“Yang-uh! Yer hurr’s ticklin’ mah noooose!” Ruby the Absolute Dolt cried out in dismay behind them.
Muted by the ice wall, the Nevermores screeched, reminding them what was waiting for them outside.
Weiss, having finished reloading her spent Dust canisters, gave the cylinder of Myrtenaster a quick whirl, enjoying the *click click click!* of the mechanisms before flicking the cylinder back into the hilt.
Next to her, Blake was already creeping forward, eagerly squinting ahead to look around before Professor Goodwitch had even given them some light to work with.
“There’s a draft coming from over here,” she said. “Come on!”
Was there? Weiss held her hand out in Blake’s direction to see if she could feel anything… Huh, there really was a slight, warm breeze. Coming from deeper in the cave. That’s not ominous at all.
“One moment, Miss Belladonna,” the professor requested. “I don’t fancy stumbling about in the dark.” She pulled a white crystal from her belt, held it in a clenched fist where it slowly began to glow, then crushed it.
The shards of the crystal evaporated as the professor’s aura released the magic held within. Three balls of light, so brightly contrasting the darkness they were in that Weiss had to shield her eyes, drifted out from her hand. One went to float above Blake’s head, one above Weiss, and the last hovered lazily above Professor Goodwitch.
“Waaah, tiny suns!” Ruby whined.
Weiss’ intellectual curiosity was piqued by this. She hadn’t used white Dust all that much, so seeing it used in this way was fascinating. Unfortunately, she couldn’t really examine any of the balls of light because they were, well, really bright.
Even as she thought that, Professor Goodwitch let out a thoughtful “Hmm” and the orbs dimmed a bit.
“Do they follow us?” Blake asked, taking steps from side to side to test her own question. The orb followed her after a short delay, but then didn’t pursue her as she stepped back.
“They move where I will them to,” the professor answered. “Stay in front of me so I can keep track of you, please.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Weiss responded instinctively. “Is that… how difficult is that to maintain?” she asked. She should probably learn this trick.
“Oh, it’s fairly simple. I’m quite sure you could manage it,” the professor answered, the praise making Weiss smile and straighten up a little. “Unfortunately, light Dust affinity isn’t really something we can measure like we can for the other Dust types, but I should expect controlling it wouldn’t be any difficulty for you.”
“Yang, our scrolls are localized, right?” Blake asked, pulling her scroll out to check.
“Should be, yeah.”
“Weiss, your personal signal’s on too, yeah?”
“Of course,” Weiss answered. Pretty much the only reason for anyone to continuously upgrade to new scroll models like Weiss constantly did was to get the improved self-signal. Well, that and the better cameras, though Weiss hardly used those. Though she probably should. The SDC PR team constantly nagged her to use social media to promote the company. Apparently a pretty girl taking selfies was good publicity. Somehow. Even though the way she looked had no relevance to the products they sold.
“Alright,” Blake announced. “We’ll stay in range of Yang’s connection. Yang, we’ll be back in ten minutes. If we’re not, we’ll send you a message so you know we’re alright. If you need us to come back for any reason, just let us know.”
“We’ll be okay,” Yang said, still sounding dejected. She glanced at the wall of ice Weiss had erected to shut the Nevermores out–and them in. “As long as the Nevermores don’t break the wall,” she amended. “I’ll kick their asses if they do, obviously, but it’ll be hard to do that and protect Ruby.”
“Chickens!” Ruby chirped.
“I thought I told you to shush,” Yang grumped down at the bozo in her arms.
“Nuh-uh,” Ruby responded.
“I definitely did.”
“I don’t ‘member that.”
Yang turned back to them. “Ten minutes,” she stressed. Weiss rolled her eyes, now annoyed by Yang’s pushiness. “Otherwise I’m gonna come after you and use Weiss’ arms to beat the crap out of Blake and vice versa.”
“That’s rude,” Weiss huffed.
“She’s just worried about us,” Blake assured her.
“I’m not worried!” Yang exclaimed, not at all convincingly. “Just… ya’ll suck and I don’t want you to get your asses kicked ‘cause I’m not there to wreck the baddies for you.”
“Jab jab punch!” Ruby added, flinging her arms around a bit.
“What happened to us being badasses?” Blake asked archly.
Yang blinked. “Uh… it’s contiguous on me being there, duh.”
“… What?” Weiss asked.
“I think she meant contingent,” Blake clarified for her.
“Ah. Professor, is there a remedial Valish Studies course we can put these two in so they can figure out what words are?”
Professor Goodwitch’s lips twitched. “They’re more than welcome to enroll in a VCU course as long as it doesn’t conflict with their Beacon class schedule.”
“Hey!” Yang protested. “We don’t… those were basically the same words anyway! Conting… y? What was it?”
“Contingent,” Blake answered patiently.
“Wooooords,” Ruby said, wiggling her fingers at Yang’s face like she was a spooky ghost before she broke out into little giggles. “A, B, C, D, L M N O P!” she sang.
Yang snorted out a laugh. “I don’t think that’s right, Peanut.”
“Come on,” Weiss decided. “I can feel my brain cells dying listening to her.”
Blake laughed lightly. “Be right back!” she called back to Yang as she led the way forward.
Weiss wasn’t really mad at Ruby for her concussed rambles–in fact they were kind of adorable. But she was mad at Ruby for getting concussed in the first place because she was being an idiot trying to do an action movie move. The sheer immaturity of that being her priority in that moment when she was being attacked by two Nevermores… Bah! Weiss wanted to yell at her and make sure she was okay at the same time.
So she was settling on leaving.
The cave, now that Weiss could see it properly with the professor’s lights, was much wider and went far deeper than Weiss had thought it did. No wonder so many Grimm were able to fit in here.
Blake led them to the southern wall and began tracing a path alongside it, running her hands across the stone.
They walked for a couple minutes in silence, Weiss keenly aware of the noise their footsteps and breathing–especially her own–was making.
Then the smell hit Weiss. A really, really gross smell, another reminder that this was a cave that had been inhabited by wild killer monsters.
“That’s really gross,” Blake groaned, putting a hand to her nose.
“That’s an understatement,” Weiss agreed.
She knew from their studies that the smell was mostly rot from the carcasses the Grimm had eaten. For whatever reason, Grimm didn’t have any waste. There were no definitive answers as to why or how beyond “It’s a result of the Grimm transformation.” The way Grimm decomposed after death made dissection impossible and live biopsies were unfortunately unmanageable. Grimm didn’t sleep, nor did they react to drugs that would render them so.
Grimm were abnormalities in pretty much every way.
“It would seem these Grimm have been eating quite a bit,” Professor Goodwitch observed as they got into view of the decaying remains of the Grimm’s kills, pressing the back of single finger against her nostrils, her face skewed ever so slightly in disgust. “Many of these are fresh.”
There were skeletons everywhere: deer, bears, some small jungle cats. Their skin had been ripped apart savagely, pelts strewn every which way around the bodies, and several still had meat on their bones, flies buzzing around the chunks of rotting flesh.
“That’s unusual, right?” Blake asked.
“Yes,” Weiss answered. “Grimm hardly need to eat.” The Nevermores had been eating too… Weiss looked to her professor. “Does this mean something? Is it bad?”
Professor Goodwitch shook her head slowly. “Grimm often go through cycles of heightened aggression. There are theories on why and what they might be related to–moon cycles, solar cycles, seasonal cycles, et cetera. None quite seem to match the measured patterns, though. Outlying villages will need to be more alert than normal, but other than that it should not affect anything. Other than your Hunts likely being a bit more dangerous, of course.”
“Of course,” Weiss said dryly.
