I am so sorry for being late, guys! My parents have chosen to do semi-daily custody, meaning I switch houses every two days, and my mom's house has no wifi and my dad's has satellite internet, meaning when the weather is bad—I live in New York, so the snow is horrible—the wifi doesn't work. On top of that, I'd meant to get this chapter up last Tuesday, but the power went out! Yay!

I really am sorry that I couldn't get this chapter up sooner. So many things are complicating my life right now, and I'm having trouble keeping up. But today is a Saturday and I don't have anything to do but this, so I'll be posting this chapter, as well as chapters for Sleep is Better, possibly Monkeying ARound and I have a new experimental story called Gods Among Women, a RWBY, Avengers, and GOTG crossover story in which a class field trip leads Team RWBY and Team JNPR to the fifth Infinity Stone, the Soul Stone. But other than that, I won't take up your time, so here's the super-late chapter of Thorns!

Oh, don't you know? It is my Semblance that grants you your abilities. A piece of my soul within you that keeps your body alive.

Get out.

Pain. The pain. So much of it, this pain.

Get out of my head.

Your soul empowers me. Your mother's, too. And so, too, does every soul whose own blood has been spilt by your blade.

Madness. Insanity. Humanity, lost.

Get out of my head.

Why would I need to, when I have puppets that do my deeds with just a small adjustment of my finger?

You are a puppet. My puppet. My marionette, to kill when I pull the string, to be killed when I sever them.

Get out of my head.

But I treat my puppets well, when the strings I pull reach long enough to affect others.

Lives lost, but ground gained. With just a bit of blood spilled.

Get out of my head.

Kill them. Kill all of them.

Seize their power. You know you have been seduced by the lust, the hunger, the thirst for blood.

Get out of my head.

Free will is an illusion. Only strings are true. The strings, the strands that control all.

They call it fate. Destiny. Providence. They're all strings, pulled by someone, whose strings are pulled upon by another, and theirs, by me.

Get out of my head.

Resist while you can. Futility is a tragic thing. Perhaps someone with an intimate relationship with failure might understand that.

And unlike others, the strings attached to you are the ones personally woven by me.

Get out, get out, get out.

Take their power.


Your thirst is too strong.


Relinquish your mind to the power and savor it.


Vengeance controls you now.


You are mine, and I will pull your strings.


Yang opened her eyes when she heard the sound of footsteps in the darkness.

Which was odd, considering it was the middle of the night. Achilles, his son and daughter, and Ruby were all unconscious somewhere inside the tents, while she tipped the seats in the Paladin back to make a small bed. She slept there, but it was difficult; nearly every night, she had slept with Weiss, but now she didn't have her snowflake to cuddle with.

Because of her paranoia, however, sleep was damn near impossible. Especially with Achilles nearby and her sister close to him.

She sat up in the cockpit and peered out the cockpit window, scanning, scanning the camp, searching for the muffled sounds...

Chills traveled up Yang's spine and the hair on the back of her neck prickled as she looked out and spotted a figure ahead of her. Shrouded and cloaked in black, the only part of them visible was their chin. The rest was hidden in shadow.

You left me for dead.

Yang startled when the voice spoke. It was Ruby's...when she was still young, innocent Ruby, but she spoke with venom. Fire.

You left me to burn.

The figure had yet to move. They just watched her. Watched her with eyes that were not seen and did not utter a spoken word from the lips.

You will burn. You will all burn.

The shadows did not recede as fire erupted from the figure's eyes and granted them a demonic appearance.

You will burn with me.

Yang stared in horror as the bonfire relit itself behind the figure, and then it erupted into a raging inferno. The shadow cast by the figure only added to their malevolence.

You will all burn with me.

"Get out of my head!"

The figure screamed in multiple voices at once, and the fires lessened in the eyes of the silhouette. The char-black robe faded in darkness until it was white again, and the shadows disappeared to reveal the face of an exhausted Ruby. She fell to her hands and elbows, holding her head with both hands, her body racked with obvious pain.

"Ruby!" Yang leapt from the Paladin's cockpit as it opened and rushed to Ruby's side again.

"No!" Ruby roared in her chorus of simultaneous voices and held a hand out, where a fire began to burn. The arm began to tremble with her attempts to keep from incinerating Yang, but she smashed her palm into the sand with titanic effort. It solidified and became glass beneath her hand.

