Tired black eyes watched from under the hanging fringe of equally black hair, watching the people as the people milled about. The peaceful way they seemed to float along the ground, the ground that was miraculously free of Sand. The free way they spoke to each other, the way they simply wandered, all of their actions were… Carefree.
He narrowed his eyes, watching the young boy who stood behind and to the right of his father, not carefree. If the child had no cares, he would probably not be doing what he was doing. It felt too rehearsed to be a natural, too proper as well. The child wasn't any older than six, and yet had some grace to him. An unnatural amount, if Shebul were being honest with himself.
His eyes darted back to the people that shot the team of Hunters-In-Training curious looks but did not stop their motions or what they did.
Without really meaning to, his eyes drifted to his Partner. She was in the middle of helping Luca accept the graces of the Mayor of Kuroyuri, smiling easily in her own dazzling way as she breezed through the bows and the words that were necessary as he offered hospitality in his own way. Beds, food, and words of kindness. Similar to the Vacuoan hospitality, but it was much kinder.
There was no assumption of repayment down the road.
Luca did his job as the Team leader, with a small and polite smile when the older man, who was obviously trained in some way just from his body tone and knowledge of their Mission, gave them their local Missions. What was even more telling was the fact that no one reacted to the casual mention of Grimm being in the area, the words being well enough to get most natives to Move to a new area with spears held to the front.
But the Mistralians simply nodded and stayed calm.
The only sign of visible anxiety was the smaller girl hiding behind his host and their son, orange hair the only sign that she existed. But she was there, huddled and… scared. Shebul could feel his aura spike as he watched her, and as usual he pushed in back down. He took in a deep breath and ran through his mental exercises. He hated his Semblance, he truly did. He didn't care that it was useful, that he could turn fear into Aura.
He hated the pleasure that coursed through his veins when he saw a little girl shake in terror. Like the best high you'd ever felt, getting a shock of new aura pumped into his system was euphoric. His eyes twitched and his Aura begged to be let loose, to pour out and create more fear to drink in-
"Oi," came the low whisper from his left, nearly causing him to jump out of his skin. He cracked his neck and got a grip on his mind as the last member of his team provided a much needed bastion, the resolute lack of fear the light needed to return from his own personal hell, "You alright there, buddy-boy?"
"Tired," He responded, not even lying when he said it. The only reason his control had slipped was because he hadn't slept in at least a week. It didn't help that the moment he spoke his body was wracked with a yawn that could have split boulders. "It'll pass," He finished his thought afterwards, with the fox faunus watching him with critical blue-green eyes.
"If you say so," She allowed after a while, returning to stare towards their partners as they finished up obtaining lodgings, "D'you think your semblance is gonna act up?"
Shebul mulled it over as best he could as he stuffed his hands into his pockets, painfully aware of the ghostly smoke that was wafting out of his palms. That was the issue of his semblance, and others like it that cannibalize outside sources of energy to produce Aura; You didn't have anywhere to store it. Helpful for massive Aura Constructs, not so much for trying to calm down.
"Probably," He conceded after a moment of concentration led to less than stellar results. She only nodded grimly, resigning herself to a night of no sleep while she made sure he didn't just destroy the room, or the whole building potentially.
"You ever gonna tell me why you have nightmares?' She questioned, not for the first time. She gave him a sly half-smile, "Talkin' helps, I promise." There was a teasing tone, like she was on the edge of openly laughing at him and his stubbornness, which he most certainly didn't appreciate. This was a man's pride, after all.
On the other hand, she was showing more concern than save for his Partner was showing.
Didn't mean he'd just let the insult slide.
"You gonna tell me why you keep lookin' at your phone," Lazily smiling when he saw her redden out of the corner of his eye, baring her teeth at him in a very unladylike fashion. Oh, I may have hit a nerve, he observed internally with a hint of smugness, Time to needle it for all its worth. "Waiting for anything in specific? From a… certain someone perhaps?"
"Shut it," She grumbled in embarrassment, but he was far from done.
"I think not," He continued, narrowing his eyes and nudging her in the side with his elbow, "I've been assured that talkin' helps," He gave her a shit-eating grin, only adding the verbal cherry on top when she held eye contact, "I promise."
She broke eye contact first, now thoroughly chastised for sticking her nose where it wasn't wanted, crossing her arms in front of her chest with a hmmph and her turning away from him. That'll teach her to be concerned, he thought with a ragged smile, well aware of how stupid he was being. If he had to guess, the grumbles under her breath had to do with being surrounded by stubborn idiots, to which he would reply that it took one to know one.
