New story. I was really thinking before about putting Raise here, and part me wishes I'd decided to – but hey ho, I can always change my mind later if I want and switch this to a Tuesday slot. We'll see what the general reception is like in a few weeks.
Anyway, this story takes elements of Lobotomy Corporation and Library of Ruina – two games you absolutely do not have to have played to understand any of this. Both are similar to SCP lore and fandom, and deal with anomalies. I won't be taking any specific anomalies and using them here (I'll make my own) and the lore will be different. I'm just taking some worldbuilding ideas and concepts.
Given that there are thousands of SCP ideas online however, both official and not, and that for every good and iconic one there are twenty that read like bad Twilight fanfiction, I cannot guarantee that some ideas I come up with won't share some similarities with them. I know most of the really big and iconic ones which I can avoid using anything like, but there are hundreds of derpy little ones as well which I obviously haven't read all of. This is really just a disclaimer to say "hey, I'll be making my own but if I accidentally make one that's tangentially similar to one out there then it's by accident or I didn't realise it."
"There are many things that go bump in the night. Too many to count. It's our job to give it our best shot however, and to make sure that little boys and girls believe it the monster under their bed or in their closet, and not the creature outside their window looking in with hungry eyes."
Nicholas Arc. ARC Corp. Director of Operations
"There really is no work for a faunus like me, is there?"
The words slipped out Blake's mouth a quiet whisper, frustration and annoyance blending into that all-too familiar hate that had pushed her to join the White Fang before; the same hate that gripped Adam and drove him down a path she couldn't follow. The stark reminder crushed the feelings before they could boil out of control, and she managed a small, bitter smile for the flustered clerk in front of her.
"I'm sorry, ma'am." He was polite, infallibly so, but also useless. "There just aren't that many jobs in Vale at the moment, and even less with your… um… skillset." He fidgeted with his pen, and Blake had the suspicion he thought she might attack him. "Someone capable of fighting but not having a huntress license disqualifies you from a lot of combat-related jobs, setting aside the question of how you learned in the first place…"
He was implying she was a terrorist.
Blake might have been upset if he wasn't correct.
"I told you I learned in Menagerie from my parents. We don't have an academy there so there aren't any papers I could have had."
"And I believe you, ma'am, but it doesn't change the fact most jobs require a qualification. Have you considered seeking work outside the city? I've heard that the farming communities are always looking for labourers – and there's always the SDC min-" He cut himself off, face paling. "I-I'm sorry, forget I said that one. I'll keep you in the system and contact you if anything comes up, ma'am."
It took a lot of effort to maintain a polite smile as she pushed herself up and stepped away from the desk. Her spot was taken almost immediately, the long line of job-seekers queuing out the door now. Vale really was over-populated, and for this many people to be here looking for work…? It didn't bode well for her.
Typical of me not to think this far ahead, she thought. In the heat of the moment with Adam ready to blow up a train and kill everyone inside, she'd done what she felt she had to. After, she'd ridden the train to Vale and snuck off before the authorities could catch a lone faunus on a train missing half its carriages. It had all seemed so easy at the time. Cut her ties, leave Adam behind, ride the train to Vale and open a new chapter in her life. Well, she'd done just that and now the chapter was a blank page with a single, hastily scrawled question-mark in the centre of it.
Life as a terrorist didn't exactly leave you with good qualifications, nor a stable home address, much in the way of funds or any job references. The job centre in Vale had been downright incredulous when she showed up with little more than her name, her clothes and some promised combat skills they didn't even have the facilities to test. She knew then and there they wouldn't find her work, and to be fair it wasn't even their fault. Most humans didn't like hiring faunus as it was, but one with no background and no job history – and who was being cagey about it – practically screamed trouble.
"So much for a brand new start…"
Stepping out the job centre, Blake checked the long line of people and noticed not for the first time that three quarters of them were faunus – even this late in the evening. How many would give in and accept the mines, she wondered. Too many. The temptation to do something about it was there, but that had led her into trouble before, so she forced herself to walk away.
"I'm never going to find work like this," she muttered to herself, sliding between pedestrians with one hand on Gambol Shroud and the other on her stomach. Her last meal had been the night before. "Maybe I should just risk it and apply to Beacon. Even if I don't have a school to reference, I can at least try and prove myself on merit…"
It'd be a miracle if they even considered her, though. People applied to Beacon from all over Remnant, and they all came from pre-academy schools like Signal and Haven. Just showing up with no proof and claiming she was good enough-? It'd be the job centre all over again. At this point, she'd be better off striking out for home and begging forgiveness from her parents. It couldn't be worse than this.
A poster on a nearby wall caught her attention. It was hastily slapped up and taped into place, and on it featured big letters "MISSING". Blake walked by with her head swivelling to catch it, then took a few steps back to get a closer look. The image was of a young boy around fourteen years of age, apparently named Teddy, who had gone missing only four days ago by the date. There was the usual plea for him to return home safely if he'd run away, but also a number to call for information. Far more promising, at least for her sake, was the stated reward of forty-thousand lien for his safe return, and ten-thousand for information that could lead the police to rescue him.
Hey now, I could do this. Blake rubbed her jaw as she thought about it. The money would be a lifesaver, and this wasn't something she needed a job or qualifications for. The White Fang didn't run kidnapping, but they did run arms smuggling and it couldn't be that much different. If he'd been taken, people would need to ship him out the city and that meant smuggler's channels. It's worth a shot, isn't it? Not much else I can do with no job offers coming. What else am I going to do tonight? Feel sorry for myself?
