"I am the nursery magic Fairy," she said. "I take care of all the playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out and the children don't need them any more, then I come and take them away with me and turn them into Real."
"Wasn't I Real before?" asked the little Rabbit.
"You were Real to the Boy," the Fairy said, "because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to every one."
"Do you want for me to talk about what happened at the docks now?" Velvet asked the interrogator blandly. That tone was something she certainly learned from the others. The light had be turned down and pointed away, and the man's secrecy as a silhouette was gone now, and she saw him as he was. It was difficult to pin his age. His build was middle aged, but his face had the kindly and calculating disposition of a wizened scholar of greater years. Velvet couldn't turn to his hair either, as its color only lent timelessness and nothing else.
But the rabbit could see the man face to face, and now sometimes she could imagine she was just having a polite discussion about the news, around the two steaming cups of coffee they drank. Chatting off hand about how someone entirely separate from her had smashed her way onto the Cassandra at Dawn and watched as...
But it wasn't right to think of it like that. Even if it had seemed like a dream, Velvet couldn't divorce herself from the circumstances she had been in, as if it were somehow out of her control in some way, as if someone else had done it using her body. The onus was hers, otherwise she should have let the others take the blame like they wanted.
The interrogator nodded, "The police investigation is caught up believing this whole thing began with you just deciding to charge into the docks on some rampage. Had you not offered to give the context of your assault, I would have been forced to extrapolate based on that event. Not unlike rendering judgment on a story simply based on its ending, yes?"
Well, Velvet had certainly not been expecting that analogy, "Uh, sure?"
The man took a sip from his mug before speaking, "Regardless, it's time to hear what all of this had been building up to. You had found your allies, and found the location of the kidnapped girl. You went on the attack."
"If you already know how it goes from here, I don't believe there's anything I can add."
"There is much left you can add, in fact," the interrogator corrected, "In fact, there is something only you can add: everything that happened on the Cassandra at Dawn, before it sank."
"It seems you were gracious enough to give several crew members a chance to escape the ship before events got out of hand, but after that... we were only able to find the four of you at the wreck."
The man let the silence pervade for several moments, enough to let the rabbit faunus across the table soak in the gravity of room.
"Now, you asked me if I would listen earnestly. This time, I must ask you: will you tell the truth? The account you've given me up to now, I have no doubt that it will be corroborated in some way by other details, but whatever happened on that ship, I will only ever have your word about what happened. The rest of the truth is now at the bottom of the bay. From here on out, you could say anything at all, and I will be unable to confirm nor deny. You could even say the Marquis itself was on that ship, and your valiant battle against it was the cause of the ship's sinking, and no one would be able to say otherwise."
"I won't say that," Velvet protested wearily.
"I know. But I want others to know what I know."
"I promise, then. To keep telling the truth. As I have been the entire time."
The man smiled for a moment. It was strange to see it on his face, after so long seeing him as nothing more than the dark, "Good. Then let's hear the rest. When you arrived at the docks, what part did you have to play in the ensuing events?"
The RLS Private Trading Docks. Functionally, there was nothing to indicate the rows of concrete and tin warehouses by the water were in any way more upscale than other examples that lined the coast of Vale's industrial district, but the small bay had been tucked out of the way and almost within spitting distance of the commercial zone, which made the local developers there treat it as if it was part of it. A little more private, a little closer to the glitter, and somehow these warehouses, no different than any other, magically transformed in the eyes of its clientele to become the end all of cargo storage, investors fighting tooth and nail to own some of these warehouses over those, its undue reputation growing with each lease bidding war that occurred, because clearly there had to be a good reason someone would want a piece of these docks.
All these factoids meant little to the watchman, though. The uniformed security officer, sitting in his guard booth at the entrance point of the RLS Docks was the same as his brethren, uninformed and bored, as he sat slouched over the narrow desk, holding his head up with his hand. He worked graveyard shift for the extra pay, hoping to buy a car and impress a girl. It was pretty much money for nothing, with his only enemy being boredom, looking out into the empty streets. Behind him, he knew there was work occurring at the one ship still berthed in the area, though he had no idea what was so important that cargo needed loading at this hour.
Ah well, that was none of his concern. All he needed to do was shoo away any lost drivers. In fact, he could hear one approach. It sounded like some hot rod pick up, where someone had put in an engine far too large, sounding like something like an approaching thunderstorm.
This did little to deter the guard, who was already out of his booth, reciting his well worn phrases for unexpected visitors, "Excuse me, sir, The docks are closed at these hours. If you don't have an entrance permit, I'm afraid I have to ask you to..."
The word 'Leave' died in his throat as he saw the black vehicle approach, and felt a chill go down his spine to sit in his guts as the thing came to a halt, its many headlights on its front centering their angles upon the guard and his booth, bathing him in near blinding light. He squinted and stared at the hulking machine.
The RTX-14 Rhinhorn Armored Personnel Carrier. A workhorse of the military on the Vytal continent, it was a name equated with ruggedness, viciousness, and simplicity. The armored carrier sat low to the ground, supported by eight fat tires, each filled with a gelatinous substance for tear resistance, all useful for crushing the off roads at high speeds with the powerful engine it was equipped with. With its role of carrying a full complement of troops into battle and keeping it safe, it was designed to withstand all sorts of abuse, with its sloping, advanced alloyed plates designed to bounce everything between bullets to explosive warheads off its sides, while its belly was meticulously designed to protect its drive shaft and occupants from bombs. Its armored copulas allowed commanders a full 360 degree view in all angles, supplemented by a variety of visual sensors when normal view was impaired, and to help defend itself, a great cannon sat in a turret near the front, jutting out like a horn of a mythical thick skinned monster.
Sometimes, they were sold to the police for their use in extreme situations that required tactical responses and insertions, but being such a rare situation in the peaceful city of Vale, such acquisitions were usually stored separate from police headquarters, in another garage, covered under tarp.
All these factoids meant little to the watchman, though. As far as he could tell, he was staring at a bloody freakin' tank.
"...Uh..." Was all he could say, beginning to worry about what the presence of this vehicle meant. Through the light, he could make something painted across the front of the armored machine:
The meaning of the phrase was made abundantly clear as the tank roared again with its overpowered engines and began to drive forward towards the guard and the booth. Not around.
The guard made his opportunity to leap out of the way just as the eight wheeled behemoth drove headlong into the booth, reducing it to plastic, glass, and metal framework that folded under the tank as it drove on, deeper into the docks. As he rolled to a halt, he could see the back end of the armored vehicle, like wise painted with clear mocking words: "COMING SOON".
Being a guard of the same level of training as his brethren, despite his posting at the most upscale of trade sites, he remembered his training in situations involving facing giant tanks in the dead of the night.
So he lay on his stomach, and stared at the aftermath of the carnage, stunned.
Inside the Rhinhorn, Velvet Scarlatina made a quick mental apology for scaring the man, but was glad she drove slowly enough that the guard had enough time to jump for cover. Strapped down to the driver's chair, she manipulated the rectangular steering wheel and stared out through the narrow armored viewing ports.
Behind her, in the crew hold, the chemist settled herself into a fold out bench that allowed her to sit in the cupola, and giggled, spinning around and looking at the world around the tank as they swerved through the docks. Beside her, the drifter was seated at a wall mounted radio set, adjusting knobs and tapping an earpiece she wore with her finger.
Velvet listened as the buzzing voice of the one eyed woman echoed from the piece in her own ear, "Alright, last minute comm check. Everyone call it in with your callsign. Hobo Queen, here."
"Playmate, here," Velvet answered last, and momentarily fought off a grimace at the sound of that ridiculous name they had latched on to her.
"Now remember, we're in the belly of the beast, so everyone stick with these names until we're in the clear. Thanks to Playmate, we've gotten this far. Our target is the cargo ship 'Cassandra at Dawn', berthed somewhere near warehouses nineteen to twenty one. Our objective is twofold. One, find Playmate's huntress pal who's been kidnapped. Short, female, silver hair, red eyes, says she's from St. Elmo. Don't forget the challenge questions. Two, find and beat the shit out of everyone else who's not the huntress and not us. This sound good to you, Playmate?"
"That's fine. Just let me focus on getting there. Fairy, can you see any directions?"
"Just keep going! We're passin' Warehouse Five right now."
As the armored car squealed past each successive building, they also rushed by workers, who turned and ran after them, pointing and shouting. Passing by a small office near the tenth warehouse, a man kicked open a door, an assault rifle in his hands, and fired into the side of the Rhinhorn, muzzle flash and sparks lighting up the impetuously painted "BAD ATTITUDE" it wore.
Fairy jerked back at a spark that flashed across the bullet proof windows, while the snapping sounds reverberating through the interior indicated more were impacting the stolen police tank's hull, "Woah! They're shootin' at us!"
Velvet glared, while her long rabbit ears forced themselves downward, trying to block out the sharp noise, "I heard."
"Man, they're fuckin' pourin' out of everywhere! What'd the pirate do, buy the whole damn dock?!" Fairy said, and watched as every roof and every upper walkway began to be populated with more armed men, in suits or thick working gear, all firing down upon the APC as it drove by in an endless torrent of bullets.
"Playmate, I hate to complain, but even in an armored vehicle, those bullets are going to eventually find something useful to hit!" Hobo Queen shouted from the back.
"Get into the turret and do something about it, then!" Velvet ordered in return.
"Is it even loaded!?"
The drifter didn't need to be told twice, as she staggered over to the hatch in the ceiling and climbed into the armored box, grasping the two controls sticks and swiveling the thin barrel she was seated beside around and upwards. Gunfire still fell and in the smaller confines of the turret, the noise of ricochet was even louder, aggravating the woman. At the first gathering of men above, the hobo queen prayed her aim was still good and jammed down on the triggers. What burst forth from the muzzle was neither flame nor bullet. The opposite, in fact, and fitting for the police tank: a beam of high pressure water, formed from crystallized ice blue Dust that fed into a array, "freezing" water in the air just enough to turn vaporous moisture into high speed liquid. While certainly not "lethal" in the same sense, the drifter still took wicked pleasure watching the torrent smash into the gunmen, scattering them across the roof and onto their backs.
