Hello everyone, I am back with another chapter.
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Chapter 4: Last Contact
Location: Abandoned SDC Mine, Main Hive Cluster
Ceres is in a secluded chamber within the Main Lair, small enough for his own preference and large enough to conduct his experiments. In front of him is a single male human placed in a psionic induced coma and held in place by fleshly tube-like restraint growing from the very ground.
Today marks the ninth day and the end of the eight-day blizzard. It has also been eight days since Ceres made contact with the very first group of humans of this world, and since then he has been occupied between extracting information from each of the captured humans, experimenting with said humans, and overseeing the growth of his Brood.
Over the past week, Ceres's Brood grew, replacing the numbers lost, extracting the Dust minerals from the mines, and keeping a look out for any more humans or other denizens of this world. At the current rate, he will be able to morph his Lair into a fully grown Hive by next week, taking another crucial step towards his overall plan to return to the Swarm.
Ceres's eyes glowed as he psionically shifted through the unconscious human's mind, seeing the memories of this human named Harold Gold. Ceres is meticulously, methodically, and thoroughly extracting any useful or unique information that this particular mind might hold and simultaneously cross-referencing with the information of the last eight humans and Faunus Ceres already went through in the past eight days.
From the eight previous minds he used for information; Ceres has a good understanding of this world called Remnant.
Humanity, the Faunus, the Grimm, Aura, the Huntsmen, the Huntsmen Academies, and most importantly the four kingdoms that make up most of humanity.
Despite what the Terrans or other non-psionics may believe, searching and extracting an individual's entire life span of memories is a delicate and exceptionally long process, especially when it comes to the fragile minds of humans.
The difficulty of reading past memories is unlike telepathically reading one's surface thoughts. Memories are something much more hidden and dormant depending on how much time a memory has passed. Recent memories are much more clear to see and easier to obtain, but as one searches through older and less 'used' memories those become more… diluted depending on the individual.
Then there are forgotten and repressed memories, those are a simple matter of finding and restoring. But such a method will often have negative results for the individual involved, especially if they are awake and aware.
Also, the simple fact that if one were to search through the entire memory bank of any aged individual like Ceres is currently doing, then the length of time varies depending on the age of the individual. It's the equivalent of a normal human reading through an entire library's worth of titleless books, not knowing where any useful information may be held.
Even for a psionic being of his caliber, Ceres must take the necessary preparations if he wants to yield as much information from a human mind as possible. If this were any other situation it would take mere seconds to find key information he needs to understand about this world and its denizens from these unprotected minds.
However, Ceres's current situation is anything but usual. He's on an unknown world with a completely different humanity compared to the Terrans he is familiar with. Ceres not only want information about the very world he is stranded on, but also how this humanity functions on this world, their social norms, how these humans treat other humans, how they raise their offsprings, how they feel when faced against an unknown creature, and most importantly how they react to unknown entities.
Ceres wanted to know humanity and their norms to better understand how to approach humans of this world. Hence why he's taking the necessary time and effort to scour the minds of those he captured. To know one's enemies is the first step to defeating them, something he learned and eventually imparted onto his Queen as one of many lessons about vision.
However, such information even with Ceres's own mastery over his own psionics takes a good portion of a day in order to completely scour a single mind, hence why he only managed to completely read through eight minds in the past eight days in order to collect a reliable collection of information.
To Ceres, the Terrans of the Koprulu Sector are unlike both the Zerg and the Protoss. Each individual Terran is unique, raised through different or similar means, diverse and indistinguishable when it comes to the individual's beliefs and morals of war/violence. If the humans of this world are anything like the Terrans of the Koprulu sector in terms of diverse beliefs and use of force, then Ceres must know if humanity will eventually become a threat to him and his Brood.
Such as the case with these humans, Faunus, Huntsmen, and soldiers who were exiled from their homes and branded as criminals in the eyes of the wider human society. Or at least, one settlement of humans.
Ceres's eyes dimmed as he finished scouring the mind of the human in front of him. Taking a moment of respite he started reviewing all the important information he gathered so far. And so far the information he collected was both vast and incredibly valuable.
The power these humans and Faunus have called 'Aura' intrigued Ceres. The ability to utilize their very souls as a weapon.
From what Ceres learned; Aura remains 'locked' within Humans, Faunus, and even animals until either 'unlocked' by itself or by an individual who already has their Aura released.
Aura has multiple functions but is categorized into two different parts, the first is that Aura can be used almost passively as a defensive barrier that protects the user from any and all attacks short of overwhelming power as well as grant it's user enhanced physical capabilities to superhuman levels such as enhanced regeneration, superior strength, and superior agility.
Ceres saw how these exiles, both human and Faunus, were able to survive attacks that would normally cripple or even kill Terran Marines in full CMC power armor. The concept and utilization of Aura by these exiles explained just how this group lasted as long as they did and even killed many of his Zerg during the night of the attack.
These users of Aura are then trained to be elite warriors amongst their civilizations called Huntsmen. If the one named Gunnar Gratt, who alone killed dozens of his Zerg and a experienced Huntsman amongst the exiles, was any indication of the capabilities of a single Huntsmen, then entire groups are not to be underestimated.
However, Aura is not a lasting nor it is a perfect defense. If the user takes enough damage both in a overwhelming scale or on a constant basis, then their Aura will eventually break and leave them vulnerable. Though Aura protects the user from physical harm, it does not protect their users from other forms of attacks, such as visionary attacks, auditory harm, and most importantly does not protect the mind from illusions.
Fortunately, Ceres has more than enough experience with the Protoss to deal with these Huntsmen or any users of Aura. After all, these Huntsmen are trained warriors with an innate barrier-like ability, much like the Protoss in that sense.
However, Aura also grants their users another hidden ability that Ceres is most cautious about. A unique ability called a 'Semblance'.
A Semblance, as Ceres learned, is unique and varied between each Aura user, predominantly seen in Huntsmen. Semblances are often undiscovered; many Huntsmen would discover their Semblance later in their lives and career and can range from a unique non-combat passive ability or an active ability used catered to combat.
Ceres looked over to the restrained human. Harold Gold has a semblance that allows him to temporarily blind his targets for but a few seconds, limited only by range and number of targets that are within his direct sight.
Such a semblance would be considered an active combat ability, useful in facing single or multiple opponents.
Unfortunately for Harold Gold, he cannot blind the Zerg as Ceres watched through a recent memory of him being mauled and dragged towards the mine by Hydralisks. The human tried to blind the Zerg in front of him, but the Hydralisks not only can rely on other senses but can also receive visual aid from other surrounding Zerg units through the shared Hive Mind.
In short, Harold Gold's semblance was useless against the Zerg.
However, semblances are often unique or similar between each Huntsmen, what's not to say there is a Huntsman with a semblance that can resist or worse nullify the psionic Hive Mind of Ceres's Brood? A semblance that can resist and fight back against Ceres's own psionics? A semblance that can instantly kill his Zerg no matter how strong? A semblance that can turn his own Zerg against him?
Ceres will have to make contingency plans against such semblances. Just one of the many factors that he and his Zerg will not fall against if encountered.
One such contingency was to see if these exiles could unlock the Aura within his Zerg. Two days ago he tested this theory and had a psionically controlled exile go through the steps to unlock the Aura of a Zergling.
Results failed, nothing happened after twenty tries with different exiles and Zerg units.
He then tried it on himself. Also a failure.
He then tested it on one of the captured children, one that did not have their Aura unlocked to see if it works. The results were a success on the first try, the child was wreathed in an Aura barrier, signifying that the ceremony, as well as the entire procedure, was done correctly.
Since that day Ceres pondered as to why he and his own Zerg failed to receive Aura?
Did they not have souls? An impossibility, Ceres knows his soul and very being is real. Was it biology or a evolutionary trait of this world's humanity and Faunus? A possibility but Ceres detected and examined no differences between this world's humanity and the Terrans, even the Faunus with their animalistic differences are almost naturally the same as humans.
Whatever the reason was, Ceres does not know, which concerns him since this world's denizens may have abilities that could be a threat to Ceres and his Brood. However, it was not a total loss as Ceres discovered that using the same psionic senses to detect hidden life forms he could visibly see and detect aura, even through certain layers of cover.
Such discovery will be a great advantage for Ceres and his Brood.
Ceres focused on his next topic of concern. The four major Kingdoms that comprises most of humanity's and Faunus's population, Atlas, Vale, Mistral, and Vacuo.
To Ceres the kingdoms act more like cities rather then continent-spanning civilizations depicted by the humans and Faunus Ceres collected the information from. Each of these kingdoms is located on different regions around the world, each with their own cultures, histories and politics that Ceres found both interesting and unimportant. Though the Kingdoms hold reign over large swaths of land, in reality the Grimm dominate said land and kept humanity and the Faunus in their kingdoms and villages.
However, what each of these Kingdoms have in common is their political leadership, an elected council of men and women that oversees the functions of their respective kingdoms as well as deciding/voting on any important decisions on behalf of their kingdom.
Ceres already saw the flaws and weaknesses surrounding these councils. It wouldn't be a surprise to Ceres if any of these councils are filled with corrupt or selfish individuals, the Terrans proved that point clear with Mengsk and all those who kept him in power after he betrayed his Queen and created the Dominion.
Even the Protoss. The Conclave's incompetency nearly drove their race to extinction during the Great War. Letting their so-called pride blind their judgment and rationality.
Fortunate for Ceres and his creator the Overmind at the time as it made it all the easier to invade Aiur and protect his Queen when she was in her chrysalis.
However, Ceres will not judge an entire race on the actions of the few in power. James Raynor, Artanis, and even his Queen have shown Ceres just how much can be achieved if there are those willing to seek and fight for what they believe in.
James Raynor. Fought against the tyranny and oppression of Mengsk, but that did not sway him away from those who needed his help. He helped all those he could, both human, Protoss, and even the Zerg.
Through his mercy and sacrifice, many rallied to his side, to repay the lone human for all he has done for them. Even Ceres.
If not for his mercy, Ceres would have never reunited with his Queen and to the Zerg Swarm. If not for his efforts, his Queen would've died at the hands of a corrupt tyrant they both hate.
Such a debt that Ceres to this day has not repaid and may never will.
Artanis. Holds the responsibility of an entire race on his shoulders. Uniting his people despite centuries of grudges and differences, believing that all Protoss unified as one can achieve great heights.
Many called him foolish, Ceres included. But Artanis achieved his goals in the end, despite the loss of life and despite the opposition he faced, Artanis held his word and honored all those who followed him as his equals.
Ceres no longer calls him foolish.
Lastly, Sarah Kerrigan. A human that was betrayed and turned by the will of the Overmind, to be his greatest creation amongst the Zerg. Ceres was created with the sole purpose of acting as her guardian, a role that he took to with every fiber of his being.
Ceres defended his Queen, at first simply lashing out at any of those who dared come to harm his Queen. But with every battle, Ceres began to learn from his enemies, their tactics, their strategies, their weapons, their capabilities and how to utilize the Zerg against such foes.
By the time his Queen emerged from her chrysalis Ceres learned and mastered the concept he called 'Vision'. With Vision he became a force to be reckoned with. With Vision he was able to overwhelm the Terrans and Protoss, slaughter their armies and bring ruin to their bases.
But when his Queen emerged from her chrysalis and asked for him to continue his role as her guardian, Ceres knew that day he will forever serve her as long as she has need of him.
Even to his death and his resurrection by Narud's foul experiments, Ceres remained loyal to the very being he was created to guard over.
And his Queen rescued him, changed but all the more powerful.
Ceres did not care, his Queen rescued him, lead the Swarm to greater heights, and even brought death to a Dark God.
But in the end, after it was all done, his Queen disappeared. Leaving him with her final order that Ceres still vividly remembers.
'The Swarm is yours. Be it's loyal guardian, as you have always been to me.'
Ceres shook the memory out of his mind. He distracted himself from the topic at hand.
The Kingdom of Atlas. Among the four kingdoms, Atlas is the only kingdom that Ceres sees as an immediate threat.
Atlas self-declared itself as the world's most advanced Kingdom with the most powerful standing military. From what information Ceres collected this reputation is shared by the three other kingdoms. Atlas itself is a flying city held aloft by propulsion technology and protected by their military fleet of Atlesian Airships, companies of trained soldiers, armies of battle drones they called Knights, and squads of highly trained officers called Specialists.
Atlas is located far down south of the continent just miles from the coast where coastal outposts guards the kingdom against any outside invaders. The kingdom is a immediate concern to Ceres because of the simple fact that his Hive Cluster is in the same continent as the floating city and only several hundred kilometers from the kingdom itself and a mere 500 kilometers to the nearest Atlas owned outpost.
Atlas's combat capabilities is a considerable threat compared to Ceres's current forces. They have a sizable air fleet, an army of soldiers and autonomous Drones, their own variation of elite Huntsmen called Specialists, and enough weapons and vehicles of war to level his Hive.
Ceres cannot hope to face Atlas directly with only a small brood of Zerglings, Hydralisks, Banelings, and Roaches. Ceres has yet to make any Mutalisks on his own precautions to hide the location of his Hive Cluster. Even then the Atlesian Fleet will no doubt have air superiority over his Zerg at the moment.
His current advantage is anonymity. The kingdom and their military is most likely unaware of Ceres's presence, their lack of presence the past week and a half attributes to such. The exiles Ceres captured are also a non-factor to alerting Atlas, they have a reputation of evading Atlas soldiers and setting up surprise raids on the kingdom's supply routes. Atlas does not know about the exiles' demise at his hands, something Ceres is confident of.
While their technology is innovative and effective, they are still technologically inferior compared to the Terrans. One of which is despite having an entire fleet of airships and lifting their very city from the ground, they have yet left their own planet or even launched a single functioning satellite in orbit.
After compiling through the collected information about Atlas, Ceres can see three major weaknesses Ceres can use to his advantage.
Their communication technology, orbital superiority, and the city of Mantle.
Their communication technology is primitive, most likely due to the lack of satellites and other orbital communication platforms. Atlas instead created large communication towers for each of the four kingdoms they named Cross Continental Transmit System. These towers allowed for worldwide communication between each of the four Kingdoms as part of a peace treaty. Each of the four towers uses radio technology to transmit all forms of communication between each of the Kingdoms as well as provide basic electronic communication between individuals through the use of personal devices called Scrolls. Unfortunately, none of the exiles carried such a device, the reason behind this is the Atlas military's control over the CTT, able to track any and all scrolls using the communications tower.
