team’s dynamics!”


      “…you give me too much credit.”


      “Relax, relax, just poking fun. How have things been?”


      “Just more tedious Grimm hunts, Vacuo this time.”


      Saphir sighed in disdain as he hurried his step to keep up with Blaze. Although Hayasa’s incident weighed on his mind, he held his tongue and sidestepped the topic. With so much news centered around Vacuo flying around already, the last thing the panicked students needed was more excuses to worry. However small a contribution it was, Saphir decided to play his part.


      “Truth be told, it really isn’t what it used to be. In fact, it’s becoming quite a pain in the ass. The Grimm come back stronger every time, and they often come back when we least need the drama.”


      Noticing Saphir’s evasive, vague response, Blaze took the hint and followed through with the casual conversation.


      “Want your money back? Sorry, no refunds. This is the life we bought into, and frankly getting stronger is sorta what those creatures do. Irrespective of time and place, it’s our job to fight. They make for the biggest cockblocks or the rudest wake up calls though.”


      “Okayyy…maybe too much info right there.”


      “…Huh? Oh, that. I’m talking hypothetically, no need to get so excited. Well…ok, I’ll own up to the latter example. Guilty as charged. But, let’s not get sidetracked.”


      “Now now, that’s quite enough of me. How have you been doing? Your messy hair and tired eyes tell me it’s not quite smooth sailing with you either.”


      “Ah, still the usual.” Blaze replied offhandedly and glanced away. “Gelb just accepting missions left, right and center and dragging us along. I get it if he’s got no life and wants to fill up his time with sorties, but don’t drag the rest of us down.”


      “Huh…”


      Saphir followed Blaze’s glance and gaze at the high fences that surrounded the school. The grey clouds continued to slowly drift through the sky. It was a sight that appealed to his wandering heart. The idle conversation pushed his mind off the past twenty four hours’ tensions, allowing him to turn his attention to other matters. His eyes stung and he felt breathless. Coupled with the increasing ache in his legs, it was only now that he realised his fatigue. Taking a deep breath, he slowed down to walk at his own pace and leisurely formulated his opinion on the topic in hand.


      “Gelb, he’s surprisingly quite a shut-in, isn’t he? Last time I saw him, he hardly talked about anything else other than missions and fighting tactics. You’d think that a son of a famous ace pilot would be more sociable than that. I never see him outside the library.”


      “Eh, I’ll stand up for him this time and say that the last time you met him, it wasn’t exactly a relaxing period for the team. I was pretty grateful for his commitment then. But, the guy really needs to lighten up. His personality isn’t rotten, but he lives his life for the next mission. We should take him out for a drink, see what lies beyond the honour student.”


      “…Whatever you’re thinking, I want no part in it. Given how tense things are nowadays, giving your leader a hangover is probably not the best way to say ‘lighten up’.”


      “Oh come now, you’re part of the sober brigade too?” With an exaggerated sigh, Blaze gave a disgusted groan in response. “I thought some of that purple haired looney's energy would have rubbed off on you by now…guess not.”


      “Nope. Not too sorry about it either. On the topic of purple hair, how’s that young lady treating you? She seems to like your company.”


      “Well…She’s...still her I guess. Truth to be told, I’m not quite sure how to describe her myself. She really looks after the team, treats us like family and all that. I guess I’d fill the role of the delinquent little brother in her eyes.”


      “Hehh…Is this a complaint I hear?”


      “Oh no, hardly. She dotes, but she’s definitely the warmest person on the team. Between the honor student and the cool beauty, conversation can be pretty frosty sometimes.”


      “Really, huh. I’m surprised, most teams should be close enough for open conversations after three years. Mind you, I hardly know your team well enough to pass judgement.”


      “Wanna meet them some time? I know we sound pretty distant, but I’d like to think that by our princess’ standards anyway, what we’ve got is about as close as she’d feel comfortable with.”


      “So how is the princess doing? Or rather, the more appropriate question is what type of person is she? I really only know her by name…since I’ve nothing better to do, may as well learn more about your lot.”


      “Ah, it’s alright.” Blaze stretched his arms and let out a yawn as the pair continued to wander aimlessly. “Eirlys is just well, quiet. Granted, it’s better than the silent time bomb she was at the start, but she’s become as silent as Gelb. I swear they’re the same person underneath. That, or the two are made for each other. He calls the shots and she shoots. I can totally see it working out…hell, I’ll put a fiver on something happening this year.”


      “…I don’t think it’s that simple, but if you’re going to offer, I’ll take you up on it.”


      “But…anyway. It’s nearly noon, I’ll probably go annoy the stuck up, wanna join in? Or do you want your brooding time now that you’re free from entertaining casual conversation?”


      “I’ll tag along, I guess. If nothing else, I could do with some brushing up at the library. Brooding is overrated anyway.”


      --


      “Sleepy? I thought you were our nocturnal party animal with energy only matched by bloodlust.”


      Setting foot onto Vale’s high street, Rosea glanced across at Puria. In their brief stroll into town, the tall girl’s booming voice had faded into disgruntled yawns broken up by sporadic complaints.


      “Oh shut up, like you’re handling this well yourself. Neither of us got a wink of good sleep waiting in that hallway.”


      “It’s hard to sleep when we’re worried. At least, we can set these concerns to the side now. Miss Stardream’s taken over, so it’s not like we can do much else. Let’s take this chance to cool off.”


      “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”


      The relentless pace of their lives finally began to settle down. With weary eyes, Rosea allowed herself to step away from the casual banter and took in the sight before her. The sights and sounds of Vale’s high street on a weekend captured the peace which they fought to protect, along with all the mundanities that came with it.


      Amidst the people, a flutter of white caught Rosea’s eye. It was a white so pure it shimmered. Just through the gaps between the crowd, she easily recognised the waist length white hair.


      “Oh my, now this is rare.”


      “Huh? What’s up now? Why the rush?”


      Frivolously pushing her way forward, Rosea tugged Puria through the scattered crowd as best she could. In response to Puria’s confused questions, she hushed before pointing towards the two girls stood an arm’s length away. With a nonchalant shrug, Puria nodded and gave Rosea a thumbs up.


      In a flash, Rosea made up the distance between herself and her target. Standing in the girl’s blind spot, she delicately weaved her hands between the twin black wings and lightly tapped the girl’s shoulders.


      “Boo.”


      “O-oh, you’re…”


      “Hey hey, don’t tell me you forgot about me. Or…” Lightly resting her head onto the ghostly pale girl’s shoulder, Rosea smiled slyly and poked her cheek. “Are you just so happy to see me that you’re at a loss for words?”


      “N-no…w-well…H-hi, Rosea…”


      “Wow, you really don’t wait up, do you?”


      From behind them, Puria finally caught up with the group. Plucking Rosea off Eirlys’ back, she quickly waved towards the two girls. Although she knew their faces, she was not as acquainted with her juniors as Rosea was.


      You’re...Levant, right? And that’s…umm…Aeris?”


      “Eirlys.”


      “Right. My bad.”


      “Still, how are you doing?”


      “…it’s...been a while.” Eirlys bowed briefly before turning her face towards Rosea. “I-I’ve been good…I guess. H-How have you been with the team?”


      “Well...let’s just say it’s not all rosy on our end.” In contrast to her heavy words, Rosea simply chuckled. “But really, it’s nothing we weren’t expecting to happen. If anything, I’m amazed we’ve managed to be this lucky for so long.”


      “Ehhh…we’re talking about this now? I thought we’re here to move away from that topic.” Puria waved her hand dismissively and dropped the subject. “So, with that in mind, you girls goin’ somewhere? We’re about to head to the Singing Wolves Tavern! Why don’t we all go and catch up there?”


      “Umm…” Eirlys stuttered. “I-I am not sure, Miss Anaconda. We had another place in mind already…”


      “Come on, Eirlys.” Levant lightly pet her teammate’s icy cold hand. “We could always go to the Red Lavender another time, this is a chance for us to talk with the seniors! It’ll be a great way to learn more about their experience.”


      As Eirlys continued to relent, Rosea moved besides her and took her by her hand.


      “Don’t get so worked up. It’s been a while, and I’ve only just started talking. I’ve still got plenty to say, won’t you hear me out?”


      Rosea’s smile brought an indescribable sense of security to Eirlys. With the insecurity gradually fading from her expression, she held onto Rosea’s hand and gave a confident nod.


      “Drinks are on me then!” Puria gave an energetic laugh and cheerfully led the way. “Anything goes, so just settle down and have a good time!”


      “Getting a little eager to burn the Liens, aren’t we?”


      “Hey, I earn a lot with little to spend at times, so why not spend it with friends once in awhile?”

    • CHROMA Chapter Six

      3 years ago

      rin1990

      The wind howled.


      Ever so ominous yet eerily beautiful, the sky was lit a bloody red by the sun’s descent into darkness. Silhouetted against this scarlet backdrop, a single structure split the sky. In the highest floor; the innermost room of the castle that pierced the heavens, Sanguis sat in silent solitude.


      The serenity of the silence belied the chaos the organisation caused. Yet the sole, undisputed owner of the castle sat in calm appreciation for the silent throne room’s spacious hall. The rich, deep colour of the gold decor worked with the large chandelier and lit the room in a dim, relaxed ambiance.


      A small holographic projection popped up before her.


      Ah...about time.


      Sanguis clicked on the small button on the left armrest of her throne and was immediately greeted by large wide projection of the Kingdom Council members. Their faces, shrouded by the shadows, eventually became visible to her crimson eyes.


      “Why the secrecy, my dear Council friends? Shouldn’t we at least have some form of trust at this point?” Sanguis smiled calmly as Council’s faces stared back in disdain. “All these identity filters and faces of condemn...what are you all afraid of?”


      “You know perfectly well why these are in place, Overlord Ruina.” The Atlesian Council member was the first to speak. His heavy tone echoed through the speakers, the gruff voice let its displeasure be heard. “Your demands are absurd and utterly inexcusable. Even by our previously lenient standards, this is beyond debate. You cannot possibly think we will agree to such terms in sharing natural resources of that quantity.”


