Chapter 80: The Chase Begins
The Emerald Forest
"Oh, I'm in so much trouble!"
Yang let out a harsh sigh as the two zipped through the forest, doing their damndest to keep the Nevermore in sight. "Ruby, relax! It's not that bad! Students are allowed to go into the forest!"
"Yang, the whole school's awake! And I think that was Ozpin we ran past back there!"
"...Okay, but it could be worse!"
Ruby gave her a bug-eyed stare as they slid under a fallen tree. "I just unleashed a wild Nevermore with super-speed in the middle of the school! How could this be worse?"
Yang side-eyed her as they shifted course, trying to cut off the Nevermore as it suddenly veered to the right. "It could have headed towards the city."
Yang rolled her eyes, ignoring the burning in her chest. Despite the training they'd been doing, Ruby's Semblance still tired her faster than her own by far. "Okay, just… we've got to get it to the ground if we're going to take it down."
"How!? We can't fly!"
"Uh…" Yang hesitated, considering their few options. The trees around them were slowly starting to thin, giving her a clearer view of the Nevermore above them. It had stopped veering and was now going in a straight line, though who knew how long that would last. Her mind flashed back to months ago, how it had taken an actual mountainside for Ruby to get up to the beast's level. What she wouldn't give for another cliffside to run up.
...wait a second.
"Maybe we can, sis!" A manic grin spread out over Yang's face, her fingers curling.
Ruby looked at her in confusion. "What? What do you-"
"Just trust me! Think you can hit its wing with some ice?"
"I mean, probably!" Unsure but with no better ideas, Ruby swung Crescent Rose off her back as she took a small leap. She rolled along the ground as Yang blasted past her. She came up in a crouch, getting a bead on the Nevermore's flightpath with the rifle.
Crescent Rose fired, and there was a screech of shock as the Nevermore fell out of super speed. With a grin, Ruby fired her Semblance back up, quickly catching up with Yang as they closed the distance. "Okay, now what-" Ruby then saw the snowflake on Yang's Mark glow, a yellow haze forming around her fingertips. With a sense of dread, she asked, "Yang, what are you doing?"
Yang shot her sister an excited grin. "Something crazy!" She looked straight ahead, scanning the ground. She quickly found what she was looking for: a large boulder jutting out of the ground in front of them. She pushed herself harder, her legs moving faster.
Ruby watched, aghast, as Yang pulled ahead of her, eyes zeroing in on what her sister was running towards. The pieces clicked into place. "Yang!? Yang, no!"
She was too late, watching helplessly as Yang gave a small hop, pushing off the top of the rock with her next step. Yang brought her hands up as she leapt into open air.
Before she could lose momentum, a yellow glyph appeared under her feet. She pushed off it with a long stride of Ruby's Semblance, going higher. A second glyph formed under her feet, then another. Step by super-speed step, Yang soared into the sky, jumping along her self made path.
She was at the Nevermore's height before she knew it, too quickly to form a true plan. Its belly crackled with red electricity, the very air around it charged. Without giving much thought, Yang pushed herself even further, gaining what little speed on the creature she could. She didn't have enough to overtake it.
Just enough to get right under its wing.
With a mighty leap, Yang fired up her own semblance briefly, her strength and velocity driving her right into the Nevermore's frozen shoulder.
Yang's side lit up in pain, electric shocks running through her as she slammed into the Nevermore mid-flap, shattering the ice. She got her desired result, though, the sudden impact forcing the Nevermore on its back. The Grimm's loss of speed made it dip down, while Yang's momentum sent her higher. Yang saw an opportunity.
Before she could second-guess herself, she twisted her body so that her feet were facing the sky. She tucked her legs in, then curved her fingers for another glyph right above her. She pushed off it with all she had, launching herself at the Nevermore's neck with a yell.
Crashing into the summon's body, Yang clenched her teeth against the shocks. The Nevermore let out a screech of protest as it was suddenly sent hurtling downward. Yang wrapped her arms around its neck as they fell. Her stomach sunk when she suddenly looked up, only to see the ground rushing towards her.
Okay, maybe I didn't think this through.
Earlier, Elsewhere in the forest
Ilia frowned as she weighed the stone-like pyramid in her hand, trying to figure out why the unassuming relic seemed warm to the touch. "Y'know, Penny, I've got to ask: do you even need a team?"
