Author's Note: This is actually an idea I had a long time ago but never pursued. However, the events of the finale motivated me to return to that idea, modify the crap out of it, and begin writing it down. I do not intend for this to be long – a short fic that'll run three chapters long.
Edit: This amazing piece of art being used for the cover image is the property of LongSean22.
The glacial peaks were around them like a cage, but the rows of jagged tips shaped them more like the fanged maw of a great beast. The icy wind cut through those pinnacles, carrying with it the powered layer of white that misted and gave it the likeness of a freezing breath. Escape for any who would be caught within them appeared unthinkable - all avenues of escape closed off. The only fate for those unfortunate enough to be so trapped here was to be broken down and succumb to the cold where their remains would then be swallowed up by snow with no traces left behind. Another soul devoured by the environment.
Lost beneath another gusty howl was the sound of a sword being sheathed, hilt meeting the metal scabbard before the red gauntleted hand released it and pulled away. What was not lost was Raven's words. "I make no apologies over what I did."
Her bared head was directed upwards, red eyes staring at the clouds above – as thick and enveloping as the snow beneath her feet, the rays of sunlight unable to pierce through it. Her mane of feather-like hair was pulled along by the wind, her clothes rustling violently. She appeared to take no notice of the flurry of snow and ice that attempted to bite into her skin, nearly as white and unfeeling as the landscape.
"When I left, I did so free of any reluctance or doubt," she continued, her tone empty of those misgivings. "All that I once cherished – my comrades, my loved ones, and all that I once acquired and held – I did not even give a glance back. Not even for you."
Upon not hearing any discernable reply, she asked, "Do you wish to kill me? If you don't now, I can promise you that you will." She turned around, her chin lowering so that she could regard the one who knelt so low before her. Barren of a single iota of mercy, she stated, "If you don't die before then."
The hair was as voluminous as her own and was draped like a dirty, ragged blanket over the hunched individual. They were unable to stand, being forced to remain where they were, and that mass of hair shuddered due to the shivering of the girl's body and the heaves of her breathing. In contrast to Raven who stood unencumbered and remarkably untouched by the snow and ice, the flakes had stuck and began gathering over her – the start of what would be a frozen entombment.
"I will not grieve if you do," Raven assured. "You are but one life out of a million others. The only thing that sets you apart from them is that miniscule effort that I put into your birth. It is that part of you that makes you stand out from the rest and what granted you my interference in the past. But, as I'm sure you've been told, I was not going to give you that kindness again.
"Here it is no different. You were the one who sought me out. You who chose this. The only thing that I'll see if you die here is how I wasted my effort on you."
The scream came in time with the sudden, fiery burst of energy that instantly evaporated the ice that stacked on her and then she was launching herself at Raven. The older woman saw those red eyes full of hatred burning beneath those blonde locks, teeth gnashed together, fingers curled and seeking for her throat, and then she was stepping aside, the movement of her hand going back to her sword and the following draw that had it slashing across her attacker almost too fast to see. By the time the blonde crashed back into the snow, Raven had already resheathed her weapon.
"Your power is formidable," she granted, facing away from the fallen girl again. "But limited and brief. Such is a cycle that has plagued us mortals. We can rage and scream when conflict arises, but all too soon when the fires of war burn out, so do we. We succumb to our weakness whether it be weariness or our selfish need for comfort."
The girl began to lift herself back up, her arms shaking, and then she suddenly fell with a cry of shock and pain when the right one suddenly gave out on her, her forearm splitting in half from a clean, diagonal cut that had been made. Rather than blood and bone however, what was revealed was metal and wires that sparked from their severed ends.
"That is why it failed you, and that is why mankind is failing now. They have built their kingdoms just like you had built that arm; to hide and cover all that had led to the present. Forgetting the past, and never learning from it. Never getting stronger because they believe it was all enough. As they are learning right now, it is never enough."
Raven once again turned to examine her. "Hate me. Long to murder me. Get up and strike at me however many times it takes before your blood begins to freeze, the fingers of your only good hand become as dead as the ones on your right, and you lose your mind to hallucinations. Rage and scream, be lost in your frenzy, until you concede to your limitations and realize that you've had enough. And then you'll die."
There was a long, drawn out moment empty of words but filled with the keening wind. During then, another layer of snow began to build up upon the struggling girl. With her prosthetic destroyed, she had to desperately struggle with her remaining arm, the fingers of which so obviously blue as they scrabbled within the snow. Somewhere far away, there was the howl of a Grimm that was drawn to her suffering but unable to get to her.