"Woah, this thing's got kick! I should have been a cop!"
"Good! I don't want to hear you complain about the choice of vehicle anytime soon!" Velvet shouted behind her, as she continued swerve through the narrow corridors, bullets flying every which way, while Hobo Queen returned fire, flinging men away under the force of the high pressure jet. However on a straight way past the fifteenth warehouse, the chemist gave a concerned warble.
"Uh, Playmate? There's a roadblock up ahead."
"I see it."
Velvet, through the fiberglass ports, could see the roadway between buildings being blocked off by two large trucks, parked side by side so their bulk would block up the road ahead as much as possible. Around the blockade, men had clambered up atop and about the trucks, guns readied to aim. Sitting on the trucks, two men were fastening a belt of larger ammunition into a bipod mounted machine gun.
With that amount of tonnage blocking up the streets, Velvet was sure the Rhinhorn lacked outright power to just smash through the trucks. Push them, perhaps, but by then, they'd have lost enough speed that the thugs would either do further damage with that machine gun, or just climb on and start trying to pry them out. There was only one thing to do.
Velvet's foot pushed the gas pedal down, and the Rhinhorn whined in response, driving even faster. The fairy looked out from under her perch, somewhat anxious.
"Uh, Playmate, darling, you're gonna turn, right?"
"I will," Velvet said, just as she passed the last remaining left and right corridors to either side, and drove on towards the roadblock.
"And when is that gonna be!?"
"Soon! Hobo Queen!" Velvet hollered, before grimacing at the other rather ridiculous callsign, "Get back down from the turret! I don't want you up there where we're going!"
"'Where we're going'? The hell are we going in this narrow... Playmate, you fucking bitch! Two times in one night is too much already! Are you trying to make me blow an artery from stress!?"
"Get down already! Hang on!"
Only a few meters away from the trucks, the men opened up with the machine gun, scoring the slanted armor of the armored carrier for a few precious seconds, right before it swerved to the left and smashed through the concrete wall of the warehouse beside. For a moment, the dock soldiers mentally cheered, thinking their warding measures caused the armored vehicle to crash, but to their horror, they saw it not stopping at all. Instead it simply punched a hole through and started crashing through the interior of the warehouse beside them.
Velvet kept calm, while took her police tank through the inside of the building, smashing through crates and tall shelves, and leaving a tunnel of chaos behind. The tank pummeled through parked loading equipment and conveyor belts, smearing its armored sides with wreckage and metal, styrofoam peanuts and plastic wrapping. One of the stray crates smashed against a wall, and exploded into flame and heated shrapnel that turned into a chain reaction as they bit into more crates that detonated in turn, forcing Velvet to drive through a building that was rapidly turning an inferno.
The redheaded fairy's eyes bulged at the display, "Aw, fuck! I think they really did buy out the whole dock! Look at those explosions! That's military grade Dust ! Playmaaaate! Must go faster!"
Velvet agreed twice. One, that being caught in a fire was a bad thing. Two, that there being weapons here, or at least Dust intended for weapons was worse. If the smugglers were planning this far ahead for a war that they were turning Vale into their own cold storage...
It all had to go.
"Hang on! It's going to stay rough!"
And with the warehouse going up in flames and exploding behind her, the rabbit faunus drove the Rhinhorn through the wall at the far end, across the street, and without stopping, right into the next warehouse wall, where the process repeated again, scattering half packed cargo every which way that collided and exploded. One warehouse after another, the rabbit bored through them, and turned the whole street into rising pyres, crackling violently with the power of the igniting Dust. All around, the dock thugs ran for their lives, scattering with each explosion that sent flaming wreckage high into the air and back to the ground around them. The rising smoke could be seen from all over Vale.
Out from warehouse 18, the Rhinhorn broke out of the row of flaming buildings and onto a straight away next to the water, covered in dust and pieces of flaming debris.
"Playmate! It's the Cassandra! The Cassandra at Dawn!" The chemist shouted again.
"I see it!"
In the distance, a gigantic ship was pushing off from the long concrete pier, with the name the three of them had been seeking painted across the stern. From within the narrow viewing ports, the great cargo carrier looked even larger. Not so much a ship as it was a long rectangular tub, layered in steel architecture, with masts and cranes jutting every which way to give an image of some ominous fortress, while two giant bridges sat on either end of the bulk transport. Even with its size, the Cassandra at Dawn was taking to the waters at an impressive clip, leaving meters of empty pier with every passing second.
Beside Velvet, the drifter leaned over her shoulder, glaring through the view ports, "Shit! We're too late! It's already leaving! There's no way we can get onto this ship now!"
At any other time, Velvet might have agreed with the obvious and probable. But the adrenaline was doing something to her, as had the sound of the ricochets and the explosions, driving up the urgency that was beating in her chest.
"It hasn't left the bay yet! We can still catch up!"
"How!? It's not like this thing's submersible!"
Velvet didn't answer immediately, simply opting to swerve onto the pier and give chase to the departing cargo ship. At the very end of the long concrete stretch, left behind almost like an afterthought, was a pile of crates, stacked and abandoned next to a truck designed to lift cargo aboard via a long wide conveyor belt. That belt was still lowered to the ground, with its other end pointing up into the air like a ramp.
The drifter rolled her eye, "Of course you would come up with a retarded idea like this. You know we won't clear it?"
Velvet's fingers tightened around the steering wheel, "I know. Get Fairy down. I need the two of you to find something."
The Rhinhorn surged forwards, putting every ounce of its horsepower into increasing its speed as it blitzed after the Cassandra at Dawn, which had cleared the docks and was now putting as much water between it and Vale's shore while its miniscule pursuer put everything into closing the distance on the ramp at the end.
Smashing through a few stray crates, the Rhinhorn screeched overtop the parked truck, which already began to buckle under the force and weight of the armored personnel carrier. The stolen police tank barely had time to clear the ramp before it collapsed under its weight, but by some miracle, the speed and the angle was enough to send the tank hurtling through the air several meters, towards the hull of the larger cargo liner.
The distance shortened with every second, and the tank keened in on the metal hull, eager to test if it would break under its weight and momentum like the warehouses had.
However, a few vital feet away, it lost its opportunity. Somewhere along the side of the cargo ship, a plume of smoke erupted, and spat a rocket out that flew alongside the ship to slam into the airborne tank. Armor buckled and collapsed, and the tank froze in mid air, aflame at the center of two opposing forces. Then gravity took hold, and the Rhinhorn plummeted into the water loudly, sending up a geyser of white spray. Across the ship, men cheered at the demise of their adversary.
Near the stern, three men were closest to the blaze, and the most enthused, seeing the tank dropping like a rock.
"Fuck yeah! That'll teach 'em!" One of them laughed.
"I hope they fucking sink. Dying quick's too good for them after torching half the docks like that," The second grumbled, peering over the railing into the dark waters.
The third man leaned back, grinning, "Don't worry about it. That thing's a coffin, far as I can tell. Not like the thing can swim underwater-"
The unexpected noise confused the three smugglers, who looked around until one of them saw a metal claw clinging to the top of the railing, rattling slightly from some unseen force.
One of the men blinked, before frowning, and drawing a gun he kept holstered on his hip as he moved over to the claw. Leaning over the side, he saw a rope attached to the other end of the grappling line and attached to the line was the-
Brass finger tips wrapped themselves around the sides of the man's face, and he had only a second to begin calling an alarm before he was pulled off his feet and thrown over the side of the ship by the girl in a green jacket and hat, who started to clamber over the railing to replace him.
"Mikey!" The men shouted almost in tandem, but anything else they would have said got caught in their throats as they next watched a blue haired woman in a patchwork cloak and a rabbit faunus pull themselves aboard on the same grappling line. The three turned their gaze on the two of them.
The rabbit faunus frowned at them, and said warningly, "You have one chance. Don't try it."
The two men, however, simply glared and reached for their holsters.
A minute later, one of the men sailed through the air and slammed onto the wide deck of the ship, groaning and twisting in agony loudly enough to catch the ears and eyes of every other crew member, who had been otherwise been busy tying down the last of a small maze of corrugated metal cargo containers. They all turned to look at the approaching, colorful trio, the redhead flexing her gloved hands and raising them at the ready, the brunette rabbit holding a massive gun in her hands, and the blue haired woman, a metal pipe dangling in one hand, while her other arm was wrapped around the neck of the last struggling thug they had encountered.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, there's going to be a lot of fucking dead people from here on out," The one eyed woman growled, before throwing the man aside so his head slammed into a nearby container, rendering him senseless, "Anyone who doesn't want to volunteer should exit the ship via the lifeboats positioned port and starboard of our position. Any takers?"
The effect was twofold. The dramatic entrance and warning was enough to scare almost a third of the present party, admittedly, the weedy, skittish looking third, likely the noncombatant elements. Those were the ones who heeded the warning and booked it in the direction as far away from the present trio as possible.
For everyone else, though, they took one step forward, more than a few of them grabbing work tools or drawing guns as they closed in. Crowbars, bolt cutters, and welding torches waved menacingly towards them.
None of the show did anything to affect the trio, so far past the point of caring, that all they did was return hard looks.
"Fine. The hard way, then," Velvet muttered, raising her gun.
The chemist broke into a sneer, "Time to get dramatic!"
With that, Velvet marked the beginning of the festivities, symbols lighting into existence along the sides of the gun as she fired off her Dust.
On the forward bridge of the Cassandra at Dawn, John Silver was trying to personally direct his crew to the open waters beyond Patch Island, when the echoing thump of an explosion rattled the windows behind him along with his ears. Twisting around, the leader of the traffickers turned to look at the rows of cargo, and near the stern of a ship, a small bonfire that had gone up.
Bursting out of it were three particular women he was starting to really hate, and his feelings weren't subsiding anytime soon, as he snarled and watched them disable one man after another in a slow, but steady approach to the other end of the ship. The end he was on.