“Hey, I found it!” Blake exclaimed excitedly, the sudden noise startling Weiss. She rushed forward a feet feet, her orb of light speeding up to stay with her after a short delay, then stopped, inspecting what looked like a deep shadow on the wall from where Weiss was.
“What is it?” she asked, walking over. It was a stupid question, though, because as she got closer she realized it wasn’t a shadow, it was a crack. One that ran most of the way up the wall and seemed to go several feet deep before ending. It was jagged, the width varying anywhere from one foot to four.
Weiss definitely felt the draft coming from here, but how, if it was just a divot in the wall? The crack extended down to the floor and then seemed to trace a line across the cavern to the far wall.
“Look,” Blake said as Weiss joined her, pointing up.
The crack went up.
“Well, that’s a shame,” she sighed.
Blake frowned at her. “What do you mean?”
Weiss gestured upwards, where the pseudo-tunnel created by the crack in the wall trailed off into darkness. “I know you were curious about where this led…”
“Yeah, and we can still check it out…” Blake said slowly.
Blake blinked at Weiss. “We could climb?” she said slowly like Weiss was having a Ruby moment.
“What? Oh! Wha–no!” There was no way Weiss was climbing up there! That would be… so much physical exertion, and her clothes would get dirty, and it would be so claustrophobic…
“C’mon,” Blake urged her. “Maybe it leads to a way out of here we could use. Once Ruby’s better, maybe you and Yang go out the way we came in and distract them and Ruby and I could sneak out the top of this cave and jump on them… or something.”
“Uh huh,” Weiss intoned, unconvinced.
“It could be neat!” Blake tried again. “The breeze is carrying the scent of water; maybe there’s an underground river or something here.”
Weiss frowned, sniffing. “I don’t smell water.”
Blake rolled her eyes, an expression that looked disturbingly creepy in the stark white light they were in. “Well I do, trust me. If you’re worried about getting stuck or something, I’ll go first and figure out a way up, ‘kay?”
Alright, time to try a different tack. Weiss turned to Professor Goodwitch. “Professor, do you want to go climbing up a dark, potentially damp tunnel in a cave?”
The professor quirked an eyebrow at her. “I’m here to follow you girls. If you choose to climb up this… hole… then I will of course follow.” Her tone didn’t sound all that enthusiastic, though.
“But you don’t want to,” Weiss reinforced.
“What I want is irrelevant, Miss Schnee. You should work this out with your teammate.”
Weiss scowled and turned back to Blake, who looked at her hopefully. Weiss wasn’t sure what to make of this… almost child-like curiosity, but…
Well, she really wanted to try to fix things with Blake. If crawling around in a hole was the price for that, then she supposed she’d be willing to pay it.
Although maybe she’d make Blake pay for the drycleaning.
Actually, maybe she’d just burn her clothes after today. They’d been Grimm gunked earlier too.
She really liked this outfit though…
“So?” Blake prompted her.
Weiss sighed. “Fine. Lead the way.”
Blake nodded happily, then turned to Professor Goodwitch. “Are you sure you’ll be able to follow us, ma’am?”
“I can assure you, Miss Belladonna, I’m quite capable of going wherever you can.”
“I-I just meant that, um, you’re pretty tall,” Blake stammered quickly.
Professor Goodwitch smiled lightly. “I’ll manage.”
“Okay,” Blake said nervously before turning back to the crack. “… Up we go…”
She started up, grunts of exertion occasionally escaping her as she climbed. The variance in the rock meant that a lot of her progress had to go inward before it could go upward, the path she traced winding left and right as much as it went up.
Professor Goodwitch directed her orb to hover constantly a bit to Blake’s side so she wasn’t blinded as she searched for handholds above her.
Weiss waited until Blake got a good few feet up before she started to follow.
Climbing was about as awful as Weiss had expected it to be. Pulling herself up was incredibly difficult, her arms straining and shaking with the effort. Jagged protrusions of stone constantly pinched her as she moved, her aura the only thing stopping them from cutting into her skin.
The claustrophobia was debilitating.
Her muscles were burning, her biceps and triceps trembling already after just a few feet of climbing. “I c-can’t… I’m not strong enough for this!” she called up to Blake.
Blake leaned over her shoulder to look down at her. “Push with your legs! Just get a handhold to guide yourself, then move up by pushing with your legs, not pulling with your arms.”
That… sounded like it made sense. She tried doing that and… yes, that was much easier.
A couple minutes later, Weiss pushed herself to the side a little too far and ended up with her rib cage and thigh getting pinched painfully by unyielding stone.
It took a moment for her to realize what happened, then panic started to set in.
Unbidden, thoughts of being trapped here in this dark hole forever started to swarm to the front of her mind. Her breathing quickened and turned shallow, resulting in an even worse continuous pain as her chest expanded and contracted rapidly into the rocks around her.
‘Not like this. Please, not like this.’
She tried pushing herself up with all her strength but that just served jam her even more tightly into the pinch.
She meant to call for help, but the terrified noise that escaped her throat was little more than a ragged groan.
“Weiss?” Blake said from a few feet above her. “You alright?”
Unable to form words, Weiss quickly shook her head. “S-stuck,” she gasped.
Was the stone crushing her? It felt like it was pressing in on her more and more. She was going to die here, stuck in some random fucking cave in the wilderness. A Schnee wasn’t supposed to live in obscurity, and here she was dying in it.
“–hear me? Weiss!”
“W-what?” Weiss stammered, jerking back to reality at Blake’s shout.
Blake moved down a bit closer to Weiss a couple feet, then extended a foot down and tapped the stone near Weiss’ right hand. “Lean your right shoulder forward and twist counterclockwise a bit.”
After a few quick gasps as Weiss struggled to understand the instructions through her panic, she obeyed, twisting her shoulder forward.
She felt the squeeze of the stone on the left side of her ribcage lessen and she was somewhat able to shift out. The gasp of relief that she gave was followed by several deep, heaving pants ans she realized she could breath again.
“My leg!” she wailed, trying to jerk her left leg out from the stone where it was still trapped.
“Sshh, stop stop stop,” Blake said gently, moving a bit to the side to try to peer down and see Weiss’ leg for herself. “Relax. Okay, same thing. Rotate your hips a bit counterclockwise and try to twist your leg. You’ve got the thickest part of your thigh pinched, you just need to turn a bit and you’ll be able to slide out.”
Weiss blinked rapidly, still panting. That… made sense. Okay. Okay okay okay.
She tried to twist her hips forward.
It didn’t work. The rock in front of her waist was pressed in too close for her to get any movement.
“I can’t!” she cried out, her breathing picking up pace again.
“Weiss, breathe,”: Blake urged her. “Hey, WEISS!”
Weiss jerked her head up at Blake’s volume.
Blake gave her a brief smile. “Hey. Don’t freeze up. You can get out of this. Slow your breathing. Relax.”
Slowly, Weiss’ breathing slowed down, the gradual lessening of physical reaction making her mental panic start to fade as well. She was still absolutely terrified of getting stuck here forever, but the idea felt more far away than it had when she’d been panting for tiny breaths.
“Okay, good,” Blake said after Weiss had calmed. “Now I want you to take your left foot and point the toes down.”
Weiss looked up at her quizzically.
“Trust me,” Blake encouraged her.
Weiss nodded. Of course. Blake was trying to help, and she clearly knew what she was doing when it came to this sort of thing.
“Okay,” she agreed, her voice a hoarse whisper.
She pushed her toes down.
“Push them down as far as you can,” Blake directed. “Enough that your calf starts to hurt from the stretching.”
“Definitely there,” Weiss grimaced, the pain shooting up the muscles of her calf.
“Okay, now try to push your hips down, but keep your right foot where it is.”
Weiss did as Blake said and, after a moment of nothing changing, the left half of her body jerked down a couple inches, the pressure on her thigh lessening a bit as it shifted away from whatever narrow pinch in the rock it had gotten stuck in.
