Chapter 35

Driving across Vacao was rather uneventful. The road, as much as it could be called so, was only two lanes wide of compacted dirt. Everything around it for miles on end was just desert. Occasionally there'd be turns that had no signs to label them, or automobiles coming from the other direction. So far the trend seemed to lean more towards trucks or RVs.

It was about three hours in when we pulled off on one of those turn offs. I didn't see where we were going until a small building peeked out from the horizon. As we approached I saw the building had an overhang where two other vehicles were stationed with a closed garage on the left. Shyam was currently driving and pulled in under the overhang. I still squinted as I looked at it, then him.

"Where is this?"

"A stop, a friend of mine owns it." He said simply before opening the driver's side door and getting out.

Albus, who'd traded places with Shyam, looked at the building with visible relief as he opened the door. "Thank goodness, I thought I might have had to pull out a bottle." The older man quickly exited the car, trailing after his bodyguard.

Opal followed, which left me alone with Oobleck and Tukson, who'd fallen asleep again in the long drive. Oobleck started stretching and set his book down on the seat.

"We should go stretch our limbs. Also I believe I see that there is a cantina inside, so we should eat as well."

"I'm fine." I replied, though a growl from the front seat and a side eye from Tukson said the words had their effect on him. Shrugging, I let out a sigh, "Well alright then. Can you pass back Danny?"

Tukson looked at me blearily for a moment before noticing my tom had laid down on his lap. "When did he get here?"

"After his bath." I said as I held out my hand and Tukson handed him back.

The large man opened the door and nearly stumbled out of the car. He probably had pins and needles from sitting so long. Oobleck somehow made it over to him fairly quickly as he closed the door. I paused as they stepped away before looking at the car, "Wait, it isn't locked."

"Who has the keys?" Tukson asked, looking around.

"Shyam, though, even if we had them, who would be around to take it?" Oobleck gestured around to the empty space.

I rolled my eyes and looked at the truck, "Well I guess I'll just take care of it."

Two men lay on the dune that overlooked the small pit stop. Finally, FINALLY they'd stopped somewhere. They hadn't been allowed to try when they were close to the city, but out here there was no chance of reinforcements coming. Attacking on the road was too much of a risk of them being run off or shot. There was at least one huntsman with them, after all. From this angle they could see the far side of the saloon and could confirm the target entering it.

"What do you think?" The thinner man said to his compatriot, "Should we knock in and take hostages?"

"I think that's a bad idea. Even if we get the jump on the huntsman, the owner will definitely have a piece on them. Plus you saw that big guy walking with the target, he's probably hired muscle." He pulled out the binoculars and stood up, "We'll do some sabotage and hit them further up the road."

"If you think so." The thinner man answered as he stood, "Really wish they'd let us bring more."

"This is supposed to just be a snatch and grab, once the target gets out in the open we'll swipe them then get a move on. Couldn't be easier." He said as he slid down the dune and started jogging past. The thinner man shrugged and followed as he glanced over towards the cantina. They'd have to move quickly since they had no idea how long they'd have to do this.

"So what do you think? Cut the dust line, let it trail, or do we hit the breaking fluid instead?" The thinner man asked as they moved forward.

"Breaking fluid could cause a crash, we can't risk injuring the target. Our info says they don't have an awakened aura." The bigger guy responded.

"Right, the boss prefers it that way, doesn't he?" He stretched his arms behind his head, "You think we'll get a proper reward for this once we're done?"

"Who knows, but it's for the best. We'll be able to work more freely if we can get the target. We just need to make a situation where we can properly get them." The bigger guy said, "We just- what the fuck?"

The thinner man looked past his companion and blinked. It wasn't there. There was a sand buggy and a truck, but no van like the target was moving in. "What? Where did it go?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know... wait," The bigger man went over to the garage. "Did they bring it in for repairs?" He walked forward and peered into the small window of the garage, squinting. "It's dark, get over here and see if you can find it with those faunus eyes of yours."

The thin man nodded, the thin wisps of hair on his head falling past the tiny horns he filed down for convenience more than anything. Walking over, he peered into the darkness of the garage, only to find it empty, "Not there. You think someone took off with it?"

"While we were watching the road?" The bigger man asked.

"Well, there goes our plan then, unless you want to go in." He gestured to the cantina. The bigger man thought about it and shook his head.

"We don't want to tip them off to the tail. We'll watch the door and see how they leave." The bigger man sighed as they walked past and out wafted the smell of cooking food. It didn't take much for their stomachs to growl.

Rubbing his eyes the larger one looked around, "Let's see if they have a pick up window."

They only took about twenty minutes to pick up food before they were on the road again. Still, it took another three hours before they finally got to the dig site, with the sun already sinking below the horizon.

It wasn't the longest trek of travel Bart had ever endured, but he still sorely missed the much faster bullheads that they weren't able to utilize. He knew the reasons why, both the practical ones and the safety ones, but he was still rather stiff when they finally arrived at the dig. The area was near a set of low to the ground mesas that flanked a ravine that likely used to be a river that cut through the area and had since dried up. That was the key point to this excavation, as water meant civilization, and indeed as they pulled up he saw the tell tale tents that were stretched over the sides of the ravine which were being dug out.