"Huh?" Penny looked over at the question. "What do you mean?" She immediately turned away as a howl rang out, a black blur diving right towards her.
Ilia winced at the sound of breaking bones, her gaze following the flight path of a headless Beowulf as it smashed into a nearby tree and faded. She turned back to Penny with an unimpressed look, eyebrow raised. Ciel and Neo relaxed out of their sudden stances, replacing their weapons in exasperation as they side-eyed the android.
Penny blinked at the looks as she retracted her blades, before appearing chagrined. "Oh. Did you want to take that one?"
Ilia looked skyward, letting out a sigh. "No, Penny, I… see, that's what I mean." She gestured towards Neo and Ciel as the four regrouped, Penny's blades creating a perimeter around them as they continued through the forest. "We've been fighting through this forest all night, and you haven't even broken a sweat."
"Um…" Penny ducked her head, embarrassed. "I can't actually-"
"Not actual sweat!" Ilia clarified, some exasperation entering her voice. She glared slightly when she heard Neo snort, before taking a deep breath. "I mean… like, that pack back there. Fighting off Grimm like that takes all my training and instincts. But you make it look effortless. And, during the Fang attack… nothing even touched you. Do you… need any help during a fight?"
Penny's eyes widened the more Ilia spoke, a frown forming on her lips. She was silent for a moment, before dipping her head. "You're not… entirely wrong. My capabilities are far beyond what… normal people can achieve. That was the entire point of my creation. But…" She looked up, meeting Ilia's eyes. "I'm not invincible."
Ciel gave her a doubtful look, eyeing the many swords hovering around them. "Really?"
Penny merely nodded, not hearing the skepticism. "Indeed. While my robotic nature makes me much more durable than human and Faunus Hunters, it also gives me… unique weaknesses."
"Like?" Ilia couldn't help but ask.
"During Team RWBY's initial fight against Roman Torchwick, I was surprised by the use of an EMP wave. I went from 91% combat efficiency to zero in under thirty seconds."
"It… knocked you out?" Ilia tried to translate. Beside her, Neo slapped a hand to her forehead, glaring up towards the cliffs in the distance.
Penny nodded. "Yes. And regarding power… I'm not as efficient as I should be." At their questioning look, she explained. "I'm… essentially a prototype. I was tested to my fullest capabilities… but there's only so much you can account for in the lab."
Ilia hummed at that. Maybe it was bad of her, but she felt oddly comforted that Penny had her own weakness and need for improvement. Maybe there was a reason for this team to exist outside of publicity.
Silence hung in the air as they trundled through the timber. Ilia couldn't tell what the others were thinking. Neo seemed unable to do anything but smirk at everything around her, while Ciel remained closed off, eyes darting between the three of them occasionally before dropping back down to the ground. Ilia let out a small sigh. After fighting together for a bit, she could see how the four of them might work in combat. But as teammates? Her stomach sank trying to think about how they could make this work in the long term.
"So… can I ask a personal question?"
Ilia blinked at the surprising voice. She turned to see Ciel wince under the sudden attention, looking unsure as to why she even spoke up. Her eyes darted back to the ground, before hesitantly raising to meet Penny's.
Penny's head lifted a little in surprise, then beamed a smile. "Of course! I can tell you whatever you wish." She then paused, looking contemplative. "So long as it's not classified, that is."
Ciel grimaced, looking even more reluctant. "Oh. Okay, um… I was just wondering… since you were… made by Atlas… where did you get the name Penny?"
In an instant, Penny's smile lit back up. "Oh! That's easy. I chose it."
Ilia and Neo shared a quick look. That was… not what they were expecting. Ciel seemed to agree, based on her surprised look. "Really?"
Penny nodded excitedly. "Indeed! My father was adamant that I decided that for myself. He let me choose a lot, in fact."
Ilia blinked, seeing Neo perk up in interest over the bot's shoulder. "Like what?"
"The way I looked. My height, my shape. The color of my skin, hair, and eyes. Even the sound of my voice." She grew a little sheepish suddenly, her smile dipping a bit. "The idea was that if I made those decisions myself, it would be easier for me to feel… human."
