World 26: RWBY

SOMETHING SIMPLER

Previously: The Gang Speaks

Themesong: Alegria from Cirque du Soliel’s “Alegria”

Note to self… never ask the Powers that Jump for an end to monster of the week. They will interpret that as a request for more monsters. Case in point… the next Jump. The Machine had four letters… RWBY. A decade… saving the world from Grimm. In the Grimm Grimness of Remnant, there is only Dust? Well, at least it will be nice to meet Ruby, Weiss, Blake, Yang, Nora, and Penny. Still, this should be a fun… ish… jump. Lots of fighting but not constant. The jump begins 1 year before the show does… time enough to get the lay of the land.

And speaking of the land, I spin the wheel of location… Note to self… read all the locations before doing so… “The Middle of the Ocean”. Seriously? I’m in the middle of the freaking Ocean? There had better be a boat there or I’m going to be ice-skating and wave riding all the way to land… Subtle it won’t be. Crap. Might be worth paying for a relocate… I’ll consider. I roll the GrimmDice of age… 15… well… that’s not unexpected. The age range is essentially 15-17. Yay, highschool.

I immediately check for Faunus Origin… Huh… it’s a bonus drawback that can be taken with any origin… makes sense. Okay, I’m a Drop-In Faunus in the middle of the Ocean. A Ferret Faunus. Because I can be. Pointy-teefs and all the ears… I wonder if kleptomania or random napping are part of that. Night Vision comes free, but so does White Fang Woes. Woo. Oppressed minority!

Looking through the Perk trees, I’m impressed. This is a jump full of potential… way more than I’d be able to afford. But the Drop-In Capstone… “I Should Be Dead by Now” [300] (800/1100) is definitely a steal at it’s discounted price… “Light of the Soul, it hardens the vitals in response to bodily trauma. Not only regenerating, but repairing it to its natural state! Your Aura Pool is uncommonly large, doubling its capacity.”

The Drop-In Semblance “JAM” is also damned nice. The light of your soul has given you the ability to say “that is not so”. You can interfere with the powers of others, starting by making Aura users stumble and Grimm trip over their own weight, but working up to dispelling supernatural properties. Works on objects and places, too. Does not work as well on scientific or technological trickery… but still does work. Ha! I Jam your Radar, Darth Helmet! It’s tempting as hell… but… while buying this would give me the unlock and 3 years practice… It would be allowing the Jump to imprint onto my soul, instead of trying to find my own semblance. No… I’d rather take my chances and find my true semblance. Plus, not buying into a semblance and totally failing to unlock your own comes with the Represent Semblance.

Apparently, everyone gets a Variable Weapon for free… and for 25CP I can import weapons… Heh… I plug in Shelob’s Bane (my Elfin Elemental Mithril Protonic Rifle) and Soul of Ice. No decrease in performance. For 25 more I streamline it, making it lighter, smaller, faster, with better balance. And for 50 more I toss in a Dust Chamber, allowing me to charge my attacks with premium energy propellant (i.e. Dust). Comes with six free reloads. [100] (700/1100)

Also free come an iconic outfit (soon to be covered in salt, no doubt), an Iconic Theme for when I do something amazing or when things get serious, a Scroll (this world’s version of a smartphone), and 200,000 Lien (cash) which is apparently enough to rent for two months or eat out for six… better get into an academy fast. Color Based names are recommended, so Silver Jade, my email address back on Origin, it is.

Before I get too deep into the red, I go looking for the companion import, confident it’ll be there, and it is, just waiting for me. Friends Unforgotten [300] (400/1100), 8 imports, human or faunus, any background, 400CP to spend. I post the printouts and let the others hash it out.

Since there are more of us than can come, I scoop up the Aura Booster [300] (100/1100), a premium item that will allow me to unlock the Auras of the uninitiated… or temporarily boost the Auras of Aura Users.

I’m running out of Choice fast and I’m tossing things that I’d really like to the side. Drawbacks it is… Marked gets me +100 at the cost of making me the Grimm’s target of choice. Doesn’t make them more powerful… but does mean I’ll have fight more than my share… eh… keeps me from trying to white knight everyone else.

I grab a Dust Kit for [50] (150/1200), an assortment of energy propellants, Dust Crystals, Dust Laced Rounds, Dust dust… enough for six months of regular use… and it refills once emptied. That should be handy… and nothing says I can’t sell the dust (I might need a license) and live on the proceeds. I also pick up the “Bigger on the Inside” Skill Book, the secrets of miniaturization techniques… Bazookas into bottles… cars into cupholders… doesn’t do anything to reduce the weight though. [50] (100/1200)

And to top it all off, I snag Intellectual [100] (0/1200), which allows me to turn all-nighters into coffee breaks. I could have taken the Bigot drawback and bought something more powerful… but I just don’t think I’d enjoy being taken as a Faunus Supremacist.

