Weiss hopped down from her glyph to the forest floor with nothing but a soft rustle. Above her, Ruby and Yang were both using their ridiculously loud firearms to stutter their fall momentum. She honestly wasn’t even sure why Ruby was doing that when she could just use her semblance to slow and soften her landing. Probably just wanted to make as much noise as possible. Yang didn’t really have many other options, though her getting smacked in the face with a tree at terminal velocity would really just power her up, right? And she could use a good knock on the head…
Blake… Weiss actually had no idea where Blake was. The girl had been standing between her and Yang when they launched, but Weiss had completely lost track of her once she’d fallen past the canopy.
As Ruby would say, “What a ninja!!! O: .O. :O !!!”
Or something like that.
A streak of yellow thudded down to the ground a few dozen feet away, a red one following soon after.
Weiss headed over to her teammates. She considered looking for Blake, but then decided against it. Blake could find them. She was probably stalking in the branches above them already.
Weiss glanced up super casually.
Nope. Not there.
She got to the other two, where Ruby was bouncing up and down like she had pogo sticks for legs. “…so much fun! Can we go back up to the top and do it again?”
Yang said something Weiss couldn’t hear from where she was and placed a hand on top of her little sister’s head, stilling the bounces.
“Probably,” Ruby replied. Her eyes lit up when she spotted Weiss. “Hey, Weiss!” she chirped, zipping over to Weiss’ side with a scattering of rose petals.
“Don’t waste your aura, dolt,” Weiss chastised her. They were on a Hunt now. They needed to ration their energy as best as possible.
“I!–yeah, okay,” she sulked.
“You guys seen Blake?” Yang asked, walking over at a normal, rational, human pace.
Weiss shook her head. “Lost track of her when she got into the leaves.”
“She can be pretty sneaky,” a voice said behind Weiss.
All three girls jumped with a scream, turning to find Blake standing not even five feet away, a smug grin on her face.
“Ho–what?” Weiss sputtered.
“Did you roll a nat twenty on stealth, or did we all roll nat ones on our perception?” Ruby asked.
“I… don’t know what that means, but if it means you’re all a bunch of goobers, then yes,” Blake answered.
“Your face is a goober,” Ruby whispered to herself. She probably hadn’t meant for anyone to hear, but Weiss definitely heard.
“Where’s Professor Goodwitch?” Blake asked.
“Crap,” Weiss muttered, looking around. This was their main job! Escort the professor to the relic! How were they supposed to escort someone they lost?!
“Hey, Professor?” Yang shouted through cupped hands.
“I’m here!” was the distant reply, coming from… which way was that? North? Northeast? Weiss usually judged cardinal directions based on the sun, the few occasions where she had to, but… she couldn’t actually see the sun through the dense foliage right now.
Would the scroll mapping work this far from the CCT? She pulled her scroll out to check as they walked together towards the professor.
No luck. From what she remembered, the CCT was in the southern part of Vale City. Its range probably didn’t extend very far past the northern walls.
They should put an extender tower on the plateau. That would be nice.
Professor Goodwitch was standing in a pretty unremarkable spot–trees around her, leaves and dirt underneath. Standard forest stuff. Her hands were crossed in front of her as she patiently waited for the team.
Poised and elegant. Weiss liked Professor Goodwitch.
“Team RWBY, reporting for duty!” Ruby announced them like a “goober”, unfurling her weapon and jabbing the spike at the bottom into the ground for emphasis, like it was a flag or something.
Professor Goodwitch just quirked an eyebrow at her, which made Weiss smile.
“Are we ready to go?” the professor asked.
“Yeah!” Ruby replied for them. “Onward!” She started walking… somewhere. Weiss was pretty lost, though she’s never admit that.
She also didn’t trust that Ruby wasn’t just as lost as she was.
“Ruby?” she called out, making the girl stop and turn. “Are you sure you’re going the right way?”
“Uh…” Ruby looked around herself a bit, taking in… well, trees and leaves and dirt, as that’s all there was.
Weiss really hated the wilderness.
“Noooooot… reallyyyy…” Ruby admitted.
Weiss hung her head with a sigh. This was an amusing mirror to their last time together in this forest.
“Can you point us in the right direction?” Yang asked the professor.
“No need,” Blake cut in. She started walking in a direction about sixty degrees off from the way Ruby had gone. “It’s this way.”
“A-are you sure?” Weiss asked.
“I have a pretty good sense of direction,” Blake called back.
Ruby skipped up to Yang and Weiss as they followed, the Professor close behind. “I’m confused. Are you a rogue or a ranger?!”
Blake looked over her shoulder briefly to frown at her. “What?”
“The Dungeons and Duststorms stuff we talked about, remember?” Ruby explained like it should be obvious. “You’re all stealthy like a rogue, but you’re also being all tracker-y like a ranger! And you can’t be the ranger ‘cause I’m the ranger!”
Weiss considered telling Ruby to be quiet, but… she was quickly learning there wasn’t much point. This was who Ruby was. She’d be sad and quiet for a little while and then some other nonsense would pop in her head and she’d blurt it out and they’d be back here again anyway.
Also, a sad Ruby was a truly terrible thing to befold.
“Then be better at tracking?” Blake suggested.
Ruby scrunched her nose. “I… I’m a combat ranger!”
“So a fighter?” Yang grinned.
“… Yeah, I guess so,” Ruby sighed. “Fighters are boring though,” she added with a pout.
Yang pulled her sister over and ruffled her hair. “Yeah, but when you do it you use super speed and rose petals and mega death scythes, which is super not boring.”
Alright, this was going on a little too long. These buffoons needed to be steered back on track.
“Guys, focus,” Weiss demanded. “Shouldn’t we be in a formation or… something? In case we’re attacked?”
They all stopped and looked at each other.
“Uhhh, sure!” Ruby chirped. “Good thinking, Weiss! Uhhhh… Yes, a formation.”
It was very clear she stalling as she tried to figure out what to do, made extra evident by the way she was glancing at each of her teammates in turn.
“Hm. Blake, you’re up front. Lead the way and scout. Yang, you follow her, but don’t get too far from the professor. Wwwwweiss? Um… Stay with the professor? I’ll run around the flanks and make sure we don’t get jumped? Maybe join you guys for a lil’ bit?” She looked at Professor Goodwitch as she finished. “Does that sound good?”
The professor shrugged. “I’m merely here to observe. Any comments and critiques I have I will share at the conclusion of the Hunt.”
Ruby puffed her lower lip out a bit, something Weiss understood. What was the point of having someone as skilled and experienced as the professor here with them if she wasn’t going to give some guidance? The… openness of all this made Weiss nervous. Too many decisions to make and she had no idea what the right answers were.
“I will say,” the professor added, “that whatever your plan, make sure it plays to the strengths of each of your team members.”
Ruby looked around at them. “I think it does, right? Blake knows where we’re going and seems to have pretty good eyesight to spot trouble, Yang in the middle to jump in and back up either Blake or Weiss, and Weiss as escort because she’s got the best defense and zone control, and can stall for us all to get to her if there’s trouble?”
“And then you can get to any of us really fast,” Yang added, nodding slowly. “Sounds good.”
“Don’t waste too much of your aura semblancing around, Ruby,” Weiss reminded her.
