"I should be coming with you." Taiyang grumbled, clearly unhappy. He had to give one more shot at making Summer see reason.697Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡzF2HsUELjP
She was stubborn though, and this was just a repeat of arguments past. "No, you need to watch Ruby and Yang."697Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡjJ3ft4KAhJ
Tai knew that Summer loved her children. Because of that he knew his next statement was worthless. "There's this thing called baby sitters."
The answer was immediate. "And if neither of us comes back?" That was the problem. The information they had was sketchy at best, and it led to one of the most concentrated areas of grimm on record.
Searching for another argument and failing, Tai gave one last plea. "At least bring Qrow."
"I am." Summer broke into a smile. "He'd kick my ass if I didn't."
At least she wouldn't be alone then. "I love you, don't be stupid out there," Tai said walking the two steps that separated them.
"I love you too," accepting the hug, and a kiss that held both love and sadness. She had already said her goodbyes to Ruby and Yang. All that they knew was Summer was going out on another mission. That wasn't unusual, and mom always came back.
This time it was different though. "I'll bring Ehlen back to us."
"Tai should be coming with us," Qrow grumbled, clearly unhappy. Not that Summer was listening to a conversation that could have come directly out of her husband's mouth. Instead she was busy checking gear, looking over maps, and anything else she could do to avoid the argument. Brothers, even if they were in-laws, were good to have watching your back.
They were also a giant pain in the ass!
"We were all a team. The team looks out for their mates, and one is down all of the team should bring her back." Qrow crossed his arms, leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. Sighing, Summer was glad he had finally talked himself out. It allowed her to think without distraction. Both her husband and Qrow were right, as much as she hated to admit it. QEST should be doing this as one.
She was right as well. Her children had to come first. If this all went wrong they would at least have a father to raise them, and their very existence would be enough to keep him together and to heal. Not that she planned on dying, but it was the risk.
The family was broken. She tried so hard to keep Tai together, but she was falling apart inside too. Ehlen had been his wife, but she had been as close as sisters to the point of referring to each other as such. Their bond was as strong as it was with Taiyang. A bond started by that love to their husband.
She was risking splintering her family farther, but her heart couldn't take the pain that refused to go away. If Ehlen had died this would be different. There could be closure. They didn't know anything. All she knew was it had been for a mission from the governing council itself. Her sister always took missions seriously, so she didn't tell anyone, not even Tai, any of the details. When she didn't return the council had done the same. Their own searches had proven just as fruitless.
Eventually the healing did begin, even without that closure. When Summer became pregnant with Ruby they had even gone so far as to marry legally as well as emotionally. Their lives were never going to heal, but they would improve. It would become good. She was looking forward to raising their children. Yang may not be hers by blood, but the two mothers had always raised her as one, and she had always considered her her own because of that. Ruby was going to be a blessing she would never take for granted.
Then the wedding presents were gone through after the ceremony, and all the scars were instantly ripped open again. In an unmarked box was Ehlen's wedding bracelet. It was shining as if it had been polished only hours ago, the engraved words on the inside perfectly intact. In the middle of the box was a note. "She lives."
It could have been a cruel joke. They didn't know of any enemies, but it was possible. They couldn't risk it though. If she was alive they had to find her. Summer and Taiyang had been searching for any piece of information on her since. They got pieces but nothing solid. They investigated them anyways and were always left disappointed. This was probably going to be the same, and it was the most dangerous so far. It didn't matter.
Looking at the map again she planned their entry into the facility, and formed an exit strategy as well. It had been abandoned years ago, just another Schnee Dust Company mining facility left to rot when the dust ran out. The map was actually useless when it came to floor plans. It had been in disuse for over a decade. Who knew what walls no longer existed, what halls had been made impassable from falling rubble above or holes below, and the general structural integrity was beyond questionable.
No, what she was most interested in was the thermal scans from a drone that had flown over earlier in the month. It had been another costly item to acquire, but both she and Tai were happy to pay it.
Huntsmen were rarely rich, but they were always in the upper levels of the middle class. Those who went in for money rarely lasted long. Nearly all of them were too lazy and undisciplined to keep up with their training. Even if they got through their training death wasn't far behind when they hit the field, or they quit when they realized the money wasn't worth their lives. Only those with the calling, the intense need to protect the kingdom and its people, were the ones who stayed. And they were human. They did fall, especially the young ones; the ones who were overconfident in their abilities.
