Chapter 18:

Watchful Eyes

Bloodborne is property of Fromsoftware. RWBY is property of Rooster Teeth

"Talking"

"Mental Speech"

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"He's just…buying coats," Elm Ederne mumbled as she stared down at their target. After General Ironwood left to return to the city of Atlas, Captain Eliza was quick to split everyone up into groups to best deal with the Gehrman situation. It just so happened that the captain has chosen to take the first watch of the man, choosing Elm and Luka Bolas to join her.

Luka grunted, leaning against the wall of the rooftop they were stationed. "This is the coldest kingdom. And considering that he prefers to travel between," the operative gulped, "uh…dropping off his bounties…it only makes sense that he be prepared to spend time away from towns and settlements."

"Good insight," Captain Eliza marched up behind them, "but while it'll be helpful, we don't need to get inside this…man's…head. Just observe his actions while he's here."

"Big use of manpower," Luke noted.

"General Ironwood and I believe the cost is worth it." Elm pursed her lips at that. Captain Eliza noticed her gesture, cocking a brow in response, "Something to say?"

Elm stood at attention, "Yes, Ma'am!" Luka snickered, and she felt very self-conscious all of a sudden.

Captain Marsh cracked a smile, "At ease, Elm. You're one of the Ace Ops, now. While, yes, you are a rookie, and I am your captain, we're all more-or-less on even footing. Don't be afraid to speak your mind."

Elm relaxed, a smile gracing her own features, "Thank you, captain—Eliza," she amended at the mock-frown sent her way. "It's just…this isn't our job, right? We're supposed to go out and wipe out the worst Grimm that plague Atlas not…babysit a wackjob."

Luka and the captain nodded at her words. The latter said, "That's a fair thought. I brought it up myself with General Ironwood."

"What did he say?" Elm asked.

Eliza's eyes darkened, "He gave me the Grimm statistics of the settlements that Gehrman visited in Vale and Vacuo."

Elm gulped, "I take it they weren't good?"

"…They were not." Her captain started to pace, a scowl on her face. "I don't know if you two realize it, but Atlas is both lucky and unlucky in terms of Grimm attacks. We get a lot of the big ones—Geists, Goliaths, Teryx's and such—but not a lot of small ones. Below a certain size, Grimm, thank the stars, can't operate in the cold." She took a short breath, "The other kingdoms aren't so lucky. They're much more temperate. They get big ones, sure, but they also hordes upon hordes of smaller Grimm. That's the main source of concern with Grimm in the other kingdoms—the dozens—hundreds—of Grimm that roam the lands."

Elm never really considered how the other Kingdoms dealt with the Grimm. For sure, she learned about Grimm behavior across the world back when she was an Academy student, but she never planned on leaving Atlas—even for the Vytal festivals—and as such put those facts out of her mind. She was beginning to regret those decisions.

"I'm not going to bore you with all the minute details," Eliza continued, "but I will say that after Gehrman…visited…a settlement, those settlements were quickly accosted by a greater amount of Grimm—hordes of Beowolves and Ursa. Give you one guess as to why." Elm shivered—how could one man instill so much negative emotion? "Not enough to break through the AG barriers, thank the gods, but enough to make residents hole up and hire permanent Huntsmen to clear out the roads."

Elm gulped, and Luka let loose a low whistle. Permanent Huntsmen were expensive on small settlements—most of the time they had to put any and all their spare money into keeping them on. They could also get possessive of 'their' towns and try and scare off freelancers. A messy practice that Atlas recently abolished in favor of (somewhat forcibly, she could admit) conscripting every native Huntsman into the military. It didn't stop foreign Huntsmen, like Gehrman, from coming in and operating in the Kingdom—but they were…discouraged from operating without joining the military on at least a temporary basis. The fact that General Ironwood hadn't even broached that with the man spoke wonders of how eager he was to get the Butcher of Sanus off of the continent.

"Thus," Eliza cleared her throat, bringing Elm's attention back to her, "We're going to give Gehrman absolutely no reason to visit the settlements."

Elm nodded fervently—keep Sanus's problem in Sanus—though Luka frowned. "You keep saying that but…isn't that illegal? Keeping a Huntsman—nominal he may be—from entering a Settlement? He's not a criminal. Technically, he hasn't broken any laws."

