A/N if you could avoid reporting this story it would be greatly appreciated. im taking a huge risk so you can read this. so if you can. avoid reporting this story. thank you.

Velvet Scarlatina's least favorite thing about Vacuo was how it tasted. Of course, Vacuo didn't have much going for it, unless you enjoy blistering heat, scarce food, and scarcer water. Do you like getting lost? Then come to Vacuo, where the desert landscape completely changes overnight—or even from one hour to the next. The most popular items in the tourist gift shops were T-shirts that read, VACUO: THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME and A TERRIBLE PLACE TO VISIT, BUT YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO LIVE THERE.

Of all the things included in Velvet's mental list of "cons" about Vacuo, number one was the lack of anything to include under "pros." Number two: the way sand kept getting in her mouth, even when it was covered with a pithy T-shirt.

Chewing fresh cactus leaf helped neutralize the sand's bitter flavor, but all such luxuries were hard to come by in Vacuo. Used to living with hardship, Vacuans simply factored the sand into their food preparation. And hey, if you couldn't deal with the "local spice," you probably didn't belong there.

Velvet definitely didn't belong in Vacuo. She was supposed to be in Vale―beautiful, cool, green Vale. She was supposed to be training at Beacon Academy to become a Huntress to protect people. But Beacon was even less hospitable than the desert these days, as hard as that was to believe. Instead, she and her team―Coco Adel, Fox Alistair, and Yatsuhashi Daichi, known collectively to their schoolmates as Team CFVY (Coffee)―had made their way to Vacuo more than a year ago to finish out their training at Shade Academy. And they had more important things to worry about than the taste of sand.

"What are these things?" Velvet shouted. She ducked as a massive crablike creature thrust a claw at her head. The pincer snapped shut loudly right between her long rabbit ears.

That was too close, she thought. I'd hate to end up as a "split hare" pun. Especially after everything else she had survived. The natural wildlife roaming Vacuo was tough for sure, but as a Huntress in training, Velvet had seen the real monsters lurking in the darkness.

Using his Semblance—a special ability unique to every warrior in the world of Remnant—Fox answered her question telepathically, via their special teamspeak. "Mole crabs," he sent. "Kinda small for the species."

"Small, huh? Maybe they're babies," Coco said. "They sure fight like babies."

To her left, Velvet heard rapid shots from Coco's Gatling gun, the explosive impact of her Aura-enhanced bullets on a crab's carapace, and soon the sound of the shell cracking and crumbling. The creature screeched horribly as it died.

But Velvet's crab was still very much alive and frisky. It lunged for her again. She dove and rolled out of the way. She just needed her camera—

Suddenly Yatsuhashi was by her side, as always.

The large crab didn't look quite as intimidating next to Yatsu, who was a foot and a half taller than Velvet and much broader.

The creature chittered nervously. Yatsu grabbed its claw with both hands, holding it closed. Then he twisted his torso and tossed the creature up and away with a roar. It spun through the air like an oversized discus with spindly legs, until it crashed into a dune fifty feet away. There it lay, stunned, half-buried in sand.

"Hey, that one was mine!" Velvet said.

"You're welcome. Give me a hand?" He nodded to another nearby crab, which he had also flipped onto its back. Its legs twitched frantically in the air as it struggled to right itself.

Velvet approached the overturned crab, getting close enough to see her face reflected in its beady black eyes, each the size of her head. She looked away, almost feeling sorry for it. She turned to face Yatsu, knelt on one knee, and interlaced her fingers.

Yatsu sprinted toward her, drawing his greatsword from behind his back. As he stepped onto her linked hands, she heaved upward and stood, boosting his jump so he catapulted high over her head. She spun around and watched him fall toward the crab, sword pointed downward purposefully. The blade pierced the mole crab's soft underbelly.

The crab keened and thrashed, but Yatsu held on to his sword and stayed on top of it. He plunged the blade in deeper. Clear liquid gushed from the wound and drenched him.

Ew, Velvet thought.

