The sound of shuffling fabric and hastily clunking materials echoed inside the Branwen Tribe tent as Yang made a shoddy rucksack out of a piece of cloth tied to a stick. In this sack, she piled in any food she could scrounge from within the tent, knowing full well that after they escaped the Branwen Tribe's camp, that they'd need food and supplies to make the journey back to civilization.
Ruby, Emerald, and Weiss watched Yang work in silence. None acting to stop her. For Ruby and Weiss, it was more out of shock, but for Emerald, it was because she agreed with Yang on this point. They really did need to get out of the bandit tribe before her Semblance was seen through.
It was only after Yang finished tying up the rucksack and gestured mutedly to Ruby that Weiss snapped out of her daze.
"Excuse me?" Weiss's features pinched as she anxiously tried to rationalize what was happening. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I said we're leaving," Yang replied curtly.
Weiss wet her lips; her mouth dry. "Yes well, I'm in full agreement with such an arrangement, but shouldn't it start with undoing my restraints if we are to escape? Y-Your discipline and candor as rescuers is bad enough, but you obviously can't be planning to just leave me here!"
Emerald had no reaction, while Yang was too preoccupied to register anything Weiss had just said. Therefore, the only one who reacted was Ruby whose eyes shifted suspiciously.
Ruby stared back, flinching, while twiddling her thumbs.
"A-As if we'd ever think of leaving you and putting up with you for the entire journey back to Vale. O-Of course not. Not in our lives unless we had no choice and oh nonono!" Ruby's eyes had swirling patterns as she hooked an arm around Yang's, startling her. "Yang's dragging me away- Yang pull me, hurry."
"I can hear you, you immature brat!" Weiss felt the urge to cry, but beyond that was frustration as she balled her hands into fists.
"Hey! That's my sister you're talking to!" Yang rebutted out of instinct, momentarily breaking her out of her single-mindedness.
Weiss gnashed her teeth, feeling ganged up on. "Weren't you trying to leave?" She ground out, only to regret it a second later.
"Yeah, you're right actually." Yang's features grew anxious once more. "Ruby, get what you can and let's go."
"Wait, you're supposed to take me with you!" Weiss protested, causing her to topple over, but it didn't stop her from inching over the floor towards them due to the ropes and rum barrel casing that bound her. If asked at a later point, she'd argue vehemently that she 'inched' forward and not 'rolled' in a demeaning manner when everyone ignored her whining.
"Idiots," Emerald palmed her face.
Well, this really could have gone better, but she agreed with Yang and began helping to look for anything useful in the tent in hopes of successfully retreating out of the Branwen Tribe.
As for the question of what happened to demoralize Yang so much? The only one dwelling on the issue was Ruby out of concern for her elder sister.
"Yang?" Ruby called.
"It's nothing Ruby, don't worry about it," Yang countenance darkened, but beyond it was a glimmer of apprehension.
It was one thing to confidently demand an explanation from her mother who left her as a child, but it was another thing to already know the reason why and know that she hadn't been good enough.
'You're not wanted. You're too weak.'
Her inner voice hauntingly resounded in her head as they did the first time that she'd heard those words. Different from before though, she'd had support from someone who could understand what she was going through.
She shuddered, lips pursing before she tentatively held onto the handle of a dagger she always kept on her person.
[If you ever need me, think strongly of me, and I'll come.]
If you asked her before, Yang wasn't the type to believe in the concept of magic in a children's fairy tail story, but after Mt. Glenn and her own experiences with the supernatural, she believed.
The dagger in her hands was one such magic item that she felt tied her intimately close with Archer. It was her most cherished personal belonging.
Yang hadn't done this in years since she first promised to use this magic dagger only in times of danger, but she needed him right now, some form of support that wasn't Ruby who was ignorant of what was going on.
Taking out the dagger Archer had given her on their first mission to stop a terrorist bombing together, she shut her eyes, held it tightly, and waited with bated breath.
She needed him here. She couldn't deal with her mother on her own, right now.
'I need you. I need you right now.'
No one else seemed to understand what Yang was doing, Emerald going to the extent of rolling her eyes, while Ruby stared precociously until the rustling of the tent's flaps startled them all.