Speaking of Stubborn idiots, he looked to his Partner and smiled with a tinge of pride as she dutifully performed her role as the smiling face of the Team. She moved in a way that had the young boy trying his best not to peek at things that no young man morally should but most definitely felt the urge to. His saving grace seemed to be the girl attached to his back, and Shebul could only chuckle as Emily gave them both a winning smile.
All in all she was charming the socks off of Father and son, as well as any man in eye sight. Blonde hair thrown over her shoulder, her still much too pricey for his liking clothes tailor made for this situation, as opposed to the Fighting Monsters part of their job. Clinically he noted that she was indeed pretty, and cut an attractive figure even for a Huntress. They were to be the light that people could look to in a rough situation and use to guide themselves out of the darkness, and Luca and Emily played the part to a tee.
Him the dashing knight who was steadfast and unflappable, her the ever primped and ready princess that shone like a torch. Hell, he thought as he looked himself over, taking in his darker clothes that he chose because they didn't catch the eye, Compared to those two, I must look like the Pack mule. He threw a cursory glance to his left, where the fit and ready Taylor stood in her lightly armored clothes with weapons at the ready, At least she looked ready to go.
He really was the odd one out of the group, though none of the others seemed to care.
None of that really took away any of the worry that he had for her.
He had returned from dinner the night that they had received the mission details telling them that they were on their way to Mistral to deal with some rampant Grimm only to find his partner looking very much not like the confident and overbearing young woman he had lived with for months. She had tried to lie to him and say that it was fine, but he had figured it out pretty quickly when he simply mentioned Mistral and she nearly burst out crying.
She didn't want to go home for some reason. And she had been acting strange ever since.
Even now he could see the frailty in her smile as she listened to the man in front of her and discussed what sounded like Mistralian Nobility, something that he couldn't give less of a fuck about if he were being honest. Her hair was a little messier than usual, and her hands were much too still for her natural at rest pose.
He wondered if the people in front of her were able to tell, seeing as both of them seemed to have rehearsed this entire conversation.
His eyes naturally followed the line of thought to the other… quiet member of the Team, though that was honestly dependent on current company. She wasn't outgoing, but she wasn't nearly a withdrawn recluse like him. She seemed to be in deep thought as she idly tapped her fingers on her arms and squinted into middle distance.
But now that he was no longer being properly distracted he was alerted to a new development; his Aura, his Semblance, was active, and he could no longer ignore it.
His tendrils crept out, and he would swear that he could see them slowly moving forward to touch each and every shadow he could see, pushing and testing the minds of those around him searching for fear. For terror, for weakness.
In the sands, it was an easy thing to do to find the man most filled with fear. He gripped his spear the tightest and moved the least. He waited for his death, for there would be no outrunning it in the sand. Hide in a cave, hide his fear in his dreams, maybe. But running away? Impossible.
He remembered what the maps that Taylor had looked at said, and what the windows of the Bullhead had confirmed; This was a mountainous land, with dense forests covering every part of it. The place seemed to be made for avoiding Grimm. There was no guarantee that it worked, or that they wouldn't just show up at the worst time, nor was there any guarantee that you always knew when an enemy was on the horizon.
It seemed that the people… Had just accepted that death was around the corner.
The tendrils of unseen Aura, visible only to his eyes, wound their way around the street and found hold on every single person in sight. He might not know them, but he knew fear. Oh, did he know fear. He knew what caused it. What depths it a man down to. What heights it could drive a man to climb towards. The tightening of the soul as it raged against its oncoming death-
But these people showed no sign of that, no white knuckled grip or hurry to their movements. They knew fear, his Semblance did not lie. They didn't believe in the strength of their walls, nor the strength of their men.
His eyes slowly and deliberately casually went back to his Leader, the man who had a literal ear to the ground, to confirm what his Semblance was telling him. And his leader had yet to take a hand off the hilt of his weapon.
Telling enough, for a man that was near impossible to take off guard.
End of Interlude.
My eyes opened to a familiar sight; the silent and turbulent wind shaking the equally quiet branches. Trees that looked more and more vibrant with each visit, lively red leaves and bright white trunks filling my sight. The night sky that stood still in its journey above my head, with constellations lost to the movements of the heavens from years long gone. The Long golden strands of long grass that brushed against my legs. To my left the large table of slate that Fenrir liked to sleep on, revelling in the silence.
"You fucking Mutts!" The Silence that was absent this particular visit.
My line of sight was drawn quickly to the sounds of scuffling and thrashing in the grass, narrowing my eyes when I was witness to a tumble of black limbs. A wave of physical pain washed through me and I bared my teeth as the three distinct bodies slapped into a tree. I focused in on them as they separated, recognizing the forms of Grimm as those that I had just fought and killed, their Wolf-like structures making it obvious that they were not common Beowolves.
