Chapter 1: Death
“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
― J.K. Rowling,
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The snow was falling heavily and the runways were still not free. Planes queued and waited for their turn to take off, pilots drinking coffee and passengers growing more cross by the second. Flight 9517 to Florida was currently being de-iced by the airport personnel, the chemicals erasing any speck of ice that had accumulated on the plane for the past hour. The pilots made the last few checks when they finally received the sign to move forward onto the runway by the Tower.
Amidst all the passengers sat a black-haired 19-years-old girl. She had been attending a boarding school in Washington D.C. for the past few months and had finally concluded her last year of high school, ready to attend Yale in the coming Fall. In that time, she had decided to visit her family who lived in Phoenix, Arizona. She hadn't seen them since last year December when she had visited to celebrate Christmas with them. Else, they had only exchanged letters, her telling them what it was like in the capital and them telling her what happened at home.
She was looking forward to seeing them again. She had missed her little sister the most. Jasmine was three years younger than her, a beautiful 16-years-old teen who was just as intelligent as her sister and attended a private high school not far from home. She had the same black hair as her sister, although her eyes were a deep brown while Serena's were more like deep turquoise that would appear brighter or darker depending on the light.
"Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please: We are now ready to take off for Tallahassee, Florida. Please fasten your seat-belts and put away anything that could fall off during takeoff. We apologize for the long wait and thank you for flying with us," rang the pilot's voice through the speaker that hung above the cockpit's door.
The flight would take five hours (though who really knew with this kind of weather?), and after that, Serena would have to switch onto another one to get to Phoenix. It was a holiday and most flights that went directly from Washington to Arizona had been booked out, so she'd had to book this one and another. It cost more, of course, the prices for a normal seat being already high, but her family had sent her some money, so she had managed to afford it.
Fastening her seat-belt and putting on her earphones, she put her iPhone on play and leaned back in her seat, waiting for the plane to take off. It began to pick up on speed and soon they were racing over the runway, the scenery outside passing by them in a blur, the slowly falling snow looking more like a blizzard now. When they had reached the needed speed, she could feel the plane lift off the ground, shaking all the while.
Not having flown much, she didn't think that the shaking was unusual until she noticed a passenger, an elderly man with glasses who sat in the row beside her, looking back and forth with a worried look. The woman who sat beside him asked what was wrong and he said that something was not right, though he didn't know what. Noticing this, Serena stopped her music and took off her earphones, stowing her phone in her blue jeans pocket, only now hearing that the shaking of the dishes that were stocked in the back of the plane had yet to subsided. Even she knew that, after some time, the shaking would stop and the flight would be a smooth one.
The man suddenly bent forward, bracing his arms against the seat in front of him, pressing his head against them. The woman beside him did the same after he told her so and Serena's anxiety started to grow. She had never really liked flying — the idea of being cramped in a room, tens of thousands of feet above solid ground where she couldn't do anything if something went wrong terrified her. As a kid, she'd always liked to watch documentaries about everything, but mostly about planes and plane crashes. It had always morbidly fascinated her how planes were built to be impenetrable and were the safest mode of transportation in the world, yet they were still so fragile and vulnerable. The images of burning plane wrecks floated through her mind and she began to panic.
Mimicking the man — for she saw that he had experience in flying and knew what would most likely happen — she also pressed her forearms against the seat in front of her, burying her head in them as if to escape her possible fate. Several other passengers were doing the same and the shaking intensified even more. Soon, many more people started to panic, some screaming or crying and in the midst of all the noise and shaking Serena could faintly hear the heart-wrenching cry of a baby.
Then the plane suddenly lurched forward.
The fuselage hit something full force and the plane dipped even more towards the ground, more people screaming, Serena being one of them. She had started to sweat at the beginning and could now feel it running down her forehead and back, sending shivers through her entire body. Then the plane's nose hit something and she could hear it crashing through something else. The aircraft broke in the middle and she suddenly realized that water started to flow in.
The Potomac! she thought in horror, realization dawning on her.
They must have plummeted into the river.
Attempting to unbuckle her seat-belt, she tried to move only to feel terrible pain rake her entire body. Looking down, her eyes widened upon the sight of blood pooling out of her stomach and into the ice cold water. It was then that she realized the large gash across her abdomen, partially across her left breast. A metal piece from a seat must have come loose and struck her during the crash, tearing the flesh wide open. She spotted another sharp piece of metal sticking out of her right side, but decided to leave it there. Trying to ignore the throe, she started to scramble for the exit that was now the rift where the plane had cleaved in two.
She saw that the man beside her and the woman were doing just the same, although she could see that the man's legs were either broken, or at least his ankles must have been by the way he was crawling and trying to somehow get out of this watery grave. Looking around, she noticed that most of the other passengers were either unconscious or already dead from the force of the impact, their forms hanging limply in their seats.
It was eerily silent.
The water was reaching just underneath her chin and Serena knew that she had to get out now or she would be unable to — the plane would either drag her down or she would be shocked even more by the chilling temperatures of the rising water. Taking in one last big gulp of oxygen, she ducked her head and began kicking her legs, trying to find the exit in the darkness of the river. It was frozen over and therefor the sun could not get through, basking the water in an almost pitch black color. Only at the top could she see a faint light, so she decided that that must be the hole through which the plane had crashed and began swimming for it.
But the bitterly cold temperatures quickly took their toll and she could feel her lungs piercing from the lack of oxygen. Her vision was starting to close in from the sides and she could barely see the light now. Kicking her legs a few more times, she tried her best to reach the surface until she finally couldn't take it anymore. Gasping, she felt the water entering her lungs, the pain being the worst she had ever experienced. She flailed her arms a few times before realizing that there was nothing left that she could do.
So this is how I'm going to die? Freezing and drowning to death, body never to be found? I always thought that I would die old and grumpy with my kids at my side, going to a peaceful sleep. Guess that's not the case.
She could feel tears starting to leave her eyes, closing them to try and fall unconscious, not wanting to experience the entirety of her death. She had never imagined or thought about what it would be like to drown, but she didn't want to know it now either. So she took one last look at the surface, seeing the bright light approaching her. Thinking it must be the light that would lead her to the afterlife like in the movies, she smiled to herself and closed her eyes again.
I'm sorry guys, but I'll be going first… I’ll wait for you on the other side.
With that final thought in mind, she let darkness consume her and Serena Cauldron drifted to the bottom of the Potomac River, her corpse never to be found.
But it was not the end of her story. Her "death" in one world was the beginning of her life in another, far more perilous world...
Chapter 2: Heaven
"I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking."
― Carl Sagan ,
Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium
It felt like she was being pulled through a tunnel of sorts, and she could feel and see the lights that passed her behind her eyelids. Her skin was stripped tight to her bones, but it still felt like it wanted to leave her body, as if being torn off of it. Her eyes were burning from the many lights and movements and she wondered briefly if this was what it was like if someone went to the Afterlife.
She suddenly saw all her memories pass by her, from early childhood to before and even during the plane crash. The images rushing by at great speed hurt so much that she couldn't take it anymore and began screaming in agony. She could faintly register a searing pain at her abdomen, as if the flesh was being pulled together and ripped apart at the same time.
Then darkness came and she gladly embraced it.
As she came to again, the first thing she could hear was the rustling of leaves, the wind gently blowing through them, making the leaves dance and soar through the sky. The first thing she smelt was the smell of soil, dead leaves and something else that she couldn't place. It was a smell she was accustomed to and loved. Her home used to smell like this after a long downpour. The memory saddened her, knowing that she could never go back to her family or home ever again.
Blinking her blue eyes open, she saw everything blearily for several moments. Blinking again to get rid of said blurriness, she could see the sky above her, tinted in a faint orange color, clouds gently passing over it. Shifting her vision, she could see the leaves that were rustling, some flying in the wind and sinking onto her still form as she lay on the ground. She noticed that they were not the vibrant green that she was accustomed to, but instead a deep crimson, making her think that it must be fall. She breathed in deeply, savoring the smell of the earth.
When she thought she'd wasted enough time lying on the ground and doing nothing, she sat herself upright and looked at her surroundings more carefully. Figuring that she must be in a forest — for the only thing she could see were trees and some mountains — she got up and strolled around a bit, trying to find any sign of civilization, before asking herself if there even existed something like a town or city in the Afterlife.
Now that I think about it, they never show what the Afterlife looks like in the movies. Could be helpful right now, she mused to herself, continuing to stroll aimlessly through the thick, blood-red forest.
Only as she saw the beginnings of what looked like a city did she notice that, even if she found a shop or something, she probably had no money to buy anything. Digging through her pockets to see what was still left in them, she was pleasantly surprised when her hand brushed by her mobile, quickly pulling the device out of it. It was still fully operational but had no connection to any kind of satellite, although that was to be expected. Even if she could call someone, what would she say?
"Hey it's me, Serena. I'm dead but don't worry 'cause the afterlife looks pretty cool!"
Most certainly not.
As she continued the investigation of her jean's pockets, she pulled out the money that she'd still had in them only to find that they had changed. In her hand were no longer the typical US-Dollars, but banknotes that looked totally different. They had an orange color and on them were three people who seemed to be fighting monsters with swords and what looked like magic.
It was the first time Serena had seen this kind of imprint, but she found it most intriguing. Looking at the number inscribed on the left side of the note, her eyes nearly bulged out of her head as she counted the sum of money that was to her disposal. If she had not miscalculated, and if money still had the same value, then she had approximately three thousand dollars at her disposal.
Doubting her eyes — as well as her mathematical skills, — she re-calculated only to get the same result, making her heartbeat skip for a second and her breathing quicken. She'd never had so much money at once before in her life. Sure, her parents had sent some per post to support her in school and help her pay for everything that she needed, but they'd never sent three thousand dollars. If she was economical enough, this would last her for a long time until she could figure out how to gain money here.
Stocking it back into her jean's pockets, she descended the little path that led her to outskirts of the city. It was not a big one, but it had some shops and stores, each of them displaying something different. She passed a real estate agency that sold some houses and flats and looked up the prices for them. The cheapest of them cost 1,500 per month and it only had one small bedroom, a tiny kitchen and a toilet with a shower and basin as bathroom. If she were to rent this, she would be out of money after two months and if she hadn't found a job by then, she would have to live on the streets.
I guess it's not so different from real life. Even the prices are as high as in Washington, and this is the damn Afterlife where everyone is supposed to be happy and without worries. So much for a relaxing time after death...
She continued her way, all the while thinking about what to do about her problem. Finally, she drew the conclusion to be living in the forest in a cave. At least until she'd found a reasonable solution.
While it may seem odd that she wanted to live in a cave in the middle of nowhere where she could get attacked by a wild animal or something, it's worth noting that she had seen some nice looking caverns on her stroll to towns and thought that, with some decorating and a good warm fire, it would actually be pretty comfortable to live in one of them. She remembered seeing the documentaries about the ancient city of Petra, the city carved into the canyons of Jordan, and figured that it would be like creating a modern-day Petra, City of One.
But the main reason was that she wanted to have some solitude and calm while being here.
Back in Phoenix, they had lived in one of the busiest parts of the city, so there was always some kind of commotion or noise. Washington had been even worse, police sirens going off every ten minutes and the city never slept, so they would be heard even in the dead of night.
No, what she needed right now was some calm and time to think, to process all that had happened in much too short a time.
She needed to come to terms with her new life here, without any family or friends. It would be hard getting used to it, but she was sure that she would eventually come to enjoy it, and she could always come into town if she felt lonely or needed to talk or see someone.
Chapter 3: Shopping
"Though nobody can go back and make a new beginning... Anyone can start over and make a new ending."
― Chico Xavier
Walking down the street some more, she came across a shop that sold different styles of clothing and shoes and decided to go through it. If she was going to live in the forest, then she would need some adequate clothing and good shoes.
Lucky for her, she had taken different courses throughout her years of high school, one of them being 'Survival 101'. Most of her friends had thought it to be weird to take such a course when she could take something else like cooking or art, more fun ones as they'd liked to put it. But Serena thought that it couldn't hurt to know how to survive on your own. After all, you never knew if the car wouldn't suddenly decide to break down or something and you would have to stay some time in the wild until help arrived. At least she knew how to make fire, which plants and berries were edible and other things that were quite useful in her current situation.
The bells on the door chimed as the teenager pushed it open and said a quiet 'hello' which was returned by the shopkeeper, a young woman with brown hair and emerald eyes. She walked over to the clothing department and started rummaging through the different clothes, occasionally taking some pieces out and checking them before laying them on her left arm and continuing her search.
Considering that it had been winter in the 'Real World' Serena decided to choose some pullovers, two hoodies and a deep red cloak that looked to be quite warm and comfortable. A jacket would be too warm at the moment, so she didn't take one. And although the cloak looked thin, it actually held warm pretty well. That way she could also maneuver around the forest without her movements being restricted.
She then shuffled over to the pants and chose three pairs of jeans, one having a lighter color while the others were a bit darker, and also chose a belt that would fit perfectly.
She couldn't run around the forest, trying to get some food with her jeans slipping off every time — that would just look ridiculous.
She also chose a pair of black jeans, a green pair and a red pair, the latter more with the thought that it would help her blend into the forest more. She had decided that she'd try to buy as little food as possible. So she had to hunt some game and eat plants and berries, though the thought of killing an innocent animal for her own gain didn't please her.
Serena walked over to the cabins and tried on all the different articles that she'd picked out, all of them fitting her nicely. Then she once again went over to the clothes and also picked some tank tops, mostly black ones, to wear underneath the hoodies in case it got really cold. Although she doubted it; it was quite a nice temperature here for it to be the middle of winter.
Next she needed shoes. Walking over to the counter, she asked the woman to place her articles in the back so that she could take them later and pay for everything. This being said and done, she strolled over to the shoes, looking at the different models and their prices.
One pair especially caught her eyes: it was a pair of dark green combat boots that would be tied with laces and reached up to just underneath her knee, perfect for any kind of exploration in the forest. And from the looks of it, they looked quite warm and comfy, perfect for winter climate. Putting them on, she walked a few rounds through the shop before deciding that they were perfect and took them back to the counter.
"So, have you found everything you need?" the vendor asked her politely and Serena simply nodded her head in answer. Going to the back, the woman returned with the rest of her clothes and put them all on the counter, scanning the different articles and putting them in a bag.
"That'll be 150 Lien, please."
"Lee-en" Huh? Sounds Asian.
Fishing in her pocket, she pulled out the according sum of money and handed it over to the woman. Seeing her surprised expression, however, the girl knew that something was wrong and asked the woman why she looked so shocked.
"It's not safe to carry so much money with you, miss. The city isn't safe, not since that monster Roman Torchwick started his little crime spree."
"Haven't you heard? He's a dangerous criminal who only recently robbed a Dust shop only one street down. He got caught up in a fight with a Huntress from Beacon Academy. She was only fifteen years old and he tried to murder her all the same!" The woman shook her head with a weary sigh.
"He's that infamous?"
"He's known throughout the whole country! The Council has even set a bounty on his head; if by some miracle someone should catch him, he would be executed without trial. You should keep away from places where he's been seen, and don't even entertain the thought of leaving home at night. It's then that he comes out the most, although even in daylight he could strike," the woman warned her in a hushed voice, as if she was afraid that Torchwick guy would jump out of one of the aisles and shoot her down.
"Thank you for the warning, but none of that will be a problem for me since I won't be staying in the city."
"You won't?" the woman asked, quite perplexed.
"No. I'm going to live in the forest. Find some peace and quiet."
The clerk looked at her like she had just grown a second head. "Do you want to get killed?! Forever Fall is practically oozing with Grimm!"
"What are Grimm?"
"Don't you know anything?!"
She seemed almost angry at Serena for not knowing about such things. Realizing that she had been rather rude, she apologized and explained just what these 'Grimm' were.
"They are monsters, hideous demons, Creatures of Grimm. They have existed ever since humanity first appeared and have always attacked and destroyed us wherever they could. Only with the discovery of Dust did we even stand a chance of fighting back.
"People say they get attracted by negative emotions, and some even tell of them being the very incarnation of human negativity having taken animal form. If you're going to live in Vale, then you should never leave the walls. Even if you should have a weapon, only Hunters stand a reasonable chance against them."
It was fairly obvious that the woman was terrified by those creatures and Serena could only imagine what they looked like. If they were so feared and hated, then they probably didn't look like a fluffy bunny. Thanking the woman for her warning, Serena took her bag and exited, strolling down the street again, pondering about how she would try to live in the forest with those monsters there.
Her train of thoughts was cut short when she passed another shop and remembered that she had to buy some blankets, pillows and comforters for her new home. After all, she couldn't be sleeping on the ground.
Pushing the door open, she was once again greeted, this time by an older man with gray hair. She politely returned the greeting, walking over to the comforters and blankets section of the store. Taking two rather thick and warm comforters for autumn and winter, she added another two that were lighter and would be used in spring and summer. She also added four blankets and two big pillows. She wouldn't buy a mattress.
No, she had something else in mind, something that was even better than a mattress. Paying for everything, she went to another store where she purchased some frying pans and three pots, a few plates, glasses and some cutlery and some towels. It was rather difficult to carry all of the things she needed without a car to put them in, but she managed.
Now that her shopping had been done, she could finally go back to the forest and look for a comfy cave, hopefully without encountering any of those Grimm monsters.
Chapter 4: Search
"For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. […] You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all."
― Hermann Hesse,
Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte
Finding a suitable cave proved to be more of a task than Serena had initially thought. Not that there weren't enough; no that was not the problem. There were about a dozen caves that she'd already inspected, but they never really fit her needs. They were either too small or too low, or there was the possibility of them caving in after some time. And if there was one thing that she dreaded, then it was being buried alive, which meant dying a second time. Not that she didn't think that she would somehow be resurrected, but if she could avoid it then she really did prefer not to die again.
So she resumed her search, venturing even deeper into the forest. Here, the trees were thicker, making it look like the perfect hideout. The branches made it hard to move around freely and she had to watch her step, making sure not to trip over a vine or any other offending object. The branches of the trees looked fairly thick and sturdy, and Serena had no doubt that they would easily hold her weight if she were to sit on them. Now that she thought about it, they could actually help her move around well. If she could get up on them, then she could go from one tree to another like a squirrel.
That is, as long as she didn't fall down.
She had taken gymnastics when she'd still been a child and had taken up the sport again once she was in high school, so it wouldn't really be a problem. The school's gymnastics team was well-known around America and she had been qualified enough to be accepted into it. Among normal things such as a handstand and a somersault, she had also trained on the trapeze. Now, she was able to do back and front flips with ease, among multiple others.
Of course, it would be different performing acrobatics in the middle of a monster-infested forest than in a controlled environment. But if she was able to adapt to the forest and trees, she would be able to use those skills for maneuvering around and hunting animals.
The thought of killing an animal made her feel queasy. She used to have a dog herself — a Japanese Shiba Inu named Aki — and had been present when she had to be euthanized due to a malignant tumor that had infested her body. Serena had wanted to comfort her life-long friend in her final moments, to make her death somewhat easier. The young girl still remembered the way her eyes slowly closed, never once doubting that she would be there when she woke up again. Aki had had so much faith in them that she'd accompanied them to the vet without a second thought, wagging her tail all the while.
The memory of the death of her best friend and the pain she'd experienced made tears come to her eyes. She knew that it had been for her best, but Aki had still been her dog, the one she trusted the most. Since then, her repulsion of killing animals had grown stronger and she would tense up and be on the verge of crying every time she saw it on TV, even if it was one animal killing another.
But if she wanted to survive and stay healthy, then she would have to get used to it and get over her repulsion. She had eaten meat at home, so why not here too? After all, it was always an animal that had to die. It didn't matter if it was her who killed it or someone else. At least she could kill it in a way that would cause it no pain.
Having settled that, she thought about what kind of weapon she should use for hunting. She couldn't throw knifes or anything flashy like that, but she had taken archery (another class her friends were astounded about). She had always been amazed by the way people could hit a target dead on with just a bow and arrow — a weapon so primitive and yet so lethal. And so, when she'd had the opportunity to, she had taken archery lessons. And she had been pretty good at it too (if she dare be so bold), more than once hitting a bulls-eye or just slightly missing it.
Now that she thought about it, she had seen a weapon's store on her way back to the forest. It sold a vast variety of weapons, including a very sleek and modern looking set of bow and arrows.
Another thing she would be needing was a stick or spear. If she wanted to eat something other than just berries and meat, then she would need to go fishing. And since she wasn't one to sit around and wait for long — her patience being non-existent for those kinds of things — she would have to use a spear to fish. It also killed the fish instantly, so there was a positive side to it.
Retaining all those things in mind, she continued clearing a path until she spotted the opening of another cave a few yards away from her position. Moving over to it, she noticed that she'd trudged quite far into the forest. She could no longer see the outskirts of the city as she had been able to before, at the other caves.
Finally fighting her way through the thick canopy, she stood in front of a large cave, big enough to harbor several people at once. The opening was enormous — like a gaping mouth — and it looked to be quite stable, without any signs of caving in any time soon. Stepping inside, she sighed the cool temperature; a good feat for when it would be summer and temperatures would be rising.
The walls were surprisingly smooth, forming an arc over her head. It was deep, but not too deep, reaching in a few yards — enough space to live in without it being too empty. On the right side was an indent in the ground: a perfect place to make a fire. Behind it were some rocks that reached further into the room which could be used as seats. She just needed to place them around the fire and it would be a nice spot to sit and warm herself up in the evening.
To the left were some more rocks that reached into the room, creating more possibilities. She could use those as makeshift shelves, putting on them her clothes, weapons, shoes, as well as other things she would need. At the back, where the cave ended, there was one long rock that jutted out into the room. Its surface was as smooth as the walls behind it and it left enough space for two to three people. Serena decided to make it her bed.
The cavern felt so homey — which was odd in itself. It was almost as if somebody had lived here before but abandoned it long ago.
I guess I've found my new home, the girl thought contently.
She finally had a place she could refer to as home, even if it looked far from one at the moment.
Now I only have to decorate it a little and it could be pretty nice living here. I just hope it won't be getting too cold in the night.
Since it was still winter — at least she assumed it was — she put on her new pullover and the thick blanket. With that in mind, Serena made to putting her clothes on the rocks at the left before going off to find some kindling to start a fire.
An hour later, she had started a large fire which provided enough heat. She had also gathered a blanket full of leaves; she'd put them all into a duvet cover that she bought before she'd left the city. She had gathered as much as she could and now had a perfectly decent mattress. She swore it was more comfortable than the one she'd had at home: the leaves perfectly adjusted to her body and it felt as if she were lying on a cloud, the foliage softening the ground on which she lay. Being tired from all the events that had occurred in hardly a day, she pulled the blanket over herself and fell off to sleep.
Maybe, life wouldn't be so bad in this world.
"I have been practicing archery for a long time; a bow and arrow helps me to unwind."
— Paulo Coelho
It became known to Serena that choosing a suitable weapon wasn't as easy a task as she'd initially thought. She'd thought that all she had to do was go into the shop, choose the weapon and leave.
What she hadn't included into that plan were the varieties of models and the supplementary equipment which she now faced. Sure enough, she knew exactly what she needed: a bow and arrows, as well as a spear. Both were meant for hunting or — if the situation ever occurred — self-defense. Though she would never use the bow against another human being.
She had found a nice bow, so step one complete. But there were so many variations of it that she was a little overwhelmed.
The bow that had caught her eye was a slick black and green one. Along with it were thirty arrows, all stashed in a quiver that could be strapped across her torso. The weapon was suitable for the forest and as far as she had seen, she could even change its color by pushing a button, turning it a deep red or pitch black. It was exactly what she needed.
Only that there were three other identical bows right next to that one.
On the little notes that were placed beside them stood their respective function and for what they were best suited.
One of the shop keepers — a young man who must have been in his late twenties — saw just how confused Serena was. So, being the helpful being he was (and because it was his job), he walked over to assist her. He was, however, very much surprised that the young girl was interested in the bows and not any of the other — more modern — weapons.
Only few people knew how to handle a bow correctly, let alone shoot an arrow nowadays with all the dual weapons transforming into guns. Additionally, it wasn't really a weapon to be used in a fight. It required time to get the arrow into position and focus it on the target. Time that young Hunters and Huntresses-in-training did not possess if they were in a fight with the Grimm. So the schools had decided that students make their own weapons which would be perfectly fit for their individual combat style. Archery had become a relic of the past, something that was deemed unfit for battle in a modern age.
"Excuse me miss, can I help you? You seem to be having some trouble."
Serena looked up at him, not having heard his approach, having been immersed in her thoughts. She smiled a small smile of gratitude. "Yes, I'm a little lost to be honest."
"Well then, what is it that you need? I can see that you're interested in the archery equipment."
"I am, but there are so many different models that I don't know which one to choose." She gave him a small smile, feeling foolish for not being able to find a weapon on her own.
"It depends for what you would need them. But I can already tell you that they aren't very well-suited for combat."
"Oh, no, I just want one for personal use. You know, to go hunt rabbits and maybe a deer or something... Nothing really big. I would never use it to fight someone."
"Hunting? In Forever Fall Forest? I don't mean to be rude, but there are no animals there to hunt. The only thing you would encounter would be Grimm, and I have to tell you that a bow and arrow will hardly do you any good against them."
So they really are that scary... Serena contemplated, catching the worry that flickered across the man's eyes. But this was Heaven, so she couldn't die again, right?
"But there must be something other than those Grimm in the forest?"
"Not as far as I know, miss. The animals left the forest a long time ago. No one has seen a rabbit, deer or anything else ever since. The Grimm are the closest thing to animals you'll find there. But they're not for eating; if you kill them, they'll just dissolve into thin air. You won't be able to gain anything from them."
This had the girl thinking. Should there really be no animals at all, she would be forced to come and buy meat from town, which would mean she would have to give up some money. If she didn't find a job soon, she would run out of money. And if that happened, she would have to live off berries and water exclusively. It wasn't that she hated berries or anything, but she couldn't eat berries for the rest of her stay — however long that may be. Without protein, her muscles would degenerate.
And if that happened she was be a goner.
Then she remembered the footprints she had seen on the forest floor when she'd been walking among the trees. She was sure they were from a rabbit — or something slightly bigger — and by the looks of it, it wasn't any kind of Grimm. But she had never seen one before, so who was she to judge?
"I'll take the bow anyway. Which one of the three would be most suited for hunting in the forest?"
The man was about to admonish her again that it would be completely pointless to go hunting in Forever Fall forest. He was also about to tell her that she should stay out of the forest. But the determination in her eyes kept him from doing so.
He figured that some people simply had to learn for themselves.
Maybe she liked to live on the edge, liked the rush of adrenaline when facing a Grimm?
He walked over to the green bow that could change color that Serena had been inspecting earlier. Holding it up to examine the weapon, he handed it to her, stating that it would be the most adequate for her future intentions.
"Thank you. Oh, before I forget: do you have anything along the lines of spears or javelins?"
"I'm guessing it's also meant for hunting?"
"Spear fishing," she replied with a grin.
The vendor gave a defeated sigh before walking over to another table with weapons laid out on its surface. He took what looked to be a short stick, barely the length of Serena's forearm. Noticing that she was about to inform him of her need for something bigger, he pressed a little button on the side and the stick expanded from both ends.
It was a long and slender staff, a head taller than Serena, giving it an approximate height of 5'10" compared with the girl's 5'5" height. It was the perfect length, and although it was so long she found that it was still easy enough to handle. Pressing the button again, three long blades appeared on one end. Two of the blades were swept to the side and one pointed straight up, forming an upside down T. They were all mended together, the two blades that swept to the side protruding from the straight one, making them perfect for piercing fish.
"Anything else?" the male asked her.
"No, that's all I need for now. By the way, do you know if there is a drugstore around here? I've been looking for one, but I still haven't found it yet."
"Of course. It's right down this street and then two turns to the right. You'll see it, it has those big green lights flashing."
"Thank you. And thanks for helping me finding these two. How much do these cost?"
"The bow's 40 Lien and the spear 30. The arrows and quiver cost 40. So, all together, that would be 110 Lien."
Nodding, Serena walked over to the counter and paid said price. She waved a good bye, then walked down the street, turning right twice just like the man had told her. It wasn't long until she saw the bright lights of the drugstore. Quietly entering, she grabbed a basket and began looking for the things she needed.
Amongst normal things such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, supplies for personal hygiene and so on, she also included some bandages, a bottle of disinfectant, a pair of scissors, tape, a few hair ties — in case she wanted to put her hair into a ponytail because it could be really annoying — and a hair brush. These would be her first aid kit in case she got injured –– she wasn't one to be unprepared for any kind of situation.
Strangely enough, she realized that her menstruation had stopped ever since she'd come here. She knew, because she'd had it when the plane crashed. But when she'd woken up in the forest, it was gone.
At least one good thing about being dead. Now I won't be getting cramps anymore.
Paying for the supplies, she made her way back to her little cave. It was surprisingly easy to remember the way. Though she had been afraid at first that she would get lost and would have to search for her new home again. She wasn't yet familiar with the forest, but in order to save herself the trouble, she created a map in her mind. It was based on landmarks such as trees or large boulders to help her navigate around without getting lost.
The sudden snapping of a twig coming from behind a bush made her head jerk up and look around. There was nothing there, but she was sure she felt the presence of someone or something hiding in the vicinity. Choosing not to challenge her luck, she marched on.
She didn't come very far.
Right in front of her, only a few feet away, was a black bear. But not just a normal black bear. It was the size of an elephant, with bony spikes sticking out of its back along. Along its face crept what looked to be a mask adorned with red markings. Add dangerous, crimson eyes and you had the perfect image of a creature that had crawled out of a nightmare.
There was no mistaking it. Only one thing came to mind as Serena stood there, paralyzed with fear:
For my European friends, here are the heights in metric system:
5'10" = 1,77 m
5'5" = 1,65 m
Chapter 6: Grimm
"For as long as humanity can recall walking the surface of Remnant, so do they remember this wicked force."
World of Remnant, Episode 3
It was the strangest creature Serena had ever seen. It topped everything — from the movies to her worst nightmares.
Never had she seen such red eyes, gleaming maliciously at her. In them, she could see all the hatred and anger that the creature harbored — she understood why people were afraid of them.
The 'bear' stood on its hind legs, increasing its size drastically. Claws sharp as razors protruded from its paws, appearing as though they could shred her to pieces in the blink of an eye. The top of its skull was protected by what looked to be plates of bones and, as far as she could see, they continued to crawl down its back, tracing its spine.
Serena realized she'd stopped breathing upon her lungs aching in protest. Inhaling deeply, she tried not to make a single move — she knew enough about wild animals to know that they would react to any kind of sudden movement, most likely resulting in her being attacked.
But — even though she knew it could get her killed — she couldn't help but look into the creature's eyes. There was more than hatred and anger in them….
There was also pain and loneliness.
And, strange as she was, Serena felt sympathy for it.
The 'bear' continued gazing at her. It was as if it were sizing her up, debating whether or not she was a threat and if it should attack her. It slightly cocked its head to the side, leaning forward so that it was back on all four paws. Serena still did not dare to move — she feared that her accelerated breathing was enough to set the beast off.
But she had to remain calm. Panicking would not help her in this predicament. She knew that animals could sense fear and reacted to it, so she did her best to hide it, continuing to take in deep breaths, her chest heaving only the slightest.
Then a twig snapped somewhere behind the creature.
This seemed to be the trigger and the creature pounced at her, claws extended and ready to tear her up. For a second, Serena didn't even realize that it was actually attacking her. She just continued to stand completely still, staring into those bright red eyes. When the claws were just about to disembowel her, her natural defense instincts kicked in and she threw herself to the side, barely avoiding the razor sharp blades.
Quickly jumping back to her feet — for she had no time to lose — she turned around and saw the Grimm shift in her direction, lunging at her once again. This time however, she wasn't fast enough and one of the claws managed to graze her upper arm, producing a clear cut that stretched across the tender flesh. The cut immediately started bleeding, droplets falling onto the ground. Serena cringed at the pain, not having expected it.
Hold on; I'm bleeding! But this is Heaven. It should be impossible to get injured, let alone bleed!
If what she'd seen in movies and read in books was anything to go by, then Heaven was a place without any sort of pain. People and animals alike were supposed to live together in harmony. The fact that the nearly demonic creature had attacked her and that she was now bleeding made
Serena doubted her real whereabouts. But she didn't have the time to ponder upon this as she could hear an angry roar from just behind her.
She had momentarily forgotten the beast in her confusion, and when she turned to look at it, it was only a few feet away, ready to attack yet again. This time, the clear intent to kill her shone in its eyes.
Having literally no other option left, Serena held her hands out in front of her. It was the only thing that she could think of to try to calm the beast down and somehow leave this forest alive. She carried her weapons with her, though she doubted that she would be able to inflict any kind of wound, let alone stop the creature with them. The arrows would simply bounce off the bones and the spear's blades would most likely shatter upon contact. Plus, she didn't yet know how to really employ them — even when she had taken archery lessons in school. She wasn't even sure that the bow was the same as back then.
Strangely enough, the creature did not attack again. This gave the teenager hope and she started to talk as she would with a child — in a quiet, soothing voice. The talking seemed to calm it down. She was astonished when the animal slumped back onto all four paws again and started slowly approaching her, withdrawing its claws.
She knew that every move counted now, so she continued talking quietly and kept her hands up, just in case it changed its mind. The 'bear' was now close enough for the girl to see the individual hairs of its pelt. It cautiously began sniffing her.
"It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you. You don't have to be afraid of me," Serena muttered soothingly.
How ironic, she thought. I was the one scared to death not two minutes ago, and now I'm telling some big bear that could probably rip me to shreds not to be afraid of me.
She could feel its hot breath ghosting across her hands and slowly lifted one up to its nose, showing that she meant no harm. The creature moved up to her face and sniffed her up and down, inspecting her thoroughly...
Before licking her face.
Its tongue was rough as sandpaper, yet warm and wet with saliva. Coming out of her stupefaction, Serena couldn't help but giggle at the tender action so reminiscent of a puppy. She languorously lifted a hand up to its head. As there was no indication of the creature not liking it, she started to pet it gently, her fingers running over its head and the bones, amazed at the sheer trust this animal seemed to have in her now.
The bones were rough but also smooth, and she gently scratched the animal under its chin, much like she used to do with Aki. Surprisingly, the animal emitted a deep growl and she halted in her movement, fearing for a second that she'd done something wrong. But when the creature closed its eyes and tipped its head into the palm of her hand, she realized that it was actually purring in contentment, just like a cat.
She couldn't help but chuckle, and she had to laugh even more when the Grimm opened its eyes and looked at her questioningly, cocking its head to the side.
"Not as scary as everyone thinks you are, huh? I can't believe people are actually scared to death of you; you're just like my dog Aki. She also really liked it when I scratched her under the chin..."
The Grimm suddenly started nudging her arm gently, whining lowly. Only then did she realize that she had started crying. The memories of her beloved dog, as well as those of her family had made her sentimental. She didn't want to be like this.
But the thought of never being able to see them again made her heart ache in the most painful of ways. They must be grieving her death right now and she could see her mother undoubtedly crying all the time at her father's side. Oh, and her little sister Jasmine! They had always been close. She couldn't imagine how much her sister had to be hurting.
She wondered if they had already buried her body.
Had they even found it in the frozen river?
How many people had even survived?
Had any survived at all?
She couldn't think about it. Couldn't think about how many families were now grieving the loss of a son, a daughter, a mother, a father...
Shuddering, she petted the animal once more, then turned around to go back to her new "home". The Grimm followed her until she reached her home and then, giving her a final nudge and lick over the face, it trotted off into the forest.
When she couldn't hear it anymore, Serena went inside, got a towel and went back into the forest again. Just a small distance behind her cave, she had found a small pond filled with clear water. A small waterfall cascaded down on the left side and behind it she had enough privacy to bathe. Stripping off her clothes, she waded into the comfortingly cool water and submerged her head, wanting to wash away all the sadness that had overtaken her heart.
It would bring her nothing to start grieving now. Her family wouldn't want her to be sad if they knew she was still alive.
It would also do her no good sitting around all day. It would only provide opportunities for her mind to jump to painful thoughts. She had to somehow occupy herself for the time being. Pondering the idea, Serena decided that she might as well start training in how to use her new weapons. Some physical training like jogging or gymnastics also couldn't hurt.
She hadn't practiced her skills for a long time... But she still knew the moves and could feel that — with time — her body would remember them as well, and she would be able to leap from tree to tree and spin on branches like she used to do it in the gym.
But the most important part of training would be that with Grimm — if what she had encountered had in fact been one. There was little doubt that it was, but she had yet to see any other animals.
Maybe animals just looked like that here?
Furthermore, there was also the question of her whereabouts. She was seriously starting to doubt that she was in Heaven. But she couldn't — for the life of her — figure out where else she could possibly be if not in Heaven. She was sure she had died in that plane crash.
So where else could she be?
Unless she was in Hell.
I'll have to think about that when I'm done training myself back to good shape. If I am really in Hell, then I can't change anything about it. First things first: learn how to use bow and spear, and train with those creatures.
Decision made, she submerged once more, knowing exactly what to do.
Chapter 7: Training
"The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit."
— Morihei Ueshiba
If she wanted to get her body back to the level it had been at before, then there were several things Serena had to do.
The first would be to once again build up stamina, so that she could maneuver around the forest freely and easily. For that, she had to be physically fit, which included running long distances.
She started her training by running a route she had explored earlier that morning. She estimated it to be a little over a mile long, the path clear enough to be able to run without stumbling every time. It extended from her new home around a large mountain until she reached a small clearing. From there, she had to run to the right and come across a big stone that was shaped like a potato until it was only a few more yards to her destination.
Another thing that was indispensable was for her to eat healthily. She had to regain some muscle in her arms and legs so that they wouldn't buckle whenever she put her entire body's weight on them — like when she performed a back-flip or something similar.
For starters, she would have to live off of berries and some herbs she recognized from ecology classes to sustain her energy. But she knew she couldn't keep that up for long. If she wanted to gain muscles, she needed to eat meat and fish too. Her body needed the extra fat and proteins, which meant that she would soon need to go hunting. But that was a problem for later.
So from then on, she woke up early every morning and started her day with running, then took a bath and ate breakfast. She mostly ate berries and some nuts and drank tea that she made out of leaves. It wasn't much for breakfast, but it was all she had at the moment. She repeated the run at noon and then again in the evening. At first she had to push herself a little to run the distance in one go, but her body soon got used to the exercise and it was on the third day that she found herself not panting as much for once. The fifth day she finished the course within thirty minutes, and the tenth she ran it like it was nothing at all.
She proceeded by extending her course and thus explored more of the forest as well. She realized that the leaves kept their constant red color, assuming that it would be like this no matter the season. It was probably also why people had called the forest Forever Fall.
She also noticed that it was pleasantly warm for it to be winter. It must have been around 18°C outside — not too cold and not too warm to do some training. It was thanks to this that she could wear only a T-Shirt and pair of leggings when running, and sometimes only a pullover was enough. She hadn't needed the warm cloak once, not even at night. Temperatures dropped then, but the fire and blanket kept her warm.
When she'd finally regained her previous strength, she started re-attaining all of her old moves — the somersault, back-flip, front flip, back walkover… But also the more dangerous ones she's performed on the trapeze. The former ones were easy enough to do and it only took her two days to get used to them again. The dangerous ones, however, were a little more tricky.
For most of them she needed something like a podium. The Amanar was one of the more daring maneuvers. It was easy to lose control over one's body and not turn enough in mid-air, resulting in a serious injury if one wasn't careful enough. She had always had troubles with this particular form and it took her several tries to get used to it again. But thankfully none of which resulted in injury.
She trained all of her moves for at least a week — enough time for her body to once again get accustomed to the way it had to move and bend. She quickly found herself doing every maneuver once in the morning and once in the evening. She relished in the feel of being able to float through the air again, defying the laws of gravity
The moment she was in the air, she felt… free.
Serena had always loved gymnastics for this — the sheer feeling of freedom that she got when she pushed off the ground and saw everything go by as if in slow motion. But she had had no time when she had entered middle school and it had only been in high school when she could take the lessons again. Her luck was that her school's team had one of the best gymnastics teams. She had learned a lot in the time that she had trained with the others.