This is the only form of communication humanity and the Faunus currently have. In the event where any one of the towers is disabled or destroyed, then long range communication between Kingdoms will be silenced.
Ceres can use this if forced into a war. Humanity's and Faunus's main source of communication is radio waves and tied to these singular sources already gives Ceres a significant advantage against Atlas and the other three kingdoms. Radio communication can be easily tapped into and even silenced with psionics powerful enough to do so and if needed Ceres can destroy Atlas's CTT and cut its communication from the other Kingdoms as well as the entire kingdom itself.
It appears Ceres has another task for his Overseers if the situation ever calls for them.
The second weakness is more of a potential advantage. Orbital superiority.
All of Remnant has no presence in space as they do not have the means to leave their planet successfully. The space around Remnant is uncontested free territory for Ceres to take.
Once Ceres has the capability, he will establish his main forces in orbit, untouchable by any of the denizens of Remnant, calling in reinforcements when needed, and attack any threats from an impossible angle. However, it will take some time before Ceres can create a Leviathan and even more time to create enough to cover the entirety of this world.
The time needed to collect enough resources to create his first Leviathan could be a couple of months and by then it will be estimated another month for the Leviathan to fully hatch. This is considering if he can keep his Brood hidden from Atlas and nothing else interferes with his plans.
But Ceres did not fight wars and battles for this long by being short-sighted, he must make every precaution and preparations to deal with any and all possible threats. Especially with the information he knows now.
Which brings him to the third glaring vulnerability of the kingdom of Atlas. The city of Mantle.
Below the floating city/fortress is the commonly forgotten city of Mantle, what use to be the original capital of the kingdom is now a dilapidated city that contains more than half of the kingdom's entire population as well as all the kingdom's manufacturing factories and Dust refineries.
All nine minds showed Mantle as a dilapidated city. Eight out of the nine exiles Ceres used lived most of their early life in the city itself. A defensive wall surrounds the city but the wall itself is in a constant state of disrepair with only a minimum amount of maintenance and resources are contributed to keeping the wall standing. But even with a wall, there are still holes, both figuratively and literally, in the defenses for the Grimm to rush through and attack the city itself. None of the attacking Grimm are in large enough numbers to be an actual threat but still shows the lack of attention and care for the city's only notable defense.
Overall Mantle is but a shadow underneath Atlas, barely maintained and mostly used as a means to harvest resources and other materials for the floating city, it's military, and it's corporations. A large portion of those who dwell in Mantle lives on the border of poverty with the threat of death every day while those above them live in luxury and safety.
To Ceres, there is a clear division between the denizens of Mantle and those of Atlas's higher hierarchy. That is what all nine minds showed Ceres in their biased views supported by their experiences and lifetime of hardship and struggle surviving in Mantle. Such views have their uses to show Ceres the side the so-called 'Greatest Kingdom' tries to hide and forget.
However, despite its dilapidated state, Mantle is still considered an asset to Atlas. Their manufacturing and Dust factories are located within the very city itself as is most of their total population.
If Ceres is forced to go to war with the kingdom, Mantle will be the Atlas Military's downfall. Every military power in Ceres's experience will defend key areas of important resources. Mantle is Atlas's main resource as well as the most vulnerable of the two cities. Its walls are easily surmountable, the Atlesian military will be forced to the ground to fight for Mantle, and its population is already concentrated into one small area of land, too concentrated for the military's fleet to simply bombard.
Ceres can already see how he could take over Mantle if he had the resources. Ultralisks clearing through the walls as the rest of his Brood swarm into the city. Changlings disguised as citizens ensuing discord and riots to overthrow or at the very least weaken the city's defenses. The last but possibly the most effective, infestation.
However, Ceres left these plans alone for another time. In time Ceres's Brood will be able to deal with anything Atlas or this entire world could throw at him, but his main priority is returning to the Swarm, time and resources are now a precious commodity that he cannot waste fighting a meaningless war.
For now, Ceres's best option is to hide for as long as he possibly can from the denizens of this world and extract whatever information he can from the humans and Faunus he captured eight days ago.
The one named Gunnar was the very first mind Ceres scoured through. Ceres took his time to extract as much information from Gunnar's mind, nearly taking an entire day before Ceres finished and decided to wake the lone human. The information that Gunnar provided gave Ceres a foundation of what certain information Ceres should look for in the other minds as well as all the information the human knew about the Atlas Military and the contingencies the kingdom has in place against any threat. Contingencies such as evacuation routes, Grimm shelters, counters to Arial Grimm swarms, counter to Grimm hordes attacking Mantle, the death of the Council, death of the General, the military's chain of command, rogue elements within the kingdom and military, and many more.
All this information, thanks to one single human scorned and exiled from the very kingdom he once swore to protect.
Ceres thought back to that very night, where the very first group of humans of this world came to his mine and the opportunity as well as the dangers this group presented to Ceres.
226 humans and Faunus in total. 170 of which were armed with standard ballistic weaponry and armor stolen from Atlas. 24 armed with specialized weaponry ranging from various hybrid weapons to weapons utilizing Dust Minerals. Finally, 30 non-threats comprising of 20 children and ten humans and Faunus who were nearing the end of their expected age.
The group as Ceres would later find out is a largely nomadic group of exiles and criminals, all who willingly left Atlas in order to find a new settlement for themselves. Their leader an ex-Atlesian Specialist named Gunnar Gratt, the very first human of this world that Ceres spoke to personally.
The reason why they came to the supposedly abandoned mine eight days ago was that Gunnar Gratt and his closest aides paid an informant within the Atlas Military for the location of the mine. They planned to take their group of exiles and build a new settlement from the abandoned mine and use the Dust minerals within to provide for their people.
At the time the significant dangers of this group discovering Ceres's Zerg this early into their development presented numerous dangers in of itself. At the time Ceres already deduced their intentions of using the Dust mine for themselves, what other reasons would this large group of humans have coming to a supposedly abandoned mine in a hostile environment.
Along with the dangers also came numerous unknown variables surrounding this group that Ceres did not know at the time. Their purpose, faction affiliation, combat strength, combat capabilities, their military strength, level of technological advancement, behaviour towards unknowns, and their combat doctrine.
However, the opportunity to finally gather crucial information about this world outweighed the negatives. Ceres at the time needed reliable information without risking himself and his Brood to search the world themselves. He had no knowledge as to the state of this world nor the state of it's denizens and this very first group of over a hundred minds arrived at his proverbial front door, as the Terrans would say, all armed with weapons of unknown origins and significantly large in number.
So Ceres at the time carefully and thoroughly thought out his options as he observed this large group through the eyes of his Overseers hidden above the clouds that day.
The option to hide his Zerg and observe the humans from a distance will not only yield little to no information but if he left the group to search the mine, they will take it's resources and eventually stumble upon his Hive Cluster and will most likely react negatively towards his Zerg.
But by the off chance this group didn't find his Hive Cluster or his Zerg, they may eventually bring even more humans to the mine and ultimately his Hive will be discovered. By then the group will turn into a venerable army and will most likely entrench themselves and eradicate his Zerg with superior numbers alone.
Ceres can fight a battle but not a war. His resources are limited to this one mine as he has not found any other Dust deposit since his arrival. The mine and it's Dust minerals is far too valuable to lose, Ceres will not give up the Dust much less willingly part with even a single mineral.
The second option was a more peaceful approach. Make first contact with the group to see what their purpose was and how they react to his Zerg.
However, this option had it's own dangers and variables that Ceres could not afford to make. If he made contact and if this group are hostile, then negotiations will fail and all pretense of hiding his Zerg will be gone as Ceres will have to focus all his efforts and precious resources meant to find a way back to the Koprulu Sector to fighting a possible war if this group belonged to a larger faction of humans.
Ceres was confident his Zerg could kill and subdue all the humans before they could contact any possible reinforcement. However, if his earlier theory about faction affiliation was correct, then the sudden disappearance of this group will just eventually attract even more from their unknown faction to confirm the fate of this group.
This will ultimately escalate into a war. Something Ceres CANNOT afford at the moment.
However, if by chance Ceres comes to a peaceful conclusion with this group then there lay another problem. It is clear the group came for the Dust minerals within the mine, the very same minerals his Brood needs to grow and develop and the very same mineral Ceres needs to fuel his eventual departure from this planet.
Afterall the resource cost of a single Leviathan is substantial. Normally it would take multiple fully developed Hive Clusters to create a single Leviathan in an acceptable amount of time. Currently Ceres has one Hive Cluster in it's second tier of development, he will need every last bit of resources in the mine until he can discover more.
It is clear this Dust is an essential resource for the humans of this world, and if Terran politics and their greed for resources was anything to go by, then Ceres will eventually be faced against similar politics and those who will no doubt seek to take advantage of both the Zerg and the Dust minerals in his mine.
It is not a matter of maybes with human interactions with Zerg, Ceres knows for a fact, through dealing with Terrans, that humans in any positions of power WILL seek in some way or form force, trick, or exploit Ceres and his Brood. However, Ceres does know that not all humans are the same, there are humans who may understand Cere's motives if he took the time to explain. However, these same humans may or may not exist in positions of power and influence.
If that is the case then Ceres will not waste time nor resources in a pointless venture for this kind of peace. But that does not mean he will go to war with humanity, he will lose far more than he has to gain if he did if he tried vying for peace.
This option was discarded almost as immediately as the first.
The third option was the option that Ceres opted for that very night. Capture a single member of their group in secret and extract information.
Ceres waited until nightfall when the blizzard settled in and observed how the group organize themselves. It was clear at the time the armed elements of the large group received military training comparable to the Terrans. They organized themselves to guard the perimeter of their large camp during the night as well as sent a small team of five soldiers near the mining compound.
Ceres at the time saw an opportunity, to see how these humans would react to his Zerg. So he sent a single Zergling under his personal control to greet the team of five armed soldiers.
Of course, when the soldiers saw the lone Zergling they reacted as humans would react to an unknown creature. Raising their weapons, debated amongst one another for a few seconds and receiving confirmation from their superior, and ultimately decided to shoot the Zergling.
Ceres controlling the Zergling acted docilely, to show no hostility. But even then, fear and paranoia took over these humans and they ultimately decided to kill what they barely understand.
It was understandable to Ceres even now after everything he learned these past eight days. The Grimm that dominates this world taught humanity and the Faunus to fear the monsters and beasts outside of their walls. He also understood that no amount of peace or armistice on his behalf will earn the goodwill of this world's denizens.
They will remain suspicious; they will remain fearful as an untold amount of years surviving against the Grimm taught humanity to be fearful of monstrosities for the sake of survival. Eventually, everything will boil down to the very moment where the humans controlled by their own fear will raise their weapons against Ceres and his Zerg.
In the end. The question of can Ceres and his Brood work in peace with humanity that learned to survive and kill in a world ruled by dark monstrosities?
No. No, he cannot.
That very moment when the five humans were ready to kill Ceres's Zergling, he sprung the ambush. Four Hydralisks including Ceres's Zergling quickly subdued the humans before they could alert the others. It was at this point Ceres first encountered Aura. as none of the humans suffered notable wounds, some even fighting back but to no avail.
With the scouts subdued, Ceres quickly and thoroughly read their minds, extracting any and all information about the group and their purpose.
When Ceres learned that the large group of humans and Faunus were simply a single nomadic group of exiles and not part of any larger faction of humans, the dangers of faction affiliation became nulled.
Ceres changed his plans. Capture the exiles for information and prevent any from escaping.
On his command, a 130 Hydralisks descended on the camp.
The Hydralisks are the most versatile of all the Zerg sub-species, their ability to face nearly any threat with deadly efficiency gained them the reputation as one of the most feared units of the Zerg Swarm.
Their armor-piercing spines can penetrate the neosteel of the Terrans, the strength behind their scything claws can shatter the plasma shields of the Protoss, and their size and tenacity make for a relentless predator that knows no fear, no mercy, and no pain.
Hydralisks are the pinnacle of what makes the Zerg so feared amongst the Protoss and Terrans and the reason why he had chosen the Hydralisk to test against the exiles at the time.
The results were both expected as well as unexpected.
Before the attack, Ceres gave specific orders to his Hydralisks to capture and retrieve as many of the humans and Faunus alive and in stable condition. Those who cannot be captured are to be killed.
The entire camp soon delved into chaos as his Hydralisks broke through the perimeter defense and attacked the camp.
Though the group at the time were in disarray, they still organized themselves into a defensive hold in the middle of the camp while his Hydralisks focused on hunting down and retrieving any and all they could.
No doubt in the eyes of the exiles they saw nightmarish monsters abducting and killing their people without remorse. But to Ceres the Hydralisks were carrying out his orders to the letter, limiting the casualties to only those who showed great resistance and proven themselves to be too dangerous to be captured.
However, what surprised Ceres that night were the casualties his Hydralisks suffered. Ceres understood that Hydralisks, for all their strengths are not unkillable, can still bleed, and die like any living being. However, killing a Hydralisk in direct combat is proven many times to be of no easy feat. A significant amount of killing power and skill is needed to kill a single Hydralisk, much less facing an entire army.
What Ceres saw that night were not only soldiers surviving fatal attacks from his Hydralisks, but even a few lone exiles engaging his Zerg in direct combat and successfully killing many of his Hydralisks. Only the likes of the Protoss can possibly achieve such feats, their martial prowess, superior physiology, and advanced technology allow them such.
At the time Ceres did not know about the true capabilities of Aura or about the Huntsmen, he assumed the exiles had some form of barrier technology that he could not see and have proven to be martially superior then he had expected. So with this new unforeseen variable, he ordered his Hydralisks to use lethal force against the soldiers as they are proven dangerous enough to face and kill his Hydralisks.
Soon the last form of resistance was the organised defensive at the center of the exile's camp, protecting those who were considered non-threats which included children, elderly, and the wounded.
That very night was the first he faced against an organized resistance from the denizens of this world. It was clear at the time that these humans and Faunus received combat training, understanding of this world's military combat doctrines, as well as their weaponry and skills, are less developed than the Terrans but are still effective against his Zerg.
Ceres saw a perfect opportunity to test his Zerg against a militarized resistance, to see how these exiles fair against his Zerg.
So using the Hydralisks he started testing these exiles and their defenses, barraging it with Hydralisks spines to see their recovery time, charging Zerg straight into their lines to test their defenses, and finally swarming their defenses on multiple sides simultaneously to test their retaliation capabilities.