The crab's death throes sent sand flying everywhere, including right into Velvet's eyes and—of course—her open mouth. She coughed and rubbed at her stinging eyes until she could see again.

The crab's body still twitched, but it was clearly no longer a threat. Yatsu jumped down and walked toward Velvet. His green robe was soaked dark, almost black. She backed away from him, covering her nose.

"I think it's just … water?" Yatsu swept his fingers through his short, damp hair and then examined his hand.

"Stinky water. You smell like a swamp," she said.

"I know," he said sadly.

The liquid was already evaporating in the hot afternoon sun, but the stench remained.

Yatsu wiped his eyes and looked around. "How are we doing?"

Velvet assessed the battlefield with him. Fox was dancing just within reach of his crab, the smallest of the group. It had only one claw; the other jutted out of the sand beside them, neatly severed. Whenever the crab snapped its remaining claw at the lithe, red-haired teen, Fox dodged and slashed at the limb with his bladed tonfas.

"At least Fox is having fun," Velvet said.

Coco walked calmly toward Velvet and Yatsu, the shredded remains of a crab behind her. She'd managed to avoid getting any of its guts and gore on her brown-and-black ensemble. Lucky thing, because Vacuo wasn't big on designer clothing, although Coco's beret and aviator sunglasses were gaining popularity among Shade Academy's students as fashionable and surprisingly functional desert-wear.

Coco folded her gun up into a handbag and slung its bandolier strap over her shoulder. She flashed a thumbs-up: mission accomplished.

As Velvet returned the gesture, she abruptly remembered the crab Yatsu had tossed into a dune. She looked for it, but the mound of sand it had landed in was gone … and so was the crab.

Good, she thought, followed almost immediately by, Oh no. She watched as the sand in front of Coco geysered, and Velvet lost sight of their leader.

"Coco!" Velvet bolted toward her, Yatsu right on her heels.

"Fox! Stop playing around!" Yatsu called.

"Coming," Fox sent.

Velvet glanced over as Fox lopped off the crab's head with its own dismembered claw. He dropped the limb and darted toward Coco, who was struggling in the claw grip of the last mole crab. She strained to keep the pincers from closing around her.

Velvet stopped and reached behind her for the rectangular brown box she always carried on her belt. She pressed the stitched heart emblem to open it and then removed Anesidora, her high-tech camera that used special Dust, an energy propellant substance, to print photographed weapons in hard light. Combined with her Semblance—photographic memory—Velvet could wield these 3-D replicas with skills and moves that otherwise would have taken years of training to master.

Yatsu sped past Velvet, and soon he was engaging the crab. But he couldn't get close enough to hack away its claws like Fox had; this one was too fast. It was all Yatsu could do to parry attacks from its other claw with his sword.

Velvet thumbed through the images stored in the camera, looking for just the right one to help her friends. Professor Port, blunderbuss raised and aimed at a flock of Griffons in Amity Arena. Weiss Schnee, in a rare unguarded moment, with a giant glowing arm and sword hanging from a glyph floating behind her. Green-haired Reese Chloris leaning on her hoverboard after she and the rest of Team ABRN (Auburn) had defeated a Death Stalker.

Velvet came across the last snapshot she'd taken of her friend Ruby Rose and her high-caliber sniper scythe, Crescent Rose—the perfect weapon for cracking open a crab. Still, Velvet hesitated, hand trembling as the memories flooded back.

Beacon was burning. Beacon was falling. All around them.

And they couldn't save it.

The sky was full of the wings and cries of Griffons, terrible flying Grimm monsters that had carried off several classmates and tourists, shattering the peace of the festival. Other Creatures of Grimm—Beowolves, Creeps, Boarbatusks—rampaged through the rubble-littered streets as people ran screaming. The clang and clatter of battle echoed throughout the city, struggling to be heard over the softer sounds that now haunted Velvet's dreams. At least the military's hacked defense robots had been deactivated; now all CFVY had to deal with was the Grimm.