Neo made a small hum, then tapped Penny on the shoulder. When Penny looked at her curiously, Neo gestured up and down the androids frame, a brow raised. After a moment, Penny understood. "Why did I choose to look like this?" Neo nodded. Penny went to answer, then paused. Her mouth closed with a click, her head tilting slightly as she thought. "I'm... not sure, honestly. When I started thinking about it… looking like this-" Penny gestured to herself, then shrugged. "-just came to me. It… feels right… to look like this." She looked at her team hesitantly. "Does that make sense?"
Ilia nodded slowly, more out of acceptance than understanding. "A little." She glanced towards the others, gauging their reactions. Neo had a quirked smile on her lips, a sparkle in her eye as she nodded with Penny's words. And Ciel… Ilia wasn't sure what to make out of her reaction. The prodigy kept looking Penny up and down while she chewed on her bottom lip, like the robot was a puzzle she wasn't sure she wanted to figure out. She did seem a little less tense, though, so that was… something.
Focusing back on Penny, Ilia was about to ask another question but paused when she caught sight of the android's expression. There was a slight frown on her lips, her eyes narrowed slightly as she watched the path before them. Ilia watched as Penny's eyes darted back and forth slightly as she thought about something. "Penny?" Ilia asked after a moment. "Is something-?" She stopped, her head jerking up suddenly.
There was… something… at the edge of her hearing. Like a droning high-pitched whistle. And… crackling?
"You hear it too?"
Neo and Ciel looked over in surprise at the hard tone of Penny's voice. Ilia met Penny's glowing eyes, mirroring the serious look on her face. "Yeah." She looked towards the south, trying to peer through the thick foliage. "And it's getting louder."
Ciel looked at Neo in confusion, hoping the girl might have an explanation for the sudden shift in tone. The former thief could only shrug, putting her hands on her hips as she gave the two an annoyed frown. It took a second for Ciel to remember that Neo couldn't voice her annoyance, deciding to ask what they were both thinking. "Um… Miss Polendina? Miss Amitola? What do you-?"
As the sudden screech made the other three flinch, Penny's head shot up, panic on her face. Her blades froze in their hovering, becoming unnaturally still.
Ilia had a split second where she thought, I know that voice, before something thin and solid smashed into Ilia's side, taking her off her feet. She tried to roll with the impact, only half succeeding as she crashed to the ground. A yelp and two impacts to her left showed that Ciel and Neo had been thrown aside with her. She lifted her head to see what had hit her. Her eyes widened when she saw the offending object laying in the dirt before her:
One of Penny's blades.
Ilia's head shot up at Ciel's panicked yell. Her heart sank.
Penny stood in the same place they'd all been just a moment ago, her blades all thrown in the direction of her sprawled teammates. Her eyes were turned skyward, towards the giant screeching red something hurtling towards her.
Ilia didn't know what went through her head at that moment, except for two things.
One: that the wires connecting Penny to her blades were drawn taut.
And, two: Penny wasn't moving.
There was no thought. Ilia dived for the blade, planted her foot and knee into the ground, and pulled.
There was an instant protest from her shoulder. Despite her looks, Penny did not weigh the same as a normal girl. But Ilia barely registered it. All she cared about was that Penny was yanked off her feet by her back, sailing towards the Faunus and out of the way of the sparking red Nevermore slamming back first into the ground where she'd been standing.
Ilia barely felt Penny's weight as she caught her, too busy watching slackjawed as the Nevermore skidded across the ground, gouging a path through the trees until it came to a rest a football field away. It lay there for a moment, then let out a screech, rolling right side up and trying to get its feet back under it.
Before the four could react, a thunderous impact sounded across the newly made clearing. The Nevermore squawked as its head was thrown up, the beast rolling in a tangle of legs and wings. A splash of yellow was revealed as it tumbled, showing Yang Xiao-Long standing post-uppercut, face snarling and hair glowing. The brawler kept her pose for a moment, before grimacing, dropping to one knee and gasping for breath.
Ilia felt Penny tremble in her arms. The android blinked rapidly, shaking her head hard. She glanced back at Ilia in surprise, then towards where the Faunus was looking. She gasped when she saw Yang. "Friend Yang!"