They were greeted by about half a dozen people, a small group of young people, and one additional huntsman who'd been sent ahead by Albus to secure the site. They'd all come in a single vehicle but had to stall since they didn't have much of their own supplies until they arrived. At least that was the case, until Ume started unloading everything she had brought from her bafflingly large amount of storage.

Looks of shock and amazement as well as several questions came from the college age volunteers, but Ume deflected them with practice. It didn't take long after that for Albus to get them, as well as Opal, back on task to unpacking several trucks worth of supplies. Tukson, despite not being a part of this, offered his services. Though not huntsman strong, the large muscular man was likely a welcome addition to the chore.

Shayam met with his fellow huntsman and started discussing things in detail with him, getting up to speed. The other man, a bald fellow with a pair of sickles, immediately gave him the security run down on which Bart was certain he'd be briefed once they finished chatting. That left him with the original person he'd invited to all this, and her cat who lazed around her shoulders like a scarf.

After depositing the goods that were asked of her she found a spot in the shade of the mesa, not hard with the setting sun, and pulled out a chair as well as her scroll. Her skin unnaturally darkened by one of her paper seals, her clothing changed to being nondescript and baggy, and her expression focused on the screen; she looked no different than your average Vacoan child playing with the device. Which was what made all the mysteries that surrounded her all the stranger.

Her head didn't tilt up at Bart's approach, though one of her eyes glanced in his direction before she returned it to the screen.

"Are you still looking for service?" It was a simple enough question.

She shook her head, "I downloaded a book with tips for the types of threats we'd find in the desert before we left the city. Thought I'd read up."

"Ah, isn't that something you could have done on the ride over here?" He inquired.

"No, I can't read in cars. It makes me dizzy." She clicked the side of the scroll and the screen went dark before a pair of brown eyes that should have been grey tilted up to meet his, "You want to talk about my past now?"

"I would like to, yes," Bart leaned his back against the mesa and lowered himself slowly until he was seated. This put him at just a little below her eye level. "But if you wish to wait, we can."

"No, I can talk." Ume said as she stowed her scroll and rested her head back against the stone. Her single hand moved into unfamiliar motions and she muttered something under her breath. Suddenly the air warped around them. Bart tilted his head forward, his eyes looking over his glasses to the sudden change. "That'll keep anyone from overhearing. Not that I think they'll be interested."

"I suppose that has a lot to do with what you have to say." Bart replied as he reached out a hand and touched the shimmering air. It felt like a particularly thick mist somehow, though his fingers did not come away at all wet."There are quite a bit of questions I have, about where you're from, and what you're capable of. I think a lot of us are well aware this is beyond simply using techniques to manipulate aura. While a flexible tool in and of itself, the sheer amount of utility you show is beyond what a single person should be capable of, at least, without the use of dust."

"Dust mages, yes, I've heard that term. Utilizing the energy with aura or other tools to create a specific effect." Ume closed her eyes and let out a breath, "There's a lot, a whole lot, maybe I should start from the beginning. Or a beginning. You've heard creation myths before, I presume."

"Indeed I have. Almost every culture has one, usually based on what they value or believe, though there are usually several keystones that show them based on events in history. Like a great calamity, the fracturing of a covenant with the gods, as well as the first users of dust being instructed by said gods." Bart had read dozens of those.

"Well, mine isn't as specific." Ume tapped the side of her leg, "Have you ever heard of the rabbit on the moon?"

"I have not." There were several myths about the moon, how it was shattered, that it was an act of the gods of their displeasure, or that it was a goddess who was injured gravely in a battle, or that a giant ursa had taken a bite out of it.

Ume nodded as she began to speak. "Where I am from, there is no recorded history beyond the time of endless war. This wasn't the fifteen years ago war, this was something like a few hundred to a thousand years ago at least, no one's entirely sure how long, but our world was at constant war. The start of which was lost to time. Bloodshed was an everyday occurrence, tribes of people in constant conflict, no rest, no quarter, just death." Her voice was even as she spoke, but her eyes were far away.

"The gods by this point had been long forgotten. Lost in the destruction that such an all encompassing conflict creates, so with no worshippers or followers the gods were set aside while the bloodshed continued. Or at least, all the gods but one." She breathed in, "Her name was Kaguya, the goddess of the moon, and which circled the earth and watched the eternal war. Every day she saw the blood staining the earth, and every day, she grew more distressed, until one day, she looked down upon the battlefield and saw a single man holding the line against an enemy force.

He was protecting the retreating backs of non combatants as they fled. He held the force as long as he could, but started to succumb to his wounds. As the attackers tried to strike the final blow she could take it no longer and descended to the earth. The sight stunned the attackers, who dropped their weapons and fled from her appearance. She ran to the man she saw dying and started to weep over him, 'Do not perish, wait here, I will mend your wounds.' She pleaded. The man smiled up at her and said, 'I do not think it is a shame for me to perish, for my last sight would be something so beautiful and so rare, as for someone to be so kind as to weep for my death.'