“Nice. Now do what I said before: rotate your hips and slide out.”
Weiss did, relief flooding her system like a euphoric drug as her leg was dislodged.
“F-fuuuuh…. Thank you,” she sighed, resting her forehead against the stone in front of her.
“Of course,” Blake responded. “Wanna take a moment?”
Weiss took a deep breath, shifting a bit so she didn’t have to rely so much on her shaking arms to keep herself upright. “I want to get out of this hole.”
Blake let out a soft chuckle. “Fair enough. Follow me. And do better this time! I never went and got myself stuck, I dunno why you thought that would be a good idea.”
Weiss rolled her eyes at the tease. “Clearly I misevaluated,” she replied sardonically.
Blake gave another quiet laugh, then resumed the climb.
This time, though, Weiss did make a point of following Blake more exactly, watching her teammate closely so she could use all the same hand and footholds.
Below her, Professor Goodwitch didn’t seem to be having any problems following, only letting out some disgruntled sighs every once in a while. And…
“Are you floating, Professor?” Weiss asked incredulously when she noticed that the woman moved up a few feet to a new handhold without any apparent physical motion.
“I am, yes,” she answered simply. “I just ironed this shirt the other night. I’d like to not have to do that again so soon.”
“B-but how?” Blake sputtered, following Weiss’ gaze.
The professor blinked at them. “My semblance is telekinesis. I’m simply lifting myself by moving my clothes.”
“Wait,” Weiss said, realizing something. “Wait, so you’re just like Pyrrha but more powerful?” That seemed… unfair. If the professor’s semblance was just straight telekinesis, that meant she could do all the same things Pyrrha did but with more than just metal.
“I cannot apply the same amount of force or speed to objects as Miss Nikos, nor do I have her range. But yes, they are similar semblances. There are many semblances out there that are alternates or subsets of others.”
“Like what?” Blake asked curiously.
“I know you are both intellectually curious individuals and I quite respect that,” the professor replied, “but perhaps this discussion can wait until after we get out of this ridiculous hole?”
Weiss laughed at that, both the compliment and the professor’s kindred grumpiness with the situation lightening her mood.
“Yeah, that would make sense,” Blake said before continuing to lead the way.
The rest of the almost five minutes of climbing was more and more gruelling physically, though Weiss’ confidence grew steadily with it as she got more practice.
“It flattens out a bit here!” Blake called down. “I think we’ll be able to walk.”
“Oh, thank the Light,” Weiss grumbled. This was far too much physical exercise for Weiss’ taste.
The tunnel did indeed flatten out, a rough, thin carving that ran horizontally through the rock. Unfortunately, it didn’t get any wider, so they had to shuffle sideways down the passage instead of walking straight.
“This must have used to be a waterflow of some sort,” Blake observed, grunting as she pushed herself through a tight spot. “The water eroded this little tunnel. Did you see the line on the floor of the cave back there? It would have been a little river running through. This place was probably a really nice place for animals to live at some point. Maybe even people.”
“I did see that,” Weiss answered. “I wonder why the water isn’t flowing anymore.”
“Dunno,” Blake said. “But I can smell it close by.”
“If we end up climbing into a river or something, I’m going to be very cross,” Weiss informed her teammate.
Blake snorted a laugh. “I don’t think it works that way.”
“Well… just be aware. As Ruby would say, I’d be grumpy-grumps.”
Blake laughed again, openly and loudly this time.
Finally, the tunnel opened up. Blake exited with a sigh of relief, Weiss following only a few seconds behind.
As soon as she was free of the confines of the tunnel, Weiss immediately began dusting herself off and running her fingers through her ponytail to make sure it was intact. Then, satisfied that all was well, she leaned forward and put her hands on her knees, catching her breath and letting her muscles relax.
“Whoa,” Blake said, making Weiss look up.
The tunnel had led them out to what seemed like a small overlook raised about five feet from the ground. In front of them…
It was another cave, but this one was very, very different. There was a hole in the roof where sunlight was pouring through down into the center, and the center of the cave looked like an oasis. Grass, small plants and flowers (yellows, whites, oranges), and a small pond that was being fed by a thin waterfall falling from the hole in the roof. A few thin streams flowed out from the river to get lost in the rock walls of the cavern.
And in the middle of the pond, rising up like an island, was a statue.
It was a white marble depiction of the Goddess of Light, her blindfold and an uncommon tiara the only spots of color, a muted gold. It was in pristine condition and standing a good eight feet above the pond, with a couple of feet extending below the surface. One hand was held in front of her, palm upturned, and above it floated a lantern that was slowly spinning, a ball of light that shifted between a gold and silver color in slow transitions sitting inside that looked similar to Professor Goodwitch’s white Dust spheres.
“Ah,” the professor said, dusting off her skirt.
“You know this place?” Blake asked, still looking around in wonder.
“… I know of it, I believe,” the professor answered slowly.
“What is it?” Weiss asked, following Blake as she hopped down to the ground below. “How do you know about it?”
“It is a shrine to the Goddess of Light, clearly,” Professor Goodwitch answered.
Weiss waited a long moment for the next part of the answer, but none seemed forthcoming. “And you know about it how?” she pressed. She looked back at the professor as she asked.
Professor Goodwitch adjusted her glasses a bit and slowed, no longer keeping pace with the two girls. “Ahem. I believe Professor Ozpin told me about it.”
“How does he–”
“Also,” the professor cut her off, “did you girls wish to continue our discussion about semblance relationships?”
Taken a bit aback, Weiss blinked at the change in topic.
“Sure!” Blake answered. “But first, what’s holding this lantern up?” she asked, breaking into a jog, running up to a foot away from the edge of the pool, where she stopped to glare at the water briefly.
“Dust, I would presume,” Weiss answered, joining her teammate by the water.
“I don’t see any. Do you?”
Weiss frowned and squinted, inspecting the sculpted marble hand, its empty upturned palm, and the bottom of the lantern floating above it.
“… No, but then it must be inside the lantern, right?”
Blake tilted her head side to side in consideration. “But it looks like there’s white Dust in there to make the light, right?”
Weiss looked from the lantern, its shifting gold-silver-gold-silver radiance, to the globes of white light the Professor had circling her. “It’s the wrong color for that, though,” she noted.
Blake followed her gaze. “Huh, yeah… Can you give us some glyphs to get closer? I don’t really like water.”
Nodding, Weiss quickly obliged, creating a bridge of white glyphs hovering above the water that led up to the statue in the pond’s center.
“I’m not certain this is the best idea, girls,” Professor Goodwitch cautioned.
“It’s a statue, Professor. It won’t do anything to us,” Blake argued.
“Maybe it’ll come alive and attack us,” Weiss joked. Although with all the weirdness of this scene, maybe that really was a possibility…
“Ruby, did you dye your hair?” Blake grinned at her, prompting Weiss to roll her eyes and lead the way up to the statue.
“We found an exit to this cave. We should head back to your teammates, don’t you think?” the professor reminded them. “It would be best to leave them alone as little as possible, especially considering one of them is delirious.”
“Ruby’s always delirious, they’ll be fine,” Blake dismissed the professor’s concerns, not even turning as she continued up to the statue.
Together, Weiss and Blake stopped on the last glyph, looking up at the pristine statue from only a few feet away.
“It’s so pretty,” Weiss commented.
It was. Clean, pure white marble–way too clean considering it was just sitting here in the wilderness–and it seemed to radiate a soothing light. The carving itself was immaculate, simple yet flawless, and there were even incredibly fine details on things like the edge of the blindfold and the tiara.
The tiara was somewhat unusual to see. The Lady of Light was always depicted blindfolded, sometimes hooded, sometimes not. Weiss couldn’t recall a time when she’d seen Her depicted crowned, though.
