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Devi Vestige

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Vein 01 - Shiva

Belladonna household, Menagerie

Every year, before the official announcement of the Vytal Festival, Kali Belladonna would leave Menagerie for several days to make for a specific cemetery. She would have made her journey alone each year, but her wonderful, handsome and lovely husband, Ghira Belladonna would always convince her to have a minimal escort. This year was no different.

"I'll be coming with you."

Actually, it seemed like there would be a difference.

"Oh, are you sure Love?" The black beauty with feline ears turns from her half-done bag to her beautifully buffed husband Ghira by the door. "Stepping away as Chieftain for a day to rest is one thing, but leaving Menagerie entirely for a week or more…"

Ghira stepped into their room and pulled out a second bag. "I've done away with the major issues. The council can handle anything minor. And we haven't been just somewhere together for a while now, just the two of us…"

"Oh Love." Kali hugged her husband. He might be huge and intimidating to those who visit them, but Ghira was just her big and soft teddy bear.

"And, well…" Kali looked up at Ghira, who was looking to the side and followed his sight. She ended up at the group of photographs, framed and standing on the top of the drawer. "I'm also worried for her."

"So am I…" Kali mumbled, eyeing the little girl within the picture, all smiles and hugging the Father while Mother was kneeling beside her and holding onto her shoulders.

Which parents would not be worried about their missing daughter? Blake had dropped off the face of Remnant for nearly six months. While Kali and Ghira had not seen her in a few years, they were getting updates from Sienna Khan that she was fine and well. Then suddenly, Blake left the boy, Adam Taurus stranded with a decoupled train carriage and disappeared from White Fang. No one had seen hair nor hide of her daughter since, and she had not contacted them at all after Ghira stepped away from White Fang.

Perhaps it was better if Ghira went with her to Wind Path. The both of them could ask around, look for information and hope to see her, perhaps making her way home in a discreet manner (Kali could guess the reason why she left the organisation the way she did. Good riddance!)

The rest of the day consisted of the wife and husband packing their bags, a dinner at the restaurant, then rest. After breakfast, Kali and Ghira were on a ship, making port at the City of Mistral without any Grimm incident and just in time for dinner. Kali would then make her way to the travel agency to book a ride to Wind Path while Ghira went to look around the city, not for sightseeing but for any clue regarding Blake. He came back to the hotel empty handed and feeling down, which Kali hope against but expected it. Well, she knew what would get her man back up, if only for the night.

The next day after lunch, the two Faunus boarded a convoy of trucks and escorting rovers that were making their way around outlying villages for trades. The one Grimm incursion was easily repelled with firepower, so the convoy had not needed to pause until they reached the entrance of Wind Path. Along with a trading truck, Kali and Ghira left the convoy and entered the cliffside village.

Rather than immediately visiting the cemetery like Ghira assumed, Kali spent the next day looking around and shopping. Specifically, Kali was purchasing offerings.

"Just a headstone?" Ghira had asked, decades ago, long before duty stopped him from accompanying Kali to visit the cemetery.

"That's right, Ghira." She had replied. "It happened at the sea. She fell overboard. There wasn't a body."

With a stalk of mistletoe wrapped in paper (plucked by Kali from the nearby forest early the next morning) and a fresh eel from the market in hand, Kali and Ghira made their way to the cemetery. It was located just outside of the village proper, next to the cliff. It was generally deserted, with only a few people hired to keep the cemetery taken care of, but it seemed to Kali that this place was completely abandoned. "Well, this is worse than last year." She picked her way carefully, stepping over fallen half of the gate and broken masonry that the gate was attached to.

"Have the people here lost their respect for even the deceased?" Ghira grabbed a hold onto the rusting metal of the still standing half gate, which promptly detached itself from the pillar with a loud, metal snap!

Kali and Ghira stared at the other half gate in her husband's mighty hands, then she sighed. "Just leave it at the side, Love."

After they left the other newly-broken gate leaning on the fence wall, they resumed their trek on the grass-covered stone path towards Kali's destination. Everywhere she looked, creeper-vines and moss were taking over the graves and headstones. She could not believe the state the disrepair the cemetery had fallen into. "We should speak with the caretaker. This is unacceptable." Ghira only agreed.

A minute later, at the third row of headstones from the cliff edge, Kali stopped in front of one of them. The headstone was an ordinary slab of stone cut with rounded top. The face was indented, leaving just a few centimetres at the edge that served to look like a frame. Two more deeper indents, a smaller rectangle at the top and a bigger square at the bottom, had letters carved in them. 'Shiva' was written in the rectangle. 'Loving Sister//Strong and Proud' was written in the square in two neat rows. All over the stone and flat surface that served as an offering table in front of the stone, similar vines had wrapped around it. Ghira, without needing a prompt, started tearing and pulling them away.

"Hello Shiva." Kali began. "It's been another year. I've come to visit. I see that the caretaker hasn't done his job around here very well…"

Kali paused, waiting as her husband continued to rid Shiva's place of unwanted vegetation. Then, with a strong breath of blow and another few pats, the offering surface was cleaned as well as he could have done without any tools. Kali laid the mistletoe down, retrieved a paper plate from her bag and placed Shiva's favourite fish, eel, on it.

"Do you remember Ghira? This big, muscular, handsome man with me?" Kali squealed lightly. She could see the red in her man's face when she looked up, standing a little straighter as he clapped his palms to dust away any remaining dirt. "He finally found the time to visit again! Such a wonderful gentleman!" She giggled, a small jest. Then she fell silent.

Ghira kneeled beside her, placing a large hand on her shoulder. A comforting gesture. Kali appreciated it.

"Blake…" Kali started. She felt a small squeeze from Ghira. "Your little naughty niece. She finally left the Fang I told you about. She left that boy Adam in a conundrum when she did that too!" Kali added a bit of hand swings and shakes as she spoke, before she settled again. "But now she's been out of contact for a long time. Neither of us can find anything about her whereabouts…" Ghira gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Please, look after h—"

"WHY ARE YOUUUUuuuu…"

Kali stiffened, her eyes widening with shock. Even Ghira noticed something odd, if him lifting his hand away from her shoulder said anything.

"Kali…?"

"I'm alright." She exhales. Bringing her emotions back in line. "I just…" She was not sure how to explain it. "Sometimes I just recall something we said to each oth—"

"…uld you!? You'rrr…"

"—words I regret. Things I wish I could do more." Kali ended.

"Kali." Ghira pulled her to his chest.

"I wonder, what would she think of us now?"

A pained cry, filled with love. "…Kaaa…"

"Kali! I'm hearing it too!" Ghira's shaking pulled Kali out of her thoughts. She looked up to him, confusion written all over her face. "You're not imagining it! There are voices!"

"What?"

"WHY ARE YOUUUUuuuu…"

The repeated words finally snapped Kali back to reality. It sounded like a bad case of a broken record, though how anyone else could have known the words? Kali stood up together with her frowning husband. "Ghira?"

"It's coming from around here." Ghira scanned the area around. They started to step away from Shiva's headstone, trying to find the source of the recording. But until it—

"…uld you!? You'rrr…"

Kali turned around, just in time to see Ghira turning to look at her as well. And Shiva's headstone between them. The source of the recording is from her empty grave?

Was someone trying to threaten her? Why would they use her dead sister of twenty-two years ago to do it? What was there to gain from that old argument? One that led to Kali doing the unthinkable. It did not even affect any other person. Just two sisters' quarrel gone terribly wrong…

"What is this?"

Ghira's voice brought Kali out of her contemplatives. He was kneeling be Shiva's headstone, looking at the back of the stone at the dirt. Part of the soil had been disturbed when he pulled the vines away from the headstone. Kali bent down at the headstone as Ghira removed the rest of the loosened dirt.

An eerie red glow emitted from under the dirt, the source nothing like either of them had expected.

Kali said first. "Is that Burn Dust?"

"It doesn't seem like it."

The red crystal, larger in size than her hand, pulsed with a sickening looking distortion. It was an uncut gem, sharp edged and dull in make, but it looked deformed in the middle, with finger-sized spikes jutting outwards. The red glow was being emitted from it, softly and slowly pulsing once every few seconds.

A pained cry, filled with love. "…Kaaa…"

That had definitely came from the Dust crystal…Is that even one?

Kali looked worriedly to Ghira, who looked back to her with uncertainty, then they turned back to the crystal. With trepidation, her husband reached for the crystal…

 

Outside of the Gaol of the Red Mist, Unknown Location

"Io!"

The party turned around at a woman's call. They first saw the blue-twintail Heroine with a pair of cat-like ears that protected the entirety of the Gaol, with her back turned to them. The woman wore a long, white scarf-like Ivy-type Blood Veil wrapped around her neck, affixed to pauldrons, and ran down her back. A leather strap, reinforced with chain, followed her spine from under the pauldrons, joined the strap of her sports bra into a t-junction, then went further down until it disappeared under her ripped jean shorts, held up by a studded leather belt. A puncture scar could be seen on the left side of her back, accompanied with another scar at her front when seen, with both being either the exit or entry point of something sharp that penetrated her body in her lost past. She raised her opera-gloved hand as she stepped back towards Red Mist Tunnel they came from, displacing cracked pavement under her blue heeled boots as her long legs that were protected by sky-blue stockings moved.

Then they looked passed her and saw the Saviour that bore the namesake she spoke, impossibly standing there at the small tunnel created by the Amber Blood Bead, still in her tattered and ripped dress with a black hooded, twin-tailed Ivy-type Blood Veil.

Rin Murasame, the red-ponytail-haired armourer who looked sixteen, took a step forward. "Io? Is that really you…?" When the woman nodded, the masked girl dropped the massive bag nearly four times her own body size to the floor, ran forward and gave the woman a flying hug. "Oh! Io! How are you here? We missed you so much!" The red-themed girl stepped back, unbothered by how much her exposed skin to the dangerous Red Mist because of her tiny jacket-style Hound-type Blood Veil over her black bra, a simple jean shorts and combat boots.

"Io!" Mia Karnstein, the fourth young woman—a long-haired blonde with a black-coloured bearskin hat, wearing a black shin-length Scorpion-type Blood Veil coat, blue thigh-length dress with matching stockings and brown heeled boots—followed Rin and ran to their friend, holding a customised bayonet she named ‘Brodiaea’ to the side as she did.

"Io!? But…how?" Louis Amamiya, his black hair unkempt and holding a crimson sword, raised his gloved left hand to his chin, his single-side Ogre-type Blood Veil slipping off his arm and hanging by his shoulder as disbelief filled his words. The man, dressed in a white dress suit, sleeveless red-and-black suit and black leather jeans, eyed the Red Mist that protected the Gaol from the Horrors, worried written all over his face. If Io was here, then who or what was powering and keeping the Mist up? What of the Horrors?

Yakumo Shinonome, a crimson-haired man with a scar running down from between the eyes to the right of his face, let loose a laugh that knocked Louis out of his thoughts. His high-collared jacket-style Hound-type Blood Veil, layered with armour platings, shuffled as he stepped to the gathering, exposing his V-neck tee-shirt and straps for a handgun holster. Utilities pouches hung from his belt and one on each thigh, strapped on his camo pants that was tucked into his combat boots. “Now the gang’s all here! It’ll be like the good time!” He raised his heavy sword, Oni-bane, to rest on his shoulder.

Except, Io gave them a soft, solemn smile and shook her head.

“Io?” Rin confusedly let go of the woman

Io gazed at each of them, spending several seconds before going to the next. Finally, when she reached the cat-eared Protector, she raised her hands towards her. The Cat Lady obliged and moved to her. “My Successor…” Io began as she took the ex-Successor’s hands, which still carried the Amber Blood Bead. She wrapped her hands around her ex-Successor's, which in turn covered the Bead. “...when it is time, don’t hesitate.”

The Cat Lady nodded.

"Io," Rin sounded so disappointed, "are you really not coming with us?"

Io removed a hand from her ex-Successor's and placed it upon her chest. "This is merely a projection, a vestige formed by the Amber, to see my Successor one more time." She looked back through the tunnel, back into Gaol. "The true 'Io'…I will be remaining here, to keep everyone safe from the Horrors."

"A projection, I see…" Louis let out a sigh of relief. It would seem that Io had things planned out. He stepped forward into the circle of friends. "Io, I never had the chance to say this, but…" He put up a hand, palm opened towards her. "Thank you." Gratitude filled his heart and mind. "For everything."

Io smiled and took his hand.

"You really can't come with us?" Yakumo was really dejected. Io let go of Louis' hand and approached his best friend and raised a hand to him, like Louis did to her. Yakumo smiled and took it. "We'll come back with lots of stories for you."

"And I'll bring back lots of stuff!" Rin threw her a hand up, excitement rolling off in waves, but Louis could see the sadness in her eyes.

Mia fidgets side to side, then gave Io a hug of her own. "And I'll keep them safe. And their heads straight on."

"Hey, we always have our heads straight, Mia!"

"Except for the times when you have sharper eyes than I did for treasures, Yakumo."

Everyone laughed as the two bickered jokingly. Io returned her focus to her ex-Successor, lifting her hands that held the Amber Blood Bead. "I will always be here, my Successor. I will never leave your side."

"Io…" She hugged the White Lady one last time. When she let go, she stepped back and out of the tunnel.

Rin hesitantly followed, not wanting to leave Io.

They stood still, the party that was going to explore the lands outside of the Gaol, watching as Io backed further into the tunnel. They watched, with Rin, Mia and Yakumo lightly gasping, as the Red Mist Tunnel slowly 'collapsed', the deadly mist closing the tunnel. They watched as Io, or the projection of their friend Io, was swallowed up by the Red Mist.

There was no longer a tunnel. They are truly outside of the Gaol now, away from the safety they known for most of their Revenant life.

Louis was the first to turn his back to the Red Mist. "Let's go." His simple words prompted the party into movement, with Rin picking up her backpack while everyone else slowly began to walk away, four pairs of footwears crunching on the broken roads. Louis looked back.

"Shiva?"

The Cat Lady, ex-Successor of the Relic of the Blood, Protector of the Gaol. Their greatest friend, Shiva nodded toward the Red Mist to say goodbye to her own Saviour.

And she fell in steps with them. Heading into the unknown.

Chapter Text

Vein 02 — Radio

Unnamed apartment block, Ruined city outside the Goal, Unknown

"This is Louis. Jack, can you hear me? Over."

"—ack, han…— *static*"

Louis leaned as far out of the window as he dares. He aimed the radio's antenna towards the Gaol and clicked the radio. "Come in, Jack. Can you hear me? Over."

Static filled the small room that the party had settled in for the night. Unlike the bright nights in the Gaol amplified by the Red Mist, the ruined city they were travelling through was blanketed in absolute darkness. It was impossible to see more than ten metres ahead on the streets, much less fighting any Horrors that might appear.

It was Shiva that decided to pause and wait for sunlight, when they are starting to have trouble watching where their feet were planting. With no streetlights and the Thorns of Judgement casting unwanted shadows all over the city, Shiva halted the march and everyone started to search for a Mistle.

They could not find one, however. And when the street level had been completely covered in darkness, Mia pointed out a room with one small window. They quickly found an entrance and entered what used to be an apartment block before finding the room with a single door. The inner walls had mostly collapsed, making the room seem larger than it really was. Some debris had been used to cover up the doorway, just in case something decided to sneak up on them. Once they decided on a lookout rotation—Louis, Shiva, Yakumo then Mia for two hours each; Rin was left out of it as she was going to inspect and perform basic maintenance on their equipment—they settled down in darkness.

"*Static* —is Jack… …s best I can… …he situation outside? Ove…"

Louis pressed the transmitter. "Jack, we have not yet encountered any Horror out here. We're currently resting and waiting for daybreak: Without the Mist's glow, it is near impossible to traverse the ground at night time while looking out for Horror. Over."

Louis looked into the room as he waited for Jack's reply. Rin had improvised three of their Blood Bead supply as a makeshift lamp, however minimal it was, and was currently giving Oni-Bane a look-over. Yakumo was eating his onigiri while watching Rin worked on his blade. They were talking about things they were doing during after everything was over, but now they were quiet, likely to let Louis have a silent environment to report to those that remained inside the Gaol.

Mia was the only one sleeping, lying next to Shiva whose face was lightened by the Amber Blood Bead in her hands. Louis always felt gratitude when someone as distrustful of people as Mia let go of her insecurities in their company, trusting them and relaxing around then.

Most of all, she had gravitated to Shiva, who seemed to have reciprocate the feeling. Shiva spent much effort looking out for the woman, the youngest among the group of them (even though Mia and Rin were about the same age physically, Mia could still be considered the youngest as a Revenant). Shiva seemed to know what Mia need in times of distress, especially during the fiasco when her little brother, Nicola was the Successor.

As Revenants, they had borderline unlimited energy to spend. They did not truly needed to sleep or rest (or even eat, in Yakumo's case). But old Human habits die hard and doing little things like these reminded them of their humanity and keep their sanity.

"—uis. what ab… ...umans? Any sig… people out there? Over."

"Jack. We have not seen any signs of human or any form of resistance yet." Shiva looked up from the Amber to Louis as he held onto the transmit. "There isn't any signs of other Revenants or Lost from before the Gaol as well. Over."

Shiva kept the Amber away and made her way to Louis. She grabbed the plaster wall of the window and leaned out, trying to see through the darkness like Louis had. He doubted that she could see anything much as well. "Louis. Silva is… …to head towards the coa…"

Shiva turned to Louis, just as surprised as he was. "Wait, why does he want us to go to the coast now?" The words drew the attention of Rin, Yakumo and Mia as well. The original plan was for them to look for a spot for a forward operating base. The future plan to head for the coast and another continent was for the long run, after they managed to establish a shelter outside of the Gaol.

The voice changed. "Amam… …is Silva. The plan was for taking ba… … …om the Horrors while we make contact…Mantle. Since those monsters… … ..ound, take this chance and find them. Over."

Mantle. It was a Kingdom that was located on the colder continent in the North. Dominic, the old man who survived in the Government Sector back during Silva's frenzy, remembered some of his time before the Great Collapse. Humans had lived behind great walls, not too unlike in the Red Mist's function to protect the humans and keep out the Horrors. Only, the walls were manned and the Horrors were held back by supreme firepower. And Mantle was the name he recalled. He did not remember much of anything else, which he attributed to the crisis and old age as the culprit for his lost memories.