But the Grimm were relentless and vicious, and there were so many of them. More of the dark, deadly creatures poured into Beacon with every passing hour, faster than they could be destroyed. The monsters were the stuff of nightmares, all shadow and bone, fire and fury. They only hunted humans and Faunus, such as Velvet, and they were drawn to negative emotions. They fed off fear and anger and hatred. No one knew where Grimm came from, or why they existed, but they were killing machines. The only way to survive an attack by a Grimm was to kill it first.

Velvet limped along, leaning against Yatsu, who wasn't in much better shape than she was. Still, his strong arm around her shoulders did more than keep her moving—it held up her spirit. Yatsu and the rest of her team made Velvet feel safe, even while they were facing the greatest danger of their lives.

But she also felt guilty; if Yatsu had to take care of her, it kept him from saving other people who needed him more. So far they had rescued seven frightened, hurt tourists and citizens, who were now following them to the docks. But there were plenty more out there waiting for someone to help them.

"I'm fine," Velvet lied. She felt as if she'd been hit by a truck, which was close to the truth. "We have to make sure everyone evacuates."

"An Atlesian Paladin punched you," Yatsu said. "We must get you to the docks. You need medical attention."

"Yatsuhashi's right," Coco said. She paused to fire her gun at a Beowolf. The bullets did little more than annoy it, but still created enough of a distraction for Fox to sneak behind and neatly slice off the Grimm's head. Fox walked through the black mist to rejoin his team as the Grimm disappeared.

"Your Aura's critical, Velvet," Coco continued. With her Aura—the powerful, protective life force tied to everyone's soul—at that low level, one more hit would finish her off. "If it hadn't been for Weiss's Semblance …"

"Who knew she could do that?" Yatsu asked.

By "that" he meant summon a massive sword and a giant, ghostly hand to hold it, from out of nowhere.

"It's a Schnee family thing," Fox sent telepathically, somehow managing to sound smug about it. "They can summon avatars of enemies they've beaten to fight for them. Handy, huh?"

Coco groaned.

The avatar Weiss had summoned had sliced up the war machine just before it would have finished off Velvet. What was even more impressive than the lifesaving stunt was the fact that Weiss had stepped between Velvet and the Paladin's killing blow, without seeming to know she could stop it.

"I think Weiss was just as surprised at what Velvet's capable of." Coco smiled wearily. "You were terrific."

"Thanks," Velvet said. In taking down the attacking military robots, she'd finally had a chance to prove what she and her camera could do. Unfortunately, she had to burn through some of her best pictures, using weapons she had been saving all semester and losing photos of dear friends—friends she suddenly wasn't sure she would ever see alive or whole again—in the process.

Velvet knew that many Beacon students considered her dead weight on Team CFVY. Some others didn't like her because they discriminated against Faunus-kind—people who possessed animal traits—and Velvet's rabbit ears weren't so easily hidden by a simple disguise. She'd been hoping she would be chosen to fight in the Vytal Tournament, show off a little for a change, but Coco had ended that idea pretty quickly. Velvet wondered if she and Yatsu would have done any better in the battle against Emerald and Mercury.

Coco had wondered that, too. She still smarted from that defeat, the bruises to her ego lasting longer than the bruises on her body. And now she had new bruises on top of those, from fighting a seemingly endless onslaught of Grimm.

The team was utterly spent. In the last hour, they had seen their friend Penny Polendina torn apart by her own weapons. They had helped take down a Nevermore at Amity Arena, fought Griffons and Ursai, faced off against Atlas's finest military machines. And there still was no end in sight. The Grimm just kept coming, and now there was a giant winged Grimm circling Beacon Tower. The smart thing to do was retreat so they could fight another day.

"Heads up," Fox sent.

Coco lowered her sunglasses. Two people were heading toward the school—away from the docks and away from safety. A girl in a white dress and a girl in a black dress with a red cloak. Weiss Schnee and Ruby Rose. Every time Coco turned around, one or more of the girls from Team RWBY (Ruby) was there, right in the middle of the action.