Raven then tilted her head, the action almost making her look thoughtful if not for her emotionless features. "Or you'll realize just in time as to what will happen afterwards. Nothing. You will die here and I will leave your body here, unlikely to ever be discovered. And while you find your peace in death, this world and its evils will continue unabated and you will have made no difference in it save to contribute to this unending cycle."
Her charge's movements stilled save for her deep, tortured breaths.
"That is why I left," Raven revealed. "I eventually discovered the truth of our conflicts and its futility. How outright meaningless my friends and family and our entire civilization are in the grand scheme of things. I accepted this truth and learned to remove myself from all that kept us restrained. You continue to strand yourself in these petty conflicts that only feed those that relish and gain strength from it. By removing yourself of these limitations, your power will increase, and it will be as unlimited and available to you whenever you wish it instead of when you only need it. Then, and only then, will you perhaps be able to assist in contending with the immortal powers that reign over us."
There came another long moment with Raven waiting for the only reply that would be suitable. The calls of the distant Grimm suddenly ceased and when enough seconds ticked by, she was compelled to say, "Understand that there is nothing else that will save you."
Still no answer, and it got Raven to wonder if the silence and the stillness was that of death, and that the Grimm had lost interest because they no longer sensed anything that they could feast on.
But then the snow-covered shoulders turned and those red eyes glowed brighter than before as Yang spoke, "No. There is one thing."
In a rare show, Raven's brow lifted and she hummed with interest. "Hmm?"
The Alpha looked up from its meal to pinpoint the source of the roar and was met with the sight of the spinning, serrated teeth of a saw that descended and dug deep in the space between its neck and shoulder. It ripped open the hide and tore on through, the Grimm somehow managing to cling to the last few seconds of its life to flail and bellow in agony as the great saw made its journey from the point at its shoulder to its hip. Though the saw went quiet as soon as the bisected remains of the wolf fell, the sounds of violence continued in the form of gunshots and the cries that were uttered from the rest of the Alpha's pack as the cleanup resumed.
The hulking form of the lieutenant took the opportunity to survey what had once been a White Fang encampment – one of the few that they had left in Mistral. Out here in the swamps, the group had made good use of the inherent advantages that came with the wetlands. The stagnant waters, the heavy foliage, and high humidity were usually enough to deter any human from venturing far out here even before you threw in the wildlife; the Grimm and any of the common creatures that possessed their own lethality that made them almost as dangerous.
Faunus were better equipped to navigate and avoid those dangers. Even when the White Fang grew in strength and were able to make their push further into a select number of the kingdoms, they never abandoned their old outposts and encampments.
As of right now, those encampments were proving to be their last.
The lieutenant couldn't even fathom how it came to this. It had seemed like only yesterday that they had been penetrating the walls of the kingdoms, putting their boots down on the most legendary of the Hunter academies and burning them to the ground. First Vale and Beacon, then it was supposed to have been Mistral and Haven. Yet here he was now, back in the swamps that some would say where the true power of the White Fang had originated.
What was becoming increasingly likely, this may be where the White Fang will die out.
The lieutenant lifted his gaze from the torn corpse of the brother that the Alpha had been gnawing on and stared at the fires that engulfed the tents. Beneath the light of the dancing flames and within the flickering shadows of the night, there were more bodies. This had been one of their smaller but no less vital camps – all their remaining camps were vital at this point. It had been situated along the banks of a river, giving them easy access to the waterways that cut through the number of villages and straight into Mistral itself. The tents burned along with all of the valuable equipment that had been stored in them. The lieutenant remembered that there were supposed to be a little over a dozen occupying the encampment. The corpses that he could see were close enough to the number.
If there was one thing that he could even remotely consider as good fortune, it was the state of the camp. It was only the tents that were on fire, the flames having yet to spread to the surrounding vegetation. As they were in the middle of the wet season with a heavy rainfall having occurred recently, they would have a hard time of that. Despite the presence of the Beowolf pack, most of the corpses remained largely intact.
This was recent, the lieutenant surmised. If they were lucky, they could pick up a trail, track her down, and kill her. To Hell with Taurus. We're not taking her alive.
It was not solely the outside threats that the White Fang were beset by. Their internal power structure was failing, crumbling as fast as their strongholds. Many of their influential leaders had broken off, taking with them what forces were loyal to them. Fingers were being thrown around, most of them towards one figure in particular, and the name Taurus was being spoken with damnation rather than with the reverence it once held. Though the lieutenant remained at Adam's side, even he could not stave off the whispers of doubt completely. This included the suspicions of his leader's sanity.
