AN: Spoilers for Season 3, Episode 4 of RWBY.
"Just hold on, Ruby… we're almost there."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Xiao Long, but if they've been gone this long, then they're dead."
"Yang… I'm really hungry."
"I know, Ruby. So am I."
"Raven… Summer… and now Yang and Ruby… Why does everything I touch die?"
"Taiyang! No, dammit, don't do this!"
"Ruby, please! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I- Just wake up, please?"
"Bye, Yang. I'm gonna go see Daddy now, okay?"
"Remind me why we're here again?"
Blake Belladonna sighed, giving her partner a long-suffering glance. "Because the local farmers are reporting missing livestock, and because you wanted to actually see Signal," she replied in the tired monotone of someone who's said the same thing far too many times.
"Right, I get that, but why do they need a pair of Huntresses just to handle what's probably going to be a starving wolf?" Weiss Schnee complained. "This is so far below us it's not even funny."
"Well, we won't find that out if we just stand here arguing all day," Blake said, grabbing her small duffel bag and slinging it over her shoulders. "Come on, our ride should be here soon."
Sighing, Weiss grabbed her own bag and followed her partner out of Patch's airship station.
The two newly-graduated Huntresses were a study in contrasts as they walked. Weiss was resplendent in a flared skirt, thigh-high white heeled wedge boots, and a military-style jacket, all white. Her white hair was done up in a neat side ponytail, and her walk was even and precise. Her entire look screamed "controlled", even the silver sword tucked into her belt.
Blake, by contrast, wore tight black pants tucked into sensible military-style boots, also black, with a long-sleeved, midriff-baring shirt and black ribbons around her arms. Her hair was loose and somewhat messy, and her walk, though just as controlled, held an edge of barely leashed energy, as if she was ready to spring into action at any second. The most prominent feature, though, were the ears poking out of the top of her head, Blake ignoring the pointing and hushed whispers with practiced ease.
Reaching the street outside, Blake's gaze zeroed in on a black sedan, a suited man holding up a whiteboard with their names on it.
"Over there," she said, walking towards the car in question.
Weiss followed, chuckling ruefully and shaking her head. "No matter how many times I see it, it always amazes me when you do that."
"Oh, you know, legacy of a misspent youth," Blake replied without missing a beat.
Chuckling again, Weiss gave her partner a light punch on the arm before handing off her bag to the driver. Sliding into the back seat and buckling in, she pulled out her Scroll, flicking through her messages as she waited for the driver to finish loading their luggage.
"Anything interesting?" Blake asked as she sat on the other side.
"No, just the usual drivel. SDC updates, job spam, and advertisements." She shuddered, closing her eyes in disgust. "Ugh, the advertisements. Those companies are in desperate need of new marketing teams."
"I know what you mean," the driver said as he sat down in the driver's seat and adjusted his mirror. "I keep getting these penis enlargement ads. I mean, seriously, not every guy is insecure about their trouser titan, or at least insecure enough to buy an enlargement aid off of an advertisement on their Scroll."
Blake and Weiss glanced at each other in confusion, the former mouthing "Trouser titan?" and the latter giving a shrug.
"Anyway," the driver continued, pulling into the traffic. "I'm gonna drop you off at the farm where the latest attack happened, and then get your bags to the hotel. Sound good?"
"Perfect," Weiss said demurely.
"This is the worst. Possible. Thing!"
Blake rolled her eyes at her partner's antics. "It's a farm, Weiss," she drawled, injecting a bit of condescension. "It's not like we haven't seen worse."
"I-I know, but…" The white-haired heiress gingerly stepped around a patch of bare mud that was just a little too smooth. "I didn't expect it to be so dirty… and smelly… Oh, why did I wear white?"
"Because you always wear white?" At the pleading look Weiss gave her, Blake sighed and shook her head. "Fine, I'll take the lead, and I'll try to make it quick, princess."
It took them a few more minutes to find the proprietor of the farm, minutes that Weiss spent loudly complaining about every aspect of the farm and life on it, while Blake endured with resigned and familiar patience.
