Qrow dropped the bucket, any thought of bringing back water gone. Snow crunched beneath his feet as he raced away from the stream, back into the wilderness. Taking the direct path would bring him straight into the packs of Grimm, but he didn't have the time to wait for them to pass or to try to find a safer route—he had to get to her before it did.
The Scroll call had cut off into screaming and he didn't know if he would make it in time. He shot past a pack of Beowolves, startling them badly as they howled. A horde of Ursai stood in his way and he leaped right over them without missing a beat. Some of the Grimm tried to attack him, to get in his way, but he was too fast.
It was ironic: they had come to these woods precisely because they were Grimm infested. They had hoped to use them as cover, to use the eternal enemies of humanity as their own defenders. They had at least hoped that the Grimm would have slowed it down.
No luck there it seemed.
The small cottage was in sight, the door torn apart. Qrow reached behind his back to draw his weapon, the gears on the sword already beginning to spin as he plunged inside.
The first thing he noticed was the smell, so strong it made him want to double over and vomit. He found the cause soon enough and sagged, defeat washing over him.
What remained of Glynda laid in torn pieces on the ground, her face turned towards him. Her wand was still tightly clasped in her hand, several feet away from the rest of her body, next to her dismembered legs. She hadn't died well.
Above her torso stooped another figure, clad in what seemed like a solid coat of shimmering gold, covering nearly its entire body, with only a blood-red sash about its waist to stand out, hanging behind her like a crimson tail. Deep red hair hung like a lion's mane, as its hands plunged into Glynda's torso, tearing out viscera with wet ripping noises. Its fingers were pure white, so contrasted from the surrounding golden skin that they seemed like claws.
The head lifted up, revealing a woman's gilded face, staring at him with startlingly bright green eyes. One could call it beautiful, if not for the blood streaming down its chin as it continued to chew on the offal it had torn earlier from Glynda's corpse. It spat out a particularly long spool of intestine and rose to its full six foot height, stained in gore from head to toe. It was naked, with delicate, feminine curves, but its golden skin covered it like armor and the red sash concealed its groin, giving it a modicum of modesty.
The Nemean was here.
Qrow felt a trepidation inside him that he had never really felt before, not even when facing hordes of Grimm. The thing had seemed to have just popped into existence only a week after Beacon had fallen. It had stalked the Valean countryside, killing Grimm with ridiculous ease. At first, people had thought it was some sort of new, incredible Huntress, a golden savior to stem the tides of Grimm.
Not that anyone believed that anymore, especially with what happened at Atlas just a week ago. You could hardly consider what was left of the bodies there to be human, once the Nemean had been done with them.
Qrow looked sadly at Glynda's corpse. She hadn't deserved to die as horribly as this. Her face had remained intact, frozen in the terror she must have felt in her final moments. "Infinite in distance and unbound by death, I release your soul, and by my shoulder, protect thee," he whispered, before turning to glare at the Nemean.
Glynda was dead. There was no need for him to be here. If he tried moving away now, he might be able to get out clean. He could try escaping again, head further into the wilderness or even try to pass through one of the villages in this area. He could lead this beast on a futile hunt around the continent if it came down to it.
But he was tired of running away.
"Monster." Qrow growled, drawing his sword, the gears accelerating faster and faster.
The Nemean shook its hands, freeing some of the blood and gore along its arms. It bared stark-white teeth, somehow free of the blood that stained its face. They circled each other slowly, the Nemean seemingly satisfied to just wait, its fingers opening and closing at regular intervals.
"You just weren't satisfied killing those two assassins, were you?" Qrow said, fingering the handle that would transform his sword into a scythe. "You had to get everyone just vaguely responsible, even if you couldn't find that woman. That, and anyone that got in your way."
Qrow grinned. "Guess you're in mine now."
He revved the handle and the gears blurred, reaching full speed as the sword split into segments. It folded in on itself into a curved shape before the handle extended, leaving him with a long scythe.
The Nemean lunged at him. It was fast, maybe even as fast as he was, but Qrow had been anticipating the attack. He stepped to the side, leaping off the wall and striking the Nemean across the back of the head, with enough power to pulp a human skull. The attack simply slid off the Nemean's head and Qrow spun in mid-air to avoid the its riposte.
