A.N. (4/25/23) - Completely forgot to release this yesterday, sorry about that. This is an unscheduled extra chapter, so read the last one if you haven't already.
Atlas (24) - Vigilantes
Meanwhile, while Ironwood and Rin were on their mission in Argus, the two others they left behind to take care of matters in Atlas were doing their best to deal with the Crown in their own way.
Nearly an entire day had passed since they split up, and Marrow felt that it was safe to say that he had made progress in investigating Amoncio Glass. With the info he received from Rin, Marrow found his way toward someone more informed in the search for Glass. Terra was a great help in that regard, but it was her companions that really knew what they were doing.
"We're here," Robyn said. She and her team were on standby while Marrow observed the site. "The warehouse is most likely where Glass is hiding at the moment. If he really is working with the Crown, then it's possible they're also located here."
Was it bad manners that he never learned the names of the other girls working with Robyn? To be fair, it wasn't like they introduced themselves to him. The only reason he knew her name was because Terra had been the one to direct him here.
"So this is it." Marrow prepared his weapon. "An all-out assault on his base. Who knows how many people we'll go up against, and whether or not they'll be empowered with extra Aura like the ones who attacked the gala."
"Remember, our goal here is not to fight. If our intel is right, then Gillian's Semblance means that she needs a constant source of Aura to transfer to her troops. Knowing how the Crown works, we can take a guess that they're the ones behind the kidnappings of the residents of Mantle as well as several huntsmen and huntresses."
"Got it. Sneak in and find the missing people."
It was Marrow who figured out the latter while Robyn discovered the former. The two gathered their resources together to create a list of missing victims and noticed a trend when the number of missing people rose during the past few months. Once they tallied the total number, they realized that a staggering number of people were involved. If all of them were being recruited for the Crown, forcibly or not, or whether they were being used as batteries to be drained of Aura, that meant that the opposition was far greater than they realized.
"Remember, we can't rely on the authorities to help us. Who knows how far the influence of the Crown reaches? We're working outside the law on this mission."
"Sheesh." Marrow chuckled. "And I thought that joining the military would have stopped me from going down this path."
"If all goes well, you'll be able to return to your job without any issues after this."
Somehow, Marrow figured that it was going to be more complicated with that. Working under the orders of General Ironwood was already toeing the line of legality due to his presumed status of being dead. Since a while ago, Marrow had been ignoring his military-issued Scroll asking him to report to his new superiors until he forced himself to shut it off. Even if he made it out of this without any trouble, he wondered what his future would be like going forward as a Specialist.
But none of that mattered at the moment. Right now, all he cared about was saving as many people as he could from the Crown and stopping whatever they were planning.
The five of them moved together as one, entering through one of the side entrances and making sure to keep hidden as they traversed the building. Marrow allowed the others to take the lead, trusting that Robyn would know best when to give orders to the others if a fight broke out.
For a moment, he thought he sensed a presence behind them. But when he turned to look behind him, there was nobody there. Still, he remained wary in case anyone attempted to attack them while their guards were down. He couldn't dismiss the idea that someone with an ideal Semblance would try to ambush them after all.
It was supposed to be a regular warehouse. But as expected of something under the ownership of a gang leader, there was more than what met the eye. Within minutes, Robyn had discovered a hidden entrance leading underground through a dimly lit corridor. When asked how she found something like that so fast, she simply smirked.
"This isn't my first rodeo. For some reason, a lot of bad guys like to keep their secret bases underground."
Marrow figured that she was referencing something, but dismissed it as irrelevant to the current mission.
"Still, wouldn't you expect us to run into someone by now? I thought that places like these would have guards keeping watch or something?"
"Hey, if you say something like that, then you'll jinx us, you know?"
The moment those words left her mouth, he heard a metallic noise. Marrow inadvertently turned his head to the side where the noise was coming from and noticed the approaching figure.
He was about to use his Semblance when his vision was suddenly obscured by what appeared to be a cloud of thick smoke. Reacting on instinct, he brought up his blade to block an attack while the others in his group were suddenly facing their own set of opponents.
"Huntsmen!" Robyn cried out. "These guys are huntsmen-level at least!"
She wasn't talking about their strength. It was obvious from the way they moved and fought that their skills were on the level of trained huntsmen. Either these were some of the mind-controlled troops working for the Crown, or they were simply members who believed in the organization's cause and retained their own free will. Whichever was the case, that spelled trouble for Marrow since it was one thing fighting a huntsman-level opponent. But once you took into account their added strength from Gillian's Semblance, things took a turn for the worse.
Finally, he saw his chance.
His Semblance didn't manage to affect everyone, but it was enough. Seeing their chance, the others quickly subdued the restrained foes before grouping up beside him. Now that the number of opponents was down, they had room to breathe for the moment.
"May, hide us! Fiona, barricade the hall!"
A field expanded around them, and Marrow realized it was some kind of invisibility Semblance. Not letting his surprise hold him back, he followed the rest of the group as they quickly fled while their foes were confused. As they ran, the other faunus in their group pulled a small object out of nowhere and dropped it on the ground.
The sound of something exploding and collapsing echoed behind them a second later.