Finally, they spotted a man in overalls and a flannel shirt, his brown hair streaked with white, leading a herd of goats back into an enclosure.
"Mister Brown!" Blake called out, waving her hand in the air. The farmer perked up, then grinned and pointed towards the entrance of the enclosure. The two Huntresses made their way over to the gate while Brown herded the goats in, and waited as he gave the last animal a kick to the rear and latched the gate behind him.
"Now, what can I do for ya, miss…?"
"Belladonna," she replied. "We're here to complete the job you posted with Signal a couple of days ago?"
"Ah, right!" he said, slapping a fist into his left hand. "I plumb forgot about that thing. I'm getting absent-minded in my old age. Come on, I'll show you where it happened."
Farmer and Huntresses set off into the field in silence, Weiss clearly much more comfortable on the thick green grass.
"So, Brown, really?" Weiss said. "As in, Farmer Brown?"
"You know that story?" Blake said, looking back at Weiss in surprise.
"My mother, while she was still alive, made it a point to read stories to Winter and I," Weiss said, turning her nose up slightly. "The tale of Farmer Brown was one of them."
"Aye, that would be my great-great-great… well, many great-grandpappy," Brown said proudly. "Story's just a little embellished, but what story isn't? You're not the first to ask, and I doubt you'll be the last. Ah, we're here."
Both Huntresses immediately zeroed in on a spot of torn grass, flecks of blood marring the blades.
"So, what was it that you saw?" Weiss asked as she let Blake examine the spot more closely. "All we know is that it took one of your goats."
"Well, my first thought was that it was a Grimm," Brown said, scratching his chin. "Y'know, bone mask, black fur and all that."
"That doesn't make any sense, though," Weiss said, half to herself. "Grimm don't usually attack animals, even livestock."
"Aye, that's why I stuck around instead of runnin' for the farm," Brown agreed, nodding. "It was getting dark out, so I couldn't make out much, but there was definitely a human face under that mask. And the arm that killed my goat sure looked human."
"I've got a scent," Blake announced suddenly from where she had been crouched. "Faint, but it's there."
"Aye, we haven't had any rain and we don't get dew or fog this time of year." Brown gave Blake a hard stare. "You've got a good nose, lass."
"Aura," she said simply.
"Amazin' thing, innit? Well, I'll leave you girls to it. This is your job, after all." Turning around, the farmer ambled off back towards his farm.
As soon as the farmer was out of sight, Blake began stalking towards the woods in a low crouch, sniffing the air as she went. Weiss followed behind, scanning the trees for any threats, a hand on Myrtenaster's hilt.
"Okay, so we have a human dressed as a Grimm stealing livestock," Weiss said after a few minutes. "What I don't get is how he or she managed to preserve that Grimm mask. All parts of a Grimm dissolve when they're killed, right?"
"There are ways to preserve parts of a Grimm," Blake replied, still sniffing. "They're a very esoteric branch of Aura skills, though, so must Huntsmen don't bother. It only really works on the bone, as well."
"Okay, so either we have an eccentric old Aura master who's set up shop, or someone else who did it completely by accident," Weiss summarized acidly. "Lovely."
The next few minutes were spent in silence, Blake continuing to track the scent trail. Up ahead, a clearing in the woods resolved itself. Some feet from the edge, Blake held out a hand to stop Weiss.
"The scent's getting stronger," she said, unsheathing Gambol Shroud. "Wait here."
Nodding, Weiss ducked behind a large shrub, watching as Blake slunk into the clearing. This close, the heiress could see that there was a sizeable cave in the back of clearing, where Blake appeared to be going. Her partner ducked into the dark mouth of the cave, and for a minute Weiss waited in tense silence before Blake came out of the cave and waved her over.
"What did you find?" Weiss whispered as she walked up to the mouth.
"Our mystery goat thief definitely lives here," Blake whispered back, jerking her thumb at the half-gone corpse of a goat. Next to it was an obviously well-used firepit, and a stack of crudely-hewn tools. "From the scent, I'd say it's a she."