He landed against the wall in a crouch, pushing off it a moment before the Nemean plunged through it, sending up plumes of gritty dust in its wake. He swept past the creature, swinging his scythe low and at its ankles, to trip it up.
He only succeeded in tripping himself up, as the scythe caught against what felt like a solid wall and he lurched to a halt, falling flat on his back. The Nemean's fingers nearly gouged out his face before he rolled to the side, retrieving his scythe with him. He rolled backwards, turning it into a backflip as he got up to avoid a downward slash that gouged out stone.
Fighting in close quarters like this wasn't working. He'd take the fight outside. He faked a low slash before he spun around, jumping off the wall and through the hole in the rooftop above. He hopped off the roof, feeling the wind of the Nemean's fingers at his neck before he shot forward and away from the cottage, jumping some good distance away, the Nemean following.
He ran forward, the Nemean still chasing him. Then he came to an abrupt stop, turning back around as he held the scythe low. He coiled his legs, lowering his center of gravity and then sprang forward with explosive force, scythe held high as he and the Nemean rapidly approached each other.
He swung down with the scythe with all of his might, wind billowing around him with the sheer speed of the slash. The last time he had let loose like that, he had practically cut a small building in half.
Snowy earth exploded outward from the shockwave of the attack, a concussive blast of air devastating the landscape beneath him and vaporizing the snow below. It should have split the Nemean in two, ripped it apart with the sheer force of the strike, killing it instantly.
He might as well have tried tickling it. It was completely unfazed and it idly batted at the scythe as he passed over it. Qrow managed to pull back most of the blade, but the Nemean's fingers struck the very tip of it. It tore through the metal as if it were just paper, shattering it almost to powder. He tried not to swallow when he saw that: that had been one of his strongest attacks and the beast hadn't even budged?
Barely avoiding another attack as he landed, he turned around and began to run away again. As much as he prided his speed, it was perhaps as fast as even he was. The Nemean still hot in its pursuit, he turned the scythe back into a sword, the segmented blades re-joining. Then the sword folded forward, revealing the gun barrel.
If merely mundane physical force didn't cut it, then maybe Nature's Wrath would. He channeled his Aura into the round in his weapon's chamber and a burst of brilliant orange-red flame flared before the fireball struck the Nemean flat across the chest.
Another fireball had the same non-effect and Qrow kept running, barely avoiding another swipe at his head before he switched rounds. He shot a cluster of ice rounds that expanded into a solid, crystalline barrier, surrounding the Nemean. It simply walked through it as if it wasn't even there, shattering ice in its wake. It strode through blasts of lightning, fields of fire, barriers of ice, and even zones of altered gravity. Nothing seemed to affect it, nothing stopped it.
Qrow almost felt like laughing. This… thing had shrugged off everything he had thrown at it, everything he could throw at it. Before, it had torn through fearsome Grimm and Atlesian Paladins alike, with almost contemptuous ease. What had he even been thinking of accomplishing here?
Summer always said he had a death wish.
The Nemean was at once both an unstoppable force and an immovable object. There was nothing he could do. He couldn't even hope to take it down with him to avenge Glynda. All he'd succeed in doing was killing himself.
He shot a trio of ice rounds. He didn't expect it to stop the beast—that was an impossible task—but he needed the concealment. He turned, drawing on his Aura once more, and he felt his body shift and contort as he assumed the shape of a crow. He flapped his wings once, twice, then took off.
He managed several yards out before the ground directly beneath him burst apart in an explosion of dirt and snow. Then he was sent spinning away in a confusing flash of ground – sky – ground – sky, agony consuming his animal body. He landed on the ground in human form, excruciating pain on his left side. Nothing remained of his left arm but a stump from the elbow down. His left leg was shattered, fragments of bone sticking out visibly. Years as a Huntsman told him that even the best doctor couldn't save it now. He stared dimly as blood flowed, staining the snow a deep red. It had been a long time since he had been hit hard enough to feel pain like this.
The Nemean had struck him right through his Aura as if it didn't even matter.
