The diminutive Devil scrunched her nose as an icy gale whipped her cheeks. She'd been sure to glance at her calendar before rising from bed earlier that morning. July 12. The date burned in her mind as another burst of wintery air blasted its way into her lungs. She groaned, fiddling with her facial equipment in a vain attempt to block out some of the pain. She and her battalion had taken off that midsummer's morning far too rushed to ponder equipping warmer gear. Orders came down just as the sun came up. Apparently, HQ had been bombarded by a nonstop stream of frantic messages relayed from across the Empire's border throughout the night. Naval forces garrisoned along the northern coastline reported that the ocean itself had gone missing, replaced by coarse, barren soil, atop which the Empire's fleet now supposedly rested. Tanya couldn't stymie a quick chuckle when her superior had informed her of the development. Logic dictated that the men of the north had all gone mad. She'd relayed that explanation to the Colonel in no uncertain terms. Yet, here she was, at cruising altitude on a freezing July day. It was going to be a hell of a long one, at that.
Fiddling with numb hands, Tanya activated her short range radio. "Time to wake up. We're within 10 miles of the coast. The faster we lay eyes on the very existent ocean, the faster we go back to bed."
"Roger that, Colonel. Should we reposition into an offensive formation?" First Lieutenant Visha looked to her commander with tired eyes.
Tanya shook her head. "Negative, Lieutenant. No need."
Diverting additional magic to her flight equipment, Tanya increased her speed. The rest of the 203rd followed suit, tracking close behind. Get in, give the idiots in charge of the coastal defenses a hard knock on the head, and get out. The plan was how she liked it, simple and efficient. Squinting, Tanya focused on the map flailing wildly in her grip. If she'd gotten her math right, she and the 203rd Mage Battalion should've been within viewing distance of the coastline by now. Looking up, however, all Tanya saw was barren land outstretched as far as the eye could see, dotted by vague outlines of unfamiliar structures. Her heartrate picked up as her radio squawked.
"Colonel, pardon my saying, but this doesn't seem right. The ocean should be visible by now." Lieutenant Visha gazed at the alien landscape ahead with wide eyes. Tanya sighed as she reached for her weapon.
"Unfortunately, Lieutenant, it appears that there might be some truth to our superiors' baseless suppositions after all. Tighten up. We're headed for that small town." Tanya gestured to the haphazard collection of buildings her map identified as the coastal dwelling of Sterngurst. Readying their weapons, the remainder of the 203rd followed their commander into a descent path. As she drew nearer to the residency, the shrill ping of distant gunshots pierced Tanya's ears. She grimaced as one of her men relayed that they had heard the sound as well.
"Then we have to assume that the Empire has come under attack from a hostile force. Therefore, we are obligated by law to respond in kind. You are authorized to discharge weapons and spells at your own discretion." Tanya flipped a switch on her radio's transmitter, waiting a few seconds for the mechanical switch to cycle. Finally, the radio beeped, a long distance communication connection established.
"HQ, this is Lieutenant Colonel Degurechaff. How copy?" She paused as static filled her ears. A few moments became half a minute, and Tanya repeated her message. Frustration mounted as she was again greeted by grating white noise. With a grunt, she switched her radio's frequency back to short-range communications.
"Lieutenant, I am unable to get through to Command. Either something is interfering with our systems, or all of our local long range communication towers are down. Either way, we're on our own. Be prepared for anything." Tanya felt her blood begin to warm despite the outside temperature. Being X. The name rang in her head like a funeral bell. The situation was too abnormal for it to not be responsible. With that being the case, Tanya reasoned, literally anything was possible.
"Understood." Visha readied her rifle as the battalion neared the town. The sound of gunfire became clear, now mingled with a cacophony of shouts and screams. Plumes of black smoke billowed into the air from burning homes. Scanning the area, Tanya spotted a group of uniformed men huddled on a rooftop raining down a hailstorm of bullets at something on the ground out of her sight. She released a rapid burst of magic, closing the distance between them.
Her eyes widened as a jet black appendage spiked with crimson claws struck one soldier's chest. Nearly a meter long, they pierced through his spine, skewering red organs and dripping viscera. With a lurch, the appendage jerked the man from the rooftop and out of sight as his companions leapt off the opposite side, flinging their rifles away as they sprinted. Tanya 's breath quickened as she flew over the house, a blue eye trained down the sights of her automatic rifle. She put her finger on the trigger as the thing responsible for this massacre came into view.