Yang's anxiety gradually abated, her features softening until she let out a sniffle at the figure that walked in and nodded at her. "You're late," she chuckled while wiping at her eyes, she puffed her chest up and grinned, only to be batted aside as Emerald hastily moved past her while trying to find her voice.
"A-Archer you were here? Scarlet said you went to the Grimmlands…" Suddenly Emerald wasn't so inattentive anymore, one hand twirling her finger around a locket of her hair as she blushed and shyly glanced at her feet.
"Emerald reporting on a mission to investigate bandit raids on the settlements of Anima," Emerald eked out, absently pushing the ball of her right foot over the ground.
Emerald stood a few feet away from Shirou in Archer's guise, acting all innocent and precious. Every woman acted differently in one way or another when a special someone was nearby, often to an endearing extent.
Groaning as she picked herself into a seated crouch, a growl escaped Yang's lips. Scowling darkly at the sight before her, her brow twitched before the appearance of her mother abruptly stepping into the tent rendered her mute and frozen until Archer noticed and stood near her for support.
The two made eye contact, but this time Yang managed to hold her ground as she felt 'Archer' reassuringly place a hand over her shoulder. In comparison, Raven wasn't faring quite as well. You could tell from her demeanor, but she was brooding and in a terrible mood.
Ruby's eyes darted back and forth from Yang to Raven and back as everything began to dawn on her.
Meanwhile, an utterly silent Weiss began to entertain the notion that her would-be rescuers may be in cahoots with her kidnappers. However, the hostility in the air left her teetering on the edge of making a decision.
"I take it we won't be escalating things?" Shirou asked Raven who was looking from Yang, then to everyone else present.
Shirou ended up shielding Yang away from Raven's view lest things devolve considering Yang had gotten her second wind and was openly glaring.
Emerald seemed a tad put off with Shirou's support of Yang, but she'd long since figured that Yang hadn't been lying about being acquainted with Archer. Was the blond really going to be part of the mercenaries though?
Emerald felt a tinge of depression setting in.
"No," Raven replied curtly. "Now why are you all trespassing on Branwen grounds?"
Shirou looked towards Emerald who got the cue. Between him and the actual Archer, it was obvious that Archer was more acquainted with Emerald. It was best not to try and blow his cover with being too overly familiar. Emerald was the one who too on this mission anyway.
"There was a bounty notice to investigate and deal with recent settlement raids in Anima," Emerald placed her arms over her hips, staring piercingly at Raven. "Word is that the Branwen's are involved."
Raven narrowed her eyes in scorn. "The Branwen tribe has nothing to do with recent settlement raids. If it was us, we'd have done a much better job looting than whatever amateur orchestrated the attacks. They were too rough and violent. Anything of value too ruined to even salvage."
"Y-You actually attack people?" Yang stammered at the information. It was explicitly admitted, but Raven's words all but implied the kind of tribe she led. "Y-You abandoned me, dad, Ruby, Qrow, family for this!"
Something snapped in Raven's mind. It was her restraint.
"Tai abandoned me." She seethed, breathing deeply. "He never suspected, never listened, never tried to understand what I was going through, what I knew! He trusted the words of a snake more than the instincts of his own wife!"
What was worse, was that Ozpin had been hiding even more from her than she'd thought, and it was the most crucial factor too. Archer's existence and a means to end the secret war. Would she have left so willingly if she knew a chance at victory in existed?
Raven half-suspected now that Ozpin had wanted her marital status with Tai to break so that Summer could swoop in and produce a spawn carrying the special properties of Summer's Silver Eyes for the next generation. It was no secret to Raven that Summer had been developing feelings for her man in their team days, and without Raven around, Summer would have all the opportunity. If not for how well Raven knew her team, and the bonds that they shared, she would have suspected that perhaps Summer had been implicit in the affair.
Then again, this could all just be regret on her part, twisting her logic and reasoning.
What's past was past, and whatever relationship she had left with her team and family wasn't worth breaking anymore for Ozpin's sake.
It didn't mean it didn't hurt or mentally scar her though.
Yang wilted under the intensity of Raven's outburst. The emotion and feelings of betrayal were genuine. "…Then what about me?" She whispered softly and unheard, her bangs drooping.
With a great deal of will power, Raven ignored Yang and looked hard at Archer who asked the most relevant question.