Down below, he could see his rogue bomb maker slammed one of her palms into the side of one of his men's heads, golden light exploding from the back of her hand like some jet thruster, while the victim sailed through the air into a crowd of another men, and the girl didn't even hesitate to blast her light from her palms to fling herself backwards, launching her elbow into the stomach of another man to double him over, leaving his head at waist height so she could grab him by face with her other hand to throw him hard onto his back.
His ungrateful gutter-trash soldier used her war pipe to block the overhead swings of several of his men, while they pushed forward, trying to make her stumble and fall. Trip, she perhaps did, only for her to murmur something while smoke poured from her mouth and swirled behind her, turning into a smoke constructed familiar that held her up, solid enough that the four men before her were unable to push further. A blast from her affixed gun sent the war pipe swinging out, throwing the men's arms aside while the smoke swung around her to synchronously slam its fists once into each man's face like the keys of a piano, each blow pushing each one over into unconsciousness effortlessly.
Then there was that damn rabbit faunus. The troublemaker, the source of all his problems, the force that was turning his investments against him. That petting zoo outsider, who stuck her nose where she didn't belong. She should have stayed dead. Now she was viciously attacking his men, obviously intending to end this with his death by her hands. Men fired at her from around the corners of the cargo containers, but she remained hidden and focused, and John watched a laser sight sweep across the corridor, tagging men before she fired a glowing sphere, chasing and ricocheting from one man to the next, even streaking around the corner of one container to hunt down and smash against one who had tried running and hiding.
Slowly, the three continued to move across the span of the boat, cutting his crew down without mercy.
Animals. Animals, the lot of them.
John's hand tightened around his cane as he watched the display below.
"Fine," he growled, "I thought we could settle this like civilized human beings. But if you want to act like a beast, I'll treat you like one!"
"Wish You Were Here."
Hobo Queen exhaled smoke that spilled around her in waves, as men rushed in at her from all directions, bludgeons raised. Two eyes didn't cover for strikes from behind, her situation was even worse when she didn't even have that much. Even if she had summoned her familiar, it wouldn't be fast enough to hit what she couldn't see. The familiar formed from the miasma as predicted, but instead of lashing out around her, the surreal figure wrapped its arms around its creator's waist, and rocketed over the heads of the men, carrying the scarred woman with it. The smoke unraveled, starting from the legs and moving on up as the enchanted construction stretched itself out carrying the drifter away. While the smuggler thugs all craned their heads, looking around and trying to follow the trajectory of their prey, they left their blind spot uncovered for Fairy to come in sliding across the ground, arms outstretched so she could be a hardlight blur that slammed into the feet of the gathered men with enough force to send them pin wheeling into the air. The targets floated in the air long enough for Velvet to draw a bead of the crowd, another symbol pattern forming along the sides of the frankengun, demanding the energy she fired off split into several snaking, curving javelins that sought out each thug, slamming into each of them and carrying them through the air with sheer force. It was enough that to send the bodies tumbling about and off the sides of the cargo carrier, their departure rounded off with heavy splashes as they hit the water.
The three regrouped and reloaded. Velvet's chemist comrade cheered, while injecting a fresh infusion of her gold Dust into the sleeve of her FOX Skin, "Hey, I think we're getting better at this!"
A magazine empty of bullets clattered to the ground as the drifter held her the head of her pipe up and slapped a fresh one into the gun mechanism, "The idea we're actually synergizing scares the shit out of me."
Velvet, who did not need to reload anything, took a wary step back as she saw something, "Uh, girls, maybe we shouldn't be relaxing so soon?"
Her comrades turned to look with the rabbit faunus, tracking the source of her growing distress. The three of them had battled furiously and now stood a little distance from the towering bridge at the bow of the ship, the keep for a floating castle. Along the multiple levels of catwalks, more men had flooded out, and all armed with some pretty fierce looking guns. Velvet's allies immediately responded.
A wall of golden butterflies and smoke erupted between the two parties just in time to come a glow with orange sparks as hail of bullets slammed into it, trying to break through the defenses to perforate the girls behind it.
"Okay! I don't think we're gonna get any further now!" Fairy hollered over the din of the gunfire, her palms raised, light pouring slowly from her palms to feed the dissipating hardlight.
The drifter's own arm was raised up, holding the pipe to command the hardened smoke, but it was only so much time before it broke up with the air, "We can't retreat! We back away, they'll lock the bridge down!"
"We have to!" Velvet argued, "Those walls won't hold forever! We need to get to real cover!"
"Just try me-"
The floor just on the other side of the conjured wall exploded. The three staggered as the shockwaves pounded though the butterflies and smoke and rattled their bones. Velvet was only barely able to stay upright, while the other two struggled to keep their defenses intact.
Fairy blinked, "Aw crap, they did shoot us with an RPG earlier, yeh?"
Velvet began screaming for them to get to cover now, but more rockets began landing around them, shaking their bones as well as their brains. The shield prevented most of the rockets from hitting any closer, any arcing over their heads landing too far away, but the repeated firings slowly shattered and crumpled the floor around them. Before they knew it, the ground gave way to a torn hole, and the three girls fell through, screaming.
Velvet at least knew she was screaming, as she fell into the darkness. She tumbled downwards, seeing the night sky through the hole above spinning past every second, and the hard steel floor below approaching every other, and flailed, trying to find some way to stop herself. Reaching out desperately, her free hand wrapped itself around a length of train and held on for dear life, links jangling. Velvet felt her shoulder nearly give out as her fall stopped, and turned into her swinging through the air, the girl still screaming until she slammed into another cargo container that just thoughtfully decided to be in her path, bouncing off and falling the final few feet to the floor. Velvet groaned, rolled onto her back, and blearily looked around.
Around her, the drifter and chemist made their own messy landings. Hobo Queen's Wish carried her bridal style as she fell out of the air, and let itself slam onto the ground, legs first, impact more than enough to cause it burst apart. While the energy wasn't completely transferred to its owner, there was enough to throw her out of its collapsing arms and send her rolling across the ground. Fairy desperately tried to right herself in her uncontrolled descent, firing random bursts of hardlight from her hands to try and orient herself upright. She mostly succeeded in sending herself into various cartwheels as she bled speed, up until she slammed, into the ground, upper back first and tumbling over herself until she came to a stop on her stomach.
"Ugh... is everyone okay?" Velvet called out, shakily gathering herself up onto her feet along with the other two. She could see the seam of her brown coat coming apart, bleeding flattened cotton, as the stresses of the day showed itself.
"Get back to me when you've defined 'okay'," Hobo Queen groused, pummeling the sores out of her back.
"I'm alive!" Fairy responded, followed by a pause, "I think. For all I know my ribs are shattered and I'm only seconds away from puking out the remains of my shredded lungs and heart, but I'm alive! I think."
"Get up," Velvet simply said, while holding out a hand for the chemist to pull herself up to her feet, while she looked around at their surroundings.
"This is the cargo hold, right? It's... smaller than I thought."
Not that Velvet had any prior preconception, but for bulk loaders, especially ones used by pirates, she imagined the hold would have stretched as far as the eye could see, filled to the brim with towers of steel encased cargo. Here, though was practically plain, with the walls ringed with containers to a certain height, and several more stacks here, and there, but much of the floor was empty, save pools of grimy bilge that leaked through from somewhere. The creaking of the hull and the sea rung through the air, mixing with the slight clinking of chains for lifting purposes. Several meters to the back, Vel could see a high steel wall that marked the limits of the cargo hold, much closer than she had expected.
"Big carriers have three holds rather than one big one," The drifter explained off hand, as she looked around, "Makes it easier for loading and unloading. There should be stairs to a catwalk at either end. We can follow those to the rest of the decks."
"Um, about that..." Velvet added, already paying attention to the catwalks ringing the hold. The other two followed her lead and watched helplessly as wall mounted walkways began filling with more smuggler thugs, all emerging from an entry way higher up. All of them were armed with guns, and worse, Velvet could see those that weren't were the ones carrying the rocket launchers that had such a hand in harassing them.
But they didn't fire on them. Not yet, anyways, as they watched one pirate stand out from the others as he emerged into their view, dressed in nicer clothes and an expensive white coat, stamping in with his peg leg and staring down at them with wizened penetrating eyes. He supported himself with a cane, and with his other hand, dragged in a beaten and bloody girl by the lapels of her leather jacket, while she struggled as she could, with her arms cuffed behind her back.
Velvet recognized her immediately. "Let the huntress go!", she immediately shouted, raising her mixed up weapon at the girl's captor. Several guns were trained on the trio in that moment, causing the chemist to raise her palms up at the catwalks on either side of her, arms outstretched. The drifter's reaction was more low key, but her pipe was still brandished, fingers curled around the trigger mechanism at the end.
The captured huntress struggled in the pirate's hand, hoarsely calling out, "Rabbit! You shouldn't be here!"
"Neither should you," Velvet grimly responded.
The pirate leader shoved the huntress to the side, letting one of his men holder her, and snorted, "You don't even know her name? The hell are you even here for?"
"Are you John Silver?"
This time, he burst out laughing, "Unbelievable! You don't even have the slightest iota of the context of the situation, and you go charging into the unknown."
"I don't need context for kidnapping and smuggling weapons!" Velvet retorted angrily.
John Silver, though didn't listen, too busy laughing at the prior thought, "Just like a faunus. Can only run on animal instinct, lashing out at the world angrily. Still, you're not like the other spineless examples at the petting zoo, just falling over and begging that I play nice. You got some drive in you, managing to find me and rope along my clients to help you out in your badly thought out revenge gig. I respect you for that. Hell, you can even pretend I like you! That's why I'm giving you one chance to accept my offer. I can tell you got the talent, and you already brought the clients I wanted onboard to begin with. Work for me, and I will pay you one million lien. Each. A businessman like me always needs negotiators and facilitators in my field of work."
"I said let her go!"
"Two million. You won't get a better commission."
"I have a better offer. Give me the huntress. Bring us back to Vale, and don't return. Do that and my friends and I won't make you swim to Silver Isles."
