Here's another chapter – and College Fool finally gets a chance to see some chapters for a change. Hallelujah.
Beta: College Fool
Cover Art: Dishwasher1910
Book 3: Chapter 7
It just wasn't fair.
"Having a little trouble there?" Blake asked, an infuriatingly smug smile gracing her lips. The Assassin wasn't exactly what I would have called an overt or outgoing individual, but right now it looked like she might burst out in laughter at any moment. Normally, I'd have been both surprised at that, and thrilled that it was me who had generated such a display of emotion from her.
This wasn't a normal situation, however.
"I've got this," I lied, wrestling with the reins as I fought to bring the hell beast to a stop. Faith, the blasted horse Ruby had saddled me with again, flicked her head and had none of it. She surged forward where the others stopped, and then spun on a lien – tossing me out of the saddle. Then, as though to add insult to injury, she tossed her head and politely trotted back to stand beside the others.
"Everyone's new to riding at some point," Pyrrha said, sparing me complete indignation. She looked up at the gated walls before us. "So, this is Toston?"
"Yes," Weiss agreed. The mage had ridden the entire journey side saddle, and I had no idea how she'd managed that without falling off. "From what I was able to find out, it's an intermediary trading town. A strong wall and an enclosed town, it sprung to life as a small fort along a busy and dangerous trade route. As Grimm took out surrounding villages, refugees filtered here – and eventually it was turned into a town of its own. Their main source of income is road tax from traders travelling through, who are only too happy to pay for the added security of Toston's militia on what had before been bandit-infested roads."
"She only asked if this was Toston," Yang said. "No one requested a history lesson."
"Okay, break it up you guys," Ruby giggled. She nudged her horse with one foot and it gently moved forward, the rest of the pack following without so much as a word. "We should find some stables to store the horses at. You said we were going to stalk the Grimm's nest, right?"
Weiss huffed and pointedly looked away from Yang. She made it clear the argument wasn't so much over as postponed. "Yes," she said instead to Ruby. "You're right. We should leave the mounts here. The scent and sound they make might alert the beast and this is to be a pure scouting day."
"Everything going to plan…" Yang mumbled loudly.
"It will if you stick to what we discussed and don't rush in like a loon."
The two continued to argue as the procession moved towards the open gates. Pyrrha trundled along beside and joined Ruby in her attempts to mediate the impending argument. As a courtesy, or perhaps a mercy killing to my ego, none of them suggested I get back on the horse, and Ruby took Faith's reins in hand, leading the beast beside her own docile mount. I glumly refused to raise my eyes. I hated horse riding. I hated that damn horse.
A different set of hooves came to a stop before me. Cream with white socks. It was followed by a thud as a pair of black leather boots came down in front of them.
"Leave me to my misery," I moaned.
"Don't be dramatic," Blake replied, showing a rare smile. She held out a hand. "Here, come on. We'll go in on foot. At least it was only the guards on the walls who saw this. You might not be able to ride in like a Hero, but you can walk like one."
My brow twitched in annoyance at that, and it didn't get any better once I let her help me. My eyes zeroed in on her lips, which quirked even higher. I growled and looked away. "What happened to the taciturn and emotionless Assassin I thought I knew?"
"She witnessed something incredible." A light snort escaped her and she held a hand over her mouth. It didn't do much for the way her eyes danced. "Don't think of it as me laughing at you. Think of it as me laughing with your horse."
And now she was revelling in my misery. Go figure. I groaned and ran a hand down my face. "Kill me."
Blake shook her head in amusement and nudged her own mare forward, her walking beside it. I fell in as well, and the two of us passed under the arched gates together. The thick stone brick gave way to a mishmash of houses, some fully stone, others a mix – and yet more made of just wood. Many of them were pressed against the walls themselves, and I imagined they'd even used the fortifications themselves as part of the structure.
The trading influence could definitely be felt, however. Off to the left, in what must have been the centre of the settlement, a bustling market was already underway. Several caravans and carts had been parked and brightly coloured tents and stalls had been set up. A good two hundred or more people milled between them, and yet more seemed to be coming through two more gates I could see on the north and west side.
"I see Weiss was right," Blake said, looking out over it all. "This place is so busy. I wonder if we'll even be able to rent rooms for the night."