"And how can you be certain of the Branwen tribe's innocence?"
"Because I'm the leader and my words are law," she stated with conviction. "If anyone has a problem with that, then they're welcome to challenge me. This is my family here, and I'm their leader."
"Family?" Yang's lilac pupils shifted into an angry red. She'd had it with this self-centred woman she called her own mother. "Then what about dad, uncle Qrow…Me?!"
Raven held her tongue, only Shirou noticing that her entire body had frozen altogether at the accusation, preventing her from even trying to reply back.
Yang didn't take the silence well, her Semblance practically shifting into overdrive as anger and resentment fueled it.
"I, argh! You, I-I can't stand you!" Yang nearly pulled at her hair, but what really got to Raven was the despondency on Yang's face. "I challenge you if only for dad's sake! Call him what you will, but he's not someone who'd abandon his family! I'll beat the shit out of you, take control of this stupid tribe, and prove you wrong!"
"Uhm, Yang," Ruby tried to tentatively but in, but uncharacteristically, Yang ended up glowering at her.
Squeaking, Ruby wilted as it suddenly clicked on her about what may have caused her future self to write a warning entry for Yang in her diary. Her efforts redoubled in her anxiety.
"Yang, no! This is a mistake. This is a bad idea!"
"What makes you think she's one to think?" Emerald quipped.
Ruby rounded faster on Emerald than any time before. "Hey, that's my sister!"
"And the apples obviously don't fall far from the tree." Emerald was unimpressed before she shook her head and remained silent. Archer was here. He could handle anything. Heck, she trusted him to hold the sky if he needed to.
The fervency of Emerald's stare was keenly felt by Shirou who coughed and felt it was best to dissuade Yang. However, Raven would not back down from such an open deceleration, especially from her own daughter whom she viewed as pitifully ignorant of the world's workings.
"Center square, I'll see you there," Raven said flatly before ending the discussion, turning around, and walking out.
Yang opened and closed her fists, expression twisting into muted indignation before impulsively moving to follow after Raven.
Whatever Shirou had to say at this result was left unsaid when Yang steadfastly wiped the moisture accumulating over her eyes and wordlessly glanced at him seeking support. Her shoulders which had seemed so broad in her mother's presence were now filled with trepidation and lacking confidence. Moreover, her left hand was tugging weakly on the sleeve of his right.
It would take no effort at all to free himself of Yang's grip, but the shadow of abandonment lingering on her features meant that sometimes it wasn't the best option to be rational.
"Prove her wrong," he said instead, calling back to the previous time Raven had labeled Yang weak and he had stood up for her.
The edges of Yang's lips twitched as a sniffle escaped her nose. "D-Damn right I will."
Strength returned to Yang's grip, and she tentatively left the tent while never letting go of Shirou's sleeve as she urged him to follow and watch.
Emerald followed shortly after with a frown and a sense of wariness for Yang pertaining to what relationship she had with her idol.
Ruby in the meantime stood frozen in despondence. What good was knowing the future if she couldn't change it?
Don't give up.
Don't give up.
She tried desperately to pump herself up. Nothing was set in stone yet. At the very least, she had to keep trying. For Yang, For Shirou, F-For l-love…
Determined now more than ever, Ruby hurriedly tried to leave, only to trip before reaching the tent's flap. "Oof, oweowe my cookies, the stars, the moon so pretty."
Ruby shook her head out of its daze and stared at what she'd tripped on. Weiss's deadpan stared right back.
"Helloo, Schnee here. Looks, talent, all the lien you could ever want, if only there was someone, some child, that I could feel grateful to and share it with before I explode and promise vengeance!"
Ruby narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Is that a threat?"
"No, you baboon! It's implied incentive! How direct do I have to be?!" Weiss nearly let out a wail of grief at how she was being treated. "You can't possibly be as immature as that gaudy cape you're wearing?! How hard is it to get this barrel and these ropes of me and then be on your way?"
The others had already left, so Ruby really was Weiss's last chance, but as high-strung as she was after a few days in captivity, her negotiatory skill was practically non-existent.
"Y-You dissed the cape again…" Ruby accused, lips quivering.
"What does that have to do with anything? I say it as it is," a tick mark formed over Weiss's forehead.
