She always found it interesting, just how many small parts needed to be loaded into even the simplest of weapon designs in order to achieve the desired result. Ruby Rose had always been something of a fanatic when it came to crafting weaponry, she could admit it, so this was nothing out of the ordinary for her. However, implementing the smaller pieces into the larger body was still something of an engaging procedure even for her own learned hands, as the tools provided by the Branwen Tribe were less than ideal for her goals. She even had the callouses to prove it!
Stupid bandit gear.
Furthermore, Ruby Rose remained blatantly aware that most of the tools and resources at her disposal were provided through nefarious means, raids and killings, and the like. She could only hope that through the construction of her grand weapon, she could finally put some good use to the materials, to put them towards a purpose that actually meant something truly important.
For the purpose of completing the weapon in an acceptable amount of time, before her mounting ire overwhelmed her and the worst occurred, Ruby Rose had settled for a somewhat simplistic design. However, she had ensured that when the time came to enact repairs and upgrade her arsenal, the parts could be easily disassembled without any major difficulty. After having been forced to precision dust-weld a fair portion of the deep mechanics using sub-par tools with limited regard to safety that had even the bandits grimacing at times, Ruby Rose remained content with the idea of keeping any future work as stress-free as possible.
If only to avoid punching Vernal in the face out of sheer stress alone and inadvertently making the entirety of the Branwen Clan hostile to her. Because, Oum, was she tired of that woman and her needling comments about this and that as if she thought Ruby was some stupid kid that didn't know what she was doing. Psh!
Through trial and error, Ruby Rose had been able to successfully implement the gravity dust recall system into the base of her greatsword. She had been forced to thread gravity dust through the internal base of the blade, from edge to pommel, in an even distribution, so as to avoid the blade spinning towards her mid-air and potentially causing an accident. Shade had helpfully supplied the fire dust for melting the precision inlay gravity dust into the metal, as something of an apology for the initial use of his overpowered sleep semblance.
Shade had promptly used his semblance on her again when Ruby Rose had spent the entire night following the acquisition of the fire dust in the forge, melting down the gravity dust. A fair portion of the camp had been pissed off with her late-night session and eventually, Shade had been called into the forcibly pull her away from the forge. Thankfully, all of the heavy liftings had been completed before Ruby had been pulled away, or else Ruby would have likely reacted violently to a man like Shade attempting to hamper her development.
And when Vernal would have arrived to settle the argument, she would have punched the woman in her smug-looking face. Because she was soooooo tired of having to deal with her stupid situation and the likes of VERNAL weren't going to stop her, damn it!
Such was her nature, as it would seem. It was funny, Ruby didn't remember always being this quick to violence before her sudden lack of memory, though she supposed that it made some sort of twisted sense. After everything she had been through in her life, both what she remembered and what she could not, it stood to reason that she would act differently when compared to how she had acted in the past.
Plus, well… puberty and all that jazz.
Moving on, for her weapon Ruby Rose had been forced to incorporate a secondary device for the gravity dust recall measures, housed in a stylish wristband that rested on both her left and right wrist. She didn't technically need to have them on both wrists, as a single device proved more than strong enough to attract and direct the greatsword from a distance of over thirty meters, but Ruby figured that it was better to be safe than sorry. Plus, well, it was a greatsword. She would certainly need to hold the thing in a two-hand grip, lest she tests just how quickly her aura can heal a broken wrist.
On a partially related note, her aura was still thankfully a beautiful rose red colouration, even if the petals generated by her semblance stubbornly refused to change away from the shiny silver hue that they had taken as of late. And she was still turning grimm into statues. And, uh, shrubbery. And that one canvas backpack that Vernal thought something had stolen.
Well, someone had stolen it. She had. But, well, it had never truly been Vernal's to begin with. And Ruby needed those chemicals to properly treat the blade and prepare it for etching. If one or two bandits had to die because of a sudden lack of a certain group of chemicals, then so be it. Not like Ruby cared about them, anyway. They were just bandits. If she had her way, she and the rest of Team RWBY would have torn through the lot of them. But noooo. One of them just happened to be Yang's stupid Mother so the rest of them got a pass. Ughhh.
She couldn't stand people like these bandits. They just ruined everything. They were just like grimm, really. Just… just like grimm… She didn't hate them for it, even if she was really really annoyed with them. She just didn't like having to allow such people to continue ruining everything around them. But now she had to. It was all just such a hassle for a girl who didn't even feel comfortable talking to most people in the first place.
It had been for this reason that Ruby hadn't wanted to make friends over in Beacon Academy when she first joined the school. Managing all the different relationships was tough work, and Ruby tended to find herself burnt out by all of the drama. Make no mistake, she had enjoyed having all of those friends, but there was no denying that it was still a huge hassle that took up a lot of time she could have instead been using for more important matters.
Huh. That was an interesting thought. She wondered where everyone from Beacon Academy had gone, now that Vale was… well, gone. She hoped they were all okay. They all seemed like good people. Well, except for Team CDNL, they were all a bunch of bullies. By dust, they'd probably fit in well with the Branwen Tribe! Hah!
...Aw. She made herself sad.
"Hey, hey! Look who it is!" an intrusive voice invaded her senses, and Ruby almost jumped what she would swear was at least a foot in the air.
"Yang!" Ruby squeaked, pouting as she knelt down to pick up the various tools and metal off-cuts that had been thrown about by her blunder. The blonde quickly followed, helping her pick up the pieces.
"Still working on your secret weapon, eh Rubes?" Yang smiled warmly at her, seeming almost pleased just by the very sight of her.
Ruby managed a smile. "Uh-huh. Sorry that I've been a bit detached recently. You know how it is… just so much work to do. Keeps my mind off the whole Branwen situation."
"It's fine!" Yang waved her off, helping Ruby back up to her feet as the two sisters set down all the extra pieces and debris back on Ruby's workbench. "I knew what you'd be like the moment I heard the forge start running. You've always been like that, you know, ever since you first came up with the idea of Crescent Rose."