"Maybe the traders will move on before then. They're already paying a tax just to be here, so I can't imagine they'd stay longer than they have to. Honestly, it's amazing they managed to convince them to pay at all. Most traders don't like parting with lien."
"Perhaps that's sign of how dangerous the roads used to be." Her eyes narrowed. "That, or our special Grimm has been driving business towards Toston. If it attacks at night, then no one will want to travel then. We might find it even harder to secure a room."
Ugh. Blake had a point. From what we knew, the Grimm was fairly regular, and only went for camps or travellers in the dark. Everyone here probably knew that. I wondered if we should make preparations ahead of time and get some rooms, but I wouldn't put it past the inns here to already be booked up.
The others had come to a stop in front of a large barn, and Ren was busy talking to a middle-aged woman there. Lien crossed palms, and the woman came to take the horses. Blake allowed her own to be taken as well, and the eight of us soon formed a small circle out in the open courtyard.
"What's the plan?" Yang asked. "I wouldn't mind doing a little shopping. It's not every day you get to come see a place like this."
Weiss rolled her eyes. "We're here to work, Xiao-Long. We need to meet with the Captain of the Guard. He's the one who arranged for Toston's share of the Quest Reward, so we'll need him to sign off on it once we've killed the Grimm."
"What comes after that?"
"Once we find and introduce ourselves to him, I'll ask for any information on the Grimm, and also some more specific directions to the ruins it's said to occupy. We'll then go there and investigate." Weiss crossed her arms. "Did any of that fail to filter through your skull?"
"Yeah, one bit," Yang grinned. "It was the part where we'd need more than one person to speak to the Captain. Only one of us needs go. The rest can have a look around the area, right? Get a feel for the landscape and all that."
"The landscape or the market?" Weiss asked, unimpressed.
Yang smiled cockily.
"Ugh, fine. I suppose you're not wrong. If all of us try to seek out the Captain at once, we'll just get in each other's way. That is if the guards don't freak out and think this is an invasion or something." Weiss uncrossed her arms and ran a hand through her hair. "I'll go and speak with him. I'm the one with the map, so it only makes sense. I won't be more than an hour, though."
"We can meet by the entrance we just came through," Yang said. "There in an hour?"
"I'll go with Weiss," Pyrrha said, earning a nod of thanks.
"Ooh Renny – let's go see if they have any games!" Nora grabbed the Monk by the arm and dragged him away. Before he was gone, he still managed to hold up one finger and nod a promise to be at the gate when required.
"It might be fun to see what they have."
"Me an' Rubes will be there." Yang grinned and ran off, her sister in tow. Weiss rolled her eyes but stomped off in the direction of the main keep, while Pyrrha sent me and Blake a quick wave before she followed after the Mage.
Left behind, it was all Blake and I could do to exchange a quick shrug. "Shopping?" I suggested, not quite as against the idea as I tried to make it sound. Dad always said girls liked confidence, but my sisters had been quick to add a few other details. One thing I knew girls didn't like was clingy desperation.
"We might as well kill time," she agreed. "Is there anything you needed?"
"Apart from a better sword, no." I doubted I'd find that here, and it would be expensive even if I did. With the debt hanging over the Guild, I couldn't justify that kind of expense. "What about you?"
"I could use a new weapon too." Blake drew her dagger a fraction of the way out of its sheathe before she pushed it back in once more. "This is basic at best. Other than that, any armour or throwing knives might be nice." She eyed me curiously. "You don't look convinced that I'll find any. Why is that?"
"Experience," I said, and shrugged. I moved ahead and into the market, Blake beside me. "Weiss said Toston is a stopping point between places. That means they'll be shipping goods they bought cheap in one place and want to sell for a profit elsewhere. It's basic economics." Something my mother had drilled into me. What use was a Blacksmith who didn't know when he was being swindled? She wouldn't be around to help me forever, and all that. "Most of the time, that's taking something that's abundant in one region, and bringing it to somewhere it's not normally found."
"Wouldn't weaponry count as that?"
"It would, but it's a processed good. A merchant would have to buy the minerals at a place they're mined, pay a Blacksmith to forge it into something, then transport it across the Kingdom and sell it to a shop." I waved one hand, indicating a stall which was selling bars of iron and steel. "It's easier to do all of that with the metal itself. No matter where you go, there's bound to be someone who will buy that. It might even be a Blacksmith who wants to turn it into weapons. That means you don't have to sit around waiting for a buyer. Time is money for a trader. They want to be gone as soon as possible."
