A/N: I want y'all to picture something- Mushu's "I LIVE!" moment from Disney's Mulan. That's what I feel like putting this up for you. I'm… going in a different direction, here. I had another plan, but this… actually got put to paper and my mind is finding more inspiration with it, so… hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think!
My enduring thanks to flagbearer_or_scouts for her continued help and support!
Ears ringing. Everything's blurry. Some big, heavy weight on your chest making it hard to breathe.
"Switch? You okay?"
Something rises in your throat. Not… nausea. Not that you think, anyway. The bells in your ears don't stop as somebody keeps calling out to you.
"Damn it, please tell me that's not your blood."
You feel fingers and palms digging in between you and whatever's on top of you. Lifting the weight off as you suck in a huge gasp of air. Your lungs expand, but the cotton fibers of your undershirt stick to moisture on your chest. Too much to just be sweat.
You start to remember. Little by little.
Ruby pulls you to sit up, and finds your rifle beside you. She pushes it into your hands. Her face is caked with dust, and she shakes away disheveled, sweaty hair out of her eyes.
Your ears are still ringing. You see her lips moving, and it takes your best effort to pick out what she's saying. It's almost like she has to shout at you to get it across. "Hey! Are you hurt?"
You shake your head, grimacing at how that only makes your head hurt more. "No… no, what happened?"
You let your eyes wander, seeing the lifeless Grimm body that Ruby rolled off of you. His blood on your new gear. The bootprints outlined in crimson on the shiny concrete floor.
Ruby seems to let out a sigh of relief, but she doesn't stop looking you over. "Grimm jumped you as soon as you came into the room. You don't remember it?"
You try to remember, but currently, the ringing isn't calming down at all and you're just struggling to breath without the world spinning around you. "I… remember rolling on the ground… his gun going off by my ear…."
That explains the ringing.
"He hit you on the head pretty hard." Ruby pulls a red rag out of her gear, and presses it against your forehead, starting to wipe away something you can't quite see. "Do you know where you are?"
It starts to come back. "Grimm compound… far north of Vale, enemy territory… trying to get intel…?" You ask, starting to look past Ruby, and searching for clues to help jog your memory again. The room is dark, with only computer monitors lighting it. Shapes and squares like cubicles line the walls, with big, blocky server units in the center. A mess of wires and cables run from the servers to the ceiling.
To your left, Weiss is at a computer, the chair rolled away haphazardly. Her brow is furrowed, furiously going back and forth from typing to clicking with the mouse. She glances over to you and Ruby, then goes back to the screen. "It's all here, Ruby. I'll grab as much as I can before it auto-purges."
"Good. Make it quick." Ruby stands up, and takes your hand when she does. She swiftly pulls you up to your feet.
You stumble for a moment, regaining your bearings and trying to get the world to stop spinning. You put your hand on a nearby wall, steadying yourself. Surprisingly, the pistol grip of your rifle is more grounding than the wall. "Whatever schematics and shipments you're getting off of that computer better be worth it…"
Weiss doesn't look away from the screen. "We're getting more than just schematics and shipments. Names and locations of leaders, development plans, force deployment numbers… this could help win the war and help us find Cinder."
"Well, good to see he didn't hit you too hard." Blake's voice comes from behind you. She's standing at the doorway, the hinges and latch all blown in from when you all first breached the room. "Glad I stopped him from turning you into a mess on the floor."
That's right. Blake saved your life. Shot the Grimm who tackled you while you wrestled him and his gun.
Maiden cuts your thoughts short, breaking in on your earpiece. "RWBY, Maiden. The UAV is showing a lot of movement heading towards you. You've got ten minutes before things get hairy."
First your head hurting, then this. "Sunuva-"
"Switch." Ruby snaps back at you, the slightest tinge of irritation on her tongue. "Weiss, how long?"
"30 seconds. Trying to grab as much as possible." Weiss spouts back, never taking her eyes off of the monitor.
"Got it. The way things are going, helicopters aren't going to be able to pull us out. Blake, Switch, head outside and find something that runs and that you can drive."
"On it." You tap Blake on the shoulder as you move out of the server room, the blurriness starting to fade as you get moving again. You still don't have your feet completely underneath you, but it's getting there.
You pass through a sort of lobby with more cubicles, and better lighting. Where the server room only had one dead Grimm body in it, this one has several- your team's handiwork. You only saw it in passing on the way in, and now on the way out. You punch open the outer door- what's left of it- and step into the compound.
Everything is surrounded both by forest and barbed wire fencing. In fact, the Grimm never so much as cleared a space for it; they just built everything around the forest, from the simple wooden server building to the garage to the barracks. Probably pretty hard to spot from the air, but apparently Weiss's 'lead' was from a Mistral cyber defense team.
"There were two trucks in that garage when we cleared it earlier," Blake said as she strode towards it. "One of them has to have fuel."
You keep pace with Blake, watching to the right as she watches to the left. Everything feels… on edge. The real action took place when you four originally got into the compound, but with Maiden's report… things could heat up again.
No birds chirping. Slight breeze from the west rustles leaves and moves branches higher up in the canopy. No rays of light break through the trees. It's overcast, keeping the temperature low, but not enough that you're uncomfortable with rolled sleeves. Everything is… still.
The garage is more of a double carport. Cinder block walls with a horizontal sheet metal roof. Everything painted green to mirror the forest. Vines are starting to grow up the sides, and small troughs around the edges form where gutters are supposed to be. Two trucks are facing outward, both dirty and worn from what appears to be lots of offroad use. One is colored in brown, the other black.
