'Everyone was nervous on the ride down. At the time, we didn't know we would win and that it would be the battle to officially end the war. As far as we knew it was a suicide mission and some of us were having regrets. But as the fliers came up to intercept us, Teyxs if I recall correctly, we looked to the side of our shuttle and see Ozpin himself speeding past us. He jumped out of the ship in orbit and started whacking every Grimm in his way before landing so hard he made a creator that killed several Megalioths. That was a sight to see and made us forget most of our worries. The squad fought well those few days and our morale reminded high throughout, even though a lot of us didn't make it back.'
-personal account of the Second Battle of Nova Prospect from Pvt James Ironwood (now a Colonel)
Aboard The AMS Wayfarer
In the meeting room, Ozpin, Colonel Ironwood, Raven, and several other key individuals on the ship stood around a hologram projection of the Nova Prospect system.
"Before we jump in, we will exit FTL just outside the system and have several probes do passive scans of the system," Ozpin said. "Once we determine the threat from Void Grimm, we will determine our plan of attack. Should Void Grimm presence be minimal or non-existent, we'll jump in and quickly eliminate any threat before setting a perimeter."
The hologram animated the ships forming into the preplanned formation.
"Two ships will maintain close orbit for fire support, one will maintain loose orbit, and the other two will lurk in the asteroid belt," Ozpin continued. "They will remain hidden to act as a surprise flank in case additional Grimm arrive." The hologram zoomed in on the planet and three zones were highlighted in red. "Colonel Ironwood." Ozpin stepped back and the colonel took his place.
"We do not have an exact location of Objective Artifact, but we've narrowed it down to these three areas on the planet," Ironwood said. "Our plan will be a simple one. We'll divide our ground forces accordingly into four teams, one for each zone and one to remain in orbit as reserves. Once drop zones are established and cleared, we'll drop down prefabricated buildings to establish forward outposts."
Hologram models of prefabricated buildings, walls, and turrets popped up. They were simple lightweight structures that were cheap and easy to make. They couldn't withstand a full-scale heavy assault, but they provided refuge and light to moderate protection for task forces. In addition, their cheap cost made them disposable, in the sense that their recovery was not a priority.
"Once the bases are established, it will become a game of search and recovery. The ground teams will form into smaller squads and search the areas for Objective Artifact," Ironwood continued. He then stepped back and let Ozpin take over.
"Raven will play a crucial role in this," he said as he motioned to her. "Her semblance is being able to open portals, but to a select few individuals. She'll stay in orbit while one of these individuals joins each landing force. We can then quickly evacuate or deploy reinforcements on a moment's notice."
Raven seemed to retreat a little bit under the attention she was now receiving. Some muttered quietly about her semblance with various reactions. The rest of the meeting went by rather quickly as the rest of the operation details were discussed and settled.
The meeting was adjourned and everyone left the room and disconnected from the call. Ozpin brought out his old mug and took a sip from it. It was a nice feeling that no matter what, coffee would always be a delicious beverage. He looked out the main window to gaze at the stars, but his reflection blocked the view because of the brightness of the room. It also lets him see the reflection of someone standing behind him.
"Is there something I can help you with, Miss Branwen?" he asked.
"Don't call me that!" she hissed. "And I've been thinking… everything about this operation isn't adding up."
"You're questioning why we are doing this in the first place."
"Yes!" She snapped back. "The relics attract the Grimm unless it's sealed away by whatever magic bullshit vaults you make. The Grimm would have found the Relic of Knowledge by now if it wasn't sealed away. She can't open the vault without me, so why the fuck are we going there?" Her eyes flared with fire for a brief moment.
Ozpin sighed and turned to face her. "Because, unfortunately, she can open it without you."
"What?" Raven was taken aback. "How?"
"It's one of my mistakes," he began to explain. "I have several hardened vaults for the relics, but I also created smaller… safes, in cases of emergencies." Raven nodded to let him know she was following along. "But with these smaller safes, not just one maiden can open them."
"So just any maiden can open these safes?" Raven interrupted with narrowed eyes.
"No. Two different maidens can open a safe. I made them like that so in the event a maiden's powers go to someone within Salem's ranks, I have a way to get the relic back from under her nose with her none the wiser. Say what you want about it, but this tactic has worked in keeping the relics and… other sensitive things from her possession."
"Except for now, I'm guessing," Raven crossed her arms.
Ozpin sighed. "Yes. The other maiden who could open the safe with the Relic of Knowledge was Fall."
"And Salem killed her and now her power is in a pet of hers."
"No, the current Fall Maiden willingly defected to her ranks."
"...what?" Raven let concern slip into her voice. Despite it happening before, the thought of a Maiden defecting, willingly, was inconceivable. "How? Why?"