"And Toston is only a stopping point, not the destination," Blake said. "You know a lot about trading. I'm impressed."
"My parents taught me."
"They are NP- Labour Caste, are they not?"
I caught the slip, but didn't feel upset at it. In fact, I felt a little surge of warmth. It showed she was trying, and I knew it was for my benefit. "A Shopkeeper and a Blacksmith," I said, nodding. "Dad's the Smith in the relationship, but Mom's the one who sells all of his wares. She says it's because he would sell it all at cost value if she wasn't there to look after him."
"Is that the only reason they're together?"
"Considering she has eight children? I'm going to go with a no to that."
"Ah. I suppose that's rather compelling evidence." Blake paused a small distance away from the stand I'd pointed to earlier, the one with the metal. I came to a halt beside her and followed her gaze.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Your father is a Blacksmith. Would he be able to craft me some knives?"
I froze. "Eh?"
"I would pay him, of course." Blake's eyes flickered to mine and then away. "I'm not asking for charity or trying to take advantage."
"No, no," I said, waving my hands. "I didn't think that for a moment. I was just surprised." Surprised, but also a little anxious. I couldn't send something like this back to my Dad. He thought I was making a life for myself in Vale, spreading my wings as a Blacksmith. If I sent something like this back, he'd have questions. Questions of how I knew an Assassin and why she trusted me with something like this, or why she didn't just ask me to do it in the first place. Questions I couldn't answer.
Then again, who said I had to send the work back at all?
"You're thinking of buying the material here?" I said.
"It should be cheaper, right? If it reaches Vale, it will be sold to shops, and they'll convert them into weapons – charging a premium on top." Her eyes narrowed, looking over the stock. "There's also a chance the best of it will already be reserved for others, or made into things like swords and armour."
"Yeah, I guess." I walked up to the stall and stood beside her. "Bigger weapons tend to sell for more, so you might be onto something." I tried not to sound too excited. "If you buy it, I can have my Dad make them into knives for you. He'll make the best he can."
Or I would. It was the same thing in the end. So long as Blake got her weapon, it would be okay, right? It would also give me some valuable Exp, along with a chance to test out my Runesmithing on an actual weapon.
"Then that's what I'll do," Blake said. She looked to me. "You must have seen your father work the forge. Do you know which material would make the best weapon?"
Materials, huh? I was relieved for the excuse she'd inadvertently given me, and I looked over the assorted metals, most in bar form. "I know a few things," I said. My hand hovered over them for a moment, but quickly moved to a silvery bar off to the left. "This is Vacuan Silver," I said. "It's probably the most expensive here, but it's definitely the best in terms of quality. After that, there's a few different types of stee-"
"Silver?" Blake asked, eyes narrowed. "I wasn't aware that was any use in weapons…"
"Oh, it's not actual silver. It's a variant of steel mixed with a few other ferrous compounds, most of which give it a sheen like silver. It's stronger than steel, but can be brittle if used in large quantities. Suits of armour aren't very good if made from them, but weapons – particularly small ones – can have a keen cutting edge. It's also used in arrows for its ability to pierce through armour." I paused, realising I'd fallen into a lecturing mode, and on things I really shouldn't have known. "A-At least, that's what my Dad always told me."
Blake blinked twice. Her eyes drifted from me to the bar. "I see… You must have really listened well. I'm honestly impressed. It would be the best for a dagger, then?"
"It would be, yeah. But it would also be a bit expensive. It's four thousand for a single bar whenever some comes through Ansel, and that's even before the merchants add their own cut into I-"
"I'd like to take this please," Blake said to the man behind the counter. "Is four thousand lien adequate?"
The man behind the counter scowled. "You can have it for that so long as you leave. I'm trying to make a profit here. You're killing my trade."
What? I glanced around in confusion, but noticed Merchant was right. There was no one else around us, and now that I looked, a circle of empty space as people eyed us warily. It couldn't have been because we were Heroes. My eyes narrowed as I noticed two people in the uniform of the local militia hovering nearby. What was going on?
"That's fine, thank you." Blake reached into a pouch on her belt and drew out some coins, dropping for on the counter. The Merchant took it and pushed the bar towards her. He didn't lift or offer it to her, and Blake took it with a sigh. "Come on, Jaune. We're causing a scene."