That's why they made the money they did. It was simple supply and demand, and they were selling their very lives. With so few lives their demand grew.
Tai and Summer were different though. They were on the bottom end of the middle class. They had a house, and they had enough to be sure their children would have all they could ever need. Always their children came first, but whatever else they made went to this hunt. And because they were on this hunt they did not have the time to commit to too many jobs. The majority of their money went to supplies, transport, and bribes.
That last was how she had gotten her hands on this scan. And the scan she had gotten was particularly odd. Her contact, a scientist in the SDC, had contacted her to tell her about it. On it there were large clusters of cold spots, which were likely grimm, but in the center of the compound was a large heat signature; human signatures that numbered in the dozens.
That there were humans there was unexplainable when you took into account how long it had been since the SDC had abandoned it and how infested it was. By all rights they should be dead. The proof of life was enough for her to convince the Council to hire her for a rescue mission. It was the first time she'd been hired to search for her sister.
The odds were against Ehlen being there, but she had hope. An earlier bribe, near the beginning of her search, had given her the general area that her mission had been located. This facility was in that area.
"Drop in five minutes," their pilot announced.
Qrow had been giving every impression of being asleep while Summer brooded. He hadn't been, and on those words he stood up and stretched out his muscles. "Ready?" he asked. Summer nodded, her face grim with the coming battle. Those cold spots had been more than she'd seen in one spot. Whatever they found down there, it was going to be dangerous just getting in, and the only way to get the people out was to kill every grimm they could.
Their transport came to a complete stop 100 feet above ground and dropped its rear loading hatch. As soon as the two warriors jumped it took off in the night not to return until the mission was complete. With their landing strategies the landing was simple. The sounds of the plane's engines flying away would hopefully draw attention away from this area.
That wasn't something to take for granted though, so both took out their weapons and scanned the area for threats. Above them nevermores took the bait and followed their plane, around them were four ursa. Nothing that the two warriors haven't seen and beaten before.
Qrow's weapon was a scythe, and he was reputed to be the best with one on Remnant. That was probably an overstatement, but at the very least he was the best in Vale. Aside from it collapsing for easy transport there was nothing special about it. No guns, which seemed to be becoming popular with the newest wave of students, no secondary forms. The blade would slice through nearly anything though, and the balance was perfect for his style.
Her weapon was a dancing sword. It was a very accurate name, as she indeed danced, her attacks constant and forcing her enemy to react to her. In this method she controlled every aspect of the battle field from tempo to where the players placed themselves.
The fight was short, almost not enough to be called a fight. Slaughter might be a better term.
Both remained silent after the battle as they approached the compound; using hand signals to communicate. From the drone's scan they knew one of the walls was breached, so that was the target. While there was grimm in the woods the strongest concentration was inside. Most likely they had created that breach and used it to get in. That made the approach easier. Always alert for a random encounter, they were assured that the fighting here, at least, was going to be light and fast.
They weren't proven wrong. Approaching the breach they paused under cover and studied the building. It had definitely been caused by more than just time. Something large had bulled its way through and beyond crushing whole buildings. Pulling out her scroll she made X's on the buildings that weren't there any longer, and squiggled lines over the areas that were just damaged.
Meanwhile Qrow was using thermal binoculars to pinpoint the grimm in the area. Once Summer was done she passed her scroll to him to mark what he'd found. It wasn't good. They were going to be lucky to get five feet before being surrounded and attacked by more than they were going to be able to fight off.
Deathstalkers were going to be the largest problem. There were three and both of them used weapons too light to do much against their armor. The two packs of beowulfs on either side of the breach were large as well; larger than normal. They were perched high, ready to jump onto their prey while the ursa on the ground were going to charge in from the sides. There were other grimm as well, but what type Qrow couldn't tell.
It was too coordinated. Grimm shouldn't ever have ambushes arranged. They simply attacked whatever human or faunus was before them. Summer signaled to retreat to a safer spot and Qrow agreed. Once they were far enough away she felt safe to speak she asked "what do you make of that?"
"I don't like it. They're not acting like grimm. They're almost acting like intelligent guard dogs. Did you notice the Nevermores?" Summer shook her head. She hadn't thought to look up and chided herself for missing the obvious. "They were circling, each separated by exactly the same distance and all right over the wall. That's not random. That's a patrol."