The beast's fur, if it could be called that, was as black as coal, save for plates of what appeared to be ivory armor shielding vital areas. Standing atop two tree trunk like legs, the creature's knarlled head nearly reached the top of the house. It's head was pointed, with a defined jaw filled to the brim with shark-like teeth currently clamped around a gored leg. The torso of the deceased soldier remained attached to its forearms as it locked eyes with another approaching meal.
"What the fuck is that?" The crack of Lieutenant Neumann's rifle rang out as a bullet whizzed by Tanya's head. The round slammed into the creature's skull with a thud, and the thing staggered backwards. Tanya spared no time, littering the rest of the bear-like beast in a maelstrom of metal. The beast roared, clawing its bullet-riddled body in agony. As Tanya swapped out her empty magazine, the sound of additional rifles joined the fray from behind.
"Colonel, we've got multiple incoming!" Captain Weiss released two magically charged rounds into the mangled body of a wolf-like creature of similar ferocity, its legs splitting at the joints. Tanya growled as she emptied the second magazine into a pair of similar creatures, watching as they collapsed onto the ground in a black cloud of dust.
"Ascend, now!" Tanya applied a burst of magic energy to her flight suit as she propelled herself back upwards. Engines roared as her soldiers did the same, laying down a carpet of fire on the creatures writhing below. Tanya's eyes flicked as she scanned the burning town. Dozens of similar creatures were converging on the area, claws extended as they closed in on their prey. A storm of roars and howls filled the ashen air as some of the wolf-like beasts leapt onto houses in an attempt to close the gap, one nearly clawing the leg of an unsuspecting mage.
"Lieutenant Serebryakova!" Tanya applied a swift burst of munitions, the beast tumbling from the roof with a pained yelp.
"Yes, ma'am?" Visha circled back to her commander as she reloaded her rifle.
"We need to get a message to HQ, let 'em know we've been invaded by Hell itself. Locate this town's long range communication tower and get it up and running. Take as many men as you need." Tanya looked her lieutenant in the eyes, finding them wide with a healthy dose of fear.
"Yes, ma'am!" Her lieutenant gave a quick salute before she departed with a burst of magic.
Tanya bared her teeth as she riddled another bear-type monster with magic-infused rounds. The creature slumped to the ground, collapsing on the body of another of its kind as it began to dissipate. She inhaled deeply, attempting to reign in the cacophony of thoughts dancing in her head.
Damn you, Being X! What kind of twisted fantasy have you concocted to torture me on this fine occasion?
Her black fingernails scratched at the smooth windowsill, erratic and pained, like a caged animal. Queen Salem had the wisdom of a thousand lifetimes at her disposal. She'd witnessed the rise of kingdoms and nations, their cities constructed with blood, sweat, and tears. She'd seen them fall, burned away with hands marred in passion or lost to the sands of time. Whether a gift or a curse, Salem had wasted little of her infinite portion of time. Using her abilities and knowledge, she'd been able to raise an army of creatures so vile, their very mentioning struck terror into the minds of child and adult alike.
Yet, all that planning and all the wisdom gathered over the millennia had amounted to nothing in the face of what lay in the mirror. Her power gave her absolute control over the Crucible that she ruled, the dominance of her vision absolute. Today, however, the Queen wished for nothing more than to be blind. She'd thought that the Two Brothers had finally left her to her own devices, free to plot her revenge as she pleased. The unannounced appearance of an entire nation within her own borders proved otherwise.
Her nails dug deeper into the stone. Yesterday, she held the world on the brink of checkmate, her pawns positioned perfectly to gain control of what she desired. Now, she stood alone in an empty throneroom, and outside her window mere miles away lay an entire kingdom's number of humans somehow possessing magic. An individual Maiden held such power as to bring whole armies to her knees. It was the power of the Four Maidens that had prevented her from proceeding with her plans for untold centuries.
Her lips curled downwards as her brow furrowed. What unimaginable being could be so powerful as to make an entire nation of magic users spontaneously appear outside her doorstep? It couldn't have been any of the Maidens, nor even Ozpin himself. No mortal or immortal human possessed such unrivaled potential. So, the other option remained. The Brothers responsible for her immortal life of suffering; the ones who felt it appropriate to eradicate the human race and start over to cover up their failure.
Salem's fortress trembled around her as she grimaced, dark eyes filling with indignant rage. If the Beings who she'd dedicated her life to destroying were so bold as to position their forces so close to her own, well, Salem would be more than willing to meet them.