Her mind made up, Blake tore the poster off the wall, rolled it up and stuffed it into her holster alongside Gambol Shroud. Smuggling meant ways in and out the city, and that meant transport links. If he was still inside the city at all then he was either at the gates, the docks or the train stations – and she'd just come from one of those. The docks would have too many checks as well, which meant the best way in and out would be through the wall.
That… didn't narrow it down much. Vale was surrounded by a wall, so there was a whole circumference to check, but she figured it wouldn't be the walls headed to the Emerald Forest and Beacon because those would be too dangerous, and they wouldn't go north and trap themselves against the coast because they'd have to wrap around the city and go back through the same forest. That left a stretch of a good half the city, south and west, which was where the main roads leading to smaller settlements and farming communities lay. Vale's breadbasket as it were.
Finding one kid in all of that was proving a lot harder than she'd initially pegged it for – and she'd not liked her chances even then. It wasn't like Menagerie where people were polite, and the population was low enough for a missing child to be recognisable. People ignored her, and those that did entertain her did so only long enough to apologise and say they'd never met the boy, then wish her good luck and walk away. The gate guards were a little better, but they only said they'd told the police already that the kid hadn't gone through. Good news there, but if the police had already investigated this line then she wasn't sure what else she could do. It was starting to get dark, too, which wasn't a problem with her faunus eyesight, but would mean less people on the street to question.
It got bad enough that she started asking other children – mostly urchins and teenagers at this time of day - hoping one of them might have paid attention where the adults hadn't. She couldn't say she expected much of it, but after twenty minutes of asking around, and right when she was on the verge of giving up, a young girl said, "Oh. I think I saw him."
"Really!?" Blake couldn't believe it and snapped back out her daydreams and to attention. "You're sure?"
"Well, I'm not sure," the girl admitted. She was a small thing, under five feet with shoulder-length blonde hair and a white flower on the side of her head, pinned into her hair. She wore a ridiculously frilly and cute pink dress that spoke of either rich parents or a fascination for cosplay. Blake pegged her at around thirteen or so. Two fluffy, rounded ears atop her head spoke of her faunus heritage. "But I definitely saw some strange men in black suits dragging a boy away a few days ago, and he looked like the boy in this."
"You saw all that and didn't tell anyone?"
"I told mommy," the girl insisted, "and she said I should stay out of trouble."
And said mother hadn't told the police? Blake gnashed her teeth at how irresponsible that was, but maybe the woman thought it was a made-up story or that the boy was being dragged away by his parents. The girl might not have explained it well. "Do you know where they took him to?" The girl nodded. "Can you tell me where it is?"
"Sure! Follow me!"
The girl ran ahead without any prompting, both surprising and alarming Blake enough to chase after her. "Wait, I said tell me, not show me!"
"It'll be easier to show you, silly."
Easier, sure, but the last thing she needed was to be accused of kidnapping a wealthy girl in the middle of Vale. Come to think of it, why weren't her parents around to keep an eye on her? Or at the very least to teach her not to go off with strangers. Great – now she had to find a missing child while keeping another safe. The reward would be worth it, but only if the girl actually knew where the boy was.
Fifteen minutes. That was how long the kid led her on for – a jog for her, and downright ridiculous for someone her age to manage. Worse, it took them far away from where they'd started, to a poorer part of the city, as evidenced by the boarded up homes and shopfronts. Even the streetlights were old, with one in two flickering or not working at all. Blake came to a stop breathing heavily.
"A-Are you insane?" she panted. "What will your parents say when they hear you ran off like that? They're going to say I kidnapped you!"
"It's fine. They won't be angry. That's the place!" The girl pointed, and Blake followed her little finger to a single house trapped between the others. It was tall and narrow, three storeys, with a single burgundy red door at the bottom. Like the homes to the left and right, its windows were shattered and boarded up, giving it a dilapidated, abandoned look.
The whole street looked to be abandoned. There wasn't a pedestrian in sight, no cars parked on the road, no trash cans or so much as a shady drug dealer. It was like the whole city had refused to acknowledge the street's existence. The perfect place to kidnap someone and take them away to.
"That's good and all but I need to get you home," Blake said, turning. "It's not safe here. I can come back after-" The empty street greeted her. "-taking you home…?"
The girl was nowhere to be seen. Had she run off already? If so, she'd been quiet about it. Or fast. The whole area was silent. The sounds of cars could be heard in the distance, and the shine of their headlights occasionally flashed by the end of the street, but there wasn't a single person, nor any sign of her pint-sized guide.
"What the hell…?"
"Aren't you coming, silly?" The girl's voice had Blake whipping around. The girl was there – much to Blake's relief – but relief soon turned to horror as she realised the girl was on the top step, with one hand on the door. "We're going to be heroes and save the boy and get the reward money!" she cheered with all the naivety of a spoiled child who had no idea what she was getting into.
"Wait!" Blake yelped, swearing and breaking into a sprint. She rushed for the girl, hands outstretched, but that only urged the child on. She turned the handle, the door clicking open – unlocked, or left open when it was abandoned. The girl slid inside; the door swung shut behind her. "Damn it! Why do you have to be such an idiot!?"
Taking the steps two at a time, Blake vaulted to the top and pressed her shoulder into the door, forcing it open as she twisted the handle. The door groaned as it did, in stark contrast to how easily the girl entered. Blackness within welcomed her, with her eyes instantly acclimatising to it. There was no light inside and the switch by the door clicked helplessly without turning anything on. No power.