I looked to the others “Okay, who’s coming, who’s staying… Are you playing Risk to see who gets to come with me?” As it turns out, the games would continue over the next two weeks. There was a tournament roster… though Ziggy got a bye since he couldn’t possibly compete in any game more advanced than Candy Land. RayRay and Francine bowed out, claiming they couldn’t be bothered (which unfortunately eliminated the chance of “Team JMPR”… not that we had an M). Dyna, hyper-aggressive as always, went down fast in every round… restraint and planning are not its strong suit.

Velma, since it was her first time, had been given a handicap, so she’d managed to skate through, barely beating out Ahab for the first slot… which had apparently been in Clue. Joy won the Risk Tourney to clench the second slot. Zane snagged the third by clenching the MTG tournament. Toph won at Poker, nabbing the fourth. Ryoga managed to edge out his sister and Petra in Arm Wrestling to get the fifth. The Sixth went to Bao in a brutal Street Fighter VIII Unreal showdown. Uriel managed to defeat Kendra, Ahab, and Petra in that order at Duel Masters to clench the 7th and final companion slot…. Then turned it over to Ahab. “A decade of fighting for survival seems more your style, young man… plus, there’s a weapon you might want.”

It took another week for them all to make their picks… mental note… don’t try and get a Ziggy to make choices… almost every option will be followed by enthusiastic approval… even if you offer him choices which would be bad “Ziggy? Do you want to be a slug for this jump?” “Ziggy want!” See what I mean?

Ahab, Zane, and Ziggy decided to join me in Drop-In Land (well, Ziggy didn’t so much volunteer as volentold), Velma and Joy came in as Students, Toph decided to be a Criminal, just to see the other side of the law, and Bao & Ryoga went Military. Ahab, Zane, Velma, and Toph all went to The Faunus, each for their own reasons. Toph (a Badger) because it would help her background, Ahab (a Viper) to better embody his “Snake” persona, Velma (a Calico Cat) because it’s cute, and Zane (Rottweiler) because he missed his ears in human form. Takes all kinds I guess.

Zane took Landing Strategy (the ability to plan for any landing for a fall of 5 seconds or longer.). I pointed out he’s a firebender, but he countered with “Sometimes it’s really cold… or I don’t want to burn what I’m landing on.” which is a good point. He also took Stubborn (giving him increased “death” resistance, and the ability to ignore mortal damage once.)… I pointed out that he’s a Mon and just faints… he countered with “Yeah, but that sends me back to the Warehouse until the Medbay can patch me up. That’s several minutes where I’m out of the fight.” which was another good point, though still better than the 24 hours for non-Mon. And he combined the Space-Sword with a Krogan Energy Shotgun… then boosted that poor Jian into a Explosive Heavy Weapon with Dust Chamber and Dust Focusing… in addition to the Fire Elemental Spirit bound into it and the Materia Slots. Oy.

Ziggy also got Landing Strategy & Stubborn… and an item called Team Tag (which essentially makes him the 5th man… ferret… of our team (Silent Letter) but also carries over to future jumps, allowing him easier access to social circles… very useful for a fuzzbeast. He was a White Grimm Ferret… about the size of a St. Bernard. And just because I was doing his purchasing and I think it will be hilarious… I bought him the unique Variable Weapon called “The Four-Chain”… a chaingun, chainsaw, chainwhip, chainmail… thing. It’s a terribly insane thing to wield normally… and even more insane a thing to give a creature that barely understands the concept of using the bathroom. But every trained attack ferretoid should have a chainmail chaingun.

I finally learned what Uriel was talking about, because Ahab took the “The Ahab Special” a repurposed Ship’s Anchor Cannon which fires sturdy Grappling Harpoons from the shaft with strong pinning chains. With pitons in the shaft, transforming it into a formidable turret bunker… embodied with the spirit of a hunter-tracker, it grants uncanny tracking abilities, making him excel at capturing and hobbling great beasts… or vehicles. He also snagged Landing Strategy and Stubborn.

Velma got Intellectual for free, as well as the Skillbook “Dust for Dummies Pro” which teaches the manufacture, refinement, and applications for Dust… as well as how to mix it, or even make substitutes. For her variable weapon, she decided on a helmet with laser beam, heads up display (and built in glasses) that turns into a baseball bat. Very strange, but she’s new at this. She spent her points getting “Abs” which makes her more aerobic, physically fit, and dexterous than before… as well as more prone to midriff-baring outfits and puns. I’m not sure this is good, but her being tougher is definitely a good idea. She also took “Remnant Arcana” which makes her a master codebreaker, mystery finder, and translator, allowing her to learn dead arts twice as fast, as well as making her a better Magic or Dust Arts user for it. I suspect she’ll be really dangerous one of these jumps. Assuming she survives this one.

Joy, also a student, also snagged Intellectual and Dust for dummies, but she spent her points on an experimental Aura Conducting material called Aurorium, the Tinker Perk (You’re a whiz at maintaining, modifying, and making things, as long as you made it yourself or have the schematics on hand. It also unlocks the secret of Variable Weapon Crafting.) and the unique V-Weapon Grimmoire… a Tome & Bookstand that is both spellbook of unspeakable horror and leathery mallet. It’s advertized to grant spells that mimic the attacks of Grimm and grow with each kill… rather creepily it promises not to whisper at night. I’m not sure I trust that, but Joy is sanguine.