The faunus that were with him formed a perimeter, watchful of the possibility of any more Grimm. A couple took stock of the bodies with the lieutenant making his way towards one in particular. "Well?"
"This one's hardly been touched," the uniformed faunus reported. The corpse was facedown, a rifle in its slack grip and spent casings decorated the mud. The lieutenant's night vision was more than good enough to see the three stab wounds that were located at the back, staining the white tunic with still wet blood. When his subordinate rolled it over, it was to reveal them having gone all the way through.
"Your analysis?" the lieutenant questioned.
The faunus lifted his mask, exposing the extra wide pupils within his glowing yellow eyes and the collection of feathers that swept from his brows and to his ears. He took a look around, each eye moving independently as he visually absorbed everything around him. "The obvious is that he was stabbed multiple times in the back. How that happened though…" He scooped up some of the shell casings, lifted them up, and then released them so that they could sprinkle back into the mud. "He wasn't aware of his killer. The prints, the bullets – all signs point that he had been shooting in the opposite direction when he was killed.
"As for the real telling part." The owl faunus directed his attention at the ground that would've been behind the victim if he had still been standing. "I only see his prints. Other than the wounds themselves, there is no other trace of the attacker."
It could mean anything if they hadn't visited the previous camps with the same scenes. Their conditions had been worse, the Grimm having had more time to eat the dead and the ash and smoke being all that was left of the conflagrations, but eventually they were able to piece together what happened. The White Fang soldiers, slain by blades and not always left in one piece, had been firing in multiple directions as if being assaulted by a sizeable force. On closer examination though, there would be a severe lack of evidence of aggressors. No scraps of cloth, no blood, or even the smallest print or other impressions.
It was as if they were struck down by phantoms.
It was all that the lieutenant needed to hear. He addressed the rest of his force, his voice booming, "Gather round, brothers! Our prey may still be near and we shall pursue!" He singled out another faunus. "You, contact the other squad and have them move in. Once we regroup, we'll conduct a sweep. Salvage what you can and gather the bodies."
They couldn't waste time for a proper burial of their dead brethren, but he swore that they would be granted proper rites later. Even if things were falling apart, he valued loyalty and the lives of his brothers and sisters in the Fang. He wanted to retain some sense of honor and decency amongst the compatriots that remained, clinging to the betterment of the faunus race. His squad made no objections, carrying out his orders as they grabbed what weapons they could and started rounding up the bodies. The lieutenant was already thinking of where to conduct their sweep, trying to predict where she would possibly go next and assuming that it would be north-
Gunfire. It erupted further down the river, the lieutenant instantly concluding that the only source could be the other squad. It had only been one burst but it was soon joined with the chatter of another rifle. The short bursts became longer and the number of weapons firing increased, drowning out any other noise.
It had an effect on the faunus around him as they instantly dropped whatever it was they were doing, pulling out their own weapons. A pair were actually about to run down the bank of the river towards the noise before the lieutenant bellowed, "Stop!"
They did, albeit reluctantly, giving him questioning looks that he couldn't fault them for. That same impulse had come to him and he almost acted on it, but he couldn't. They couldn't scatter and fumble around in the swamp. It was what she would want.
With no other choice, they all listened to the continued cacophony of gunfire that echoed. It remained steady, the long, unbroken sounds of weapons discharge enduring. However, it hadn't even been close to a minute when it began dying out and the lieutenant instinctively knew that it wasn't because that the squad was successfully fighting off whatever it was that was attacking them. There came breaks in between, the firing becoming more intermittent, and the lieutenant took note of those of his number with prominent ears twitching and lifting to make out the noises that they could hear during those moments.
Screams. Panicked, tortured screams that made one's blood curdle as it clearly did to the assembled soldiers. They looked amongst each other, their Grimm masks unable to hide their fear that was expressed with itchy fingers and shaky gun barrels. Again the lieutenant became the recipient of several more nervous looks but he forced himself to remain steady and listen.
Listen until finally, with one final burst, everything went quiet.
The lieutenant waited and when nothing else came to replace the noise, he ordered, "Tighten up. Eyes and ears everywhere. Make a noise as soon as you see anything out of the ordinary. She'll be coming for us next."
He had wanted his deep, heavy voice to be a source of courage for them to draw upon but he couldn't deny how particularly grave it sounded at what could be the worst possible time for it to do so. His group formed up in a line, facing in the direction of the chaos they listened to, bringing their weapons up. It wasn't the kind of confident precision he would've wanted either; the line ragged, those weapons already wandering, and he could make out the fearful twitching in the various appendages of the faunus.