"...Yeah, you're right. I always was the same, wasn't I?" Ruby muttered to herself, feeling oddly melancholic at the reminder of her past. Some of the earlier iterations of Crescent Rose had essentially been carbon copies of Null Value, with some little adjustments here and there in the hopes of allowing Ruby to wield the mighty weapon without difficulty.
And she had failed. Each and every time. Until that one moment, when a little girl in Patch dared to dream of something different. Something new.
"Whoa, what's with that look, sis? You alright?" Yang moved closer to her, worry apparent on her face. Ruby stepped back, uncomfortable at the closeness. A flash of a frown grew on Yang's lips before it shifted back to a neutral expression.
She sighed. She didn't need this interruption. "Sorry. I'm just really busy. I'm almost done with the weapon. I just want to finish it all."
"How far along are you?" Yang thankfully decided to tread familiar waters and ask a question Ruby was comfortable answering.
"All the pieces have been done. The pommel, guard, sleeve for the handle, and base shaft are all done. The blade has been properly heat-treated with the appropriate dust, with care given to ensure it doesn't damage the gravity dust recall system- oh! Yeah, I decided to implement that. Look!" she held up her armbands for Yang to see.
The blonde whistled. "Gravity dust recall, huh? That's some pretty heavy stuff. I remember you trying something along the lines of that for Crescent Rose one time before Qrow convinced you not to. What changed?"
Ruby waved a hand, "Well~ It may have had the chance of tearing Crescent Rose's blade from repeated movement during mechashift and, essentially, turning it into something closer to a fragmentation device that could have seriously hurt me. It's an issue with compact mechashift weapons and gravity dust. You need to keep things simple in order to prevent bending."
"So, you're saying that this mystery weapon of yours uses a simpler design than Crescent Rose? My, oh my, who are you and what have you done with my baby sister?" Yang teased.
Ruby gave her a playful shove, pouting. Well, trying to pout. There was a little bit of a smile on her face, that was a bit more genuine than before.
"Oh, shush, you! So I went with something different, something simplistic, so what? Not like there are enough materials in this stupid camp for Crescent Rose, anyway. And, even if there were, they'd all be stolen goods taken from people who actually needed it."
"And these aren't?" Yang challenged, raising a brow at her.
"W-Well," she faltered, embarrassed. Yang did make something of a fair point. "Not like I have much of a choice, here. I figure that I can give these materials a chance to do some good, rather than being used for evil."
"Evil? They're not evil," Yang furrowed her brow, disturbed by what should have been a simple statement. Ruby frowned. She'd been trying to avoid ranting about the Branwen Clan in front of Yang, but all the teasing had shaken her.
"Whatever, it doesn't matter. Did you want to hear about my weapon or not?"
There was a momentary pause, as Yang seemed to fight with herself on whether to continue bickering with her or not before eventually the blonde sighed and gave a quick nod. Though whether the nod was aimed at Ruby or Yang was just nodding along to her own thoughts, she wasn't too sure.
"Of course. You were saying that you're using a more simplistic weapon compared to Crescent Rose. Did you mean that it isn't mechashift or something?"
She sighed, thankfully. One argument was avoided, thank Oum.
"Uh-huh. It will probably be strange at first, because I'm used to using mechashift adjustments for movement purposes alongside my semblance, or just using the shift to switch tactics in the middle of a battle. Keep them guessing, ya'know? But this one won't really give me that opportunity. Plus, it'll lock me into close to medium-range combat."
"Medium range? Is it a big weapon, then?"
She'd avoided mentioning that she was building a huge greatsword to Yang, mainly because she wanted to actually build the thing to completion first and try it out, before actually deciding if she wanted to keep it or not.
And she didn't want to hear Yang try and offer training in sword combat with the Branwen Clan. She was well aware that they had a lot of sword people. She just didn't want to train from stupid bandits.
...Though, she might like training on stupid bandits… Not like she'd have to worry about her flames, then. Nobody would be left standing that could run off and alert the rest of the clan…
No. She pushed the thought away. Not now.
"Kinda? I mean, it's pretty big, but so was Crescent Rose. I mean, I built a dust-casting inlay into the weapon, too. So with the proper amount of dust, I can imbue the weapon with certain elements. It'd be good for catching things just slightly outside my range."
"Looks like Weiss is going to have some competition for the title of Team Dustcaster!" Yang chuckled, and Ruby chuckled right alongside her. It would be funny to see the Heiress getting all pouty. Though, it wasn't her intention. She wanted to actually use the training as a chance to get a bit closer to her teammates after everything in Atlas had seemingly pushed them all away from each other.
"How are Weiss and Blake, anyway?" she decided to ask instead, curious about her other teammates. They didn't visit that much, and the bandits she overheard rarely talked about them. Shade and Vernal weren't much help, either, as their relationship was less gossip and more a trade of favours.
Vernal, for instance, had witnessed her petrification abilities. For the small cost of covering Vernal's ass in the next cull, she wouldn't tell anybody about the ability. It was a reasonable price to pay for the chance to avoid any conflict in the immediate future. She knew that if Yang heard about it, she'd get all worried.
Oum, Ruby herself was already pretty worried about it. She didn't need Yang adding to it. Then Weiss and Blake would learn about it and it'd just be a whole big stressful issue for everyone. And stress would bring the grimm.
"They're good! Very good!" Yang answered a little too quickly, and Ruby's knowing look earned a sigh. "Bah. Worth a shot. Well, to be honest, they've been keeping to themselves. Raven says it's best to just leave them be. With the addition of the Rozen Maiden in the camp, she says it might be a bit much for them to handle. Too much change, if you get what I'm saying."
Ah. Right. The Rozen Maiden. Magical dolls. Another new thing that had occurred during her loss of memory. Apparently, there were six total Rozen Maiden and they all were supposed to fight in this big Alice Game, but five of them were together at the moment and they seemed to be enjoying a time of peace. It was only the sixth and youngest, Hinaichigo, that was unaccounted for at the moment and her continued unaccounted status was starting to make the other dolls nervous.