Toph, once the head of Republic City’s Policeforce and now unground rogue, got Light Fingered for free, and a copy of Aura for Everybody. The first makes her a skilled pickpocket (as easy as sneezing) and grants the ability to protect herself from those attempts… while the second is a book about manipulating aura for fun or profit, synergizing one’s powers with others, augmenting yourself physically beyond peak human prowess… and potentially grafting Aura into non-living things… like robots. She also picked up the Unique weapons “Punk & Poetry” a pair of warfans that turn into magnum pistols or combine into a makeshift shield, embodying the ideal of “Death of a thousand cuts, making you so agile and light in motion, you’d weigh less than feathers. I think the description that they were perfect for detective work. She also picked up Silver Tongued Devil because apparently people have been telling her she’s a charmless oik for decades. And rounded off her purchases with Cookies and Coffee… a ten year supply with recipes!

Bao, thanks to the military background, got Abs, and added Intellectual to that… and he picked up “A Guide to Grimm”, a manual on how to punch monsters to death, granting a bonus to punching other monsters to death in future jumps. Mastery of the technique means monstery foes explode! This might not kill them, but it’ll hurt! But he spent the majority of his points on “Combat Ready” a memory of hundreds of thousands of simulated battles, scores of attack patterns, dozens of weapon variations… If that doesn’t see him through a fight… I don’t know what will. His V-Weapon isn’t much to speak of, a calligraphy brush that fires armor piercing ink or traces razor sharp lines across people.

Not to be outdone by… well.. Anyone… Ryoga snagged a dust kit… and not one but two unique V-Weapons. The Xanthine (a large thermos that expands into exoskeletal armor that links into your bloodstream, cutting Aura Costs by at least half, allowing its wielder to wade through bombardment, suplix train carriages, mould steel, project shields… and more! Small chance of addition… keeps drinks at perfect temperature… comes with carrying case for extra plating and weapon points. And he topped that with the Gai Barrett, an Anti-Material Rifle that pulls double duty as a spear, punching holes straight through most things (though it has a hell of a kick and is quite long). It can fire “homing Flechettes” on a tagged target, but if thrown itself, it needs retrieval. Tendency to induce tunnel vision. Great… I’ve created a monster. Oh yeah, he also has the book of punching Grimm until they explode… and Abs. No fucking shirts in this group.

It was a damp beginning. Very damp. Small boat, middle of a storm, ocean dwelling Grimm. It was a very… very… abrupt lesson in just how massively dangerous this world is. It was also a massive jump in power levels. I’d seen a video of Yang (the Y in RWBY) fighting Tifa Lockhart on Youtube… lo the many centuries back… and hadn’t really grocked just how fucking powerful Grimm had to be to require that kind of strength. Sure, very few Grimm ever really challenged Yang more than a little bit… and sure, somehow, the clueless Jean managed to take some out too… but still… this was a jump up from the baddies of even Gaia (FF7’s world)… it was a wake up call.

And we had to protect Velma… and on the water, Toph wasn’t in top form either. Still, Ryoga and I were both Waterbenders, and we could use the ocean against our fishy-foes. We managed to hold our own long enough for help to arrive, in the form of Airships from the Vale military.

Honestly, I was glad they’d showed. I wasn’t relishing breaking out the big guns so early in a jump. Using Black Jenny or the Jewel of Neptune or even some of my more powerful attacks this soon would, in theory allow the Grimm to experience them… I didn’t know how good their learning matrix was, but I wasn’t keen on showing them more than I had to at any given time.

“Students for Beacon?” the Airship’s Captain asked, a little incredulous, after he rescued us from the sinking ruins of my cabin cruiser (note to self, get new Cabin Cruiser). When we confirmed that to be the case, he laughed. “Well, you weren’t going to get there by boat.”

We refrained from protesting our innocence… Strictly speaking, we had been taking the boat bound for Beacon… if you looked at it the right way. Any luggage we’d have had had gone down with the ship, but thankfully our weapons and scrolls were fine and Vivian reported that the skillbooks and supplies had been delivered to the Warehouse, so no deep diving was needed… I may not have too much trouble down that far thanks to the Underwater Materia… but it feels like being in a vice… a vice with almost no frame of reference… and apparating from that far down to the surface can be fatal… or at least hurt like a motherfucker. Which means swimming up to the surface the slow way. Also, it’s very dark… though (not to be all Elsa) the cold doesn’t bother me.

Arriving at Beacon, we were quickly shuffled into two groups of 4 (as is standard), with me heading up team “STRB”… pronounced Strawberry… with Toph, Ryoga, and Bao… and Joy heading up team “JAZV”… pronounced Jazz… as in blues… man, some of these are a stretch…. With Ahab, Zane, and Velma. I’d have gone with BRAZ (Brass) and…JVST… no, just isn’t a color… hmmm… JVTS? TSJV? That doesn’t mean anything… grrr… and I’m the MC… I guess they had to start one team with an S… and man… J does not appear in the middle of very many colors… or other words for that matter. We were joined by the only canonical team from our year CVFY.

