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Red Maiden

Chapter Text

It was a jungle of steel and concrete, poorly lit and barely cleaned; this part of the kingdom was run down and, as many would describe it, in outright disrepair. The sidewalks littered with trash and junk, buildings defaced with numerous pieces of graffiti, and potholes covered the streets. Outdated power lines supplied electricity to this section, unlike the rest of Vale which used more modern methods that didn't need such things.

Rock and broken asphalt crackled under the weight of a single vehicle, driving down one of the dilapidated roads. The color of the simple car was black with tinted windows, completely blending into the background on this overcast night. The blindingly bright headlights were the only things to give away its location.

It took some time to make all the right turns, but the car eventually made it to its destination; the front of a back alley club. There was no sign to denote a name, and the brick walls on either side vandalized with more graffiti, several of a more explicit and raunchy variety. Two doors opened, the front passenger and driver side.

Two people walked out on the cracked sidewalk. The one coming from the driver's seat was Mercury, a young man with gray-colored hair. His black and gray jacket blended in with the night well, as did the braces protecting his arms.

The one from the front passenger looked about the same age. Her dark skin and mint-green hair acted in contrast to her partner's light tan more contemporary locks. Her top was little more than a series of interconnected straps, exposing much of her torso. The portion of her white pants that weren't covered by brown chaps were still barely visible from just a few feet, such was the darkness.

The passenger side door opened. "Are you sure this is the place? Seems a bit run down," a man spoke hesitantly as he exited the car. He was average in appearance, dressed in casual shirt and pants; indistinguishable from a crowd. The only thing even relatively eye-catching were prominent sideburns.

While Mercury continued toward the club doors, not bothering to answer his question, his partner did. The girl looked over her shoulder as the older man closed the door of the car. "Don't let the outside fool you, Tukson, this is where we work. It's not like we want to actively draw attention to ourselves. We'll stay out here and wait," she looked towards the now closing door of the club, Mercury going in to grab their boss.

The man named Tukson nodded and leaned against the hood of the car. "Guess that makes sense, umm, I'm sorry, I forgot your name..."

"Emerald," she replied as she took out a holographic tablet from her back pocket. "And if you have any more questions, I suggest saving 'em for the boss."

The man nodded nervously. "Understood." Tukson sat there obediently, letting the awkward silence run on for too long, not sure about what he should say or do if anything at all. This was the first time he had ever done anything like this, even when he had joined the White Fang. Which, upon reflection, caused him to sneer at the irony, considering it was because of that organization that he was forced to come to these people. That was how desperate he felt, and his level of nervousness was tantamount to a kid committing their first crime.

He just hoped that these people were as good as the rumors and stories say; if half of what some of the legends say about the two bosses are true, then there is no doubt that they could help. Which actually worsened his growing unease, to some extent. Who's to say they wouldn't just kill him outright? Or maybe drag him away and do god knows what? So many terrifying scenarios, and each just as possible as the last.

Luckily for the man he didn't have to wait and stew in his own anxiety for very long. Mercury walked out of the club doors a few minutes later, followed by a striking woman.

The newcomer was average in height, but carried a sense of authority and dominance that her subordinates lacked. Short, black hair framed her youthful face; alluring, despite some sort of fabric covering the majority of the left side. X-shaped scarring extended over the bridge of her nose, originating from her covered left half.

Unlike the teenagers, the woman's attire was more formal and elaborate. A long, dark red dress with only one sleeve; long and wide, the material hid her left arm entirely. The right side of her dress was split from the hip down, showing the black pantyhose that covered her long legs. She had a piece of jewelry of a unfamier shape dangling from her right ear as well.

Upon her appearance, Emerald jumped in attention, quickly putting her Scroll away. Tukson did the same, standing in attention like he was some sort of subordinate; completely on instinct. This woman's aura demanded subservience from all, even strangers like himself.

Emerald enthusiastically greeted her like a long-lost puppy, but was ignored as the woman simply walked straight towards him. "Hello, my name is Cinder," she extended her hand to Tukson. "What can we help you with?" The woman spoke with an enticing tone, almost sultry; natural and effortless.

Tukson was taken aback by her appearance and demeanor. He wasn't sure what exactly he had expected, but a well-dressed woman who practically exuded sensuality with every word uttered, and every strut, was not one of them. Not by a long shot. Nonetheless, he swallowed the lump in his throat and nervously shook her gloved hand. "Umm, uh, I'm in need of bodyguards for five whole days. How much would that cost?"

"Now, now," the woman let go of their shake. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. What do you need my soldiers for? And before you answer, I suggest you stick to the truth. If I think you're lying this conversation will end very painfully for you."

It was only for a second, but Tukson noticed her amber eye glow ominously to enhance her threat. It's a good thing he wasn't much of a liar to begin with, he thought to himself. "Of course, ma'am. I already expected as much, actually. I'm in the middle of leaving the White Fang, and I'll be heading to Vacuo come Friday."

"I see, and I assume that the Fang have somehow figured it out and want you dead, correct? Cinder arched her brow. "From my own personal experience, righteous types are rarely negotiable."

"Yeah, you're correct. Earlier today I noticed a few skulking around my bookstore." Tukson reached around and hurriedly pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. "I only have five days before I leave for Vacuo; the White Fang has almost no influence over there. Never has. Name your price, please! I'm so close to freedom."

Cinder smiled. "Well, how could I possibly say no to such a plea?" Cinder spoke with a slight hint of patronization. She gestured toward the club doors with her obscured arm. "How about we speak in a more private location? Details like these are better left out of the public sphere, wouldn't you agree?"

Tukson was escorted by the three through the rickety doors, with Mercury behind him and the women leading at the front. On the other side of the door was a long, dimly lit hallway. There were no decorations or markers of any kind, just uncolored brick and stiff, bland carpet for footing.

At the end of their short, three-minute walk the four were met with a large pair of double doors. No words exchanged, mainly due to Tukson being much too nervous to speak up. He was actually starting to feel tinges of regret. Emerald was the one that pushed them open.

What the hell have I gotten myself into? Tukson thought as he looked past Cinder and Emerald. Things were sketchy enough by the very nature of the proposed transaction, but this was going beyond that.

All the faunus could make out was a sudden drop, a result of the pitch blackness blending everything together. In any other situation Tukson would be running by now, but Cinder's presence gutted that dream. Something about her frightened him beyond reason, and he had accepted that fact when he first met her glowing gaze.

The walk down stairs was a long and nerve-wracking one for him, his body fidgeting for no real reason. All Tukson could hear over the erratic pumping of his heart was the clicking sound of Cinder's glass-like heels against the stone steps. The only sources of light in this tunnel were the wall-mounted sconces that suddenly flickered to life when Cinder walked past them, only to be snuffed out seconds later by some unseen force.

He truly felt like he was walking into a nightmare, and the faunus cursed himself over and over for his decision; coming to these people for help the biggest mistake of his life, he began to believe—!

Tukson's eyes suddenly bulged. He felt a sudden shivering sensation that gave him pause. It felt like two dainty arms wrapping themselves around his neck, while something akin to legs started clutching his waist, and a weight brought down into the crook of his neck. Everything felt soft and supple; his sense of touch caressed, stimulated by the hypnotic feel of silk scarves which stroked his entire body.

Tukson was at a lost for words as his mind nearly tore itself apart trying to rationalize whatever was going on. It wasn't either of the girls, as he could still see them walking thanks to the candle light. The sound of Mercury's boots had ceased only when Tukson himself had stalled, so it wasn't him.

And then the phantom started grinding against his torso.

The assault on his senses somehow tripled. What had originally felt like extremely soft fabric simply wrapped around his extremities was now something much more. Now it was more like being drowned it creamy, liquid silk that fondled his very soul. He stood still as the sensation enveloped him whole, completely erasing every other thought in his head.

Tukson no longer cared about why he was with these people, he didn't care about why he had come here in the first place. All he wanted was let this feeling smother him entirely, and drift off into an endless sleep.

He could practically feel his body be slowly dragged down in some imaginary hole, buried under this angelic bliss. But it didn't matter. It felt too good, too pleasing for him to even humor the idea of leaving this state. Even if staying still for a few extra seconds proved fatal, then Tukson would joyfully accept that outcome...

A sudden shiver chilled his spine, jerking him back to the real world. A long and moist, almost tongue-like feeling traced the surface of his lips. It was such a sudden and stark change that it snapped him out of his trance-like stupor, sending his body into its fight or flight instinct.

And then, a voice bubbled up from the pits of his mind, egging him, almost begging: Let me make you scream!

"AHH!" Tukson screamed as he jumped back in fear, tripping over one of the steps behind him. His head landed on the top of Mercury's footwear while the rest of his back hammered against the edges of several stone steps. At least it wasn't his head, was his only positive thought.

"The hell do you think you're doing?" Mercury kicked their prospective client off his foot with enough force to propel him straight up on his feet. "Pull that again and it'll be your face smashing into these things, understand?" Merc stomped on the step he was standing on for extra emphasis with his threat.

"I'm sorry. Just thought I felt something is all. Won't happen again," Tukson staggered his sentence through dry, nervous lips. He can't remember a time he felt so timid and afraid. His poor mind was in complete tatters, fighting itself to figure out whether he was starting to go crazy. He couldn't even figure out how long he'd been out.

"You two done with your little lovers spat?" Emerald spoke from in front of them. While she was now looking at them with annoyed eyes, Cinder kept walking, with the candles still lighting themselves. She didn't seem the least bit interested or curious about the commotion. After a rude gesture from Mercury to Emerald, a gesticulation she reciprocated in kind, they were all back walking again, following Cinder's candle-lit trail.

Fortunately there were no more incidents as they sank below the city, and the veil of darkness was eventually the lifted. Through a pair of ornate curtains, the group arrived at what Tukson assumed was the actual club. His jaw dropped, stupefied.

The inside of the club was a diametric opposite of the outside, completely misleading in every way. While the space out front was cramped and dirty with little-to-no upkeep, the inside was pristine, organized to a meticulous degree. Above all else it was wide open, with free space capable of fitting one or more entire homes with room to spare.

It was a lavish room, with walls like smooth obsidian, and six columns that held the high ceiling. Upon the slabs of marble were carvings that differed one from another, such as a feast of fine meats and wine, the scene of two armies clashing like tidal waves, or explicit debauchery. The one thing that all the columns had in common, however, was that of a coiled serpent with eyes of electric purple, wrapped around the top portion of the pillars.