Ruby privately held suspicions that something about the Rozen Maiden was connected to her lack of memory. It was all just too odd, the way they acted around her, flinching at the very sight of her as if she might attack them at any given moment. She didn't even have a weapon, for Oum's sake! Clearly, something had happened, or she had done something to them during her time with her… former lover… that had caused them to fear her.
Thankfully, they were all relatively friendly for the most part, even if they were always on guard around her, and Ruby found herself vastly preferring their company over the rest of the Branwen Clan. They weren't bandits, after all. Just dolls. Perpetual dolls, forever blooming.
And they had awesome wardrobes! And one of them had honest to Oum wings!
Wild. Remnant had gotten several degrees more awesome since her time in Beacon.
...It was just a shame that most of them didn't really like her.
Well, except for Shinku. She'd spoken to the red-clad twin-tailed blonde doll a couple of times. Only just passing conversation and a few little moments together over some surprisingly delicious cups of tea. But it was clear that Shinku was far more comfortable with her than the other dolls, for some reason. Perhaps she was just nice?
"You there, Rubes?"
"Oh, sorry," Ruby swatted Yang away from her as the girl clicked her fingers right in front of Ruby's face. "I've just got a lot on my mind. Those Rozen Maiden are pretty cool, actually. I'm glad they are here. Sucks that Weiss and Blake aren't that interested in things, however. I wish they'd visit more."
"Yeah, I'd like it if Weiss and Blake actually visited as well," Yang muttered to herself, frowning. "And, yeah, I agree the Rozen Maiden are pretty cool. Shinku's been asking about you, you know?"
...The one that she was just thinking about? Or, er, had she mixed up names? She kinda had a bad habit of mixing up basic things.
"That's the one with blonde hair and twin tails, right? The one that really likes tea?"
"Yeah, that's her. She's worried that you're spending all your time in the forge, and not enough time talking to others. I am too, Rubes."
Ruby frowned at the criticism, crossing her arms. "Why would I want to talk to anyone here? They're bandits, Yang. Discounting the Rozen Maiden, and apparently the rest of our team who don't want to talk to me, everyone else here is a criminal. A baddie. It's a wonder the grimm haven't killed them all, yet. Or a rival group. Or huntsmen and huntresses."
Yang visually cringed, "Alright, you don't like bandits. I get it. You don't need to get your panties in a bunch. Look, you don't need to like them. With Atlas being all psycho, the Branwen Clan is the only group that can keep you safe for now."
Feeling a particular surge of annoyance shudder through her, Ruby crossed her arms and her frown intensified. She could feel her power flaring, yet the lack of reaction from Yang indicated that it hadn't become visible to the naked eye.
"I can take care of myself, Yang. I don't need them, and I don't need you."
Perhaps she shouldn't have said that last part, given the hurt look that flashed across her sister's face. But she was just so sick of everything, of Atlas and Raven and everything. She wished she was back in Beacon, not neck deep in the ass-end of nowhere, with a team that could barely talk to her let alone function together.
There was a sudden interruption as a bandit she didn't recognise came rushing through the entrance to her private tent. One of Raven's grunts, given the tattoos and the general beat-up look about him. Looked like someone in their early twenties, underfed and clad in cobbled-together clothing, with a frightful look on their face.
"The camp is under attack! It's grimm, and they're acting all weird! There are tones of them! Raven needs everyone out defending the camp, quickly!"
Her eyes widened in surprise as she quickly moved to gather the rest of her parts. Her weapon didn't even have a name yet, let alone a paint job or any major customisation, but if she hurried she could assemble it and help eradicate the grimm!
"Shit!" Yang cursed, a surefire sign of her mounting stress. She would normally never curse around Ruby if she could avoid it. "I gotta deal with this. Are you gonna be alright here?"
"I can help, too! My weapon is almost done. I just need to assemble it! I've got all the parts here."
"Alright, alright. No problem," Yang agreed quickly. "You, greenie, are the grimm inside the camp?"
"Yes! Now, hurry!" the bandit, a 'greenie', apparently, whatever that meant, quickly nodded his head, before racing out of the camp to alert everyone else.
"I'll see you out there, Rubes! Stay safe!"
"You, too. And we'll talk about… everything else… once this is all over, okay?"
The blonde frowned, before nodding and running out of the tent. Ruby watched her depart, her silver eyes narrowed in annoyance over the blonde. Over everything.
It was funny. She never did get the full story about everything out of Yang and Team RWBY. Instead, she'd needed to resort to dealing with bandits and investigating little strange dolls in order to get what she wanted. And, even now, she was still putting everything together.
The weapon had only been a distraction.
What would they all do when she confronted them?
Yang raced out of Ruby's tent, her mind whirling a mile a minute as the sounds of combat reached her ears and assaulted her senses. A flicker of movement later and her gauntlets were extended down, prepped for combat. She forced herself to put the thoughts of Ruby out of her head. Ruby could take care of herself. She wasn't the only one in the Branwen Clan. There were others that needed to be handled.
And, now, their home was being assaulted.
'Remember, Yang. Do not allow an adversary to seek you out. Find them. Study them. Learn their weaknesses. You must be an opportunistic predator if you are to survive out here.
She remembered Raven's words, echoing in her head. Raven had taken to training her in combat ever since they had arrived in the camp, citing her terrible encounter with Summer Rose as reason enough for training her. And it had been in far more than simple spars. Raven had taught her strategy.
And here she was, thrust into a position where she would likely need to employ said tactics in order to survive. She almost laughed. Raven almost seemed like the person to lead grimm into the camp just to test her, but Yang didn't believe that the woman had done it this time. The fear in that one bandit's voice had been genuine. And his words about the grimm…
There was a telltale crack of a high-caliber rifle that echoed throughout the caves, sounding somewhere near the communal cooking fires. After spending enough time navigating these damn caves over and over again, listening to members of Raven's clan doing their own thing, Yang felt she had a pretty good grasp of the general layout, enough where she could pinpoint the sound of gunfire in the very least.
