I Have Achieved My Final Form And Have Re-Written The Ending Scene So As To Appear Less Autistic Than I Actually Am Are Is.

...

Monsters are Real. This is something that Remnant has known for quite some time, however. The Grimm- monsters made manifest- nightmare fiends that stalk the darker places of the mind, waiting to strike when their prey is most unawares. They haunt the wilds, they haunt the cities, they haunt the skies and they haunt even dreams.

They are the bedtime myth to scold naughty children, they are the monster in the closet, the shadow just out of line of sight, the creaking under the bed, and the cold wind outside the window- scratching at the glass. They have but one fatal flaw, that keeps terror yet at arms length.

They can be fought, they can be killed, they are corporeal, and they have limits.

The Grimm, they are not 'Monsters'.

A Monster is The Shadow just behind the curtain, The Sound that you may have just imagined, The Shifted pot in the yard, The Sense of dread creeping down your spine whenever you walk into a room, the casual glance over the shoulder when walking alone on a moonless night.

A Monster is unseen, a monster is unprecedented, it is not manifested by its own will; it is a creature that is birthed from the minds of young children and tired adults. It is shaped by story, by rumor, by speculation and discontent. It needs not act in order to cause terror, for the everyday failings of an overstressed populace are what give it its strength. It is a scapegoat and martyr; a terror that has not acted for it is not wholly real.

It is a nightmare that the mind shapes through the whims of the subconscious, and the malevolence of an imagination left to its own devices.

That is a Monster, and its greatest weapon is the imagination of its victims

There is one difference, however, that separates a monster that is real, from one that is fiction, and that is a lair.

The Sewers; an interlacing network of pipes and channels, frayed wires, broken bottles, spent needles and corroding trash. Plastic bags and waxy containers clog inflow grates. It smells of putrid stagnation, it's paths run deep, sections built upon sections in order to accommodate the needs of a growing city-state. They dug deep at first, until they ran out of room, then they built more and more shallow, until the rails skirted over the surface.

These old, decayed realms, the foundation of the city, built of steel and iron, they were the perfect nesting grounds.

The Broodlord stalked into an alcove, a cistern, the air was damp, the mold was plentiful, sewer dwelling insects crawled aimlessly through shallow pools of detritus and standing water. There was a single hanging outlet at the center top of the cistern, its bulb was broken, and the cable left swinging- robbed or vandalized eons ago.

It was secluded, hidden, away from any possibility of prying eyes. There was minimal threat of the beasts that roamed the streets above from venturing below, and if they even did so, they would run the risk of losing themselves in the endless maze of tunnels, no psychic precognition to aid them. Even those that ventured low would likely only remain close to the surface levels, the confines further below safe from perdition.

It soaked in the details- every wretched one, ever corner and crack. This would become its home for the evident future. Now, that it had its nest- its home, it required what all genestealers needed- hosts. A cult. It needed to Breed.

Yet, even before that, it needed to heal. It needed to rest. The desert had tested it, and the endless trekking even before that. It was by all accounts exhausted, running on the last vestiges of strength it possessed. Cuts, rents, gouges and cracks made a mess of its carapace, but It's stomach was full, filled with the fresh gore of non-human and human alike from the slaughter-fest from above. This would go to healing its body- so tired and wounded. In a days time- perhaps even less- it would be on the hunt once again.

It leaned back, against the alcove wall, hunching over and curling its arms around itself. It's yellow eyes slitted shut as it began to enter the hibernatory state that was accustomed to all Tyranids that spearhead the vanguard. It did not dream- dreams were unknown to it. Instead, it remembered. It recalled the endless miles trod underfoot, left foot and then right before left again. The crunching sand and beating heat. The endless waves of bone plated beasts that seemed as inescapable as the air it breathed. They were everywhere and they were vicious- clawing at its hide with a ferocity that bordered on obsession.

The Broodlord had broken them- any and all that had crossed its path were subjected to the purity of physiology that was the Tyranid Broodlord.

Then, had come the city that it now lurked beneath. A crucible of slaughter- the great gates had opened, and alarms screamed on every corner. The armored beasts skittered in, and the Broodlord had followed. Gunfire and blood- its claws ripped into flesh and out through metal. Had their been a brood at its back, it might have even succeeded in bringing ruin to the entirety of the city and not just one smidgen of its overall whole.

Such plans- such plots- would be made for the future, as it was a thinking beast, a creature of vast intellect hidden under layers of armored carapace and rending claws.

This city would fall. Its vermin prey-hosts would be cleansed and subverted, and from their offspring would purestrains be pulled from. They would link minds, and form the psychic choir that would scream out into the void, and summon the hive fleets to devour this world.

Such was the way of things.

Such was the way of the Tyranid.

Harriet had a way with words, especially when it came to descriptions. She could always put the current situation into a rather vulgar-yet-apt perspective when she really unloaded her odium. The sun was one such thing; the 'giant-hate-ball-of-faggot-gas' had been the object of her scorn for nearly over a day now. Even when soaked in sweat and covered in sand, the heat did nothing to lessen the Captain of Team Holidays' rant. Her teammates had long since learned to ignore her rants, and now would have normally been no different.

It was the heat, the Grimm, and the hellish slog made it almost impossible for even the slightest incitement to be bearable in the conditions, and Harriets ranting was no exception. Traveling by night was hazardous, and sleeping during the day was nearly impossible from the heat, it only got worse as the day crept on into afternoon. It didn't make a difference, though.

Most people would have broken by now, the stress, the ranting, the heat and the rationed water; even a Hunter team would have difficulties. Team Holiday was more than just a veteran Hunter team- they were a veteran hunter team from Vacuo, and to be born in Vacuo is to grow up in adversity and discomfort. A little sand and sun wasn't going to break them- they weren't weak willed like those schmucks from the other Kingdoms- Especially Vale.

Vale.

Harriet scowled, wanting to spit. She hated Vale, it and its people were some of the most pathetic in the world. Every last one of them was a simpering idealist who had their heads in the clouds, unaware of the reality of the world around them. The worst of them were their hunters, a bunch of sycophants and do-gooders. Speaking of Vale, and Hunters, naturally lead her to the memory of the last Vytal festival.