There were two chandeliers hanging a couple of stories above the ground, shining with a rather dim light; the glass-smooth surfaces of the walls acted as great reflectors and enhanced the lighting in tandem with giving the room an enchanted, if somewhat anachronistic feel.

Attached to the wall on Tukon's left hand side was a long balcony, about half the way between the floor and the ceiling. Though devoid of any people, an array of furniture displayed proudly: through the marble railing were portions of divans and baroque chaise lounges, couches and recliners. It looked like some sort of VIP section or something similar. It was about as luxurious as he expected from this bunch of Sybarites.

The last thing Tukson took note of was the chairs on the bottom floor; he wasn't sure if it was the lighting or some other optical illusion, but the grouping of chairs and tables off in the corners looked translucent, allowing the light from the chandeliers and walls to change their color, almost like glass.

"Emerald, Mercury," Cinder spoke for the first time since entering the building. "Show our guest to the bar while I have a chat with Ruby." Cinder turned to her potential client, smiling at the distressed expression and body language he carried.

"You behave yourself now," she teased before walking away. Under normal circumstance Tukson would've had a hard time not staring at her swaying backside, but his nerves were on a razor's edge. His heart pounded at such a rapid rate that it felt like he could pass out at any given moment.

Sitting down and drinking something would be a big help with the state he was in. Then again, that's probably why Cinder had suggested it in the first place.

Over a great sea, flying through the clear blue sky was a luxury aircraft. Being composed of three visible decks and four wings, it looked like a regular shipping vessel carved from wood and metal that occupied the oceans below, and only outfitted with an advanced propulsion system to help it soar.

Inside the one of the rooms in the top deck of the Air Bus, three very special guests passed the time. This room was about five hundred feet in circumference, but only four people populated. The room had been made for extravagance, decorated with a pool table off to the back, a massive fridge, and several luxury recliner chairs on the left side of the room.

The room had a panoramic view thanks to a row of large, car-sized panes of glass that acted as one of the walls. Thick and sturdy, reinforced with the natural powers of Dust, these windows had three functions: to let the sun's natural light in, to give the occupants a breathtaking view of the outside, and, oddly enough, TV screens. The whole room essentially acted like an exaggerated home theater setup.

"YEAHHH! Ram that truck into the Grimm! Make 'em wish they were never spawned!" A well-dressed man jumped out of his recliner suddenly, pressing the buttons on a game controller like a mad man. Apparently, running a giant semi-truck through an entire horde of Grimm while fire spewed forth from both of the exhaust pipes was something very entertaining to him.

Qrow had always loved video games, and being able to play on what was essentially a three hundred inch screen—even if it was a single pane of glass—with the highest level of graphics on the market was a once in a lifetime deal considering his strenuous work. This room even had a physical game controller so he didn't have to use his Scroll, which was something new entirely.

"WOOHOO!" Qrow threw his hands up in the air upon completion of the level, which had simply been to kill as many Grimm as possible in five minutes. Though he was more excited about getting the high score than actually completing anything.

"I think Qrow wants to live here," a feminine voice chuckled at the sight of her slightly buzzed uncle doing an impromptu celebration dance.

"He deserves some time for fun. He works practically around the clock for me," an older, more calm man responded. He and the girl were playing chess tucked away into one of the corners, parallel to the row of windows so the light from the sun would be able illuminate their game board and pieces.

"I suppose, but I could do without the terrible footwork," the girl giggled again. "Maybe I should get him an entire gaming setup for his place: TV, console, games, chair and all. What do you think, Ozpin? Think that'd make a good birthday gift?" She asked while claiming one of his white knight pieces with a ring-decorated hand.

"I think he would enjoy that very much. However I'm a bit afraid of him avoiding work," Ozpin laughed good-naturedly. With a move of his rook one of Ruby's black bishops was captured. "I take it business is going well for you to consider something so grand. Are you two—"

"Don't worry about it," the girl cut him off, already know what he was going to interrogate her on. "We haven't changed. And as for things going well, let's just say that Vale's council isn't as squeaky clean as they like to say. You're more than welcome to stop by at any time free of charge, you know that."

The older man was about to speak when the sound of their attendant's heels reached their ears. "Excuse me."

The girl looked away from the game just as the attendant arrived at their table, with a name tag that said "Azure" pinned to the cloth of her jacket. But something was odd, they noticed, as their personal flight attendant seemed suddenly distracted by something.

Azure, for her part, was simply stupefied. This was her first seeing the one female of this group up close, and it practically melted her heart. The girl's face was a young and endearing one, child-like even, alive with pale skin and faint rosy cheeks. Her hair was pitch-black, accented with several streaks of red. The girl's left ear was studded with four piercings: two dangling black gems and two normal rings; the same pattern mirrored in her right ear as well.

And then Azure saw them. Her silver eyes… beautiful and haunting, like a porcelain doll.

"Yes?" Ruby said in a faint, inquisitive voice, head tilting slightly. The ever-so-slight motion caused the bigger set of earrings to lightly clank against each other.

The attendant nearly pinched herself to keep from letting out an inappropriate sound at the sight of Ruby and her soft, angelic voice. The fact that this girl's ID said that she had just turned twenty-four—just two years younger than her—was extremely shocking and, deep down, a moral relief.

"I'm sorry to interrupt your game Miss Rose," Azure turned to Ozpin and bowed in respect, "Headmaster, but I'm just here to inform you that we will be landing in thirty minutes. Your luggage is already being ready for departure."

"Oh, okay, thanks!" The girl smiled in such a way that it made Azure's heart flutter unexpectedly. This girl really was too cute, to a unnatural degree. "And the name's Ruby, by the way." She took her dainty hand away from one of her pieces and held up to her for a shake.

The older woman noticed pieces of jewelry on each of her fingers, with a total of five puzzle rings of varying motifs and intricacies on her right hand. All of the rings were silver in color, with exception to the one on her index, colored in an almost glowing amber shade. Unusual, Azure thought, but they were all still exquisite in an exotic way.

She took the hand offered and shook. Ruby's hand felt so small in her own that it amazed her, like she was cradling a smooth, fragile piece of glass. It truly was mind bending for Azure to think of a reason such a seemingly innocent girl would be tagging along with a veteran Huntsmen and a full-fledged Headmaster.

Their hands eventually separated. "Until we land please let me know if I can get you anything." She bowed once more before walking back to her station, leaving Ruby and Ozpin to their game. She needed to exorcise some rather lurid thoughts from her head.

Ozpin adjusted his round spectacles as he gazed down at the game board, hand holding his chin in a thoughtful position. From the way their pieces were arranged, and how many Ruby had captured of his units, he was being pushed into quite the pinch.

"I can't go down to your club," he said, continuing their conversation without pause. "You know that. If someone were to see me there it would put you all in the spotlight, and we both know who that will bring. You're already taking a big risk by coming on this ship with us. Sorry about that, by the way."

Ruby shrugged before making a move with her knight. "You have nothing to apologize for. It's not like you willed a bunch of Nevermore's to peck my ship into scrap metal. Forget about it. Besides, even if my family decides to come after me, or any of the other Noble Houses for that matter, I have no problem giving them a repeat of nine years ago."

"That is exactly what I'm worried about," Ozpin spoke as he looked over his shoulder. Behind him was Qrow, now slumped back in one of the recliners asleep, a closed flask and crooked controller resting on his chest and lap respectively. "If some things get revealed to the public then it is us who will be on the perverpal chopping block."

Ozpin returned his calculating gaze to Ruby, face stern. "Don't forget that the majority determine right from wrong. If you do something against the Nobles, the figureheads the public loves, everyone involved with you will be denounced along with yourself. Even me and Qrow."

"Quit lecturing me like I'm some sort of kid, Ozpin." Ruby crossed her pale arms as she leaned into the upholstery of her chair. "I already know all of this. Don't forget who you're talking to. I've been a freak and an outcast since my birth; no matter what happens I'm damned by society, so the people close to me are all I have."

Ruby pointed at her mentor, who now had vague look of what could've been regret. "All you need to worry about is being the Headmaster and the Maidens, so just leave the Nobles to me, alright? I'm not going to endanger anyone if I can help it."

Ruby got up from her seat. "By the way, you should start switching up your tactics." Ruby moved not one of her pieces, but his; his last rook, before moving her own black queen. She did this causally and seamlessly before stepping away.

Ozpin looked down at the board before sighing; another win for Ruby. That had indeed been the move he had planned to do, and she had seen through that. Maybe she had known from the beginning what he had planned. The Headmaster sighed. The score between them was now eighteen to thirteen, and he was starting to fall behind more than he would've liked.

Ruby walked barefoot over the cool, granite-smooth floor and over to the attendant's booth, off in the corner diagonal to where she and Ozpin had played. Azure was currently typing something on her hologram computer. News articles judging by the reversed image Ruby could make out.

"Excuse me?"

Azure looked up at the incoming girl, allowing her to get a better look at Ruby's clothes now that a table crowded with game pieces didn't black her view. The young woman wore a tight, form-fitting tank top, completely black with no distinctive images or words. Her black pants seemed a couple of sizes larger than what she needed, and were held tight by a thick, studded belt.

Apparel wise she was simultaneously distinctive but plain. Her clothes were blank and unimaginative, really, but the numerous piercings and pieces of jewelry seemed to somehow compliment her attire; a look tied together with her streaked hair and small frame.

"Hello," she said while resting her arms on the wooden raised bar of Azure's desk. "I'm here to grab my Scroll. One of the guys should have brought it up here for charging."

"One second." Azure handed Ruby a closed device that had sat on some sort of dock, disconnecting it from a short cable. "Here you go."

"Thank you, Azure. I can never be too sure with my stuff around these two," she joked. "I take it your parents named you after your eyes, forgive me for saying but they are very pretty." While many people have mentioned Ruby's silver eyes as being unique and exotic, she thought that the attendants bright blue one's were infinitely more beautiful.

The attendant faintly blushed. "Thank you, not a lot of people compliment them. And it's no problem, it is my job after all. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"Nope!" Ruby replied cheerfully. "Thanks for all the help." She gave a small wave before walking to one of the recliner right next to her passed out uncle, who was now laying with his feet wobbling over one of the leather-bound arms.

She sat down on the chair, her petite body practically sinking into the expanse of leather as her Scroll extended itself, deploying a holographic screen between the two pen-sized pieces of hardware.

"Oh? Looks like I missed a call."