The lieutenant hefted his saw, thick finger resting on the throttle trigger of his gigantic saw but shy of activating it. He forced himself to survey their surroundings with thorough, controlled movements of his head unlike his men.
For what stretched into an eternity, they waited in the darkness. The heavy foliage that had given the White Fang protection for so long became sinister, made all the more so by the ominous shadows that danced over them, manipulated by the fires that kept burning behind them.
The lieutnenat was sure that someone would've pulled a trigger – he almost did – at the sudden call. A faunus at the edge of their line was pointing towards the river.
He wished for it to be a log or some other king of debris. Unfortunately, his vision made it abundantly clear that when he saw the object that came floating down the river, it was a body. Dressed in the white of the Fang, there was no mistaking it for anything else. That body was joined by another and though there were no others, the presence of the two floating dead had everyone knowing of what it was that happened to the other squad.
The lieutenant opened his mouth, about to remind them to keep a look out, but his lips froze when he saw one of bodies actually move. A sudden, quick jerk. Soon, the movement repeated again. One faunus made an uneasy step towards it but the lieutenant was about to warn him not to. It was not a sign of life – not that one that originated from the corpse's legs, as if something was tugging on one of them from below -, but before he could say it, she appeared.
With his mask, he almost missed it. Out of the corner of his vision there was movement, up high. As if deposited from the night sky, a figure suddenly dropped from five meters above one of the soldiers. Torn, ragged cloth flapped around them but, strangely, they made no sound. What they almost did was hide the pair of long, curved swords of black held in the person's hands. Pointed down, they were impaled into the back of the White Fang soldier.
He screamed as he was driven into the mud and it had everyone whirling around. There were cries of shock, anger, and then shooting. The assailant remained knelt over their victim, swords lodged in the back, their hooded head bowed, and then the shots ripped into them. There was a flinch, the figure jerked and began tipping to the side, and then they vanished, the torn rags scattering and then dissolving – dispersing into strands that curled abnormally before disappearing.
The fire immediately stopped, the soldiers staring in disbelief as all that was left behind was their slain comrade. Not even the swords that felled him were left behind, having disappeared as well.
It occurred to the lieutenant that they were all being distracted. He pulled his gaze away from the scene, started to look around, and caught the second of his number dying. Whereas the first attack came from the air, the next came from the ground. One of the shadows that were cast and manipulated by the light of the fires drifted close to the feet of a soldier. The shadow stretched and lengthened, and a hooded head emerged from its depths. Following it was a pair of shoulders, arms, and the black, talon-shaped dagger that was clenched in the hand that buried the blade low in the back before it was wrenched upwards.
Again they all whirled around, more shouts, gunfire, and both the soldier and its assailant were riddled with bullets. Whereas the soldier fell to the ground, bleeding from multiple wounds, the black-clad murderer began to fall before it faded in the same manner as before.
There was no pause this time. As soon as that one vanished, another immediately took its place, coming around from a nearby tent to hack into the chest of another soldier with a hatchet. A White Fang member turned to address it, gun coming up, only for the hands that held his weapon to be severed when a cleaver sliced down. His screams were cut off when that same cleaver came back around and split his skull, wielded by that same hooded person in black.
There came more of them. Out from the shadows, more of these figures with their torn black garbs, wielding various black weapons, descended upon the party. They moved with absolute silence. The flapping of the clothes, their boots hitting into the ground as they ran and jumped, or any kind of noises of exertion – there was nothing emitted by these beings. The only sounds made were by the White Fang as they fired and hollered, trying to fight back these phantoms who dispersed when struck, only to have another appear behind or right next to them where they would then be ruthlessly felled.
A pair of soldiers were falling back towards the river, shooting fruitlessly. That was when something else joined the battle. Water suddenly geysered within the river, and a huge, serpentine form launched itself at the soldiers.
The White Fang lieutenant recognized it immediately. It was a Stygian, known to inhabit the swamps of Mistral. It was a more uncommon Grimm, but more of its number had been making an appearance with the growing conflict. They were frightful beasts, known to travel and lurk within the rivers. Upon encountering prey whether in the water or those straying too close to the banks, it would surge up, clamp its jaws tight, and pull whoever was unlucky enough to be caught into the water where it would drown and eat them.
The battle had obviously attracted one and it was a particularly large specimen. Large enough to easily bat one of the soldiers to the side with its bulk while the torso of the other disappeared within its tremendous maw, ivory knives for teeth piercing deep and never letting go. Red, soulless orbs glowed within its bone mask, the covering sweeping up to the twin curved horns at the back of its head. It managed to hiss furiously despite its mouth being full and then it retreated into the water, taking the faunus with it.