“It really is,” Blake agreed, appreciatively taking in the scene around them. “This whole place looks like it could’ve stepped out of a fairy tale.”
“One of your books, maybe?” Weiss smiled.
Blake turned to her with a light laugh. “Ha! No, I like my stories a bit darker than a setting like this.”
Weiss blinked at her, alarmed.
Blake shrugged. “What can I say? I’m a sucker for drama and angst.”
“Should I be concerned?” Weiss asked.
“Naaah. It’s not any weirder than being a sucker for science reports and writing out your teammates’ weaknesses in a secret notebook.”
“H-hey! I just want to be prepared!”
“For when your team goes supervillain and you have to have a big dramatic fight across the rooftops of Beacon?”
Weiss raised an eyebrow at Blake, who after a moment grinned and looked down at her toes. “I may have taken a peek at some of Ruby’s comics,” she confessed.
Weiss gave an exaggerated gasp. “Blake Belladonna!”
“What?! I like reading!… And the art looked nice.”
“Did you tell Ruby?” Weiss asked.
Blake shook her head. “I figured that might invite a flood of nerdy, nonsensical conversations…”
“It most certainly would. Are you going to slowly descend into dolt-hood?”
Blake gave an innocent shrug. “Dunno. Could be fun. You should try it.”
To that, Weiss gave her best deadpan.
Another shrug from Blake. “Just a suggestion… What do you think of this?” she asked, nodding her head toward the statue.
“It’s beautiful,” Weiss answered. “Surprisingly clean.”
“Mm,” Blake agreed. “Does it look like it’s glowing to you?”
“I think so. I thought maybe it’s just… reflective?”
Now it was Blake’s turn to raise an eyebrow at her.
Weiss narrowed her eyes, trying to glare back defiantly, but… it was a silly idea. She broke first. “I don’t know!” she exclaimed, waving her arms a bit. Yang would be proud.
Blake turned back to the statue, eyeing the glowing lantern floating in the goddess’ palm. “Maybe this is one of those unexplainable magic locations, like the Forever Falls or the Maelstrom.”
An interesting thought, but… “But this has to have been made by someone, right? All of the Anomalies are natural phenomena.”
Blake frowned dubiously. “I mean… they’re magic. There’s nothing natural about them.”
“… Fair,” Weiss acquiesced. “Still, it’s very… different.”
“Yeah,” Blake sighed. She turned around. “Hey, Professor? What has Professor Ozpin said about this place?”
Professor Goodwitch cleared her throat. “Just that it exists. Now, shall we be getting back to your team?”
“Oh, crap!” Blake suddenly exclaimed, scrambling to pull out her scroll.
“What?!” Weiss cried, worried at the sudden change in tone.
“How long has it–phew!” Blake relaxed a bit as she looked at her scroll screen. “Only eight minutes.” She typed out a quick message. “Letting Yang know we’re alright,” she explained.
“Ah. Right.” That had slipped Weiss’ mind. “Don’t flip out like that! You scared me! It’s Yang, she’s not actually going to beat us up with our own limbs…. I think… She’s not that violent.”
“She’s not violent, Weiss,” Blake said disapprovingly. “She’s just… not clingy, that’s not the right word. She’s… very devoted to the people she cares about.”
Blake shrugged. “I think she just really doesn’t want to lose people. Pretty sure she’s got some abandonment issues.”
Weiss frowned. Yang was an attacker, someone that seemingly charged at every problem. Saying she had abandonment issues felt like that made her… weak. Yang was many things–dumb, impulsive, admittedly funny (though Weiss would never admit that out loud) to name a few–but weak was not one of them.
“Why would you say that?” she asked.
The look Blake gave her was unimpressed. “C’mon, Weiss, you’re smart. Her mom walked out on her when she was a toddler. And her second mom walked out and never came home a few years later. Did you see her totally freak out back there when Ruby stayed behind to fight the Nevermores? And how she couldn’t string coherent words together until we saw Ruby again?”
“Are you suggesting incoherence is abnormal for her?”
“Seriously, Weiss,” Blake said, still disapprovingly. “You can joke about how she can be a little dense sometimes, but at least take her wanting us to not disappear on her seriously.”
The chastisement made Weiss recoil a bit. Her first inclination was fire back with something like ‘I’ll take whatever I want to seriously, thank you very much’, but… that would be the kind of response that would make Ruby mad at her for “being a meanie”. And… she supposed Blake was right, if she thought about it for a second. Yang wanting to protect her team wasn’t really a bad thing. In fact, it was good, right?
“…. Alright, sorry,” Weiss conceded. “You’re right.” It felt weird making such an admission.
Blake tilted her head quizzically, giving Weiss a funny look that turned into a small smile after a moment. Her scroll beeped then and she looked down to read Yang’s reply, snorting a laugh once she did.
“She says ‘pic or it didn’t happen’,” she relayed to Weiss.
That actually was a pretty good idea. This place was gorgeous–a picture of it would definitely be nice to have. Maybe Weiss could use it as a reference for a painting.
“I think we can provide that,” she replied, making another trail of glyphs to get back to the edge of the pond. The water below her was so crystal clear she could count the smooth pebbles at the bottom, and her curious reflection blinked back up at her, flawless but for the ripples from the flow of the gently running current.
She could get pictures from multiple angles, too. There were probably a few shots of the lamp that she–
Weiss turned to the professor in surprise. “What? I just wanted a couple pictures.”
“No, I mean stay still, stay silent.”
That’s when Weiss realized Professor Goodwitch wasn’t looking at either of them, but rather at something past her head. She turned to follow the woman’s gaze.
Past the shaft of light beaming down from above, there was just the typical expected darkness of the cave that extended all the way to the walls of the cavern a good eighty feet away. It looked empty. There wasn’t anything to be alarmed about… was there?
“What…?” she muttered, squinting to see into the dar–
Weiss glanced at Blake at the girl’s exclamation. She was looking in the same direction Weiss had been… oh but up.
She followed her teammate’s gaze to the ceiling of the cavern. It was still dark up there too, though, save for the beam of light coming from–
Weiss immediately froze up, her muscles tensing to a point where she couldn’t voluntarily move them. Her breathing shallowed and quickened.
Long lines clustered together… legs. As her eyes focused a bit more, Weiss was able to discern the reflective surface of eyes.
… Eight of them.
It was huge. Close in length to an eighteen wheeler and much wider, and that didn’t even account for the span of the legs. It was edging slowly sideways on what must have been a massive web, though the silk lines were too fine and too poorly illuminated for Weiss to make it out from here.
The professor’s voice dimly reached Weiss’ ears, but it sounded muffled and distant compared to her heartbeat.
Then there was more movement to the side of the monster.
There were Grimm spiders moving up to join that gargantuan one, dozens of smaller–but still terrifyingly large–arachnids all inching forward (though for creatures of that size, ‘inching’ carried them several feet at a time).
And they were all looking down at Weiss.
Another muted voice reached Weiss, this time Blake’s. Again, Weiss couldn’t understand what was being said, barely registered that anyone was even speaking.
“Weiss!” Blake hissed softly.
Weiss startled, only sheer terror of the Hive above them keeping her from shrieking.
Blake was standing next to her now.
“Hey, don’t panic,” Blake said, the words not really doing anything to keep Weiss from not panicking. How could she not panic? There was a fucking spider about a thousand times bigger than her currently getting into position to plummet down on her. “Did you hear what the professor said?”
Weiss shook her head.
“It’s an Elder Weaver and its Hive,” Professor Goodwitch said, presumably repeated. “We cannot win this fight. We need to get back to the crevasse now.”
Weiss gulped and nodded slowly.