The flashing of police lights lit up what would normally be a quiet and dark parking lot. Cruisers filled the lot of asphalt with a group of a dozen, some even spilling to the streets. A throng of uniformed officers threaded in between their cars, most dragging handcuffed delinquents with them. All around the scene were even more police; situated behind portable barricades. They were busy keeping the overly curious masses, as well as the prying claws of news reporters, journalist, and bloggers away.

The building was a bank; it was one of the only Bank of Vale locations in the downtown area, which made it a pretty busy place relative to the area, with hundreds of people entering and exiting the building by the day. This fact also made it a prime target for a group of would-be robbers. But the criminals hadn't anticipated a Huntress being in the area.

Through the pair of double doors a woman walked out of the building, dragging a couple unconscious men with her in a vice-like grip.

The Huntress was a bit taller than average for a woman of twenty-six, but not abnormal. Her long mane of golden-blond hair draped over her back like a curtain; curly, yet the soft strands flowed with every stride. Despite having fought off a group of armed robbers by herself, the woman had no injuries or scratches on her person. There wasn't so much as a scuff mark on the coat which hugged her torso firmly, nor on the black pants underneath or even the coattails following with every step.

She threw the battered and bruised men into an open cruiser, tossing their groaning bodies into the police car carelessly like luggage before slamming the door shut. She couldn't help the confident smirk as she gazed through the window, watching her lousy opponents squirm in pain after a much deserved beating courtesy of her bare fists. They were so weak that she didn't even need to use her weapons.

"Miss Xiao Long!" A man called her maiden name in appreciation. She turned around and immediately met with the bearded face of the police chief. He wore the standard uniform as expected of someone in his position, although he was a bit on the corpulent side.

"Hello!" She greeted him with equal eagerness. He took her hand in both of his, shaking.

"Hello to you as well! I must say, on behalf of this police department and the people you just rescued, thank you!" He spoke in sincere gratitude and, to Yang's curiosity, surprise.

"Don't, mention it, honesty. Helping people is one of the perks of being a Huntress after all. It just so happens that it was people instead of Grimm this time around."

Police chief Clancy let go of her hands; her right, he noticed, seemed prosthetic in nature. While interested, he wasn't going to bring it up. "Haha, modesty suits you Huntsmen, I understand. No grand celebration," he laughed boisterously. "But, if you don't mind me asking: why was a Noble, a trained Huntress no less, all the way down here? Both of those groups generally avoid the downtown sectors like the plague."

Yang tried to laugh that seemingly unintentional jab off. "I was down here for my partner, actually. She wanted me to come and pick up a few books at a friend's shop. Just doing a favor is all. Though it seems like it was a good thing that he wasn't there. Might've missed all this," she gestured to the bank and the cop cars.

"A good thing indeed," Clancy looked behind himself; the reporters were starting to get a bit more vocal with their questions. "I hate to be so abrupt, but these people are starting to get a bit too rowdy and loud for my taste. Time for me to go answer some questions. Thank you again for your assistance."

Yang waved him away as he jogged over to the line of lights and talkative people. She actually pitied him, to some degree. Dealing with the press was a good way for her to lose her temper in a record amount of time. That thought triggered some memories in her head rather suddenly, reminding Yang of her ugly debut on national TV...

Regardless, her errand here was done and she needed to get back home, so she walked away. Parked on the far side of the bank's lot was her ride, a motorcycle which she affectionately christened Bumblebee over ten years ago, due to its black and yellow color scheme. Through her maintenance and upgrades it still stood firm after all these years by her side, just as good if not better than models just released, a feat she was particularly proud and boastful of.

As Yang walked towards her bike she remembered something: Blake. She had gotten sidetracked and hadn't called Blake to let her know that her book place closed for the night. Her right hand dug into one of the pockets on her coat and pulled out a Scroll. Upon opening it, she noticed that she had a missed call, probably from when she was engaging with the robbers.

Shrugging, Yang redialed that one first and held the device up to her ear, only for it to be answered during the second ring. "Hey-o Weiss-sicle, what's up?"

"Where have you been? I called you half an hour ago!"  Spoke a high-pitched, demanding voice.

Yang was somewhat taken aback by her aggressive tone, but laughed it off as her friend simply, being in 'one of her moods.' "Long story short: people robbing a bank, I stepped in, kicked ass while bruising some egos in the process, and currently walking towards my pride and joy. Yep, that sums my hour. Now care to explain what's so important? Haven't heard you go full 'ice queen' in awhile."

"Where are you now?" She spoke in a hushed and hesitant, almost timid tone. It was both jarring and unnerving for Yang to here such a weak voice coming from someone as authoritative as Weiss.

The woman raised her brow at this question, but answered nonetheless. "I'm at one of Bank of Vale's downtown locations, but I'm afraid I don't have the coordinates for ya your highness," Yang jested. "So are you going to fill me in or just leave me stew in suspense all night?" Yang straddled Bumblebee.

"Yang, we've found Ruby…"

(End of Chapter One)

Author's Notes: Fun fact, Vale does indeed have a police force and a council. Most of you have probably forgotten that little nugget of information since they were only ever brought up in the first and second volume respectively, but they do exist! In the same way that cars do as well. Weird to think about, right? LIke cars in Naruto or something.

Anyway, I feel the need to stress something because of how people seem to view the "M" rated category of fanfiction, though I admit it's not completely unjustified. The M for this story is 'Mature' not 'Smut'. I'm obviously not going to go into details at the moment, but I just felt that needed stressing because the two have seemingly been interlinked by a lot of people.

One last thing, if you want to have an indication of my progress for a story then check my profile. I'll have a percentage up to give some idea on where I'm at in the writing, as my updating will be sporadic as all hell. So, keep that in mind.

Chapter Text

A teenage Yang laid sprawled on the dirt, dull, lilac eyes gazing up at the welkin. Black smoke covered the midday sky, bellowing in from miles away. Her whole body had finally given up, and she now laid helpless on the grassy plain. Her battered figure throbbed with a searing pain: muscles torn, contusions beyond her count, and at least two broken bones to her knowledge.

She had never before felt so helpless, so weak. Bravado aside, Yang was aware of her strengths and weakness; she knew she was not the best fighter in the world, but this was something else entirely. This was an entirely new level of failure to the seventeen-year-old, something which wounded her very soul.

But, she was not the only one. Scattered about the plain she was in were five others, all in varying levels of suffering; some were worse than Yang, some better, but all defeated just as thoroughly. They could even be unconscious for all the teen knew, given their still bodies and quiet breathes. Destroyed remnants of what were once weapons also laid with them, damaged just like their wielders.

"I warned you. I warned you all," a sweet sound reached Yang's ears. It was the small, feminine, unassuming voice of her little brother, standing behind her lying form. "I didn't want this. I never wanted things to go this way, but you and everyone else loves speaking as if they know everything!"

The sound of crushing grass told Yang that the fifteen-year-old was walking towards her, not that she could do anything about it. Some movement happened just beyond her periphery, but the shadow that fell over her told her everything she needed to know: Ruby was kneeling down.

"You all are too damn stubborn to listen. So goddamn arrogant and sure!" Ruby's angry voice was almost alien to Yang. Such soft and soothing things weren't meant to be in any sort of distress.

A head blackened Yang's vision, blocking what little light seeped through the dark clouds over head. "I'm only going to say this once, you stubborn ass," a second later a pair of small lips pecked her forehead. "I'm sorry." Yang could feel droplets of water drip and run down her own cheek to her earlobe.

"I love you, big sis." And then nothing.

Gone was the person she loved most, and in his place a cold, sinking pit in her gut. Yang could not vocalize anything, be it because of the severe beating she'd just endured or the emotional baggage clouding her mind, so there was only one way for her body to express these conflicting passions that tore her psyche apart.

She cried. Tears ran down her red cheeks as she closed her eyes. Images of the past flashed through her thoughts, ones of them. Ruby's sixth birthday, the day Yang had given her first gift to anyone; the day Yang taught Ruby how to sneak out of the house and go swimming in the lake; and the numerous time a small and not so small Ruby would climb into her bed during thunderstorms instead of their parents bigger one.

And this is how it turned out. The years of bonding, happiness and sibling ribbing to shreds this day as Ruby expelled himself from everyone's lives.

Why? What reason could he have to not only leave, but do so in the way he did? What dark thing could have happened to turn the sweetest thing in the world so sour? There was no way their parents didn't know something. No true parent could miss or ignore the drastic change Ruby has had in the past month. What skeleton was everyone trying to hide?

Even the sound of her uncle's smooth voice calling out for her in worry didn't stop the flowing tears. So many questions raced through Yang's sob-choked mind, and each one implied something worse and worse for her dearest baby brother...

A blaring horn of an oncoming car brought Yang back to reality. A quick jerk of Bumblebee's handlebars swerved the bike into the right lane of traffic with the screeching of rubber tires tearing at the highway's asphalt, scraping past an incoming hummer by a matter of inches, narrowly avoiding a devastating marriage of crumpled metal.

Yang let out a breath of relief inside her helmet. Her heart was doing somersaults in her chest, a sudden adrenaline rush having shot through her body. That was a bit too close for comfort. The last thing she remembered was getting on the highway after Weiss had told her about Ruby's last known location, and then she suddenly comes face to face with bright headlights and a blaring car horn in her ears.

Even as a self-admitted thrill seeker, that was not something she ever wanted to experience again.

Yang took a few more breaths to calm her jumpy nerves as she threaded her way between moving traffic, now back in her proper lane. Her sun-kissed hair billowed with the speed of rushing air that pelted her hunched body, flapping the tails of her coat excitedly as Bumblebee's smooth, aerodynamic frame purred a low hum while she rid in-between clusters and pairs of cars and trucks, never once turning into an overly loud rumble that most motorcycles are known for. The single headlight shined brightly upon the surface before Yang, giving her the ability to see in this overcast night when not near other vehicles.

She still had a long journey ahead of her until she reached the others. Yang would make sure that her mind kept focused on the road. This was the first lead they had gotten on Ruby in years, and she was not going to miss it for anything.

She refused to die before reuniting with her younger brother.

As it turned out, the bar that Cinder had mentioned was on Tukson's left hand side, right under the shadow of the balcony. A literal few steps to the side. Given this information, Tukson was now sure that Cinder's orders to "show him" was another way of saying "don't let him out of your sight." Not exactly the most comforting of thoughts, but one he understood, at least to some degree.

The bar was L-shaped, nestled neatly into the crook of a corner. The shorter end was parallel to the wall with the curtains Tukson had just walked through, and the longer portion was apart of the adjoining wall. Behind the glossy granite countertops was the area where the bartender worked, a man's whose name tag said he was "Junior," and behind him was the main attraction: shelves upon shelves of the finest liquor Tukson had ever seen.