Ruby nodded a bit. “Yeah. I’ll stay close. Try to keep at least two of you in sight at all times?”
“This seems like a good plan,” Blake approved. She turned to Yang. “Give me a shout if I’m getting too far ahead for you to follow.”
“Mkay. Pretty sure I can keep up with you though,” Yang said, her competitive side poking out.
Blake shook her head. “It’s not about that. I think Professor Goodwitch needs to be the one that sets the pace. Remember, she’s a stand-in for a bunch of civilians, and we can’t expect them to try to keep up with us if we’re going fast.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Weiss saw the professor nod approvingly.
“So you need to make sure you stay close enough to her and Weiss,” Blake finished. “But I probably won’t see them, so just let me know if I need to slow down.”
Yang nodded quickly. “Yeah. Yeah yeah, makes sense. ‘Kay, ya’ll ready to go?”
They all looked at each other, then Ruby nodded. “Break!”
The group split up, which made Weiss uncomfortable. She didn’t like the idea of getting jumped by Grimm without anyone else around. Not that she couldn’t take care of herself! She absolutely could! But… Grimm were pretty… scary.
No, not scary. That made Weiss sound weak. Mildly alarming? That was better. No reason for her, Weiss Schnee, to be scared.
Blake and Ruby both vanished rather quickly, Blake using her physics defying ribbon-scythe-whatever to whip through the trees, and Ruby jogged off to the right a bit and then zipped through the trunks and branches with her semblance until she was a good sixty feet away. Still visible, though only from her cape, really.
Yang took her time, slowly jogging after Blake to put some distance between her and Weiss and the professor, who were walking. Before getting too far, she turned and called back to Weiss, “Gimme a shout if you lose track of me, ‘kay?”
Weiss nodded. Yang was easy to spot with her mane that looked like a solar flare, so Weiss would really only lose her if she got too far ahead.
It was nice to have a defined role now, an assignment with clear framing. ‘Follow Yang and protect the Professor’ was straightforward, and having that responsibility meant that she wasn’t in Decision Limbo trying to figure out what to do and what was the best course of action.
She and the professor walked in silence for a while, Weiss following the spot of yellow in the trees and feeling very nervous of scrutiny. She could just imagine Professor Goodwitch behind her watching her every movement and calculating how many tiny things she was doing wrong.
It made Weiss fidgety. She’d been keeping her arms at her sides, then started swinging them lightly as she walked, then stopped because that felt ridiculous. She clasped her hands in front of her, then decided that felt too casual and unprepared, so she placed her left hand on the pommel of her sword and her right… what was she supposed to do with her right hand? She placed it on her hip. No. She kept it stiff at her side. No. She hooked her thumb through her belt and let her arm hang lightly. Maybe? It felt awkward, but at least it was better than the other options.
As she was looking down at her hand on her belt, she noticed her feet and her awkward gait. She was putting one foot directly in front of the other and swinging her hips like she was walking on a runway. Granted, that was how she’d been taught to walk, but she very much doubted when her mother had coached her in this that she’d been expecting Weiss to use it in the middle of a forest littered with feral packs of monsters.
She started trying to walk where her feet went straight forward instead of crossing inward, but that felt so unnatural to her now. And should she bend her knees? Be more… springy, so she could jump at a moment’s notice?
… Okay, nope. Walking with bent knees felt weird as hell. Especially in high heeled combat boots. She might as well be waddling.
Also, was her hair okay? She’d fixed it up this morning and put in her ponytail crown and made sure everything lined up perfectly, but she had just plummeted over six hundred feet from the top of a cliff to the forest floor. She reached up to pat her head and feel her–yep. Loose strands all over the place
She could fix it, but was she supposed to with Professor Goodwitch right there? She might think that Weiss was being petty and worrying about the wrong things.
She also might be thinking that Weiss’ hair looked horrible.
Weiss hated making decisions. How was she supposed to weigh the pros and cons here when she wasn’t even sure what the professor was thinking? There was no foundation with which to f–
The world started blurring, and her head felt as though she were on a rollercoaster while she felt a tug across the top of her foot.
‘I tripped,’ she managed to realize right before she hit the ground with a loud “Oof!”
She launched herself to her feet with glyphs and hurried to dust the dirt and dead leaves off the front of her clothing. Her first feeling was one of utter embarrassment at having just faceplanted in front of her professor, the second a not-so-mild annoyance that her outfit was now so dirty. It would definitely need to be drycleaned now.
She cleared her throat and turned her head to address the professor–though she didn’t turn all the way around to look at her, afraid of a look of condescending judgement. “S-sorry. That root… snuck up on me.”
The professor chuckled, which gave Weiss enough of a feeling of security to turn around, though the professor had kept moving and was now walking past her. “Perhaps it would be better to focus on your surroundings rather than on your hair, Miss Schnee.”
Weiss could feel her cheeks going Ruby red. “S-sorry,” she stammered again, picking up her pace so she could get back to her place in front of the professor.
Her heart was hammering from embarrassment, and it took a moment for her in her frazzled state to collect her thoughts enough to remember what she should be doing. She panicked for a moment when she couldn’t spot Yang, but then a flash of yellow peeped through the dense foliage and she calmed a bit, hurrying in that direction.
Yang was getting a little far… Almost a hundred feet away, if Weiss had to ballpark a guess.
“Yang,” she tried calling out, though her voice came out a little hoarse and raspy. She wasn’t used to yelling.
She cupped her hands around her mouth and tried again. “Yang!”
Up ahead, Yang stopped and turned. “Yeah?!” came the shouted reply, muffled from bouncing through the trees.
“Slow down a bit!” Weiss called out. Yang probably hadn’t meant to, but she was moving a bit faster than they were, and it was probably better to have Yang slow down than it was to have the professor-pseudo-cilivian-caravan speed up.
“‘Kay!” Yang called back before turning. Weiss could make out her calling after Blake, but couldn’t make out the words now that Yang was facing away from her.
A couple more minutes of quiet trekking passed. A couple minutes for Weiss to be reminded how much she despised nature.
Okay, that wasn’t fair. Nature was nice and beautiful. From a distance. But when you were in it, it was just annoying. There wasn’t a single section of flat ground, every step sounded like an earthquake from all the branches and leaves underfoot, and there were bugs constantly buzzing about. They couldn’t do anything to Weiss through her aura, of course, but their very presence made her skin crawl.
Bugs are gross.
If this is what being a huntress was… well, Weiss wasn’t having second thoughts, but she definitely had reservations about these awful escort missions. Weren’t there huntsman contracts that were something like “hang out in this fancy hotel suite and protect a foreign dignitary” or something? She knew her father had a pair of huntsman that he often hired as bodyguards, either for himself or for high priority shipments, though she was fairly certain they’d died in that train hijacking a year ago when it derailed and crashed into a mountainside.
More huntsmen that died before their time.
It made Weiss sad to think about, and also a bit scared for her own future. If the time ever came for her to face her end on the battlefield, could she meet it bravely? Death terrified her. There was so much she wanted and needed to do, to accomplish, that she wouldn’t be able to if she just died out in the woods in the middle of nowhere to some nameless monster. Could she be brave to the end when she was already scar–mildly alarmed–of Grimm when there weren’t even any around? She hoped so. A coward’s death wouldn’t be very fitting for a Schn–
Weiss jumped at Ruby’s voice. The little captain was standing off to Weiss’ left, a little ahead of her.