The remaining soldier stared at where his friend disappeared with horror and he did not see the figure and its torn robe that was suddenly at his side, poised to stab down with a short sword, until it was far too late.
The lieutenant was fighting like the rest, saw roaring and swinging, his guttural cries joining it as he swept it all around him. The adversaries of black and shadow leapt at him and were vanquished, their menagerie of weapons dispersing upon touching the rotating teeth of the saw before it cut into their forms which would vaporize as well. All around him, his compatriots died whether to the blades of these never ending foes or the Stygian which would reemerge from the water, disappear with another of their number, wait, and strike again.
Upon sending another pair away with a horizontal swing of his chainsaw, it was for the lieutenant to see that he was alone. There were no more additional foes, the Stygian did not rise again from the river, and that was because everyone else was dead. His weapon rumbling within his grip, the lieutenant spun in place, seeing for himself how the corpses on the river bank had now multiplied. His breaths came out in growl-tinged pants, his massive muscles shaking with fury along with the vibrations of his weapon as he searched. Where is she? Where is she?
He was half into completing another revolution when he saw her. Only meters away, within the center of the burning tents, she stood there. She was dressed in those same, torn rags that seemed to barely hang together on her form, so much smaller and slimmer than the lieutenant. She was nearly pathetic in in comparison – reminiscent of a poor urchin that would be found in the streets or dark corners of a village.
Her hood was lowered. Long, ebony hair fell past her shoulders, golden eyes and their curved pupils locked directly onto him. From within that hair, a pair of triangular, cat-shaped ears extended outwards.
The lieutenant shut off his saw so that his snarl could be heard. "You."
"Yes," Blake Belladonna murmured dispassionately as she stood within the center of the carnage. "But you already knew that. You've been hunting me for quite a while, haven't you?"
"Weeks," the lieutenant confirmed as he examined her. She was real, of that he was certain, but it was difficult to believe that she was the one he had been hunting. His initial impression of her pitiful state only grew when he noticed the dull and stained colorings of those rags. Her shadows which had cut down his men had at least the appearance of cleanliness. "When the first outposts fell. When a survivor had managed to flee and identified you."
"He fled, but not with any luck or skill of his own," Blake corrected.
"You're saying you let him escape?"
She shook her head and it was painfully noticeable how her hair hung limply over her grimy features. "Escape wouldn't be the correct word, would it? He fled, but the only reason he made it back to any of you was because I made sure to inflict wounds that would not kill him immediately. I suspect that he did die eventually."
He did, but he wasn't going to tell her that. After having traversed the swamps for too long before he was found, the faunus's wounds had been infected. He had died, painfully, in the grip of an intense fever while he babbled what they had first assumed was nonsense. No one had been sure to believe any of what he was saying, or to make the connection that the cat faunus that seemed to haunt him and cause so much fear was really Blake.
In the end, one person did.
"You've killed many more since then," the lieutenant growled. "You've gone through five-"
Blake glanced off to the side at the devastation. A slow, lazy, almost tired shifting of her eyes. "Six."
"-of our camps." The lieutenant had to suppress the impulse to rev up his saw and attack her right then. "Dozens at least have died at your hands, their remains left to be eaten by the Grimm while everything was set to flame."
"I couldn't be sure that you actually got my message. I figured if I wiped out enough of them, someone would come hunting eventually." She shrugged. "Honestly, I'm not sure how many more I would've had to go through. I hear that you've had quite the business going on within Mistral so I was almost certain that I would've had to go through all of them to get you out here." The possibility did not seem to bother her, Blake treating it as – at most – a minor inconvenience.
Blake fixed him with a long, unblinking stare. "You lost."
"We did," he repeated bitterly.
The loss was still fresh, stinging sharply as he recalled their latest defeat. It had been devastating. At least with Vale, their eventual victory had made up for the initial losses. Their numbers restored, they had the equipment to arm them, and the world falling back into the dark age of communications had given the White Fang plenty of room to maneuver.
But Mistral had changed all of that. They had their initial successes…and then defeat after defeat. Their two-pronged assaults on Mistral and Haven ended in failure. Their 'allies' upped and vanished, and with it their supplies and other support such as their agents manipulating the governing council. For once, the White Fang was directionless, unsure of where to go next, and the bickering of what they should do and even who they should trust was tearing them apart.
The rumors going around spoke of a group of students of the now defunct Beacon Academy that were to blame. Inconceivable, and that was probably why many have chosen to blame Taurus and his blunder in putting so much faith in the humans that abandoned them in this compromising position instead. The lieutenant had chosen to believe the rumors when he learned that one of them mentioned a shockingly young, silver-eyed human girl in red.