Rather more humorous, every member of Joy’s team had had their names changed to fit into the world better. The Law of Color Names was strong, but subtle. Toph, which is written as Expanding Lotus was fine as that summons visions of the color white the same way Roses are Red. Bao, which means precious, hints of gold. Silver Jade fit on both counts. Ryoga… which can be read as “Good Teeth” was okay too… if stretching it. But Velma means brave warrior, Zane means “Good”, Joy means… Joy… duh, and Ahab means Uncle. So the power of the Jump had renamed them Jasmine Bahs (yellow), Albion Bahs (white), Zaffre Jade (cobalt blue), and Verma (short for Vermillion) Dinkley.

Beacon wasn’t bad. The history lessons were actually news (not useful outside of jump, but data is data) and the fighting lessons were most welcome… especially since they didn’t start at the “this is how you hold your sword” stage. Beacon was a Hunter Academy… everyone who entered it had already passed through a Combat Academy. Lesson one is being launched off a cliff into a forest hundreds of feet below… hence the “Landing Strategy”. A forest full of Grimm and no safety nets. Hunters killed Grimm… that was the law of Remnant… that’s what this world was called. Without the Hunters, the last four nations of Remnant (Vale, Vacuo, Atlas, and Mistral) would vanish. Coddling was right out.

The Hunters had three primary weapons against the Grimm… Variable Weapons, Aura, and Semblance. All of it empowered, strengthened, augmented by Dust. Dust was elemental magic made manifest. Aura was your spiritual strength and toughness… a literal shield against damage that drew directly on the living soul. Variable Weapons changed form, usually between melee and ranged forms, but also between weapon and shield or even handbag and minigun. And Semblance… that was an Aura User’s Ace in the Hole, their Limit Break, their Musou Mode, their Bankai. Using it meant the gloves were off. Not a single one of us had our Semblances unlocked… and with the Grimm growing ever more powerful, we’d need them in a hurry.

When I’d left Origin Earth, there’d been three seasons of RWBY… I’d seen… most of them… but there hadn’t been anything in the nature of “Saving the World’. I literally had no idea what could be done to do that besides, you know, killing all the Grimm… but I had one thing I was dying to try.

Thus, one day, deep into our fifth month, standing in my Safehouse, deep in the wilds atop a remote mountain, inside the cave we’d excavated with various techniques foreign to this world, I commanded “Bao! Deploy the Mako Reactor!”

Bao looked at me like… ‘what do you think we’ve been doing for the past day and a half?’ but seriously… pulling all the bits of Bao’s experimental Mako Reactor out of storage and assembling them would take the Warehouse Robo-Butlers days and Bao had checked over the plans a dozen times. We had no idea if we could make Grimm Summoning Materia, or Dust Materia, or Variable Materia… or what… but this world, Remnant… was actively hostile to Humanity… weakening it might help… or it might piss it off… or both! No time like the present to find out… or at least the near future. Worse came to worse, we’d have to abandon the Mako Reactor… and quite frankly, with the new miniaturization technology we’d just picked up (but not yet mastered), we were probably going to have to rebuild it anyway. If it went, it would go in the name of “SCIENCE!” (Please note, this is all caps science and not actual sane responsible science. This was a BAD IDEA. don’t try this in your home dimension.)

The fundamental problem with a Jump that’s largely training based? Actually training. Saving civilization from the steady encroachment of abominations of nature is a full time job. With only 4 cities, no matter how large, the loss of even one of them would be disastrous. And people are fucking stupid. In all my jumps, I never failed to find people who’d let their pettiness, bigotry, or ambition put everyone (themselves included) at horrible, unconscionable risk. Be it criminals willing to suborn the security of the state to make a buck, terrorists willing to use ravening monstrosities to even scores decades or centuries old, fanatics using the instability to advance their own narcissistic or nihilistic agendas, or just inconsiderate morons picking fights because they can’t comprehend the idea of fucking timing! Even the Magi had assholes.

Remnant was not lacking in any of those, from criminal gangs, to power hungry dickheads, to Faunus willing to allow the fall of entire cities as revenge for centuries of oppression, rather than help overcome the institutional racism. Killing civilians is never warranted… unavoidable sometimes, but never to be done lightly or simply to punish others… to punish others long dead? No. Unforgivable.

Also unforgivable, if on a lesser scale, is betrayal of trust. I might not have a world to save, but I did remember that a pair of students named Emerald Sustrai and Mercury Black were in league with a criminal named Roman Torchwick and a terrorist named Cinder Fall. I figured I could thwart their plans, if just a little. I wasn’t willing to pass a death sentence on Emerald or Mercury without judging them first, but either way, I was planning on taking them out of play… once they arrived at the school.