She continued her vigorous training, mixing in some kicks and punches, training herself in martial arts as well. She had seen enough movies to be able to perform a decent kick and — combined with her gymnastics — it gave her the advantage of mobility and speed. Not to mention that she was extremely dilative and responded rather fast.
Additionally, she commenced using tree branches as bars and was ere long able to swing from one tree to another, or simply pull herself up onto one branch and then use her skills to travel. It was sometimes faster than going by foot and it would help her in hunting, minimizing the possibility of making too much noise.
Now that she thought about it, she also had to get accustomed to using her new weapons if she didn't want to continue living off berries and herbal tea.
She started off with the bow, getting familiar with it, learning how many times she had to push a button so that it would change color, and the way in which she had to hold the arrow so that it would hit its mark. It was not much different from the bow she'd used back in high school, and she was able to hit a bulls-eye nearly every time she let go of the arrows after little time. The only problem was that she only had twenty arrows and they were not cheap either. Though they were sleek, modern and extremely durable, she knew she had to be careful with them and preferably not lose them or anything.
The spear was like-wisely easy to use. It was made out of what seemed to be steel, yet it was fairly light in her grip, making it easy for her to twirl and fight with it. At least she wouldn't exhaust herself by the sheer weight of it. She had to memorize that she had to push the little button once so that it would extend to its full height.
Despite it being a head taller than her, she got used to it quickly and was wielding like she'd been doing it for years in no time. The spear she would only use for fishing. It would be impossible to impale an animal from such a short distance and frankly, she refused to kill in such a way. No, she would use the bow for hunting rabbits or deer and the spear for fishing. And — if it ever occurred — she would also use the stick, not the spear, for self-defense.
If someone were to visit her, that is.
The next part that was on her schedule was far more difficult: she wanted to start training with the Grimm.
For that she had to first find one and then hope that what had happened before had not just been her luck. If she could become friends with them, then at least she would have someone to keep her company.
But that could wait until another day. She had trained so much in the last few days, she didn't even notice how tired her body was and only two minutes after she had done her daily exercise and eaten some berries did she fall asleep next to the fire, its warmth and gentle crackling lulling her to sleep.
Chapter 8: Friends
Break in line either means change of POV or change in setting/time.
"The best teachers have showed me that things have to be done bit by bit.
Nothing that means anything happens quickly — we only think it does."
― Joseph Bruchac
Serena had to be as quiet as possible.
Silently placing her foot down, she looked around to find another clear spot to settle her left foot. The forest was dense and thus there were many dead leaves and branches lying around. Objects that would easily emit a sound if she were to step on them, which would result in them giving away her presence. She silently cursed to herself when she noticed that there were no more paths for her to walk, so she decided that she had to take to the trees. Despite the thickness of the forest it was easy enough to go from one tree to another without making much noise. Swiftly heaving herself up by a low hanging branch, she assessed her location and chose the next tree by which she would travel for now.
It was time.
This morning Serena would start her training with the Grimm. She had rested the day before and thought about all the possible ways on how to get to know and — if possible — befriend them.
Though the first thing she had to think about was how she would actually find them. As far as she knew, the creatures lived somewhere deeper in the forest, and during all the time she'd trained outside did she not once see one pass by. This fact led her to assume that they had their own areas — like gang territories so to say— where they gathered, and it would be more likely to meet them there than anywhere else.
So, having figured out the best method would be to stroll through the forest and look for them — simple but usually effective. Ever since she had gone off she had been very conscious of not creating too much noise. If she found a Grimm, then she wanted to be able to hear them before they could hear her.
She wanted to be the one to surprise them — not the other way around.
Quietly jumping from one branch to the other she looked around, but still there were no signs of any kind of Grimm. Sighing, she continued her search by hopping and spinning from one branch to the next. It were times like these that she was glad she had not forgotten the movements of yearlong training.
After what she estimated to be an hour of constant traveling there was still no sign of any kind of animal.
Looking down, she spotted what appeared to be a footprint — but not one of a human or rabbit. It looked more like a wolf or bear, the long claws creating large dents in the still moist soil. She quietly jumped down and examined them.
Definitely from a Grimm. I think they're still fresh…
She stood up straight and looked around, staring her ears for any kind of noise — the rustle of a leaf, the breaking of a tree branch… But there was nothing and she thought that maybe the Grimm had already left the area. She wasn't the best at reading tracks, so it could be that she had misjudged the freshness of the imprints.
So back to looking and hopping around, it seemed...
...But before she could do so, she heard a sharp intake of breath, followed by a low grumble not ten feet from her. Her muscles tensed and she held her own breath, hoping that she would survive what was to come. After all, for all she knew her previous luck with the beasts could have been just that — luck.
Another leaf rustled and Serena turned in the direction of the sound, staring at the bushes and trees behind which she suspected the Grimm. She strained her eyes so much that she could actually feel a slight headache coming, but she didn't care — it was a minor nuisance at the moment. She repeatedly forced herself to stay calm and breathe normally. They would sense her fear and weakness unless she controlled herself, though she was not sure that would help her.
Then there was a third rustling and the creature finally left the cover of the bushes at which she had been staring for what felt like an eternity. It appeared to be another bear, though this one had less plates of bone covering its body which made her wonder just what those bones exemplified. Its eyes were as red as the other Grimm's as it came at her, perched high on its two hind legs, emitting a low growl. Once again, she found herself being studied. It was almost as if it was assessing the threat she posed.
How ironic; I'm the threat, not him.
"It's okay… I won't hurt you."
She deemed talking to be the best way out of this. It had saved her life the last time. Maybe the creature could even understand some of what she said. And if it did not, then she at least hoped that her calm tone was any indication to it of her peaceful nature.
"You don't have to be afraid of me. Come here," she cooed as if she were talking to a child. The creature did remind her a bit of one, though she would never say that it wouldn't kill her in two seconds flat. She crouched down, placing a hand on the ground to steady herself and held the other out to the animal. The Grimm only cocked its head slightly, and — slowly but surely — it started to lower itself as well and advanced toward her with careful, heavy steps.
The girl held her breath — she just hoped it had been the right decision to crouch down to the animal's eye-level.
She reached her hand out a little further and closed her eyes for a moment when the Grimm got close enough, holding her breath, waiting if she would lose her hand or not.
But she never felt pain.
Instead, she could feel the creature's warm breath ghost over her open palm and when she opened her eyes she was staring directly into those of the Grimm. But as before, she saw no malice in them, no intent to hurt her. She only detected sorrow and what looked like appreciation, as if it were actually happy that someone wanted to pet it.
The raven-head slowly laid her hand atop the Grimm's snout and slowly began to move up to its head, patting and scratching once she reached its ears. The animal did nothing except let out a low growl and pressed its head into her hand more, as if to tell her to please continue what she was doing. A soft smile graced Serena's lips — she could not believe that she could actually handle these creatures that were supposedly the incarnation of negativity and just plain evil. She was overcome with happiness, subconsciously starting to cry. Only when the Grimm licked her face with its rough tongue did she notice the moistness on her face. She identified the motion as concern and began to cry even more, touched by the sheer concern and care the animal seemed to have towards her.
"I'm okay, don't worry. I'm just so happy…" Another sob racked her body, all the penned up emotions coming rushing. "I'm not alone anymore… If you want, then you can be my first friend here. I haven't really had the chance to meet anyone else, and I think I'll appreciate your company more than that of humans at the moment," she spoke, feeling the need to reassure the animal that seemed to understand her. The Grimm suddenly took a few steps back and turned around, advancing a few steps before turning its head to look at her.
"Hmm? What is it?"
The creature nodded his head in the direction it was turned, before looking at her expectantly. She took it as an indication to follow and stood up, dusted herself off and then closely followed. It coerced her deeper into the forest, and she could spot a row of mountains in the distance.
"Could it be you live here?" she inquired as though she were actually expecting a response, momentarily forgetting that she was — in fact — talking to what was essentially an animal. The bear snorted in reply and continued on, trotting towards what seemed to be an enormous cave, far bigger than her current home. The forest here was even denser than before, and she had to keep close to the Grimm so that the branches that were pushed away by it would not smack her in the face. When they arrived at the cave, the Grimm gave a loud sound that strangely resembled the howling of a wolf and only moments later several other Grimm appeared, all bears.
Some were small and had no bony plates or spikes, which made them look extremely similar to large black bears, while others' bodies were almost fully covered by them. To her, they were the size of monster trucks. Serena temporarily lost her courage, intimidated by the sheer number of potential dangers that were all gazing at her with their vivid red eyes.
A gentle nudge against her back made her focus again, and she looked behind her at her companion who was growling lowly, comforting her with his simple presence. She felt like he was telling her that he had her back and that it was okay. The girl took this as encouragement and slowly approached the other Grimm, her new-found guardian following shortly behind, ready to protect her from its own kind. She opted to approach the biggest one that sported the most bones — it seemed he was the leader of the pack. If she could get approval from him, then surely the others would accept her as well — or would at least not be allowed to kill her.
She once again extended her hand in front of her and approached at a slow but steady pace, heart thumping wildly in her chest. Sweet Jesus, please let this work, she prayed, trying to remain as calm as possible, though inside she was a maelstrom of emotions. But she knew that she had to focus and not mess this up, or else she might not leave here alive.
She may have one of them on her side, but one Grimm could not fend off an entire pack.
When she finally reached the biggest of them all, — who couldn't have been smaller than a mining haul truck — the beast sniffed her hand. Only after a tense few moments did she find herself patting it and was soon surrounded by the others as well, some sniffing her curiously while others took to licking her face.
She could burst, and internally she was, but she only allowed herself to laugh, once again doubting that one person could possibly have so much luck. First she survives a deadly plane crash and then she befriends creatures that no other human dares to near without heavy-duty weapons. It all seemed like a dream to her.
"Thank you." She repeated the two words again and again, not really knowing who exactly she was thanking and not really caring. She was just grateful that it had all turned out like this.
The following days she visited the Grimm more often, and every time she improved her interaction with them to the point that she was almost a member of their family now. She had even given them names.
The one that had accompanied was given the name Ajax, and the leader of the Grimm pack was Napoleon. The first name she had chosen randomly, coming up with it one evening before she'd gone to sleep. The other — Napoleon — she had chosen out of a reason. Napoleon Bonaparte had been the man in the French Revolution, leading and winning countless battles in the name of his country. Because of Serena's love for history, she had found the name rather fitting for the leader of such an enormous pack. She did not, however, miss out on the sheer irony of naming such a titanic animal after a tiny man.
She was yanked out of her thoughts when Ajax suddenly stopped in front of her, making her bump into his large shoulder. Her new best friend had shown up at her home this morning and signaled for her to follow him. So, not being one to object to his idea of doing something, she had done as he wanted and had been dwelling in her own thoughts until now.
They had arrived at what seemed to be ruins, though the girl was not sure of what they were. From the looks of them they could be the ruins of a castle, or a bridge that had once stood there. Looking at Ajax, she saw him peering right into the sky, seemingly waiting for something. She did the same and it was only minutes later that an enormous black bird the size of a jet plane appeared from behind the cliff in front of which the ruins stood. It had a long beak and large claws, followed by big pointy and deadly looking feathers. It actually looked like the animal could shoot them like projectiles, and Serena had no doubt that it really could.
The bird closed in on them and landed a few feet away from them, cawing shrilly once as if to communicate with the Grimm beside her. Ajax growled and howled once and after that, he nudged her forward, in the direction of the large bird. It was even more enormous up close and the woman had to admit –– she was scared shit-less. Its beak looked to be quite dagger-like, and she had no doubt that it could rip her to pieces or tear the flesh right off her bones.
Looking back to Ajax, she saw him shaking his head as if to tell her that it was okay. "I'll trust you, friend," she said almost in warning before walking towards the feathered Grimm.
She had to do this differently. She couldn't' just simply reach out her hand — the beast was too big, she would never reach it. So, instead, she walked until she was right in front of it and then touched one claw, waiting for a reaction. When nothing happened, she grabbed some feathers and started to heave herself up, getting aided by Ajax who used his head as prop to help her climb. It took quite some effort and she nearly fell off twice, but when she finally made it to the animal's head, she positioned herself on its skull and then let her own head hang down, looking the creature straight into one of its four eyes. She was fairly sure that this was not the right way to do it, but it was the only solution she'd come up with.
Time passed slowly as she continued staring into the one red eye until the Grimm gave a loud caw and with one powerful flap, she abruptly found herself up in the sky, maintaining eyecontact with the animal. When she saw that it did not seem to mind her on its head, she carefully pulled back and sat down on its head, grabbing hold of the feathers.
"You want to make a little tour with me?"
The bird only continued climbing in altitude until they were so high that Serena could see the city she'd been to. Looking down, she could identify a small black spot as Ajax. When the bird began sailing through the air, she erupted in cheerful laughter, releasing her only safety belt for a few seconds to spread her arms wide and enjoy the feel of the wind rushing past her face and through her dark tresses. She quickly grabbed hold anew when she felt the bird start to dip down and was glad that she'd done so, because not ten seconds later, she found herself spinning in loops, laughing hysterically from the sheer adrenaline kick. When the Grimm flew normal again, she huffed mockingly, "Show off."
They were nearing the ruins again and when they touched down on solid ground once more, Serena swiftly climbed down, using the animal's beak as slide, dropping the last few feet down. Perfectly landing on her two feet, she turned around to the Grimm and bowed in respect and gratitude. She could see that she had found another friend.
"I'm looking forward to some more tours and loops… Aeolus."
She added the name after thinking for a moment. It belonged to the Greek god of the winds and the air, fitting for a creature that could soar through the sky with such skill. The Grimm cocked its head slightly, then cawed and gently nudged her once with its beak before flying off. The female went back to Ajax and hugged him tightly, hiding her face in its black pelt.
"You know, I'm almost happy that I died and came here. I would never have found friends like you and the others back on Earth… I think my life here won't be as bad as I first thought," she mumbled before she started to walk back to her home, her furry friend walking right beside her.
Chapter 9: Hunt
"I believe that everything happens for a reason.
People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together."
― Marilyn Monroe
A lot had happened the last few days.
Ever since Serena had met Napoleon's pack, she had been introduced to even more Grimm. The newest of them were Grimm that looked just like wolves. It was harder to tame those — the ones that did not possess any bones attacked her the moment they saw her.
But thankfully Ajax had been with her at all times, and after a few more encounters, she managed to survive and eventually befriend the once hostile creatures. They backed down when they saw the bear look-alike Grimm was actually protecting her, though she saw that they were still not sure what to think of her. The usual method proved to be the most effective one, and after a few growls from Ajax and a few sniffs from the wolves, she had finally buddied up with what seemed to be yet another pack of Grimm.
Secondly — and the most extraordinary of all — she had suddenly become able to feel the emotions that Ajax, Napoleon and the other Grimm she was with felt.
At first, she'd thought that her mind was playing tricks on her or the like. But the more time passed, the more she felt emotions resonate within herself that did not belong to her. For example, she had felt extreme happiness when Ajax had met her one morning. Another time it had been a great sense of respect when she had been with Napoleon and the others.
Of course she respected and loved the animals. Yet she perceived that those feelings did not belong to her.
And with every passing day they became stronger to the point that she could feel Ajax's excitement at meeting her when he was still far away.
She concluded that she had somehow formed a strong bond with her friends — stronger than anything she had ever had with another human — and was therefor able to feel their emotions. At least that was the theory.
And, last but not least, she had cut her hair short. It had been hindering her during training; even if she put it in a ponytail it would still get in her way. And when she had traveled by tree it often got stuck on a branch and she had to untangle it every single time, which had been a lot.
So, instead of plaguing herself any further, she had grabbed her scissors and cut it short at the pond that was not too far from her new home. Now she wore it short, almost as short as a boy's. Her bangs still framed her face, but it was nothing compared to the amount of hair that she'd had before. She had loved her hair, sure, but she was the practical type of girl and therefor did not regret her actions. And she somehow liked it better now; it made her look more mature and, surprisingly enough, more feminine.
Now, most people think that cutting one's hair is not a big deal, but for her it was. It marked the start of her new life and that she was ready for anything it threw at her. She was ready to stand up for herself and live her life by her rules, no matter what troubles she might face in the future.
Another minor decision she had taken: it was time to hunt. She still did not welcome the thought of killing and eating an animal, but she'd had enough of eating berries and drinking water or tea that she made out of some herbs she knew, which weren't many to begin with.
She needed meat and today, she was going to get it.
That was also the reason why she was currently perched up high on a tree branch, her brown jeans and dark red hoodie blending in perfectly with the trees. She'd figured that being on higher ground would give her the advantage, granting her a good view over most of this part of the forest.
Perfect to make out her unfortunate victim.
Listen to me. I'm talking as if I want to kill a person, not a rabbit, she thought with a light snicker.
Ajax had stayed back at her cave when she'd told him to do so. He was such a good soul, always listening to her and protecting her.
The rustle of a bush made her return her focus to back beneath her. It came from her right, not too far off from her current position. She slightly raised her bow and nocking in an arrow, ready to take the shot. The rustling moved more to the left and finally a rabbit jumped out from its hiding place several feet from her. Its nose was sniffing the air, making those cute movements that she couldn't get enough of. It raised its head and its ears twitched and turned a little.
For a second, it looked over at her and Serena almost thought that it had detected her presence, but then it lowered its head again and started munching on some leaf-covered grass. The girl let out a silent breath and raised her bow more, arrow pointed at the rabbit. She pulled back on the cord and, with a slow release of breath, she let go. The animal didn't see it coming and the projectile hit it right in the chest, killing it instantly. Serena had aimed for the heart, not wanting to torment the poor thing, and it looked like she had hit her mark dead on.
She quickly climbed down and walked over to the now dead animal, feeling sorry that it had to die for her own benefit, but she would not waste the meat she gained from its sacrifice. Grabbing it by the ears, she lifted the rabbit into the air and began her way back home, her stomach grumbling to her own mortification. She was ashamed that she was actually delighted at the death of the creature — or at least her stomach was.
When she got back, Ajax was lying inside, beside the fire that she always maintained going. She had had enough trouble trying to light the first one, so she would be damned if she had to restart one every day. Her friend lifted his head from his paws and gave a low growl mixed in with a yawn in welcoming.
"Hey, hope I didn't wake you."
As if he understood, he shook his head and then walked over to her, looking quizzically at the animal in her hand and sniffing it a few times.
"It's for me, not you," she said teasingly, although she knew that he oddly enough did not need any kind of food. Never once had she seen him or any of the other Grimm eat. She concluded that they did not need to eat and so she had no worries about him stealing anything for his own consume, which was quite convenient.
The blue-eyed girl walked over to what she proudly referred to as her kitchen. It was nothing like an actual one, though. It was simply a big stone on the right side of the cave, just a few feet away from the fireplace. She had rolled it away a little with Ajax's help so that she could prepare her meal without the danger of falling over the other stones that she used to sit on. The surface was smooth and even, perfect for cutting meat or vegetables.
Serena laid the rabbit on the surface and grabbed the knife that lay on a little rock beside her kitchen. She used it to put on her knifes, cutlery, plates, glasses and the few pans and pots she owned. She carefully cut off the head — almost throwing up in the process — and threw it into the fire, letting the flames work their magic and reduce it to ash. She had no need for the head, and since she had no trash can she had no other choice but to let it be incinerated.
She proceeded to skinning the animal, her hands getting bloodier and bloodier by the second, and when she had to take out the organs she finally couldn't take it anymore and ran to the nearest tree to empty her stomach. After rinsing out her mouth and splashing some of the cool water onto her face, she resumed the task at hand until only the meat was left. It was a lot and she only pierced some of it onto one of the blades of her stick, then positioned it so that the it was hanging over the fire, the flames gently licking and roasting it. She opted for drying the rest of it in case she could not go out one day. With a little improvisation, she managed to hang it over the fire by a thread she'd bought during her first visit in the city.
When her food was roasted enough, she picked it off her staff with a fork and placed it on a plate that she had grabbed before. When it had cooled enough, she took the first bite, surprised that it actually tasted so good. She didn't particularly like rabbit meat, but if she had hunted a deer then she would never be able to consume all the meat. And, for starters, she thought that a rabbit would be enough.
It's good, but I still should go and look if they have some beef in some store in that city. I should also buy some dried meat, in case I run out of whatever I will kill next.
Her peaceful lunch was, however, disrupted by a sudden scream piercing the otherwise silent forest. Serena immediately dropped her meat and grabbed her stick, running out of her cave. She listened and waited for it to sound again and when she heard the scream, she could tell that it came from a girl.
It came from the left, she noted. Loosing no time, she took off, Ajax running behind her, alarmed by her sudden reaction. It was not long before she came upon a little girl that was facing a Grimm. The bear-like creature was poised in front of her, perched high on its hind legs and looked ready to deal the finishing blow. Before it could, Serena jumped between the Grimm and its prey.
"That's enough, Deion! Leave her alone," she commanded, arms spread protectively in front of the child. Deion was one of the troublemakers and she could feel his reluctance of letting his prey leave alive. But after a short glaring contest he finally let up and left, throwing a low growl and snort over his shoulder to voice his disgruntlement. It hadn't been easy to get close to him and Serena still had her doubts about fully trusting him.
Turning around, she stretched out her hand to the terrified girl and gave a kind smile. "Are you okay? I hope he didn't hurt you," she said gently, hoping that her voice would calm the poor child down.
It seemed to rip her out of her shock and Serena suddenly found herself crushed in a hug, the girl burying her head in her chest while crying. She gently wrapped her arms around her and stroked her back, hoping it would help her calm down.
She lifted her head when she heard quick footsteps approaching from in front of her and not shortly after, a girl maybe three or four years younger than her appeared, her hands wielding a giant scythe. She looked confused for a moment until she saw the girl the raven head was holding and then, quickly putting away her weapon, she walked over to the two.
"Are you two okay? I heard screaming and thought that maybe you were being attacked by Grimm."
"I-I was b-but this l-lady sa-saved me," the girl that had been attacked stuttered in reply, lifting her head from Serena's chest to look at the newcomer with teary eyes.
"That's good then. I almost thought you-"
She abruptly halted mid-sentence and grabbed her weapon again, the giant scythe unfolding in less than three seconds. Serena saw that she was looking at something right behind her and when she turned, she spotted Ajax behind a tree. It looked like he didn't know if he should approach and was awaiting his friend's signal.
"It's okay; he's with me. He won't do anything to us," Serena assured the silver-eyed girl. Both the child and scythe wielder were now looking at her as if she'd sported a second head.
Serena sighed once before speaking, "I guess I have some things to explain. Anyway, come along, I'll treat you to some tea and lunch if you want. My home's just over there."
With that said, she turned around and heard the other two following her after a short time of hesitation. She really had a lot of explaining to do.
Chapter 10: Revelation
"It was like a nightmare.
It's painful for me.
Because nobody wants to die too fast.
Remember the day of grief."
— Attack on Titan,
OST Reluctant Heroes
The short walk to her home was quiet and Serena could feel the stares of her two guests, as well as the tenseness that resided within them at Ajax's presence.
Their reaction was not a surprise to her, however; she had gained the same reaction back when she had gone into the city the first time, right after her arrival here in the Afterlife. She still remembered the scolding the woman had given her for not knowing about Grimm and how horrified she had been when Serena had told her of her plans to live in the forest.
She could tell that the two girls were both wary of her and the creature at her side, one sign being that the one with silver eyes still held her weapon in her hand. When Serena spotted her home, she turned around to them and gave them a slightly forced smile.
"We're here; this is my home. I hope you won't mind the lack of furniture."
Both girls looked around several times, looking for something it seemed.
"Um, where's your house? I can't see it," the girl with the scythe asked.
"Oh, that's because I don't live in a house," she replied with a small smirk, then pushed away the few bushes that hid her home and stepped forward.
"Wait, you mean you live here? In a cave?" It was the little girl that spoke this time, the stutter having left her voice to be replaced by confusion.
"Yup. Come on in."
Both girls gave each other a glance, then followed the bizarre woman inside. She had been right; there really was no furniture. Only rocks and some pillows and blankets that were lying at the end of the cave on a long rock.
"Take a seat," Serena invited them, showing them to the fireplace. They each took a seat on a rock while she went to get her tea kettle. She walked over to the exit, quickly telling them that she was going to get some water and would be right back.
The girls inspected what the ravenette had referred to as her home, noticing the lack of anything superfluous like a mirror, books or anything of the sort. It was completely utilitarian.
"This is freaky," the scythe-wielder stated. The girl beside her could only nod in agreement.
When Serena got back, she put some herbs into the kettle that was now filled with water, put on the lid and hung it over the fire by the same thread which she used to dry meat (which was now securely stocked in an envelope that she'd made out of leaves). When the tea was finished, she lifted the pot off the fire with the help of her staff and gave each one a cup of it.
"It's just some herbal tea. I made it out of some herbs that I know from school. It's not poison or anything like that, so you can drink it," she reassured them after seeing their wary looks regarding the drinks offered to them. To prove her point, Serena sipped some from the same container she had poured theirs from, and when they saw that nothing happened after about a minute, they also drank theirs.
"So, um, Miss…"
"I'm Serena. Serena Cauldron," Serena introduced herself.
"Right, Serena. Can I call you Serena, or should I call you Miss Cauldron?" the silver-eyed girl asked uncertainly.
"Serena's fine. I'm not that old," she replied jokingly.
"Okay. So, first I want to thank you for saving her," the girl continued while looking over at the smallest of them all.
"And I'm Ruby, Ruby Rose. I'm training to become a Huntress," the scythe-wielder introduced herself proudly. Serena wondered what a Huntress was but decided that she could find out later.
"It's nice to meet you two. I hope you didn't get hurt by Deion earlier, Azuna. He can be quite the handful."
"Um, no, I'm fine. But how did you do that?" Azuna asked.
"Yeah. That Ursa over there," Ruby said while pointing at Ajax, who looked very much like a comically large dog lying down, "seems to listen to you. I've never seen anyone being so close to a Grimm without being attacked or killed. How do you do it?"
"Uh, well, I don't really know to be honest," Serena replied while scratching the back of her head sheepishly.
"What do you mean you don't know? They listen to you, do what you say! I've never heard of anything like this before," Ruby exclaimed excitedly.
"I don't know. I met one of those in the forest one day and he attacked me, but then he just stopped. Ever since I've started living here two weeks ago I met more like that one and I became close with Ajax and Napoleon and all the others. I seriously don't know why, but they seem to like me. Aeolus even lets me fly on him-"
"Whoa, hold on a second! Fly on him? You wouldn't mean a Nevermore, right?" Ruby interrupted, eyes widening. This woman couldn't really be able to tame a Nevermore; that would just be crazy!
"It's a Grimm that looks like a big black bird," the Huntress quickly clarified.
"Yeah, that's Aeolus."
"What?! You mean you can fly on a Nevermore and get along with a whole lot of Ursa and they don't do anything to you?!" Ruby's eyes were so wide, Serena feared they would pop out of her skull.
"Yeah, they're kinda like pets, you know? They're not as bad as everyone thinks."
Ruby's incredulous face only got more amazed. She swore she was close to having a heart attack. Another question popped into her mind. "And this cave here is your home? You live here, in the middle of the forest where tons of Grimm are?"
"Yeah. I don't have anywhere else to go. And I like it here; it's so peaceful and quiet," Serena explained with a content smile.
"What about your family?" Azuna asked. She had kept quiet the entire time, but hearing that Serena lived here all alone made her worry for the older female.
Serena looked over at the blonde girl and gave a sad smile. "They're not here. Or rather, I'm not with them. I died before them, so I'm all alone here. What about you?"
"Died? What are you talking about?" Ruby butted in. "You're right in front of my eyes, you can't be dead." She ddidn't get it; how could this girl think she was dead? A heavy frown took residence on her face as she watched the girl's reaction.
"Oh, then I guess you guys don't know." She paused for a moment before carefully speaking. She did not want either of them panicking. "This might come as a shock, but this is the Afterlife. We're all dead, so we ended up here. I died in a plane crash. How did you pass on?"
"What? I never died! I'm alive and so are you! This isn't the Afterlife! We're in the Kingdom of Vale!" Ruby declared, beyond confused at this point. Now why the hell would she be dead? She was seriously starting to worry about this girl's mental health.
It was Serena's turn to be confused. She had died, she was one-hundred percent sure about it. She could still remember the impact, the pain and the freezing water into which she had slowly sunk. She had a scar from that wound!
"But… I died," she said almost pathetically in an effort to assure herself. "I know exactly how I died."
She was almost about to think that Ruby was the crazy one when she remembered something. The light… Before she'd closed her eyes she'd seen a white light! She still remembered the way her body had been torn every which way.
"Are you sure that this isn't Heaven, or Hell, or whatever?" she asked both girls and they both nodded in the affirmative.
Could it be that that time I didn't die? No way… I've heard theories about parallel universes and all that science fiction crap, but I never thought that they could really-
"Hey, you okay?" Ruby asked, carefully placing a hand on Serena's shoulder. The girl had suddenly gone quiet, eyes wide and unblinking as if some horrible truth had been revealed to her, and now she was crying, although Ruby doubted that Serena was aware of it. She looked like she was caught in her own thoughts until she registered the pressure on her shoulder and looked up at Ruby with wide, teary eyes.
It came out as barely a whisper, but due to her proximity Ruby could hear the words. She really thought she was dead, Ruby realized sadly, only able to imagine what had to be going on inside the girl in this moment. But, if she thought that she was in Heaven, or Hell, or whatever… Just what happened to her to make her think that?
It was then that Serena broke down, crying and screaming out her soul. She was alive! She was alive and alone and just… lost. Ruby and Azuna did their best to console her, but there really wasn't much they could do. This was something Serena had to go through on her own.
Once she had calmed down somewhat, Ruby asked her what made her think she was dead all this time. She told them everything — from the plane crash to the time where she woke up in the middle of the forest, to the time where she met them. The two girls still had some lingering doubts about this more than crazy story, but once Serena showed them the large scar that ran across her stomach, all doubts vanished into thin air. The thing looked awful, and probably felt as much.
They stayed for a few hours, asking questions about how Serena had learned to tame Grimm, and she even taught them how to do it with the help of Ajax.
Ruby never once thought that she would see a Grimm be so kind and gentle towards a human, and she could see the great respect the creature held for the black-haired woman. The Ursa, now known as Ajax, even let Ruby and Azuna pet it. The red-hooded reaper now understood why Serena would say that he was almost like a pet — he was big and furry and something entirely else than what she had learned at Beacon.
Here, with Serena, the Grimm was not a bloodthirsty monster that was only out to kill.
When dusk came they each said their goodbyes, but before she left with Azuna, Ruby had to ask Serena one final question.
"What are you going to do? You have a power nobody has ever seen before. How will you use it?"
Everything depended on the woman's answer. The power she wielded was too great to be left alone. If she wanted to she could summon enough Grimm to overwhelm Vale, maybe even the other kingdoms. The Huntress had to make sure the girl wouldn't use her powers for evil. But the smile that she received already answered her question.
"Nothing. I'm going to continue to live here and try to keep anyone that comes into the forest out of trouble. I'm not planning to use my 'power' — as you call it — to cause anyone harm. All I want is to live in peace and for the Grimm to stop attacking humans."
Ruby gave a relieved sigh, "That's good." Then an idea sparked. "Hey, if you don't mind, then I'd like to drop by sometimes. You know, to talk and stuff."
"Sure, I'll be happy to have the company."
Turning away, Ruby accompanied Azuna back to Vale. She had heard the loneliness in Serena's voice. She might enjoy the peace and quiet of the forest, but she could tell that the girl was lonely. So she wanted to be a good friend and visit her, so that she wasn't alone for too long. And she could also learn a lot from the older female, she was sure of that.
Chapter 11: Studying
"The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends."
― Friedrich Nietzsche
With the knowledge that she was still alive, Serena decided that she needed to learn more about the world she now lived in. She had to learn about their history and anything else that might be important. So she went down to back again and looked for a book store.
Luckily, she found one that had just what she needed, so she bought a book entitled "The Complete History of Remnant". Upon her question what Remnant was, the shopkeeper gave her a look before explaining that it was the name of the planet. She was sure he thought her stupid for not even knowing the name of her own planet. She spotted another book that had all known herbs and their uses enlisted as well, so she bought that one too. Finally she would be able to cook more various food, maybe even use them to heal wounds should she get injured.
She started with the book about Remnant's history. It was a marvelously beautiful book, several inches thick covered in red leather and pages smelling of parchment. It started by explaining that — although human origins were rather murky and no archaeological remains older than eight-thousand years were known to exist — it was known for a fact that humans in this world had been formed from "Dust", a sort of energy source that had a vast myriad of uses.
Humanity, however, was born into a dangerous and callous environment and almost succumbed to the Creatures of Grimm until they discovered (or rather, rediscovered) Dust and used it to create weapons. Thus, mankind could survive and thrive.
They built many large and prosperous cities, many of which rivaled Tokyo, Beijing and New York in terms of sheer size and population, but almost all of them got destroyed, some lasting only half a century before being wiped off the map.
Only four cities withstood and became home to most of the population. She learned that she was near one of those so-called "Beacons of Hope": a city called Vale, the capital of the Kingdom of Vale. The other three kingdoms were Mistral with its capital Mesda, Vacuo with its capital Valya, and Atlas with its capital Altara. All four kingdoms had two combat schools — one analogous to middle school and another to high school — that trained their students to become what were called Huntsmen and Huntresses.
Huntsmen? That name… I think Ruby mentioned it when she was here, but I forgot to ask her, Serena remembered, reading on curiously.
After learning some information about the government of the kingdoms (she was very relieved to find that the government of the four kingdoms operated similarly to Great Britain, with a moderately powerful monarch and council that acted similarly to Parliament. God only knows what would have happened to her if she had ended up in a world ruled by dictators...) and some other moderately important things, she finally saw what she was looking for.
"Huntsmen and Huntresses, as the name might suggest, are men and women trained at combat schools in order to protect the people of the world from the Grimm. Their duty is to slay the creatures that threaten the existence of mankind and uphold the peace of the world. While in training, they learn various things from basic combat to the use of Dust and their Aura in a battle. It is customary, though not mandatory, that every student chooses their own weapon or make one themselves," she read aloud.
Wow. So Ruby's actually a fighter. Figures since she had that giant scythe with her and wielded it like nothing, Serena thought, awed that the younger girl was a skilled warrior.
It took her an entire day to read about some other things when she suddenly got to a part that was titled "Other Races".
Interest piqued, she read it through and was surprised when she read that there were people called "Faunus" — humanoid people that possessed the physical traits of animal such as cat ears or a tail. While they had the same rights as humans on paper, many humans disregarded those rights, treating them as inferior beings. A group called the "White Fang" had created itself, and although at first peaceful, their demonstrations for Faunus rights became more and more violent to the point where they were now attacking supply depots, army bases, and other important places. They even went as far as murdering people to attain their goal.
Serena noted that their goal was actually a noble one: they wanted to be seen as equals to humans. She could understand and agree with that. What she could not ever agree with were the methods they used. Similar things had, of course, occurred in her world and it had never ended well for either of the involved parties. But she also wondered why they suddenly started to resort to such methods. If they had been protesting peacefully until just a few years ago, why did they start attacking now, and not right from the beginning? Something drastic must have happened that caused such a shift in ideals.
She read on, learning about the Grimm and their different species and about her current location — Forever Fall Forest — which contained a large majority of the Grimm in Vale. The forest was huge and covered the entire kingdom of Vale, except for the city of course. Serena learned the names of the Grimm and their abilities by heart, and when it was getting dark she was so tired that she didn't even want to eat anything. She just crawled into her bed and fell asleep, dreaming of Grimm and Faunus and all the other things she had read about.
The next day she continued with the book about all the different herbs and memorized each and every one of them, their shape, color, and what it could be used for. She went out and gathered some Satoshira — a pink flower that grew near water — riced and combined it with some water and olive oil that she had to cook, thus creating her own shampoo. She had used normal shampoo the past two weeks but since she didn't have a shower with a drain, she had to bathe in the pond behind her cave. She didn't want to pollute the water any more than necessary, so she was quite happy when she read that she could use this flower to make hygiene products such as shampoo. It had a nice fragrance and Serena was quite happy with the outcome. She could use that now instead of the chemically fabricated shampoo that she'd bought.
She tested it the next morning in her 'bathroom', though it was hardly fitting for that title. The pond was decent sized with a small waterfall flowing down on one side, and only a few bushes and trees hid her from curious eyes — though she doubted anyone would venture so deep into the forest. Surprisingly, the water that came down from the waterfall was cool, but the water in the pond was quite warm, allowing her muscles to relax after a hard day of training.
She figured that there had to be some kind of volcanic vent or geyser underneath it that heated the water as soon as it flowed into the pond. Another thing she had noticed was that there seemed to be a constant exchange of water. Whenever she had bathed, the water would be clean when she came back in the evening or during the day to get some of it to drink or cook with. The only logical explanation that she could come up with was that the pond was connected to some stream underground that led the water away.
She studied the herbs and history of Vale vigorously, and was fascinated by the people they called Faunus. She would never have imagined that they had people who possessed things like cat ears and monkey tails here in this world. She'd only seen such things on TV, but here people like that actually existed. She wondered what they were like, and if she would perhaps meet one someday. It would certainly be an interesting encounter.
She ended her thoughts when she went back to training and then, reading the book about the history of Remnant again and looking up some more herbs that she might use in her dinner tomorrow, she went to sleep like she usually did.
Her life may have not been as interesting as someone else's, but she had Ajax who always kept her company and slept while she studied, and she was quite content with things as they were.
Thing was, all of it was about to change abruptly in a few days. It was only a question if it was a good change or not.
Chapter 12: Breach
"We who choose to surround ourselves
with lives even more temporary than our
own, live within a fragile circle;
easily and often breached.
Unable to accept its awful gaps,
we would still live no other way."
— Irving Townsend
"Hey, Loki! Give me back my clothes!"
The young blue-eyed woman was desperately chasing after a Beowolf, trying to get back her stolen clothing. It was "relax day" today, and Serena had decided to do some house chores like cleaning and dusting. Luckily, her phone was still working and it somehow didn't lose any of the power it had when she had died back on Earth. It was as if the battery had been frozen at its current level. She was very thankful for that since her phone was the only thing that still contained pictures and memories of her family. She had refreshed her bed, dusted the cave (while also getting rid of unwanted pests like insects and rodents), and washed her clothes while listening to her favorite music. She had hung the wet material up on some tree branches and her newest companion, a Beowolf she'd named Loki, had decided to steal her red jeans and hoodie and play catch.
She had met Loki a few days ago, together with the other Beowolves, and had quickly taken a liking to him as he did to her. She had given him the name Loki — after the Norse God of Mischief — because he liked to play pranks on her and just generally mess around. He was a young Grimm, not sporting any plates of bones or spikes on his body. She had learned after some more studying that the number of bones plates indicated the age of a Grimm. Now, she also knew that both Ajax and Napoleon had to be quite old, though Napoleon was still the older one, which was probably also the reason he was the leader of the pack.
"Come on, Loki. They can't dry if you get them all wet with your slobber. And you'll get them dirty too!"
In a final attempt at re-claiming her clothes, she jumped on the creature's back and held on to his neck, stretching a hand out to reach the jeans and hoodie that were being held captive by his teeth. With a huff and some more stretching, she finally reached them and pulled them back to her. She quickly got off his back and stuck her tongue out, receiving a snort and low growl that made her think he was laughing at her for her childish behavior.
"Yeah, well that's what you get for messing with my clothes," she retorted while walking inside her home and hung the clothes onto one of the lines that hung near the fire so that it could dry. She had bought more ropes in Vale and had fixed them all above or near the fire to grill or roast food, and to hang things onto. It came in handy quite a lot.
Suddenly, inexplicably so, she felt a heavy rush of anger and blood lust come crashing into her. She gasped from the sheer intensity of it. Bending over, she placed one hand on her knees while the other clutched at her shirt, just above her heart, eyes wide and breathing rapid. It was the first time she had ever felt so much anger and hatred in the air — it was as if she could slice through it with a butter knife. She felt like she was suffocating under the sheer pressure of it.
"W-What… What is this?" she choked out.
