A.N. (9/15/23) - Short chapter today.
Atlas (29) - Stalling
Her destination was clear.
Trailing after the path of powdered snow, Rin endured the frigid winds as she followed Fria as she flew away in the distance. Below them, the sounds of riots and chaos echoed throughout the entire city. If this kept going, it would only draw the attention of Grimm to this source of negativity.
But there was something wrong with everyone.
Rin caught sight of Fria descending, and she willed her broom to fly down as well. Landing in an alley, she folded away her mystic code and quickly exited onto the street.
"Damn you!" A man slammed a rock into the face of his attacker, causing blood to spill from the wound on the other person's head. Crumpling to the ground, his attacker could not protect themself as the man mounted their body and continued their assault. "Damn you, damn you, damn you, damn you, DAMN YOU!"
A soldier cried out. "Shoot them!" He ordered several men to raise their weapons. "Don't take any chances. They're the ones attacking everyone else, don't risk your lives trying to subjugate them!"
"They attacked us, right? It's their fault!" A woman cried out hysterically as she huddled in a corner. "Those bastards are only getting what's coming for them."
Scenes like these could be witnessed all over the place. Rather than defending against the thralls, both sides were doing their best to hurt one another without thought or reason. The entire city was whipped into a frenzy, and more people were getting caught up in the mood.
"For the Crown!"
Her eyes caught the truth before it even happened. A boy, no older than she was, ripped open his jacket to reveal a bomb strapped to his chest. He wasn't even a thrall, not according to her mystic eye. And yet, he did not hesitate to charge directly into a group of soldiers with the clear intention to wipe them all out. The resulting explosion was followed by several bodies falling to the ground as soldiers cried out from the pain of burning alive.
He wasn't the only bomber either. Several more explosions rang out as more people charged to catch as many victims as possible in their assault. Not every civilian had Aura, and some soldiers were already drained from previous scuffles. When the dust finally cleared, Rin suddenly found herself in a street littered with bodies.
"W-What in the world is going on?"
This was not a distraction for the Crown anymore. It was terrorism at its worst being used by the mindless shock troopers without direction or leadership.
"They're breaking through the barricade! Fire more shots, burn them to ashes!"
She couldn't watch anymore. Once again, she searched for the direction where she last spotted Fria and finally caught sight of her figure.
Fria raised an arm. The entire world became white as ice covered the surface of everything in a hundred-meter radius around her. Both thralls and soldiers alike were caught up in the attack as their legs and arms became frozen. Everyone was no longer able to make a move with the sole exception being Rin.
She spoke slowly. "If this is the doing of that girl's vessel… then it won't be as simple as calming everyone down."
Hovering in the air, a swirl of wind began to gather around her until it started to pick up. Rin was forced to cover her face as her body was buffeted by the whirlwind surrounding Fria.
"T-This magical energy...!"
"A crude method… but simply stopping everyone in their tracks… should suffice for now!"
To Rin's senses, the output of magical energy coming from Fria's body went past the thresholds of regular magic circuits and was on the level of a magical reactor core instead. The amount of magical energy building up at once was incredible, and the older woman was preparing herself to unleash all of it at once.
A pillar of blue light ascended into the sky before expanding at a speed so fast that it was nearly instantaneous. This time, the layer of ice did not simply stop at covering a street. The air itself became visible from the cold as Rin lowered her arms, witnessing the sight of a world covered in ice and snow.
It was hard to tell with the buildings blocking her sight, but Rin could barely make out the effects of Fria's actions affecting even the properties in the distance. She did not doubt that Fria really covered the entire city of Atlas in ice to stop the riots. If anyone in this world had the power to do such a thing, Fria would be one of the few people capable of doing so.
This was the power of a Fully Realized Maiden.
"I can't remember… what my true duty is supposed to be." Fria lowered her head. "I can't recall who that girl I used to know is supposed to be… I can't remember what my purpose is supposed to be."
Her mind was failing her.
This was the crux of the matter. No matter how much power she wielded, Fria could not resist the passage of time. She was nearing the end of her lifespan, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.
Rin realized that Fria was looking in her direction. Hesitantly, she cautiously approached the other woman.
"Did you manage to speak with Pandora?"
"You know who she is?"
Fria's eyes were suddenly filled with clarity. "Oh, I met her once in Mistral when I was younger. I believe that girl's name was… Isabella. And yet, she confessed years later that her true name was actually Pandora. It was the name that she and her sisters went by. A name meaning 'all the world's gifts' in their language."
"They are truly remarkable girls," Fria continued. "Each with their own unique personalities, yet sharing core values and traits that bind them together. You can't find that kind of bond between even twins."
