Ten Steps Backward
Noise, pain, and spinning.
That was pretty much everything that made up Yang's world at the moment.
The back of her head throbbed painfully in response to the screaming of the Shadowswift's strained engines. Lena was yelling into the comm, though Yang couldn't make out exactly what she was saying through the howling wind tearing across the outside of the hull as they continued their spiraling plummet.
Yang tried to pull herself to her feet, but centripetal force slammed her against a console, and she hissed in pain. Another bruise to add to her growing collection of injuries.
"Lena!" Reynolds hollered above the din.
"I'm working on it!" She yelled back. "Dust! You try flying this thing under these conditions!" She glanced at her instruments before saying into the comm, "Miley, your output's down 10%, I need you to balance out!"
A muffled "Hah!" could be heard through the speaker.
"Riley," Lena growled, "now is not the time for your stupid competition!"
"But Blake said I get a treat if I win!"
"What does that matter if we're dead!?"
"We'll be fine!"
The Shadowswift shuddered, and the spinning began to slow. No longer pinned to the terminal, Yang collapsed back to her knees as Miley's calm voice crackled through the air. "I've increased my thrust. We should be balanced now."
"See? I knew she'd do it," Riley commented smugly. Lena breathed a sigh of relief as she regained full control of the airship and finished righting them. "Have a little more faith in her, sis."
"Miley's not the twin I'm worried about."
"Hey-" the young mechanic started indignantly, but Lena killed the transmission.
Yang pushed herself to her feet as Blake appeared at her side. "Yang," she started in a worried voice. She had seen the blonde crack her head on the way down. "Are you alright?"
Her partner gingerly touched the base of her skull, and felt sharp pain lance forward to her temples. At least she wasn't seeing stars anymore though. "'m fine," she mumbled. "Just bumped my head."
"Bit more than a bump, from the looks of it." Blake gently pressed several fingers to the injured area and Yang sighed as the throbbing ache faded.
Blake offered her a small smile. "No problem. Now," she turned from the blonde, and out toward the windows, where a column of smoke stained the sky black. "What the hell was that?"
"An explosion," Sergei answered. His voice was deep and smooth. One pale hand was pressed against the right side of the headset he had halfway on, while the other flew across a series of dials and switches. "Every communication channel in Atlas is blowing up about it. They're claiming it's a possible terrorist attack."
Yang and Blake made their way back onto the catwalk and right up to the windows.
Beneath them, where once had been several city blocks, was now a large, dark crater. Rubble was thrown in every direction outward, and the flickering orange of flames could be glimpsed through the billowing smog. The building that had contained the origin of the blast had been completely vaporized, and those around it didn't seem to have fared too much better. The immediate structures were missing entire floors, and as Blake watched one collapsed entirely. Even those that had been farther away hadn't gotten away unscathed. Windows were shattered for blocks, and even up to two blocks away, Blake's improved vision could spot signs of obvious structural damage.
That must have been one hell of a bomb. Blake narrowed her eyes at the carnage beneath. Who would do something like this though? And why? Something clicked in her mind, and she felt her anxiety grip her heart. It couldn't be. Her eyes swept up and down the streets, and with each successive alley and building, she found that it overlapped with her memory perfectly. Her stomach dropped. I underestimated him.
She turned from the glass.
"I'm temporarily changing our mission objective," she stated in a hard voice that brooked no argument. Reynolds looked at her in surprise, but didn't say anything. Yang, it appeared, was not going to stay silent though, and opened her mouth protest. Blake continued before she could. "Lena, take us in as close to the source of the explosion as you can." She turned to the man standing beside the swivel chair. "Captain Reynolds," her tone demanded his full attention. "Yang, Pyrrha, Jaune, and I will be departing for immediate investigation into this incident and to provide any onsite assistance we can. After we're gone, you are to get in touch with the Atlas Emergency Response Force and offer them any and all aid you possibly can. Whatever they ask you to do, you do it, clear?"