“Miss Schnee, I’m going to need you to launch yourself and Miss Belladonna as far as you can toward the rise when I say ‘go’, understand?”
Weiss nodded again.
“They will try to jump on top of you, so keep moving forward as fast as you can and you should be able to outrace them.”
“They can see in the dark, but their actual perception is not the greatest. Miss Belladonna, your shadows may be useful distractions.”
“Okay…” Blake responded, her voice full of the same terror and worry that Weiss felt right now.
“Alright, girls. Get ready. Move on ‘go’. Three…”
Weiss tensed back up again, but Blake gave her shoulder a squeeze and that was enough to make herself focus on coiling her muscles to get ready to run.
Weiss wrapped her fingers around the hilt of Myrtenaster and drew it in one smooth motion. Beside her, Blake pulled her sword off her back and unsheathed it–and kept the sheath in her off hand to use as a weapon as well, of course, because she was weird like that.
Weiss summoned one large white glyph underneath her and Blake’s feet, then began compacting it, forcing the flourishes and lines of the glyph into tighter spaces to increase its intensity. The power built up enough that it was starting to strain Weiss’ mind to keep the symbol together.
Releasing the built up energy in the glyph, Weiss launched herself and Blake backwards, towards the hole they’d climbed out of. They flew through the air together, Weiss turning in one long, slow backflip across the arc while Blake twisted around to keep watching the Weavers above them.
Weiss heard a hum as Professor Goodwitch launched some sort of Dust attack, and a moment later there was an explosion from the ceiling. Weavers let out a noise that sounded like a choking cat shrieking, followed by a shatteringly loud crash on the ground.
When her flip carried her back around to look below her, Weiss saw Professor Goodwitch had moved several feet to the side of where she’d been and in her place was the massive Elder Weaver, eyes glistening and red with hatred, armor plating along its back and legs stark white, its pincers buried in the ground. The stone where it had landed was cracked from the weight of the impact, the edge of the crater deforming the ground around the edge of the pool enough that water was rushing from the pool into the new indentation in the floor.
The Professor flicked her riding crop across her body and crystals of Dust flowed off of her clothes. They stopped to hover in the air in front of her and she pushed out with her empty hand, the shards following the movement, lighting up and slamming into the side of the giant spider. To Weiss’ complete lack of surprise, Professor Goodwitch was a talented enough Dust caster to be able to manipulate different types of Dust at the same time–the explosion that slammed into the Weaver had flashes of red and purple and pale green. Fire, gravity, air.
The Weaver rocked sideways, maintaining its balance on four legs for a brief moment before it collapsed, its legs crumpling from its own weight.
More were coming down, though, some simply jumping down like the Elder had, some streaming down on lines of silk. Dozens. Dozens upon dozens. There were some crawling out of holes in the walls, smaller ones that probably couldn’t hurt them but would certainly slow them down.
To try to help the professor, Weiss sent three streams of ice at the Elder, each one crashing against and encasing the spider’s legs in ice. The monstrosity let out a screech, a noise that sounded like it was trying to roar while gargling mouthwash. Then it jerked violently and the ice cracked, shattering like so much broken glass, not even significant in slowing the thing down as it scrambled to its feet faster than Weiss could blink.
‘We’re going to die.’
Professor Goodwitch was running to them, moving remarkably fast, but there were so, so many spiders. One smaller Weaver landed on her back and she stumbled to the side. Blake, backpedaling, shot a volley of rounds from her auto-pistol at the creature and it fell, allowing the professor to stand.
Two more medium sized Weavers both jumped from behind her, overshot, streams of silk trailing from their disgusting abdomens to drape over her. She saw them, though, and waved a hand, drawing Dust from her sleeve to create a line of fire above her that disintegrated the webs as the fell.
The Elder Weaver was up now and it jumped forward, and with its massive size the jump meant it cleared half the cavern to slam into the wall above the crack in the rock Weiss and Blake were running toward.
They both screamed, stumbling back as the massive thing turned itself to cling to the wall facing upside down, its massive, beady eyes boring into theirs.
‘This is it. What the hell am I doing here?’
What was one little Weiss supposed to do against a massive, ancient evil like this? What was any person supposed to do against this? They had no business being here.
From behind them, the three lights Professor Goodwitch was somehow still controlling flew forward, brightening to the point where even Weiss had to shield her eyes. The Elder Weaver hissed as the miniature suns forced themselves in front of its eyes and it scurried backwards up the wall, the freaky arms along the side of its head rearing up to try to block the light.
The other Weavers around them also seemed wary of the light, the ones that had swarmed the wall and ground around the crack backing away. Weiss took the opportunity to launch her and Blake the rest of the way to the rise in front of the hole. Blake continuously rained bullets down on the spiders beneath them as they flew. When they landed, she spent but a moment getting her feet under her before resuming her barrage, this time firing into the utter mob of monsters trying to swarm Professor Goodwitch.
The professor was holding her own, though. With a wave of her riding crop she conjured bolts of gravity from her clothes that speared out from her and slammed into spiders nearby, detonating with violent violet bursts that launched the enemies clear across the cave.
Weiss hadn’t even realized gravity Dust could be used like that.
She sent her own spears of ice into the throng of monsters to help. They weren’t nearly as effective against the bigger spiders as they’d been against the Beowolves, though, several of them shattering against white armor and doing nothing, or making the spiders jerk a bit if she was lucky. She used one Dust canister, two, but the lack of effect was dismaying.
Professor Goodwitch kicked forward, turning the movement into a graceful backwards cartwheel. From her foot, a purple wave arced out, carving a line through the clutter of spiders. There was a brief pause as the gravity wave stopped and hummed loudly, pulling monsters in towards it, then it exploded, one single detonation all the way across the twenty foot line that completely scattered everything within several yards. Apparently the force of the blast was enough to be lethal for some of the lesser insects, as several began decomposing before they’d even been reintroduced to the ground, and several more died after.
The professor didn’t stop to admire her handiwork, though. She glanced up, her eyes went wide, and she quickly crouched down, winding up for a jump. Thin lines along her legs lit up green, a misty haze flowing from her stockings to envelope her calves and feet. When she jumped a blast of air Dust went off to empower it so she launched as high and far as Weiss’ condensed Push glyph had sent her and Blake.
Just in time, too, as the Elder Weaver once again cometted down from the ceiling to where she’d just been standing, the earth itself cracking in protest.
The professor twirled in the air to face the gargantuan insect, reaching the peak of her flight and then stopping to float there. She raised her crop up into the air, then brought it down with a fast slash.
The orbs of light that were floating along the top of the cave–likely where the Elder had been before it jumped–turned into spears of blinding white that beamed down faster than Weiss’ eyes could track, leaving lines in her vision. They lanced into the Elder Weaver’s face and it let out a scream that shook Weiss to her very core.
Satisfied, Professor Goodwitch turned to Weiss and Blake and began floating down towardstoward them. Weiss could see what she’d meant about how she couldn’t move things–including herself–as fast as Pyrrha, though, because she was descending pretty slowly.
“Weiss, help her!” Blake yelled, now shooting at the Elder Weaver’s eyes.
‘What?… Oh, right.’
After a moment figuring out how best to do it, Weiss summoned a line of black glyphs beneath the professor that lead to the rise. Seeing this, the Professor aimed herself down toward the nearest one and let herself get pulled. Before she could make it to the glyph and get stopped by it, Weiss dispersed it, the next one in the sequence taking over in pulling the professor down. In this way Weiss escalatored Professor Goodwitch down to them in a matter of seconds.
The huntress hit the ground running and pushed Weiss and Blake forcefully toward the crevasse. “GO!” she shouted, her usually calm, cool demeanor gone, though she was as commanding as always.