The first-year students skidded to a stop in front of Team CFVY.

"Aren't you going the wrong way?" Coco asked.

Ruby pushed past the question. "Has anyone seen Jaune and Pyrrha?"

Coco shook her head.

"The school's overrun with Grimm," Velvet said. "If they're still back there …"

Weiss set her jaw. "We're going to find them."

Weiss should have stayed at the docks. It was obvious that she was running on empty … but she was still running.

"What about Blake? Yang? Did they make it?" Velvet asked.

Ruby closed her eyes briefly, swallowed whatever she was going to say. She opened her eyes again, and they flashed in the moonlight. "They're all at the docks. We'll see you there soon. With Jaune and Pyrrha."

"We'll help you look," Fox said.

"Are you crazy?" Weiss cocked her hip. "You need to get Velvet out of here."

"I'll take Velvet," Coco tried. "Yatsuhashi and Fox will guard your flank."

"Then who'll guard yours?" Weiss gestured to the civilians who had been following CFVY. They looked uneasy about standing out in the open like this.

Ruby unfolded her weapon and used the sniper rifle to pick off a Beowolf approaching from their right. "Don't split up your team, Coco."

Coco struggled to not smart against what sounded like an order coming from her friend; she'd never seen such a somber look in Ruby's eyes before. Chaos ruled in the ruined city, but for a moment, the two team leaders calmly regarded each other.

"We have to stick together, now more than ever," Ruby said.

Coco nodded.

Then Weiss and Ruby took off again.

"Ruby!" Velvet called. Ruby turned back one last time, her cloak billowing in the bitter wind, the shaft of her scythe draped over her right shoulder. Velvet's camera flashed as she snapped a photo. "Be safe."

"You too." Ruby collapsed Crescent Rose and disappeared into the smoke.

"We should have gone with them," Fox sent.

Coco considered. "They're the best two for the job. And we've got our own job: Getting these people out of Beacon. Making sure Velvet is all right."

Velvet flicked past the photo of Ruby, pushing away the thought that it could be the last photo she'd ever have of her friend. While Velvet's injuries were being treated at the docks, Ruby's uncle, Qrow, had arrived with an unconscious Ruby and whisked her onto the next airbus. Velvet never even saw them.

Team RWBY hadn't returned after the fall of Beacon, and no one knew exactly where Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang were now.

Velvet settled on one of her favorite weapons, Sharp Retribution, Fox's bladed tonfas. She was about to activate them and leap into the fray, when she heard a dry, whispery voice nearby. So soft she might have imagined it.

"Help."

Velvet whipped around and scanned the area until she noticed sand sliding slowly down a small hill. She shielded her eyes from the sun and squinted. Something was peeking out of the sand. It looked like the corner of a wagon …

And then fingers broke through, frantically pushing more of the sand away.

"Over here!" rasped the voice.

So that's why the mole crabs were hanging out in the area, Velvet thought.

The ground rumbled and more sand fell away. Velvet turned and saw the source: A huge mound of sand was moving toward them, like Pumpkin Pete tunneling under the ground in the old cartoons. Something told her it wasn't going to be an animated bunny.

She glanced back at her teammates. Coco was still in one piece, still trapped in the crab's claw. Fox was on the monster's back, chipping away at the shell with his blades as the crab tried to burrow into the sand. Yatsu had changed tactics and was holding one of the crab's legs, to keep it from submerging in the sand with Coco.

They'll be fine for now, and besides, we don't leave people behind. Not anymore.

Velvet summoned hard-light replicas of Fox's weapons and recalled Fox's fighting style as she ran past her friends, toward the buried wagon.

"Uh, Velvet? Where you going?" Fox sent. "Could use a little help here."

It was hard to pretend you didn't hear someone when they spoke in your head.

"Be right there," Velvet said. I hope.

She ran alongside the tunneling mole crab, struggling to keep up with it. It was hard enough to run on sand without its surface swelling and swirling in the creature's wake. Then the front half of the monster burst from the desert.