In the end, after stress testing these exiles combat and defensive capabilities, Ceres collected the remaining survivors and brought them to his Hive Cluster, capturing 82 exiles in total.
Ignorant eyes would view what happened that night as a massacre of innocent lives. But to Ceres, what happened that very night was a strategic retrieval of important information as well as necessary containment. Ceres couldn't afford for a single one of these humans or Faunus to escape and spread news of his Zerg. The death toll that night was more attributed to the chaos that was the battle. Death was unavoidable in the heat of battle, accidents occurred that was out of Ceres's control as well as some of the exiles taking their own lives before his Zerg could capture them.
Ceres does not care about the death of these exiles. But that does not mean he enjoys mindlessly slaughtering any living beings for the sake of some depraved satisfaction, it would be a waste of both time and resources to do so.
That very night was merely a necessary step Ceres has to take to ensure his survival on this world long enough to return to the Swarm, a step he will take many times as necessary if it meant returning home to where he belonged.
Ceres's eyes glowed as he went through the process of shutting down Harold Gold's vital functions. A quick and painless death that Ceres can afford to these exiles, a sort of repayment for the information they have given him.
By the time Ceres finished he then mentally checked on the current state of his Brood, the familiar rush of information coursing to the very forefront of his thoughts.
His Brood nearly doubled in number as he ordered, from 928 last week to 1,832 Zerg. Ceres wanted to keep his Brood small, the mountains, underground mine, and the valley his Hive Cluster is in maybe large, but a full Brood usually spans much larger landscapes. Right now Ceres wanted the Kingdoms, especially Atlas, unaware of his presence, too many Zerg will eventually attract the type of attention that Ceres does not want.
Ceres then turned his attention towards his patrols and Overseers hiding in the snowy tundra and high in the clouds respectively. The patrols roam the surrounding territory owned by his Brood, encompassing the entire abandoned mining compound as well as the surrounding area. The Overseers are hidden high above the clouded sky, shielded from sight by the clouds and high enough that any short-range detectors cannot detect them. Ceres had 14 Overseers scattered all around the area surrounding both the mine and Hive Cluster as far as the mountain pass. So far neither his patrols nor his Overseers encountered intruders from Atlas or the roaming packs of Grimm throughout the entire day.
There has been a notable increase of Grimm intruding his territory over the past few days since the very night Ceres captured the exiles. Nearly every day for eight days multiple packs of Grimm would enter through the mountain pass and head directly towards the mine with an almost single-minded purpose.
The first few packs his Zerg disposed of number in the dozens and these packs arrived mere hours after the night of the attack, the usual Manticores and Beowolves were present in these packs as Ceres learned from the captured exiles. But as the days went by, different sub-species of Grimm that Ceres has yet to encounter arrived. Sabyrs, Teryxs', Ursas, Manticores, and Megoliaths all invaded Ceres's territory.
His Zerg would make short work of these Grimm as they usually come in low enough numbers, but the Grimm's behavior and single minded attraction towards his mine made Ceres suspicious. He had his Zerg clear out the exile's camp leaving no trace behind, perhaps these Grimm were still attracted to the negative emotions of the exiles that night eight days ago. But that begs the question of just how negative emotions affect the Grimm and how the Grimm sense such emotions from such distances, is there a limit? Can emotions linger in an area?
Ceres sent the mental order to all scouts to capture the next Grimm they encounter and to bring it back to him alive and in functioning condition. He needed to run some tests with these Grimm about their very nature as well as their innate abilities, otherwise, Ceres's question will go unanswered.
Ceres then turned his attention back to the dying human in front of him. This exile as well as the past eight exiles gave Ceres a good portion of the information he needed. Of course, there is still information that Ceres still seeks and even more information after learning everything he could from the nine exiles.
In time Ceres will obtain the information. After all, he still have 73 minds to examine for information.
Sensing the human's heart slowly beat to a stop, Ceres telepathically called for a Drone. On command a single Drone entered the chamber and plucked the deceased human from his restraints and carried the body away to be dissolved and its biomass digested. In the Zerg nothing is wasted, all biomass is recycled and used to grow his Brood, no matter how small the yield may be.
Ceres then made his way out of the chamber, the living door parted as he made his way through and headed towards the Lair's egg chamber.
Arriving at the egg chamber, Ceres took in the vast space that makes up the very core of the Lair. Here nearly ten thousand eggs lay dormant, ready to hatch on his command if needed. There are four main entryways into this very chamber directly from the outside world, pathways are cleared by the Drones through the eggs and towards the center of the chamber where a massive pool lay.
A mixture of acidic enzymes and highly concentrated Zerg acids make up the digestion pool, where all forms of biomass, minerals, and vespene gas are dropped in by the Drones to be digested and used to grow and create all of the necessary Zerg organisms within the Hive Cluster. Right now Ceres casually watched as lines of Drones filed in and out of the chamber, dropping their harvested Dust minerals into the pool before returning to the mines. The pool rippled and hissed as Dust was dropped in by the pound, the pool would then glow the same hue as the colour of the Dust before returning back to the translucent green acid Ceres is familiar with.
This was a harmless side effect Ceres discovered with the Dust reacting to the digestion pool, the very energies held within the minerals reactively dispersing as the pool digested the Dust.
From what he understood, each type of Dust is a specific element of nature according to the kingdoms. Fire, earth, wind, and ice Dust are the most commonly found elements, other elements of Dust are often rare or mixed and refined by the kingdom's, more specifically by a single corporation who make their business in mining, refining, and selling Dust to the four kingdoms.
The Schnee Dust Company. The very company that used to own the very mine Ceres currently occupies.
Such a company held Ceres's interest due to the simple fact that it's the most powerful corporation amongst the four kingdoms as well as the only known supplier of Dust to all four kingdoms. The corporation as well as it's CEO are housed in the same kingdom Ceres has all eyes watching out for, but other then those very reasons Ceres is not overly concerned about the corporation or it's controversial business practices.
The SDC, it's short term name, unofficially abandoned the mines Ceres occupies and made no attempt to reclaim it for eight years if the exile's information was correct. So in short, Ceres expects no interference from the for-profit corporation, especially concerning the character of it's CEO if the exile's view on him is anything of reference.
However, Ceres has yet to experiment intensively on the Dust minerals and their elements, but he did order the Drones to set aside a small portion of minerals of every element they found in his personal chamber.
Experimenting on the Dust is next on Ceres's side plans, the potential of combining Dust to Zerg essence is something for Ceres needs to experiment with. If he can adapt his Zerg to utilize Dust elements, then his Zerg can evolve new abilities or enhance others. However, without Abathur Ceres is limited on what he can do in terms of direct genetic manipulation and experimentation.
Ceres, for all his capabilities, cannot manipulate DNA strands or essences on the same level as the Evolution Master. Much like Ceres in his creation to guard his Queen, Abathur was created by the Overmind for the single-minded purpose to seek genetic perfection of the Zerg Swarm, to become the Swarm's Evolution Master.
To compare Ceres's capabilities of essence manipulation to Abathur is similarly comparing Abathur's leadership and command capabilities to Ceres's own. Ceres is the best at what he was created to do while Abathur has no equal when it comes to what it was created to do.
However, that does not mean Ceres is completely helpless. He worked closely with the Evolution Master in the years following Amon's defeat and learned some of how Abathur evolves the Swarm.
All Ceres needed to do is experiment with both the Dust and his Zerg and see what works best.
Feeling something clawing and tugging at his pant leg, Ceres looked down and saw a single Larva, soon feeling it's minuscule mind pushing gently against Ceres's own seeking his attention. Soon the single Larva was joined by dozens more coming out from between the surrounding eggs, all seeking attention and waiting obediently on his orders.
Ceres sent a quick order to the Larvae to leave him. The surrounding Larvae shuddered simultaneously, receiving the direct order, before crawling away back between the eggs.
Except the single Larva still trying to climb up his leg.
Ceres grasped the lone Larva in his telekinetic hold before levitating it to eye level. He then placed the Larva into his outstretched hand. Its segmented body is small enough to fill his palm and its three glowing amber eyes met his own.
'Soon Galash. I will have use for you soon.' Ceres telepathically sent, earning feelings of warmth and obedience from the small Broodmother Larva. Ceres then lowered the Larva back onto the ground as it slid off and crawled away, disappearing into the surrounding eggs to feed.
Ceres stood straight back up. He had distracted himself from his work for long enough. Now it's time for-
Ceres suddenly stopped in his tracks, immediately shifting his mental vision to see through the eyes of the Overseer closest to the mountain pass. Highlighted by the Overseer's senses Ceres saw a single armored transport through the grey clouds, the exact same variant the exiles used.
Ceres ordered the surrounding Overseers to focus more on the transport. Immediately the vehicle became much clearer to where he can make out the specific details of the transport.
Unlike the used and rusted vehicles the exiles used and stole, this transport was clean, looking almost brand new with little to no wear or scratches on the armored hull. Ceres could not see any obvious insignias or signs indicating the truck's origins but he already expects where this truck came from.
Ceres then ordered the Overseers to heighten their senses to see into the vehicle itself. Soon enough Ceres could see the very interior of the transport and its occupants, all highlighted in different colours.
The single transport is currently carrying eight occupants, all of which are Aura users if the eight different colours Ceres is seeing are of any indication. He can see five males and three females, all of which looked distinctly human with no obvious animal features. However, Ceres can also see that each of these humans is heavily armed, some holding obvious ballistic based weaponry while the rest are wielding some form of unique weapon hybrids that Huntsmen are known to yield.
It is clear to Ceres that all eight intruders are not more exiles. These were Huntsmen, or more specifically Specialists from the Atlas Military if the Atlesian Knight driving the vehicle is of any indication to the group's origins. Their destination is clear to Ceres, they are headed straight towards his mine.
But why are they here? Is Atlas aware of his presence? No, this group is too small to be a search and destroy party, Atlas mission contingencies require at least three teams of Specialists as scouts and soldiers as back up in the case of rooting out and eliminating specific targets. Plus Ceres made sure his own patrols were small and hidden enough not to be detected even by the Protoss, Atlas is most likely still unaware of his presence if they sent only two specialist teams.
The only other reason Ceres could come up with is that these Specialists are after the exiles or the mine's resources. However, the exiles option seemed implausible once again due to the number of Specialists. Too small for such a mission with no military reinforcements in the vicinity when Atlas contingency requires more Specialists and soldiers. Ceres must assume that these Specialists may not be after the exiles much less aware of their demise so that only left the resources as the prime reason.
Dust is an essential resource for the kingdoms, especially Atlas. The low number of these Specialist can attribute to a scouting mission, scouting the mines to confirm for resources and return to Atlas to gather a larger force to claim the mine. It is no surprise to Ceres that Atlas knew about these mines, after all, it was their kingdom and corporation that established the very mine.
It is the most plausible reason, but regardless, Ceres is now faced with two full teams of Atlas's most elite soldiers who are just now entering through the narrow mountain pass. The chances of discovery are all in a matter of time. Unlike the exiles, if Ceres kills these Specialists their disappearance will only make Atlas and it's military more dangerously aware of Ceres's presence.
Yet Ceres cannot afford to let these Specialists return to Atlas even by the slight chance they do not discover his Zerg. If they are truly after the mines resources then they will simply return to Atlas, gather an even larger force, and return to claim the mine.
There is only one plausible course of action. Capture the Specialists alive, wipe their memories, and implant false memories to deter Atlas from returning to the mines in the near future. Ideally Ceres wants to keep at least one of these Specialists to extract updated information about Atlas and it's military, but he cannot afford to do so unless he finds an alternative way.
But for this plan to work Ceres must know their true purpose coming all this way to his mine, not speculations and theories. He also has to make sure these Specialists are in suitable conditions to return to Atlas, a difficult task concerning these Specialists if Gunnar Gratt and his exiles is of any reference to their skill.
From there the most difficult part is to create a believable reason to implant into these Specialist's as false memories, something that will not only explain as to why both teams of Elite Specialists needed to retreat from the mines but also prevent future incursions as well as eliminate all suspicions and interests of Ceres's mine for a time.
There is not a lot to work with and Ceres has everything to lose if he were to fail. These mines are filled with natural resources that is both valuable and essential to Atlas. The kingdom's interests in his mine will never be truly gone as long as they still rely on Dust as their main energy resource. Ceres's plan will have to not only incapacitate the Specialists but also return them to their kingdom's government and military to dissuade any more future incursions to claim the mine.
Taking in all the risks and factors involved, a plan started forming in Ceres's head as he watched as the transport of Specialists exited the mountain pass and are already halfway to the mining compound.
Ceres's sight never left the Specialists. He already recalled all the Drones from the mines and sent his Zerg to strategic points in main the tunnels. His best chance is to ambush the specialists within the tunnels, their maneuverability, as well as paths of retreat, will be cut short while the tunnels are still large enough for his Zerg to overwhelm these Specialists on every possible angle.
Ceres returned his vision back to his own eyes. The first part of his plan to capture these Specialists was already underway, however, there is still the issue of the false memories he needs to instill for his entire plan to work. The Specialists cannot simply return to Atlas or to their superiors without a good enough reason to retreat from the mines and a reason why they couldn't contact Atlas during such time. Ceres will be using the Overseers as psionic conduits to cut their radio communications to prevent any communication from returning to their kingdom. He has never done so before as there was no point in doing so back at the Koprulu Sector, Terran communications were sophisticated and had numerous backups and Protoss communications is near impossible to halt or listen into.
However, now he has no choice in the matter, and it is possible, but if communications is cut for too long then Atlas or whoever sent these Specialists will become suspicious. He can simply destroy their personal communication devices and instill false memories as to their destruction for them to explain to their superiors. But that still left the issue of creating an acceptable reason for retreating from the mines.
Sustained injuries is a believable enough of a reason up to a certain point, however, these Specialists must sustain enough injuries to make the false memories creditable but healthy enough to make it back to their superiors through the arctic tundra alive. If they are not injured enough then their retreat will be seen as suspicious, but if they are too injured then they will simply fall to their wounds before returning to Atlas to deliver the false story.
Ceres cannot risk planting healing pathogens and hormones into these Specialists. Zerg biology does not mix well with human essence. Erratic mutations can occur, irreversibly changing these Specialists into infested lifeforms. Only Abathur has the skills necessary to mix both Zerg and Human essence without one overriding the other.
Ceres cannot afford to infest these humans or any humans on this world for that matter. There is absolutely no point for him to do so, especially without the aid of Abathur.