"No," Eliza growled, fire in her eyes, "but the man's a creature of habit, like all crazies. He avoids entering settlements and towns if he can help it, preferring to camp out in the wilderness."

Elm pursed her lips, "But…what about snowstorms? Wouldn't that give him a good reason to rest at settlements?"

"Well," Eliza huffed, "it's a good thing snowstorm season has already passed." Elm exchanged a glance with Luka. Their captain was being…very optimistic about Gehrman's lack of care for himself. She then hummed, jerking her head forward, "Looks like he's done."

Elm turned around. Indeed, Gehrman had exited the store, wearing a new gray parka, the hood down and showing off shoulder-length brown hair (Elm didn't see any bags, and attributed that to his storage Semblance). They tabled their conversation in favor of keeping track of him once again.

He meandered through the streets—the populace wisely giving him a wide berth—before coming to his next destination—a vehicle dealership. The smiling salesman that walked over to him either had balls of steel or had no idea who he was approaching. After that it got, well, boring. The salesman led Gehrman to several different vehicles—mainly snowmobiles and trucks specifically created to traverse the Atlesian tundra.

Things finally got interesting when Gehrman bought four vehicles—two trucks and two snowmobiles, all a singular, steel-gray—at once. Given the salesman slack jawed expression, he paid every Lien upfront.

"Damn," Luka whistled as the salesman and a couple others drove the vehicles out front. "That's a lot of money he's throwing around."

"Blood money," Eliza spat, "Half of it probably came from the people he chopped up." Elm doubted the guys he stalked through the wilderness had much in the way of cold hard cash but kept quiet. Eliza said they were all on even footing, but she saw no reason to give them extra reasons to raz the rookie.

The salesman started talking with Gehrman again, but the man just ignored him, snapping his fingers and—!

"Holy shit!" Elm shouted as the two trucks and one of the snowmobiles sank into the ground.

"That's…a very powerful Semblance," Luka gulped. "Way stronger than any storage Semblance I've ever heard of." Elm nodded; she knew a girl in the Academy whose Semblance could store things like Gehrman, but she couldn't put anything in there heavier than about fifty pounds, and she had an upper limit (which eventually led to one embarrassing incident in the locker room when she finally reached that limit and they were almost drowned in random stuff). This…this was unreal.

"You could probably hide more than cars in it." Elm blinked, turning to stare at her captain. Was she really…?

She gulped upon seeing Eliza's stern glare, "E-Even if he did, it's not like we could prove it. Right?"

"When he stops pumping Aura into his Semblance everything in storage should fall out, right?"

Elm and Luka exchanged wary looks. The latter licked his lips, "…Man's gotta sleep sometime, I guess."

"Then we look for it all then," Eliza nodded.

"It could just be a portal to a physical location," Luka replied.

"Gehrman owns no property in any kingdom."

"Could be an abandoned building, or a cave." Eliza glared at him. Luka just cocked a brow in reply.

"But" Elm cut in, "even if he was doing," she shivered, "…that…it's not illegal, is it?"

"Carrying corpses across Kingdom lines without the proper license is."

Elm blinked, but Luka narrowed his eyes, "You and General Ironwood are certainly pulling out all the stops."

Eliza's face was a blank mask, "We're not willing to let any stone be unturned."

Elm felt her heart leap into her throat. This…wasn't what she signed up for. She could understand wanting to keep an eye out on a violent Huntsman, but this was…beyond her job description.

Still, she had her orders.

She turned back to Gehrman. She wasn't sure what she was expecting, but he just climbed onto the remaining snowmobile, started it up, and drove down the snowy road. She called out to Eliza, "Looks like he's leaving."

The captain grunted, "Heading north…like we thought."

"Thought what?" Luka asked

"There's word that a bounty—someone by the name of Rita Amarillo—is hiding out in an abandoned town about twenty miles up north."

Luka arched a brow, "You sent the others up north, right?" At her nod, he said, "Guess we better let them know."

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Clover grinned as he laid his cards down on the table, "Pay up!"