So they do get bigger, she thought. If those other crabs were babies, this could be their parent, easily three times their size, and three times as angry.

Velvet pushed herself to go faster, cutting ahead of the crab as its forward end dropped to the ground, practically on top of her. She looked up and saw the claws preparing to grab her.

Velvet quickly dove forward onto her hands, then pushed off and back. Her feet slammed against the bottom of the crab and she fired bullets from the tonfa blades on her forearms away from it. Her momentum and the recoil from the gunshot blasts carried her and the crab back up off the ground.

When she kicked off of the creature's underside, it tipped up onto its rear legs, while Velvet landed clumsily on her hands and knees.

The giant mole crab balanced precariously above her, waving its claws almost comically. Velvet gave herself a running start and launched herself at it again, this time face-first. As she flew through the air, she twisted her body into a corkscrew and locked the arm blades forward, all while shooting at the crab's soft belly.

The bullets started the job, and the spinning blades finished it, spewing briny fluid and guts everywhere.

Everywhere.

The crab's shrieks set Velvet's teeth on edge. It fell backward, already dead by the time it hit the ground. Velvet felt the body's tremors still as she climbed out of the hot, gory mess she had made of its belly, trying not to gag on the awful stench. The hard-light arm blades faded away.

She jumped off the carcass and surfed down a crest of sand, skidding to a halt in front of the now half-exposed wagon.

Velvet knelt in the sand, coughing and trying to catch her breath. Yatsuhashi was the first to reach her.

"Ugh. You okay?" He covered his nose and mouth. "Why didn't you wait for us?"

"Couldn't." Velvet coughed. She gestured urgently toward the wagon.

"Oh." Yatsu strode forward, grabbed the front of the wagon, and heaved. He grunted and grimaced, straining and sinking to his ankles in the sand. Then up to his knees. But the wagon slowly slid free of the ground. When he held it aloft, sand streamed out of it from the open cabin and wheels. He carefully righted the wagon and eased it down.

Coco and Fox arrived. Velvet glanced back and saw her teammates had cracked the other crab open like a nut.

Fox put a hand on Velvet's shoulder. She nodded. "I'm fine, but I could use a bath."

He wrinkled his nose.

"Hello? Anyone in there?" Coco called.

"Here." An older woman with spiky gray hair and a leathery face poked her head out of the wagon. "Thanks for the rescue."

Yatsu helped her down gently. She was stocky and short, half a foot shorter than Coco, but she looked rugged, like most Vacuo nomads. The woman cradled her left arm, which looked to be dislocated at the shoulder. "And who might you be?" she asked.

"We're Shade Academy's newest star pupils. Team CFVY. I'm Coco, and that's Fox, Velvet, and Yatsuhashi." Coco pointed out her teammates.

"Slate. Nice to meet you all." The woman ran her fingers through her hair, sending sand drifting to her shoulders. Velvet realized that her hair was light brown, not gray.

"How long have you been out here?" Coco asked.

"A day, maybe two?"

Velvet handed the woman a canteen and she sipped the water slowly. "We were fleeing the Gossan settlement after a Grimm invasion. Just when we thought we were in the clear, we found this oasis had dried up and those crabs had moved in."

"Your family just abandoned you here?" Velvet asked.

Slate shook her head. "No family. Not for a long time."

"What about the other survivors, then?" Yatsuhashi asked.

"They survived, I hope. I can tell you're new here." Slate looked them over, taking in their outfits. Most Vacuans wore simple, light-colored tunics and linen cloaks and head coverings for crossing the desert. But Team CFVY had to strike a balance between staying cool and being combat-ready, and their clothes were a reminder of where they had come from, who they were. Something normal in their lives when everything was very much not normal.

Besides, Coco would always choose fashion over sensibility at the drop of a beret.

"Surviving is what we do here, or don't," Slate went on. "We look out for one another, but if it's down to your life or someone else's, you choose your own. No hard feelings."

"You really believe that?" Velvet asked.

