A.N. (10/6/23) - How is it that I had a more consistent schedule during school than out of it?


Atlas (31) - Amity Fortress

General Ironwood had agreed to meet up with Specialist Marrow and Doctor Polendina at an obscure bridge underpass in the areas near central Mantle on the outer perimeter of the crater. Stashing his aircraft in a nondescript garage, he locked it up properly before entering the place where they decided to gather.

"It's good to see you again, General."

Marrow immediately saluted upon seeing him, and Doctor Polendina smiled fondly from right next to him. "Speaking of which, your repairs have finally finished. I made a few improvements here and there while going over everything. I'll send you the list of updates to your Scroll later, and you can take your time going over all the new functions I added to your prostheses."

He nodded. "Thank you, Doctor. At ease, Specialist." It was only then that his eyes caught a glance of the other two people lingering near the wall. His eyes narrowed when he noticed that they both had white masks hanging off their belts. "Who exactly are they, and what are they doing here?"

"Ah." Marrow appeared caught off-guard. "The explanation behind that is a bit complicated. Suffice to say that the White Fang are not the ones who tried to kill you, and some of their members have taken that deflection of blame poorly."

The dark-skinned faunus spoke. "He's putting us in a more favorable light than we deserve. Our goal was to meet with the true party behind your attack to ascertain their intentions. However, once we figured out that they were the same culprits behind the events of Argus, we switched our plan to taking them out instead… with less than stellar results."

This time, the black-haired girl opened her mouth. "Before you get any thoughts about taking us in, consider this. Are you in any position to refuse us as allies? With Jax Asturias's grasp on so many elements of your kingdom's government, it's impossible to trust anyone outside of this group. We know that your famed Ace Operatives and Specialist Schnee have already fallen under his control, and who knows how many others are being controlled by his Semblance."

Doctor Polendina spoke next. "While I do have my own concerns about working with the White Fang, I believe that it might be best to listen to them for now."

Ironwood patiently listened as both he and Marrow explained the circumstances behind their encounter. Learning that there was an unknown girl with the ability to manipulate a form of Grimm essence similar to M'Luna's proposed hypothesis and Merlot's experiments in Argus worried him. If she was an agent of Salem, or rather, another being similar to that girl named Emilia that he only learned about recently…

"Very well, it appears that we'll have to put aside our differences at the moment. Right now, our enemy is a force that endangers not only Atlas but potentially the four kingdoms."

It made his blood boil that he was forced to work with the White Fang, even if that label only applied to the two teenage girls before him. Still, if it was for the betterment of Atlas he would accept forcing his emotions down to join forces with them against a common foe.

"Doctor, what's the current situation in Atlas."

"Well, it appears that Fria might have let loose a bit too much. Most of the riots have quelled thanks to her stunt, but people are starting to pick up that this isn't just a regular terrorist attack. The Crown's actions aside, there are reports of multiple individuals popping up all over the city displaying unusual abilities."

"Unusual how?"

"Similar to the girl who introduced herself as Isabella, there are multiple women varying in age and appearance appearing all over Atlas and Mantle with similar abilities to control some kind of black mud. The huntsmen stationed in both cities have reported that over a dozen outbreaks of Grimm have appeared at locations wherever one of these people is spotted. Currently, Robyn and her team are coordinating with the city's huntsmen to combat those girls."

"They're the distraction. If those people are working with the Crown, then their true intention should still be related to Amity. I have my suspicions that Councilman Sleet and Scarlatina are under the control of Jax Asturias. Those two have been pushing for the early launch of Amity for some time now, so I believe that it would be best to focus our efforts there."

As if on cue, a transparent blue window suddenly appeared at the side of Doctor Polendina's chair. The stream of notifications alerted the group that something was wrong, and it was only after the Doctor glanced at it for a few seconds did they understood what happened.

"Amity is being launched. Someone has overwritten the security protocols and is sending it out at this moment!"

"Can you stop it?"

"Not from here. I need direct access to its main systems onboard to prevent its departure. That would require accessing the terminal located in Amity itself."