If they were really going to change the plan this way, they would be losing contact with everyone inside Gaol. The radio had only a certain range and they were already near the furthest edge of it. Until the time when they bring back help. Louis would no longer be able to talk to Aurora and Karen. He had only gotten the both of them back…Louis glanced to his companions.

Rin nodded when their eyes met, then went right back into maintenance mode with the next weapon on the list: Shiva's Queenslayer Sword. It would seem that her place was with them. Unable to find her squad from back during her combatant days, she began to work doubly hard for the group of them at Home Base, a constant presence that they relied on during their moments of weaknesses.

Emily took the deal with Silva and became a member of Cerberus, remaining inside of the Gaol to help their fellow Revenants. The last remaining person that Yakumo had immediate ties with. When Louis crossed eyes with his friend, Yakumo just smiled and nodded. He then turned to Rin's makeshift Bead Lamps and pulled out his photograph to look at it.

Mia left Nicola back at the Gaol. It was simply too dangerous for the little one to follow them and face the Horrors. But Mia left him in the care of Aurora, Karen and Jack, the former two wanting to teach him science and knowledge while Nicola said the latter was training him to 'be a Knight.' They were the people she believed in to look after her sibling. Mia, too, nodded at Louis when his eyes reached her, before she went to sit with Yakumo.

Finally, Louis looked up to Shiva. She returned his look, contemplated for a couple of seconds and simply nodded.

Louis pressed the radio. "Silva. Understood. We'll start heading towards the coast when the day breaks. Over."

"We will be preparing, Amamiya. Good luck. Silva out."

"Sounds like everyone is depending on us." Yakumo commented as Louis kept away Eva's radio that Jack passed to him for this mission. The heavy swordsman punched his palm, psyching himself up. "I'm getting a good feeling about this."

"We won't let them down." Mia patted Brodiaea that sat on her knees. "We'll find them, deal with the Horrors and take back our world!"

"And we'll be back in time to relax at the hot springs!” Rin added. “Shiva." She flipped the Queenslayer Sword around, then handed it hilt first to Shiva—

—who suddenly rose up, eyes wide, cat-like ears twitching, then threw her right hand out. A flaming throwing knife—Fire Lily—sliced through the darkness with a red tracer beam, flying into the unoccupied areas of the apartment they had chosen to rest. The glowing knife suddenly halted in its flight with an upward jerk, two red lines held it at the blade's edge—

—Louis just registered Shiva's Gift, who had already taken the offered Sword from Rin with her left hand and Gift-dashed halfway across the room, bluish embers cascading around her. Louis reached for the Enduring Crimson that was resting on the wall beside him and took a hold of it; Mia just began to turn, following the tracer and pulling Brodiaea up as Yakumo reached for Oni-Bane. The Fire Lily lighted up the thing that caught it in its fiery red glow: Something black, round and with ropes dangling—

—Shiva swung. The orb ducked. The sound of the blade slashed through the air. Louis leapt forward; Mia threw herself flat to the ground with her bayonet raised as Yakumo began to leap over her with his sword; Rin finally just realised something went horribly wrong and was pushing herself up; Red ropes ran along Shiva's left arm—

Snap! Crack! Snap!

—while her right palm smack the orb, sending it flying with the Fire Lily, violently parting with the tentacles wrapped around Shiva's left arm. Yakumo pivoted to Shiva; Louis stopped to cover Rin; Mia pulled the trigger.

Crack! Boom!

The building shook with the shot-triggered Fire Lily explosion. The wall that separated the apartment and the outside corridor collapsed. The whole floor then suddenly gave way, sending the party down a level.

Several seconds passed as concrete and dust settled. Echoing noise faded and vision restored—as much as Louis could see in the darkness. He grunted as he pushed away what he recognised as Rin's backpack and pushed himself up. "Is everyone okay?" He spotted Rin immediately, slowly pushing herself up, and reach down to help her up.

Mia sounded off. "I'm fine!" Her voice came from nearby and below Louis, but he heard no movement. "I'm not seeing anything." She must have stayed prone, even after the drop, to watch out for any other enemies.

"We're here." Yakumo called out. "Shiva, your hand—"

"I'm fine." Shiva promptly replied. "Rin?"

Louis could hear her muttering, rattled from the close encounter. "She's with me."

"I—I'm okay." She shakingly said, then looked around frantically. "The Beads! Where are they?!"

Shattered and drained. It did not take long for Louis and Rin to find the broken pieces of the white capsules crushed under the fallen debris, their life essences pooling on top of an already soaked rug. Rin took the biggest piece up with unsteady hands and the remaining fluid within the cup dripped from the openings, onto her hands and into the puddle.

Three Blood Beads. It was not a dip from their supply of Blood Beads, the remainder of them kept safe inside their cushioned safety within Rin's backpack. But for the woman, it was as if she had been completely crushed. Louis placed a hand on her shoulder. "Rin, it's fine. It's just Beads…"

"It's…not…" She dropped the shell of the bead, which clattered away on the concrete floor. The noise echoed in the room "I'm…supposed to be better than this. Not just…quivering. I went out with the others to search for them. I even managed to fight the Lost. I…didn't even realise what was…What…am I doing?" Frustration rang with her words, bloodied hands pressed against her face and shaking.

"Rin…" Louis had kneeled beside her during her breakdown, keeping his hand on her shoulder for support. He did not let go until Mia came over to pull her into a hug. Louis stood back up when Yakumo and Shiva approached them. He turned to Shiva. "How's your arm?"

Shiva spared a moment to watch Rin and Mia, before lifting her injured arm and pulled down her long glove for Louis to see. Few parts of her arm around her elbow were bruised. But her arm was straight, as if it were never broken in the first place.

He never realised that there were scars and bite marks on her arm until now, hidden under the long gloves.

"Regenerated." Shiva simply said, then she pulled her glove back. She hummed. "It disintegrated." She continued after a moment, then she went down to join the cuddle pile.

Louis put a hand to his chin. "Disintegrated?" He repeated.

"I watched it happened too." Yakumo added, lending credentials to what had occurred. "The tentacles that Shiva ripped off from that floating ball just melted from her arm, then disintegrated. Do you think that's a Horror?"

The Biological Organ Regenerative Parasite (or BOR Parasite) would have caused a Lost to dissipate upon fatal damages. After some time, these parasite ashes would gather and regenerate, reforming the same Lost once more. In a sense, a Lost was immortal, even if their bodies would degenerate into unrecognisable mess of ball. They met a lot of such parasite balls in the Hollowing Pit and the Depths. They met even more Revenant Losts, whom would never be killed permanently because of the BOR parasite. This dissipation protocol would cause the ashes to light up like embers as they dissipated. "The ashes didn't light up?" Louis just had to ask.

"They didn't." Yakumo confirmed once more.

Then it could only be a Horror. Louis sighed. They had marched out of the Gaol expecting giant-sized monsters that completely overwhelmed Humans and Revenants that were trapped outside, only to get ambushed by something that was smaller than Hound Losts. An oversight that could have caused a problem if Humans had been with them. Louis would have to report this to Silva or Jack.

And he tried to, every hour for six hours until the sun began to rise. Unfortunately, Jack's radio failed to receive any of his call. There had been nothing but static, until even the static went out into silence with the last two tries. Louis kept away the radio, stood up from the window rubble he appropriated as a lookout seat and stretched.

Mia was looking out of the upper floor window, steadfast and vigilant. Since the surprise attack, she had been tense of the darkness and had taken the higher ground that used to be their room. It was a vantage point where she could see the collapsed room entirely, letting her watch out for any other unpleasantries. Which none had occurred.

Rin had gotten better since the breakdown. It had been a surprise to find water—albeit stagnant—sealed in an old, dusty bottle within the new apartment, which Shiva had taken and used to clean Rin’s face of blood. Currently, she was looking at a couple of copper pipes, placed on top of an anvil she brought along in her backpack for maintenance purposes. Louis wondered what she was thinking.

Due to the explosion, there was a big opening into the outside corridor.Yakumo had taken a seat that was positioned to face towards the staircase and the opening that used to be for an elevator. He stood and stretched like Louis, twisting his body and cracking his spine. He held Oni-Bane, but had its tip resting on the floor.

Shiva was still holding onto one of the broken Blood Beads, nursing the last of the liquid remaining inside the base. They had no need for a discussion and Louis had pressed the still-filled Bead to her as she had to both use her Gift and her Regeneration during the attack. She had not accepted it until Mia took at least a sip for the same former reasoning with Brodiaea. After that, Shiva chose to sit at the opposite of Yakumo but on the upper floor. None of them doubted that Shiva had chosen that spot after she tried to look for any signs of the Horror that was in the apartment, of which nothing of it was left behind.

“Now, what is this about your Blood Type?” Louis had asked her a long time ago, some time after the Weeping Tree was formed. Shiva had nearly Frenzied that day, rushed in to Karen's care while he was visiting her.

Aurora, who had been with Louis and Shiva when they had that particular talk, answered. “The Blood Codes that Shiva had taken when she was a Void-Type seemed to have been blended together and absorbed. I’m surprised that no one questioned if that particular phenomenon was caused by the specific Relic inside you.” 1

Louis sighed. “There was only so much I can do without equipment and foreknown knowledge like you, Aurora.”

“Is that why I can still use so many different Gifts?”

“It’s the only explanation I can agree with you at this time, Shiva. We’re going to need more time for a proper study and examination.” Aurora then sternly looked at both Louis and Shiva. “And for your sake, do not, under any circumstances, touch anymore Vestiges." Aurora harshly tapped her finger to Shiva’s forehead. "Remember that you are no longer a Successor. Vestiges are going to cause Frenzy, Blood Beads or not. If either of you come across one, leave it!”

“Louis.”

Rin’s voice brought him back into focus. Louis looked up to the Armourer, who was holding an elongated pipe…It was the two pipes, joined together into a long pole. “What’s wrong, Rin?”

At first, Rin said nothing. Louis patiently waited for her to continue while the rest were readying themselves. Mia dropped down and stood beside him, watching Rin as well, if a little bit more worried. “Rin…” She muttered.

Then suddenly, Rin kicked her anvil. The loud clattering of the cast iron falling to its side surprised all of them. And then Rin knocked it once more, turning the thing over on its top.

Mia almost stepped in before Louis held her back. Shiva jumped down from the second floor and stopped beside Yakumo, who had halted on the other side of the backpack.

Rin then flipped the pipe-pole and held it above her, pointing it to the bottom side of the anvil and jammed it down, spearing the anvil. She twisted the pole, twice for effect. Finally, she raised the entire thing, resting it on her shoulder.

A make-shift Hammer, closer to a Pickaxe because of the two pointed ends, using two copper pipes and an anvil2. Trust an Armourer as creative as Rin to come out with something like that with limited materials on hands.

“I’m going to do better.” Rin said, confident and sure. She turned around to Louis, eyes sharp and focused. “I won’t cower anymore3, not like this.” She looked down to her free hand, her left, which she clenched. “I was ‘Yaksha’ once. I can still fight. I’m going to fight. I’m not going to become a burden. Not like…last time. Promise.”

“Rin…” Louis stepped forward. Rin looked up. He patted the woman on her shoulder with the Anvil Hammer. “...I’m looking forward to it, partner.”

Rin nodded. “Yeah!”

“Rin, don’t scare us like that.” The concern in Mia’s words were clear. She had been so worried.

Rin turned to Mia. “I worried you. Sorry about that.”

“Well, honestly speaking,” Yakumo had his sword on his shoulder, “you’re never a burden, Rin. You’re our friend. Never doubt that.”

“Yeah!” Rin nodded at Yakumo, then turned to Shiva. The Cat Lady smiled, a hand behind her, and nodded. No words were required to convey her feelings. “Thanks, Shiva.” Rin replied.

“Alright!” Yakumo hollered. “So, Louis, what’s our itinerary?”

Louis looked to them, gazing at his friends, the people he had so much regard for. Precious people he would never do without. They had been through the thick and thin. He could not have asked for better people to stand beside.

He breathed. He held up Eva’s radio for emphasis. “You‘ve all heard it last night: Silva is changing our original plan from checking our surroundings to making immediate contact with the known possible settlement: Mantle.” He lowered the radio. “We don’t really know where exactly are we in relation to Mantle, or even the rest of the world. Our current objective now is to head to the coast, along the way searching for any signs of life, while watching out for Horrors that are lurking around.”

Louis paused, giving them a chance to ask anything. None did.

He shook the radio. “Following our current objective, we are going to be out of contact with everyone inside the Gaol. In fact, we might already be with certain parts of the Gaol: Jack isn’t answering the radio, which might mean his current position is already out of range from us, including interference from the Mist. Once we continue onward from this point, we will not be able to contact them until we return here.”

Everyone had the focused looks in their eyes. They were prepared mentally, ready to leave behind the people they cared about for an unknown period of time, until they came back bearing news.

Louis kept away the radio. “Let’s go. We’ll keep going South by Southeast, keeping the mountains to our right.”

Yakumo, closest to the exit, went first. He was followed by Mia, who paused just long enough for Rin to pull up her backpack. Shiva shifted to let Rin pass and, once Rin stepped outside, turned to Louis. “If there’s no one…”

It was a valid question. A concerning one, so much that Louis knew everyone thought about it and chose not to ask it. He could not afford to think that. “...Then we come back and prepare.” But they had to be prepared for such a possibility.

That was likely why Silva wanted them to take the chance, without the Horrors dogging them, to quickly look for people. And why he was going to keep everyone in the Gaol prepared.

Shiva frowned and nodded, saying nothing. She pulled up her hiding hand, still holding the broken Bead with the liquid in it that she was nursing and drank the rest of it. Then she tossed the emptied Bead behind her.

It clattered loudly, striking across the floor, then shattered into multiple pieces.

But nobody heard it.

For the two others had left.

Chapter Text

Vein 03 — Bloodroots

Gneiss1, Vacuo

An angry foot slammed onto the paved sandstone. “Why are we here?”

Brawnz, Roy and Nolan turned around, then to each other. “What’s wrong, May?” Brawnz asked, seemingly nonchalant about it.

The only girl in the team could feel her anger rising. “Why are we at the harbour?” She expanded her inquiry, throwing a hand out to gesture at the harbour office front that they were standing in.

“‘Cause we’re taking the ferry!” Their flamboyant teammate, Nolan flourished his hands toward the jetty, where one of the many ferry ships was floating at the end of the harbour. May could see ‘VSV Sediment’ written on the side of it. Her eyes twitched.

“And why are we taking the ferry?”

“Wait, didn’t Roy tell you?” Brawnz turned to the said boy, who just pushed their Team Leader forward, obvious in his way about trying to hide away from her pending fury. Brawnz cleared his throat. “...It’s cheaper.”

“‘Cheaper?!’” May growled. She would have yelled if they were at Shade. “We are given free transport to Vale! Via Bullhead!”

Brawnz sighed, then grabbed and pulled Roy before he could retreat further away. “It was your idea. And you said you’ll tell her.”

Roy struggled. “Aahh! Let me go! She’ll kill me!”

“Roy…” May took Nornhowl2 and tapped his forehead with the blunt side of the stock.

“Okay, okay! I’m sorry!” Roy understood the threat. “It takes longer to get there, alright!”

May smacked his head with Nornhowl. “‘Longer?!’”

“We are only required to reach Beacon before the start of the second term3.” Brawnz repeated what the Vytal Festival contestant seminar had explained. “So Roy wanted to take the scenic route to erm…” Even her Team Leader was afraid to continue. “…skip the combined classes.”

May shook the hanging idiot. “We’re among the lowest tier in the academy and you still want to be lazy?!”

“It’s not even that many classes!” Roy managed to talk even while being violently shaken. “At the most, it’s like three days of classes skipped!”

“And who knows how many vacation days that we could use to train!?” May smacked that idiot off Brawnz’s hand and into the ground with a fist. She sighed, stress relieved, then glared at her other two teammates. “I can’t believe the two of you agreed to his dumb suggestion!”

“I never rode on a boat before.” Brawnz explained himself. “I’m really interested in how sea ships function.”

“And we can really appreciate the beauty of nature when we ride the ferry.” Nolan added as he threw an arm over May’s shoulder, with his other hand wide opened, fingers splayed and slowly waved outwards in emphasis, which he then changed into a trigger finger. “And also take pot shots at Ocean Grimms too!”

“Please don’t jinx it.” May knocked Nolan’s hand off her shoulder. “I don’t want to meet a super sea Grimm while on a boat.”

Roy suddenly jumped to his feet. “Come on! It’ll be fun! None of us ride a boat before.”

May frowned. “Don’t talk to me.” He got the idea and slid behind Brawnz once again to hide from her rage. She sighed. “They better be equipped with hot shower.” She glared at her male teammates. “Or I’m going to throw all three of you into the ocean.”

They would later learn just how jinxed they were, when May’s words turned prophetic.

Outside of Gaol, Unknown.

One day earlier.

The world they knew were getting smaller as they travelled.

Mia looked from left to right one last time, scanning the horizon from atop a crane at the very top of a building. It was a picturesque view, one where she could take a photograph and send it back home as a postcard. A beautiful lush green field, not filled with giant craters or building-sized Thorns of Judgements.

But therein laid the problem.

Where are the Thorns? Mia pulled up Brodiaea and looked between the iron sight. It did not increase her view range, but it helped to focus her sight. She still saw only tall grass and a lack of hidden pointy tips. Did the 'Great Collapse' happen only in this city?

As far as Mia could recall, this city were both her birthplace and death site. Her parents, if she had any—neither Nicola nor herself remembered them, even with their Vestiges and memories restored—they had never left the city before. Both the siblings had only known the nameless city in their entire life.

I never really thought about it. The Gaol really is all I ever know and remember…My home…

It was…saddening to realise about it. Her entire life story started and ended completely in the same place, never leaving a mark for others to pursue. Even her Revenant life had always been about the fight to survive until the next fight, scavenging or stealing the next Blood Bead for Nicola and herself, all in an effort to not be reduced into a mindless Lost.