Slate shrugged, then winced and grabbed her shoulder. "What I believe is my own business, but if you're smart, you'll heed that advice. At any rate, the survivors fled, and I couldn't leave the wagon—when I took even a step, the crabs woke up. They use vibrations to find prey, but they lose interest the moment you stop moving."

"You couldn't have mentioned that?" Yatsu glared at Fox.

"Where's the challenge in tiptoeing around our enemies?" Fox said.

"Fortunately, I had this broken wagon," Slate went on. "I stayed with it and hoped for the best."

"That's us," Coco said. "The best have arrived."

"And I'm glad for that. I didn't want anyone else dying on my account, but if someone was gonna show up and distract those crabs, I'm glad it was Huntsmen like you."

"We did more than distract them," Fox said.

Velvet still couldn't believe that Slate's friends had left her to die in the desert. If that was the way of life out here, that was one more thing to dislike about Vacuo.

I wish we hadn't come here, Velvet thought, not for the first time. Probably not for the last.

Professor Port had ordered a mandatory evacuation to a safe zone northwest of the city, and General Ironwood had made it clear that there was no shame in leaving.

"You have two choices," he had told the students at Amity Arena. "Defend your kingdom and your school. Or save yourselves."

For Team CFVY, there was no question: They were going to stay in Beacon as long as they could. There were still defenseless people trapped and hiding throughout the city, and a steady flow of Grimm to dispatch.

The only question was whether Velvet would stay with them, or go to safety on her own. They stood in front of the last transport ship while they debated.

"I'm already way better," Velvet said. The on-site medics had patched her up. Her muscles were on fire, her body felt like a giant bruise, and her head was throbbing … but she was tougher than she looked. Tougher than anyone gave her credit for, even her own team, apparently.

"I'll be back to normal after a good night's sleep," Velvet said.

"Which you aren't likely to get here, fighting Grimm," Coco said. "Go, Velvet. You can rejoin us after you've rested up. We'll still be here."

Velvet crossed her arms, recalling Ruby's parting words to them. "Don't split up your team, Coco."

Yatsu nodded. He wanted Velvet to be safe as much as anyone, but he figured the safest place for her was close to him. And he certainly didn't want to miss out on the Grimm-bashing action at Beacon.

"We won't be a team if you're dead," Coco said.

Velvet looked hurt. "You don't think I can hold my own."

"You're injured." Coco held up a hand before Velvet could protest again. "And you used all your best photos."

Velvet whipped out her camera and snapped a photo of Coco.

Coco lowered her sunglasses. "Cute."

Velvet stuck her tongue out.

"But you know what I mean," Coco said.

"Hey, we have to get going. They're gonna close the air space soon," the air-bus pilot called.

"Give us a minute, flyboy," Coco snapped.

"Coco," Fox said. Coco looked at him—they each did. Fox spoke aloud only when they were in mixed company, or when he really wanted people to listen. But that was all, a gentle admonishment to their leader.

Coco sighed. "I'm tired. Not thinking clearly."

"That's the first sensible thing you've said today." Professor Glynda Goodwitch strode toward them. "Port told me you were insisting on staying. I'm here to convince you otherwise."

Coco straightened. "With all due respect, Professor, if you're staying, so are we."

Glynda hid a smile. "Is that so?"

"We're students, but we're still Huntsmen," Yatsu said.

"Huntsmen in training," Glynda said. She looked back at the fallen school wistfully.

"Huntsmen don't run," Coco said. "Even in training."

"We're sworn to defend those who can't protect themselves. And this is our home," Velvet said.

"I assume there'll be some sort of extra credit for staying," Fox sent.

Glynda studied each of them, no longer trying to hide her smile or her pride in them. Team CFVY, all of the students who had defended Beacon this day, were a testament to what Beacon stood for. They were every bit the shining inspirations, the sources of light in a world filled with darkness, that Professor Ozpin had hoped they would be. He had staked his reputation on his ideals, put his life on the line countless times to uphold them.

And if he had given his life in the end, as it seemed he had, it was even more important for his trusted followers to pick up where he left off.