"I do not know," Ozpin admitted. "All I know is that she made her intentions clear when she killed three of my agents. And not relatively long afterward, the token force above Nova Prospect was forced to retreat."
"Damn it. Does she know where the safe is?"
"No, at least she shouldn't. Just like you, the other maidens only know what planet the safes are on. I did not tell her about the contingency plan, so how she found out that she's the Relic of Knowledge's backup key is a mystery, one I doubt I'll solve soon."
"But you know where it is. You do, don't think I'm dumb enough to for that 'it's in one of three areas' lies."
"I never did," Raven didn't know if he was telling the truth or not. "But that doesn't change the fact that Salem quite literally has all the time in the world to get the relic. It will fall into her hands if we don't act. She will undoubtedly wait for us to unearth the Relic and then strike. Dividing it up into three different areas will throw her off, and your semblance will allow for an easy extraction of everyone."
"That doesn't take away the fact that this will be a trap-"
"What choice do we have?" Ozpin cut her off. "Have you ever wondered why Salem did so well at the beginning of the war? How she cut through and slaughter so many worlds with relative ease? It's because she managed to obtain the relic and asked it one question. One question, and millions perished. The relic's 100-year cycle is about to start anew, and in the state that we're in, just one more question can bring us to our knees and doom us."
Raven opened her mouth to speak but Ozpin cut her off again.
"So yes, I am knowingly sending so many people into a trap and we will suffer casualties. But this is war. You are my soldiers and I am the general. Your job is to fight and die, my job is to send you to places where you can fight and die. I'm not afraid to spend them, but I'll never waste them or do it heartlessly. I don't view you all as just things or tools, but at the end of the day sacrifices have to be made to keep humanity alive and Salem at bay, or we all would have perished long ago." He walked back to the window. "I tire of these repeated conversations, Raven. If you have anything new to say, do so. Otherwise, just leave."
Ozpin was actually a little disappointed when he heard Raven's footsteps leave the room. At least the coffee was still warm.
Summer's feet tapped against her bunk. Traveling between worlds was always the hard part for her. You can only do laps around the ship, training in the arenas, or do any other recreational activity so many times before it just got stale. There was one activity she could do with Tai that she knew would never get stale, but unfortunately Qrow was still in the room with them.
Speaking of, Summer glanced over to the other bunk bed to see Qrow, eyes closed with earbuds in his ears. Curious, she took one of them and put it in her ear.
'CRAWLING IN MY SKIN~ THESE WOUNDS, THEY WILL NOT HEAL~'
Qrow yanked the earbud back and gave her a stink eye. It made her chuckle.
"What's so funny?" Tai, who was on the same bed as her, rolled over to look at his wife.
"Oh nothing," she said innocently.
"She lies, she was plotting my untimely demise," Qrow said.
"Summer, no killing our friends," Tai poked her side.
"Party pooper," she slid back down to lay by his side. "Whatcha thinking about?"
"Just thinking about Yang and Ruby," he responded. "Just hope they're doing ok."
"You worry too much. Our little angels are doing just fine."
Ruby sniffed quietly while the nurse but another bandaid on her bruises as she held her older sister's hand as tight as she could.
"Yang," the principal pinched his nose, "I can't blame you, but you went too far."
"No I didn't, they deserved it!" Yang retorted.
"You hit one of those girls with a chair so hard that it broke, and the others have been taken to the hospital with broken bones."
"Then they shouldn't have been throwing rocks at my sister!" She leaned over and hugged Ruby while glaring at him.
"Yeah, you're right. They're not trouble makers," Taiyang said. "I just hope we get home in time for Ruby's birthday."
"Yeah." Summer paused for a moment before a pinch of fear shot up inside her. "I didn't plan on being out this long. You think we'll be able to find something good?"
"I'm sure," he reassured her.
"But, what if we get her a gift related to something and she's not interested in it anymore?"
"Ok, now you're overthinking it," Tai hugged her from behind. "Don't worry, it'll be fine." Summer leaned back into the hug.
"Weren't you the one worried about being called the worst dad earlier?" Qrow asked.
"Both of you, behave."
"Ok mom," Qrow rolled his eyes. "And seriously, you are making this more complicated than it needs to be. Just get her a puppy."
"... that actually isn't a bad idea," Tai agreed.
"Feels like cheating though," Summer said. Though it wasn't a bad idea, it felt like a gift for everyone instead of a birthday gift for one person.
"Think about it. Everyone loves them, it'll help teach Ruby responsibility, and most importantly it will keep both Yang and Ruby distracted and you two can stop asking me to babysit when you get blue balled." He smiled when Summer made an embarrassed gasping sound. The smile disappeared when a pillow hit the side of his head full force.
"You know he has a good point," Tai said. Summer reached for her pillow but huffed when she realized she already threw it at Qrow.
