"So, the next town is… uh-huh… uh-huh… Yeah, we're lost."
Jaune blinked. "We're not lost, Ruby. The next town is Shion! My family used to visit it all the time!" Pyrrha looked up at him from her musings at that. "Really? It must've been nice."
"Yeah, it was," Jaune smiled, then frowned. "Would've been better if I had less sisters, but, well."
Ruby turned to him. "Oh yeah, don't you have, like, four sisters?"
Jaune was silent for a moment. "Uh… seven, actually." He grimaced at the huntress when Ruby giggled, and Nora joined the conversation from behind them. "You know, that actually explains a lot."
"...Wait, what do you mean?"
Ruby coughed. "So, what did you guys do there?" She let Jaune grab the other end of the map as he pointed things out, Pyrrha watching curiously over his shoulders. "Oh, all sorts of stuff! Over here," he jabbed at a section of the map, "is a great hiking trail, and over here is where we went camping all the time. I got my own tent because I was special."
He paused for a moment.
"Also, so my sisters would stop braiding my hair."
Ruby grinned at the image his words invoked. "Didn't like the look?"
"Yeah, they just kept doing pigtails, but personally, I'm more of a 'warrior's wolf tail' kind of guy."
"You would look splendid with a wolf's tail," Pyrrha muttered somewhat to herself. "Although, isn't that just a manly ponytail?"
"...I stand by what I said-"
And arrow sunk into the ground in front of his foot.
Immediately, the map was tossed away and Team RJNPR unsheathed their weapons, and only then did they notice the smoke coming from the buildings ahead, and the group of people in front of the gate.
The two groups stared at each other, then one, a huntsmen, by the looks of things, stepped forward. "State you business, please. We've had enough 'uninvited guests' for the day," he growled.
Motioning for them to lower their weapons, Pyrrha stepped forward. "Uh, hello! We're just heading to Haven, and we were hoping for somewhere to sleep tonight."
The huntsman stared at them for a moment, then nodded, gesturing for his fellows to lower their weapons. "...Alright, but no funny business."
With their concession, the students approached the town of Shion, noting it's blackened and broken walls, and the few burnt buildings inside, including what looked to be the town center. "What happened here?" Jaune asked the huntsmen, staring at the smoldering village. People lumbered around, usually lugging wood planks or furniture to repair and move. The town center was abuzz with activity as the villagers removed everything still intact from it.
"What happened?" the huntsman spat. "Bandits happened. The whole tribe, damn Branwens."
Ruby winced at that, but the huntsman didn't notice, so Ren asked another query. "You… fought them all off? Well done. Your skills must be well refined."
The huntsman blinked, then laughed. "Hah! Me, fight of a whole tribe? No, no." Then his smile faded and he frowned.
"I don't know how, but they set fire to some of the buildings to distract us. Some of the villagers say they saw lightning, but…" He shook his head. "By the time we figured out the bandits were coming, they were nearly at the gate. I did what I could, but their leader just plowed right through me."
The huntsman lifted his sleeves showing the the healing gashes on them. "I thought I was done for, then…"
One of the village militia spoke for him. They came."
Another nodded. "I'd never seen anything like them," she spoke in awe. "Great, hulking canines, colored as if made from the elements of dust. They were… magnificent."
The huntsman nodded, taking in the shock from the newcomers. "It's true. We'd all be dead if it weren't for those beasts. The way they moved, the way they fought… it was if they were dancing."
"They managed to drive the tribe off, with attacks unlike any we'd seen before," the woman from before added, and the students thought over it.
"Do…" Pyrrha spoke first, drawing the attention of the villagers. "Do you think they had Semblances?"
Jaune noticed she was twirling her right ankle, something she had taken to doing while anxious. He gently grabbed her hand, and she squeezed back.
"I'm not sure," the huntsman said. "I don't know what they were or where they came from. As far as I can tell, their not from around here, but they stayed to help us fight off the Grimm when they came."
Ren and Nora flinched. They both knew what happened to a village when panic and fear shot through the roof.
"After that, the blue one helped put out the fires, then… they were gone." the huntsman looked back towards the gate. "As quick as the wind, even." The huntsman grimaced again, turning back towards the town center. "We lost a few in the fires, but for the most part, the village is still standing, thanks to them."
Team RJNPR digested this story, while their minds turned back to Beacon.
Could it be?
Could these strange beasts be related to the phoenix?
"So…" Nora prompted. "About that place to sleep…"
The female villager shook herself out of her reverie. "Oh, my apologies. We would offer you lodging, but as you can see-" timber from a burnt out husk of a home fell from it's roof, crashing into the ground, and the woman sighed. "We don't exactly have space to spare."
"There's a good camping spot not to far from here," another villager added. "But, if you walk fast, I think you might make it to the next village before nightfall."
Ruby nodded. "Is there anything we can do to help?" But the villagers shook their heads. "We'll be fine. We've survived so far, we'll survive a bit longer, Brothers willing. Best get on your way, before night sets in."
After a few more conversations, they left the town behind, with various expressions on their face. Jaune and Ruby looked tired. Pyrrha seemed anxious, for reasons unknown to her. Ren and Nora's hands were trembling, but they didn't let go of each other.
Unlike when they first arrived, they walked in silence.
Qrow had honestly been surprised that they pushed walking through the night.