In short, these Specialists must have their Auras still intact if they are to survive the return trip to Atlas or at the very least to one of its military outposts. However, inflicting that negligible amount of damage will be a near impossibility if he is to incapacitate them, and certainly not enough to warrant a full retreat. After all, these Specialists are supposedly the best Atlas has trained, not only that but there are two full teams.
Something else must be added on top of sustained injuries, something credible enough to the Specialist's superiors that retreating was a better option rather than continuing with whatever their mission was.
But what exactly can Ceres add that can convince both a government and their military? What is something both sides of the Kingdom can unanimously agree on?
As Ceres pondered on his options, a Drone entered the egg chamber carrying a body of an exile, not one of the exiles Ceres used but one who recently died while in confinement.
The Specialists are like these exiles, despite having Aura are still fragile beings. Do not feed them and they will starve. An untreated wound will eventually kill them. And in the case of this exile, a simple disease can debilitate and eventually kill them if left alone.
Ceres must be careful when incapacitating these Specialists as much as he cares for the captured exiles. The number of resources to care for these exiles alone, though minimal, simply reminded Ceres as to why humans, in general, are such poorly evolved species despite their intelligence. Normally such menial tasks of feeding and caring is seen mostly with the Terrans whenever their armies provide care and relief for their citizens and refu-
Suddenly it clicked. The missing piece to his plan already forming up in Ceres's mind as he watched the body of the deceased exile dissolve in the digestion pool. If Atlas, a human civilization, is anything like the Terrans in terms of social norms and mortality, then Ceres has come up with the perfect reason for the Specialists to retreat from the mine.
Ceres then reviewed the entire plan, laying out each part, seeing the consequences as well as the successes, identifying weaknesses and strengths, and finally changing parts to best yield the most success.
This was all done in seconds before returning his sight back to the Overseer. Already Ceres could see the Specialists filing out from their transport and splitting into their two teams in an orderly manner. Ceres then reviewed the final plan, satisfied that it will work, before taking direct command of his Zerg.
Now all he needs to do is wait for the pieces to fall into place.
"Jack! Did your squadmate find anything?"
Jack lowered his binoculars, taking his eyes away from the abandoned compound below to look at his fellow squad leader. "Still looking around the compound but Kendra couldn't find anything."
"No Grimm for the past week according to her semblance." Jack explained earning him a concerned hum from the other squad leader. Kendra's semblance can pick up any living thing with a heartbeat or soulless Grimm if it's within a week's time. However, his partner could not find anything around this mine, not their target, not the bandits they believed was heading this way a week ago, and most concerning no Grimm in the past week.
This area is designated as Grimm territory. No Grimm around this area for an entire week is more than concerning then seeing an entire horde.
Jack handed over his binoculars to the other squad leader. The feeling in his gut is telling him that something more is going on. "Did your squad find anything Sara?"
The brunette shook her head. "Negative. None of my boys could find any leads." She raised the binoculars to her eyes, looking down at the same frozen, run-down mining compound he was. "Our best chance is to search through the compound below for your 'friend'. If we still can't find any leads-"
"Then we have to go into the mines." Jack let out a sigh. "Just as General Ironwood ordered us to."
Eight days ago Jack as well as the rest of his squad returned to the outpost to report their findings to Commander Frost, who in turn forwarded their report directly to General Ironwood himself.
That same night Jack and the rest of NIKL Squad were called into Frost's office to speak to the General on a private channel. Once Jack, with the help of Kendra and Luc, retold what they saw earlier that day, the General gave NIKL Squad an off the book's mission to head to the abandoned SDC Mine, find and apprehend the unknown target, and confirm the Dust within the mine is not compromised by the bandits.
Now normally Jack would have treated this as any other mission, but when General Ironwood himself went out of his way to contact his squad to take an off the book's mission, you can bet his Lien that he had some questions to ask.
Fortunately, the General was open to questions. Unfortunately, the best answer Jack or any of his squadmates received from the General is that the abandoned mine is of key Atlas Military interest and to divulge any more information is classified to all but the General and his closest associates. Also, he made it clear that they cannot let the bandits have the mine, so that's also another reason.
So after the briefing, the General told them to prepare to head out immediately. Unfortunately, mother nature decided to throw an eight-day long snowstorm starting that very night. NIKL Squad was forced to wait out the storm as long-range communications were impossible even with the best communications device they had on hand and any transport would be bogged down by the sheer downpour of snow.
Once the storm was over eight days had passed, making it even harder to track down the unknown target for Kendra. NIKL Squad left at dawn, fortunately, the Commander commissioned another Specialist Squad to provide as back up.
The squad reinforcing Jack's is none other then SABR Squad, led by none other than Sara Flower herself.
Jack knew Sara and by extension her squad; they were a common sight around the Outpost when they weren't escorting supplies to and from Atlas. Jack would spend his off time talking with Sara, asking for the latest news and whatnot.
Now they are here watching their backs in an 'off the books' mission to find a mysterious man in a decrepit mine from the head honcho of the entire Atlas Military himself. Lucky them.
Jack was abruptly interrupted from his thoughts by the binoculars slapped onto his chest. "Well what are we waiting for. We have a mine to search." Sara said as she walked back to the transport.
Jack let out another tired sigh. Taking a moment to re-evaluate his decisions up to this point of his life before following after his fellow squad leader.
By the time he arrived, Sara's squad, as well as his, were already formed up and ready to go.
Well, Sara's squad is. Ivory is drawing pictures in the snow while Luc and Kendra stood with discipline seriousness trained onto their faces. Well… Kendra is, you can't really tell with Luc with that intimidating gas mask of his.
"Alright! Listen up! All of you!" Sara commanded, immediately the three men making up the rest of SABR Squad stood at attention and ready for what their leader has to say.
Jack's squad on the other hand was two-quarters ready. One quarter scrambled to finish up her less than artistic work in the snow before jumping to her feet. The second quarter reached into his pocket for his lighter, until he realized he had no cigarettes in the other pocket because he forgot them during the morning rush to the truck.
So instead Jack pocketed his lighter and let Sara do the talking. She's better at it than him. "Our best chance of completing this mission and finding our target is to head into the compound itself. From there we will move into the mine with NIKL Squad leading the way. Aston, Brandon. I want you to watch our flanks." A skinny man with a black cap and uniform wielding a rifle/sword hybrid and a taller man with blonde hair and specialized combat uniform wielding a one-shot grenade launcher both gave a curt nod. "Ricardo you're taking up the rear with me." The last man, a beefy bearded guy with wearing white armored plates lugging a large cannon/battleaxe hybrid gave his own nod.
Sara gave a curt nod. "Good. Jack! You're up!"
Jack just now realized what Sara just said. Blame waking up before the crack of dawn for his lack of awareness. Also not having anything to feed his nicotine addiction for the whole day is not helping as well.
Shaking off the bleariness, Jack looked to his own squad, already seeing the same look on Kendra's face whenever Jack has done something she didn't approve of. Which is all the time. "Alright, you heard Sara. We're up front so I want Kendra with me leading and Luc and Ivory covering our flank with the rest of SABR Squad. Any questions?"
Only Ivory raised her hand.
"No questions? Good. Let's move out!" Jack turned with his weapon in hand, ignoring the crying complaints from Ivory.
The entire group quickly and steadily made their way into the compound. Jack was scanning the entire area with his trusty weapon of choice, Buckshot. A simple shotgun for a simple man like himself, nothing too complicated like those weapons he sees younger huntsmen toting around.
Speaking of complicated weapons, on his left is Kendra. She is wielding her own weapon, Static Ivory, a high voltage chain sword with enough shock power to stop a Grimm's beating heart. That is if they have hearts. Jack believes they do.
They soon reached the very center of the compound. A rusty railway track and a tipped over mine cart half-buried in snow met the group.
Kendra immediately knelt down and activated her semblance, a large yellow field expanded out encompassing nearly the entire group and nearly to the very buildings surrounding them. Nothing happened within the field. No constructs of their target. No Grimm figures running around. Nothing.
After a few minutes, Kendra dispersed the field. "Nothing. Not a single thing came by here for the past week." Kendra said with clear frustration in her tone.
"Then we should sweep the entire compound. There could still be leads." Luc suggested.
Jack shook his head. "No point. If our friend is here, then he would've past through here at some point the past week. That means he either didn't come here initially or…" Jack then looked to the cavernous entrance of the mine. "Our friend went into the mines and never came out since."
Silence descended on the group as the soft cold winds blew through the compound. "Jack you know we have to go in there." Sara broke the silence.
Jack sighed. "Yeah… just hate cramped spaces."
Sara snorted. "Well lead the way. We still have a mission to check that mine whether you like it or not." The woman bluntly said.
Jack frowned before pumping a shell into Buckshot. "Alright! Let's get this over with."
Jack took point with Kendra just behind him as they lead the group through the mine's entrance. Once they entered, the darkness of the cave soon engulfed the group. Only the daylight at the entrance illuminated the mine, just enough for Jack to see where he was going.
As expected, all Jack could see was rubble and whatever was left of the mining equipment the SDC abandoned all those years ago. Half buried crates and Dust cargo, demolished mine carts, and large piles of rubble and rocks.
Suddenly a yellow light illuminated the mine as a field of yellow expanded, an obvious sign that Kendra is using her semblance. For a few minutes nothing happened, soon Jack heard another frustrated sigh before the field disappeared.
"No luck here either. We have to go deeper into the mine." Kendra announced to the rest of the group.
"That's going to be a problem." Jack said as he switched on his tac-light attached to his gun's under-barrel and pointed it directly in front of the group. His light showed a virtual wall of rocks and debris blocking their path.
"A cave-in. Was this in the briefing?" Ivory asked.
"Yes, it was. This was the reason why the SDC abandoned this mine. A Dust explosion from what the information said." Luc answered.
"Alright but now what do we do? Find an opening?"
"Good idea Specialist. Everyone! Let's find that opening." Sara ordered as her squad moved past Jack. He simply shared a look with his squad before making his way over to the cave-in, light joining with the others to scan the entirety of the wall of rock and stone for an opening.
"Found one!" Jack looked over to see the large man, Ricardo, shining his light at a sizable crevice.
"Good work Ricardo. Can you see the other side?" Sara asked as she and the rest of the group made their way to the large man. "Yes but this crevice is small. No way I'm fitting through that." The man pointed out. Jack could see exactly why, the crevice is large enough to squeeze someone through but too narrow for large people like Ricardo or Luc to fit through.
"Can we risk clearing away this cave-in? By the length of this crevice, I say the cave-in is thin enough for Ricardo to clear the way." Aston asked. True to his word it does not seem to be far to the other side, the cave-in is surprisingly small considering the cause it in the first place.
However, there still lies the danger of Dust. "We can… but remember people, this is a Dust mine. If we clear this out then we risk setting off any Dust on the other side." Sara explained. She then moves towards the crevice. "I will go through and scout out the other end. I'll contact you all once I confirmed it's safe." Sara then shuffled sideways into the crevice, soon disappearing out of sight.
Jack pressed the comm bead in his left ear. "Sara are you there? Do you see anything?"
*Krrt!* "I hear you Jack. Just exiting on the other side. I see no Dust in the immediate vicinity. You're clear to bust through."
"Copy that. Ricardo! You're clear to go! Everyone else back away from the cave-in!"
A large, excited smile spread across the man's bearded face as he moved to face the very center of the cave-in. Jack as well as everyone else quickly rushed to get behind the man with the large cannon for a weapon. As soon as Kendra cleared behind the man, Ricardo aimed his axe cannon at the wall of rock and pulled the trigger.
Jack coughed and hacked as dust and dirt exploded through the mine. Temporarily blinded, Jack rubbed the dirt that got into his eyes before opening them, seeing only a thick cloud of dust and hazy beams of flashlights from the others.
"Is everyone alright?" The voice of Luc was heard over all the coughing. Of course, the largest man in their group is unaffected by all this dust. He's the only one with a filtered gas mask.
"*Cough!* *Cough!* I'm ok! *Cough!*"
"Aw god! I can't see!"
"Dammit Ric! Couldn't you have just smashed it instead of blowing it up!?"
Through all the complaining, Jack brought up Buckshot to shine its light through the cloud of dust. "SARA! You there!"
"I'm here! *Cough!* The cave-in is cleared! Let's group up and get out of all this dust!"
Jack didn't need to be told twice. He and those around him quickly moved towards Sara, the thick cloud of dust slowly settling by the time they exited the cloud. "Roll call! SABR Squad!"
Jack then turned to the group behind him, now all covered in dirt and dust. "NIKL Squad! You still here?"
"We'r- *Cough!* still kicking!" Ivory spoke up, still dusting off the dirt on her coat and hair. "I'm fine Jack." The unmistakable giant of a man said, now grayed out by all the dirt on his black coat. "I'm here." Kendra said curtly, wiping off the last of the dirt from her face.
Jack nodded before turning back to look down the narrowing tunnel. "Good everyone is here and accounted for. Let's reform and move into the tunnel and-"
*Boom!* *Boom!* *CRACK!* *Hisssssssss..*
Jack's eyes shot upwards and widened as he saw fissure and cracks growing on the ceiling with what seems like something melting through. "EVERYONE! SCATTER!"
The entire group rushed from beneath the fissures, just as the entire ceiling above them came crashing down in a shower of dirt and rocks. Jack ran deeper into the tunnel as rocks kept falling behind him. With one last leap, he jumped just as a particularly large boulder smashed on the very spot he was on just seconds ago.
Jack laid there as another plume of dust and dirt rushed over his prone form. Covering him in another layer of dirt.
As the rumbling stopped, Jack dared to look up, seeing nothing but dust, dirt, and darkness. Feeling no notable injuries, Jack coughed out the dirt in his lungs and steadily stood up. He then saw his weapon on the ground, it's light still on as he bent down and picked it up.
"*Cough!* *Cough!* Is anyone there!" Ivory's voice shouted out from beside Jack.
Jack hacked out another cough. "Ivory! I'm here!"
"Jack! *Cough!* *Cough!* you're ok!" The dusty form of Ivory stood up to meet him.
"I'm fine. Are you all alright!? Where are the others!? Did they make it!?" Jack hastily asked, rubbing the dirt off his face.
Ivory shook her head. "Kendra and Luc were right beside me. But when the last of the rocks fell…"
Before Jack could speak, the pile of rocks and rubble beside them exploded, showering them in pebbles and even more dirt. From the rubble, a large form pulls itself out and slowly made its way towards them both.