      “Irrespective of what you call yourself; or what term you attempt to hide your expansion under; your continued resistance against our warnings to keep off Vacuo Kingdom’s resources is an action that threatens war. Hardly the best starting point for a supposedly diplomatic empire, would you not agree?”


      “Moreover, you are already aware that your proposal of sharing resources has been declined- time and time again I must add- so why do you insist on ignoring our answer?” Another Council member spoke. A woman representing the Kingdom of Vacuo fixed her glare at the Overlord of the Legion with noticeable aggression.


      “Not to mention, your aggression towards many Huntsmen representing our Kingdoms have become intolerable. Every life taken will only further increase the likelihood of war against the Four Kingdoms. This is a war you cannot possibly win, Overlord. This fact, surely, you must know better than anyone else.” The final voice, that of an elder man representing the Kingdom of Vale, spoke calmly. “So...why continue the resistance? When you are so utterly outnumbered in every way?”


      “And let’s not forget the foolish act of attempting to invade Mistral to cripple our Huntsmen front defense line.” A more fiery mature woman representing Mistral spoke. “That spot is defended by the absolute best Huntsmen I’ve picked representing our Kingdom. Whoever you send to fight there will not survive our wrath. You are declaring war in the most foolish way possible.”


      “Alright, now that you’re all done gawking about your wonderful progress in preparing against my slow but eventual invasion, I can only say I’m impressed that you are all still so confident and enthusiastic.”


      Sanguis shrugged before clasping her hands together. Her calm demeanour was unfazed by their words, she sat with her leg crossed and paid only token respect to the council members.


      BSK4WYl.jpg


      “I did say I would at least attempt to provide a peaceful solution to settle our share of furniture in the world. But turns out it doesn’t seem to worked out. That...or maybe I am just not a good diplomat, but I digress.”


      “Your failure of understanding this system is exactly why we cannot let you establish your Empire, Overlord Ruina.” The Atlesian Council member exclaimed. “While your actions are arguably better than the previous dictator, it is still simply the lesser of two evils. Those who force their ideals onto another through bloodshed have no place in sharing this world’s resources.”


      “And so what means of imposing ideals onto the masses would be preferred by the great Kingdom Council? Who are you to dictate which Empire is worthy of sharing a portion of the natural resources, Mr. Council Representative?” Sanguis asked nonchalantly after yawning at the remark given by the Atlesian Council Member.


      “Last I recall, your job is to represent the Kingdom in a discussion to enforce peace, not threaten war. If you deem me a threat to your prized way of life, then why not act on your words? Or do you aim for another diplomatic and political success, like that of the widespread suppression of the White Fang and the ideals that movement embodies? So I ask you again…what do you think you can possibly accomplish from this form of so-called ‘control’ on these ‘different beings’?”


      “You…!”


      Before the Atlesian Member can respond, The Mistral Member interrupted.


      “Don’t test your luck, Overlord. You’re utterly outnumbered and your underdeveloped soldiers barely stand a chance against one of our Huntsman. I am mildly curious, makes you so confident that you stand a fraction of chance against us?”


      “Well, doing so would ruin the surprise.” Sanguis shook her head. “War on Legion soil was becoming inevitable anyway, so I took the liberty of disposing anyone foolish enough to remove us by force in Vacuo.”


      “Don’t tell me you just…” The Vacuo Council Member stuttered in fear.


      “Oh I thought you would know by now. You just sent 4 more lives to their deaths. Their lives were not lost in vain, for they at least allowed my subordinate to practice her butchering skills.” Sanguis chuckled. “In fact, I lost count how many have been executed by her alone. Give it a few more weeks and I think that portion of badlands could very well have its own official location name on the map. With all those weapons as tombstones of their former masters, those broken bones and blood spilled all over the earth --”


      “You’re so eager to wish for your Empire’s end, don’t you?” The Member of Vacuo is furious. Seemingly satisfied with the response, Sanguis’ smile widened without a hint of remorse.


      “Come on, don’t tell me this sentiment isn’t mutual.” Sanguis chuckled again. “Since it’s clear that a peaceful settlement is out of the question, it’s only polite to respond in kind when you took the initiative to land the first strike.”


      “You will regret this decision, Overlord. This is a mistake and you know it.” The representative of Vale uttered, his voice grew stern.


      “Oh, it’s a mistake, alright….but made by who?” Sanguis teased with a sly smirk.


      “Your Empire’s end will be swift and your death will be painful, Overlord. Know that you will not stand a chance against us.”


      “I believe this concludes our little meeting then.” Sanguis ended the transmission without expecting further replies. Letting out a sigh, Sanguis got up from her throne and stared into the crimson horizon. Her smile remained on her calm expression, the threats given from the Council members merely ringing hollow to her ears.


      Not yet. Just a bit more...


      ---


      The echo of blades crossing boomed through Vacuo’s badlands.


      Strike after strike, the outskirts of the desert city began to crumble under the intense pace of the raging battle. Hayasa’s each and every swing was parried effortlessly, the energy within her strikes simply redirected it into the environment.


      “Pathetic.”


      Helen sighed with slight disappointment. Kazehana was locked down against her own blunt weapon, blocking its ability to strike as it had done so time and time again. Hayasa’s reflexes paused, stunned by her repeated failure to draw blood. Yet, this was not the time for lamenting her weakness. With her blade suppressed, she was completely exposed to counterattack.


      Shit..!


      Hayasa stabbed the katana into the ground before Helen could raise her weapon. Helen was left without anything to push against. Pivoting around the sword, she swung her legs around to land a kick on Helen’s exposed head. Yet, as quickly as she performed this strike, the sole of her feet were intercepted by a flash of silver.


      “Humph!”


      Shield in hand, Helen gave a simple push. With raw strength alone, she defended against Hayasa’s attack. The shove launched the huntress backwards. Hayasa’s hand, still holding onto Kazehana’s hilt, pulled the sword from the ground in a single tug as she was thrown back. Tumbling and crashing through signposts and vehicles, Hayasa was violently planted into a solid wall. A dense crack echoed from her impact. The energy continued through her, leaving a huge crack in the wall.


      “G-gar-ak…agh!”


      With a clatter, she felt her katana slip out from her weakened grip. Hayasa felt the pain as it slowly settled in. Blunt and gut wrenching, she felt the impact resonated within her core. She quickly refocused her eyes. Her trajectory was easily visible, but her shaken mind couldn’t accept it. The counterattack had managed to thrust her into a wall some hundred meters away.


      W-What’s with this strength…?!


      Her ears were ringing, her torso ached. However, they only served to stoke the raging fire in her heart. Clenching her fist, Hayasa tried to balance herself as she fell to the ground. Hayasa reached for the katana, she centered her glare on the small black warrior in in the distance. Her attention was directed towards the bizarre weapon in her hand. Seemingly gathering energy at its tip, Hayasa searched the surroundings for a possible avenue to approach from.


      Yet, from Hayasa’s range, what caught her eye was the lime tinge that slowly reflected against the sandy yellow battlefield. A distant voice echoed into her ears. The black energy cloud from Helen’s weapon was aimed at her.


      An emerald fireball streaked into Hayasa’s vision.


      Before it reached Helen, the gathered energy changed its focus.


      In an instant, the weapon unleashed a cyclone of black and red. It expanded into a tornado that grew along the weapon’s axis, pointing itself in the direction of the viridian glare. Clashing in midair, the blaze missed the tornado’s opening. It buried its flame into the strong gales, rapidly engulfed and extinguished by Helen’s attack.


      But the damage had already been done. The spiraling weapon began to wind down its attack, having expended the Dust crystal’s energy. The vortex of black and red dissipated, releasing the chunks of landscape that its violent gale had lifted from the ground.


      Helen narrowed her eyes and clicked a button on her weapon’s grip. The sound of shattering glass echoed within the weapon. Swinging it out before her, a glitter of green spilled out from the cone-shaped armguard.


      ...To think I wasted my move out of self defense like that...how careless.


      Helen turned her attention back towards Hayasa, only to find her missing from the wall.


      Tch…I will find you, traitor…


      “You will NOT harm my students, Valkyrie!”


      Epli stood on a bent girder of a destroyed building, she placed the Black Valkyrie firmly in her glare. Exhaling heavily, the goat Faunus reached for her pocket to grab a shard of bright magenta and crushed it with her hand. Epli’s body began to glow a shimmering purple with shards of reflective crystals materializing around her.


      ...Purple Dust?


      Epli raised her left hand. The crystals shifted and realigned, combining to form a crystallized spear. Stretching out over 3 meters in length, Epli set her sights on Helen with this weapon.

      “Hmph. Outsiders should stay silent. This is merely exacting judgement. For those who turn their backs on us…there is only death to be reckoned with!”


      Helen’s cape unfurled. The texture of the fabric took on the feathery appearance of raven wings. Lunging into the air, she quickly took flight. As she gained altitude, her weapon gradually began rotating once again. Helen turned to face the streamlined mass of glistening violet. The glimmer from its reflection in the sunlight shone into her eyes as it traced her flight path.


      So you’ll stand your ground for the traitor, huh…


      “…Courageous for a teacher, foolish for a Huntress.”


      Epli released her massive crystal spear and fired it at Helen.


      The Valkyrie responded in kind. Diving down, she drove her spiralling weapon into the tip of the crystal spear. Without resistance, the spear cracked and shattered upon impact. Against her weapon, the once titanic crystal spear was no more.


      Continuing her dive, Helen swooped down with her weapon still drawn. From the corner of her eyes, the desert’s golden sand seemingly flashed orange. But it was too late, she had already committed herself. Her weapon aimed squarely at her heart, the Valkyrie focused her attention on the target in front of her.


      Humph, at least you’ve tried. You can die proudly, Faunus.


      Preparing to receive this attack, a large circle bloomed some meters above the teacher. Marked with runes and pulsating blue, it framed Helen in the center. A column of circles blossomed forwards. It rushed upwards, forming Epli’s line of defense.