Crouching down, Weiss examined the instruments. "Bone, obsidian," she muttered as she rummaged through. "These are handmade, I'm sure of it. And this-" Reaching down, she pulled out a worn, but still sharp steel knife. "Is stolen."
Glancing around the cave, Weiss spotted what looked to be blankets draped over something. Walking over revealed that they were animal skins, and pulling them off displayed a grinning Ursa mask.
"Urgh..." The heiress winced and covered her nose in an attempt to ward off the stench wafting off the blankets. "Well, Blake, I think I just confirmed your 'Aura-preserved Grimm' theory." Getting no answer, Weiss glanced around and saw Blake kneeling at something deeper within the cave. "Blake? What did you find?"
Her partner jumped slightly, before waving her over. "I think you need to see this, Weiss."
Frowning slightly at the concerned tone in her partner's voice, Weiss walked over to where Blake was crouched, only to take a step back in shock at what she was examining. "Is that a human skull?" Weiss hissed, a hard edge creeping into her voice.
"Yes," Blake replied quietly from where she was examining it, careful not to touch the body part. "Probably a child's, and a young one, too. Look, none of the baby teeth have come out."
Weiss shuddered slightly, rubbing her left arm. "Well, that's lovely. So he or she kills children, too?"
"If she," Blake emphasized firmly. "Did kill this child, it was almost certainly by accident. Take a closer look. Does any of this," she gestured at the stone shelf the skull was situated on. "Remind you of anything?"
Squinting her eyes, Weiss took in the skull again - and its surroundings. The skull sat on a flat shelf carved into the rock, too even to be natural, and was surrounded by wilted flowers. Two fresh ones were propped up next to the skull, leaning against the back of the shelf. None touched the skull.
"It's a memorial…" Weiss breathed, putting a hand to her heart. "That's… that's just… do we know who it is?"
"Not a clue," Blake replied sadly. "And I don't relish looking through the town reco-"
Both huntresses whirled around, hands flashing to their weapons as their Aura and instincts flashed danger. There, in the doorway, stood a feminine figure cloaked in black fur, shards of bone attached to the shoulders and wrists. Angry red eyes glared out from behind an Ursa mask, framed by long, golden, and impossibly well-kept hair. Even with the mask covering most of the figure's face, she was very clearly pissed off. And most importantly, she was practically radiating Aura.
"Yoooouuuu…" the figure growled in a rusty but no less comprehensible voice.
"I don't think she liked us examining the memorial…" Weiss whispered to Blake as she settled into her combat stance.
"You think?" Blake shot back. "Be on your guard. We don't know what she can-"
Blake was cut off by the golden woman charging forward at a speed that rendered her a blur, even to the two Huntresses. Both she and Weiss frantically dove to the side as a golden-streaked punch landed on the cave floor. Or would have, if she hadn't pulled the punch at the last second.
Shifting Gambol Shroud to pistol mode, she fired a few shots at the legs, Weiss shooting ice shards from her side of the cave. The golden woman growled and leaped up, digging fingers and toes into the rock.
'That strength! It's unreal!' The Huntress had no time to lament further as the golden woman launched herself at her in a flying kick. The hasty guard was blown aside, and Blake was sent flying towards the mouth of the cave.
Flipping in mid-air, Blake landed feet-first and skidded to a stop, taking the opportunity to swap out her standard magazine for one loaded with Dust cartridges. Gambol Shroud loaded again, she dashed back into the cave, seeing Weiss frantically using her glyphs to fend off the golden woman.
Keying up her Semblance, Blake charged her opponent. Unsurprisingly, the golden woman reacted quickly and shot a punch at her. Blake leaped up, leaving a clone behind. A clone made of fire that promptly exploded. As the golden woman howled, flames licking at her, Blake fired an ice cartridge at her back just as Weiss did the same.
Flipping, Blake landed next to Weiss, staring intently at the woman, now frozen into a block of ice.