The two smaller ones were mirror images of each other as they circled the larger one like sharks in the water, with a single cut in the right ear of the one closest to me and the left of the furthest. Their Masks sported no horns, only a set of teeth that outlined their jaw in a gnarly visage.
And in between the two was the much larger Vargir, one that I instinctively knew was Fenrir. He had spurs of bone clipping out through his back and shoulders, the bones of a ribcage in a mock piece of armor.
And from the left side of his Mask a familiar horn.
"Traitor!" The one closest to me yelled, lines of blue crackling into existence briefly before they went out once again, "This is why you left us?! To work with a Human!" The voice was higher pitched than mine, but obviously masculine. The furthest Vargir flared with orange lines itself, outlining where I'd assume the skeleton of a normal wolf would be, as its eyes went from the normal-Grimm Red to a blazing Orange.
Without even looking behind him, Fenrir slammed his left paw in a backhand that sent Hati careening in the opposite direction of its lunge, "Don't give me that shite! I didn't have a choice in the matter!" The rumbling voice that I recognized as my own still came from him, adding a much more imposing tenor to his words, something that the whinier and younger voice of his opponent wasn't doing. When Skali charged him, he met him head on, literally slamming the crown of his skull into the smaller Grimm's nose, "Not to mention I still came to bail your asses out of trouble!"
"We had it covered!" I was startled when Hati rejoined the melee in a burst of fire, but not because of anything that the thing was doing, but because the voice that came from it was most definitely female, sounding like a younger teenager. Teeth sank deep into black fur and flesh, ichor pouring form the wound as a roar ripped out of Fenrir. A hasty slam smashed her through a tree, but the damage was done, as with the new wound on his shoulder Fenrir stood less confidently.
Hati howled her joy as Skali clambered to his feet, continuing their deadly circle, the entire display making me glad I hadn't had to fight them at the same time.
When the grass around her caught fire I decided now was the time to make my presence known.
I leapt up with an explosion of force, only realizing that I would be doing more damage than either of these interlopers when I fell back towards the earth. Skali only barely managed to turn his eyes skyward and yelp as I came crashing down, but I didn't give him time to get out of the way. The grass and dirt gave way as I carved down, a brown and black cloud popping into existence around me but I didn't pay it any mind.
My chain shot out and around, wrapping itself around the neck of Skali with a click. I felt my face tear open into a rough smile as I pulled the Grimm towards me, now so much smaller than when I had fought him, and my left hand caught him around the throat. Aura licked at my fingers as he scrabbled for purchase, the steel gray fire now fully roused by the situation, and when it met the midnight skin I had a hold of it burnt like real fire.
When he yowled in pain his sister lunged at me with a snarl, but I answered by slammed the wolf in my hand into her snout to produce a tumble of Grimm as they went down yelping and snapping at each other. Taking a moment I looked over at Fenrir, noting the ichor that poured out of his shoulder, "You alright there, furball?"
He rumbled a growl in response as he licked at the wound, "Took you long enough, Boss. They were starting to get serious," I raised an eyebrow at his phrasing before the two troublemakers got my attention instead.
"Human! How are you here?!" Hati screeched as she pulled herself free of her brother, making my wince at the sheer volume that she could make. But that didn't distract me enough for Skali to get the jump on me.
I caught the wolf by the jaw in what must have been a painful way before smashing his mask into the ground. I stood before slamming the heel of my boot into the base of his head, ending with him pinned quite effectively by my strength in the dirt of the field. Casually I leaned my head on my right hand, elbow on my knee, "Ya know, that's what I want to ask you two," Irritation, stress, anger all bled into my voice as my throat tried to tear itself apart, "Why are you two in my head?" I watched as the words rippled through the world in a visible fashion, the grass flattening and the trees shaking as it passed through.
I heard sputtering gasps from the two interlopers as whatever I was doing took effect, as Hati sat back on her haunches and Skali's struggling ceased under my boot. I wasn't too much in the mood to play though, as these two had literally attacked everyone I cared about save for Janette. I tried my best to not let it get to me, but by the brothers.
I had one gods forsaken rule.
And they broke it.
The wind grew in strength as my temper flared and every muscle in my body tensed in response. My chain rattled in the windstorm, seemingly moving of its own volition as it snaked in and out of tufts of grass. Unbidden Aura began to pour out of my eyes as [Night-Vision: Half-Grimm] kicked on as well as half a dozen other Skills that I wasn't paying attention to.