Yang looked up at the shout, surprise on her face. "Penny? What-" A sudden thud distracted her, the red glow of the Nevermore suddenly above her. She grimaced as the Nevermore got back to its feet, its silver eyes narrowing at her. "Aw, man…"
The Nevermore let out a screech, rearing its head back to snap at Yang.
A sharp whistle suddenly sounded, making the Grimm freeze. A hand suddenly waved in front of its right eyes, drawing its attention.
Neo smirked cheekily at it from her perch at the end of its beak.
Penny paused in her attempts to rise, just as perplexed as Ilia and Ciel. The three looked to their left in confusion.
Neo smirked back at them, her hand raised towards the Nevermore.
Ciel looked between the two Neos. Then she remembered their fight with the Deathstalkers. "Oh," she said with a blink. "Clever."
Neo gave her a slight bow that was only slightly mocking.
The Nevermore, apparently over its brief confusion, threw its head back with a roar. The copy-Neo flew into the air, not even attempting to escape as it practically swan-dived right into the beast's mouth. Yang, not having seen the original Neo yet, yelped as the Nevermore's mouth snapped close, the copy exploding into shards on contact with its teeth.
The Nevermore made a warbling sound of satisfaction. It went to look back down at Yang when another whistle sounded. The Grimm swung its head to the left, finding another Neo standing on its wingtip. The copy-Neo stuck out her tongue at the beast, pulling down her eyelid to complete the insult. The Nevermore lunged at the copy, shattering it, only to find another Neo on the ground a few yards away. With an almost frustrated shriek, the Nevermore lunged again, only for this one to leap back out of its way. The Nevermore rushed after it, snapping forward with awkward half-steps, away from Yang.
With the Nevermore successfully distracted, Penny motioned for her team to go to Yang. They moved as one, Neo having to jog backward to keep an eye on where her copies needed to be. "Yang!" Penny knelt at the blonde's side, looking her over for injuries. "Are you injured?"
Yang didn't register Penny's words at first, staring in bemusement at the Neo's that kept shattering and reappearing around the clearing. Giving herself a small shake, she turned to Penny with a weak but reassuring grin. "I'm okay, just… exhausted." She looked around at the four of them. "What the heck are you all doing out here?"
At that, Penny and Ilia shared a curious look, Ciel shuffling her feet. Neo just snorted, rolling her eyes as she focused on keeping the Grimm occupied. Penny finally gave a sheepish smile. "Team training?"
Yang blinked. "Team… you four…" She looked them all over again, this time in appraisal. "Huh."
A piercing shriek made them cover their ears. The Nevermore had finally lost patience with Neo's copies. Even as copy-Neo waved its arms to draw its attention, the Nevermore rose to its full height. It spread its wings wide, electricity crackling across its body as it started shedding rose petals.
Yang groaned as she leapt to her feet. "Oh no, ya don't!" she yelled, throwing her hands up as she curved her fingers.
With a mighty flap, the Nevermore shot into the air. Before it could get very high, a large yellow glyph appeared right above it. The Grimm shrieked as it smashed through the yellow glyph-
-and smacked into the red one above it.
Its momentum stopped dead, the Nevermore slammed back to the ground with a groan, shards of yellow and red raining down around it. It raised its head, silver eyes burning as it searched for the cause of its frustration.
It found it in the form of a superspeed scythe slash.
The Nevermore roared in pain as Ruby blurred into the side of its beak, Crescent Rose's blade flashing in the moonlight as it sunk into the inside of its mouth. As it reared back in pain, Ruby used the movement to swing around, flipping through the air to land in a crouch before the group. She glanced back at Yang, then had a double-take at the others. "Penny? Neo? What-?"
"Training exercise." Penny and Ilia said at the same time. They glanced at each other in surprise, before Penny focused back on the current problem. "Ruby, what's going on?"
"Um… well-" Ruby was cut off by the Nevermore getting back to its feet. "No, no! Don't let it get off the ground!" She hit Crescent Rose's transformation switch, aiming the rifle at the beast's left wing. With a crack, ice encased the limb's joint, making it fall limp. But with a single shudder, the Nevermore easily cracked the ice, shaking it off in chunks.
Understanding Ruby's panic, Penny formed her jetpack and took to the air. Hovering over the Nevermore with a determined look, she rose her blades around her, then started charging her lasers.