Camilla…Would you be proud of us? We saved them. No one has to suffer the injustice anymore… Mia lowered Brodiaea and looked up into the clear blue sky, where the puffy white stuff in various shapes and forms were floating. What was it that Dominic said? 'Afterlife?' 'Life after death?' Where souls of the deceased go after their body had perished, rather than 'Revenanification…'

…Do we still have a 'Soul?'

"Mia."

The Sharpshooter turned downwards. Shiva was below her.

"Sorry, I was looking at something."

Slinging Brodiaea behind her, Mia grabbed the vertical shaft and slipped down, controlling the speed of her descend with a combination of her grip and leg strength. She slowed as she reached the roof and stepped beside Shiva.

"Alright?" She asked.

Mia nodded. "I'm fine."

Shiva smiled, then turned to lead the way to the exterior metal staircase. Her kitty-ears twitched around as if they were hearing things, her body relaxed as she strolled to the exit. Despite her posture, Mia knew Shiva was ready for combat in a split moment. She learned that she was highly sensitive to danger, regardless if she saw it coming or not. Often, she could turn around a corner with her weapon in the middle of a swing and connected it on an ambushing Lost, or bait one out into the open. Sometimes, Mia wondered if her calling out enemies she sighted in their vicinity was even helpful or useful.

The descent down the staircase ended abruptly, where it was sheared off by a Thorn that speared the building from the side. Using the jagged edges of the Thorn like a ladder, the two of them started climbing down it at an awkward seventy degree angle. Once they were close to the ground, the two of them leaped off the Thorn and approached the rest of their friends nearby.

They were in the middle of an empty space when Mia and Shiva separated from the group for reconnaissance and lookout. Yakumo had pointed out what this place was, based on the markings on the ground. “This used to be a basketball court.” He said. The name and nature of the sport escaped Mia, but it had not been truly important for her.

What was important about this particular place, which warranted the temporary stop, was located in the centre of the court: A matured Bloodspring, lying on its side on the broken floor withered, chopped off from its roots and with its Beads long since harvested. Louis was still examining it, but he was now scrutinising at the cleaved roots that were bloodied with Shiva’s blood.

“Curiosity.” She had exclaimed after she bit her wrist and dripped her blood on it.

And as expected, nothing occurred to the fallen Bloodspring or the damaged roots, since she was no longer the Successor of the Relic of the Blood.

Yakumo was the first to greet the returning scouts. “Yo! I see you’ve taken up cloud gazing.”

“...’Cloud?’” Mia questioned. Shiva tapped a fist to his bicep and kept walking towards Louis.

Yakumo pointed up towards the sky. “Those white cotton candies up there."

"Oh." Mia smiled and looked up again. "It's quite a sight without the Mist blocking the sky." 4

Yakumo grinned and joined the cloud gazing too. "Yeah, they are. It's been a long time since I saw the clear sky like this. I think I can take up cloud gazing once things have settled down."

"You? Cloud gazing? No way!" Rin joined them. Yakumo choked at that accusation. She had left her backpack by the fallen Bloodspring. "If there's anything else you'd take up, it'll be bartending."

Mia giggled. "Rin's right. I never once seen you going to the balcony back home."

"The lounge chairs are just that comfortable!" Yakumo's attempt to defend himself was just funny. Not as adorable as Nicola when her little brother tried to be fierce and angry when she poke fun at him. "Besides, I could build an outdoor bar! Then I can do both at the same time!"

"I don't think you know what an 'Outdoor Bar' entails." Rin sassed cheekily and deflated Yakumo. Mia held her lips with a hand to keep from laughing out loud while looking away.

She crossed eyes with Louis, who was watching them with a smile. And Shiva…

Huh? Wha—

"What's Shiva doing?" Yakumo voiced out Mia's question.

Standing in the midst and near the edge of the sheared roots, her 'Ivory Grace' Blood Veil ichor absorption mask activated over her mouth, Shiva was sending Ivy tendrils into the ground. While one of the blade-scarf remained sunk within the roots, she took a step in the direction of—Mia looked to the side: Shiva was not going anywhere they knew. Forming her other scarf into an arrowhead, she promptly penetrated the roots again. Then the previous Ivy was pulled out of the root, with Shiva taking another step and onto the concrete, and she stabbed into the ground between the cracks.

Yakumo led them to the Bloodspring. "Louis, what's wrong?"

He laid a hand on its mummifying trunk. "A Revenant cut down this Bloodspring."

That had surprised them. "Wait, are you sure it wasn't done by Humans?" Yakumo continued. "Why would any Revenant cut off their source of Blood Beads?"

"I don't know, but it was done in by a single slice." Louis lifted two trunks, one withered by rot and another scorched at its base. "A heavy weapon with a powerful Gift converter built in it." Louis dropped the trunks and tapped his chin. "Based on the state of decomposition, I'd say it's been dead for several months, but less than a year."

"Several months?" Yakumo scratched his head, thinking.

Mia had a flashback. "The Gaol!" She gasped. Everyone turned to her. "Mido caused it to dissipate."

Louis nodded. "And we were shown the existence of the Horrors. Why the Gaol was created in the first place."

"That sounds more like a coincidence than anything else." Rin added.

"You're not wrong to say that." Louis continued. "The Gaol dissipated for just a short moment. But it was long enough for the Cerberus unit to leave the vicinity."

"You mean someone else has escaped the Gaol?"

Louis nodded to Yakumo's doubt. "That's right."

That still did not explain why someone would destroy their own source of food. "Could it possibly be that it was killed by a Horror?" Mia put out another suggestion.

"If there are Horrors that could learn to use weapons and gifts, perhaps." Louis had to think about it. "So far we've only seen two Horrors: The Giant that attacked the Cerberus unit; And the one that sneaked up on us two days ago.

If it was the Giant Horror, it could easily have the strength to rip the Bloodspring from the roots.

As for the Jellyfish Horror…it has the physical strength to break bones. It also demonstrated that it could wrap its tentacles around objects. But unless it can learn to channel Gifts without a BOR parasite, it and others like it should not be able to leave scorched marks like these."

"We know too little things about the Horrors." Rin summarised. "If it really was killed by a Revenant, do you think we can catch up to them?"

"No way. It had been months ago. They would have to be long gone by now, dead or Lost." Yakumo tilted his chin to Shiva. Mia noted that she was pausing for longer durations now. "So what exactly is Shiva doing?

"Do you remember the medicine we used when we were searching for the Source?" Louis asked. Yakumo nodded.

Mia just barely recalled it. She had seen Louis used it twice, the first time was when she was stalking them within the Hollowing Pit, where she had also witnessed for the first time, Shiva had somehow reactivated the dried Bloodspring. The second time had been when she joined them in the search for the Source. She nodded as well.

"We have a theory that there might be other Bloodsprings connected to this one." Louis went into his 'Thinking Pose.' "The three Bloodsprings we found in the Caverns Depth, the Hollowing Pits and the Dried Trenches? All three of them were offshoots that had branched off from the one that was in the Old City Ruins." Louis then looked to Shiva. "She wanted to check, specifically for damages done to other Bloodsprings, but I don't have the medicine to lead us anymore. So she's doing using her Veil to track the roots.” 5

"I'm not against it, but should we be doing this right now?" Yakumo turned to the direction they were travelling towards, before they stopped when they saw the dead Bloodspring. "Silva wants us to look for the living as quickly as possible. Can we afford to make a detour like this?"

Louis shook his head. "I think we can confirm that there are other Bloodsprings outside of the Gaol." Shiva was moving westwards, going further away from the Gaol as she prospected for the roots. "But you're right: We should keep going. Shiva!"

Shiva seemed to not have heard Louis.

"Shiva, we should get—"

Her eyes widened. She pulled her sword up in defense as she turned towards them. "Get going! Mov—"

The ground around Shiva blew up.

————
Shiva made a mistake.

Ever since she found the vestige that led her to relive Operation Queenslayer, Shiva found that she had a quirk.

She enjoyed fighting.

It had been somewhat of an oddity that she could sense danger and seeked them out. That her foes, no matter where they tried to hide or ambush her, or even overpower her like the Greater Losts did, she would always dive headfirst into it and without hesitation.

It had been her love for fighting that had caused her to regenerate at Mistles more than several times, when the Greater Losts she fought without adequate understanding and preparations sent her packing via BOR parasite dissipation protocol. Exploration of the Depths had became an issue when she continued to fail to curb her habit, even when she had to time to improve herself now that the Gaol was safe.

And it was her love for fighting that she made the mistake.

She had been genuine when she suggested to check the Bloodroots and see if they led to anywhere curious. She first tested her Blood Veil on the exposed Bloodroots, forming a single arrowhead and tapping it. The Bloodroots throbbed with life, one that reminded her so fondly of the woman that changed them.

Io. The Bloodroots glowered through her Blood Veil.

…She could stay like this forever.

They need you.

Shiva stumbled, but she caught herself. Louis had not noticed.

So she moved on, tapping the roots with prickles of her Ivy Blood Veil.

Using her Blood Veil on the Bloodroots had the additional effect of replenishing her ichor stock, which drained a little bit of it every time she formed the arrowhead, dug through the soil and poked the bark. It helped to balance out her use of the Blood Veil in such an unorthodox manner when she had to extend them down into the soil, deeper and deeper as she tracked the Bloodroots.

And when she reach the broken grounds of the basketball court, something changed.

It was extremely slight. But she felt a vibration.

Her sense of danger pinged.

It was difficult to track the Bloodroots as they dug upwards from deep beneath the surface. The further away she stepped from the exposed Bloodroots, the longer she had to stay in position to extend and retract her Blood Veil. The Great Collapse had loosened the soil enough that she could continue to penetrate the earth with just an arrowhead tip, but it was the distance from the surface—almost twenty metres deep now—that made the process take a longer time.

What are you? She felt the weird reverberation in the root. Shiva took another step forward and sent her arrowhead down.

"Shiva!"

She tapped the Bloodroot.

The reverberation suddenly increased.

The arrowhead pierced the Bloodroot.

She could not pull it out.

"Shiva, we—"

The Bloodroot shook.

Not—

Her body tensed.

"—should—"

—enough—

The Bloodroot broke. Her Blood Veil began to shoot up.

—time!

She pulled her sword up in a guard position.

And grinned.

"—get—"

Something drilled passed her retracting Blood Veil.

She turned to them. "Get going! Mov—"

A gigantic something burst out of the ground and slammed into her sword. It lifted her off the court, ripping the rest of her Blood Veil out of the ground. It was black, covered with a white carapace red-lined in pattern. And a pair of pupil-less red eyes that stared at its prey.

—————
When Shiva tensed up, so did everyone,

Except Rin.

It was no fault of her own. She had been an Armourer for so many years that she needed more than a few months of time to retrain her reaction speed back to instinctual level.

So when Shiva pulled her sword up and yelled, Rin was the only one still casually holding onto her anvil hammer. When the ground Shiva was standing on exploded, her eyes widened and her brain sent signals to her arms to move. When the sudden roaring of animalistic noise drowned the still-erupting mount of dirt and drew everyone else's attention, Rin was the one to immediately see and recognise what had came up.

It was a snake.

It was a massive, gigantic black snake.

And it was carrying Shiva away.

No! Rin's body moved forward, both hands gripping tight on her newly reinforced anvil-headed hammer she named Vulcanalia. She charged forward.

"Rin?!"

"Wait—"

Mia and Louis yelled.

Rin saw it.

A second mound was forming, right next to the body of the Black Snake Horror. Rin slammed Vulcanalia's handle into the ground, halting just fast enough—

The mound erupted. The head of a White Snake Horror came out of the ground. It rose and slithered after the Black Snake Horror.

Rin jumped for it, a hand reaching to the White Snake Horror and dug into its scale, before she even thought about it.

————
"Rin!" Mia watched as two of her friends were taken away by the two Snake4 Horror. Her eyes widened when the Black Snake's body abruptly turned white. Just like the White Snake's…! The remaining body of the Horrors suddenly popped out of the ground, which caused Mia to realise its nature.

It was a single Horror, a Snake with two heads at each end rather than a tail.

Yakumo pulled Mia back. "They got it!" He yelled. "We got to deal with these too."

Mia finally tore her sight away from the disappearing Greater Horror and back around her. Even more Horrors were surrounding them, larger than Humans and Revenants in size, but not to the scale of the giant Snake. Instead, they were surrounded by Dogs.

Dogs that were black in colour, some wearing white carapace-like armour and are bipedal.

On the balcony of one of the many high-rise buildings, Mia could spot a larger Dog-Horror nearly all covered in white armour. Its body swelled, then it threw its back and howled into the sky. Deep, loud and long.

Awwooooo…

The rest of the Dog-Horrors around them charged on their Leader's signal.

"Mia, try and snipe that thing." Louis stepped in front of her, Enduring Crimson brandished. "Yakumo, cover her."

"Understood." The two of them replied.

Chapter Text

Vein 04 - Horror

Grass field outside the Gaol, Unknown

There was no time to think, only actions to carry out.

Having fought the Butterfly of Delirium—a flying Greater Lost that had a large serpent tail—more than several times, Shiva learned intimately how few methods a creature without limbs could attack, not including the feminine Lost from which the serpent tail was attached to. She just had to apply her knowledge to a similar-looking Horror that was maybe twenty times its size and strength.

There were only so few things Shiva could do when the Snake Horror erupted from within the earth and rammed her, carrying her on its snout into the air. She had no foothold to kick herself away and the wind pressure was pressing her flat against the Horror and slim steel that was her sword. But her body had already reacted with her tools available, long before she reached that point.

The moment she had felt the right side of her still-active Blood Veil torn through the ground, Shiva turned the arrowhead form into a jagged blade and directed it into the Horror. She knew she had precious little time to do it.

The first thrust flicked off its side. The Horror had scales so dull and black that she did not notice that it existed until now.

The second thrust hooked between the scales but deflected off. She had not aimed right and, against the wind pressure, had not enough strength to pierce through.

Instead of retracting it anymore, she poured ichor into the Blood Veil to lengthen it. With the wind pressure now acting with it, the third thrust of the Ivy Veil went between a pair of scales and stabbed into the flesh.

It caught on.

Shiva was suddenly airborne, relieved of the pressure from her front.

The Red Eyes of the Horror shrunk…It was pulling back. Shiva was able to see the Snake's head in full for a moment.

It opened its maw. A pair of trunk-thick fangs was the first thing she focused on, then the row of sharp pearly whites.

Her Veil was still extending.

She locked and pulled the Veil with all her might, to get out of the range of the impending doom.

The Horror returned to chase the airborne woman, closing in faster than she could pull herself out of the way. Neither Shift nor Vanish with Hollowing would make the distance. She could not use either because of her Veil. She needed another option.

She clenched her left hand. Blood bubbled on her palm, then a familiar knife-shape formed from the ichor. She let loose the Fire Lily and immediately clenched her fist again.

The wind pressure on her back disappeared, along with the light of the sun. The Horror overtook her. She was now within the Snake's maw.

The Fire Lily detonated.

The blast wave and heat washed over her, forcing her to the right faster. The flash of light blinded her, causing her to close her eyes. Then she heard an animalistic roar of pain and felt her Blood Veil's blade snap.

The wind returned. She opened her eyes. The Snake Horror was knocked off its course, swerving to its right and away from her.

Pain from her burned left hand finally caught up. She clenched her teeth and growled in pain. She began to pull her arm, body and Blood Veil in. Her form rotated.

A pair of blood red eyes appeared in her peripheral vision. She turned her head.

A White head of a Snake dominated her sight, its maw opened wide.

—————
Rin was terrified.

She had no idea what she was doing.

She was dangling off the side of the White Snake Horror's head, left hand dug between near-invisible scales the size of her head, right hand holding tightly onto Vulcanalia as she sailed through the air, parallel to the ground. Unnatural cold ran throughout her body as she desperately held onto the Horror, hoping that her four fingers—her thumb was pushing on the surface—would not slip off its layering scales.

She had to get up. She had to get a footing before she gets thrown off.

Despite her fears, her Blood Veil answered her as if it had a mind of its own, slipping off her hands and forming a pair of Hound heads over her shoulders. Their jaws opened wide. The Right of the Hound Blood Veil flew forward and up, sinking its razor-sharp fangs into the Horror.

It deflected and slipped away. The scale was too smooth for it to simply held on.

The Left Hound shot up next, using its lower jaw to hook and pull up a scale, then chomped on it. It almost slipped off when the fangs failed to hold, but the front teeth bent the surface of the scale inwards and caught on.

Rin pulled herself up with the aid of her Veil, using the pulled-up scale as a handhold. She kept her head down, eyes just forward of her feet, her free hand and the twin hound Veil gripping on whichever scales that could be held on. In addition to the unstable ride, she had to battle against the wind stream. She struggled to push forward, one step at a time, one hound grip to another, trying to reach the skull of the Horror.

She still had no idea what she was doing, or even why she did. Normally, it was someone else—Louis, Yakumo or even Shiva—that did crazy stuff like this.

Not her.

Not someone who could not even deal with a few Lost, without trying to run away first.

“I can’t cower anymore!” The words suddenly rang in her mind, flashing back to when she was talking to Shiva and Io after they shared her old team member’s vestige with her. Then to a room, filled with shadows and a single opened—destroyed window. “I can still fight. I’m going to fight!” She looked forward.

Light flashed in the front. From within the maw of the Black Snake Head that attacked Shiva.

The same maw that her friend had just shot out from, with the left side of her body smoking. The Black Snake Head twisted away from Shiva and herself, away from the White Head.

Shiva's eyes widened. She was facing Rin.

The White Horror's head tilted up. Rin felt the wind pressure dropped, along with her body temperature.

Her ride was going to eat Shiva!

‘No!’ Her mind screamed. Her Blood Veil Hounds let go and Rin leapt forward, both her hands now gripping on Vulcanalia at the end.

The next step placed her on the base of the Horror's skull. Much of it was covered in a red carapace of some sort.

She swung Vulcanalia without hesitation!

The pointed end of her hammer struck the red carapace. It failed to hold against the Armourer's Revenant strength, splitting from the point of impact and shattered! A fountain of black ichor burst forth, coating the anvil hammer in the lift essence of its first victim.