      As the teacher fought to protect her student, as the Valkyrie prepared to resume exacting ‘justice’, a streak of red and orange rushed towards the two.


      It’s futile --


      In a flash, a glimmer of violet swung down.


      “HARRRRGGGHHH!!!”


      “What?!”


      Helen instantly raised her shield towards the incoming attack. Receiving the full brunt of the charge, she was thrown off her flight path. Caught off guard in midair, the Valkyrie could only focus on defence as she was thrusted back by the momentum.


      Tch, as expected, you’re a stubborn one, traitor…!


      Hayasa unleashed a flurry of slashes against the shield. Each slash left a deep mark of blazing white on the shield’s surface, yet she knew it wasn’t enough.


      Why?


      With each swing, with each strike, the confusion within her heart grew. The sword vibrated in her hands, unable to find traction on the shield. It bounced and trembled as it was swung down. with each swing, she could only feel her grasp of her situation slip away. More than anything else, Hayasa felt a fear begin to creep into her resolve.


      Why is the shield still intact? Kazehana’s high frequency edge…isn’t working?


      The high frequency edge, a weapon that could reduce an army of Atlas’ latest mechs to scrap with ease, failed to penetrate a simple shield. Despite her momentum, despite the sheer force of every attack she made, it showed no signs of yielding.


      But how?!


      What’s with her shield? What is it made of?!


      It was evidently futile. The element of surprise and momentum from her entry had all been exhausted. No longer able to push Helen back, her surprise attack had now come to a dead halt.

      As Hayasa’s attack continued ineffectively, Helen quickly regained control of the situation. Fending her off with one hand, she altered her stance and readied her weapon. Within the barrage of attacks, Helen searched Hayasa’s movements for the opportunity to counterattack.


      No…against you, even that is not necessary.


      Hayasa swung down once more.


      Kazehana clashed hard against the shield.


      Humph...fool.


      Pushing her weight forward, Helen repelled the katana in a single shove. In a demonstration of her incredible strength, she instantly began her counterattack. As Helen’s shield lifted Kazehana into the air and threw Hayasa back, the black tip of her weapon rushed forwards.


      Unable to dodge, Hayasa could only watch as the spiralling object traced a path towards her head. Time seemingly ground to a halt. From a distance of some centimeters away, she could feel the chilling rush of air from the weapon’s tip.


      Shit!!


      “Fuunami!!”


      Lunging to her side, Epli flung Hayasa away from the weapon with all her strength. She tossed a shard of glowing green in Helen’s direction before taking cover.


      “Get back, child!!”


      “Kugh…”


      With bitter reluctance, Hayasa complied. A pulse of orange engulfed Kazehana’s blade. Pointing the sword away from herself, Hayasa tightened her grip. A low frequency roar erupted behind her, thrusting her away in a stream of fire.


      Like a proximity mine, the crystal began shimmering rapidly as Helen moved into its range. Seemingly counting down, the shimmer became a lime green glare. With a blinding flash, the crumbling outskirts of the desert city was set ablaze. The shock wave from the explosion shook the world to its core. From cars to buildings, the desolate landscape bore the brunt of the blast. Wild gales tore down the city’s crumbling infrastructure, crushing roads and brought down buildings. Epli’s trademark green engulfed what remained of the abandoned streets. The lime green flames spread far and wide.


      Blossoming out from ground zero was a towering pillar of green fire. Entwined around it, a black and red coil of energy. It pierced the heavens, rained down lightning and razed the desolate environment in a sea of black and green.


      Yet, it had yet to finish.


      The snaking black energy coiled around, constricted and spiralled outwards from Epli’s column of fire. It swallowed the green blaze, snuffed out its smouldering flame.


      W-What…is that?


      Hayasa and Epli gazed in awe. The sight before their eyes was undoubtedly the Valkryie’s work. Yet, it was all too surreal. For an attack on such a scale to be countered, for her to not be affected in the slightest.


      T-This…person…


      In stunned silence, Epli caught sight of a black speck moving through the lingering green flares. Even from her distance, she could tell. The gleaming black armor, the mirror-like shield.


      Completely…unscathed…T-This…


      This is too dangerous.


      Oblivious to her teacher’s concern, Hayasa raised her sword once more. Her glare seemingly crossed with Helen’s own. The Valkyrie spread her wings, slowing her flight to a halt. She glanced towards the pair, corrected her flight path and streamlined her wings once more. Swooping down in an aggressive dive, Helen once more prepared to charge down the Legion’s traitor.


      Eyes fixed on this attack, Hayasa grit her teeth. Her grip still trembled, but it was not out of fear.

      Time and time again, she had tried.


      She tried, so very, very hard.


      …Just to move on…


      Just to forget…


      To forget her past. To sever her ties, to start anew.


      In her eyes, Helen’s very existence stood as an undying reminder of her past self. Blind loyalty, brutal efficiency, Overwhelming strength in battle. Merely by existing before her eyes, Helen was an affront to all progress Hayasa had made in reforming herself. Her defiance? More so than inspiring fear in her heart, it made her blood boil.


      To forget it all…to move on from it all…


      I’ll just have to bring you down.


      “…and if not? What then-”


      “HERJA!!”


      Hayasa’s voice echoed through the air. Even from afar, what noise that did reach Helen’s ears was undoubtedly that of an angered roar. She wouldn’t be thwarted here.


      Not by Sanguis’ lapdog…nor by myself.


      “Hmm?”


      With a disdainful grunt, the Valkyrie exited her dive yet again.


      “What more does the traitor have to say?”


      “Your fight is with me!! Leave my teacher out of this! This is OUR fight!”


      “You’d simply be delaying the inevitable. Have you not realised?” Helen sighed, smiling a small smile that almost revealed a hint of pity. “Be it your teacher dying first, or you dying first, it really doesn’t matter. Both of you will still die at my hands. If it makes you feel any better, you can die safe in the knowledge that, unlike yourself, your teacher’s persistence was honorable. However vain it is.”


      …I’ve said too much. Time to end things.


      “Miss Fuunami!” Calling out to her student, Epli reached for her crystals once again. “Leave this fight to me and find your leader! This is no longer your fight!”


      Hayasa stood in silence.


      R-retreat?


      Leave this fight?


      T-to lose? After so long, after so much…?


      But what can be done against this monster? Against something my sword can’t cut, against something like this…


      “…Y-Yes.”


      With what little situational awareness she could salvage, Hayasa could only bring herself to force the confirmation from her mouth. In every situation, she only found defeat staring back at her.


      “…Make no mistake…”


      In the desert sand, Helen’s haunting voice interrupted Hayasa’s thoughts.


      “…No matter what you say to her…”


      On the backdrop of the blackened clouds, she could hear Helen’s wings as she rushed around her flank.


      Since when did she --


      “…You will die here.”


      Hayasa snapped around.


      Her katana collided with Helen’s attack before it connected with her flesh. The momentum from the impact knocked her towards her teacher. In a spray of sparks, the grinding halted and yet again, Helen broke away from her attack. Hayasa fought to rebalance herself as she leapt back to open up the distance. Falling back as quickly as possible, she brought herself within twenty meters of her teacher.


      She’s just toying with me now…!


      From a distance, Helen gently touched down onto the desert. The blunt tip of the Valkyrie’s weapon spat three fireballs forward. They arced through the air, almost gliding down onto their targets. It was an attack that had no sense of urgency, nor inspired any fear or respect.


      But nothing could be left to chance now.


      That Valkyrie...she’s dangerous...if this keeps up I will lose my student for sure…!


      “Stay where you are, Fuunami!”


      Needless words, spoken to comfort someone who seems to be merely going through motions.

      Or are they words to comfort me?


      Epli dispatched with yet another crystal, wiping the thought from her head. Ice blue in colour, its petite size belied its true power. Perhaps excessive, but given the scale of their adversary’s power, it was doubtful that this attack would be any different.


      The slow moving fireballs began their dive. Like floating sentry turrets, their movement and descent was eerily controlled and cautious. With each passing second, the glowing inferno within each orb made its presence known.


      In a split second, the attack began.


      She grit her teeth and crushed the crystal. In an act that more resembled making a prayer than brandishing her finest defense, the teacher made her move.


      The slow fireballs bursted into several smaller fiery beams and swooped down. Arching outwards, they closed off every frontal escape route and plunged down onto Hayasa. Now travelling at blinding speeds, what little distance remained was covered in an instant. Within the rain of fire, the horizon before Helen’s eyes was set ablaze, smeared by her pitch black flame.


      Huh.


      To think you’d still survive.


      Hayasa’s Aura had yet to diminish. No, it would be more accurate to say it was unaffected. As the smoke cleared, Helen understood why. Glittering a transparent blue even under the harsh setting sun, she was greeted by a tower of ice.


      Refined Glacial Dust...Tch...how troublesome.


      “So be it, I’ll bestow you with this much honor.”


      Opening the chamber within the guard, she disposed of the red crystal’s remains with a single swipe. The guard closed once more. The rotation stopped. Like a breech loaded gun, the weapon split open along the guard. Within the base of the ‘blade’, an opal the size of her palm was fixed into place. The crystal’s black lustre was almost mesmerizing, the multitude of colours reflecting within the pure darkness was a sight to behold. Firmly pressing it down into the first segment, Helen closed the breech and took aim.


      I’ll probably be going against my Master’s orders for using this...but I am doing a service executing those disloyal to her anyway...Forgive me, overlord.


      “With your last breath, bear witness the Legion’s power. Burn it into your eyes, and take it with you to your grave!”


      ---


      50%.


      That was all that remained of Hayasa’s Aura.


      After so much fighting, so much struggle, it was almost doubtful that they had dealt even a fraction of that damage.


      The fight began to take its toll on her. Hayasa’s breathing was heavy, her body straining from fatigue.


      Was this all in vain then?


      Against that monster…was it all fated to fail?