Loki suddenly elevated himself on his hind legs and began howling, calling other Grimm. She looked over to him and felt the same anger radiating off of him as well. Then she heard a shrill sound, chilling her to the bones, making goosebumps appear on her arms. She identified the noise as sirens and wondered where it came from. Concentrating, she traced the rush of anger back and realized that a massive amount of Grimm where in the middle of the city.
"What's going on? They aren't supposed to be there!" she exclaimed, worried beyond belief.
The sirens were drowned out by faint explosions coming from the city she frequently visited. Grabbing her spear and black cloak, she quickly stuck her weapon in-between her belt and pants, then put on her cloak and pulled on the hood so that it hid most of her face.
She rushed to the border of the forest, spotting a giant cloud of smoke rising from the center of town. She quickly descended the hill and ran towards the chaos, avoiding the hundreds of terrified citizens that were running about in a frenzy.
The frenzy of terrified screams and sounds made her mind flash back to the plane crash. Just like now, people had been screaming in panic, and she felt her stomach churn. Grasping her shirt above her heart, she took in big gulps of air, panting heavily. She knew she was experiencing a sort of PTSD-typical panic attack — the sounds were just too close to her own encounter with death — but she also knew that she had to push it back. If she did not, innocent people would die at the hands of the Grimm.
Clenching her teeth, she inhaled one last gulp of oxygen before forcing her mind to concentrate on the matter at hand. She could deal with her condition later — right now, she had lives to save.
Resuming her run, it was just when she reached the main street that she caught sight of an Ursa about to attack a mother with her two daughters. She quickly ran over to them, calling to the Grimm, stopping him mid-strike.
"Stop! Don't hurt these people!" she pleaded, stopping in front of the small family in order to shield them with her own body, should the creature not listen. The Ursa hesitated a few moments before listening and going off to find new prey, leaving Serena behind with the frightened citizens. Sighing in relief, she turned around and crouched down in front of them. She gently lay her hand on the mother's shoulder, making her look up at her with tear filled eyes.
"It's okay now, ma'am. You and your daughters are safe. But you have get away from here for now. Hide somewhere on the borders of the city. They won't attack you there," she spoke in a calm and soothing but authoritative voice.
"Th-Thank you, miss. Thank you so much," the woman stammered.
"It's no problem. You should go now, before they come back."
The mother nodded once, then quickly grabbed her two daughters by their hands and dragged them away, the children still so shocked that the woman was practically dragging them after her like ragdolls. Serena watched them for a few moments, making sure they would not be attacked again and, when they had turned the corner, she turned around and continued her way to the center of town where most Grimm were gathered.
Arriving, she could see that some kids were already fighting the creatures, killing them without hesitation. She cringed when she saw how a red-haired girl stabbed a Boarbatusk right through its mouth, killing it instantly. Amongst all the chaos, she spotted a familiar figure wielding a scythe and quickly recognized Ruby. Running over to her, she stopped a Beowolf from attacking the girl from behind, telling it to return to the forest.
"Ruby!" she called to her friend, making the latter whirl around.
"Serena! Oh, it's so good that you're here! We really need your help right now!" Ruby replied while slaying another Grimm to her left, making Serena cringe yet again.
"I don't know! We found this White Fang base underground and Torchwick was there and then he caught me, and when my friends arrived he started a train and we tried to stop it, but then he set off bombs that created holes for the Grimm, and when we crashed the next thing I know is that we're in the middle of Vale and Grimm are creeping out!" She explained it all in one breath, and it was hard for Serena to follow her but she got the gist of it.
"So that monster set off bombs to lead the Grimm here?" she summarized in one sentence, growing angry that somebody would do such a thing.
"Yeah, exactly. And now we gotta fight them or they'll destroy the whole city and kill everyone!"
"Maybe not," the black-haired girl murmured to herself, but Ruby caught it nonetheless.
"What do you mean 'maybe not'? There's no other way!" she argued, firing off her gun at yet another Grimm.
"Have you seen a giant snake around here? You know, big, one half white, the other black?"
"Yeah, but why do you need to know?" the Huntress asked, puzzled why the girl would need to know that now.
"Tell me where you've seen it," Serena demanded while keeping a Beowolf from attacking, sending it back to the forest like the previous ones. She didn't want them to be killed — even if they themselves would not hesitate to kill had she not the powers she did.
"It's over there," Ruby said, pointing over to another road from where there came a cacophony of howls and cries.
Serena dashed over to the street Ruby had pointed out. What she came upon was a giant, black-and-white snake with red glowing eyes and large fangs. She walked over to it and gently laid her hand on its scales. The animal was about to kill her when she held up a hand and let it sniff her. It seemed to accept her like the others had and lowered its head so that it was level with Serena's.
So this is a King Taijitu. What a beautiful creature.
She was momentarily caught in thought before she reminded herself of the situation at hand.
Bending over, she spoke to it while looking it in the eye. "Please, you have to leave. You have to tell all of the others to stop attacking and go back to the forest. You will all die if you stay here," she pleaded with the animal. It seemed to take her advice as it roared once. All the Grimm in the city stopped fighting and abruptly started retreating, leaving the students and what she presumed to be the military that had arrived only moments ago in a state of confusion.
"Thank you. You should go back as well. This isn't your world." The Grimm nuzzled her head once and then disappeared through the hole that had been created by the explosion, its white half trailing behind it.
Serena went back over to Ruby who stood alone. "I hope there weren't too many casualties," she quietly asked, surprising the younger girl.
"Oh, don't worry about it. But thank God you were here. This could have turned into an all out war," Ruby thanked her.
"It was no problem, but I should leave now. I don't want the military to find out about me. Just act like I was never here, okay?" Serena asked, pulling her hood further over her face so that it was concealed in shadows. Ruby nodded, understanding her concern and then turned around when she heard Yang calling for her. Serena chose this moment to disappear and ran back to the forest, luckily remaining unnoticed by any of the soldiers.
"Hey, Ruby! Who was that?" Yang questioned as she walked up to her sister, Blake and Weiss in tow.
"Yeah. I've never seen that person around. And why was he wearing a cloak?" Weiss added, suspicious.
"You guys won't believe what I tell you…" Ruby started, plunging into the story. She knew Serena had told her to keep her a secret, but she could trust her team with this information.
The day ended well. The Grimm had disappeared without killing anyone (though quite a few had to be hospitalized) and Roman Torchwick was arrested shortly after. The four Beacon students were intently listening to their young team leader, and everyone else was just happy that they had somehow managed to survive such a large and apparently organized attack.
But a short distance away, on a cliff that overlooked Vale, two women and a young man were discussing their further advances.
"All in all, despite some… unexpected setbacks, I call today a success," Cinder Fall said, pleased with how the situation had turned out.
"Those stupid kids really made a mess out of things," the green-haired girl named Emerald voiced. "What I don't get is why all of the Grimm retreated so suddenly. I mean, that's totally unlike them to stop attacking."
"Simply another thing we'll have to investigate with the new resources we and our White Fang allies are about to gain," Cinder said, waving it off.
"Yeah, about that... A lot of Faunus didn't make it out of those tunnels. Like, a few dozen of them were killed. You still think the White Fang's gonna listen to us?" Emerald's partner Mercury asked.
Instead of answering, Cinder simply glanced behind her loyal lapdogs to the man they had neither heard nor seen approaching and let him answer instead.
"No," a young man with red hair and signature Grimm mask spoke, stepping up to the group. "But they'll listen to me."
Chapter 13: Legend
"Legends are material to be moulded, and not facts to be recorded."
— Hervey Allen
Three months had passed since the Grimm attack on Vale. There had been substantial damage to the city, but fortunately no one had died. Rebuilding was the main worry of the government, and they recruited civilian volunteers to help with the damage, as a way to help encourage unity through hardship among the citizens.
Coincidentally, it was in those three months that rumors started to spread. People talked of a mythical person or creature that held the power to control Grimm. Some said the person had been raised by Grimm themselves, while others claimed that the person hailed from a yet unknown kingdom. Some asserted that the person was a man capable of killing a Grimm with but a flick of the wrist, others thinking it to be a woman with glowing red eyes and teeth sharp as fangs.
And thus, the legend of the Grimm Tamer was born.
It was during one of her seldom shopping tours that Serena first caught wind of it.
The weather had warmed up over time and so she had to buy some more tops and pants to match the climate. Lucky for her, she did not need new boots — her green combat boots somehow adapted to the climate, no matter if it was freezing or hot outside. She was quietly browsing through a rack of pants (choosing a black, Gray, and red one) when she heard the shopkeeper whispering to another customer.
"It must be some hideous monster," the shopkeeper said, keeping her voice low so that no one except the woman opposite her would hear.
"No, I believe it to be a man. This person wields a great power; naturally it would have to be a male."
Serena had to smile to herself at the ridiculous assumptions of both women, inwardly laughing at the romanticized version of a superhero that one of them was thinking about.
She quickly grabbed the few tops and pants she had and walked up to the counter before stopping in front of a shelf that held different socks and other garments. She pondered for a moment before grabbing two pairs of black and deep red over-knees that she could wear with the hot pants. When she walked up to the counter, both women quickly ended their conversation. Serena paid for the clothes and exited the shop, the gossiping already continuing behind her back.
Most of the damages had been repaired over the past quarter year, but there were still traces of the attack that was still fresh in everyone's mind. She slowly walked around town, grasping parts of sentences that mentioned the Grimm Tamer.
"…and then he just told them to leave and…"
"…she saved a mother with her children without even…"
"…wonder what she looks like…"
"…nobody knows if it's a girl. It could also…"
On and on they went, speculating about what the Grimm Tamer looked like, if it was a he or a she, if she was single…
When Serena was finally out of the city and back in her quiet forest, she had to laugh at all the inane theories that coursed about her person. Never before had people talked so much about her, and the best part was that they didn't even know that she was walking among them, right in their midst.
But she was glad that no one had spotted her during the attack. She had tried to avoid the military. She preferred not testing their reaction to a person that could control Grimm and be a possible threat to national security. No, she stayed in the shadows, hidden from curious eyes. She liked the forest better, anyway. It was far more peaceful than the bustling city and she could do whatever she wanted without troubling anyone. She protected the city and its people from afar, making sure that no one would be attacked that had somehow stumbled into the forest.
Reaching her home, she put the new garments away and took off her cloak. It was hot with it on, but it hid her primary weapon, namely her retractable spear that was strapped to her thigh. She had bought a special sheath into which she could put it when going out. It was just two strings of brown leather with a loop into which the weapon was slid that were strapped around the middle of her thigh, keeping it in place and allowing her to have it with her without it hindering her in any way. She had also bought a sheath that could be attached to her forearm and which held the weapon on the inside of it, though she rarely used it. But if she ever needed it, then she could use it instead of the other one.
"Hey, Serena," a voice startled her from behind. Quickly grasping her staff, she whirled around and settled into a fighting position, arms raised, feet apart, slightly crouched and eyes narrowed, glaring at whoever had found her home. "Whoa, relax! It's just me."
"Oh, Ruby," Serena breathed out upon recognizing her frequent visitor. "I'm sorry, but you shouldn't do that. I'm not really used to your visits yet," she scolded the girl mildly, lowering her weapon and standing up straight, relaxing her tensed muscles.
Ruby gave a sheepish smile and scratched the back of her head, walking over to her friend. "Sorry, I always forget."
"It's okay, just don't do it too often or I might hurt on you accident one day," Serena replied.
Ruby had kept her promise and visited her once or twice a week ever since the attack had transpired. Serena welcomed the change in her daily routine and enjoyed talking with the younger girl about her school and teammates, but also about the Grimm and what they had to expect after that attack.
During that time, the blue-eyed girl had taught Ruby a lot about Grimm, as well as introduced her to Ajax. Both had become friends quite easily and the Ursa no longer growled whenever the Huntress neared Serena's home. Instead, he gave her a gentle nuzzle and a lick of the face before letting her pass. To Serena's surprise, Ruby did not mind the slobber being rubbed onto her face, and she could see that she was slowly starting to like Ajax, and even Loki who joined them sometimes.
"Come on in. I've got some tea if you want," the older girl offered while walking on ahead to the fire that was still burning, although now diminished to a moderate flame since it had become so warm.
"I'm good," Ruby replied, plopping down on one of the stone seats that surrounded the fireplace. Serena nodded, quickly pouring herself a cup of tea before sitting down opposite of Ruby.
"I was in the city today," Serena started after taking a few sips. "And I heard some interesting rumors. About someone called the Grimm Tamer. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
"O-Oh. Really?" Ruby squeaked out, trying to avoid the older girl's eyes that seemed to bore into her own silver ones right then.
"You told someone about me, didn't you." It wasn't a question, but it wasn't quite an accusation either.
"I…" Ruby tried to find an explanation, but nothing came to mind. Sighing in defeat she admitted, "Yes, I did. But I only told my teammates and they promised to keep it a secret."
"I guess that someone heard you talking, because I heard the whole city gossiping about me today when I was in town."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have told them," Ruby apologized, hanging her head in shame.
"Look, I'm not angry with you or anything. I'm just a little worried now. You know why I live out here; I'm afraid what people will do once they find out that I can pacify Grimm. They aren't ready to find out about me just yet," she calmly explained, giving the girl a compassionate look and sipping some more of her tea.
"I know. But what if they weren't afraid of you? I mean, you saved a lot of people back then. Maybe they'll actually think of you as a hero," Ruby offered hopefully.
"I don't think so," Serena objected, deflating Ruby's hope instantly. "They're scared to death of the Grimm. Think of their reactions when they find out there is a human out here that can actually control them. Alone the concept of me liking them would be too much for the people to take. I would be a monster or abomination in their eyes," she voiced softly, sadly. "The military would almost certainly arrest me and maybe even keep me to themselves. I don't know much about this world, but it's always the same with these things no matter where you are or come from. I will show myself one day, but not just yet," she concluded, leaving no room for debate.
There was silence after that, Ruby not daring to say anything more. She had already broken her friend's trust when she'd told her teammates about the girl. Now, not only did they know, but also the entire city, and if it went on like that, then it was only a matter of time until the military and other kingdoms heard of it. She knew Serena was right; the military might be there to protect them, but even Ruby didn't know what the likes of General Ironwood would do with Serena if they found out about her and her power.
She was right; the people would see her as a monster and treat her as such. They would lock her away. And this she could not bear to imagine.
"Anyway, has there been anything new concerning the incident three months ago?" Serena asked, breaking the uncomfortable silence and jerking Ruby out of her guilty thoughts.
"Not yet. Torchwick's still under arrest, but as far as I know he hasn't said a word yet."
"Hmm… I really wanna know what he wanted to accomplish by letting Grimm into the city," the ravenette uttered, agonizing over the possible motives the criminal could have had.
"I don't know, but as far as I see it, he's not right in the head. He always calls me that weird nickname, and it didn't seem like he was disappointed when he got caught. He seemed almost... happy about it," Ruby replied, frowning at the strange behavior the criminal had shown when he'd been caught by Mercury and Emerald who had handed him over to General Ironwood.
"Maybe this is only one piece of the puzzle. We might not be seeing the entire picture yet," Serena mumbled almost to herself, Ruby catching her words. This sparked a thought in the younger girl's mind.
"Now that you mention it… Back then, I got caught before the train started. When my team arrived, he told one of the Faunus to start the engine. But they said that they hadn't finished," she pointed out, eyes lighting up in revelation. "It was as if he hadn't planned the attack to be so early, but since we found their hideout he had to advance in his plans."
"I think this was only the beginning. There is be something far bigger to come in the future. Only when?"
Neither of the two had an answer to that, but they continued talking about the incident, the possible perpetrators and so on until late evening. When it started to get dark, Ruby had to return to Beacon. Both said their goodbyes and Ruby left, Ajax accompanying her as her bodyguard.
Serena quietly ate her dinner — herbs and meat — before going to sleep. But all the while, she couldn't stop thinking about their conversation.
Just what are you up to Torchwick? What is it that's going to come at us?
So many unanswered questions.
Chapter 14: Mission
"Part of me wonders if this is a suicide mission disguised as a game."
― Veronica Roth,
There was nothing to do again. Adam strolled along the hallways of the White Fang Headquarters, encountering several other members on his way, but never once stopping to indulge in idle chit-chat or anything of the likes. He was not that kind of person, plus he wasn't in the mood to do so anyways. He hated situations like this: it was calm and there was nothing to do. He could go spar or train or with another member, but he didn't really want to. So he resulted to strolling around the place in order to escape this boredom, no destination in mind except his room perhaps.
The White Fang HQ was one massive compound beneath Forever Fall Forest, just a short distance from Vale. It resembled a hangar but contained multiple rooms and hallways, and was divided into three separate floors, all hidden perfectly from view. The ground floor held the barracks for the 'normal' Faunus infantry and the prisoner cells in case they ever had an unwanted guest. It was also home to the cargo bay where the Bullheads and the stolen Atlesian Paladin-290s were parked.
The first floor accommodated the lodgings of the high-ranking officials — like himself — as well as the sparring and training rooms. It also contained a kitchen that could be used by the higher agents — a luxury the lower members didn't have. They had to go to the mess hall and get their food themselves, whereas Adam and the others could cook whatever and whenever they pleased.
The third and lowest floor — the most secure of them all — was where Spike Desde, the leader of the White Fang lived, along with those humans they had formed an alliance with not too long ago. Fortunately, the humans didn't stay very often, leaving the whole floor mostly to Spike. It also held a meeting and situation room with computers and the likes where they would get instructions on missions.
Having found his way back to his room, Adam seated himself on his bed and took out his sword and rifle-sheath Wilt and Blush, and began polishing the blade of the former meticulously. He really had nothing better to do, so he decided that he might as well take care of his weapon.
While polishing the blade until it shined, he reminisced about his time with Blake as his partner. She had always been around him, so he had never really gotten bored. They had trained together, or she had read one of her questionable books while he had taken care of his weapon like he was doing now — but she had always been there. But now that she'd left over six months ago, things had started to get dull. He couldn't spar with anyone: all the other high-ranking members were away on missions and the other Faunus were too weak. It was neither fun nor actual training fighting with them.
An abrupt knock on his door interrupted his train of thoughts. Carefully laying the sword on his bed, he got up and opened the door to be greeted by a lower ranked Faunus dressed in the standard uniform. The man bowed swiftly in respect before speaking up.
"The leader wants to see you, sir. He says he has an exceptionally important mission for you. He's waiting in room 301."
The Faunus was facing straight ahead, but Adam knew that he was probably looking at the floor. The mask did hide his eyes, but no low-ranking member ever dared to look him in the eye, except of course for his previous partner. They were all too afraid of him.
"Tell him I'll be there in a minute," Adam responded, closing the door when the man bowed again and left to deliver the message. Finally! Now he could get out and do something productive instead of sitting around. Adam loved being outside and fighting far more than being cooped up in a building with hundreds of other people and doing exactly nothing.
Putting on his signature black trench coat, he sheathed his sword and exited the room. The hallways were bustling with Faunus and he heard some of them talking about the new rumor that had been spreading lately. Though he never really listened, he'd heard that it was something about some man or woman that could supposedly control Grimm — not that he actually believed such rubbish.
When he got to the meeting room, he knocked once and waited for the sign to enter. "Come in," came a muffled voice from inside.
Adam opened the door and closed it behind him, bowing in front of Spike when he turned around. "I was told you had a mission for me," he said matter-of-fact, standing straight again.
"Yes, I do. Come and sit, there is still another that has to come before I can give you the details."
Spike Desde — a buffalo Faunus with large horns protruding from the top of his head — was not noticeably tall or strong, but the man knew how to manipulate people and had taken over the White Fang five years ago, leading their forces to where it was now.
He had a radically different view on things and always said that, in order for Faunus to gain their well-deserved rights, they had to fight for them and show the humans that they were not to be trifled with. True to his word, their methods had grown to be increasingly violent. Now, none of them hesitated in killing a human should they hinder the attainment of their goal.
The man was ruling the organization with an iron fist, and did not like it when something went wrong on any of the members' missions. That was also why he had been livid when Adam had told him about Blake's betrayal and ordered everyone to kill the traitor the next time they saw her.
Adam took his place in one of the many chairs that surrounded the table and noticed the presence of another Faunus, who was leaning on the wall opposite of him. He, too, was wearing the standard uniform, indicating he was one of the lower-ranked members, but he had a certain cockiness and poise that made it look as if he was really a high-ranked one. The man looked strong with defined muscles on his arms and was tall, almost as tall as Adam.
He acknowledged the red-haired Faunus with a nod of his head and then looked over at the door when it knocked again. Another lower-ranked Faunus stepped inside and quickly bowed and nodded, greeting all the people inside. This man had an average build and was the smallest of the three members gathered.
"Now that you're all here, I will give you the details to your mission," Spike began, pulling up a footage of a military base located at the edge of the forest. "This is the new base that has been established by General Ironwood and the Atlesian military. It lies at the border between Atlas and Vale, at the edge of the forest. There are approximately two-hundred and fifty soldiers and an equal number of Atlesian Knight-200s stationed at the moment," he listed.
"This is the hangar…" He pointed at a large building in the middle of the base. "…that holds seventy-five airships and forty Paladin-290s, as well as twenty Spider Droids. Your mission will be to infiltrate this base and destroy it from the inside. For our plan to work in the future, we need this base off the map so as to weaken Ironwood's forces. You will go inside, destroy all the machines and weaponry, and get back out. It would be best if you avoid being seen until you have completed the mission, but if anyone sees you, kill them. Any questions?"
"So, in short: get in, destroy, get out. Is that about right?" the muscular Faunus asked. Adam got a little annoyed by the question; the instructions had been clear, so why ask?
"Exactly Eric," Spike answered. "Anyone else?"
The room was quiet and it seemed like everyone knew what to do. Nodding in content, Spike told them to get ready to leave by sunrise tomorrow. They exited the meeting room and everyone went to their quarters, preparing to leave by the assigned time.
Chapter 15: Ambush
"Looks like we're gonna be doing this the hard way…"
— Adam Taurus,
RWBY, Black Trailer
Their trip to the military base was mostly silent, except for the two idiots who were bickering about that stupid rumor. Although it would be best to be silent, the two — Eric and Steve — continued to argue about the Grimm Tamer that was allegedly living in Forever Fall Forest — the forest they were currently traveling through. Adam didn't know how, but somehow the two morons still had enough energy and oxygen to waste for their arguments even though they were running at top speed. When they finally crossed the line, he snapped at them.
"Shut up you two!"
Both Faunus went silent for a moment before involving him in their little discussion, asking his opinion on the subject of that stupid myth and so on.
"You too think it's a man, right? I mean, it has to be," Eric asked, running up to him.
"Why the hell does it have to be a man?! It could also be a woman, damn it!" Steve retorted, also running up to the two, putting Adam in the middle.
"Why would it be a woman? Men are far stronger, so of course a man would have such a rare power. A woman wouldn't even know what to do with it," Eric retorted, glaring at the other Faunus, both now engaged in a heated glaring contest.
"A woman would be far better. Imagine it; a cute girl with-"
"Would you just shut up?! We are almost there so shut your traps and keep quiet. I don't need you two to blow our cover before we can even get started with the mission!" Adam cut the man off, finally silencing the two.
When it came to Adam Taurus, you were better off obeying him. They knew about his reputation as an excellent fighter and a merciless killer. He'd have their heads if they pushed any more. And although they were not certain if he would attack one of his own, they did think it best to obey.
How did the proverb go? Let sleeping dogs lie.
Silence reigned until they finally reached the hill behind which the military base was located. The group slowed down and, crouching, went up the hill and glanced over it, scanning the base. The footage had been spot on. Ducking back down, Adam turned to the two men at his side. "You know what to do, right?"
Receiving a nod from each, he gave the signal. Leaving their cover, the three men slid down the hill, dust and leaves creating a visible trail. Adam was first to push off the ground. Twirling in mid-air, he tucked into a roll once touching ground, before taking cover behind one of the metal hangars. He watched as Eric and Steve copied him. With a nod, the group split up, each making his way to their designated area.
Slitting the throat of one of the Atlas soldiers guarding the biggest hangar, Adam quietly made his way inside the large construction. His target were the Paladin-290s, the Bullheads, and the Knight-200s. The Faunus went to work, damaging the machines beyond repair. Eric and Steve — who had joined him at some point — were doing the same. Within twenty minutes, the once proud projects of the Atlas military were nothing more than scraps of metal.
"Perfect. Now we can-"
"Intruders! Alarm the general! Intruders in sector B!"
Within seconds the shrill sound of the alarm was blaring and soldiers were rushing the hangar, pointing their weapons at the three Faunus that looked anything but concerned.
"Lower your weapons and put your hands behind your head!" a soldier with his pistol trained on Eric commanded.
None of the three moved a muscle to comply. The soldier repeated the command, every other soldier undoing the safety on their weapons with an audible click. Still the small group stood relaxed.
"I will only repeat myself once; lower your weapons and put your hands behind your head!"
Again none of the three reacted.
Bullets raced at the trio, creating a small cloud of dust. But once the view was clear, the three Faunus were still standing, not a scratch on them.
The man never finished his sentence. A bullet tore right through his torso, spilling blood and killing the soldier. The other soldiers fell back in horror at their fallen comrade before Adam was upon them. With unmatched speed he sliced through man after man. Eric and Steve joined in the massacre, using their respective weapons — knives and fists — to take out the enemy. Neither showed mercy, drenching the hall in blood and the smell of death.
Running out of the hangar, they took out any opposition. Using an attacking Paladin as support, they jumped into the watchtower, killing the guards before leaping over the fence. They were a mere blur as they ran through the forest, alarms growing faint in the distance. Eric suddenly halted, stumbling and hissing in pain. The rest of the team halted, and Adam was about to yell at him to keep going until he saw the dark spot on Eric's pants.
"Damn it, the bastards got me," he hissed, clutching his thigh. Steve was quick to go over and support the man, but he too had been hit by a bullet, the wound only now showing through his white vest.
Adam growled in aggravation. Great. Now I've got two wounded men in the middle of the forest with the only help being the military on our tails.
He brooded about their options when an eerie howl interrupted his train of thought. Instinctively, his muscles tensed and his hand gripped the hilt of his sword. It sounded again before numerous glowing red eyes closed in on them. He gritted his teeth; he did not need this right now. The Grimm closed in and when they were all visible, he could count at least two dozen of them, all Ursas with some Beowolves mixed in.
He looked over to his two men and saw that they, too, had noticed the Grimm. Each man had by now taken up a fighting stance, although Eric was favoring his left leg and Steve was clutching his side, blood dripping from both of their wounds. There was no way they could fight for long with those kind of injuries. And Adam couldn't fight and protect them at the same time.
Then the Grimm lunged at them. They each tried to defend themselves as best as they could, using their weapons to the best of their ability. Eric was the first to cry out in pain — a Grimm had managed to come up from behind him and slashed across his back, blood dripping freely from the deep wound.
Steve was next. A Beowolf bit into his upper arm, tearing the flesh from the bone. The man cried out in agony, feeling the beast pull his arm to the point where it was almost ripped off.
Distracted by this, an Ursa took the chance and slashed Adam across the chest. He grunted as the flesh was being shred apart, creating a large gash that stretched from his left shoulder down to just above his right hip. Curiously enough, he was more annoyed by the fact that his shirt and beloved trench-coat were being ruined in the process. He staggered back from the sheer force of the attack, vision already blurring.
Another Ursa attacked him and although he managed to kill it, the sudden loss of blood finally took its toll on him. He staggered back a few more feet before his legs finally gave out underneath him and he sunk to his knees, falling face first onto the ground. He briefly registered a dull pain in his head, but then everything became a haze, his vision beginning to close in on the sides.
He could see the paws of an Ursa not far from him and watched as they approached him. But no matter how many times he told himself to get up, his body just wouldn't move.
The monster was now directly in front of him and he could imagine it raising its claws to deal the finishing blow. The last thing he heard was the caw of a Nevermore and a dull thud, as if something had fallen onto the ground. His eyes closed and he succumbed to darkness, but not before hearing a voice.
A female voice.
Chapter 16: Unexpected
"Unexpected intrusions of beauty.
This is what life is."
― Saul Bellow,
Serena laughed, thrilled at the feeling of the wind combing through her cut hair. She had called Aeolus earlier that day and asked him if he were up for a little tour. The Nevermore was not one to say no, and so they were both high up in the sky, exploring the boundaries of the forest and what lay beyond them.
All of a sudden, Serena felt a wave of blood-lust rush over her. It wasn't as strong as back when Vale had been under attack, but it was still alarming. Her first thought was that another attack on the city was taking place, but once she'd tracked the source of the rush, she noticed that it was only a small group of Grimm, all concentrated on a clearing not too far away from her current position.
Telling Aeolus to take her there so that she could see what was wrong, she spotted three figures among the group, all three lying motionless on the ground. She told the bird to land and jumped down when it was still slightly airborne, not wanting to waste any time. She arrived just at the right moment, seeing as Ajax was about to kill a man that was lying in front of him. Running as fast as she could, she yelled, "Ajax, don't!"
The animal froze mid-strike, his head turning to look at her with confused eyes, not understanding what he'd done wrong. She dropped to her knees next to the male and was relieved upon noting that he was still breathing, although passed out.
She quickly checked the other two that were lying a few feet away. They were dead. She felt guilt well up inside her — if only she'd seen this earlier. They could still be alive then.
She looked back to the man that was still alive and then turned to the group of Grimm, spotting Napoleon among them.
"Napoleon, please tell them to go home. There is no need to kill this man. I will take care of him. Please, let him live," she pleaded with the animal, hoping he would agree to her offer. The Ursa gave a short snort, then he turned around and left, the others all following him except for Ajax.
Serena leaned over the stranger again, examining his back for any wounds. He had none except for a laceration on the side of his head. Grunting, she turned him over onto his back, gasping as she caught sight of the deep wound that stretched across his torso. His shirt and jacket were torn and soaked with blood, as was the ground he'd been lying on. She quickly took off the light jacket she was wearing, using it as a temporary bandage to tie around his wound to try and stop the bleeding. She made sure that it wasn't too tight or too lose, not wanting to irritate the wound any further.
I have to get him home, she thought, eyes darting worriedly over his mangled body. She could treat him there, she had all the necessary equipment. The problem was, there was no way she would be able to drag him there. He would be too heavy for her; there was no way her small body could support his for longer than a few minutes.
Looking at her Ursa friend, an idea sparked in her mind, albeit a dangerous one.
"Ajax, could you do me a favor?" The animal snorted in response and approached, signaling that he would assist her. "I need you to take him home. I'll put him on your back so that you can carry him. In the meantime, I'll quickly fly to the city with Aeolus. Could you do this for me?" Without killing him, she added in her mind. "You don't need to do anything, just carry him home, okay? I'll get back as fast as possible."
The animal was silent for a few moments before giving a low growl then nudged her arm — he would help her. Serena smiled at her friend.
Standing up, she returned to the man's side and slung his right arm over her shoulder, heaving him up with her other arm. It took a lot of strength and help from Ajax, but she finally managed to make the man stand up, his body slumping against hers. Wasting no time, she signaled for Ajax to lie down and — with a string of curses — she managed to heave him atop the animal's back, positioned between the spikes and plates of bone so that he wouldn't slip off. His front was pressed against the animal's back and she hoped it would help in stagnating the loss of blood at least a little.
"Thank you. I'll meet you back home," she called while clambering back onto Aeolus' back, both Grimm getting on their way.
She had no time to waste. So, instead of landing outside the city and walking the rest of the way as she usually did, she told the animal to land right in front of the next pharmacy. Chaos ensued as soon as people saw the Grimm closing in on the city, citizens running away and hiding in panic, fearing another attack. Imagine their shock and surprise when they saw a girl jump off the creature, dashing into the pharmacy.
Serena slammed the door open making the owner jump out of fright. "I need alcohol or something to disinfect a wound, and lots of bandages. Hurry!" she demanded.
The man — terrified of not only the creature outside his shop but also the girl inside his it — scurried into a back room and came out moments later with a bottle of strong alcohol and dozen of bandages. He nervously put everything into a bag and handed it over with trembling hands, hiding behind the counter as soon as he'd let go of it. Serena left some money on the counter before storming out of the shop again. Swiftly mounting Aeolus, she could already hear the police sirens closing in on them. Without another glance they were gone again, leaving the people back in shock.
The sky started turning a pink hue when she got back. Ajax was already there and waiting inside with the man still hunched on his back. Serena dropped the bag on one of the stones before hurrying over to her friend, helping him get the man off his back and gently lay him down on her bed. Her jacket was soaked through with blood by now, and she mentally made a note to buy a new one before returning her concentration to the task at hand.
Carefully taking off the man's coat, she dropped it a few feet away on another rock before moving to his shirt. It was already torn and the best way to remove it would be to simply cut the material in half. Going to look for her scissors, she returned moments later and immediately cut through the fabric, also removing his mask in the process since she'd need to take care of his head wound later.
There were a few bruises on his chest, but her primary concern was the large gash that went over it. The first step would be to disinfect it to make sure it wouldn't get infected. She applied the alcohol onto a cotton pad and began dabbing around the edges. After that, she moved to the wound itself and received a few hisses and pained grunts in response as the alcohol made contact with the torn skin. She was glad that he wasn't conscious; she wouldn't be able to hold him down if he was.
When she finished, she debated on whether or not she should sew it but quickly decided against it. The wound was too big, the edges too shredded, and she had no idea on how to really sew one. She decided that the only thing she could do was to bandage it and later apply some salve when the wound had stopped bleeding.
She went over to her first aid kid and took out a roll of bandages, asking herself just how she would bandage the wound if she couldn't move him alone. Looking at the entrance of the cave, she saw that Ajax was still there and called him over. With his help, she managed to make the man sit up. While Ajax kept him in that position by stabilizing him with his head, Serena bandaged the wound, tying it off nicely.
She proceeded by taking a look at the injury on his head. Luckily, it was not too severe and a normal bandage would do, so she took another roll of the white cotton fabric and tied it around his head. Only now did she notice the horns that were hidden by his red hair.
So he's a Faunus, she noted curiously.
Once done, she sighed in relief and told Ajax that he could let the man go now. Serena gently lowered him onto her bed again, pulling her blankets over his body to prevent him from getting cold. She didn't need him catching a fever as well.
She tiredly wiped the sweat from her forehead, only now spotting the blood that stained her hands. She asked Ajax to watch the man while she went outside to wash her hands, scrubbing the drying blood off them in the pond. When she came back, the man was still sleeping and so she went to making her dinner, sitting close to him while eating to make sure everything was okay.
I never would have thought that I would save someone's life one day. This world really is crazy. Though I still wonder how or why he even got here in the first place, she pondered, chewing on a piece of jerky. Still, I wonder what will happen from now on. She ate her dinner in silence, sleeping on the floor that night. Good thing that she kept several spare duvets, pillows and blankets so she had quickly made herself a new bed.
Chapter 17: Fever
"And all people live.
Not by reason of any care they have for themselves.
But by the love for them that is in other people."
— Leo Tolstoy
He was having a fever. A day had passed since Serena had found the stranger in the forest and treated his wounds. No matter the precautions she had taken, he was burning up now and she figured that the wound probably had infected itself after all. And a fever was the only way for his body to get rid of it. She did all she could to help his body in its fight: she refreshed the cold cloths on his forehead, brewed tea with special herbs she knew had medical properties, and changed his bandages as often as possible.
She could count the times he was regaining consciousness on one hand, and they were often only brief. Mostly he would croak out a sound and she would give him something to drink, no food though. She wasn't sure if it would be wise to give him substantial nutriment just yet, especially not when he fell unconscious again shortly after having woken up. She didn't want her patient to survive the attack and wound, and then die because he chocked on a piece of bread.
While he was out, she sometimes left to go hunting, although she would mostly just go catch some fish and not meat — she didn't want to be away for too long in case something should happen. You never knew with fever induced people. She remembered the one time she had almost burned down her kitchen back at university when she'd been home, sick with fever. Lucky thing her best friend Janine had decided to check up on her in that moment because else, she would have to be looking for a new flat.
Whenever she did go out, she left Ajax behind with the Faunus, telling the Grimm to come get her as soon as something seemed off. He hadn't left her side since the previous day and she figured that he was worried about her being alone with a stranger. She was touched by her friend's concern, although she doubted that the man would be able to do anything at the moment with his injury.
When she was home, she would pass her time pondering the mask he'd been wearing the day she found him. She wondered if it held any meaning and what it was made of. It looked like plastic to her, but didn't feel like it at all. She ran her thumb over the red lines that swirled around the visor and across the mask.
She wondered about her guest's identity. Why would he be out here in the forest, accompanied by two other Faunus and fighting Grimm? Not to mention that the two other had matching outfits and the same type of mask as he did. Add the fact that each of them were wounded…
She had a theory that the three could be members of the White Fang, but it was only that — a theory. She didn't want to judge anyone without having heard their side of the story. She would wait until he was awake and then ask.
A pained grunt caught her attention and she turned her head to her guest, eyes widening as she saw him trying to sit up. Stashing the mask away, she rushed to his side and, gently grabbing his shoulders, pushed him back onto the bed. He wasn't yet ready to move and any kind of strain on his injury could deepen the wound.
He reluctantly laid back and she saw his lips forming words, but no sound escaped them. She grabbed the cup of tea that was standing on a rock beside her and gently lifted his head a little, lifting the cup to his lips. The sudden touch made him retreat, but she told him to drink it and he did, too tired to even try and refuse it. He lost consciousness soon afterwards and Serena went back to the fire, sitting in front of it and pondering on what to do.
He was hot. His entire body felt as though it were aflame, and he could tell he had a fever. Everything around him was dark and silent. He briefly wondered if he'd died in the battle with the Grimm.
Then he felt something cold and wet land on his forehead. He forced his eyes open and caught the contours of retreating hands before his sight blurred once more and he faded out of consciousness.
He thought it pathetic, the way he was so helpless and weak, not even able to stay awake for a small moment. The few times he did manage to stay awake, he could always see the silhouette of a person, though not much of it — he could barely discern the hair from the face. But that meant someone was taking care of him, which was odd in itself. Most people despised Faunus, and he did not think any would make the effort to help one, regardless of their condition.
This time — as he came to again — he was able to actually sit up, though he stopped as soon as he felt a sharp pain tug at his chest, making him groan in pain. His ears picked up the clatter of something being put down and only moments later did he register the feel of hands on his shoulders, gently pushing him back down. He fought against it, but whoever it was, they were stronger than him, and he had to reluctantly oblige and lay back down on what he assumed was a bed.
"You shouldn't move. Your wound might get worse. Here, let me get you something to drink," he heard what appeared to be a female voice say. A hand was suddenly placed beneath his head, lifting it up slightly and he could feel something cool touch his lips, a faint smell of herbs rising into his nose. He retracted his head, not wanting to drink anything he didn't know.
"It's okay. It's just some tea. You have to drink something. It will also help with your injury," the voice said gently and he reluctantly took a few sips, grateful for the warm liquid that pleasantly ran down his parched throat. He could recognize some herbs and berries, but there were also some other plants in the drink that he didn't know. The cup was taken back and the hand gently lowered his head back onto the pillow.
"My men…" he managed to wheeze out. "Where…"
A pause ensued, and then the voice said, "You should rest."
No sooner were the words spoken that everything turned black again. The last thing he could see were a pair of bright blue eyes. And then he was gone again.
Chapter 18: Awake
"Constant kindness can accomplish much.
As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate."
— Albert Schweitzer
Adam slowly blinked his eyes open, the sudden irradiation of light making him squint them shut again before finally reopening them. His sight adjusted to the dim light that filtered in, blurry at first before clearing more and more. His gaze was fixed on what seemed to be a ceiling made of stone, leading him to question his current whereabouts.
He slowly sat himself up, taking notice of the wet cloth that fell into his lap. Raising a hand to his head, he noticed that his mask was no longer in place. On second thought, neither were his coat and shirt. Instead, bandages covered his torso and a blanket covered him from his waist down. Another set of gauze was wrapped snugly around his head.
Looking around, he carefully surveyed his surroundings. The room he was in certainly was a cave, and from the looks of it, it was situated in the middle of the forest, for he could see various trees through the mouth of the cave. A fire was crackling quietly a few feet away and he noticed the numerous rocks that were placed around it, like they were organized in that order to be sat on. Looking to the right, he spotted a few piles of clothes, mostly pants and tops, and a cloak, all neatly stacked together.