But that would have to wait a year. For now, the plan was get good at killing the Grimm… but there was a fundamental problem I had not anticipated. The power level gap between some of my companions was spectacular. Zane & Ryoga could tank almost anything that was thrown at them. Joy and Ahab were… barely less capable, though in different ways, as expected of super soldiers who could fight Metal Gears on foot. Bao and Toph were excellent in their specialized ways, and were crafty and inventive… Ziggy was insane and silly and dangerous… But Velma was… not a fighter by nature or training and she was falling behind the curve.

There was another problem as well. I’d begun to hit the “Not challenging enough” wall, the point at which one can dispatch one’s enemies too fast. Yet I was hesitant to use anything like full power because of the risk of overleveling the Grimm. I planned to go further afield once I graduated… but that was for later. First, there was school to graduate and Velma to train.

She wasn’t in my team, but I worked with her inside my mind, pulling her into the Dojo of the Palace of my Mind on a regular basis and training her from the ground up, pushing her limits, working her until she dropped and then doing it again and again. And in the meantime I spent my days in the city trying to locate Roman Torchwick with Zane.

Vale was an interesting city. It had, according to Zane, a highly defensive personality, like a mountain lion protecting her cubs, and there were sooo many hidden ways in and out. We quickly located the train line that Roman and his goons would use to enter the city a year later and Toph and Zane used earthbending to undermine it in ways unlikely to be detected by anyone not bending. They both wanted to know why we couldn’t just erase the tunnel system, but Joy fielded that one. “If we erase the path, they’ll put their efforts towards a new plan, a plan we won’t know about. If we leave the path, they’ll use it, not knowing we’ve sabotaged it.” I nodded, Joy was a good team leader… better, to be honest, than Naked or Venom Snake.

The new year rolled around, as it must, and Team RWBY was formed, along with Team CRDN and Team JNPR. Three more teams. Nora Valkyrie, my favorite supporting character was awesome, Ruby was a hoot, and Yang was a spitfire. Of course, we had to play it cool as upper classmen, but it was hard not to want to hang with them. Pyrrha Nikos I was especially eager to meet, because in the show she was THE up and coming huntress. I wanted to spar against her sooo bad.

And I did. Often. Sometimes ambushing her for a quick pass, sometimes actually scheduling a sparring session. It was nice to fight someone that good, to relax my hold for one moment. But I was beginning to notice that I was under observation.

Professor Ozpin, the head of the Academy, had one of the most compartmentalized and structured minds I’d ever seen. Reading him was practically impossible and believe me, I tried. He was watching me, studying me, and I didn’t know why… though I was to learn in the years ahead. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The White Fang (Roman Torchwich’s band of crazies) were making life difficult for us Faunus who weren’t homicidal douchenozzles, and making operating clandestinely difficult. This only added to the harassment I got for my long fluffy tail and sharp needle canines that got me accused of being a vampire more than once. Of course, I had my own fairy tail motif and it wasn’t anything to do with vampires. I was the Snow Queen… I was a Vulcan, an Occlumencer… I would not allow taunts to get to me… though as things got worse, those taunts began to escalate into more than that.

There… I drew the line. Attack me and mine and I shall defend. That had been the words of my house “I Shall Defend”… though the secret words had been “Measure for Measure.” And I measured those I faced and gave them back everything they would have given me. To my friends, I was a Snow Day, joyous and free. To my enemies, I was the Killing Cold…. and yet I did not dare use my more overt powers, since Semblance and Aura were measurable things in this world and redflags would go up across a globe of monster slayers were I to cross that line where any could see.

I’d even turned off the HF function and suppressed the LF wavelengths in Soul of Ice… and even replaced the materia with Dust Crystals… we were still waiting to see if we could generate Dust Materia, but it was looking good, as were the Grimm Summons… apparently that was a thing in this world already. I’d not anticipated the need to tone myself down… though doing so was providing an excellent challenge.

Finally the train attack came and I took my chance to strike at Roman Torchwick… and that’s when I ran headlong into Cinder Fall. She was fast, she was powerful, and without taking my self imposed restraints off, I could not beat her. The power she unleashed against me was devastating. It wasn’t Aura or Semblance… it was something else. She summoned leaves and froze them, she unleashed withering heat and pillars of fire. And she withstood attacks that had smashed Grimm to powder. She KO’d Zane while fighting me. And Roman got away.

I knew she’d be back. I knew things were coming to a head… the three seasons of the show that I knew of had all occurred within the same year in setting. That meant Emerald and Mercury were coming soon. And I’d be ready to take their measure.

When they came, it was as guests, students of Haven Academy (in Mistral) there at Beacon (in Vale) to participate in the Vytal Tournament, an exhibition of the fighting prowess of students from the various academies. I scanned them passively as they entered the school. Emerald had mental shields… interesting. Mercury was closed up, and a consummate actor… but he didn’t. I learned enough from him to be worried… very worried.

I followed them, shielding myself with everything I had, tunneling deeper and deeper into Mercury’s mind. He was the son of a renowned assassin, and a stone killer. He had helped Cinder steal some unfathomably powerful magic… not aura… magic… from a woman named Amber, the power of the Maiden of Fall. Cinder had stolen most of the mantle of Fall from Amber… but not all of it. The rest was sealed away inside Amber, a vegetative patient somewhere deep within Beacon Academy, guarded by Professor Ozpin and others. They were planning on bringing down the defenses of Beacon and killing Amber (and as many others as it took). He’d killed before, and he’d kill again, if he wasn’t stopped.