"This was a gift from mom," Ruby swallowed before running out of the tent, feelings turbulent.
Weiss stared blankly at the empty spot Ruby had once been in. "She left me?"
Swallowing and feeling a tad regretful from what Ruby had said, Weiss rolled onto her back, staring up at the ceiling.
"R-Right. T-Tied up, gagged, and left to rot at the mercy of uncouth barbarians and would-be empty-headed saviours...I-I'd rather settle with Whitley's company than this! Aaaaargh!" She squirmed to no avail, her efforts only tiring her out further as she'd been kept by the Branwen's in a constant state of Aura depletion.
"Calm down Weiss, you're a Schnee, elegant, confident, and valuable. Surely one of them will realize your greatness and offer their services to win your favour. Any time now, just count your nails and they'll be here by the time you finish."
"They actually left me in favour of spectating some boorish and barbaric bandit challenge?"
"…I'm surrounded by idiots."
Weiss thudded her head on the ground.
Yang was seeing red, the heat getting to her head, literally as she tentatively let go of Shirou's sleeve and made her way to stand opposite to Raven.
No words were exchanged as the din and raucous laughter of spectating bandits filtered into her ears. With Raven around, no one was even bothering to question Yang and the others presence in camp. Only Archer earned the stunned looks and whispers, but he was famous even out here in the sticks. Mt. Glenn's matters were too monumental.
"The Little Dragon has issued a clan challenge for leadership," Raven announced solemnly before drawing her blade and pointing it at her daughter. "Let her see her own folly."
"Damn right!" Vernal cheered from the crowd, her arms crossing while she leered at Yang. The other bandits around her were no better, but those nearest to Archer, Emerald, and an apprehensive Ruby were more muted.
Yang didn't let the voices and jeering get to her. She was too focused, too intent to show her strength and prove her mother wrong.
"Yang, focus. You can do this," Archer called out in the clamor.
"Team Rose represent!"
"You heard Archer," Emerald even chipped in. "Don't drag his reputation down with you- hey!"
Shirou shook his head after nudging Emerald on the forehead.
"Respect," he chastised, inadvertently lining up with something Archer had already discussed with Emerald.
"R-Right, I said I'd work on it, but it's not as easy as you think," Emerald grumbled, rubbing at the spot Shirou had poked her.
Shirou blinked in surprise, but hid it well. "As long as you're trying. I believe in you."
"You do, I mean of course you do," Emerald flushed and fell quiet in silent fluster, her lips shyly tugging upward.
Yang's brow twitched hearing and eyeing the exchange, but she was too focused on the adversary before her.
Raven took on an open stance, knees bent, feet angled forward, and sword raised parallel to the ground.
"If she ever swings wide, aim for her left side."
The words spoken to her by Shirou before the start of the match constantly echoed in her mind.
Thinking about it now, she never bothered to question Archer's advice, but it just went to show the level of trust she had in him. If he knew something of her mother's fighting style, then this advise was practically priceless.
Cracking her knuckles and cocking her arms, Ember Celica, the guards over her wrists mecha-shifted into a pair of shotgun gauntlets which expended out empty cartridges in favour of new ones.
Her eyes narrowed, the wind picking up.
She inched her feet forward, leaning her body to lower her center of mass.
Ember Celica's chambers rotated.
Taking her stance, she regarded the man Raven had designated to call the start of the match. It was that Shay person who languidly snorted at Yang before raising an arm and swung it down. "Start!"
Yang fired a flame dust round and rocketed forward with the momentum.
Right-cross, followed by left hook- Weave!
Eyes widening, Yang tilted her head back to dodge a sweeping blow, roared, and followed the motion with a gut punch.
Raven shifted her blade, batted Yang's fist aside, before grabbing the scruff of Yang's shirt, slapping her across the face before hurling her over the dirt.
"Yang!" Ruby called out in alarm.
"I'm fine!" Yang grimaced while tumbling to a stop, Aura shielding her from the damage, but not the sting of humiliation. Mockingly, Raven hadn't pursued.
Yang spat a mouthful of dirt before righting herself and punching out round after round of bullets in frustration.