Marrow blinked. "You mean the computer's located at the giant arena that's flying thousands of feet in the air?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

"We can use my aircraft," Ironwood replied. "Since we're short on time, there's no time to gather reinforcements to aid us."

One of the faunus spoke. "That would probably be for the best anyway since we have no means of determining the true allegiance of whoever joins our group."

"That puts a damper on things." Marrow sighed. "Well, no point complaining about it now. Guess we'll have to escort the Doctor over to the terminal. And judging by our luck, we'll probably be going up against quite a number of Crown members."

"It doesn't matter," the cat faunus said. "All we need to do is get past their defenses and stop whatever plan they have for Amity."

}-{

"Bertilak, have you heard from Gillian?"

Jax stood patiently next to his underling as the larger man gave an annoyed sigh. "Well, she sent a message using that creepy girl's power. The gist is that they didn't manage to capture that Winter woman and want us to move to Plan B."

"So we're the distraction?"

"Is it really one? You're planning on taking advantage of those people's plans to enact your own, right?"

"That might be difficult with our movements being monitored by them. Even if we try to deviate from the plan they proposed, we won't get far before one of them tries to stop us."

"I guess so."

Before they could say anything else, black mud started spewing like a fountain in front of them. Caught off-guard, they were surprised when the figure of a young girl appeared from it before suddenly falling forward unconscious.

"Woah." Bertilak caught her since he was closer. "Hey, isn't this one of the sisters? Which one was this again?"

"Not sure, they all look the same to me."

"C-Christina." It appeared that she was cognizant enough to understand them. "M-My name is Christina. I'm one of the sisters who remained in Anima to locate the Spring Maiden."

"Ah, I see. I vaguely remember Gillian mentioning something like that…"

There were so many of those sisters that Jax found it difficult to identify each one of them from appearances alone. He knew that one of them was possessing his sister as a means of keeping that particular sister alive, and he also knew that they all identified by the same name Pandora despite possessing individual names as well. And yet, the only names he memorized were the ones belonging to Emilia and the other sisters' main correspondent Isabella.

It couldn't be helped. Since they were all basically the same being, even though they possessed individual memories and personalities, there was no point in trying to tell them apart. After all, it was difficult to classify them as even human when they committed acts such as remaking their bodies out of black mud on a regular basis.

Incidentally, he recalled his sister's lecture as to how that process worked. From how Gillian explained it, the sisters of Pandora were not living beings but memories that were buried in the land. Buildings similar to temples and holy grounds supposedly could absorb and purify the filth in something called leylines. That meant that such places acted as lures for beings who were made of corrupted memories. But if those beings were doused in black mud before they could reach such areas, then they could incarnate as a physical entity instead of being a mere lingering memory. And once they underwent this process, they would become beings similar to the Grimm in that they were all made from the same essence.

According to Emilia, this process was known as Blackening.

"Did you recently die? Take a moment to clear your thoughts before giving us a report."

As expected of their status as inhuman beings, they possessed abilities beyond mere mortals such as him. Not only did they have the ability to manipulate the same black mud that created them, but their lives were intertwined with that mud. As long as the black mud existed in the world, they could not truly die even if their bodies were completely obliterated.

Thus, sending the other sisters to distract the various huntsmen around the city was no sacrifice on their part. Even if a few of them lost their lives, they would eventually revive with no injuries. Unless one possessed the means to target and injure them on a fundamental level, such as in the case of Emilia, there was no need to worry about their health.

"I'm… I'm fine now." Christina finally calmed down. "I'll inform the rest of my sisters later, but I believe that I have finally discovered the location of the Spring Maiden. Their identity is still not certain yet, but it's only a matter of time and effort to discern who they are."

"Where are they?"

"The Spring Maiden is moving with a traveling bandit group called the Branwen Tribe. For the past few weeks, I've been investigating them but was forced to retreat when one of Ozpin's agents caught wind of me."

"Ozpin!?"