Had this been any other day, I may have been a little more forgiving, a little more curious. A throbbing pain erupted above my right eye as I bared my teeth at the downed Grimm. I was getting a little sick of the world trying to punish those that tried to help me. Bones shifted, teeth sharpened, and my hands ached for vengeance-
A hand, a human hand, landed on my shoulder shaking me from my escalating thoughts as my own voice interrupted me in a much more calm and cultured tone, "Boss," My eyes snapped away from the two intruders and I tamped down on the urges when he gave me a look, even if I did so with a growl. If he was telling me that I shouldn't paste them… There was probably a reason.
Enough of one to listen, at least.
"Fenrir," Hati said once I had stalked over to a rock and sat down as I calmed down, revelling in the small pleasure of seeing Grimm flinch when the damn thing cracked from my force, "Who is this Human?"
Skali was nowhere near as hesitant with his question as he retreated to the perceived safety of fifty feet away next to his sister, "Why do you look like him? And Why is he here? The Forest is supposed to be safe."
I laughed lowly at the admission that the Grimm thought I was dangerous.
If only Nan coulda heard this.
"Because he challenged me in one on one combat without a single blessing of a God, and won," The two smaller wolves barked indignantly at this, but he was having none of it, snarling at them, "Quiet. If you'd just sit down and listen, you'd know that already. And as he beat me, he gained access to the Forest as an honorary Vargir."
I mean, I was a Half-Grimm. Guess that made me… Half-Vargir?
Fuck it. Anyone asked me to explain it, I'm tellin' em that I'm a werewolf. Easier to explain than this shit.
"And because he challenged me, out of any of us, he became the Pack Leader," He gestured around the area, "Which makes him the boss of this place."
The two wolves looked over at me, and I gave them a toothy smile that made them both hunker down in the grass like it would hide them from me. Hati found her courage first, speaking up now that it was clear no violence was forthcoming, "Well, geez Fenrir, I thought you were tougher than that! Now we gotta figure out how to get rid of 'im!"
"Irreversible," my doppelganger dryly informed her, gesturing to his form, "We're connected, and I'm not even sure if I'll come back if I die. Or what'll happen to the Forest and its Spawning Pools if he dies."
Oh shit, right, I got like two of those for finishing the quest to smack these two dumbasses around.
"Can we even spawn with him in control?" Skali questioned hesitantly, eyeing me from the other side of his sister. I narrowed my eyes at the two of them as I realized they were taking turns going around the other to put a shield in between me and them.
"Same rules as before," Fenrir stated imperiously, "When the Pools gather enough mana for the two of you, you're free to go back into the wild." I snorted at the sheer oddity of seeing myself acting like a mother hen to two overgrown devil mutts, with both of them acting like teenagers who had been told they had a curfew.
"That a good Idea?" I questioned as I pulled all of my Aura back to its resting position at the base of my spine. The words were enough to make the wolves yelp in fright, having apparently forgotten me in their indignation of being tied to the other.
Fenrir just gave me a shrug, "Grimm occupy almost every bit of dirt and drop of water on this gods-forsaken planet, not to mention that they have to follow any order you give them as the Pack Leader. Tell them to run from any Human they see and they will."
"Right," I said as I stood and made my way over to the group, "Then how about this: Listen to Fenrir. He's second in command," I nodded even as Fenrir smacked the palm of his hand into his face and the two Vargir in front of me wailed about it being unfair, and Fenrir being a worrywart. That was one issue solved, but then I narrowed my eyes and turned to my newly appointed Second in command, "When did you plan on telling me about this whole pack leader stuff, Hmm? Gonna let me sit in the dark on this one?"
He shrugged dismissively, "Didn't think it was too important. Not a single Vargir had been deposited in the Forest in over a millennia, thought we'd all but gone extinct." in other words, he thought he was alone.
"Wait a minute," Skali jumped up to his feet, suddenly forgetting that I was scary, "You haven't seen any of the others for a thousand years?!" Hati on the other hand simply curled in on herself.
Fenrir simply nodded.
"Okay, wait a minute," I demanded as I tried to wrap my head around something, "How in the hell does a Grimm go extinct. I thought there was a definite number in the World and the Pools no matter what."
"When the Pools gather enough Mana from the world around them, they spit out a Grimm from the Hammerspace its connected to. The one you and your team saw was the Spawning Pool connected to this Space, the Den of the Vargir, while almost all Spawning Pools are connected to the Beowolf Den. But," he paused here, obviously wondering how to phrase it, "Everytime a Grimm respawns something small is different. Its just how the Pools work, the magic the Younger Brother made them with is too chaotic to make exact copies. And eventually, after a number of rebirths you don't return to your original Den, because it doesn't recognize you anymore."