"One of your…human friends are said to be responsible," he specified. There were insults that existed, names that were used by other faunus to address humans as, but he had never felt the urge to utter them. There was no other word that caused as much hatred, or one that he would utter with as much disgust, as human. Such hot emotion extended to any faunus that held any friendly acquaintanceship to them as Blake did. "A child of red with eyes of silver."
That accomplished in bringing a bit more life into her. Blake's head jerked up, her eyes widening a fraction in recognition. A small, fond smile then came into existence as she whispered, "Of course it would be her."
The smile that she showed towards a human the lieutenant found revolting. "We have suffered a grievous defeat and one that will be difficult to recover from. What you are doing here may very well make that impossible."
"Yes." Blake raised a hand that went over her shoulder and towards her back. The lieutenant did not see a weapon on her previously but when she made a motion as if drawing a sword, it was to reveal her fingers folded over a black hilt which was followed by a slightly curved blade with a small spike protruding from the opposite side, located short of the tip.
He remembered the weapon that she once wielded in their service and then turning it against them. What she held now was identical but not the real thing. It was just a copy. A shadow of what had been lost and never found again.
"I was concerned over just how I was going to do this," Blake began explaining. "Who knew that it was going to turn out to be this easy?" Her next smile held a trace of sick humor. "Then again, I've been finding out just how simple things really are once I stopped running. I'm going to have to thank Ruby, and what better way is there than to spare her from cleaning up the scraps that she left behind?"
She crouched in preparation, holding her shadow blade low and towards the back. "She'll never know of this, and it's best that way. Let her integrity remain intact while a miserable ideal that struggles for breath finally expires and slinks into oblivion."
To listen to her – to listen to a faunus – speak of her kind and all that they struggled for so filled him with rage. What of his narrow vision was restricted further in red and the lieutenant savagely pulled off his mask and threw it to the side. His saw rumbled with renewed life as he snarled, "I should've done this sooner. When you left us in Forever Fall, I shouldn't have listened to Taurus. I should've searched for you then."
"Yes, Adam." The inflection was all venom but Blake nodded her head slowly. "Then I guess he really was the one who ordered you out here and I assume that it was to take me back alive."
"I will not make that mistake again," he swore. "I have found you, and now I will kill you."
He thought he heard something from her right then. A short treble and a minute trembling of her form but before he could wonder what it was, she was on him. With speed and grace she leaped at him, twisting around in mid-air to bring her arm and sword down upon him. It proved to be more durable than the weapons wielded by her clones, it striking but not dispersing when it hit his sawblade, brought up for defense.
She landed in a crouch at his feet and shot back up, stabbing towards his face which he deflected with a quick repositioning of his weapon. It made him lose track of her for just a moment, enough for the feet against his chest to come as a surprise as she kicked off him, flipping away. He barely even stumbled and would've pursued if not for two of her clones appearing beneath her, originating from her shadow in mid-flip. They lunged at him with their myriad of fake but lethal weapons.
He cut through them with ease, swinging his saw to dispel them, and when they vanished it was to reveal Blake already coming at him again. With his saw out of position, she struck at his head, her sword impacting with the side which had him reeling but his Aura, many times stronger than that of his subordinates, held. He recovered, turned to follow her, and roared with outrage as he felt something slash at his side.
Another clone, this one with a cutlass that failed to scratch him, and he swung a muscular arm that bashed it away. Pain then sprung at his back, the tip of a sickle trying to pierce into his spine, and he spun in a circle, catching this clone on his saw and slicing it in half.
"You're a disgrace!" he howled. He heard the sound of boots rushing along the mud and he swung his saw up and over his head, bringing it down like a hammer on Blake who deftly leapt aside, the serrated teeth churning up mud while her own blade sliced along his chest against his Aura in passing. He rounded after her. "Unfit to call yourself a faunus!"
He caught the movement at his peripheral and his thick hand reached out, seizing the hooded head of another clone and crushing it. With shadowy wisps leaking out between his fingers, he continued, "You slay your own kind with these mockeries and then leave them to die in the mud with their bones picked clean by these beasts you use against us! What makes you different from the humans that do this to us? You, who had once understood this, but are now contributing to all that our people have suffered from!"
It was a developing perception of his enemy's cowardly tactics that had him whirling around with more of those clones still coming into being. His saw went to work, shrieking as it cut them down, and then he spun to cut the heads off another pair that sought to strike him when she foolishly thought him to be distracted.