Were there more versions of Pandora other than Emilia? Earlier, Rin assumed that was the case when she interacted with Pandora earlier. But she figured that most of them had been hunted down by Salem and her forces. Unless some of them managed to hide away and create a group of survivors?
"I stopped meeting her when I became one of this country's high-class combatants. And also... I couldn't communicate with others anymore. My isolation was heavily enforced by Atlas, even if it was something that I agreed to. All of that was to protect the power of the Maiden."
For some reason, Rin found something unusual about her story. If Fria knew about Pandora and her sisters before, why were they suddenly trying to kill her now? Pandora, or at least a version known as Emilia, wanted to take the power of the Winter Maiden so that they could gain access to the Relic of Creation. And yet, why didn't they attempt to acquire that power before now?
Pandora admitted that she already knew of the existence of the Relics for many years. If they already knew Fria and presumably that she was the Winter Maiden, how come it took them this long to try and steal her power? If their goal was to escape the pithos, the prison that kept them confined for nearly six thousand years, delaying for so many years made no sense.
Unless there was something else she was missing.
"Your name… what is it?"
"My name?" Rin blinked. "That's… I don't know if I'm allowed to say."
"You're that girl that recently joined General Ironwood, am I correct? Winter mentioned you a couple of times during our chats. I suppose he's worried that I would pass on the power to you?"
"I'm not interested."
"Hmm, somehow I can tell that you're telling the truth. Care to enlighten this old woman as to your reasons why?"
"There is no free lunch. That's an old saying that sums up my thoughts on the matter. I believe that I would be unable to handle the burdens of responsibility that come with the Maiden power."
"I suppose that differs from my own mindset. My entire life, I found myself prioritizing duty over all others. Still, I understand that this kind of life is not ideal for many." Despite her words, Fria had a faint smile on her face. "I was born in this city. As I grew up, I met people dear to me who also came from Atlas. People misunderstand that I do what I do because of the duty that was bestowed upon me. But the truth is, I do this because I came to love this kingdom."
Rin saw the determined look in her eyes.
"For those that I wish to protect, I will fight until my life is entirely consumed. But the true enemy is not the people fighting here. And I cannot say for certain that it is the fault of Isabella's sister either. Someone else is pulling the strings here, and that person must be stopped."
Someone else was behind everything. That was something Rin agreed with, not only because she had her doubts regarding Pandora. But also because of the hypothesis that she reached before she arrived in the city.
Fria continued. "The real threat is surely hiding somewhere within this city. My mind is no longer healthy enough to determine the truth. It is embarrassing, but I'll have to request your aid to try and figure out what is going on."
"Then the next priority is to hide away and ensure that this power remains guarded. I shall take my leave here."
"Ah, before you go!" Rin hurriedly reached into her pocket and pulled something out. "There's one last thing I have to ask you."
"What is it?"
"Even though I'm not interested in your power, it would be best if I can somehow find you after all of this is over. I'm sure that General Ironwood would also like it if you can be reached once things have settled."
"I suppose that makes sense."
Rin held out a small object. "This is a small gem that you can imbue your energy with. It's similar to filling your weapon with Aura, you just need to pour some of your magical energy into it. If anyone else were to acquire it, it would be useless to them. But I can use it to locate you with my abilities."
"Very well, pass it over."
She did so, and Rin watched as Fria poured a vast amount of her magical energy into the object. The action caused the gem itself to brighten until it transformed into a shining jewel.
"There you go." Fria returned the gem. "I'll stay away from the city until things have calmed. Good luck."
"And you as well."
Fria nodded and turned to glide into the air with the wind swirling around her. Watching her leave, Rin clutched tightly to the gem containing her magical energy in her hands and shook her head.
"Sorry for lying to you, but this will help as insurance in case things turn for the worse."
She wasn't sure if Ozpin never informed the others of the vault's functions, but there was no need for the actual Maidens to open the doors themselves. Rather, it was basically a more advanced version of a mystic lock that utilized their magical energy as a key to unlock the door.
Now that she had a key of her own, there was no need for the Winter Maiden to unlock the vault in Atlas.
"Still, Pandora and the Crown aren't going to leave things alone yet. Even if there is someone manipulating everyone behind the curtains, there's no doubt that everyone will gather at the final stage."
Taking out her collapsable broom and expanding it, Rin mounted it and shot toward the sky with magical energy trailing behind her. She wasn't traveling in any random direction either. General Ironwood had already gone ahead to reach the location where everything was going to take place.
Ugh... I'm sleepy and I still decided to quickly write this chapter instead of going to bed.
If you haven't noticed already, I recently started a new thread that covers a potential sequel to this story where Rin returns to Earth and gets involved with the various issues there. I'll be switching my focus between that story and this one for a while, so I'm not going to be posting a lot of new chapters until I reach a good compromise.
The bed is calling for me~ I'm gonna hit the sack now.