Beautifully decorated bottles made to sparkle under artificial lights, each protected by the polished oak shelving that housed them securely behind panes of glass cleaned to transparent perfection, bordering on the invisible. The faunus wasn't a heavy drinker himself, but the bottles looked tempting even to him.

"Junior, two of my regulars," Mercury asked the suited man as he sat on one of the cushioned high back bar stools.

The man behind the counter was big, dressed in a black suit vest and white dress shirt. The formal attire definitely fit with the decor, Tukson thought as he sat down on his own stool, leaving one in between him and Mercury, situating themselves at the longer of the two table lengths.

"Afraid you're gonna have to wait on the expensive stuff," Merc grabbed one of the two glass bottles that Junior had placed on the counter. "Until then you can settle for this." He passed the other bottle to him, sliding it across the bar's smooth surface. It was a well-known brand that could be bought at the store, one that the faunus particularly liked. Odd that he'd find it here.

"I can't stand that fancy stuff," Mercury answered, as if reading Tukson's mind. "A nice bottle from a good brand will get the job done just right for me." Merc pulled the cap off with no discernible effort, not even bothering to twist it.

"It's like wine," he continued. "A lot of those 'high-society types' gorge themselves on it daily. Personally I think its tastes like piss." He took a swig from his glass.

His charge decided to follow his lead and the second Tukson twisted that bottle cap off and he could hear that familiar hissing of pressurized air, his fluttering heart seemed to slow. Funny how something so mundane yet familiar could ease his mind, like he was just hanging out with his buddies at a bar. The feel was definitely helped by the male bodyguard's casual demeanor and frankness.

After taking several chugs Tukson rested the bottled beer on a coaster that sat on the cool granite top. The beer, bitter with an underlying sweetness, was definitely helping. The flaring nerves of his body seemed to finally be cooling themselves. Whether because of the drink, the atmosphere around Mercury, or simply getting over the shock of this place, his anxiety was finally starting to lessen.

"Hey Tukson," a voice called out to him. When the man turned he met with the red eyes of Emerald, who was now leaning against the bar with her bare, dark-skinned forearms, two bar stools-worth away from him. "You said you were moving to Vacuo, right? How can you be so sure that the Fang can't get to you?"

Well, he hadn't been expecting that. He was actually surprised that she'd been listening back when he was explaining things to Cinder at all. "Well that's a bit hard to explain…"

"I've been curious about that as well," Junior spoke as he wiped the shorter end of the bar with a white towel. "I hear the White Fang is almost non-existent over there. How come?" He flipped the hand towel over his left shoulder, completing the image of an almost stereotypical bartender.

"Uh, okay I suppose. I'll try to explain," Tukson rubbed the back of his neck while he collected his thoughts. "Umm, lets see here, do any of you know Vacuo's unofficial 'law of the land', I guess you could call it?"

The expressions of all three of his onlookers told him their answer. "Okay, well the mindset in Vacuo is—or was, to be more accurate—very simple: the strong make the rules and the weak follow, or die trying to change it."

Tukson took another swig of his drink before expanding on his statement. "Back in the old days, before the Great War, whoever had the most power had the most influence, and they determined the rules for the people in their borders. If someone or some group ended up being marginalized by whatever regime was in power, it was up to them to fight."

Tukson sat his beer down, resting his back in to the cushioned leather of his chair. "To put it very simply, whenever a power oppressed the faunus in Vacuo, the faunus overran it. In doing so they proved to everyone that they were no less than them, and in Vacuo that was enough. All one needed was power and the will to use it."

"Okay, I get that," Tukson swiveled his char to look at Mercury, who was just then finishing off his own beer. "But what about now? I get the idea that the faunus more or less showed that they would beat the shit out of anyone who tried to step all over 'em, but how does that affect the White Fang nowadays?"

"Because the Fang is as pointless as it is despised there," a familiar voice, a natural mix of intimidation and seduction, cut into the conversation to answer Mercury's inquest.

All color drained from Tukson's face at her reappearance, even though she was not before him. A shiver raced through his spine as goosebumps prickled the back of his neck and arms. And just like that, his heart rate began to flutter and recoil in terror, seemingly increasing with every click of a heel upon the hard stone floor.

"Outside of Menagerie itself, Vacuo is the most accepting of the faunus, due to what he just explained," the sound of the heels were getting closer. Emerald's face turned towards the their direction and lit up with glee, but spoke nothing.

"On top of that the majority of its faunus have repeatedly denounced the Fang as a group protecting those too weak to fight or, even worse, too lazy to do the work themselves." A hand rested upon the man's shoulder, and his shivering began anew. "After all, faunus are not objects or borders that need military assistance, they are thinking individuals."

Tukson turned a hesitant glance at the woman's amber eyes, shaking in both terror and rage at the accusatory tone that laced her smug words. But, just like before, he was too sacred to act against the force of nature that mockingly stroked his broad shoulder. "Why shouldn't those individuals fight for their own rights? Why should they rely on others to guarantee not just their own safety, but that of friends and family?"

Cinder's hand patted the faunus's back in an insultingly superior way. "Why let a group of terrorists doing more harm than good infantilize their species? That is the philosophy you were talking about, is it not?" She asked, not bothering to even hide the fact she already knew the answer. Her condescension was palpable.

"Any word from Ruby?" Mercury asked Cinder as he handed his empty bottle to Junior for disposal. Everyone in the room knew Tukson was not going to respond, so he tried to change the subject to avoid that despised awkward silence. Whenever Ruby was gone for a prolonged period Cinder's sadistic streak got a bit out of hand. It was a pitfall one got to know quite quickly when working with the couple.

Cinder removed her hand from Tukson, leaving him to quietly stew in his own mixture of terror and seething anger. "Unfortunately, no. But Roman should already be en route to the airport. As much as I would love to hear her voice now, it really is no big deal," she shrugged. "We'll just have to wait another hour or two I suppose."

Cinder sighed in a sullen manner. "Oh-how its been difficult sleeping without her next to me," she shook her head, speech bordering on outright pouting. "But enough of that..."

The woman's piercing amber eye looked down at the sitting faunus in front of her, and she smirked in a naturally poshest fashion. "Come with me, Tukson. Things are taking a bit longer than expected, so we're going to go ahead and start the negotiations now."

He obeyed without hesitation, his drink lost in a torrent of thought and conflicting emotions as he stood. Walking behind the shorter woman, Tukson was led to a door situated at the far end of the same obsidian wall as the bar, which seemed to promise even stranger sights. Cinder swiped a card through a slot over the lever handle before turning it.

"Keep close, we don't want you going missing," she pushed ahead. As he walked through the door, the man could see Cinder sheath her card into the top portion of her pantyhose. The split side of her rust-red dress served some—albeit mundane—purpose after all, he thought.

What he saw on the other side was almost as expected.

A long, straight forward hallway greeted them. The walls seemed made up of the same strange, black, crystalline material as the chamber on other side. More sconces affixed themselves to the surface, lighting themselves aflame at Cinder's presence in a way that threatened to give Tukson a strange sense of déjà vu. However, these didn't flicker out after she had passed. They stayed burning even after Cinder left them, unlike the ones in the stairwell from a few minutes ago.

But, it was when Tukson's eyes wandered overhead that his breath was stolen.

The ceiling was not obsidian crystal, nor was it just plain stone or even marble as expected, but one giant art piece that spanned the entire hall. The style and presentation reminded him of some of the great murals that truly show what a simple brush is capable of. Whoever painted it tried their hardest to emulate the style of the great renaissance masters, and succeeded beautifully.

But, it was the subject that truly blew the faunus away. It depicted sexuality in all its forms: man and woman, man and man, woman and woman, even faunus and human, all were indulging in the pleasures of flesh in some way or another. Almost uncountable positions and acts were displayed grandly, from the mundane to the exotic, some even bordering on the debauched showcased without any hesitance, ranging from one individual to many in orgiastic thralls.

Despite its graphic nature and content, Tukson could not come to think this piece as porn. It would be too ignorant on his part to believe such an obviously false statement. Every brush stroke, every painstaking detail made showed love and passion for the subject; something as simple-minded and utilitarian as pornography could never possess something so, ironically, intimate.

This fresco wasn't made with the purpose to titillate or arouse anyone, it was made as a celebration of the acts on display. Even to laymen like him when it came to paintings, that much was as vivid as the colors exhibited.

Cinder noticed how taken he was despite not looking. As they continued to walk in silence, she could practically feel his awe. As, in her mind, he should. Her love spent the better part of three years making it, her magnum opus. Every time a newcomer looked at it for the first time and they express that amazed, borderline dumbstruck expression, Cinder felt the great amount of pride she had in her little gem grow even more.

As the pair walked towards the end of the hall, Tukson never once tore his eyes away from the masterpiece above his head, which caused him to miss several doors to his sides. Most closed, but a few were slightly ajar. Had he taken a closer look between the gap of one particular door, the man would have seen an indented hole in the center of a floor covered with lush carpet, filled to the brim with pillows and cushions.

An unknowable amount of time passed before the sound of a turning knob forced his head away from the painting above. As soon as he fixed his eyes to Cinder opening a door he felt a sting of pain from his cramped neck. How long had he been looking up? How long had they even been walking? It was unusual, even as a lover of many arts, for something to entrance him so thoroughly.

With those thoughts in the back of his mind, he walked through that last entrance.

The room was lit with more modern, Dust-powered lights which stood high on elaborate, gilded stands. No candlelight. In the center of the ceiling was a giant chandelier with many golden swirls, topped with even more glowing crystals. There was a plush sectional sofa arranged in a semi-circular shape on either side of the stone-floored room, both with an ottoman in the center of their reach.

The sofas were excellent at directing a person's vision, as Tukson' eyes were almost immediately guided straight to the center back wall, where Cinder was walking. A large computer desk made from polished wood, with a comfortable chair in the back and two in the front.

The faunus was starting to notice a theme that these people seemed to love: old, medieval style furniture and designs. He can't say it didn't work. Ever since Tukson had entered the main chamber he had developed this sense of history, as if he had taken a set back in time. In fact, it was such a potent perception that seeing these modern tools and creations here seemed almost wrong, like they were out of touch with reality.

But, there was more to this room than that, he eventually noted. Four exquisitely carved sculptures sat in each of the room's four corners. Each one chiseled from smooth white marble, and all seemingly designed with similar sort of motif.