"What kind of changes are we talking here?" I questioned, wondering just how disastrous we were talking here. The tone of voice he was using was suggesting nothing short of a cataclysm.
"Limbs the wrong size, extra ones, missing eyes," He shrugged even as the other two shuddered at the descriptions, "They tend to get a lot worse the more you die."
"Okay. Sounds horrible. What happens when your den can't recognize you?"
"You are stripped of any progress as a Grimm you have made," Hati informed me quietly, now no longer the shrill banshee that was making a racket, "And you're sent back to the Beowolf Den, to die a million more deaths."
I grimaced at the description as I realized what being a Beowolf would entail; Constant death and rebirth. I blinked as I realized something rather important, speaking before I even properly thought it through, "Wait, does that mean if I die, I'm going to come back as a Grimm?" Because, I mean, I didn't know which one sounded worse; eternity as a Ghost stuck on emotional replay, or as a Grimm unable to even form a thought.
I watched as the two smaller Wolves fell silent and looked to Fenrir to answer, who took his time. I narrowed my eyes when he refused to make eye contact as he collected his thoughts, before he spoke, "No," He spoke with a finality to it, as though he were grieving the words, "Half-Grimm, much like Animals, were not created by the Brothers. As such, their Souls are not given the protections of Grimm nor Human."
"So when I die, that's it?" I clarified, wondering what in the world that would mean. Just, nothingness? Wait, he said this happened to Animals too. If there was an afterlife ahead of me, It'd be me and every animal ever.
Animals that tended to dislike my very existence.
I winced at the thought.
Here's hoping for sweet oblivion.
"I have no idea, to be honest," Fenrir continued as the other two finally quieted down as they became uneasy with the subject of discussion, "All I know is what other Grimm have reported, and what I have witnessed. And no Grimm that was connected with a Human soul ever returned to the Cycle."
Hati whimpered, and despite the earlier fight moved to nuzzle against Fenrir's legs, and I could only squint in confusion as his words traipsed through my mind, and I realized what he was saying. We shared a soul, meaning he was just as unnatural as I was. I took a minor comfort in knowing that I wasn't alone on this ride, meager as it was. Then I just had to ask the question that had been burning in my mind.
"How do you know any of this stuff?" I watched as Fenrir shot me an odd glance, so I moved to clarify, "Like, any of it. The dens, Half-Grimm, anything. You don't talk like you're guessin', or piecin' things together. What gives?"
"We're Vargir," Skali piped up, like that explained everything, "We're old. We were around when the Dens were made, when the Wizard started sealing everyone away. We were around when the Queen started making her own Grimm, and we were around before that too. We were there when the Brother's made their bet, to see who would win in the end." He looked around the empty forest, and I could only watch as his tone, disarmingly young, changed to sorrow, "And now it looks like we're the last Vargir around. Stuck in our den with a Human in charge, a worse way to go I couldn't think of."
I glared at him, even as he shrank away from me, but Fenrir stole my attention as he continued explaining in my own voice, yet deeper. Calmer. Colder. "Boss, you're far from the first Half-Grimm to exist. There used to be entire Armies of them out there, Soldiers that could advance so quickly that an army could depose a Tyrant in a month. Hell, Old Grimmnir himself, Scourge of the Vargir, was a Half-Grimm. Took our old Pack Leader Hyrrokkin with him to the grave," The other two wolves whimpered as he spoke, and I couldn't help but just scoff at what I had been taught. Humans had been along far longer than anyone thought, had been at war with the Grimm for just as Long.
"And now you're back," Hati said with a tremble in her voice, "And every Grimm knows it. The smell of your kind is on the Wind, same as it was a thousand years ago, and a thousand years before that. Never spells anything good, having too many of you around."
All three wolves fell silent as they seemed absorbed in their memories, and before I could pump them for any information all four of our heads snapped up in alarm, like the sky was about to fall. [Instinct] alerted me to a disturbance in my immediate area, and then I was gone.
"-Like some creepy statue," my eyes snapped open, immediately taking in the stuff around me. The forest was familiar, but felt so different. That I could feel the wind on my skin, the dirt in my nose, was a major change. The differences were what struck me first, the green needles of the trees in place of the red leaves, the crunching ice on short blades of grass, and the signs of the start of a hill to my right.
The Old Lady grimacing at me, in place of snarling wolves.
It seemed that the real world and my mind weren't that different.
I waited for a moment, before I realized that I must have just missed a question and decided to take the initiative. "What?" The older woman narrowed her green eyes, same green as the leaves behind her, but I simply waited.