His white fingernails picked at the worn surface of his desk, jittery and fueled by far too much caffeine. Headmaster Ozpin held the memories of the hundreds of unfortunate souls he'd possessed over the millennia. He often asked them for advice before making an important decision, taking in each of their ideas in order to create the most ideal future. However, he was quite sure that none of them knew much about entire landmasses spontaneously generating overnight.
He'd been woken up by the shrill beeping of an angry Scroll, through which an equally enraged General Ironwood barked nonsense into his aching ears. The entire southern region of the Crucible, replaced by a foreign kingdom of unknown power? Ridiculous. Clearly, the good general's surveillance drones had malfunctioned. He knew of beings inhabiting Remnant with abilities that equaled or surpassed his own, but they were few and far between. Neither he nor they possessed the raw magical energy required to create whole population centers in an instant. There were only two Beings in the whole universe who could even be considered. But that was preposterous, he'd thought. The Brothers hadn't intervened in mankind's affairs since before Ozpin had been granted his immortality.
"Then see for yourself." General Ironwood pushed a button, transmitting his drone's stream to Ozpin's computer. The Headmaster sighed as he dragged tired eyes to the monitor. The General meant well, as Ozpin knew he always did, but never once did he believe the old soldier to have simply gone mad.
"General, I'm not entirely awake yet, so I'd appreciate it if you would put an end to this singularly unfunny prank." Ozpin pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, squinting at the footage unfurling on the screen. The bright rays of the early morning illuminated what should have been the barren wasteland of the Crucible. Instead of dusty rock formations swarmed by creatures of Grimm, however, Ozpin saw the rolling green hills filled the brim with vibrant and varied forms of life. A second drone transmitted a single image displaying what appeared to be a decently sized town defined by unfamiliar architecture. Little outlines of humans peered out of open windows.
"You know that I'm bad with jokes, Ozpin." Ironwood presented a compilation of images displaying various forms of decidedly military gear, including parking lots filled with crude tanks, soldiers training with outdated rifles, and one small fleet of ancient biplanes. The implication was not lost on the professor, who began scratching at his desk in earnest.
"Our drones have been able to collect all this data in just a few hours. They're armed to the teeth with outdated but powerful weaponry, and it's only a matter of time before some passing fisherman or pilot informs the all of Remnant." Ozpin rubbed his eyes as Ironwood stared back through his Scroll.
"General, you do understand that this is impossible, correct?" Ironwood nodded as he let out a quick chuckle.
"Indeed. I would call this beyond ludicrous. However, the more time we waste wallowing in disbelief, the less we have to deal with this threat." Ozpin shook his head as he pressed a button on his landline phone.
"I would hesitate to label these newcomers as enemies so hastily. It's entirely possible that they're just as shocked and confused as we are." Ironwood curled his fist as his drones provided additional images of ammo storehouses and weapon caches.
"One would have to be delusional to think that a kingdom as armed as this possesses no ill intentions."
"The same could be said of Atlas." Ozpin smirked as he watched the General squirm for a short moment.
"Regardless, it's my duty to see to our defense. Would you have me do nothing?" Ironwood glared at his fellow Headmaster with dark eyes.
"Of course not. What I'm tryting to say is that this situation will involve a high level of caution on our part, lest we be the cause of an interdimensional war."
The heavy door to his study exploded open as a very tired and very annoyed Glynda Goodwitch stormed across the room. Ozpin raised a hand before the Huntress had an opportunity to voice her complaints.
"I apologize for summoning you at this ungodly hour, but I can assure you that it's well beyond urgent, Miss Goodwitch." Glynda crossed her arms across her chest, tapping her foot as she glared at the Headmaster. Ozpin rose to his feet, a hand wrapping around the tip of his worn cane. With a press of a button, he activated his desk's holoprojector, displaying a compilation of images alongside General Ironwood's own visage.
"Good morning, Miss Goodwitch. The situation at hand is... abnormal, to say the least."
Her bloodied nails clutched the wad of gauze tight as she finished tying the field bandage to a soldier's torn calf. Lieutenant Visha couldn't quite recall his name among his wails and the surrounding hail of bullets. She'd never been so outgoing as to be close friends with every Mage from the 203rd. Regardless, she put on her best smile, though she was sure that it looked more like a grimace.