The group below shielded their eyes as fourteen rays of light converged into one, a great green beam of light outshining the red glow of the Nevermore. The Grimm let out a startled screech, throwing its wings over its head just before the beam struck. The beam broke as it beat against the Nevermores wings, sparks of green singeing the grass around it as it was slowly pushed back across the clearing. Shockingly, the Grimm managed to plant its talons firmly into the ground, weathering the beam as it continued to fire.
Penny grit her teeth in strain. Her eyes flickered slightly as she felt her energy drain quickly from the continued blast. Her eyes darted across the battlefield, searching for options. Her eyes widened. "Ilia! Ciel!"
The two looked up in surprise.
"Get behind it while I keep it occupied! Neo, give them a distraction!"
It took a second for her orders to register. Neo gave a wide grin and a salute, throwing both hands out. A pair of copy-Neo's formed in front of her, running right towards the Nevermore and running circles around its legs.
Ciel looked between Penny and the Nevermore in shock, before schooling her face and swallowing down her nerves. "Right."
Ilia nodded, then looked to Ciel. "You go wide on the left. I'll go right." Without waiting for a response, Ilia took off running… and vanished from sight.
Ciel stared at the thin air for a moment, before grimacing back at the Nevermore. "I wish I could do that," she muttered as she took off running.
Ruby looked over the clearing, thinking she understood what Penny was planning. "Yang, think we can give them some covering fire?" she asked as she changed clips.
"So long as Ilia knows not to run into our bullets," Yang quipped as she cocked Ember Celica.
The sisters blurred to the sides of the clearing, flanking Penny's position as they started laying into the Grimm, Crescent Rose and Ember Celica roaring in tandem as round after round tore into its red flesh. Its attention torn between the three lines of fire and the copy- Neo's dancing around its ankles, the creature took no notice of Ciel circling behind it, running low to stay out of Yang's crossfire.
Once behind the Nevermore, Ciel slammed the butt of her knife into the bottom of her pistol's magazine. With a twist and a pull, the two weapons connected, the magazine going in line with the barrel as it extended into a long pole. The gun barrel flared at the end, and the knife-blade split to reveal a curved secondary blade at its base.
Her pike fully formed, Ciel ran right at the back of the Nevermore, then thrust the gun end into the ground and flipped over it. She pulled the trigger at the height of her flip, the shot vaulting her into the air. She barely registered as Ilia reappeared on her left, electrified blade sparking as she raised it high over her head with both hands. Trying to ignore the intense heat from Penny's beam, the two let out a yell as they brought their blades down right into the back of the Nevermore's neck. At the same time, Neo's copies shattered away, revealing the real Neo leaping up from between where they'd been, driving her blade into the Grimm's unprotected neck.
The Nevermore shrieked, an earth-trembling shudder running through its form. It threw its head up in pain, out of its wings and right into Penny's blast.
Ilia, Ciel, and Neo jumped clear as the Nevermore was thrown back, its cries echoing throughout the forest. Its steaming body slammed heavily to the ground. Penny cut off her attack, her swords drooping around her as she relaxed from her stance.
For a moment, the forest was blissfully silent. Then the Nevermore let out a dazed croon.
"You've got to be kidding me," Yang groaned, Ruby whimpering next to her.
The Nevermore lifted its head. They all got back into their battle stances, preparing for another attack. But instead of rushing to its feet like before, the Nevermore instead swung its head to the side… and locked eyes with Ruby.
Ruby's breath hitched. She felt… something within her as the Nevermore's silver eyes bored into her own. It was like the Link, except instead of the constant subtleness at the back of her mind, this was front and center. Not even emotions, just… something raw. Something frustrated, confused, and… hurt.
Before Ruby could try to understand what this meant, the Nevermore groaned. It attempted to get its feet under itself, straining to move its wings up. With a mournful call, it slumped to the ground and shattered into a sea of crimson light and rose petals.
As the red wisps faded away in the night air, Ruby and Yang slumped to the ground. Yang let out a chuckle as she watched the last of the rose petals drift. "Damn, sis, you don't do anything halfway, do you? That thing was way too durable."
Ruby groaned as she flopped backward. "I don't know what I did, Yang! I just made the thing!"