Where the hell am I? he asked himself, not sure what to make of his situation. Obviously, he was in the home of someone and it looked like that someone was living in the forest. Which was basically impossible.
Forever Fall forest was Grimm territory. People wouldn’t survive longer than a day there.
The rustling of underbrush made him snap his attention to the opening of the cavern, and a few moments later a figure stepped inside. The bright sunlight blinded him for a moment, making it hard for him to see this new person. But once his sight adjusted, he was greeted with the sight of a young woman — girl would be more appropriate.
She was quietly approaching him and he took her obvious absent-mindedness to study the new threat.
She was of average height with short black hair. Her clothes were simple: a dark red top, a pair of black shorts, as well as black stockings and green combat boots.
What did, however, set his mind at unease was the bow she carried at her side. A quiver of arrows was strapped to her back, the tips of some poking out over her shoulder.
Readying himself to attack, he tried reaching for his weapon, only to notice that it was nowhere to be seen. The move did not go unnoticed, and he cursed internally as the girl‘s blue eyes landed on him.
He remembered seeing blue eyes sometime when he came to. So she had been nursing him.
But even so, she was an enemy.
"Oh, you’re up."
Her voice was soft and kind, as was the smile that appeared on her lips. He watched her move, surprised when she put away the bow and arrows.
He almost wanted to laugh at her — she’d just willingly relinquished her only means of defense against him.
His eyes followed her like those of a hawk watching its prey as she moved closer. No sooner was she in reaching distance did he act.
Flinging away the blanket, he leapt at her. Body colliding with hers, he pushed the human against the stone wall behind her, his arm coming to press down on her throat.
Apart from the quiet gasp that escaped her as he did this, the girl did not put up any kind of resistance.
But what truly surprised him was the lack of fear.
Odd, he mused.
Serena wiped a hand across her forehead. Her hunting trip had been unsuccessful thus far — it seemed her head was in the clouds, and she refused to kill anything when she wasn't one hundred percent focused on the task. Deciding that she might as well head home, she strapped on her quiver, shifting the bow in her hand.
She let her mind wander to her patient as she made her way home. The fever had broken the night before, and she was certain he would wake during the course of day. A thought entered her mind, making her giggle. It was just like in the novel, The English Patient. Now all she needed was for him to be some kind of spy or secret agent. Her imagination ran wild at the prompt, not realizing how close to the truth she was.
Heavy footfalls joined her light ones and she looked to the side to greet Ajax. The Grimm happily trotted up to her side, his much larger head bumping her shoulder in greeting. Her friend had become surprisingly good at telling that something was off about the human and came to visit her as often as he could. It was nice to know that he worried as much about her. Still, there was no way she could let her patient see the Grimm just yet.
"I'm sorry Ajax," she said softly, hand coming up to scratch him under the chin. "But this is where we part ways. Thank you for accompanying me."
The Grimm nuzzled his snout to her cheek before disappearing in the underbrush, steps muffled by the leaves coating the forest floor. Exhaling deeply, she let her mind wonder about what to make for dinner. She could do something with potatoes — she'd bought them in the city lately — before they expired. Maybe a bit of fish with boiled potatoes. Or how about mashed?
The soft sound of rustling sheets interrupted her thoughts, and her head swiveled to the side to see her patient sitting up in bed. She was surprised he woke this early, but nevertheless glad to see that he seemed well enough to be able to move around. Leaning her bow and quiver against the wall, she made to approach him, a small smile on her lips. She casually let her arms hang by her side, showing that she was unarmed and meant no harm.
"Oh, you're up."
Stupid first words, but nothing else came to mind. Beside, the tone of her voice was more important than the words spoken. The last thing she needed was for him to think of her as an enemy.
When she was just a few steps short of her bed, her patient moved. With speed she had never before witnessed, he was out the bed, slammed into her and had her pinned against the wall, one arm settling threateningly at her throat. Her eyes were wide as plates as she looked at the sudden shift in the situation, but she reminded herself to stay calm.
Which wasn't all that hard. There was no fear in her, to her own shock.
Was there something wrong with her?
She should be terrified, should be trying to get out of his hold, should kick and scream at him to let her go. Instead, her heartbeat was normal — if not a little accelerated — and her eyes steadily trained on his.
The color of them shocked her even more than did his assault. They were red — a bright and deep red, close to blood but not quite the same shade. Almost maroon if she had to name it. Inside them she could see anger and confusion. The confusion she could understand, not the anger however.
Her eye trailed down the rest of his body on their own accord, taking in his considerable height — he dwarfed her by almost two heads and had to lean down so he was at eye-level with her, — as well as the fact that he was still not wearing a shirt, which gave her a really good view of his torso. She blushed at the sight of his toned arms and stomach, gaze snapping back up to his for fear of turning any redder.
The situation was totally uncalled for, and still she went and blushed about a man being close to her.
A shiver ran down her spine as he spoke up, his voice low and deep, breath barely ghosting across her face.
"Who are you? And where the fuck am I?"
Adam increased the pressure on the girl's throat as he barked out the questions, eyes narrowing to glare into hers. He felt her hands grasping onto the limp but ignored it. She could not possibly possess the strength to draw his arm away. Instead, he focused on the even though strained breathing of the human; something that really irritated him. She should be begging in fear, not look so calm and collected. He could crush her neck with one hand if he so wanted — her entire head would probably fit in his two hands.
A sudden stab of pain made him grimace and he relented his hold on her in favor of grasping at the still hurting wound on his torso. Taking a step back, he watched in surprise and confusion as the human rushed to his side. He tried shaking her off, but she persisted as she supported him, slinging his left arm across her shoulder, other hand going to circle behind his back.
"You shouldn't move yet," she scolded him. "Come, lie back down."
She dragged him over to the rock he'd been lying on and which he now identified to actually be her bed. What the hell kind of girl was she to sleep on a rock?
All attempts at pushing her away remained unsuccessful, and he begrudgingly lay down on the surprisingly soft bed. The human darted away and returned moments later with a pot and a ceramic cup she had fetched from the fireside. Pouring some of the pot's content into the small cup, she placed the pot by her feet, offering him the cup.
"Drink this. It will help with the pain and speed up the healing process," she advised.
He pushed her hand away, the action making the tea slop out over the rim of the cup, burning the girl's hand. She gave a quiet hiss but remained silent otherwise. Her eyes locked with his, and he could detect a hint of annoyance in the blue depths.
"If you don't drink it, your wound might get worse."
He didn't care. He wasn't about to just go and drink something some human offered him. For all he knew, she could be trying to poison him. Humans were ready to perform any deed if it meant hurting a Faunus was the reward.
And indignant expression crossed her face and she said, "It's not poisoned."
To prove her point, she herself took two sips of the green liquid, and his eyes watched as she swallowed it, tracing the movement of her throat. He waited— waited for her to vomit, to drop to the floor and die. But nothing happened. She was sitting in front of him, eyes defiantly staring into his, a small triumphant smile twisting her lips.
"See? No poison. So, if you want to get out of here as soon as possible, I advise drinking it. It's the best I've got."
Grumbling and cursing the Maidens for his bad luck, he snatched the cup from her hand before quickly downing the tea as one would strong alcohol. The taste wasn't bad — it actually reminded him of some medicine he'd taken in the past — and slid down his throat with pleasant warmth. In an act of defiance, however, he dropped the cup, and it would have shattered on the floor had the girl not reacted quickly and caught it.
He wanted to strangle her as she rolled her eyes at his behavior but refrained from doing so. For the time being, at least.
The human got up and went over to the fire burning to the side, poking at it with a branch.
"I'm actually glad you woke up," her quiet voice floated over to him. "I wasn't sure you'd make it, with that wound of yours."
He glared at her back. It would take more than a couple of Grimm to kill him. Pushing aside his dented pride, he addressed more pressing concerns of his.
"How the hell did I get here?"
Her body stopped its poking for a moment before she resumed the action, back still turned to him. The fool — he could easily kill her if he wanted to.
She trailed off for a moment and Adam felt his irritation grow. He wasn't the most patient of people, and if she didn't talk soon there would be physical violence involved.
"I was taking a… walk, so to say, and noticed your group being surrounded by Grimm. You were already passed out, but I managed to convince the Grimm to let you go. So I got you here and treated your wounds. You were out for a couple of days with a fever, but it seems you're all better now. Though I'm afraid you'll have to remain here for some time to give your wounds time to heal."
The last sentence displeased him greatly. "How long?" he asked.
"I'm really no doctor, but if I were you, I'd wait at least two weeks before getting back out there to fight. Maybe even longer, if you continue to go hopping around and attacking people," she quipped and he felt his hands clench in order not to kill her right then and there.
But that wouldn't do. So far, she was not a threat and had helped him. Given the fact that she lived alone in the most secluded place in the entire kingdom, he opted to keep her alive, if only so she could treat his wound. But as soon as he was healed, her fate was sealed and he would dispose of her without a second thought.
Still, two weeks — possibly three — was too long a time. He couldn't possibly stay away from the White Fang for that long. He voiced his discontent to the girl.
"I'm afraid you'll have to deal with it. You're in no condition to cross the forest — you couldn't even stand on your own only moments ago. You go out there now, you're dead. Two weeks. After that, you're free to leave."
Her tone was final and he gritted his teeth in anger. Curse this damn human! Curse the damn Grimm! Curse Eric and Steve for getting him into this situation in the first place!
This made him halt. He had seen no sign of either of the men, and a quiet fear crept up to him. "Hey girl," he barked, making her turn her head, eyes locking with his. "What about the two men that were with me? Where are they?"
A look of sadness crossed her face, and she gave a small sigh before shaking her head. "I'm sorry. But they were already…"
She didn't finish the sentence, but she didn't have to. Adam knew from those words that both Faunus were dead, probably swallowed by the Grimm. Again, he cursed everything in existence.
Chapter 19: Surprise
"He saw something that makes a man doubtful of the constancy of the realities outside himself.
It was the shocking discovery that makes a man wonder, If I've missed this, what else have I failed to see?"
― John Steinbeck,
The Winter of Our Discontent
Two days had passed since he had woken up in the girl's home. Forty-eight hours in which he had been told what to do and what not by the human. He hated humans, and following their commands made his blood boil. What irked him more was the fact that she knew his identity. She knew what he looked like, could rat him out to the military if she wanted to. He would be defenseless in that case — the little resistance he would be capable of bringing up would be futile.
Conversation had been sparse over those few days, and Adam did not feel the need to break the lasting silence. What good would he gain by engaging in idle chatter with her anyway? It was against his nature: she was, after all, his natural enemy. Her false kindness could not hide her true nature. He was sure she was just like all the other humans: egoistical, hypocritical, prejudiced beings that hated whatever differentiated from them.
Yet he had to admit: she did save his life. If not for her, he would have been shredded to pieces by the Grimm. And it was also her that treated his wounds. Still, that was a fact he was adamant to ignore. It was what he got from his semblance to a bull; the stubbornness. Plus, he was simply too proud to admit that he was indebted to some human.
The girl herself did not pose a big threat to him. He would kill her once he had fully recuperated. He did not trust her one bit. No doubt she would inform the military as soon as he left. He did not think her stupid enough to try and follow him to the White Fang base, but he'd already been proven wrong many a time in his life.
No, he could not let such a risk live on.
The actual disposal would be easy enough. The little physical strength she had would not help her in a fight against him, and the only weapons she seemed to possess were a stick, as well as a bow and some arrows. He would destroy the bow and hide the arrows when he had the chance, then it would be a piece of cake.
To his great surprise and — dare he say — shock, she had actually returned his weapon to him. The day he had woken up to this new predicament had been when he'd noticed that his weapon was not where it should have been. When he'd asked her for it, she'd explained that she had looked for it after she had treated his wounds. At that moment, she had been hiding it under one pile of her clothes — in case someone should walk by or so she said, which he thought to be a silly thought. The girl was a complete fool, giving him back a weapon with which he could kill her in her sleep. She didn't even consider the possibility of him being an enemy!
The human trusted him blindly and had no second thoughts whatsoever.
Adam was currently seated on the makeshift bed, cleaning his blade and taking care of the pistol that was integrated in its sheath. Cleaning it was one of the few disadvantages of Wilt & Blush. The blade was perfect — sharp and deadly — but the pistol needed to be cleaned regularly. Otherwise, it would jam, and even the blade would become dull if he did not take care of it regularly.
So far he had not been granted new clothes, which still left him in the bandages that covered most of his upper body. He was deeply grieving the loss of his coat. Fortunately, his pants had not been damaged in the fight. And even if the girl was a human, she was still very much a woman — he could only take so much exposure.
He continued his methodical cleaning until he heard said human approaching. She was talking, but he could not detect anyone else's presence.
Maybe the human is crazy? It would certainly fit into her profile, he mused to himself, finding her overall behavior odd.
Serena had been out fishing with Ajax. It had been a surprise, but the Grimm actually helped a lot. His sharp claws and teeth enabled him to snatch the fish right out of the water before they even had the chance to turn tail. It also helped Serena tremendously: he was far faster than she was, and her accuracy at jabbing into the agitated water was still a bit off. One could say that it was thanks to her friend that she got to eat fish at all.
She planned on making them some roasted fish with fried potatoes and some carrots she'd bought in the city lately. It would be a change from the usual plain meal of meat and berries she had, and she was sure her guest would appreciate it as well. Fish had lots of vitamins, so she guessed it could only help with his healing process.
After about an hour or so of her jabbing fruitlessly at the water and Ajax tossing her his catches, she had an entire basket full of fish, enough for at least four people. Maybe I overdid it a little, she thought to herself, brooding over just how the two of them would be eating so much fish. Well, I can still smoke it if there's too much left over.
"Hey Ajax; you like fish, right?" she inquired to which the animal happily snorted, licking its snout to emphasize his reply. "Maybe you'll get lucky today. But only if I have enough left over," she warned the enthusiastic Grimm. She didn't need him stealing their food — it had happened in the past, and it had been a major pain in the butt. The Grimm gave a snort that she swore was a chuckle.
She'd have to watch out for that fish.
They began their walk back home. Ajax was carrying the basket full of fish on his back with Serena riding on top of him, keeping their meal steady so that it wouldn't topple off. The girl meditated on just what she should be doing during those two weeks that she had the man living with her. His wound wasn't even close to being healed — it hadn't even closed properly yet! — so he needed to rest for at least another four or five days. Depending on the condition of the wound, he could maybe help her around the house — go fishing and the like. Maybe they could even explore some more of the forest together.
But Serena was happy — she would have some human company during that time.
"Now that I think about it… I don't even know his name. Didn't tell him mine either." She gave a rueful smile, thinking back to her mother. "Mom would be so mad; taking in some stranger, giving him a weapon and letting him sleep in the same room as me without even knowing who he is. She'd have a heart attack if she knew this," the raven head joked quietly, more to herself than her friend. Her mother had always told her that her carelessness would be the death of her some day.
Contrary to what Ruby may believe, Serena had anything but adapted to her new life. She merely tried to survive in the unfamiliar situation she found herself in. Her passage to another dimension and the way in which it had happened did not leave the teenager unscathed. The plane crash and death experience had left their scars. And they were deep — both from a physical and psychological point of view.
The nightmares were even worse. It was more than once that she woke up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat and awoken by her own screams of anguish or terror. For the most part, they would consist of her being torn from her family or seeing them at her funeral with an empty coffin. She would be like a ghost: unheard and unseen. She would call out to them, yelling, screaming at them that she was alive and well.
But no one would hear.
They would pass right through her.
One particularly gruesome nightmare had consisted of her reliving the whole crash anew. Everything would be so real — the pain, the screams, the people, the cold… It left her with a suffocating feeling of despair.
Sometimes, she considered ending her life for real this time. The pain would cease, and she could be the one to greet her parents in the next life. But then that exact thought of her parents stopped her from executing her idea. No matter where she was, they would want her to be happy. Serena had been raised a fighter, and fight she would, even if it meant feeling such profound pain.
She would survive this no matter what and make the best of it. Besides, who would look out for Ajax, Loki, and the others if she were gone?
Ripping herself out of her depressing thoughts, she felt the tears forming at the brink of her eyes. She wiped at them angrily and pressed her face into Ajax's neck. By now, the Grimm had gotten used to her sudden mood swings and knew when to just let the girl receive the comfort she needed. She was grateful for that.
"I wonder how they are doing?" she mumbled into his shaggy pelt, her voice muffled. "If they're healthy and what has happened. Jasmine should soon be coming into her last three years of high school. Mom and dad should be doing fine, probably still bickering about petty things like usual…" She trailed off before whispering, "I want to see them. I want them to at least know that I'm okay."
When they reached the cave, the girl got off Ajax and, still immersed in her own thoughts, she forgot about the person inside and didn't admonish Ajax to stay outside. It was only when she heard a chocked sound and the noise of a blade being unsheathed that she snapped out of her own reverie.
Glancing up, she saw that the maroon-haired male had his weapon in his hands and was standing at the ready, his equally red eyes narrowing themselves at the creature at her side. She could feel how Ajax's own mood shifted drastically and saw his muscles tense, body reacting to the weapon the Faunus was threateningly pointing at him. The Grimm let out a growl and bared his sharp canines, ready to attack at any second. But, he remained at her side.
Adam couldn't believe what he was seeing. The girl had just walked in with a Grimm at her side.
A fucking Grimm!
It was on pure instinct that he had drawn his sword — which he had finished polishing just moments ago — and jumped up and out of the bed, settling into his accustomed fighting stance. He glared at the monster, seeing that it, too, had noticed him and was just as ready to attack as he was. The odd thing was: it didn't. It seemed as though the only thing holding it from tearing him into little pieces was the girl at its side. But that was impossible — why would a Grimm listen to a human? It made no sense.
The girl let her eyes glide across both of their tense forms before raising both hands and directing one at each of them. She motioned with her palm for both of them to calm down, pointing at Wilt and Blush and letting him understand that he had best put the weapon down. Like he would do such a thing!
"Ajax," she began quietly, directing her gaze at the Grimm.
Ajax? Since when do Grimm have a name? Adam asked himself, confused.
"This man is not an enemy. You don't need to attack him. Please, just calm down. He is no threat and will not harm me."
Oh, how wrong she was.
"And you," she addressed him this time, and he noticed the way her head turned to him yet her eyes never seemed to break their contact with the ruby ones of the monster. "You should lay down your sword; he won't do anything. But if you keep pointing that blade at him, I won't be able to hold him back for long."
Now he was positive that she was crazy! The Creatures of Grimm lived for the sole purpose of exterminating mankind. Killing was their essence, and they did not show mercy.
How could she possibly believe that it would not kill either of them? What power did she think she possessed to control such a beast?! She was nothing but a human!
But then something disturbed his train of thought. The creature had not attacked them — at least not yet.
Why? There's nothing keeping it from killing me or the human. Except if…
"I will only repeat myself once," the girl's voice rang out sharply, the calm and gentle tone giving way to a more aggressive edge. "Lay down your weapon and calm down, both of you."
The animal seemed to heed the warning and slowly relaxed. Taking a step back, it shrank back to its normal height.
The Faunus hesitated; he would have to give up his only means of defense and trust some lowly human to keep him safe. Fighting an internal battle, he finally conceded and re-sheathed Wilt, but still kept the weapon at his side. Loosening his stance, he also rose back to his full height before glaring at the girl.
Said female seemed pleased as she smiled at the two of them. A soft gasp escaped her lips as her eyes settled on his midsection, and he looked down to see red seeping through the white bandages.
"I will have to change your bandages. I guess the wound re-opened from your sudden movement. I told you not to move around so much!" she scolded him lightly, her voice having returned to its serene tone. She almost sounded to him like a mother berating her child. Very odd.
"Fine. Just get to it human," he grumbled sourly. The fact that she would be touching him did not please him. He didn't trust her and the last thing he wanted was for her to be anywhere near his wound. But he would have to cooperate if he ever wanted to fully heal. Damn it.
"I just need to get something; you can sit down but don't touch the wrappings. I'll do it as soon as I'm finished," she instructed, heading outside quickly.
Adam suspiciously eyed the Grimm, the animal returning the stare, before he headed over to the large stone at the back and sat down. He watched the girl return with some yellow flower flaunting big leaves. He observed as she placed the plant into a bowl and mashed it with a mortar. She added some other plants and something that looked like oil, mixing it all with a spoon until it turned into a sort of cream.
His eyes carefully followed her as she walked over to him, placing the bowl on the stone beside him before she herself got on it. He felt her crawl behind him and seconds later he could feel her hands on his back, fingers fumbling with the knot that secured the bandages. Once they had loosened, she started taking them off, arms moving around him quickly and skillfully as though she had done this a few times already. When she had unwrapped them completely, she returned to back in front of him.
"Sit back so that your back is against the wall, please," she spoke. Although he didn't like to listen to a human, he followed her instruction and leaned his back against the cool stone wall, granting her space to examine his torso.
Serena furrowed her eyebrows, carefully inspecting the wound. It had ripped open again due to him suddenly jumping up and moving about. Fortunately, the bleeding was not as strong as she had feared it would be. She decided it to be best to clean it once more. Standing up, she exited the cave and headed towards the pond behind it, grabbing a bucket on her way out. Filling the wooden container with fresh liquid, she returned to the Faunus. Taking one of the cloths from the first aid kit, she soaked it in the water before carefully dabbing around the wound, cleaning the skin of any blood that had trickled down. Then she moved to the edge of the laceration much like she had done it the first time, occasionally receiving a hiss from the person opposite her. Surprisingly, he never complained.
Once it was clean, she grabbed the cup with the ointment in it and smeared some onto her fingers. But before she could administer the salve, his hand shot out and grabbed her wrist, stopping her movement altogether. She glanced up at him, catching his distrustful glare, his deep red eyes illuminated by the light the fire cast on them. Serena knew that he was wary of her — he always looked like he wanted to slit her throat any second — and she also knew that he probably would never trust her. But she would never harm anyone intentionally, especially not someone who was injured. She was a gentle soul, as her mother and father had often said. She even felt sorry when killing a fly!
"What is that?" he demanded in a growl, glare intensifying as he scrutinized the yellowish-green substance drooping from her fingers.
"It's a special salve that helps reducing the pain and accelerates the healing process of flesh," she explained, but she saw he was far from satisfied by the way he was still glowering at her. The answer was just too simple, it seemed.
"What's it made out of?"
"I only used herbs to make this. It's some Gindo mixed with Akara and Zewa, and some natural oil that I bought for these kinds of things. It's nothing bad," she went on. He still wouldn't lighten the hold on her wrist and his eyes looked positively murderous. Holding back a sigh, she eased her expression and pleaded, "Please, I only want to help you, and this is the best I have to offer." Looking straight into his eyes, she hoped he could see that she was telling the truth. She was a terrible liar, anyways.
He seemed to debate this for a few moments before finally releasing her wrist from his iron grip. Gingerly rubbing the appendage, she glanced at him once to be sure she had his permission before proceeding. His head was turned from her and she guessed it was as much of an okay as she would get from him.
Serena carefully dabbed the medicine around the shredded flesh, careful so that it would not enter the actual wound itself. Gindo and Akara were slightly toxic once they entered the blood-flow. It wouldn't kill a person, but they would be faced with severe consequences such as diarrhea and sickness.
After having applied a generous helping of the concoction, she put the bowl away and cleaned her hands in the leftover water in the bucket. Drying them on a towel, she grabbed a roll of fresh bandages and advanced on the man again. She instructed him to sit on the edge of the bed and carefully wound the clean linen around his midsection. Tying it all off neatly, she informed him, "Tell me if they're too tight or too loose."
Since she did not receive any response from him, she simply shrugged her shoulders, getting off the bed. "You should lie down and rest some more. There isn't anything else to do anyway, and it is good when your injury can rest a little. By the way, we're having fish with potatoes and carrots tonight. I'll wake you when dinner is ready."
The red-head gave a nod in reply, lying down so that his back was turned to her. Serena's eyes saddened — it seemed she would be pretty lonely after all. Shaking her head, she grabbed the bucket of water and went out to dump it back into the pond. Taking a few swigs of water herself, she wiped her mouth clean and washed her face. That always helped to clear her head.
Venturing back into the coolness of the cave, she grabbed the basket holding the fish and proceeded with skinning them. The process of cooking was silent as she washed the carrots and potatoes, cutting it all up. Taking one of the larger pans she owned, she poured in some olive oil, heating it all on the flame of the fire before adding in the fish. The side dishes were contently simmering in a pot placed on the edge of the fire. Soon, a pleasant aroma filled the cave.
Serena took a quick breath outside, admiring the sky tinted varying shades of pink and orange from the setting sun. Once she smelt the scent of her food outside, she headed back inside and took everything off the heat, setting the containers on one of the rocks that was placed by the fire and generally acted as parking area. Then she placed down cutlery and dishes for each of them.
Looking over to the slumbering male, she scratched her head, debating on how best to wake him so that he wouldn't actually slit her throat. Coming up with no particular plan, she let her shoulders slump before cautiously approaching the Faunus. She gently shook his shoulder, catching the glint in his eyes when he snapped them open. So far, he hadn't attacked her.
"Dinner is ready."
He got up without a word and took his place opposite of her own. When she handed him his plate of food, he didn't even acknowledge her and dug in without so much as a glance. Serena cast her glum eyes onto her own food, mechanically taking one bite after the other. The silence that reigned weighed even heavier upon her shoulders than she would have thought possible. Though she was curious that he had not asked about Ajax yet.
Adam kept a subtle eye on her, watching her every move for any signs of attack. The only thing he noticed were her lethargic movements and the fact that she never looked at him. Before she had been so curious, but now she couldn't even look at him? Proves that she's just like other humans, he thought bitterly.
He kept to the silence, though he was laden with questions.
How come the Grimm listened to her?
How did she even manage to tame one in the first place?
Why did she save him and treat his wounds?
Why the hell did she even live in the forest?!
No matter how much he pondered these and many more questions, he could not figure out any of them. Fact was he had the unbelievable luck to have been saved by a very unique human. He knew he would get his answers some day — either she talked willingly, or he would make her talk.
No doubt Spike would be interested in her. No one has ever heard of a person possessing such a power. If we can capture her, she would be the key to fulfilling our plans, he realized. The girl was extremely valuable to them — he could not afford to let her slip through his fingers.
The evening passed in silence with the girl drinking some of her tea while Adam further thought about all the possibilities her power would give the White Fang. They would be unstoppable! When it was time to turn in, Adam rightfully took the bed while the girl continued on sipping her brew.
Chapter 20: Grave
"You fall out of your mother's womb, you crawl across open country under fire, and drop into your grave."
— Quentin Crisp
There was one thing Adam had noticed about his temporary caretaker. It was the fact that she regularly left the cave — twice a day or so — and would always be accompanied by the Grimm she had referred to as Ajax. The thing that irked him was the fact that her absence lasted for quite some time. Plus, during those times, she would return without any food. His first guess had been that she would be going out to hunt, but that assumption had been proven wrong the first time she returned empty-handed. He wondered what else she could be doing in the forest?
Today was the fourth day of his unwilling stay, and the human had once more left — this time in the early morning when the sun had barely risen — and not returned since. He had pretended to still be asleep and listened to the fading sound of her footsteps. The Grimm had not been with her this time. He opted to wait for her return, since there was nothing for him to do anything.
He wondered how she had not gone mad yet.
The familiar noise of leaves being crushed invaded his ears, and he looked up from the fire that had been his object of study and turned his attention to the girl. As usual, her boots were dusty and he could see that mud that was caked to the soles of them. There were smears of earth on her bare legs as well, and her hands looked dirty and rough.
He watched as she knelt by the bucket she kept some water in and gently lowered her hands into the cool liquid. Her body visibly relaxed and he saw the relief that slowly filled her face. She carefully began to wash the filth off her hands and dried them on one of the towels that lay scattered throughout the cave. Her blue gaze flicked over to his own analyzing eyes and she offered him a small smile. Adam noticed just how tired she looked to be.
Just what is she doing out there?
"How's your wound?"
The question had become standard to his ears. Every day, she would inquire about his well-being, and sometimes check the wound even if he claimed it to be fine. That really annoyed him — he wasn't some baby that needed looking after. But so far, he had let her do as she pleased, guessing that it would help him get out of this place sooner.
The main reason for his silence, though, was the fact that he tried to avoid having a conversation with her as much as possible. Fraternizing with the enemy — even if he was not really fraternizing — was punishable in the White Fang. Plus, his own pride kept him from talking to a lowly human.
But today, he decided on another course of action. The best he could make of his current situation was to find out as much as possible about her power to control those monsters known as Grimm. And, even if he wouldn't admit it to himself, it helped him as well — a way to kill the silence and boredom. Naturally, any questions asked by her about their organization would be left vastly answered.
"Fine," he replied, raising his chin so that he was looking her in the eye. His mask lay forgotten on the stone on which the girl had placed it the day she had found and treated him. He didn't bother putting it on any longer. Firstly, she would be dead before he left anyway. And secondly, it was nice to have the thing off for once. At HQ, he continuously wore the plastic thing and only took it off when going to sleep. So this was a welcome change for once.
She gave him another smile, replying, "That's good. Tell me if it hurts, okay?" Then she headed over to the fire to pour herself a new cup of tea. She drank an awful lot of the beverage, he noticed. "You want some? It's a new one that I made just this morning, so it's still fresh."
He scrutinized the offer. In the past, he had mostly avoided drinking the tea that she brewed. He'd simply asked for water instead of the mixture. But since he could tell she was not the kind of person that would poison someone — especially not after having saved him from certain death — he chose to accept it.
Surprise showed on her face and it took her a moment to process his answer. He smirked internally as she poured him a cup while he made his way over to sit across from her. Taking a sip, he was taken aback by the fact that it actually tasted pretty good. At HQ, they passed hot water as tea, and the coffee was even worse.
This, he could get used to, especially since it would be a change of taste.
"It's good." The words tumbled out of his mouth before he could think upon them. Upon realizing that he had just complimented her, he wanted to kill himself. He was here to get information — not to flatter some human girl.
"Really?" she accepted the out-of-character affirmation happily. "Thanks; I was a bit worried it would taste weird since I experimented with some new herbs and haven't really made up my mind yet if I like it or not, so…" Blushing out of no detectable reason, she lifted her cup to her lips, murmuring, "I'm glad you like it."
Adam arched a brow while taking a sip of his own. Odd human. Anyway, time to get down to business.
"So," he started off vaguely, not really sure how to phrase his question, before he just decided "fuck it" and asked bluntly, "What've you been doing out there this whole time?"
It was her turn to arch a brow and look surprised once more. "Out where?"
"The forest," he pressed on. "You've been going there pretty often."
Her eyes dimmed and the normally light blue color turned into a deep sea blue. It was interesting to observe such a change. Her hands wrapped themselves around the delicate tea cup and her body seemed to take on an immense weight by the way she leaned her elbows on her knees.
"So you noticed," she mumbled, more to herself than him.
His ears perked up at that. He was not supposed to know of her leaves then. This only strengthened his curiosity. What in the Goddesses' name could be so secret that he was not supposed to know of it? Maybe she had tried to retrace his steps? To try and find the White Fang base on her own?
But, no, that would not leave her covered in mud. And she would not need a shovel to track traces.
What else then?
"That day when you first woke up," she started off slowly, catching his attention. Her eyes locked with his and she seemed to debate on how to voice what was next to come. "After I found and treated you, you had a serious fever. But once you woke up. Do you remember what you said?"
Her eyes searched his as though this were a vital question. The day he woke up… How could he remember? If he had been as bad as she said, then he would not be able to remember anything. Even less something he said.
Light blue turned into deep sea blue once more and her eyes took on a hint of sadness. She took a deep breath, her entire body heaving with it. "I see."
"What did I say?" he demanded. Her reaction was extraordinary. Had he revealed some grave secret concerning the White Fang? Or something else?
Without a word, she put her cup aside and stood from her seat. Turning her back to him, she did not notice his blazing eyes. Would she leave him now? Or had the military been outside all along and would now arrest him? But once she reached the exit of the cave, there was no yelling, no soldiers jumping up and out to kill him.
The only thing she did was turn to him and command, "Follow me."
Now she was really stretching his patience.
Nevertheless, he obeyed. His first thought was to take his weapon with him — there was still the possibility of her being a threat and all — but by her attitude, he saw that she meant no harm. So he followed her. She took him along a path she must have created herself all those times she left the cave. The leaves were trampled into the ground and the girl maneuvered through the thick foliage with ease.
After brushing aside several branches — he was a lot taller than her, so of course she could just walk under them — they finally came upon a clearing.
And on that clearing were what seemed to be two graves. The sun cast a red glow through the leaves of the trees surrounding the space and directly onto the two crosses that stood erect in the ground. The crosses themselves were made of two sticks tied to each other, but embellished with flowers and leaves that had been draped over them.
"What is this place?" Adam demanded with shock. She had taken him to see a graveyard? What kind of sick joke was this?
"When I found you, there were two other men with you. But…" Her voiced stocked for a moment and he looked at her, shocked to see her eyes become shiny with unshed tears. She sucked in a shaky breath before continuing. "But they were already gone. There was nothing I could do for them. Except this." She lowered her head. "I'm really sorry."
Adam felt how his own heart contracted in his chest. Of course. Eric and Steve. They had been with him, on the mission, but not when he woke up. Why had he not asked about them?
Damn it! Those two were idiots, but they had still been his responsibility. His men. Yet he had not even remembered them.
Swallowing the unfamiliar feeling of grief, Adam advanced to the two graves. There, he knelt down on one knee, before laying a hand on each cross. The soil was still fresh — they had not been buried long — and the flowers still gave off a pleasant aroma. Lowering his head, he gave a quick prayer, whispering the words "I'm sorry" at the end. Once finished, he stood back up and turned around to see the girl standing behind him, her own eyes closed and lips moving in a silent prayer.
Walking until he stood shoulder to shoulder with her, he asked one question that had invaded his mind the second he'd seen the grave site.
"Why did you do this for them? They're Faunus."
She lifted her head, blue locking with red, hers still sporting a trace of tears. Giving him a small, sad smile, she gave the simplest yet most shocking answer he had ever heard.
"Everyone needs a grave; no matter if human or Faunus. They were human and deserve as much a chance to rest in peace as you and I do. They hold the same rights. It's the least I can do for them."
He accepted the answer for what it was. But before he could leave to return to the cave, the girl asked, "What were their names? I want to add them, so that they won't be forgotten."
So that they won't be forgotten.
She wanted to remember them, saw them as someone that mattered. In all his life, Adam had never been as shocked as he was in this moment. This human girl refuted every opinion he had held against humans for his entire life.
She was different.
"Eric and Steve."
With that, he retreated to the cave. She may not know it — and never will — but, internally, Adam was grateful to her. At least she would not forget the men who gave their lives to protect him and the White Fang.
They would not be forgotten like numerous other brothers and sisters.
And for the first time, Adam had to admit that, maybe, not all humans were bad. At least not this one girl.
Chapter 21: Theory
"Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement."
— Vladimir Lenin
The evening's dinner consisted of roasted fish, peas, and potatoes. It was late afternoon and Serena was occupied with scaling and preparing the fish. All the while, Adam sat at his place on the rock by the fire, watching said human as she worked. He watched as she bustled around what she designated as her kitchen, though it was anything but. For him, it was nothing more than a convenient collection of rocks and boulders.
Questions swirled through his mind as he observed her removing the innards of their dinner. Questions such as, why did she live here? It was isolated, with not a soul in sight. Then; why was she alone? Did she not have any family to live with? And how had she managed to tame a Grimm?
The last question was the most important one. It had been unheard of in all of Remnant — never before had there been a human that could get as close to a Grimm as this human girl could. He himself had been shocked by the fact that that stupid rumor was actually true. Plus, the way in which she did it was even more confusing. She did not use force, but instead showed them kindness, love even. The concept made his head hurt.
Which was why he decided that he would forego the usual silence that filled their dinners and would quite simply and bluntly ask her. She had been nice the entire time, and Adam was sure she had no idea of the importance she held, and what a potential target and weapon she was. Not only for the White Fang, but for every military on the planet.
Serena daintily smeared the paste of herbs onto the fish's skin, humming a song she used to love while doing so. While doing so, she reflected upon the changed behavior of her guest. He used to avoid talking to her altogether, occasionally voicing one or two words before returning to complete silence. But now, he had become more talkative, even asking questions. She chalked it up to the fact that she was the only other human here, and that he was quite simply bored.
Nevertheless, she was grateful for the change of attitude. His tactic of ignoring her before had hurt and irked her to no end. She knew that Faunus were hostile when it came to the topic of humans, but she had not given him one reason to consider her his enemy. But that had all become better now. At least a little.
"So how do you do it?"
The question came out of nowhere, and Serena almost jumped out of her skin. It was not the way in which it had been said — he had never once talked loudly, always speaking in a deep, gruff voice — but the fact that he suddenly expressed an interest in conversing with her. And, even more shocking to her, she could detect a hint of curiosity and genuine interest in his deep baritone.
Placing a calming hand on her still racing heart, she cleaned her hands before turning her body to face him. His face was impassive, a mask that constantly observed and assessed her. But his eyes shone with the inquisitiveness she had detected earlier.
Tilting her head and leaning against her counter, she contemplated his words before asking, "Do what?"
His eyes narrowed dangerously. "You know what I mean. How do you control those monsters?" he asked gruffly.
It was Serena's turn to look displeased. The Grimm were not monsters, even if the whole world viewed them as such. So she voiced her disapproval of his wording. "They are not monsters. And I don't control them."
His eyes seemed to sharpen their glare at the frosty note that entered her voice and he sneered once. "Then what do you do? They listen to you, so there obviously is a method to control them," he argued, pronouncing the word 'control'.
"There is no method," the girl replied calmly. "I respect them and they respect me. That's all."
"You've gotta be kidding me. That can't be all!"
Adam grit his teeth at the stubbornness of the human girl. There must be a way to gain control over the Grimm, and he knew she knew which one it was. She was even more ignorant than he'd thought her to be if she believed that all she had to do was show those monsters a little kindness, a little respect, and they would do her bidding. She was hiding something from him, he could feel it.
"I know it sounds crazy and it's hard to believe, but there is no trick behind it. The Grimm are much more human than you might think. All you need to do is show them kindness and they will return it. As long as you trust them, they will trust you as well. They will accept you that way."
Adam scoffed at her explanation. This human was so deluded, not even he could believe it. Either she really believed the bullshit she preached, or she was humoring him. Either would not work out well for her. He would get the answer sooner or later. The Grimm were mindless creatures, born only to destroy humankind. They did not even understand the concept of love or respect, much less trust.
The girl must have heard his scoff for she lifted her eyes, blue clashing with red in a silent battle. There was no doubt in her eyes — she really believed what she just told him.
That settles it; she's nuts, he concluded. Living in isolation must have fried her brain.
"I'm perfectly sane," the girl suddenly quipped, and for a moment Adam suspected he'd talked aloud. "You didn't say it, but it's written all over your face. You're not as unreadable as you might think to be."
His blood boiled at the arrogant smirk she threw him. Why, this little-
"When I first met Ajax, the Grimm that always accompanies me, he attacked me."
The information hit him out of the blue and his blood stopped simmering. Instead, he payed rapt attention to the words that came out of her mouth, eyebrows furrowed all the while.
"It was shortly after I'd ended up here, so I had no idea what a Grimm was. And when I stumbled upon him, he attacked and injured me," she explained, turning her left arm so he could spot a thin scar that trailed across the upper part. "Naturally, I fled. But somehow, I knew that he was more than a wild animal. So, when I met him again, things went differently. I assume your reaction to the encounter would have been to kill him," she addressed him.
Adam nodded his head and she continued on.
"See, that's the problem. The Grimm are used to the fact that, as soon as they encounter a human, they will be attacked and, subsequently, killed. So I didn't do anything. I noticed that he only attacked out of fear for his own life — he didn't do it for fun or anything, but to protect his life. I started talking to him, and that kinda did the trick. He calmed down and that's how we became friends," she finished off. "And after a while, he also introduced me to Aeolus, Napoleon, and all the others."