Sparks showered with miniature explosions as Raven expertly cut apart each projectile while simultaneously avoiding the shrapnel. It was a display of grace and skill that all but emphasized the sheer divide between mother and daughter's experience and combat capability.
"Weak," Raven ridiculed.
Fire's lit across Yang's hair and eyes, her teeth biting down on her lips in frustration.
She charged again to the same result.
Left hook. Right hook. Straight.
Each attack was effortlessly repelled, the gap insurmountable.
A blade's edge flashed, and the dull side impacted Yang's temples, sending her sprawling with a groan.
No. I can't lose. One strike. Just one strike!
Yang coughed, retching as Raven drove the hilt of her sword hard over Yang's solar-plexus. She doubled over instantly, arms hugging over her chest. "D-Dammit!" Yang saw red before she finally registered it.
"If she swings wide, aim for the left side."
Archer. Archer…thank you.
"It's over," Raven pronounced imperiously as she shifted into a drawing stance. The potential energy stored in her rotation and the power of the strike would ensure a knockout even if Aura wasn't broken.
Confidence exuded from Raven's entire being. So sure of herself, so unwavering, that she never even considered whether her sword-style had any flaws.
Too bad Shirou's Tracing could store and replicate a sword user's very history. He knew what would come next.
Raven swung horizontally in a long sweep at blinding speed, but incomprehensibly stiffened when Yang was on her left side before the arc of her swing could finish.
Raven immediately attempted to redirect her strike but quickly found that she couldn't. Her sword's length was too long, and coupled with the speed of her draw, the momentum couldn't be stopped.
'How? This makes no sense! Even if such a drawback existed in her swing, Yang shouldn't have been able to exploit it.'
From the corner of Raven's view, she saw Archer nodding and connected what had happened. 'The bastard knew this would happen!'
"Clench your teeth!" Yang wasn't thinking about anything else. Cocking her elbow back, Ember Celica's gun chambers rotated and loaded in a fresh round. "This is for dad!"
Raven's eyes widened before a fist struck her chin, shattering the Grimm mask she wore and blowing her back into the air. Tanking the blow with Aura, a feral glint flickered across Raven's eyes. Unlike Yang, she recovered swiftly and forcibly righted herself for a ferocious counter.
"Know your place!" Old habits and building frustration had Raven turning the back of her blade to its edge in this next strike.
Yang raised her fists and attempted to strike back in response.
"Yang, wait you're Aura!" Ruby called in alarm when she noticed bruises and grazes over Yang's skin and their implication.
Neither Yang or Raven seemed to hear Ruby's call, too engrossed in their match.
Raven swung and Yang attacked heedless of her own condition.
"Alright, that's enough," Shirou parried Raven's strike with his left arm while simultaneously catching Yang's fist with his right. "This duel is over."
Both women grimaced, Yang even adding pressure to her fist, her Semblance in a state of agitation.
"Yang, please." Shirou gripped tighter onto Yang's hand before the fires over her hair ebbed and gradually receded. She blinked, growing meek when she noticed Shirou shaking his head at her.
He then turned to Raven whose blade was still clashing against his own. On her face, a light bruise was showing as the impact of Yang's strike had been enough to breach through part of her Aura. It was a humiliation as the leader of the tribe.
"Back. Down," Shirou warned regardless, forcing a stalemate between them all.
Tension rose, Raven gnashing her teeth, eyes flickering. She was still infuriated over Qrow and Ozpin's deceit and now this, but 'Archer' was altogether someone she didn't have confidence in defeating.
Yet the tribe was watching…
"S-So cool," Emerald murmured involuntarily while starting at Shirou, immediately slapping a hand over her mouth and discreetly glancing around to make sure no one had heard her. Her cheeks had taken on a rosy hue all the same the moment she noticed an unimpressed Vernal sneering at her.
"The hell you looking at?" Emerald said defensively.
"A little blind girl trying to play woman." Vernal grimaced while glaring at Archer before turning back to address Emerald. "You thought that was impressive? It's obvious that the boss was holding back. Mt. Glenn celebrity or not, that Archer person should be grateful."
Emerald scoffed, brows twitching as a few choice words came to mind, but she refused to stoop to that level and silently ground her teeth instead. Someone else however had no such inclinations.