"Hello?" Blake hissed in a loud whisper. If the people who kidnapped the child were still here then she didn't want to alert them, but she also couldn't believe the girl had run in alone. "Hey! Are you there?" No answer. "Idiot! This is what I get for trying to do a nice deed."
Well, she couldn't leave the kid now – that'd be a fine way to begin her fresh new start and reign of doing good, wouldn't it? Blake crept inside and closed the door quietly behind her, scanning the corridor ahead and the staircase for any sign of inhabitation. The interior was stiflingly hot despite the lack of any power and, she had to assume, central heating. It was hot enough to make her sweep a hand across her forehead.
The air smelled musty as well, as if the place didn't have any good ventilation despite the door having been open just a moment ago. The staircase ahead led up, and the corridor stretched past it to a kitchen she could see was empty. There were two archways on the ground floor by her, one leading left and the other right. The left one led to an empty dining room, but the right opened into a living area, with a television set, two sofas and a boarded-up window.
The back of someone's head poked up over the back of one of the sofas, covered by a hoodie drawn up. He or she was sat nestled in the corner of the thing, facing away from her, and apparently hadn't heard her come in or whisper. It was too big to be the girl – could this be one of the guys who took the first child? Or maybe it was a squatter or homeless person who had snuck in for some shelter. The building was clearly abandoned. Taking a step forward, Blake breathed out softly, relieved by the lack of any tell-tale creak or ominously groaning floorboards. She padded quietly into the room, scanning the corners but finding no one else there.
When she was close enough, she lunged – wrapping a hand around the person's mouth and placing her other hand atop his head to keep him still. "Be quiet!" she hissed. "I'm looking for a little-"
The body under her tumbled to the side.
With the head still in her hands.
"Arghhh!" Blake shrieked and launched it away, the skull bouncing off the far wall and landing on the ground with a horrible crack. Its empty eye sockets looked back at her. "Oh hell!" she gasped, backing up quickly until she was flat against the wall behind her. "W-What the hell is that!?"
Obvious answer – it was a dead body. A skeleton that remained after the body decomposed, sat on the sofa still wearing the clothing it died in. The answer didn't calm Blake down any. Her heart pounded in her chest and she had to grip it and take several deep breaths. The question of whether she'd feel better if it was a child kidnapper echoed in her head, and she wasn't sure if it wouldn't have been. At least she'd have not touched someone's skull with her bare hands.
"He's dead," she told herself, heart pounding away, "And he's been dead for ages if he decomposed that far. This isn't a murder." Or if it was, it was a very old one, but she didn't believe that with how the guy was sat propped up. "It's some homeless guy. He snuck in, died and no one found out because this place is abandoned. That must be it. Gross, horrible but nothing to be afraid of."
If anything, she should call the police. Or an ambulance. Blake checked her scroll and groaned inwardly at the lack of any bars of signal. Of course it would be dead in a situation like this. She glanced back in the direction of the door, only to remember the reason she came inside in the first place. The girl was still in here, and if she'd seen this guy then she might be terrified. Determination pushed away Blake's panic at last, the cold hand of obligation overcoming fear.
"Okay. Find the girl, get out, report this. Easy. No problem. I've got this."
Just… ignore the dead person. At least they were a skeleton and not a rotting body. Blake edged around the walls of the room, keeping as much distance from the body as possible as she slid her way into the next room. It was the kitchen – the living room opening to both it and the main hallway and completing a circle.
"Hello? Little girl? Why didn't I ask her name? Damn it, Blake."
The kitchen counters were oddly clean for the place having been abandoned, but the appliances contrasted that by looking dull and inert – not dirty but faded and worn as if they'd wasted away. There was a back window above the sink but though the glass was still whole, thick planks covered the other side preventing any light streaming through. Curious, Blake tested the tap on the sink only for it to turn and turn without any water coming forth. No dust, either. There wasn't much dust at all if she were being honest. It was like someone had come in to sweep the sides down, ignoring the dead body, then left immediately after.
Stepping past the dishwasher and microwave, she checked the closed door on the side of the fridge, which she imagined would either be a pantry or a utility closet. It was the latter. Two big machines, a washing machine and a dryer, stood silently against one wall, while several buckets and a mop rested against the other. Nothing unusual there aside from a lack of any cleaning supplies and the fact that the old inhabitants had left all these utilities in the first place. Why not take them out or sell them? They had to be worth something. A scrap of bright blue cloth was poking out the hatch of the tumble dryer, crinkly and dry like a raincoat.
Hadn't the boy in the poster been wearing similar? Maybe the girl was right and he had been taken in here. Whomever took him might have stuffed his clothing into the dryer. Without thinking, she raised the lid and peered inside.
A skeleton stared back up at her. A small skeleton.
The hatch slammed down before a single sound escaped her lips – and that was a choked, breathy rasp. There was no time for more because Blake pushed her body so hard she flew out the utility closet and dashed down the hallway to the front door, caught the handle, twisted and pulled.
The door held firm. The knob wouldn't even twist.
"Come on. Come on!" Blake pushed her whole weight against it, straining until her fingers ached, slid and she almost threw her arm out. Her body collided with the wood, and after a moment to consider it, she stood back, braced her aura and threw herself into it a second time. The door vibrated on the impact with her body, but it didn't break open or even crack. Blake bounced back, landing on her rear with a stunned expression. The door wasn't budging. "What the hell!? It was open two minutes ago!" Just to be sure, she tried it again, pushing, pulling, kicking and throwing her body at it. Nothing worked. "What is this made of? Solid steel?"