“Yes, Ruby?” she replied, a now automatic response, really.
“You doin’ okay?”
Weiss tried a smile. “Doing great. How are you and the others?”
Ruby rocked on the balls of her feet, betraying her excitement.
‘At least someone’s enjoying being out here,’ Weiss thought to herself.
“Oh, you know. Pretty deece,” Ruby answered. “How ‘bout you, Professor? You feelin’ all safe and secure and… stuff?”
Professor Goodwitch nodded. “I am.”
Ruby pumped a fist. “Yisss!” She turned back to Weiss. “Blake says she hears running water up ahead. If there’s a river or stream or whatever and it’s running the right way then we can stay together a bit more and follow it.”
Weiss nodded. “Okay. How far?”
“Dunno,” Ruby shrugged. “She said maybe half a mile-ish? She said it’s hard to judge without knowing how fast the water’s going.”
“How on Remnant can she hear something like that from half a mile away?” Weiss wondered, completely dumbfounded.
Ruby smiled and gave her jazz hands, saying, “Ninjaaaa!”
Weiss, of course, had to roll her eyes at that, but that just made Ruby smile wider. “See you guys up there!” she chirped before speeding off in a blur of petals.
“Don’t!…” Weiss started, but Ruby was already gone. “… waste your aura,” she finished grumbling to herself, resuming the hike after Yang’s distant figure.
Sure enough, a little more than fifteen minutes later, Weiss and Professor Goodwitch caught up to the other three, who were stopped at a wide, shallow little stream.
About ten to fifteen feet wide, it ran from the northeast to west, towards the ocean. There was a good five to ten feet of riverbank on either side of it, meaning there was no oppressive shadow of trees blocking out the sky. At its deepest it was maybe knee deep, and most of it was only a little bit past ankle deep. It was shallow enough that there weren’t any fish in it at all. It was making happy babbling brook noises that made the tension in Weiss’ shoulders relax.
Okay, if they spent time in nature like this, maybe that wouldn’t be too bad.
It wasn’t really running the right way, but… damn, did Weiss like not having the gloom of the forest above and around her.
The others were clearly discussing the issue as they approached.
“… would really like to stay out in the open like this,” Yang was saying.
“I know, Yang,” Blake sighed. “But I’m not a hundred percent confident I can keep track of where we’re trying to go if we follow this and angle off too much.”
Ruby, for her part, was kicking splashes of water at the edge of the stream, and from the way her boots weren’t wet Weiss assumed she was concentrating on extending her aura around them.
She looked up when she heard Weiss and the professor crunching up to them, though.
“Hey, Weiss! So this is the river.” She spread her hands out to indicate the water behind her.
“Think it’s more of a stream,” Yang said, a teasing edge to her tone and a playful smile on her lips as she tapped her chin with a finger.
“Ugh,” Blake huffed. “I was just having a discussion with myself, okay? I wasn’t trying to be a grammar Grimm!”
“Nonono, it’s definitely a brook,” Yang continued, her grin only growing wider.
“I’ll plant your stupid face in this brook,” Blake muttered, crossing her arms together and pouting at the ground. The reaction just made Yang laugh and pull the girl in to her side.
“I’m just teasin’ ya, goof. I thought it was adorkable.”
Blake deepened her pout.
“Anyway, this is the river/stream/brook!” Ruby said, once again acting like Weiss and the river needed introduction. “Blake’s afraid that if we follow it she won’t be able to keep track of where the cliff we’re going to is, though.”
“I’m sorry!” Blake blurted, voice raised. “I’m doing the best I can!”
“Heyyy–” Ruby started.
“Ssshhh,” Yang said soothingly, giving Blake a squeeze. “Nobody’s mad at you, babe. We’re just trying to figure out what to do.”
“… okay,” Blake mumbled, clearly not convinced that nobody was mad at her.
Weiss knew that what was going on, mostly because she did this herself all the time. Blake was just mad at herself and assumed everyone else was too. And it was something Weiss was only able to recognize she was doing well in hindsight.
She felt for Blake, though she still wanted to slap the girl in the face for that comment this morning. It was a weird combination of feelings.
“… So yeah, that’s where we’re at,” Ruby said.
Weiss nodded slowly. “What’s your confidence level you can keep track of where we’re going, Blake?”
“Ninety-nine point nine if we just keep going the way we are,” she answered. “But if we follow this river… it’s at an angle, which makes things a little harder, and it’s windy, which makes things a lot harder. Depending on how much it turns, I’m only, like… forty to sixty percent confident.”
Weiss nodded again. She liked having numbers to work with.
“Not great,” she surmised.
“Sorry,” Blake told the ground.
Weiss quickly shook her head. “No, it’s okay. I just… I think the answer’s pretty clear, right?”
From Ruby’s groan, it was pretty clear. “But I like the sky being bluuuuue!” she whined.
“Believe me, I do too,” Weiss said. “But we have to make sure we stay on target. I feel like wandering around and getting lost is the most surefire way to make sure we fail this test.”
And failing was simply not acceptable. Weiss would stomach any number of hours of dreary forest lighting if it meant they wouldn’t fail.
“The professor wouldn’t let us get that lost…” Yang argued, sounding unconvinced herself as she turned to Professor Goodwitch to ask, “… would you?”
The professor was watching them critically and stoically from a few feet away. “I would not let it get to the point that we would be unable to make it to the relic in time, but this decision is a crucial one and your grade would change accordingly if I needed to help you because of it.”
“Sooooooo I guess we’re going straight,” Yang sighed. “Straight’s the most boring direction there is.” She grinned up at the rest of them, but everyone’s overall dejection meant nobody reacted to her joke and she went back to hanging her head.
“How do we know the professor wouldn’t get lost too?” Blake grumbled to herself.
“Pffft, professors don’t get lost!” Ruby laughed. “… Right?”
Professor Goodwitch smiled lightly and tapped the side of her leg with a fingernail, which made a dull *thunk* sound that Weiss suspected was a scroll strapped to her thigh tucked underneath her blouse. “I have a way to cheat,” she answered simply.
“How come the teachers get to cheat?!” Yang exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air. “That’s just hypocritical and unfair!”
“There is a difference between having a geocode for a relic and leaning across your partner to sneak glances at Miss Schnees answers during a pop quiz, Miss Xiao Long.”
The corners of Yang’s lips twerked up in an attempt to not laugh, and her cheeks turned a guilty red. “I was just double checking her spelling, I swear!”
“Ha! Like I need you to spell check me,” Weiss joked. “Now, shall we go?” She gestured across the river, back into the shadows of the trees.
“I don’t waaaaaannaaa,” Ruby whined.
“None of us do, Ruby,” Weiss huffed impatiently.
“I’sss gotta be done, Cap,” Yang said begrudgingly, reaching up to lightly ruffle Ruby’s hair.
Ruby groaned again. “Fiiiiine,” she sighed, crossing the shallow stream, kicking her feet while she walked to make splashes like a little brat. The rest followed behind her.
“Same forma–” Weiss started to ask.
“Sssh!” Blake hissed, ducking down and darting a few feet to hide behind the nearest tree.