"I said, Are you going to do anything other than sitting in the forest like a creepy statue?" She gave me an odd look, tilting her head to the side like she expected something behind me, but I simply watched her with a raised eyebrow. The hell did she care what I did? "You've been out here for twelve hours straight, sitting there, doing nothing. Barely even breathing. If I didn't know better, I'd have said you were dead."
Jury is still out on that, so don't feel too bad.
"I'm practicing," I said instead, deciding that relaying that tidbit of information would be poorly received, "Have been since you kicked me out," I pointed out with a growl. Honestly the nerve of the woman, as though I wasn't an adult. I could make my own decisions, thank you very much.
At this she physically bristled, her posture becoming defensive, "I had to undress her to examine her properly! Of course you had to leave!" I met her eyes unbowed, because she was a stranger, of course I wouldn't leave Ashley with her alone. The only reason I left at all was because Cosma had agreed to stay in my place.
"We live in the same room," I explained for what felt like the tenth time, this time in a more tired tone than before. Honestly, it's like she had wool in her ears. "We've gone on trips for months together. Hell, we shared a tiny ass room in an SDC mining town. There is only so much privacy to be had in those situations."
"It ain't proper!" She countered, like that was the end all to the conversation.
"And you ain't familiar," I returned easily, a low growl rumbling in my chest. My hands clenched on the down log I was sitting on, and the wood turned to bits under the force. My eye started to twitch in annoyance, as I had still had [Instinct] on the entire time she had been checking her over, and she had done nothing bad. For all intents and purposes, she was exactly what she looked like; some old doctor living under a hill.
If only her Nametag agreed, then I could let the issue slide.
The Game said she was strong, and I had trusted its judgement a minute too long to let my guard down. There was something I couldn't see about her, and if I had to guess it was based in knowledge. She didn't move absurdly fast, nor did she have anything over standard huntsman strength. Her Aura was impressive, but entirely believable. If you pushed me for an answer, I'd guess that she was skilled and knowledgeable.
And then there was the matter of her class. The only thing I knew about Valkyries, were what Nan told me. They were warrior women that cared for the dead. It never went that much into depth, or maybe it did and she had punched the information out of my head.
"Hmmph," she snorted dismissively, "I'm not having this argument again," I resisted the urge to complain that we just had, and let her continue, "Instead I'll just recommend, as a Doctor, that sitting in place in freezing temperatures is not healthy," I simply blinked at her and took stock of my surroundings; Was it really below freezing? It felt rather balmy to me. "I don't care what type of training you think you're doing out here, it ain't healthy and I don't feel like treating you of all people. So, go do something else." She hiked a thumb over her shoulder, and I could only watch in fascination as the Trees behind her moved, shifting in the ground like it was water, until a path had opened up in the direction of Town, "I don't care what it is, but i want you out of my forest. Now."
Her forest? I questioned internally as I looked around once more, [Aura Sense] activated this time, and realised that her bright White Aura was twisted into every limb and trunk around me, pulsing in the dirt in time to her heartbeat. Her Forest, I silently agreed with the statement as I got off the log, but that doesn't quite explain how she kept an eye on me. Some sort of surveillance or control Semblance? Who knows. Ask Ash when she's up and away.
Besides, I had finished up with Fenrir and the mutts. Might as well find something else to do. [Instinct] flared out in a circle, marking every sound and scent in its radius as I walked the newly created path, the trees folding back in behind me as I moved.
And maybe, just maybe, I didn't want to argue with the lady who controlled every tree in roughly a square mile.
...I really didn't want to think about that.
Instead I pulled out my Scroll and checked the service, smiling when it showed a good two bars. Well enough to make some calls, for certain.
Keith looked at his phone in confusion, rereading the simple message that he had received, before looking over his shoulder. There had to be a catch, he thought mercilessly as he scratched at the stubble on his chin. He squinted when no one seemed to be looking at him, save for a few children.
He doubted they were in on it.
He checked once more, the message still clearly displayed on the screen of his beat up old Scroll; "Check on the Library for me." He scowled at the words, for many different reasons. For one, Miss Mourie had expressly forbid him from entering when he asked to borrow a book because the shipment of Toilet paper was late. Not his finest moment, but it was still a solid solution no matter what the lady said. Another reason was the fact that the place was dusty, and Keith had allergies.
Miss Mourie had also gotten angry when he sneezed on her books, and threatened him with a few creative deaths.
In short, Keith was scared of small women that could tear him apart without a thought. Give him a big woman anyday, they were easier to see coming.