"You take that back!" Ruby pumped her fists in front of her in agitation. Yang nearly getting injured and the stress from her future diary made her even jumpier than usual. Besides, Shirou was a hero, and heroes never lose. "Archer would wipe the floor with Yang's mom!"
Emerald grunted, her jaw slackening as she eyed Ruby in sudden approval. She found herself and Ruby on the same page as they stood in almost-sisterly solidarity against Vernal.
"Keep bitching then, the boss will prove you all wrong, anyway."
"I'm not a b-b-b- the b-word! You are!"
"Oh, how rich. Can't swear can you, you little shit? Bet you even have a swear jar?"
"I-I, how did you…" Ruby's cheeks coloured mortified, as a poignant sense of defeat assailed her.
Emerald could keep quiet no longer and opened her mouth with narrowed eyes, her vocabular repertoire as a street rat not as restrained.
"Alright, listen here you backwater bitch, Archer would…"
Hearing the brewing argument escalate into heated bickering that had yet to devolve into hair pulling, the tension between Shirou, Raven, and Yang began to bleed away. Even the attention of the bandits shifted to something more interesting.
The yelled wordings were starting to get quite creative and flowery.
"Care to test their conjectures?" Shirou joked to Raven who'd yet to sheath her weapon. It wasn't quite taken that way for someone as uptight and forward as Raven though.
Raven's features soured, the calmness of Shirou's tone and 'Archer's' reputation along with unknown magic of all things, causing her to hesitate.
Raven grudgingly glanced away; nose upturned despite a trace of bitterness in her eyes. A second later, and she pulled back her sword and stood down.
Yang noticed the exchange, and almost immediately felt her spirits lift.
"Can't beat him, can you? Survival of the strongest, right?" Yang jeered childishly while drawing her fist away and disengaging Ember Celica. "What does that make you?"
Raven eyes narrowed, almost bloodshot as a vein popped over her temples.
"You know nothing, little dragon."
"Yeah? Well, I'm smart enough to know if you're not strong enough on your own then you get help!"
Raven glared, taking a step forward, but Yang shamelessly hid behind Shirou who shook his head firmly at Raven not to escalate things any further.
"Can't touch this," Yang licked her thumb and jabbed it on her butt while making sizzling noises at Raven from the safety of Shirou's back.
Raven's countenance darkened, but in this case, her words were futile to counter Yang's point; her uneasiness against Shirou in combat, more so.
"Yang," Shirou called out, pinching the bridge of his nose.
Yang who was still making taunting noises froze mid-pose as Shirou then glanced at her over his shoulder, indicating that he was well aware of what she was doing.
"S-Sorry," She apologize on one hand. Then Shirou turned back to Raven and she mouthed off on the other. "Not sorry," she whispered as she stuck her tongue out petulantly.
"What do you want?" Raven all but sneered at Shirou with hostility. "Speak your words and then get out."
Sighing, it was evident to Shirou that Raven was merely directing her anger towards him than Yang. Still, at least he could handle Raven if need be.
"I figured we should discuss a plan of action for the matter regarding the attacked settlements," he divulged.
"W-Were going to work with her?" Yang teetered, appalled. "Why?"
Raven remained oddly silent at the question, and at the peculiar way Shirou regarded her.
He knew. The bastard definitely knew.
"Because she may know more than she's letting on. Isn't that right, Raven?"
"We'll talk in my office," she ground out before looking at a stupefied Shay. "Void the duel," she ordered.
Shay nodded languidly, and that was the end of that before he winced and covered his ears. "Oh, Brother Gods it's the Schnee banshee all over again…"
Emerald turned her chin up at Vernal as Vernal herself looked ready to throw down the gauntlet.
"Fucker, what did you call me!"
"You heard her! You heard her!" Ruby pointed fingers.
"You heard me!" Emerald voice hollered back.
Yang furrowed her brows as she listened in more intently, and then her eyes promptly narrowed. "What did you just call my little sister you skank!"
Raven and Shirou shared a look, and spoke not another word.
[-Several hours prior…the Grimmlands.]
Archer only had a single objective for his excursion to Remnant's lands beyond the Kingdoms, and it was one filled with the best of intentions. He was a Hero, and not someone who could stand idly by after hearing that the source of this world's tragedies and deceptions was at its root tied to a single figure controlling the Grimm.