Panic rising, she dashed into the adjoining dining room and tried the window. There was no latch or way she could see to open it, but plenty of chairs around the dining room table. Picking one up in two hands, she reared back and then swung forward, releasing it at the last second. The heavy wooden chair impacted the glass window head on – but instead of shattered glass and a way to the rickety boards outside, it bounced off. The chair bounced off a glass window. Worse, the chair broke apart as it did.
"W-What-? How tough is this?" Not tough enough. Gambol Shroud came out and Blake threw the blade at the window, pulling on the ribbon to control the arc and send it piercing through.
The blade – solid metal and thick enough to withstand a hit from an Ursa – bounced off the window without even chipping the glass. That wasn't possible. No one made glass that strong. If they had, the White Fang would have seen Atlas' vehicles using it. Abandoning subtlety, she brought the gun end of Gambol Shroud up and fired twice. The window sparked and illuminated the room bright orange as the bullets ricocheted off and punched into the wooden floorboards. They, at least, were damaged, but the window remained in one piece.
"That's not possible!"
"Yeah, I tried the windows as well."
Blake was not a woman used to being snuck up on. She was a terrorist, she was sneaky and she had the instincts of a Huntress, but – given the situation and her mounting panic – she felt she could be forgiven for screaming so loud her ears pressed flat to her head. She twisted, gun still in her hands, and had the briefest second to take in a blonde man in a black suit before her finger jerkily squeezed the trigger.
A dust round slammed into the wood above and to the left of his head, another smashed through a framed picture of a landscape on the wall.
"Arghhh!" He fell on his butt and scurried back against the wall. "I surrender! I surrender! Don't shoot!"
His panic, mixed with her own, slowly brought Blake back to reality. The smoking gun in her hands, the nervous man on the floor, the bullet hole in the wall close to where his head had been. Her body was trembling and Gambol Shroud shaking left and right, which was likely the only reason the guy was still alive.
I nearly shot someone, Blake thought with no small amount of hysteria. I could have killed him.
Slowly, but firmly, she forced herself to bring Gambol Shroud down, flick on the safety and strap it to her side. The seconds it took were seconds for her to try and even her breathing and get herself under control, which wasn't easy given how bloody hot this house was. She swiped her hand across her forehead again, this time feeling sweat.
"S-So," the guy said. "I'm not about to be shot?"
"I…" Blake danced around the apology. "You startled me."
"I startled you?" the man accused. "I'm feeling pretty damn startled right now myself – you nearly killed me!"
"You snuck up on me. What was I supposed to think?"
"I announced myself! And maybe you should have thought about politely asking me who I am and not opening fire!" He gasped and let his head fall back against the wall. "My life flashed before my eyes. And it was lame. I haven't done anything yet; I can't afford to die now."
Blake fidgeted nervously with her hair. This wasn't the kind of good first impressions she'd planned to make on coming to Vale, and she was beginning to feel a little stupid for it. Here she was, trained and capable, and she'd nearly shot a man for walking up behind her and saying a few words. The White Fang wasn't known for its trigger discipline, sure, but she liked to think she was better than that.
"And what are you even doing in here anyway?" he asked. "The door was locked."
I could ask you the same question, she thought, then decided against it because for all she knew he might have good reason. He's wearing a black suit, she noticed. Didn't the girl say the boy was dragged in here by men in suits? That line of questioning would have to wait since she was busy freaking out about being trapped in here right now.
"A young girl came in here. The place looked abandoned so I followed her to stop her getting hurt."
"Small. Blonde hair, faunus ears, about thirteen years old in a fancy dress. She said… She told me that some people had dragged a boy into here a few days ago. I'm looking for a missing child." Blake pulled out the poster. "This kid. Have you seen him?"
He's in the dryer, Blake's mind whispered. She desperately ignored it. See no evil, hear no evil, and sure as hell don't think about such evil.
The man didn't take the poster, but he did sigh. "I knew this was going to blow out of control." He pushed himself up and Blake took a moment to look him up and down for weapons. He could have been hiding one under the dark blue overcoat he wore over a perfectly black suit with a white shirt and black tie. His hands wore black gloves as well, and his black shoes were polished to a shine. He looked like a gangster. Or a businessman, but it was hard to imagine a businessman out in a place like this.
He reached into his coat and Blake tensed, readying her aura and dropping a hand to Gambol Shroud. To her surprise, he came out with a small recording device – a Dictaphone. He pressed the button in with a little click, turned away from her and began talking to it as if she wasn't there.
"Log 7. Anomaly uses a memetic component designed to lure prey inside. The bait plays on the subject's subconscious beliefs to present an unthreatening visage – possibly some hypnotic element, or psychic link to understand what and who would serve to lure unwary people into the house. Agent was subjected to fellow agent; bystander to a small, improbable faunus child."
"Excuse me?" Blake asked and followed him out the dining room. "Improbable? I know what I saw."
The man sighed and looked back over his shoulder. He had blue eyes and scraggly blonde hair pulled haphazardly across his forehead. "You saw a young girl, right? A child who shouldn't be out on her own, out alone in a rough neighbourhood with no parent or guardian in sight, dressed in fancy clothing and instantly knowing where to find the missing child you were looking for. You didn't think that odd?"
"Of course I did, but I was a little busy trying to tell her not to run off or blindly trust strangers to think about it."
"Or to enter strange houses."
"Or that!" she agreed. "I didn't want to come in but I thought she might be in trouble."