Sweating nervously, he put a hand on the handle, but paused when his Scroll buzzed once more, jumping eagerly on the distraction for what it was.
Unfortunately it was only another message from the unmarked number, "Marsha hung on me. I'm a bit pissed, actually."
Keith could only stare at the offending piece of technology, wondering why, not for the first time, he never put anyone's name in the stupid thing. He could barely remember fuckin' names, how in the world did he think that he could remember numbers? Who in the hell was texting him?
...He only gave out his number when he owed people something, usually money.
Which meant that this person was calling in a favor.
Which meant he had to do it.
It was simple, open the door, ask a few questions, get out. Hopefully with his hide intact. He coughed into his hand and straightened his grungy jumpsuit before putting his hand back on the handle. Immediately he was greeted by minute vibrations pulsing through the metal, and he hastily put his ear up to the wood to get a better handle on the situation.
What he received was the telltale sign of an argument, as things bounced off the heavy wooden door and voices continued to raise. The wiped the cold sweat from his brow as he realized that he was about to walk into what could potentially be a fight between huntsmen. He shook his head before he lost feeling in his fingers and pushed through, because it couldn't be that bad right?
The building was still standing, at least.
Enough stalling, He demanded of himself, smacking himself across the face. The pain made him focus, and he sucked in a breath. It was his day off. Talk to the Librarian and then he was free to drink himself into oblivion.
He pushed open the door, already hollering as he moved, "Miss Mourie-!" He cut himself off as he took in the scene. His mouth hung open as the new teacher was weaving and dodging around the place as Pieces of wood speared through the air and crashed through the floor, the young man with a look of peace and happiness on his face as he went. Keith looked wide eyed around for his quarry, only to find her floating in mid air, waving her crutch around like a magic wand.
She, on the other hand, looked absolutely irate.
"You said to organize the library!" The man, Servico Austin had called him, called in a smug and elated tone, "So that's what I did!" obviously having some sort of enjoyment in the warzone. He casually caught one of the spears, that Keith only now realized she was pulling from the Ceiling of the place, and began wielding it like he had been born with a spear in his hand, smacking projectiles out of the sky as he simply danced and twirled on the spot.
"RAAARH!" Was the only response Miss Mourie gave as she began to pull the splintered remains of projectiles from the floor and air, turning it into a tidal wave of pain as it swept down towards the unconcerned man, who simply laughed as he outran it. He hopped over it and onto bookshelf after bookshelf, all of which remained untouched throughout the fight, before a Spear shot out of the wave and slammed into his sternum.
Keith looked down when he realized that the handle had bent in his hand, as his nightmare came true, before his eyes shot up to find Marsha now chasing the man around inside a tornado of wood. "If you were going to get this mad," He said as he slid under the flying woman before landing in a roll to avoid two more spears ending his fucking life, "You should have just done it yourself!"
"My leg is broken, you absolute cunt!" Not that Keith could tell with how quickly she was jumping about the place, swinging her crutch like a warhammer. He winced when the other man shot away from her like he was out of a cannon only to stop just short of the far wall with the otherworldly glow of Aura coating his body, the purple energy also beginning to pour out of Miss Mourie, whose mousy brown hair was literally standing up on end and whose eyes were glowing purple. Her Quarry retaliated by laughing and flaring his own blue Aura and dipping into a dive out of the way of more spears, "And far be it from me to expect you to organize like a normal Human!"
"And how would that be?" He answered casually, as though the absurd amount of power being thrown around wasn't even fazing him. Keith furrowed his eyebrows as he considered that it genuinely might not.
"Author, Genre, Age!" She shouted as gusts of wind began to pour out the doorway where Keith was locked in place, afraid that if he moved she'd skewer him as well. He yelped as he ducked something flying out with the wind, only realizing that it was a skewered landline after it had crashed onto the concrete behind him. "Any way that wasn't by SMELL!" As she finished the yell more wind whipped up alongside projectiles, but the force of the wind overcame his grip on the door, throwing him back to land beside the phone.
He laid there a minute as the silence of the outside world comforted him while the near death experience was clear in his mind. Numbly he took out his Scroll and sent a simple message to the mysterious number; "Alive. Phone Broke."
He caught his breath as he waited for the confirmation text, hearing the muted sounds of footsteps coming towards him. "Ah, That'd explain it. Were her and the immortal Cunt getting along?" He could only stare in confusion at the screen, wondering how in the world someone comes by a nickname like that, before another message came in, "Servico*."