That added bit of information made his already loose jaw drop, and Adam quickly tried to recompose himself. Coughing once, he asked, "To who?"
The girl smiled. "They're other Grimm I met a few months ago. Aeolus is a Nevermore, and Napoleon is the leader of one of the Grimm packs. Ajax introduced me to them shortly after we became friends. Oh, and then there's Loki! He's a Beowulf that just loves to taunt me." She shook her head while chuckling to herself. "They're all very nice."
Now Adam was sure his jaw was on the floor. Had this girl really just addressed mindless killer-beasts by names? And she talked of them as though they were human!
She said 'others', so she has control over many more Grimm, the Faunus realized with astonishment. Just what kind of monster is this girl?
Serena was pleased that she seemed to have baffled her — for the moment — unpleasant guest. At least that made him shut up. She honestly hated it whenever he called them monsters. They were so much more than that. If only the humans of this world could see that.
"So, what you're saying is that, although Grimm are the greatest threat in this world, the only thing they want from us is to be loved?" he mock-questioned her. Of course he would.
"Yes, I think that would be best for all," she replied, standing her ground. She was done with him mocking her about things he knew only little about. "Instead of continuously killing them, it would be best for the population of this world to learn to understand them."
His eyes gleamed for a second before he continued with, "So, let me guess, they're here to help us. I'm sure some over-worldly power sent them, not to kill us, but to help us. They're heaven sent angels."
Exasperation took hold of Serena. It was tiring to argue with him. But, then again, it was obvious that no one would believe what some girl living in a cave said. By his standards, she was probably bonkers. But she refused to give him the satisfaction.
"Actually, I do."
His chuckling stopped abruptly and his eyes snapped to her in their surprise. Even if it was only a small change, Serena was determined to change at least this man's opinion about the Grimm.
"Contrary to what everyone else thinks — that the Grimm are meant to extinct humanity and so on…" She waved it off with a lofty hand as though she was not talking about the future of the entire human race. "… I think that they serve a much bigger, much more important purpose."
"And that would be?"
"Helping humans to avoid war," she declared. Waiting a few moments to let the idea sink into his thick skull, she continued on matter-of-fact, "Think about it. Has this world ever experienced war? No, it has not. And that is because you do not have the time to. Should one of the kingdoms decide to wage war, they would have to deploy all of their military forces. They would have to leave their land with minimum defenses. It would be easy for the Grimm to storm such a weak kingdom. Plus, the negativity that is exuded when war is waged would only amplify the Grimm's strength."
She paused a moment, watching how he processed the information she had just thrown at him. It was satisfying enough to see him so perplexed.
"So, you see, there really is no opportunity for you to attack each other. The Grimm help balance this co-existence: if one kingdom starts to get unhinged, the Grimm will be there to put it back in its place." Lightening her tone, she added, "And just look at all the technological advances the Grimm have brought you. Alone your weapon would be something the humans in my world would need decades to construct. We didn't even think of it yet! The Grimm help you to evolve. That is their purpose; not to destroy you. They are to keep the harmony until you are capable of maintaining it yourselves."
Adam had never been so perplexed in his entire life. The girl's theory was sound — she had prove that added strength to her arguments. But the Grimm as keepers of peace? If he was not wrong, then it was the Grimm that attacked humans on an almost daily basis. They did not need Hunters and Huntresses for nothing. They were a very real threat, and many kingdoms had already fallen prey to them.
Still, she had a point. Not once had he or his family experienced war, and he had been on this planet for twenty-two years, his parents and grand-parents even longer. It made sense that none of the kingdoms would want to declare war on each other when there was an enemy just outside their doors, waiting to trample everything down.
But the whole concept of the Grimm being peace keepers was not the only thing that irked him.
As she had so earnestly explained her view on things, he noticed how she had said 'your world' and 'my world'. It was as though she counted herself as not being of Remnant — which would be impossible. But she had shown no traces of mockery; she really did consider herself to not be of this world. That only added to the heap of questions already forming in his mind.
It seemed that, with every new information he learned about this particular human, a thousand new questions arose. She proved herself to be an enigma, and a complicated one at that. But then again, he loved a good challenge.
The girl remained quiet for the rest of the evening, as did Adam. They consumed their meal in silence and she was the first to retire for the evening. The Faunus hovered by the fire, once more going through all of the information the human had divulged today.
It all made sense, but the application of it would be difficult. Especially regarding the part of humans showing respect to the Grimm. At the moment, they weren't even capable of showing some respect to Faunus, so he guessed that the whole humans-and-Grimm-living-in-harmony-thing would have to wait for a long while.
But the one question that permeated in his brain was: Who is this girl?
In all his life, he had never met someone like her. She saw the world completely differently — as though she really were not of Remnant — and sometimes spoke in mysterious ways.
But the point was: she was an interesting human, and if Adam did not want to return to Spike with empty hands, he would have to learn more about her and her powers.
Chapter 22: Trauma
"There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds."
― Laurell K. Hamilton,
"The shock of any trauma, I think changes your life.
It's more acute in the beginning and after a little time you settle back to what you were.
However it leaves an indelible mark on your psyche."
— Alex Lifeson
The day was ridden with rain and wind, so Serena had decided to stay indoors. The food she had conserved from previous times would suffice for her patient and herself, and if not, then she still had some canned goods she could offer.
Since the weather did not allow for much to be done, the girl had decided to return to her meditation. Ever since the unexpected guest had stumbled into her life, she had neglected the daily meditations that she used to do in favor of tending to the Faunus. But his wounds were better now, so she could finally find the peace she needed to meditate.
She felt the Faunus' eyes follow her as she made her way to the exit of the cave, and felt his surprise when she plopped down on the solid floor cross-legged. She paid him no heed, taking in a measured breath. Placing her fingers atop her knees and folding her hands so that her thumb and pointer finger were touching, she closed her eyes and let the sound of the rain wash over her.
These were the moments she felt the most at ease, at peace. The whole world around her faded out, and all she could hear were the sound of her own heartbeat and — in this case — the dripping of the rain.
The sounds of the Faunus cleaning his gun intruded into her mind, and Serena pushed the noise back, trying to concentrate on anything else. But the motions and sounds were so rhythmical, she soon stopped trying to banish them and instead included them in her practice.
The sounds persisted for a few more minutes, then abruptly stopped. She heard something click, and then a sudden explosion flew by her head and outside, into the rain. Her eyes tore open at the noise, and she looked at the man who now held a smoking gun in his hands, looking at it critically. But that was not what had frightened her as much.
The sound was the exact same one as when the plane had broken through the frozen Potomac and then in two.
Serena suddenly grasped at her chest, noticing how out of breath she seemed when she'd done nothing to warrant the effect. She rather heard than felt the short gasps leave her mouth, and gulped a few times, trying to ease the pain in her throat and chest. But that only made it worse, and she felt her heart slamming erratically against her rib-cage, as though it was trying to shatter the bones and escape her torso.
The sound of spoken words reached her as though she were under water, and she only grasped harder at her chest, her knuckles turning as white as the bone plates on Napoleon's back. She noticed her eyesight deteriorating, and everything became unfocused, blurring in front of her.
"Hey, you okay?"
Serena managed to look up and at the one that had spoken, only able to identify a blurred human shape with red hair before the loss of oxygen took its toll and she collapsed to the side.
Adam's finely tuned ears picked up the girl's heavy breathing, and he glanced over at her. She was still sitting on the floor, but something was off about her. She was grasping her chest with one hand while the other unconsciously wandered to her throat, shaking lightly. He noticed the sudden paleness of her skin and felt a sliver of worry spread out inside him.
"Hey," he called to her, but she did not react to his voice. Whatever kind of attack it was she was having, it seemed like she was unable to register anything from outside.
The worry inside him grew — this was unusual for him; he was not the type to worry about someone else's well-being — and he stood up slowly, placing Wilt and Blush on his seat. He watched how her eyes flitted around but never focused on any specific point.
"Hey, you okay?" he asked, stepping closer. This time, she actually looked up at him, and he froze at the sheer terror and pain that was written in her eyes. Then, she tipped to the side, and her body slammed onto the hard ground.
Fuck, Adam cursed in his mind, marching over to the human. She was still gasping, almost choking. It looked as if she was having a sort of panic attack, though he did not know why. There had not been anything to instigate such a violent reaction.
What if… The whole thing had started when he'd fired a test shot to see if Wilt still worked fine. Maybe that was the trigger for this. Although he wondered why — sure, a shot was loud, but not loud enough to cause this.
Another desperate gasp for air and he returned his focus on the human still lying on the floor. She looked to be in severe pain, and he was not sure how to help her. He did the next best thing and — without really thinking, though he would later on hit himself for it — pulled her head into his lap, turning her so that she was looking at him.
Her eyes were screwed shut and her hands were still grasping at her chest. He feared that she might black out from her erratic breathing. "Calm down," he commanded, speaking loudly in hopes she would hear him. "You're breathing too fast; you need to calm down. Take slow breaths."
The only thing Serena could hear were the sounds of the crash, the plane hitting the water and splitting in two… and then the screams. They echoed in her mind, like ghosts she was trying to run away from, but that did not let up. She felt tears building up in her eyes, and clutched her chest in hope of crushing the agony she was feeling.
Then she felt hands on either side of her body, and felt how she was turned so that she was lying on her back and no longer with her face pressed into the dirt. Then the same set of hands placed themselves on either side of her head. She lost contact with the ground for a moment before feeling something soft and warm beneath her.
Sounds were slowly penetrating the blackness that surrounded her. She identified it as a voice. It was so warm, so welcoming. Instinctively, she reached for it, trying to grasp it in the hell she was reliving. She felt warm skin beneath her fingertips and, finally, the words the voice was uttering became clear.
"That's right; just breathe."
She recognized the deep baritone, but instead of the usual gruff edge she had come to know so well she was sure she could recognize him anywhere solely by the sound of his voice, there was a tinge of warmth, of kindness. Serena no longer concentrated on the words spoken, but simply on the voice. Gradually, she came back into awareness. She released the hold she'd had on one of his arms and rested both hands on the ground, the sturdy feeling of it reassuring her that she would not be sucked back into that nightmare.
The voice had quieted the minute she had removed her hands, and already she longed to hear him speak like that once more. It was so much nicer to hear him being kind than being his usual irritating self.
She slowly blinked her eyes open and stared into deep red ones. Unlike what she would normally have done when she'd been so close to a member of the opposite sex, she maintained the eye-contact. It gave her something to focus on, and his eyes really were such a magnificent shade of red.
To her surprise, he did not attempt to break the eye-contact and remained in place, letting her rest on what she only now realized was his lap. Normally, she would have blushed, but she was so exerted from the panic attack she'd just experienced that she was content to simply remain like this — quiet and close to him.
"It's difficult to have any animosity towards someone if you recognize that on so many levels they're exactly the same as you."
— Jonathan Taylor Thomas
They remained in this position for a little longer until the man began to shift uncomfortably. Serena broke her eye-contact with him and only then did she realize that she was lying on his lap, oh God! Blushing crimson, her head shot up like a projectile and she scooted away from him.
Oh God, she'd been lying on his lap contently all this time! Oh dear Gods, if you exist, then please, let me disappear into the floor, she prayed silently. But, as usual, nothing happened and the girl was left to blush at her, in her defense, totally unintentional act. He was the one who'd laid her head on his lap!
But oh God, he's shirtless!
Even if he irritated the hell out of her, Serena was still very much a young teenage girl. And, as such, she noticed things like strong arms and toned bodies. The fact that he was still running around without a shirt on and that her eyes peaked at him each time he moved did not ease her own embarrassment.
She watched with great curiosity as he simply got up, staggering for a minute — she was sure his legs had fallen asleep because of her, damn it — before making his way over to his place at the fire without a word. Intrigued by his silence, Serena got up as well and joined him, taking her usual seat that put her on the opposite side of the fire and him.
"What was that?" he finally questioned.
Serena internally sighed. Of course he'd want to know why she'd been having a panic attack — though she was surprised that he waited this long to ask. Raking her mind for an explanation, she let her eyes rest on the fire, hoping it would aid her in some way.
"It's… complicated." His stare told her that the meager answer was not enough to satisfy him. She let out a long sigh before explaining, "It has to do with the way I came into this world."
"Came into this world?" he repeated, confused, one eyebrow arched.
"You see, I'm not really what you'd call from this planet or dimension, or whatever this is. I'm from another universe, if you will. Actually, I come from a planet called Earth, where I lived in Phoenix in the State of Arizona."
The moment she said she was not from this planet or whatever, Adam thought she meant to humor him. He was on the brink of interrupting her ridiculous farce when she continued to explain. But when she further explained, he couldn't help himself.
He laughed. Not only at her, but at the whole seriousness with which she said the words.
But then, the conversation they'd had a few days prior came back into his mind. Back then, she'd also said things such as 'my world' and so on. He carefully scrutinized her. If what she was saying was the truth, then she would be able to explain how she got "into this world". He decided to test that theory.
"So," he continued slowly, "If you're not from here, then how did you get here?"
Her eyes turned a darker shade of blue — the darkest he'd seen them yet — and her eyebrows wrinkled. Her face grew a little pale, and for a moment he thought she'd have another attack. But there was no gasping for breath, so he assumed that it was something else.
The words were spoken quietly, but the message they contained slapped him as though she'd just yelled them into his ear. What does she mean 'died'? She sits right in front of me; she can't be dead.
"I was on a plane, on my way back home. But before we could even really take off, we fell into a frozen river. The entire thing broke in two, and many people were already dead. When I tried to get out, something from the plane had stabbed me. As a result, I drowned in the river."
"And how did you get here?" he asked, since her explanation made no sense to him so far.
"Honestly, I have no idea. All I do know is that I woke up in the middle of this forest. How and why I was brought here is beyond me, but I'm glad that I'm not dead," she finished.
Serena could see the lingering doubt in the man's eyes. She couldn't blame him though. If someone were to tell her such a story, she'd call the police and probably accuse them of being mad.
"And you expect me to believe this crap?" his angered voice spoke.
She did not want another dispute with him after he'd helped her. So, instead of battling it out orally with him, she simply stood up and lifted her shirt. The scar that ran across her abdomen and the one located on her right side were proof enough. The fact that she was technically exposing her entire upper body seemed to bother him little as she watched him observe them critically. He seemed satisfied when he gave a curt nod and averted his eyes, for which she left out a quiet sigh of relief before replacing her shirt. She sat back down and watched him. There seemed to be conflict in his mind, since his eyes kept on flicking around, never once staying still.
"How old are you?"
The question completely caught her off-guard, and Serena blinked a few times before answering, "Nineteen…" Again, his eyes shifted around and she could not help herself but ask, "And you? How old are you?"
"Twenty-two," he mumbled absent-minded. Her guess was that he was still pre-occupied with whatever was swirling around in his mind and hadn't really thought about her question. But she was, nonetheless, glad that he answered; one more thing she now knew about him. It made him less of a stranger to her.
Adam contemplated the information carefully. It certainly did not make sense that someone from another world or dimension would suddenly end up here. What bothered him the most, though, was the fact that she was actually a dead person.
Adam Taurus was a person of logic, so he had a hard time accepting the fact that, technically, he was talking to a ghost.
The question about her age had been one of pure curiosity, and he had a tendency to voice his thoughts without much thought. At least now he had a few more answers regarding this very special, very peculiar human.
Another question popped up. "Hey," he spoke, catching her attention. "Why did you help me?"
A look of surprise flashed across her face and she replied in a dumbfounded voice, "You were hurt."
"I know that, but why did you help me? Why did you save my life? I know you know about us Faunus. And about the White Fang," he explained, slightly irritated by her slow mind.
"Ah!" Her face lit up with understanding and she snipped a finger. "That's what you're getting at! Well, you certainly are correct. I know about both the White Fang and the Faunus. Though I don't quite understand why that should keep me from helping you,” she voiced, tilting her head in confusion.
Adam felt his eyebrow twitch and he was about to lash out at her again, but she prevented him from doing so as she continued.
"I mean, for me, there is no difference between Human, Faunus, or a member of the White Fang. I do know that the White Fang is a sort of terrorist group…" She looked at him, expecting him to berate her for calling them terrorists. He didn't and she continued. "But, honestly, I'm not the kinda person that just lets someone die when I can help it. Like I said, there's no difference between us."
The explanation surprised him, but Adam kept it from showing on his face. Truly, she was different from any human he'd met in his life. Perhaps it was because she came from a different dimension?
"I meant to ask, and I'm sorry if I intrude onto something private, but what's it like? In the White Fang, I mean?" he heard her quiet voice ask shyly.
What was it like? It certainly wasn't a field trip. The missions were dangerous, the training rigorous, and the expectations high. Additionally, he had to spend time with brainless morons whose only assets were their strength. Only a handful of Faunus — mostly the high-ranked agents like himself — possessed enough brains to be called decent company.
He told her as much. What caught him off-guard once more — she was doing that a lot he noticed begrudgingly — was when she giggled at his words.
"I didn't think this to be funny," he said monotonously, and his voice must have held some of the confusion and irritation he felt at her laughing.
"I'm sorry," she apologized, smothering down another giggle. "I'm not laughing at you or anything. It's just…" She stocked for a moment before muttering, "It sounds like a lot of fun."
"Fun?" He arched an incredulous eyebrow.
"In a way. I mean, you get to go together on missions, you can spar with each other, and you can share a meal when you want to. And you're never lonely; there's always someone close-by. It's lively, you know. Like a big family of sorts."
It took him a moment before he understood — she envied him. She envied him for the human company and interaction she seldom got. She must be incredibly lonely if she was jealous of him. In a way, it was quite sad.
The Faunus shook his head, banning the thought as soon as it had popped up in his mind. No fraternizing with the enemy, he reminded himself. She was human, and as such, she was his enemy and that of the White Fang. It would bring him little if he started to feel sympathy for her now.
"Anyway," her once more cheery voice interrupted his battling mind. "I think it's time I properly introduced myself." She gave him a sheepish smile before standing up. Walking around the fire, he blinked when she stood by his side and stretched out her hand for him to take. "I'm Serena Cauldron, pleased to meet you."
It took him a moment before he grasped her hand in his — gods, she had small hands — and gave it a solid shake, standing up as well. He was not uncivilized, and knew when to be polite. And since she was making an effort, he assumed that he might make one, as well.
She gave him another small but radiant smile. Then she offered him another cup of her home-made tea and he accepted. They engrossed themselves in some more talk, mostly her telling him what her world was like. And even though he didn't show it, he liked the small smile that played upon her lips whenever she talked of her family or friends.
But he reminded himself: No fraternizing with the enemy. Even if the enemy was a lonely girl.
This is the last of the chapters that I’ve already edited. I’ll try to get the others done as soon as possible, but it will probably take some time since I’m busy with university inscriptons etc.
So I ask for a little patience. But, like I said, I’ll do my best to get the next chapter done ASAP.
For those wondering: The story is complete and has been so far about a year, but I’ve decided to revise it. Hence why it should take a little less time for me to get them done.
Chapter 24: Trust
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
― Ernest Hemingway
Serena did her usual workout routine. She'd just finished her jog — she'd woken up way later than usually; it had almost been noon — and was now running through her usual series of moves, spinning and spiralling around. Adam was not yet healed enough to resume his own training, and she felt his attentive eyes follow her every move.
It unnerved her how he observed her. She got it; he didn't trust her. But, seriously, they'd been living together for more than a week now, and he still thought she was going to kill or rat him out? The guy had a serious paranoia problem, if you asked her.
Another involuntary shiver raced down her spine, as though she could actually see his eyes narrow in scrutiny of her. She didn't have anything against being watched — it was uncomfortable, yes, but she could handle it. She did, however, object to being analyzed and watched as though she were a lunatic or dangerous criminal — or possibly prey.
"Could you stop staring at me, please," she finally voiced her discomfort, having had enough of his staring. She turned her head in his direction, and watched how his eyes narrowed even more. Honestly, if he kept this up, he'd have some serious permanent furrows by the time he left.
"Do not tell me what to do, human."
His reply was rude, as always, and Serena gave a huff of irritation. "I'm not telling you what to do. I'm asking you nicely to stop staring at me. It makes me nervous."
A brief smirk flitted across his face — why did she have to say that him looking at her made her nervous? — before he resumed his scowling.
"Seriously, though, stop staring. It becomes creepy with time," she teased him. Maybe that would help?
Nope, didn't look like it, for in the next moment, he was up in her face — well, her face was confronted with his chest and he was confronted with air, but whatever — and sneering.
"Do not mock me," he commanded.
"I'm not." It was her turn to wrinkle her eyebrows. If he wanted to be cross, she would be too. Then another thought hit her. "Why don't you trust me?"
His face became lax for a moment — she had caught him off-guard apparently — before he barked a laugh. And not a friendly one.
"Have you lost your mind? I would never trust a human."
"Why not? What have I done to earn your mistrust," she countered. "Ever since I took you in, you've been nothing but hostile. Like I didn't save your life."
"You did no such thing," he sneered, lip curling in disgust and anger.
Oh, she was getting to him.
"Oh, then I guess you bleeding out in the middle of buttfuck nowhere was all a part of your plan. I'm sure you had some kind of contingency plan. And I'm sure it was also all part of your plan for Eric and Steve to die." She crossed her arms across her chest. "Right, all part of your grand scheme."
Before she even knew what happened, he had jumped her and pushed her to the ground. Straddling her waist, he had one knee on each side of her body, hands resting on either shoulder of her. Anger was rolling off him in waves, and Serena knew that she'd crossed the line. But this dude was seriously getting on her nerves with his "Humans are shit" policy.
"And now you're resorting to force," she told him calmly, her own eyes blazing. "Because that's how everything can be solved."
He looked about ready to burst by now.
"Go ahead, punch me. It won't make you feel any better."
Red clashed with blue, both locked in a silent battle. For a moment, it seemed like he really was going to punch her, but then he suddenly released her shoulders and got off her. Serena creased her eyebrows, rightening herself up, and watched him turn his back to her. His fists clenched and unclenched a few times, and he punched the outside of the cave once. Apart from that, he didn't do anything.
"You saved my life," he suddenly admitted, and Serena's eyes almost bulged out of her head. "I give you that much credit. But that does not mean that I will trust you."
He seemed to want to say more, but a voice interrupted them.
"Serena! I'm back!"
Oh shit, Ruby!
Serena's brain scrambled for a plan, and before she knew what she was doing, she'd shoved the Faunus into the cave, to the farthest back corner, and piled blankets atop him. He gave minor prostest before she hushed him with a "shut up and be quiet", then she went outside to greet her surprise guest.
"Ruby! Good to see you."
The two hugged and Serena invited her inside. "Want some tea? It's a new recipe."
"Sure," the teen agreed, detaching her folded up scythe from her back and leaning it on the boulder she sat on. "Do you have anyone over?"
The question made Serena tense, and she cautiously glanced to where the male nuisance was still securely covered by blankets. "No. Why do you ask?"
Ruby pointed to the black coat that lay forgotten on the bed. Damn it, she'd forgotten to clear that away. "Oh that. I bought it to use it for… mending some clothes. I got a few holes in some of them." The lie wasn't perfect, but it was the best thing that came to mind.
Phew, catastrophe avoided.
"Anyway, what's up? Anything new from Beacon?" Serena asked the girl in an attempt at changing the topic.
"Nah, nothing really. Team's still the same, though Blake and Weiss are getting along better."
Serena raised her eyebrows. "I thought they weren't that close?"
"Yeah, but ever since some time they're getting along better. I think Weiss finally sees that Blake's not like the rest of those White Fang guys. She's not a fanatic or terrorist like them. Weiss says she should be glad she's gotten away from those lunatics."
Serena could practically feel Adam death glaring at Ruby from his soft hiding spot. She only hoped he didn't let his temper get to him like just a few minutes ago.
"Oh, by the way, the Vytal Festival's coming up soon," Ruby announced merrily.
"And the Vytal Festival is what exactly?" Serena asked a little sheepish. She still didn't know all the traditions and festivities of this strange world. She hoped she hadn't affronted Ruby; maybe that Vytal thing was super important here.
"Oh, right; sorry I always forget you're not from here. Well, basically, it's this big celebration where the four kingdoms come together to celebrate their traditions and cultures. There's food from all around the world, and there'll even be a tournament. And guess who gets to compete in it!"
"That's great, Ruby! I wish you and your team the best of luck," Serena rejoiced.
"Thanks! If you've got the time, you could visit." The teen saw that her friend was about to object, so she promptly continued. "And don't worry. There are so many people of different nationality and ethnology there, I'm sure you won't stand out. Even Faunus come to celebrate with us."
Serena's eyes widened for a moment before returning to their usual size.
"I'd love to, really. But I have things I need to do here."
"Ohh?" Ruby looked suspicious once more.
"Um, yeah. I encountered some new Grimm, and they prove to be quite the challenge. I wouldn't want to leave the forest unsupervised when they're still so wild. You know, to avoid incidents like the one with Azuna."
Ruby nodded her head in understanding. The two females conversed for a little longer before Ruby had to return to her dorm. Something about having been late once and Miss Goodwitch being scarier than any Grimm when angry.
"No problem. Take Ajax with you; he'll accompany you for some of the way," Serena said and watched her friend leave with the Grimm at her side.
She heaved a sigh before telling the Faunus that it was save to come out. "I didn't know that there were also Faunus who were on good terms with humans," she mumbled to herself.
"Those Faunus are traitors to their own kind," Adam's gruff voice reached her.
"Why? Because they are ready to trust humans? I don't see why not. It seems to work."
"Ha! You want me to trust you and your kind. All your kind does is destroy. And then blame us for it!" he accused her.
Serena's lips twitched for a moment. "That's funny. You do the exact same thing," she said, turning her head to him. His eyes widened and his mouth parted slightly. She had him. "You are the ones that attack and terrorize humans. Yet you claim that we are the destroyers. Isn't that hypocritical?"
His mouth closed and opened, and he wanted to say something, but nothing came. He had no counter argument, because what she'd just said was the truth. The White Fang was a terrorist organization, and they did attack human society. They killed if needed.
And still the humans were the ones to blame?
Serena watched the inner conflict the Faunus was experiencing. It seemed like he'd never even considered the notion of them being just as much at fault as the humans.
"For war, there always need to be two parties. Humans are not perfect, and neither are Faunus. But if you actually tried like some other Faunus, I think you could find some common ground," she spoke, thinking that those might be some of the wisest words she'd ever addressed to someone.
"Then again, I'm only some girl living in a cave, so I don't really know. Which reminds me, I need to go out and hunt. I'll be back later."
Adam watched as she went to get both her bow and arrows, and then wandered off into the forest.
And somehow, through this conflict that they'd had, he felt like she was the only human he could actually trust. She was honest, and she showed great kindness. She saw the world for what it was, and not how she wanted it to be. She was fair.
Maybe… Maybe if all humans were a bit like her, a peaceful relation between Faunus and them weren't as much a fantasy as he'd always thought it to be.
The base used for the comic — you can’t imagine all the work, but it was worth it — is by SeraphicMayin on DeviantArt (it’s a YCH Base). Go check her out; she has great work, especially if you want to render your chapter a little more alive with a comic like I did this time. But she also has normal pose references etc.
Here’s the link to my page for those who want to see the panel: caroline982.deviantart.com/art/Unlikely-Comic-Strip-Conflict-Chapter-24-702913458?ga_submit_new=10:1504639239
Chapter 25: Deal
Sorry for the long wait, but I’ve been busy with organising college. To make up for it, here are two chapters in a row. Hope you enjoy!
"As you work through your grief,
you may have times when you simply need
to get your mind off of what you're going through
because you have done everything you can do about it;
there is nothing else you can do
except wait for the full healing to come."
Two days had passed since their violent discussion, and neither Serena nor Adam had interacted much with the other. Whereas the Faunus did it out of pride, the girl did it more so because of her own thoughts. She had a lot on her mind — different theories and ideas how to help Faunus and people get along better being one of them — and was actually glad for the silence.
Today was her sister's birthday, and Serena felt more than just a little depressed. They had always celebrated together, or with their family. But this year, Jasmin and her parents would have to celebrate without her there. Serena was sure that not only her own heart ached at the thought. She could only imagine what her family had to be going through.
So she celebrated in silence, isolating herself in the farthest corner of the cave, and sent her thoughts to her little sister.
I hope that you are happy, and that all of you are well. I cannot imagine what mother and father have to be going through, but I hope that, somehow, they'll know that I'm fine. I'm content with my life at the moment. It's not perfect, but better than being dead, right?
A sardonic smirk lifted the corner of her lips upright, and she gave a quiet laugh. She had to think of her current annoyance of a guest at the thought. She was sure that Jasmin would have liked the Faunus; in a way, he sometimes reminded her of her sister.
Another cloud of depression hung over her, and Serena quickly finished her so-to-say prayer. Once done, she exited the cave to take in the fresh air. The soothing scent of leaves, flowers, and earth always helped calm her mind.
She watched Adam as he went through a series of motions with his sheathed blade, a few yards away from her, and an idea was born. Quietly approaching him, she sat on a nearby rock and watched him. Even though he was slower due to his injuries, the blows and slices were still full of energy and power.
Adam noticed the girl from the corner of his eye, but did not stop to acknowledge her presence. He was still on hostile terms with her as far as he was concerned, and he was not one to let things go easily. Another trait of his Faunus heritage, it seemed.
He could feel her eyes on him as she watched him like a hawk, and he began to understand why she'd chided him back then. It was unnerving, to be watched so closely by someone one was not familiar with. He wondered if this was her retribution for his treatment of her.
"I have an idea." Her voice was quiet as the wind carried it over to him, and he stopped his training at the sound of it.
It was the first she had spoken to him yet. The tone was calm, as always, and he guessed she was trying to relieve the tension that had built itself between them. For a moment, he entertained the thought of simply ignoring her, but the notion of breaking the oppressive silence sounded appealing even to him. He liked a little quiet, but he couldn't stand the silent treatment they'd been giving each other.
"Which would be?"
Her eyes seemed to spark for a moment at his answer as she laid out her plan before him. "How about I teach you how to get along with Grimm, and in return, you teach me how to fight?"
His mind immediately analized the offer. The prospect of learning how she commanded those monsters, and even achieving it himself, would be a great asset, not only to him, but to the White Fang, as well. He could teach other members, and they would be able to use the creatures in their future plans. Spike would kill to gain such knowledge.
Then again, she expected something in return. The idea of him teaching her combat struck him as odd. She did not seem like the type of person to engage in battle; if anything, he would see her as the one trying to avoid conflict in any way possible. Still, he questioned her motives. He knew that she was not inept when it came to fighting. He'd seen her train all those mornings he'd been here. So why the need to be trained any further?
"What kind of fighting would you like me to teach you?" he probed cautiously.
"Nothing much," she waved off with a lofty hand. "Just a few things; you know, to extend my arsenal."
After a moment, he nodded his head. "Alright. Deal."
"Really?" the girl asked him, her face quite stupefied by his benevolent behaviour. He blinked as she pumped her fist in the air, hooting a small "Alright!" before slamming her hands over her mouth. Looking over to him with what could only be described as a sheepish and embarrassed look, she mumbled, "Sorry."
He smirked as she attempted to compose herself by clearing her throat. "So, when would you like to start?" After a moment, she added pensively, "Maybe it's best if we start with the Grimm…"
"Why start with them?" He was honestly curious. He would have thought she would want to start her combat training immediatley. As far as he could tell, this human loved learning new things, no matter how small or trivial they were. She was like a sponge: soaking up any knowledge thrown her way.
He actually liked that about her. At least she was not brainless like some of the White Fang's members.
"We could start with combat first, but I think it would be best to give your wound a few more days to heal. You know, just in case it's not mended completely yet. I don't particularly fancy patching you up a second time," she explained.
That made sense. He nodded his head in agreement.
Chapter 26: Touch & Look
"The person you love should be where you can calm your soul.
They should be your safest place to be yourself.
Life is hard enough.
That person should be your solace."
— Word Porn
"A Scorpio's eyes don't just look at you.
They pierce your soul and probe your innermost secrets."
— Astrology Answers
"Speaking of which, how about I have a look at that wound of yours. If you're lucky, it might be healed enough so you can take a bath," the human suggested.
At the mention of a chance to clean up Adam nodded his head eagerly. So far, he'd had to make do with a sponge and a few towels to clean himself up. The mention of a full bath was music to his ears.
So they went back inside where the girl checked his gash as she always did, nodding approvingly. "I think we can risk it," she decided after a final critical look. "The flesh seems to have come together enough. It might still sting a little, but other than that, the water shouldn't do any harm. Just be careful when you use shampoo. I don't know how it's going to react to it," she cautioned. "Apart from that, you're good to go."
"If you say so, doc."
Adam was shocked at the affectionate nickname that slipped his tongue, and the girl blushed beet red.
The pond she'd led him to was as if out of a fairytale. The water was surrounded by sharp but smooth rocks, and the shrubbery acted as perfect cover for whoever decided to take a swim. The water that streamed out the upper mountain and down the cliff was clean, and sparkled in the sunlight. Dipping a hand into the water, Adam noted with surprise that it was not cold, but lukewarm.
Carefully stripping out of his clothes, he wadded into the water before sitting down and relaxing. A small hiss escaped his lips as his wound came into contact with the liquid, but he soon got used to it, and it faded until it was nothing more than a dull sting. Closing his eyes, he let his body relax for the first time in months. He felt how all the tension left his muscles, and his shoulders sagged a couple of inches.
He prevailed a little like this, simply listening to the sounds around him and inhaling the scents that engulfed him. The girl had chosen wisely when she'd decided to stay in this part of the forest. It provided her with all the luxury she could possibly need.
The Faunus languidly reached for the bottle of shampoo that sat on the edge of a bigger rock, and chuckled as the smell of flowers wafted in his direction. Typical girl, he thought, amused.
It felt good to scrape all the dirt and sweat out of his hair and off his body, and he was mindful of the wound, just as she'd advised him. Dunking his head under, he felt his mind go blank — something that had never happened, since he was always brooding about something or on guard — as he washed out the shampoo.
Serena looked up to see the Faunus standing at the entrance of the cave, the sweatpants she'd bought him hanging loosely on his waist, and his chest bare. She felt the blood rush to her face as she took him in, and opted for instead looking at his face, and not his body.
Turned out that view didn't help her burning cheeks in cooling down. His hair was still dripping wet and quite dishevelled, hanging limply around his face instead of being spiked up. Meanwhile, One hand was lazily trying to towel said hair dry.
Oh sweet Heaven have mercy! she pleaded as she felt her eyes roam his entire figure. I know it's rude to stare, but damn!
Catching his eyes, she felt her heart leap and her head almost explode with all the blood up there. Trying to make this not any more embarrassing for herself, she spluttered for words before finally managing to squeak, "Have a nice bath?"
Oh God, no! Why'd I say that? Idiot, idiot! Inside, she was all but beating herself up for the comment.
His deep chuckle tore her from her self-destructive thoughts, and she blushed once more as she watched the amusement dance in his eyes. And why did the fire have to cast its light on him in such a way? Seriously, the light made his body seem even more toned than it already was.
If this was going to go on, Serena would have a heart attack.
Or a very strong nosebleed.
Either way, she hoped that it would kill her.
Adam could not help but chuckle at the girl's face. She looked absolutely mortified, yet she could not seem to keep her eyes from roaming his body.
On the one hand, it amused him to no end to see her face go up in flames and her mouth try to work out a coherent sentence.
On the other hand, it also made him become a little self-conscious. Sure, it was nice to be complimented in such a way — though he was pretty sure that the girl was ready to die on the spot right then and there just to end her embarrassment — but the relation he had with her was different than any he'd ever had with other women. For some reason, having her look at him like this made him feel almost… shy.
Not that he would show it. So he played the macho card. "Anything wrong?" he asked, the words practically coming out as a purr.
"N-No, not at all. Wh-Why do you ask?" the girl all but wheezed.
"You look a little red in the face." He pointed to her burning cheeks, tousling his hair with the other one. At the movement, her cheeks only flared brighter.
Then, suddenly, a coquettish smirk quirked her lips, and it was his turn to gulp nervously. Her eyes looked at him with an intensity he'd never experienced before, and he could now feel his own cheeks heating. Why did they have to be so impossibly blue? He could get lost in them if he wasn't careful.
"Oh, but it seems like you have the same problem. I hope you didn't catch a cold out there," she asserted. "That would be a real shame."
He almost chocked on his spit at that last sentence.
"Why don't you come here, and I dry that hair for you," she suggested, returning to her shy and caring self. "Because else, you'll really catch a cold."
He nodded his head dumbly, for once completely tongue-tied, slowly trudging over to her. He didn't as much look at her as at her eyes when the girl motioned for him to sit on her bed. Plopping onto the soft makeshift mattress, he gave up the towel in his one hand.
Serena gently took the cloth and started rubbing his head, dainty fingers mindful of the horns swallowed by his hair. As she stood in front of him, Adam could not help but note the faint smell that emanated from her. It reminded him of flowers, the forest, and, strangely, rain. He closed his eyes as he quietly inhaled, committing the scent to memory.
For a reason he could not pin-point, her smell relaxed him immensely, and the soft caresses of her hands made his mind shut down for once. Soon, he had all but leaned his head against her chest, his eyes closed, breathing slow and quiet.
Who knew that the touch of a human could feel this good.
Chapter 27: Complication
"But the memories that hang heaviest are the easiest to recall.
They hold in their creases the ability to change one's life, organically, forever.
Even when you shake them out,
They've left permanent wrinkles in the fabric of your soul."
― Julie Gregory,
Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood
Serena looked at her pupil — if that was what she could call him — in discontent. The man stood tall in front of her, eyes glaring back and weapon at his side.
"I'll say it for the last time," she repeated what she'd told him at least three times before. "You need to leave your weapon here."
"And I'll answer for the last time: no. My weapon stays at my side."
The tension between the two grew, eyes still locked in a silent battle of wills. Finally, Serena gave a sigh of exasperation.
"Look, I know you don't trust me. But if you want this to work, you need to leave your weapon here. You show up with that by your side, and the Grimm will attack you. And I'm not sure I'll be able to stop them if they do," she finished.
Depending on the fact if I even want to stop them, she added cynically. Honestly, so far he'd been nothing more than a pain in the butt — the few times he was actually civil being excluded — and was truly considering letting Ajax rough him up a but. Of course she would step in if things got out of hand, but she was not against the idea altogether.
"And how am I supposed to defend myself if they do attack me?" Adam countered.
"Don't worry; I know how to handle them. Now, leave the weapon. I won't start training you otherwise."
The male grumbled something unintelligible, before he finally let go of the sword and leaned it against the stone wall.
Finally! Serena rejoiced in her mind. On the outside, she didn't let her emotions show, instead having a perfectly calm facade in place.
"Thank you. Now, would you please follow me?" she instructed, hiking along the path she had ingrained into her brain. The Faunus followed without further comment, but she could hear his footsteps crunch the soft leaves. She led them a good way into the forest before coming upon a large clearing.
"Alright; we'll be performing the first lesson of your training here. Now, before I call Ajax, I need to tell you something." Her eyes turned serious. "It's important that you don't let any negative thoughts cloud your mind. Any sign of negativity and he'll probably attack. But I guess you already knew that," she commented the way he rolled his eyes at her. "Anyway, try not to be too tense. It'll only give him the idea that you're ready to attack."
With those final words, she lifted her hand to her mouth and a shrill whistle rang across the forest. They waited for a short while before the sound of heavy footsteps reached both their ears. Serena saw how Adam tensed up, and admonished him to relax.
Ajax appeared not a moment later, black fur shining in the warm sun, red eyes landing on the human girl. He immediately trotted over to her, pressing his snout to her cheek in a way of greeting. His ears perked and teeth flashed as he noticed the second presence, and he immediately positioned his body so that he was partially shielding that of the girl.
Adam noticed this with great interest. The monster considered her one of its own. He stored the note in the back of his mind, focusing back on the Grimm.
He watched as the girl stepped up next to the Grimm, hand slowly landing atop the Grimm's shoulder.
"Easy, Ajax. It's okay. He's a friend of mine," she soothed the creature, voice a calming sound in the otherwise tense situation. "He's here to meet you. How about it?"