It just didn't make sense.
Summer made Ozpin out to be some sort of just and powerful Magus with her descriptions of him, but for all the praise she lavished him, she'd bumbled to reply when it came to Ozpin's plan of action. In Summer's own words, "it will work out," just didn't sit right with him.
They had a location and a target, all the while having the disadvantage of safeguarding things called Relics and Maidens.
Taking on a defensive policy just didn't make sense in this case.
From how Summer had described it, the Queen of the Grimm was well aware of the Relics and Maidens giving her initiative in almost any action considering Ozpin's passivity. Why weren't the Kingdom's soldiers rallied? Why weren't there any expeditions to probe the Queen's forces?
Nowhere in Remnant's most recent history did it record any kind of mobilization, and Archer highly doubted Ozpin and whatever covert forces he could muster could take on an army of near endless Grimm on their own.
Things just didn't add up, and obviously Ozpin may have answers on their first meeting, but doubted he'd get the full truth. It would be understandable as it often took time to foster trust and comradery, but this was wasted time that could mean the death of others. So, what did he decide to do instead?
Archer opted for the direct approach.
Ozpin may have reservations in what could be divulged, but in most cases, the same restriction didn't apply to the other side. Especially if they wished to paint the other as heinous. Often things could be biased, and he'd seen similar cases in the civil war of his own world.
Archer therefore opted for a neutral stand point, until he could get a better picture of what he was dealing with. However, this had nothing to do with his current objective and would only come into consideration if this Queen of Grimm wasn't so sensible.
If it was true that the Queen of Grimm existed solely to torment human life, then he'd do what Ozpin had failed to do for years and put an end to the problem. With his plethora of skills and the unique versatility granted to him from the arsenal of his inner world, the impossible could become possible.
The notion that he could be bested wasn't really under much consideration given a Servant's aptitude in comparison to ordinary magi and humans. Then there was the faith energy granting him partial divine status from the admiration of others.
This really should be simple enough.
Sweeping fast through the Grimm infested forests, hills, and plains, he soon caught sight of what appeared to be an archaic castle. Grand spires were erected over four walled corners fitted with flying buttresses and low overhanging arches. The dreary blood-red horizon over the place only made it appear that much more depressing or eerie. This was before the Grimm surrounding it spawning from pools of a dark pith were taken into consideration.
Grimacing at the sight, he made a mental note to see if those pools could be destroyed on his way back to Vale. For now, culling the head of the beast was more efficient that wounding its body.
Weaving through the swarm of Grimm surrounding the castle before him, he flicked an arm up before a shower of steel and sparks pelted their way through the horde.
The sickening squelch of steel slicing through flesh wasn't heard in the entire onslaught. Instead, like the specters they were, the Grimm faded into motes of dark light as the Traced swords pierced through them and mottled the area in holes. Cracks splintered into hair-line fissures crawling their way up the castle's walls.
A hole was cleared in this moment, but the spawning Grimm from the Grimm pools were quickly sealing the breach.
Grunting, Archer tensed his muscles and burst passed the breach and into the castle grounds, searching for an entry point before seeing a set of large doors conveniently opening for him.
He considered the notion, but didn't dwell on the issue for long before he carefully made his way in, guard raised as he entered a large audience hall behind the doors.
"Shirou to Archer."
Archer frowned inwardly, but didn't let the emotion show on his face.
'Yes?' he echoed back to his counterpart.
"Whatever you're doing, the Master doesn't wish for you to head to the Grimmlands."
Archer stalled for a moment when he heard what Shirou had to say, finding it impeccably coincidental that Ruby would say now of all times not to go to the Grimmlands. 'Why not?'
"Just cause," Shirou replied, the tone of voice implying a shrug.
'That's not a reason, also I may need to call it here.' Archer narrowed his eyes ahead of him. He'd been steadily moving forward into the audience hall while replying to Archer and just now spotted the presence of a woman seated on an archaic throne. Grimm surrounded her on all sides, but remained oddly docile. 'I'm already in the Grimmlands and am facing Grimm. A lot of them.'
"Ruby wants you to retreat and come back," Shirou said, likely paraphrased to display a sense of urgency. However, Archer was too preoccupied to respond.