This time, she really did spit.

Humiliating.

Disgraceful.

Unforgivable.

She had watched the event; in particular she had paid close attention to the team elimination match that pitted Vacuo against Vale. The beacon academy team- J-N-P-R went up against Vacuos own B-R-N-Z. It had been called one of the best matches in the history of the Vytal festival, and it ended up with Vale taking the win.

Harriet had been apoplectic with rage. It had been a fucking joke; Bronze could have done away with the formality and just have called it quits- that would have been less demeaning than watching that whole shit-show play out like it did. The only saving grace was the sudden invasion of the White Fang and the Grimm, the city had been ransacked and casualties were estimated to be in the triple digits. It was nearly enough to cheer Harriet up. Hell, maybe such an attack would even give those damn Vale brats some backbone.

Backbone, guts, endurance, it was a trait that everyone except Holiday seemed to be lacking these days.

She glanced back at her team. Behind her was Linda, their close in specialist and one of the best 'Whip Hips' Harriet had the pleasure of working with. Her figure was compact and hard, almost Amazonian. Harriet could rarely recall a time where she didn't see her outside of the gym.

Then there was Daphne, also known as 'Radar' in some cases, the girl didn't talk much but it didn't matter. She was also a Faunus like Linda and Harriet, but unlike them she was a rare breed; furred, luxurious antenna waved and swiveled on her head. It was because of this that she was the teams' pointman- and she was a damned good one.

Lastly there was Yeager, the only human in Team Holiday. He was a bitter son of a bitch who carried a chip on his shoulder wherever he went. He was also the teams' primary ranged support; Linda and Daphne, along with Harriet herself being focused on close to mid range combat.

She'd been together with these three individuals since their days as raw students, the fact that her team was nothing but founding members was rare enough, but that they were all full fledged veteran hunters was almost unheard of. It was true however, and they had the battle scars to prove it. Daphne was missing several ribs, Yeager had a prosthetic left hand, Linda was missing several teeth and her tail had to be regrown several times, Harriet herself had her left kidney torn out, a few fingers bitten off and several feet of intestines shredded. These were just minor wounds to team Holiday- they were the most noticeable, from Daphne's surgical scars that never healed to Linda's paler scales on her tail- to Yeager's hand and Harriet's fingers. This did nothing to account for the list of broken bones, scars, and lacerations that they had all accrued. Being a Veteran earned them respect at the price of their own flesh and bone.

Harriet had watched the kids that went into the academies thinking that being a Hunter was going to be fun. They signed up with only the thoughts of being a hero, being a monster slayer and some sort of savior to their friends and family. They never realize the truth about it: That hero's die, champions are killed, and legends fade into dust.

The smarter ones, and the fighters, they learn this eventually. Usually when their guts are falling out of their chest as a Boarbatusk gores them or when an Ursa rips them limb from limb. The Academies never tell them these sorts of things. Why would they? Remnant is at war with the Grimm. It is a war that will never end until humans and Faunus are wiped off the map. The inevitable can only be delayed, not stopped. For this war to continue, for the end to be held at bay, bodies are needed. Children are recruited, lured in or outright stolen. They are filled with false hope and launched at the nearest pack of Ursa and are torn to bits. Sometimes one or two survive and they are treated as heroes'- only to be sent straight back out, again and again, until they die.

Harriet had seen it happen plenty enough times before, there was even one point where she believed all that crap the headmaster was spewing. She learned the truth the hard way. It was pounded into her by the meaty fists of a berengal that left her with the lopsided grin and false teeth, it was stitched into her head with catgut thread by a surgeon and it ran through her veins along with the synthetic plasma for all the blood she lost.

It would be easy to say that in retrospect, being a Hunter was a shitty, unfulfilling line of work that had you put your life on the line for little to no reward, despite it being one of the most important duties in Remnant. It payed like shit and there were almost no benefits. People looked up to you for inspiration of course, but that feeling of pride got old very quickly. It all begged the question then, as to why one stayed a Hunter. For Harriet, the answer was simple- She stayed on for the sheer fucking thrill of it.

The feeling of dominating something that's supposed to be stronger than you, making it squeal and bleed- it was intoxicating. It was like a drug, that feeling. Like any drug, of course, it needed to be taken in moderation. For the rest of her team- she didn't know why they stayed on. They each had their own reasons, she supposed. Most Hunters became Hunters so as to escape poverty, or were orphans who the academies took in from overflowing foster homes. These were the Real Hunters, the destitute and impoverished, the gutter dogs, the runaway slaves, societies living failures and back-alley thugs. These were the people that remnant needed the most, because it was these people who knew how to Kill and Survive.

To Fight the Grimm it took a fuck lot more than some pretty guns and Aura, it took Grit. It took Pain. It took all the nasty little things that morality and decency stripped away from decent hearted folk. To fight the Grimm you needed to become a kind of monster in your own right or else the world would swallow you whole.

Those other hunters? The ones that preached all that love and happy shit? The ones that became Hunters to impress mommy and daddy, the ones who joined up to 'fight the grimm' and 'for a noble cause' and all of that hero shit? The Hunters that thought that they could 'help and protect everyone?'

They would be the first to die. They were the first to break down. They were the ones who the rest of the team secretly hated, wishing them ill will for all the bullshit missions they got dragged into. Harriet remembered that little shit back at Shade, who had begged them to stay. He was just one of those countless other high-horse ridding snobs that lorded their superiority over everyone else, preaching equality and good will.

Harriet couldn't stand shit like that.

She was a Faunus, and she got no end of persecution because of it, but unlike the other Faunus- she fought back. She bloodied noses, bruised ribs and broke arms. She didn't take any shit, and she got away with it because she was the best god damned hunter in Vacuo, and she made sure that everyone knew it.

In all honesty She thought the hatred against the Faunus was a good thing. It weeded out the weak ones among them and made sure that only the meanest motherfuckers remained. It would be those assholes that could carry the day and bring victory when defeat seemed to inevitable. The Grimm fed off of fear; it stood to reason that if you did not fear them, than they would hold no power of you.