"We're not doing anything."
"It doesn't matter." She grasped my wrist and dragged me away.
The Militia followed, but remained a specific distance away. It was clear they were watching us. It was also clear they knew I'd noticed them, for they hovered a little further back, wary expressions on their faces. Their hands remained on the hilt of their weapons.
"Friendly town," I grumbled. "Do they not like Heroes or something?"
"It's not Heroes. It's me." Blake kept her eyes off the two men and instead led me over to a well. She leaned against it, and like the last time, I noticed several townsfolk change their path to avoid us. Blake didn't seem upset. If anything, she looked used to it. "Ignore them," she said. "It's easier that way. They won't come close. I doubt those Soldier Caste people will even talk to us."
"They're following us because of your Class?"
"Naturally." Blake shrugged. "They're just doing their jobs. Don't take it personally."
It was a little late for that. I felt my own anger come to the fore and glared at them. They, in turn, looked more nervous, and one started to wave at someone on the wall. The impromptu staring contest was brought to an end when Blake drove her knuckles into my arm.
"Stop that. You'll only make it worse."
"Hard to see how I could do that," I said, massaging my bruised skin. Blake could hit hard. It was probably due to her elevated Level compared to mine. "You're not even bothered about this? They're looking at you like you're a criminal."
"I'm used to it."
"That doesn't make it okay."
Blake sighed and rolled her eyes. Although not angry, she looked at me with a somewhat annoyed expression. "What would you have me do? Confront them on it? That would only make things worse. I'm an Assassin, Jaune. It's not wrong of them to mistrust me. Nine times out of ten, what do you think an Assassin is doing in a town?"
"What happened to the benefit of the doubt?" I asked, ignoring her question.
"I expect it was thrown out of the window after several assassinations." Blake sighed. "Like I said, they're not wrong to think this way. I'm the anomaly when it comes to my kind. Their concern is warranted. At least they're only watching me and not trying to evict me. That already makes Toston more tolerant than many other towns."
"You don't have these problems in Vale…"
"Vale is the Capital City of the Kingdom. The laws there are more resolute, and the people more worldly. Besides, it's no different in some ways. You haven't seen me in the city itself, and for good reason. Most taverns and inns would refuse to serve me. Those that would tend to cater to… my kind."
"And what is your kind?"
"Don't get angry at me," Blake warned, eyes narrowed. "I don't create the rules. I'm explaining them to you. We're staying here for less than an hour. What does it matter if some people look at me like that? I got this at a low price." She hefted the Vacuan Silver before her, and then handed it over to me. "Things are easier at Beacon, and I'm happy with the way life is."
"Sorry," I said, accepting and stashing the bar away in my pack. I sighed and scratched the back of my head. "I didn't mean to snap like that. It's just…" I sighed and looked away. "I don't like the way they look at you. They wouldn't treat anyone else like this. It's not fair."
"It's not, and I appreciate the concern." Blake smiled and touched my hand with hers. I felt a jolt of heat, though judging by her expression, she didn't feel anything similar. Damn it, hormones. Not now. "That said, there's no reason to borrow trouble. Even on my behalf. Let's just wait for the others. We got what we came for."
I wasn't satisfied, not with the explanation or the state of affairs, but I gave in nonetheless. Blake was right on one thing; there was little I could do to change how the people here acted. If I challenged the Militia, then they'd just have more people watch us – or ask us to leave entirely. Instead, I took the subject change for what it was and tried for a convincing smile. "Yeah, I suppose we did. I can't believe you bought it in one go, though. You could have had a dagger made from something a little cheaper."
"You said it was the best. Was that wrong?"
"No. It's just that it's expensive."
"I can afford it." Blake smiled coyly. "Unlike a certain someone, I put a little more care into where I purchased my lodging from."
"Wow, thanks," I joked, throwing a lazy punch towards her shoulder. It never got near, of course. She could have dodged or blocked it ten times over, and likely killed me in as many different ways. Instead, she smiled and leaned away with a laugh. "Are you saying I don't think things through? That's a little harsh."
"Well, you don't see me doing reckless things like that, do you?"
"Does that mean what almost happened in the cabin in Atlas was intentional?"