I watched as they hacked the central defense hub, thanks to some very slick hallucination sending on Emerald’s part. She and I were going to have words, I decided. Then, a little later, she stole Ruby’s wallet and pretended she’d found it. Little bitch. They were plotting about how to use the tournament to create the openings they needed. They were also, conveniently, staying the night at the Academy. I had to be careful, Cinder was inside the school and they were with her often… until she sent them to their rooms to rest.

I sent Ahab and Joy to neutralize Mercury… and told them I didn’t care if he lived so long as he went down quiet and vanished. I went after Emerald. She fought. She was… decent. Her illusions were strong. But I had layers of mental defense she couldn’t even conceive of. I smashed into her mind and ransacked it, beating down her pleas for mercy as I went. “Did you give your victims mercy? Did you think you were justified in all you’ve done? All the deaths you and your mistress would have caused?” She swore at me, called me a bitch, said I was no different, doing whatever I felt like and feeling justified in doing so. “I never claimed to be noble. I never claimed to be righteous. But when I kill it’s to protect, to save, to make things better. The needs of the many. I don’t kill for sport… but I do take pride in my work.”

I flooded her mind with sensory data, far, far, far too much for normal human mind to withstand, centuries of banal information crammed into a couple seconds. I went to dump her, barely alive, into a stasis pod in the medbay, only to find Joy and Ahab doing the same thing with Mercury. I nodded… we’d decide what to do with them later. They were killers… but so were we. They hadn’t been… on the grand scale… that evil. Hell, I’d let Joffrey and Cersei live… But that left Cinder and Amber. I had to go to Ozpin.

That late at night, getting to the headmaster took more effort than I’d have liked. “We need to talk.” He nodded, sipping from his coffee, apparently unsurprised to see me inside his sanctum. “But not right now. Right now, you need to listen. Cinder Fall has suborned your security and the tournament system. She’s planning an attack and by morning she’ll discover that her primary agents are missing. Emerald Sustrai and Mercury Black were working for her. Sustrai is… was… an illusion caster. The two of them were with Cinder when she attacked Amber. Amber is not safe here… and I have no idea how to defeat Cinder without doing somethings I really shouldn’t be doing. But I’m the best chance anyone’s got… I think… unless you have the faintest clue how to defeat the Fall Maiden… or whatever the hell she is.”

“You’re… very perceptive. Of course, you could be lying, just to get access to Amber yourself.”

“If I wanted access to Amber, I could have it and no force on Remnant could stop me.”

“Are you the Winter Maiden?” I thought about that for a moment.

“Would I know if I was?” I asked. I honestly had no idea.

“I think… yes.”

“Then no. I am the Snow Queen, The Winter Witch, the Manifestation of Balance, I am The Twilight Incarnate… but to the best of my knowledge, I am not the Winter Maiden… no less for a reason than I’m not a maiden.” He coughed at that, sputtering.

“Do you know when they plan to attack?”

“Tomorrow night. But when she discovers that her allies are missing… She might move the time table up, or panic. I’ve no idea. And there are Grimm coming… Lots of them. She’s bringing them here to attack the Academy. And they’ve got the White Fang helping them.”

“You sound angry about that.”

“I am angry. Terrorist attacks will never bring equality. All it will bring is hatred and more hatred… and in the end… all that will be left is the Grimm. No Humans, No Faunus… just… Grimm. I cannot understand why… or even how, the four nations and the Faunus have even managed to ever go to war against each other given the Grimm. It’s like having a knife fight in the middle of a burning house.”

“Can you help us?”

“Yes. I can. I can do five things to help. The first is a piece of advice; tell your moronic guards that their first responsibility when someone breaks into a high security vault is to send up an alarm, then fall back and defend, not try and take out someone clearly out of their weight class. So’s the second; compartmentalize your damned information net better. Third, I can physically heal Amber… probably. But, fourth, I can absolutely remove her from any chance Cinder will ever find her. And last, I’ll fight… but I don’t know how disastrous the fight will be.”

As it turns out… it was disastrous in the extreme. My companions, released from my restraints… struck at the Grimm streaming towards Vale with everything they had in their considerable personal arsenals. If the Grimm evolved, they evolved, but Vale and Beacon would not fall while we stood. Velma took command of the assault shuttle… while Vivian took command of the Atlas Military computers using the codes I’d stolen from Emerald’s mind, building new firewalls in the place of the compromised ones. But nothing stems a tide this well prepared… They had Grimm we’d never faced before, many of them, and one of the Atlas airships (thanks no doubt to the law of conservation of ninjas) and they had a god damned Dragon, seeding more Grimm as it flew over head.