Glynda could certainly use all the help she could get to keep the peace while she rebuilt the school, brick by brick if she had to.

"Velvet, go to the medics. See if they can find you a bed to rest in," Coco said, taking her cue from the professor. "We'll come back and get you at dawn for another sweep of the city."

"What are you kids doing out here, anyway?" Slate asked. When she noticed Coco frown, she held up a hand. "Everyone's a kid to me. Didn't mean nothing by it."

"Shade Academy received a distress call from Gossan. Professor Rumpole sent us to help," Coco said.

"From Gossan?" Slate said. "We haven't been able to talk to Shade since the CCT went down."

The Cross Continental Transmit System had been offline since the attack on Beacon Tower, which also housed Vale's CCT Tower, cutting off communication among the kingdoms of Remnant. Wireless communication still worked within Vacuo thanks to support towers relaying signals across the continent, but it was spotty farther away from the CCT Tower at the Academy. Sandstorms also tended to cause interruptions, and the smaller towers were often lost to Grimm, further breaking down the network.

"We think someone must have hardwired directly into the Gossan support tower, which boosted the signal strength enough to reach us," Velvet said.

"Must have been someone clever, then. Did you get a name?" Slate asked.

Coco shook her head. "The transmission was faint, but we heard Gossan was under attack, and survivors were going for Feldspar. We were on our way there before all this." Coco swept her hand out.

"That was the plan," Slate said. "Feldspar is the closest big settlement; it has a small oasis, and another CCT support tower."

"Good, then we should be able to report back to Professor Rumpole and update her on our status," Coco said.

"My status is hot, tired, and hungry," Yatsu said.

"You forgot smelly," Fox said.

"I'm trying to ignore that," Yatsu said, "and failing."

"When we get to Feldspar, we can probably take care of most of those problems, at least temporarily," Slate said.

"Then let's get you to your new home," Velvet said.

Slate smiled tightly. "The only home you have in Vacuo is the people you keep close. Don't forget that."

"We'll get you back to your people, then," Coco said.

The ones who abandoned you, Velvet thought. Some home.

"One moment." Slate climbed back into her wagon. A moment later, she emerged with a large canvas pack on her back, a sturdy walking stick, and a scary-big knife.

"What's that for?" Yatsu asked, eyeing the knife.

Slate gestured at the giant crabs baking in the desert around them, already being covered by the drifting sand. Unlike the Grimm, when you killed an ordinary animal, even one of an unusual size, it left behind a body.

"We can't let this food go to waste," Slate said.

"Food?" Velvet covered her mouth and tried not to gag.

"You're kidding," Coco said.

"Mole crab is a rare delicacy," Fox sent.

"Rare because those who hunt the mole crab usually end up feeding the mole crab. But five of them were no match for you!" Slate laughed. "We'll just scoop the meat out of the shell, pack it in sand, and we'll be heroes in Feldspar. There are a lot of mouths to feed. At least I hope there are."

Velvet felt sick. "I'd rather fight another crab than eat one."

"If we take much longer here, you might get your chance," Coco said. "Come on, team. Let's help, but make it quick. The sooner we finish, the sooner we'll be safe at Feldspar."

"I don't know how safe we'll be," Slate said. "Something odd's been going on."

"What do you mean?" Coco asked.

"Let's just say we aren't one big happy family lately. Not anymore. But there's time for that later. I'm taking the big one. Looks like she might be carrying egg sacs." Slate scampered off toward the dead mother crab and then carved out a hefty chunk of meat.

"Gross," Velvet said.

"Dibs on the legs," Fox shouted. He ran off after Slate, arm blades out.

"Even after all the time we've known each other, sometimes Fox is a complete mystery to me," Coco said as she watched him hack off a gigantic crab leg. "I didn't figure him for a leg guy."

"He's different since we got here," Yatsu said. "Vacuo is his home."

"If it's his home, then why did he leave?" Velvet asked. But there was another unanswered question she'd much rather be asking: Why did we have to leave Beacon?