"And now you're in trouble," he said. "I take it you didn't think to prop the door open?" No. To be fair, no one would have, though she was desperately wishing she had now. "Wonderful. Man, and I thought most people wouldn't fall for that."
"It was a child!" Blake protested.
"Children are evil and can never be trusted. I should know; I was one."
"As was I…"
"And did you regularly accost random strangers in the street late at night and go with them to places your parents told you not to?"
He paused. "Really?"
"I didn't make the best life choices, okay!?" Blake growled, blushing badly. Yeah, her parents had been right about Sienna, Adam and the Albain brothers, but she'd been in love and it was so easy back then to hate the humans. "M-Moving on, you're saying that girl tricked me? Why? What would she have to gain?"
"That's the question, isn't it?" The man pressed the button in again. "If the subject shows unwillingness to enter the house, the memetic component can take steps to lure them in, playing on a prey's willingness to help or their curiosity like an angler fish. That reinforces the psychic element. Not everyone would follow a girl into a strange house, so it had to know the prey would. It might be some form of surface reading or empathic-emotional link. Unlikely to be hypnotic or nothing would have stood out as unusual to the victim."
"What are you doing?" Blake asked, following him out into the corridor as he continued talking. He was the only company she had and having another person around – suspiciously dressed or not – was calming her down. "And who are you?"
"I'm Jaune. I'm an interior designer. Nice to meet you."
"Uh-huh." She wasn't buying that for a second. Then again, she didn't have much right to call someone out for lying about their profession. "You seem to know a lot about this place. You're even taking notes."
"Not enough," he said, "And it's just a house. What is there to know?"
"You said the girl – or the house? – tricked me into entering it?"
"Uh. I said no such thing." He took a step back and glanced around nervously. He might have thought it hidden in the gloom but she saw his panic clear as day. "I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, ma'am. The door is jammed, the windows are reinforced and the gurgling sound is faulty pipes."
"What gurgling sound…?"
"Oh, you haven't been in the basement yet?" He winced, cringed badly, then added, "Pro tip. Don't go in the basement."
"What's in the basement?"
"I'll tell you what's not in the basement," he countered without much cheer. "Anything nice."
"I found dead bodies in the living room and the dryer. Are you telling me there's worse downstairs?"
"Not worse. Just… more. A bit more. Or a lot more heaped up in piles," he admitted with a nervous scratch of his head. Blake felt her stomach drop even further than it already had; they were in a house filled with dead bodies. "You really don't want to go down there. In fact, you don't want to be here at all."
Damn right she didn't, but with the door not working and the windows being stronger than composite steel, she didn't have much of a choice in the matter. Blake opened her mouth to demand answers, only to freeze as she heard an ominous sound that seemed to come from everywhere around them, from behind the walls. It was a grumbling, gurgling, churning sound.
"What was that!?"
"Water pipes." he said quickly.
"Those aren't on!" she said. "I checked!"
"Gas pipes then. Or some foundational issues with the house. Maybe it's subsiding. Look, I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation-" Blake moved to the nearest wall, wedged Gambol Shroud into the wood and began to pry it away. The man's voice reached a high pitch. "I wouldn't do that if I were you!" he yelped, hurrying after her. "I really wouldn't do that!"
"The door and windows aren't budging but the walls don't look that tough." Using the cleaver like a crowbar, she wrenched it up and down until the boarding on the wall cracked and splintered, then started jiggling it around to loosen it. "I think I've got it." Blake gripped the wood jutting out and pulled on it. "Just a little – ah!"
The wood snapped and she fell back, landing on her rear on the floor with half a plank in hand. Blake looked up, ready to see the damage she'd done, only to gape in horror at what lay behind the wood.
Flesh. Muscle. Bone.
Red and sticky, stretched taut like wallpaper, with little bits of bone jutting out and sinew running up and down it. The wall pulsed and moved, shivering and tensing and untensing as if to a heartbeat. Blood ran down from where she'd pulled the wood out, and the gurgling sound was louder now, echoing all around them.
A button clicked. "Suspicions confirmed as the house appears to be both a living organism and sapient. This explains the heightened temperature and lack of air circulation, as it appears we are inside the creature who has chosen to masquerade as a townhouse-"
Blake opened her mouth and added her own succinct thoughts, "Arghhhhhhhhh!"
She screamed, and then screamed some more, before she brought Gambol Shroud up and fired and fired again. She fired until the magazine ran empty and blood ran down the walls in great rivers, pooling across the floorboards until it reached her feet, at which point she scuttled away until she bumped into the man's legs. Her head snapped back until she was looking up at him with wide, panicked eyes.
He looked back down and wasn't quite so horrified. He had his fingers in his ears to ward against the noise of her gunshots. "I warned you not to pull the boarding off!" he said loudly. "But nooo, don't listen to me. Go wild. Not like we might have needed that ammunition or anything. Maybe you'd have some left if you didn't flip out and try to shoot me-"
Yanking onto his pant leg for purchase, she hauled herself up, practically humping the man's side in her desperate attempt to get as far away from any of the walls as possible. "W-What the fuck is that!?" she shrieked. "T-The walls, the house, the air. I-Is this some kind of Grimm!?"
"Oh, that's a good one. Yes. You got it in one. This is a new, hitherto undiscovered Grimm. See. I told you there was a perfectly reasonable explanati-urk!" He gasped as she gripped his collar and pulled his face down to hers.
"Answers!" Blake spat. "Now!"
"I-It's a Grimm."