There were some things that Shirou, his counterpart, weren't privy to simply due to his proximity to Ruby that Archer knew all too well by this point. Besides, he'd promised Summer not to disclose the information she'd trusted to him so easily.
The woman seated on the throne shifted from her position to stand imperiously before him, red eyes carrying a glint of curiosity.
Salem, Queen of the Grimm if Summer's words held true.
Her skin was of a deathly pallor similar to Summer's, her jet-black sclera accentuating the crimson of her eyes. Her pale hair was wrapped in a bun with six locks and braids cascading over her back and shoulders. On her person was a long high-collared short-sleeved black robe whose hemp dragged over the ground. Her exposed forearms and a portion of her cleavage peaking through her dress had distinct purple vein-like structures.
"It's been a long time since last this castle has received an uninvited guest," she drawled sharply. "Especially not one brimming with the presence of old magic not seen since the eras past. What are you, a Knight outside your time? Your rather direct methods remind me of someone I used to know."
Archer inwardly rose a brow. Was she probing him?
"I wasn't trying to be subtle," he answered honestly, seeing no need to beat around the bush. "The more Grimm defeated, the less available to harm others."
He eyed the Grimm near Salem, floating feeler types if anything, but they remained unmoving.
His attention focused back on Salem.
"How noble, but wholly lacking in any sort of explanation for your purpose," Salem clicked her tongue, but her expression remained carefully neutral. "Tell me then, are you here for me? Another one of Ozpin's pieces who so readily believes they can best me on their own?"
"Unfortunately, I don't fall into that category."
"No," she sneered derisively, an icy chuckle escaping her painted lips. "You do. In case it wasn't already clear from what limited knowledge you have. I. Am. Immortal."
"And I can kill immortals."
The jarring expression that morphed over Salem's face at Archer's admission was only further exacerbated when Archer focused inward and Traced from his Reality Marble a bladed scythe. It was in truth a unique curved sword fabled for its Refraction of Longevity trait which renders immortals mortal and inflicts wounds unable to be healed unnaturally.
The unseen aura exuding from the sword belied the divinity it carried as a possession of the Greek God Hermes.
"Y-You jest," Salem stammered, staring intently upon the drawn weapon. "A magic construct. So, I was correct indeed. You are a relic from the bygone age."
"You're not one to go out much are you?" Archer steadied his stance with the weapon in hand.
"I have others to carry out such trivialities, granted of those that remain one is practically insane, the other vengeful, and the last conceited."
"Then how do you know if what I speak is a lie?"
"Test it then," Salem said far too quickly, a flicker of emotion crossing her sclera. "I'll be the judge." She stepped forward, walking closer and closer into strike range without care.
A pause descended between the two, but Archer was observant if anything.
Salem spoke one thing, but her actions said another. Even if she didn't truly believe in the sword's capability, she should have been able to sense the remnant of divinity in Harpe's blade. If nothing else, it spoke volumes that the weapon was created in the Age of the Gods. Its danger was without question, so why then did Salam so readily volunteer to test it upon herself?
"You wish to die?" Archer murmured out unintentionally.
The Queen of Grimm didn't deign to give a reply, and instead lunged forward, forcing Archer to retaliate and defend. His strike was easily telegraphed, but Salem made no motions to dodge and allowed the edge to cut across her forearm before Archer distanced himself.
Dark blood trickled over to the floor, a daze falling over Salem's features as she stared at the unhealing wound. "It's true…" she murmured with a type of insane zeal that was unnerving.
Swaths of magic energy gathered around her, and the glare in her eyes was menacing. "That weapon…give it to me- ah, n-no!"
Archer dismissed his projection before anything else, Harpe fading into motes of golden light as he assessed the woman before him. When he regarded her, she seemed less like a creature hell bent on the world's destruction and more and more like a desperate cornered animal. When he then contemplated her actions, he grew solemn.
"You wish to die," he stated this time rather then questioned.
For her part, Salem reeled in her magic energy, her shoulders slumping as a glower formed over her features. "You know nothing of the gravity of that which you speak!" She seethed.
"Archer, are you still there? Respond."
Archer didn't answer as he realized that the shadow war Summer had described to him about a Witch, a Wizard, and a deception, had just become a whole lot more complicated.
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