'Closest entrance is navigating through the sleeping areas. Rubes chose the farthest tent, naturally, so I'll need to race through most of this to get there,' Yang thought to herself with a frown. A couple of bandits were nearby, Took and Lumbar, she believed, she recognised their impressive muscles and hardy forms. Yang hollered them over, and they fell into stride with her.
"Okay, listen up, we've got an unknown number of grimm in the camp," Yang spoke quickly, however she ensured that her voice remained strong and deep. One of those leadership aspects Raven was always ranting about. "I just heard shots fired. Sounded like it was coming from the cook fires."
"Got it, boss," Lumbar nodded. A giant of a man, wielding a massive hammer that would have made Nora Valkyrie green with envy. "We'll follow you."
"We can cut through Holly's setup, should surprise them if we're quiet about it," Took offered. A relatively lean-looking guy, shorter and thinner than Lumbar by far, but still boasting an impressive build. He wielded a long whip, with the end tipped with fire dust. The dude was utterly bonkers with that damn weapon in the ring. All until a couple of days ago, he had decimated most of the clan, until Vernal had shut him down.
Of course, she'd promptly shut Vernal down right after, then Raven had done the same with Yang herself. Another of those stupid leadership things. Without her aura, she'd probably have had quite a few bruises by now, from all of Raven's teachings.
Yang thought about Took's suggestion for a moment before she shook her head. "No point. Grimm are grimm. With the number of people running through the caves, everyone is going to be racing to the fighting. A few people stealthing it up is just gonna slow us down. Won't help. Nice idea, though. Would have worked if it was any of the other clans that were raiding us."
Both Lumbar and Took nodded, as the three ran through the residential area in a decent stride. Not enough to exhaust them, but enough to make decent time. Yang figured it was best not to exhaust herself, or her allies, right before they all started fighting for their lives against an unknown number of opponents.
Raven had taught her, after all, that when she's up against too many unknowns, it was always best to take as many precautions as was feasible. They could always be dropped if deemed unnecessary, but any resource saved could be used in her favour at a later date. The damnable woman had downright drilled that particular lesson into her head.
Cutting through the connecting caves with little difficulty, Yang rounded up more and more people as her particular group made its way through Raven's encampment. Most of the clan recognised her authority at this point, and even the more bristled veterans that got uppity about her sudden thrust into a semi-leadership position knew well enough to let bygones be bygones in the middle of a major event. Even Shade, the asshole with the sleep semblance that kept trying to chat up her baby sister, knew better than to start shit in the middle of a fucking grimm invasion, as the guy merely gave her a silent nod and followed her lead.
When they reached the entrance to the cooking area, Yang had amassed well over ten bandits of varying caliber and skill. Lumbar, Took, and Shade were easily the most experienced of the lot beside herself, while the others were little more than grunts with cobbled-together arms and armaments.
She could hear the sounds of grimm echo throughout the caves, alongside the tell-tale cracks of high-powered dust weaponry. It was clear that they had reached their destination.
The cooking area was separated from the rest of the caves by a makeshift log gate, the same as the rest of the areas, and it had been sealed to prevent grimm from pushing deeper into the caverns. A standard operating procedure, really, one that barely changed from the more structured factions like Atlas and Shade, to the more casual ones like the Branwen Clan and other bandit groups.
Contain the threat, and kill the invaders as quickly as possible. Grimm were little more than savage animals, really, but even they knew to back down against a show of force. At least, the older ones did. Killing off the younger grimm would deter the elder and more experienced grimm from deciding to invade.
Supposedly. Raven had been teaching her all about the grimm. Damn strange creatures, as she'd learned. And Yang had certainly learned a lot more from Raven than she had from the likes of Professor Oobleck's history lessons or Professor Port's numerous retellings.
"We're here. Stick together and back each other up," Yang pepped her impromptu battalion of killers. "Young grimm are likely to charge in immediately in response to the threat, but the older ones may wait for a perceived weakness. Count your shots and don't get caught reloading. Make sure someone is covering for you. I don't want to have to tell Raven that her men and women are fucking cowards, okay?"
A resounding chorus of "Yes, boss!" answered her, and Yang smirked triumphantly. She clocked her gauntlets, subtly double-checking that all the dust cartridges were properly loaded and her spares were pepped for a quick combat reload.
Once she was done, Yang marched forwards and transmitted the electronic signal connected to the device that would open the gate. It had been one of the security measures Raven had implemented, which negated the sudden need for manpower to close the hefty gate at the time of a surprise attack.
When the device failed to respond, Yang found herself made aware that there were still times when manpower was required in the heat of battle.
And, there were also times when the need for manpower could be solved with high-explosive weaponry. She figured that Raven wouldn't mind. Probably.
"Door's busted, everyone! Be ready, I'll blast the door!" the bandits winced at her response, before settling into a rough formation. At their nod, Yang grinned and turned back to face the door.
With a swift activation of her semblance, in response to her ever-mounting stress, Yang's hair burst into flame as strength flooded her body. A harsh yell later and she was rocketing forward, her outstretched fist impacting the wooden barrier as her gauntlets ejected a shell of high explosive dust. The door was blown clean off its cobbled-together frame, lurching backward and falling against the ground below.
The stench of death greeted her, intermingling with the sordid decay of decomposing grimm, their musk flooding the cave and blacking the area, unable to properly dissipate in the cave system. Her gathered men and woman charged forward alongside Yang, as they rushed into battle.
The cooking setup was beyond immediate repair. The cooking fires had been stirred out of control and the supply tents were on fire themselves, the smoke intermingling and sucking away valuable air. With aura, Yang and the others would be able to easily avoid the smoke entering their lungs, but it would do nothing to prevent slow suffocation from occurring if they didn't replenish the air soon enough.