The captain nodded, face impassive. Yang was still looking at her confusedly, and Pyrrha seemed mildly puzzled herself. She knew Blake had a reason for whatever she was doing. Jaune, meanwhile, had an expression of stunned realization.
"Wake up Johnathon if he isn't already." Blake doubted even the perpetually tired doctor could have slept through the near crash, but she had seen him snore through a gunfight without so much as a murmur. "They're going to need as many extra helping hands as they can get." Reynolds nodded before grabbing the small speaker from the chair's arm and talking into it. Golden eyes shifted behind him, to where Pyrrha and Jaune waited. "Get down to the cargo bay. We're leaving." The Huntsman and Huntress nodded and were gone.
Blake moved to leave the bridge herself, but Yang's hand landed heavily on her shoulder, stopping her. "Blake, what's going on?" she asked in a low voice. "Shouldn't we be focusing on Roman? That's why we're here, isn't it?"
"We need to help those people!" she snapped.
Yang fought down the urge to fire back. She was trying to handle all of this a bit better, and it didn't take much to see that something had set Blake off. Starting an argument wouldn't help anything right now, so she gritted her teeth. "Atlas has the best emergency response force in all of Vytal, why do they need us too? We need to go after Roman. This is just the sort of thing he could use as a distrac-" Yang's blood froze, her eyes going wide. "Blake," she whispered, and the faunus glanced at her. She could tell by the fear in her eyes that Yang had just realized what she already had. "Tell me this isn't…"
Blake exhaled heavily. "It is," she said. "The epicenter of the explosion was the storage facility where the tracker last transmitted from." Yang's hand felt limply back to her side.
"Then," she started in a weak voice, but couldn't finish the sentence.
Blake looked away. "I made a mistake."
And this is the result. Her eyes burned and watered from the acrid smoke, but she didn't blink as she darted through it; she hoped to burn this scene into her retinas so that she could never forget it.
The ground before her fell away into a massive crater that spanned half a city block, filled with rubble, twisted metal bars, and the scorched remains of the warehouse. The buildings that once stood to either side were gone, only a few skeletal supports left as a testament to their existence. They were on the edge of the warehouse district. It had been mostly abandoned after the First Grimm War, when there was no longer a need to house refugees by the thousands and store surplus supplies and munitions, and so the area was not overly populated. Still, screams and cries for help reached Blake's ears in abundance, and a shudder crawled up her spine.
Smoke poured in great gouts from the various fires that burned at the charred edges of the crater, clogging her senses. The stench of burning flesh, wood, and metal cloyed at her nostrils, and she gagged. There were a few unmoving bodies in what was once the street. There were a few moving ones too, a few sans a limb or bleeding profusely from painful looking wounds.
This is horrific. Blake's gut twisted with guilt. This was her fault, her mistake. She had underestimated the lengths to which Roman would go to avoid pursuit. This was on her head.
"Blake," a voice from her ear cut through her thoughts, causing her to jump a bit.
"Captain Reynolds?" The Shadowswift had dropped them off a few minutes ago. She had expected them to be long gone on whatever task the Atlas Emergency Response Force had assigned them.
"The AERF has instructed us to begin providing whatever on-site support we can."
She exhaled. "Then get down here as quick as you can. There are causalities Johnathon can start treating. We're going to start getting as many people to safety as we can."
"Roger that, see you soon."
Moments later she heard the whine of engines; the Shadowswift hadn't gone very far. Jaune and Pyrrha were already running through the charred, broken landscape, heading toward a five-story apartment building that looked close to collapse. From within came wails for assistance and cries of fear as the fires that raged on the bottom floors began to creep upward. The building groaned and shuddered; it didn't have long. In the distance, Blake could make out the screams of approaching sirens.
Pyrrha wasted no time struggling with the door set in the red brick. She braced her shield in front of herself and dove forward. The weakened wood splintered off its hinges easily, and she hit the ground with a roll. Jaune called something out to her as she took off again, the flames parting before her as if they knew that not even they could win against Pyrrha Nikos. Jaune remained outside, sapphire eyes watching the windows of the upper floors closely.