'It does not need to be so. I can heal you, you are wise and noble. Surely you must live.' The man shook his head, 'I died doing what I could, that is all man can ask to do. But if you wish to honor my passing, please find my people, and give them protection.' With those words he fell to his wounds and she continued to cry, but she rose from the ground after and flew after those who fled. They led her soon enough to a small settlement where a single man led them. She spoke to the man and heard his pleas. The man who died on the battlefield was his brother, and he wanted his death to not be in vain. So they begged her to end the conflict and the war. This brought her at an impasse, she had already broken the laws of the gods by treading on mortal lands, if she interfered more, she would be exiled completely. Then she remembered the words, that the man dying, did what he could, and as a goddess she was capable of so much more. So she with the settlement took up arms and repelled the enemy forces easily, subjugating them. Though problems started to occur.

When she came to earth she bound herself to a single form, which meant she was unable to help all of the growing number of people in her care at once. If she was not around, the forces would falter and die from their enemies who would swarm to try and take back anything they'd lost. So she made a plan to help those whom she protected be able to protect themselves. She entered the realm of the gods and stole something sacred from them and brought it down to her people. Then she gave it out freely, so that even while she was gone, they could learn to protect themselves. A gift beyond giving, that allowed them to use the powers of the gods. The gift called chakra."

Ume held out a hand and made a small ball of light, "Though she intended for it to protect her people, giving them a small amount meant that it was only a matter of time before it was spread to all humans. At the same time, other gods had realized that she had descended and took their cue to do the same. Some of them chose specific people to watch over, offering deals for power and worship, while some took the mortal realm as a new battleground in which they could flex their power. Raijin, the god of thunder, and Fujin, the god of wind, were legendary in their squabbles in which they would destroy and change entire landscapes as they warred.

The gods weren't the only ones to fight. With their new powers, the people of each land developed their skills, some given by the gods, some crafted on their own, into weapons with which they escalated the wars. In the meantime though, there was a reprieve where Kaguya in her limited form thought her people safe and settled down with the leader of the original settlement, giving birth to twin sons, Hagoromo and Hamura. In relative safety they lived, until the other factions developed their skills enough to start the endless war anew, this time with such heavy casualties entire populations disappeared in a blink.

By the time Kaguya realized what had happened, so many people had died that their spirits started to linger en masse and weep into the night at the unfairness of it all. Driven with grief and anger at what the interference of herself and the gods had done, Kaguya reached out and sought to tear from the humans the power she had given them to reset everything back to zero. Unfortunately, this was many decades later, the power had fused with them so wholly, that she couldn't take it back without killing all who were touched by it, which caused more mass death.

The other gods fled from Kaguya's rampage back to the heavens, as she was an elder god against which they could not contend. But two who could contend with her did battle to stop her from wiping away the humans from the earth. Her sons, now fully grown, worked together to fight her to a standstill before ultimately sealing back onto the moon, where she originally resided. From her vantage on the moon, Kaguya could once again see the world as a whole, and all the destruction and suffering her actions caused. Weeping uncontrollably she screamed into the darkness, wishing for an end to the pain, but knowing none would come to an immortal like her. Hearing her cries, her sons, after finishing stabilizing the world, ascended, each one flanking the realm of their mother so they could comfort her, for all eternity. That is why on each side of the moon, there are exceptionally bright stars that follow it no matter where it is in the sky." Ume finished the tale by pulling bottled water out of her sleeve and taking a deep drink.

Bart looked at her for a few moments, blinking. It wasn't the usual creation story, "That is a very interesting creation myth. Not one I've heard before, certainly."

"Yes," She said, "Cultural differences I think. I like the lesson, you shouldn't just give what you think is help without thinking about the consequences. But, that's not the reason I started with that. That is..." Ume pointed out towards the horizon, where the moon showed. It was in the cycle where it showed it's shattered crescent towards the world of remnant.

Now that Bart thought about it, oddly enough, it was a myth about the moon, that at no point mentioned why it was shattered. Something that was in every myth around the moon, "What is it that you are implying?"

"I'm saying that I don't know how true that myth is, if any of it is true, but that where I am from, the moon, Kaguya does go through the sky every night. That there are two particularly bright stars that flank it to the north and southern side, and that at no point, no matter where in the world I was, was it ever shattered like that." She said.

"And that means?" Bart asked, still not completely following.

"That means, that isn't Kaguya, that isn't the moon I know, because this isn't the world I know." Ume looked at him, "It isn't the world I know because where I am from, there are no grim, there is no dust, and there is no shattered moon. I'm not from this world, Oobleck. I'm from another one entirely."

Happy New Year Everyone!

So been working on this for a while, gosh is everything so hectic.

If you haven't heard, I'll be posting new alternate world Ume Stories on my website, lynettebaconnguyen . com.

I'm also gonna try to update every other Friday with new chapters (Main story will update, next Friday).

Regardless, have a good new year, and leave reviews!