Wordlessly, you head toward the brown one. The door opens to reveal worn cloth seats, speckled with dirt and mud as if it had never been washed. The keys are in the ignition, and when you turn the key, the engine comes to life without hesitation. A smile begins to tug at the corner of your lips as you key your radio. "RWBY 1 and 2, your ride's outside."
Ruby's voice comes back to you. "Copy. We're lighting up these servers with thermite. Meet you outside in one minute."
"Make it quick. See you outside." Blake calls back, suddenly right beside your door and nudging you out with a hand on your arm. "Out. I'm driving."
You nod, and start to shimmy out of the seat.
Suddenly, Blake's head snaps sideways, eyeing something you can't quite see. Her eyes are cut into cat slits.
Her fingers curl in the bloodied fabric of your sleeve, and she yanks you out of the driver's seat. Hard. As you hit the ground for the second time in the past hour… the windshield shatters, showering you and her with glass.
"Contact! Front, 50 yards!"
The trees beyond erupt with flashes of light as hisses and cracks shoot past you and into the garage. You claw over to the wall of the garage as Blake steadies her rifle against the door of the truck and fires back.
"Ruby! Shit just got real out here. You and Weiss need to egress now." You call out into your radio's mic. You get up to your knees, and crawl across the concrete to the open space where the garage door should be. You bring your rifle up against the cinder block, silently praying that it's strong enough to stand up to Grimm bullets.
The fire seems to come in waves- you and Blake shoot in bursts, then they respond in kind with a volley.
"Hey!" You hear a shout through the firefight. It's Weiss, across the compound. Both her and Ruby's gun start to echo through to you. "Blake! Switch! Let's get out of here!"
"Don't have to ask me twice." You dive into the bed of the truck, throwing an empty mag from your rifle to the side and digging a new one from the folds of your rig. Blake has the same idea, jumping into the driver's seat and slamming it into gear. The rear tires squeal on the concrete as the truck roars out of the garage.
The G-forces throw you back against the tailgate, then forward against the rear windshield as Blake brakes again. Ruby jumps in the back with you, Weiss into the passenger seat, and you're gone. Blowing through the hole in the fence that you came in, with you making yourself as low in the bed as you can, gun barrel over the edge.
Shots are ringing out all around you. Hisses and bangs followed by reports from Myrtenaster up front. Ruby's spent shell casings ejecting from her rifle and hitting you, but all you're focused on is pulling the trigger when your reticle crosses the black shapes and forms as you go by.
"Maiden, RWBY 2-" Weiss says into her radio between shots. "Acquired civilian transport, troops in contact, moving-" More shots, but she keeps her mic keyed in. Anyone on this frequency can hear what you're hearing. "-south on unnamed road. Requesting immediate QRF and black LZ at-" She looks down at her forearm, numbers scrawled in permanent marker on her skin. "- same grid designator, coordinates 167, space 992."
"Hey!" Ruby kicks your foot. "Focus and get back on the trigger!" She shouts at you as she reloads Crescent Rose. In a split second, her gun barrel is back on the rail of the bed, her boots trying to brace against the wheel well and tailgate for purchase to shoot.
She closes one eye, then swears under her breath as she shakes a loose lock out of her face. "I'm cutting my bangs as soon as we get out of this!"
"No, you're not." Weiss calls back from the front.
Blake pipes up from the driver's seat, her hands sawing at the wheel to keep the truck on the narrow dirt road. "Says the girl with a ponytail."
"How the hell are you all able to talk about hair while getting shot at?!" You shout at the three, your bolt locking back as you drop lower into the bed to reload.
Weiss fires back at you from the cab. "Go and ask Lie Ren, he'll tell you how it works."
You shake your head, and sit up again to shoot. Your eyes and muscle memory kick in before you recognize the telltale puff of red and yellow, followed by the white contrail.
Whether or not Blake heard you, or if she was already swerving… you can't tell. But you can smell the burning plastic odor of the chemtrail as it arcs over you. The cinders and ash when the warhead pulverizes a tree beside the road.
"You're good luck when it comes to rockets, Switch!" Ruby shouts over to you. She sounds out of breath. So are you.
"Rather be lucky than good."
"You always say that." Weiss cracks back to the bed.
"Well… it's true."
"I think we're clear." Blake cuts in.
She's right. No more rounds or rockets coming in at you. Just the dirt road, and the truck roaring along it.
"So… you gonna cut your bangs, Ruby?" You ask, giving her a teasing nudge.
"On second thought?" She brings a gloved hand up and runs it through the entirety of her hair. "I'm gonna keep it all."
"Maiden, update on that extraction? We're clear for the moment but this is Grimm territory." Weiss is still out of breath, but the radio call is still calm. Rehearsed.
"QRF is spinning up now, and we're doing what we can to get you some air support. You gotta hang tight."
"Easier said than done…" Ruby says under her breath. "Switch, keep watching right, Weiss, keep watching front."
A bump in the road jars you and Ruby, sending you smacking into each other in the bed. You right yourself on the bedrail, and brace for any more bumps. Odds are there will be more.
Out of the corner of your eye, there's movement. Not, like, movement of the trees as the truck zooms past them, but movement that makes you know that something is there. You strain your eyes so the passing leaves and branches fade out of priority for a moment, and you can see the outlines. Black uniforms. Red accents.
"Contact, driver's side!" You call out, rolling enough to get a bead on the outline. Three pulls of the trigger, and over a dozen more shots come back at you. "Guess we're not out of the woods yet…"