"You traitor! You monster! You…" He heard those boots again, slapping wetly against the mud, and he turned to shout in the charging Blake's face. "Grimmspawn!"
Her soles slid against the mud as Blake unexpectedly broke off from her attack and then jumped back, using a clone – a temporary one this time - to propel her further away from him.
The reprieve was unexpected but the lieutenant was happy for it when her sudden retreat was included with an ending of her clones. He took needed breaths as he settled with watching her land and straighten to her feet. Her sword was nowhere in sight either and all she did was stare at him with slight surprise.
It ended up being him who was caught off guard when her lips twisted and that same noise from before repeated, her body tremoring. It did not stop though. It went on, steadily growing louder, and she shook with greater intensity until, finally, she drew her head back and laughed.
It was a terrible sound. He had heard Blake laugh before in what felt like another lifetime, but never like this. It was high and loud, going on and on with the cat faunus nearly losing her footing with how hard she was laughing. He did not even think to attack her like this, the scene being so unexpected that he stood and stared with disbelief as Blake stumbled and wavered, nearly falling as she kept laughing.
"I-it," she started, but then gave up when another peal of laughter broke her off. She tried to calm down, taking in gulping breaths whenever she could when the act of breathing became difficult. "I-I'm sor-." She giggled some more.
There came one last stumble and then her foot dug in deep to keep her steady. Her laughter reduced to broken giggling and her hand came up to her face. To the lieutenant's shock, he saw tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I-I'm sor-ry," she tried again, somewhat successful. She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand, wetness cutting into the grime in an inadvertent attempt to clean her face. "I-it's just…it's just funny, really." She hung her head, still wiping as she tried to rein in her quaking body. "H-how much sense none of this makes. Just," she choked and then broke, "h-hearing it from y-you."
A loud, audible breath seemed to bring her mostly back together but he could still make out when she would suddenly heave, as if about to continue, but controlled herself. "None of this makes sense," she said, loud enough to be heard. "It really doesn't. Knowing this now…" she shook again "…it really does seem so obvious. Not just right now but…all the time." Another short-lived giggle. "The only thing that could be funnier is how I spent my whole life trying to find something that was never there."
The nearby shadows shifted and the lieutenant tensed as a new wave of clones came forth.
"It really is hilarious. All this time, thinking that I could actually find a place in this world. Locate the sense in the senseless, thinking that I could really escape and hide from it all. Live as I wanted to. Now that I know better, it all seems so very simple. As to what I want now…"
The lieutenant's foot happened to touch one of the rifles of his fallen brethren. Without a second thought, he bent down and retrieved it, wielding it in one hand and the saw in the other.
Blake lifted her face up. The tears were still falling but her smile was wide and absolutely mad. Her clenched fist came with it, her shadow blade returned, and she pointed the tip towards the lieutenant, singling him out to the mob of clones and their myriad of weapons.
"I just want you to die."
The gun barrel came up as soon as the first of the clones made their move, the lieutenant's roar joining with the sound of the shots as they came for him. He moved it in a sweeping motion, trying to get as many as he could before he was forced to use his saw. There was the howling of the saw as he swung it, then joined by the firing of the rifle in a bid attempt to hold them back while his saw returned to address them.
Despite his efforts, he still felt the blades break through, striking at his Aura. He struck back, shadows dispersing, and him barely feeling any resistance, but then he would feel the tip of another weapon slip on through and try to stab him, convincing him that despite how these wraiths did not even breathe, they had weapons real enough to kill him.
The gun clicked empty and he threw it aside. Gripping his saw in both hands, he madly swung it in a desperate bid to stay alive. There was no thought other than that need to keep on living and fighting as hard as he could to remain so. It was what made him miss the critical mistake he was making that became apparent when he heard the water erupt behind him.
Forgetting his foes that had drawn him so close to the river, the lieutenant was seized by the fear that was awoken by this terrible blunder. Blindly he struck, pure luck guiding his aim to strike the Grimm against the side of its mask. Not enough to cut, but enough for the Stygian to be deflected, hissing its fury, but then reorienting to come at him again, jaws opening wide.
The lieutenant braced and screamed in pure animal fury as he brought his saw down. It met the top of the skull mask, just above its snout, and his muscles seized as he held the toothy maw from claiming its prize. There was the hissing of the Stygian, his desperate cries, and the shrieking of the saw as the sawteeth grinded against the bone mask for what appeared to be uselessly until the first cracks formed upon the layer of bone.