"That should hold them off for a while," Robyn said. "But it seems that they'll be looking for us from now on."
Footsteps echoed ahead of them, and Marrow realized that she was right.
One of them suddenly stopped. "Hold it."
"Joanna, what's wrong?"
At first, he had no idea what she was trying to direct their attention toward. Then, he finally saw it. A man was pushing a gurney past them without realizing that they were there. Lying on top of the wheeled stretcher was an unconscious man. There appeared to be no injuries on their body, so Marrow doubted that he was simply being taken to the nurse's office. Rather, it was likely that he was one of the victims drained of his Aura.
"Keep quiet," Robyn whispered. "He can still hear us if our voices are loud. Let's go after him and see where he goes."
It was as good of a plan as any, and Marrow compiled while they moved silently together after the man. May kept her Semblance up the entire time they followed him, allowing their group to remain undisturbed even as several patrol groups passed by them several times.
Eventually, they came to a stop when the man pushing the gurney paused to enter a passcode that allowed a door to open. Without even bothering to close the door behind him, the man went inside while the rest of them quickly followed afterward.
There were rows of beds lined along the perimeter of the room. There must have been over a hundred people here, and Marrow even recognized a few of them. Some were huntsmen that he got to know from past missions, while others were simply acquaintances that he got to know from civilian life. The man from before pushed the gurney adjacent to an empty bed, where he lifted the unconscious figure and transferred them over before exiting the room.
"This is it." Robyn continued to speak at a barely audible level. "We're getting everyone out of here."
"How are we going to do that?"
"One of us needs to cause a distraction to draw troops away from this area. Another one of us should find some means of transportation. There's no way they can transfer this many people without some means of moving them."
"We can split up." The one called Johanna was the first to respond. "You and the specialist can remain here and keep watch over the victims. The three of us should be enough to take care of each other while we do our tasks."
Robyn frowned. "Are you sure?"
She nodded. "Fine. Marrow and I will take care of things here. Make sure to contact us if any of you get into trouble, and we'll come running your way."
"The same should be said for you. Call us if you need help."
With that said, the others in their group nodded and quickly left the same way they came.
"This is becoming too familiar for my tastes."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not sure how much you're aware of what happened when Merlot attacked Argus, but this isn't the first time I've encountered a group of people being taken off the streets with the goal of exploiting them for someone else's plans. Back then, it was a human supremacist gang trading faunus to mad scientists and other clients that we're still looking into. This time, we're dealing with a foreign national terrorist group using people as living batteries. In both cases, the real victims are those caught up in the schemes of others like the common folk of Mantle. Seeing such a familiar sight, I can't help but feel angry towards the people that think they can take advantage of us like this."
"Believe me," Marrow replied. He lifted his tail. "I think I know a thing or two about what you're talking about. I'll confess that even I felt a little happy when I first heard the news about Jacques Schnee's death. Such thoughts are normal after all when you realize exactly how his influence affects others like me, even if I know that it's wrong to feel this way over the death of someone."
"Can I ask you something?"
"Why am I in the military?" Marrow guessed. Her nod confirmed it. "You're asking because you probably think how I can trust the system when the past has shown us how unreliable it could be? And sometimes, I agree with that. Sticking to the straight and narrow while enduring the insults of others isn't fun. But in the end, I do not think that I chose the wrong path. Working with the law is something that I believe has the best chances of improving things for everyone."
"And yet, you're working with us on this mission."
"Hey, I can make exceptions when parts of our government are being controlled by a bad guy with a mind control Semblance."
"I suppose it doesn't matter in the end." She sighed. "Well, that's enough small talk for now. I think we should move the unconscious people. Even if we're not taking them away right now, it would be nice if they're ready to move once our transport arrives."
"Sounds good to me. I'll take the right side of the room an–"
Again, he paused. That same presence he felt earlier had returned, and he warily cast his gaze around him.
"I'm not sure." He raised his weapon. "I might be wrong, but it feels like there's someone else in the room."
"What?" Robyn blinked. "Are you sure?"
Right as he said that, something suddenly shot from beneath them. Jumping out of the way at the last second, the two landed to the side ready to face whatever just attacked them.
They both blinked as they noticed a figure standing in the middle of the room.
She was young. The unknown person couldn't have been older than a teenager, yet their face was one that only someone of significant age would have. If forced to describe her appearance, Marrow would say that she was like some ethereal being, beautiful and graceful yet unnatural at the same time.
"Who are you?" Marrow asked. "Are you working with Glass? Or are you a member of the Crown?"
"Neither." The girl raised her hand as tendrils of black liquid rose from the ground. "My name is Isabella. And my duty is to stop you from interfering with the ritual."
After saying that, the room exploded as shadows shot from every direction toward them.
This was a really short chapter, and I figured that there was no point in keeping it reserved for the next scheduled release post. So I decided to just release it early and write another chapter for this Friday instead.
Once again, we have another unknown girl introduced to the story. I don't think it will make much of a difference if I reveal that she's also another being similar to Emilia. And don't think that there's only going to be two of them. Their presence in this arc is meant to establish the crossover elements of this story.