"He's not involved yet as far as I can tell. But if they discover the identity of the Spring Maiden before we do…"

Jax nodded. "Then that settles it. According to my sister, our hopes of acquiring the Relic of Atlas were already low to begin with. Now that we've failed in acquiring their Maiden, it's only a matter of time before their military recovers from this and fortifies their defenses. But if we can capture the Spring Maiden instead, then the possibility of acquiring the Relic of Mistral instead and achieving our wish is still possible."

Bertilak caught what he was implying. "You want us to run away? After all we've already done here?"

"There's nothing left for us in Atlas. The only ones interested in staying behind are the sisters of Pandora. While they remain here, we can move to Mistral and restart our operations there. Unlike Atlas, their huntsmen defenses are pitifully frail and we have more allies there anyway. Not to mention that we've already completed our revenge on the Schnee Dust Company, so our next target will be the remnants of the Mistral Trading Company."

It was the combination of both kingdoms' mining companies that deprived Vacuo of its former resources. Although the MTC had long since disbanded, there were a few surviving subsidiaries that broke off from them that still exist to this very day. Right now, they were the main backers behind the latest Vytal Festival and acted as their main suppliers of Dust. With the current SDC in turmoil thanks to their latest actions, wiping out the remnants of the MTC as well would surely have a large impact on the world's Dust supplies.

Christina spoke. "Then I will remain here along with my other sisters. I do not need to remind you that your sister is currently the host of our youngest sibling, so she will have to remain here along with the rest of us."

"That's fine, we've already agreed to those terms."

It would be a shame to leave Gillian here and no longer have access to her Semblance, but Jax already had something else to make up for her loss.

"Since we'll be departing, we should leave with a flashy exit."

He smiled widely as he said that.

"Hold on," Bertalik interrupted. "I thought the whole purpose of taking control of Amity was to barricade in it and let the chaos on Atlas continue while we stay uninvolved."

Jax chuckled. "Barricade ourselves? Have you forgotten the whole purpose of hiring that Roman fellow to kidnap the scientist Will Scarlatina? Taking control of Amity is merely the first step of my plan. Why do you think we pushed so hard for its early departure?"

Both Christina and Bertilak look confused, but Jax merely smiled and raised a hand. Sending a mental command to Will through his Semblance, he watched the other two react with surprise as the floor shook. The entire colosseum had already started to move a while ago, so the shaking wasn't due to it departing from the ground.

Rising in the distance were multiple Atlesian military aircrafts emerging from ports on the side of Amity. The brilliance of seeing nearly a dozen large battleships moving in formation around the arena was incredible to behold.

Councilman Sleet had managed to not only utilize his authority to support Jax's plan to push for the departure of Amity, but the latest project in conjunction with the SDC has allowed for several newly developed airships to finish production and finally reveal themselves to the world.

"Since the identity of the Crown has yet to be revealed, we will be flying under the banner of Atlas with none the wiser. Not only do we possess an army of their Atlesian Knights, but the members of the Atlas military that I have subjugated with my Semblance will act out my will. Once we attack the city of Mistral, everyone will believe that Atlas is waging war on the other kingdoms. By the time the chaos clears, we will be able to make off with not only the power of the Spring Maiden but also the Relic of Mistral as well."

Even though he was merely descended from royalty, at that moment, Jax truly felt that he had the power and might of a king. After all, how else could one classify the man who controlled the vast military power of one of the strongest kingdoms in the world?

"Let us prepare for battle and lead the way with the floating fortress—Amity!"


Job hunting is going uuuuuuugggghhhhhhh...

I have another in-person interview coming up soon, so I'm still switching between preparing for that and applying to a couple of other companies in case things don't go well. Not to mention that some of my relatives have caught wind that I'm looking for a job and are doing their best to 'help' me in their own way. While I admire their desire to help, I'm suffering from so much unneeded advice that I need a break to get away from all of it (and that's how this chapter came about).

So yeah, Pandora's schemes will have to take a back burner for now since no one is aware that something bad is happening. Instead, everyone is going to focus on the giant floating fortress under the command of Jax who's planning on invading Mistral and starting off another Great War.