While it seemed that they had underestimated the distance it was to the nearest inn, they didn't stop to rest, only taking short food breaks. Then they kept going, seemingly determined not to sleep in the open after what they saw.
He could understand the sentiment, but that didn't mean he liked not sleeping.
It gave him too much time to think about his sister.
So you can imagine, to his relief, when Team RJNPR reached Higanbana the next evening and promptly collapsed into bed for several hours. Not him, though. He needed a drink. So, he went to the tavern next to the inn, content with the fact that if anything came up he could fly over to his niece in an instant.
He blinked when the shot of bear was placed on his table. "Oh, I didn't or-"
The waitress (a cute one, he would admit) smirked at him flirtatiously. "From the woman upstairs. Red eyes. Said you wouldn't mind bottom shelf."
For fuck's sake.
He sighed, downing sipping at the drink. "Thanks."
The waitress winked at him. "But I went ahead and gave you top. Lucky you."
He blinked again. Then smirked. Whoever taught her how to flirt did an excellent job. The he scowled, picked up his drink, and went upstairs. Sure enough, there his sister sat, obviously waiting for him.
He stared at he for a moment before moving to sit down. "Raven." He dragged the chair that was beside her to the other side of the table.
Like hell he was going to sit right beside her. That's just an odachi waiting to be plunged into his back.
Raven rolled her eyes at his antics, but said nothing, so Qrow decided to start. "What do you want?"
She had the audacity to look slightly hurt. "A girl can;t just catch up with her family?"
He scoffed. "She can, but your not. Now, how 'bout we get on with it?" He shook his now empty glass. "Unless you plan on keeping these comin'."
Raven scowled. "Does she have it?"
Brothers, he really hated her sometimes. "Did you know Yang lost her arm?" He noticed Raven looked somewhat put off by the news; either she didn't know or she hadn't thought he would bring it up.
It was the latter, they both knew.
"Rhetorical question," Qrow cut her off. "I know you know. It's just obnoxious that you'd bring up family then carry on like your own daughter doesn't exists."
"I saved her," his sister growled, and Qrow all but slammed his glass into the table. "Once. Because that was you rule, right?" He scoffed. "Real 'Mom of the Year' material, sis."
Obviously, she didn't think so, since she leaned forward and grabbed his forearm wit a tighter grip than necessary. "I told you Beacon would fall and it did. I told you Ozpin would fail and he has. Now, you tell me. Does. Salem. Have it?"
"...I thought you weren't interested in all of that."
Raven gave a small sigh. "I just want to know what we're up against."
"And which 'we' are we referring to?"
Her glare renewed at him, but she let go of his arm and sat back with a noise of disgust. This time, it was Qrow who sighed. "You should come back, Raven. The only way we'd beat her is by working together. All of us."
She snorted. "You're the one who left. The tribe raised us, and you turned your back on them."
"They were killers and thieves."
"They were your family!"
"You have a very skewed perception of that word."
She stood up, quite obviously having had enough of him, "I lead our people now. And as leader, I will do everything in my power to ensure our survival."
"I saw," Qrow said, then he grinned. "The people of Shion saw, too. And, obviously, they didn't like what they saw."
Several emotions appeared on his sister's face when he mentioned Shion, and there were only two he recognized off the bat. Anger was one of them
And fear was the other.
What really happened at Shion?
After a pause, Raven spoke again. "The weak die, the strong survive. Those are the rules."
His eyes narrowed. "Well, you've certainly got someone strong on your side. I've seen the damage. Raven turned away from his at that. "We couldn't have known the Grimm would still set in after we were…" routed, Qrow wanted to say, but he pressed on. "I'm not talking about the Grimm."
She shifted slightly.
"And I'm not talking about you, either."
"If you don't know where the Relic is," Raven turned to grab her helm, "then we have nothing left to discuss."
Qrow grabbed her arm before she could pull away. "I don't where the Spring Maiden is, either, but if you do, I need you to tell me."
"And why would I do that?"
"Because without her, we're all going to die."
A moment passed in silence, the Raven turned and began to walk away.
"And who is this 'we' you're referring to?"
He said nothing else as he saw her waltz through a portal of her own making, only turning his head when he heard the sound of shattering glass. He gestured to the waitress with his empty glass.
"Make this one a double."
"Come on, guys! If we pick up the pace, we can hit the next town before sunset!"
"Assuming it's still there," Jaune sighed, and Pyrrha squeezed his hand again. "I'm sure it'll be there, Jaune. We can't lose hope, not now."
Ruby nodded her agreement. "Of course it'll be there! This one's supposed to be pretty big! Hee-gan...bayn-a..?"
"Higanbana," Ren corrected. "It's a well protected village with a popular inn." Nora grinned. "Which means no walking in the rain!"
Ruby smiled. "See? Everything's going to be fine!"
Jaune looked thoughtful for a moment. "Y'know, we've had our ups and downs, but things could be a lost worse. I thought we'd see more Grimm."
Pyrrha and Ren nodded. "So did I, honestly," she confessed.
"I guess out luck is finally turning around!" Nora grinned.
On the cliff above them, the Beowolf that was about to pounce on them dropped dead as it's body was pierced by a beam of ice. The other nearby Grimm faced similar fates, only by fire and thunder instead.
The Seiju watched Team RJNPR go, and Raikou broke the silence first.
"Humans have a strange perception of luck, do they not?"
A/N: I really need to start employing Beta Readers...