Jack quickly directed his light and was met with a familiar gas mask staring him down. "LUC! KENDRA!" Ivory sprang forward and helped Luc place the unconscious form of Kendra onto the ground. Jack ran forward and immediately knelt to check his partner before pulling out his scroll. "She's fine. Her aura took a hit but is still active. Luc you're in the red so I want you to watch yourself understood?"
Luc replied with a curt nod. "Yes sir. I'll keep an eye on Kendra." Jack returned the nod before pressing his comm bead. "Sara. Are you and your squad alright?"
All he could hear in reply was static. "Dammit! Sara are you there!?" Still nothing.
Jack swore and ripped off the comm bead, he would've sworn some more if not for Kendra's moaning.
"*Cough!* *Cough!* What happened… Ivory… Luc… Jack…" Kendra stirred from unconsciousness. "We got you, Kendra. You can thank a cave-in for what happened. It nearly buried Luc and you, but the big man managed to get you out." Ivory summarized with a relieved smile.
Kendra hacked out another cough before frowning at Ivory. "Ivory… with all due respect that was no ordinary cave-in. Something caused the cave to collapse on us. Hell, we all heard the explosions."
Jack could not help but agree. He heard the muffled explosions that collapsed the tunnel on top of them, but the question is who or what set them off?
Jack's gut feeling is telling him that their mutual friend they are looking for may be responsible. His gut has saved him more times then he could count, but at the same time it also meant that something far worse is usually on the way.
They have to keep moving. "Kendra. Can you walk?" Jack asked, receiving a nod from his partner. "Good. Unfortunately, the fate of SABR Squad is still unknown. For now, we have to assume they are MIA until proven otherwise. Normally I would order a retreat, but our path back outside is now cut-off." Jack shined his light on the new pile of rocks and rubble, far more then what was initially cleared out by SABR Squad's member. "Our only chance now is to continue into the mine and find another way out." Jack explained.
"What about the mission?" Kendra questioned, now standing thanks to the help of Luc and Ivory. "We will still continue the mission but returning to the surface is our first priority. If we can return to the truck then we can use the radio to contact the outpost. Now, is everyone ready to move out?" Jack received nods from everyone. "Good. I'll take point. Kendra and Ivory watch our flanks and Luc take up the rear. Just because we're in a tunnel doesn't mean there aren't any Grimm within these walls." Jack warned. There's a reason why he hated going through cavernous caves and tight tunnels.
Soon after checking their gear and weapons were still functioning, NIKL Squad moved steadily through the narrowing tunnel. Jack kept his eyes out, illuminating the dark tunnel in front of him with Buckshot at the ready and looking for any more cracks or fissures in the ceiling. Eventually, Jack could see a light coming up from the tunnel ahead. Soon enough Jack and the rest of his squad entered the part of the mining tunnel with glowing Dust veins illuminating the entirety of the tunnel.
Jack switched off his tac-light but still held his shotgun at the ready. "Alright, everyone. From here on out check your fire. There's raw Dust within these walls and I don't want us to start another cave-in." Jack ordered as he and his squad moved steadily through the Dust tunnel.
"Wait. I need to check something. This is the only tunnel from the main entrance. Our target must have gone through here at least once." Kendra said as she kneeled and placed her hand on the ground.
Soon the telltale glow of her semblance washed over the tunnel ground, walls, and even the ceiling. Jack lowered his gun but still kept a lookout while Luc and Ivory covered for Kendra. What felt like a minute have passed for Jack, but Kendra has yet to deactivate her semblance.
That only meant one thing. "Kendra what did you find?"
"I think you should see for yourself…"
Suddenly several aura constructs slowly materialized within Kendra's field. When they finally formed Jack only had one thing to say.
"What the hell am I looking at?"
"Your guess is as good as mine Jack… Your guess is as good as mine…"
This… Thing the construct is depicting is nothing like any animal or Grimm Jack has ever seen. It was on all fours and it is the size of an exceptionally large dog. It's two front limbs end in dagger-like scythes, large back legs with a pair of bug wings sticking out, and an extra pair of long limbs ending in even more sharp claws dangling above it. It's face was not a pretty sight either, large pincer-like mandibles and a mouth filled with sharp flesh-tearing teeth, too many for Jack's liking.
And there are dozens of these things frozen within Kendra's field. All of them looking like the exact carbon copy as the next.
"What in the world are these things?" Ivory repeating the same question Jack said. "These things are not in Atlas's databases of known Grimm species. Perhaps a new species?" Luc suggested, throwing the possibility out there.
Jack nodded in agreement. "Might be. But I don't want to stick around to find out. Kendra! Anything on our friend?"
His partner shook her head. "Negative. Just more of these things. The ones you are seeing right now was very recent." This caused Jack's gut to wrench a new one. "How recent?" He quickly asked.
"Nearly an hour ago recent. Before we even arrived." Kendra explained, she then 'played' out what these creatures were doing.
The surrounding constructs suddenly came to life as they silently replayed what had occurred just an hour ago. Dozens upon dozens entered the field and suddenly digging and morphing into the ground and tunnel walls. The speed of which surprised Jack by just how alarmingly fast it was.
Soon all the creatures disappeared into the tunnel walls and ground, that was when Kendra dispersed her semblance.
Jack had a really bad feeling now. They have to move. NOW.
"NIKL Squad! We have to-"
Jack only had enough time to turn and raise Buckshot to block a fanged maw from eating his face. However, the sudden weight knocked him clean onto his back as Jack struggled against the Thing on top of him chewing on his gun and pounding away at his aura.
Suddenly the creature on top of him was knocked off with a shrill cry as Luc reached down and hefted Jack up onto his feet. Jack then spun to where the creature was, a shrill cry warned him the Thing was already charging as Jack quickly raised Buckshot and blindly fired at the creature as he spun. A shrill cry pierced the air as the Thing crashed past Jack and Luc. The creature flailed around in the throes of pain and blood before Jack pumped another round and fired round after round into the creature's side until it finally stopped moving after the fifth shot.
Suddenly another creature came exploding out from the wall directly behind Luc. The creature crashed into the big man's back, nearly toppling Luc over before he shot out a foot to secure himself against the Thing clawing and stabbing at his back.
With a powerful grunt, Luc reached back, seizing one of the creature's overarching limbs with both hands, and tore the Thing off his back and slammed it onto the ground in front of him. As the creature flailed and shrieked, Luc popped both of his wrists out, revealing small nozzles, before unleashing a torrent of fire onto the creature.
Fire did the trick as the Thing gave out a last ear-piercing cry before the flames cooked it alive. Smoke and the smell of burnt flesh quickly filled Jack's lungs and nostrils, but before it became too unbearable Luc cut off his flames and kicked the still burning corpse away from the squad.
That was Luc's weapon. Ironic concerning what caused his severely damaged lungs and scarred body in the first place. Crimson Heat his weapons are named. A pair of wrist-mounted flamethrowers that run on pure fire Dust. When asked how Luc intends to fight in melee with only flamethrowers, well those same people either A: never tried to fight against a flamethrower in close combat before. Or B: never seen how much Luc can bench press with one arm.
Just then two creatures popped out from the ground and went for Luc. However, Luc simply caught the first creature by the throat and smashed the second away with a backhanded swing. Kendra quickly sprung forward and stabbed the second creature through the head with Black Ivory, and for good measure sent thousands of volts into the Thing's head, frying it instantly.
The one Luc caught flailed and tried to stab at the large man in his grip before Luc smashed the creature against the tunnel wall, earning him a pained cry. Luc then proceeded to pummel the creature's face, each cracking and cratering the tunnel wall behind the creature's now bloody head. Once the creature stopped flailing, Luc threw the corpse away and torched it for good measure.
The bodies of the now-dead creatures were now clear to see by everyone. Through all the bleeding and charred mess, these creatures were the exact same freakish things Jack just saw through Kendra's semblance.
But what made Jack's heart rate beat faster than ever before was the fact that these Things were no Grimm. Grimm are black with white bone armor decorated with weird red markings and evaporated upon death, they didn't even bleed. These creatures on the other hand are entirely different. He can still smell the blood and the acrid smell of burnt flesh.
"These aren't Grimm." Ivory stated, her voice betraying her shock. "What in the world are these things?"
Jack shook his head. "I don't know but I do know that there are more of these things, possibly moving within these very walls as we speak." Jack raised Buckshot at the surrounding walls. Normally anyone that points their gun at walls will be seen as crazy, but not in this situation where literal monsters can pop out from anywhere. "We need to move. NOW!"
With that order Jack took point and started sprinting through the tunnel ahead, hearing the rapid footsteps of his squad right behind him.
They barely made a few steps before the entire tunnel ahead of him suddenly burst with activity.
Jack immediately halted in his tracks as did his squad as dozens of creatures, far too many to count, came crawling out from every possible surface all around the tunnel in front of them. Above, below, left, right, the entire tunnel ahead of NIKL Squad was filled with these things as a virtual horde now stands before them.
"SSKKKKKKREEEEEEEEIIIIII!" The combined cries of the creatures nearly deafened Jack but he dared not cover his ears lest he drops his only means of defending himself against this horde of freaks.
"BEHIND US!" Kendra shouted. Jack dared not look back lest he takes his eyes away from the things in front of him. He didn't need to see to know that there are more creatures popping from the walls, ground and ceiling behind where they just came from. He could hear them scrambling out of the tunnel walls, adding more stress to their already crappy day.
"Why aren't they attacking us?" True to Ivory's words the horde in front of him stayed their ground. They didn't charge like reckless animals nor did they retreat back. In fact, they aren't behaving like animals or the Grimm, it's like they are waiting for-
Jack's eyes widened. "SCATT-"
From above, more creatures fell upon the squad. Jack immediately dove forward as a creature landed on the very spot he was just seconds ago. Jack fired off a quick shot into the face of the Thing, blasting it back. He took a quick look to see how the others were doing. Luc pulled off and stomped on the creature that landed on him. Kendra dispatched hers with a quick swipe of her sword. Ivory on the other hand was struggling underneath two creatures trying to kill her.
Jack quickly pumped his gun and quickly fired off a shot at one of the creatures on Ivory. One creature shrieked in pain as a full shot from Buckshot slammed into its side. It didn't kill the creature outright but it gave Ivory enough room to free her arm and place her pistol, Shooty, right up to the creature's temple.
*BANG!* "SKKREE-" *BANG!* *BANG!* *BANG!* *BANG!* *BANG!*
The first creature dealt with, however, the second suddenly went for the gun in Ivory's left hand.
Jack could imagine the smile on Ivory's face when she activated her semblance. In a flash of white light, Ivory disappeared with the creature before reappearing a few feet away throwing the creature onto the ground. With a flourish, Ivory brought out her second weapon, Stabby, a ballistic knife and stabbed it straight into the creature's belly before releasing the blade from the handle. She then teleported away before the blade exploded, turning the creature's belly into a gory mess of blood and guts.
That's Ivory. With a short-range teleportation semblance and an exploding ballistic Dust knife, she can wreak havoc amongst both Grimm and bandits alike. That mixed with her 'bright' personality makes for an incredibly hard to pin down opponent.
"SKKKREEEEEEEIII!" Jack turned but quickly backpedaled as the horde in front of him charged towards them, and by the sound sounds of it the same could be said for the horde behind them as well. "LUC! SCORCHED EARTH!"
Everyone heard the order, especially Luc as Jack, Kendra, and Ivory retreated to Luc. The big man raised his left hand at one horde and the right hand at the other before letting loose a torrent of fire. Luc's fire doused the first few creatures ablaze before sweeping the ground before the charging hordes, creating a thick wall of pure fire.
However, that did little to stop the hordes on either side. The creatures, to Jack's growing horror, threw themselves into the literal fire without an ounce of hesitation or self-preservation. Creatures by the dozens ran through the wall of fire, some succumbing to the flames while others managed to pass through still blazing. Others ran along the walls and around the fire before charging straight at NIKL Squad.
Jack quickly shook himself out of his shock before gunning down the flaming creatures while Kendra's sword extended into a long-bladed whip before lashing out at any creature that got through the fire. Ivory 'blinked' from one creature to the next in front of Jack, pouring bullets in some while leaving behind an exploding knife in others. Luc, on the other hand, was at the most disadvantageous, he knows that he can't risk setting the walls aflame as well, too much raw Dust within the walls to do so and could set off another cave-
Jack suddenly has an idea. A very stupid but can possibly get his whole squad out of the literal fire.
After blasting back another fiery creature, Jack quickly loaded two shells into Buckshot and one directly into the chamber before blasting a creature out of the air. Damn those wings aren't for show!
"LUC! FIRE AT THE TUNNEL WALLS BEHIND US ON MY MARK!" Jack shouted, pumping a full round into the face of another creature.
"WHAT! ARE YOU CRAZY!" Kendra screamed above all the inhuman cries and shrieks.
"WE HAVE NO CHOICE! GET READY!" Jack pumped his gun and fired it off into the side of another creature. Before he could reload, a creature was already upon him. With no other choice, Jack pressed a side button near the trigger, spun Buckshot in his hands as a large blade popped out from below Buckshot's stock, and slammed the blade across the creature's head. The creature let out a pained cry before Jack quickly chambered a shell and shot point-blank into the creature's bloody head.
By this point, the wall of fire started to die down quickly due to being smothered by all the bodies of the creatures trying to go through. Soon the last of the fires died down and the hordes on both ends all but charged over the charred bodies of their kin towards the squad.
"NOW!" Jack shouted as he began gunning down and keeping the incoming horde at bay for as long as he could.
Luc raised both hands towards the ceiling but suddenly four creatures burst from the ground around him, two attacked Luc from the back and front while the other two seized his arms in their sharp maw.
Jack eyes widened as Luc's already low aura flared and disappeared. He was now shouting out in pain as the creatures started to stab into his auraless body. One of the creatures seizing his left arm tore something off, luckily it was not Luc's hand but his wrist mount flamethrower. The creature then tore the weapons to shreds, even going to far as to bite off the Dust fuel.
These creatures knew. They knew Luc's fire is dangerous, but they didn't fear what the fire could do to them, that much is certain. Then what? Was it because of the Dust?
Jack shook the thoughts out of his head before charging forth and blasting off the creature seizing Luc's remaining hand and, with careful accuracy, shot the one on Luc's back off. Luc finally threw the one on his front onto the ground and stomped on its head.