He tried sitting up, but he choked as a burning agony lanced into his gut, pushing him back down. He looked up to see its eyes, its fist caught right through his stomach.
Oh, he thought.
He had lost—completely. The Nemean pressed hard against him, the pain dizzying. Its other hand cradled his chin, forcing him to meet its eyes, brilliant green contorted with insane fury. He coughed blood as it mouthed something out. He tried to turn away his head, but the Nemean's hand kept him rooted in place and it pushed harder against his gut, making him cry out in pain.
It mouthed something as it pressed into him, and it took him a few moments to understand what it was saying.
"Oz.. pin?" A blubbering bout of laughter came to him, immediately dying away to gasps of agony from what that did to his stomach. "If we knew…" he said, between grunts of pain, "where Ozpin or… where that woman was… do you really think… we'd be in the middle… of nowhere like this?"
He panted roughly, spitting out blood. "Didn't… James tell you that… before you… killed him?"
The Nemean opened its mouth in a silent snarl. He gasped as the Nemean began to rummage inside him, grasping something and pulling out bloody loops of something wet and lumpy. It brought it to its mouth, tearing into it with abandon.
He was being eaten alive.
Was this what Glynda felt like in the end? he wondered, a dim haze beginning to infiltrate his thoughts. She had died all alone, probably terrified out of her mind as this beast had torn her into pieces. Of all the ways to die, he had never imagined going out like this.
"We… we know you who are, you know," he said, managing to speak despite the incredible agony. The Nemean paused, blood staining its face again, and it looked up to stare at him, eyes narrowed. "I didn't expect… it myself, but it made sense… once we learned the truth. We got… the pictures after… you attacked Atlas… ran it through every… facial recognition program… we had. It was subtle but… the resemblance… was there."
He struggled to prop himself up, before he collapsed back on himself. "We… we all failed you. As much as… as that woman was responsible… so were we. Glynda… Ironwood, Ozpin, myself. You could say… that we deserved to pay… that you were right to do this. Maybe… maybe you could call it… our penance."
The Nemean didn't speak, still removing viscera from his gut. He didn't expect it to reply anyway.
"But what about—" He coughed, bloody splotches peppering its arm, "—all those people? They didn't… even do anything to you. You went after… anyone even barely… connected to us. Port and Oobleck… they didn't know anything. None of those… none of those people in Atlas knew anything. They were just… doing their duty. There was no need… to have killed… Winter."
"Will it… will it be worth it in the end… I wonder?" he said. It felt harder to form the words now, when he felt so sleepy. He willed himself to stay awake, to keep going. "Doing this… won't change things. It won't… turn back… the clock. You've become… just as big—" He cut off as the Nemean began to rip into his thighs as well.
"As big…" he said, gritting his teeth, every breath agonizing. "As big a monster as that woman."
The Nemean responding by lashing out with its hand, ripping into his shoulder with a spray of blood and Qrow screamed as his entire arm was torn out, flopping onto the ground. The Nemean took it and tore into it with relish.
It was becoming harder to breathe now and he was growing even colder than before. He needed to hang on for just a little bit more. There was one thing he still needed to say.
"If there's anything left…" Qrow said, unable to lift even his head, "of who you were before… please… don't hurt Yang or Ruby. They were… they were your friends… once."
The Nemean paused in its feast. It said nothing, its eyes drooping with what Qrow could have sworn was sadness. It gave the slightest, almost imperceptible nod.
Qrow relaxed, let a long breath escape him.
I'm sorry, Summer… looks like I can't watch over your daughters anymore.
He watched the sky, the sun setting beneath the horizon. There was a loud caw-ing noise, startling him, and he stared as a crow took flight from a nearby tree, flapping its wings as it swept above him.
He watched the crow disappear into the distance and he found himself chuckling in spite of it all. Sights and sounds began to dim, what was left of his body growing numb, but he kept laughing weakly all the same.
He reached his remaining good hand out towards the horizon, as if trying to grasp the sun.
"Wish I had a drink right n—"
The Nemean's teeth gleamed white.
Fight scene between Qrow and the Nemean partly inspired by the fight between the Siberian and the Protectorate in 15.z of Worm, Alexandria's interlude.