"Hmph. Like I said, you got guts kid," John drawled, before reaching beside him, and drew free a knife. Velvet immediately recognized it at the huntress' weapon, and watched as he idly played with it, waving it around a few times while looking at the blade.
"A huntress... her as a huntress... pitiful. You're killing the goose and her golden eggs for thousands of people because you want her to be a huntress. Crawling around in the muck and the rain, saying all she's good for is wiping out the wild animals. Dragging her down to your level."
In another instant, John Silver swung the knife as hard as he could down at the trio. Velvet backed away, as the sharp corner of the weapon bit effortlessly into the metal floor and remained upright.
"There! You can have your 'huntress' back! But I've got royalty to deliver! No sense talking to beasts, in the end. I gave you a chance to rise up in the food chain, but you decided to play in the mud. The only thing you're good for now is meat."
The head smuggler turned to one of his men, "Open it."
Nodding, the thug reached for a set of controls that hung from a thick mesh cable and pressed one of the buttons. There was a whine of winches and pulleys operating, and cables drew taut and began to rise.
The three invaders followed the lines, and realized they were attached to a large barred gate especially attached to the front of one of the cargo containers that sat underneath Silver's proud position. Squealing metal resounded as the gate lifted away, leaving an opening in the side of the metal box, containing only darkness inside.
The darkness grumbled. It was a low, endless, twisted note that sent a shiver of unconscious horror up Velvet's spine. She could only watched as it emerged from the container, slapping its way forward on fat, stocky limbs.
Black, rippling scaly flesh wrapping a gigantic frame. On its back, bone white plates, growths protruding from them like rows of hammers. Its upper head was wreathed in the same thick cover, pits left in for unblinking red eyes to peer through at all angles. Its long snout widened and inside was nothing but barbed teeth. As it slowly crawled out of the darkness, a long, thick tail waved behind it, slapping the air and the ground with hard cracking noises.
Velvet's breath hitched. Backing away, she tried to think, to breath, to do something other than stare, but all her body told her to do was run for her life.
Grimm. A Creature of Grimm. For all her life, the faunus lived in the safety of the orphanage and the nearby towns, the embrace of civilization. Life was civilized, and Velvet never thought she'd see such beasts face to face. Even the talk of Beacon... well, that was only after training...
But all the thoughts had crashed, and disappeared in the face of the unceasing stare of the Creature as it looked at the three. This was reality. A monster was staring at her in the face, one with only one compunction. To kill her. To eat her.
"What the FUCK!? WHAT THE FUCK!"
Velvet shivered back to her senses at the screeching disbelief, and turned to Fairy who had slapped her finger tips to her temples before throwing her hands at the reptilian Grimm in disbelief.
"A Tick-Tock!? What hell is that doing here!? Why is there a Grimm in a cage!? The hell are you thinking!?"
"I'm expanding my product base," John chortled, while gesturing to the man to lower the gate behind the monster, "As far as I'm concerned, the enemy of my enemy is a marketable weapon. I had to invest quite a bit into acquiring one live, but it certainly was worth it. Especially now that I'm going to enjoy watching you die in pieces."
On some invisible cue, the Tick-Tock gave a groaning roar, and spying prey on the same floor as it, began charging towards it, mouth wide open.
Velvet shrieked, and flinched back, nothing but abject terror filling her mind. Instead, the drifter took several steps forward, fired her pipe and breathed deep of it, chanting through her metal teeth.
"Wish You Were Here."
Smoke pour forth and formed into a man blazing away with its fists, slamming away into the head of the Grimm until one haymaker collided into its jaw, sending it sliding back and slamming against the wall of the ship. All it accomplished was causing the monster to shake its head slightly before turning around and began walking towards the three again, each step coming faster.
Above, the huntress pulled, looking over the railing.
"Rabbit! It's armored! Run!"
There was something sensible in that statement. Something that made Velvet shiver again back to reality and back into her own feet, side by side with her companions, people trapped in this situation with her, and understand.
She reached out and grabbed either woman by their arms to pull, "Come on!"
There was little to argue against staying to have a head on fight with a Grimm of that size and durability, and all three turned and ran for the collection of containers that were packed at the far end of the room. For a few precious seconds, it seemed like Velvet and the others were able to outpace the heavy set pursuing Grimm as it bordered on waddling to move its muscled girth after them.
Velvet, however, heard the sharp crack of a whipping tail, and turned behind her to look. Instead of crawling after them, the Tick-Tock instead simply launched itself through the air, tail having been coiled back like a spring before releasing to send it flying, and was only inches away, jaws swinging open-
"Get down!" Velvet heard herself shout, not sure to motivate herself or the others. But at any rate, it was enough of an order to send the three of them falling onto their stomachs as the Grimm flew overhead before slamming head long into the containers, denting their locked doors while it fell on its side.
The chemist wasted no time to rise up on her knees and fire light from her palms, golden spears crashing into the lopsided monster, but to no effect again, as the hardlight broke apart on the black underbelly.
"What!?" The redhead gawked, "That's it! This is a nine thousand and one on my bullshit-o-meter!"
The drifter was busy looking around for an exit, and noted with some reservation some containers they had slid beside. She jerked her head to them, "We have to go up!"
The crocodilian monster had flopped back onto its belly, and had cast its gaze on them again, leaving little time to argue the idea. Anywhere that made it that bit harder for the Tick-Tock to get in mouth distance was fine.
Fairy wasted no time getting the altitude, as a hardlight-exhaust boosted leap sent her meters in the air so she could cling to the latches and bolts of a container door. The Hobo Queen took a quick breath of her pipe and exhaled smoke that joined with the miasma drifting from the bowl, before shoving the rod towards Velvet with one hand.
The faunus didn't waste any time, throwing her hands around the pipe while the Tick-Tock scampered in their direction and the one eyed woman called out, "Wish You."
The smoke curled around the pair and fired two tendrils upwards, wrapping themselves around either end of the pipe and continuing one. Velvet gave one quick yelp of surprise, matched with the woman's lack of expression as the smoke carried them upwards and out of the way from another lunge from the Grimm. The two flung themselves upward, up to the Fairy's height, where the drifter grabbed on, while Velvet scrabbled for purchase, aided by the proffered hand from the girl in green.
Clinging on, they looked down at the Grimm that menacingly curled up beneath them, watching and waiting. It was then that Velvet remembered they had and audience, and looking around, she could see the smugglers on the catwalks. Laughing.
It was a pure, mirthful laughter, like they were merely watching slapstick comedy than a drawn out execution where three girls were running for their lives. John Silver preceded the pack with his deep chuckles, " You know, we'll be in Silver Isles in three weeks. I wonder how long you can hang around up there, faunus!"
Down below, the Tick-Tock curled its tail underneath itself, and with spring, leapt up into the air, jagged teeth snapping at the three. It nearly reached Fairy's legs, had she not given another indignant shriek and somehow rolled along the sides of the container wall while upright, dodging out of the way while it fell back down to the ground.
Velvet watched perplexed, wondering how the chemist was able to cling to the surface of the container like an insect, but decided to drop the matter, satisfied that it was protecting her, while she turned to glare in the direction of the smugglers' leader.
"Not that long, I guess! Grimm certainly have a lot of uses!" John laughed, and looked sideways, grinning, "Pay close attention, Mithril. These scum aren't going to save you. They can't even save themselves."
The huntress beside him seethed, and through her rage, tried to settle her breathing. The right moment. She knew she was waiting for the absolute right moment.
Down below, the chemist continued to cling to the container and groaning loudly, "A Tick-Tock! All the things in Remnant, a Tick-Tock! He couldn't pick up a Beowolf or an Ursa or a Verdugo or somethin'..."
Velvet meanwhile, lowered her arm to point her gun down at the Grimm, and released another needle of light, the same casting that helped her pry an armored combat chassis to pieces. This time, though, the thin white light bounced off the white shelled back of the Tick-Tock and darted away into a corner of the room, where it collided against cargo, disintegrating into a perfect invisible sphere of force that crumpled the boxes around it.
"Even that doesn't work. What is it made of...!?" Velvet muttered.
"There is a reason legend says the Grimm nearly won the war, you know," The drifter noted, "Nothing's going to break that skin. We need some way to immobilize it. Basically, clamp it down from the sides or from above."
"A clamp..." Velvet said, thinking to herself, and looked around, trying to what would work. She had to find an answer.
Come on, you messed around with mechanics all the time. There are boxes everywhere! How do you get them to move... what can you move around here...
Velvet saw it. With a grim determination, she turned to the other two, "I think I found the answer, but I have to get to the other side of the room."
"You need us to keep fatso distracted, naturally," The chemist said, filling in the blanks.
"I'm sorry. I'm making you do the hard part."
"Forget it," The drifter snorted, "You're full of stupid ideas anyways, but it's either that or staying here till we die. Just make sure you pull your weight, four ears."
"Just make sure you pull yours-!"
Velvet stopped talking then, as she kicked off her position on the container, trying to gain as much distance from the Grimm below when she finally landed on the ship's floor with a heavy thudding roll before breaking into a run for the opposite end of the cargo hold. Immediately the great black reptile hissed and twisted around to follow Velvet, preparing to give chase.
"Oh sexy wrestling god don't fail me now-BANZAAAI!"
The Tick-Tock's vision was obscured when something green fell onto its head and wrapped itself around its eyes. Snarling with frustration, the Grimm swung its head side to side, trying to dislodge the covering while she continued to shriek bloody horror at the top of her lungs.
"Oh god! Why was this an idea at all!?"
"Shut up and stay glued to its head! I got its tail! Wish You Were Here!"
At that, something wrapped itself around its body as well as its tail, trying to wrestle it still, and the Tick-Tock thrashed about, trying to free itself and eat.