Ruby stood up, but she shook violently, her arms wrapped around her core. She expressed her efforts in the form of an agonized grimace, resisting still against the invisible being. But she was failing.

"Ruby, Ruby, listen to me," Yang set her hands on Ruby's shoulders, holding tightly, "You can't let this thing win. You can't let Grimm win. Please. For everybody's sake, you have to keep fighting it."

Ruby was breathing heavily now, like she'd just finished a triathlon with no water. She was still fighting it; her body was tensed and still battling itself for control.

"Get. Out. Of. My. Head."

Then, as if in an instant, Ruby's body relaxed, and she began gulping down air, the breath taken right from her lungs.

"That wasn't...the end...of it..." Ruby coughed between breaths, face soaked in sweat. She even had a vein popping out of her forehead from the tremendous effort she exerted.

"Are you okay?" Yang asked her sister, kneeling next to her.

"My...other half is...she's back..." Ruby heaved for every breath, but still continued to talk, "And she...wants you...dead..."


"Anassin is back, Yang," Ruby hacked again and this time spit out blood. Perhaps she'd bitten her tongue in the process of resisting. "I am trying my hardest to...keep from attacking you out of rage."

Yang could see it now. Ruby had the look in her eye, the hardened eye of the assassin who Ruby had become. The assassin stared back at her as Ruby struggled against herself.

"Stay back. She'll kill you." Ruby warned. "I'll kill you. And believe me, I am pissed at you right now."

Yang lifted her hands and backed away from her sister who wasn't quite her sister right now, but the shell of her, fighting to contain the murderer within.

"He's in my head. He's digging around and trying to bring her out. I can't keep her back. She'll escape, and when she does, a lot of people are gonna die."

She continued to focus on the sand beneath her, hands balled into fists as she clenched her fingers around her mother's cloak.

"Did Peridot and Nicky make it out?" Ruby asked after a short silence.

"Yes, but I don't know where they went. Mom said the portals would be random, meaning they could be separated."

Ruby's body relaxed just then, like the entity within her sister had been sated by Yang's answer. Ruby took a few deep breaths and loosened her arms from their locked position around her waist.

"And what about your mother?" Ruby asked, looking at Yang. Her eyes became silver again.

"Probably abandoned us. She told me to save my own skin and get through the portal. I told her to leave like she did when I was too young to remember her. I hopped in the Paladin and went out to save you. That's the last I saw of her."

Ruby coughed, then fell to her knees and vomited in the sand. When she was done she rolled over and sat with her legs crossed and her elbows on her knees. For a while the only sound was Ruby's forced breathing and the crackling of the smoldering fire.

Yang walked back to the Paladin and retrieved one of her three dozen water bottles from beneath the floor and closed the cockpit. She ran the water back to Ruby, who guzzled it down without a thought. Yang hadn't realized until now what Ruby was wearing: she only wore a grease-stained black apron over a dark red long-sleeved shirt, also stained, and black jeans, which were, as expected, stained. She wasn't even wearing shoes or socks—horrible idea out in the desert—and her face was sweaty on her cheeks and she was tanner now, her skin even darker than Yang's now. How that happened, Yang didn't know. She wore Summer's white cloak, but it wasn't stained with anything yet.

"Are you alright?" Yang asked.

"No," Ruby shot her a look in an effort to communicate the struggle, "I need footwear of some sort. Please. My feet will be torn apart by the sand."

Yang nodded in agreement and rushed over to one of the tents to peek inside, making sure to keep from entering the decorated tent of the dead champion. It seemed, however, that she had just wandered into a supply tent.

Rummaging through the supplies, she found black combat boots and long black socks somewhere within and even an old Vacuan handgun, meaning it was of an old, ornamental sort of style but still just as lethal as Atlesian weaponry. She found a second and third handgun, and a series of boxes filled with bullets for them. At least a dozen boxes; surely Achilles wouldn't mind lending a handgun and a few bullets. She snatched up three boxes of rounds and returned to Ruby.

"Thanks," Ruby rasped as she slipped on the socks gratefully and laced on the combat boots. She accepted the pistol and bullets and tucked the former in the waistband of her jeans.

"You look odd out of your suit, Rubles," Yang remarked when her sister stood up with visible effort.

"I'd been in the middle of putting my hand together when your mom showed up. I didn't get time to change. I hope Blake made it out okay—she was with me."

"This is Blake we're talking about. She's tougher than all of us put together. She'll be fine."