The sun was dipping lower in the sky. Beginning its descent into the night so that familiar shattered moon may rise. The heat didn't lessen, it may not have been actively beating down upon them, but now it also radiated upwards from the sand and the wind carried dust and grit with every gust. Holiday had to cover their faces with bandanas and put on goggles just so as to see and breath. It was a small sandstorm, nothing too serious for a Hunter team like them, but for any outsider it could just as well be lethal and disorienting.

"Are we gonna hunker down and wait for this to pass?" Yeager shouted over the screaming of the wind. Harriet glanced back and shook her head, pointing forwards, despite the worsening visibility, as they crested over another dune, the faint outline of tall, black walls against the skyline could be seen. They were nearly at the gates.

As the wind picked up and day began to turn to dusk it took them another thirty solid minutes of trudging through sand before they reached the foot of the great walls of Sodoma. The walls themselves provided relative shelter to the Hunters, the setting sun not so intense in the shadow of the walls. It gave the Hunter team the opportunity they needed to collect themselves.

"So, which way's the nearest gate?" Linda shouted. Yeager looked back along the walls expanse before replying. "Not sure,"

"Guess we'll just have to pick a direction and hope we get lucky." Harriet said, she walked a few paces before she picked up on the absence of one set of feet. She looked back, regarding Daphne. "Something up, Daphne?"

Daphne nodded, she was looking directly at the all, almost looking through it.

"Mind' sharing with the rest of the class?" Yeager spoke up. "C'mon, speak up, D, you know I don't like it when you get like this."

"Quiet." Daphne said. "The City. Way too quiet. All the right sounds are gone." She shrugged again. "Bad omen."

It took a few seconds to translate, but Harriet had been around Daphne long enough to pick out what mattered from her strange way of phrasing. It had something to do with her extrasensory capabilities, she saw and heard and felt things differently from any of them. "You can't hear anyone?"

"Yes." Daphne nodded, then she shook her head. "No." Eventually she looked to Harriet, a grimace on her face, trying to figure out how to phrase what she was feeling. "Bad-sounds."

"What, you mean like the Grimm?" Yeager asked, hand moving for his weapon, it was an almost subconscious action.

Harriet motioned for her team to fall in, this could wait for a moment, at least it could wait until they were at the gates. "Just keep your heads on and lets keep moving for the gate."

It was another fifteen minutes, every second of which Daphne kept her antenna perked, the frond like organs vibrating softly as she listened through the air, picking up on details that any other person or Faunus would have missed entirely. For her, this wasn't listening so much as it was seeing, hearing, and feeling blended together to form a 3D mental image in real time. There was nothing that could hide from this omnipresent sight she possessed, she had no blindspots, and through that, neither did team Holiday. Harriet was well aware that Daphne was without a doubt, the most powerful weapon that was at their disposal.

She was also the most unsettling.

"Ahead," Daphne spoke, her tone immediately putting the team on edge with its hint of alarm. They saw the reason for her concern clearly enough- the massive gaping hole in the wall where a reinforced gate once was.

"Shit-shit," Harriet hissed, her ears flattening back as she tore up the sand with her boots, sprinting ahead and into the city, teeth bared and eyes furious. "Shit!" Her teammates were right behind her.

It was a scene that each of them had seen too many times. A spread of corpses, ripped to pieces and left out in the sun to bake. Old bloodstains washed over concrete and sand, shells littering the ground, and weapons dropped behind so as to run just a little bit faster- not that it mattered.

The bodies were several days old by this point- desiccated by the heat, nothing but skin and bones left for the carrion beasts to fight over. "Take a look at this." Linda hissed, turning a desiccated corpse over. It wasn't like any body she'd seen. "What do you think did this?" She asked. "It isn't like the usual."

She was of course referring to the Death Stalkers. They littered Vacuo like thieves ran Mistral. The giant armored scorpions were the main Grimm threat in Vacuo, and because of it, the Hunters of Vacuo have long since become accustomed to their tendencies, their M.O's especially. Death Stalkers were odd- they were almost clinical in their execution. They would immobilize their prey with their claws- crushing the torso, and then delivering a single killing strike to the head with their tail.

If it had been a Death Stalker that had been responsible for this massacre, then it was not like any that team Holiday had faced. The patterns were all wrong, the kills too inconsistent. The one that Linda stood over right now was the most glaring offence: what was once a person now had their head twisted 180-degrees and their arms ripped off or twisted into angles that surely meant they were broken. Other corpses has similar mauling's, along with brutal gouges torn through their body.

"By-The-Fucking-Maidens…" Yeager breathed, bile rising in his throat- he suppressed it with the ease that came from long practice. He was focused almost entirely on the gate, he ran his hand along its surface- feeling the deep rents in the metal. He was incredulous, and Harriet didn't blame him. There were all sorts of stories about cities and towns falling to the Grimm. Defenses overrun, walls smashed through, gates battered open, Harriet and the rest of her team could recount any number of reasons why or how a town fell to the grimm. Sadomah was not supposed to be one of those towns. Its defenses were always manned. It had high walls and thick steel entrances, flak guns aimed at the sky and turrets on every watchtower. It could handle a grimm invasion- it had handled them plenty of times before.

"We're in the southern most quarter, right?" Harriet asked and Linda nodded. "Maybe this is an isolated event? Maybe the other quarters are okay?" She was grasping at straws, she already could tell herself why that wasn't likely to be true. Your average guard could handle a Grimm beast well enough from range, given they had enough firepower to throw at it, but up close, only a Hunter could reliably take down one of those monsters. The carnage around them was testament to that fact, and Linda only drove home the final nails with what she said next.

"Then why didn't the port Watchmen respond and take this quarter back?" Linda replied, Harriet hissed again, expecting that answer. If this one gate had been incidentally breached then the Watchmen would have reclaimed it by now- she's heard the stories of those fuckers, jackboots and grim scowls, they didn't fuck around with the protection of their city. A grimm invasion, even if there was a breach, wouldn't have been able to overwhelm their interior defenses.