Without another word Luc raised his remaining flamethrower and started dousing the ceiling and walls behind them, creating a literal ring of fire just in time to keep the horde behind them at bay.
However, as Kendra and Ivory focused on the horde of creatures in front of them, Jack noticed a distinct lack of explosions and falling rocks. He quickly looked around and saw all the fire, but none of the Dust was being set off.
"I'm out!" Luc shouted out with a pained grunt, dropping Jack's heart straight into his stomach. Before, he could think, a flash of white and he saw Ivory blinking past them and soon past the ring of fire before teleporting straight up towards the ceiling.
Ivory then stabbed her knife into a particularly large Dust vein before teleporting back to Jack and Luc. "RUN!" The woman screamed just as her knife went off.
That did the trick as explosions of lighting and fire blossomed all over the tunnel behind them in a chain reaction, obliterating the creatures as the entire ceiling started to collapse on the horde behind them. Jack did not intend to stick around to watch as he and the rest of NIKL Squad bolted the other way. The explosions were quickly traveling down the entire tunnel as the tunnel ahead started exploding, thankfully amongst the horde in front of them and clearing a way forward.
Jack can hear the creatures screaming and crying out only to be cut off suddenly by the falling rocks and debris behind them. Jack ran, his life literally depended on it, as he could see Kendra to his left and the ragged breathing of Luc to his right.
Suddenly up ahead they could see a light. An exit! However, the exit was crumbling away, as rocks and debris slowly blocked their way. A large rock smashed onto Jack's head, disorientating him for all of three seconds before he shook off the concussion. He could feel the dirt and rocks pelting his back and the exit still so far away. They were not going to make it.
Suddenly Jack felt someone grab him by the hem of his coat, crushing him between Kendra and Luc before his world suddenly turned white.
When he blinked the world returned, he suddenly felt weightless for a few terrifying seconds before seeing the hard rock floor rapidly approaching from below.
With a resounding crash, Jack, with all the grace of a paralyzed rock, tumbled and skidded across the ground before he crashed and flopped against something hard. For a few hard seconds, Jack just laid there, content to just sleep it off before thinking better and going through the painful process of standing back up.
Jack groaned as he slowly picked himself back up, using the minecart that softened his fall as a crutch. It felt like the time he had to carry Luc back to base when that Manticore cooked him alive. He felt bruised all over and his aura is probably down the crapper. But a quick look over showed him no obvious injuries, his legs still bending the right way, and his arms are still working.
His hearing was also in check as he heard other audible moans and groans. He turned, hearing a concerning crack from his back but deigned to ignore it, seeing his squadmates picking themselves from the ground.
"Is everyone alright?" Jack knew none of them are fine. But he still wants to know if they can continue forward.
"I'm fine. Your all welcome by the way! No need to thank me!" Ivory exclaimed, the most energetic member of their squad looked haggard but is not the worst off compared to the others.
"Where are we? Are those things gone?" Kendra questioned holding her left arm, no doubt injured during the fall. Now that she mentioned it, Jack realized they were in some sort of main chamber of sorts. Railways and walkways spiraling upwards and Dust in all shapes and colours everywhere he looked.
"We're in the main mining chamber… this is our destination." Luc answered, his tone sounding just as pained as his current state. Luc's left sleeve was torn off along with his weapon previously, his bare arm was bleeding, his coat is holding by a thread, and his goggles were gone.
All in all, NIKL Squad wasn't doing so well, and with SABR Squad MIA they are all just out of luck.
Fortunately for them Jack could see a few other tunnels. The one they used had completely collapsed.
"Well were here. Kendra do you think you have some juice left to check this place?" Jack asked, hoped more like.
Kendra gave a tired sigh but nodded otherwise. "I'll see what I can find." She then, with a grunt of pain, knelt down and placed her hand onto the ground.
A field of yellow sprung out, but it was noticeably smaller than usual.
But it was enough. Aura constructs formed into more creatures that Jack at this point expected from this place.
These creatures are even larger than the dog-sized things they fought before. They looked like floating crabs, huge pincers for arms, and webbed spider legs. There were dozens of these things passing through and out the field when Jack's eyes followed one of these crabs he saw a specific pattern in their movements.
"They seem to be doing something. But what exactly?" Ivory asked, watching the same crabs as Jack.
Jack saw one crab float over to a nearby wall at the very edge of the field. It looked like it was clawing at something before placing an unseen item on it's back before making its way out of the field.
Jack then looked at the same wall the crab was at, and noticed it was dug out, a few scraps of Dust was all that's left.
Then it hit him. "These things are collecting Dust." Jack said to the rest of the group. He saw the worried looks on all his squadmates. "Why are they collecting Dust? Why do these things need Dust for!?" Ivory exclaimed. Confusion and worry were evident in her tone.
"It is concerning. But the matter of the fact is all of these things are coming from one tunnel." Luc then pointed towards another tunnel, one that Jack hadn't noticed until now.
Now that he sees it, all the crabs are heading towards that same tunnel. Is that where these creatures came from?
But that begs the questions. Where are these things now?
"Kendra how recent is this?" Jack asked. "An hour ago. Around the same time before those other creatures." Kendra replied as she dispersed her semblance.
Jack nodded, seeing Buckshot some feet away, he went over and retrieved his trusty gun. "Alright everyone. I'm calling a full retreat back to base. We will report what we found and get the cavalry to root out these things for good." Jack said. He may not know what these things are exactly, but he does know that they are not nice. If left alone, these things could be a threat to Atlas's national security.
These things cannot be left alone. They have already proven themselves to be just as dangerous as the Grimm. "Alright, everyone. Let's get out of-"
Jack's eyes widened as a MASSIVE monstrosity popped up from the ground right in front of him. He didn't have time to think as its claws were already swinging towards his head, one that he quickly rolled away from and backed against a wall.
The rest of his squad were soon forced to his position. Kendra dodged away from a huge serpent-like monstrosity just like him, Ivory blinked to their position before a giant beetle-like creature exploded out from the very spot she teleported from. Luc was launched to their position, Jack barely managing to catch Luc's as he crashed and tumbled across the ground to them.
They were surrounded by dozens, possibly hundreds of these creatures. Creatures that would give Jack far more nightmares then the Grimm ever could, their glaring, burning eyes is all he could focus on. Their backs against a literal wall and his squad are in no condition to for any plan of escape much less fight their way out.
This was it. They were done for.
But then why aren't they dead yet?
"Why are they just standing there? They have us completely surrounded." Kendra whispered; fear laced with worry controlled her tone. "I don't know Kendra. But I don't like it at all." Ivory replied.
"They are waiting for something… Just like the last horde of creatures." Luc said, eying the creatures surrounding them.
Jack didn't like the sound of that. Whatever was coming must be far scarier than these creatures. They needed to do something fast. But what?
Jack eyed his immediate area, trying to find something, anything, to help with their situation. But it was no use. All he could see to his left were some outcrops of Dust and-
Jack slowly looked to the Dust. Then back to the horde of monstrosities in front of him, all hissing and salivating before discreetly looking all around the chamber.
Now that he noticed. He could feel the Dust energies in the air. A natural phenomenon with a chamber filled with Dust such as the one they were currently in. It was taught at Atlas academy, the energies signify the high concentration of Dust, but also signifies the dangers of setting of the Dust. If one Dust goes off, then the chain reaction will set off the others through these same energies.
And these creatures. They fear fire for a reason if before was any indication.
"I have a plan." Jack simply shared. Earning him concerned looked from both Ivory and Kendra.
"I don't like how you said that." Ivory said in a worried tone. She had every right to be, this plan will either save them or kill them.
Kendra held Jack's gaze before looking back to the horde of monsters, some of them noticeably drawing closer. "Whatever it is Jack. You better do it now." Kendra hastily whispered.
Jack, collecting his courage, quickly reached for the outcrop beside him, snapped off the largest piece he could, and pulled out his lighter and lit the flame just a bare inch underneath the piece of Dust.
The creatures surrounding them roared and surged forwards at Jack's sudden movements, but suddenly stopped when he held the piece of Dust over his lighter at them.
"JACK! What. Are. You. Doing!" Kendra demanded, no doubt thinking Jack had gone insane.
However, Jack did not dare draw his eyes away from both the creatures and his lighter. "I'm saving us all. The creatures know what will happen if I light this piece of Dust. DO YOU!" Jack shouted out at the creatures, some of the nearest recoiling back as he waved the lighter underneath the Dust, warding them away.
He then slowly moved towards the nearest creature, one of the massive beetles. The beetle and those behind it slowly moved away from Jack as he moved forward. Eventually, he could hear his team following closely as Jack moved slowly through the crowd of creatures.
The creatures all gave out angry hisses and shrill cries, but none dared approach him, giving him a wide berth. They knew exactly what he was semi-bluffing to do. "Yeah… you all know don't you." Jack said, taking an almost mocking tone at the surrounding creatures. "You attack me and then…" He made a show of spreading his arms before retuning them into position. "Boom… this mine goes off. This mine is important to you all. So don't test me and none of us will die."
They were right at the center of the horde now. Jack could see the open tunnel. Just a few more meters to go.
Suddenly one of the serpents hissed and made to approach him, but Jack simply raised his lighter and Dust at the creature like some sort of religious symbol used to ward demons away. But unlike a religious symbol, his threat worked as the serpent stopped in it's tracks. "Good… just stay where you are like a good monster. We will be on our-"
Suddenly the lighter and the Dust was wretched out of his hands by some unseen force as Jack panicked, watching as both items flew into the dark tunnel he was leading his squad towards to.
All Jack could see is a hand, illuminated by the lighter it was holding as whoever is holding his lighter approached the chamber. All Jack could hear are the sounds of footsteps hitting the hard rock floor at a leisurely pace.
Suddenly, as if by some unknown command, the creatures nearest to the tunnel parted. Making a clear path to tunnel.
Jack and his squad would have made a run for it, but they could not move. It was not a metaphorical sense of not being able to move because of the intimidation of the situation, Jack suddenly realized he CANNOT physically move. His arms were frozen, his legs refused to move forward, and he could barely move his head as it is.
And from the sounds of it, the others couldn't move as well. Jack from his periphery saw numerous white flashes of Ivory's semblance, only to hear grunts of exertion and what sounded like frustration from the young woman. He could also hear both Kendra and Luc exerting whatever strength they have left in freeing themselves from the invisible force holding them in place but to no avail.
Jack, however, kept his eyes on the approaching figure holding his still lit lighter. The footsteps growing louder and louder with every step that it became almost unbearable.
Finally, the one holding his lighter came out into the light of the chamber. Jack balked at what he saw.
It was a man. He looked no older than Ivory but was just as tall as Jack. His attire is something to note, a tattered white coat that have seen better days over a black turtleneck, pants, and black boots. However, despite his clothes or his apparent youthful looks age, Jack immediately felt something off about this guy. It was the way he walked as if every step was predetermined. The way he carried himself with a confidence that was almost unnatural. Finally, it was the way he looked directly at Jack with those piercing orange eyes. Jack felt vulnerable as if this unknown man knew all his secrets while his face and eyes betrayed absolutely nothing. No hate. No curiosity. Absolutely nothing.
If none of these reasons can convince himself that this guy is unnatural, then seeing this same man walk through the path created by these creatures without a single hint of concern or worry put the final nail for Jack. Hell, the creatures surrounding them suddenly became quiet in this man's presence.
There was just one question going through Jack's head. Who is this man?
Jack's eyes never left the unknown man in front of him as he soon stood a mere three feet away from Jack. Jack stared down this unknown man and could not break away, his orange eyes was all he could see as everything else was blurred out. All Jack could focus on is the glowing orange globes-
The small sound brought Jack out of his sudden daze, noticing the man in front of him had closed his lighter. What the hell was that?
"Where do you come from?"
Jack looked at the unknown man. "Wha-What?" Jack blearily asked.
"Where… do you come from." The man repeated but slower.
"From Huntsman Outpost Two. Five hundred klicks southwest." Jack didn't know why he was telling the man this, but he felt he could trust him.
"Jack! What are you doing?" Kendra questioned. Leave it to Kendra to be the suspicious one.
"Why have you come to my mine?" The man asked another question. His tone even, clear and compelling.
"To search for an unknown target that my squad discovered eight days ago when scouting out a unknown energy signature. General Ironwood of the Atlas Military then assigned us the off the book's mission of scouting this mine and finding the unknown target. The General was also concerned of bandits obtaining this mine for their own use." Jack explained.
This got a reaction out of the man as his eyes widened a tad bit before just as immediately schooling back to his neutral look. "I see…"
"Jack! What's wrong with you! Snap out of it!" Ivory cried out from behind Jack. What are they talking about? Didn't they trust this guy?
"He's being controlled! He's-" Luc? Why did he suddenly go silent? What was he talking about? Controlled? He's not under anyone's control.
"Luc! What ha-"
"Kendr-" Then there was silence. What happened to his squadmates?
"I rendered the others unconscious. Now we can continue our talk." The man informed. "Now what exactly is Atlas's interest with my mine? Are they aware of me and my creatures?"
Jack frowned. "I apologize but that information was not shared. The General classified it to all ears but his and his closest associates, only sharing how these mines are a key Atlas Military interest. As for your second question the General is aware of an unknown person possibly within these mines, hence why the General sent my squad and SABR Squad to scout out these mines." Jack explained.
The man frowned. Another reaction Jack managed to get out of him. "I see… Where is this other squad? Are there any others?"
Jack shook his head. "SABR Squad was separated during a cave-in. It's just them and my squad here and no one else."
"Does anyone else know about your presence here?"
"Only Commander Frost and General Ironwood. We are expected to contact base as soon as we scouted out the mine." Jack explained.
The man nodded. "Very well. Now… sleep."
Suddenly Jack's vision became blurry, until there was only darkness.
Location: Solitas, Huntsman Outpost 2
Huntsman Outpost 2. One of the major outposts the Atlas Military has set up for both military presence in the heart of Solitas as well as a supply center for Huntsmen and Huntresses on mission. The base, like everything within the Atlesian Military, was built for efficiency. Large defensive walls with defensive batteries and turrets manned 24/7 by some of the finest soldiers, Specialists, Atlesian Knights and on occasion Huntsmen looking to earn a little more Lien. A single snow trodden road cut straight through the base to the other side, reduces whatever traffic may come in and out of the base. A quad landing pad for air vehicles and a central relay tower directly built into the main command building located just off the road.