Velvet didn't have time to look behind her. She could only trust that everyone was doing their part, while she ran towards the huntress' knife embedded in the floor. Tucking her gun away Velvet reached out and pried the blade from the floor in one smooth motion, while her curving path took her towards the Tick-Tock's cage, the mesh steel cables and hooks still latched onto the cage door. Velvet didn't have time to unhook them, opting to bring the hunting knife into the cage rings. She hadn't realized how sharp it was, but apparently even with her strength it was enough to shatter and cleave the metal, while her free hand grabbed the lines and shook the pieces loose from the hooks and began running again, dragging the lines from the winches.
At this, John frowned. He would have preferred dragging out their execution further, but clearly, this had not been an ideal location, and like many other things this night, he saw it was time to cut it short.
"Fuck it, they're doing something clever. Kill them."
The thug beside him didn't need any more instruction, as he pulled the bolt on his rifle and shouldered it, training it on the rabbit faunus down below.
There was just the barest flash of horror that went across the silver huntress' face before it shifted to resolution, and she knew she had waited long enough.
She breathed deep and steadied herself, pooling the strength she had stored inside.
It was thus to John's shock when he saw his captive's eyes turn from a dull, beaten ruby to a blazing red streak, as she threw herself backwards against the man holding her. Legs kicked up over her head while she rolled over the stumbling, then falling man, bound wrists slipped past her feet and the huntress finished her flip by swinging her heel into the face of the thug with the rifle, too busy aiming to react in time to the foot that slammed into his cheek, which then slammed his head into the catwalk floor, dazing him.
The huntress surged towards the wizened old man in a burst of speed, and though he gave a clumsy swing of his cane to try and ward her off, he couldn't stop her from twisting about until she was behind him, her wrists beside his neck while she pulled the links against his esophagus.
"You were half dead when I brought you here! How did you-" Silver began to growl before his talking was interrupted by his choking as the silver girl drew the hold taut.
"St. Elmo gave me harsh woods and stormy seas. You can beat me, but you can't break me," She answered, before dragging her own captive so she was pressed against the walls of the hold, keeping her back covered as she looked side to side at the thugs surrounding her, guns aimed, "Nobody move. Nobody shoot. Or you find Silver a new neck."
The men swore and stood off against the huntress, all now so busy dealing with their captured leader their attention was lost on the proceedings down below.
The Tick Tock continued to wrestle with the bodies that had latched onto it, but where the drifter and chemist was concerned, it was turning into a losing battle. No matter how much force they were applying, the Grimm simply had muscle and weight to bear. One last tail slap smashed the smoke familiar wrapped around into the ground, making it burst apart into useless wisps, and the drifter swore under her breath. She couldn't use her pipe while she grappled with the beast below her. With the tail thrashing freely, the Grimm now had the leverage needed to thrash about even harder, bucking hard enough that the blue haired woman was thrown from its back.
"Hobo Queen! Don't leave me! I can't do this tango by myself!" the chemist wailed from atop the monster's long head, before it swung its head to the side, finally with enough force to throw the girl off. Grunting, the chemist rolled onto her hands and feet. Unfortunately, her face was now at the same height as the Tick-Tock's thick tail cracked through the air in an arc towards it.
Fairy stopped talking as her face flattened against the sweeping limb, before being flung off, blood pouring from mouth and nose as she bounced across the floor until she came to a halt, limp.
"Fuck!" The drifter snarled, and watched the Tick-Tock turn to the faunus, who had ran up to one of the stacked containers on the far end of the room and had jammed the hooks into the catches on its corners. "Playmate! Move! It's coming for you!" She shouted in warning, as she ran after the lumbering monster. Another blast from the gun-pipe, and a quickly uttered casting coalesced her familiar again, which grabbed onto the tail, while she wrapped her pipe around her familiar's chest, digging both its and her feet so that they squealed away on the water slick floor, barely slowing it in some vain attempt to buy the rabbit some time.
Velvet twisted her head to see the Grimm charging towards her, Hobo Queen futilely trying to slow it.
Too soon. Just a few precious seconds too soon. She couldn't make the next step in time, just when everything was set up. There was nothing she could do as the creature approached.
There was nothing she could do. But she still had one option left. She had no idea if it would even work, but...
Velvet had faith. So she shouted as loud as she could for her attention.
Up above, arms raised so she could pin a taller man's neck, the huntress with red eyes turned to look down at the cargo hold, where the brunette rabbit was.
"The winch switch!" The faunus frantically explained, "Press the winch switch so it pulls up! Like how they raised the cage gate-!"
The silver girl was immediately in action. She kicked John Silver in the back of his knee, eliciting a grunt of pain as he bent it to catch his balance, lowering himself enough that she could swing her hands over and off his head to shove him hard from behind. He went spilling against his thugs, knocking the crowd over, while she dove for the dangling switches, and in one motion, threw herself off the catwalk while clutching the plastic shell, as she jammed her thumb into the requisite button.
Slowly, painfully slow, the motors on the ceiling pulled on the steel cables, drawing the lines to the container taut, and remained taut. But nothing else, while the motors struggled.
Velvet swore under her breath without thinking about, but didn't move yet. A very stupid idea, but it was part of the plan.
In that same breath, the Tick-Tock coiled up its tail and sprung through the air, blasting the drifter and her familiar off it in a shockwave of force. The one ton missile of monstrous teeth opened wide, preparing to envelop Velvet's head.
She listened to the huntress and the drifter shouting names they had come to know her by, desperation and horror consuming them, but she did not move.
Until she did.
Baring her own teeth at the Grimm, and hissing with effort, Velvet Scarlatina tilted and dove out of the way, inches away the snapping jaws. As she rolled away, the Tick-Tock once again smashed into another cargo container.
With that, the shuddering vibrations moved through the stack of containers. Whatever friction had been holding the container above had loosened, and the winch motors continued to pull freely again, the container the lines were connected to wrenching free and slid off its perch.
The Tick-Tock turned towards Velvet, groaning threatening before twenty tons of freight came crashing down on it, the steel rectangle bending and folding over its armored back .
Ridiculously, the beast underneath still whipped about, jaws snapping, struggling under the weight unharmed but it remained pinned.
Velvet crawled away from the Grimm cautiously, but as the seconds ticked on, and the container atop the beast showed no signs of even buckling under the Tick-Tock's movements, she exhaled loudly, tension draining from her body.
Velvet flinched and turned to the voice of the huntress, who descended into the hold with her hands on the control switch. The electric cable it hung from dangled from above on a series of staples, each tearing off as the huntress swung down.
Landing heavily on her feet, she ran up to Velvet. The faunus would have said something, had the girl not just clapped her hands around her shoulders and gave her a once over, eyes still burning bright red.
"Minor bruises, no breakages. You're okay."
Velvet blinked at the rather straightforward pronouncement, "Oh." Well, at least it was better than just dumbly asking "are you okay?". After a moment the faunus remembered what was in her hand, "Oh! Your knife! It's yours."
The huntress took the weapon that was held before her, and returned it the empty sheath at the small of her back.
"Thank you. Thank you."
"I... You don't have to..."
Before Velvet could keep speaking, Hobo Queen's voice cut through the air over their heads, "Oi! I heard someone said something medical! If you can say Playmate's fine, you better check on Fairy! She took one to the face!"
"Oh no..." Velvet whispered before running up to her other comrades, the huntress quietly following behind. On the floor, the drifter was carefully sitting the chemist up, arms limp and eyes screwed tight as she whimpered, blood dribbling between her lips and bubbling through her crooked nose.
"Auf ffink muh nosseth..." Fairy coughed.
"Damn, you look like shit," the one eyed woman snorted, "Your Aura must have absorbed most of it, though. Man, if humans didn't have Aura... hell, that Grimm probably would have knocked your whole head off at the neck."
The silver girl kneeled down next to the redhead and gave a hard look, before giving her pronouncement, "It's not that bad. It can be set back right now."
"Could you do it then? She looked terrible," Velvet said, looking on concerned.
"Dvouble thyme qick!" The redhead added, while the huntress grabbed the bent cartilage and yanked it to the side, eliciting a hard crunching noise, and another wave of fresh blood clearing out of nasal passages, while the chemist shrieked.
"Gaaaagh! Gah! My nose will never love again!"
"What does that even mean?" Velvet muttered.
Hobo Queen rolled her eye, "Come on, we have to get out of here."
"None of you are fucking going anywhere!"
The party of four turned to look back up at the catwalks, where an old man with one leg spat down at them. Velvet took a deep breath to calm herself before looking up at the furious pirate king.
"John, I'm bringing her back to shore. I'll let you go if you let me go."
John Silver was however almost senseless with sheer rage, "You fucking bitch! Fuck you! Fuck you! I do not take orders from fucking flea-bitten shits! Fuck this deal! I'm going to let the whole world know what happens when you fuck with me!"
At this point, the man's rage was so pure his gestures to the men beside him was met with nothing but cowed, fearful obedience as the fat tube of a rocket launcher was passed into his hands, which he aimed down at them. Velvet pulled her gun out in response.
The drifter recognized the weapon John had, "Tch, that thing's used for area suppression. This guy is the definition of a sore loser if I ever saw one..."
Velvet translated that into a warning she uttered, "John, don't fire that! You'll sink this ship!"
"Well, you better stay still then, so I can avoid making a mess..." Was all the pirate said in response as he pressed his face against the scope to acquire a target lock.
In the same moment, both the faunus and the pirate pulled the triggers of their guns at the same time. A bulbous rocket flew downward, while an enchanted needle of white Dust sailed up to meet it. The two projectiles met and collided with each other, and the rocket, already an impermanent design, crumpled as the cast Dust punctured the warhead.
In this moment, both parties had made a grave error. John Silver's error had been choosing the wrong tool for the job in the first place. Velvet's error, however, was believing she was dealing with an ordinary rocket-grenade that could be warded off by simply exploding it in mid air. This was not one of those. The rocket here was a two stage weapon that, with the help of a targeting computer, broke up into many smaller sub munitions for maximum saturation. In this situation, with this sudden shock, Velvet's interception did not cause a premature detonation, so much as a premature misfire.