"Still worth checking out the other quarters," Harriet said, the street beneath her boots was tinted with dried blood and bone shards, Linda, Daphne, and Yeager spread out behind her, sliding into a simple tracking formation, eyes keen and wary of the possibilities of an ambush. The safest way to fight was to expect that a Grimm was around every corner and in every shadow.

For Hunters, Paranoia was an essential tool.

Hunters die quickly for the most part, their deaths are swift and brutal affairs. They kill quickly and are killed just so. These instances of death are spawned from the most minute of moments, a wrong turn, a misstep, a shot that goes wide by an inch too much, it is the smallest detail that kills a Hunter or at the very least opens a doorway to that death. So to be paranoid is good, in such stressful environments

Not every hunter had it- but most hunters did, because it is the ones who lack it that always die first. .

Team holiday sweeps down the entrance street, sand crunches underfoot against pavement. The gates loom closed behind them. Bodies lie in piling drifts of sand. Harriet spots it first, the body, the white and black mask with red highlights and streaks- not all of them blood- its presence slots in another piece of the puzzle. "White Fang," She snaps, stepping over the corpse she picks up the battered machine gun it had once held. She is more alert now than she was before. Grimm were one thing- they had to close to melee in order to kill you. Guns were an entirely different can of worms.

"Of fucking course." Yeager snaps, stepping over he kicks the body. It is stiff in rigor mortis and its armor is torn up. "Fucking assholes ruin everything!"

"Keep it down, fuck-face," Harriet is quick to reign in Yeager, "Get in formation and ready that fuck-off huge toothpick of yours, we're gonna need it."

Her team had various methods for fighting enemies at range; they had already been one of the few hunter teams with the guts to kill people- bandits and brigands in particular. She hadn't been a fan of that kind of wet-work, but it had to be done. Her weapon was named Melody- it was a Halberd; a long polearm with a wicked axe head curving back into a pick and tipped with a spear. Like all Hunter weapons it was multifunctional, retracting back into a compact assault rifle with little to no effort. It was honestly the least exotic of the teams armaments, Daphne had her shield- Taigan, the large circular disk of metal was trifunctional- hiding within was a powerful gravity dust generator, and along the rim, blades could protrude, turning the shield into a circular saw. Linda had her serrated blade whips- Glorie d'argent, the silver segmented links would lacerate enemies and rip muscle off of bone, and if something tried to run, the segments could detach and be reloaded, turning them into shrieking bolas that ruined limbs. Lastly there was Yeager and his Spear: Mango.

Everyone laughed at first, the simple rod of metal with a pointy end. Then it transformed. Mango was a work of mechanical genius. Tiny dust generators along the haft, interspaced and reinforced, along with a narrow strip of magnetic wiring coiling along the inside, turned Mango from a fighting spear into a kinetic-kill weapon of unprecedented power- a railgun. The speartip was the projectile, a heavy titanium alloy with stabilizing fins; he carried a whole pack of them on his hip.

Theirs was a lethal arsenal, a hunter's arsenal. But as with all things deadly, it is not how they are made but how they are used. Daphne took point, her shield bared; Harriet and Linda took center while Yeager brought up the rearguard. They made certain to progress at a steady pace, not wanting to linger among the corpses and the bloodstains. As they progressed further into Sodomah, the greater the carnage- Harriet could barely make out the differences between bodies- so mangled and rent they were- the long exposure to the sea breeze and desert heat drying out the skin and turning it into something like parchment. Daphne felt the air, her antenna bobbing up and down as she adjusted them like furred frequency interceptors trying for a signal lock. She was on a constant alert like the rest of them, with the added responsibility of being the teams' early warning system for any potential unseen threats.

Yeager was the first to break the silence, glancing quickly at the sun, high in the sky, beginning its descent only just now. "It's going to be dark soon, Stalker's will be moving by then."

"Noted." Harriet replied, tail, short and stubby, twitching pensively. She was beginning to wonder if leaving Shade was all that good of an idea, they had come to Sodomah thinking it to be the last safe haven in Vacuo. To find it in such a state as this- dead and desolate, it made her question the future of Vacuo as a whole- was this it? Was she living through the last few desperate days of a once great kingdom? It was hard to imagine it as anything but.

"Hey," Harriet stopped, gesturing across the street. "Lets take a breather." They slipped in through the broken window of a port side brewery. The insides of the pub were relatively pristine, a few bodies near the windows and behind the bar- riddled with bullets and eaten away by beetle-flies, aside from them, the bar was still mostly intact. Daphne hopped the counter, quick to pull two bottles of Amber Gold off the shelf and collect four glasses. Linda waved off the bottle, instead going for water. Yeager had no such scruples; he knocked his glass away, and slammed his canteen down onto the counter, cap off.

"So." Harriet began. "Wasn't expecting this." She took the bottle from Daphne, and poured herself a tall one. "Any thoughts?"

Daphne shook her head, already on her second glass. Yeager was even more talkative now with a drink in his system. "None come to mind. Shade's probably dead by now. Rookies could barely be a fight for another Stalker swarm."

"We could try to seal the breach," Linda suggested. "Or at least barricade it up, that might keep any more 'Stalkers from getting in."

"That might work for 'Stalkers, but whatever managed to tear through that slab of steel certainly wasn't a stalker." Yeager countered, shaking his head. He had his eyes on the outside street, pensively keeping watch.

"What makes you say that? Maybe it was the White fang who broke in the gate?" Linda snapped back.

"There's no way it could've been those masked fucks," Yeager shook his head violently now, "The damn things was pulled off its damn hinges nearly, and I mean Pulled, a bomb doesn't work that way."

"How should we go about looking for survivors?" Harriet interjected, she could see an argument brewing and it was the exact thing she didn't need right now. "Maybe we can gather some people up and figure out what happened, and then play it by ear from there."

"C'mon Boss," Yeager cracks a pained grin. "If there's a grimm that could've torn through the gates and the white fang, what makes you think that there could be survivors?"

"Easy." Daphne said, grabbing the teams attention. "If someone wants to survive, and is willing to pay the price to do so, it can be surprisingly easy to hide from the Grimm." It was another one of Daphne's damned cryptic answers. Layered with overtones of personal experience that no amount of prodding will get her to answer to.