Blake's cheeks flushed red. She turned instantly and slammed her fist into my arm – and this time, there was no gentleness to it. I yelped and staggered back.
"What was that for!?"
"If I have to tell you, then you're an idiot," she growled, face still crimson.
Okay, ouch. So that was still off-limits. I sighed but knew better than to push, no matter how much I wanted to. I could still vividly remember what had happened there. It was hard to forget it. I wasn't sure I wanted to, even if that made things complicated.
Looked like I wouldn't be getting any answers from Blake, however. I had a feeling if I mentioned it again; she'd strike me with the pommel of her dagger rather than her fist. Naturally, she'd tell everyone else I'd tried to impress her with my horse riding skill, fallen off and knocked myself unconscious.
No, that was a little fanciful for her. She'd likely just walk and refuse to ever talk to me again, which was only about ten times worse. I sighed and kept my thoughts to myself. Things had been going so well, too. Me and my big mouth.
Weiss and Pyrrha's return to the gate saved me from the awkward atmosphere, luckily. The others were on their way, too, each coming from different directions. It didn't look like the shopping trips had been overly successful, though Nora was sporting a new scarf in bright green. It didn't really suit her, but I had a feeling no one would dare point that out. The smile on her face said she liked it. That was probably only because Ren had bought it for her.
"We've spoken to the Captain," Weiss said, getting straight to the point. "He's marked the location of the ruins for us. Is everyone ready?"
"I think so," I said, waiting for any complaints. There were none. "Well, we might as well see what we're dealing with."
Hopefully, it wouldn't be anything too out of the ordinary.
"These are the ruins?" I asked. "Somehow, I imagined something more."
We'd just crested the hill after a short and rocky climb. It wasn't so much a mountain as a raised platform I half-expected had been man made over a thousand years ago. Now, it was a grassy and rocky plateau. Atop that, the ruins of whatever this had been stood, but they were broken down and ragged – with several pillars and archways half-buried into the grass. Moss and lichen had taken over what remained.
"What did you expect?" Ren huffed, climbing up beside me. The Monk had handled the exertion far worse than I had, but that was nothing compared to Weiss, who looked like she was dying. Ren shook some sweat from his brow. "It's a ruin. Those don't tend to stay in one piece."
"The ones in Atlas were fairly well preserved. I guess I thought this would be like that."
"The Fang was a mostly inaccessible mountain filled with Grimm. This is a tall hill less than a quarter of a mile off the main road, which has until recently been fairly safe." Ren collapsed down and took a few deep breaths. "This place would have been picked clean by treasure seekers decades ago. Children probably used to play here, too. Not to mention local builders would repurpose the material."
He probably had a point. I hummed my agreement as I leaned over the edge and extended a hand, helping Ruby up onto the top, and then reaching down for Weiss as well. The two whispered their thanks and slumped beside Ren, panting. The others had no problem with the climb, having far more Constitution. Nora looked eager for more, while Blake had scaled the rocks with like some kind of mountain goat.
"If you're winded from this, then I'm not sure how we're supposed to fight the Grimm atop here," I said. "If it can fly, it's going to pick us off the hillside while we're exposed."
"We'll – ha – think of something," Weiss said between harsh breaths. She made to continue talking, but gave up with a groan and pressed her face to the wet grass. "I hate this."
"What, exertion?" Yang cackled. "You could stand to work on your stamina, princess."
Weiss growled something back, but I ignored them and moved warily into the ruins. There wasn't much need for caution since I could see from one side of the plateau to the other. There was definitely no Grimm here, and the few standing walls there were definitely couldn't have hidden one larger than a Canis.
"What are we looking for?" I called back to the others.
"Evidence," Weiss said, waving a hand. "Any sign of it being or having been here at some point."
"Clearly, the information about its nest being here was mistaken," Pyrrha said.
"There are plenty of places that could be," I said, and nodded to the nearby mountains and hills. "We know it hunts here, or in the general area."
That ought to be enough for us to find something, and as the others slowly recovered, they too began to filter and spread out. As the seconds ticked into minutes, and those flew by in peaceful quiet, I even started to relax. The sun was high in the sky, the birds were chirping, and there was neither hide nor hair of any Grimm.