The one that caught his eye immediately was a four-limbed and effeminate, but still androgynous being with a crown of four beautiful horns topping its head. Two hands held swords, while the other two holding up the heads of slain monsters. It's only articles of clothing were the pieces of armor covering each of its six breasts, and a loincloth that did little to hide its taloned feet. The sculpture's jewel-like eyes sparkled sapphire, and its face was maiden-like, seemingly innocent despite lecherously hanging its jewel-studded tongue.

The other three followed similar ques; all being androgynous though slightly feminine in appearance; they sported multiple arms, and each were slender and sinuous in nature, as well as wearing clothes of warriors and posed as if in the mists of battle. All seemed to have been made with the idea of being simultaneously seductive and alluring, while still bringing in an element of horror or fear.

The sculptures weren't the only decorations. Giant paintings framed in golden metal adorned the walls. Masterpieces depicting, war, nature, and debauchery hung proudly; beautifully drawn and painted, undoubtedly the work of the same master which created the fresco in the hall. Each of the monsters sculpted appeared in at least one of the portraits, such as leading an army into battle or directing a town towards carnal pleasures. But once again, the best outshined all else.

Behind where Cinder now sat at the desk, it loomed over the entire room. The largest painting in the room, easily twenty-feet wide, framed it polished amber. The focus was a monster similar, but very much different from the sculptures or anything else in the other paintings.

It too was an androgynous being, though much more human looking than the rest. The right side of the creature's body was feminine, with a single breast and a rounded hip. Conversely, the left side of the body was more masculine, with a pectoral muscle (no breast), and a harder, less rounded hip; it showed no sign or hint of any genitalia despite no clothing being worn.

The creature had pure white skin, with golden lines crisscrossing all over its smooth body in intricate, hypnotic patterns. Like most of its body, the eyes were white and featureless, having no visible iris or pupil. Atop its head of golden, sweeping hair was a platinum halo where six, arrow-shaped protrusions jutted out.

The angelic being was floating high in the cerulean sky with a great white light radiating from its body, almost eclipsing the entirety of the firmament itself. Below it was a heavy industrialized city, with the assumed inhabitants, numbering in the hundreds, bowing before it in the streets as if it were a god.

What were these things? And why was the painter so obsessed with them? It was odd, Tukson pondered, as most who create multiple pieces of art—from stories to paintings and everything in between—featuring or highlighting a specific idea or theme generally have a personal attachment to it. At least, that was true from his experience of reading hundreds if not thousands of books.

What could these things mean—or better yet, represent—to their creator? It was a fascinating thought exercise if nothing else.

"Now, Mister Tukson," Cinder snapped her fingers to bring the faunus's attention back to her. "As much as I love the looks you are giving my rose's art, due remember we have things to do. You can stargaze after we've finished our business."

Bumblebee rested in a vacant parking garage, its rider sitting on the leather saddle as if it were a chair, arms crossed in an irate manner. Gloved fingers, restless with Yang's impatient tendencies, tapped themselves against her leather-covered forearms in a vain attempt to keep the woman still.

While the Huntress would have said she'd been waiting for hours if asked, it had actually only been in the ballpark of five minutes. Had Yang known that Weiss was going to keep her here this long she would have stormed the airport herself. Every single tick of her watch wasted by sitting around doing nothing all the while Ruby continued on to who knows where.

With only the sounds of the watch on her left wrist and the droning of distant traffic in the background, Yang could not tell how long she had sat before something, anything happened. Her nerves were alive, excited and restless, itching for anything to provoke some sort of movement at a seconds notice.

"Sorry to keep you waiting," a woman spoke behind her, "had trouble finding the right level. This place in like a maze."

She jumped off Bumblebee hurriedly. Behind Yang and her beloved bike, Weiss strode towards her friend with all the grace of a dancer despite her high-heels, arms crossed, dressed as elaborately as ever, not that Yang had time to care. Her heels were surprising quiet compared to their usual noise, though Yang's busy mind was the most likely culprit.

It was an odd dichotomy, seeing such a formal party dress being worn in a run down parking lot past midnight. Weiss's elegant blue gown practically glittered under the dim hue of lights hanging overhead, complimenting her snow-colored hair. Even on cool nights like this one, Weiss always did dress with looks taking up the priority, rather than comfort.

"Any word?" Yang rushed Weiss, her gaze antsy gaze fixed onto her friend's depthless blue sockets.

"Oh for the love of—! Space! Yang!" Weiss placed her delicate, pale fingers on Yang's shoulders and gently pushed the woman from her face. Not even two sentences in and her old friend had put her face mere inches apart from her own while barking out questions. It was not a good precedent to set so eagerly.

"Where are the others? Where's Jaune, Coco, or hell even Cardin? We need all hands on deck here!" Yang continued on her rant at Weiss, not bothering to have even a breath in between her inquiries.

"Yang!" Weiss shouted, causing an echo in their vacant vicinity. "Calm. Down. At least give me a chance to answer one question before asking more. Geeze!" Weiss removed her hands from the now silent woman.

"Okay, what was the first once again? Oh, right, update." Weiss rubbed smooth circles over her temples, already feeling the onset of a headache forming. "We were able to look over the security footage; it could be him, definitely, but it's so grainy we can't make any guarantees out of it. Blake is attempting to find and gather details from the attendants as we speak."

As for the others: Jaune is having dinner with Pyrrha and her family, Coco wants Ruby locked up, and Cardin, well, he's Cardin! He'd be happy if Ruby got stuck behind bars or even killed for what he did, preferably the latter. Do you really want him here?" Weiss raised a questioning brow.

Yang's eyes, normally a pale violet shade, turned a deep red as a simmering rage ignited at that last comment. "I better not see Cardin! If that cock sucker gets anywhere even close to Ruby I'll wring his neck!" She roared. Wispy, almost ethereal, flame-like streams emanated from her body. Her Aura was reacting to her volatile anger as-per usual.

Weiss quirked one of her thin, white eyebrows again, this time in an amused manner. "Really Yang, you are calling who what? Isn't that like the old 'pot calling kettle' idiom?"

Yang crossed her arms stubbornly and sat back down at her bike, her angry-red eyes now back to their lilac tone. She huffed. "Oh-shut up, it's just an expression. As if you don't know that, little-miss-god-damn dictionary."

Weiss smiled. That had worked better than planned. With Yang's infamous temper, not to mention the current situation, the corporate leader was surprised at how quickly she had distracted Yang from her diatribe. It was a nice surprise, as well as something that she'd keep in mind for the future.

"Besides," Weiss continued, "if things are anything like they were nine years ago, then I don't think any of us can beat him alone, least of all Cardin." They both laughed, circumstances aside. They were small and half-hearted things, but still there.

A long, uncomfortable silence followed them.

It felt odd to reference such an event so casually now. Weiss had come to think of that day as her awakening, the day she truly grew up. Being born a Noble, a Schnee on top of that, had inflated her ego to a dangerous degree. She admitted that now, but back in the day she'd rather yell than admit it to anyone.

But after Ruby had beaten them all to the point of hospitalization, single-handedly no less, that arrogance had shattered. In the days following, as she laid bound to a bed by medical tubing and casts, Weiss had finally come to grips with her own weakness and abandoned her proverbial high-horse.

Yes, that day truly changed everything for them all, and only reinforced just how big of a blow Ruby's absence was, both in power and in family.

None of their elders, save Ruby's own parents, could ever understand the three of them. Blake, Weiss and Yang didn't want Ruby hung from a tree for his crimes, but simply wanted to bring him back into their lives. They did not desire vengeance like everyone else, but forgiveness and understanding.

Surprisingly Weiss, who was known for being hard and calloused at times, could not bear any hatred towards Ruby, despite his actions. Something had changed him. She had known the small boy since they had both been in diapers, friends straight from the cradle. Despite being the type of prodigy that comes once in several generations, he had been meek and indecisive, awkward and unsure of anything and everything he did. Insecure to an almost debilitating level. Yet he was also the sweetest thing imaginable, more so than the candy he gulped down by the handfuls.

A bleeding heart begging to help everyone, someone who's life goal seemed fixated on giving love to those abandoned by society; that was the Ruby Rose Weiss knew. Even after that stern, cynical thing had taken him over in the weeks before that day, she still believed that the Ruby she knew was in there, somewhere, and she vowed to make right whatever trauma had stolen the lovable little dolt, no matter what.

"So," Yang eventually broke the silence in an unsure timbre, "you said it could definitely be him? On the footage, I mean." Yang said awkwardly, almost like she was afraid to ask something so simple.

Weiss looked up from the stone ground and nodded. She was smiling fondly, as if remembering a cherished memory. "Yeah. The details on the face are almost nonexistent, but the overall shape and clothing style seem to match." The woman then snickered. "But I have to say: if it is Ruby, then puberty missed him by a long shot."

Yang chucked as she rested her head on Bumblebee's handlebars. "Yeah, that sounds about right. What was he, like 5'1 or something?" She laughed again. The awkwardness crumbled, and with it a flood of back and forths came following. It felt nice, a relief, to talk about things to distract both of their minds, that gnawing sense of anxiety that neither of them were used to.

Was this truly him? If it was, would he fight back like last time? Could he be persuaded to rejoin them? What would the elders do if he did? And if things did end in a fight, could they win? Almost a decades worth of repressed or outright ignored "ifs" and "but" scenarios came shooting to the surface. These were things all three of them shared, but none really talked about with any length.

And that was okay. For now.

The two friends continued their banter for another great number of minutes, passing the time with witty banter and recounts of the past, of both tearful and joyous occasions, as well as some embarrassing ones. They sat there, Weiss joining Yang on her bike to rest her aching legs, waiting for Blake to call them with any new information.

Had they been more vigilant in the hours they sat on Bumblebee, the women would have seen a black SUV with a familiar face resting at one of the back, rolled down windows. A car which passed their position without notice. A car which held the one they sought so desperately.

(End of Chapter Two)

Chapter Text

“The Abyss is the collective where all repressions reside—that which man does not want to face. Dark impulses and thoughts, urges that contradict the morals of ourselves and that of our society—all bleed through the cracks of every Id and into our own ideal Hell. Look within the pit of your soul to see it: a monster with no concept of faith or morality, an alien which understands nothing of restraint or fear. Observe as it desperately chews at the bars of your sanity, and realize the depths of your own evil. Walk the Tree of Qliphoth*—confront your festering darkness and embrace it, integrate it; control it before the beast lashes out. Do not deny this aspect of your soul no matter how repugnant or disturbing, for it i s the purest expression of you.” 