"I'm still having trouble believing this." Linda sighed. "Came all this way, and for what?"

"It could've been a hell of a lot worse, Lindy," Harriet said, she raised her glass, "Least we found something to drink."

It took a certain sort of tenacity to still hold onto hope after all that has befallen them; it would not be unexpected for most to be distraught by the turn of events. Holidays' city of gold in ruins, their dreams of a new life torn apart, most would have given into despair. But these were hunters of Vacuo. Suffering and life go hand in hand for them. They knew to take stock of what they had and still press on. Right now, they had Drinks and amber spirits. That was enough for them.

...

It was later in the day when they started to move again. They had decided to roll the dice and move northbound, hoping that it was just the south gate that had been breached, that some semblance of civilization was still in Sodomah further north. There is a sort of silence that comes with a dead city. It isn't like one who has not experienced it expects. It is not an absence of noise that is disturbing; it is the noises that replace what may have once been there.

The desolate wind through buildings with cracked and broken windows.

The sloshing of waves against boats that haven't been properly secured.

The creaking of doors just off their frames.

The electric whine of fans going on for too long.

The rattle of street signs just slightly off their hinges.

It's the death rattle of a city, of a people. Without proper care, the sand will soon spread, topple the walls and submerge the city in a sea of golden yellow and baked earth brown.

"You guys recall that year we spent in Mistral?" Linda spoke up, the wind over desert sands is one thing, and the death-noise of a city is something else entirely. Silence was meant to be broken, and in this case, it had to be.

"Yeah, I still have the scars." Harriet nodded, "We took a hell of a beating. Sure as fuck wasn't from the Grimm, though."

"I know, right?" Linda nodded.

"Place was a hellhole." Yeager agreed. "Remember how cold it was all the time?" He asked.

"Sun never came out, that's why." Harriet said.

"How do people live like that?"

"Fuck, they don't. Why do you think they have so much fucking crime all the time? People get fucking salty when they don't get enough sun."

"I don't disagree." Daphne spoke up, it was no surprise; she was from Mistral, after all.

"Still, that's besides the point, what did you think about their Hunters?"

"Pretty decent, better than Vale's at least."

"You think so?"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

"They knew how to kill."

"Fuckers know how to Murder, you mean. "

Of all the slimiest scum on Remnant, Mistral had the fair share of them. Harsh conditions and cramped living with a lack of natural resources made for poor neighbors all around.

"Ever been to Atlas"

"Nope."

"I have." Daphne spoke up again.

"Really what for?" Harriet turned, looking back at their shield bearer.

"Parts." She hefted Taigan. "Shield needed parts."

"I see," Harriet had hoped for a more interesting reason. "You see any of their Hunters?"

"All the time." She nodded. "Every street corner."

"Don't they use Hunters as Squad or platoon leaders?" Linda asked. "I heard they do that."

"They do, for their more elite squads I think. Regular troops can't keep up without gear." Yeager replied.

"They any good, their hunters?" Harriet asked Daphne

"Wouldn't know. Never fought one."

"I had a run in with one of their regular soldiers once." Yeager said.

"No shit?" Harriet raised her brow. "You went to Atlas too?"

"No, but some of their grunts came here." He said, "But hell, shit, they know how to fight, it's not something I'd like to repeat." Yeager rubbed his jaw, as if imagining a pain. "They're pretty tough, and their armor is actually worth a damn."

"What you get into a fight over?"

"I can't remember, something stupid I think."

"I bet it was over a woman, was it that?" Linda grinned, "Were you schmoozing over another mans wife?"

"Maybe," He smiled, "What's it to you? Upset that I'm hitting on someone other than you?"

"Please, like I'd ever want to have anything to do with an ape like you."

"Enough of that you two fuckers, how about this instead- any idea on what the White Fang wanted?" Harriet asked.

"That really even a question." Yeager looked back at one of the bullet riddled corpses, splayed at an unnatural angel; head tucked under one arm as if to take cover from something.

Linda agreed, "They had a shot at taking down Vacuo, they already did the same to Vale."

"Anyway, I'm more worried about the Grimm, than any stinking white fang." Yeager said. "Nothings back there to stop them from coming in at their leisure with that gate busted."

"You're the one who said that it's pointless to patch up." Linda retorted.

"It'd be pointless to wall up against whatever the fuck managed to bust it down in the first place, I'm talkin' about average 'Stalkers." Yeager replies. It's all the incentive that Linda needs in order to fire back.

"Maidens, you keep going on about this damn super-grimm, what makes you think it's real?"

"Uh, fuckin' hello. You see the holes in the gate? The fuckin' bodies?"

"Maybe it was just an especially large Death Stalker, it doesn't need to be some new breed of Grimm."

"You really believe that? Just a big-ass 'Stalker? If that's the case, why haven't we seen it yet?"

"It's more than just that." Harriet is actually thankful that Daphne interrupts, the bickering between Yeager and Linda is a constant thing that eats away at her patience, but on the other hand, Daphne only interrupts when she has something to say- and its rarely comforting. "We haven't seen any Grimm." The point hits home like a hammer. They've been walking for well over several hours by now, and the only sights that had greeted them were the occasional bodies of fallen Civilians, Watchmen and White Fang, all dead from gunshot wounds.

Holiday thinks, silent for several seconds, pondering the repercussions this could mean, and all of them arrive at the same unsettling conclusion. Only Linda speaks up, hoping against hope. "Maybe they migrated?" She weakly suggests.

Daphne smashes such hopes with a hammerblow of brutal reason. "A battle was just fought here. The amount of despair should have had every grimm nearby come running." She says, looking each of her teammates in the eye one by one. "So why aren't there any Grimm here?" They say nothing. "There's only one reason that comes to mind."

"An Aberration." Harriets tone is cold. The thought of one of those abominations possibly lurking within Sadomah is a terrible idea- a nightmare that nobody wants any part of. Aberrations were rare- thankfully so- but they appeared from time to time. Grossly mutated monstrosities that were as alien as they were dangerous. Nobody knew how they came about exactly, all that was known was that even other Grimm stay away from them. Such desolations of Grimm were usually the only sign that an Abberation was in the area before it attacked.