A particularly scathing curse left Summer's lips. "We should wait until tonight and see if the patterns change."
"Sounds good," he agreed. "I'm going to circle the area and see if there are any other entrances that aren't so heavily protected."
Ha! "Not without me you aren't. It's too dangerous, and these grimm are acting too weird."
"I know better than to argue with you." He should have known better than to even start. "Let's move it though. I'm not liking this. We should find out what's going on, if we can."
Now that was simple truth. "Right."
About a quarter of the way around, where the forest allowed a closer approach, both stopped and indicated to back away for another conversation.
"Did you feel that?" Qrow asked.
Summer nodded, disturbed by this finding. "Dust, and a lot of it. There's enough there to keep Signal running for a year, at a guess, if we're sensing it this far away."
"This was a rich deposit at one time," Qrow continued. "But it had to of dried out or the SDC wouldn't have abandoned it."
"Let's chalk that up as another question that needs answered. They're adding up." Four already: A secret mission in the area; humans where there should be none; grimm not acting like grimm; and dust where there should be no dust. She was afraid there was only more to come. The first was likely attached to at least one of the other three, which meant the council was already aware of abnormalities out here. Was that also why they were so willing to send her out on this mission? She didn't like the implications. "We're going to need to be careful in there now. Depending on the type of dust a spark will take out half the forest."
Qrow just smiled a smile that said 'like you needed to tell me that.'
"Yeah, speaker of the obvious, right here." She was wondering if they should call in their ride and get out of there. She knew it would be a risky mission to start with, and now it could be outright suicidal. Her kids had already lost one mother; she didn't want them to lose two, especially when the odds were stacked like this. "If we don't find a better option I'm getting us out of here."
The rest of the trip proved no better. All of the entrances had proven to have been sealed except for this one breach.
To anyone else the mission would have been over. For Summer it gave a ray of hope. Only one entrance meant most of the security would be located at or near it. Pulling out her scroll she gave it one more look. The cold spots bore the truth of her thought. There were a few wandering, and perhaps six on top of the lives they were there to save. She pointed off towards the spot the forest was closest to the compound. It was perhaps twenty feet.
"Distract," she signaled to Qrow who nodded and headed another sixty feet around. Stepping out of cover he ran using his scythe to chop a few trees as he went. If there was anything he was better at than fighting it was making a scene. Looking up she noticed the nevermores take the bait, and a few beowulfs jumped down from the top of the wall.
This was when her semblance came into play. Against grimm it was useless, but against almost anything else it was unstoppable. Once on top of the wall she swung her sword. As if going through air it moved in a perfect arc. Not pausing she spun and performed four more swings in rapid succession. There wasn't a material she had found that her semblance couldn't cut through, unless that material was alive. Apparently her semblance considered grimm alive, so when she activated it her sword would move the same way but the damage would be nonexistent.
The wall was thicker than she expected. Her sword had not cut deep enough. Four more slices, this time at an angle, and wedged shaped pieces dropped from where the first had been. This allowed for a deeper cut which she did and found the other side. Four feet seemed a bit excessive, but it would be effective against most grimm. So what kind of grimm had made that breach? Had it been a grimm at all?
Too many questions, too few answers. It was starting to get annoying. Walking through she prepared herself for a possible attack. The numbers were fewer here but they were there. Luck was with her and she waited for Qrow to return. She hid behind a wall that was all that remained of a crumbled building. Fifteen minutes later, give or take a few minutes, he made his appearance.
They were committed now. Qrow checked for heat signatures and pointed towards the west. He also held up five fingers, closed his hand, and opened up with four fingers. So nine people to rescue. That was doable if they could get in without alerting half the compound.
The compound was large. It had to be to accommodate the personnel to run the mines, and the mines themselves. Then there were the defensive weapons and personnel. Last was the landing pad to transport the bounty back to Vale. They entered at the closest point to their target. Staying unnoticed on the trip should be possible in the remaining distance.
There was one thing they hadn't counted on though. The largest dust crystals she'd ever seen were making a latticework throughout the interior. Most were inert and would simply shatter if broken. There were ones that would make for a very bad day as well.