She could spot Weiss and Blake fighting together alongside a small company of bandits, the two members of Team RWBY, in particular, demonstrating why they were regarded as some of the stronger members in the Clan as they relentlessly tore through a pack of beowolves. Took, Lumbar, and Shade all followed beside Yang, while the rest of the bandits spread out in an attempt to cleanse the grimm.
Weiss and Blake looked to be in fighting spirit, working in unison as they fought to slay a geist that had merged with a freaking campfire of all things, the creature seemingly strong enough to have previously commanded a pack of beowolves into the camp. The beast looked like it was the cause of all the fire around the place, spewing out flames with every movement of its body. The grimm held considerable mass, standing at roughly ten meters tall and thus indicating to Yang that the geist held considerable age and was likely far more experienced than the rest of the grimm nearby.
Nodding towards Lumbar, the behemoth of a man allowed her to jump onto his hammer, using his impressive strength to support her form before quickly spinning and launching Yang forward and toward the campfire geist, as she ejected a shell of dust from her gauntlets in order to propel her momentum even further.
Weiss caught sight of Yang and recognised her momentum, further propelling Yang forward via a series of dark glyphs that appeared in mid-air, helping Yang subtly alter her trajectory. Blake was able to keep the grimm's attention on her by firing off a series of shots from her weapon, targeting the single lone crimson eye that appeared in the center of the campfire amalgamation. The grimm moved to defend its weakness using flaming limbs to block to shot, inadvertently allowing Yang to crash into the monster's flaming side and unleash a volley of semblance-enhanced shots.
One of the wonderful side effects of her semblance was that Yang was borderline fireproof, something that Rubes had taken advantage of time and time again during her numerous hours spent smelting down increasingly volatile components. At the time, Yang had considered it as little more than an excuse to help her sister.
Now, as she lay in the thick of a raging fire powered by a malevolent grimm, Yang realised that her resistance to high temperatures allowed for far more exploitation than merely helping her baby sister handle dangerous materials.
The impact from Yang's collision with the gigantic campfire geist sent the two of them rocketing off to the side, as her speed proved more than what the beast was capable of handling on its own. The two of the crashed into a nearby tent, one of the larger dining tents, and the thick canvas material was quickly torn apart by the sudden impact. Flames quickly engulfed the material, and Yang soon found herself running low on air all of a sudden.
Weiss Schnee was quick to respond to the sudden change in battle, as a wall of ice quickly grew around Yang and the grimm, sectioning off the increasingly wilder flames from the rest of the area.
"Yang, quickly! Get out of there!"
A ribbon from Gambol Shroud, Blake's weapon that she only just now remembered the name of, was thrust in her direction and Yang failed to hesitate to grab the weapon, as Blake quickly pulled her out of the way. She landed beside both Blake and Weiss, the latter of the two standing tall with her rapier extended forward and glyphs all around her.
Dustcasting. Aided by her semblance, Yang could easily see why the Schnee family was infamous in the eyes of the Branwen Clan for their versatility on the battlefield. From all the stories she had heard from years past, each and every member of the Schnee family that developed the semblance had carved through assassins and cut-throats with little difficulty, almost to the point of developing a reputation in the underworld similar to that of the notorious Summer Rose.
Now, given her time spent training in Atlas following the events of the Vytal Festival Tournament, it was clear that Weiss Schnee had grown leaps and bounds beyond her time as a Beacon Academy student.
Shards of ice dust continued to be consumed as Weiss constantly channeled the material into her casting, using her semblance to project the dust and constantly grow the wall around the campfire geist.
"Yang! Blake! Beowolves!" Weiss yelled out. Blake and Yang looked towards each other, before nodding as they darted off on opposing sides, both of the girls racing towards a group of grimm that charged towards them.
Blake leaped forwards, using sacrificial charges from her semblances to constantly disappear and reappear closer and closer to the grimm horde before the faunus impacted the closest grimm. She slid underneath the beowolf as it reached down to slash at her, extending her weapon and carving the beast right down its belly. Blake activated her semblance once more, appearing beside the grimm closest to her original target, and that was right about the time when Yang lost sight of the faunus.
However, she could hear the roars of pain from the grimm even over the sounds of gunfire and battle emanating from the rest of the camp as they fought off the grimm. It was clear that Blake would have no hassle in dealing with the beasts. And that was all she needed to know.
Yang narrowly ducked a harsh swipe of a beowolf's claws, retaliating with a dust-enhanced uppercut and shattering the grimm's jaw. She used the smoke generated by the grimm's death to hide her movements, as she fired off a volley of shells toward the nearest grimm.
One of the larger grimm was able to avoid her shots, howling fiercely and charging straight at her. Yang grinned to herself, standing her ground and speed-loading her gauntlets with a flick of her wrists. As the beast approached Yang, she completed her reload. Rage flooded her gut as her mind thought back to the Knight of the White Rose and Kirakishou, and Yang felt her hair ignite once again. With a harsh yell, she rocketed forwards and met the grimm head-on. A dust-enhanced strike to the grimm's chest was met with a frenzied bite into her shoulder, as her aura flared ever brighter in response to the pain.
Yang shouldered on, firing off shot after shot until the beast could no longer hold onto her shoulder. A roar, tearing out of her own throat, signaled the peak of Yang's strength as she carved right through the beast's midsection. The beast faded away, and she smirked victoriously.
A beat later and she was racing back to Weiss Schnee. Blake was already there, and the faunus shot her an amused look.
"...Still like getting up close and personal, huh?"
Yang chuckled, as she felt her semblance calm down. "Perhaps a little bit. Can't blame a girl for wanting to vent on occasion, and the grimm make decent enough targets."
"Is your shoulder alright, though? I saw that last hit. Looked like it got you pretty deep."
She merely angled her body to the side a little, showing off a ruined top that displayed unmarred flesh. "My aura isn't so weak as to fade from a single hit like that, you know. After our fight with that projection of Ruby in the N-Field, I thought you'd realise I can take a hit or two."