Daphne nodded to Harriet. "It only stands to reason."

The team is quite for another stretch. None of them had ever gone against one, nor even seen one. All they had to go by were videos and stories, and those were more than enough to convince that they should count themselves lucky that they haven't crossed paths with such a creature. "We should keep moving." Harriet spoke, breaking the sudden chill. "It'll be dark soon."

Harriet turned over in her sleeping bag, trying to retain as much heat as possible in the face of the cold desert winds that blew though the shattered glass windows and under the kitchen door of the restaurant that they were calling home for the night. She rolled over again, almost sliding off her pad. Her sleeping bag smelled of dried blood, old beer, and musty sweat. They were scents that calmed her down almost instantly every time she laid down for the night. Tonight was not one of those nights, and her worries plagued her still.

They'd made it at last to Soddoma, only to be met with a ruin of a city, a bleak picture that looked like every other wasted desert settlement only this time on a much larger scale. They'd left Shade to escape just such a fate, only to wind up running right into it. She knew her team like the back of her hand, and right now, they were on the verge of breaking apart. It didn't look like it on the surface but the resentments and anger were starting to boil up.

She was counting their options, they had dried rations, and if they doled them out sparingly enough they may be able to last two weeks tops, maybe three if they don't do anything overly strenuous. In reality, team Holiday could only really hope that they could come across a reliable stash of food or water, something to replenish their supplies. Anything that could hold them together while she tried to think of some distant untouched community they could settle down in. There was no way they could ever hope to make the trip to Vale or Atlas. None of them knew how to fly a bullhead, or pilot a boat across deep ocean waters.

Harriet faked a cough, loud enough to be heard over the quiet sounds of passion coming from Yeager and Linda. There was a rustle, and then nothing more. Harriet sighed, quiet and bemused, Linda was a strange girl. Stranger than Daphne even. There was no mistaking that Linda was a Faunus supremacist, something that Yeager never stopped poking fun at, and it quickly came to shouting whenever they were off the field. On the surface one could say that Linda and Yeager were the perfect antagonist to each other: the publicly stern and vicious Linda, the same Huntress that would shred through a pack of Grimm with her razor whip quickly enough to make them look like shallow speed bumps, and the go lucky human-hunter who kept his distance from close quarters, carefully picking off priority grimm from range.

There must've been something about that saying, 'opposites attract' but that still didn't answer the question as to why the two of them were in a secret relationship. Harriet could hear more soft whisperings, and the guilty movements of her team's close-quarters specialist moving off, back to her bag.

Harriet relaxed and closed her eyes fully. Inter-team relationships weren't the issue, forbidding a group of four young adults who were put into a guillotine-like position of great peril from forming close-knit bonds was absurd, and to expect those close-knit bonds to not grow into something more was deranged. Harriet supposed that was why Atlas hunters were always so tightly strung and uptight- military discipline and a ban on any team-intimacy. Even though she wasn't in an Atlas hunter team, Linda went to great lengths to make her relationship with Yeager secret. It was an extremely poorly kept secret, but Harriet played along like she didn't know, Daphne as well.

She could hear Daphne rustling nearby, just outside of the kitchen, keeping watch, soaking in the cool night air of the desert, and the breeze of the sea. Daphne was essentially an active radar set, capable of picking up on the slightest movements even through walls. This natural ability was well and truly the keystone of the group, and the trek across the desert had been harder on her than anyone else.

She had thick patterns of fur across her extremities as well as a mane of it around her neck, pinkish in color. Overheating for her was a very real possibility; no matter how much water she carried. She had to dress lightly and take frequent breaks. Even so, the weather was not kind to her, so much so that she was more or less nocturnal ever since moving to Vacuo from Mistral and enrolling in Shade Academy. Even though she was her teammate, there was a lot about Daphne that Harriet didn't know.

She didn't know why Daphne had come to Vacuo, for instance, why would a reserved and quiet girl like her live among the outward and boisterous people of Vacuo? Furthermore there was also the question of her previous affiliations. There was no such thing as a Hunter without sins. The job was a dangerous one that chewed up the weak and crushed the hesitant. When you were out in the field, there could be no room for error; there could be no doubt between teammates- no animosity.

Equipment must function perfectly, and tactics most be executed with extreme precision. Hunters are of themselves, weapons, they are weapons that are designed to function at the highest degree of perfection. It is not outside of reason to expect such stress to damage them. The weight on a Hunters shoulders is great, and from time to time, cracks can form, and there is no easy solution to fixing such cracks in the infrequent time they have off the field.

For Linda, her solution was to put on a mask of unbreakable pride. She talked down to the humans and built up her esteem as a Faunus and a veteran Hunter. This public mask lasted only so long before she fell back into the guilty shyness of her true nature, huddling close to Yeager, trying to make herself feel less worthless- trying to forget the bloody mistakes of her past.

Harriet healed herself by breaking herself, extreme physical training that left her bruised and bloody- pushups until her knuckles bled and arms screamed, crunches until her guts were mulched and every movement caused her to vomit- running miles until her feet were nothing but a collection of burst open blisters. She dealt herself a more physical and real pain so as to blot out the things she has seen and done.

Yeager treated himself with more illicit things, as he was one who was much akin to dominance as the Grimm were. Vacuo was a kingdom built on strength, and its underground fighting rings mirrored that. Gladiatorial arenas are where Yeager finds himself. Illegal tournaments, unregulated prize fights where the winner took home the cash and the losers went home on stretchers. He had an uncanny ability to seek these places out. Harriet had several opinions of such unregulated fighting rings, all of them differ from Yeager's, but with the extra coin he brought in from his winnings, they were able to pocket better gear. So she stayed silent.

Then there was Daphne. Harriet knew nothing of her Vices, of her pleasures and pains. She was an enigma to all reason. Did she just simply repress what she has seen? Does she bottle it up inside and move on about her life? It couldn't be possible. To throw yourself out into the same field as the Grimm and come out alive is a simple matter of skill but to be able to cope with the stress of having crossed blades with death is an entirely different matter. Daphne had no readily identifiable crutch, she didn't drink she didn't sleep around; she didn't deal with the devil at all. Harriet didn't know a single thing about what kept her from cracking.