Marrow sighed, tossing his cards on the table. Lila had a much more vocal reaction. "Fuck you!" she shouted, shooting up to her feet, "You used your bullshit Semblance, didn't you?!"

"I did not!" Clover chuckled, collecting his winnings (two-hundred and fifty Lien). "You just have a terrible bluff."

"It is pretty bad," Marrow nodded. "The muscles in your neck do this little twitch like you swallowed something foul. Probably the bullshit you keep trying to spew."

Lila just scowled, flipping them both off.

After securing his winnings, Clover said, "How's the drone doing?" That, thankfully, wiped the sneer off his teammate's face.

Lila moved to the northeastern corner of the room, where the drone interface was set-up. They were given four drones to work with, two of them currently tracking Gehrman as he drove a snowmobile through Atlas's Tundra. The video feed hadn't changed in the hour since they last checked it—it was just Gehrman driving through the snow.

"Almost feel bad for the guy," Lila shook her head. "Driving all the way through the snow looking for people to kill? That's no life."

"I don't think he's specifically seeking to kill people," Marrow replied.

"But he does end up killing a lot of people," Clover added, prompting a shrug from his Faunus teammate.

"Hear Ironwood tell it," Marrow chuckled, "Gehrman's like some Fairy Tale monster out to string us up by our toes and drain us of our blood."

"You disagree?" Clover asked with a cocked brow.

"I'm not saying he isn't dangerous," Marrow sharply replied. "But I think the General's let his hateboner for this guy get a little too big."

"Can you blame him?" Lila asked. "You heard what he's been doing in Sanus! Beheading and crippling dozens of people. Driving around with bodies and heads stuffed in the trunk of a car."

"But he's only killed or otherwise harmed felons," Clover added. "Ex-Huntsmen at that."

"Exclusively, Ex-Huntsmen, from what I've gathered," Marrow added. "Save for some mercenary a few months back, but that was to save someone. So he's, you know, killing 'bad guys'."

"They're still people," Lila frowned. "We're not savages, we hold trials for our criminals."

Marrow snorted, "The whole 'Wanted: Dead or Alive' thing behind bounties is a pretty big indicator of what the court systems think of those people's innocence."

Lila stalled for a moment, before crossing her arms, "…Well, then we should change the bounty system."

"Sure," Marrow laughed, "and Atlas will promote equality between Humans and Faunus." He sent her a flat look, "We're not politicians, Lila, we're soldiers. We don't create or change the law, we enforce it."

"Even against a man that hasn't broken the law?" Clover asked.

"And there's the rub!" Lila sighed, dropping onto a chair. "Even if Gehrman disembowels someone and dances wears their intestines like a scarf, so long as there's a bounty out on them, it's legal. So, we have to try and catch him doing something else and string him up for that." Marrow shivered all of a sudden, and Lila asked, "What, too morbid?"

"No," he shook his head, "just…realizing that I'm a Faunus soldier following an Atleasian general's orders to punish a man for a minor infraction." Clover and Lila both grimaced. That…was kind of a bad thing.

"How," Lila began, "are the Faunus reacting to Gehrman's…actions. He's killing them too, criminals they may be."

"Ok," Marrow sniffed, "first of all, are you assuming that I, being a Faunus, have an ear to the pulse of the entirety of my people's thoughts?"

"…No," Lila replied, a hint of a blush on her face.

"Ah, I'm just pulling your leg!" Marrow smirked, his wolf-tail wagging. "Though, for future reference, outside of my family and closest friends, most Faunus aren't fond of me."

"Why?" Clover asked—he'd known Faunus to be fairly tight-knit, especially in Atlas.

Marrow sent him an amused look, "I'm a Faunus that became a Huntsman—"

"There's loads of Faunus Huntsmen," Lila cut in.

"—via Atlas Academy—"

"You're not unique in that," Clover said with a frown.

"—and stayed. Voluntarily," Marrow finished, smirking at their frowns. "Most faunus don't think too highly of us that do that."

"I can…see that," Clover replied with a gulp. Thinking on it, most of the Faunus he'd gone to the academy with either transferred just before the final year—just in time to avoid the draft into the army—or moved out of the country after completing their first tour of duty (two years).