Blake frowned, before shaking her head. "It doesn't matter. Weiss is almost done. It's strange, though."
She blinked, confused. "What's strange?"
"...These grimm. They're behaving weirdly. A huge force of them raced toward the camp, completely out of the blue. Without reason or purpose. Everything was fine before they arrived. No tension, no stress. Yet they arrived, anyway. And the way they fight. It's different, compared to other grimm that I've faced before. It's like they have no survival instinct."
As if on cue, a solid THUD was heard as the campfire geist continued to bash and strike against the wall. No. Dome. Weiss had completely encased the ruined tent in ice, from floor to cave ceiling.
Blake's uncomfortable musings aside, she could clearly see what Weiss what aiming to do with her dustcasting.
"...So, that's her plan, then."
Weiss chuckled weakly from the side, even as glyphs continued to spin around her.
Blake took the chance to respond in lieu of the heiress. "Oxygen deprivation may not be a viable strategy against the grimm in general, but, it is most certainly effective against a geist that has incorporated flame into its body."
It was honestly rather terrifying, Vernal thought, as she watched Ruby Rose cleave through grimm with reckless abandon, swinging her huge fuck-off greatsword like the thing weighed as much as a damn stick. Just what in the world were they feeding her?!
Oh, no. She didn't need to know that. After all, Vernal knew the truth. She knew that Ruby Rose was different, that Atlas had a damned good reason for putting a price on her pretty little head.
And, as Ruby Rose's silver flames inadvertently activated for the third time since she had met up with the girl, Vernal once again witnessed to an ability that never failed to terrify both bandit and trained professional alike.
The grimm were turned to stone, yes, but so too was anything organic. And, as Vernal had learned quite early on in her career as a Branwen Clan bandit, humans and faunus were made up of something other than sparkles and friendship. Considering the sheer size of the price on Ruby Rose's head as issued by the Kingdom of Atlas, some upper-ranking members of the Atlesian military had likely figured out the potential of Ruby Rose's wayward semblance and sought to eradicate it before the worst occurred.
A curse that could spread. A flame that could turn grimm, humankind, and faunuskind to stone. It was truly the be-all, end-all of semblances. The one with the most potential for devastation, the one that could grow unhindered until it swallowed the world.
And, until recently, Ruby Rose had been traveling beside one with a similar capability.
Raven Branwen did not know much about her, or at the very least she didn't deem Vernal worthy enough to share the information about her, but Vernal had been in the Branwen Clan enough to piece things together on her own. And, it was something of a piece of cake to determine that the Rozen Maiden that had swept the world recently, bonding to Raven's very own daughter Yang, were connected to Yang's baby sister Ruby Rose.
She had put the pieces together. Spied on the Rozen Maiden a couple of times. Heard a few things. Vernal had always been good at gathering information that most people would prefer never to see the light of day. It was how she came to be a part of the Branwen Clan, after all. And, through her unique skill set, she had discovered that the Rozen Maiden were a group of seven magically animated dolls and that Kirakishou was their youngest sister.
Now, Yang Xiao-Long, daughter of Raven Branwen, was contracted to one of the Rozen Maiden. Suigintou was her name, the bitchy silver-haired doll with black wings and a horrible attitude. And the Rozen Maiden fought in something known as the 'Alice Game', where Kirakishou was currently the main threat. And, up until recently, Ruby Rose had been contracted to Kirakishou in the same way that Yang Xiao-Long was contracted to Suigintou.
Kirakishou had destroyed Vale. Over seven hundred thousand people had been presumed dead. While Vernal personally knew that the missing people were in fact trapped in something known as the 'N-Field', a sort of mental world one went to when they slept, the majority of the world believed those seven hundred thousand to be dead by Kirakishou's and Ruby's hands.
And, if word got out that Ruby Rose had developed a semblance that could eradicate the world in a single all-consuming blaze, the nations of the world would do everything in their power to end the threat before it was realised. It would be all-out war. It was something of a miracle that only Atlas had seemingly realised the threat, and had yet to alert the rest of the world to it. For some reason.
Ruby Rose was smart to have argued for Vernal's silence. Though, not smart enough to have known that Vernal would have stayed silent anyway, as the ramifications of revealing her semblance to the world were far too much for one small tribe of bandits to handle. She doubted that even Raven Branwen, mighty as she may be and possessing magical powers beyond that of which Vernal has ever seen, would have a chance in combating a unified Remnant.
She'd still told Raven about it, of course, because there was no amount of blackmail or threats in the world that could force Vernal to hide information of such significance from Raven Branwen.
Although, judging by the look that Ruby had given her when Vernal had overseen the use of her powers for the first time, the little girl had struck her as the type to take matters into her own hands and leave no witnesses. Honestly, she didn't know what Yang saw in the girl. Behind all of her sweetness and adorable bumbling as she constructed her weapon, there was a dangerous intelligence. One that did not care for her. One that didn't see her as a person, more a path to be paved.
She could see it in Ruby Rose, in her eyes, as she tore through grimm after grimm. That expression on her face. It had been the same look that she gave each and every one of the people she spoke to in the Branwen Clan, besides her teammates. An entirely unsympathetic gaze, the look one would give to an insect or a pest.
Ruby Rose did not sympathise with the Branwen Clan. No. It was quite the opposite, in fact. She actively despised their very existence, with the very same rationality as how huntsmen and huntresses despised the grimm. No wonder that her aura had given rise to a semblance capable of eradicating both without distinction.
It was only fitting, after all. Like something out of a twisted fairytale.
Yet, Ruby Rose had assured her that her semblance was different. That it had changed. Where, once upon a time, before the Rozen Maiden, her semblance had been a speed semblance that generated petals. Now, however, she had access to more.
There would have been a time when Vernal would have thought such a statement to be nothing but an impossibility. Semblances didn't change. The soul could provide but a single semblance. A single semblance to protect a single soul. That was just how the world worked. Everybody knew that.