The Grimm seemed confused for a moment, head cocking to the side, inspecting the human male in front of him. Adam watched as its shoulders sank a little, and some of the tension left its body.
"Alright, you can approach him now. But do so slowly; no hasty or rash movements. It'd be best if you stretch out your hand towards him. That way, he can smell you when you're close enough," the girl advised his quietly, hand still on the Grimm's shoulder.
Adam did as she instructed — for once actually following her orders without opposition; she was the expert on Grimm here, after all — and slowly crept closer to the creature, one hand cautiously inching closer to the Grimm. He'd just about reached the pair when a sudden memory entered his mind.
The Grimm felt the shift of his aura, and before Serena had the chance to react, Ajax had pushed her aside with one claw while the other swung at the Faunus in front of them. She hit the ground hard, and gasped as her head whipped around to see the man dodging her friend's attacks.
Scrambling up from the ground, she hurried over to the fighting couple. Knowing of only one way to stop Ajax now, she positioned her body in front of that of Adam, stretching her arms out to try and cover him as best she could.
Ajax, however, had already lunged for another attack. Serena saw how the Grimm's eyes widened in shock as he realized that his deadly claws were heading straight towards her face. In an effort to avoid hurting her, he redirected his slash, claws striking her across her upper arm.
Serena flinched at the sharp pain that flooded her body, biting her cheek to keep from crying out. Her hand immediately clasped around the wound, blood already dripping down her arm. The cut was deep and had cleanly cut through her skin, severing the muscle as it did so. Her arm hung limply by her side.
The soft whimpers from her friend caught her attention, and she gave a small smile. "Don't worry… I'm fine," she panted through the pain. In an effort to assure her friend of her well-being, she lifted the injured arm, waving it in the air once. The pain was even worse, but she suppressed it as well as she could.
"I'm okay, really. But I guess that's enough training for one day. You should go home, Ajax. I'll call for you tomorrow."
With a final bumping of his snout against her cheek as a sign of apology, the Grimm left the pair.
Serena turned, her face pale and sweat trickling down it, and made her way back to the cave.
Adam quietly followed her, eyes fixed on her bloodied arm. She didn't have to take the blow for him. He would have been fine on his own. And if he'd been allowed to take his weapon along, this wouldn't have happened in the first place! He'd warned her!
The girl swayed dangerously in front of him, and he could see how the wound took its toll on her body. The way she looked, she could pass out any second.
Grumbling to himself — he couldn't believe he was about to do this — he marched up to her. Not giving her a chance to protest, he put one hand on her back while the other grabbed her under the knees. Just in time it seemed, for as soon as he had a grip on her, her body sagged completely and he was left to heave her up into his arms.
The girl's head was lolling atop his arm, and he shifted his hold slightly so that the side of her face was resting against his chest. He could feel the sweat soaking into his shirt from the contact. Usually, he would be disgusted by this. But right now, he really couldn't bring himself to be.
She had gotten hurt in order to protect him. An unnecessary move, but she still put herself in danger for his sake. So he could let her drenching his shirt in sweat slide for now.
Serena's whole world was as if she were looking from beneath murky water. Her stomach felt queasy and her head pounded. Her arm had started to fall numb, and she could barely feel the drips of blood sliding along her wrist and fingers.
The only thing that gave her comfort was the steady sound of a beating heart by her ear. She tried focusing on it, pushing aside all other feelings. Simply concentrating on that one sound. The steady up and down motion helped her in gathering her mind.
She was ripped from the sound all too fast, her bottom coming to rest atop her bed. She felt the hands on her body leave her, and she felt strangely alone. It was almost like back then, when she was drowning.
She wished she'd had a hand to grab then.
The sudden lump of panic made her other, uninjured hand grasp for something, and she felt the soft texture of a shirt beneath her fingers. Her grip was weak but she did not relent.
Adam looked down at his shirt. One of her pale hands was bunching up the fabric in her grip, and try as he might, she was not letting go. He heaved a sigh of annoyance.
"Let go of me, or I can't help you," he demanded.
Unsteady blue eyes looked at him, and he wondered if the human was even capable of understanding him in her current state. Though something in his heart shifted at the sight. She looked so lost and small. Almost like a child that needed protection.
Banning the thoughts from his mind, he grabbed her hand and forcefully tore one finger after another loose from his shirt. Having regained his mobility, he went in search of the first aid kit the girl had stashed somewhere around the place.
"To the left," her feeble voice told him. He directed his search to the mentioned direction and soon got a hold of the small crate.
Returning to her side, he was somewhat relieved to see that she seemed to have gathered her bearings once more, her eyes no longer hazy. Grabbing her arm carefully, he applied the alcohol with a clean piece of cloth. The human whimpered and grit her teeth, but apart from that, she was silent.
He had to admire that about her. She was tougher than she looked.
When the slash was clean, he took the needle and thread from the box and started sewing the wound. This time, she made almost no sound, and he could tell that she was getting used to the steady rhythm of him pricking her skin and pulling the thread through it.
"The ointment. Put some of the ointment on it," she advised, pointing to the salve she used for his own wound.
He complied without question and in no time was she taken care of. Adam handed her a bowl of water, receiving an appreciative smile from the raven-haired female. She took the liquid in little sips, eyes closing in relief.
A noncommittal grunt was her only reply, and he left her side to sit himself at the forever burning fire. He disinterestedly poked the fire with a stick a few times, watching the girl from the corner of his eyes. She seemed to be recovering, and he chose now to ask his question.
"What happened back there?" His voice was a mix of annoyance and curiosity, though he tried to hide the latter. "I thought you said you had that thing under control?"
The girl took her time in answering, opting to sit by the fire as well. Poking at the new bandage to inspect it, she deemed it to be good enough. He had practice with taking care of wounds, and it hurt his manly pride that she would doubt his competence in treading hers.
"I do know how to calm them down," she responded calmly. "But I also warned you. Whatever happened there, it has something to do with you."
"Are you accusing me?"
"In a way; yes." Her blunt answer surprised him. "You know how Grimm are able to sense negative emotions. They feed and thrive on them. My best guess is that, during your meeting with Ajax, a strong memory or thought has entered your mind. It made him loose control."
A moment of silence passed between them.
"And I'm sorry I wasn't able to stop him from attacking you. I broke my promise to you."
Was she apologizing to him? She was the one who got hurt, not him. Once more, this human astounded him.
"However, if we wish to keep such interferences from happening in the future, you must let go of all your remaining negative feelings. Whether they are an emotion or memory. It won't work otherwise."
"And how the hell am I supposed to do that?" he demanded.
"Talk to me. It will help you. Trust me," she answered softly, blue eyes looking up at him. "Tell me what bothers you."
The glare he sent her was enough to convey his message: No.
"We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves."
— Dalai Lama XIV
Serena's eyes were droopy as she slurped the broth she'd cooked for breakfast. Her eyes were lazily watching the flickering flames, mind not yet among the living. The night had been rough for her: her arm had stung quite some whenever she accidentally rolled unto it in her sleep. The sleep itself had been anything but restful. Nightmares had plagued her the entire night, and she had barely gotten any sleep as it was.
She noticed the red eyes that watched her, the man sipping his own broth with a piece of bread. She opted to ignore him for the moment — her mind was far too tired to deal with him yet.
Finally, not being able to stand the constant staring anymore, she looked up and asked a bit more harshly than intended, "What?"
She saw the small twitch the side of his mouth did, and was sure he would have been frowning at her. But he kept himself from doing so, instead answering her question. "What are we going to do now?"
The question made her think. She was in no condition to go running around at the moment, what with her arm being practically useless. And he wasn't ready to face Ajax a second time. But if they just stayed in the cave, she was sure that they'd both go crazy.
"Well…" she began, mind still jumping from one idea to the next before finally settling on one. "We can work on your aura."
"My aura?" The confusion was very noticeable in his voice.
"Not the aura you use to fight and defend yourself. I mean your…uh… Your charisma? No, not quite that." She fumbled for words. "What I mean is kinda like your balance, if that makes any sense?"
"What would my sense of balance have anything to do with Grimm?" Now he just looked downright lost.
Oh, this was not working. But how the hell should she explain this to him?
"The balance of your being, your soul. I mean that we should work on restoring peace to your soul, in a way. The negative memories and feelings inside you have upset your inner peace. Once you restore that, it should be easier for you to get along with Grimm." She looked doubtful at her own explanation.
He gave a somewhat tentative nod of the head. "O-kay? And how exactly do we do that?"
A smile graced her lips as her eyes brightened. "We meditate."
His face fell, and she stifled a laugh at his baffled expression. For sure, meditating had been the last thing on his mind.
"Are you serious? Meditating?"
This time she did laugh, hiding her smile behind a hand. Once calmed down, she gave him a sheepish smile. "It's quite the effective method, trust me. I myself used it to get rid of some… unpleasant memories."
Walking over to the entrance of the cave, she settled down on the dusty floor, crossing her legs. Placing her hands one on each knee, she motioned for him to come over. He did so reluctantly, plopping down next to her as she grabbed his hand and pulled at it. She instructed him to mimic her pose, telling him to close his eyes as she closed her own.
"Now, think back to whatever brings you pain. Let it play out, but don't linger on it. Just watch as it happens, and try to let go of all the pain and sadness connected with the memory or emotion."
She heard him take a deep breath, and was pleased to see he for once took this seriously and actually listened to her. A few minutes of silence passed between the two, each focusing on their own memories. After a while, Serena felt how her patient's aura flickered. It was a little something she had become quite good at perceiving, thanks to her practicing in seeking out and pinpointing the auras of the Grimm.
"Don't let it get to you."
"It's not that easy," he hissed back.
"I know. But it's in the past. You cannot change anything anymore. Try to accept it, and let it play out. Just let it go," she mumbled.
It seemed to work; his aura became softer, no longer sharp and dark. She felt the change immediately. He had a… She didn't really know how to say it. His aura wasn't soothing, but more like a shield. Hard and yet soft beneath; something that offered protection.
She wondered at this. Never before had she met someone with an aura like this.
Ruby's aura was friendly and bright, inviting in anyone. It fit her personality perfectly. Just like her, it was warm and comforting, like the sunshine. It gave the people around her hope and strength.
But this man's aura was different. It was almost paradoxical in itself. The surface was rough and hard, like a wall that was meant to keep people at a distance. But the deeper she dug, the warmer it got. It was as if there were tiny cracks in it, granting her glances at his real self. Despite what he would have her believe, Serena could feel that he wasn't as grumpy or cynical as he would like her to think. No, he was kind, loyal, and brave.
A small smile crossed her lips. She liked this side of him better.
They continued their quiet training, and somewhere in-between Serena got up to start preparing dinner. Meanwhile, the Faunus didn't even notice her absence, face blank and eyes closed. He almost jumped when she gently shook his shoulder to inform him that dinner was ready. Again she had to smile at his face — he was surprised that he'd spent an entire day meditating.
But by the looks of it, the meditation had worked. He seemed less angry, and even gave her a small smile as she reached him his plate.
Who knew that a bit of meditation could do such wonders?
A bit on the short side, but at least it's an update. I hope I can update soon, but be prepared to not hear from me until at least the end of February. I've got Finals then and people in university / college know what that means. Wish me luck and I hope you enjoyed the story so far. Do look forward to future chapters.
Chapter 29: Revealed
I'M SO SORRY!
I realized yesterday that I never published the original chapter 29. This is the one that precedes Chapter 30 (Anguish) and leads up to the emotional confrontation. So, for those who've already read Chapter 30, this is the explanation on why Serena and Adam are suddenly at each others' throats.
Again, I sincerely apologize for the slip-up, and will make sure that it won't happen again.
"What if I wanted to break?
Laugh it all off in your face
What would you do?
What if I fell to the floor?
Couldn't take all this anymore
What would you do?"
— 30 Seconds To Mars,
Progress was slow, but it was progress nonetheless. With each new day, Serena could feel the change in her guest's aura. But it also became apparent in the Faunus' behavior — he turned more friendly, would occasionally help her prepare dinner or wash the dishes. Once, he even offered to go gather firewood for her.
The change was welcome, yet she could not get rid of the feeling that there was still something nagging at his mind. Something that not even the extensive meditation could get rid of. She knew it to be risky — if worse came to worse, he could revert to his old, hostile self — but she would have to address the blockade at some point.
It appeared that point would be tonight. The male was calm enough for her to choose that now was as good a chance as any she'd get to talk to him. She just hoped it wouldn't end in total disaster.
"So," she began cautiously, setting down her empty plate. "How are you feeling?"
The question earned her a confused glance, but he nonetheless deigned her with a response. "Good."
Awkward silence reigned for a few moments, and Serena came to the conclusion that she should've planned this out better.
"Okay, what do you want?" It seemed he too was feeling on edge.
Taking a deep breath, she decided that she might as well be open and forthcoming, and simply asked the question. "There is something that's still bothering you." He was about to interject, but she cut him off. "Don't try to deny it. I can feel it in your aura. Talk to me about it."
"It's got nothing to do with you."
Back to hissing, are we? she discovered with dismay. Now, there was a ninety percent chance that it would all go to Hell. And I thought we could settle this peacefully.
"As much as you're not going to like this, it has something to do with me. As long as you continue to cling on to whatever is blocking your aura, the Grimm will continue to attack you. I protected you once, but don't expect me to save you every day," she ascertained calmly.
"I don't need you to save me! And you wouldn't have had to back then if you'd just let me take my weapon!" he protested loudly.
"You don't need to shout; I'm right here." The retort only earned her another glare, but Serena did not let herself be deterred.
"Look, all I want is for you to be able to go back to the White Fang. Preferably without being attacked by a Grimm on your way there. But, unless you decide to open up some and let go of those negative emotions or memories, I don't see that happening. So how about you swallow that pride of yours for once and just trust me."
His mouth was set in a firm line, and she could see how his jaw clenched. His eyes were burning with anger, fists clenched at his sides. Serena mentally prepared herself to be assaulted by him after launching such a speech at him.
Surprisingly, it was not a physical onslaught that she was confronted with.
"You wanna know what's bugging me? Fine, I'll tell ya! It's me! Me and my damn weak self that can't protect anyone!"
She was surprised to hear that he would open up so suddenly, but was happy for it nonetheless. Levelling him with a calm gaze, she spoke only two words.
He slumped for a moment, and she feared he had regained his composure and would shut himself off once more. Then, he told her his greatest regret and sorrow.
"Mom, Dad! Look! I got an A!"
Young Adam proudly showed his parents his test, grinning from ear to ear. His mother turned form the stove to look at the sheet of paper, and his father gave an appreciative whistle from his seat at the table.
"Wow, looks like our son's quite the genius," his father commented to his wife.
"It would appear so," Mother returned with a loving smile.
"Show me! I wanna see," Adam's little sister demanded, stretching her body so that she was practically lying on the table, neck straining to see the jumble of words and numbers. She gave an excited squeal as he handed her the paper. "You're so smart, Adam! I wanna be smart, too. Can I be smart like big brother, mama?"
"Of course, sweety. I'm sure you'll be just as good a student as Adam is. Maybe even better. Girls are, after all, smarter than boys." His mother shot Ozea a small, conspiratorial smile.
"Girls may be smarter, but boys are stronger. Right, Adam?" his father asked his oldest child, and both puffed out their chest comically.
The family shared a hearty laugh, but the idyllic peace was shattered by the shrill sound of an alarm. Covering their ears, brother and sister looked at their parents whose faces had paled to a chalky white. In a flurry of movements, their father grabbed Adam while Mother was carrying Ozea in her arms.
"Dad, what's going on? What's that sound?" Adam asked, alarmed by the reactions of his parents. He'd never seen them like this. Parents were supposed to be brave and strong. But what he saw was pure terror plastered all over their faces.
They exited the house. The streets were in chaos — people were running around, screaming and shouting at each other, and children were crying. The family ran along with the flood of people, Adam almost being crushed by the panicked adults around him.
"Dad! What's going on?!"
Adam felt as though his heart stopped beating. His body froze and he could feel the blood drain out of his face. The tug on his hand set him back into motion, and he clumsily stumbled along.
Then, suddenly, his father halted, as did his mother. Crashing into his father's legs, Adam tumbled backwards before his eyes locked unto the hindrance the family had encountered. The Grimm was the most frightening thing he'd ever seen. Its eyes gleamed maliciously, and its fangs and teeth were oozing with blood. The Beowulf stalked towards the four Faunus, uttering a guttural growl.
Then, all the sudden, it started dissipating into ashes, drifting off in the wind. A person clad in white was standing in front of the family, and Adam barely made out the black scythe by its side. Another Grimm was slain as it tried attacking the small group.
"I can carry you to the airfield, but only one at a time." The female voice that spoke was calm, measured, as it explained the situation to the adults. "I will leave a clone behind to protect the others while I'm gone."
His father's hand tugged him forward, and Adam was thrust into the young woman's arms. Looking up at his father, he felt his eyes tear up.
"No, take Ozea!" he protested, struggling as the woman positioned him on her back. "Leave me! Help my sister!"
But before anything else could be said, the wind was rushing in his ears and he saw them closing in on the airfield. The landing was anything but soft and unfamiliar arms ushered him into one of the bullheads. Looking down upon what was once his home, he watched helplessly as flames and Grimm consumed what was left of Mountain Glenn.
"My parents and sister died that night. As well as the Huntress. They were all slaughtered by the Grimm."
His voice was strained as he said the words, eyes long since boring into the ground. Serena waited patiently for him to finish, her own eyes heavy with unshed tears. It was never easy to talk about the death of someone close, and she understood what he was going through.
"I lived on the streets after that, until I was picked up by the Schnee Dust Company. Got sent off to work in one of their factories; dozens of Faunus were. I was lucky and managed to escape that hellhole when the White Fang attacked it. That was when I met Spike and decided to join the White Fang. I was paired with Blake, my former partner. We worked together for several years, but she betrayed us not long ago."
He gave a gruff scoff before adding, "She was always too soft. It's a good thing we're rid of her."
She frowned at this but stayed quiet. "I'm sorry. I know it's no consolation, but I know what you went through."
"Shut up!" he suddenly yelled at her. "You don't know anything!"
Her mind went blank for a moment. Then, a fire ignited inside her, and suddenly she was as livid as she had ever been.
Serena Caldron was known as a kind, patient girl. But right then and there, something shifted inside her.
Chapter 30: Anguish
Following the rectifying of my mistake, this is Chapter 30 "Anguish". Nothing changed.
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."
― Maya Angelou,
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
"I don't know…"
That was how Serena felt as those words struck her. An emptiness she had not experienced yet. Then, as if someone had lit a fire inside her, she felt her body react. It started in her heart — blood rushed through her veins. It was as though white-hot lava traversed her veins, shocking her to life.
She barely had the time to control herself as her body reacted all on its own. Eyes narrowed to angry slits, its intensity directed at the dusty cave floor.
The word was quiet, barely a breath. But it was all her mind needed. Like a bolt of lightning, the cork she'd so carefully placed upon her emotions come undone, unleashing a maelstrom of emotions not even the girl herself could understand.
"Just who the hell do you think you are?!" she yelled at the male sitting in front of her. Her eyes lifted and made him their new target, glaring him down with all she had. She faintly noticed the way his body tensed at this unforeseen turn of events.
"Who gives you the right to say such a thing? Do you have any idea just what the hell I've been through? How the fuck I even got here?!"
Restlessness took over and she jumped from her seat, no longer able to sit still. She needed to move, to put some distance between herself and the Faunus.
"I'll tell you. I died! I fucking drowned because my damn plane crashed into a god damn river. Do you know what that's like? It's awful!"
Her fingernails dug into her skin, fists clenching from fear that she might attack him in her frenzy.
"It hurts, it's scary… It's the worst!" A hand latched onto her chest, squeezing the fabric of her shirt. "Feeling your lungs fill up with water when all you want to do is breathe. And the worst part of it? I knew that I was going to die. I knew in my mind that I would drown in that river! But I still hoped. Hoped that someone would save me, someone would come. But no one did. No one came…"
Tears pricked at her eyes. Retelling it all was like reliving the nightmare once more. It hurt. It hurt so much.
"But then I wake up here, in an unknown place. A world that shouldn't even exist! I should be dead, but instead I wake up in some fairy tale forest. And the first animal I meet tries to kill me. Again! I almost die twice in a row. Just my fucking luck!"
A self-deprecating laugh escaped her.
"So, there I am, all alone and believing I'm dead. What's left to do but live on? And I do just that. Try to build a life, or at least something resembling a life. Adapting is the only thing I can do. And everything's just fine until I'm told that, hey, you're not dead, just in some other world."
She threw out an angry hand, letting loose some of the energy that was stored up inside her. "Do you know how that fucks you up? Thinking you're dead but then being told you're not."
A tremor shook her body. One hand came up to clench at the wound on her left arm, the pain cursing through her body. But it didn't work. Not even the pain could stop her from continuing on. There was no stopping her anymore.
"Can you imagine the nightmares I've had? My parents buried their daughter. An empty coffin put into the earth. And what am I doing? Playing with Grimm! They mourn while I'm out here playing."
No, that wasn't right. She didn't want him to know all this. Why was she telling him this? It had nothing to do with him! Why didn't she stop?
"I've thought about suicide a lot in the time I've been here," she admitted, an air of defeat and guilt surrounding her. "Of just ending it all. The pain, the loneliness… All of it would end with just one stab of a knife. Or a jump from a cliff. But I can't. I just can't bring myself to do it."
She was crying now, tears rolling across her cheeks freely. Her eyes were no longer fixed on the male but on her shaking hands, holding them in front of her, cursing her cowardice. She should've just killed herself. Then, she wouldn't have to be feeling so much pain right now.
Why didn't she just end it when she still had the chance to?!
"I'm a fucking coward, too scared to die a second time," she bit out harshly, clenching her hands once more.
"But then you show up, bloody and near death. And suddenly, I have a purpose. My life is not as worthless as it was before."
She didn't know what kind of look she had in her eyes right now for him to look so uncomfortable.
"Turns out you're nothing more than an arrogant asshole who can't even appreciate the kindness of another person. Just what kind of person are you to try to kill the one taking care of you the moment you wake up?"
She did not expect an answer from him. She didn't even want to tell him all this. He wouldn't care about it anyway, so why did she still tell him? Nothing would change.
"I guess I'm a masochist because I still care for you. But even then, all I get in return is nothing but insults and hatred. I don't know what the people here did to you for you to hate them so much. But I'm not one of them, so stop treating me like garbage!"
Suddenly, her body became heavy. It seemed her rant had sapped her of any remaining energy. Right now, she was just tired. Serena tiredly plopped back down onto her seat. Head hanging, she rested her elbows on her knees, hands fisting in the short strands of her hair.
"Do you know why I live out here?"
She let a few seconds pass, trying to compose herself again. She wasn't this kind of person. She wasn't one to explode and shout at people. This wasn't her. But still she couldn't let go. Still she had to talk, to get it all out. She needed to get rid of this. To think that not even Ruby — her best friend — knew about what she was about to tell this stranger.
"It's the people," she bit out, her voice trembling. "I can't stand being near them. Every time I see a couple or parents with their children… Even just friends…" Her hands lifted to rest on her head, gripping at the short raven locks. "…I just can't. I can't bear the sight of them. Of what they have. All the things I have lost. They're a constant reminder of what I'll never have again. I don't have a place to call home anymore."
A solitary tear slid down at the last sentence. It was a simple longing, but one that tore her heart apart. To have something to call a family again.
Lowering her hands so that they were once more resting on her knees, she clenched her fists. No more tears were spilled as she tried to compose herself. Crying would help nothing, it only made her look weak in front of him. And the last thing she needed right now was for her to have a mental breakdown.
Standing up, she excused herself, stating that she needed fresh air. Marching away from the cave, she wandered to a clearing not far from her home, but still far enough to have some privacy. Breathing in deeply, Serena let it all out in one loud, angry, sad scream.
It felt good. Releasing the tension, as well as the emotions still swirling within her made her feel a strange but welcome emptiness. At that moment, her being was empty, yet she felt strangely at peace.
She was liberated. Balanced.
Ceasing her screaming, she let her head hang back, eyes gazing at the fractured moon and the stars surrounding it. Such a serene night it was. The darkness around her felt welcome, and she stretched her arms as if to embrace the moon and stars.
This would be it. This would be the new start she had always wanted but was too afraid to try. It would be time to leave the past — as hurtful and traumatic as it was — behind her and look only at the future.
It might not have been her wish, but there must be a reason as to why she had been brought to this world. Something so important that she had to give up everything she knew, leave behind the people she loved and treasured. It was time to take on that responsibility, this new duty. Even if she wasn't sure what it was yet.
The quiet footsteps stopping behind her made her return to reality, and Serena turned around to see the Faunus standing there. His head was bowed — which was odd, considering the amount of pride this man had — and he seemed to be fidgeting.
Serena gave a small smile at the picture. "If you want to say something…" she started gently, making him halt his shuffling. "…then just say it."
Lifting his head, his eyes connected with hers, and for the first time, she saw an emotion in them. It was so unlike him that she had to blink.
"I'm sorry for the things I said. I had no right to yell at you like I did. You're right; I didn't know anything. But now I do, and I've learned my lesson. I'm really sorry," he apologized, the words coming out hesitantly, as though he'd never before spoken an apology.
"It's alright," Serena conceded, making his regretful eyes turn into surprised ones. "I also didn't act in the best way. Likewise, I have no right to yell at you. But I guess, now we're on the same page, huh? So let's get along better from now on," she finished off with a smile, earning herself another stupefied look from the male.
"You're… You're not mad?"
The question made her laugh out loud, and she saw how uneasy he felt at her reaction. Walking up to him, she punched him lightly in the arm, giving him a sideways smirk.
"I'm not mad. We're humans; things tend to escalate sometimes. But it helped, don't you think? Now we know all about each other, so there's no need to hold anything back. Okay?"
She watched him nod slowly, as if his brain were still processing her words, but it was enough for her. Walking on back to her cave, she turned as she noticed that he was not following her. Instead, he was still standing rooted to his spot.
"You wanna go back? We still haven't finished our dinner yet!" Serena told him, effectively cancelling whatever paralysis had taken him over. With a small smile, he turned around and jogged after her, both returning to their now cold dinner.
Truly, it was time for a new start.
"We didn't realize we were making memories.
We just knew we were having fun."
The moment he had awaited with mixed feelings had finally come. Today, the girl would confront him with a Grimm anew. It was time to see if her training had borne fruits and the beast would accept him as it had accepted the human.
Adam quietly followed the girl as she led him to the clearing that had turned into a battle field the last time they had been there. It would be presumptuous of him not to feel even a hunch of apprehension. He had learned his lesson the last time he'd tangled with one of the Creatures of Grimm. And he had not forgotten the sacrifice the girl had made. Red eyes briefly glanced up at the bandage adorning the female's arm. She had assured him that the wound was only minor, but still he felt underlying guilt plague him. If things went south once again, he would make sure he could take care of it himself. There was no need for the human to get hurt again because of him.
He wondered since when he had become so protective of this particular girl, but brushed it off soon enough.
He looked up as the girl stopped in front of him, turning around to face him. Her face was serious, but there was a hint of something in her eyes. He was momentarily caught by the way her raven hair glimmered and swayed in the breeze that filtered through the clearing.
"Are you ready?"
Her gentle voice brought focus back to his mind. He gave a simple nod at her question to which she lifted her thumb and pointer finger to her mouth, emitting a short whistle. A few moments later, the heavy steps of a Grimm echoed behind her. The beast emerged with a growl from behind the bushes, coming to a stop at the human's side.
"As before, I will keep to the sidelines. But I will intervene if I have to." Then, a small smile graced her face. "Though I'm sure that won't be necessary."
With those last words spoken, she stepped away and let the two males face off. Adam attentively observed the Beowolf in front of him. So far, it had not moved, only giving him another short growl accompanied by a lick of its massive maw. The Grimm seemed to mimic him, studying its potential prey carefully.
Concentrate, he told himself. She has taught you all she can. If she thinks you're ready, then it should be fine.
Still, he missed the familiar weight of Wilt & Blush at his side.
Inhaling deeply, he lowered his body and outstretched his right hand. The first step was the most difficult one, and the Faunus could feel his heartbeat spike at the way the Grimm tensed up. Not letting up, he took the next step, and then another. With each new step, the Grimm grew tenser, its ears perking up and eyes narrowing. When he finally reached the Beowolf, Adam held his hand up for it to sniff. But, instead, the beast opened its maw and aimed for his face.
Screwing his eyes shut, Adam waited for the deadly bite.
Instead, the feel of a rough, wet tongue met his cheek, licking all the way up to his hairline. Eyes snapping open in surprise, the Faunus mutely stared at the Grimm — the most deadly creature on this planet — wagging its tail like a hyper dog. Its tongue lolled happily out its snout before assailing his face once more. The male gave a yelp of surprise as slobber was dragged along his cheek.
A laugh resounded behind the pair, and Adam was relieved when the girl called the creature back. Giving the Grimm a rub on its head, she smiled at Loki and thanked him for his help. The Beowolf gave her cheek a short nuzzle before leaving. Unable to contain his exhilaration, the male broke out in a hearty chuckle, surprising the girl. He had never laughed like that before.
"I can't believe this," Adam snickered. "The deadliest creature in the world my ass."
The human gave a laugh of her own. "They're not as threatening as you thought, are they? I told you there were more like pets than anything else. I really don't get how you people managed to turn them into the Grimm Reaper in disguise."
"Beats me," he answered, both snickering at the irony of the situation. When he'd regained his composure, Adam straightened and looked the girl dead in the eye. "Thank you. I would never have been able to do something like this without your help. I… I owe you."
She shot him a bright grin. "Don't sweat it. I only did what anyone else would've done; no need to repay me." Then, a look of mischief crossed her face. "I have an idea. To celebrate your passing."
The Faunus raised an curious eyebrow. "Which would be?"
"You'll find out."
Before anything more could be asked, a shrill whistle — different from the one before — echoed around the pair, then silence. He knew she had called for a Grimm, but Adam didn't know which one. She'd never used that whistle before. They were usually deeper, shorter. This one was high and long, almost like a melody.
His ears perked up when a loud caw echoed before the sound of wings flapping reached him. Looking to the tree line, his eyes went wide as he watched a Nevermore approach them. The giant bird hovered over the two before lowering itself and landing a short distance away. As soon as it touched ground, the girl jogged over to it. He watched in disbelief as the Grimm lowered its beak and she latched onto it, hugging it to her chest. He would have laughed at the comical image if he weren't so stumped.
She can control that!
Okay, he knew she was pretty much the boss of the Grimm around here. But this was a Nevermore! It was one of the most vicious Grimm to exist, not to mention a loner. Nevermore hated company, especially human company. They would fight any and everyone.
And yet here it was, preening the girl's hair with its sharp beak with such care as though she were one of its own.
Somehow, the girl never ceased to amaze him.
"Adam," Serena addressed him, turning to face him. "This is Aeolus, a good friend of mine. Aeolus, this is Adam. He's a new friend."
The bird cocked its head to the side, big red eyes watching him. It was the first time the male took notice of the amount of intelligence those red orbs harbored. He startled as the Grimm let out a loud screech, flapping its wings once.
"It's his way of greeting others," the girl explained to him as the creature lowered its head, seeming to wait for something. "To celebrate, we're gonna make a little trip. You're not afraid of heights, are you?" she asked with worry as though that were the most important thing here.
"Uh… By trip, you mean…"
"We're gonna fly!"
Contrary to her excited smile, Adam felt his stomach clench at the statement. Fly on a Nevermore. By the Maidens, she intended to fly on the blasted thing!
His stupor did not hinder the girl from taking his hand and practically dragging him to the waiting bird. She climbed on first before calling for him. Ripped from his state of shock, he followed her instructions before seating himself behind her. The feathers beneath were softer than he would have thought and he took a cautious glance over the edge, noting how far away the ground was.
Sure, he had flown before. In a bullhead and such. But never before had he even thought about flying a Nevermore. And now he was perched on the back of one with a human who seemed to be completely at ease.
"Hold on tight!"
He barely had time to heed her warning. The Grimm flapped its mighty wings and, in the blink of an eye, they were airborne. Arms wrapping around the girl's torso in fright, Adam practically latched onto her like a monkey. He felt her heartbeat as it raced in her chest and it gave him something to concentrate on, other than the fact that he was currently hundreds of feet above ground with no safety belt whatsoever.
The bird circled the forest lazily and he finally found the courage to look down. Everything looks so small… Somehow, he was seeing Vale in a new perspective. For the first time he noticed the ruins off to the west or how small the city looked in the distance.
"This is safe, right?!" he asked, voice barely audible over the torrent of winds around him. The possibility of falling off the Grimm and ending as a pancake on the ground crossed his mind, inciting to further tighten his death-grip on the girl.
"Sure!" she wheezed out in front of him. "Um, could you loosen your hold a bit? It's getting kinda hard to breathe."
Adam blushed slightly — the Maidens help him; he never blushed! — and shifted his hold on her, arms now wrapped more loosely around her waist. It was also the first time he noticed how slight the girl was. Adam barked a laugh at the revelation: He, a seasoned member of the White Fang and one of its tallest, was clinging to a human that barely reached his shoulders.
"I hope you like loopings!"
The warning was a bit late. Before he could reply, the Grimm dipped down before performing a total of three loops. Adam had resumed his death-grip on the girl, though she didn't seem particularly bothered by it this time. Once he overcame the initially shock, he actually found himself enjoying the Grimm's antics.
The girl sure knew how to have a good time.
Nevertheless, he was profoundly grateful when his feet touched solid ground once more. Clambering off the Grimm on shaky legs, he waited for the girl that was saying goodbye to her feathered friend. She burst into laughter as soon as she turned around and Adam was left to blink at her, confused. What he did not notice was the way his hair was sticking in every which way, ruffled by the winds and no longer in its carefully styled fashion. He watched with a mix of confusion and amusement as the human gripped her stomach, bending over with the force of her laughter.
"What?" he asked, voice dumbfounded. Maybe she had flown too many loops?
"Your- Your hair!"
He blinked once more before running his hands over his head, eyes turning concerned. "What? What's with my hair?"
"It's… a complete… mess!" she managed to answer between laughs, laughter intensifying at his incredulous face.
Adam immediately fussed over his hair. Styling it was hard enough when he had a mirror, but out here, all he had was the pond. He hoped it didn't look too bad. He really liked his hair the way it usually was.
Ceasing her merriment, the girl walked over to him. Grabbing his arms by the elbow, she gently tugged them down, stopping him from trying to get some form back into it. "Leave it; it looks good."
The corners of his lips curled at the way her eyes widened and her face instantly took on a darker shade, a pretty blush covering her cheeks. Spinning around, she walked on ahead, saying how she was tired and that it was getting late. Agreeing, the duo made their way back to her home where they ate a hearty dinner before retiring to their beds.
But even then, Adam could not get rid of the smile that had since been plastered on his face.
I AM SO SORRY! I can't apologize enough. Lately, I find myself having less and less time to review chapters, hence the huge gaps between updates. I'm really sorry about this! I hope I find the time for the next chapter soon, I hate letting people wait. For the meantime, enjoy this one. Additionally, I want to thank the people who left kudos on this story or subscribed to it. Always appreciated!
Chapter 32: Cold
"As she lay her head upon his chest,
His heart beat to a tune that soothed her soul."
— Louise Alexandra Erskine
"Don't just put out your fist. You have to imagine your opponent. Hit him with everything you got!"
"The hell kind of kick is that? More force!"
"Don't just back down like that! Stand your ground no matter what!"
The harsh words of encouragement pierced the silence of the forest. It was the fourth day of their joint training and already Serena could tell how much she had improved. His words were harsh, true, but he was also an excellent mentor. He had fighting experience. He taught her how to best win a fight. A feat not so easily accomplished since she was smaller and weaker than him. Nevertheless, he showed her countless ways for her to overpower an opponent stronger than her with simple speed and technique alone.
The girl grunted as the chokehold he had on her tightened. He had shown her how to get out, but it was only after several tries that she managed to succeed in escaping him. Jumping away from him, she fell into the perfected stance he had taught her. Waiting for his next move, she blinked in surprise when he rightened his own posture.
"Good. I think you got that now," he praised, giving a nod. "There's nothing more I could teach you. Those are basic moves, but they will help you in pretty much any situation. We're done."
A look of disappointment crossed her face. Serena genuinely enjoyed sparring with him. It was much easier learning something new when you had someone on whom you could test it out. But now that they were done, that would mean he would leave. She would be alone again.
"But," he interrupted her solemn thoughts. "I think we should have one final spar. Test to see if you've really improved."
"I'll stay a bit longer, if that's okay."
A bright smile instantly bloomed on her face, eyes lighting up with joy. "Of course!"
Walking inside the cave, she failed to notice the way his eyes softened as they followed her. Taking off her T-Shirt, Serena put on a fresh shirt with three quarter sleeves. Ruffling her tousled hair to get some order back into it, she grabbed her bow and quiver, slinging the latter across her front. Exiting her home, she told him that she would go hunting for their dinner. He gave a nod before walking inside.
The weather had turned chilly, and Serena contemplated walking back and getting her cloak. But then she remembered that Adam was inside and blushed at the possibility of walking in on him. So she manned up and moved into the forest, steps swallowed by the carpet of leaves that covered the ground.
Her mind wandered as she searched for prey. Although he had decided to stay a bit longer, Serena always knew that the Faunus would leave eventually. It was only natural: he did not belong here. He had friends waiting for him. She had no right to keep him from them. No doubt he, too, wanted to see them again. Still, the moment had come sooner than she thought it would. His wound had healed faster than she had anticipated. She wondered how she had gotten so attached to him in the short time they had known each other. And it wasn't like she was totally alone. She had Ajax, Loki and all the others, as well as Ruby who visited regularly.
But even so, the ache in her chest would not go away.
Movement to her right snapped her out of her self-pity, and her eyes gleamed as she spotted a beautiful deer only several feet away. Climbing a tree silently — something she had also perfected with his help — Serena moved closer, crouching down on the branch. Drawing an arrow, she cocked it into position on her bow. The deer lifted its head, nose twitching as it sniffed the air. Before it could bolt, she let the arrow fly. There was a brief sound of surprise before the animal fell to the ground.
Jumping down from her perch, Serena walked over to her prey. The arrow had pierced its heart perfectly, guaranteeing a quick and painless death. Pulling the shaft out, she cleaned the projectile before placing it back in the quiver. Calling for Ajax, she heaved the cadaver atop his back and walked back to her home, the Grimm trudging at her side.
"I'm back!" she called, breaking through the line of bushes that shielded her home from view. She spotted Adam off to the side, practicing with his sword. Like always, the way he moved with such speed and grace made her halt. "I brought some deer."
The male stopped his training and nodded at her. Sheathing his sword, he walked over, helped her heave the animal's body off Ajax's back and, together, they cleaned and prepared their dinner. It was quiet, the usual chatter having died down to a minimum as a cloud of gloom hung over both of them.
When they had finished, Serena did the dishes while Adam maintained Wilt & Blush. On her way back from the pond, she noticed the heavy clouds that hung over the forest, their dark color foreboding rain and maybe even a storm. A crack of thunder in the distance confirmed her suspicion. She added another log of wood to the ever burning fire before both retired, Serena burrowing herself in her blankets and promptly falling asleep.
A sudden crack of thunder ripped Adam from his peaceful sleep. Eyes snapping open, his senses jumped to full alert, and he only calmed down when he noted that there was no immediate danger. Settling back under the cover, he attempted to return to sleep. A certain someone, however, kept him from doing so.
His acute hearing picked up on her labored breathing and he worried that she was experiencing another panic attack. Turning around so he was facing the fire and her, her noted for the first time how dark it was. The previously burning fire had been extinguished by the wind, probably, and all that was left of it were a few embers. Being a Faunus, the dark handicapped him little. Scrunching his eyes together, he searched for the girl's body, finally falling on the shivering lump by the fire pit. Her body was completely swallowed by her blanket; he couldn't even see her head. If he didn't know any better, he would think that she was hiding underneath the piece of cloth like a child. The picture pulled at his heart strings, and he found himself sitting up.
"Hey," he called out softly, hoping to grasp her attention. The bundle twitched, but apart from that, Adam received no indication that she had heard him. He called out once more, but still she did not react. He also noted with concern the way her breathing seemed to grow ever louder and could almost smell her fear from his spot.