The sides of the rocket broke apart, and from it, dozens of smaller shaped charges fired in all directions, spinning and twirling without any focus. Around the cargo hold, they slammed into containers and into the walls, blasting the civilian grade metal to shreds. More than a few sent the smugglers above scrambling for cover while the catwalks exploded. Many of the containers, already containing arms or Dust, simply made for larger explosions, sending smoke everywhere, while the perforated hulls, began to bulge inward and burst, thick gouts of water gushing in to flood the place. Lights in the hold flickered and began to fail, while sparks from broken electric lines flew about, joining the smoke. Sirens were added to the cacophony of groaning, shrieking steels, and the popping of rivets snapping loose.
The drifter backed away as Vale's bay reached for the soles of her shoes, "For fuck's sake, four ears! Are you hardwired to solve everything by blowing it up!?"
"I'm sorry I didn't know it was a sub-munition!" Velvet shouted back over the roaring flood, "We have to get out of here! With the water going into the bow, this ship's going to dive straight down! We have to get to the stern!"
During that time, the huntress was busy gazing around her, eyes aglow, before turning to her rescue party, "I can see the route out. Follow me."
"Okay," Velvet said without hesitation. The huntress took off in the direction of the stern, and the faunus followed.
The drifter would have said something in disbelief, had she not heard the sound of another tear in the ship opening wide to allow another thick stream of water to gush in, "I hope you're right!"
As they ran, the chemist grinned, teeth stained pink, "By the way! I'm Fairy, that's Hobo Queen, and we call her Playmate! You got a name?"
The huntress hummed for a second before answering, "Owl, for now."
They ran, leaving behind the impotent rage of John Silver, still hefting his weapon in their direction, "Where do you think you're going!?"
"Boss! We can't stay here! We gotta go!" One of his men tried to explain, reaching for his shoulder, only for the hand to be swatted away by the livid pirate leader.
"Don't tell me what I can't or can't fucking do! I'm going to tear out that rabbit's throat if it's the last thing-"
Another vicious vibration rippled through the room, and the bolts securing the catwalk section John was on snapped loose, causing the platform to flip down. The old leader screamed as he fell into the rising waters. As he rose spluttering from the waist high waters, he noticed something slightly off.
Before him, he saw the container used to trap his Tick-Tock, cables still attached to one end. With the flooding, the steel box had started to become more buoyant, bobbing slightly in the depths.
From underneath the cargo, something dark in the murky waters shook off the weight on its back, and began to surge in his direction.
John Silver watched, and said only one thing.
The hallways were becoming more chaotic with each passing second. It seemed with every step taken, another groan, or creak echoed followed by the Cassandra at Dawn losing bits of itself. Paneling came loose, and appliances were torn from walls. Following that electrical conduits crashed and sparks somehow got onto flammable plastics or fabrics. Add to this was the water sprinklers that were starting to come on, trying to desperately stop and out of control fire, and creating more pools of dank water to half wade, half sprint through.
If it wasn't the flooding ship trying to drown them, then it was the smoke filling the ceilings, and if it wasn't the smoke, it was the fire bursting through rooms and licking walls, and if it wasn't the fire, it was the pools that may or may not be electrified by the live lines.
Velvet squinted at the chaos while she had her hand clapped on the silver huntress' shoulder as she walked unceasingly, "I can barely see anything! Is this the way out!?"
"Crew quarters!" Owl-For-Now shouted back at the other three over the din, "One stairway up, and then the outside decks."
With nothing but the huntress' unerring gaze, the four, clutching each other, staggered through the smoke that clung to their clothes and the brackish sprinkler water that soaked the other foul scents in. With every step taken, it was another step to freedom from this accursed ship. As they reached the stair well, they heard a distant rumble, and turned in unison to see the corridor they were in slowly be consumed in an approaching wall of fire.
"Everybody up! Now!" Velvet shouted to the others, sending them scrambling up the stair well, while the drifter spat acid with every breath.
"Oh yeah, sure, sinking ship and drowning to death! Not motivating at all! Let's just throw in the towering inferno to be sure!"
Velvet's sensitive hearing could pick up the rising pitch of rushing air as it was pushed out or consumed by the approaching explosion. She could feel the heat around her begin to singe her skin. As luck would have it, in front of her, above the last few steps, was a shut hatch. Through the port hole, she could see the inkiness of the night sky, and the glare of exterior lamps.
The outside. Blocked by a shut door. She did not have time for this.
"Fairy! Blow that door open! Off its hinges!"
The girl in green rocketed past Velvet, the back of her palms firing jets of gold light as she hurtled towards the hatch with a war cry, until her two palms buried themselves into the door. It resisted for all of a second before it was torn from its place, bits of latches and hinges flying every which way in its wake, while the chemist body checked the hatch into the railing.
"Fuck! SHIT! I'm on fire!" Velvet could hear the drifter behind her cry out, and she could feel raw, awful, heat seeping through her clothes and roasting her skin with air alone. Before them was the black waters of Vale's harbor. All that was between them was a half crumpled railing holding up a metal door like a ramp. There was no time to think.
The four girls threw themselves overboard in time to see a column of fire jet out just inches above their heads, while the ship screamed the deafening bass of an explosion. They dove into the water, icy depths soaking their battered bodies. Stunned only for a moment, they began swimming underwater as far as they could, until they surfaced, gasping for breath.
Treading water, Velvet and the others swiveled about, and saw themselves surrounded by debris and errant cargo that had been thrown even this far. Behind them, they could see the Cassandra at Dawn, half sunken in the water, propellers twisting uselessly in the air, its decks and rear bridge nothing but a silhouette and giant torch that sustained a massive blaze. It hung in the water, not quite dead, barely hanging on because of some stray pockets of air somewhere in its aft, but it was just a matter of time.
Velvet coughed out the salt in her mouth before speaking, "Come on, we need to get away and find a life raft or something."
"Uh, Playmate? Darling?" The chemist warily began, before raising an arm from the water to point in the direction of the scuttled wreck, "There's something in the water and-ohmygod, please don't let it be what I think it is-"
Velvet looked. In fact, they all looked, and saw something ripple through the wreckage and water towards them.
The huntress' eyes burned bright for one second before choking, "Grimm! Get on something!"
Everyone else was a cacophony of desperate gasping, swimming, and incomprehensible, angry swearing. Even Velvet wasn't sure if she was saying any those words. All she could do was stroke towards the largest sheet of polymer and clamber aboard, while the others found buoyant cargo and other debris of their own to crawl on, just in time to watch the upper jaw of the Tick-Tock tear through the water surface, seeking prey for a moment before diving back under the dark waters.
"It must have gotten free when the ship flooded-" Velvet began speaking, before the huntress, balanced on crate, quickly shushed her.
"Quieter. It can hear through the water."
Hobo Queen, obedient to the suggestion, hissed her two cents while lying flat atop a board, "We can't get into a lifeboat while that thing's around! We try to paddle away, bastard will tear through from underneath and have us like canned food!"
Velvet shivered at the comparison.
"We're not in any good position either! It's black aquatic Grimm in black water!" Fairy argued from atop a rack of oxygen tanks., "Oi! Owlly! Can you see it?"
The huntress looked around below her, before shaking her head, "It's gone too deep for me. Water's too murky. When it comes back up, I'll know."
"So, where's this rank on your bullshit meter, Fairy?" The drifter grumbled.
"I'm gonna need a new one..."
Velvet lay on her raft, absorbing this information, before answering, "We have to fight the Tick-Tock, then. We have to end it here if we want to get to safety. I won't let this thing swim around attacking other ship, either."
"Sure, Playmate," The drifter snorted, "Let's go fishing for it! Nevermind it's twice as fast now it has water to play in! We'll just drag it out and try to punch through that armor of his!"
"We don't need to get through the armor. We just need to get past it and hit its insides."
"What's the difference?"
Velvet didn't answer immediately, instead withdrawing the gun she had carried all night. She rubbed her thumb across the grip and sighed.
"I have one more stupid idea, but I need you to trust me."
The plan took a few barely restrained shouts of disbelief to get through, but in the end, it was theoretically the only way to go. Or perhaps the only one that they could come up with in their frazzled brains, knocked about by explosions and monsters of all types without pause all through the hours. All they could realize was that this was the end, and they would see it through one way or another.
In the maze of floating, the huntress, cloudy hair illuminated by the sinking debris Cassandra at Dawn, took a deep breath in preparation, before unsheathing the Artemisia Type-03. Pulling on the ring pommel and slamming it back in, the first gear set in the blade began to whine loudly and spin, kinetic energy being formed before sending it back into the body of the weapon's owner, filling her with excess potential. Fingers danced along the switches, and one by one, the remaining three gears joined in a cacophonous symphony that indicated the change in energy usage, raw power spreading out to economize for higher speed. But that was only half the intent of activating the weapon. Down below, the Tick-Tock easily heard the whining hum and quickly reasoned that its source was prey. Deciding quickly, the rampaging monster snapped its tail and sent it ascending like a rocket.
The huntress looked down with her blazing eyes and spent no more time where she was, deftly and lightly skipping away on her bandage wrapped feet to another floating wreck as a pair of jaws smashed her last position to pieces. Thrashing about wildly, the Grimm wasted no further time slapping back into the water to race after the source of the noise, smelling fresh meat soaked in the water of the bay.
Making no sound of effort, the huntress regardless jumped for her life across the bobbing debris, toes touching down for a second before taking off again, each moment the Grimm only missing by that much, while it continued to smash wreckage aside, every so often, its gigantic head leaping from the water in an attempt to bite down on her feet.
Crossing a vital junction, the huntress lead the Tick-Tock through the water until a body half submerged in the waters while hanging off the side of a crate, raised her palm and released a blast of solid light that skimmed the surface and slammed into one of the Grimm's many eyes. It was hard to ascertain the damage, but for sure, the eye was now squeezed shut, and the beast's roar of frustration and agony shook the air. The chemist didn't waste any further time to fire more blasts with surprising accuracy, striking several more eyes on the side of its head and forcing them shut.