It only comes out at night, or so the people claim. If it's nocturnal, then it makes sense we're fine now. I stepped down into a lower area, little more than a grassy indentation in the otherwise flat landscape. It might have been a building at some point, but all that remained was a cracked wall about two feet high, and some scattered blocks buried into the soil. This place is so small. Even if it was filled out to the edge of the hilltop, it could have only housed a hundred or so people. Were communities back then so tiny, or was the area bigger?
Erosion or some kind of earthquake might have accounted for that. Ultimately, it was impossible to say, and as I knelt to brush dust and moss from a chunk of stone, it didn't hold any answers. It was just an ornate and gilded slab of marble, etched with strange signs and words I didn't understand. It was an ancient language of some sort, likely one long forgotten. Rather than letters, the alphabet seemed to be made up of... of runes…
No. No way… Could it be?
I looked back over my shoulder, but everyone else was busy, and it wasn't like I was doing anything suspicious anyway. Could these actually be runes, and if so, would they work with my Runesmithing? It was impossible to say, but the mere idea sent a thrill through my body. I reached down to trace a finger across the carved symbols.
I didn't feel anything magical from them. Then again, what was I supposed to feel? If Runes only activated if you had the required Skill, then these would just be words and letters carved into rock. For me, they might be different. It was worth the risk.
The rock was too big to move. I gripped and tugged until my fingers turned white, but there could have been several feet more of it buried under rock and dirt. I gave up with a sigh, then reached into my backpack and rummaged around for some paper. There was a notepad I'd included from class, some kind of animal-skin parchment on the pages. I pressed it against the rock, pulling it as tight as I could and checked the floor for something to use. There was no charcoal, but some of the rocky deposits nearby looked to have some chalk content in them. Taking one, I gently rubbed it against the animal skin, covering it in white dust. The parts where the runes were carved pressed down instead, avoiding the chalk.
The finished product was rough and dusty, but about as good as I'd get. The absence of chalk in thin lines proved where the Runes were, and I could take a stick of charcoal and mark them out later. It was better than anything else I had, and I rolled it carefully back into my bag. Not a moment too soon as well, for Nora yelled out that she'd found something.
"What is it?" I asked, pushing through the others as they crowded around the area. "Did you find some sign of-" My words trailed off. "Never mind…"
Nora hadn't so much found Grimm tracks as she had a battlefield. The ground was torn up viciously, and several rocks nearby had great gouges in them. It was new damage. Even I could tell that. The soil was brown and hadn't had a chance to settle, or for grass to grow over it. It looked like something had fought to the death here, and the lack of a body didn't do much for my confidence of their survival.
"I guess this proves it's a flying Grimm," Pyrrha said.
Did it? I turned to her. "How so…?"
"There are no tracks leading to or from this area. Whatever caused this must have landed, done this damage, and then taken off once more."
Oh right. I scratched my cheek in embarrassment. That seemed pretty obvious now that she'd pointed it out, but no one bothered to comment on my mistake. Nora skipped forward and started to investigate the rocks nearby. I had no idea what she was looking for, but trusted her to it. She knew her tracks better than I did.
"What do we do now?" I asked instead, directing my question to the group. "We know the Grimm frequents the area, but I don't fancy our chances looking for the nest."
"It could be anywhere," Blake agreed. "By air, the distance from here to the nearby mountains would be a short one. There are at least a thousand different locations to check. We would never find it."
"That's if it's still alive in the first place," Yang added. "What's to say this isn't the scene of another Hero completing the Quest? There are the older years at Beacon, not to mention the everyday Heroes earning a living."
"Wouldn't the Quest have been marked as complete?"
"Not until Beacon learned about it. It takes time for news to travel."
I sighed. "True…"
Weiss crossed her arms and sighed. "Whatever the situation, we intended to watch the area and scout out our enemy either way. We can ascertain for ourselves whether the Grimm is still alive. All we need to do is camp here tonight."
"Here?" I asked, shocked. "We'll be attacked."
"Not right here… and we won't be sleeping. It's the middle of the afternoon now. My suggestion is that we camp and sleep early, then wake up before the sun sets and work through the night." She turned her head to the side, nodding to Blake. "We have someone who can see in the dark, after all. Blake's eyes will tell us what happens atop this place. Once we know what type of Grimm this is, we'll be able to make plans for-"
"It's a Griffon," Nora interrupted, a wide grin on her face.