This call was louder and stronger, but it seemed to do the trick. The girl practically jumped out of her skin, head popping out from beneath her blanket and looking over her shoulder at him. Even in the dark he could see how pale she was. He also smelled sweat.
"Yeah?" her voice, shaky and quiet, replied.
There was no denying it now; he was worried about her. Not only about the fact that she could faint any moment like she had done that one time. No, this was more. He was genuinely worried and didn't want her to be alone when she was obviously terrified of something. Thinking about it, he guessed that the storm outside had the same effect on her as his shot did. The utter darkness didn't help things either.
"I…" She hesitated for a moment before replying,"I'm fine."
Liar, Adam thought. You're obviously not fine, you idiot.
Sitting up, Adam scooted over so that his side was touching the wall. The bed wasn't particularly wide, but there should be enough space for another person. Settling back down, he caught sight as another violent tremor rocked her body.
"Get over here," he commanded suddenly and imperiously.
The sound of choking on spit was heard and the girl subsided to a brief coughing fit before asking in an incredulous tone, "I beg your pardon?!"
"Get over here."
"I told you, I'm fine," she protested weakly.
"Yeah, right. Now get over here. It's warmer when you share a bed." The explanation was far from his actual reason of asking her to join him in bed, but he really didn't feel like explaining his sudden urge of protection to the confused girl.
When she was still nestled in her blanket, he added, "Either you come by yourself, or I'll come to you."
That seemed to do the trick. Maroon eyes watched as she hesitantly got up and shuffled her way over to him, arms outstretched and searching in the dark. A foot snagged on something and she began falling forward, but before she could face plant, Adam had caught a hold of her shoulders and steadied her. To his amusement, he could see the blood rushing to her face upon this new turn of events. Letting her go, Adam pulled at her arm to help her get into bed without tripping over anything else. She positioned herself at the far edge of the bed, so close that he feared she would fall off any moment. Shrugging, he figured she would rather change position than fall to the ground. Casting the blanket over her, he settled back down, back facing her.
"There. Now go back to sleep," he muttered, mind already fogging up with new dreams.
The girl lay stiff as a board, barely breathing at all. Adam noted how, after a few minutes when she thought he was asleep, she shuffled closer to him, pulling the blanket up to her shoulders. He continued faking sleep — although he really wasn't; she just thought he was asleep — and paid attention to her movements.
She seemed to be rather lost about how to handle the new situation and he could practically hear her frenzied heartbeat. His own heart was sent racing when she shuffled so close that her front was almost touching his back. He could feel her warm breath through the fabric of his T-Shirt. A small hand clasped the piece of clothing and he was surprised when she touched her forehead to rest in-between his shoulder blades. A deep inhale was followed by a quiet sigh before her entire body seemed to relax.
Within a matter of seconds she was asleep.
Adam was left to wonder about this. He chalked it up to the fact that, as a Faunus, his body temperature was slightly higher than that of humans, so he was a perfect source for warmth. No doubt she had been freezing without the fire. Her need for contact was probably connected to her trauma; she simply needed to know that she was not alone.
His musings quickly tired out his own mind, and he was asleep soon after her.
When Serena woke up the next morning, she almost jumped out of her skin. Instead of being faced with a burning fire, she was faced by the peaceful face of none other than her guest. Eyes wide, she stared at his red hair as the sun illuminated it in a gentle golden hue. His expression was completely relaxed and his breathing even.
Looking around herself, she remembered that she had traded her spot on the floor for his bed last night. She hadn't thought that he would notice her state of panic — storms were a terrible trigger for her, especially ones that came with thunder — and had been surprised when he had offered to share the bed. She didn't think that he cared that much about her.
It was for warmth! Just for warmth, she reminded herself, although her heart wanted to believe that he had acted out of a serious concern for her well-being. Don't expect the impossible, she chastised herself.
Attempting to get up, she was stopped when a weight across her middle made itself known. Looking down in surprise, she was shocked to find his arm across her stomach, encircling her waist and effectively trapping her. She squirmed a bit in hopes of him loosening his hold, but all that got her was him holding on even faster. He even pulled her closer to him! A squeak left her as her back was pressed flush against his chest. She could feel his heartbeat, steady and strong, through her back and hoped he didn't pick up on her own, frenzied one.
Realising that there was no escaping his hold, Serena gave a quiet huff of defeat before deciding that, if she was caged here anyway, she might as well get in a bit more of sleep. Eyes drifting shut, she let the steady rhythm of his heartbeat lull her back into dreamland.
Adam was woken by her squirming. Yet, unwilling to rise just yet, he pretended to still be asleep and instead tightened his hold on her waist. Going a step further, he easily pulled her against his chest, and had a hard time suppressing the chuckle that followed when she squeaked at his action. Her heart was racing and he noted how calming the feel of it was to him.
She seemed to have given up for in the next moment, she released a quiet huff and her body became still once more. Her breathing soon even out and he found that she had fallen asleep. A small, soft smile graced his face as his eyes took in her raven head as it rested by his collarbone, barely reaching up to his chin.
Inclining his head, his sense of smell picked up the faint scent of flowers coming from her hair. Inhaling slowly, he noted how well the aroma suited her. Closing his eyes as well, his head lying above hers, chin barely resting on the top of her head, he, too, drifted back to sleep.
It was the first time, Adam Taurus noted, that he found himself to be completely at peace. And it was a wonderful feeling.
Chapter 33: Goodbye
"Good-bye doesn't have to be forever."
— Jenny Han
Today is the day, Serena thought as she laced up her boots. Today, she would finally beat him. But today was also the day she would be thrust back into her old life style. They would both part ways today, him returning to his people and her remaining behind. It was the day she would be all alone again save for the Grimm.
Adam quietly watched the girl from his spot outside. He had noticed her abrupt change of mood, switching from joyous and lively to quiet and depressed. He could only guess that it was because he would be returning to the White Fang today. He actually felt bad for her. For once she had some company out here, and now she would be left alone again.
It was rather sad if he thought about it. She was kind, and he could tell that she greatly enjoyed the company of others. Although there were moments when she preferred to be left alone, she was still a sociable being. And she didn't seem to mind his company all that much. In fact, she seemed to genuinely enjoy the time they spent together.
He blinked when he noticed her walking towards him. She had on a simple outfit: a top and a pair of jeans with her boots. But to him, she looked rather attractive. Especially her smooth legs. Her body had turned from slender to lithe and strong during the time they had trained together. He had to admit, the look suited her well. Well, damn me. I actually like the girl, Adam realized with dull surprise. It wasn't really a shock to him — he had noticed how he'd been reacting to her lately — but still a minor surprise. It was the first time he felt this way about a woman, especially a human one.
Stopping in front of him, he was pleased to see the look of determination in her eyes. It seemed she was prepared to take him down today, and he wondered if she would succeed. "Ready for our spar?" he asked with a small grin.
"You bet I am."
Handing her staff to her, he noticed the surprise that filled her face. "We'll use weapons this time around. To make things more interesting," he explained, unsheathing Wilt and putting Blush away.
"Won't that be dangerous?" Serena asked with worry. They had never used their weapons in a spar before, and she did not want to hurt him on accident. Not when he'd only just healed a few days ago.
Turning towards the girl, the Faunus said, "Not a problem. We won't be trying to kill each other, but I still expect you to fight seriously. I won't hold back either." Nodding, he watched the girl take her own place a fair distance from his, feet apart and shoulders squared.
"Ready?" When she gave a resolute nod, he commanded, "Go!"
No matter how many times she saw it, Serena was always awed by just how fast the Faunus moved. He had barely uttered the word before appearing in front of her, sword lifted and aiming for her belly. But during all their spars she, too, had evolved. It was easier for her to track him now, even though she still couldn't keep up completely.
Jumping back, the sharp blade narrowly missed its target. Switching from defense to offense, Serena lashed out with her own weapon. Metal met metal as the two weapons collided, their masters locked in a contest of strength. Adam triumphed over the girl with ease and threw her backwards, before swiftly following her staggering form with a kick to her side.
But the girl was no fool. Letting herself be carried by the momentum of his throw, she gained some distance before throwing her staff up into the air. Distracted by the unexpected action, Adam's eyes automatically followed the weapon, losing focus of the girl. In the meantime, Serena ran up the bark of a nearby tree, jumped off and rotated in mid-air. Adam's eyes widened in surprise as he saw her perform the stunt. Before he knew it, she had grabbed hold of her weapon and was coming down on him, the end of the staff pointed at his chest.
Thanking his excellent reflexes, he rolled off to the side before getting back on his feet. His head was jerked to the side as the girl threw a series of jabs at him, persistent in her attack. A slight frown was thrown her way, but he only received a smirk in return. Intent on throwing her off-balance once more, he crouched low and aimed to swipe her feet out from under her.
But Serena would have none of it.
Recognizing the attack for what it was, she jumped over his legs. Body rotating around its own axis on the spot, she performed a perfect aerial walkover, one of her feet connecting with the male's jaw. Caught off guard once more, Adam stumbled back from the force of the hit. The girl left him no time to recover when her staff hit him square in the stomach. Grip weakening on the handle of his own weapon momentarily, she swung her staff again and away his sword flew. His eyes widened when she was the one to sweep his feet out from under him.
Back hitting the hard ground with a dull thud, Adam groaned at the impact. Immediately, the end of Serena's staff was pointed at his chest, effectively keeping him from getting up. It took him a few seconds of heavy breathing before realizing that she had actually just beaten him. No one had beaten him in a long time, and he felt a smile of satisfaction cross his lips.
I trained her well.
"I win," Serena declared proudly, smirk turning into a bright smile. Retracting her staff, she reached down her hand and helped the Faunus back to his feet. She watched as he padded off the dust from his mended coat — he had been so thankful when she had mended the worst of the damage, though the piece of clothing was still a mess — and went over to sheath Wilt once more.
"You are the first person to beat me in a long time," he told her, back turned. For a moment, Serena feared that he would take his defeat as a blow to his pride. She needn't worry. "I can honestly say I'm proud to have been your teacher. You learned well and quick. You won fair and square. Good job."
The girl gave him a watery smile. It was the first time she had been praised, and it meant so much more coming from him. Wiping at her eyes, she thanked him profusely for having trained her so much. "I couldn't have done it without you."
"No problem. It was nice working with someone who can actually keep up and present a challenge for a change. You think when you fight; that's something I like about you," he confessed before catching sight of her pink cheeks. Oh, he had probably said more than he should have. "Well then… I guess it's time for me to go back now."
Her face immediately lost color and he could practically see the cloud of sadness over her. Seeing her like this made him feel uncomfortable, but he couldn't help it. He had to go back some day. Even if he would rather stay here where it was quiet and peaceful. "The quiet isn't all that you enjoy here," a voice in the back of his mind teased him, but he ignored it. Feelings would only make things unnecessarily hard for both of them.
"I guess so," Serena mumbled, one foot scraping over the dusty floor. Pull yourself together. You can't let him leave thinking you're completely dependant on him! So, plastering on her best smile, she said, "I wouldn't want to keep you from your friends. I'm sure they miss you."
Adam thought back to the empty room that was his. No, there really wasn't anyone that would miss him. His skills, yes, they would be missed, but not him as a person.
"Just make sure to get home alright. I don't want to have to save you again."
Her little jab caused a smirk to flit across his face. Looking at her eyes, he could see the honest concern for his well-being, as well as the pain this departure caused her. Breathing in deeply, he walked up and laid a hand atop her slender shoulder.
"I'll be sure to keep out of trouble. And you too, take care of yourself. You're strong, so I'm sure you'll be fine. But if I find the time, I promise to visit."
"Really?" A hopeful spark was lit in her eyes at the words.
"Yeah. That is, if you would have me as a guest?"
"Of course! Come whenever you want to. You know where to find me."
Nodding, Adam walked into the cave to pick up his Grimm mask. The object felt foreign in his hand, heavy. Like a shackle he had shed and was now willingly putting back on. Stashing the mask in his coat's pocket, he joined the girl back outside. They said farewell once more and then he was gone, turning his back on her and the cave he had come to like as a new home.
"I'll miss you," Serena whispered quietly as she watched his back until it disappeared behind the bushes. A solitary tear escaped her eye. Entering the cave, she noticed how empty it suddenly felt. Even the fire could not chase away the cold that had enveloped her body.
I'll be fine. I have to. After all, I have been alone before. Why should now be any different?
But even she could not fool herself into believing the lie.
Chapter 34: Report
Sorry for the long wait, but, as usual, university has kept me quite busy. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy the new chapter. By the way, Raven will appear, if only briefly.
And before you say anything, yes, I know Raven was never part of the White Fang. But in this story, which (keep in mind) was written post Season 2 and pre Season 3 release, she will be part of it. There are also other minor changes to her, but they will come in later chapters. Just so you know that I took the liberty of making my own decisions regarding her character.
"I will never let you fall.
I will stand up for you forever.
I'll be there for you through it all.
Even if saving you sends me to heaven"
— Red Jumpsuit Aparatus,
Your Guardian Angel
The walk back to headquarters was shorter than he would have anticipated. It turned out Serena lived east of the base, hidden in the mountains. Adam was perplexed — to think they were so close to each other, yet none of the White Fang had ever noticed the girl. Then again, he was glad that was the case. She would probably have been killed had one of the members spotted her.
Scanning his hand on the electric panel, the wall inside the small, dilapidated hut opened up, granting him access. Stepping inside the elevator, Adam patiently waited as the machine took him down, deep into the ground where the base was hidden. Arriving on the lowest floor, he looked around, spotting a few Faunus assembled in the small area they used as living room. Some were playing cards while others were reading or conversing in hushed voices.
A murmur passed through those present as they noticed his presence. Curious heads snapped up to see a ghost walking toward them, weapon at his side and appearing unharmed. By now, rumor of his return had already spread, and the balconies of the higher floors were packed with Faunus, all staring down.
A woman bearing a Grimm mask that concealed her entire face stepped forward, her own sword at her hip. Adam stopped a few feet from her, both sizing each other up. The woman spoke first, "I thought you were dead, Adam."
Adam grumbled at the statement. To think she would think him so weak. He was by far no light opponent — nothing could kill him so easily. "Sorry to disappoint you, Raven," he bit back, but with less edge than intended. Raven seemed to notice this, cocking her head curiously, but she remained silent.
It seemed his time with the girl had softened him a bit.
The imperious voice echoed down from the top floor. The bull Faunus' eyes snapped up to be greeted with the stern, blue eyes of his boss, Spike Desde. He immediately executed the customary salute of the organization, putting his right fist atop his heart and giving a low bow.
"I expect to see you in my office."
With that order Spike left, Adam rightening his pose. A slight frown took up his face. Spike would want to know where he'd been this entire time, and he would stop at nothing to get the information out of him. Taking in a slow breath, he walked towards the staircase that was at the back of the room.
As he passed Raven, the woman murmured quietly, "Good to have you back."
"Good to be back," he replied just as quiet before climbing the sets of stairs. Knocking on the door once, he was let in with a curt "Enter". Closing the door behind himself, the red-head turned to face his boss and teacher for many years.
"You wanted to see me, sir."
"Yes, I did. Take a seat," Spike offered, motioning to the chair that stood in front of his mahogany desk. Adam did as told, thinking it wise to appear like he always did — loyal and obedient. "It pleases me to see that you have safely returned to us, Adam."
"Thank you, sir."
Spike stared at him for a few moments, elbows propped on his desk and hands folded into each other. A glint passed through his eyes as he went on. "What happened to your men? If I recall correctly, I sent out a three-man-team, and yet you are the only one to return to us. Where are the other two?"
"They were killed, sir," Adam replied curtly. Spike raised a brow at the statement, indicating with a motion of his hand for him to elaborate.
"After we successfully completed the mission, during which Eric was wounded, we fled into Forever Fall forest. The army gave chase, but the Grimm in the area had already picked up on the commotion. We were attacked by a pack of Ursa and Beowolves. Eric and Steve were both killed during the fight."
"The Grimm, I see. But that does not explain how you managed to survive, let alone why you felt it necessary to stay hidden for more than two weeks."
Adam flinched internally. He knew that Spike would not ignore his prolonged absence, especially not when the only reason for it would be him having died. The problem was, Adam refused to mention Serena to this man. He knew how ambitious Spike was — he would stop at nothing to achieve his goals. If he knew about her and her ability, he would no doubt have her captured only to use her for himself.
The girl did not deserve such a fate. Not after everything she'd done for him. Not after he'd come to like her as much as he did.
The last point caught him off-guard. Could it be he had actually developed feelings for the human? In such short time? Then again, he had learned more about her and himself in those two weeks than he knew about anyone here in the White Fang. And he had been here for a very long time. He knew even less about Spike — his master and teacher — than he did about Serena.
"Answer the question, Adam. Where have you been these past days?" Spike interrupted his train of thought, jarring him back into reality. And yet, he remained quiet. He absolutely could not tell him about her.
Sensing the hesitation in his most loyal member, Spike used his semblance. Reaching out to Adam, he peered into the bull Faunus' mind. The memories of a girl, several Grimm, and a home deep in the forest were presented to him as he infiltrated Adam's head.
He could feel it, the way he was prying through his mind. Gritting his teeth, Adam knew that Spike had used his semblance, Clairvoyance, to invade his mind and memories. But even so, Adam had built up something akin to an immunity to Desde's power. He blocked any information concerning how to find the girl, leaving Spike with only the picture of a cave in the forest. He would have a hard time finding her now.
"A girl," Spike spoke after having retracted his semblance, vacating Adam's mind. "It seems she saved your life. A pity she could do nothing for the other two." The words were spoken without any sentiment of pity or regret. "It appears she possesses an interesting power. To be able to control Grimm like that… What do you think, Cinder?"
The hair on the back of his neck rose as the woman stepped forward, her shoes making soft clicking noises on the metal floor. Adam had always despised this particular human, even more so than he did others. There was just something about her that set his animal instincts on edge, something that made him feel threatened.
"I think she would make a perfect addition to our little group. Roman has become useless now; we need someone to fill in for him," Cinder spoke, eyes blazing and a small smile on her lips.
Spike gave a nod of agreement before turning to face the Faunus in front of him. "You would do well to disclose any information concerning this girl's location."
"I regret that I do not know her exact whereabouts, sir. I was unconscious when she took me to her home, and there are no discerning landmarks that would help me find my way back to her cave." Deep inside, he felt smug. This was the first time Adam had disobeyed Spike and in such a blatant way. He remembered every pebble and tree he crossed on his way here. It would be child's play to find his way back. But Spike did not need to know that.
"I see…" His master leaned back in the leather armchair, eyes considering him for a few more moments before allowing him to leave. He watched the man exit his room before turning to one of the Faunus that stood in the corner of the room, guarding him. "Have a team assembled to meet me here in an hour. Use only those proficient in tracking."
The Faunus gave a low bow before exiting the room. Turning around, he shared a cruel smile with the woman beside him. This human would be the ideal weapon. Once they had her, they could finally set their plan in motion.
Perfect. Let them be destroyed by one of their own kind.
Chapter 35: Routine
Happy New Year everyone! Wish you all the best for 2019!
"We deceive the world with lies we hide behind the smiles.
We can see the home of desperate hearts.
The truth is falling down.
The illusion we've become"
Falling back into her old routine came easier than Serena had thought. Her body easily got into its old rhythm of waking up, training, making breakfast, taking a bath, etc… The Grimm were more than happy that she was, once again, spending more time with them. Especially Loki and Ajax, who each gave her a big, slobbery kiss when she arrived at the home of the Grimm.
It was good to be with them. Although her time together with Adam had been more than enjoyable — minus a few tensions at the beginning — Serena cherished the welcoming paws of her friends. Napoleon welcomed her back with an affectionate nudge, and each Grimm told her about the past weeks and all that she had missed.
The time spent with them was wonderful. But each time she left to return to her own home, her heart sank at the empty cave she found. A routine was easy to slip back into, but there was something missing now that the Faunus was gone. She missed seeing him clean his weapon — such a mundane action, and yet it brought her a feeling of peace — or having someone to talk to during dinner. She sometimes found herself starting a sentence, only to realize that she was talking to thin air. She took out two sets of plates and cutlery more often than she liked to admit.
It was in those instances that the girl realized how incredibly lonely she was. The Grimm took notice of her sullen mood and did everything they could to cheer the human up, but there was a constant feeling of emptiness in her chest that would not perish no matter what they did.
She was aware that her despair would affect the Grimm, but she trusted them with her life. Even though there were instances when one Grimm fell back into its old tendency of being attracted by negativity and attacked her, several of its brethren would intervene and protect the human. To them, she was family, as they were to her.
It was on the fifth day after Adam's leave that Ruby announced herself. Serena was in the midst of preparing dinner, Ajax lying comfortably by the fire, facing the entrance, when the Ursa lifted his head and gave a low grumble. Lifting her head from the chopped vegetables, Serena was about to ask what was wrong when a surprised shriek interrupted her, followed by a string of laughter.
Ruby broke through the line of shrubbery, Loki trotting happily behind the silver-eyed girl. "Hey Serena!" she greeted, wiping a patch of saliva off her cheek.
Serena gave the girl a reserved smile, returning the greeting. "It's been a while. How have you been, Ruby?"
Ruby flinched at her first sentence, guilt taking up her face. Ducking her head, the girl gave a sheepish smile. "I'm sorry I haven't visited for so long. But it's been so busy the last week, I just didn't find the time."
Taken aback by the sudden apology, Serena raised her hands in a placating manner. "Easy there; I didn't mean it like that. I know that you have your own things to do, being a Huntress-in-training and all that. I understand, really I do. There's no need to apologize," she soothed with a kind smile.
Offering the younger teen a seat, she brewed them both a cup of tea. When Ruby had calmed down a little, Serena inquired, "So, how have things been going in Vale? Everything alright?"
Ruby took a moment before replying with a defeated, "No."
Blinking in surprise, Serena motioned for the girl to go on.
Surprise was replaced by concern as the raven-head frowned. "What about him?"
"He broke out of prison." The girl morosely stared into her cup of tea, both hands folded around the ceramic bowl.
"What? How could that have happened? I thought the military had him under constant observation," Serena objected. She didn't know much, obviously, but still enough to know that the Atlas military was the best there was. How could Torchwick possibly have escaped from right under their noses?
"They did," Ruby admitted. "But there was an internal breach. Penny, an android created by the Atlas military, had been infected by some type of virus. It made her bust him out. The military discovered the virus before it could expand and infect other androids, or even the Atlesian Knights, but Torchwick still managed to get away. No one knows where he is."
The strange name caught Serena's interest. "Atlesian Knights?"
Ruby gave her a small smile. It always amused her how curious the girl was about her world. "They're special android soldiers created to defend the kingdom. They are here to provide security for the Vytal festival. Well, at least they were until it was postponed. Now they're just out to catch Torchwick, though I don't think they'll have any luck in doing that."
Serena patted the girl's knee sympathetically. "I'm sorry, Ruby. I know how much you were looking forward to that festival."
"It's okay. It's only been postponed, so maybe we'll still hold it at a later date. Then I can really show them what I can do!" The statement was accompanied by an enthusiastic fist pump in the air. Serena laughed good-naturedly at the girl's obvious fighting spirit.
"What about you? What have you been up to?"
"Hmm? Oh, me? Nothing much; just the usual, you know." Her attempt at avoiding the question was crappy at best, but Serena had a distinct feeling thatRuby would not be happy if she learned that her friend had been housing a wanted criminal, or rather terrorist, for as long as she had. Not to mention how disappointed the girl would be — it would make Serena a traitor.
Sorry Ruby, but some things are best left unsaid.
The girl in question, however, gave the azure-eyed girl a curious look. Serena hoped that she had not already seen through her blatant lie. A small grin spread on the younger girl's face, elbows coming to rest on her knees and chin propped onto her hands.
Serena gulped quietly. "Yeah, why?"
Silver eyes pierced turquoise ones as they roved her face. "Hmm… I don't know, but something seems different about you. Like there's something off. Are you okay?"
The concern for her well-being touched her, and Serena could feel the guilt spreading inside her. "No, no, I'm okay. Just a little tired. I've been having trouble sleeping lately, that's all…"
It was no lie this time. Ever since the Faunus left, Serena could not find the peace of mind she needed for a good rest. The nightmares, that had disappeared when Adam had been there, now returned with a vengeance. She had no idea just how much his presence had affected not only her, but even her mind. It had soothed her in ways no medication or length of meditation could. Funny enough since they had butted heads during the first few days. Now, he was the best thing to keep her demons at bay.
As cheesy as it sounded, she actually found that she needed him.
"If you say so," Ruby yielded, ceasing her inspection of the older female. Her eyes lit up as an idea sparked in her mind. "Hey, how about you come visit Beacon some time? I'm sure you'll love it, and it's something else from seeing trees all day long. Plus, my team really wants to meet you after having heard about you. I'm sure Professor Ozpin would like to talk to you, as well," the girl proposed.
Serena shifted in her seat. "I don't know, Ruby. I don't think it'd be a good idea for me to go. You know the rumors about me. People are going to flip out when they find out who I am."
The silver-eyed teen waved a hand in dismissal. "Don't worry; the rumors about the 'Grimm Tamer' have all but spread across the entire kingdom. I'm pretty sure other kingdoms have heard about you, as well. People know that you're no threat. In fact, they consider you a hero."
The older female was still shifting uncertainly in her seat, hands gripping her own cup of tea.
"Just think about it, okay? You can visit whenever you like."
"Thanks, Ruby," Serena smile appreciatively.
In the back of her mind, the gears were turning. It would indeed be a welcome change, and meeting other people — or people at all — would be wonderful. She would love to see what Beacon looked like and meet Ruby's team. Even a meeting with this Professor Ozpin that Ruby so highly spoke of would be thrilling.
But she was no normal human. No, she was the "Grimm Tamer". People had heard of her power, and now not only Vale but also other kingdoms were in the know about her. Even if they knew that she only wanted to help, she doubted that people would welcome her with open arms once they found out who she was. She needed to be careful.
"Anyway, I have to head back now. We have Miss Goodwitch's class early tomorrow, and I don't wanna be late," Ruby stated, standing up and placing her cup on the 'kitchen counter', AKA the giant rock.
"I remember her; the scary teacher, right?" Serena joked.
"Yup. Never met a woman that was scarier than Miss Goodwitch. Be late for curfew and you might survive, but if you're late for her class… Ho, boy! I don't even wanna know what happens then."
The two girls shared a small laugh and quick hug before Loki accompanied Ruby back to the edge of Forever Fall forest, Serena returning to the preparation of her dinner. Ajax contently slept on by the fire.
Chapter 36: Taken
It's time for Spike's evil plan to get going. Enjoy the chapter! Hope you like it enough; I'm trying my best with the fight scenes, but I'm not an expert on it. And thanks for the Kudos and the positive feedback from gcmcc; glad to know you find my ideas interesting :)
PS: I just realized that I forgot to post this chapter. I'm so sorry, no wonder you guys were getting anxious. But now you have the pleasure of being surprised by two updates! Enjoy!
"There are humans that hunt, and humans who are hunted."
She was doing it again.
Serena growled as her annoyance with herself grew by the second. Sitting outside her cave, legs folded under her and arms resting on her knees, she could feel her mind wander off, back to Adam. Again she found herself wishing for his presence, her mind replaying the memories she had of him.
This was getting ridiculous. Never had she been one to cling to people, especially not males. Even back in her old life, she could be apart from people for an extended period of time without a problem — she actually relished those moments when it was only her and no one else. She hadn't been this clingy when she'd dated Thomas, and even after they had broken up, she didn't mind being single again.
But Adam… There was just something about him that would not allow her mind to shut up. No matter what she did — either take a bath, or train, or take a walk with either Ajax or Loki — he would always pop into her head. Random memories would spring up and it, quite frankly, annoyed the hell out of her.
She was not some love-sick schoolgirl that ran after the guy she admired. Yes, she had feelings for the Faunus, and, yes, they were more than those of friendship. But it had been several days now, and still her mind would not leave her alone. Not even the meditation helped!
Grumbling once more, Serena stood up, patting her shorts clear of dust before heading back inside. It was only midday, and she felt like she needed to do something, only she did not know what. There was a strange feeling of emptiness — different from the one before — in her. She would start one task, then lose interest and be back to square one.
The rays of sunlight that filtered in from the cavern's mouth reflected on her bow, and she was filled with a sense of purpose. Hunt. She would go out and hunt something. She needed new rations anyway, and a stroll through the forest might help clear her mind.
Picking up the bow and quiver full of arrows, she headed outside, both items securely strapped across her torso. She had gotten not ten feet away when Loki suddenly pocked his head out of a bush, tongue lolling out happily. Laughing at the adorable Grimm, Serena gave the Beowolf a head-rub before attempting to move on.
Noticing that he followed her, she told him, "Sorry, Loki, but you'll have to stay here. I'm just gonna be away for a short while, and you'd just chase off all the animals." At the Grimm's disappointed whine, she added, "I'll cook your favourite meal tonight, okay? How does that sound?"
She felt like she was bargaining with a child, but Loki was one of the younger Grimm, so of course he would need a different method of convincing. Ajax would have understood and probably headed to the cave, but Loki was persistent. So, unless he was offered something in return, she was pretty sure he would follow her, orders or not.
However, at the prospect of dried berries with roasted meat, the Beowolf licked its snout in anticipation before pressing his cold nose to her chest and heading off to god-knows-where. Shaking her head at the Grimm and his sweet-tooth — Loki loved the taste of fresh, juicy berries — she continued on.
Forever Fall forest was always a sight to behold, and the human felt her being relax as she picked her way through trees and bushes. Whereas most people would only dare enter the forest with weapons, Serena felt so at home here that she sometimes took nightly strolls, if only to tire out her body. There was just something about this place that set her at complete ease.
Her quiet walk, however, was interrupted when she heard the sound of several voices from behind her. Stopping dead in her tracks, she strained her ears to pick up on the sound. They were hushed, low, but she could still identify them as male. If she had to guess, then she would say that there were probably three of them.
Remaining cautious, the girl skilfully scaled the bark of a tree, nestling in one of its branches as she continued listening to the approaching voices. One of them was louder now, apparently barking at the other two. The back of her neck pricked and Serena got the feeling that these men were not just some hitchhikers out for a walk.
Not moving an inch, she waited until they finally stepped into her field of vision. She knew those uniforms. All three men were dressed in the white and black garbs of the White Fang, Grimm masks obstructing their eyes. They looked like they were searching for something with the way their heads turned this way and that, inspecting their surroundings intently.
They continued heading towards her, and she took the time to look them over and come up with a plan. Something told her that they were looking for her, and that they were no fans of her simply out to get an autograph.
The tallest was a broad shouldered man, skin tanned and muscles bulging, he appeared to be the party's leader. His black hair was cut short and his Grimm mask covered his entire face, instead of just his eyes. He was barking at the other two again, clearly annoyed.
"It can't be that hard to find a cave in this damned forest!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but this area is full of them. It will take us some time to find the right one," the Faunus to the leader's right side explained meekly. His head was obstructed by the black hoodie he wore, but the tips of his deer horns could still be seen poking out from beneath the fabric.
"Then look harder! The leader wants to have her found by tonight. Either you do that, or you explain to him why we returned empty-handed."
The threat made the third and final member sigh with frustration, his red tail twitching nervously.
She could take them.
Or, at least that was what she wanted to say until she spotted their weapons. The leader had what looked like a chainsaw strapped to his back. Henchman number one and two were seemingly weaponless, but Serena was pretty sure that they had them somewhere on their person. Had it only been the two smaller Faunus, the girl was confident she would emerge victorious. Adam's training had paid off wonderfully.
There I go again, thinking about him.
Waiting patiently on her branch, she watched them pass under her, heads swivelling as they looked for what she could only presume to be her home. Unless, she had new neighbours she didn't know about.
She was not prepared when one of the three kicked a pebble in frustration, the stone flying through the air and scratching her along the cheek. She gave a quiet yelp at the sudden stinging, noting too late that it had been a grave mistake. Heads snapping up, the three men scanned the trees before their eyes simultaneously landed on her.
"Up there!" the fox Faunus exclaimed, pointing an accusing finger at her.
Cursing herself, Serena jumped into the next tree before dropping down to the ground, fleeing as soon as she hit ground. Heart racing, she dodged tree after tree as the trio chased after her, yelling at her to stop. It was only now that she realized that she had wandered off quite a ways, her home still a good fifteen minutes away. But, even then, her cave would not help her. It was open, granting her no protection against her pursuers.
Realizing with anxiety that her only option would be to fight them, the girl changed direction, leading them to the edge of the forest. Faced with an imposing stone cliff, she stopped and turned around, waiting for her pursuers to show up. They were quick to appear, all three men panting lightly from the run.
The leader stepped forward, one arm pulling the chainsaw off his back as he approached her. "Finally. Give it up, girl; there is nowhere left for you to run. We can either do this the easy way or the hard way."
Shooting the man a defiant glare, a shiver raced down her spine at his dark chuckle.
"Very well, the hard way then. I have orders not to kill you, but Spike said nothing about roughing you up a little."
Serena suddenly realized that this had been a very bad idea. What had she been thinking? There was no way she could take on these men by herself! I am such an idiot sometimes!
All further self-criticism was abandoned as the leader raced at her, chainsaw roaring to life. He heaved the machine heavenwards before slicing down, the girl avoiding the hit that was meant for her stomach by jumping to the side. Tucking into a roll, she evaded the following blow before regaining her feet, dancing away from the burly man. The fox Faunus decided to attack, his fist aiming at her face. The girl firmly grasped the hand before turning around and flipping him over her shoulder, adrenaline granting her additional strength. The Faunus gave a groan as his body hit the floor.
The sound of an arrow being let loose reached her ears, and she ducked to avoid the projectile that was aiming for her back. The deer Faunus prepared to fire another two arrows, the human performing cartwheels to avoid them.
She was starting to doubt they wanted her alive, after all.
The leader attempted to attack her again, running up from behind. Deciding to make the first move instead, Serena jumped up and lashed her leg out in a fierce round house kick. To her shock, the man simply caught her leg in his large hand before tossing her body to the side. Realizing that she was headed straight towards the bark of a tree, the raven-head twisted mid-air, body aligning with the tree. Feet connecting with the sturdy plant, she pushed off and jumped into the tree opposite her.
This might be slower, but at least she had the high ground advantage, as well as additional cover provided by the leaves and branches. For a moment, she dared to think that she had actually outmanoeuvred the Faunus. Unfortunately, a second later, a hand wrapped around her ankle and she was yanked down.
Her body protested as she made rough contact with the ground, lips parting to let out a groan. Collecting her bearings, she looked up, eyes widening, before rolling away from the foot that would have crushed her ribs. Glaring at the fox Faunus, she remained low as one leg shot out in an arc, catching the male across his cheek. He tumbled to the ground, the girl jumping atop him as soon as he did before she sucker punched him.
Serena cradled her bruised hand as the Faunus beneath her slumped. One out, two more to go, she thought, standing up to face said remaining enemies.
The deer Faunus had his crossbow at the ready, and she realized that, at the moment, he posed the greater threat. Running up to him, she dodged the two arrows sent her way, knees sliding along the ground as she dodged the third. Stopping directly in front of the male, she grabbed the front of the weapon and yanked it upwards, ensuring he could not shoot her at such close proximity.
Grabbing her own bow, she rammed the blunt end of it into his stomach, receiving a pained gasp at the action. Surprisingly though, the blow was not enough to incapacitate him, and she jumped to the side as another arrow headed her way, this one managing to graze her neck. The cut was thin, but it made her heart stutter in terror.
She had almost been hit. Too close! her mind screamed at her, one hand delicately running long the thin line where blood started appearing. The crossbow would have to go, or she was toast.
Opting to change tactics, she retreated into the forest, body hidden by trees and shadows. She watched as the Faunus cautiously approached, eyes roaming the trees for her. What he did not expect was for her to come flying from up above. Having scaled a tree, the girl had let loose an arrow of her own, aiming for his leg. It barely grazed the man, but his startled response granted her enough time to jump down and land a heavy kick on his back, knocking him down. The resulting hit to his head dealt the finishing blow.
Serena panted heavily as she looked at the two unconscious Faunus, blood rushing in her ears and heart beating furiously. Adrenaline gave way to panic when she noticed the absence of the chainsaw-wielding Faunus. Willing her eyes to see through the shadows she had been hiding in moments before, she frantically searched for the man.
The only thing she caught was a snap of a branch behind her, for as soon as she turned around, a fist collided with the side of her face. Crashing to the ground, her vision blurred as stars danced in front of her.
"Finally! That was too much trouble for such a weak girl. Hey! Get up!"
The rest of the leader's words were lost as she lost consciousness, fingers growing still as she finished drawing two letters into the ground.
Chapter 37: Welcome
Well, following the very inspiring comment from Hunter (and realizing the mistake I made with the previous chapter), I was really motivated to get this chapter done. So please enjoy, and a huge thanks to all who left Kudos on this story or have written a comment. Always makes my day to know people enjoy this story. Happy reading!
Just a heads up: This chapter is rather dark, so be advised for some uncomfortable/disturbing moments.
"I see humans, but no humanity"
The room was dark and damp. Sparse rays of light filtered in from underneath the door, flickering as people passed on the other side. Bars surrounded her, denying escape, caging her like an animal. Serena rubbed the side of her face as she slowly set herself upright. Her back protested in pain, body stiff from having lain on the metal board that was her cot. There was a toilet mounted to the wall, but no sink.
Her eyes carefully scoured the dark room, slowly adjusting to it. There was nothing else there. The bars were thick and the lock appeared strong and sturdy. The metal door — next to which was a sink well out of her reach — beyond her cell blocked out most of the sound. Serena shivered, hands rubbing at her arms as a cold chill passed through her.
This was not good. Not good at all. She had no idea where exactly she was, but it would be safe to assume that this was one of the White Fang's hideouts. Why she was here she did not know, nor how they had managed to find her. Had Adam told them about her? Had he sold her out to his boss? Did they know about her powers?
Of course they do. They wouldn't have kidnapped me otherwise. They knew exactly who they were looking for!
A spark of anger set her heart aflame. If this was his thanks for her having saved his life, then she should just have left him in the woods that day. There was no doubt in her mind — the White Fang would use her for their own selfish goals. This was exactly what she had tried to avoid! She didn't want to be made somebody's tool. Her hands fisted in the fabric of her shorts, crumpling the fabric.
The sound of a lock being unlocked reached her ears and Serena looked up at the metal door being swung open. The bright light made her squint her eyes as three people walked in.
"Ah, I see our guest is awake," the man in the front said, his impressive horns catching her eyes the moment she had gotten used to the sudden stream of light. Even though his tone was civil, Serena could feel the cold, threatening aura this man exuded.
Eyes sweeping over to the other two people, she spotted a beautiful woman, her long ebony hair curling along her shoulders and golden eyes inspecting her like she were some kind of prize. The human girl shirked away from the look, opting to look at the last person in the room. He seemed to be a simple Faunus, probably the one designated to guard her.
"I do apologize for the rough handling, miss, but I simply had to meet you in person. I have heard quite a lot about you," the leader spoke up, drawing her attention back to him. His eyes had a manic glow now, and Serena shivered at the look. "I do hope you won't mind your impromptu stay here."
"Where exactly is here? What are you planning to do with me?" she questioned, eyes narrowed in anger. "I have no business with you, so I'd appreciate it if you'd let me leave."
A short bark of laughter startled her, eyes narrowing further.
"I'm afraid that won't be possible. You see, for a long time, the Humans have been the ones in power. They always suppressed our kind, treating Faunus as nothin more than expandable slaves that exist to serve them. But the time has come for us, the Faunus, to take our rightful place."
Serena's breath stocked at the last sentence. The man was mad.
"Why should we serve those lowly Humans when Faunus are so much more powerful than them? They need their Dust, but without it, they are nothing. And now that we have you, Miss Grimm Tamer, we will strike! You will be my trump card, and the Humans will be vanquished by one of their own!" The rant was finished with a wide swipe of his arm, the motion startling the girl.
"You're crazy…" Serena whispered. The leader's eyes narrowed in anger at the comment. "I would never help you! No matter what you do, I won't help you!"