In the same breath, a woman's voice emanated, "Wish You." In response, a cloud of irritating smoke swept in and slapped itself across the other side of the Tick-Tock's head, working its way into the other eyes. The Grimm writhed through the water, tail slapping hard enough to split steel containers and throw up plumes of white spray as it tried to escape the blindness to no avail. Every passing moment, it burned with a growing animal rage, as its sight remained painfully closed off. Even with the setback, the beast was far from helpless. In the water, it focused and listened to the sound transferred through the liquid.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The sound of metal rapping against each other was an open invitation to strike. The Grimm growled and charged through the waters towards the noise, set on murdering at least one of its tormentors if it could.
Down the field of debris, Velvet uneasily balanced on the rack of oxygen tanks, face grimly set to meet the aggressor. In her hand was not the mishmash of a weapon she had put together. Rather, a long metal rod she had managed to pry loose from a nearby scattered container door was being held. On its end, though, and tied against the rod with whatever zip ties and rope she could find was the frankengun. With this, the faunus tapped her weighted staff against the edge of the platform until she caught the attention of the Tick-Tock.
Here it comes.
At the sight of the rushing wave of water and predation, Velvet grabbed the staff with both hands, and raised it above her head, before swinging it down, slamming the gun against the sharp edge of the rack. The gun rebounded off the first time, the second time the frame dented and bent, and with each grunt of effort and battering, the gun continued to become malformed, emitter bending out of shape, the Dust battery underneath denting and leaking broken crystal fragments, and the pipettes built into the sides of the gun bursting and breaking, spitting jets of high pressure vapor. Raising the broken gun up, Velvet waved her palm across the side of the weapon, willing symbolic patterns to form on the unstable, rattling frame.
"Please work... please work..."
As the patterns held shakily on the broken weapon, Velvet shifted her grip to hold the pole again with both hands, while securing it under her arm pit. The frankengun was held aloft, between her and the approaching Grimm that became larger with every second.
She braced herself.
A few meters away, a few meters that all but disappeared in a second, Velvet could see the ribbed underside of the Tick-Tock's jaws as they opened wide, enough to bite through the rabbit and the platform she was on without stopping.
The Tick-Tock lunged upwards.
Velvet wasn't sure why the world slowed. The blood rushed through her ears and she could hear it like a torrent, and every breath she took was laboured with the force of the hundred ton anxiety on her chest. Water danced through the air in streams and globules, and for a thousand years, Velvet saw the massive jaw, full of teeth, consuming more and more of her vision, enveloping her head-
Velvet Scarlatina felt a growl move up her throat, and she remembered what was in her hands, and the stupid plan she had formulated. The one that was going to work, because she decided it would.
Forcing her arms to move in the frozen time, Velvet jabbed her rod forth, her broken gun and broken casting on the end. The Tick-Tock couldn't stop in time, nor did it even notice as the gun slid past its teeth, and its tongue and rammed itself down its throat. Involuntary muscle contractions made up for the rest as the Tick-Tock swallowed Velvet's weapon.
It was too late to let go. Even as Velvet let go of the pipe that was continuing down the Grimm's gullet, her arms and shoulders were set too far forward, inside the bite of its long snout. It was going to shut, tear off her arms...
Velvet closed her eyes.
Before the Tick-Tock could continue, its body swelled, skin stretching outwards and pulled tight as its flesh was pushed to its limit. The armored plates on its back spread apart, and the Grimm gagged against the pressure.
Then it exploded, black scales and white bone flying in all directions. Velvet didn't have time to see or react to the large plate as it flew towards her, smashing into the side of her head. Not even enough time to cry out in pain. All she felt was a flash of pain spreading across her skull, nausea bubbling in her head and stomach as she was blown off her feet, backwards into the embrace of the water.
The water was cool and soothing. The icy chill made the pain disappear. Here, she could float on forever, without a care.
"Hello there. My name is Angelica? What's your name?"
"I know you've moved around a lot, but I promise, until we find you a new home, you can consider this place yours..."
It was over. Everything was over. At last, she could rest.
"I don't know why you insist on wasting my time with her! To have my home host to a faunus? I came here to adopt a child!"
"Sir, if you would just please-"
In the depths, she continued to fall, slowly, massaged... all she had to do was open her mouth, let the waves in and be filled in entirety with peace...
"...I'm the deputy headmistress of Beacon Academy."
"...we'll be hip deep in the petting zoo next week..."
Struggling all her life... but it was fine. It all came down to this moment. The huntress was safe. The chemist was free. The drifter would not be threatened again. Three lives was more than enough.
"I bought one for each of us. It might make you feel better."
"Oh, I couldn't make light of a gorgeous dish like you."
"Still, you got spine, standing up to that thing like you did. I can respect that, at least."
Enough adventure for a lifetime. A lifetime. Perhaps that meant all her value was used up in one go? But it was okay. This was further than she ever thought she would get... and...
The silence was broken by muted thundering, and in the depths, she wearily opened her eyes. Above her, she could make out the surface, shimmering orange as it reflected a nearby pyre. In this glow, she could see a figure swimming down towards her. It reached out an arm, beckoning.
She thought about it.
Enough adventure for a lifetime...
But is that okay?
She had done enough...
But do you want to end it with that?
Velvet thought about it, and decided to reach back.
The surface of the water broke, and the huntress burst out, gasping for air as while she pulled Velvet with her. The rabbit faunus coughed weakly, but otherwise remained limp while the huntress swam for the two of them.
"Oi! Owlly! Over here!"
Nearby, the chemist shouted while beckoning them over to the large yellow inflatable hexagon she and the drifter were seated in. Wordlessly, the huntress paddled over to the two, while the one eyed woman stretched out her war pipe so that she could grab on. With the two on board pulling, it was a simple matter for Velvet and her rescuer to flop over the inflatable barrier and fall inside the life raft.
Velvet lay there for several minutes, while her lungs worked the effort to force her cough out a mouthful of water that had collected inside, a rancid, bubbly mess that the rabbit made sure to crawl away from. For several minutes, they all sat where they were, soaking and propped up against the edges of the raft, unable to do much more than catch their breath, and listen to the burning of the listing Cassandra at Dawn nearby. At one point, the drifter threw her pipe to the side, and reached under her sodden cloak to produce her more normal smoking pipe. She took one scrutinizing frown at the soggy implement, before shrugging, and making a slight hand gesture that instantly caused a blue flare to erupt from the bowl, burning away all the moisture inside, so that the woman was back to comfortably puffing away.
In the distance, sirens could be heard, and the chemist perked up to look in the direction of the noise. The source came from lights swimming in the water, coming gradually ever closer with the aid of the humming of engines.
"Hey, check it out, darlings. Vale Coast Guard, I think."
"Good. I don't want to be out here much longer," Velvet sighed.
Fairy laughed, smiling, "Aw man, we're gonna get so arrested!"
Velvet leaned back into the rubber walls and dragged her hand across her face, both to ward off the exhaustion and to welcome the unpleasant thought of getting arrested, but at this point, she was too tired to care.
Looking aside, she saw the huntress looking at her unceasingly. Her eyes, though no longer glowing, were still trained with the same intensity as before.
"...Yes?" Velvet uneasily queried.
The huntress blinked before looking away, rubbing the squelching sleeve of her jacket.
"...You came back for me. You saved my life."
Velvet's lips twitched in an attempt to smile, but gave up, "I had to. Besides, you saved me back in that graveyard... and you saved me from the water just now."
"That's... not the same," the huntress mumbled, "You were dying in front of me. I had to act. You didn't have to come back. You didn't need to find these two and jump onto the ship, or fight that Grimm. You... You saved my life."
Velvet wasn't entirely sure how to respond at that adamant conclusion. She didn't have time to respond, at any rate, as the huntress crawled over to her to kneel at the faunus' side, and clasped the her hand gently with both her own.
"Rabbit, I am... Bell Mithril, and I swear that as long as time permits, I am your ally. I will be at your side, and I will let nothing harm you or your wishes. Wolves take me before I break this vow..."
Bell leaned up and brushed Velvet's hair aside, and kissed her on the forehead. Velvet sat there, stunned, and a part of her remembered how long ago, Angelica would kiss her when she tucked her into bed at night, also promising her safe nights, and many other things.
"Oh, are we doing introductions finally?" The chemist chirruped, catching their attention, "'Sup! I'm Phthalo! Phthalo Shamrock Dartmouth, and I'm glad we met and had the most badass night ever!"
That got Velvet's lips to stay risen a bit longer, "I'm happy to meet you, too, Phthalo."
With that, the green clad girl turned a rather foxy smirk in the drifter's direction, saying nothing but clearly waiting for something. The woman gave a droll stare back with her one eye.
"Hey, I'm the one that said no names."
"Come on, cyclops!" Phthalo whined, "That was before we took out a giant ass Tick-Tock! There's no way we can go and pretend that didn't happen! Everybody's gonna remember us! I wanna remember first!"
"Does anything come out of your mouth ever make sense?"
"Bah, you just don't have any imagination! Science is a creative art!"
"You don't have to tell us," Velvet added diplomatically, "I'm still grateful for everything you've helped do tonight. I just like to be able to thank you by name."
"Tch..." The woman looked away, and didn't respond for several seconds, before grumbling her assent, "...Zaffre St. Patrick. Happy?"
"Yes, and again, thank you. All of you. Everything that happened tonight... it's so bizarre. You think our meeting at all wasn't possible... yet here we are. I'm glad to have met all of you, too. Maybe we won't meet again after tonight, but... it was worth knowing all of you."
Zaffre didn't respond to that, opting to take another strong pull on her pipe. Phthalo meanwhile smiled so widely Velvet thought her mouth was going to fall off. In the meantime, the huntress, Bell, considered something before asking.
"You didn't tell us your name."
The faunus gasped, "Oh! I'm sorry. I should have introduced myself first..."
"Ah, that's okay, Playmate," Phthalo said, waiving the faux-pas off, "I got that nice name for you already, yeah? Still, it is a good question. What's your name, darling?"
Velvet told them. Afterwards, they waited in the dark of early morning until their arrest.