And then there was Cinder… a formidable foe. The Battle of the Decade… a pretender to the throne of Winter and a usurper to the throne of Autumn. Cinder had incredible raw power, speed, defenses… I had tricks layered upon tricks, power the likes of which she’d never seen… And she had Grimm backing her up. Yet Autumn must always yield to Winter. It is inevitable. Still… Aura users are damned hard to fight effectively as long as their Aura pool remains intact… and she had a very deep pool. It was like smashing my attacks against a force field.

I suspect she had similar frustrations dealing with me as I tanked attacks that would have shattered buildings, returned her fire back at her… Measure for Measure… and simply absorbed any ice attack she slung my way. I had to break the stalemate… and that meant overkill.

Wincing inwardly at the potential for destruction… I summoned Bahamut Zero. One dragon deserves another, right? Cinder screamed with fury as Teraflare erased her beast… and I cringed as it erased part of the city. But I recovered first, calling upon the power of Victoria von Kamui… and teleported behind Cinder, grappling her and teleporting the two of us into Vale Harbor.

She thrashed, breaking my hold, wrenching away from me, flying up into the air to avoid sinking beneath the waves… but I’d been counting on her doing just that and I called up the power of the waves and the spirits, wrapping her in tendrils of spiritwater… and then I purified her. She screamed as the power she’d stolen was wrenched away from her, flying through the ether back to the pinhole portal I’d left open to the warehouse.

I’ve witnessed two Avatars in the grips of the Avatar state…I thought I was ready for what happened next… I was not. Amber had a couple of years of bottled rage and, freshly recovered or not, she was raring to go… I wondered what mix of potions, ethers, and other things Zane had given her. She was fury incarnate. The smackdown she laid upon Cinder was… in a word, epic.

The terrorist tried to fight. I’ll give her that. She did not go gentle, but the only reason she’d beaten Amber the first time was because she’d had backup and surprise on her side. Now she’d just been in a knockdown fight with yours truly and had no allies left to speak of… or so I thought.

One moment it was Amber preparing to crispy fry Cinder… the next… there was a ripple of darkness and Cinder was gone. Amber… did not take it well. I let her rage there for a while until she calmed down to notice me.

“Are you with her?” She asked, menace in her voice.

“Not at all. I’m the one who returned your power to you.”

“Why?” She seemed a little confused.

I blinked “Why wouldn’t I have?”

“You could have tried to take it for yourself.”

I laughed. “I didn’t know that was a possibility, to be honest… and even if I had, I certainly wouldn’t have.”

“That’s a strange attitude. Most people would kill to have this kind of power.” She motioned around her. “In fact, that’s what that woman was trying to do.”

“Amber… have you noticed that we’re both hovering 90 feet in the air above the bay? I already have power. Killing innocent people to gain power has never been my schtick.”

She blinked. “N… no… I hadn’t noticed… why haven’t I fallen? This usually takes effort to maintain.”

“Because I’m holding you up.”

“You’re no normal Huntress.” she remarked dryly.

“No shit.” I laughed. “I am The Snow Queen, the Winter Witch, The Inbetweener… I am Twilight made manifest.”

She regarded me for a long time before asking a very good question. “Which Twilight?”

I smiled sadly. “Normally, I hope to be the Twilight before Dawn… But in this place… I’m not sure I can be anything but the Twilight before the fall of Night. This world is slipping into darkness and I don’t know how to stop it.”

“Is it your job to stop it?” It was another very good question.

“No. It’s not. I am a creature unfettered by anything besides my own law and a will to survive. But I enjoy making things better, leaving things less interesting, perhaps, but improved for… most people.”

“So you’ve done this before?”

I nodded, “A few times. I am… to one way of looking at it… older than civilization itself.”

“Then… what do you think, do we have a chance?”

I looked around at the smoke rising from the city. “It is always darkest before the dawn, yes? So the story goes. Well, if this world has a story, it is that ‘Darkness is coming and that there will be no victory in strength… but perhaps victory is in the simpler things that you’ve long forgotten. Things that require a small, more honest soul.’”

“You say that as if you’re quoting someone.”

“Two someones. Pretty sure the first was a woman… and not a nice one… the other was Professor Ozpin. I really should ask him who he was talking to…”

It would be nice to say that things calmed down after that, but they didn’t. The answer to the question turned out to be one seriously badnews kind of Big Bad Witch named Salem… and she had plans, oh yes plans. Plans to drive mankind back into the dark type plans… and a total disdain for others. She was, in the immortal words of me, A Bitch.

Over the next four years she never once let us forget that the forces of darkness were slowly throttling the light, and although the various Dust producing companies were doing their best, it was clear they’d be running out of easily accessible product within a few more decades… which would necessitate expanding into the wilds… which would mean facing ever more Grimm.

Another major problem was the ease with which Salem’s allies had with acquiring cutting edge military technology and breaking into military networks. Counter espionage meant Joy & Ahab, and with the grudging permission Ozpin’s conspiracy of light, they set about finding those responsible for such treason and, either punishing the guilty or cleansing the ranks of the incompetent.