When Pyrrha sent the first civilian leaping downward from the third floor, a large upward blast of Aura feathered her descent, and he caught the young girl easily, setting her aside as he watched for the next one. Most Huntsmen would have been exhausted after doing this just once or twice. After all, it took a large amount of Aura to fight gravity, but Blake knew for a fact that Jaune could probably keep at it for hours. The man was awful at precision Aura control, but Dust be damned if he didn't have a ton of it; he was a veritable wellspring of the stuff. Honestly, Blake wouldn't be surprised if his supply was infinite.
It looked like the duo had the apartment complex in hand, so she turned her attention to a low building in the distance. She couldn't see any fires, nor hear anybody within, but that didn't mean they weren't there.
"Yang, let's-" she turned to her partner, but the blonde had stopped a small distance behind her. "Yang?" she turned and took a refelxive step backward. Yang was livid. Her narrowed eyes burned a fierce crimson, her fists were clenched, and she wore a downright vicious expression. It wasn't quite as bad as when she had seen Roman, but something had clearly made the woman practically explode with rage. "Yang, what-" she followed the brawler's gaze, and felt herself freeze when she saw what had set Yang off.
Standing on a rooftop across the street, watching the aftermath, was a person. Blake couldn't make out many details about them, and the cloak they wore billowed around them in the wind. The hood was pulled up as well to hide their face. "Who the hell?" she wondered quietly. Who would just stand there and watch this? Why would anyone? Unless…
Yang seemed to be one step ahead of her though. "Fucker," she spat, before throwing her hands behind her and firing Ember Celica, taking off across the street and heading right for the stranger.
"Yang!" Blake cried. She glanced back at the devastation behind her. The Shadowswift had landed now, and the captain was barking orders to the crew. Johnathon Greene, the Swift's doctor, was hurrying to those injured in the street. Despite his bedhead, messily pulled back into a ponytail, and the deep bags under his eyes, he looked alert and moved with purpose. Seemed like there were some things even he could take seriously. The rest of the crew fanned out quickly amongst the carnage as Atlas rescue vehicles arrived. She bit her lip, she didn't want to leave them, but Yang needed her. If that person they saw turned out to be the perpetrator like they suspected, she could be in danger. She made a decision, and leapt into the air after her partner.
Your fault. Your fault your fault your fault. Yang's eyes took in the ruined buildings, the blood and ash staining the stones. Her ears took in the screams and wails, the pleas to god, to anyone. Her body followed behind Blake as they quickly navigated what remained of the warehouse, but her mind was frozen, rooted in that one simple fact.
Your fault, it whispered again, in a voice that brought back visions of her nightmare, of Ruby staring at her with blank, bloody silver eyes. If I hadn't attacked Roman, if I hadn't let him get away…
I killed them.
Her blood was ice, her limbs lead. Anxiety swirled through her system like a poison.
What had she done?
Wasn't this why she wanted to be a Huntress in the first place? To prevent all of this, to stop this kind of suffering before it could even begin? Yet, here was a testament to how colossally she had failed. Ruby would be ashamed of her, were she still alive. She already knew that Blake was. A knife went through her chest as the faunus' words repeated themselves in her head.
"I made a mistake."
Blake clearly regretted ever approaching her in that bar, and frankly, Yang couldn't blame her. She had messed up, badly, and done nothing but treat Blake with disdain and anger from the outset. She was honestly surprised Blake hadn't tired of her sooner. Still, even if she understood, it hurt. It hurt so much. Blake had been the one stable thing in Yang's life, especially recently, and now she had ruined that.
Movement in the corner of her eye caught Yang's attention, pulling her from her spiraling thoughts and back to reality. She turned, and her eyes widened as they landed on a figure standing calmly on the roof of a ruined flower shop across the street. They were wearing a worn, brown cloak that flapped about them, and they were clearly watching the suffering taking place before them. They were watching, and doing nothing. It didn't take much more than that for Yang to make the logic jump, and her vision hazed red as violet transitioned into crimson. Anger coursed hot through her veins, and her muscles tensed.