Her ride buckled and dropped. Rin found herself airborne as the White Snake took a violent dive into the ground.

Shiva saw her. She was about to fly into her. Over her. She twisted her body, holding her left hand out to Rin.

Shiva almost flew past her. Rin threw her own hand up in desperation.

They connected. Their palms and fingers immediately gripped onto each other's forearm.

Rin's arm felt like it had torn off its socket from the whiplash. Shiva pull the Armourer towards herself and held her tightly as they tumbled through the air. "Hang on!" Rin almost missed Shiva's yell over the noise of the wind.

They hit the dirt. Something cracked. Rin let go of Vulcanalia involuntary as they tumbled. Warm liquid splashed on her back. Shiva let her go and she rolled to her back.

Dizzy. World spinning in front of her eyes. Where was she again? She gulped, trying to get her breath back. What was she doing? Far away from them, the White Snake Horror roared. Rin barely heard the sound of concrete collapsing. When the world finally made sense once again, Rin started to push herself up. "Uuugh…" Something in her shifted, forcing a yell out. She raised to her knees and glanced around for Shiva.

The feline-like woman was on her knees as well, her sword laid bloodied and cast aside. Held in her dominant hand was a singed blue-gloved arm, cut off just above the elbow. And from her left bicep, which Rin just realised with horror—that her own sword had cleaved her arm off—blood flowed freely and soaked up hungrily by the grass field.

"Rin," said Armourer returned her gaze to Shiva, who was looking over her shoulder to herself, "can you still regenerate?"

"I—I can! You arm! We need to—aaah!" RIn screamed when pain erupted from within her body, forcing her to stop attempting to stand and instead collapse to the ground.

"Rin,” the Armourer tilted her head up, “regenerate." Shiva simply commanded. Her friend then placed her detached limb to her bicep, wound to wound. Her eyes closed. "I'm fine." Then opened wide. She pushed them together.

Rin watched as Shiva's blood poured from her bicep and bubbled, drenching her limb and her right hand in red. She grunted, teeth clattered, as if she were holding back from making any noise. Rin saw, in between the burst of bubbles, the stream of blood coagulated in the space between the disjointed limb. Fresh red blood darkened into dull black. Her severed hand's fingers twitched, then clenched into a fist.

Shiva panted as sweat trickled down her face past her headband. She breathed hard, then evened out. "Rin?" She looked back to her again.

She never screamed, Rin recalled. Not when that Horror in the apartment snapped her left arm. Not when more than two-thirds of the same hand was cut off. ‘Did she ever do that?’ Rin wondered.

Shiva was one of the strongest people she ever met.

"It's surrounding us." Shiva's comment brought Rin back to the current situation. Rin looked around briefly and saw that the Horror had slithered a big round around them, cutting them off from any possible escape route with its long body. Shiva was looking forward as her hand fiddled with a pouch in the back of her waist. The swordswoman then took out her purifier mask—a model that had her blood filled inside pillbox-like caps and symmetrically built into the rebreather by its side. Rin had not seen it since the Io's transformation. "It's going to attack soon."

Rin turned her sight to the front. The twin-headed Snake Horror were watching them, two pairs of eyes seemingly scrutinising them, the Black from a raised position while the White from the ground. ‘It’s not dead yet?’ Rin glared at the White Head, then viewed the two-in-one Horror as a whole. ‘Is it weary of us?’ Rin assumed. The Black licked the air, forked tongue whipping through the air.

The tongue snapped Rin out of her funk. ‘It's not the time to think about it…’ she finally pushed her own metabolism, activating her Regeneration to heal her internal wound. Her entire body heated up and her heart raced. She felt her bones moving, pushed back into position by her BOR parasite. She felt and heard cracking, echoes dulled by her innards.

She heard a click. When she looked up, Shiva had put her mask on and locked it in place to her mask frame. When Shiva removed her hand from the mask, her demeanor changed. Gone was her friend that looked out for her when she broke down or just bringing back tools and resources for equipment maintenance, replaced by the Veteran Warrior and Protector of the Gaol.

The Warrior took Queenslayer and stood facing the gigantic Horror, her long Veil and twin-tailed hair bellowing with the wind. Confidence and conviction radiated from her. The scar on her left side of her stomach seemingly throbbed, glowing red with fresh blood. Her healed hand raised up, fist clenched. Ichor bubbled from her encased fist.1

“It’s coming.”

As if it heard Shiva’s words, the two heads charged in together as one. Rin’s heart raced.

Shiva turned back to her, her ichor-charged hand held out to her. Her eyes softened. “Trust me.”

Rin did. She clasped onto her forearm. And she did her.

Something clicked. And Rin felt it.

Red hot ichor ran down her hand, energising her with an unknown,but familiar confidence. Her heart continued to beat faster and harder as the ichor ran into it, then spread throughout her body. Gone was the frigid cold that gripped onto her the moment she had grabbed onto the Snake. Now a force she had never felt before coursed through her, empowering her with great strength. She felt as if she could do anything. That she can do everything!

When she recovered from the euphoria, her shocked eyes looked into Shiva’s understanding green cat-eyes. The cat-eyes narrowed with a frown, then Shiva nodded. “Let’s kill our first Greater Horror.”

Rin hardened herself. She grinned under her mask. “Let’s.” She agreed, reached for Vulcanalia, then rose.

And gripped harder onto Shiva's arm, which gripped back.

‘Was this how it feels? To completely trust in someone else?’ Rin knew what Shiva planned to do. She knew that only she could help her achieve it.

With a rising growl, Rin dug a feet into the soil and spurred into a spin, pulling Shiva along who let her. Who wanted her to do it. She spun once, then twice, the Warrior floating almost parallel off the ground. Aiming at a specific part of the Black Body of the Horror, Rin threw Shiva at the target.

The Black Head veered off instantly, heading straight for the airborne Warrior.

The White Head charged straight to Rin unerringly. If it could look any angrier; If it could think and bear grudges, the monster was certainly coming in for a revenge.

“Come on!” Rin growled, teeth clenched, grasping onto Vulcanalia behind her with both hands, one leg forward and one leg behind. The most stable stance to swing, forgoing every bit of defense and fear. Her heart was beating at its highest degree, feeling every bit as excited as eyeing a new weapon or Blood Veil the team would bring back. They were going to bag their first ever Greater Horror! They were going to survive this and go back to everyone else! Rin was going to change everything about herself and grow!

The White Snake challenged her conviction. It opened its jaws.

“Come on!” She screamed.

She swung!

And the world exploded.

——————
Shiva cut through the air at near-terminal velocity, flying straight parallel to the ground beside her.

It felt as if she leapt down a building and free falling through the air.

She glanced ‘down.’ ‘Below’ her, the Black Head had been attracted to her. For revenge or for an easy snack, it did not matter to Shiva. She wanted it to chase her. And it did.

She looked ‘up.’

With her body still straightened, she was tearing through the air and heading straight for the Black Body that had surrounded both herself and Rin. The Armourer’s increased strength and perception from the Communal Gift had far surpassed her expectations, throwing her like a harpoon with the accuracy of a Sniper.

Shiva might try and get Rin to break the sound barrier one of these days.

Shiva bent forward and pulled up her legs. The slight change to her stance was enough to alter her flight plan, spinning her around so that her feet faced the Body. She pushed most of her ichor down to her legs, hoping to cushion her landing just enough to not completely destroy her lower body. Her thighs and calves swelled with ichor, ballooned up to a point where her knees could only bend up to an eighty degree angle.

What she had planned hinged on her not breaking her legs when she ‘landed.’

That was also assuming that she did not tear through the Horror as well.

Well, as long as it died, Shiva would take any outcome.

A sonic boom tore through the air and refocused her, followed by the ground next to her cracking up like an intricate web of a spider. Debris bounced up and pelted her. Wind force that flew faster than herself bombarded her, but it only increased her speed.

Then she hit the Body.

The scales shattered. The Body buckled, bending into a V-shape. Her hands shot out and slammed onto the Body to stablise her stance and stop herself from getting crushed between the bending body. The Body skidded back several metres, nearly twice the diameter of the itself.

‘Above’ her, the Head jerked back with a whiplash, anchored from the point of her landing. The anguished roar from it overtook the dissipating boom of Rin's overpowered attack, hopefully from both the Body damage and the possible death of the White Head that went after Rin.

She had no doubt that Rin succeeded. She had confidence in her.

And it was the moment to kill the Greater Horror.

Angling herself with a raised knee, she expelled the rest of the strength she had within herself after the Communal Gift, combined with the ichor charged in her legs. The kickback inflicted to the Body from her take-off knocked the Horror just a slight further back and dragging the Head towards her, but far from being enough for Shiva to reach the agony-blinded Snake.

It seemed like she would have to dash to the eyes as quickly as possible, before the Horror could recover.

————
The White Head laid dead, hopefully: Nobody knew it a Horror like this could get back to life from having its head caved in with its eyes popped out. Black ichor gushed or leaked from every visible orifice or from the hole she made, tide stemmed by Vulcanalia still buried in it.

Rin panted, trying to catch her breath, when the roar of the Black Head reached her. A quick turn of her head let her know what was occuring, when she saw Shiva rocketing into the air.

‘She won't reach the head!’

Her eyes dropped to the Body. The Black and the White were still connected.

An idea came to her. Her body was already tensing as her mind rearranged the idea into a coherent thought.

She had to time it right as well!

When she saw Shiva began to descend from the apex of her jump, she pulled Vulcanalia as hard as she could, dragging the White Corpse with it.

——————
Shiva watched the result with fascination.

As Rin pulled the White-side Horror, the entire Snake was dragged along the path it occupied. Rin's Gift gave Shiva sharper reflexes and dexterity while taking away her strength and perception, but to pull at a Horror thrice as large as than even the Queen-like Monstrosity was beyond insane.

But Rin did.

Shiva grinned under her mask. She was not going to argue with the result. She just switched her grip on her Queenslayer Sword to point it downwards, support the incoming impact reverberation through the sword with her other hand held on the end of the handle, and got ready to finally kill the Horror.

Rin's enhanced perception was just as unbelievable as her strength when Shiva landed exactly on the eyeball of the Black Horror and stabbing the sword through the eye. The eye burst, splattering her with a fountain gush of the black ichor.

The Horror roared, rearing its head and thrashed about, almost throwing its unwanted guest off itself. But Shiva would not let go and, from her seated position, drop kicked a leg into the busted eye and gripped herself onto the skull of the Horror.

Pulling out and stabbing with her sword, Shiva repeated the action as she attempted to pierce its brain. A monster this massive must have a brain the size of herself, yet her attempts proved the opposite when the thrashing got even harder and it nearly crushed her into the ground, which she dodged by diving half her body into the eye socket.

It was getting desperate now, ramming its snout into the soil repeatedly and digging up dirt. Shiva was not going to let it escape back underground to recover or plan for an ambush out of sight. So she raised the Ivory Grace, willed her Blood Veil and formed a dozen spears and blades, then sent them through the eye socket and into the creature.

She drained.

——————

Ruined City outside of the Gaol, Unknown

Four minutes earlier

Seventeen. Yakumo counted seventeen of them fanned out in front of him. With Louis on his side and the chain link fence blocking way on the other, Yakumo could take them coming from one direction.

The first of the black furred Dog Horrors pounced towards Yakumo the moment it got in range but, rather than paws out in an attempt to jump its prey to pin and chew its victim, the Horror raise its claw high above its head, ready to tear him into ribbons.

Just as well that these things fought like humanoid opponents rather than beasts. Those BOR parasite-infected animals had been some of the most irritating Losts he had ever fought.

Oni-Bane raised like a guard, Yakumo blocked and deflected the first Horror's attack. The claw raked uselessly on his signature weapon, after which he brought it just a slight higher and slashed down. The upper torso parted without much resistance and the Horror collapsed in a heap, immediately began to disintegrate.

'What the…These Horrors die easily.'

But for their lack of strength and durability, they made it up in numbers. The Horrors swarmed Yakumo, who put up his guard quickly and kept the second and third Puppies from ripping him. He had to sidestep away the fourth, while instinct from years of fighting the Lost by his lonesome self—before meeting Louis—told him that the fifth was already coming in from his blindside.

He could not back away for room, however. It meant letting Mia be exposed to harm while she tried to shoot the Horror Pack Leader.

He lashed out with a kick to his blindside and was rewarded with a yelp. He risked getting clawed by the fourth, earning a torn shirt in the process, and threw Horror numbers two and three into it. With a minor space made, he pooled ichor into Oni-Bane and spun twice, tearing through the Dogs and forcing the rest to a halt with an explosion of blood. He leapt back into a guarding position, facing the Horrors that were scrutinising them with his weapon up, then looked quickly to his side.

Beside him, Louis was weaving between the claws and jaws of the Dogs like a professional dancer, sending single slashes with Enduring Crimson that took out a limb or a head whenever opportunity arisen. If a Dog tried to dash pass him, he would send a Gift of several fire orbs to it, blasting it back while setting it on fire to burn to ashes.

Mia had fired two shots of ichor rounds at the Pack Leader to no avail. It had not risen to its Leader rank by being a dumb Dog, like the ones charing en masse to them. When Mia fired, the Leader rose its plated arms to deflect the shot. When Mia poured more ichor into her next shot, it took cover behind the wall of the balcony.

At this rate, they would have to start going after the Leader themselves.

The pack began to move once more, rushing head on in a frenzy to attack their prey. Yakumo took a step forward to meet the first Dog of the second batch with a telegraphed overhead swing, one which the beast had not attempted to dodge. After cutting it in half, Oni-Bane was twist up and right, slashing diagonally onto the next Dog. He dodged backwards, escaping from getting pounced on by the third Dog, then slashed through its mask and divided its skull horizontally.

Continuing with the momentum, he spun and swung into an uppercut, catching the next one that had the intelligence to block with its forearm platings. The Dog was thrown into the air by force. Yakumo's Blood Veil formed into twin Hound heads over his shoulder, covering his mouth with an absorption mask, and struck forward, jaws opened wide to chomp down on the helpless Dog. As the twin Hounds tore it in half, black ichor poured down their throat and into Yakumo's reserves.

His innards twisted from the foreign substance. He convulsed, dropping to the ground as fire burned inside him. The stuff that went down his throat was coming back out with a vengeance! His hand reached up to pull at his Veil absorber because his Hounds were not dispersing fast enough. He expelled everything from within his stomach, blood, bile, bits of the onigiri he ate earlier and every drop of the black ichor he drained.

The black ichor started vaporising the moment it left his mouth.

He vaguely heard someone yelling his name. He felt more than he heard the bullets flying over his head, then a strong grip—Miguel? Riki?—dragging his powerless body across the broken pavement under the covering fire of Emily?

"—kumo, hang on…"

"I'll cover… … he's fren—"

"—grab the bead—"

The words sounded slur, as if he was hearing them while underwater. He thought he saw a blob-face man with unkempt black hair—Riki?—pulled up an unwieldy large sword and went out of vision. A bayonet entered his sight, red smoke popping from its business end, held by Emily? In a long sleeved black coat over a blue dress. ‘When did she have long blond hair? What happened to her super lucky beret? What is with that ugly mask?’ A metallic whirl could be heard. Something slime, long and reflecting light. Emily? Looked down to check on him, her features blurry and unfocused.

"Yakumo, snap out of it!" She placed something onto his lips. Warm liquid poured down his throat.

He blinked. Twice. The face came into focus. It was not Emily

"Yakumo!" A young girl yelled to his face. She clutched a teardrop-shaped white marble in her hand. "Come on, wake up!"

"M—Mia!" He was able to match the face to name. ‘Louis! Rin! Coco! Davis! Io! Shiva!’ "Ugh!" Yakumo leaned forward, trying to get himself to his legs. But he fell forward onto his knees. He had never felt this weak before.

Multiple growls pulled his attention. Several unfriendly growls that seemed to promise pain. He cursed his weakness. Mia's Scorpion Blood Vein unwinded and was about to shot forward.

‘The Horrors!’ He shot his hand up, just in time to grab a hold on Mia's Blood Veil, preventing it from stabbing into the incoming Horror.

"Yakumo?" Mia yelled in disbelief.

Yakumo roared and brought his Hounds. Instead of biting the Horrors, he sent the Hounds to headbutt and batter away the Horrors. "Louis!" He yelled as loud as he could.

The Swordsman, still standing next to Rin's backpack and deflecting attacks. His Ogre Blood Veil was out, holding a Horror by the throat with his claw as a shield. He did not visibly react to Yakumo, in the account of having to deal with so many of the Horrors.

"Don't drain their blood! There's something wrong with it!"

"What?!"

"Got it!"

While Louis finally crushed the Horror's throat, Yakumo let go of Mia's Veil. Where was Oni-Bane? He continued to batter away the Horrors with a combination of the Hounds and his fists, relying on his street fighting skills to push them back.

Even Mia had changed to using Brodiaea's bayonet in conjunction with Scorpion swipes. "What about the Pack Leader?"

Without ichor to drain, we lost our range option!

Louis somehow made it back to them, backpack in one black-blood hand. "They're backing off."

Which explained how Louis could get back to them all of a sudden. Yakumo still had both his fists and Hounds raised, while Mia was standing at the other side of Louis. But the Horrors had stopped charging at them.

‘Were they testing us?’ Yakumo realised. The Horrors were either pacing side to side or standing on their hind legs and watching them. He looked up to the balcony and saw the Pack Leader was on its four limbs, growling at them.

"Yakumo…" He turned to Mia, who was retracting her Veil. Coiled around the base of the stinger was Oni-Bane.

He grabbed his sword. "Thanks."

The growling Leader suddenly leapt, causing a ready reaction by the Revenants. But it pounced on its own pack, crushing an unfortunate Horror under its weight. It bodily turned to its left and huffed, then did the same to its right.

It sounded like a morale speech, because they were ready for round two.

The Pack Leader got on its four.

The Revenants readied their weapons.

Echoes of an explosion hit them, followed the vibration of an earth shock.

Yakumo caught himself before he turned away from the Horrors. "What was that?!"

"Shiva and Rin?" Louis guessed.

"Look!" Mia was on the ground, kneeling on one knee, Brodiaea pointed forward despite the fact that she could not fire it.