Immediately, the remaining three of them all went on alert. Weiss pulled out her sword, staying by the professor because that was the job she was assigned, and entered her fighting stance–head up, shoulders back, left foot forward–while Yang pumped the knuckle guards of her gauntlets out and rushed to Blake’s side and Ruby unholstered and unfurled her massive scythe.
Weiss still had no idea how Ruby carried that thing so easily, much less swung it.
“What is it?” Yang asked in a low voice.
“Growling,” Blake answered. “It’s hard to make out over the water. I can’t tell what it is. Beowolf or Ursai, maybe?”
“Are you sure it’s Grimm?” Weiss asked, creeping forward a smidge so she could keep her voice low and still be heard by the two ahead of her. “This forest has just standard wolves and jungle cats and stuff too.”
Blake frowned in concentration, trying to listen harder. She reached a hand up, then grimaced and lowered it, causing Yang to roll her eyes.
“… hear bet… took it off,” Yang whispered to her, quietly enough that Weiss couldn’t make out most of the words.
Blake glared at her and didn’t respond.
“I’m not sure,” she said after a moment, addressing Weiss’ question rather than Yang. “I don’t know their sounds enough to be able to pick any differences out. Should I go scout?”
“Where are they?” Ruby asked.
Blake pointed, sweeping a finger about thirty degrees across a northeastern direction. “Not sure how far. Maybe, like… half a windball field?”
Seventy five feet. Not that far. A distance that would take a few seconds for Beowolves to be able to barrel down on them, assuming they didn’t smack themselves into trees along the way.
Weiss shivered and was glad everyone was too busy staring into the trees to notice.
“Do you think they know we’re here?” Yang asked.
Blake shrugged. “Dunno. They’re growling. Do Grimm just passively growl?”
“Wouldn’t be surprised,” Yang muttered back with a grin. “They seem like the type.”
“Alright. Blake scouts, I’ll go with her for backup,” Ruby declared.
“I’m not su–” Blake started to protest.
“I’m almost silent when I use my semblance. We’ll be fine. Yang, Weiss, stay with the professor. If they spot us, we lead them back here to fight them out in the open.”
“If there are a lot of them, shouldn’t we pick them off in the trees?” Blake asked. “We could get swarmed out here.”
Weiss’ heart hammered as a mental image of her getting piled on by Beowolves flashed through her head.
“Yang and I both fight better with space to move, and Weiss would probably prefer to not have trees blocking her casting.”
Ruby looked to Weiss for confirmation and Weiss nodded, more out of expectation than anything else. She honestly hadn’t given that subject much thought. A quick analysis told her Ruby was probably right, though.
“And they’d probably come out of the treeline staggered,” Ruby finished. “Kill ‘em as they emerge, they won’t be able to swarm anything. If you want, you can stay on the edge of the forest and pick them off as they rush out to us.”
Blake frowned, then nodded. “‘Kay. We should try to just be sneaky, though. It’s entirely possible we can just walk around them, too.”
“I don’t like the idea of leaving Grimm behind us,” Weiss worried.
“Same,” Yang agreed. “Regardless of how we decide to do it, we should take them out. Now get going you two. Hurry up and bring me some Ursai to hit. My trigger knuckles are getting itchy.”
“Trigger knuckles?” Weiss repeated.
Yang winked at her. “Yep! They’re the triggers for deez guns!” She flexed her biceps like a moron.
“That analogy doesn’t even line up,” Weiss stated flatly.
Yang’s arms slumped to her sides and she gave Weiss a deadpan look. “Shudup! Or it’ll be yer nose that doesn’t line up!” She pointed a finger at the sky as she said the last part, making it a mighty declaration of nonsense.
Weiss blinked at her.
Yang blinked back.
“Yeah, get going you two,” Weiss said. “I wouldn’t mind stabbing something too, and if you don’t hurry I suppose it’ll have to be Yang.”
“Hey!” Yang protested. “You could stab the professor!”
They all turned to look at Professor Goodwitch who was watching them from the water’s edge, arm’s cross, face impassive.
The team turned back to each other.
“Time to go, Blake!” Ruby chirped, sounding only slightly nervous.
Ruby zipped up and into the branches, leaving a trail of petals for Blake to follow.
In a blink and a half, they were gone. A moment of silence passed before Weiss voiced one of her two biggest concerns.
“You think Ruby can be quiet enough to qualify as sneaky?”
Yang huffed a laugh. “Can, as in ‘is she physically capable’? Sure, absolutely. Whether or not she will, though…”
Weiss rolled her eyes. So they were definitely going to be getting into a fight. That was the second of Weiss’ biggest concerns. She knew, rationally, that she’d be fine. She was trained, ready, and equipped to deal with Grimm. Plus she had a team, and Ruby and Yang were both absolute monsters when it came to dealing with actual monsters. And Professor Goodwitch was here to help them if they came into any real danger.
Yet still, she was nervous.
“Hey, Professor Useless Civilian, should you back up to the other side of the river?” Yang suddenly called out.
Professor Goodwitch’s face kept the same permanently unamused and unimpressed expression as always. “I don’t know, Professional Huntress. I am just a useless civilian. I hired you to get me through the forest. Tell me what to do.”
Yang gave the professor an equally dead expression and responded in an equally dead tone, “Yes, Professor Useless Civilian. Please back up to the trees on the other side of the river until the way is safe.”
The professor gave Yang one long, slow blink, then turned to march back across the water to the opposite treeline.
It was a good call. Weiss mentally kicked herself for not thinking of it herself.
She’d always been terrible with open-ended situations. She liked having options laid out in front of her to choose from. It’s why she loved multiple choice tests and hated essays unless they had a very specific prompt. And out here it seemed they were making all the calls on their own, no prompts or explicitly laid out choices.
It was awful. And Weiss was awful at it.
Which was absolutely unacceptable! She was Weiss Schnee, damn it! She was supposed to be good at everything!
‘I bet Winter didn’t have these issues when she started,’ Weiss thought to herself bitterly.
“Hm? What?” Weiss looked up to Yang.
“You should back up a bit too. If they come charging out, I’ll smack some faces and you can magic missile them from back there.”
Weiss nodded numbly and turned, crossing the river. She should have thought of that too.
She extended her aura past her feet again and the water splashed across and over her high-heeled combat boots. It was kind of surreal to see her feet in water but not feeling them getting wet. Auras made things weird. She was almost tempted to pull her aura back to her skin just to make the weirdness stop, but then remembered that wet shoes suck.
She took up a position on the far bank of the river between Yang and Professor Goodwitch, getting back into her fighting stance and trying to clear her head. Her sword fighting instructor, Cerio Phorell, the First Sword of Atlas, had told her to empty her mind and think about nothing, which had always frustrated Weiss. Thinking about nothing was thinking about something, and not thinking at all–which was probably what he’d meant–wasn’t possible!
‘Well, maybe Yang could pull it off,’ she thought jokingly to herself. ‘Or Ruby when there are cookies nearby. No thought there, just pure instinct.’
She smiled at her own joke. She knew that was dumb, but hey! It was funny.
A loud *CRACK!* startled her out of her musings.
That would be Ruby’s rifle.
It was starting.
“Get ready!” Yang called back to Weiss as she crouched low.
With a shuddering inhale, Weiss tried what she could to prepare for real life monsters to come charging at her.