      As her exhaustion gnawed at her mind, she couldn’t help but feel the weight of her responsibility on her shoulders.


      The Legion’s rise…


      This situation…


      In the end…


      It was all me, wasn’t it?


      “Miss Fuunami…I’m going to say this one more time. Retreat and find your team. You cannot defeat her at your current state.”


      “Sorry...but I can’t do that.” Hayasa declined, her hand gripped the scabbard of the Kazehana sword tightly. “Helen Herja...the Blood Legions...they’re my responsibility! I… I cannot let you shoulder this burden for me. I know what I said but...I must see this through…!”


      If I don’t…If I run any more than I already have…


      If I can’t move beyond this, what else can I hope to accomplish?!


      “Don’t forget that you still have much to live for. You dying here won’t solve anything, nor will it make anyone happy. I told you before that I will not let you shoulder this grief alone. Remember what you told me when I found you?”


      “...I...I am just…”


      “Do not break your promise to me and Mr. Himinn.” Epli smiled gently. “You promised us that you will be a better person and not let the past shackle you. We’re here with you. Me and your team. Don’t ever let your grief and guilt control your heart.”


      “Y-you’re right…” Hayasa smiled weakly. “I-I’m…sorry…I was just too scared and confused just now...but, I think I --”


      Hayasa didn’t get to finish her sentence.


      A surreal sight played out before Epli’s eyes.


      Like knife through butter, a gaping hole was punched through her fortification. Black and red in colour, it slammed itself into Hayasa’s waist. She could see Hayasa’s Aura respond, her waist flashed a blinding blue as it fought against the sheer force of the impact. The black streak continued. Pushing against her Aura, the impact powered through her torso and lifted Hayasa clean into the air.


      No.


      That description didn’t do the reality any justice.


      CG0KGan.jpg


      It would be more accurate to say that Hayasa was simply tossed aside. The impact missed her center of mass, causing her to fly off at an angle.


      Her mind could only rationalize the sight in such simplistic ways. The sheer shock had numbed all other responses.


      The sight was almost comical.


      Thrown backwards like a rag doll, Hayasa couldn’t even begin to react. Dragged away by the extreme force of the impact, she careened off into what remained of an industrial estate. Tumbling helplessly several feet off the ground, Hayasa’s body cut through the estate’s fencing without slowing. The complex’s water storage facility lay directly in her path.


      Hayasa ripped clean into the tank. The filled water tank stood as an immovable force to her. The water absorbed all the energy, slowing her down greatly. Her body enveloped in a dying blue glow, what remaining Aura in her danced across the affected areas, desperately resisting the damage. It shimmered and flickered all over, before shattering as her back punched its way through the back of the tank. With most her body hanging out over the edge of the tank, she came to a brief halt.

      Aura gone, Hayasa’s exposed body lingered from the height of the water tank. With a limp flop, what little momentum left in her flipped her off the edge. With an abrupt crash, she dropped into the solid ground with a dense impact.


      Her flight path was marked by a trail of blood.


      It stained the water and pooled at the ground. Her arms lay limp at awkward angles, evidently dislocated at the shoulder. Seeping out of her gaping wound, the gash across her waist continued to bleed.


      This battle was well and truly over.


      ---

      A certain outskirt city in Vacuo, the site of SPHR’s most recent sortie.


      It was, certainly.


      Now all that remained was the charred remains of the city’s hub. Set ablaze by combat, torn apart by Grimm.


      Yet, even amidst this destruction, a single feature stood out.


      Etched into the ground, burning from end to end, a trail the width of a two lane street was ripped out from the land. It was as one would picture a meteor’s crash landing. Flickering black and red, the path was blasted into the desert sand from one end of the ‘city’ to the other.


      Roads, infrastructure, terrain, all disintegrated by the large scale attack.


      “Looks like I must’ve grazed the traitor just now...Tch. I’ll let the environment finish her off.” Helen chuckled at the outcome of her attack. Her weapon stopped spiraling with the black smokes gushing out of the exhaust vents. The Black Valkyrie stared at Epli’s sheet-white face.


      “So, now that I got your precious student...what’s your next move, teacher?”


      Pointing her weapon at Epli, Helen smiled. It was a taunting, arrogant smile. It exuded a barely concealed killing intent.


      No...I can’t do this! Not anymore!


      Epli reached for her pocket quickly for a shard of Dust. The final one. Only for escapes. Immediately tossing it towards Helen’s direction, the shard ignited and formed a giant cloud of fog. It rapidly filled the streets, expanding its reach to cover the whole of the city area.


      Clever trick, Faunus. However…


      Helen lifted her weapon and the spiraling surface reversed the direction of its rotation. The thick fog was eventually pulled into the weapon. Rapidly, Helen cleared the devastated city of any artificial fog almost effortlessly. All too predictably, the goat Faunus teacher was nowhere to be found as the grey mist cleared.


      Think you can escape me so easily?


      Helen’s cloak transformed into raven wings once more. She launched herself high in the air and examined the city to see where Epli ran off to.


      Tch...she’s a fast one...where are you?


      Helen continued to fly around the ruins and checked one block after another, her frustration slowly mounting. Yet despite her best efforts to find the Faunus…


      Nothing.


      Damn it...she’s gone.


      Helen examined her weapon. It had not fired off that devastating attack without issue.

      I suppose the Spirastella could use a bit of maintenance… I’m done here...you’re one fortunate woman, Faunus. Consider yourself lucky for surviving this encounter.


      With a sigh, she left the battlefield as she soared upwards, withdrawing into the clouds.


      Epli moved out from the debris of a destroyed building. In a corner almost completely concealed by rubble, it easily served as cover from Helen’s brief scouting run. Turning her attention to her Scroll, she prepared herself for the worst. Hayasa’s Aura bar came up empty. Her heart sank. Her mind raced. Bringing up a series of menus, the Scroll began searching for Hayasa’s signal.


      Please...don’t be too far from where I am!


      In the few seconds that lasted an eternity, her scroll finally managed to locate the signal. Epli quickly rushed to her student’s location.


      Don’t die on me, Fuunami! Please let me make it in time!!


      While rushing to her student’s aid, Epli sent the coordinates of Hayasa’s location to the Bullhead unit that was circling around the skies of Vacuo. Seeing the unit streak across the sky from afar brought a touch of calm to her scrambled thoughts.


      She couldn’t bring herself to recall the attack.


      There was little reason to do so.


      All along the trail of destruction that resulted from it, a sickening volume of blood stained the surroundings. It sprayed the ground in a linear manner, marking the ground with a thickening trail of blood as she approached the industrial estate where Hayasa had come to rest.


      By the time Epli arrived, the personnel were already busying themselves with extraction. As they lifted aside what little debris that survived Hayasa’s high speed crash, the extent of her wounds was laid bare for the world to see.


      Unconscious, deathly pale. Her clothes torn, her flesh cut. The wound across her waist oozed an endless stream of murky maroon. It sullied the pool of water as it was washed away into the gutter by the pavement.


      Oh...my...goodness….! No…!


      “Hurry up and stop Fuunami’s bleeding! She’s still alive!”


      The medic team had already acted. As soon as the debris was cleared, they rushed in the stretcher for the unconscious student. From her forehead all the way to her legs and dislocated arms, they tended to her wounds as best they could before placing her onto the stretcher. Moving her battered, bloody body into the craft, the crew immediately got into the Bullhead along with Epli and withdrew from the battle.


      “You’re going to be alright, child…” Epli could only fight the guilt in her heart. Hayasa’s face was completely pale, her breathing extremely weak.


      “Miss Stardream…” A medic team member began from behind her.


      “Yes?”


      “We found this not too far away from Fuunami’s location.” The member handed over a sheathed katana. It was unmistakably Kazehana. Its scabbard bore the brunt of the impact, the material buckled and cracked along the surface. Epli unsheathed the sword and examined its blade. Much to her surprise, the blade still had its distinct glimmer. Blue throughout, but marked violet by her bloodied touch.


      “Thank you…”


      Epli gripped the katana and gently caressed Hayasa’s bandaged forehead. Her yellow eyes welled up, but she fought the outpour of emotions and simply she wiped them away. There was still one more thing to do. Epli quickly clicked danced through her Scroll’s menu once again, locating the rest of SPHR. Epli handed the Scroll to the pilots and changed course.


      Please...be safe, all of you…!!


      ---


      Pant.


      Pant.


      Saphir breathed heavily, resting on a block of cement with Blauen Kristall stabbed into the earth. The diffusing corpse lying before the recovering Faunus was the mangled remains of the Elder Nevermore.


      Its wings ripped apart, its neck snapped, and its claws severed. The only body part that remained was a lifeless torso.


      “You could’ve done it more quickly...but I owe you one, Puria.” Saphir looked at his partner as she rocked about the Nevermore’s carcass nonchalantly.


      “Hey, nothing’s fun if it’s too easy, so I took my time. To challenge myself, see how I do in high pressure situations, and all that.


      This girl...still so damn difficult.


      “Not funny, Puria. I really could’ve died back there.”


      “Ah, sorry, my bad…” Puria leapt from the carcass as the last of its corpse dissolved.. Immediately, she wrapped her arm around Saphir in an attempt to comfort him. “Come on, don’t get mad now, okay? You’re still in one piece, yeah? I mean it’s gotta be super boring being saved by that uptight cyclops all the time, no?”


      “Hayasa’s at least serious as a teammate.” Saphir snapped back. “You should at least be more serious when it comes to things like…say, our lives? You’re physically the strongest person on the team, don’t take it for granted, okay? I mean I can’t always be here directing the attacks-”


      “Okay, okay! That’s enough lessons from our wise leader!” Puria waved Saphir’s concern away, playfully giving him a noogie and clung tightly to his arm. “Come here, you!”


      “Owowowowowow!! Quit it, you idiot!!” Saphir grunted in pain.


      “Hey now, don’t leave the fun out from me, kay?!” Rosea joined in from behind and gave Saphir a gentle hug.