The Dog Horrors that surrounded them were stepping back, including the Pack Leader. They seemed to be frightened by whatever—Shiva and Rin?—that had caused the quake. The lesser Horrors turned tail and ran, leaving the Pack Leader to growl and glare at the three of them.

A moment later it, too, retreated.

For a while, the three of them continued to remain alert, just in case it was a trap to get them to lower their guard. But after a minute of silence, Louis was the first to lower Enduring Crimson. "... they're gone."

His words were like a switch. Mia retracted her Veil and let herself drop to a seat, while Yakumo rested Oni-Bane on his shoulder, Hounds withdrawn. "Good thing these things called it a day." He was having a bit of trouble breathing, still feeling the effects of the near-frenzy. "I don't know how much longer I could hold out."

"I'm sorry." What was Mia apologising for? "If I had killed that Pack Leader, we wouldn't have been…Yakumo wouldn't have nearly frenzied."

"Hey! None of that." Mia turned to him. "Nobody knew that there was something off with their blood. I was the one who decided to do that."

"We just weren't prepared." Louis picked up. "But thanks to Yakumo, we now know the one thing we can’t do. We’ll be better prepared for this. We have to ration how we use our Ichor reserves and Gifts, as well as the tactics to take on them. We have to learn quickly how these Horrors function and counter them."

“This is becoming tougher by the day.” Yakumo scratched the back of his neck. “We should rendezvous with Shiva and Rin before—”

“Oh no!” Mia suddenly gasped. She shot up and took a few steps in the direction where the Greater Horror had took their two other friends. “They don’t know about the ichor issue! If either of them had to drain the Snake in order to battle it…” Yakumo sucked in an air of shock as well.

“We better hurry.” Louis took Rin’s backpack. “Without Blood Beads, they are going to end up in a frenzy state if they had to do it.”

“I’ll take the bag. I don’t think I’m in shape to fight.” Yakumo admitted. It was easy to do so with Louis, so much more than Riki. Louis offered him the backpack without argument and he took it..

As quickly as they could, with Louis leading ahead, the party of three ran through the path of destruction that the Greater Horror had created from its movement, going in a straight line and hoping that they would reach their friends in time. Yakumo started to realise something was off. “The Thorns are getting smaller and sparser.”

“I noticed that earlier when I was on top of the crane.” Mia replied. “There’s no scars from the Great Collapse and the Thorns are missing as well. We’ll be exiting the Ruined City and entering the grass field soon if they kept going.”

“No scars and no Thorns?” Louis looked back to Mia, who nodded in the affirmative.

After a few minutes of running, having not encountered another Horror along the way, they could see the beginning of greenery instead of the ruined man-made city, just like Mia had said. She pointed towards the horizon. “I’m seeing evaporation smoke.” Mia called out. Yakumo squinted, but he failed to see it.

“We must be close.” Louis said.

Soon, they reached a rough patch of path where the destruction split with a dent in the soil, which visibly led to the disintegrating body of the Greater Horror. It laid across their path, seemingly cutting the trio off from their friends and painted a bad picture, where it had surrounded Shiva and Rin using its own body and preventing any possible chance to escape. The body seemed to have started evaporating from the middle, for the White Body had nearly vanished while the Black body was less than half vaporised. There was a path between the disintegrating bodies of the Greater Horror led right to the half-disappeared skull of the Black Snake.

And in front of the Black Snake Head, Rin held Shiva’s head and body in her arms, cradling the woman whose eyes were shut. And Rin was smiling.

Yakumo’s eyes widened in shock. ‘Rin never took her mask off unless she was in the hot springs!’ “Rin!”

The Armourer looked up at his call. “Oh, hey guys…” She said weakly. She looked anemic, colours drained and wobbly. “You’re here.” She fell backwards.

“Rin!” All three of them yelled.

Shiva suddenly blinked, one hand shot out to grab the bloodied hand in front of her face, the other to reach behind Rin and caught her before she hit the ground. She immediately shifted so that she could lay Rin over her legs, holding her body up and resting her head to her arm. Her lips moved, softly calling Rin as she gazed at the girl in her arm.

Mia slid down beside them. "Rin! What happened to her?"

‘Did Rin offered her her own blood?’ He saw Rin’s bleeding arm…Not only that, but Yakumo made out lines of black streaks on Shiva, from her kitty-ears to her facials.

“Yakumo,” Shiva turned to him, “Blood Bead.”

“Right!” He pulled off the backpack and laid it in between the party. Louis took a Bead and passed it to Shiva, who held Rin’s head up so she could drink.

But Rin stopped her, weakly pushing her bloodied arm. "Save 'e Beads. 'be alright." Her slurred words were interspersed with pants for air. "'just need to rest. Don't need to waste…"

Shiva pulled her hand up. Rin's hand simply slipped off from her. "Drink." She pressed again.

"'am not burden." Rin shook her head slightly. "Can't waste 'ore. Just need to rest. 'be fine."

Mia took Rin’s hand, holding her in reassurance. “Rin, you’re not—”

“You are being a burden currently.” Shiva’s forceful words surprised Yakumo and the two others. He only ever seen her angry twice. “Right now, you are putting your own pride over sensibility. You’re unable to move or act and forcing us to stay in an indefensible position to recover. If another Greater Horror comes up, the chances of our failure becomes imminent.”

“Not fair,” Rin whimpered, “‘save you and you’re scoldin’.”

Shiva’s glare softened. “Thank you.” That was a rare smile. “We’ll all be weak at some point in time. Needing help doesn’t mean being a burden. You’re not a burden. Believe us.” Rin glanced at the team, from one to another. Yakumo gave her a grin and a nod. Shiva pressed the Bead to her once more. “Now drink.”

And the Armourer finally did, taking the Blood Bead from Shiva. “‘Kay.”

When Rin started drawing the liquid from the Bead, Yakumo squatted down beside Mia. “Man…Shiva, please don’t use full sentences on me. You’re scary when you do.” Mia and Shiva snorted before Rin choked on the Bead and coughed.

“—went down the wrong pipe.” Rin coughed again while Shiva rubbed her back. Mia just slapped him on the arm.

That did lighten the mood by a bit.

Louis stepped beside Shiva. “Shiva, did you try to drain the Greater Horror?” She nodded. “Then, I’m guessing Rin had you drain her blood to bring you back?” Another nod, then she turned to Yakumo.

“You?”

“I did.” Yakumo admitted. He raised his finger and wiped his cheek under the eye. It came away from the same black mark. “Whatever the Horrors are made of, their blood burned.”

Shiva nodded. She looked up to the Snake Horror, which had almost completely evaporated. “Disintegrated inside.”

“That sounds about right.” Yakumo recalled the sensation. He did not feel as if he had expelled the black blood, but rather smog. Even his ichor reserve was…corrupted by it.

“We need to change our method of combat with these Horrors.” Louis repeated for Shiva and Rin’s benefit. “If we can’t drain their blood for ichor, we’ll need to ration our remaining Blood Beads.”

“Okay.” Shiva agreed, then took the emptied Bead from Rin. “Regenerate.”

“I’ll try.” Rin closed her eyes and put a hand to her chest. Her breathing picked up and red smoke emitted from her arm as she did. Evaporating blood, Yakumo noted. Her breathing slowed and smoothed out when the bite mark from Shiva sealed.

“One more thing.” Mia showed her hands and displayed two familiar purifier masks. “Here, let me attach it.” And she did, locking Rin’s mask to her frame. However, she was unresponsive.

Yakumo lightly tapped a finger to her healed hand. “…She fell asleep.”

Mia knocked his hand away. “Stop that, Yakumo. Let her rest. Here, Shiva, your mask.” Shiva took the offered gear and kept it away.

“We should keep moving.” Louis said. He looked up to the darkening sky. “Shiva’s right. The night is falling and we can’t stay here because of the Horrors.”

“Alright, we have had a good enough break.” Yakumo raised to his feet. He was about to pick up Rin, but Shiva turned around and pulled her arms over her shoulder, letting her rest on her back. Shiva nodded to him.

The jostle woke up the sleeping girl. Rin took a deep breath as her eyes opened slightly. “Let me down, I can walk.” She mumbled.

Shiva simply stood up, carry Rin on her back. “Sleep.” Rin seemed to doze off immediately at that. “Plan?”

Louis gave everyone a quick glance and nodded. “Alright. Just a little bit further and we’ll reach the coast. Once we’re there, we’ll follow the sands and head further westward, away from the forest. Hopefully we can find a port2.” Everyone nodded.

With everything squared away and the Greater Horror finally disappeared from existence, the party of five was ready to head out once more. As Yakumo shifted Rin’s backpack into a comfortable carry, he noticed that Shiva turned around and looked back at the Ruined City once more, frowning. “What’s wrong, Shiva?”

She was contemplating about something. “The Horror…”

“The Horrors won’t be able to enter the Gaol.” Yakumo reminded Shiva.

After a moment, she shook her head. “…It’s nothing.” She turned back to them. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

Vein 05 - Apprehension

VSV Alluvium, between Sanus and Metus. En route by sea to Vale, Sanus.

(Un)luckily for May, the ferry Team BRNZ took had hot shower. Because of that, she did not get to throw her three teammates—especially Roy—into the sea.

It might not have been as fast as Bullhead (what else other than another airplane could?), but the Alluvium was making good time sailing from Gneiss to Vale Port. The sea was calm and they sailed without incident from any sea-faring Grimms dogging them, so by estimates of Captain Garlet, they should reach Vale by the third evening. If the Team could get off immediately, they would reach Beacon some time during the vacation week, perhaps getting to enjoy the four days that included the weekend. But until then, as the easy-going Captain had suggested for the Huntress-in-training to do, May was going to try and take it easy and enjoy the journey.

According to the various plaques on the dining deck, the Alluvium had been in service for seventeen years and had their entire crew changed once. The previous Captain was caught smuggling drugs and incarcerated, causing the rest of the crew to be fired for accepting bribes and attempting to hide their involvement. After five months of it floating uselessly in Gneiss, Garlet was promoted to Captain and got the ship with little fanfare. The company crewed the sailors shortly after, then the Alluvium sailed once again after the seventh month of inactivity.

Chatting with the crews during their downtime (because she did not want to talk to her Team yet), May learned that the new crew had not changed since and, in the past eight years, had built a bond between most of them. They regularly sailed between Vacuo, Vale and Atlas—not approaching Mistral due to the ocean they would have to travel, which this ferryship was not built or equipped for—transporting trade goods such as mined rock minerals and sand from their home port and processed goods from Vale or Atlas. However, the Alluvium avoided Dust-based products as the ship was, once again, not equipped to handle security for it.

Much like all of the current generation of trade seaships, the Alluvium came equipped with four mounted turrets. The belt-fed machine-cannon turrets were built on raised housing-platform at the port and starboard, two in the front and two behind. Within the housing platform were the mechanisms for spooling the ammunition belt, which had to be handled manually. So each turret was a two-man job, not including the runner required to bring stored ammunition kept elsewhere for safety. The turrets were set to rotate up to a maximum of one hundred and twenty degrees, allowing two turrets to overlap each other's firing zone as needed. The turrets were rated to deal with most sea-based Grimms and a few air-borne ones such as Lancers and Manticores, provided their munitions were swapped to flak-types to compensate. Otherwise, it was up to the sailors to defend the ferry from boarders using various Altas-rated weaponries.

May was currently standing at one of the platforms on the front-starboard side, looking out at the sea towards Sanus. She was permitted permission to approach the gun after the Team had identified themselves as Huntsmen-in-training, but she was not planning to touch it at all. It was not as if she could use it anyway, since the manual usage of the weapon required a keycard to unlock the safety. She was just enjoying the breeze and view, occasionally imagining herself throwing her team into the sea from said platform. She left Nornhowl in their room, locked away in the weapon cabinet along with the rest of the Team's weapons.

Between the muffled engines below her and the yelling behind her, it was the quietest outdoor area she could find. May sighed.

She was bored.

She started slapping on the railing in frustration. She could've been sightseeing and shopping at this moment! But nnnooo! Oh, let's take a boat ride because classes suck. "Grr!" She slammed both hands on the steel at the final growl.

Frustration temporarily released with a huff, May leaned forward, a hand crossed over her chest on the railing and the other's palm supporting her head on the elbow. She stared forward, watching the migrating birds flocking in the same direction as the ferry, quickly overtaking it with their graceful flapping.

She barely acknowledged the sound of the engines quietened down. She barely cared until she heard someone shouted her name. "May!" She blinked. "May!" She turned.

Nolan was at the base of the stairs climbing up by the moment May had turned her head. He was cradling Nornhowl, an act that could have gotten her weapon confiscated if any security had seen it, which soured her mood again. "Nolan, why are you running with my weapon?!"

"The Captain gave us consent." Surprisingly, it was no-nonsense Nolan. At the last two steps of the stairs, he held it up to her.

May stood straighter in response and took Nornhowl from him. "What's going on?" Even the magazine had been loaded and chambered. The safety was still on.

Nolan waved to follow him and headed down. He led the way to the port side. "The Chief spotted smoke from Grimm Continent and confirmed five individuals on the shores."

"That Grimm Continent?" May recalled the history lesson during her Oscuro Academy days. There used to be a thriving Kingdom on Metus—most referred to it as Grimm nowadays—Continent that would had been on par with Vale and Mantle of old. It was swarmed by Ancient Grimms, which historians had attributed to have been awakened by the Great War. "Who would step foot onto that continent?"

"No idea. Roy is betting on them being some Atlas Specs, though." They reached a part of the port where the sailors were rushing about.

"What about us?"

Rather squeezing up the already cramped tiny stairs, they hopped up from the railing to the next level, then up again. "Captain wants us to just keep an eye out for sea Grimms. They're going to try and pick them up."

"May! Nolan!" Brawnz and Roy came running to them.

“What’s the order, Boss?” Nolan asked.

“One of the Officers and a Seaman are going to take a dinghy and retrieve the stranded Huntsmen on the Metus shores. They requested two of us to go with them, just in case.” Brawnz then pointed to Nolan. “Nol, both of us will go: In the event that they’re not actually Huntsmen but armed bandits, between myl takedowns and your electric baton, we can arrest them using non-lethal methods. Otherwise, we’re acting as security and with every right to be there. So put your best game face on” Brawnz explained. It was a respectable leadership trait that Brawnz came equipped with on day one, to elaborate his thoughts and orders. “May, do your usual stuff. Roy will remain on standby. And both of you will also be responsible for protecting the Alluvion if things hit the fan.”

“Alright partner. Happy to sit out the tinier deathtrap.” Roy gave a mock salute.

That meant she would be covering Brawnz and Nolan. She quickly looked to the side, just seeing Metus Continent, and estimated the distance. It was just within the range of Nornhowl and would require roughly one point five seconds of travel time for her bullets to reach the land. A little bit beyond her comfortable range, but she could work with it. Turning back to Brawnz, she nodded. “I got you covered.”

————-

Unnamed shore away from the Ruined City, Unknown.

38 hours after the Greater Horror’s death

After looking at a sea of grass fields to their right and a wall of tree trunks to their left, they had finally arrived at the end of the metaphorical road.

Water.

Water as far as the eyes can see.

"Feels a bit lonely when you look at it this way, doesn't it?" Yakumo commented.

Waves of water crashed upon the sandy shores, producing rhythmic noise that was surprisingly pleasant to listen to. Dead branches and leaves had been washed ashore, pushed up to the soil and creating a form of raised water-breaking line from years of natural battering. Louis spent more moments looking at the tiny winged creatures he had not seen in years, congregating together for safety and nesting: Seagulls.

"Hate 'em."

"Hm? You said something Shiva?" Yakumo looked to the woman.

Shiva wrinkled her nose. All of a sudden, a large flaming four-point star appeared from her hand. "…Cook 'em."

"No! Shiva," Mia hooked her arm around the ignited hand of Shiva's, which immediately dissipated the Gift, "we're not going to attack innocent creatures!"

A Fire Lily popped out of the same hand. "…Just one." Shiva negotiated.

Rin joined Mia to drag her away. "No. They haven’t done anything!" The Gift dissipated again

Shiva pulled up Queenslayer. "…Just maim."

"No!" Mia and Rin yelled together.

Louis, Yakumo and the gulls watched as the women followed the coastline to their right and went off. "What was that about?" Yakumo scratched the back of his neck.

"I have no idea." Louis looked back to the birds, which returned to frolicking on their own, none the wiser about their near-death fate.

Both of them started walking, following the girls toward the direction he explained yesterday. Yakumo rolled his shoulders and shifted the backpack. “If we don’t find a port, what are you planning for us to do?”

“I don’t know.” Louis admitted. “If we don’t see any signs of it before we reach the base of the mountains, we’ll turn around and go along the edge of the forest instead.”

“It is in the same direction as the Trenches. Do you reckon that there will be another port pass that?”

Yakumo raised the same concern that Louis had. “It’ll be the next hope. Otherwise, we’ll use the trees to build a raft.”

“Crossing the ocean on a raft is going to make an interesting experience.” Yakumo crossed his arms and thought about it. His best friend always had such high spirits for ideas like these. “The forest. I can’t recall the last time I went into a forest.”

“Visibility will be an issue.” The danger associated with travelling through the forest was one of the few reasons why Louis did not want to go in the direction. “Especially the shade. The Horrors are primarily black in colour. They’ll have far too many places they can camouflage in and ambush us.”

The next hour was spent in silence as they marched along the shoreline, trying to find signs of the living from a bygone age. But as the sun rose to its apex and the relatively flat grassland was inclining upwards slowly, Louis was ready to call for a stop when he found himself walking passed Shiva. He stopped beside her. Yakumo kept going. “Is something wrong?”

Shiva was frowning…No, she was squinting her eyes as she looked out to the ocean. Then she raised a hand to shade her eyes from the sun. Louis turned, looking out in general direction. All he saw was more seawater.

“…A ship?”

A ship! Someone was alive outside of the Gaol, after all! “Are you certain?” How was Shiva seeing such details?

Shiva nodded. “Positive.” She was still staring out to the ocean.

“What’s up?” Yakumo called out.

“Shiva saw a ship!” Louis replied.

Everyone else stopped and looked back to him. “Seriously!” Yakumo tried to look out to sea like he did. “We got someone out there?”