Her partner turned to her, saying something, but Yang heard nothing through the blood pounding in her ears. Blake seemed to realize something had set her off though, and turned to follow her line of sight.
"Fucker," Yang hissed. She may have been at fault for this, but she wasn't the one who had planted that bomb. She wasn't the one who was standing there, gorging herself on the pain she had caused.
But she was the one who intended to make that person suffer.
Ember Celica shot behind her, propelling her upward and over the street. The bomber's head whipped around at the sound. When they saw her getting closer, they promptly turned and sprinted in the opposite direction, effortlessly jumping from rooftop to rooftop.
Blake called out something behind her, but Yang didn't even hear it. She vaulted onto the first roof but didn't slow. Her legs burned fiercely as she leapt across the gaps in the buildings, desperately trying to catch the person in front of her. They never slowed though, and quickly began to pull away as her stamina ran down. She was still tired from her sparring earlier.
God dammit, no! Let me have this, she begged internally. Please, just let me have this. Don't...
But they were gone, and she could know no longer sense their Aura. Her boots crunched on loose gravel as she landed atop a fast food joint. Yang slid to her knees, and slammed both of her fists into the ground.
And she screamed.
So loudly she tasted blood. She screamed all of her anger, her sadness, her frustration. She didn't know how long she knelt there for, but when a hand fell on her shoulder, her breath hitched, and her yelling petered out.
Yang couldn't stand to face her, so she kept her head bowed. Blake felt her heart break all over again at the sight of her partner's distress. She found that for the first time since she had watched Yang fighting in the pits, she didn't know what to say.
"Pyrrha!" Jaune cried in a panicked voice, as he slowed down the fall of another civilian, this one a young blond boy, eyes cloudy with tears. Jaune pointed him toward the rescue teams, and turned his attention back to the issue at hand. The apartment building was clearly at its end, and the entire structure was slowly tipping farther and farther toward the ground; the fires were wreaking havoc on its supports. If it went down while Pyrrha was still inside, not even she could be guaranteed to be alright. He could still sense the Auras of at least five people on the top floor with his fiancé, though, and he knew she would never abandon them.
As the red brick complex groaned and tiled another foot, Jaune called on his Aura, preparing to expend every last drop of it if it meant slowing the collapse down even just a bit. An explosion had once taken her from him, and he didn't want to see that happen ever again. Even he understood that it would do next to nothing though. It was just too much for him to handle alone. If he could do more than just an imprecise blast of Aura, then maybe he'd have a chance to make a difference.
If only Ren were here...
At that moment, a loud, grumbling snap resonated from the base of the apartment building as the final supports finally broke under the strain. The invisible string that had been holding it up had now been severed, and the building plummeted toward the ground. Directly towards him.
A/N: I'm back!
Alright, first things first, I am SO sorry this is as late as it is. I took my week break two weeks back, and everything was fine and relaxed then, but the instant I went to sit down and start writing this chapter, everything fucking EXPLODED and I got swamped. I had no time to sit down and crank this one out. On a lighter note, I love all of you even more now. Not a single person messaged me demanding a new chapter or asking if I was abandoning the story (which I have definitely had happen before). I'm hoping I can manage to give you guys a small reward later this week for being so patient and understanding.
Now, the chapter, what'd we all think? Nobody died! How much does THAT worry you? :p
The second 'arc' of the story is now solidly begun, and next chapter will see a reunion of characters. I will not say for sure just how much reunion time there will be, as everytime I say I'll cover things in the next chapter, I tend to write thousands of unanticipated words and never get to the thing I said I'd cover, hahah. Nothing wrong with that, it just means more story for everyone, yay!
I hope you all enjoyed it, though, and I'll be hopefully back on normal schedule next week!
EDIT: The present is up, guys! A new companion fic to accompany the Rending Trilogy! Go check it out on my page!