It was this reason alone that made Harriet uneasy.

There is no greater virtue in Vacuo, than that of Tenacity.

The ability to push through discomfort and endure is the founding principle that the entire kingdom was built upon.

After strip mining and industry stripped away the natural resources of the land, and all that was left was sand and ocean, it became necessity to learn austerity, and from that, came the greatest strengths of Vacuo's people. It has lead Vacuo to greatness as one of the four kingdoms of Remnant. Without it, there is no question that the people of Vacuo would have died by now.

It may have been better, had they died. Maybe, Tenacity, after awhile, becomes masochism. Becomes suffering for the sake of suffering. Becomes cruel.

The question has to be asked of a people willing to undergo tremendous torment for no reward, for what point is there in suffering if it is all for another day of torture?

In the beginning, in the early days after the fall of Vale, some students had said it was over. They said that a quick death would be the best choice. Some had even gone through with it and killed themselves.

They had been the smart ones. They didn't have to live through the hell that was Shade Academy now. They got out early, before the real horror began. Every day was a new exploration into depravity, a new foray into just how far a person is willing to go just to survive no matter what atrocities they must commit their soul to.

The once noble virtues that had shaped the academy were all but forgotten by this point. The occupants are shadows of themselves. Whatever ideals they once followed now abandoned for the sake of living one more day.

People they once called friends or instructors are now just enemies or opportunities, flesh to be traded to the malignant raiders that churn the sands of Vacuo in search of lucrative spoils, be they sentient or not.

Slavers, almost worse than the grimm, redeemed only in the eyes of the pale shades of Shade in that they will trade flesh for water. The weak and the sick, friend or not, it doesn't matter to those who cling to that corrupted virtue they call tenacity.

The Slavers come during the day, doing business with those who have left behind their nobility, but it is at night that the Grimm come. Skulking inside the perimeter of Shade, looking for ways to enter the Academy proper. Sometimes, the smaller Grimm manage to fit through a window, or leap through a skylight. Whatever resistance those inside may have once possessed is now drained, what matters now is survival. If you can run faster than the person behind you, than that is what counts, nothing else.

Even worse than the slavers, is perhaps the Faunus of Shade. For as long as history has been written, Humans have called them Beasts. Animals. Inhuman creatures. It would seem to be, that they have now accepted such names, and made them their own. Of these titles, they have added one more.

Predator.

Sometimes, if a human student left the safety of whatever little corner they have hid away in, they would come across those that have delighted in their more animalistic traits, and now partake in the sweet tenderness of long-pork. There are those that even do so not because of the ravaging hunger and dreadful thirst, but because they enjoy it. All the threats, the discrimination, the scowls and sneers, to be able to pay back those torments tenfold and dominate those that once held lash and whip over them- to hear them beg and scream- is a pleasure unlike any other.

Even these predators- such is what they now call themselves- are but prey, in the face of what comes at night. When the Grimm crawl out from their burrows, hiding their forms from the scorching sun, they alight upon Shade, for thy smell fear and misery there. They scrape through windows and skylights, decayed walls and burrow under floors. The night is dreadfully silent, as if the universe delights in the dread that comes from listening to those few sane souls hear the click-clack-tacka-klak of many chitinious legs tapping against tile hallways. Perhaps, it is of the great irony, of hunting hunters in their own academy, of stalking prey amongst halls once thought safe- if the Grimm are capable of knowing this, than it is their glory alone. In truth, it will not be long before there are no more left to hunt.

The clock ticks down to the last scrap of flesh left in Shade academy.

But it will not strike Nil tonight.

The hunt is on again. The three miserable wretches in tattered clothes and torn up rags can hear the haunting chitter of clicking mandibles echo through the halls. It used to be something that inspired true dread. Now? Now it just echoed in minds long since destroyed by fear, inured to the violence that happened around them.

There was no escape from the hell that had become their lives, hollowed of eye and quite of voice. The barricaded door to their small windowless room was cracked and broken in, held together with nails and cementing paste. There was an air duct that the smallest of them could crawl through, to bring back water stolen from those who bartered away the lives of others, and sometimes the dread long-pork from the camps of Faunus students who had nothing left to lose.

The room smelt of piss and stink, but compared to the searing heat of outside, it was almost bearable. It used to be a classroom, with its windows now boarded up and covered over, the blackboard even still had scrawling's of the last lesson to have been had here, during a time almost forgotten to memory- that sacred refuge.

Muffled by the walls, but not nearly quieted enough, the students, they hear the screech of pain, they hear the sound of monsters, countless beasts, scraping through the halls to the site where a murder has taken place. One of the students, curled in their corner, hides his face in his legs, the smallest of the three sits under a table, nursing a broken finger, while the third and oldest- she keeps counting the ticks of a clock- the last one in the academy that has not yet run out of batteries. Six more hours till sunrise.

The screams seem to echo closer in the adjacent hallway, filtering through under the barricaded door, almost seeming to vibrate the nails. Not that they would or could do anything to stop one of the smaller 'Stalkers, should it try to claw its way through- only silence hid them from the stalkers, but against the other students, against the slave-traders and fiends that they once called classmates, it was just enough.

The girl looks up, screamed in the hallway, closer now, not just echoes. Her body goes ridged and the boy in his corner watches her carefully. He shakes his head slowly, almost pleadingly, the younger boy just rocks back and forth, seemingly fascinated with how swollen his finger has become. The purple and red, mixing together.

Very clearly now, running feet down the hallway, the excited chitter of mandibles and click-clack-tacka-tak of countless legs, the three students hold their breath, and nearly gasp when there is a pounding on the classroom door, on the windows- screaming, crying, pleading, begging for someone to save a sorry soul, the chitters become even louder now- nearly there- More begging, sobbing sniffling crying and hiccupped whines. The older girl covers her ears, whispering to herself, seeming to dig her nails into her scalp like she was going to rake trenches in her skull and peel off the hair and the flesh and the-

Screams of true fear, dread manifest, the chitters take on that keening pitched screech that 'Stalkers made when they were closing in for the kill- and the running bare feet take off- bolting further down the hallway.