Excerpt from Ruby’s speech during the grand opening of Sitra Achra *.


Chapter Three: Monster of the Abyss; Sascha; Return

The parking lot was bursting at the edges with bikers and their respective machines. Dozens of them, all grouped together, chattering, laughing, drinking and smoking boisterously. The obnoxious noise vibrating the air didn’t deserve the title of music: it possessed no rhythm or harmony, and the lyrics were spoken rather than sung, not that they were interesting on their own to begin with.

Ruby scrutinize them with the disdain of a scholar looking down at a gaggle of frat boys. Even as Roman shut the door of his SUV behind her, she could feel worms of rage writhe in her soul. It had been months since she had indulged her urges, far too long, and now they were lusting, yearning to burrow into her consciousness and feed. Hands trembling with excess adrenaline, Ruby’s own restraint was the one thing stopping the frenzy.  

She took deep breaths to calm them, to ease them out of her mind for the time being. Her heartbeat slowed to its normal thumping rhythm; her hands began stabilizing as well  Ruby would let the rage flow free soon, but not here, not now. It was as difficult as any addict prolonging the bliss of their vice, but she beat them down into submission as she would any rabid beast. 

This was the price she had to pay for unifying her mind, soul, and shadow: when not fed the monster got viciously desperate for its current obsession. This time it seemed to hunger for anger. It wanted her angry. So angry that Ruby could punch a brick wall until her fists were smashed nubs of bone and meat, and still keep going. The last time it wanted her humiliated and degraded, and the time before that it wanted her in screaming pain. Such a volatile mental fragment it was, with a particular hunger for self-destruction. 

Upon opening her eyes Ruby was met with the knowing heterochromatic gaze of Neo a scant few steps in front of her.

To many of their friends Neo and Ruby were sort of counterparts to each other. The two were alike numerously, the most obvious being the diminutive size. Of course there were other similarities such as styles of combat, as well as a certain affinity for sweets. However, the two were best known for one particular similarly: being unnaturally, sinfully endearing.

But, ironically, that adjective was also the biggest divider. Ruby was the only one to really use that trait of theirs, with Neo opting for simple teases here and there instead. Ruby was well aware of the psychological and even neurological effects that so-called ‘cute’ things had on humans in general, so she exploited her elfin body for all its worth in that regard.

A few bats of her silver eyes and some tears have been enough to twist the wills of people of all varieties. Even rogue Huntsmen have been hesitant to lay so much as a finger on her when in the midst of life-or-death combat.                           

At the heart of it, personality was the biggest border between Ruby and Neo: one was a manipulator, able and willing to pit friends and family against each other with no more than a few honeyed words or a small quivering voice, while Neo poked and prodded, teasing and insulting despite not uttering a single word, goading others into uncountable furies. 

Ignorant people would call them ‘cute’, but that was too shallow of a description for these two; superficial with no real substance. In the end, their minds were the farthest thing from such a weak, unassuming term.    

“Don’t worry,” Ruby spoke to her concerned friend, “I’m fine. It's just going to have to wait for my welcome home celebration to be exorcised.”

“Well isn't that a comfortable thought,” Roman spoke as he wrapped an arm around Ruby’s shoulders, drawing her into his side. Being so close as to be resting on Roman’s upper arm, the height difference between the two was comically stark. 

“You must be on a damn steep edge for something like this to mess you up,” the older of the pair observed, looking down at her with worry-laden eyes. While it was true Roman had gotten used to Ruby’s ‘quirks’ over the years, some things never ceased to worry him. Ruby possessed a level of self-understanding and control over herself that most would be envious of, but that came with the caveat of having to keep the urges fed.  

There have been times when, due to circumstances, Ruby had been unable to feed those urges, and, of course, even the most docile dog will turn savage when starved. To someone who is uninitiated in the ways of Qliphoth, it was hard to truly understand the mind of Ruby. Roman still couldn't grasp the physical transformation that had happened six years ago— the day Ruby had gone from a human, a boy, to… something beyond expression.       

Ruby smiled sweetly at Roman’s thought-filled expression. In nine years, Ruby’s three-month stay in Haven had been the longest she had been separated from them, and their anxiety showed. Their concern warmed her. These two were the first people she bonded with after exiling herself from Vale’s faux royalty. Her longest companions, most trusted followers; Ruby loved them both, truly and deeply. She hadn't been unaffected by the separation either. 

Her bones still chilled at the memories of rainy nights so long ago, and how they would all huddle together in shivering tangles of limbs to keep any semblance of warmth, sheltered by any vacant home or dumpster they could squirm their way into. Those times were so long, so difficult.

These two had been there when she reached apotheosis upon completing the Pilgrimage, yet they did not abandon her. Neo and Roman were always by her side; even when she became the monster feared by so many, the thought of leaving was never even imagined. Even Cinder, despite their relationship, realized there was an intimacy born from their history that she, Ruby believed, could never truly equal. 

One arm gently reached up to grab Roman by the back of his head, black nails threading through his orange hair with care as to not knock his hat off, while another wrapped around to reach the comfortable, soft small of Neo’s back. Ruby pulled them to her body in a cherishing embrace. 

“I’ve missed you guys too,” she responded to their unvocalized statements. She knew them. There was no need for Roman to state the obvious. Ruby gave both an unchaste kiss, the voice in her head silenced by these two who she held so dearly. 

“Damn it,” Roman suddenly cursed. He was patting his hands all over the pockets of his jacket and pants.”Don’t tell me I left my lighter at the airport.” It had been a gift from Ruby, an old fashioned flip lighter which she had personally engraved. In the last five years not once had he  used another lighter, and the thought of losing it actually hurt a bit.

Ruby laughed it off, giving Roman another kiss on the cheek before releasing the two. “Oh, stop worrying. We’ll look when we come back. Now let's hurry and get this over with, this jet lag is killing me.”      

The unruly mob was large and varied, with the one commonality among the men being an insignia embroidered onto leather jackets: a skull holding tombstones in skeletal hands, with the words “Grave” and “Kings” respectively written on them in the stylistic form of graffiti. 

A handpicked few of the women also carried the jackets, but the cuts were obviously not their own, being much bigger for their thin frames by a minimum of several sizes—some opting to drape them over their shoulders like coats. The women were the center of attention in their own little groups of men, ranging from half-to-over a dozen per, lapping up the attention and cat calls with pride-indulgent glee. 

One particular woman was revving the motor of a bike while sitting in the lap of a much older and stout man. With each flick of her spindly wrist the motor went from low humming to a blaring rumble, barely overtaking the music outside in intervals of several seconds. 

Jewel went to rev the engine into another growl when she noticed stillness in her periphery. The crowd around her had suddenly stopped. The music still beat the air with pounding drums in the background, yet all were looking towards the road in unison. No one spoke. No one moved. Even the man whose lap she occupied was still, lecherous eyes having been ripped from her at the time every else had ground to a halt.

Was that fear in his eyes? Was this hulking enforcer, whose broad body completely encased her own, shivering in fear?       

Jewel turned to the direction which held the captivation. A black car had stopped on the opposite side of the road, right in front of the forest. Halfway between the bar and that car, walking on the cracked and pockmarked asphalt, a trio approached them all with no fear. Not the slightest reservation hindered their steps as they crossed the road and entered the packed parking lot.  

The oldest of them was dapper man, complemented with a bowl-shaped hat with a feather, of all things, tucked into a band. His more formal attire was a stark contrast to the surrounding bikers, making him stand out vividly. His face as well, being more boyish and smooth, stood out against the bikers who had more rugged appearances, many with square jawlines and more meaty proportions. 

She knew who he was. Jewel, while new to this venue in particular, had heard rumors and stories sporadically over the years. Most of them came from her addict of an ex who, supposedly, did some jobs with him from time to time. Roman was his name, a man whose greatest claim to infamy in the underworld was association... 

Sascha. The alias used by Vale’s monster was, in itself, power. Its mere utterance was enough to still a frantic room. The name of the one who had carved out the cancerous officials and organized crime which had once rotted the downtown sections of Vale, leaving a body count worthy of the warlords of old.  

Accounts of Sascha vary wildly, absurdly so. Those few who survived the 3rd Street Massacre described an adolescent girl barely at the cusp of puberty, yet those who witnessed to the 26th Scouring—an event in which an entire cul-de-sac had been lit aflame—described a teenage boy at the center of the ensuing gang war. Others still have attributed Sascha with an angelic innocence or a sadistic malevolence, or even both at the same time. A few stand-out crazies have even laid the claim that Sascha would transition in the span of a conversation, both in terms of personality and, even more ridiculously, sex. 

Only one thing was constant across all descriptions: silver eyes—big and endearing, perfect for a face that stirred a parental instinct to protect and nurture, or an instinctive urge to violate every inch of such an embodiment of purity. The interpretation differing, depending on the one speaking at the time.  

Jewel had never actually believed the rumors. Ravings of people who had seen tragedies, bitter and resentful of being beaten and defeated, some forced to live in squalor just to escape the sight of the individual who had butchered their organization—to some, their family. The potential for madness in that situation: knowing that even the policing institution was partnered with the perpetrator; forever on the run with no way of knowing if or when the monster would finish what they themselves ran from like cowards. Most would break.        

But when she saw the last of the trio, however, Jewel questioned her stance on the matter. As the group entered the throng of bikes and riders, this one strode confidently ahead of the other two, leading them without need for words or signs. Something of an almost alien beauty it was, a sculpted body of polished alabaster with supple skin pulled taut over fine-drawn lines of defined muscles. 

Possessing a facial structure that was at once both male and female, yet neither; it was a natural freak of nature, unblemished by the artificiality of a doctor’s mutilation or inch-thick layers of cosmetics. Man and woman, indivisible.     

As they walked uncontested by the mob around them, people saw the leader differently. Like an interpretation of an ink-blot test, the men and women surrounding the bar saw their own desires and fears, molded by years of life, grafted onto this inhuman human. 

A small and delicate little girl to replace a daughter lost to disease; a virile young man with a slender body, perfectly made to be passionately rutted; the face of a best friend who could be told anything and understand; a weary veteran who still possessed a palpable aura of power and dominance that forced heads down in respect; and so many more. All of them true—to an extent. 

Parting like a sea from some extinct mythology, the crowd made room the group to travel. Most had already put together whose these people were, and the few who didn’t were pulled away like stubborn brats by more informed peers, doing everything they could to keep from antagonizing the one with silver eyes. There was an exception, though.