"Grimm don't disguise as houses! Grimm don't use illusions of little girls. Grimm don't have internal muscle and gore like this! You know what's going on!" Blake pulled until their noses were touching. Squashed flat together. She breathed the question into his mouth. "Tell me what the hell is going on here!"
Blake pulled harder still, eye to eye, nose to nose, mouth to mouth. His eyelashes tickled hers. "Try."
"I can't!" he mumbled against her, their faces squashed up. "It's against company policy!"
"I thought you said you were an interior designer."
"I am." He winced. "Specialising in odd and unique designs? No?" He yelped as her knee pressed dangerously close to his family jewels; the threat was clear. "I can't tell you anything because I'll get in trouble!" he wailed. "Only company employees can know."
Company policy. Was he really going to side with that over, say, their lives? Blake was about to demand he tell her anyway when an idea came to her. She let him go, watched him begin to relax, then snatched the recording device from his hand.
"Hey!" he yelped, lunging for it. "Give that back!"
She turned her back so he couldn't reach around her, quickly flicked back to the beginning of the recording and pressed the play button.
"Agent Jaune Arc – ARC Corp. Log 1. Investigating the anomaly temporarily dubbed – The Missing Few. The disappearances of children and adults across the city has started to gain traction, raising the threat of revelation from Rumour Class to a Folklore Class Anomaly. Worse, this happening in a city raises the possibility of things getting further out of control. The police are already investigating the disappearances, which are happening so often that some are already talking about a serial killer. That's a fine cover story for now but it won't hold if they keep happening. The anomaly's activity is far past the level where it can be safely ignored. I'm officially opening the investigation and moving in to contain."
"Stop! Stop!" the man – Jaune Arc, apparently – whined. He tried to wrap his arms around her to get to it, but a swift elbow to his stomach had him dropping to his knees with a groan. Blake stepped away and held the device up. "It's a web novel! I'm an artist! I'm making a podcast! I have an overactive imagination!"
"Log 2. The disappearances don't seem to be centralised on any one spot of Vale, leading me to believe this is a dimensional anomaly capable of independent travel. What I have noticed, however, is some online traffic about an abandoned building with a red door that people have seen and claim to not recognise. In all those stories, their attention is drawn to the building by a third party, who urges them to investigate. Those that do are never seen again, while those that do not never find the house a second time. Whether this is related to the disappearances or not, an anomalous building isn't in ARC Corp. records and needs to be checked out. Luckily, the reports online are being taken as a creepy pasta, but that won't last if this continues. My plan, simple as it sounds, is to frequent the quieter parts of Vale on foot and see if the anomalous entity will attempt to ensnare me. I have a suspicion it only makes itself visible to those travelling on their own otherwise there would be more encounters. It's not the best plan, I admit, there's little else I can do."
Blake flicked the next record as Jaune leapt for and missed the device as she hopped away. He landed on his stomach with an "oomph!" and scrambled clumsily to his feet and lunged at her again. His vision wasn't as good as hers in the gloom however, and she flipped over his head to land on the dining room table. He crashed into the wall and groaned unhappily. Some creepy secret agent he might be, but huntsman he was not. He fought like a White Fang recruit – more guts than technique.
"ARC Corp. Log 3. Success! I've been approached by another member of ARC Corp. who claims to have information on an anomaly. It's fake, obviously. I'm the only company employee here in Vale. The closest otherwise would be Saphron and Terra in Argus. I played dumb anyway so as not to arouse suspicion, and it has led me to the building. As described, it features a red door, no house number, no mailbox and boarded up windows. Against my expectation, it appears that the whole street is a dimensional or hallucinogenic anomaly, as it's completely abandoned despite Vale having an over-population and over-crowding problem. So many abandoned houses would be impossible otherwise. I'm going in now."
Huh. Come to think of it, why hadn't she thought if strange that there would be a whole street of condemned and boarded-up buildings in one of the most densely packed cities on Remnant? House prices were sky high, so no property owner would let them tank and give up rental profit by letting them fall into disrepair. Had she been that blindsided by the little girl? Maybe. That didn't excuse her-
Blake yelped as Jaune tackled her off the table and onto the floor. The Dictaphone flew from her hands but kept playing even as he tried to clamber over her and stop it. Blake hooked her legs around his knees and pulled down, yanking him away before he could turn it off.
"Log 4. The house is certainly anomalous in nature and appears to feed off those trapped inside. I have found numerous bodies in the basement, along with one on the ground floor and another on the second. All are emaciated beyond recollection, and all flesh has been stripped away and devoured. This is impossible given the time frame for the disappearances, which makes me believe they – and I – am being slowly digested alive in this fetid heat. The effect may also be temporal in nature. Victims likely pass out, at which point the entity appears to devour and strip them of flesh, leaving behind only their skele-"
Jaune Arc leapt off Blake's body with a roar, landed on the device and switched it off – several minutes too late now, with Blake laid on the floor wide eyed and panicked. "The house is eating us!?" she cried out. "It's digesting us!?"
"There's a perfectly reasonable explanation!" Jaune babbled. "I'm a horror enthusiast, an author and I have a channel online where I post videos about haunted homes. It's all staged and I made this up in a creepy setting to try and sell the idea it's real. You've been punked! Ha ha! Don't believe a word you just heard-"
The gurgling returned all around them, and this time Blake had a view of the exposed piece of flesh-like wall rumbling and twitching as the sound echoed. With context, she could finally place the noise at last. It was the sound a stomach would make as it was digesting food, a gurgling, rumbling noise usually bubbling through your stomach after a heavy meal. The house had indigestion. Or was hungry. Hungry for them.