"You guys are the worst," She laid back on the bed, her worries were soon forgotten when Tai laid down next to her and snuggled her as the big spoon.
"Well, I'm practically useless then, I'll catch you guys later then," Qrow got up to leave.
"Wait, what were you thinking of getting Ruby for her birthday?"
"That's a secret," Qrow responded before closing the door. That was most likely code for 'I don't know either.'
"I swear he does that on purpose."
"Of course he does, you're easy to rile up," Tai smirked.
"Oh hush you," Summer snuggled closer into her husband's embrace. It didn't take long for their hands to wander into one another's private areas.
Qrow was about to re-enter their dorm, to get something, but a squeak from Summer made him 180 really quick. 'Those two better clean up the smell this time.' At the end of the hall, he ran into Raven.
"You heading back to the dorm?" He asked.
"Yep," she responded.
"I wouldn't if I were you. They were left alone."
Raven got the meaning and turned around. "Oh for fuck sake. I swear hormonal teenagers are tame compared to those two." Qrow chuckled at the joke, but a murderous glare from her silenced him.
"You ok Ray?" He asked with genuine concern.
Raven glared at him for a few more moments before looking back ahead. "My problems are my own."
"Alright, I won't push it." Qrow knew when to pick his battles. He didn't know what could have put Raven in this mood, but he knew that it was better to let her mood simmer down on its own rather than push it.
"Where are you heading to?" Raven asked.
"The ship's gym. It's not as grand as the Guardian's, but it's good enough. Why? Want to join?"
"Maybe not with you, but I could blow off some steam." Qrow smiled briefly and they arrived at the gym a few minutes later.
As Qrow said, the gym was not as grand as the Guardian's, especially the sparring rings. However, that could be attributed to funding and ship purpose. Mobile academies received far more funding and were designed to house, transport, and train huntsmen. Thus, they had sparring rings that could semi-create artificial environments like Amity Colosseum but on a smaller scale. The Wayfarer just had large boxing rings. Nothing grand, but it got the job done and anyone can use them.
"Try not to kill anyone, ok?" Qrow joked. Her response was a scoff and a light punch to the arm.
Qrow went to one of the rings where a huntress was waiting for a sparring partner and took her up for a challenge. Not even seconds their blades clashed. Most spars weren't extravagant or hardcore fights, they were usually soft and simple fights that helped keep your skills from getting rusty. Qrow's semblance turned on him and he found himself out of the ring. He shook hands with the huntress in good sport. His aura only took a few percentage dip. It was a good short spar, there was never any reason to go full out in one.
Then both their attention, and most of the gym's attention, turned to one particular ring where the contestants were going full force.
"Oh course she had to go and fight him," Qrow muttered as Raven barely dodged Avitus' fists coming down upon her. The two of them were going hard on one another, and most people in the gym stopped what they were doing to watch the fight. Avitus had a reputation beyond being a religious man who worshiped Ozpin. He was a strong warrior that rarely showed mercy against his enemies, Grimm or human or faunus. His part in quelling the band of Salem worshipping cultists on Kronus was evident of that. So, it became a spectacle when someone seemed to be able to hold their own against him for as long as they have. Even Qrow seemed a little impressed with his sister. Avitus seemed to have the advantage, but Qrow recognized that Raven was leading him into a trap.
Soon the trap was sprung. One moment, the two were locked in a deadlock. Then, in the blink of an eye, Avitus was on the ground with Raven on top of him. Only the top half of his body was outside of the ring, but it was enough to call the match for Raven.
There were a few whistles and whispers about the fight and the outcome, all of which were silenced when Avitus laughed.
"Well done, huntress. May I have your name?" He asked
"Raven," she said as she hopped off and offered him a hand.
"Then well done, Raven," he smiled and took her hand. "It's been a while since I had a challenge outside of a life or death battle. Your skills are commendable. I look forward to fighting by your side."
"Same to you."
Qrow knew Raven didn't mean it, and only said it because it was common courtesy. But still, Raven looked less tense and irritated than she did before, so that was at least nice.
"He was holding back," he heard a woman next to him say, most likely to herself.
"Oh really?" Qrow just rolled his eyes, not bothering to turn to her.
"Yep, I counted five different instances where Avitus could have easily overpowered her and won the fight."
"Yeah, you noticed them, not him. And that's why he lost."
"No, he did. He just chose not to take them to prolong the fight. He basically threw it."
Qrow let out a laugh at that. "Did we watch the same fight or are you high?" He then turned to the person.
It was none other than the Grimm Reaper herself. Qrow's stance only slightly faltered.
"I may look dead, but I still have two perfectly working eyes under this mask," she tapped her mask. Qrow didn't have an immediate answer. "What's the matter there? Cat got your tongue?"