Peering down the dark tunnel that Weiss really didn’t want to crawl through again–especially without Professor Goodwitch’s Dustlights, she nodded to Blake to go first. Climbing down would probably be even more terrifying than climbing up had been and she really wanted to have Blake’s lead to follow.
Blake nodded back at her, then plunged into the dark.
Weiss spared a glance back at the professor just as the woman pushed out towards the incoming horde of Weavers. Another wave of gravity Dust power radiated out from her, this time a wide cone that rushed out and blanketed the ground for almost fifty feet. She lifted her hands up, her empty hand upturned, and the violet smoke and all but the heaviest spiders that were enveloped by it rising up in the air in response. The small spiders that were levitated up scrambled their legs in vain to try to keep moving.
The Elder didn’t seem impeded at all, though, and it seemed to have recovered from the blinding assault it had suffered. It rushed forward through the rising mist, not even noticeably slowed by the force of inverted gravity it was pushing through. Some of its larger spawn were similarly too heavy for the professor to move, but they did seem to be somewhat slowed as they joined the Elder in its headlong charge.
Professor Goodwitch swiped her hands down, the haze of purple obeying her command, slamming into the ground and bringing the smaller Weavers with it. The impact was enough to jar even the Elder, which stumbled slightly and slid, scrambling to get its legs underneath it again.
“Weiss, wall!” the professor shouted, backing up as the monster resumed its blitzing rush.
Weiss immediately obeyed, clicking to get past her wind Dust to another ice canister, then conjured a massive wall of blue that cupped around the rise and pulled back toward the wall, enclosing them.
A brief sigh of relief escaped her but it turned into a scream as the Elder Weaver slammed into the wall. Its pincers pierced through the ice like it was paper, half of the disgusting mandibles puncturing into the inside of the space Weiss had created. The freaky “little” arms in its face scratched and scrabbled on the far side of the wall as the monster jerked its head and ripped the ice between its pincers away.
Once again the professor forcefully pushed Weiss towards the tunnel. “GO!” she shouted.
Weiss obeyed, terror pushing her forward as she turned herself sideways and threw herself into the darkness. If she hadn’t been protected by her aura she would have been cut and bruised all over her body from how quickly and constantly she was bashing against the rocks.
Professor Goodwitch was immediately behind her, so close that their hands bumped. Sounds of the Elder screeching and tearing down the wall echoed deafeningly through the tunnel, making Weiss wince. When they were several feet in, the Professor gave Weiss another order.
“Seal the entrance!”
Weiss grunted as she jerked to a stop and turned back to the entrance. There was very dim light coming from the slit of an opening, though the Elder Weaver’s constantly moving shape cast a frightening shadow over them in inconsistent rhythm. The left side of her body was facing the wrong way, so she had to twist her arm awkwardly over her head to point Myrtenaster toward the entrance, being careful to avoid hitting Professor Goodwitch as she sent a stream of ice over the woman’s head. She willed the magic in the Dust to clog the entrance of the thin tunnel.
At first Weiss wasn’t sure why this was necessary, but then she remembered all the tiny spiders that had crawled out of holes in the wall much smaller than this one.
This was a good call.
The professor watched the blue light arc over her. “Let go,” she said.
Weiss didn’t know what that meant. “What?” she asked, her voice feeling scratchy and uneven from the panic still pumping through her veins.
“Of the Dust. Let go of the Dust, Miss Schnee.”
Weiss pulled back on her aura that was infusing the Dust, the magic in it dulling as her will and spirit left. Through the weird pseudo-awareness of her aura that she had when it was beyond her body felt a pressure run against it as it retreated back to her. Then the Dust lit up again and Professor Goodwitch waved a hand slowly, the ice packing more and more compact into the entrance of the tunnel until the light was completely blocked. The ice might as well have been stone.
Total, utter darkness.
Weiss started to relax, her hammering heart starting to slow to a pace that wouldn’t make it explode in her chest. She should have been terrified to be in the dark, but right now it felt like the blackness was something keeping the Grimm away. She wasn’t even sure what had made her decide she was safe now until she realized that Professor Goodwitch had gone back to calling her Miss Schnee.
That Dust passing had been intriguing. She knew passing Dust control to someone else was a thing, but Weiss had never done it herself. It was technically even possible to take over someone else’s Dust against their will, though that required an incredibly strong will and potent aura. Weiss had little doubt that the professor probably could have done so if she’d wanted, but it was nice that she’d been a part of it and voluntarily given up control. That weird pressure she’d “felt” must have been Professor Goodwitch’s aura coming out to take over.
“I can’t see!” Blake’s voice sounded out up ahead, sounding dismayed and a bit scared.
“Yes, one moment,” Professor Goodwitch said. Weiss heard some rustling, then a crystal of light started glowing in the huntress’ hand. She crushed it like last time, then three familiar orbs of light appeared, too bright in comparison to the pitch darkness. Weiss had to turn away as Professor Goodwitch adjusted the brightness and sent the orbs out to individuals again.
On the other side of the barrier, the Elder Weaver’s shrieks were audible as high pitched rumbles in the stone, but they quickly subside. There were light tapping noises as what Weiss presumed was the sound of dozens of spider legs against rock as the Hive scattered.
Hopefully they weren’t finding another way to get in here.
“Let’s join Miss Belladonna, shall we?” the professor suggested.
Weiss nodded numbly, not feeling the energy to form words in her shellshocked state. She started inching her way toward Blake, who was visible about fifteen feet ahead, close to where the drop was.
“Hey,” Blake greeted them as they got close, sounding as exhausted as Weiss felt.
“Hi,” Weiss replied, offering a smile.
“Are you ladies alright?” Professor Goodwitch asked.
“… Technically alive,” Blake hedged.
“Mildly terrified,” Weiss added.
The professor nodded sadly. “Do not let this encounter dismay you. You should not have had to meet such an enemy so early in your training.”
“But we did,” Weiss argued. “And there’s a chance we could again, whenever we go out into the Wild, isn’t there?”
The professor frowned, concerned. “Yes, though large scale threats like a full Hive are usually documented, so you’d know to watch out for them. And when you’re stronger and more experienced you girls as a team should be able to easily escape such a situation.”
Blake and Weiss looked at each other. The way Blake’s eyebrows turned up in worry made Weiss think she wasn’t totally convinced either.
That Elder Weaver had been… so far beyond them. What was one little human–or even four–supposed to do against something like that?
“I’m sorry,” Professor Goodwitch said after the silence stretched condemningly. “I was given to understand that shrine should be safe. I should have been more wary.”
“What do you mean?” Blake asked, asking the question on the tip of Weiss’ tongue.
“… Professor Ozpin visits this place every few months. It is… dear to him. And he says that Grimm tend to be drawn to it, so when he visits he clears them out. His last visit was the week before the school year started. It is… concerning that such a host of Grimm could have grown here in a matter of weeks.”
That… was a lot to process. “What does this place mean to the headmaster?” Weiss asked.
“… I don’t know,” she answered. “Perhaps it is just a quiet place he’s grown fond of.” She cleared her throat. “Now, shall we begin our descent? We should get back to your team as quickly as possible. I don’t like the idea of those two being alone if there’s a Hive crawling through the walls of this structure.”
That thought was a shock of lightning through her veins. Ruby and Yang could be in trouble. She looked at Blake who’d pulled out her scroll and was already typing a message to Yang.
There was a brief silence, then Blake’s scroll pinged as she received a response, Blake sighing in relief.
“She says they’re good, and Ruby’s mostly recovered.”
Weiss let air back into her lungs at that. Good. They were okay. She’d feel absolutely… she didn’t even know what she’d feel if the adorable dolt that was messing up her ABCs had gotten hurt because Weiss had wanted to help Blake satisfy her curiosity as an olive branch.