Mia and Rin looked as well. “I don’t see anything.” Rin had the same outcome as Louis. Yakumo even tried to tip-toe and bend forward. Mia unslung Brodiaea and tried to look through the iron sight.

“I don’t see it ei—Wait, I think—I see it!” Mia was yelling in excitement by the end of her sentence.

“Louis.” He turned to Shiva. She had dropped her hand and turned to him. “Signal.”

That’s right, there’s no way they’ll notice us without some sort of signal. “We’ll have to use smoke. We need something we can burn for smoke.” He scanned their immediate area: An abundance of grass; Flowers that attracted insects and the girls to pick them earlier; Lots of bushes… “The bushes! Gather the branches, twigs and leaves. Rin, find rocks or dig a pit. We’ll set up a fire pit.”

As fast as they could, they worked to build a fire in hopes of getting the attention of the ship. Yakumo easily hacked through the bushes, leaving them for Shiva to break them down further. Rin outlined a fire pit using rocks, which both Mia and Louis had filled with kindling. Once a sizable amount of burnables were set, Louis set it ablaze with a Gift of Fire Storm. Yakumo and Shiva continued to gather more kindling while Louis made sure the fire burned. Mia and Rin headed further onto the shore, with their sniper scanning the ocean again for the ship.

“It’s still out there. I don’t think they saw the smoke yet. It’s sailing away!”

“Hey! Over here!” Rin started hollering and jumping, waving as hard as she could.

Louis tossed more kindling into the flame, turning it into a blaze. He made sure the backpack Yakumo left there was well away from it.

“Come on,” Mia mumbled just loud enough to be heard. “Turn around and see us.”

Rin inhaled, then yelled as loud and long as she could. “Hey!” Once she was out of breath, she slumped to the sand.

Yakumo dragged a bush over and tossed the whole thing into the budding bonfire. The fire pit Rin built was rendered ineffective by it. “If they don’t see it…”

“It’s not the end of the hope yet.” Louis went into what Rin called it his ‘Thinking Mode.’ “We can at least confirmed that life outside of Gaol had thrived, or stayed safe long enough for technology to be rebuilt. As long as we can get off from this continent, either now or by ourselves later, we should be able to find a settlement or stronghold.” Louis pointed in the direction where the ship was sailing away to. “At the very least, we can follow in the same direction as the ship.”

Shiva dropped another bush into the bonfire. It was getting out of control.

Mia took a sharp breath. “The ship is slowing. I think they saw the smoke!”

“Yes!” Rin gained a second wind and started jumping and hollering once more.

The party, in their various ways, watched and waited for the ship's crew to make another motion. Excitement from Rin; Hopefulness from Mia; Eagerness from Yakumo; Louis himself felt a little bit of all of the above. When he turned to Shiva by his side, however…

Indifferent.

Shiva was just eyeing the ship, slouching on one leg, one hand held on the waist while the other that held Queenslayer that tapping its flat-side to her leg. Her eyes were frowning slightly and her lips were pressed to a thin line.

"Shiva, what's wrong?"

"…Worried." She admitted after considering an answer. "…Wary." She added after a moment.

And she was right to be. These would be the very first group of people they meet outside of the Gaol. There was no indication if it would be a good or bad thing at the moment. Perhaps a little bit of wariness was warranted, until proven otherwise.

"We'll keep our guard up." Yakumo had heard Shiva's words and replied the same thought as himself. Louis offered both of them a nod, mentally preparing for anything.

Shiva hummed. "They're coming. Small boat, six people."

A minute later, Louis could hear the noise of an engine sputtering through the air. The lifeboat they rode was fast approaching the shore. As Shiva had said, six people were occupying the boat: four older men, facial hair all around; A mustached man steering the boat at the back with the engine was dressed in full uniform suit and an angular hard hat; The other three were sailors wearing round caps, singlets and uniform pants, two guarding the lifeboat with a rifle and shotgun respectively, the last carried a sheathed sword on his belt; As well as two young men, both not visibly armed, with contrasting skin colours where one was light and bright and the other was orange and tanned. And both had growing red faces and looked to the surrounding.

The seaman, one with the rifle, started laughing out of nowhere. The orange-skinned man turned to the seaman, which Louis assumed he was replying to him.

When the lifeboat drew close to the shore, the boat's captain stopped the engine and drew it up to the boat. The sword seaman took out a pair of oars and gave it to the young men to row to shore. Now that they were closer, Louis could make out their details and realised that the younger men were essentially teenagers.

Louis decided that basic courtesy could help form a friendly first meeting and left Enduring Crimson where he stood. "Yakumo, leave the sword and help me bring their boat inland."

"You got it!"

Once the lifeboat was close enough, Louis and Yakumo stepped into the water and approached it. Just before Louis could reach for the boat, the light-skinned teen brandished his oar and pointed at him. "Woah hey, what are you doing?"

"I'm sorry?"

Disoriented by the sudden hostility, Louis took a second to process the question. But before he could reply, one of the experienced seaman, with the shotgun, answered for him. "The two Pro Huntsmen are just offering to drag the boat ashore. Now why don't you two fledglings Huntsmen get off the boat and help your seniors?"

Pro huntsmen? Louis blinked at the term.

The orange teen groaned as he grabbed the raised oar from the distrusting one. "Come on, Nol. You've done enough damage." He set the oars down and was about to vault from the boat.

"Hey, it's fine." Yakumo stopped the nameless teen. "We can get it done." He grabbed the edge of the boat. "Louis?"

Nodding, Louis also took a hold.

"Ready."

"I know you two are Pro Huntsmen but there's—Woah!" The sword seaman, as well as the teens and another seaman, yelled in shock when both the Revenants pulled and dragged the lifeboat across the shallowing waters and up the sands easily. "Huntsmen Semblance bullshit powers!"

Again with 'Huntsmen.' And what is 'Semblance?'

Rin, Mia and Shiva—who took their swords and Rin’s backpack and moved down to the shore—had stepped aside and watched the two pulled the lifeboat in. Once they were sufficiently inland and out of the water, Louis and Yakumo set the lifeboat down and joined their friends.

On the other side, the teens and three crewmen got off the lifeboat. Only the rifle seaman stayed on the lifeboat, watching the Revenants but making no hostile movements. The Officer stepped forward. "I'm Rusty, the Second Mate of the Vacuo Shipping Vessel Alluvion." Officer Rusty introduced himself. "We saw your smoke and one of your lady friends attempting to signal us. Who are you and what are you doing here?"

"My name is Louis Amamiya." Louis stepped up. "My friends and I live here."

"Live here!" 'Nol' sounded far too shocked than expected. "In the dead city?"

"Nolan!" The orange teen elbowed the named light-skinned teen. He turned to the frowning Officer Rusty. "My apologies sir. But you have to admit it is surprising."

Officer Rusty nodded and returned to Louis. "Are there any other survivors in the city? And how did all of you survive the Grimm all this time?"

"'Grim?'" Louis repeated the name.

Shiva got his attention with a pat. "The Horrors." She nodded to them. "Black beasts, red eyes, random amounts of white armour platings?"

Officer Rusty hmm'd. "I'm assuming you're the third generation of survivors? Or the fourth?" He shook his head before Louis could answer. "You're right in that those 'Black Beasts,' your 'Horrors,' are what the rest of the world called 'Grimm.' Relentless, endless monsters. How are you and yours surviving the horde in a destroyed city?"

For some reason, Shiva decided to take over the negotiation. "Barrier. Fatal to Grimm and living beings. Keeps them out. Keeps us in. A prison, for safety."

"For over eighty years?" Officer Rusty whistled, impresses. "Now that is some technology, or Semblance to have lasted so long." He sounded more contemplative than suspicious. Before Louis backtrack his thoughts to what he heard.

"Wait, 'eighty years?'" He looked to his friends, all of them looking back to him with wide eyes of surprise. The Great Collapse happened just…how many years ago? He was suddenly confused. When did the Great Collapse occurred? How could he have forgotten that?

Even his friends were confused. In the midst of all that happened, none of them even remembered something that should be common knowledge to them.

Officer Rusty sighed. "I suppose that your parents might not have known about the Great War, cut off from the rest of the world. Well, your odd name certainly makes more sense now."

Great War. Not Great Collapse. Louis' heart started to beat errantly. Just what was going on? Memory loss might be a thing, but for all five of them to have lost the memory of the date of their history? 1

"Louis," Rin was holding onto her forehead, "what's going on? Why can't we recall it?"

Mia was shaking her head. "There are some data about the appearance of Horrors during the Great Collapse. But if it was written by someone during the Collapse, why didn't the author called them 'Grim?' Why 'Horror?'"

The Great Collapse. The Great War. Eighty years of isolation from the outside world? Lack of memory about it from all five of them?

What was going on? 2

—————
Nolan still could not look at the survivors of the ruined kingdom without feeling the heat to his face. He had reeled the feeling in as much as he could, but his teenage biology was simply hard to hold it in.

'Holy smokes, the girls are hot!' And two of them were barely wearing anything, leaving little to imagination.

First, there was the Faunus beauty that struck a sense of danger to him. The shoulder-pad cloak was an odd piece, but there was no mistaking the chains and leathers she sported. She even had a collar that completed the ensemble! Combined with the fact that she was a Cat Faunus with a killer body? She could put a number of Shade's seniors to shame, especially with the confidence she exuded. The dried blood on the left arm and dyed glove was a little bit too extreme, however. Points minused.

Then there was the blonde beauty with the tall fur hat and bayonet rifle. Of the three girls she was the most properly dressed, a tough-looking coat over her blue dress. Coupled with her soft features, it bore a kind of hidden-secrets vibe to it.

Finally, there was the redheaded late bloomer. The only person he had seen with even less wear on was May, but only just once and that absolutely was by accident! (No one else would ever know it! That was the problem with sharing the same room with the opposite gender! Why did she even leave the bathroom just covering the front far too early in the morning!) She was probably turning heads now, who knew what would happen in a few more years when the redhead blooms further into a rose. The mask she wore was odd, though…At that thought, he wanted to see how she looked like without the mask.

Maybe that mask was to block off the stench they were exuding. They smelled like death warmed over.

And with that, Nolan noticed one thing the Survivors of the Ruined Kingdom had in common: The metal things that were fit on their jaws to their ears, with the Faunus and the Redhead having neck braces as well. Some sort of jaw-protecting armour? That did not sound right, but it was the only thing he could think of.

“Hey now.” Officer Rusty called out to them. They broke their circle of discussion among themselves about their knowledge crisis, with Amamiya stepping out. “I know all of you have a lot of things to learn about the outside world and probably cross reference with the knowledge your parents or grandparents told you, but we should do that back on the ship, away from here.”

That brought him back to the situation at hand, which was him and Brawnz standing on the Grimm Continent of Metus. Just how they had not yet been attacked by now was anyone’s guess. Maybe these group of five (and their survivor friends) had some super weapons that totally destroyed Grimms.

Amamiya cast his sight to his people and nodded. Their previous downcast and contemplative expressions changed to jubilation and they started moving. Amamiya turned back to Rusty bowed. “Thank you for the assistance. We had been thinking of how to get off the continent in order to make contact with the outside world.” When the tiny redhead pulled the massive backpack up and over, Nolan did a double-take.

'Maybe it’s empty. Or maybe she has a strength semblance.'

Rusty glanced back to Nolan and Brawnz. “Get on the boat, all of us are leaving. Keep watching for Grimm.” Both of them nodded and started for the boat. “Come on. We’re heading towards Vale Kingdom. Are there anymore survivors we should attempt to pick up?”

“There’s no one else outside of the barrier except us.” Amamiya replied. Nolan, now standing at the front of the lifeboat, looked to the survivors and Rusty. The other redhead, a man carrying a giant sword with two blades—one longer over the other—resting over his right shoulder, took the lead towards the boat, followed by the Blonde then the Red-Girl. The Faunus stayed with Amamiya, who approached Rusty to talk. “We are the advance party, meant to actually explore the Ruined City for places we can set up a Forward Operating Base, but that plan was changed to this.”

“Hey mates.” Their heavy-swordsman called out. He was talking to one of the sailors still on the sand, next to the lifeboat. “Thanks for giving us a ride off this continent.”

The addressed sailor was the first person to visibly react to the stench, placing the back of a hand to his nose. He quickly dropped it as he spoke. “You’re welcome, but you should be thanking our First Mate, Midori. He was the one who saw your smoke.”

“That’s awesome!” Heavy said. “I’m Yakumo. Yakumo Shinonome.” He stepped to his side, pointing to each girls waiting behind him. “She’s Mia Karnstein. And she’s Rin Murasame. And our friend there with Louis is Shiva.”

“Ahmar Manal.” The sailor introduced in return. “This one’s Digo In. The one on the boat is Bai Lei." Ahmar gestured to the boat. "Let's get you onboard."

"How about the two of you?" Yakumo asked as he dropped his giant sword in. Nolan offered a hand to the Blonde—Miss Mia Karnstein—who took it and pulled her aboard.

"Thank you." Even her voice sounded angelic.

"You're welcome, Miss Karnstein. Nolan Porfirio is always ready to help." He gave his best smile.

"If you're done flirting, come help me!" Brawnz yelled. Nolan found his team leader attempting to pull the massive backpack onboard. He snorted. "The heck are you laughing at? Get over here!"

"Come on, Brawnz Ni, Leader of Team BRNZ. Miss Murasame totally just carried that herself. You can do it!" Both Mia and Rin—standing beside her backpack—giggled. Success! He leaned towards Mia. "That's us, by the way. Our two other teammates are on the ship." Nolan introduced his team leader. Mia nodded.

Brawnz stood aside. "Alright Nol, if you're such a hotshot, go ahead." He waved at the backpack.

"Alright Boss, let me show you how it's done." Nolan cracked his arms and elbows, loosening any stiffness, then grabbed the backpack by the straps. He pulled.

The thing did not budge.

"Oh? Show me what, Nol?" Nolan could hear the smug from Brawnz. Yakumo was holding both the boat and his laugh.

Nolan tried to pull it up again, managing to lift it off the ground by centimetres, then he had to drop it. "What the hell is inside this thing?!" He yelled, disbelief of the weight of possessed. The survivors laughed with Mia giggling.

"Aren't the two of you going to be Huntsmen in the future?" Ahmar stepped up behind the backpack, laying both hands to the bottom of it to carry it up. "If the two of you can't even lift, I'm afraid I fear fffooorrrr what is in this thing?!" Ahmar slipped and fell back.

"See! I told you there's something in it!" Brawnz pointed at it. "What the hell is it?"

"Oh, just my babies for equipment maintenance stuff." Rin explained once she stopped laughing. She helped Ahmar up to his feet. "Slabs of Iron, Steel and Titanium. The bestest friend in Armourer business, an Anvil. Some rations and Beads."

…What in the name of the Brothers?

"Don't worry about it." Rin climbed aboard with Mia's help, then took the straps and effortlessly carried it up onto the boat. Nolan swore he felt the lifeboat sank deeper into the sand. He would be further surprised later when he thought about why it did not break. She set it down in the centre of the boat. "That'll do."

There must have been some trick or prank in it.

"Everything's good to go?" Rusty stood beside the boat and eyed all of them.

The sailors stood straight. "Yes, sir." Ahmar replied.

"Once we are onboard, we're good to go, sir." Digo continued.

"Very well," Rusty said, "let's get on and cast off from here." He took Bai's offered hand and climbed on, taking his original seat at the engine.

Ahmar tilted his head to the boat at Louis, Yakumo and Shiva, telling them to get on as well. Yakumo shook his head. "The two of you should get on instead. We'll push the boat out."

"If you're certain." Ahmar breathed out a sigh, probably relieved that he did not need to push the weighed down boat.

Louis waved to Shiva. She nodded, then opened her free—bloodied glove—hand to him. "Crimson. Oni-Bane." Louis passed her his oversized sword.

"Right. Let me just put it away." Yakumo reached over the edge of the boat with his giant sword, which Rin took a hold off. "Thanks." Rin shut her eyes and nodded.

Shiva, too, placed Louis' and her sword in the nook under the surface of the boat's edge. Nolan offered his hand and best smile to her. "Ma'am." She raised an eyebrow, but reached for his hand.

Then paused.

And stared. Eyes opening wide.

Nolan kept his hand held, but he was losing his smile quickly. He was confused. "Eeerrmmm?"

"Must've caught you checking her out and trying to decide on a punishment." Brawnz piped in. Nolan started to sweat.

"Shiva?" Mia called out. The Faunus had no movement, not hearing the Blonde. "Shiva," the woman finally reacted, blinking her eyes rapidly, "are you alright?"

"Y—yeah." She was breathing hard. She shook her head. "Sorry." She took his hand and he got her onboard. Nodding in appreciation to Nolan, she joined the rest of the girls next to the backpack.

What was that about?

—————

Bridge, VSV Alluvion

First Mate Midori let out a sigh. "Finally!" He said and put down his binoculars. "Rusty is on his way back."

"What was taking them so long to pick up five Huntsmen?" Navigator Fyre was reading the newspaper from before they left Gneiss, flipping a page as he commented.

Garlet sipped her cooling coffee and hoping for a few more minutes of good fortune. "The moment they are aboard, raise the anchor and full speed ahead." She rather not stay stationary for any longer this close to the Grimm Continent.

There was a beep from the sonar, picking up everyone’s attention and Garlet’s unvoiced curse for jinxing it: The sonar did not ping sea life unless it was travelling over a certain speed.

Fyre dropped the newspaper on the panel and checked the radar. He stared at the screen as the sonar beeped several times further, then tapped on the keyboard. Picking up the headphones and listening to the hydrophone for another moment, Fyre cursed in Mistralian. "Large unidentified creature travelling at eighty KPH. It's going to swim under us in less than thirty seconds!"

Garlet immediately slammed her free hand on emergency signal. She could hear the siren blasted over the PA system from outside the Bridge as the five crewmen in here got serious. "Weapon systems are warming up. Fifteen seconds to until they are armed and ready." Midori reported.

"Civvies are been escorted back to their cabins." Officer Cocoa reported. "Crewmen are getting log jammed by the folks on their way to the armoury!"