"It's. A. Griffon." The Barbarian repeated, saying each word slowly, as though to explain it to a particularly stupid child. She giggled. "I can tell by the markings. It's a pretty big one, but not a Wyrm like the people thought."
"You can tell what type of Grimm it is just from its tracks?" Yang asked. "Wow. I'm impressed."
"It's not too hard. Here, look." Nora skipped over to the tracks. Yang blinked but followed after, and I decided to as well, curious to see what she'd figured out and how. She knelt by a nearby rock and pointed to it. "You see these marks here? Those are claw marks carved into the rock. There are four of them in a straight line."
"Does that mean something?" I asked, tracing the marks.
"It means it was done in one go. Unless someone thought to repeat them over and over, which would be weird for a Grimm. Anyway, that means it's a Grimm with four claws – and they're pretty small compared to the rest of its body since we know it's a big beastie. Griffons have paws instead of talons, and they've got four fore claws and one backwards facing one."
"Hence, it couldn't be a Nevermore or something else," Yang finished. "Nice. It's pretty simple when you think about it, but I didn't even think to look."
"Yeah, not many people do." Nora laughed. "I like reading tracks. It's like a treasure hunt!"
Except that the treasure was a huge monster that wanted to eat your face. Then again, knowing Nora, that was probably part of the appeal. What a girl. I didn't envy Ren on that one. "Does this change anything?" I asked, turning back to Weiss. "If we already know what it is, then do we still need to scout it out?"
"We should still make sure it is a Grimm," the Mage replied. "Wasn't that the problem with your last Quest?"
Ugh. She had a point. That was where Ruby and I had failed, trusting our own instincts and not doing anything to verify that the renegade villagers were alone.
"If we know what it is, then we can fight it tonight, though," she added. "Griffons are strong. They're classified as Elder Grimm, but we should be strong enough to take a lone one down. I've heard they're weaker than a Beowolf in actual combat."
"It's the location that will be the real problem," Ren said. "According to what I've read, Griffons are adept at using flight to their advantage. It hardly helps that we'll be fighting it at night, and on treacherous terrain. Without knowing where its nest is, we're forced to fight on its terms."
"Could we watch it tonight and have Blake track where it flies away?"
The Assassin shook her head. "My eyes aren't that good. The moment it flies behind a hill or some trees, I'll lose it. It's not going to leave tracks in the air, either."
I sighed. "We have to fight it here, then?"
"Pretty much," Yang said, kicking a rock away. "It'll be a pain, but if the moon comes out, we'll have some light to work with. I say we don't even engage if it's overcast."
"Yang…" Ruby whispered.
"No. Yang's right." I said. "We're liable to break a leg if we try to fight in the dark. The locals know better than to come out at night nowadays, so I doubt it'll make a difference if this thing lives an extra day or two." I looked to Ruby, eyes firm. "This isn't like Eldon. The people aren't going to starve if we take a little time to be careful."
Ruby looked away and refused to respond. I sighed and ran a hand through my hair. Great. Had I managed to upset her?
"From what I see, the biggest problems are the fact it flies and the fact we'll have to fight it at night," Ren mused. "I wonder if there's any way for us to account for that."
"We could take out its wings," Nora suggested.
"How would we do that? None of us use bows, and we can't wheel a ballista up here."
"Where there's a will, there's a way."
"Right now, I have neither of those things," Ren sighed. "It's not like we'd be able to hit it anyway. The Griffon will be too fast in the air. We need some way to force it to land."
I blinked and looked around at the area, recalling the Quest brief we'd all read through back at Beacon. The Grimm attacked camps and travellers, drawn by the fire they used to light the way. I looked back to the ruins and smiled as a crazy plan sprung to life. We knew exactly where the Grimm would strike. We knew the terrain we'd be fighting on, and had free time to prepare it in whatever way we liked.
"I don't like that expression," Blake hissed. She'd noticed the look on my face, namely the large grin. "You're about to suggest something foolish. I can just tell."
I grinned at her.
"I think I have an idea…"
Well, another chapter out and the adventure continues. Jaune has an idea, Blake agonises, and the Grimm await. Is it a Grimm, or will it be bandits pretending to be Grimm? Will it be a Grimm pretending to be bandits who are pretending to be Grimm? Or is it all just a dream. Do any of them exist?
Do we exist? Or has your imagination simply created this world you call life, but which might be the result of a dream~
Next Chapter: 17th July
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