A.N. It's finally here, the sequel you've all been waiting for! Give it up for the Atlas arc as Rin goes on a new adventure!
Atlas (1) - Diamond Dust
Tumak Ruins, Solitas.
A former cultural heritage site, the ancient ruins endured the test of time by managing to last for thousands of years. However, in recent years, its contents were ransacked of all artifacts and items by historians with the intent to study them for any hints of the past. Because of that, there was a lack of interest in the location now that its historical value dropped, and the number of expeditions leading here drastically decreased over the past few years. It is, for the most part, uninhabited and desolate nowadays.
It had taken the team three days to make their way here. The journey would have been quicker if they simply used aerial transport to get here, but they were forced to travel by land while carrying loads of heavy and sensitive equipment with them. Two huntsmen were hired to guard the team while they traveled, and all of them somehow managed to cut their way through the snow while driving off any Grimm that decided to attack along their journey.
But luck was on their side today. The weather was good, the skies were clear, and Grimm sightings were at an all-time low.
There were a dozen people in total that made up the expedition. Six scientists, three historians, one archeologist, and two mercenaries. The mercenaries were huntsmen trained, but weren't officially recognized by any authority, and were part of a group that sold their skills to anyone with enough money to hire their services. Everyone else knew one another through connections due to their fields of study, and they had planned to conduct this expedition for several weeks now.
"Okay, let's set up the detector!"
The group broke apart as several of them moved the equipment from the vehicles onto the ground. Pointing it in the direction of the ruins, it took several minutes for the machine to start up while a humming sound echoed through the air.
"What are we looking for?"
It was one of the huntsmen who spoke. He was addressing the leader of the expedition, a specialist that was put in charge of the expedition due to his prior experiences with other missions. The other huntsman was keeping an eye out for danger, but any incoming Grimm would be spotted miles away before it could reach where their team was.
"We're looking for an anomalous energy signature that one of our scientists managed to pick up back in the city," the leader explained. "It first appeared around four months ago during the Merlot incident when he released all that Grimm throughout the kingdom. A few weeks later, we detected strange readings coming from this general area that made most of our scientists scratch their heads. Once we determined that it was safe enough to investigate, we gathered a small group to head over here to check it out."
"So you don't even know what exactly you'll find here?"
"No." The leader shook his head. "But it shares a remarkable similarity to what a person's Aura pattern would look like. In fact, it was due to one of our interns playing around with a long-range Aura reader that first noticed that similarity. Of course, unless there's a person out there who has the equivalent of several dozens of people's Aura mixed into one, there's no way that could be possible."
"What, like a Super Huntsman?"
"It's not just the quantity that's abnormal, but the fact that the energy signature we detected was a strange blend of different patterns that you wouldn't link to a human or faunus. I highly doubt that it's someone's Aura we detected, but this is the first time we've seen anything like this. Everyone here is tasked with setting up the needed equipment to study this phenomenon better, but don't expect anything interesting to happen during this trip."
"I'm fine with boring," the huntsman replied. "Boring means that I won't have to worry about any Grimm coming to attack us. Besides, it beats staying in Mantle right now with all the riots going on."
"Not much of that up in Atlas, but I suppose that's mainly due to why they're complaining."
A voice called out to them. "We're ready to begin!"
"Alright," the leader replied. "Start the projector first. Maintain readings for five minutes before sending another light pulse. We're lucky that there aren't any clouds today, so let's finish up before the weather turns worse for us."
A small beam of light shot into the sky, and everyone watched as the monitor nearby picked up as it started its calculations.
"How's the Aura reader?"
"It hasn't changed since yesterday," one of the scientists reported. "No, wait. Maybe the values are higher? Only by a small margin though, but the increment is comparable to a standard huntsman's Aura levels. Still, only a small percentage if compared to the whole, but that's something."
"Sir!" One of their technicians ran toward them. "We've detected a cold wind heading in our direction from the west."
Blinking his eyes, one of the huntsmen looked up and saw a strange halo appearing in the distance. A ring of light surrounded the sun as a cloud of something began approaching their direction. Judging by how fast it was moving, it would take less than a minute before the cloud reached them.
"Strange," the leader muttered. He held a small device in his hand. "Weather forecast didn't pick up an IC phenomenon until a few seconds ago. It shouldn't have appeared out of nowhere like that. Not to mention the temperature's too warm for that."
"Notice how the snow's glittering in the distance? That's something called 'diamond dust' where the water vapor in the air solidifies due to the cold, but only during certain conditions. You don't normally see it in these parts of Solitas though. The halo is caused by light refracting off the ice crystals in the air like a prism."
"It kinda looks like a crown to me."
"Hmm?" The leader's eyes squinted. "I suppose it does, but I'm more worried about the clouds. With that much approaching us, the ice crystals are going to interfere with our equipment. We might have to call it a day if it gets any worse."
"Hey!" The other huntsmen yelled to catch their attention. "You see what I'm seeing?"