"Engines are hot and idling." Fyre reported. "As long as anchors are raised, we can sail!"

"Do it, but head towards Rusty." She was not going to leave behind nine lives. 'We won't be able to outrun the bastard anyway.' Garlet checked the sonar. Red ping was coming in from behind them on the starboard side. From the readings, it was around a hundred metres underwater and rising in a gentle angle. The long, winding tube on the sonar was certainly not any wayward whales. ‘Why is there a sea-grimm of this size in this water?’ They never had one in this shipping lane. "Midori, weapons free. The moment it surfaces, blast it into oblivion."

“Yes Captain.” He replied. "It's still under the firing deadzone."

It was still far from the water surface. Whatever it was, it was aiming at the underside of the Alluvion. They were not rated and equipped with sea mines, so they were vulnerable if it decided to attack from below. 'Please don't do it!' Garlet prayed to the Brothers. "Brace for impact!"

The creature swam under them.

The creature swam passed them.

Rather than feeling grateful, Garlet felt dread. There was only one other target on the sea and it was going after the easier meal! "Comms!"

"Ma'am!" Communications Officer Zinc called out.

"Get in touch with Rusty! Tell him they got incoming and to get the hell out of there!"

—————

Lifeboat

The smell of the salty sea was a god sent, especially since he was at the front of the lifeboat and they were travelling forward. As much as Nolan enjoyed the view of the girls, their stench was getting to him.

'I pity Rusty and Bai. They are still at the back and have to breathing through all of it.'

Nolan watched as the survivors huddled with each other, relaxing and enjoying the sea ride. Only Shiva looked apprehensive, but Nolan chalked it up to her being a Cat Faunus. And cats tended to dislike water. Louis seemed to be trying his best to reassure her. It made Nolan wonder if they were a thing.

Mia was discussing with Rin, their topic of conversation lost to the wind. But judging by the bayonet rifle held between the two girls and being referred to from time to time, Nolan could guess at what they were talking about. Guns were vulnerable to water and the one Mia was holding looked like a museum piece.

Yakumo was completely relaxed, lying with one arm on the boat's rim and looking out towards the ocean.

Rusty seemed to be having a conversation, one finger pressing into his ear… 'Oh, that's an earpiece. Is he talking to the—'

"Are you serious?!" Rusty suddenly yelled, attracting everyone's attention. He looked up to everyone on the lifeboat, a look of fear and anguish passing through his facade. "Just leave us and get out of here. Go!"

'What did he just say?'

Louis stood up before Nolan or Brawnz—his Leader was going to ask the same thing. "What's happening, sir?"

Rusty grabbed the steering and started to turn the lifeboat. "We got a giant sea Grimm of some kind coming right after us!" That was the last thing Nolan wanted to hear. And everyone else as well, based on their gasps. "I'm sorry everyone.” He was addressing the survivors more than the rest of them. “You made it so far, but I had to essentially just told them to abandon us. I had to consider the hundreds of lives on board the Alluvion to the nine of us."

“You can’t be serious!” Nolan yelled. “We’ve seen the guns on the ship! Surely you can shoot dead the Grimm!”

Rusty shook his head. “Not against something this big. For whatever reason, it’s ignoring the ship right now and coming towards us, likely as an easy target. We can save hundreds of lives if we just keep its attention.”

“We didn’t sign up for this.” Brawnz said. “We are just passengers and responding to Captain Garlet’s request for assistance, not to be worm food.”

Ahmar stepped up. “Hey, you brats think we want this? You’re Huntsmen-trainees! The two of you sign up for exactly this—”

Beside their lifeboat, the water surface rose up in the shape of a dome, defying physics for a quick second. Then the dome exploded with a long, serpentine monstrosity breaking the surface. A line of white dominated Nolan’s sight, rising and towering over the tiny lifeboat. Eventually, when the water crashed down from the Grimm’s body, the line twisted and rolled, showing off a shiny set of white scaled underbelly, black scaly body, a pair of arms the length of two Nolans with deadly sharp claws, a head of bone-white armour and a pair of evil red eyes.

‘Oh shit the beds.’

‘That’s a bloody Sea Feilong!’

‘We’re fucked.’

The Sea Feilong eyed the lifeboat menacingly. It opened its maw and sparks started flying from its mouth, gathering into an orb.

Bai, Digo and Mia started firing their guns at it. All of their rounds were ineffective against it, even the explosive Dust rounds that Mia was using. From the ferry, Nolan could see tiny flashes of light from May’s sniper rifle, but otherwise the ship was merely attempting to turn towards them.

“Why isn’t the ship firing!” Brawnz roared over the crackling of electricity and the shooting.

“Because we’re in the firing line.” Rusty shouted. He stabbed at the earpiece. “Damn it, Garlet, shoot it or leave us!”

This was it. There was no way to get out of this.

Nolan was going to haunt Roy’s ass until the day he died.

“Yakumo, barrier.”

“Let’s do it, Shiva.”

Nolan turned to the survivors. How were they not panicking? He watched as Yakumo and Shiva raised their hand to their chest and thought ‘Are they bleeding themselves! Onto their hands? What the hell are they doing?! Some till-death-do-us-part stuff?’ The two survivors then threw their hands outwards, throwing out the two handfuls of blood.

The blood arced through the air, scattering into droplets.

The droplets vaporised violently.

A red film stretched from the point of the vaporisation and quickly encapsulated the lifeboat. The yellow orb of death in the Grimm’s mouth became tainted with red.

A second film stretched outside. The world completely looked red now.

Everything flashed into white.

————

VSV Alluvion

Roy had ran to the Bridge, wondering why the hell were they not shooting at the Sea Feilong. That left powerless May to be the one witnessing the Team’s demise. “No!” She yelled uselessly, cycling the bolt and pulling the trigger as fast as she could.

The lightning orb fired directly into the lifeboat. Thunder crackled across the surface of the ocean.

The lifeboat disappeared in an explosive shower of seawater.

“No…” May’s knees weakened and she collapsed to the deck. “Brawnz…Nol…”

The Sea Feilong screamed to the sky in triumph. Until the deck turrets started firing at it.

May stared at the misty vapours of the aftermath, listless.

The guns were attracting the Grimm’s anger more than damaging it. It twisted in the air to face the ship. It roared, then started to gather its lightning breath again.

As the flashing lights grew, thunder reaching its crescendo, something shot out of the vapours, catching May’s sight immediately. “No way.” It was the lifeboat, looking unscathed. “Brawnz! Nolan!” She yelled excitedly, not caring if there was no way for them to hear it.

But then May realised something: She was looking at the long-side of the lifeboat, the front of it pointing towards the Grimm.

‘Why are they heading towards it?!’

————

Lifeboat

Brawnz really thought he was dead. Blinded by whiteness and deafened by echoing silence, he remained where he laid on the hard surface of whatever Heaven was made of.

Then he felt movement underneath him, jerking him slightly. He felt swaying from side to side, then recalled where he died.

‘Is this the ferry to the afterlife? Am I on the Navy Hones’ Sailing Valerian?’

The whiteness receded slightly. Brawnz could barely make out the blurry silhouettes of those that died with him. His eyes stung, instinctively bringing a hand up to rub it. When he felt the sensation and the hard boards on his back, he started registering words. They sounded like they were underwater,.

“We need to lure it to the shore somehow. Otherwise we can’t do anything significant against it.”

“And how are we going to do it? It’s completely ignoring our gunfire! And that thing is more interested in the Alluvion now!”

‘Alluvion? Where did I hear that before…?’

“If we don’t even attempt something, everyone on that ship is going to die.”

“How are we even alive!”

‘Nolan?!’ The voices finally cut through the echoes, bringing his mind back to reality. Brawnz opened his eyes to see a cloud of mist around them. “Shit, we’re alive?” It was the most significant thing that entered his thoughts.

“Not for long, if we can’t get around that thing.” Rusty yelled from behind him. The lifeboat was idling, its engine beating noisily once every moment. The Officer was trying to see through the cloud, looking at the flashing black serpent silhouette just beyond it. Brawnz could also hear loud explosions coming from it. “The ship can’t outrun it and we’re only armed with minimal weaponry. If we can’t make it lose interest in us, none of us are leaving here alive.”

“Closer.” The Faunus of their party shouted. “Get in front. Attack it.”

“And how are you going to do that with a single sword? Curse like a sailor at it? Last I check, you’re a Cat Faunus, not a Bird-type!” Rusty had a point.

For whatever reason, Shiva took out a metal mask of some kind—A rebreather? Was she planning to swim to it?—and put it on. The moment her rebreather snapped over the lower half of her face, an…aura of some kind exuded from her. Her anger felt deepened, eyebrows frowning harsher. ‘And did her eyes just grew red?’

“Louis, Yakumo. Boat.” Shiva said…No, she commanded. There was something in her muffled voice that commanded Strength and Respect, a kind of Confidence that few Huntsmen Veterans could put out with words alone. Even the sailors were taken aback. “Rin, rest. Mia, with me.” Rin wanted to protest, but Yakumo was beside her immediately to calm her. Mia simply had her eyes widened and blinked.

"I won't be able to use Brodiaea for much longer."

"Gift." Shiva simply said. "Join with me." The Blonde Sniper hardened her stance and nodded.

Brawnz knew he was missing some context.

Then one Brawnz originally thought was the Survivors’ Leader nodded. “What are you thinking?”

“Jump it. Take its head off.” Shiva said it so casually Brawnz thought she was joking with her words, that she had an actual, real plan behind it, like a Leader would.

But Louis was seriously considering it. “We won’t be able to help you. At all.”

Shiva nodded. She looked to Brawnz, then to Nolan. “Stay.” She said, then looked around further at the sailors, ending at Rusty.

The Officer took a deep breath. "Alright, ma'am." He grabbed the steering bar, activating the propeller and headed for the Grimm. "I hope you know what you're doing. Get ready!"

They were doing this…Or rather, Shiva was going to do this. How was she going to actually do this? The Team Leader of BRNZ could not fathom out. But he was at the front row seat to it. Perhaps he could learn something about plans, tactics and leadership from her.

Chapter Text

Vein 06 - The Grimm Sea

VSV Alluvion's Lifeboat, Sea between Sanus and Metus Continents.

They passed through the mist of water. The Greater Horror—The Grimm sat on the surface of the sea, its body curled in a wavy-pattern like noodle on one side. On the other, the ship that saw and came to save them was firing their cannons at it.

The shots had no visible effects on it. Instead, it opened its mouth and charged up another Lightning Breath.

Shiva turned her sights from the Greater Grimm to Mia by her side, Brodiaea aimed uselessly at it. More than just tactics and strategies, they also need to change their primary weapons to what the external civilisations were using. Without Blood and Ichor to drain from their opponent, Mia, Eva and any other Revenants that relied on Bayonets and Gifts would not be able to fight against these creatures effectively.

Her ears twitched. Someone from the boat was calling out for the two boys on the lifeboat.

"How are you going to do this, Shiva?" Concern filled her words as Mia kept watching the Grimm. "It's just staying out there on the water."

"Yakumo." She half-answered, half-called out to their resident strong man. He tilted his head to Shiva in question and she nodded to the Grimm. "Throw me."

Yakumo glanced at the Grimm they were approaching rapidly. "...We need to be much closer." To the Officer, he asked. "Can you get us within a hundred metres of that thing?"

"You people are insane!" The Officer complained, but he steered the boat towards it.

"Are you really doing that?" The light-skinned teenager yelled. "How are you even going to cut off its head? It's, like, five times larger than the length of your sword!"

Shiva ignored the Human and closed her eyes, willing her BOR Parasite to activate. She clenched her left fist, pricking her palm with her nail and pooled the ichor on it. Opening her eyes, her vision now clouded with a red hue, she raised it to Mia.

Mia closed her eyes and did the same.

"Is that her semblance?" The darker-skinned one questioned out loud. "Blood bending or control?" Shiva ignored the Human.

Mia opened her eyes and looked to Shiva, hands out.

Shiva grasped it.

Like so many times they had done before, they exchanged their blood and ichor for a burst of boost. Mia's blood, in particular, had an effect that boosted her own affinity with the BOR Parasite, which improved the link between metabolism and ichor conversion for Gift usage. Mia's blood also had a peculiar side effect of making Shiva felt cold, oddly enough.

Maybe her own lost home was near the Snowy Mountains? Mia could not recall it. Nicola only had memories of his very young childhood with his big sister protecting him from bullies.

It was a nice memory to cherish.

"Get ready." At Yakumo's yell, Shiva let go of Mia and looked to the Grimm. The thunder was drowning out any other noise. Yakumo lowered Oni-Bane. "Get on it!"

Shiva got the idea of how he was going to throw her and stepped on the sword. She lowered herself to her knees as well.

The Grimm's head started to reel back. 1

Yakumo lifted and threw her at the Grimm's body. Shiva kicked off Oni-Bane for additional lift. Twisting around to face the head, she reached for her chest and forced ichor to form, her heart beating hard with the BOR Parasite's activation. From under her glove and Blood Veil, ichor gathered and converted into shape and heat. She fanned her hand towards the head.

A single, three-point flaming star shot out of her hand, followed by two more that curved from around her back to her sides. The three flaming stars of her Ember Reversal flew fast and hard, aiming for the jaw of the Greater Grimm.

Just as the Grimm threw its head forward and released its Breath.

—————

VSV Alluvion Bridge

Midori saw that there was nothing else he could do. The turrets were not working: The Sea Feilong was just shrugging off the shots.

When the Grimm reeled its head back, he turned to the Bridge crew and yelled. "Get down!" Everyone did as they were warned, but Midori knew that it would not have amounted to any chances of survival when it was aiming at the centre of the ship. But he still followed his own advice, throwing himself off the chair and onto the deck.

There was an explosion. A thunder clapped so near to his ears the world went silent, followed by concussive pressure and a wave of heat, then a shower of debris.

When he finally opened his eyes and realised he was not dead yet, nor on a sinking ship, he looked up to see that the roof of the bridge had a massive hole bored through it, cutting upwards and taken out part of the viewing platform. He looked down towards his station.

Part of the control system had melted from the heat, including the firing system.

—————

Greater Grimm 'Sea Feilong'

The first Ember crashed into the jaw of the Grimm, forcing it shut by explosive force and cutting the Lightning Breath off. The second and third then slammed into its face and pushed the head up, very narrowly saving the ship from a doomed existence.

Unfortunately, her motion had caused her her momentum, slowly down just short of reaching the creature. She faced back forward and Hollowed, dispersing herself in glowing red embers and dashing forward in a wave of mist. The additional distance granted from Shifting Hollow put her just in range of her Blood Veil and she immediately threw out a single Jagged Spear-tip towards the serpentine body from her left, aiming for the white underbelly.

The Ivy Veil pierced between the scales and hooked.

The Grimm felt the stab on its middle and started to move, unfurling itself from the position it was in. Shiva reeled herself in as fast as she could, flying upwards into the sky as she was dragged along for the ride. She had to get on the Grimm before the wind force snap her Veil off.

Unfortunately for her, the Grimm knew exactly what Shiva was doing and twisted its front. Now seeing the Revenant for the second time, the creature flew forward like an arrow.

Shiva saw the fast approaching armoured head. She cut the ichor off from the Ivory Grace and her forward motion slowed.

The Grimm flew through the space between Shiva and its own body, just missing her. But it shredded the Ivy Veil before it could fully disperse into ember. The damage dislocated and nearly tore out her left shoulder, linked to her absorption mask from the cloak-lookalike. More importantly for Shiva, she was completely airborne and no longer had momentum. She fell, dropping out of the sky towards the sea. She twisted in the air and quickly cast her sight.

There! The serpentine body was still following the head and she was falling towards the rear end. She pulled her right hand back, tipping Queenslayer towards the body and thrusted.

The Queenslayer stabbed through the black skin and held. Shiva slammed onto the body.

The Grimm stopped moving.

Shiva pushed herself back up just in time to see face-to-face with the massive skull of the Sea Feilong. The Grimm growled at the tiny figure, red eyes burning with a desire for murder and death.

Micro explosions slapped the skull armour, distracting it momentarily.

Shiva pulled her sword out and bolted, heading down the body.

The Grimm tracked her, thrusting its head forward and snapping with its jaw in an attempt to dislodge or eat her. Shiva was able to dodge, duck and weave through the assault, using the spine-spikes to her advantage and counter-attacked once with a Shadow Assault, knocking it off course. Instead of continuing to attack her, it turned away and moved.

Shiva stabbed Queenslayer down and held on just as it started flying again. Unable to do anything else but hold on, Shiva watched as her living ride tried to rid itself of its unwelcomed passenger. As it turned and twisted in the sky, Shiva forced her Regeneration to activate, healing her dislocated shoulder and bruises from the impact of the fall.

The Grimm stopped in its flight to look at her. It growled, then turned down: it was aiming towards the sea.

If it dived into the water, the pressure was going to throw her off.

Quickly, Shiva willed her Veil to wrap around the nearest Grimm's spike. With her healed left arm crossed over her other shoulder, she forced more ichor to form another Gift. Light and heat began to burn in her palm. As the Grimm began its dive, Shiva threw her hand out as hard as she could, scattering her converted ichor.

The ichor resolved into burning caltrops. The Rose Flame Gift dropped like rain, few of them landing and stabbing at the back of the Grimm as it travelled down towards the sea. The monster looked back and roared, seemingly annoyed by the ineffective attack.

But it slowed down just enough that the remaining Roses to hit the water. They floating on the surface, still glowing brightly.

Shiva threw the remaining bits of her ichor reserves into the head as a Fire Lily. The knife-like Gift flew straight, but it failed to penetrate the armour and deflected away.

The damn thing snorted.

Then it hit the water.

And the Roses detonated.

The combination of detonations across its back and its front disoriented the roaring Grimm, causing it to veer away shakingly and skimmed the water surface. Shiva felt the impact on its body as it twisted from vertical to horizontal, but she shook off the stun quickly. Withdrawing a vial of Ichor Concentrate from her utility pouch, she stabbed the opening into a receiving port on her purifier mask and ingested its content while she had the chance.

Because the Grimm was unexpectedly heading straight for the lifeboat.