Keith wondered about how to answer that as something moved in between the sun and his face. Looking up he was treated to a rather flattering view of the Gardener who was in charge of keeping the garden Austin-Free and pretty looking. Claire, if he remembered right. "Everything alright down there?" She asked, her tone bordering on amused and concerned. He gave her a once over from the ground, and decided that maybe he wouldn't hold this favor against the mysterious number. She filled out the Uniform just right. He gave her his best smile as he typed out a hasty message to his new, or old, friend. "Sure. Now stop textin me, papa needs some stress relief."
"Oh you know how it goes," He started as he got to his feet, noting that she was indeed taller than him by an inch or two, his age old adage yet to be proven wrong, "Running errands on my day off. Sometimes its enough to make a grown man cry," He pantomimed tears when she laughed at his expense, "But somehow the day just got a bit brighter. Never been one to drink alone," he waggled his eyebrows at her, and she only laughed more.
"Ma'am," The word caught her attention as the Pilot called back to her in her seat, "Coming in on Guldkusten. Should be there in five." She nodded at his words and went back to her preparations. She pushed her own personal thoughts into the back of her mind and went about gathering her things. She would be in the wilderness with a group of Hunters-in-Training for a month, so she needed to be ready to go at all times. She carefully removed the superfluous bags that the Servants had packed on her Father's behalf, who had been adamant that a Schnee should never be caught unaware.
How that related to always having four bags of Formal clothes had yet to pierce her brain, but she had allowed the issue to move along without issue. She was almost there, freedom in the most true sense. Free to do what she wanted, to fight Grimm, and be a hero. It was all the Childhood she had left, and she was more than ready to embrace it.
She waited as patiently as she could for the Bullhead to come in for a landing just as she had requested, further outside of town than normal. She was trained. She was going to be moving through the Forests of Solitas for a month, might as well get used to it, she had explained to the crew of the Bullhead.
What she most definitely didn't say, was that she didn't want the attention that the SDC insignia would bring. This was a Month for Winter, not for Winter Schnee. And if she had her way, the rest of her lifetime would be much the same.
"Ma'am," The young man that had been in charge of checks saluted her like a military officer as he stood by the lowering ramp, "Good luck in your venture."
"Schnee's don't need luck," She responded automatically, hiding a wince when he visibly recoiled, "But thank you all the same." She relished the fact that her father would have hated to hear her apologize for anything. It made her do it even when she wasn't in the wrong out of spite.
He simply nodded, whatever emotion he was feeling hidden behind his visor, and she was forced to ignore it as unimportant. Her goal was down a platform, her freedom within reach. She exited the Bullhead with grace and dignity, head held high and a single bag on her shoulder. She didn't look back as the machine took off, only taking the docket of information out and looking for the map that told her which direction she needed to go. As she read the thing in the orange light of dusk, she felt an emotion she hadn't felt much of in her life; Excitement.
She was shaken from her thoughts by the sounds of cursing and crashing in the underbrush, causing her to draw her Saber in a defensive position. Instead of a Grimm or Bandit she found a heavily armoured man rolling down a hill, barely missing every trunk as he rolled through a bush and landed heavily in the dirt. She raised an eyebrow as the figure stood, grumbling about his Luck under his breath.
Brown hair in a military style, black plate armor underneath a long leather jacket. Wider in the shoulders than a normal man, but what stood out was his height. He must have been almost seven feet tall. When he finished brushing dirt off of himself he stood to his full height, making her feel small for the first time in a long while, and made eye contact. He blinked at her, before a giant smile split across his face, "Nevermind, maybe it is my lucky day after all!" He exclaimed, exuberance clashing heavily with his appearance, "Do you know the way to Gold-Costen!"
She spluttered in confusion as she fumbled for a response,"It's Guldkusten." She cursed herself mentally as she tried to salvage the situation, but instead could think of nothing else to say. He could be a threat, he could be a Huntsman, and how she approached him depended on his next move. She kept her weapon in between her and the unknown, but from the three firearms that she could see on him she doubted it would do much to deter him.
He simply blinked at her correction, before smiling affably, "Gesundheit."
End of Chapter.
Took me a lot longer to do this chapter than I thought it would. That's mostly because I got distracted by the idea of another story and I've been planning that for most of the Month.
In relation to the Story, I have noticed a common complaint; The random Capitalization of Words in The story. Sorry, I suck, that's about it. Some people have issues with pacing, some have issues with realism, I have both those and a tendency to capitalize when I shouldn't. One day, probably when this story is finished, I'll go back and rewrite the beginning chapters and actually proofread.
I answered all Reviews in DM's, so I'd check those if you haven't.
In other news, this story is properly blowing up, so thanks for that. Hope you continue to enjoy the story and all that. Leave a review if you have something to say.