Jewel now moved within the individualistic sea as best she could. As a woman of unexercised muscle, forcing her way through the fear-struck masses was an impossible thought. Even with a running start, Jewel had no hope of pushing around even one of these men, let alone the dozens now haphazardly herded shoulder to shoulder. The only hope of escape the young woman had was to squeeze her way through spaces wherever found, bending and contorting her generous curves as best she could. It wasn't comfortable in any respect, but it had been her only shot.  

Jewel slipped out between two links in the fence of stunned humans in a clumsy, uncoordinated and unflattering mess of movements in front of the stairs. She hadn’t intend that. A miss step onto a thick boot had thrown the young woman off balance. Such a mundane thing, one simple mistake, had put Jewel’s life on the line, face-to-face with an alien cast in human flesh.

Fight or flight is a fickle instinct. In one situation it can save one's own life or that of others, discarding the need for rationalization and fear, focusing not on the situation as humans tend to, but on the response. Untapped strength and endurance can be thrust into the light in these dire situations, helping to overcome what would normally be certain death. It is an invaluable instinct, it has to be said. 

In other contexts, however, the response is unnecessary and detrimental. Such as a man punching a friend when spooked, despite being an obvious prank when given even a half-second’s worth of thought. Jewel found herself in one of these situations upon meeting the gaze of Sascha mere inches away. 

In a different situation, on a different day, maybe Jewel’s instinct wouldn't have been triggered. Had she stayed back with her latest conquest, she could have admired this thing walking among them. She could even see herself being enthralled by such haunting beauty. Now, however, with fear bogging the air and the legends of Sascha’s brutality crying at the back of her mind, Jewel did what was objectively the worst thing to do, but, in the heat of the moment, needed no justification to a brain spitted on barbs of terror.       

The twenty-year-old threw what was her first punch at the monster's face. A poor choice of action. 

Before the pathetic excuse for muscles sprang forward, one of Sascha’s pale hands suddenly grasped the elbow of the arm winding back. The movement was too fast, beyond even a blur. Despite this, they weren't in anger or in any sense of danger, but rather simple actions with no emotions backing them. A mundane response to a simple attack. 

Knuckles shot Jewel’s throat, crushing the airway completely. She hadn’t even noticed the other hand preparing for retaliation. The woman was in the middle of her first feeble breath when she was struck again. The palm of the same hand that had stolen her breath rammed into her temple with fatal force. She landed on the dirt, right side of her face smashing against the first of five wooden steps. She stayed there, limp and unmoving. 

All within a single second.  

One of the ignorants protested the actions from behind Sascha, yelling some foolishness about how no man who hits a woman would get away with it, before a fellow biker knocked him to the ground with a fist to the face. Several more dog piled onto their downed member, yelling expletives about “shutting up,” and something along the lines of “you’ll get us all killed,” et cetera. 

Ignoring the rabble behind her, Ruby turned to Neo on her left. “No one comes in, no one leaves.” Gone was the light tone of a soul-bonded friend, and in its place was the stern command of power incarnate. 

Neo nodded, combat-eager smile across her face. In one fluid motion she turned to the anxious crowded and slammed the tip of her parasol into the ground as if a sword. The crowd became silent once again, looking to the mute now. 

Roman and Ruby entered the bar, stepping over the lax body without a second thought, their sentry looking out at the fearful, waiting for any excuse to draw her blade.   

An old door opened with the sound of creaking hinges and rickety wood. On one side Ruby and Roman, and the one opening it was a man, an old friend. Dressed in a black and red suit which complimented his hair; annoyance hidden by a decorated mask which covered his eyes and forehead, Adam greeted the two. He was the owner of this little bar, a small cover business with only one real purpose.

Ruby’s way of communication went beyond simple words. Roman had seen it countless times over the years, and now was no different. It was hard to explain, even to himself. Roman just knew it was different. The way Ruby acted changed subtly from person to person, reflecting a personality archetype that seemed to resonate with that respective person on an emotionally intimate level. 

To Adam, for example, she came off like a doting mother. A nurturer to the core, Ruby touched him tonight with a firm, yet gentle care. She greeted him at first with hands grabbing onto his biceps, welcoming him with a sweet “hello” before bringing him down for a hug.   

"How was your trip,” Adam asked as he raised himself her the crook of Ruby’s neck. 

“Productive,” she responded happily. Such an infectious smile she had. “Lionheart is with us now. Come by Saturday and we’ll work out the supply chains and bunker locations.”

“That sounds wonderful, but I’m afraid we have a bit of an issue right now,” Adam motioned behind himself, ushering the two through the doorway before shutting it. The room was cramped, bland and small. A little office space for a manager or owner to do paperwork in and little else, although the candles perched on the sparsely used bookshelf did breath a nice sent into such a stale room, and Ruby appreciated the thought. 

Roman noticed somebody else was in the room, one short of stature and proportion, similar to Ruby in several aspects. A blackened suit of navy constricted itself tightly around her torso and thighs like a second skin—ideal for stealth operations, blending into the night and shadows alike. Her skin seemed tanner than Ruby’s ghostly likeness, possessing a tropical-like shade from long hours in the sun no doubt. 

The oldest in the room couldn't help the chuckle to himself when he noticed her arms and legs; slender and brittle-looking, they were not the limbs of a warrior. They were skinny and weak even for her small body. Ruby stood before him with crossed arms, casual and lax, yet her two exposed limbs showed more shadings of muscle than this child’s legs. Whoever she was, this girl was obviously the weakest of them, but she still attempted to carry an authoritative posture: back straight and arms clasped behind her back, looking at them with mask-hidden eyes. 

Roman couldn't believe this one Adam called Ilia was that arrogant, or even ignorant for that matter. She had to be aware of it. She had to know just how helpless she was in this room; a toddler sitting amongst grownups. Who in their right mind would send someone so weak and inexperienced to deal with them?

“So you’re the one that called me,” Ruby stated rather than asked, closing the distance between herself and the masked girl to just a handful of feet. Roman stayed at the door’s side while Adam went and sat on the barren desk, resting his sword between his spread legs. 

Ilia gulped before speaking. “Yes. It's an honor to meet you, Sascha-—”

“Ruby, please.”

Ilia nodded at the request, somewhat startled at the interruption. “Oh, okay then. It's an honor to meet you in-person, Ruby. Word of your progress in Vale has spread wide.”

“Please, Ilia, I’m sure you’re aware of me being away. I just got back from a long trip and I so desperately want to be home. Why did you have Adam contact me?” Every word Ruby spoke was lethargic, weighted down with a need for sleep. How much of it was exaggerated and how was a genuine need Ilia couldn't tell..

The faunus girl inhaled a calming breath. It didn’t stop her shaking hands, still hiding behind her back. “Well, I’m not sure if you're aware of what your associates have been doing in your stead, but recently a White Fang brother was seen being driven by a couple of your workers and escorted into your club.”

Ruby nodded, seeing where this was going but letting the girl continue on. Cinder had called her a few hours ago and told her about the new client named Tukson. “You see, this man is a traitor, and we believe is seeking protection under your banner. I talked with Sienna as soon as I became aware of this and we both believe it would be better for all if we simply requested his custody.”

Ilia brought her hands in front of her in a pleading motion. “We of the White Fang acknowledge all the good your organization has done for the faunus in this area, so we believe just handing him over would be enough to square everything away before anything gets out of hand.”

Still there was silence. Ruby just stared at her, unreadable expression obscuring any thoughts she may have had. It was unnerving, and only put the girl further on edge. She pressed further. “The man you are protecting is a deserter. So the White Fang asks you, out of respect for you and your accomplishments: please give him to us. Traitors need to be held accountable for their actions, don’t they?” Ilia tried to reason.    

“So if you do get a hold of him, what are you going to do?” Ruby finally responded. “Kill him? Torture? Or maybe you're going to go a more classy route and just stick with blackmail; which is it?” 

“That’s—” Ilia was cut off again. The momentum of the conversation was now starting to swing.

“You White Fang are no different than rabid beasts. Why bother propping up your own race when it's easier to vent on helpless civilians, and now that someone wants out of the mindless violence you want to put him in the ground. Your kind are too spiteful to learn, and will justify your own race’s destruction.”

“How dare you!”

“No! How dare you delude yourself into thinking Sitra Achra is under any obligation to you White Fang.” Ruby’s tone was laced with a tempered anger, simmering just under her controlled persona, just waiting to be unleashed. ”The only reason why I have allowed you curs to operate in Vale is because I have higher priorities, but let me tell you right now: continue as is and I will crush every branch operating in the kingdom, do I make myself clear?” 

Ilia wanted speak. She wanted to retort to such an arrogant statement, respond to that insulting slur, but the tone Ruby used was intimidating—they were as knives to her neck, stopping any words from her dry, gulping throat. Ilia’s lips moved in twitches and the vague motions of syllables, desperately attempting to say something, anything, but nothing could come out, not even the pleading of mercy.  

When Ilia looked to Adam, her fear magnified ten-fold. A man known for his passion and hatred of humans, yet he sat there statue-still, not even bothering to look at her. There was no restraint on his face as Ruby insulted not only their cause, but referred to them with such slurs, and yet there was no reaction from the man most reactive. Adam was not being neutral, or restraining his thoughts, but rather he was calm, completely unaffected by her statements, as if he knew Ruby was not speaking to him personally.. 

“Well? Have I made myself clear?” Ruby gracefully walked to the shivering girl, the commanding posture she once had already broken, now looking at the floor like a punished child. 

The sound of shuffling feet came to a stop in front of Ilia. Hesitantly looking up, she met the otherworldly face of Ruby, somehow looking down at her despite being the same height. The faunus's fight or flight instinct suddenly kicked in upon meeting the silver gaze; the gaze of a predator looking at its prey. That’s when she saw it.   

Ruby’s shadow, cast by the dim glow of candles and lamp light, was different now. It was larger, broader, with horns now sprouting from the head. The shape was so big that it folded at the junction between the wall and ceiling, looming its upper half over the whole room. When Ilia looked down, back at Ruby, her breath stalled. 

It was the span in between the beats of Ilia’s heart; she couldn't process what had happened before the rushing sensation of falling, along with sudden pain radiating from her right cheek. The back of Ruby’s unringged hand had bashed into the side of her masked face, knocking Ilia off her feet and plunging to the other side of the room, back-first against a wall.    