"How are you doing?" she said in a short, clipped tone.
"Not bad," Weiss said, panting slightly. "Burning through Aura like crazy just to keep up with her, though, so I really hope that finishes her."
"I hope so, too," Blake agreed, rubbing her bruised arms. She had barely finished her response when the ice cracked loudly. "Though it seems we won't get our wish."
The ice shattered, the golden woman and her Aura roaring like flame as she tore herself out of the icy prison.
'Scratch that, it's actual fire," Blake corrected herself as she ducked under another fist, feeling the heat on her neck. She countered with a slash to the exposed ribs, only for the golden woman's Aura to absorb the blow. Slightly overextended, Blake couldn't pull back fast enough to avoid taking a knee to the chin.
'This isn't working,' Blake decided as she soared upwards. Below her, she could see Weiss hurling a blast of Fire Dust at the golden woman, who shrugged it off. 'We need something bigger.'
The confined space they were in was working against them. Weiss was unable to utilize her Semblance, and Blake couldn't fully take advantage of her agility. They needed to get this fight outside.
Switching Gambol Shroud to pistol mode again, she hurled the weapon blade-first at the cave floor, the weapon lodging into the stone.
Blake jumped down, attaching Gambol Shroud's ribbon to the sheath, and jumped in front of the golden woman. Ducking under the roaring punch, and noting with pride that Weiss had frozen their opponent to the floor, Blake leaped behind the golden woman, looping the ribbon around. Three more passes - and another round of freezing - and Blake yanked the ribbon taut around the woman.
One more pass, and the anchor was now attached to the ribbon, keeping it tight. A series of glyphs materialized behind and in front of the golden woman.
"Goodbye!" Weiss chirped, before Blake heaved, throwing the woman forward. The glyphs did their job, accelerating the woman as she was flung out of the cave, ribbon unwinding as she flew. Soaring out of the cave, she landed beyond the tree line, knocking over several trees as she did so. Growling, she threw the heavy tree trunk off of her and charged forward, intent on clobbering the two interlopers. She burst from the tree line-
And was promptly buried into the soft earth by a massive, spectral sword.
"You think that did it?" Blake wondered hopefully.
"I sure hope so," Weiss said, slumping to the ground. "Because that's all I've got left."
Blake looked at her partner in surprise. "Really? I thought you'd licked those stamina issues."
"Hey, you try going hand to hand with that crazy bitch for several minutes straight," Weiss spat with uncharacteristic venom. "I told you, I had to burn Aura just to keep up. Literally."
"Fair enough," Blake admitted sheepishly, only to stiffen as she realized the golden woman's Aura was still active.
"How-" Blake cried, whirling around. Too late; that was as far as she got before an angry yellow freight train slammed into her face, throwing her against the rock face the cave was built into. As her vision blackened, she saw the golden woman easily dispatch an exhausted Weiss, before darkness claimed her.
The smell of stewed goat brought her back to the land of the living. Groaning, she tried to use her hands to sit up, as the rock floor was hard and very uncomfortable, only to find that they were tied together. She prepared her Aura to snap the bonds and escape, when-
Blearily, Blake opened her eyes to see Weiss looking down at her in concern. "She's still here, and in our current state I give us very poor odds of successfully getting away from her." Her face softened as she looked her partner over. "How are you feeling? You got hit pretty hard back there, and your eye doesn't seem to be doing so well."
The faunus gingerly made to touch her face before remembering her hands were tied up. Still, she could feel the bruise forming around her eye, and several other aches besides. "Head hurts," Blake groaned. Trying to put herself into a sitting position, she flinched as a spike of pain ran up her back. "Back too."
Weiss allowed herself a grim chuckle. "I'll schedule an appointment with the spa. They can help you work out the kinks."
"Thanks," Blake said as she slumped back to the ground. Ah, the joys of having a rich friend. The sound of a fire crackling brought her back to reality, prompting Blake to snap her gaze around fretfully. "So what's she doing?"