The layer broke and the lieutenant almost fell right into the river when the Stygian pulled back, hissing in pain at its torn snout and upper lip. Its long body thrashing madly the whole way, it dunked back into the river.
The lieutenant stood on the edge of the bank, heaving with the exertion of such a close call. For just a second, the euphoria of being alive took over.
And then he suddenly lurched when the first blade stabbed him in the back. His Aura held and then began struggling as two, three, and four more blades punched against it. It was with the joining of a sixth that his Aura gave out and they were all free to pierce through.
His saw slipped from his grip, becoming silent as soon as it did. It rolled over the edge and hit the river with a splash, sinking out of sight. He fell to his knees but managed to prevent himself from joining his weapon. He looked down and saw six blades protruding out from his chest. They remained in existence for a little longer until they faded and the quiet noise that he made was inefficient to describe that torment of feeling shredded organs shift in the spaces left behind, blood pumping freely.
Somehow, he was able to take note of someone settling themself behind him.
"I had hoped to draw you out here," Blake spoke. "As in you specifically. I intend to visit Adam next and I'm very confident that I know where I can find him. But first, I wanted to meet with you again. Do you want to know why?"
He could not reply, unable to do anything else except stare ahead while his tunic got increasingly red with every breath he struggled to finish.
"You probably don't think so, but I see a similarity between us. We both joined the White Fang early on, and had been with it for a long time. Even though I was the one who left, I do believe that we both chose a path within that same timeframe based on our need to find that sense in the senseless. I tried to find it without while you did the same within."
She paused and then, aware that he did not have much time left, said, "You're strong. I'm confident that you'll live just long enough to see what's about to happen to you next. When you do, I want you to remember everything about your life up until this point. In those last few seconds, see if you can find any sense in it."
She left him there, kneeling at the edge of the bank. Her confidence was not unfounded for he was still alive and able to comprehend just what was about to happen to him next when the head of the Stygian slowly lifted from the depths of the river, glaring at the lieutenant past the torn remains of its snout.
He started remembering and it was…miraculous as to what kind of clarity death could grant an individual. Not only was his strength leaving him but his rage that had been so much a part of him was absent too. When he remembered his time toiling in the mines, bowing beneath the weight of the unjust labor placed upon him while faunus weaker than him collapsed dead from exhaustion, he could not remember the full extent of the agony and despair at the treatment administered to his kind, or the start of that eternal hatred to his human overseers that treated each death as an annoyance.
He remembered the day of his freedom, and his swearing of fealty to the White Fang for releasing him of his imprisonment while his hands were soaked with the blood of a former human master. Never again, he remembered swearing, would he bow to a human. But bow he did on that day in Forever Fall – to the flame-eyed woman and her companions. No matter the reasoning, all that he focused on now was that he had bowed along with everyone else in the White Fang. Going further, he had even presented another human associate to recruits, praising him as the key to what they wanted and instructing others to bow to him as well.
He remembered both the failure and the success at Vale and Beacon, the images that stuck to him most being those of his kind running, howling, and killing exactly like the beasts they ran with, the masks which they willingly shared. So many of the dead left in their wake – human and faunus – with the Grimm consuming them. Going to Mistral and Haven, the scene became a reverse when they fled, the two races willingly standing against them. What should've been the predicted and yet still unforeseen abandonment by their human allies, Taurus's descent in what he knew now to be insanity, the rupturing of all that once united them-
And here he was now, about to die in a swamp to the same creatures that they had tried to use at the hands of a faunus girl who had attempted to avoid all of this lunacy only for them to be the ones to drive her mad instead.
It was when the Stygian hovered over him, water and drool dripping upon his head and shoulders, did the lieutenant see the truth deep within its gullet.
There is no sense.
The teeth lowered-
Because this entire world is mad.
-and closed around him.
With her head tilted and a cat ear perked up, Blake heard that crunch of finality and silently listened to the Stygian sink back into the river, taking its final victim with it. She heard the water splash and slosh before it started settling. When the last air bubble popped and the surface stilled, she quietly sniffed. "No, I didn't think you would."
Maybe Em had the right idea in running off. None of this seems very fun anymore.
Mercury did not recognize the woman who was clearly challenging him, but when he saw that mask he smirked. "Been a while since I had to deal with one of you." He rolled his head around, stretching neck muscles and performing a couple hops before he began to lower into a fighting stance. "Just in time too. I've been craving for a bit of fun."
She did not answer, instead crouching into a stance of her own. Her left arm came forward, all defined muscle. He still couldn't make out her right arm though.
of or relating to the Styx River.
"the Stygian crypt"
Idea and appearance based off the tentacle beast of Diablo 2.