Commander Frost stood just outside his office at the very top of the command center. Snow gently fell all around him as his ice-blue eyes scanned the very base before him. He then looked towards the mountains in the far distance.
Just earlier today he sent two of his Specialists squads, NIKL and SABR, to scout out the abandoned SDC mine located near the Aurora Pass. It's been ten hours since he sent them, and they have not contacted back since.
Despite the shenanigans NIKL Squad usually gets into, they are one of the best squads his outpost has. Despite their lack of usual respect for military rank, NIKL Squad had completed numerous missions in good time under his authority, with SABR Squad this mission should've been a standard scouting mission.
However, they were silent for the past ten hours and the General demanded an update. At first, Frost tried to get his people to contact both squads but for some reason comms were fuzzy. Nothing could get through.
By the eight hour mark, General Ironwood demanded an update on the scouting mission. Frost could understand the General's demands. That SDC mine is a prime resource reserve of Dust. If what NIKL Squad reported was true then the bandits will get their hands on that Dust before Atlas does, then the Kingdom would lose a precious Dust resource on home territory.
So Frost sent out three of the four Manta Jets his base has on hand to the mines, to see what happened to his Specialists and discern why they didn't communicate back. Two of the Jets were filled with soldiers from his base while the third had a team of Huntsmen he quickly hired for the retrieval mission.
Frost assumed the worst. He always had too concerning where he is. The outpost, while heavily defended, was smack right in the middle of an uncleared zone of Solitas, meaning there are roving packs of Grimm, some a hundred strong.
As the highest-ranking officer in the Outpost Frost has a duty to both Atlas and to the soldiers underneath him. He strongly enforces a 'leave no man behind' policy in his base.
And he'll be damned if he's leaving those Specialists in that mine.
"Commander Frost! Sir!"
Frost turned to greet the saluting soldier. A Private according to his shoulder badge. "At ease Private. Any news from the second team?" Frost questioned.
The Private nodded. "Communications just got word that both Specialist squads were found, alive but suffered injuries. They were found trekking back towards the Outpost, about ten klicks from the mine sir."
Frost frowned. "Why were they ten klicks from the mines? What happened?"
"Sir all they explained through the comms was that they found civilians trapped within the mine and were forced to retreat due to Grimm. Their communication devices were also destroyed in the ensuing retreat."
Frost's frown creased even further. "What's their ETA?"
Before the Private could answer, the roar of a Manta engine could be heard in the distance. From his spot Frost could clearly see three Manta's in the distance.
"On second thought Private don't answer that. Prepare the medical bays for wounded and have medics at the landing pad by the time those Mantas land!" Frost ordered. "Sir! Yes! Sir!" The Private gave a crisp salute before rushing down the stairs to carry out his order.
A few minutes later Frost is now standing at the landing pad as the Manta's slowly descended to a landing. As the Atleasian jet landed in front of him, its side doors slid open to reveal a haggard-looking Jack supporting what looks to be an injured civilian.
Immediately the medics rushed forward and started helping the wounded and civilians off of the Mantas. Frost noticed that most of the civilians that came out of the jets were women and children that looked to be no older than ten.
As the medics and soldiers helped the civilians, Frost briskly made his way towards Jack, who was helping the medics to carry out some of the older civilians. "Specialist Jack! You have a lot of explaining to do!" Frost shouted out to the Squad Leader.
As expected, Jack Nickel turned and gave a lazy salute. "Commander Frost! So glad you can join us!"
Commander Frost stood a mere foot from the haggard man as a medic was trying to apply aid to the Squad Leader sitting on the Manta's open interior. "What happened out there Jack? Where is the rest of your squad? Where did all these civilians come from?" Frost questioned.
Jack let out a tired sigh. "What can I say. We started searching the mine as the General ordered. Found these civvies hold up in one of the tunnels. They were remnants of the Tundra Wolves before their whole bandit group was slaughtered by Grimm, forcing the survivors into the mines for safety. Anyway, when we encountered these survivors the Grimm, Sentinels by the way, and a chalk load of them attacked us. There were simply too many for my squad and SABR Squad to hold out against and the panicking civvies only drew more Grimm to us. So we had to retreat. It was the only option we had." Jack explained with another tired sigh.
Frost could see how exhausted Jack is and seeing two members of SABR Squad being carried out in stretchers, they must have taken more casualties then Jack lets on. If what he said was true then these civvies are indeed bandits, but in Frost's opinion they looked nothing like the Tundra Wolves that routinely raid their supply lines. There were children amongst them, Frost cannot blame Jack for protecting them over the mission.
However, there are still things he needs to know on General Ironwood's behalf. "What about the mine? Did you find the target? Can it still be used?" Frost asked.
Jack glared at him. Frost didn't blame him, if he went through hell and was asked by his C.O. to conduct a full report then Frost would've blown a gasket. However, like Jack, he had orders too.
Jack dropped the glare. "We didn't find the target. We could not with between keeping the civvies safe and fighting off the Grimm. We… could not hold against so many. We were forced to collapse the main tunnel in order to make our escape. There were just too many Grimm within that damnable mine" Jack explained, dropping the bomb onto Frost's lap.
Frost took a moment to gather his thoughts. To not blow on the Specialist who clearly had no choice at the time. So instead he settled for accepting the news. "*Sigh!* The General is not going to like this. But at the very least the mine is now denied to anyone. I'll make the report. You and your squad earned yourselves a week's rest." Frost said, earning him a surprised but positive look from Jack.
"Not going to lie sir I thought you were going to throw me under the bus for that one." Jack said with an incredulous brow.
Frost shook his head. "You saved the lives of both squads and these civvies. I'm sure the General will understand." Frost explained. He had no doubt the General will understand the situation if explained properly. But the General will still not be pleased with the state of the Dust mine now.
"Thank you, sir. Can I go now. I need a smoke."
"Permission granted. Get checked-in at the med-bay first."
Jack nodded as he stood up from the Manta and gave off another lazy salute before making his way pass Frost.
Their eyes met for a moment as Jack past him. For a brief moment Frost saw Jack's green eyes shine orange.
Frost stood dumbfounded before turning back to the Specialist "Jack!?"
Jack stopped and turned to fully face Frost. "Yes?"
Frost looked at Jack's eyes, not seeing the orange shine. Must be seeing things. "Never mind Specialist. Carry on." Frost waved off.
Jack simply nodded back before turning to walk away towards the barracks. Frost returning to lead the relief efforts.
Ceres is not inherently evil, after all he followed Kerrigan and the others to defeat Amon, a dark god who wanted to wipe out all life. But at the same time he's not inherently good either. He's a Cerebrate, A literal Zerg BRAIN created for the sole purpose of leading the Zerg Swarm and guarding it's interests with brutal lethality.
Between writing good guy characters and villain characters, writing morally grey characters and making them neutral, in my opinion, is the most difficult type of character to write. Especially for plot setting like RWBY.
It's easy to write a morally good guy character. I see too many Zerg fics where the protagonist is morally good and a lot of authors, including myself, have fallen into this trope.
Too me it became such a common trope that I appreciate those authors who make the effort to create morally grey characters in a Zerg fic. The amount of stories such as this I can only count on one hand.
Writing a villain is just as easy. If I wanted to make Ceres the ultimate villain of this story, then the story will be straight forward, COMPLETELY different, and you will DEFINITELY know how evil Ceres can truly get if he wanted too.
But that's not who Ceres is. He's not evil nor is he good. He's simply pragmatic. If he thinks something is worth it, he will take it. If he thinks something is dangerous, he will either avoid it or destroy it.
Anyway, here are some question you readers may have.
1)Why does it take so long for Ceres to read minds? Isn't he an master psionic user?
Ceres is indeed has mastery when it comes to his own psionics, especially in mind reading. But keep in mind he wanted to extract as much information from the Exiles, he wanted to know how humanity functions on a world where Terrans are not a thing.
So he reads through a life-time worth of memories. Even someone of his caliber it takes a long time to read through vast amount of memories.
2)Ceres and Zerg cannot gain Aura? Why is that?
It's not the issues of souls or what not. However, who's to say that anyone outside of Remnantcan gain Aura? What if only those people born on Remnant can harness the power of Aura? I want to bring a new perspective on the entire Aura. Later on in my story it will be explained in full detail as to why Ceres and his Zerg cannot gain Aura.
3)Will anyone else be infested by the Zerg? What about RWBY characters?
This is such a common trope amongst Zerg fics.
As explained by Ceres, he has absolutely no interest of infesting anyone especially without Abathur's aid. Kerrigan was a VERY special case and it took the expertise of Abathur to create an infested human of Kerrigan's calibur and several days of incubation before the Queen of Blades was fully birthed.
A lot of fics tend to forget this fact. I imagine you can't just take some random person off the street and make them the next Queen of Blades. There's problems like biological compatibility, time to infest a human, what is needed to make an infested human, WHO needs to make the infestation happen.
So no. Ceres will not be infesting any humans of Remnant.
4)Can't Ceres make another Abathur?
Abathur was created personally by the Overmind from multiple Zerg Species, the very same Overmind who created Ceres and all the other Cerebretes and giving them immortality. Ceres does not have the capabilities to even start creating another Abathur. He would need the entire Zerg Swarm at his disposal in order to do so and right now he is only has one Brood.
As promised, here is another OMAKE, a story sub-plot that I planned for Remnant of the Swarm.
So enjoy. Also remember this was just a story idea, don't expect perfection.
Weiss eyes opened, feeling cold hard ground underneath her and seeing the bars of metal in front of her. She tried to rub her head but soon noticed her wrists were bounded by thick rope.
Seeing no other option Weiss slowly lifted herself off the dirt, sitting up straight before letting out a breath.
What happened? All she could remember was Ceres and her in the cargo transport trying to fight off a swarm of Lancers and their Queen. They managed to kill the Queen, but the Grimm still managed to hit the transport and cripple it's engine.
Weiss remembered trying to use her semblance to slow the transport down, but when the ship was about to crash, she remembered Ceres grabbing her and throwing her out of the transport before it crashed. Afterwards it was all a blur. She remembered seeing a pale woman with long black hair and blood red eyes standing between two men looking down at her, before she knocked Weiss unconscious.
Now Weiss is sitting in a cage in some sort of camp. It was dark out, but the moon was bright and the camp had torches, enough to show Weiss the same two men she saw before she was knocked out sitting on a crate across from her drinking alcohol.
And from the looks of it, they finally noticed her too. "Well… Well… Well… Look who's awake." The man on the left said to the other holding a bottle of alcohol. It is clear to Weiss these were not the run-of-the-mill villagers that dot the lands of Mistral, something that greatly concerns her.
"W-What's going on? Where am I?" Weiss asked in a confused but worried tone. Looking around outside the cage to better see where she may possibly be. Did they find Ceres? Was he alright? He must be. He survived way worse.
"You know…" A voice caught Weiss's attention. Soon a young woman, possibly a bit older than Weiss herself, came out from one of the surrounding tents. "I never thought I'd see a Schnee in this camp." The new woman said as if it was a matter of fact.
"V-Vernal!" One of the men exclaimed as he and his buddy quickly hopped off the crate and stood straighter in this Vernal's presence. Weiss had no idea as to where she was but immediately, she knew she didn't like this Vernal. Especially since she is walking towards Weiss with a smug grin and has HER Myrtenaster in her hand.
Vernal then stood just a few feet away from Weiss's cage, propping a hand on her hip and holding that annoying smug grin on her face.
Weiss frowned as she stood up onto her feet. Meeting Vernal eye to eye. "What do you want?" Weiss asked in a low tone.
The woman's smile grew as she ran her fingers across Myrtenaster's blade. "Straight to the point. I like it. We don't normally deal with trafficking people. Not really worth our time…" Vernal explained, swinging Myrtenaster around like trying out a new toy.
She then pointed Weiss's own rapier at her. "But once we realized we had a Schnee… That changed."
Bandits. Of course it had to be bandits. And there is one reason why they would keep her alive. "Your going to ransom me back to my father. Is that it." Weiss deduced, glaring at the smug woman on the other side of the cage.
Vernal gave a pleased hum before drawing Myrtenaster away. "It's a shame you're a Schnee. You probably do quite well around here." The woman complimented.
Weiss frowned. "I will NEVER stoop to your level."
Something must have hit a nerve in Vernal because she dropped that smug smile of hers. Giving Weiss a Malcom of satisfaction. "Just Keep quiet and you'll be back in your mansion before you know it." Vernal said as she turned around and started to walk away. "Don't make this complicated." Vernal warned.
Weiss was not cowed by this scum. Not in a million years. "What's going to make this complicated is when my teammate discovers that I have been taken, it won't take him long to find me and you." Weiss gave her own warning with a smile of her own. They have no idea who they were messing with.
Suddenly the two bandits started laughing, mocking her. "What's so funny?" Weiss demanded.
She then heard Vernal laughing as the woman turned around to look at her. "I don't know if it's more funny or sad!? But you clearly don't know what happened… Your little teammate is dead. I saw the body myself. Legs were crushed. Metal bits tore through his chest. Left arm torn from it's socket." Vernal listed off with a pleased smile as she approached Weiss's cage.
Vernal then leaned forward. "No one is coming to rescue you." The woman said as her two lackies laughed it up.
However, Weiss met Vernal's eyes with an unamused expression. "Is that all?"
Vernal eyes widened and leaned back; no doubt confused by Weiss's mood. Did she expect Weiss to break down, crying over her teammate's apparent death?
If this one anyone else Weiss would've. But this was Ceres. "His name is Ceres by the way. When he finds this place, and he WILL find this place. He'll make you regret ever taking me." Weiss stated with an even tone.
This got a reaction out of Vernal. "You're clearly delusional. I don't know what they teach you up in Atlas but I didn't think they would make you this stupid." Vernal angrily spat, but Weiss held her expression. "And you clearly have a death wish. You have absolutely no idea what my teammate is capable of." Weiss shot back.
Vernal growled before pointing Myrtenaster at Weiss's neck. "Listen here Schnee. I don't care who your boyfriend was. He's dead in some wreck. And even if he somehow came back to life, I would put him back into the ground where he belongs." Vernal said as she swung up Myrtenaster and briskly walked away.
However, Weiss simply smiled. "Don't say I didn't warn you." Weiss said to the retreating form of Vernal.
Weiss gave a satisfied hum before sitting back down on the clod hard ground. She'll simply wait here, get some rest until Ceres arrives.