      “Okay, enough, both of you!” Saphir snapped at them yet again. In response, both girls finally stopped their teasing and backed away, instead focusing their energy on examining their very foreign environment. It was a giant expanse of rock faces, desert stretches, with the only sign of civilisation existing being an abandoned petrol station.


      “Looks like we’re stranded far off from the outskirt. I just hope there’s no more Grimm attacking the area.” Saphir uttered under his breath, taking in the desolate landscape. “And how is Hayasa and Miss Stardream doing, I wonder…”


      Rosea grabbed the Scroll and searched for her teacher’s current location. Yet, the device simply responded with a bleak ‘no signal’. Frustrated, Rosea closed the Scroll and pocketed it.

      Hmm...the signal’s weak. Why? Is there some magnetic field here…?


      “Don’t worry about them, Saphir.” Rosea cheerily reassured. “Miss Stardream is a full-fledged Huntress, and Hayasa is the most skilled of us all, at least against a bunch of Grimm.”


      “Hey, we’re capable of holding our own as well!” Puria jumped into the conversation, a mild outrage filled her protests.


      “What did I say about interrupting others, Puria~” Rosea smiled with a menacing aura exuding from her body. Puria and Saphir felt a sudden chill in the air from her sweet tone and wide smile.

      “...sorry.” Puria sighed and instantly backed off, letting Rosea continue.


      “Granted, Hayasa never had much difficulty fighting against enemies, no matter what their background. Extremist groups, criminals or Grimm of all types. Well, aside from Umbrals of course…but that’s a given.” Rosea’s aura dissipated abruptly and looked into the horizon. “But after all that we’ve seen her being capable of, it’s safe to say that we’ve yet to find a person capable of matching Hayasa’s skill and strength in battle.”


      “Eh, I am not sure what sort of hardship Hayasa’s went through to be this good with a sword but…” Puria stretched her arms and cracked her joints in relief. “But given the way she is, I wouldn’t be surprised if she could take down opponents stronger than herself. I mean…out of all the guys I’ve taken out, I haven’t seen one that can match Hayasa in a swordfight.”


      ...you’ve no idea what hardship she has been through indeed, Puria…


      Saphir shook his head in silence, Turning his gaze up to the sky.


      ...no idea at all.


      A distant engine roar reached the students’ ears. Saphir stared to the horizon of the badlands and saw the a shadow of a Bullhead in the sunset. In the empty skies that stretched above, it was only natural to assume that the only aircraft within the Vacuo’s airspace would be military or academy craft. It swooped down towards the trio, Beacon Academy’s crest swung into view, marking the side of the tiltjet.


      “Looks like they’re finally here…” Saphir began.


      “Whew, about damn time. Guess this concludes our mission. Not like there’s much Grimm left anyway…” Puria added, Rosea nodded in agreement. They got up from the rubble and waved at the approaching transport.


      URASApR.jpg

      ---


      Night has fallen.


      A howling gale blew through the ruins of Mountain Glenn. At ground level, packs of Beowolves stalked the abandoned district’s streets. Their black bodies masked by the night, the blood red of their eyes glimmered in the dark.


      From above, a growing whistling echoed through the cityscape. In the silence of the desolate ruins, the high pitched whine from the approaching sound of civilisation drew Grimm to its position from every direction. Silhouetted against the fragmented moon was the distinct outline of a Bullhead.


      The hatch opened from its side as it’s slowly descended into the encirclement. A blinding ray of red shot out. It punched into the tarmac, its temperature high enough to bring the substance to a boil. The surrounding Grimm backed away into a cluster, clearly sensing the hostility from the scarlet intrusion.


      The red ray homed in towards the cluster. One after another, it traced a glowing line across the ground. The creatures once camouflaged by the night now burned bright as day. Dissected by the beam, the first cluster of the pack was reduced to cinders at an instant.


      The Bullhead’s engines gave a deep roar. Rotating on the spot, the scarlet streak drew a circle around its immediate area. In the pitch black darkness, a crimson fire began eliminating what remained of the dismembered Grimm. Having cleared the area of immediate threats, the Bullhead’s occupants stepped into the combat zone, two at a time.


      “Nice work, Levant!”


      First off the Bullhead, Blaze casually took in the sight of the destruction. The air crackled to the sound of the flames dying down. With Levant beside him, he couldn’t help but express his awe. His childish grin, along with the addition of a backpack, gave off a distinctly juvenile air.


      “Hmm…There’s not as many Grimm here today…” Levant turned her attention away from Blaze’s words, instead scanning her surroundings for signs of activity. Hearing the praise brought an inexplicable warmth to her heart. However simple the reason, however inappropriate the timing, the words worked to put a small smile on her otherwise calm expression. “…Maybe there’s just no more negativity here?”


      “Heh…the way you feel right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if that alone balanced out all the negativity here.” With a teasing smile, Gelb moved up to join the pair as they scouted out the city streets. “Be careful Blaze, your words reveal more than you may realise.”


      “Huh…What are you getting at?”


      Your ignorance is potent. We’re on a mission, so I’ll leave that open to interpretation and bring your attention back to our task.” Shaking his head in disappointment, Gelb turned around to face the final member of the group. “Now then, as discussed. We’ll split up here, I trust that you two can take care of this. Eirlys, you got that?”


      The bat Faunus gently stepped off the craft, delicately touching down onto the floor. Glancing down at the rifle in her hand, she exhaled deeply before giving her answer.


      “Yes, Gelb. The usual place, right?” As Eirlys turned her attention to the low rise apartments surrounding her, she felt her pocket begin to vibrate. The usually dormant Scroll was blaring out alert after alert, even at the dead of night.


      What now…?


      Worming her hand into her pocket, she fumbled to bring the screen into view before Gelb could give his reply. The notifications came up in a bright red, simply titled ‘Breaking News’. The few words that came afterwards only raised further concerns within her heart.


      “…Yes. The usual place. Provide supporting fire for Levant, she’ll stand in as our front line fighter today. I know it’s a night sortie, but stick to using crystals. Stealth isn’t too important this time. If there’s anything unusual or if things get hairy, just give us a call. We’ve got your back.”


      Gelb gave his orders with his usual cool demeanour, the earlier banterous grin now replaced by a more gentle smile.


      “Umm...Gelb…”


      “Yes, Eirlys?”


      How should I ask of this...maybe I should…


      “N-No...nevermind. It’s nothing.” The winged Faunus shook her head, attempting to bury her concerns. “Yeah, I’ll let you know if things go awry. I’ll be on my way.”


      “Hmm, alright then.” Gelb turned and finally walked away with his team, leaving Eirlys to take a different route.


      Acting as planned, Eirlys took up her post within the building. At the top floor, she was able to look over the grid planned district. From her height, she could largely predict the Grimm’s approach. Levant would deal with all Grimm in the immediate area. Grimm lured by the Bullhead’s arrival and approaching from the front would run right into her own firing arc. Her flank would be protected by Gelb and Blaze.


      …Everyone has their own role to play. This isn’t the time to be distracted.


      The barrel slid over the window sill without a sound. Under the barrel, the slight protrusion formed an impromptu stand to fix the large gun in place. As she aimed down the narrow corridor made up by the city streets, she couldn’t help but allow her thoughts to wander.


      “Suspected WMD in Vacuo…”


      “…2 kilometer blast radius…outskirts left in ruins…”


      The article’s title came to her mind.


      …That’s…not going to be home, right? I…it shouldn’t be.


      Not in such a quiet place-


      “Let me know when you’re set up.”


      Gelb’s voice broke her chain of thought. Scrambling to pull her thoughts together, she awkwardly gave her reply.


      “G-Give me a moment…I’m n-nearly set.”


      “It’s a simple Grimm hunt tonight, nothing too nasty. We can take some liberties with time.”


      “I…”


      Eirlys clutched at her dress. Her hands trembled briefly before she finally gave in to her curiosity.


      “…I just need a minute.”


      Quickly bringing up the news article on her Scroll, she appeased herself and took a glance at the images accompanying the story. Although blurry, the top down image revealed the scale of destruction. The small outskirt city in question lay in ruins. In the epicenter of the blast, a distinctive crater was burnt into the ground. The auburn desert was charred black, all semblance of civilisation had been erased. It was a harrowing sight.


      A city with no name, unceremoniously wiped from existence.


      Just the thought left her uneasy.


      A souring emptiness filled her heart.


      No…Now this is thinking too much.


      “Eirlys, Grimm inbound. Good to go?”


      I have to focus...my team is counting on me. I can’t relent...not after I’ve come this far.


      Just wait and see, Gelb...everyone…


      “All set. Grimm sighted. Firing.”


      A turquoise shimmer lit up Mountain Glenn’s darkened skies. Cleaving a thick line down the center of the street, the ray effortlessly cut through its first target.


      “Ah, looks like things are getting started.” Blaze followed the cyan ray as it fired out from the building beside him. He watched as the sky lit up yet again, before turning his attention to Gelb. Much unlike himself, Gelb’s attention was directed towards his Scroll. “Why ask if she was ready, twice even? You make it sound like she could choose when this fight starts.”


      “Don’t you think it’d be better for her if she felt like there’s something within her control?”

      After a brief pause, Gelb slid the device into his trench coat’s pocket. With a wry laugh, Gelb gave his reply. Casting his gaze to the skies, he let out a deep sigh before crushing his doubts underfoot.


      “Umm...Gelb. Are you alright?”


      “Yeah, it’s just news. Vacuo’s in ruins as it is, and now there’s talk of WMD tests. If you needed any more proof that things are truly getting dangerous, here you go. But, enough talk. It’s time we got moving. We’ll be done in about…five minutes, We’ll regroup then.”


      With a silent nod, Levant backed away from the pair. Shimmering scarlet, the crystal in her staff began charging up for its attack. Waiting for her first victim, she took this chance to address Gelb’s words in her heart.


      Proof that things are getting dangerous?


      Levant sighed as she unleashed a burst of energy from her sceptre. The beam found its target, dismembering an approaching horde of Grimm at range.