"After that, we were given first aid on the boats. The police on the shore afterwards deduced we were responsible in some way for the fires on the docks and the for ship sinking, arrested us, and brought us here. We took turns sleeping for a few hours, until I was called here to be interviewed."
"Hm... I see," Was all the interrogator said, before taking a sip from his cup of coffee, "A very interesting story, overall."
"Um, sir? What's going to happen now?"
The interrogator shrugged, "Now? Now, I believe the other suspects have been taken to another room for interviewing, meaning it's time for me to ask for their version of the events. Now, as for you... you are free to leave."
Velvet didn't. Instead, she sat in her chair for a full minute, eyes widening as she tried to digest the last five words, "Excuse me, sir? What do you mean, 'I can leave'? But I'm a perpetrator..."
"You've only been detained under suspicion. I had been informed that a Miss Goodwitch from Beacon arrived twenty minutes ago to post bail for your release."
"But I just confessed-"
"You've merely given an eyewitness account that will need to be corroborated with evidence from the site... even if one of them is half burned to the ground, and the other is currently rusting at the bottom of Vale's bay. But I have every confidence that the police forensics will acquire data, nonetheless. If evidence is found of your complicity, I'm sure you'll receive summons for an actual arrest. An officer outside will take you to Miss Goodwitch. Until then, I have other suspects to speak to..."
The man stood up and straightened out his suit, with the green sweater underneath, stopped the tape recording, picked both it and Velvet's files up from the table and moved to leave, when Velvet spoke up again, half rising from her seat.
"Wait! What's going to happen to my friends?"
The man paused, and turned around, "So now they're your friends?"
Velvet's voice got jammed in her throat at the slip, and she stammered, "I... well..."
"...To be honest, they're the first people outside the orphanage who've ever been friendly to me. Who I could depend on. So... yes. They're my friends."
The interrogator's lips flickered in a way that Velvet was sure she was familiar with herself, before answering, "Whatever happens will be up to them but..."
The man let the silence fill up for a moment, as Velvet stood there, waiting. Eventually he looked at Velvet straight on, the light of the room catching the lenses of his glasses so it glowed white.
"...I think everything is going to be alright. I believe you have a shuttle to Beacon in the afternoon. You best hurry and reclaim your valuables if you want to make it on time."
With a nod of his head, the man departed from the room, leaving Velvet behind, with only the yellow light of a table lamp for a companion.
Every new place, Velvet Scarlatina came to know first by smell.
Oxidized air, surprisingly fresh despite being underground. Rank sweat from under the tents. Salt air blowing in from the bay.
Inside the AVX-432 Aerwhal super air transport, Velvet smelled scented air fresheners that fed through the air conditioning, while she leaned next forward over a railing to peer closer through the glass, and see the city pass below her on the way to Beacon.
Meeting Glynda had turned into a whirlwind of rushing the faunus to the first available craft that would take her to the Hunter's academy. The Deputy Headmistress only gave the girl, in her water-damaged, cotton torn clothes, one hard look before marching her off without a word, as if she pretended that everything Velvet had done in between her arrival and her unfortunate dismissal from the Police Headquarters was nothing more than a fairy tale, despite every evidence contrary.
Instead, Velvet had been rushed around, she was sure her heels hadn't touched the pavement more than three times before being whisked into the Beacon emblazoned transport, and shoved into a crowd full of faceless strangers, all milling about with stories and preoccupations of their own. As the Aerwhal took off, the faunus, left to her own devices, found herself naturally peeling away from the others who took no notice of her, and found herself by the panoramic windows, with her only company being a battered suitcase at her side. (Velvet had been shocked. She had forgotten about her luggage until they reported it recovered at the police impound, pried free from the taxi. She had just assumed it was lost, like everything else.)
Behind her, Velvet could hear the chime of a screen burping out news broadcasts.
"...are still looking for the cause of the blaze. Meanwhile, Police Officer Jericho Leland, decorated for lifetime service awards, has come under suspicion today in a probe that has purportedly brought up evidence of corruption in the police administration. Mr. Leland has denied being complicit in organized crime. All the while as the police remained tied up in internal issues, the recent crime spree has had trouble being quashed. As of now, the rash of thefts at Dust supplying store chains continue, with the most recent target being the 'From Dust To Dawn'..."
In ways, Velvet was glad that the news report hadn't found enough details concerning the dock fires that it would connect to her. That would have been a nightmare. As it was, things had returned back to a semblance of illusory normality.
Velvet, smudged and dirty, was on a ship to Beacon, as if nothing beforehand had ever happened. She was aboard, thanks to a scholarship from her technical skills. No credentials to show her combat experience, no weapon carried from home to succor her, and completely alone in the crowd. The faunus pressed her face against the glass, and sighed.
I wonder how the others are doing with the police. Bell said she was also going to Beacon. But she's a huntress, right? Her post is in St. Elmo. I can't expect her to always be there-
One of Velvet's hands, at this point, had been lying at her side, unused. Hence, it was to her surprise, when she felt something give it a squeeze. Turning around, the faunus found herself eye to eye with a familiar red hue.
"...Bell? What are you doing here?"
The huntress shrugged, "Looking for you. Phthalo wants another player."
Rather than answering, Bell Mithril started pulling her catch along, while the faunus only had time to grab her luggage before being dragged through the crowds of Beacon hopefuls, bodies blurring around her while she focused on the smaller girl dragging her around. Velvet could only idly note that somewhere, the girl had found another white shawl to drape around her neck and shoulders like a hood.
"What are you doing here? I thought you were at the Police Station!"
"Hm. Got released. So I'm going to Beacon."
"But why this ship? This transport is for students. Surely the Headmaster would have arranged another transport for official Huntresses..."
It didn't take much for Velvet to figure out how to interpret the embarrassed pause, "You're not an official Huntress?"
"I've done some training, but I need more to be officially certified. St. Elmo needs a certified hunter to protect it. I was ready to go to Beacon when John Silver came for me," Bell explained in bites, before looking downcast, "Sorry I lied. But you wouldn't trust me without some authority. I'm trained like a huntress, so..."
Velvet wondered if she should have been angry at this point. All she did was shake her head, "It's okay. It was an emergency."
Bell nodded to that, before taking Velvet through the ship, until up ahead, in a lounge area in the center of the Aerwhal, the faunus could see two more figures around a circular table, arguing. A woman in a patchwork cloak tapped at the table, while a girl in a wide hat held a set of cards with her brass thimble gloves.
"No, no, no, look, you got three pairs."
"You got three pairs. Three pairs. For the love of- This is Valean Stud, Phthalo! You can't have six cards in a five card game!"
"But odd numbers are stupid!" Phthalo Shamrock Dartmouth complained, before turning to look in the direction of the approaching pair, "Hey Bell-bell! Ooh, you found Playmate again! Heeeey, sexy lady!"
The brunette rabbit stared at the motley collection before her while Bell merely returned to her seat and hand of cards, with Zaffre muttering instructions to the short Beacon student, who listened intently.
"What... are you all doing here...?" Velvet asked.
Phthalo grinned through the nose splint she was wearing, "Oh we're teaching Bell how to play poker! Zaffy darling thinks once we get her up to speed, she'll have an amazing poker face! She'll be our secret weapon if someone starts a poker night at Beacon!"
"...You're going to Beacon?"
"Me too," Zaffre grunted, while sweeping all the cards back to her side of the table to reform into a deck.
"But... why? How? Didn't you have a job already, Phthalo?"
The chemist shrugged nonchalantly, "Well, while I was in lock up, some dude from Beacon dropped by and got me a job offer, and it's not like my home is salvageable at this point. So I figure what the heck? I'm a freelancer, why not get some capital and a new base of operations?"
"He gave us both offers we couldn't refuse," Zaffre grumbled, "The police could pin anything they wanted on a homeless bum, but he said he could get amnesty for us if we claimed we were Beacon staff."
"You're both going to work at Beacon?"
"Assistant Resources Officer," Phthalo identified by pointing to herself, before giggling darkly and pointing at Zaffre, "Janitor."
The one eyed woman shrugged, uncaring, "Eh, it's the best I can get. Besides that, the Beacon dude said we could get certifications for Hunting. Phthalo's pretty tough, and I've got practical experience already, so all we need to do study theory, and get tested. We'll take the half-year night courses, some of our salary will go into that... all in all, not a bad deal for someone who got pulled out of the gutter. Get a paying job for a few years and come out certified to get paid for whuppin' Grimm ass."
"Yes! Zaffy darling and I, we're gonna have a ball at Beacon! Think of all the Dust they'll just leave around for me to take care oofff..." Phthalo drawled, in a nefarious tone that Velvet couldn't help but sigh at. Trust the Chemist to do what she'd do if she ever set foot at Beacon.
At that moment, Bell tilted her head at Velvet, "Deal her in."
"Huh?" Velvet dumbly responded to the non-sequitur.
Phthalo slapped the side of her head, giving a quick laugh, "Oh yeah! Zaffy's been complaining about our card games! She says that she wanted another player to make it an even four player game , so Bell-bell took off to find someone, and she found you! Go figure!"
Zaffre meanwhile, was calmly shuffling the deck, "Anyways, we're about to start a new game. So what do you say? You going to join in or what?"
Velvet put her suitcase down, looked at the empty seat at the table, and then at the figures around it. Something was building in her chest, but she wasn't sure what it was. All she knew was that, for a mere few hours, she had believed these strange, crazy, amazing people she had met would walk out of her life, like so many others had, to remain a fond memory. But it wasn't to be. No, they were here, they were real, and they were waiting for her to sit down, because they wanted her here.
She was going to Beacon, because she was good at building things, and she didn't have to pay for a thing. They were going to Beacon, too. They were all going to be there.
Velvet Scarlatina didn't even realize she was smiling the widest she ever had in her life as she answered.
A/N: This concludes the first arc of The Glass Menagerie. I will take a short break to let the next Volume of RWBY do its thing, while I follow up on other projects that had been put on the back burner when I started this project. Many thanks to the reviewers and those who recommended this story. It was very encouraging.