And then Raven had come along, speaking of magic. And then she had turned into a bird. And then she had displayed the powers of one of the Four Maidens out of a literal children's fairytale. THEN she had displayed her semblance.
So, Vernal was a tad bit more open to the idea than most folk. However, she also knew that people who held more than a single basic semblance were connected to some deep shit. Shit that was dangerous to the Clan. And nothing was more dangerous to the Clan than the former contractor of Kirakishou developing her own uniquely broken semblance capable of wiping out all life on Remnant, for good or for worse.
Therefore, Vernal could understand exactly why Raven had commanded her to watch over Ruby Rose. It was not to protect the girl or anything like that, it was to protect the rest of the clan from the adversary that was Ruby Rose.
She had seen the look in Raven's eyes when she had informed the woman about Ruby's new ability. Fear. Fear and recognition. Vernal didn't precisely know how the Branwen Clan leader was familiar with a semblance that could end the world, nor did she want to know. Some things just weren't worth the cost of knowing them.
Vernal knew her part, and that was all she would do. Dancing on the strings of another was far easier than standing alone.
"We're losing ground in the east," Vernal shouted out to the red-hooded girl, and no sooner than she had uttered the words was Ruby Rose flying in that direction, a cloud of silver petals trailing in her wake.
Ruby Rose rematerialised beside a horde of centinel grimm that had dug through the ground to reach the residential district. The centipede-like beasts were devastating in a cave system, purposefully burrowing into walls and ceilings to weaken the structures, applying their acid spit to further decay structures. Already most of the district would need to be moved to another area of the caves. At this point, it was more a fight to escape the district than it was to defend it from the grimm.
Vernal didn't understand. Why had the grimm suddenly attacked with such force? Tensions weren't high in the cap, even with the addition of the Rozen Maiden and Team RWBY. Raven had done her part to whip the crew into shape, and to settle disputes in the ring. So why were the grimm fighting with such reckless abandon?
Why were there so many of them?
To the likes of Ruby Rose, the greatsword-clad little girl appeared to care little for such questions at the moment. Instead, she was ripping into the centinels with reckless abandon, swinging her great blade from side to side with remarkable precision for a self-confessed newcomer to greatsword weaponry. The girl was either something of a natural, or, dare she admit it aloud, a prodigy.
Vernal and the rest of her gathered men and women offered their support whenever they could, but they were essentially sidelined by the overwhelming force of Ruby Rose.
Once again, silver flames erupted from her greatsword and extended forth from the blade in chaotic swirls of silver energy. The sentinels attempted to fire a barrage of acid spit at the sudden wave of fire, only for their spit to be completely enveloped by the flame as it surged forward completely unrestrained and utterly unhindered. Grimm, moss, and the tattered remnants of their campsites were all consumed by the flames, leaving unmoving stone statues in their wake.
For a brief moment, it was quiet. The remaining grimm had witnessed the display and, in a moment that would likely haunt her thoughts for years to come, fled.
Grimm didn't flee. Especially not these grimm, that had seemed more than willing to charge into certain death time and time again.
And, yet, they did for her.
Ruby Rose chuckled awkwardly, sheathing her greatsword on her back sheath in a casual display of her impressive strength, before proceeding to rub the back of her head when she noticed everyone staring at her.
"Uhh… I guess we should move on to the next section, huh?"
Vernal stared. She exchanged a few glances with some of her brethren, several of which looked rather worried about the silver flames all over the place. None of them dared to say a word, knowing the potential price of speaking out of line in front of a girl that was more than willing to end their lives in an excruciatingly painful manner.
"...Yes. Come on. This way."
Leading Ruby Rose through the tunnel system was similar to escorting an experimental high-yield explosive device through enemy territory, watching and waiting for the moment that it would blow them all to shit and kill both friend and foe alike. With the tight spaces offered by the connecting caves, Ruby's own weapon proved far too large to be wielded with any efficiency, so the young girl was forced to rely on a small sword she had happily pilfered from a long-dead bandit that had clearly met the wrong end of a boarbatusk.
And still, her flames continued to sporadically appear in the heat of battle, forcing Vernal and her crew to keep a fair distance away from the girl lest they test out her theory regarding organic petrification.
Considering Ruby's own self-confessed inexperience with bladed weapons outside her original weapon, her rate of development was quite frankly astonishing. During the short span of their time together during the grimm raid, Ruby Rose had already developed something resembling a style that Vernal could recognise.
From what Vernal had been able to identify, their flame-wielding maniac appeared to prefer using the intrinsic bulk of her greatsword to carry her momentum. Oftentimes, Vernal had spotted Ruby aiming for downward slashes that would heft her body higher up into the air, using her silver petal burst ability to rapidly reorient her positioning and shift to a new opponent. And, when the need struck her, Ruby proved more than capable of hefting the oversized blade with her own strength, seeming to prefer to overpower her opponent in terms of strength while utilising bursts of speed as a supplementary ability.
In the confined spaces of the connecting cave system, Ruby Rose allowed her speed to flourish, opting to blitz through opponents with her petal burst ability. In many of their skirmishes, Ruby would appear up close and personal with many a grimm, seeming to have no difficulty in choosing close-quarters combat. Which, considering her supposed ineptitude with weaponry, was an instinctual response that was simply not present in Ruby Rose. She was confident in her abilities. Overwhelmingly so.
It was… oddly inspiring, in a twisted sort of way. Seeing her on their side, fighting and slaughtering the grimm with reckless abandon, made her feel secure. Secure, at least, from the grimm. Provided that Ruby had an avenue to vent her frustration, Vernal and her ilk were seemingly spared from any potential hassles save for the occasional bout of world-ending flame. Even if they all feared Ruby's potential and her overwhelmingly apparent yearning for their death, Verbal and her group were all easily capable of falling in line with the girl if only to save their own skin. To be frank, the whole scenario reminded her of when she had joined up with Raven. A sort of fearful admiration.