Ilia was lost in the moment even as she fell. When had Ruby even moved her hand? The speed was absolute to her eyes. Had Ruby known she was reaching for the weapon stripped to the back of her belt? How? Ilia had just resolved herself to reach for it when Ruby had struck… was that blood running down her chin? Ilia prodded the back of her teeth with her tongue; two were loose, one almost to the point of falling out completely. She didn’t have time to think about how that was possible.  

Whipping around, snatching Lightning Lash off the ground, Ilia thumbed the activation button. A blade not unlike a rapier extended outward from the hilt. Electricity crackled along its length, powered by the Yellow Dust inside one of two chambers.     

Adam was moving now, a blur of blackened motion. He was charging, sword still sheathed but prepared to strike anyway. He was not running at Ruby. In a mad panic Ilia pulled the trigger of her weapon’s hilt. Extending like a whip, Ilia swiped Lightning Lash in a vain attempt to keep what distance she could in such a cramped area. 

Adam rolled under the weapon, hissing static making his hair frizz from the closeness, into Ilia’s space. Continuing his motion in one fluid arc, not once letting the momentum lose steam, the butt of Adam’s sword cracked upwards into Ilia’s chin with bone-snapping force. Her entire body shimmered as her Aura wavered under the blow. The back of her skull slammed into the wall behind her, right into the dent Ruby had caused mere seconds ago. 

There was no respite. Adam brought his kneecap to Ilia’s masked face, smashing her mouth against the joint mercilessly. More teeth loosened upon impact. Twice more this happened, Adam manipulating her with his hand at the back of her head. During this onslaught Lighting Lash became forgotten, dropped to the floor under a daze of pain. Not a second after releasing the battered girl the scabbard of Adam’s sword, Blush, beat across her small face in one final swing.

His fellow faunus was flung to the floor, mask skittering across the floor in broken pieces. Battered and defeated, the humiliatingly-short skirmish was over. Adam turned to Ruby, not so much a bead of sweat on his brow. “So what are we going to do now? Killing an emissary of Sienna’s is going to complicate things.”

Adam’s voice was a distant, muffled echo by now. Growing ever more distant at the darkness constricted her vision tighter and tighter. But, for now, Ilia still had the presence of mind to comprehend the rolling sentences. A dark liquid crawled down what little sight she had...blood...probably. It was getting hard to focus. 

“It's too soon to deal with the White Fang,” Ruby mused aloud. “I just got done stabilizing the downtown sectors, if a war were to break out now that peace gets thrown out the window and my grip on the politicians is over—they’re tenuous enough as is. “

“That’s the real reason why I called you,” Adam spoke to Ruby as he sat back down on the edge of the desk. His voice gave insight into how worried he truly was. “And it gets worse. Our friend over there,” he pointed to the now crying and urinating chameleon faunus with the end of his katana, “is very close to Blake. Normally I would suggest we cut any loose ends and kill the traitor along with her associates, but considering the connection you have with Blake…” Adam’s sentenced trailed off, letting the silence speak the rest for him. 

“Not only that,” Roman cut in, “but it would seem Sienna is on to you. She may suspect you’re planning against her. If her spy goes missing while under your watch, it's not gonna look good for any of us.” Roman spoke to Adam as he tried to light a cigar with one of the flickering candles. The results were annoyingly predictable. 

“And even if she doesn't now there’s a very good possibility she would be suspicious after the fact,” Ruby finished Roman’s thought process. “I know I would.”     

“Well Sienna isn’t you,” Adam gave voice to his thoughts. "She’s a dilettante when it comes to running an organization. Expecting her to be even half the leader you are is too much credit.”

Adam looked at Roman with a shallow tilt of his head. He was still struggling with the candle.  “Hell, I’m sure it would take Roman at least twice as long to screw up the White Fang this badly,” he jested. 

Roman’s head snapped head towards the faunus, candle slamming back to the shelf, back straight like a startled meerkat. “Hey!”      

A hand was raised. “The first rule of strategy is to assume your opponent is just as good if not better than you. Overconfidence leads to holes which can be exploited by the right person.” Ruby interjected matter-a-factly. “I didn't get to where I am now by being careless.”  

Roman sighed at the interruption. As consolation for his lack of words, he raised two middle fingers to the White Fang leader.   

Ilia, by this point, was disconnected from the world—lost in her own mind, comatose for all intents and purposes. It was this drooling, weeping, unconscious body that Ruby pointed to with a lacquered finger. 

“Lock her up,” she commanded to Adam sternly. “Keep her secret. Keep her alive. I’ll contact you when I have a plan. We’ll go from there. Right now I need time to think.”

“What about Blake?” Adam spoke to Ruby’s back. She and Roman had already began walking out of the room. Her bare steps halted while Roman continued on his way, already knowing what she would say.

“Leave her to me,” she replied before resuming her pace. “I’d prefer not to kill her if possible, but I'll wait for the cards to be dealt to decide for sure.”  

Adam stood again and gave a shallow bow, a custom from his native home of Haven. “Understood, sir.” 



The negotiations for Tukson’s contract was a surprisingly painless affair. Actually, the outcome was far better than he had ever anticipated, though more expensive than initially thought. But even with the price almost doubled it was well worth the extra cost, considering what he was getting. 

Tukson’s original plan had been to hire one or more full-time bodyguards till the day he left. The current deal was much more than that. He would be given room and board in the building that this club was attached to, as the couple actually owned the thing entirely. Tukson couldn't say for sure how it worked, but apparently this club they owned was the business side while the three-story building top-side was their residence; the home for both the owners and some of the employees

But that was only part of it. Because he was now a resident he would be living in an area constantly surrounded by a dozen or so of trained fighters, including the infamous Sascha, the monster with so much power and influence he supposedly has multiple police stations in his pocket. Well, so say the rumors at least.  

The perks didn’t end there. He would be given limited access to the underground club, not that he understood what purpose or attraction the place had to begin with. He would be escorted by a pair of guards every time he left to go anywhere outside—with cars sequestered away in secret garages as to prevent them from being tampered with. 

Also, as a final bonus, arrangements to fly the stock of his bookstore would be made for him, as well as paid movers to help him unload and set things up at his new location. All set up in advance without him having to make a single call. What could be a better incentive for the extra money?

All in all It had eaten up a good chunk of the Lien he had saved over the years, but with everything factored in and considering the dire situation he was in, it was well worth the thirty grand. Now the only thing he had to think about was whether he was going to work this week as, aside from emptying out the safe and register, there was no reason to risk being at his store.

Tukson sat back at the polished bar as he dwelled on his situation, his old forgotten beer replaced with a newer, colder one. Junior, the bartender, was busy doing something in the room behind the shelves that displayed the immaculate brews. While Cinder had stated during their meeting that he could enjoy one free drink of the high-end side of their collection a night, the faunus didn’t really want to do anything too familiar yet. The primal portion of his genetics still screamed when that woman was near; best not to risk even the slightest provocation from her.   

The man looked over his shoulder. Cinder sat at one of the glass-like chairs with a Scroll in hand, messaging someone he’d hazard to guess. Mercury and Emerald had left a good number of minutes ago to do some unknown chore, heading through the ornate drapes and up the stone stairs that connected this underground labyrinth to the outside world. 

After his experience on those stairs, the man in the flannel shirt couldn't bring himself to even look their way. The dozens of questions he had were currently being pushed under by the alcohol, suppressing them as best he could. For whatever the reason, Tukson just had this feeling of unease, the sense that he was better off not knowing about that… thing, but that did not stop his yearning.      

He could still hear its enchanting non-voice in his head, like a beautiful choir hymning in the background: Let me make you scream! Those words played themselves on a never-ending repeat within the fissures of his cracked subconscious mind, urging him to go back into the stairwell and profess his undying love to the unknowable creature. To wrap himself back into the heavenly embrace it had offered him so willingly and let all the troubles blighting his world melt away in a tranquil euphoria.   

But, as with Cinder, his body’s natural instincts screamed out in terror whenever he so much as looked at the ornate drapes which hid the shaft from view, but not even that most primal of fears stopped his desire. It was the oddest thing. His body was both urging him to go but also demanding to stay away; two of the most primitive yet powerful of instincts at war with one another, fighting over what decision he should make.

Self preservation and the desire for pleasure are intrinsic parts of being sentient life. As much as humans and faunus alike seem to believe in this idea that individuals have this innate control over themselves absolutely, that was simply not how it worked. Biology sets the rules and all life has to spin their wheels at the whims of those boundaries. It’s how all living things are governed, and right now two primeval motivators warred for different things inside Tukson.     

The sense of self preservation has accelerated the growth of both humanity and faunus since before history was written down. It was because the cold hurt and killed clothes were made; it was because the dark hid adversaries fire was more precious than all the gold and gems in the world, for it illuminated what hid under the blanket of night while also banishing the cold. The advent of Dust only made this effect more obvious.  

The desire for pleasure, while more exploited and trivialized in modern days than before it, was no less important in the survival of humans and faunus. The reason the vast majority of both species find extra pleasure in sweet and salty foods is because they are required for physiological functions, beyond simple nutrition; if sex did not feel so good then it is likely the earliest ancestors of both species would not have procreated enough if at all, thus dooming all to extinction before the first crystals of Dust were even found, or the first cloths woven together.     

His internal struggle made one thing clear to him, even when trying to drink himself to obliviousness: he was getting mixed in with people far above his station.  

“Cinder!” A high-pitched voice enthusiastically called out suddenly. Tukson turned around in his chair on reflex just in time to see a blur of black bursting forth from the drapes, billowing them aside like a powerful gust of air. 

He followed the direction the movement made just in time to see it attaching to a now standing Cinder, causing the taller woman to spin around from the momentum. It was a girl, he concluded, decorated with jewelry in both ears and shiny rings on her right hand. A compact, petite thing she was, possessing cherubic features witch allowed Cinder to handle her like some sort of precious toy.    

When the two started kissing like long-lost lovers, he felt at odds about it. On one hand it was a sweet passionate embrace from a couple that had been separated for a little while, so the romantic in him couldn't help but call it a cute reunion. On the other hand the newcomer looked a bit too small, too young. It felt wrong to watch her shamelessly trade tongues with the adult. 

He wasn't really comfortable with the spectacle in all honesty, but was smart enough to not speak up. Besides that, he had much bigger problems to sort out in his head at the moment to pay any more attention to them.

Tukson gulped down a few more swigs of his drink. The former White Fang could already tell that this next week would be a turbulent one for him and his emotions. 


(End of Chapter Three)


*1) The inverse of the Tree of Life in Kabbalah.


*2)  Meaning “the other side”; that which is opposite to god/divine/holiness etc.