A dark chuckle echoed in the empty room at her declaration. "Oh, we will see about that. I will leave you for now, but we will begin our tests tomorrow."
Turning on his heel, the man exited the room, followed by the woman and Faunus, the latter of which locked the door. Serena was left alone in the dark, body slumped in a corner and mind wondering how the hell she was going to get out of this.
The nightmare ripped her out of her sleep as they had done so often in the past. Bolting up, Serena clenched the thin piece of cloth (that was supposed to be a blanket) to her heaving chest, silent tears sliding along her cheeks and dripping onto her arm. Her breathing was shallow and raspy, and the girl barely had the chance to regain her composure.
A violent cough took hold of her, body shaking and contorting as the coughs turned more and more violent. Serena looked around her but, just as she had feared, there was no glass of water in sight. She had received no dinner the previous night — no doubt a ploy to keep her weak and obedient — and refused to drink out of the toilet. The chilly night air did not help with her burning lungs, and she was pretty sure that she would wake the entire base with the noise she was making.
Serves them right, her mind sneered, but still she tried to quiet down.
The shadow under the door had gone unnoticed by the girl, and, at first, she did not hear the words spoken to her from the other side of it. A loud bang on the metal door startled her enough for her to seize hacking up her lungs, and she heard someone commanding her to be quiet. Another, quieter voice was heard in the background, but the louder one seemed to shut it up.
Then the coughs came back with a vengeance, and now she actually feared that a lung would be spit up. One arm braced on the steel plate underneath her, she held her other hand against her mouth, eyes scrunched shut. Her entire chest was burning, her throat hurting more and more with each new set of coughs.
"Water…" she croaked out in-between coughs. "Please, I need water."
Something seemed to be moving beyond the door, and she heard steps fading away. Then, the sound of another pair of steps, these ones hurried and quick, reached her ears, and Serena perked up when she heard the lock click. The door opened to reveal the Faunus that had been present at the meeting that afternoon. Immediately, her eyes went to the bottle of water the man was holding in his left hand.
He seemed to be hesitating for a moment before stepping forward and sticking his hand through the bars of the cage, throwing the bottle at her. Serena caught the container with shaky hands, fumbling with the cap before taking a greedy sip of the refreshing liquid. Another few sips followed the first, and she soon had the bottle emptied to the last drop.
Giving a content sigh at her cool throat, Serena looked up to see the man watching her. The low light along with his hood and mask made it impossible for her to see anything, but she could feel a vibe of both curiosity and apprehension emitting from him. For a few moments, he simply stared at her as she stared back, both quietly contemplating the other.
Then, the Faunus turned around and headed for the door. Taking out the keys at the back of his belt, he was about to close the door when Serena made him pause.
"Thank you. For the water."
He did not reply, but she could see a faint nod of his head before he pulled the door closed, the lock clicking back into place. Retiring to her bed, Serena closed her eyes, quickly consumed by a dreamless sleep.
The room she was taken to was barren save for a single chair, standing in the middle of it. The guard led her over to it, pushing her down and fastening both arms and legs with leather bindings to the metal contraption. He ignored her feeble struggle against the taut straps, stepping back and exiting the room.
Taking this moment to examine the room, Serena noticed the mirror taking up one wall. Another Faunus, this one a woman, entered the room and wheeled over a small machine. Crouching, she plastered several wires to the human's body, all linked up to the strange machine. Then, she, too, left the room.
Serena was puzzled by this. I thought they wanted to run some tests on me. So why would they-
Her musings were cut short as she let out a pained scream, muscles spasming as electricity cursed through her body. The metal chair only made the experience worse. Then, the current was stopped and she heard the voice of the leader come on over a speaker.
"Hmm… Very interesting. Though I'm sure you can show us more, Miss Grimm Tamer."
Starting from then, current after current of electricity was forced through her body, each one lasting longer than the previous. By the time she had been shocked four times, Serena felt her stomach heave before she had emptied its contents onto her lap. Nose scrunching in disgust, she leaned her head to the side, managing to vomit the rest of her stomach onto the ground.
The ninth current caused her nose to bleed, and her head was ringing, eyes losing their focus. It felt like her brain was melting inside her skull, her muscles tired and useless from continuously clenching and unclenching. When they were done with her, two guards had to haul her out of the room and back into her cell. She remained motionless for the rest of the day.
The first session announced many more to follow. Each day Serena would be hauled out of her cage by a guard and brought to the leader for new tests. She struggled at the beginning, lashing out and even biting the men when they pried at her. They would beat her if she proved too much a hassle, sometimes hitting her so hard she lost consciousness for a few minutes. Then, after some time, she simply allowed them the move her around as they pleased.
Electricity wasn't the only thing that was tested on her. They would inject her with some kind of substance which would make her go crazy to the point that she injured herself in her frenzy. Other times they would pit her up with Grimm, trying to get her to display her powers for them. They attacked her without mercy, and it was more often than not that the guards were ordered to kill the Grimm, lest the creatures kill her.
The only light of hope was the fact that the guard that was standing watch at her door, and who had given her water the first day, actually treated her like a human. As opposed to the other Faunus, he was kind and would often bring her food, sometimes even smuggling her an apple or some other type of fruit when the leader deprived her of any food. Once, he even smuggled her out of her cell, allowing her to take a bath. She was thankful at being given the opportunity to clean not only herself, but also her clothes, which were still stained with vomit from the first experiment.
Apart from that, her days were filled with beatings and torture.
The door creaked open cautiously, before a whisper was heard and hurried footsteps entered the room. The sound of keys rattling on a chain resounded in the dark room, and Serena was startled awake by the creaking of the hinges of the cell door. Cracking her eyes open, she barely had time to spot the two dark shapes before she was hauled to the ground, her back colliding with the dusty ground and knocking the wind out of her.
Coughing, the girl weakly put up her hands, pushing at the pair of arms that had a painful hold on her shoulders, keeping her down. Another pair of hands was suddenly on her person, and she froze when she felt them roam her body, skimming along the hem of her shirt and pants. Her brain began to catch up once the hands started tugging at her shirt, attempting to rip it off of her.
Serena put the last of her energy into her struggling, legs flailing and trying to kick away the person that was now perched on her hips. Her breathing grew panicked, but before she could scream out, a hand covered her mouth. Her eyes began to water as her shirt was finally ripped off, the hands now wandering down to her pants and working at the button. She grew desperate now, bucking underneath the crushing weight and yelling from behind the hand. She managed to bite a finger, but the Faunus had a tough skin and barely flinched at the attack. She received a punch to the face when she became even more hysterical.
Suddenly, the door was flung open, light flooding the room. The figure atop her froze, as did the one whose hands were clutching her shoulders. They both turned to the door, body tensed and stiff.
"What the hell are you doing?!"
She recognized the voice. It belonged to the nice Faunus. She was surprised to pick up the anger lancing his tone, but was nevertheless grateful for his interrupting the would-be rapists.
"The hell do you care?" the one atop her seethed.
"Yeah. Just go back outside. Let us have our fun with the little bitch," the second assaulter commented.
The sound of two blades being drawn echoed in the tense silence, and she felt the hold on her shoulders faltering. The two Faunus slowly stood up, seeming to reach for they own weapons.
"Don't. If you walk away now, I won't report you to Desde. But make one move and you will both be put on trial for attempting to harm the girl," her guard spoke. "Do you really want Spike to find out what you were trying to do to his precious guest?"
Serena felt that the term guest was more than faulty — really, she was a prisoner, not to mention a guinea pig to that leader of theirs — but the threat seemed to work. The two Faunus hesitated, before sneering in disgust and leaving the room.
Serena pushed herself up on scraped elbows, tired eyes focusing on the Faunus that had just saved her from any woman's worst nightmare. Sitting up, she only now felt the blood that trickled down her chin from where her lip was busted. The chill also reminded her of the fact that she was missing a shirt. Attempting to cover herself and preserve some of her dignity, Serena crossed one arm over her chest, legs drawn close to her torso.
The man looked at her with what she could only interpret to be pity. He left the room for a moment before returning with a cloth and water bottle in one hand, and a clean white shirt in the other. Surprising her, he entered the cell and carefully approached her. Serena drew back when he stretched out a hand, the shirt dangling from it.
"Here. You can use this," he said quietly, an air of empathy now surrounding him. She grabbed the shirt with a shaky hand, clutching it to her chest. Surprising her once more, he turned around, granting her privacy to change. She quickly pulled the T-Shirt over her head, the material falling loosely around her small frame.
Turning back around to face her, the man held up the water and piece of cloth. "May I?"
Hesitating for a moment, Serena slowly nodded her head. He crouched down in front of her, one hand uncapping the bottle and then pouring some water onto the rag. Once it was completely drenched, he set down the bottle, squeezed out the excess water and carefully neared her face. When she didn't retreat, he gingerly dabbed it onto her bleeding lip, cleaning it with surprising care. Then, he drenched the cloth once more before focusing on her chin, as well as other bruises and fading patches of blood that adorned her face.
Serena quietly watched as he worked. This was unexpected. She did not understand why he showed her such kindness. Weren't they supposed to be enemies? Or, at the very least, a prisoner and her guard? And yet, here he was, nursing her wounds as though they were friends.
Her mind told her that this was just a trick, another ploy to get her to work with them. But her heart recognized the act for what it was: a simple act of human kindness. She decided to listen to her heart.
When he was done, the man capped the bottle and folded up the now pink and brown cloth. Standing back to his full height, he offered her a hand. It took her only a moment to accept the help, and he pulled her to her feet with a strong grip, yet still mindful of her battered state. She swayed on her feet for a moment and he immediately placed a hand around her waist, steadying her.
Unlike the touch of the two men from before, his was gentle, careful. His hand remained on the small of her back, and once she had regained her sense of balance, he let go of her. Leading her to the metal cot, he lowered her down until she was safely lying back down. The situation turned almost comical when he actually tucked the blanket around her.
But all Serena could think about was how very comforting his care was, and she felt tears prick her eyes. It had been almost two weeks since anyone else had touched her with or even shown her an ounce of kindness. For the first time in what appeared to her to be an eternity, she was treated like an actual human being, and not just some test subject.
"Thank you," she sobbed with a watery smile, eyes locking on the mask where his eyes should be. Once again, he only nodded and made to leave, but stopped when she grabbed hold of his shirt sleeve. "What is your name?"
He remained silent, and she realized that he probably had orders to stay away from her. He had acted against his leader by helping her in the way he did. Surely, if he told her his name, the leader would have his head for treason. Still, she at least wanted him to know who she was. At least one person would know her name then, should she not survive this ordeal.
She let go of him then, and he exited the cell and closed the door behind him. When he reached the second door that lead out to the hallway, he paused, looked over his shoulder and quietly answered her question.
"Perry. My name is Perry."
Then he locked the door, plunging the room in darkness once more. But, somehow, this darkness did not seem as frightening as the one before.
Chapter 38: Broken
Buckle up guys, this is going to be one hell of an emotional chapter!
A little treat for the long wait to my awesome readers ;)
Many thanks to those who left Kudos; love you all <3
"At your absolute Best,
You still won't be good enough for the wrong person.
At your Worst,
You'll still be worth it to the right person."
That was how Adam had been feeling these past few days. No matter what he did or how many hours he trained — to the point that he collapsed on his bed — this feeling of restlessness just wouldn't fade. It was as if his very soul was aware of something that he was not.
Each day he grew more and more irritated. It had gotten so bad that most other White Fang members did their damnedest to stay out of his way. Some even went so far as to leave the room the moment he entered it. He cared little about them; the idiots were actually doing him a service. At least then he wouldn't have to listen to their annoying gossiping.
Sitting at a lone table in the far back of the small kitchen the higher-ups had, Adam listlessly stirred his cup of coffee. The liquid had been his favorite, and he had often downed several cups when out on missions or if he simply wanted to stay awake longer. But now, the brown substance seemed too bitter. He usually drank his coffee black, but had added sugar in order to alleviate the pungent taste, but even that did nothing. He found himself wishing for a cup of warm, soothing tea.
An abrupt image of a pale, delicate hand holding out a steaming cup to him made him twitch. Growling in irritation, he stood up and dumped the drink down the sink, before washing out his cup and placing it back in the cupboard overhead. He felt the way the muscles in his shoulders tightened, alerting him to the presence of another in the room.
Odd, everyone had been avoiding him like the plague.
Turning around, he was greeted with the mask-less face of Raven Branwen. The older woman's eyes looked as tired as always, circled by dark shadows that seemed to be permanent. Her face was set in a stern mask of indifference, hiding any kind of emotion aside from apathy. He held her gaze for a few moments, impatiently waiting for her to say something. But she remained quiet, eyes simply resting on his own red ones.
"What?!" Adam finally barked, fed up with the staring contest between them. If she had something to say, then she should just do so. He told her as much.
She regarded him a little longer before calmly stating, "You've changed, Adam."
His muscles tensed immediately at her words. Raven was clever, she was one of the oldest members of the White Fang, and was recognized as a superb fighter. She was keen to notice even the smallest of changes, no matter how minuscule they were. He always respected her for her sharp mind and even sharper blade.
But, right now, he really wished she wasn't as smart as she was.
"I don't know what you mean." It was a lame excuse at which he internally flinched — it made him seem even more suspicious — but his mind was simply too strained to come up with anything better. The narrowing of her eyes indicated that she, too, noticed the slip-up.
"Like I said, I have no idea what you're talking about," he bit back, hand unconsciously inching towards the hilt of Wilt & Blush. A fight with her was unfavorable, especially in these small quarters where she would have a clear advantage with her teleportation. Nevertheless, he would be ready should it come down to it.
"That won't be necessary," Raven interrupted, her eyes sliding from his down toward his weapon, before focusing back on his masked eyes. "I'm not here for a fight, and I won't be playing tattletale, either."
Those words made him halt. It was his turn to narrow his eyes in suspicion. As far as he knew, Raven was absolutely loyal to Spike and the organization. It would be her job to report him for his questionable loyalty. Yet she said that that was not her reason for being here. Adam did not spend a lot of time with Raven — or any of the other members of the White Fang for that fact — but he knew that she did not lie. If she would not attack, then he wouldn't either.
Letting his hand fall away from his sword, he inhaled deeply, loosening some of the tension in his muscles. "What do you want, Raven?" His voice was quieter, far less hostile than it had been only seconds ago. Now, it was simply tired.
"To give you a warning. I know about the girl; heard about her in the city on one of my missions. So did Desde. I know she was the one who took care of you. And I also know that you lied to Spike when you said that you don't know where she lives."
Red eyes narrowed threateningly at the woman. "If you know all that, why come here to warn me? Shouldn't you report me? I know you are a loyal member, Raven. What would make you betray Desde so blatantly?"
A small, almost unnoticeable smile appeared on her otherwise empty face, cracking the mask. "Believe me when I tell you that you aren't the only one who has people to protect."
A sign of mutual understanding was exchanged as Adam nodded at her reply. She understood him, better than anyone else probably could, and would not pose a threat to him. Raven would not be his enemy, at the moment.
"What is your warning?" he asked, referring to her earlier statement.
"She is here."
That one sentence was enough to make the alarms go off in his head. Several thoughts raced through his mind: was she okay? How had Spike found her? Why was she here? How much did Spike know? All of these, and several others clouded his mind as he recognized the severity of the situation.
"Spike keeps her locked up in the lower floor, a cell at the far back. I don't know what exactly he has planned, but I can only guess that he'll move soon."
"The attack on Beacon."
Raven nodded. They both knew what Spike intended and how the school was his main focus. The only question was: why would he need Serena? There was no way she would just be going along with whatever scheme Spike had planned, that much Adam knew. The girl would not use her powers to attack anyone, let alone innocent students and their teachers.
"Perry seems to be the one mainly responsible for guarding her. I suggest that, if you go, you go when he's on duty. I have a feeling he'll be more lenient than others," Raven advised him. It was unexpected, that she would help him by devolving so much information, but he guessed that she was pursuing her own goal. It just so happened that the two of them seemed to be on the same path.
He gave her a solid nod, executing a brief salute to show her his gratitude. She seemed surprised — Adam Taurus did not salute or bow to anyone other than Spike Desde — but returned the nod, as well as a terser version of the salute. Then she left the kitchen, Adam closely behind her, inspecting the hallways to make sure no one had been around to eavesdrop on their chat. Once satisfied, he turned to the left.
It was time to go visit the cells and see just what the hell Desde was up to.
The hallways on the lowest level of the base were as dark as always, the fluorescent lights barely lighting the dusty ground enough. Down here, it was far quieter than up above. The cells were all empty, making the level seem like a graveyard. The damp air only made the hair at the back of his neck stand up even more. His stomach churned as he approached the back of the hallway, heart speeding up with every step he took.
The Faunus, Perry, was at the door, back to it and pose lax but attentive. His head turned to the side as Adam approached, and it took the male a minute to identify the newcomer. Once he did, however, he straightened his pose and brusquely saluted the higher-ranked member, stepping half a foot away from the metal door.
"At ease," Adam told the Faunus when he remained standing stiff. His comrade visibly relaxed at the command, shoulders loosening and hands falling back to his side. "I've come to inspect the condition of the prisoner."
Not thinking to question his superior, Perry stepped further away from the door, allowing Adam to approach the metal construction. Pointing at the door, he ordered the lower-ranked Faunus to open it. Perry fumbled a bit with the bunch of keys before eventually finding the right one. He swiftly turned it, the lock snapping out of place with an audible click.
Holding the door open, Perry let Adam pass through before following suit, closing the door behind the two. It took them both a few moments to adjust to the darkness that reigned the cell. But, once his eyes had adjusted, Adam could not believe that he was looking at the girl that had saved his life only weeks ago.
What sat before him was nothing but a shell of a person, empty and battered. Her body — which looked thinner and bonier than he remembered it to be — was littered with bruises and cuts. A particularly harsh one encompassed the right side of her face, her eye swollen shut almost completely. Her lip was split, and there was a small patch of blood still staining the formerly pink skin. Her clothes were torn in several places, smeared with dirt and droplets of blood. Her usually shiny, black hair hung listlessly about her face, matted brown with dirt.
There was no reaction to indicate that she had heard the two of them entering. She remained completely still, body hunched in on itself as she sat on the small cot, back leant against the stone wall. Her arms were circling her drawn up legs, and a small but constant tremble shook her body.
Gritting his teeth in anger, Adam tried his best to remain calm. He had to appear detached. Raven had said that Perry was someone they could trust more than the others, but Adam was suspicious. As far as he was concerned, everyone but Raven — and even that was still in the balance — was an enemy to Serena and himself.
"How long has she been here?"
"Sir?" The male Faunus seemed taken aback by the question. Surely, someone as high-ranked as Adam knew about the capture of the girl known as the Grimm Tamer. A harsh look, however, told him to answer the question or expect severe repercussions. "Seventeen days, sir."
"Has she been like that the whole time?"
Perry hesitated a moment. "No, sir. She was rather… lively the first few days. She has been like that for about a week, give or take. It started when she was assaulted last week."
Adam's eyes snapped from the girl to the masked Faunus, red eyes disguised but rage clearly visible by the way his body tensed and he hissed out, "She was what?!"
Perry took a step back in fright, not having expected the violent reaction from the usually composed man. "A-A few days ago, two other members came down while I was in the-the bathroom. They assaulted her and tried to…" He stocked here, not sure if he should divulge just what exactly those two bastards had planned to do.
"To do what, agent?"
"They tried to… to rape her, sir."
"And you let them." The accusation was followed by the unsheathing of Wilt, the blade gleaming dangerously in the low light.
"No! I would never let them do something like that!" Perry protested harshly, surprising the red-haired Faunus. "She might be a prisoner, but that doesn't mean they can just do whatever they want. I stopped them once I noticed what was going on. Nothing has happened since."
Adam let the words sink in. He had protected Serena from whoever had tried to harm her. Sheathing his blade, he straightened his pose before looking the man opposite him over. He didn't know Perry personally, but the fact that he had protected the girl made Adam think. Looking back at her, he noticed that the commotion had awoken her out of whatever trance she had been in. Now, she was looking straight at them, yet no distinguishable emotion was visible on her face.
Nodding his head, he told the Faunus to leave. "And lock the door behind you. I don't want any disturbances."
Perry did as told, the heavy door shutting with a loud creak and plunging the room in darkness once more. Carefully advancing, Adam took out the key to her cell. He had snatched it without the other man even noticing. Approaching the metal cage, he unlocked the door, carefully letting it swing open.
Making sure that Perry was not spying on them, he stepped inside. Serena reacted the moment his foot crossed the threshold. Flinching away from him, she scooted back until she was pressed into the corner, trembling body attempting to shrink into the darkness. Heart aching at the picture, Adam chose his next movements with care. Anything abrupt would only spook her further.
The last thing he wanted was for her to be scared of him. Maybe, if they had met in the midst of battle, he would have relished the look of terror on her face. He would have fought her without hesitation, striking her the moment she would have given him the opportunity to. Knowing her, she would not have lasted longer than a couple minutes. It was not in her nature to hurt, to aim to kill. She would have disarmed him, but not killed. Her own kindness would be her death sentence.
The mere thought of attempting to bring her harm made him sick. Once upon a time, yes, he would have fought and killed her. He had fought her the moment he'd regained consciousness in her home. But even back then, she had not been afraid of him. She had never feared him the way the humans and even his own comrades did. Never once.
The weight of his own emotions made him drop down on the edge of her cot, far enough away to grant her space to move in. Hanging his head, he dared not look at her. This was his fault. He should have stayed with her, or at least not returned to the White Fang. Had he done so, she would still be in the forest, living her life in peace among the Grimm.
Yet, she was here, a guinea pig to Spike and whatever sick plans he had. Her body had been abused and beaten. For the Maidens' sake, she had narrowly escaped being raped! It was all his fault! If only…
A cold hand atop his cheek made him freeze. Body completely still, he let his eyes slide to the side, barely able to see her in his peripheral vision. She had left her corner, and although she was still a fair distance apart from him, he could see the look of concern and care on her face. Slowly, she inched closer, eyes nervously darting down to the weapon at his side from time to time, until she was sitting directly next to him.
He gently turned his head to face her, masked eyes landing atop her empty ones. There were no words spoken as the two of them simply looked at each other, taking the other in. The mist seemed to clear as her azure orbs regained that spark of life he had come to love. Eyes trailing along his body, she was still before, slowly, a small, wobbly smile painted her lips.
The name left her tongue in a low whisper, yet it was as though her voice alone held all the power in the world. Carefully, she lifted her other hand, resting it atop his other cheek, cradling his face in-between her cold hands.
"You look tired."
The unexpected phrase made him crack a smile, a low chuckle rumbling in his chest as he closed his eyes. He just couldn't win against her.
"I'm sorry, Serena."
She tilted her head in surprise, eyebrows crinkling slightly. Letting her hands trail down from his cheeks, down to his neck and along his shoulders, she carefully leaned her upper body closer to his. It was only when her arms encircled his shoulders and she pulled his head to her that he realized she was hugging him.
The absurdity made his mind go blank. She was the one taken prisoner by some crazy guy who did only the Maidens know what with her. And, yet, here she was, hugging him. Breathing in, he noticed that, under all the sweat and dirt and blood, she still had that particular scent to her. Lifting his own arms, he encircled her waist, pulling her closer to him.
It was weird, but, in a way, he understood what she was doing. There was too much going on for her to process and, in order to alleviate her own suffering, she did what she did best: take care of another. But, this time, he would make sure that he would be the one taking care of her.
It was only moments later, when her head had come to rest against his shoulder, hair tickling his cheek, that he felt the small tremble fade to be replaced by a more violent one. There were no sounds to indicate it, but he knew that she was crying. And she had every right to be.
Tightening his hold on her, he pulled her so that she was sitting half-way in his lap, body pressed against his chest. He leaned his back against the cold brick wall, her body following suit. One hand stayed on her back while the other gently combed through her hair, his chin resting atop her head to let her know that he was there for her. He would always be there for her.
He didn't know how long they remained in that position, and he did not care. Right then and there, he felt at peace. This was home. Right there, with her in his arms. He didn't know when or how it happened, but, somehow, he had fallen in love with this beautiful, broken girl.
At the realization, a small smile spread across his lips.
A sharp knock at the metal door shattered the moment, Serena jumping away from him at the sudden noise, only to give him an apologetic smile a moment later. He returned the smile, letting her know that it was okay. He understood.
"Sir, you are needed upstairs," Perry's voice sounded dully from the other side.
"I'll be out in a moment," Adam replied, voice devoid of the maelstrom of emotions that was raging in his heart. Turning back to the girl, he quietly spoke, "Everything will be alright. I'll get you out of here. I promise."
"I know you will, Adam." The words were spoken with conviction, a blatant statement of just how much she trusted him. It made his heart swell with love even more.
Stepping outside her cage, he closed the barred door, sending her one last look before knocking on the metal door. Perry promptly opened it, Adam slipping the key back unto the ring of keys without the Faunus noticing. Biding the other man goodbye, Adam walked down the damp hallway once more.
But, this time, with an entirely different set of emotions in his heart. And a plan in mind.
"When she was just a girl
She expected the world
But it flew away from her reach
And the bullets catch in her teeth
Life goes on, it gets so heavy
The wheel breaks the butterfly
Every tear a waterfall"
The forest was strangely quiet as Ruby made her way along the familiar path. The air had a strange feeling to itself, one of tension. It was as if a fight was imminent. The leaves on the trees appeared redder, bloodier. A sense of violence lay in the air, and Ruby could feel her muscles tensing of their own accord. Her hand periodically clasped the handle of Crescent Rose, as if something was going to jump out at her any second. And even though she knew the Grimm were familiar with her, there was a new feeling of apprehension in her heart.
"Serena?" The girl carefully announced her presence. The complete silence that lay over the forest was unnerving. There were no birds singing, not even a breeze of wind would rustle the leaves. It was as if all life had left the place.
"Serena?" Ruby called again as she broke through the bushes, faced with the dark mouth of the cave. "Are you home?"
Something was not right.
The cave was completely cast in darkness. The fire that was always burning was absent, and Ruby felt her heart jump at the discovery. The fire was never out. Sneaking inside, she took stock of the rest of the home. Everything was at its place; the pans and pots were neatly stacked in their corner, the clothes lay folded in their designated spots. Nothing seemed to be out of place.
Walking over to the dead fire, Ruby put her hand in the embers. They were cold, and had been so for some time. It would have been normal if the fire had gone out while Serena was out with the Grimm or hunting. But these embers were stone cold, some already having been blown out of the small circle of rocks that limited the fireplace.
Fear seized her heart as Ruby looked back outside. There were no visible footsteps leading away from the cave, no sign of anyone having recently passed by here. Her eyes automatically swiped over to the corner where Serena kept her weapons. The bow and arrows were gone, but her spear was still there. Something in her made her grab the collapsible stick and put it in the holster next to Crescent Rose.
The cracking of branches made her whip back around, silver eyes narrowed as they scrutinized the bushes. Something big was approaching, and fast. Letting Crescent Rose unfold, Ruby exited the cave, ready to confront whatever it was that was coming. A deep breath later, a dark shape jumped out.
Giving a short yelp, Ruby leapt to the side, Crescent Rose barely slicing past the middle of Ajax as he landed at the entrance of the cave. Turning around, she watched as the Grimm took position, the cave to its back, and bared its teeth at her.
The Grimm did not seem to hear her, standing up on its hind legs, showing off its impressive row of teeth and deadly red eyes. His claws clinked together ominously, ready to tear into her. Taken aback by this strange behavior, Ruby kept a firm hold on Crescent Rose, ready in case the Grimm would attack her.
"Ajax, it's me."
As if waking up from a trance, the Grimm suddenly dropped back down, claws burying into the soft earth as his canines were once more covered by black lips. His previously menacing red eyes took on a hint of relief as he recognized the human in front of him. Giving a short whine, he trotted over to the raven-haired girl, pressing his head to her chest in greeting, simultaneously apologizing for the attack. Ruby returned the gesture with a rub of his head, letting him know that his apology had been accepted.
"Ajax, what happened? Where's Serena?"
At the question, the beast almost went into a frenzy. Ruby had never before heard him howl in such a sad tune, the sound moving her to the core. Before anything more could be asked, the Grimm grabbed hold of her cloak with his teeth before pulling her along.
"Hey, wai- Hold on!" Ruby could only stumble helplessly as the creature dragged her away from the cave and deeper into the forest. No matter how often she told him to slow down, let go of her cape, he did not listen.
"Wah!" Ruby yelped as she plopped to the ground rear first. Pushing her cloak off her head in order to see something, she glared at the Grimm's back. "What in the Maidens' names…" she mumbled, clambering back to her feet, one hand rubbing at her bruised behind.
Eyes scanning her surroundings, she took note of the scenery. Ajax started sniffing the ground, every so often letting out a whine as his nose scurried the ground for any kind of trace. Making her own way around the clearing, she spotted an arrow sticking out of the ground. Ruby carefully plucked the projectile free, taking note of the faint traces of blood that bordered the sharp edge.
"Blood…" Ajax joined her and she held the object out for him to sniff. The ensuing growl let her know that it was not the blood of her friend. "She must have fought with someone. Let's see… One, two… Three. There were three people."
Ruby carefully scanned the ground, taking note of the numerous tracks and footsteps, as well as signs of a rather harsh fight. There were cracked branches in the trees, patches of grass trampled down, and she carefully followed the trail. It suddenly came to an end, and all Ruby could deduce was that Serena must have been ambushed here. There was almost no disturbance here, and the girl guessed that her friend had been attacked from behind, granting her no time to defend herself.
Ready to leave and inform Professor Ozpin of this dangerous development, she made to head back to Beacon when something caught her eyes. Stopping dead in her tracks, she stooped down and analyzed the letters. They had been carefully carved into the soft earth, and it was a miracle that the wind had not disturbed them.
"WF… Whoever this WF is, they took Serena," Ruby concluded, somber. Standing back up, she went back to Ajax. Laying a calming hand on the Grimm's head, she spoke quietly to the distressed creature. "Listen Ajax. Serena's been captured. I don't know by whom, but I promise that we'll find her and bring her back to you guys. But I need you to do me a favor."
The Grimm pressed his snout to her chin, letting her know that he was all ears.
"I need you guys to stay here. I know how worried you are, but you cannot go to the city. Don't leave this forest until either I come back, or Serena does. We don't want a repeat of what happened a few months ago, do we?"
A low rumble in his throat let her know that he agreed to her terms. Kissing his ears quickly, she left with a wink, heart sinking at this despondent form growing smaller and smaller until it was hidden by trees and brushes.
Team RWBY lazily lounged outside the little ice cream parlor they liked to visit on hot days. Today being one such day, each of the members sat at the blue table, cups of ice cream resting in front of them and absentmindedly picking at the colorful balls.
"Hey, has anyone seen Ruby? She didn't show up for lunch and I can't reach her scroll," Yang asked, looking to the screen of her own scroll for the sixth time in a row.
"I thought she said she'd join us at around two o'clock?" Weiss answered, scooping up another mouthful of the vanilla ice cream. Her eyelids closed in pleasure as the cool treat hit her tastebuds, its iciness sending a pleasant shiver through her body.
"It's almost three o'clock," Blake interjected, casting a glance at the clock that hung across the street on one of the towers that lined the little plaza. Her own tuna and strawberry flavored ice cream was almost entirely gone.
"You don't think that something happened? She was acting strange the past couple weeks," Yang worried, taking a chomp of her own banana and mint combo.
"Aren't you just being a little overprotective, Yang?" Weiss countered. Everyone knew how protective the blonde was of her little sister, so the question wasn't that misplaced.
"I don't know. Maybe… But something's telling me that there's something going on. Can you honestly say that Ruby's been acting normal since then?"
"Then? You mean the attack on Beacon?" Blake questioned.
"Yeah. Ever since then, she's been disappearing a lot. And remember that girl she told us about. What do we know of her? How do we know she's not a threat? What if something happened to Ruby and that girl is at fault?!"
"Whoa, calm down," Blake urged the girl, laying a hand atop hers and motioning for her to sit back down.
"Sorry," Yang apologized sheepishly. "But I'm just so worried. So many things happened in the past, can you honestly blame me."
"I understand your worry, but-"
"There she is!" Weiss suddenly interrupted, jumping up from her own seat, a finger pointing at the quickly disappearing figure of their missing teammate. "Where is she going? I thought she would meet us."
"I say we find out."
Following the blonde's words, the team quickly paid for their snack before rushing off after the hooded girl. Keeping a safe enough distance, they were surprised to see her heading straight for Professor Ozpin's office. Exchanging equally perplexed looks, they stealthily snuck into the ventilation shafts, dropping down atop the elevator just as it opened its doors to let Ruby in. They quietly waited for the machine to reach the top floor, watching Ruby exit before dropping down from the small hatch in the ceiling of the elevator.
"Miss Rose, what a pleasant surprise," Ozpin greeted the student as she entered the grand room, granting the others a chance to hide behind one of the many pillars that surrounded the open space. "What brings you to my office?"
"I'm sorry for the sudden interruption, Professor, but I fear we're in deep trouble."
The girls couldn't see their headmaster, but they imagined that he looked just as perplexed as they felt. Carefully leaning to the side, they spied on the duo, eyes primarily trained on their young team leader.
"What would make you say such a thing, Miss Rose? There have been no alarms going off and the Grimm are nowhere near the city."
"Well, the thing is-"
Before she could launch into an explanation, the professor suddenly held up a hand before looking to the side. "You might as well come out."
Cringing at the way they had been so easily detected, the three girls stepped out from behind their cover.
"Guys? What are you doing here?" Ruby asked, face puzzled.
"What do you mean, what are we doing here? We followed you here because you've been acting bonkers and-"
Yang was interrupted by Blake who laid a hand atop her shoulder. "What she means to say, is that you've been acting odd these past days. We were worried about you, and when we saw you sprinting for Professor Ozpin's office, we got suspicious."
"What are you hiding from us, Ruby?" Weiss demanded, haughty tone in place, ice blue eyes staring down her teammate.
"I'm sorry, but this has nothing to do with you."
They were shocked by Ruby's blunt response. Even Ozpin drew an eyebrow at the uncharacteristic behavior of his student.
"What do you mean, this has nothing to do with us?! We're your team, you can count on us! Or have you forgotten that?" Yang raged, lilac eyes taking on a red hue with the amount of frustration she felt at the younger girl's atypical behavior.
"Now, now, Miss Xiao Long, calm down. I'm sure Miss Rose has a good enough reason for her recent attitude," Ozpin tried to mediate. Turning to the girl in question, he asked, "Perhaps you would be willing to share your concern with us? You know you can speak openly not only in front of your team, but also in front of me."
Ruby seemed to hesitate for a moment before finally giving in with a heavy sigh. "Alright then…" Steeling her resolve, she launched into her tale.
"I fear that Beacon is about to be attacked. Before you ask, I don't know by whom. I haven't been able to figure out who kidnapped her yet."
"Who got kidnapped?" Weiss inquired.
"This might take a while to explain, but do you remember when the attack on Vale happened?"
"Yeah, hard to forget that one," Yang replied sarcastically. "What are you getting on?"
"That day, there was a girl there. She's the one who stopped the attack and kept the Grimm at bay ever since. I told you about her, remember?" A couple of nods allowed her to continue. "Anyway, I periodically visited her and we became friends. She even taught me how to get along with Grimm."
"Whoa, whoa, hold up! Get along with Grimm? As in, tame them?" Yang asked, face full of confusion and disbelief.
"Actually, it's more like getting them to like you, but that's beside the point. Anyway, I usually visit her once every two weeks if I can and we've become good friends. She's the main reason there have been no Grimm incidents for the last months."
"I did wonder about that," Blake muttered to herself.
"Miss Rose, you said we were under the threat of being attacked?" Ozpin interjected, trying to get the girl back on track.
"Right, sorry. Well, when I went to visit her today, she wasn't there. I looked all over, and at first, I thought that maybe she was out hunting or in the city buying supplies. But then Ajax suddenly came charging at me. He seemed pretty shaken up; even attacked me although we've become best buds in these past weeks. But, the thing is, when I asked him where Serena was, he got all crazed and dragged me deeper into the forest."
Ruby took a quick breath, trying to fill her lungs with much needed oxygen after the lengthy explanation, before continuing, "We got to a clearing. There were obvious signs of a fight there. I can only assume that Serena was ambushed and forced to fight. She doesn't like fighting, but these guys were obviously after her. I followed the tracks, but they came to an end pretty soon… I fear that she's been abducted by whomever she was fighting," she finished with worry shining brightly in her silver eyes.
"Did you find any leads? Any clues as to whom might have been the attacker?" Ozpin inquired, mind on full alert with the news he's just received.
"None. But there were two letters drawn into the ground. W and F. I don't know what it stands for-"
"White Fang." All eyes switched to Blake. "WF is the insignia of the White Fang. They are the ones who kidnapped her. And it would make sense. If this girl really can tame, for a lack of a better word, the Grimm, then Desde would be all over it."
"Desde?" Weiss' voice had turned rather meek and her eyes now held the same amount of worry that the others' did.
"The new leader of the White Fang. He took over when the old leader died and has revolutionized the organisation completely. He's the main reason I left; his plan was to subjugate all of human kind to the Faunus, and he wouldn't stop at anything. If he has her…"
"We are at severe risk of his plan coming true. If this girl really possesses the power that you say she does, Miss Rose, then we would be no challenge for him," Ozpin concluded before heading for his desk, pushing a button. In a matter of seconds, Glynda Goodwitch entered the room.
"Glynda, I need you to set the entire school on red alert. All teachers are to ready themselves for combat. The students that feel confident enough in their abilities are to get ready, as well. Those that do not are to help evacuate the city and remain with the citizens. Inform General Ironwood of the situation," he ordered.
"Sir, General Ironwood won't be able to render assistance. He has yet to finish rebuilding the base that was attacked two months ago, and won't be able to leave before that is done," Glynda informed her superior.
"We'll have to do this on our own then. As of now, we are on red alert. Begin evacuation immediately."
"Understood," the older woman answered without a beat of hesitation, marching out to relay the orders.
"Sir, does this mean…"
"I'm afraid so. Their first target would be us, as you correctly assumed, Miss Rose. We are the only line of defence Vale has at the moment. If we fall…"
"…Then so does the entire kingdom."
Nodding at the girl, he motioned for the team to get ready as well, dismissing them. Of all the times to launch an attack…
Serena gritted her teeth as she felt the man prodding around in her mind. Rattling the metal binds that kept her in place, she fought to expunge him from her mind.
"Oh, what a tragic death. Drowning in such a pitiable way; a shame you must be to your parents," his voice rumbled as he stood in front of her chair.
"Shut up," Serena growled, anger surging through her body. How dare he talk like that about her parents? About her family!
"You think they miss you? Nonsense. Why would they miss you, a daughter that was nothing but trouble?"
Suddenly, images flitted through her mind, showing her scenes she had no memory of. They showed her fighting with her parents, her sister, showed the disdain they held for her.
It's not real. This isn't real and you know it. He's playing with you! she kept telling herself.
"Do you not see how they hated you. They are happy to be rid of you. One less disappointment they have to face on a daily basis."
"Shut up." She could feel the tears brimming at the corners of her eyes, barely held back by whatever strength she had left. But she could feel that she was nearing her limit. The weeks of torture had broken her down physically, and now he was aiming to destroy her mentally, as well.
"Don't fool yourself; they never loved you! There is no going back to them. There is nothing left for you here but to become my tool! You will bring me victory at any cost. You're alone, so give up already!"
But she couldn't fight anymore. She had reached her limit, as long as it had taken, and was finally broken. He had succeeded. There was no fighting spirit left to keep herself strong, sane. His manipulation had done what he had aimed for. She was his.
"Prepare the bullheads. We have a school to destroy and a kingdom to conquer."
Not the best chapter, but it is necessary to set up the climax, so I did my best.
And I know I did some changes with the whole White Fang thing, but keep in mind that I wrote this story before Volume 3 came out, so I had to go on my own imagination from there. Still hope it's not too confusing/irritating for those who are up to speed with the current Volume 6 of the show.
Still hope you like it. As always, thanks for anyone who leaves/left Kudos; always appreciated.