      Passive aggressive as ever…you just can’t help yourself, can you? Even if your aims are broadly similar, you two still can’t see eye to eye?


      More to the point, Vacuo…isn’t why you’re suddenly worried at all. It has little sentimental value to you. Much like the reason for what we’re doing here, the root of your concern has never changed…


      “‘Your words reveal more than you may realise’…It works both ways.”


      --

      “Hey.”


      Leaving the girls to fend off the approaching Grimm, Blaze suddenly called out to Gelb.


      “What?”


      “Remind me…why are we doing this again?”


      Gelb glanced back at Blaze as he struggled with the weight of his backpack’s contents. Hiking up the decrepit remains of a staircase, the two worked their way through one of Mountain Glenn’s low rise buildings.


      “...We’re in our third year. This will be the first year where we’ll be deployed on missions with Umbrals…connect the dots. We need to be prepared for the worst.”


      Extending his hand back, Gelb’s gestured for the backpack’s contents to be placed in his palm.


      “…And why this idea in particular?”


      “I explained this once already, did I not? Battles fought using tactical weapons can only do us so much good. Now, get a move on, we best not make the ladies wait.”


      “‘Get a move on’ and ‘being sneaky’ don’t go hand in hand, great leader. Have some pity for the errand boy, will you?”


      “I suppose I forgot to add. The part about stealth not being a priority extends to us. If we take too long, it’ll reflect in the sortie time.”


      With how shrewd that damned teacher is, he’d catch on soon enough.

    • CHROMA Chapter Five

      3 years ago

      rin1990

      A clear blue sky stretched out over Vacuo’s endless horizon. The vast emptiness of the dunes echoed to the sound of a lone craft passing through. The grey, streamlined body of the Bullhead marked the clear skies with its white contrail.


      Within the Bullhead, Saphir sat in silence and watched as the desert beneath rushed by the seemingly stagnant sky. A tension weighed down on the atmosphere within the cabin. It stifled his will to talk, though this seemed exclusive to himself. Puria and Rosea chattered nonchalantly on the opposite side of the seats, seemingly oblivious to the gravity of their situation.


      Saphir turned his gaze towards Hayasa. Sitting still as ever in what seemed like a stern silence. However, upon closer observation, he noticed her grip on Kazehana tighten as time passed. A marked tension was spread across her usually stoic features.


      “...What?”


      Finally noticing her leader’s gaze, Hayasa forced a gentle smile through her distraught features.


      “...No, nothing.” Saphir shook his head.


      Nothing new, nothing that will change how you feel, that is…Don’t try to suppress your feelings, Hayasa...the more you try to stuff those feelings inside, the more you won’t be able to think straight. Of course…


      He let out a small sigh and turned to his teacher.


      …This much, you’ve already heard it all before.


      “Say, Miss Stardream…what kind of Grimm do you think we’ll be expecting once we get there? Do we have anything about the battle conditions so far?”


      “We don’t really have much report on confirmed casualties yet but there’s been some strong resistance against the Grimm invasion so there’s that.” Epli replied. “And according to what’s observed so far, there’s been some Taijitus, Nevermores and a whole lot of Beowolves. Alpha types.”


      “Alphas huh...ought to be tough then. What about Death Stalkers? Those things spawn a lot in this region, especially in the desert, no?”


      “There’s been some signs of Stalkers, but many are kept in control by the locals. Don’t write off the possibility of seeing them though. So...keep your guard up.” Epli fixed her glasses. “There’s a chance it can get chaotic once we get there, so...let’s not be too enthusiastic. We’re out there to help the locals to clear out the creatures, not to make a statement.”


      “Relax, Miss Stardream!” Puria piped up. “When has Team SPHR ever failed to deliver? I mean forget what we are about to face in Vacuo, we managed to confront an Umbral and live to tell the tale! That in itself should speaks of our abilities, right?”


      “Well...to be fair, we had some backup from the military. Let’s not take all the credit.” Rosea sighed as Puria finished speaking, seemingly reluctant to acknowledge this fact.


      “That’s besides the point, Miss Anaconda.” Epli looked at both girls, her casual tone instantly turning serious. “Backup or not, you lot are still my responsibility. That’s why I need to keep an eye on all of you in case you get into trouble..”


      “We did survive that though, Miss Stardream.” Feeling the chatter soften the tense environment, Saphir joined the conversation. “At least it proves that we have a good teacher to watch over us. Even though it’s impossible to keep it that way all the time, you supervised our performance all these years. That’s why I feel you can and probably should trust us a little bit more.”


      “Yeah, you heard our leader.” Rosea chimed in. “You’re right about us being enthusiastic, really. But that’s only because we’re confident with you at our side, Miss Stardream. At least I know that if you’re with us, this mission will turn out alright, no matter how difficult it is.”


      “Let’s...not get ahead of ourselves.” Epli turned her attention to her Scroll. As her students were talking, real time updates continued to roll in from the battlefield. “As far as the updates show, Vacuo’s Grimm activity doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping yet. We still don’t have enough of a handle on the situation to warrant this confidence. Please don’t treat this as a game, you two.”


      “Fiiiiine.” Puria sighed and stretched out her arms. The boredom of their long flight was slowly setting in. Diverting her attention from the uniformed greyness of the cabin, she peered out of the windows. Their altitude had dropped significantly, no doubt, they were approaching their destination. “Hmm…we’re nearly there, it seems.”


      As the Bullhead’s began its descent into the desert, the distinctive sounds of a battlefield began to leak into the craft. Echoing through the bare metal frame, the battlecries of Grimm and Huntsmen alike became increasingly audible.


      Within the confines of the cabin, team SPHR readied themselves for the landing. Averting their eyes from the windows, the students attempted to bury their curiosity as the metallic staccato of gunfire rang into their ears. Out of the corner of their eyes, the Bullhead’s jet engines tilted downwards and slowed. Feeling their bodies’ gradually descend onto the soft surface of the desert, each member of the team prepared themselves for combat.


      As they waited for the sliding doors to open, the battle raged on. Saphir once more turned his attention towards Hayasa. Her slackened grip on Kazehana had tensed up once again. To be separated from the fight by mere millimeters of metal plating, to be so close to providing salvation for someone, yet still so far. Her impatience forced its way through her calm façade. Her aggressive stance betrayed her desperation to fight. Hayasa fought herself, remaining silent despite the screams of agony being so painfully close. In the eternity of the few seconds before the door swung open, she clung on tightly to whatever sanity remained within her distraught soul.

      The sound of the door’s finally swinging open marked the start of their battle. One after the other, they leapt out of the descending airship and landed.


      “No time to waste, hurry up!”


      “Now that’s what I am talking about!! Let’s go tear it up!”


      Puria cracked her joints and lunged into the fray. Making her way down the area, she fired up the thrusters in her gauntlets. The thrusters let out a dry rasp, its flame glowed a vivid orange through the gauntlet’s slats before a jet of Puria’s trademark purple blasted through. With a deafening howl, Puria launched herself into battle.


      It’s time to feast, Infernal Sidewinder!


      Watching the streak of purple throw itself into the nearest fight, Saphir could only sigh. Even without moving, he could already make out the destruction Puria was inflicting. In an almost comical manner, the torn limbs of Alpha Beowolves were flung into the air with purple flames trailing from their decaying edges.


      Saphir turned to face Hayasa as she unsheathed her katana. Hayasa’s distress was written all over her face. Her aggressive stance made his following question completely redundant, yet, he still felt compelled to ask.


      “…You ready?”


      A pause lingered before she found her voice.


      The scene before her eyes, it was as she remembered. As she expected.


      Again…


      Scarlet streaked across the beige background. The air reeking of death. Once again, she stepped onto a battlefield. A place of indiscriminate killing.


      No…this is different.


      With a resolute swing, a white hot haze surged through the katana. The weighted feeling of the weapon as it passed through the air brought peace to her mind.


      This isn’t ‘killing’. This is ‘protecting’. To protect everything I’ve built up, to protect against the Grimm…to protect against this merciless world…


      “Yeah, let’s go.”


      A searing jet of fire danced off Kazehana’s tip, drawing first blood with ease. The flame from her semblance lunged off the blade of the katana, finding its first prey from the chaotic surroundings. One after the other, the Grimm that encircled the landing site were wiped away. Beowolves, Borbatusks, Alpha or otherwise. Beheaded, disembodied, charred and left ablaze. Kazehana hacked through the wall of beasts without resistance.


      Within seconds of her arrival, she had made her mark.


      Within seconds of her arrival, she had begun.


      Be it to fight for just’s sake or to atone for her past, her aim was clear.


      She would bury her guilt within the mountain of corpses.


      Saphir watched as the carnage ensued with a mixture of awe and concern. Though the dance of red, black and orange was impressive, it could hardly be enough to ward off the encroaching hordes. As this thought crossed his mind, a primal roar echoed throughout the sandy desert. It was a hoarse, senseless noise. One which only communicated to the most primitive instinct within animals.


      The guttural roar came from their flanks. Saphir turned around. Silhouetted against the open horizon were the murky shadows from which the cries came. Coiling and snaking, crawling and galloping, the sand trembled at the creatures’ charge. The noise diffused through the dunes, the primitive battle cry rallied the Grimm as they responded in kind. Within the desolate desert, the united howling marked the approaching stampede’s arrival.


      “They really know when to serve the main course up, don’t they?” Puria chuckled, pulling her fist from her latest kill. The thrusters in her gauntlets expelled a jet of purple as the last traces of blood dissolved from their surface.


      “Well, just to make sure, there’s no civilians out here right? …Didn’t think so.” Rosea readied her knife and laughed. The ground beneath her feet began to crack, spreading with each step she took. The surrounding Grimm immediately collapsed to their feet. The cracks opened up to form the their tombs. “Unfortunately for this lot…that means there’s no chance of collateral damage, no matter how wild we get!”


      “I’ll just keep steady here with Miss Stardream. Don’t stray too far off each other, okay?” Saphir’s teammates nodded, all waiting for the beasts to come in closer before they cut loose.