...Fuck. She just realised. Her little secret with Ruby Rose and her hidden semblance was all but ruined now, huh? There were too many witnesses. She couldn't even begin to imagine how the girl would take it when she realised that her development couldn't be hidden from her team anymore.
"Oh! I recognise this walkway! This leads up to the kitchens, right?" Ruby darted over to her side, walking side by side with Vernal as she fought to get her heart rate back under control.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could spot several of the bandits walking around the group shifting, as if they couldn't decide whether to give Ruby a wide berth or stick close by for protection against the grimm.
"Uh, yeah," Vernal gave the girl one of her lamest responses, grimacing a bit as she felt Ruby's annoyance, displayed solely through a slight tensing of her posture. "From what it sounded like, a majority of the grimm are concentrated there," she hurriedly added. "Raven is busy outside fighting off the rest of the larger grimm before they can destroy the main entrance to the cave."
Ruby gave a low grumble of annoyance, which was more than enough to the hairs on the back of Vernal's neck stand on end. "You know, I'm not stupid. I can tell that you don't like me."
Her blood turned to ice in an instant, as her heart violently lurched in her chest. Amidst all the smoke and decomposing grimm matter, intermingling with the stench of death, the last thing Vernal wanted was to see the sight of Ruby Rose glaring at her.
"I-I don't know what you're talking about," Vernal cursed her stutter and the knowing look that Ruby sent her in response.
"Don't bother denying it. You have the same look that Yang had when I first woke up in Atlas. Like you don't know how to respond around me. And, look, it's fine. You don't have to like me. I don't plan on staying here any longer than I have to."
Vernal expertly prevented herself from displaying her mounting confusion. From the brief times she had seen Yang and Ruby interact, she'd thought that their interactions were plenty normal. If anything, she would have said that Yang was perhaps a bit too doting on her sister. Though, she supposed that even a friendly face wouldn't be enough to prevent someone from aiming to desert a people they despised so deeply as Ruby despised the bandits of the Branwen Clan.
"...If you're sure," Vernal hesitantly deferred, cringing uncomfortably as the young killer continued to stare at her with those eerie-looking silver eyes. "It's nothing personal. It's just… we can tell that you're not that comfortable living among the Branwen Clan."
"Good, then we're settled," Ruby nodded. "And, I expect you to teach the rest of the people that have seen my flames the benefits of discrepancy if you know what I'm saying."
Vernal had no doubt in her mind that if she declined Ruby's request that the girl would slaughter them all in order to hide her secret semblance.
And, judging by the expressions surfacing all around her, the rest of the men and women had all reached the same conclusion.
"Of course. They know not to say anything."
Ruby attempted a smile. It didn't reach her eyes. Vernal knew that, inadvertently, Ruby's secret would be let out. There were simply too many witnesses. What, then, would happen to Vernal?
"Then let's get moving. Are we close?"
As if to answer her question, a sudden roar echoed throughout the caves. A twisted roar that was unmistakably grimm in nature yet completely unfamiliar to Vernal's limited knowledge regarding grimm species. Whatever it was proved enough to temporarily silence the caves in the wake of such a roar before the sound of frantic gunfire ripped through the silence.
And Ruby moved.
Then, and only then, did Vernal allow herself to breathe normally.
Twisting through the cave systems like a woman possessed, Ruby Rose felt her blood singing for destruction, craving the end of such a beast of dark that would dare approach her domain. Silver petals blurred in her wake and for once, Ruby Rose did not care for their colour.
In fact, she enjoyed the sight. The same colour as her eyes. Strong. A powerful force. She had seen the expressions on the faces of Vernal's crew as they witnessed her silver abilities and watched as grimm were forcibly petrified. It was beautiful.
And, now, she wished to do the same to the creature that had caused her to fear. The beast that had caused her to worry over the lives of her allies.
She… she didn't know how, but Ruby could tell that Yang was near that creature. She could tell that Yang was injured. And, despite Yang seemingly doing everything in her fucking power to make Ruby loathe her current environment, Yang was still her sister. After Summer Rose had disapp.. had died, Yang had been the one to try and fulfill that role, even if Ruby hadn't ever wanted Yang to do such a thing. She had done it anyway.
And she had to… she had to kill that creature before it killed Yang.
Speeding through the caves, silver petals burnt to ash and flames followed right after. Grimm and bandit alike lay ahead, and Ruby Rose did not falter. She continued moving faster, faster, onwards, without hesitating as her power rendered such obstacles moot. Statues of fallen foes were carved and broken as they collapsed under her great speed.
She approached a passageway and the walls stretched outwards. The shoddy remains of a wooden wall briefly greeted her, before they too fell victim to her mighty silver flames.
In the distance, she could see it. A beast of dark, a grimm, that had seemingly melded with a great inferno. Swathes of slain bandits lay charred and immolated amidst the cave floor as smoke wafted across the ceiling, trying and failing to find any kind of escape as the air continued to thicken ever further. Weiss and Blake were among the few still standing, the Schnee attempting to conjure some form of glyph using her semblance while Blake supported her, but it was clear that the increasing lack of air was getting to them.
Yang Xiao-Long was there, too. Her hair shone brightly in the telltale sign of her semblance as she relentlessly fought a beast that had grown far beyond any grimm that she could remember her sister ever fighting in the past. So deep into her semblance, she doubted that Yang would ever notice the rapidly dwindling supply of available air in the cave until unconsciousness stole her away.
...She knew what would happen if she left her tent to pursue the grimm. Her semblance would activate and her secret silver flames would be revealed. Ruby could only hope that her team took the surprise well.
With a dash of speed and a blur of action, Ruby Rose tore through the grimm with a singular slash of her oversized greatsword across the exposed torso of the beast. The grimm, which Ruby had quickly identified as an Alpha Geist, stared down at her for a brief moment, before a violent screech shook the cave and signaled its impending petrification.
"...Ruby? Is that you?"
She turned to her team, Yang especially, and grinned.
"We should probably get out of here before the smoke cuts away all the air. Come on!"
She ran. Her team followed.