"You're going to be alright. Rest easy, the Colonel's working on our plan of withdrawal already." Visha tore her eyes away from the soldier's agonized face. She was a notoriously bad liar, and it wouldn't do for her to be found out so easily. Instead, she jumped to her feet, retrieving her rifle from the ruined asphalt road. pillar. She scanned the area outside of the worn concrete hut behind her, sights trained on the roofs of smoldering buildings surrounding her position. She let out a deep sigh as she found none of the horrid creatures that had been streaming in from the north since her arrival. The rest of the Battalion must've been faring far better against them than her own hastily constructed team.
"Nuemann, what's your status?" Visha turned her head to the agape doorway of the squat building that housed Sterngurst's long range communication systems. Inside, Nuemann sat hunched over a box of electronics, his hands flying from one tool to another.
"Shouldn't be too much longer. Five minutes, max." Visha nodded, engaging her magic thrusters as she ascended above the low buildings. The crack of discharging rifles filled the dry, chill air as sparse fires raged in cheaply made dwellings. Mages soared across the sky, letting lose offensive spells at whatever vile creature came nearest. Visha frowned, having hoped there to eventually be some end to the torrent of beasts. The sustained firefight of the past half an hour seemed to only draw more towards the 203rd, however, and Visha's own team had already suffered casualties.
She gripped her thick jacket with a free hand, feeling her heart race through the layers of clothing. She inhaled slowly, running through practiced mental exercises. As the Commander often said, a panicked Mage was already halfway into the grave. She blocked out encroaching thoughts that she had no use for, channeling reserve magic into her rifle. She trained her sights on a small pack of the wolf-type monsters lurching towards the communication array. With another deep breath, she placed her finger on the trigger.
The air behind her exploded with a shrill howl, the sound driving spikes into her ears. Visha stumbled midair as she struggled to regain her balance, wheeling around to face the high-pitched, alien screech. Her mouth went agape.
The monstrosity cut the air with black wings, casting a shadow on the desolation below. Glowing crimson eyes bulged out of a pale, curved skull. A twisted, bony beak twisted out of its head, filled with rows of needle-like teeth. The avian beast's wingspan easily surpassed the length of a small destroyer. Visha readied her rifle, summoning the rest of her reserves. At the speed the creature flew, Visha determined she'd only be afforded the time for a single shot before she found herself impaled in the beast's maw.
Even then, will my power be enough? Visha's weapon shimmered, resonating with her power. The raptor-like beast let out a chilling screech in challenge, a mighty flap of its wings sending plumes of dust and ash in to the air. Visha ground her teeth as she grimaced.
I can't kill that thing. My magic isn't enough to stop it.
I'm going to die.
"Servants of the Lord, rejoice, for He has come to redeem us impure sinners, unworthy of His infinite mercy."
The Devil's eyes burned with golden fury. The crimson crystal affixed to her chest glowed as it channeled her rage, surrounding her small frame with a holographic targeting apparatus. She pointed her rifle downrange, the weapon alight with a rainbow of vibrant fire.
"God Almighty, let your justice shine upon these dark creatures. Burn them to cinder."
Golden light exploded from the barrel of her automatic rifle. A flurry of shinning bolts screamed towards the blinded beast, leaving a trail of twinkling dust in their wake. Each individual bullet split into six more, filling the sky with dozens of burning magical fragments. They slammed into the howling raptor's flesh simultaneously. The shockwave of the magical explosion shattered untouched windows below and threw plumes of ash into the air above. Visha covered her ears as she was pushed back by a thick cloud of smoke. Hot ash filled air filled her throat as she wiped her eyes free of dust.
She blinked the remaining tears away, her eyes locking on the cloud of black smoke floating where the monstrosity had been a moment before.
"Are you injured, Lieutenant?" Visha coughed as she turned to face the petite girl floating at her side.
"N-negative!" Visha struggled to stymie a cough as she rendered an awkward salute. Tanya frowned.
"Right." Tanya busied about filling a reserve magazine with the remainder of her rounds.
"At this rate, we'll run out of bullets before the one responsible for this assault runs out of monsters. Have we reestablished communications with HQ?" Tanya charged her weapon with a clack, turning to face the barren wasteland outstretched to the horizon.
"Affirmative, Colonel. They claim that the world is ending, and are requesting your confirmation." The pair of mages turned to face Lieutenant Nuemann, who hovered below with a small smirk on his lips. Tanya chuckled as she descended.
"They sure as hell have it."