“I told her we’re on our way back,” Blake announced. She turned to Weiss. “You ready?”
Weiss sighed. Her arms and legs were still sore from the previous climb, and she couldn’t shake the fear that buzzed just on the edge of her conscious thoughts that there might be Weavers crawling in the walls around them. She refused to ponder that situation to its conclusion.
“… No. Let’s go.”
Blake huffed at the humor lightly, then lead the way forward, a few feet of progress later leading them down. She tested each hand and foothold before putting her weight on it, the process slow and careful, something Weiss appreciated. Watching Blake carefully, Weiss did her best to follow the same path.
The climb down was long and arduous, and Weiss’ guess that climbing down would be more terrifying than climbing up was right. Dangling a foot down and trying to find a spot for her to rest her weight was so… the looseness and lack of stability was scary, to say the least. And her movement not being lead by her hands, whose grip had given Weiss a much more secure feeling, just added to the feeling.
Thankfully, the descent was a little faster than the trip up, though it was more taxing on her arms than it had been before once Blake had told her to push with her legs. In this case, she had to hold up her weight with her arms and a single leg, and putting a lot of weight on a single leg was terrifying as it felt so flimsy to rely on her toes for grip.
About five minutes past, quiet save for the grunts of physical exertion they occasionally let out. Several times Weiss could have sworn she heard the tapping of spider legs in the rock around them, but the first time Blake assured her there was no such noise, and every time after Weiss eventually realized it was just in her head.
Finally, their feet touched solid ground again and even the professor seemed relieved.
“Well, I’m glad that ordeal is over,” she muttered as she dusted off her skirt.
Weiss slumped against the wall and slid down it, her muscles giving out, her arms and legs somehow still shaking even after she was done using them.
She was going to be sore for weeks after this.
Luckily, her aura was doing its part in repairing the microtears in her muscles, so she should be ready to keep going in a few minutes, but right now she just needed a break.
Blake slid down beside her, shaking her arms and legs out before leaning her head back against the hard stone.
“… Mistakes were made,” she sighed.
That got a chortle out of the professor, who stood patiently nearby, and Weiss smiled too. “Yes, it might have been best to not go up there,” she agreed.
“But hey, we got to see that cool little oasis, Lady of the Lake thing!” Blake pushed.
Weiss nodded. “True, that was fascinating and gorgeous. Still not sure what it is, though, and I think the Elder Weaver soured that experience a bit.”
“… Yeaaah,” Blake sighed. “Did you manage to get a picture?”
Weiss shook her head sadly.
“Damn…. Well, we could ask Professor Ozpin about it!” She looked up at Professor Goodwitch at that, who raised an eyebrow and froze for a moment, thinking through a reply.
“You could, yes. On a different topic, as long as we’re resting here, would you girls like to resume our discussion on semblances?”
Oh, right. Weiss had forgotten about that.
“Of course,” she answered easily, Blake nodding in agreement. New knowledge was always something to welcome.
Professor Goodwitch nodded, looking pleased. Eager students were probably something teachers greatly enjoyed.
“So, as I mentioned earlier, there are many semblances that seem to be branches or subsets of others. Miss Nikos’ semblance is very similar to mine, though narrower in scope but more palpable in application. There are many other examples of this; Miss Rose’s semblance is very similar to her mother’s, Miss Xiao Long’s semblance is similar to Professor Rustheart’s, we’ve heard that a new student in Vacuo that has a projection semblance a bit like yours, Miss Belladonna.”
Blake’s head perked up, her bow wiggling a bit with the movement. “What? Really? How so?”
“There is a young gentleman that can make golden duplicates of himself that fight with him, and he has some moderate control of their actions. These projections seem to be more solid then yours, so they’re able to deliver hits and help him hound opponents.”
“Awww,” Blake let out dejectedly. “That’s not fair!”
The professor held up a hand with a small smile. “He cannot, as far as I know, teleport to them like you can, nor use their creation to alter his own momentum like I’ve seen you do. And I’m given to understand that he cannot generate them at the rate you do, as the report we were given said that destroying the clones is a viable strategy when engaging him.”
“Oh…” Blake said. “Well… I guess there’s that.”
“Quite,” the professor replied sardonically.
“Are there any semblances like mine?” Weiss asked.
Professor Goodwitch tilted her head to the side, considering. “I know of some that are somewhat similar in function to your glyphs. And I’ve seen one that is likely a shard of your summoning ability. I’ve never seen one that combines them both, though, and I know of none that are hereditary. The Schnees are quite a conundrum.”
“… I’m still not entirely sure I inherited the summoning ability,” Weiss admitted sadly.
“I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself about that,” the professor comforted her. “I’m not sure entirely what the situation is, though Agent Schnee has expressed that she’s confident you’ll get past the block eventually, and I’ve found her to be an excellent judge of people and their capabilities.”
Now it was Weiss’ turn to perk up. “You know Winter?”
“Indeed,” Professor Goodwitch said with a nod. “We’ve met several times… She does not bring up her personal life much, but when she does she always speaks fondly and highly of you.”
The pride and happiness that those words gave Weiss was enough to completely obliterate any cognisance of the pain her body was in.
“Anyway,” the professor moved on, “the point is that all these related semblances lends credence to the theory that our semblances all stem from a singular source. Whether it is a sentient source that gifted these abilities to us on purpose or by accident, or a natural source that has given us these powers simply by its nature, it is widely agreed that semblances all stem from a source with a wide range of powers that it was able to apply in different ways, both widely and specifically, and the semblances we’ve received are those wider or narrower applications in concentration.”
Well… that was a lot.
“Is there a name to that theory?” Weiss asked. It would be interesting to read the evidence supporting it, all the different related semblances.
“Several different ones, and the different branches of theories on what the specific source are all have different names. The general theory falls under the umbrella of the Semblance Unification Theory. If you search that up it should lead you to all the other various, tedious differentiations.”
“Awesome, thank you!” Weiss said enthusiastically.
“Of course. I’m always pleased to further the learning of my students. Now… shall we get back to your teammates?”
Weiss nodded, pushing herself to her feet, soreness mildly healed and completely forgotten. She had a lot to think about now.
This was exactly what she’d needed after the harrowing experience of getting swarmed by giant monster spiders: just a nice, intellectual conversation that helped expand her understanding of the world and her place in it, and it gave her some more reading and learning to look forward to later.
The wall of ice Weiss had created at the front of the cave was just a barely visible speck of blue from here, and it took a couple minutes of walking before they got back to Ruby and Yang.
Yang was leaning against the cave wall just beside the ice, probably to have some light, and Ruby was leaning against her sister’s shoulder, her headphones on as she bobbed her head and sang along to her song.
Weiss hadn’t even realized the dolt had brought her headphones. The revelation was sidelined by how impressed she was again with Ruby’s singing; the girl was definitely singing from her throat instead of her diaphragm, but she seemed to be hitting the notes well. At least, it sounded good, though Weiss didn’t know the song she was singing so she couldn’t be one hundred percent sure.
The three of them approached with their footsteps and the soundtrack of Ruby’s voice as the only two sounds in the vast cavern.
“… na na na gonna do now? / It’s your reflection looking back to pull you dooown / So are you gonna die today or make it out alive? / You gotta conquer the monster in your head and then you’ll fly / Fly, phoenix, fl–
Ruby jerked her head around as she noticed the swell of light from the professor’s orbs illuminating the wall next to her. “Oh, hey guys!” she chirped, bouncing to her feet.
Just seeing how happy Ruby seemed to be despite everything going on made Weiss smile.
“Hello,” she replied as Blake walked over to Yang and pulled her to her feet.
“Find anything neat?” Yang asked. She inspected Weiss and Blake for a moment, squinting suspiciously, then added, “Why do you two look so beat up?”