Because when he does, Weiss will need to be prepared for what will eventually happen.
It was dawn. Raven is wide awake and doing her morning routine of cleaning of her weapon. Mulling over what to do with their latest catch.
Vernal came in with a pot of tea and a cup, just when Raven was feeling parched. "Vernal."
"Yes Madame." The young girl obediently replied. "How much do you think our catch is worth?" Raven asked, trying to fish for some ideas for the ransom.
Vernal smiled. "Normally I would say at less a couple million. But after what she spouted last night, I wouldn't pay a single lien for her." Vernal answered, catching Raven's interest. For the Schnee to leave such a insulting impression on Vernal, now that is something to note. "What did she say last night?"
After pouring the tea Vernal chuckled. "She said her teammate, Ceres or whatever, would find us and make us regret ever taking her. Just some stupid nonsense from a delusional girl." Vernal explained.
Raven quirked an eyebrow. "And her teammate is…"
"Dead. A mangled up corpse in the wreckage you found. Saw the body myself. It's nothing to worry about." Vernal simply said without a second thought.
Raven however, frowned. "Are you certain her teammate was dead?" Normally Raven would've taken Vernal's word as it is but knowing what she knew there are beings in this world that are thought to be an impossibility. Especially what occurred that night when Beacon was attacked.
Vernal gave a firm nod before placing a cup of tea in front of Raven. "Absolutely. I would stake my left leg on it."
Raven held her gaze before nodding and taking the tea. "Very well. Prepare a camera later. We'll need-"
*Bang!* *Bang!* *Bang!*
Gunshots. Raven simply rolled her eyes. Just what she needed in the morning. "Vernal. Go see who that was." Raven simply ordered.
Vernal nodded before rushing out of her tent. Raven simply sat in her spot. Enjoying her tea.
Now that sounded closer. Within the camp. Raven slowly placed down her tea before retrieving her weapon and sheath. After attaching her weapon to her side, she then donned her mask and stepped out of her tent.
Her tent is facing the center of the camp. A large clearing was made right at the center all the way to the gate. The camp was surrounded by thick wooden stakes driven into the ground to make the walls.
The clearing was made for two reasons. One to make enough space to fight. Two to easily surround anyone foolish enough to enter her camp.
So when she exited her tent, she was surprised to see not only a young man in a bloodied tattered white lab coat standing in the middle of the clearing, but also seeing the bodies of some of her men strewn around him.
The young man was currently holding one of her gate guards by the neck without an ounce of effort. Said guard is grasping beating away at the unknown man's arm, but the tattered coat man paid him no mind. His orange eyes stared directly at Raven's own, betraying absolutely nothing, not even blinking.
Raven looked over to Vernal standing beside her. Vernal had her weapons out, her body was tense, her hands were slightly shaking, and the look of shock and fear were evident in her eyes. If it is as she had seen a ghost.
Raven turned her gaze back at the young man just in time to see him throw away the guard in his hand. The entire camp is in arms and have the young man surrounded, but all dared not attack, not without her say so.
So Raven decided to speak. "Who are you!? And why have you so rudely entered my camp!?" Raven demanded, announcing her voice for all to hear.
If the man was intimidated, then Raven would have known. The man before her carried himself with a confidence much like her own. Certain that nothing can hurt him. That her clan is not even a threat to him.
"My name is Ceres Kerrigan. I have come looking for the one you and your bandits so rudely kidnapped." The now named Ceres answered.
Underneath her mask Raven quirked a curious eyebrow. This was the supposed dead teammate of the Schnee. The one Vernal said that was dead.
Though his coat and clothes told a story of carnage and blood. Ceres himself looked absolutely fine. His body showed no obvious wounds befitting a man who died in a transport crash. Just who is he exactly?
Time to find out. "And who will that be exactly?" Raven asked, feigning ignorance.
Ceres frowned. "I know she is here. So I will give you an ultimatum. You will release her back into my custody." The young man said.
Audacity in this one is. Thinking he can simply walk up to her and take what he wants. But Raven does respect his confidence, even though it's a foolish endeavour. "Or what exactly… will you do?" Raven raised her sheath as everyone readied their weapons in a silent threat.
However, despite being surrounded this one named Ceres did not react. He didn't move, much less look around to see the obvious danger. His eyes stayed solely on Raven's own with a steel that would've cowed any lesser man.
This man is too confident. Something is not right. "This is the Branwen Tribe, is it not?" Ceres asked.
Raven frowned. What is he playing at? "Yes. If you know that name, then you very well know that crossing me is a mistake." Raven threatened.
"And why will that be? Raven Branwen." Ceres asked. Raven was a little surprised he knew her name, but nonetheless did not care as to how. "Because you stand in the middle of my tribe. The strongest tribe from Anima to Sanus. If you think you'll be able to leave here alive then you are just a fool." Raven said.
Ceres gave a amused snort, then a small chuckle. Many within the tribe growled at this. "What do you find so amusing?" Raven demanded.
Ceres stopped, schooling his features back to it's neutral state. "That you believe yourselves to be strong. Especially you Raven Branwen." His eyes pierced in Raven's own. "You believe yourselves to be strong. Powerful. But all I see is a band of weak willed prey."
Ceres continued despite the growing anger of those around him. "You attack villages outside from the safety of the kingdoms. Ransack their homes, take what little is left and leave the survivors to the Grimm. Where you see strength, I see dependence. Your so called tribe depend on these villages in order to survive, prey on those who have the strength and courage to make a living outside the Kingdoms safety. Yet your tribe gains nothing from attacking these villages other then temporary supplies and other worthless wares." Ceres explained with a dismissive wave of his hand, pacing around.
He continued his lecture. "When true predators hunt prey, they learn, they adapt their techniques, they evolve their own strengths over-time to take on larger prey. You however, stay stagnate. You gain nothing from attacking weak villages, just a bloated ego you call strength. But when another, stronger predator arrives. You will turn tail and run." Ceres eyes then met Raven's. "So I will ask you once more Raven Branwen. Release Weiss Schnee into my custody or I will kill every last member of your tribe."
Raven would've laughed, but all she felt was anger at how audacious this man is. Calling them weak. Saying her tribe dependent on weak-willed villagers.
Raven drew her sword as everyone surrounding Ceres readied their weapons. "Says the fool who came here alone! Poor choice of words to say before your death." Raven announced, earning a few jeering laughs and insults towards the man.
However, Ceres's expression hardened. "That is where you're wrong again. I am never alone."
That was the only warning Raven received before the surrounding walls of her camp exploded into splinters. Monstrosities of all shapes and sizes let loose a chorus of roars before pouring into the camp. Her Tribesmen turned to face this new threat, only to be cut down like chaff by the unstoppable rush of monstrous bodies.
Raven was forced to defend herself, slicing through one lizard like creature before decapitating another from behind. Her eyes widened in both shock and recognition. How can she not recognize these creatures after watching videos of the very night of the attack on Beacon.
'The Zerg!? Why are they here!?' Raven thought as she cut down another creature before leaping away from a giant serpent.
All around her tribe was being slaughtered. A man was tackled by a swarm of creatures before being torn into pieces, pockets of resistance were soon overwhelmed and torn apart, many were dragged away clawing on the ground and screaming in desperate pleas.
Raven had no choice. She had to use it or she and her tribe will die.
After cutting down any creature, a burst of spines tore off her helmet, forcing her to backpedal. Then she saw him. Ceres walked through the slaughter at a leisurely pace straight towards where Weiss Schnee was being held.
Raven watched as the two men tasked to guarding the Schnee tried to fight Ceres, one screamed in rage and charged while the second cowered behind the first.
Ceres didn't even stop as his left arm flashed out and the decapitated head of the first man flew into the air. The second man lost his wits and tried to run, only to run directly into a massive beetle-like Zerg and was doused in green acid.
All Raven saw was red as her eyes burned with the power of the Spring Maiden. She let loose a battle cry before shooting straight for the man's back.
Ceres was standing directly in front of the Schnee's cage, the girl seeing her come tried to warn him, but it was too late. Raven's blade was already swinging towards his-
It all happened so fast. First thing she saw was Ceres spinning, a glowing blade from his wrist cutting clean through her own blade, and then a fist rocketing her back across the camp.
Raven felt herself crash into something soft, then something hard broke her fall. When she recovered, she noticed she was standing in the remains of her own tent. She turned back to see Ceres tear open the cage bars before the Schnee stepped out, her bound wrists were soon freed by Ceres's glowing blade.
It was this point Raven noticed the sudden silence. Looking around she realized she was surrounded. The Zerg had her surrounded, she could see the blood of her people in their maw, those that survived retreated to where she stood, including Vernal, who looked far worse shape then she was mere minutes ago.
The Zerg were slowly closing the gap, like a noose around her neck. They didn't charge nor did they attack.
"R-Raven what do we do?" Vernal asked in a desperate tone. She was missing a weapon and holding the other one in her good hand.
Raven knew what to do. She gathered the powers of the Maiden. The sky darkens, thunder cracked, the wind swirled around her. Her eyes blazed with power as she readied her sword too-
Suddenly her entire world exploded into pain.
She couldn't hear anything. She couldn't think. It feels as if hot-cold nails are being drilled into her head. She didn't know how long she was in pain for. All she could feel was the pain, growing more unbearable by the second.
Then as suddenly as it happened, the pain disappeared. Raven collapsed on all fours greedily gasping for air and vomited onto the ruins of her tent. She still couldn't hear, her ears are still ringing from the pain as she saw droplets of blood trail down her cheeks and splatter on the red tent below her.
Her vision slowly focused as did her hearing. She could soon hear the retching and gasping of those beside her.
Fighting through the dizziness and pounding headache, Raven slowly stood back onto her feet. Using her sword to keep her standing.
Right in front of her is Ceres, with the Schnee right beside him. "Weiss which one was the one that took your weapon?" Ceres asked the Schnee.
Weiss simply walked forward right up to a kneeling Vernal before bending down and taking the Dust Rapier from Vernal's hip. "I'll be taking this back now. Thank you for holding onto it. Vernal." The Schnee said with a frown before walking back to Ceres.
Once the Schnee stood beside Ceres, the monster in human form stared directly at Raven. "What the hell are you!" Raven growled out.
Ceres's eyes glowed orange with power. "I am Ceres Kerrigan, leader of the Zerg Swarm."
Raven screamed as the pain returned, collapsing once more back onto the ground.
However, the pain ended far quicker than the last. Raven looked up and saw the Schnee grabbing Ceres's attention by his coat sleeve. "Ceres lets just go. There is no need to waste more time with these low-lives." The girl said with a sincere look.
Before Ceres could reply he suddenly stopped and turned his attention towards something behind him as the Schnee did the same.
"Ceres!? Weiss!? Is that you!?"
Raven knew that voice. Soon enough the swarm of Zerg parted by some unknown command to reveal none other then her daughter.
"Yang!?" Weiss exclaimed with a confused but surprised tone. "What are you doing here!?"
"What are YOU two doing here!?"
"I was kidnapped by these bandits!"
"Yeah that doesn't explain why you're suddenly in Anima! Ceres explain!"
"I helped Weiss escape Atlas. We were on our way to Mistral to reunite with Ruby until we were attacked by Grimm and crashed landed on this continent. Weiss was taken by these bandits, so I gathered my forces to retrieve her."
"Alright now I understand. Now could you be so kind as to spare that woman. We are going to need her if we want to reach Ruby."
"You wish to speak with your mother? Very well."
"Wait! YOUR MOTHER KIDNAPPED ME!?"
"First of all, not my mother! She left me when I was a kid! Ceres you know that very well with that mind reading powers of yours!"
All the while they were talking, Raven and the survivors around her managed to recover and stand back up to their feet. Raven counted only ten of her tribe left, including those who just returned with her daughter.
Her camp was in ruin. The bodies of both Zerg and those from her Tribe laid strewn about. Some still bleeding, others were torn apart.
Raven looked back to her daughter. "What do you want Yang?" Raven questioned, her tone tired and not in the best mood.
"Make portal to Qrow. I know your semblance is connected to him." Her daughter demanded. Of course, family, only coming around only to demand things of you.
Raven glared. "And why should I after what your FRIEND did to my tribe!" Raven exclaimed, pointing her sword at Ceres.
Yang crossed her arm. "Because if you don't, my friend here will just simply mind control you to do it anyway. So I'm giving you the option of doing it yourself out of your own free will."
Raven gave an angry grunt. "Fine." She raised her sword and sliced open a red portal. "Here's your portal! Take it and leave my Tribe alone!" Raven exclaimed, stepping away from the portal.
Yang gave a nod before turning to the monster and the Schnee. "We got our portal. I'm heading back to get my bike. Be back soon." Yang said as she ran off through the Zerg.
Ceres turned and brought his gaze to meet Raven's own. Raven's head suddenly pounded with phantom pains. Ceres said nothing as Weiss simply glared at Raven. Soon enough yang returned, riding her motorcycle through the Zerg. "I'm back. Now let's get out of here."
"Agreed Yang." Weiss supported as she hopped onto the back of Yang's bike, earning her a curious look from yang. "I'm tired alright. Don't judge me." Weiss simply said with a indigent huff.
Yang nodded before slowly moving her motorcycle. "Alright. Ceres follow in behind us."
Ceres gave a curt nod before following Yang's motorcycle. As Her daughter and the Schnee entered through her portal, Ceres stopped right before the portal, giving her one last look.
"You live another day Raven Branwen. Pray that we do not cross paths again."
Raven growled at the monster. But said nothing as he entered her portal.
Raven held the portal up for a few moments before shutting it close. The Zerg in front of her held their gaze at what remained of her tribe. Just when she thought they were going to finish the job, all of them turned and dispersed into the surrounding forest.
But not all left. A single Lizard Zerg with a broken horn stared directly at Raven. It's amber glowing eyes staring into her own.
Then the thing suddenly turned away and sprinted into the trees. Leaving Raven and the survivors amongst the ruins of their tribe. Leaving Raven feeling weak and humiliated.
And that's that. The backstory for this Omake takes place 7 months after the Fall of Beacon (Or Attack of Beacon) a "WHAT-IF" Scenario between Ceres going to Weiss to Mistral or going with Blake to Menagerie.
As you can see this is the Weiss scenario. The next one will be about Blake.
So as I said, four chapters for this story as I promised. I will now be returning to my usual two chapters per story routine. I'll be updating Remnant's Grey Knight once again; it's been some time since it's last update.
See you next time.