It took a moment for the two to figure out what he was talking about, but their gaze eventually caught sight of the lone figure in the distance.
The figure was covered by a dark cloak, but any other details were hard to make out as snow billowed around them. For some reason, the air seemed to simmer as the figure faded out of existence and back every few seconds. As time passed, the cloud of snow billowing around them seemed to grow in intensity, until the sight of the unknown person was almost completely obscured.
"S-Sir!" The scientist sounded shocked. "I-It's the reader, it's telling me that the energy signature is coming from that person!"
The figure raised an arm, and the snow began to pick up as a swirl of ice crystals suddenly flew in their direction. Visibility immediately worsened as the air was filled with snow while light reflected off the crystals in a matter that caused spots to appear in their vision.
"Zenteno!" Leaving the leader, the huntsmen deployed his weapon. "Take care of the team, this is probably the work of their Semblance. I'll subdue the attacker and get them to stop this."
But he was already charging forward by the time his partner called out to him. Letting out a battle cry, flames erupted from his weapon as the intense heat melted the nearby ice crystals surrounding him. Although it was still hard to see too far ahead of him, he recalled the direction where he first saw the figure and ran toward the spot.
Something got in his way, and he was suddenly sent flying until his body crashed to the ground a second later. He felt something press against his chest, and a voice filled with arrogance spoke to him.
"Rejoice and accept your duty."
His struggles lessened as something took hold of his mind until seconds passed before he blacked out.
By the time the snow cleared, the expedition team came upon the spot where he was last seen. Nobody was there, and the next few hours were spent looking for the missing Rankin. Fearing that another one of them might be taken away, the team quickly decided to return to Atlas before whatever attacked them returned.
Professor Santiago noted the girl sitting amongst the dozens of students that filled her class.
Unlike those around her, the girl appeared to be paying attention to the lecture with a focus that she wished the rest of her class shared. Several students gave her curious looks, and Santiago knew it was because they were wondering why the girl wasn't wearing the academy uniform. But Santiago knew that the girl was permitted to attend her class by Headmaster Ironwood himself, so she decided to carry on with her lecture while keeping track of the time before class ended.
For several decades, she had been the sole teacher of history and politics at Atlas Academy. Some might question the need to teach huntsmen and huntresses about topics that deviate from the usual goal of combatting Grimm, but she understood the necessity of studying the mistakes and struggles of those before them. As protectors of society, it was impossible to truly separate huntsmen from world issues and current affairs despite attempts from politicians to do so.
"Dust is used for everything in daily life," she began. "From powering our devices, homes, cities, and even our weapons. Dust has been a cornerstone of our society since time immemorial. Because of that, the search for new Dust deposits is an ever-increasing priority to our nation's interests. Many a times wars were fought to secure a steady source of this valued resource, and sometimes this leads to conflicts with the other Kingdoms. In fact, one of the precursors to the end of the Great War was a campaign led by the allied forces of Mantle and Mistral with the intent of targeting Vacuo's Dust supply. But for more recent events, you can take the SDC and MTC as examples of depriving resources of other Kingdoms for profit."
Several of her students shifted from where they sat, and she noted that most of them hailed from Vacuo if she recalled correctly.
"And if you happen to follow the news lately, you might even notice the occasional article or report discussing a new venture outside the city to claim a piece of land from Grimm-infested areas to start up new mines. As aspiring huntsmen and huntresses, it is often our duty to help aid in such ventures to secure more resources for our Kingdom. This often raises debates on prioritizing missions to secure Kingdom resources versus protecting outside settlements from Grimm attacks due to the limited number of huntsmen available. But what if I told you that we could turn our society into one that relies less on Dust as an essential resource? Were that to happen, huntsmen like us could concentrate on efforts to protect the people instead. Can anyone think of a solution as to how this might be possible?"
One student raised their hand. "Renewable energy?"
"That's one method." She nodded. "Atlas is constantly researching new ways to improve in fields such as solar energy or wind power. Some scientists are even looking into using Aura to power our guns and weapons for military application to rely less on Dust. But if the goal is to build a society without Dust, I'm afraid that we're still a couple of decades away from achieving that dream."
Another hand was raised, and this time it was their class guest that spoke. "What about mitigation strategies to reduce the usage of Dust for non-essential needs?"
"Oh?" She blinked. "Care to give a few examples, Miss…?"
"Zenjou," the girl answered. "I'm referring to the dedicated budget set aside for the biennial Vytal Festival. The amount of Gravity Dust needed to power Amity Colosseum alone so that it can fly takes up an obscene amount, let alone the other types of Dust used during the preliminary matches between Academy students. How does Atlas justify the need for such resources?"
"Thank you for clarifying, and those questions have been raised before." She picked up a remote and pressed a button. Next to her, a holographic display appeared as it showed a picture of Amity. "But first, I should explain a few things. Seventy-eight years ago, the four Kingdoms were coming out of the Great War. Countless individuals have died, and tensions were high among everyone. And yet, a beautiful idea won the hearts of the people during the aftermath of the conflict. To create a symbol of unity and hope to remind ourselves that we are stronger together, and that idea eventually led to the creation of the Vytal Festival."