      Epli reached her hand in her pocket to grab a shard of neon green. She crushed the glowing crystal in her palm. A blaze of viridian surrounds her hand, ran up her arms and began to spread. Eventually, it engulfed her body like an infernal shield.


      Please don’t let there be an Umbral...it’s the last thing we all need now.


      “It’s time to work, children.”


      ---


      Drip.


      Drip.


      A thick veneer of red stained the yellow sand.


      The last of her ‘enemies’ fell.


      The greatsword fell onto the ground with a heavy thud.


      His body was held up by a weapon. Neither sword nor spear, it pierced through the spot where his heart was located. There was no two ways about it. The size of the wound alone made conclusion all the more obvious. This man was all but a messy, ravaged corpse.


      ...Disappointing. And here I thought holding back would make for some worthwhile challenge.


      Tired of glancing at the corpse, Helen removed her weapon from the body with a swift pull. The corpse hit collapsed on the sand alongside the rest of his other three companions. All received the same fatal wound.


      Might as well clean up the mess...and give them a proper burial.


      Raising the blunt weapon to the desert sunlight, Helen clicked a small button on the hilt. The rotating surfaces reversed their rotation. As it did so, the blood smears began sliding off the smooth surfaces. The Black Valkyrie took out a diamond-shaped device as she waited. A hologram was projected before her. The hologram flickered as the static slowly cleared away. An orange render of Sanguis’ image stared back at her.


      “Greetings Master.”


      “Ah, What is it? I heard a little raven call for me, so here I am.” Sanguis greeted her with a gentle smile. “How are things out there? I assume there’s news of some form. Hopefully not news that would make me want to stab an inquisitor’s eyes out.”


      “Uh….no.” Helen answered awkwardly. “It’s nothing we don’t already know. Vacuo Kingdom’s leaders have decided that they wanted you…or rather all of us, to leave the Kingdom. They have no intention of settling this through discussions. So…no Empire. Not on Vacuo soil anyway.”


      “Ah, is that so?”


      “Yes, Master.” Helen picked up the broadsword of the fallen Huntsman and stabbed it on the ground in a spot near the sea of other weapons. “They’ve been sending out Huntsmen to come after us and in an attempt to remove us by force.”


      “What in the flying dead Maiden? They are actually doing that?” Sanguis chuckled lightly. “You would think that after their last Huntsmen assault, challenging my Four Horsemen directly is the last thing they’d do. Numeric superiority is nothing against one of you, let alone all four of you.”


      “Well, Vacuo Huntsmen nowadays aren’t known to think twice before attacking in general.” Helen stabbed the last weapon into the sand. It slid into place with remarkably little resistance. “They’ve grown much bolder since the last uprising against the Dictator and his generation of heroes, before you took over as the Overlord.”


      “Ah, yes. Good times indeed.” Sanguis sighed in nostalgia. “Well, have you taken out the trash yet?”


      “Err....I am sorry, what?”


      “I mean the ignorant Huntsmen the Kingdom so willingly sent to their deaths, little birdie.”


      “...Oh.” Helen rolled her eyes. Yet again, she was caught out by Sanguis’…unique sense of humor. Even if it was before her superior, she couldn’t help but let her exasperation show through. “Yeah, I was planning to bury them properly anyway after telling you of the Kingdom’s decision.”


      “The usual then. Now that it has come to this, I believe it’s time to move our plans to another phase. Finish your business and come back to me tonight.” As Sanguis ended her transmission, her projection vanished within the sound of static. Helen scratched her head briefly, at a lost for words.


      After working under you for so long…I’ve come to understand so much of your behavior. But it seems I still don’t understand your sense of humor, Sanguis…


      Helen wiped the irritation from her face and pocketed the device. Instantly assuming a more solemn expression, she turned to the four Huntsmen’s corpses. A shroud of black fire blossomed out from the blunt tip of her spiraling weapon. With a swift swing, she swept the black flames upon the corpses. The fire spread, its intense heat engulfed the body in the sea of black within seconds.


      Hmm? What’s this?


      Helen felt a sudden strong presence in her heart. Deep down, she felt a powerful Aura reacting to her own. Even though the feeling of the presence is rather brief, it was no doubt powerful enough to warrant her attention. Following her instincts, Helen’s cloak spread and morphed into raven wings and she took flight.


      Who am I sensing? Feels odd, even from this distance...I can feel it...


      Leaving the charred remains of her foes and added their weapons to the graveyard of the fallen warriors, Helen flew towards the Vacuo badlands and followed the source of the Aura presence she sensed.


      ---


      Enmassed Grimm’s dismemberment continued in Vacuo’s outskirts. It had settled down into an endless cycle of slashing and hacking, with no signs of the battle coming to a close. Creatures of Grimm were skewered and sliced. Systematically, team SPHR worked through their adversaries, standing their ground. But as the battle wore on, each member found themselves slowly cut off from one another. Though the Grimm’s numbers were rapidly thinning, encircling their adversary and engaging from more than one direction was still possible.


      Saphir, faced with two large Beowolves and flanked by Death Stalkers, decided to confront the encirclement head on. Saphir charged forward as the Beowolf’s glimmering claws began to swing. Throwing his weight to the side, the claw grazed past his arm and slashed at the air. He seized this opportunity to break through. Saphir’s momentum carried him forward. With Blauen Kristall now drawn, he tensed his grip on the sapphire sword as it slashed the width of the Beowolf’s torso.


      The bewildered Grimm beside it stumbled back, watching as a deep azure cut through the first Beowolf. Blauen Kristall’s blade split open, reconstructing itself into a shotgun. Saphir moved forwards and roughly pointed the barrel at the remaining Beowolf’s chest, unhesitatingly pulling the trigger. The shotgun’s recoil pushed Saphir back, the shot’s roar drowned out the Beowolf’s whimper. Clutching at the hole the 12 gauge slug blew into its body, it rapidly succumbed to its wounds and collapsed.


      Turning to confront the Death Stalkers flanking him, Saphir prepared to fight once again. In the gaps between the two giant creatures, he could barely make out a series of purple streaks advancing across the horizon. Even from his distance, he could make out the thunderous rasp that accompanied the purple afterglow.


      Puria dragged the slowly decaying body of a King Taijitu across the desert sands. Her gauntlets pierced through its thick, white scales, with both hands wedged deep into one of the creature’s head. Infernal Sidewinder’s thrusters were running at full speed, leaving a long, purple flame in its wake. The Grimm writhed and coiled, desperately trying to bring its trailing head to bear down onto her.


      With a shriek, Puria ripped her hands out from the white Taijitu’s head. As it reared away from her, trying to recover from her attack, she launched a killing blow. Thrusting herself towards it, she jammed her fist into the head once more. With the thrusters firing at full force, the shock wave from the impact punched through its scales. It shook the ground, warded off further attacks and decapitated the Grimm.


      Smiling a proud smile, Puria flexed her fingers and began searching for her next prey. Her eyes landed on a distant horde of Ursa Majors. Her immediate surroundings cleared, she set them as her next target and fired up her gauntlets’ thrusters once more. Responding in kind, the group began their charge.


      Staring eye to eye, Puria increased her speed even more.


      A single, swift crunch rang out.


      The horde had all but disappeared from view. Seemingly swallowed up by the ground, all that remained of Puria’s next fight was a slowly rising haze of black and red.


      “…Hey, Rosea! That was my fight!”


      “Not anymore it isn’t. Problem?”


      Puria shut off the thrusters with mild disgust, turning her gaze to Rosea. Stood atop a sand dune, Rosea responded to her displeasure with a sly smile. In turn, Puria pulled a face and lunged off once again, in search of more Grimm to kill. Rosea cast her gaze across the horizon, searching for another cluster of targets. As she did, her eyes traced Hayasa’s progress as a trail of orange and sapphire forced its way through the sea of black and red.


      One swing.


      One kill.


      Hayasa piled up the corpses of Grimm at a staggering rate. Kazehana in her hands cut through the soulless creatures like knife through butter. Ursas, Borbatusks, Beowolves, Death Stalkers, it didn’t matter how many of them surrounds her. All Grimm before her were instantly dealt with.

      Some distance behind her, a slow but steady slick of neon green trailed beneath the feet of the encroaching Grimm. Although Hayasa’s unparalleled speed had rapidly whittled down their numbers, reinforcements in the shape of newly spawning Grimm meant that the fight was far from over. Two Goliaths towered over the landscape and lumbered into the battlefield as Beowolves charged on ahead. The green slick laced the incoming hordes’ bodies.


      Epli clicked her fingers.


      A small, green spark danced off her fingers, touching against the green pool before her. At a flash, the encroaching Grimm were set ablaze. The violent green flames marked out their path in the desert. The fire rushed through the trail on the ground, licked at the Grimm’s black fur before engulfing them all in an emerald flame.


      “Do you think something is making these Grimm spawn?” Puria asked from afar, breaking the neck of the Beowulf Alpha in her hands before tearing its head out by force. Leaping off its falling body, she kicked the carcass towards an approaching Boarbatusk. It shrugged off the impact with its tusks and closed to melee range. Puria responded in kind, dancing between its tusks to aim square for its head. Thrusting her fist into its lower jaw, her fist alone countered its momentum, instead crushing the Boarbatusk’s skull with the impact alone. “Owww…’Cause this feels like we’ve been fighting for hours!”


      “Something must be spawning them! Find the source!” Saphir quickly gave his command as he dived for cover behind Epli. The shotgun’s energy source had been expended. Yet, on the open battlefield, there was no such thing as proper concealment. Charging him down from Epli’s flank, a sole Ursa Major approached. Right on cue, Epli tossed a shard of shining green into the slot. A slash of black and white brought itself down on the pair.


      A scorching heat radiated onto Saphir’s skin.


      Saphir had pulled the trigger, firing a slug of incendiary crystal at the Grimm. It buried itself into the creature’s center, and set its entirety ablaze. Shoving the burning body aside, Saphir returned to Epli’s side once more.