“Weaver,” Blake sighed, the one word explanation seemingly all she could muster up.
Ruby giggled. “You guys got beat up by Weaver? You’re lucky she wasn’t in Skitter mode, ya’ll woulda been smoked.”
“… What?” Weiss asked.
“I meant we encountered a Weaver, Ruby,” Blake said, somewhat impatiently. “You know, spider Grimm?”
“Oooooh…. That makes more sense.”
“I thought you said she was recovered,” Weiss said accusingly to Yang.
Yang snorted. “She is. This is just normal Rubes. You guys seriously fought a Weaver? Like, a big one? I thought they were hella tough.”
“They are,” Blake agreed. “It was an Elder Weaver and its entire Hive. We didn’t fight, we just ran. There is no fighting that.”
Yang tensed up. “A-are you guys okay?!” she blurted anxiously. “Why didn’t you say anything when you messaged me?!”
“We’re fine, Yang!” Blake quickly rushed out to settle the girl. “I messaged you when we’d gotten safely away and I didn’t want you to worry.”
Yang definitely looked worried.
“We’re fine,” Weiss reinforced. “They tried to swarm us and Professor Goodwitch was… well, pretty epic.” She turned and gave a small smile to the professor and got one in return.
“Awww,” Ruby lamented. “Professor Goodwitch fought and I didn’t get to see it?! That sucks!”
“I knew I shouldn’t have let you go without me!” Yang growled, apparently still stuck on that. “I could’ve been there to help! To… t-to–”
“You being there wouldn’t have helped, Yang,” Blake said gently. “If anything, you probably would’ve charged in recklessly and gotten yourself hurt.”
“Better me than you,” Yang snapped back.
The response made Blake blink and pause, not sure how to respond.
Professor Goodwitch cleared her throat. “Your desire to protect your teammates is admirable, Miss Xiao Long, but in this case they are correct. A Hive is not an enemy you can face, now. All that there was to be done was to retreat.”
“Professor…” Blake said slowly, measuring her next words. “How… like, even when we’re grown and trained, how are we supposed to be able to fight an enemy like that? More experience and aura wouldn’t be enough to keep us from getting completely swarmed, would it?”
“No, indeed it would not. In this case, your experience would tell you to do what I told you to do–run. A single Elder Weaver is an enemy that I believe even now you girls could likely face, but a Hive? There are a handful of individuals in the world that could face such a foe. Engaging against such an enemy would usually be undertaken as a full scale military operation, if at all.”
“What kinda epic powers does someone have to have to solo a Hive?” Ruby asked, eyes lighting up with excitement.
The professor paused for a moment. “… Not any we here possess. So, as I said, you should always flee if you encounter such a force. To put it into perspective, there is a Hive in southern Vacuo that has been documented for almost two centuries now. The Vacuan military tried to eliminate it some twenty-five years ago and were routed almost easily. They leave it alone now, with signs and barriers a couple miles around it to keep travellers from approaching. There was another Hive in Atlas that was cleared only a few years ago, and even the mighty Atlesian military suffered heavy losses in that battle.”
“Wait, what?” Weiss asked. “I never even heard about that.”
Professor Goodwitch raised an eyebrow. “Really? Curious.”
“W-why is that curious?” Weiss asked, concerned.
“… You’re just a very well informed individual, and from Atlas. I would have assumed you’d know about it. But James–General Ironwood, that is–did keep the story under wraps. He didn’t want word getting around that there were Grimm out there that can contend with the modern Atlas military. He didn’t want people to be afraid.”
“… Oh. Right.”
The professor clapped her hands together once. “Well, as much as I do appreciate the scenic view of a dark cave filled with corpses, I think it’s time we pressed on, yes?”
They still had hours to go to get to their objective and Weiss felt tired and depleted as hell. She pulled out her scroll to check myAura…
Not great. Not great at all.
“What are you at?” Yang asked, noticing what Weiss was doing.
“Forty-nine,” she answered with a grimace.
Yang checked hers. “I’m at seventy-two. Should be okay for now. Blake?”
“What?!” Yang said incredulously. “How are you higher than me?”
Blake shrugged, a teasing smile on her lips. “I don’t get hit?”
“… Wuss,” Yang muttered, making Blake laugh, which made her smile in return.
“Pretty sure you can be at fifty percent and still have more total aura than Blake right now anyway,” Weiss pointed out.
Blake’s shoulders slumped. “True…”
Weiss turned to Ruby. It seemed only appropriate to get everyone’s aura levels out there, and from the sheepish grin on Ruby’s face, it looked like she knew that’s where this was going.
“Uh… wassup?” she asked, looking at Weiss’ belt buckle instead of meeting her eyes.
“What are you at, Ruby?” Weiss asked with a sigh, dreading the answer already.
“Y-you know, aura levels are really just numbers, when you think about it,” Ruby tried to sidestep. “They don’t really mat–”
“She’s at twenty-one percent,” Yang interrupted her. “She checked when her head got screwed back on straight.’
Yep. That was about what Weiss had been expecting–and fearing.
“I may have gone a little overboard with my semblance back there,” Ruby admitted.
“You think?” Weiss sarcastically quipped at her.
“Smacking the ground at near terminal velocity probably wasn’t the smartest move either,” Blake added.
“… Yeaaaah,” Ruby begrudgingly agreed.
“Don’t worry,” Yang said, “I’ve already taken her nose as punishment, and I’m not planning on giving it back any time soon.”
Weiss wasn’t sure how the Crucible that was supposed to do anything, but Ruby’s shoulders slumped and she pouted in abject sadness.
“Now I think the Nevermores might have left,” Yang said. “Or at least, they’re not circling around here anymore.” She pounded the ice wall beside her twice with a fist. “Maybe we can make a break for it?”
“Seems risky,” Weiss hedged.
“Part of the job,” Yang said dismissively. “We have to get past them somehow.”
“If they’re not in the immediate area, we can hopefully get to the trees without getting spotted,” Ruby said. “If we can, then we can creep through the tree cover all careful and quiet for a bit until we’re sure we lost ‘em.”
“And if we can’t?” Weiss pushed.
“Then… we kill ‘em?”
Weiss rolled her eyes. “If we couldn’t do that before, why would we be able to do it now when we’re so depleted?”
Ruby shrugged lightly. “‘Cause now we don’t have a choice?”
… That… was hard to argue against.
“Besides, we don’t know if we couldn’t do it before,” Ruby added. “We didn’t try.”
“I’m down,” Blake chimed in. “And if they are lurking around here somewhere, I can be the distraction this time instead of Ruby. Might be able to lose them with a couple shadow telep–”
“No,” Yang declared firmly. “We’re not doing that shit again. We stay together. That’s final.”
“If they come at us, we’ll just beat their stupid faces in,” Yang said aggressively. “As a team. That’s the whole point of all of this.” She waved an arm towards nothing in particular.
“Yang’s right,” Ruby decided. “We should be able to deal with them if we work together. And if we can’t…” –she thought for a moment, then shrugged– “then I guess we suck. But I don’t think we suck.”
“Are we totally certain Ruby’s in a good enough state of mind to be shot calling?” Weiss grumbled.
Ruby kicked Weiss’ toe lightly with a pout.
“Doesn’t matter,” Yang said. “She’s right. Now come on, we got some chickens to fry.”
Ruby grinned widely at that. “Stupid chickens,” she agreed. Weiss knew she was likely just saying it this time because she thought it was funny, but it didn’t exactly fill her with confidence that Ruby wasn’t still suffering something from the concussion.
“Let’s go,” Yang ordered. “Weiss, get rid of this thing.” She tapped the ice wall with her knuckles.
The four of them all readied their weapons in unison.
“Alright…” Weiss said slowly. “Here goes…”