"Cooking goat stew," Weiss replied with a grimace as she surreptitiously glanced over her shoulder. "I'm not sure how long she's been doing that; I only woke up a few minutes ago myself. So, how are we playing this?"
"I… c'n hear you…" the golden woman interjected in a voice reminiscent of gravel in a blender. Turning her head, Blake could see their host adding in some herbs and stirring. "What… 're you… doing here?"
"We were searching for someone, or something, that had been stealing livestock," Weiss replied after only a moment's hesitation. "We tracked you to this cave. We didn't mean to disturb your shrine, and I apologize profusely for that."
The golden woman only grunted in reply, stirring the skin bag she had over the fire.
"So, uh, who's it for, anyway?"
Blake stared at Weiss in slightly horrified shock, and the golden woman shot her a red-eyed glare that made the heiress flinch.
"I, uh, said that out loud, didn't I?" Weiss asked rhetorically, blushing slightly. "Um, sorry about that. It's a bad habit of mine."
"Huh?" Weiss said intelligently.
"M's'st'r. Ruby," the golden woman grunted.
Weiss sent a confused glance at Blake, who just shrugged as best she could under the bonds.
"I, uh, didn't quite catch that," Weiss replied, smiling sweetly.
The golden woman glared slightly, though not at anything in particular. "Talk. 's hard." Taking a deep breath, she cleared her throat in a massive, hacking cough. "Si… s… ter. Ruby."
Weiss sharply inhaled, and Blake knew she was no less shocked. The pieces were beginning to fit together…
"Do you want to tell us what happened?" she said softly, tugging slightly at her bonds.
For a moment, the golden woman was silent, before she pulled off the Ursa mask, looking at them with sad, blue eyes. She opened her mouth-
My name is Yang. I had a last name, but I've forgotten it by now. Don't think I really deserve it anymore, anyway.
We were a pretty standard family: a mom, a dad, and two sisters, living in a cozy house in the woods of Patch. I still remember those days, when we were all together. My parents were both Huntsmen, and both Ruby and I wanted to be just like them growing up, fighting monsters to save humanity.
Unfortunately… it also meant we lost our mother. I was just under seven at the time, and Ruby had just turned five. She went on a mission and never came back. Ruby was too young to understand. For weeks she kept asking where mom was. I knew, though. I knew she wasn't coming back.
Shortly after she died, I found a photo in my dad's room. It was him, and his old team. And there on the picture was a woman who looked just like me, if I had black hair. I'd always wondered why I didn't look all that much like mom, and now I knew. She hadn't given birth to me.
I was a stupid little kid. I wanted to see her. So I hatched a plan. I loaded Ruby into the red wagon we had and set off into the woods to find this shack my dad had mentioned before. I wanted to find a clue to her, or maybe get her to save me. I expected a long journey, and maybe Grimm.
I didn't expect becoming lost.
We just… couldn't find our way back. And no one found us. So we stayed there in those woods, for two months. It was hard. Finding food was hard. And then Ruby got sick. She just got weaker, and weaker, and the whole time I could only stand there-
"-AND I COULDN'T. DO. ANYTHING!" Yang roared, shattering the rock wall with a punch. "I… could just… sit th'rr… 'n watch. She died… 'cause I was… a stupid kid…"
Panting, Yang slumped to her knees, tears dripping from her eyes. "I… killed her…"
She flinched as a pair of arms embraced her over her shoulders. "And why haven't you returned to civilization?" Blake whispered softly into her ear. "It's been years. You know the way out."
"Don't… d'serve it…" she sniffed, wiping her eyes.
"You screwed up," Blake stated bluntly, though not unkindly. "I know that feeling all too well. And I understand the need to punish yourself, to atone. But… what would Ruby say if she saw you like this?"
"Quite moping, Yang! Let's go out and have fun! You can be the hero this time!"
"Heh… She'd tell me… t'go out… 'n be a hero," she chuckled. Sniffing, she suddenly wailed out, tears flowing again. Turning around, she gripped Blake by the shirt and buried her head in the other girl's chest.