She clicked the remote again as the display changed to a map of Remnant.
"It was determined that Atlas would be the first Kingdom to host the event, and they decided to outsource the task of acquiring Dust for the event. The Mistral Trading Company was contracted to take care of the fuel requirements since they were the leading Dust company at the time. This was a somewhat controversial choice due to the company's role in mining resources from Vacuo, leading to the Kingdom's decline as their riches were deprived by foreign powers. Both Vale and Vacuo pushed for the company to be removed from their position, but Atlas remained adamant in their decision to employ them. In response to that, the MTC decided to gift a large amount of Dust at a drastically reduced price to quell public outcry. Because of that, the first Vytal Festival was a grand spectacle as it made use of that large reserve of Dust to draw the attention of the four Kingdoms. The next festival, they still had Dust to spare and the committee decided to once again use more than needed. And then, when the Dust reserves finally started to thin the third time the Vytal Festival came around, there was a certain standard that the Vytal committee felt they should meet."
"It set a precedent?"
"An expensive tradition, but the Kingdoms felt that it was necessary to continue to please the populace. The economic effects that the festival had justified its continued expenses ever since, and this is one of the reasons why huntsmen fight in grand battlefields filled with various environments and Dust crystals. A few years later, Atlas revealed to the world their decision to raise the city off of the ground. This eventually led to the creation of Amity Colosseum, which followed its example by allowing huntsmen and huntresses to compete in a flying arena and becoming a new symbol of hope for the four Kingdoms."
The display turned off, and she smiled as she turned to face the classroom.
"So to summarize, it is a combination of politics, economics, and tradition that the upcoming Vytal Festival is what it is today. As some of you are already aware, several of our students have already transferred over to Haven Academy to compete in this year's festival. Amity Colosseum itself is planned to launch from Atlas later this week to fly all the way to the city of Mistral. A military escort will travel alongside the arena with the intent of preventing stray Grimm from–"
Her words cut off as a beeping sound interrupted her, and everyone turned as Zenjou gave an embarrassed look while she fiddled with a Scroll in her hands.
"Sorry." Standing up, she walked past several other students in her row. "I have to take this."
The doors closed with a bang behind her as she left the room.
Shrugging to herself, Santiago continued her lecture. "But enough of that, let's discuss how the festival affected the territories in Mistral…"
Outside the room, the girl finally accepted the call as she held the Scroll to the side of her head.
"General Ironwood," she said. "I'm in the middle of class, do you need me for something?"
"There's been an attack on one of our facilities," Ironwood replied. "Several intruders have taken it over less than an hour ago and are holding the researchers inside hostage. The Ace-Ops are about to be deployed, but I want you to assist them on this mission."
"Security footage has revealed the identity of the attackers as affiliated members of the organization Spider. We believe that this may be an attempt at stealing valuable Atlas technology so that they can bring it back to Mistral to sell on the black market."
She scowled. "I wasn't exactly on close terms with most of them. There isn't much I can help you with if they're involved."
"We just want you on-site in case we need your knowledge. Plus, you once informed us that you improved your healing capabilities recently. Should one of the researchers be harmed by the attackers, it would be in our best interest if you were able to stabilize them before we can send them to a hospital."
"I'm not joining the mission?"
"No, you'll be on standby the entire time."
She thought about it for a moment. "Alright, fine. I'll help, but how will I get there?"
Her question was answered as she spotted something in the distance. Reinforcing her eye, she saw that it was a military airbus with a capacity large enough to carry a full team of soldiers and huntsmen. It descended and hovered several feet above the ground as the side doors opened up before her and revealed a familiar group of people.
"A transport is on your way to pick you up. The Ace-Ops are already on board."
"I see them." She waved in their direction as they returned the greeting. "You never expected me to say no, did you?"
"It wasn't a major detour," he deflected. "Thank you for agreeing to this, Miss Tohsaka."
"It's Rin," she said. Climbing aboard, the doors closed next to her. "And I do owe you a few favors. Figured that I should start paying a couple of them back."
The airbus took off as the group prepared for their upcoming mission.
And thus starts the prologue to the Atlas arc of this story. Four months have passed since the end of the Argus arc, and the next few chapters will go over a couple of the changes that have occurred in Rin's life during that timeskip.
The ruins at the beginning of this chapter were taken from RWBY: Arrowfell, although I've only watched a walkthrough on YouTube and haven't played the game myself. As for the history lesson on Amity, I've made up most of it so that it sets a foundation for the events later on in this arc. Most of the elements will draw inspiration from the RWBY novels, so watch out for that.
Honestly, I thought about stockpiling a few chapters first before releasing this one. I'm still busy with school, and finals are coming up soon, so I won't have as much time as I would like to work on this story. But I recently got in the mood to write this, and I figured that releasing one chapter early wouldn't hurt.