There were two more loud cracks from Ruby’s weapon, interspersed with quick sprees of light pops that must be Blake’s machine pistol. It sounded like popcorn compared to Crescent Rose.
Weiss could now see flashes of movement in the trees, though the difference in lighting meant the forest shadows made the shapes and colors indistinguishable. There was the unmistakable noise of Ruby converting her weapon into scythe form, then a loud *schink!*
A rumbling filled the air and one of the trees only twentyish feet from the edge of the riverbank toppled to the forest floor with a series of loud crashes.
Weiss was actually grateful this once for Ruby making so much noise, though, as it informed her where she should be looking.
Sure enough, a couple seconds later, Ruby came racing out of the forest–still moving pretty darn fast even without her semblance–her scythe’s blade low and curving up behind her as she ran holding the weapon with the staff part running diagonal across her back.
An uncharacteristic thought of ‘She looks pretty cool’ ran through Weiss’ head for the briefest instant.
As Ruby ran by her, Yang dashed forward, driving her fist into the snout of a Beowolf that Weiss hadn’t noticed behind Ruby until Yang let loose her shotgun in its face.
Right before she got to the edge of the river, Ruby dug the blade of her scythe into the ground and swung to a stop, her feet kicking both kicking up while she twisted in mid air and landed with her feet planted–now facing the oncoming Beowolves–and immediately shot again as soon as her feet touched ground.
Weiss tracked the bullet as it left the barrel of Crescent Rose and sped into the skull of another Beowolf that had just reached the treeline.
Okay, that was pretty impressive.
From inside the forest came the continued sound of Gambol Shroud, and from the direction it was coming from it appeared that Blake was hoping through higher branches and raining bullets down to the forest floor below her.
“How many?!” Weiss shouted.
“Over a dozen Beowolves and at least three Ursai!” Ruby shouted back. “Might be more of both! They were in a cave up ahead and we couldn’t see into it!”
So it was either a reasonable amount for them to handle–fifteen minor Grimm between four huntresses wasn’t too bad–or potentially a lot more.
“They’re coming!” Yang yelled, making Weiss infer that those two leading Beowolves had just been a ‘first wave’. Yang’s head darted from side to side as she took in attackers that Weiss still couldn’t see. “They’re too spread out! I can’t catch them all!”
As she finished shouting that, five Beowolves all came tearing out from different points in the–oh. Four Beowolves, as one appeared to get clotheslined by a nearly invisible ribbon and collapse wheezing onto the ground. A shadow pounced on it that was quickly replaced with Blake, who delivered one swift stab into its ear. When she flicked her blade out, a spray of black blood followed, and the body began to crumple into gore that evaporated into black dust as Blake jumped back into the trees.
The whole thing took two seconds.
The other four Beowolves kept rushing forward, and two of them were close enough together that Yang was able run up and trap one in a headlock and trip the other. The other two rushed towards Ruby, who shot one as it leapt at her.
The fourth… Weiss realized that Ruby hadn’t seen it and knew she should jump forward to help. But how? A single Beowolf wasn’t worth using a Dust vial on. She could throw a glyph in its face to block it, but that was really just stalling and making Ruby deal with it herself later, not solving the problem. She could launch herself forward and stab it. That would take care of–
She didn’t reach a decision in time, and the Beowolf jumped at Ruby from behind.
“RUBY!” Weiss shouted, but it ended up being pointless.
Ruby must have heard the thing behind her, because as its shadow fell on top of her she was ready. She blurred to the side and up as a storm of petals, then, as the Beowolf landed where she’d been crouched, she rematerialized, spinning around with her scythe held behind her and across her back. “Guillotine!” she yelled as she spun quickly in the air and landed right next to the monster, the blade of Crescent Rose swinging down right onto the Beowolf’s neck.
Needless to say, it began the slow, gross process of Grimm decomposition a moment later.
Ruby straightened up and turned to Weiss. “All good!” she smiled, flashing a thumbs up.
Weiss returned a weak thumbs up of her own.
She was absolutely useless. She needed to shake off this paralysis.
She rushed up to Ruby’s side as the girl put a bullet in the head of the Beowolf Yang had in a headlock. The other one Yang had been brawling with was currently dissolving a couple dozen feet away. Weiss wasn’t sure what had happened there, though the simple answer of ‘Yang’ was more than enough for her.
“What should I do?” she asked Ruby. She’d been too off-kilter trying to deal with her nerves to formulate a plan, and Weiss needed a plan.
Now that she was closer, she could see that there were many more Beowolves and two dark, hulking shapes that must be Ursai heading towards them. Luckily, Blake’s distraction swinging through the trees was making most of them stop their headlong charge towards the rest of them as they tried to chase her back and forth instead. If not for the fact that they were killer monsters and the absolute enemy of mankind, it would actually be quite comical.
Ruby thought for a moment, then pointed into the left side of the forest. “Can you make a big icewall that way? We want them funneling into Yang and running into each other.”
“Absolutely.” Having something to do–something she was incredibly good at, too, was a relief to Weiss. She’d make the best damn ice wall the Emerald Forest had ever seen.
She poured a huge amount of aura into her sword and slashed upward, a massive spear of ice extending past the blade and crashing through the trees, ten feet high and twenty, thirty, forty feet into long, practically halving the battlefield. There was a yelp that told Weiss she’d even hit an evil death wolf.
Ruby let out a happy giggle. “Sweet! I’d like to see a zombie dragon get through that!”
“Wow, thanks for that, Ruby,” Yang shouted back. “Now I’m thinking about season eight!”
Ruby scratched her head sheepishly. “Heh. Sorry…”
From the upper branches of the forest, Blake yelled, “Less pop culture references, more fighting!”
Yang took a step forward and punched two shotgun shells at an approaching Beowolf, but most of the pellets hit its bone plating. Not having the stopping power of Ruby’s ridiculously powerful rifle, they weren’t enough to get through. It jumped at Yang, who crouched low ready to take the hit, but then Blake’s blade, in the weird hooked kama/scythe mode, flew out from behind the thing and wrapped around its neck, tugging it back. It yelped as its momentum was halted and, as it flailed in the air, Yang jumped forward and punched it in the chest, releasing another shotgun blast for good measure.
That one did the trick.
Another Beowolf slammed into Yang from the side and she was knocked into a tree trunk with a grunt. It lunged forward, jaws wide to bite, but Yang answered by punching its snout down into the dirt as soon as it was close enough. She then grabbed it by the scruff of its neck as it floundered, dazed, and with one hand tossed it up into the air.
A resounding crack at Weiss’ side announced Ruby putting a bullet through its brain.
Eager to help, Weiss focused on their left side, looking for enemies next to her wall. There was an Ursa lumbering at them quickly along side it, and a substantial amount of Weiss’ aura was still thrumming through the ice for her to influence. She reached a hand out, then snatched it back, drawing her fingers in, and the ice obeyed. Shards split off from the top edges of the wall near the Ursa and speared into its side, two dozen blades of ice that buried themselves six to eight inches into its hide, several into the sides of its face. It let out a roar as it rocked from the impact, then stumbled and fell onto its non-impaled side. It didn’t start dissolving, but neither was it getting up.