"But my family still likes me," Marrow said with a huff, "and people still like them. So, to get back to your original question, Faunus are kind of okay with him."

"What?" Clover and Lila said together.

"That's just what I've heard," Marrow shrugged. "By all means, he's an alright guy. Not particularly, you know, nice, but polite. You know, underneath the whole 'human guillotine' thing he's got going on."

"When he isn't chopped off heads, he's cutting off people's limbs!" Lila shouted. "Isn't it a big thing for a Faunus's trait limbs to get cut off? I've look through the reports—he's chopped off hooves, webbed feet, paws, horned heads, cut people by the gills!"

"He does the same thing to his human bounties. Hell," Marrow shrugged, "I've heard that a few people praise him for his 'egalitarian work ethic'. I'm…not entirely sure they're kidding."

Clover and Lila stared at their teammate with wide eyes. Clover licked his lips, "They…support him?"

"I didn't say that," Marrow glared at him. "Don't lump all Faunus together like that! It's a weird situation, there's a lot of opinions out there!"

"Sorry, sorry!" Clover held up his hands. "I wasn't thinking!"

"You're telling me," Marrow scoffed. "…I'll take the watch of the drones for tonight, you two get some shuteye." Clover rapidly nodded his head. Lila was more stoic, just getting up from her chair and gesturing at it.

Marrow nodded, sitting down and shifting closer to the monitors. He then jerked forward, grabbing the screen with both hands. "Uh…guys? What time is it?"

Lila arched a brow, looking at her watch, "Uh…six-thirty."

"Sundown's in twenty minutes, right?"

"Just about, why?"

Marrow licked his lips, "He's swapping snowmobiles."

Clover and Lila blinked. "…What?"

"He's swapping vehicles," Marrow repeated. Clover and Lila crowded Marrow, eyes widening upon seeing that, yes, Gehrman was using his Semblance to store his current vehicle, starting up a new one and continuing on.

Clover gulped, "…Lulu, Marci, and Cat are still looking for that Huntswoman?"

"Rita Amarillo," Lila nodded. "Last I hear they'd cornered her in an abandoned school," Lila said.

"Better tell them to hurry up and put her in detention."

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"Lulu, you fucking bitch!" Rita Amarillo shouted as she was dragged, in chains, up the Bullhead. "Tried to blow my fucking arm off! You treat all your exes like this or am I—" her rant was cut short by the Bullhead ramp snapping shut.

Catherine bit her lower lip, turning to Lulu, who was glaring down at her feet, face a touch pale. She moved closer, "Hey, Lulu, you—"

"I'm fine!" she spat. Catherine exchanged a disbelieving look with Marci, after which Lulu rolled her eyes, "Really, girls, I'm fine. She's just some woman I used to sleep with back in the Academy."

"And you just arrested her," Marci said. Catherine resisted the urge to roll her eyes—tell them something they didn't know.

Lulu shrugged, "It's fine. I probably should have said something when I recognized her name, but I'm an Ace Op." She looked up, still a bit pale, but there was fire in her eyes. "I'm given orders and I follow through with them."

Catherine exchanged another look with Marci, who just shrugged, so she let it go.

The Bullhead rose in the air but didn't fully take-off. Rather suddenly, it turned on the spotlight, shining on a ridge to the east.

Catherine turned, heart leaping into her throat as a man on a steel-gray snowmobile drove into the light. Gehrman, she knew, even if his face was obscured by his hood and a pair of black, reflective goggles.

Catherine and her teammates stood at the ready—and she could see the Bullhead slowly fly away from Gehrman, light still trained on him. So far, the man hadn't proved violent towards anyone without a bounty on their head—but General Ironwood had warned them to be cautious if confronted by him.

Thankfully, nothing came of the encounter. Gehrman just turned his snowmobile around, driving off into the night.

"…Gods," Marci sighed, putting a hand over her chest, "we're going to going full-tilt as long as he's here, aren't we?"

"Yup," Catherine replied.

"Fuck," Lulu growled, "I'm gonna need a drink." For more than one reason, Catherine suspected.

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A/N: First day in Atlas! Looking to be a lovely little vacation for Gehrman. Be sure to leave a review. Later.