      “Lend me your sword.”


      Upon hearing Epli’s stern demand, Saphir quickly clicked a button on the handler and morphed the shotgun into a blade, before tossing it right behind his teacher. Epli caught the blade, holding it in a reverse grip. Surrounded by a horde of approaching Alpha Beowolves, once more approaching from all direction, Epli tightened the grip on her student’s weapon.


      “Get down.”


      Saphir obeyed and crouched with his head positioned downwards.


      In a spectacular pirouette, Epli ignited the sword, letting it burn a fiery cyan blaze. The flames extended and grew in size. The column of fire swept across the battlefield, forming an impromptu area denial weapon. What remained of civilisation had been set ablaze and reduced to ash along with the Grimm.


      Hayasa watched from a distance as the fire column slowly diminished. The number of Grimm had significantly dwindled, yet, her heart still felt uneasy. She found herself looking over her shoulder constantly, checking the skies above her. Her senses tingled.


      S…something’s here. Something…very dangerous…


      “Good work, Mr. Himinn...now, all we need is to find the source and --”


      From high in the skies, a shriek seemed to deny the team of respite. A bird-like shadow swooped across the ground. The sound was piercing, it stabbed at their ears and disturbed all remaining combatants, Huntsmen and Grimm alike. Disrupted by the sounds, the massive winged shadow covered the outskirt of the city and swooped down on the blue Faunus.


      “Oh crap!”


      A massive pair of bone-armored legs with long talons gripped oh Saphir’s arms and lifted him high up in the air in mere seconds.


      An Elder Nevermore.


      Its size easily dominates even the mighty Goliaths. As it flew over the team, the air it displaced behind its colossal wings kicked up a wall of sand, limiting the team’s ability to aim precisely before it regained its distance. Without a word, Puria let out a wide grin as she began her pursuit.


      “I always like a good bird hunt!” Rosea laughed, following Puria from behind as both sprinted away and followed the Nevermore’s direction, leaving Epli and Hayasa behind.


      N-No…that’s…not it.


      Hayasa didn’t understand this feeling, but the irking irritation now screamed at her. It was a threat far greater than even the Nevermore.


      “Come on, Miss Fuunami. We should help as --”


      Hayasa had already began to move.


      The supposed threat surged towards their position with pinpoint accuracy, seemingly targeting the small patch of ground between Epli and herself. She felt its intense power, the unstoppable negativity that fueled this approach.


      “Look out!!”


      Hayasa lunged towards Epli’s position and pushed her over.


      A fire blast of pure red and black scorched the spot where Epli stood.


      More importantly, the city, set a fair distance behind her, was lit ablaze. The abandoned concrete towers was engulfed in flames on every floor. Epli and Hayasa turned their attention to the source of that attack. A massive serpentine Grimm with gigantic wings and a long, snaking body.


      “Wyvern...Must be a Beta type from the size of the thing.” Hayasa uttered under her breath, her eye focused on the beast that is now poised to strike. Its growing roar shook the ground, its jaws slowly glowing red lit up the yellow sand in a shimmering orange. Epli got up and fixed her glasses before she picked up a shard of indigo blue and crushed it with her hands. Calm as ever, a clear blue haze enveloped her body with a breeze of cold, frigid winds.


      “Looks like we’ll have to deal with this before it wreaks more havoc.” Epli readied her stance with Hayasa sheathing her blade in preparation for an Iaijutsu style maneuver.


      As the Wyvern roared in preparation to dive bomb its preys, A blur of silver flew right through the neck of the Wyvern.


      Snap.


      The Wyvern was beheaded, its head tossed high up in the air as a silver flying object sliced it off. Shocked at the unexpected intervention, Hayasa’s eyes tried to catch up to the object that instantly killed off the Wyvern.


      “A shield?!”


      Like a boomerang, the shield returned to the wielder. The shield-wielding warrior held up her weapon, neither a spear nor sword, its smooth jet-black surface rotated in different sides each row with pale pulsing blue light. A frigid chill began to fill the air with temperature dropping rapidly as the headless body of the Wyvern began to fall from mid air.


      In an instance, the warrior brought her blunt weapon down in the direction of the falling carcass of the headless creature. A cyclone of icicles and piercing frozen shards formed from the weapon’s rapid rotation. Blue dust began diffusing out from the tiny holes within the pulsating markings on the surface of the weapon. The revolutions formed the basis of a vortex, from which a light blue cloud of dust was redirected forwards.


      This drill-shaped cyclone of absolute zero crystalised the Wyvern’s body in ice. The large corpse crashed onto the ground as an ice sculpture.


      Such devastating ice Dust control...what is that weapon?


      After dealing the finishing blow, the frozen sculpture shattered into a million pieces like brittle glass, leaving only the head itself decaying away from existence as it fell behind Hayasa.


      From behind the dissipating shards of black and white peered the amber eyes of the black Valkyrie. Black feathers fluttered above where her helmet rested, revealing her darkish, brown hair.


      vBAL3KE.jpg


      “That eyepatch...and that katana you’re holding…” The Valkyrie raised her weapon once more. In response, Hayasa slowly unsheathed her blade. Towards the person stood before her, she could only feel an irrational rage boil over from the deepest parts of her heart. Her armor alone was reason enough to incite this response.


      The teardrop marked in the center with wings.


      The golden stripes.


      “You’re Hayasa Fuunami...the one that rebelled against our Overlord years ago.”


      T-The L…legion is really…here…?


      Hayasa gripped her katana. Without hesitation, she launched her first strike.


      “‘The one that rebelled against our Overlord…’, you say?”


      Kazehana crashed against the shield, sliding off the rounded armor plate ineffectively.


      “You’re the one who put her there…aren’t you?”


      N-No…


      Once more, she lunged forward.


      “You, Hayasa Fuunami…and nobody else.”


      T-That’s not i-it…


      With each swing, she seemingly cut down these allegations. Fueled purely by guilty, she could feel it crush her with its weight.


      “You and your blade cut down all who stood in Sanguis’ way, didn’t you?”


      S-SILENCE!


      Throwing herself back to Epli’s side after the brief skirmish, Hayasa once more tried to regain her crumbling composure.


      I…won’t fall. Not here.


      Her breathing sharp, her stance tense, she unsteadily purged her mind of its rogue elements. Her mental landscape was thrown into a state of chaos.


      I’ll…c-cut down anyone who dares bring it up…


      “Kill her…”


      …N-no…not yet. Calm…d-down.


      “Bring this to an end.”


      Kazehana remained unmoving.


      “This is EVERYTHING…all that haunts you, all that scarred you…right before you.”


      N-no! No…breathe…stick to the standard approach-


      “Standard? This is the legion…you of all people should know their standard.”


      As Hayasa fought herself, she staggered back. Step by step, she pulled herself back besides Epli. Her grip was sweaty, but still, she tried to reaffirm her goals.


      “Strike her down with all you have! Here and now! If not now, then never use this power again!”


      “Please stand back, Miss Stardream…” Hayasa coldly requested. Her voice trembled. She fought the depths of her heart to mask it. It was not only out of fear, but out of desperation. That very symbol incited rage and shame in her heart. “This….is MY fight. Let me deal with this myself…”


      “No I will not.” Epli refused immediately. “I told you before, you’re my responsibility, and I am taking care of you whether you like it or not.”


      Ignoring the chatter, Helen lifted her blunt impaler and pointed directly at Hayasa from the air, her eyes locked to Hayasa’s.


      “...Punishment for treason is death, Fuunami. I -- Helen Herja, The Horseman of War, will be your executioner for your crimes!!”


      The moment Hayasa heard that, she had enough.


      My c-crimes…h-huh…


      H-hahaha…


      What, then, was my “crime”?


      Rebelling against oppression?


      Awakening to the truth?


      D-don’t insult me…


      A shockwave erupted from under her feet.


      As the dust cleared, Hayasa had disappeared. Helen followed the trail of sand, raising her shield to meet Hayasa’s attack. Diving down from above her, Hayasa’s expression, twisted by bloodlust, willed for Helen’s death with every fiber of her being.


      Just take this and…


      “DIE!!”

  • About Me

  • Comments (15)

    • RomanTorchwk

      4 years ago

      Hi, another member of RWBY. Can you help me get around Rooster Teeth and maybe suggest some shows I might like? I'm helplessly confused and really would appricate if you helped me

    • frasian001

      4 years ago

      do you go by the name KurokamiRin on deviantart?

      • frasian001

        4 years ago

        ok, just making that no one is stealing you art >w<
        and again awesome characters (>v<)b

      • rin1990 Witch Artist

        4 years ago

        Yes :)

    • StrangeWolf

      4 years ago

      btw what would you charge for a commission?

      • StrangeWolf

        4 years ago

        K tell when you do since i'm about to type up long character page based on the twins that found rome T_T Try to be as detailed on the character page as possible

      • rin1990 Witch Artist

        4 years ago

        I don't do commissions yet unfortunately. ;w;

    • StrangeWolf

      4 years ago

      \\ [T] //
      \\[ l ]//
      [ l ] PRAISE THE SUN
      // \\

      Post edited 9/22/14 10:19PM

      • rin1990 Witch Artist

        4 years ago

        Uhh...what? XD

    • artisttsitra

      4 years ago

      welcome to the RT community friend! I hope you have a great time! & the artwork is really amazing, it's really beautiful! :)

      • rin1990 Witch Artist

        4 years ago

        Why thank you good madam xD

        Will do my best in future too o3o

    • Kahiyao Creative

      4 years ago

      Welcome! Love that artwork! Its always refreshing to see original content being posted here.

      • rin1990 Witch Artist

        4 years ago

        I see I see. LOL

        Hope there'll be more from me to offer soon. =)

      • Kahiyao Creative

        4 years ago

        I know. When I said "Original" I meant stuff YOU actually drew and not someone else. ^_^

      • rin1990 Witch Artist

        4 years ago

        Haha, it's just RWBY fanart xD

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