Her eyes catching a line of three more Beowolves that were getting a little too close to Yang, Weiss clicked to a new Dust cannister and waved her sword like a wand, letting out three separate missiles of ice that she directed through the trees, one toward each wolf. Concentrating on moving three separate projectiles had been damn near impossible for her, once, but now she was able to manage quite handily. She only really started struggling at four.
The stars of ice wisped through and around the trees, and two collided spot on with their targets. On contact, the little motes exploded into what really did look like stars of ice, the “points” of them being blades two to three feet long that skewered the Beowolves and the ground and trees around them, anchoring them in place.
The third star didn’t quite hit the mark. It ran into a root that Weiss wasn’t able to see from where she was standing, and it detonated a few feet in front of its target. The Beowolf didn’t quite react in time, though, trying to turn itself but unable to stop its momentum. It let out a pained bark as ice slashed along its flanks and it bounced on the ground with a thud. To finish it off, Weiss broke off points of the “star” to impale it as it struggled to its feet, when a shadow suddenly appeared next to it she tried to throw them to the side in a panic. The shadow became Blake, and Blake lashed out with one quick, precise slice to the Beowolf’s neck as shards of ice shattered into one of her calves and the trunk next to her.
Another pile of black, dissolving goo.
The ice had knocked her foot back and made her lose her balance a bit, and after taking a second to regain it, Blake looked up and, after a moment of searching, at Weiss, who waved at her. “Sorry!” Weiss called out. She was going to explain what happened, how she hadn’t been expecting Blake to show up there, but Blake just shook her head and jumped away.
A loud roar to her right made Weiss turn to find Yang practically wrestling with another of the Ursa. It swiped a paw at her, which she blocked with both hands, then she put a jab-jab-punch combo into its head, the punch accompanied with a shotgun blast.
Ursa were tough assholes, though, and it just got angrier as one of its eyes was shredded, roaring even louder and charging forward to try to trample over Yang.
Yang reacted smartly though, placing a hand on the creature’s snout and kicking her legs up underneath her, so she just got carried forward with its movement. She pushed off of it and sailed through the air for a few fe–
She was going to hit a tree.
Instinctively, Weiss reached out and summoned a white glyph, angled to where Yang’s feet would catch it well, right in the girl’s path. A split second later she doubted the decision–after all, Yang would be fine with hitting the tree. The impact would probably just charge up her semblance for a big attack on the killer bear.
Maybe that had even been her plan. Maybe Weiss shouldn’t have interfered.
When Yang let out a noise of surprise as she landed on the glyph, Weiss’ doubts redoubled. But then Yang let out a whoop and jumped back toward the Ursa, the effect of the glyph propelling her much higher and farther than normal–evidently higher and farther than she’d been expecting, too.
She flew over the Ursa, which seemed to have been her intention, but when she reached down to try to grab onto the fur on its back she was too high, and she let out a dismayed “Aaagh!” as she sailed past.
Trying to help fix it, Weiss summoned another glyph in the girls path, this one directly perpendicular to the Ursa. Yang noticed this one and pressed her feet together, flying into the glyph and bending her knees to take the momentum, springing up to jump again. This time, she rocketed straight into the Ursa’s back, arms out wide in a literal bear hug tackle, knocking the monster onto its stomach.
A loud growl from behind her forced Weiss to turn around, though it was already too late. There was a Beowolf right on top of her, its giant form towering two feet above her even while it was on all fours. It bit down at her, its massive fangs chomping around her left shoulder.
Weiss was fine. Her aura held, the teeth feeling like nothing more than a sharp pressure, a bunch of pencils poking her through a pillow. But she couldn’t help it:
Reflexively, she stabbed upward with Myrtenaster, piercing through its throat and poking out the other side, a spray of disgusting black blood spurting from the wound and dousing her sword and hand. Even through her aura she could tell it felt slimy and abnormally warm.
It didn’t even register to her terrified, grossed-out brain that she’d killed the thing until it started dissolving–RIGHT ON TOP OF HER!
Fur and hide began sloughing off of it with wet squelchy sounds that made Weiss want to vomit, bits of its face falling and slapping across her chest and leg. And the smell. Like it had already been dead and rotting for a week.
She let out another, though quite different, shriek and jumped away, trying to shake off the gunky gore and her entire feeling of BLEGH.
“Weiss, you okay?” A voice asked her as she thrashed around. She barely registered that it was Blake.
“Hyaaggggh!” was all she was able to come up with in response. There was black, disgusting goo all over the left side of her body and she couldn’t shake it off and she couldn’t wipe it off because then it would be on her other hand too and–
“Weiss, relax! It’s going to dissolve in a second!” Ruby’s voice came from behind her.
“She’s fine!” she heard Blake shout. “Go help Yang!”
“Go! I’ve got her!”
There was a pause filled only with Weiss convulsing and struggling not to spew her breakfast into the river–because that would just make her even more disgusted–then the scent of roses wafted over her, strong enough that it crowded out the smell of death and decay. Or maybe the Grimm smell was getting weaker?
“Weiss, look at me.”
A hand rested on her non-gored shoulder and she instinctively flinched. She was already loath to allow physical contact with others, and in this moment when she’d just been ambushed by a giant death monster and had guts and grossness spewed all over her, her mental alarm bells were ringing so hard in her head she couldn’t process anything else. She slammed her aura into overdrive to the point where there was a field a good two inches from her skin and clothing that forced the hand off of her.
She kept shaking.
“Weiss, look at me.”
Slowly, Weiss turned and lifted her head to make eye contact with Blake.
How the fuck did she look so calm right now?
“It’s okay, Weiss. Breathe. Look, it’s already gone.” She pointed at Weiss’ left arm, and Weiss followed to see that the Grimm gore was indeed almost entirely dissipated, just a few loose drops on her knuckles peeling away into black dust.
‘Why didn’t my aura flare push this gunk off me?’ she wondered idly–and somewhat angrily.
She slowly dialed her aura back to her skin.
“Hey,” Blake said, placing her hand back on Weiss shoulder. “You’re okay.”
Weiss avoided looking at her, choosing to nod at the ground instead. “Yeah. Sorry. Thank you.”
Her abject terror was now immediately replaced with crushing embarrassment. She was supposed to be a huntress, and she was just screaming like a little girl. She looked over to their other two team members to see that Yang was pushing one Beowolf away while another had its jaws clamped around her other arm. She flung it off of her with a mighty swing, and Ruby bisected it (yelling “Slice and dice!” as she did) while it was hurtling through the air. The action covered her in gore, naturally, but she didn’t react to it at all beyond wrinkling her nose at the smell, and a few seconds later it all evaporated anyway.
And then there was Weiss, shrieking like a banshee and thrashing around like a dead fish.
“Sorry. Thank you,” she repeated nervously.
“It’s okay, Weiss. If you need to take a step back, go ahead. I think we got this. I’m gonna go help, okay?”
Weiss met Blake’s eyes and found genuine concern, something she wasn’t really expecting from… well, from Blake.
In the back of her brain, she wondered if Blake was saying, ‘Back off and stop wasting my time when I’m actually helping the team.’
She didn’t look like that was what she was saying, but… Weiss wouldn’t be surprised if she or anyone else felt that way right now. She felt it about herself.
“Okay,” Blake said to fill the silence before turning to go.
“Sorry!… for stabbing you with the ice… back there…” Weiss said quietly.