"Perfectly reasonable explanation, huh?" Blake quipped.
The suited man winced. "Would you believe me if I said yes?"
"I'd believe you if you told me the whole story, and preferably before we both end up as two skeletons added to the basement. You're trying to cover something up."
"What are you? Some kind of conspiracy theorist?"
"The wall is alive!" Blake snapped. "It's gurgling and moving!"
"Allegedly. It could just be… um… good CGI…? This is a movie set for the latest horror flick?" The man wilted under her gaze. "Ah shit," he complained. "My dad is going to have my head when he hears about this. I can't just be sharing company secrets. I'll be put on review! I'll be recalled. And I just convinced him I was good enough to run my own office!" He gripped his hair and whirled around dramatically. "My sisters will never let me live this down!"
"We'll be dead if we don't work together to get out of here! Is company policy worth that?" To her annoyance, he kept wailing. Blake stormed over to him in the dark. "Oh, for the love of god. My name is Blake; Blake Belladonna." She took and shook his gloved hand before he could say anything. "I would like to apply to join your company. ARC Corp. Whatever. I need a job. Are you hiring?"
"It wouldn't be against whatever company policy you have if I worked for you," she pointed out. "You can fire me later but hire me and I'll be your employee."
"But we're not hiring."
"You are now," she said, squeezing his hand tightly. He cringed. "I'm a skilled fighter, competent in administration and currently have the very valuable trait of being the only other person alive in this horrible place. I think that makes me uniquely qualified for the position compared to my skeletal rivals."
"I-I don't think that's how it works. We haven't even conducted an interview."
"No time like the present! Ask me anything!"
"Can you let go of my hand?"
"No." Blake squeezed harder. "Good talk. Interview over. You got any money?"
"Um. Well…" He pulled out his wallet. Blake snatched it. "Hey!"
"I'll take this as an advance payment," she said, taking a few cards of lien out and handing the empty wallet back. "There. You've both hired and paid me, which means I'm officially working for you. Is that good enough?"
"I mean, I guess… This really isn't how it's supposed to work." The man, who was looking more and more like a confused boy, could only wilt and sigh. "But it'd be kind of hard to hide it now. Um. Welcome to ARC Corp…?"
"Glad to be a part of the team." Blake said impatiently. "Now, house. Eating us. Explain. Quickly please!"
"It's…" He gave up with a sigh. "It's an anomaly."
"It's strange for sure; that much I agree on."
"No," Jaune stressed. "It's an anomaly. It's… the specifics are hard to explain, but you know about aliens, ghosts, paranormal encounters and all those little urban legends and folklores that still grip the imagination long after science should have disproved them?"
"Well, let's just say half of them are true and the other half are cover stories to distract from the truth." He stood and slid the Dictaphone back into his coat. "And it's the job of ARC Corp. to keep things that way."
"Wait, wait, wait." Blake cut him off quickly. "Aliens are real?"
"Is this the time…?"
No, it wasn't, but at the same time…
"Are they, though?" she whispered.
"It's literally the company's policy to not reveal things like that." Jaune whined. Blake wasn't hearing a no and felt her mind explode. "And don't go asking me about other things. I could get in trouble telling you this much as it is."
"Are vampires real?"
"Yes, fine, they're real – but they're not half as sexy as the movies and books say! It's an anomalous blood disease."
Blake's nose scrunched up. "Ewww."
"Yes. Ew. Anomalies are not nice or attractive things. The whole `vampire` thing is a cover up that kept people from figuring out the truth when the anomaly broke out of containment and spread across Mistral a few hundred years ago. That's why we spread stories about vampires, then made fun of those same stories, and claimed vampire bats were involved in some cases even though it's obvious they lick blood up when half the bodies were torn open. The real anomaly is a blood-borne virus that causes the host to crave blood and which keeps the host alive so long as they ingest it. Alive doesn't mean healthy, though. You ever see a real host of Blood that Feeds and you'll not get all hot and bothered. Their skin decays, their bodies start to collapse and they move around like skeletons covered in still-pumping veins and arteries, driven more by the blood disease than their own minds – if their brains haven't already decomposed and turned them into walking sacks of blood."
That sounded just a little disgusting and not at all like her dark fantasy novels. Blake made a note to burn them if she ever got out of here. "And people fall for it when you call them vampires?"
He shrugged. "I mean, most people who see them die so it's not usually an issue. Other times we convince survivors they were on drugs, or we put drugs on them so no one else believes them. You can explain a lot of things away as a drug-fuelled trip. Aliens is our catch-all excuse. It's amazing how many things you can cover up when you mention little green men and UFOs. Even the most hardened of investigators roll their eyes and stop listening if you slip the idea in. It's great!"
Well of course they did. Aliens weren't real and anyone who believed otherwise was usually a sweaty, overweight neckbeard arguing online about how a single light in the sky meant the whole world was ruled by lizard people. Blake's eyes widened. "Wait a minute, is the lizard government rea-"
"Not the time!" Jaune yelled. "And no! I'm telling you what we do, not every little anomaly we've ever dealt with. And if there were lizard people running things, don't you think we would have done something about them by now? Not every conspiracy theory is real and I swear if you ask me if Remnant is flat, I will abandon you here."
"Okay, fine." She had so many questions but he was right that they could wait until they weren't being digested. "So, your job is to find these things and cover them up."