Qrow looked just as confused, but moved on. They did provide extra cover for their entrance. They got to the building that the heat signatures were in quickly. It was one of the few that had remained intact, the crystals oddly staying away from it like a well maintained garden.
A quick scan with Qrow's goggles showed there was grimm in there as well. The expression on his face told her there was something odd about the cold signatures, but he wasn't sure what. He handed the goggles over to her and she took a look. Eight heat signatures were bundled together and definitely human. Judging by his position the ninth had his hands bound together and was hanging from the roof, his feet not touching the ground.
The cold signatures were all around. She was guessing beowulfs, and about ten of them. With the confined space and hostages that was going to be tricky, but not impossible. The fact the humans were obviously captives wasn't adding to the questions, just reinforcing them. Why were they there and why weren't they dead?
Handing the goggles back she indicated she'd take the left side while he took the right. With a nod he squared up to the door, the only entrance, and lifted his leg to kick it in. He never got the chance. The door flew off its hinges, hitting Qrow and sending him into the crystals behind him. Several of the crystals shattered before he came to a stop. He dropped unconscious. Expecting a second attack she waited at the side of the door, prepared to attack the first thing coming out.
The attack didn't come from the door however. It came from the wall next to her as a spike pierced it and her left shoulder. She hopped back and away. She tried to take the entire building in, not knowing for sure where the next attack may come from. Fear gripped her as she realized the very likely possibility of her death and Qrow's.
My girls, please forgive me.
What came through the doors were not beowulfs. What they were she wasn't sure, but she knew they must be the reason for the secret mission as well as the grimm's odd behavior. Possibly the appearance of the dust as well, but she couldn't be sure of that one.
It held one of the prisoners by the neck and in front of him as an obvious shield. He smirked at her as he casually used a bone tipped finger to cut down her side. "Did you come for our meal?" He asked casually. "There's always room for one or two more."
That was the final answer that these were not normal grimm of any form. They were human in shape and apparently intelligence, and as such capable of planning. They'd drawn their prey in, and they were the prey.
"Brother I believe she has a specific dish in mind," a second one said, coming through the door. Hanging from his hands was a dark haired, red eyed woman she had thought she would never see again. "Their kind always look for their own."
Ehlen looked like hell. It had only been a few years, but it might as well have been a decade. Her eyes and her cheeks were sunken, her arms and legs lacked any muscle tone, and while she was conscious there was no sanity to be seen in those eyes. That is, there was none until she saw Summer, then abject terror suffused every part of her being.
She was so close to saving her, but she wasn't there yet. She prayed that Qrow recovered quickly and prepared for a fight. She pushed aside her fears, her anger, and her heartbreak to bring about her a feeling of calm certainty. Ehlen was in bad shape, but she was alive. She only had to finish the mission.
"Damn huntsmen," the first one muttered. "It takes too much to break through their defenses."
"Ah, but once we do they taste so much sweeter," a third one answered from the door.
Summer took the initiative, while they bickered and taunted, and charged in. She swung at the one holding Ehlen first. She removed his right leg at the knee in a fluid arc. She continued her swing gracefully to slice at the third's midsection.
Her style was a dance. To keep the initiative she had to maintain an awareness of all of her opponents' positions and actions. This allowed her to stay on the offensive. Because of that she felt more than saw the first one swing his hostage at her like a club. Side stepping the attack, her sword continued its arc to slice his arm off, forcing him to drop the hostage. Continuing the dance she moved upwards to slice the second from crotch to chin, and then swung around to slice at the first's side.
I can win this, she thought to herself.
Except she couldn't. Four more of the abnormal enemies outside of her perception fired more of those spikes from a distance. With deadly accuracy she found one protruding from each hip and each knee. Forced to the ground she knew her defeat and death was next.
Immobilized, she watched as they approached, one casually lifted an arm and from it flew another spike. It pinned her right hand to the ground and forced her to drop her sword. "So, what shall we do with this one?" he asked.
"She'll be fun to break, and a challenge I'm betting," one of them said with obvious amusement.
It felt odd, laying there, listening to her future being discussed as if she wasn't there. As if she wasn't human.
One of the ones who hadn't spoken, a short but stoutly built one, picked up Ehlen from the rope that bound her wrists and held her so she could see. "We got some dread from this one. I think they may know each other better than just their calling. We could use that."