"There, there," Blake murmured softly. "Let it all out…"
"This is delicious!" Weiss exclaimed as she scooped goat stew into her mouth.
"Th'nks," Yang replied, her voice noticeably less rusty. "Stew… 's better 'n roasting. Keeps th' good stuff in."
"Well, I'm not going to argue with your culinary skills," Blake said, practically shoveling the stew into her mouth. "Anyway, we should head down to Patch as soon as we can. You've got over ten years of acclimating to society to catch up on, and I want to make sure you're healthy. Not to mention I want to get you evaluated at Signal as soon as possible."
Yang, who had been taking another mouthful of stew, gagged on the food, hacking and coughing.
"Me?!" she exclaimed once her airpipes were clear. "A-A H'ntress? B-But I-!"
"Yang, you defeated two Beacon graduates by yourself," Weiss interjected. "Yes, we were caught by surprise and in unfavorable conditions, but you still defeated us handily. And not to brag, but we were at the top of our class."
"You've got the power, Yang," Blake continued, laying an encouraging hand on the other woman's shoulder. "You'll have to work on your skills, social and otherwise, but don't ever doubt your power."
"Th'nks," she said, giving them a soft smile and wiping her eyes again.
"That said," Weiss added, a sudden malevolent aura rising around her. "If you ever put your head on my partner's chest again, you will be breathing through your throat."
Yang blinked, looking back and forth between Weiss and Blake, who was cradling her head in her hands. "Oh! Y're, uh…" Yang snapped her fingers as she dug for the word she was thinking of. "Her wife!"
Weiss blushed completely scarlet, while Blake seemed to attempt to melt into the floor.
"Con-grat-u-la-tions!" Yang sounded out, grabbing Weiss's hands in her own. "When is baby?"
Weiss let out a sound not unlike a steam whistle. "W-We're not like that!"
"Y're not?" Yang said, looking confused. "But-"
"We. Are. Partners! Nothing more!"
"You'll understand once you're more acclimated to society," Blake mumbled through her fingers.
"Okay!" Yang chirped, turning back to her meal.
The meal continued in embarrassed silence, until at last the goat stew had been fully consumed.
"Whew!" Weiss said, patting her stomach. "Not my usual fare, but quite satisfying. Anyway, we should get going if we want to be back in time to check into the hotel."
"Um, c'ld you… wait out…" Yang indicated the mouth of the cave.
"No problem," Weiss said, standing up and dusting off her skirt. "We'll be out front."
Weiss stepped out of the cave and onto the grass of the clearing, stopping near the tree line. Blake stepped up beside her a few seconds later.
"Will this work out, Blake?" she asked her partner, a hint of uncertainty creeping into her voice.
"No idea," she replied carelessly, shrugging. "I do think that we have good odds at getting back at Ozpin with her."
"Heh, good point," Weiss said, smirking.
Suddenly, there was a loud rumble and a shaking of earth. The two Huntresses whirled around to see the cave collapsing in on itself, and no sign of Yang.
Weiss didn't get to finish the sentence before Yang stepped out of the dust cloud, no worse for the wear.
"What?" she said, taking in their stunned expressions before giggling. "You think th't I… kill myself?" Lifting up her hand, she revealed Ruby's skull. "Last thing."
It took about fifteen minutes for Yang to dig a small hole in the ground and build a memorial cross out of two chunks of wood and some sinew, Blake and Weiss waiting patiently. Done, the blonde knelt in front of the memorial, and delicately brushed dirt over the skull until it was covered.
"G'dbye, Ruby," she whispered, before standing up and running after Blake and Weiss. As the trio set off into the forest, Yang heard a giggle behind her and turned her head to see a translucent Ruby in a white, sleeveless dress standing over the grave, giggling and smiling. Raising her hand, the spectral Ruby waved goodbye, and then she was gone.
As Yang turned her back on what had long been her home for a final time, somehow she knew it was all going to work out.