The hunt was on.

"Third one tonight." The girl whispers. "I think that was Goldy. She was friends with my sister."

"There was nothing you could do." The older boy whispers back. "Just try and forget."

"I used to play with her back home." The girl continues. Rocking back and forth more quickly. We'd talk about what we wanted our Weddings to be like."

"Please, stop talking."

"She wanted it to be on a beach in mistral- like the one they had in that movie, the one with the two Hunters."

"They'll hear you, they'll come back, please be quiet,"

"So what?" She looks up now, matching the boys' stare. "Maybe they should come back." Her voice wavers, but she presses on. "Maybe it'd be best if we all just die, instead of just sitting around like this." She throws down the clock, staggering to her feet- legs shaking but stiff all the same.

"What're you doing?" The boy hisses. "Don't do something stupid."

"Something stupid? Haven't we been doing that already. I thought we wanted to be Hunters, damnit." She staggers over to the door, more strength in her steps as the blood begins to flow in her veins.

"Don't you dare open that door." Crawling on hands and scabby knees, the older boy scrambles over, frantic, afraid. "You'll get us killed, you kill us-"

"I don't care anymore!" She shouts, voice horse and rasping. She kicks out, catching the boy in the throat with her foot, cutting him off and sending him scrambling back. She picks up the worn hammer, crouches down and with effort she starts prying off the lowest boards on the doors barricade, tears and stream down her face. She can still hear the screaming coming from further down the hallway, perhaps even more than one.

She pries away another board, there is a gap under the door- made from when the younger boy was too loud, and a 'Stalker tried to get inside before another unlucky soul caught its attention. It was wide enough for her to just fit through, her clothes caught and her skin tore as she pulled herself through, into the hallway. She still held the hammer, the air was dim and dank, and it smelt like old sweat and other unwholesome things. She listened, and the screams came. She stumbles blindly, the half-light from some fire or bloody shard of the moon filtered in from broken open windows.

She followed the screams- the faint light of the stalkers tail growing stronger as the screams curtailed off into some groaning, choking gasp. The hammer haft is slick in her hand, and her heart beats like a hummingbird fluttering wings. "h-Hey!" She croaks- three bobbing tails illuminate the hallway, dim heady light more fitting for an opera house performance shadows over a punctured skull and crushed torso- she recognizes the off-blond pigtails but the face is missing- a gaping hole where it should be.

Like machines, the three stalkers turn around, clusters of red eyes, unblinking in shadow. There is that chittering, almost like laughing- or was it screaming? Her legs tremble and her eyes bleed tears- this was her death, but it was through her choice. Yet, at the end, she could push herself forwards, she could throw herself at the damned monsters. There was that corpse just behind them- and she kept on putting her face where that hole was, kept on seeing her and she kept on screaming now.

So she sobbed, and she ran.

Behind her, the screeches, 'Stalkers on the hunt, chasing her down, spindly insect legs scratching against the tile floor- Ticka-tack-clack-tick- a crazed metronome timing off her last seconds on Remnant. She could barley see- the only light available to her was her killers hell-glow that radiated off their luring tails. The closer they got the easier it was to see, the easier it was to outpace them, but such it was that the harder it became to see, the closer they crawled.

She really didn't have a chance. She rounded a corner, almost slipping on what she almost casually assumed to be an old corpse, and her shin slammed into an overturned locker, her head slammed against the wall, and she went splaying forwards with an almost surprised grunt. The pain in her ankle kept her from standing, so instead, she crawled, pulling herself forwards, hand over hand. She could hear the chittering behind her, just around the corner; death would take its time to reach her. It would make her suffer for her crimes.

She reached forwards to pull herself again, hands splaying blindly in the darkness. Her fingers touched something, and almost like instinct she gripped.

Her fingers closed around a boot, warm to the touch, smelling of oil and sand.

She looked up, and a blazing star ignited before her eyes.

Blinded for a moment, she squinted. Pushing back the pain, there was a flame above her, and with it, she could hear the faint hiss of gas. Behind the flickering flame she could make out a dark hole, but even more important was the figure now illuminated to her eyes.

Above her, standing, bulky and imposing, was a soldier. A grim and weathered face looked down at her with eyes obscured by shadow save for a single softly glowing lens. She felt her breath catch, her lips moved but no words came out. Behind her, she heard the screeches, in her shock, forgetting her pursuers. She could only watch, as the figure above her looked up, slow, calm, and the flame shifted forwards, outlining some long barrel-

A snick-hiss, and then the world above her erupted into a conflagration of heat and light. The air in the hallway was sucked inwards before a torrent of fire lanced forwards, down the hallway, the paint on the eroding walls peeled back and the girl felt her skin sear and crackle. The inside of her mouth felt like an oven as she tried to suck in a breath so as to merely scream. Worse still was the smell, she heard the screech of the 'Stalkers, cut off almost at once as the sound of searing bone and popping flesh took away her need to scream- the stink, burning grimm, instead violated her nose and throat.

Her eyes now watering- the torrent stopped, the hallway behind her alight with chemical fire, she looked upwards again. The man with the flamethrower paid her no attention, instead stepping over her, her grip slipping from the boot she had so unconsciously kept ahold of. Only now she saw the others, bulky rifles held with callused hands, following in double lines after the man with the flame weapon. She stayed on the floor, her skin burnt, she watched them step over her like she was a simple obstical.

Another sit of boots right in front of her. She looked up, and was almost blinded again as a piercing white light engulfed her. She covered her eyes, and then felt a firm grip on her arm, hoisting her up, forcing her to stand.

There was a voice now, gruff, unflinching, like sandpaper on stone. It spoke not to her, but someone else. It spoke in a language she didn't understand.

"Ordines tuum?"

"Posuit eam in aliis. Sit percontator agere."

"Ut iubes, Commissar." A firm grip takes her by the shoulder. Pulling her along, she stammers something and it goes unheard. A plume of light from behind her, down the hallway, the smell of burning grimm.

...

THI SIS THE BIG MEME