That was phase one. Phase two was pushing back into territory that had been lost over the decades and that was Ryoga and Zane’s bailiwick, smashing the Grimm that had pushed into the ruined sections of the city, forming up squads militant and protective details. It was nice that the people of the Four Nations had somehow convinced themselves that they weren’t living under perpetual siege, but it was an illusion, an illusion that had allowed all manner of evil to flourish. The people of Remnant were acting like sheep, with Hunters playing the sheepdogs.

That had to change, at least to some degree, and that meant propaganda and informational warfare… unfortunately, that wasn’t something I could push off onto underlings, and so I was forced to split my time between that, hunting Salem, training Velma, and designing new anti-Grimm defenses. Foe specific defenses were, thanks to the Song of Ice and Fire, part of my skill-set, but this was my first real chance to see how well it worked.

Adaptive defenses for an adaptive foe… It was a tricky problem, and even with Toph & Bao assisting me bringing them to fruition wasn’t easy. Getting the Humans of Vale to trust me, a Faunus, was a lesson in not solving every problem by punching, but it was a battle I didn’t really have the time to win and so it had to be endured. Getting some of the Faunus to stop acting like I was a race-traitor simply because I was trying to protect Humans was more frustrating.

Sure, I’d opted to be a member of this downtrodden race, unlike them, but they didn’t know that, and getting flack from both sides made me want to scream. Instead, I used persuasion… usually verbal, sometimes more aggressive. If you can’t join them, beat them, right?

Adam, the leader of the White Fangs… he was in this category. Consumed by anger, frustrated by the slowness of progress, and willing to wipe out the entire Human race on Remnant… he had to be stopped, but killing him would only make him a martyr, cut down by the Humans and their Faunus lickspittles.

In the end, my rhetoric won out, but it was a close thing. People don’t like being told that they have to make sacrifices, that their pain and oppression aren’t as bad as things were in the past. It is all too easy for the oppressed to become the oppressor. That’s the bully cycle, isn’t it? Still, people will listen, if you can find the words, if you can show them how they’re hurting everyone with their actions… hopefully.

It worked well enough that Adam came for me, wanting to silence the voice of Faunus-Human rapprochement. For once, it wasn’t about being the best. I played the game entirely defensively, using the fight as a chance to speak, to use my ability to strip away Adam’s blinders, to make him see the monster he’d become. It was like a god awful saturday morning special episode where a valuable lesson is learned and friendship reigned… Except it wasn’t and it didn’t.

Confronted by his past, he took the fanatic’s exit… or at least tried to. He laughed a bitter laugh, then flung himself on my sword, trying to end it all and martyr himself. It didn’t work, thanks to the fact that I have a Life Materia in my sword and a fully stocked medbay at my disposal. His trial was public, heavily guarded, scrupulously fair, and the outcome a foregone conclusion.

As for the Criminal Mastermind, Roman Torchwick? He, on the other hand, will never be found. I won’t say he sleeps with the fishes… but Fish-like Grimm probably don’t make the best bedfellows. He tried to claim he was just trying to survive. I said the same thing of his victims.

But Salem… ah… defeating Salem took me doing something I really, really, really didn’t want to do. I used a power I’d locked to a single form, either through a mental block or something more, like Waterbreathing as an Argonian or Neural-Sexual Linking as an Asari… I went Cetra and opened myself up to Remnant.

The world was mad, driven insane by whatever cataclysm had shattered the Moon, the delicate balance of tides and gravity had been disrupted and thrown everything out of whack. The Grimm were, somehow, a symptom of that… and shaping them was Salem. I never learned the whole story, but somehow she was tapping into the world’s juju and bringing forth The Grimm in numbers beyond easy counting, playing a very long game to crush humanity and the Faunus… for reasons I’d never know or understand.

But that contact with Remnant showed me that the Grimm were not, of themselves, evil. They were of the wild, and could be shaped for good or ill like any other natural thing. Salem was the poison worm in the center of the apple, the cancer of darkness and doubt… But her link to the world allowed me to find her. Now all I needed was a weapon that could defeat her… and Bao’s Mako Reactor finally gave it to me.

The Dragon that Cinder had summoned was a Grimm capable of bringing forth more Grimm… and the Mako Reactor could make Materia to summon Anti-Grimm. All I needed was enough combat experience to max out the Materia and it would replicate. Or rather… they would replicate, as I was loaded up with more than one… Thankfully, being a Grimm Magnet paid off for once, though the fights were getting brutal.

I knew that the theme of this world was that Victory would not lie in Strength… but in something simpler. I was hoping that something was Unity… and so, on a predetermined day and at a predetermined time, we, my friends old and new, summoned forth not one or two, or even ten, but 108 Anti-Grimm Dragons with which to siege Salem’s hall. I can’t say we won, despite the titanic battle… but maybe, just maybe, we tipped the scales back towards even.

Balance. That’s my name, my game, my claim to fame. As for a final victory? I don’t know if the Darkness can ever be fully defeated. Eternal Vigilance and all that. But, though I didn’t come to Remnant to save the world or the day… maybe I made a difference.

Next: World 27 – Don’t Ask

Resources: Build, Document

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