"No. Our job is to find anomalies, identify them and either neutralise or contain them. The cover ups are just something we have to do after the fact so people don't freak out – or worse, try and seek out more anomalies. ARC Corp. stands for Anomalous Research and Containment Corporation. Or it used to a long time ago. Back then we had huge facilities where we could lock up every little anomaly and make sure the world was safe from them. There were thousands of guards, researchers and staff working with us to keep people safe from all the anomalies in the world. Not much gets contained anymore…"
"Human greed. People started to ask – hey, instead of risking our lives containing these supernatural things and just keeping them locked up, what if we could exploit them for human gain? Yeah, that sounds like a good idea." He snorted. "Ten years later and boom – massive security breaches across every facility simultaneously. Most of the ARC facilities were destroyed, and barely anyone survived. My family did. Our ancestors were on the security teams and swore a solemn oath to try and fix the mistakes they'd made, naming themselves Arc so as to never forget their crimes."
He trailed off, seeming to realise that the tangent he was going off on, while relevant, wasn't about to help in their current situation.
"That was long before my time. Hundreds of years ago. Nowadays we can't hope to contain every anomaly, so we hide those we can, create cover ups for those we can't and deal with those that either won't or can't play by the rules. We have to be picky with what we do and don't do because we don't have the resources we used to. We've been fighting for the sake of humanity for hundreds of years, and we've been desperately bailing out a sinking ship as hard as we can – which I tell you hasn't gotten any easier now that social media and cameras on scrolls exist!"
"I imagine not. Okay, the job sounds good." It sounded crazy but an organisation that fought against human-eating houses sounded promising when you were stuck in a human-eating house. When in Mistral and all that. "What are those rules you mentioned?"
"Don't expose yourself or break the veil of secrecy. Which normally means don't go out your way to be a human-eating house that's causing a spate of disappearances that's sending Vale into a panic!"
Which explained why he was here trying to get to the source of it on his own. It all sounded shady and unrealistic to her, like something out of a bad movie, but, well, the wall was currently bleeding on her shoes and the air was becoming ever more humid as they used up the oxygen in this thing's stomach. Not exactly the right time to start picking holes in his story.
"So, what happens when they do something like this?"
"We contain if possible and neutralise if we can't. Not all anomalies are sentient. Most aren't in fact. This one might be sapient enough to lure in food, but it's more like an animal feeding on anything it can than a living, thinking being. Some aren't even dangerous, though this one obviously is. It's feeding too much; at this rate it's going to break the lid and expose itself, and that runs the risks of exposing other anomalies as well. That means it's time to be dealt with. Normally we'd try and contain it first but I'm not sure how to contain a house-sized anomaly that can teleport to any street in Vale."
"Me neither." Blake said. "So, neutralise means…?"
"We kill it."
"I like that plan. Let's go with that plan."
He shot her a look. "You just want to get out its stomach, don't you?"
"Yes, actually, and I happen to think that's a very sensible thing to want! What, do you want to stay in here? I didn't break away from Adam and the White Fang to get eaten by a house!"
"Oh, like that even matters compared to this!" Blake snapped. "Does anything matter when we're being digested right now?" She flicked some of her sweat at him. At least she hoped it was sweat and not her own fatty juices being cooked out of her. "You're the expert on anomalies, right? You can get us out of here."
"Sure." Blake laughed. "I mean, you willingly walked into it so you must have a way out."
Jaune blinked at her. "What makes you think that?"
"W-What?" Blake stammered. He was joking. He had to be. "Y-You're the one in the know. You're the ARC Corp. person. I-I mean, you are an expert, right? You've been fighting these things for ages and ages. Isn't that what you said?"
"Ah. Well…" He looked away with a faint blush that did nothing for her nerves. "When I said we've been fighting them I really meant my family. All the way back through history. I… uh… I'm kinda new at this."
"Would you believe me if I said this was my second week on the job?"
Most of the chapters aren't going to be framed like this. They'll take on case files and have Jaune and Blake working together to break down a case, solve a mystery and deal with an anomaly. That'll give a lot more opportunity for comedy since the main comedy will come from Blake and Jaune interacting, which only started happening in the last quarter of this story. What can I say? Introductions are hard. I considered just having Blake score a job at his office and get thrust into it that way, but it didn't make sense for Jaune or ARC Corp. to want to hire people if they were tyring to keep this secret. Blake forcing herself into the role by necessity felt like a more realistic method.
I know that right now the "comedy" tag probably seeming very out of place, lol. I can only say that now the characters are together and interacting, the comedy should increase a little. Me looking at that tag right now when I literally just wrote missing children, dead bodies and a child's skeleton in a dryer he climbed into to escape something after him, only to die in there.
"Eheh. Comedy… Is funny, yes?"
Why Blake isn't In Beacon:
Since I know some may ask – how or why the change? In the show I assume that Blake was caught or felt guilty and owned up for what happened on the train, and that Ozpin offered her a deal to Beacon. That's implied by a scene where he's talking to her in a flashback I think, and would make sense because otherwise she's just getting in with no records, no ID, no past school experience? Even Jaune had to fake his transcripts. So yeah, I'm certain she got invited in by Ozpin – maybe even the same deal he gave to Raven and Qrow back in the day.
Anyway, the change here is that Blake panics and jumps off the train early and sneaks into Vale, hence not meeting Ozpin or receiving his offer. That's all. No big conspiracy, no change of motives. Blake is still looking for a new start and a chance to do good, she just doesn't fancy her chances owning up for the train (or feels she shouldn't need to apologise for saving lives) and didn't stick around to be caught and possibly thrown in prison.
Next Chapter: 18th April
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