"Oh no, not at all," Qrow denied, realizing what game they were in now. "I just realized who I was talking to and realized I shouldn't talk back to my elders." He wasn't sure if that insult would work, considering she was no more than five/six years older than him, but he got the desired results.
"Oh you…" With years of dealing with Raven and her mask, Qrow could tell she had a smirk. "How about you and me in the ring, right here and now so I can relearn you some respect."
"Sure, I'll go real slow like so you don't break your back."
They both stared at each other for several moments before laughing. "Ok, that was a good one, Mr..."
"Qrow. Qrow Branwen." He held a hand out.
"Maria Calavera," she shook his hand in return. The little kid in Qrow squealed at shaking his idol's hand. "I think I remember seeing you at Ironwook's Bay."
"Yeah, I was there. In fact, Ozpin personally invited my team to this mission," Qrow tried not to sound too smug.
"Oh, that's really impressive," she said honestly. "He must have been impressed with your skills of slipping and falling on wet floors."
"Oh… you saw that?"
"Yep. Don't worry, we all have little slips here and there." Qrow groaned in his hands. "Say, to make you feel better, how about I give you my autograph? Maybe I'll sign that poster of yours if you still have it, or maybe even that photo of you in a kilt."
Qrow's face paled. 'Oh God, she actually heard that. Someone please kill me now.'
"Ok ok, I'll stop," Maria chuckled while lightly elbowing him in the arm. "Sorry, but it's just too easy with you," she said in a friendly tone.
"Yeah, I get that a lot." A ping noise made Maria pull out her scroll.
"Hmm, well I got to go. It was nice chatting with you, Qrow."
"Same, hope you have a good rest of your say."
"Same to you." Maria got a few paces past him before she paused and looked back at him, raising her mask so she could look him in the eye. "Also, you're cute when you flush like that."
Qrow could only watch wide-eyed as she walked away. His mind replayed her last words over and over again like a broken record. Once she was gone, Qrow let a small, goofy smile form on his face.
"The probes reported back sir, we have zero readings of any kind of Grimm activity in the system."
"Excellent," Ironwood turned to address the rest of the bridge. "Inform the other ships and prepare to jump in. We are mission go."
Ironwood stood, hands behind his back as he looked out the bridge. It didn't take long for the fleet to enter ftl. He watched the blue and white streaks of light rush by as they sped towards their destination. All was quiet for a long time.
"Something on your mind, my friend?" He turned to see Ozpin walk up next to him.
"Not one thing specifically," Ironwood said.
"Worried about the operation?" Ozpin guessed.
"Not as much as I think I should," the colonel admitted. "It's just… I never thought I'd be returning to Nova Prospect."
"Return? You were here before? Was this your homeworld?" Ozpin asked curiously.
"No, but I did fight here. I was in the army you brought here that finally pushed Salem back into the void."
"You were in that?" Ozpin looked him over. "You would have to have been a kid then."
"I was. Turned thirteen not long before the attack was underway."
"Damn." Ozpin sighed sadly and shook his head. "Please tell me you weren't forcibly conscripted."
"There's been a lot of rumors about that happening, but no. I was just a boy itching for a fight against the ones who took my home from me, and at the time no one was objecting. If someone was willing and able, they'd let them fight regardless of age."
"Yeah, those were not good times," Ozpin hummed.
One could call Ozpin's concerns hypocritical. After all, huntsmen academies start training people when they were the same age as Ironwood was. But the difference was that they didn't send them into hot zones like that if they could avoid it. But during the days of Salem's genocide, desperate times called for desperate measures, and some planets were more desperate than others.
"And we moved past them. But now it's our job to make sure we don't revert back."
Ozpin opened his mouth to speak, but a member of the bridge crew spoke up first. "Sir, we're about to exit ftl in ten seconds."
"Excellent," Ironwood nodded.
"Stand by in… five… four… three… two..."
The fleet of five ships exited ftl near simultaneously. The bridge crew looked out before them over the system. It didn't take them long for anyone to notice the scattered fleet of unknown ships. The alarms and panic soon followed.
A/N: This story hasn't gone too long without an update. It's only been... 11 months...
Ok, it's not really an excuse but it's a combination of lack of free time. I've just gotten many more things and responsibilities to prioritize that have left me drained most of the time, killing my will to write a lot of the time. Also having 4 other fics to write for isn't helping. But, hey, I'm still here. Thank you for sticking around.
Also just to answer this now because I know some of you will be thinking of it: The probes didn't detect the council ships because they were scanning for Grimm only. Think of it like using a metal detector on a beach: just because it doesn't detect anything metal under a patch of sand doesn't mean nothing is buried there.
Hope you all enjoyed the chapter. Have a good day :)