Blake turned and gave her a kind smile. “Don’t worry about it. No way you could have known I was coming.”
She ran back towards Ruby and Yang, who were…
Weiss watched as Ruby sliced through the base of one of the thinner trees by her, then Yang ran up and punched the thing, sending it crashing into an Ursa that was running up to them. They didn’t need to make any call-outs, didn’t need to talk or coordinate that.
Weiss doubted she would have anywhere near this kind of synergy with Winter. A pang of… not jealousy, but… longing (?) filled Weiss, a deep desire for something as close as what Ruby and Yang had.
She also needed to help. It wouldn’t be acceptable for her to ‘take a step back’. She needed to make sure she belonged on this team.
Ruby and Yang were off to her right, with Blake once again darting through branches above them. She looked left.
She spotted another Ursa running in from the end of the ice wall she’d made–that made at least four Ursa now, right? She lifted her sword to cast a ray of ice at the mons–
To think she’d been whining about not being named leader a couple weeks ago. What kind of leader had a breakdown the very first instant she came in contact with a Beowolf?
The self disgust running through her head made her falter, shaking hands unable to maintain any sense of aim towards her target. She pulled back and gripped Myrtenaster tightly with both hands, looking down at the–
HA! She hadn’t even remembered to click to the next Dust cylinder.
What a joke.
She looked up again to see that the Ursa was getting closer to her team. Her team would be able to handle it, of course, but… she needed to do something. She needed to contribute. She needed to–
She needed to leave. She had no business being here.
‘No. No! I came here to be a huntress, damn it. I will be a huntress.’
Angry and defiant, she let loose a ragged scream of frustration as she swiped her rapier forward, pouring way too much aura into her casting.
Weiss didn’t even register what she’d done until she saw the aftereffects. Javelins of ice, anywhere from three inches to six feet long, dozens and dozens of them, spearing through the forest, impaling trees and dirt and Grimm in a wide arc in front of her. Two larger spears punctured the side of the Ursa she’d been meaning to hit, and dark wisps of smoke started peeling off its still form.
At least there was that. She did something right.
She looked around a bit more to take in what she’d done. For five feet to either side of her and about twenty feet forward, the forest looked almost like it had been hit by a sideways snowfall. Little glass-like shards of ice buried themselves into the tree trunks and branches and forest floor in front of her, and there were at least eight Beowolves either joining the Ursa in death of cut up too much to move.
Weiss looked down at the sword in her hand.
She definitely had lost her scroll there. There was a notable absence of mana flowing from her mind, and she pulled out her scroll to check.
She must have spent at least fifteen percent of her aura on that attack. She was lucky the Dust even held together enough to actually act the way she’d intended, subconsciously as it was. Usually if Dust was subjected to that much aura that quickly it just lost composure and exploded on the spot.
“Whoa,” Yang’s voice rang out.
Weiss looked over to see all three of her teammates paused for a brief moment, Yang looking surprised at the ice shards buried in the trees less than ten feet away from her and the other two looking at her, Ruby wide-eyed and Blake frowning with concern.
There were only two Beowolves left standing that Weiss could see, both running up from the far right. Blake, who was closest to them, noticed Weiss’ look and turned, casually tossing her blade out at an incredible speed. It buried itself in one of the wolf’s shoulders and as soon as it did, she yanked back hard. The creature jerked sideways, falling to the ground while its back legs careening around and knocking into the other Beowolf, making it stumble.
Ruby rushed up and sliced the feet out from the off balance one, then buried her massive blade into its back. Blake sent a shadow running at the one she’d knocked down, and as soon as Gambol Shroud was back in her hand she teleported to it and stabbed down into the Beowolf’s skull in one smooth motion.
A low whistle came out from Yang’s lips as she gave a slow, impressed nod of approval.
A whine resounded from behind her, and Yang turned to see one of the Beowolves that had been hit by Weiss’… magical tantrum wheezing on the ground, four ice shards scattered between its shoulder, stomach, and back leg on one side of its body.
She briskly marched up and gave it one swift punch to the head. Weiss heard something snap or crack and the thing was dissolving a second later.
“Damn, we’re awesome!” Yang declared proudly, placing her hands on her hips triumphantly. She started walking over to where Weiss was standing. “You okay, Weiss? I heard you scream but could see what was going o–”
“Weiiiiiiiiiiiiisssssss!” Ruby yelled, crashing into Weiss with a hug. While normally just a little annoying at this point, this hug was genuinely a bit terrifying because Ruby still had an unfurled Crescent Rose in her hand. “Are you okay?! I’m sorry, I totally shoulda shot that Beodouche before it got to you. I saw it out of the corner of my eye and figured you had it and went to help Yang, but Yang’s Yang and I should backed you up and I’m s–”
“Ruby, I’m fine. Please let go of me.”
She knew Ruby’s heart was in the right place, but right now Weiss most certainly did not deserve a hug. Much less apologies. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“I’m the one who’s sorry,” she said as Ruby reluctantly let go of her and took a step back. “I… panicked and… got grossed out and… I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry!” Ruby chirped.
At the same time, Yang consoled her with, “No big deal! Don’t worry about it, we were fine. We’re all badasses.”
“But it could have been a big deal!” Weiss blurted. “If we were in a more dangerous situation, me freaking out and distracting myself and you guys could have gotten us killed!”
“Noooooo!” Ruby cooed simply, stepping forward and hugging Weiss again.
Yang just shrugged. “That’s why we’re training! So y–we’ll all be ready when it matters.”
Weiss didn’t fail to catch the stumble. The implication Yang was making, whether she meant to or not, was true. Weiss was the one that wasn’t ready yet. The rest of them were already… well, as Yang said, badasses.
She nudged Ruby off of her.
“It was her first time getting Grimm guts on her,” Blake said softly from behind them.
“Oooooooooooh!” Yang exclaimed. “Yeah, I freaked the fuck out my first time too. Got black blood in my mouth and hair and everything. Was puking for like an hour–that shit’s gross. Don’t beat yourself up over it, Weiss.”
That last sentence seemed to be very pointed, and the way Yang’s eye contact got more intense as she said it made that feeling redouble.
“Okay,” Weiss answered. It was nice to know that someone as… indomitable as Yang had freaked out once too. Granted, she’d probably been, like, three when that happened, so Weiss was still obscenely far behind.
“And that ice volley whowhat’sit you did there was dope,” Yang added.
“Yeah!” Ruby agreed with a bounce. “That was so awesome! You killed, like, ten Grimm with one move!”
“Why didn’t you just lead with that?” Yang asked with a grin.
“Because it used way to much aura,” Weiss replied with a grimace.
“Ah. Hey, what am I at?” Yang wondered aloud, pulling out her scroll. “Eighty-three. Nice!”
“How?!” Blake flustered. “I saw you take at least a dozen claws and jaws!”
“Heehee, that rhymes,” Ruby giggled to herself.
Yang smiled widely and proudly. “Like I said: badass. You may now call me M’lady Badass Her Majesty Supreme Honor Yang. Or Yang for short. I will accept tribute in the form of chocolate or Tween Vale Weekly mag–”
A loud, animal noise, something like a yowl mixed with a roar, sounded out from behind them, across the river. They all immediately turned, readying their weapons again, to see…
“What the frickity frack?” Ruby said for all of them.