"I had thought she was done, but with this we might get a few meals out of her," one agreed. "And what about that one?"
No, not Qrow too, she pleaded as she saw it point at her brother-in-law.
The one that seemed to be the leader paused and considered the question. "We leave him. Give him some proof that all of the captives died, including these two. We don't want them to continue following us, and he hasn't seen us."
Her relief didn't last long as the implications of them proving she had died registered. One of them set a foot on her ribs and his hands on her left arm just below her wedding bracelet and pulled. She passed out from the pain almost immediately as she wondered how long she would live before she bled out.
Ehlen hung limply. She wasn't sure how long she'd been there. Her shoulders had stopped hurting a long time ago, both having dislocated themselves from the awkward position and her own weight. Something was going on around her a dull portion of her mind realized. She wished it would go away. They ignored her when she didn't have the energy to feel anymore, and thinking brought feelings, even if they had dulled. It would be so nice everything would just stop.
Words filtered through the fog. "Huntsmen," was said repeatedly and that annoying voice held on to it, hoping and fearing at the same time. She tried to turn it off. They'd played this game before. Just enough hope to throw her into despair when it was dashed.
They had gotten her semblance again. She knew that. One was looking at the door. More likely through the door. If this was real her would be rescuers would be there then. She pitied them. If they were lucky they would die fast.
She had to stop thinking. Desperately she searched for that void that she could escape. The thoughtless place, but she couldn't find it. This time it was different. She could feel a familiar aura near by. One from a life she no longer recognized.
The fight started with the leader sending the door flying. Another fired one of those spikes that had been used on her any number of times through the wall.
There had been dozens, but only a few remained. He reached down and picked up one of the survivers and headed out the door. She was lifted next. Words were said to the person in front of her. The thoughts started, and they wouldn't stop. They screamed and she knew they were going to use this person to hurt her more now. She had felt something. She wished she knew where she knew her from. If she was going to be tortured again it would be nice to know why she felt anything.
Whoever she was, she faught well. Not well enough though. The fight ended as it was inevitably going to.
Where had that thought come from? Yes... She was Summer. As the first true memory snapped into place more followed. Qrow, Taiyang, and Yang... Yang! How could she forget her dearest daughter? She had thought she would never see any of them again, had forced them from her mind. It had helped lesson the torment.697Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2svywakPOk
The stubby one picked her up again, and she hung like a napkin held only by two fingers. She knew he was enjoying the fresh pain she was experiencing. They all were. They made sure she could watch as summer's arm was physically torn off. She had no voice left after years of screaming, but she tried out of pure reaction, tears she didn't know she was capable of falling down her cheeks.
She was going to die. No one lived with that level of damage. She was going to watch her sister die right in front of her and she was powerless. Why must she feel again? She wanted to find that quiet place again, but all she found there now were the screams her voice was no longer capable of making.
Yet Summer did live. For another four years at least. These bastards were very good at keeping their victims alive. It made them a renewable source of food and entertainment.
She was glad to see her sister die. She was free now. She wondered when the Raven would come for her, to show here spirit the way home.
The transport returned to Vale without fanfare. Qrow had survived with only minor cuts and bruising. Physically at least. His heart was another matter. The carnage he saw after regaining consciousness had been awful. More than he had ever seen in his career, and he'd seen worse than most huntsmen. His only guess on why he had survived was that he had been hidden under the door and the dust. The arm he held was grimm proof that Summer hadn't fared as well.
At least they knew this time that she was dead. Ehlen could still be out there. He didn't know. He couldn't bring himself to think about it.
I can't do this anymore... he thought in despair. The shock had ruined him in many ways and he knew that he would hesitate in the field now. That wouldn't just get him killed; it would get his teammates killed as well. Besides, Tai will need help with the kids. Maybe I can get a job at Signal? That's close. I could still do some good there. I just don't know.
The warrior dreaded telling his brother what had happened. That one wife had gone missing was bad enough. That the second was dead would destroy him. Yes, I'll be there to help. He'll need me, and the kids will need me.
Councilman Ferris looked over the notes. His spy had seen most of what had happened. The data over the last year had been everything he'd hoped for at little cost or risk. Placing that bracelet in their wedding gifts and the falsified reports had indeed been worth it. He would be sure that Qrow and Tai had everything they needed and then some. It was the least he could do.ns 126.96.36.199da2