"You... you made it?"
The two looked up at Penny's voice. She and the others were regrouping around them, giving them startled and concerned looks.
"Uh…" Ruby shrunk under the attention. She chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of her neck. "K-kinda…?"
Ilia let out a strangled breath. "Kind- How do you kinda make a Grimm!?"
Yang chuckled when Ruby cringed at their baffled looks, deciding to answer for her. "Ruby's been practicing how to do that summoning thing Weiss and Winter can do. That was the first successful attempt."
Neo's eyes went wide, looking Ruby up and down with new appraisal. After a moment, she gave her a thumbs up and large smile that was only slightly sarcastic.
"That was successful?" Ciel couldn't help but ask.
Ruby cringed but managed a sheepish grin. "Well, it didn't break immediately, which is a first."
"But I think you still missed a couple steps, sis." Yang gave Ruby a gentle noogie, which Ruby just grumbled under until it stopped. Yang then sighed. "Guess we should call Blake and let her know we took care of it. Or, you guys took care of it." She grinned up at the group around them. "Thanks for that."
Penny beamed in response. "It... was no trouble." She didn't notice the side-eye Neo and Ciel gave each other. "I'm sure you... would have handled... it on your own."
Ruby and Yang looked at each other in apprehension. "Yeah… maybe if-" Ruby paused, suddenly eyeing Penny with concern. "Penny? Are you... out of breath?"
A moment of blank silence went between Penny's teammates. They hadn't noticed it at first, since the fight had left them all breathing heavily, but… They turned to look at, and were stunned to see, Penny taking deep gulps of air, her shoulders rising and falling heavily with every breath. Ciel's eyes were wide as saucers when she saw the air from Penny's exhales ripple. "Are… you okay?" she found herself asking.
Penny's cheeks gained a green tint at the attention. "I'm… um… ventilating?" She grinned sheepishly at their dumbfounded expressions. "Using that much energy… so quickly… I overheated a little." As she spoke, her breathing started to even out. "I'll be okay in a minute."
Ruby stared up at Penny in awe, then shot to her feet. Yang looked skyward at the familiar sparkle in Ruby's eyes, giving Penny a sympathetic look as Ruby launched into her questions. "You can do that? That's so cool! Are you always doing that or only when you overheat? Is there some kind of threshold for how hot yo-"
Ruby suddenly cut off mid-word, her mouth partway open. She blinked once then twice, her expression shifting from excitement to confusion, then worry. Behind her, Yang sucked in a harsh gasp. Their eyes went wide, faces going white. Their heads snapped towards Beacon.
While the others were confused by the sudden change, Ilia felt her stomach drop. On the sister's necks, their Marks were glowing violet. "Something wrong with Blake?"
"She… she's panicking," Yang muttered faintly. "Why-"
A chill fell over the group at the tone of Ruby's voice. She suddenly sounded younger and… smaller. They look to her, finding her, with eyes closed, facing... south. Up and away from Beacon.
Ruby's eyes flew open, naked fear on her face. "Why… why is Weiss all the way over there?"
Yang's face paled further. "What!?" She closed her eyes, only to open them seconds later. "Oh no." She reached for her scroll, which started ringing before she could even open it. She didn't even need to check before she answered. "Blake? Blake, what happened?"
The others could barely understand Blake's muffled panic as she spoke rapidly, mixed with a second voice, which Penny recognized as Specialist Winter, yelling at someone in the background. But one sentence they made out sent their stomachs plummeting.
"Yang, they took her!
"They took Weiss!"
Betaed by Covert Weapon
A/n: ...I regret nothing?
Well, that's not true. I'm sorry that it took so long to get this one out, and that it ends on yet another cliffhanger. Would it help if I say that A. the missing Wiess thing will be addressed next chapter and B: the next chapter should be out by the end of next week?
Credit to Clovyre over on Ao3 for the name Speedymore. I love it and I'm keeping it.
If there's anyone seeing this that's a Star Trek fan, allow me to shamelessly plug anouther of my fledgling stories "Giving Us All She's Got." Long and short of the plot. The Enterprise is sentient. That's it, really.
Hope you're all enjoying this start to the holidays as best you can. Stay safe and I'll see you at the next one!