The massive shape of a Grimm, easily a Beowolf-and-a-half in length and height, was sprawled on the ground, twitching, Professor Goodwitch still leaning against the same tree she’d been under before the fight started. From the angle, Weiss couldn’t tell what the thing was until she saw the tail from another involuntary spasm.
“It’s a Stalker,” she realized aloud.
Stalkers were a large jungle cat form of Grimm, similar in appearance to an absurdly large panther with the added Grimm bone plating. And they were just as stealthy and a thousand times more deadly. They were considered ‘standard’ Grimm, akin to Deathstalkers and Beringels, where Beowolves and and Boarbatusks and Ursai were ‘lesser’ Grimm (some classified Ursai as the lower end of standard Grimm, but they were basing that solely off of size rather than difficulty to deal with them in a fight). A standard Grimm could give a lone novice huntress plenty of reason to worry. Especially Stalkers in dark woods. They had an ability not too dissimilar to Blake’s semblance where they could make shadow duplicates of themselves, usually one or two at a time. They couldn’t teleport to them like Blake, but the shadows did have more substance and delivered an impact if they hit you. The Stalkers mostly used them as distractions, though, as it’s reportedly easy to mistake a fast moving shadow for a real Stalker in the gloom of a forest.
Weiss had never heard of Stalkers in the Emerald Forest. She thought they mostly lived in the south. They were one of the big reasons why the stretch of land connecting Vacuo and Vale could never be settled.
And there was one here, paralyzed on the riverbank a dozen feet from their professor.
The professor that they were supposed to be escorting and protecting.
‘… Shit,’ Weiss thought as she realized how bad this was and what it meant for them and their grade.
“Shit,” Yang said aloud.
They all rushed forward together, keeping a few safe feet away from the panting Stalker and up to the professor.
“Professor Goodwitch!” Ruby cried out as they got close. “Are you okay?”
Professor Goodwitch pushed off the tree and walked forward to meet them, brushing off her shoulder where it had been in contact with the bark. “Oh, I’m quite alright,” she answered calmly. “However, your hypothetical Useless Civilians are quite dead, I’m afraid.” She looked pointedly at the Stalker.
Up close it was more terrifying than any of the pictures or descriptions Weiss had seen in their textbook. Pictures and words just… they don’t do a great job of conveying scale. This thing was huge. If it was standing upright it would easily be two Weisses tall and about a billion Weisses wide, and that wasn’t even getting into how long it was. Its rumbling wheezes were loud enough they could have been a car engine.
And this thing was apparently able to be stealthy enough to jump on trained, graduated huntsmen while they were completely unaware of its presence.
“Does that mean we fail?” she asked worriedly.
“No. Quite frankly, we expect you to mess up a time or two,” Professor Goodwitch explained. “This will not give you an automatic failure. However, it will still be reflected in your grade, as you lost sight of your principal objective.”
The professor’s disapproval was enough to even make Yang wince, and Weiss hung her head in shame.
“What did you do to it?” Ruby asked, pointing at the paralyzed, massive Grimm nearby.
Professor Goodwitch’s expression remained completely impassive as she nonchalantly answered, “Oh, just sent a rock from the river into its spinal cord. Please go silence it now, that breathing is quite bothersome.”
The four girls looked at each other, then Ruby piped up with, “I’ll do it!”
She gave a single, excited skip as she started toward the beast. As she approached, it let out a growl that shook the dirt and pebbles beneath their feet and was scary enough that Weiss took a half step back, but Ruby continued forward undeterred. She stopped a handful of feet away from its massive head and Weiss felt like the hateful glare it was giving her had to be damaging her aura.
“Whooooa,” Weiss heard Ruby breath.
The Grimm snapped its jaws at her, trying to bite her but unable to move. Its head was large enough that it could have taken everything above Ruby’s shins in one bite.
Without any more delay, Ruby lifted her scythe into the air with two hands and shouted, “DIE, EVIL DEMON CAT!” and slammed her blade down into the side of its head. She pulled it out, stabbed the end triumphantly into the ground to pose heroically, her cape shifting slightly with a light breeze Weiss couldn’t feel through her aura, then walked back to them.
“Um… Ruby?” Blade spoke up.
“I know, I looked awesome, right?”
“No, uh–I mean of course, but…” Blake pointed at the Stalker.
… It wasn’t dissolving.
Weiss squinted and leaned forward a bit. Was its chest still moving, or was that her imagination?
“How the fuck is it still alive?!” Yang said for her.
“Language, please,” the professor admonished tiredly. “And Stalkers are quite durable. This one is even quite larger than normal.”
“Go cut its head off, Ruby,” Yang said in response.
Ruby looked down at her scythe blade, its point resting in the ground. “I don’t think Crescent Rose is big enough,” she pondered, sounding surprised by her admission.
Ever the problem solver, Ruby twirled around and dug her blade deeper into the dirt to stabilize it as she buried three high caliber rounds into the Grimm’s head.
A second passed, then another. Finally, black wisps of smoke began peeling off of what was now a corpse.
“Yikes, dude,” Yang muttered.
“Are we going to run into more of those?” Blake asked fearfully.
It was comforting for Weiss to know she wasn’t the only one that was scared.
“Unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out,” Professor Goodwitch answered. “Stalkers are extremely rare in these woods. Rest assured, if another shows up, I will immediately assist. Your score will not be affected by an inexperience with dealing with such a dangerous foe.”
“So we shouldn’t lose points for it attacking you, right?” Weiss asked hopefully.
“Wrong. The issue is not that a Stalker attacked your civilian charges, it’s that any Grimm were able to without you being aware because you neglected them.”
Ruby scratched her head. “Sorryyy…” she told the professor’s feet.
Professor Goodwitch gave her a surprisingly kind smile. “It’s quite alright, girls. This is your first Hunt. If you were already perfect at it, you wouldn’t need to be at Beacon. These are all things for you to learn. Next time you have to engage an enemy, remember to always ensure the safety of the civilians you are protecting.”
Ruby perked up a little bit. “Yes, ma’am! We’ll be a million times better from now on!”
“Hm,” the professor grunted. “I’ll do my best to quantify that. Now, on to more pressing issues.” She looked at Weiss.
“Shall we be continuing?”
‘She saw,’ Weiss concluded, a sinking feeling in her gut. All the shame and embarrassment from a couple minutes ago came flooding back in full.
What was she doing here? She didn’t belong here. She belonged it manors and piano halls and board rooms.
She couldn’t breathe. Her eyes were open but she registered the world only as a blur. Her head was spinning and she couldn’t put a single string of coherent thoughts together beyond, ‘You don’t deserve to be here.’
“Weiss?” Ruby’s voice cut through the dissonance and discord. Big, shining silver eyes distinguished themselves amongst the blur of everything else. “Hey, you okay? You wanna talk for a second?”
Either a second or an hour passed and Weiss wasn’t even sure she gave a response, but Ruby turned to the side and said, “Hey Professor, can we have a second?”
Ruby grabbed Weiss’ hand and dragged her… somewhere. Weiss had no idea where they were right now. Her breathing was getting too fast, too light. She getting dizzy and somehow felt like her whole body was numb but also hurt at the same time.
‘Why am I here?’