Ruby nodded in agreement, but not in the same excited sort of way she recently would have. She acted in a purely businesslike fashion. Yang knew now that Anassin was back; the very way she had her feet placed as if ready for a fight was enough, along with how she wasn't concerned about Blake, or at least not visibly.

"Where are we?" Ruby inquired, taking another sip of her water and scanning around at the tents.

"We're in the Vacuan Desert," Yang answered as Ruby checked her hidden blade as it extended from her wrist, "I'm moving up to Vacuo, but I had to stop here to get you medical attention."

"Weren't we in Mistral? What happened there?" Ruby asked with her expectations dropping.

"The manor was destroyed by Grimm's tanks, but he..."

Yang hadn't taken much time to think about the weight of the events that transpired only a few hours ago, and she found she had to make an effort to tell exactly what happened.

"He used one of the Atlesian prototype warships to blow up the palace. I don't think anyone survived."

Ruby hardly reacted the way she normally would have, just sighed and shook her head.

"You know, sometimes I wish we never accepted that assignment from Ozpin," Ruby turned away a second later, hands on her hips, "None of this would have ever happened."

"If we didn't, someone else would have. We can't think about the possibilities that were anything but possible. All we can do is keep moving forward."

Ruby held up her metal hand and watched it as she twitched its fingers and rotated its wrist. "You're right. We felt too secure, and we got a lesson in unpreparedness. We need to go to Vacuo and find help, find the others. We've got a couple hours till morning; we'll depart when the sun reaches the horizon."

"Good idea. I'll start fixing up the Paladin."

"I'll see if I can concoct a plan for when we get there. I've been to Vacuo before, on an assassination mission for the WF. I'll see if we can find one of my old contacts."

Yang lifted an eyebrow. "You have contacts?"

"Yes, Yang, and you do, too. I seem to remember you blasting him through a wall."

Yang shrugged. "Fair enough. Let's get to work." The two siblings set off, preparing in their own ways for the inevitable arrival to Vacuo.

"Where are we?"

Emerald and Blake asked simultaneously to one another. Synthetic red eyes met fierce yellow multiple times as they searched around for an answer to their location, but the only thing they did know was that there were woods all around. A river ran quietly nearby, the water making almost no noise.

"You're a walking computer," Blake made no attempt to hide her disdain for the rogue, "You've gotta have a GPS in there somewhere."

"I can't tell. My tracking system is jammed. Got scrambled by the radiation in the portal."

Emerald searched again, then coughed despite it not being a necessary function with her auto-filtering lungs. "We could be in Vale or the northwestern continent. Only two places with snowless forests."

"No exact location?" Blake drew her sword and ensured its parts were operational, then sheathed again.

"All I can say is that we cannot stay here long. Grimm monsters will come out soon, especially the Beowulves," Emerald answered the cat with a tone reflecting urgency but also as a statement. Blake agreed with a soft grunt and sheathed her sword.

"What should we do about that, then?" Blake asked, mentally berating herself for forgetting the more advanced rules of survival.

"The river. Follow it in either direction, and we find civilization of some sort. Or, at least, if we're in Vale. I don't have anything info-wise on civilizations on the northwestern continent."

Blake walked to the river and peered into the water. "This water is...it's black. Emerald, this water is black, and..."

She dipped her hand into the water and pulled it out, pulling a gelatin-like strand from the water at the tips of her fingers.

"It's not right. The water isn't right at all. It's slimy. It's wrong."

Emerald joined her at the riverbank and looked into the water. "This isn't a natural river, anyhow. This is some crude canal. The water...damn it. The WF was testing some chemical to poison Vale's water supply, but...well, we used it as a decoy to lure your team into the trap a year ago. Or we used it as a backup; Roman was your real target. But this stuff..."

The thief knelt down and scooped up a handful of water. She inspected it, her pupils dilating and her irises rotating like a camera's lens focusing.

"This is...this is corruptive. Whatever's been done to the original mix, it's turned the compound into some twisted mutagen. Don't drink it or you'll end up...not human or Faunus."

Blake warily stood and looked around. The trees nearest to the bank on either side were black and monstrous; dark, twisted versions of themselves. The bark on one was stripped, but not by any animal—it had stripped itself, rotted off, to reveal a dark trunk that oozed a bloody red sap. White moss infected one side of it. The leaves were black.

"We should get moving. If this stuff can infect Grimm, then we're in for a hell of a fight if we find them."

"Good idea. Let's go."