—————
Nolan and the two front sailors stepped back reflexively out of fear when they saw the Sea Feilong was heading straight towards them. "Oh hell, what do we do?!" He yelled.

"Fire with everything you got, that's what!" Rusty yelled as he pulled the trigger alongside Bai and Mia, but there was no way their basic weapons could do anything. When even the turrets on Alluvion could not do any damage.

Instead of despair, Louis stood and took up his crimson sword. "Yakumo."

Nolan felt a hand on his shoulder. "You should get down." Yakumo said, trying to reassure him. Then he stood next to Louis and raised his giant sword to his shoulder while his other hand to his chest. Like what Shiva and Mia had done earlier, his palm started bleeding. "Ready."

Louis and Yakumo clasped arms. Their eyes grew unnaturally red.

'Okay, seriously, what the hell is that?'

The head of the Sea Feilong grew impossibly large as it came so much closer. Nolan could make out the individual grooves on the bone skull, some marked by red Grimm lights.

The two Survivors grasped the respective weapons and raised them, Louis pulling back with a hand and aimed with the other, while Yakumo held his with both hands and high. They stepped on the edge of the boat.

They jumped.

More specifically, they leapt towards the approaching Sea Feilong, their swords poised for an attack.

They struck together! Louis thrusting his sword while Yakumo did a giant overhead swing. Both attacks aimed directly at the skull.

The water around the Grimm's head exploded from the impact. Momentarily, Nolan could no longer see the skull. He thought they had actually killed it!

A moment later, behind the lifeboat, another splash sounded explosively with a roar. Nolan turned just in time to see the familiar but much hated white skull appear.

Just as he heard two thuds beside him, when Louis and Yakumo landed back on the boat somehow?

—————
Shiva saw what her two friends did, slamming their attacks on the skull and redirected the collision course underneath the lifeboat.

Timing it right as her position reached the forced redirection, Shiva let go of the Queenslayer, letting it be carried away by the Grimm's body into the water. Instead, she kicked off the Grimm as she let go of the sword and dispersed her right-side Ivy Veil, leaping towards the airborne Louis and Yakumo, both falling face-first towards the sea. She held both her hands out and caught their legs as she flew pass them, dragging her friends with her through the air with momentum, over the lifeboat where she let them go. Rather than turning to see if they landed safely in it, she kept her eyes forward, watching the Grimm's body as it rose from the water while she flew towards it. She was spotting for something.

The flash of reflection immediately caught her sight. Queenslayer was embedded there!

But it was protruding far from her physical reach. Shiva threw the left-side of her Veil at it, forming a Hook at the end. It caught on the handle and she was dragged along for the ride.

The Greater Grimm suddenly sprouted wings! Shiva's eyes widened as the pair of wings flapped. The monstrosity suddenly picked up speed, yanking her by her Veil upwards into the sky. She desperately grabbed onto one of the spikes nearby.

Then it did a sharp one-hundred and eighty-degrees turn downwards, arching its back in a sharp turn.

The aerial maneuver sent the flailing Shiva flying straight up higher into the sky when her hand slipped off the spike she was holding, her extended Veil dragging Queenslayer out of the flesh unintentionally. She was airborne once again, without any support or foothold.

The Greater Grimm turned its head around, Lightning Breath already half-gathered in its opening maw.

Underneath the purifier mask, Shiva clenched her teeth in fury: No way to dodge an instantaneous attack; No way to stop direct line-of-sight from the incoming attack. Her heart went into overdrive for her BOR Parasite to convert Ichor. Slamming her right hand into her chest, she used another Gift.

‘Feral Tenacity.’

Shiva pulled her Ivy Veil up with Queenslayer to her left hand, gripping the handle and putting the sword between herself and the Greater Grimm.

It fired.

—————
Whomever that underdressed woman was did not matter. All May knew was that she was an instant fangirl of the Huntress insane enough to take on the Sea Feilong ON ITS OWN BACK! And that was not even the first thing she did in her unplanned debut!

Long before that, the blue-haired Huntress had literally saved the entire vessel by forcing the Sea Feilong to misfire its own attack, using Burn Dust in an uncanny way as to sending it both burning and homing upwards into its jaw. The Lightning Breath shot towards the ship in a brief flash before it was cut off forcefully, which had gotten the Grimm angry enough as well to forget about the existence of the ferry.

That was when she noticed that the guns had fallen silent. Looking down from the upper deck and to the right, the gun turret had stopped firing as well as tracking. Did the Bridge crew saw what was occurring and stopped firing in case of friendly fire?

The answer came quickly when her scroll rang. "May!" It was Roy. "The Bridge was hit!"

"What?!" She looked to the direction of the bridge, but it was obscured from her position. "What about the crew? The guns?"

"Everyone's fine, miraculously. But the Weapons, Nav and Comms are busted."

It explained why the guns stopped tracking and firing. Dropping the call, May went prone and aimed Nornhowl at the Sea Feilong, just in time to see it eyeing the Huntress on its back. She fired, hitting the Grimm around its protected head instead of the red eye. It was enough to distract the Grimm momentarily for the Huntress to start running.

Over the next moment, May attempted to assist the Huntress. But the Sea Feilong was moving errantly, causing her to miss with her shots until her rifle clicked empty. She reloaded, just as the Sea Feilong started to dive, most likely trying to dislodge the Huntress whom had held onto the Grimm somehow.

The Huntress must have had scattered her arsenal of Burn Dust. Like little sticky tacks, some of it stuck on the back of the Grimm but most of them landed in the water. It seemed like a waste to May for a moment, until the Burn Dust detonated across the surface of the sea. Then May realised that the Huntress was trying to keep it from deep diving under the water.

Due to the little explosions, the Sea Feilong had indeed turned away from the water.

And heading towards the lifeboat.

The lifeboat had turned its way towards the ferry, exposing its broadside towards the Sea Feilong. May could only watch in horror as the Grimm sped towards the vulnerable boat, going in for a fatal collision. It was travelling too fast for her to reliably land her shots, but she pulled the trigger as fast as she could, anyway.

Then she watched the black-haired and red-haired Huntsmen with swords enter her crosshair, weapons poised and struck at the head. Immediately afterwards, her vision was cut off by an explosion of water.

She pulled Nornhowl away, right as another water explosion occurred behind the lifeboat. The Sea Feilong's cracked skull re-emerged from that: The two Huntsmen had simply redirected the monster’s charge, forcing it to go under the boat.

A flash of blue crossed her sight. May saw the Huntress was airborne—She must have leapt to avoid getting dragged underwater. Out of nowhere, she produced and threw a grappling hook skillfully, catching her bronze-coloured sword that stabbed in the Grimm by the handle. And she held on for her life, returning back into the sky.

Then the Sea Feilong finally revealed its wings. They started flapping, increasing its flight speed. Unable to beat the wind pressure, the Huntress could only hang on until an opportunity to attack appear.

But the Grimm suddenly pulled a hard spin in the middle of the air. The Huntress was sent into the sky by the motion, her grappling hook pulling her sword out instead of acting as an anchor. The Grimm charged a Lightning Breath as it turned its head.

'Shit!' May finally took her sniper rifle again, aiming at the Grimm's head.

But the Grimm fired first. The electricity went upwards in a quick flash.

The sky was split by the lightning. Thunder roared across the air. “No!” May cried out, unable to believe how quickly everything had turned around.

The Sea Feilong flapped its wings, the wind gust it caused blew away the smoke.

Miraculously, the Huntress's body remained in one piece. Singed by the attack, her body smoked as she fell back. Her bronze sword was mostly blackened, the middle part visibly melting, but she held onto it.

The Grimm, seeing that the Huntress had not been vapourised, lunged upwards with its maw opened.

Then the Huntress' body vanished.

—————
Shiva risked using Vanishing Hollow because she could not do anything else in her paralysed state. If her dispersed embers did not escape from the jaws fast enough, she would be reforming with missing body parts.

The BOR parasite knew what she wanted. Her heart beat.

The Gift forced her dispersed ashes to scatter 'upwards' in a controlled manner. With her still falling backwards, that meant she was dropping downwards with increased speed. The Gift activated just fast enough that the Greater Grimm could not react to what the Revenant did to relocate herself: It flew through the empty space she was previously in just a moment after her Gift activated.

But Vanishing Hollow did not push her much further away from her original position. When her parasite-controlled ashes reformed, she was so close to the underside of the Greater Grimm that she immediately brushed by the monster and spun. Then she tumbled along the scales as the Grimm continued to climb up the sky.

Shiva stopped her spinning by slapping her hand on the Grimm’s body, trying to grasp for any holding with her right hand. But the smooth scales was preventing her from grasping any edges. She then attempted to stab the Grimm with Queenslayer, hitting the scales without any penetration. Then twice. On the third stab, the Queenslayer missed completely. On the fourth, she finally found purchase as she pierced through soft skin and tore Grimm flesh.

—————
"Watch out!" Nolan heard the yell just as Mia tackled him. There was a thud.

Mia got off him, staring at whatever had landed on the lifeboat. Something short, black, deformed and half buried into the lifeboat. It looked like it had melted briefly and resolidified. The wooden board of the boat had even smoked just by contact.

‘Well, I would have been fine,' his Aura would have tanked the damage, 'but I don’t mind this position either…’

"Oh no." Rin grabbed the black thing and pulled it out to examine it, uncaring if it was superheated before. She looked back up at the Sea Feilong, which had barrel-rolled again. "It's the Queenslayer! It broke!"

As the Grimm started descending once more, Nolan only had a question in mind: How was she going to take its head off now?!

—————
Shiva had no chance to stop the Grimm from diving anymore. She had to regenerate, or risk dispersal and return to the Goal.

If she could even reform in the Gaol, cut off from the outside world as it is.

So as the regeneration healed, she gripped the melted sword with both hands, took a breath, closed her eyes and braced.

And the Greater Grimm drilled through the water surface.

The sudden change in pressure pulled at her. The melted sword sliced down a bit of flesh and nearly lost its latch to it. Then she felt a change in pressure again. When she felt the wind instead of water, she reopened her eyes.

The tearing damage must have been enough to be felt by the Greater Grimm, which forced it to resurface again. It roared in anguish, twisting in the sky randomly.

Then Shiva felt herself slowing down. The Greater Grimm's body was shrinking rapidly.

She was airborne, once more.

The Greater Grimm felt it as well, for its head had turned upwards and facing her floating body from below her. It opened its jaw, showing off pearly whites painted in front of its dark cavern.

Shiva discarded the broken Slayer and opened her other palm towards the lifeboat. And yelled. "Yakumo!"

—————
After what Rin had said, Yakumo had been worried about what Shiva could do. They could not drain the creature; Dark Gifts seemed ineffective; Now even her weapon was destroyed.

Then he saw Shiva's movement, just as he heard her yell his name.

He turned his body, holding Oni-Bane out, then twisted and threw it, sending it spinning toward Shiva. Shortly after, the Grimm moved towards Shiva as well.

'Come on! Make it!' Yakumo screamed in his mind.

—————
The window of opportunity would be extremely close.

She focused her attention to incoming Oni-Bane. She watched the spinning blade closely, judging the speed and rotation. Ichor flooded her senses and her arm as she readied herself to catch it.

Rapidly approaching her at the same time, the Greater Grimm had its mouth opened. With a flap of its wings, it gained speed.

Oni-Bane reached her first. She caught the sword by the hilt and immediately dual-gripped it. Just as the Grimm’s mouth dominated her entire sight.

—————
The Huntress disappeared into the Sea Feilong's mouth.

But before May could despair from the loss of her new idol, she saw black blood spurted from the back of the Grimm. And continued in a line down the body from the neck.

May could only absorb the sight of the spectacle as the swallowed Huntress refused her fate by tearing the Grimm in twine from within, using her newly acquired weapon from the lifeboat.

The slice continued to tear through the body as the Huntress went down the body. Until finally, near the lower-end of the Sea Feilong, there was a sudden burst of excess Grimm blood.

And something black and solid flew out with a glint of flash from the sun.

—————
There was no light, only darkness.

But Shiva was still feeling resistance from Oni-Bane as she went down deeper into the Grimm.

The space was constricting as she dashed downwards, one foot in front of another, stepping on unstable flesh 'ground'. Until her leg stopped in a bend up to her knee and jumped with a final slash.

She cut herself an opening through the Grimm’s back and burst through it.

Behind evaporating smoke of the Grimm's blood, Shiva saw the sunlight.

Reflected off the churning waves of the sea.

And then she slammed into the water.

A dull rumble woken her.

Below her, countless bubble foam formed a shimmering light show that brightened her world. The foam fell away quickly, taking away the light as it revealed segmented white flat surface that slowly darkened.

Clear, unstable spheres entered her vision, slowly falling down towards the white surface.

She breathed.

Her nose and chest burned. Water filled her body.

Her eyes widened. Hands shot to her neck as she tried to breathe.

No air filled her lungs.

Her body started to struggle, kicking and twisting as her insides burned.

Her vision blurred. Darkened.

She could not feel anything. 2

And she burst out of the churning sea, thunderclap blasting across the sky and droplets pelting her.

She sank. The noise dulled.

She struggled to swim and broke the water's surface again, taking in as large gulps of air as she was vomiting out the liquid. She was so tired. Her stomach burned incessantly. Her lungs burned incessantly. She thrashed, desperate to stay above the water.

In front of her blurry eyes, she could just make out a shape. A long, glowing triangle.

She kicked and flailed, doing everything she could to reach the wall—

A wave crashed down on her. The sea swallowed her again.

She stretched her hand out. Her fingers felt something solid and jagged. She held on—

The waters retreated. White shapes fluttered around her.

Her hands were pricked. Her fingers slipped. And she fell—

"Fuck off seagulls." She came to at the noise. The pricking stopped. "Hell, they ate a hole in her."

"A dead Human?" Another voice sounded. "What's with the ears?"

"I think it's a…an animal?" Her heart skipped at the third voice. "I--I don't remember the name?"

"Stop fucking dissipating so much then, dumbass. Che. Let's go before the Queen fucking appears."

It took all her strength to raise her hand towards the blurry figures.

"You're still alive?" The first one took her hand and pressed another to her chest. "A heartbeat. Heh, that fixes our problem."

"You still harping about that? Silva's policy—"

"Fuck him and his policy." The pressure on her chest lifted. "He thinks he can do whatever he wants? Fuck that! This is our find and we're keeping it."

"It's a damned animal, man. You want to drink animal blood?"

The pressure came back. A dark figure came into her vision. "Blood is blood. And she looks Human enough. If you're so fucking scared, then let me just—" 3

Bang!

Her eyes widened into focus.

Frowning dark brown orbs were the first thing she saw. It resolved to fit an unfamiliar, dark-skinned face in white slack.

She breathed. The smell entered her mind.

A Human.

A Male Human with his hands on her naked chest.

Her heart beat.

She threw her fist with all her strength.

—————

VSV Alluvion

The single gunshot brought the fear back into Mia.

It would be so easy to permanently kill a Revenant. Just a single round, penetrating through the clothes, flesh and ribcage, and a Revenant will simply die.

Nearly unstoppable.

Nearly unbeatable.

But it was Shiva's weak scream that brought terror to her mind. It brought her back to the time at the Cathedral of the Sacred Blood, when they found Shiva's vestige that showed the group the entirely of Operation: Queenslayer. And Shiva had nearly frenzied by the end of it: Her absolute hate and fury bubbled to the surface when Jack killed her.

And now, Shiva was screaming in fear.

"Get away from her!" Louis all but yelled at the seaman that pulled the first gunshot, away from them and out towards the sea as a warning shot. Yakumo had his own gun aimed at the man's heart, anger in his eyes and vocalised from his grinding teeth. "Let us through!" Louis yelled again.

"Shit!" The seaman was indecisive, looking back and forth behind him and to Louis. "Shit!" Luckily for him and Yakumo, the man was still pointing his gun towards the sea.

Behind them, Mia saw the man who was 'resuscitating' Shiva from her drowning experience was hanging over the railing, either unconscious or in much pain from Shiva's retaliation punch. One of his crewmates, trying to stay out of Shiva's reach, went to him and grabbed him by the pants. Likely to keep the man from accidentally falling over and into the sea.

As for Shiva, she was backing away from all of them, pushing herself back against the wall of the ferry and looking around wildly, one hand covering her naked chest because the man had unnecessarily removed her clothing. Her eyes were glowing bright red, instinctively regeneration from her burns and bruises from fighting the Greater Sea Grimm.

Mia understood what he was doing when he was pressing down on Shiva's chest, pushing her lungs to eject the seawater that went inside her. It helped that Shiva herself was vomiting out the water as well when he did that. What she did not understand was why was he putting his mouth on hers?! Mia just felt so violated by these Humans' behaviour.

Finally, Louis decided to just push pass the armed seaman and through the crowd, not caring if he could stop him. Mia quickly followed Louis. Over the yelling and shouting, Mia could hear the heavy footfall of Yakumo's.

‘And we left Rin by the lifeboat.’ Mia’s grip on Brodiaea tightened. ‘Please stay safe.’

"Shiva, we're here!" Louis ran up to her, reaching for her shoulders. "Shiva, its go—"

"No!" Shiva screamed and slapped Louis. He staggered to the side. "Get the fuck away from me, monster!"

She had never seen her being frightened by anything before. "Shiva! It's us!" Mia caught her flailing hand.

She was expecting resistance from Shiva. It felt like she was just holding back someone with less power than Nicola.

"Go away!" Mia caught her other hand that tried to elbow her away.

"Shiva!" Mia shook the scared woman. She was scared as well, for her. "Shiva! Look at me!" Everytime she spoke, she shook her. Gently, but firmly. "It's Mia!"

It seemed to have the desired effect. Shiva's cat-irises shrunk, her eyes stopped shaking, then the scarlet glow dimmed. She gasped, drinking in lungfuls of air and regaining some of her complexion. "M—Mia?"

"Yeah, it's me. Us." Mia turned her head left and right quickly, gesturing towards Louis and Yakumo—whose back was to them and watching the sailors.

Louis was simply looking away.

"Mia…Louis…Yakumo…" Shiva called them out, taking breaths for each time when she did. Then she just collapsed on Mia with relief, head pressed onto her shoulder. Mia let her hands slipped and Shiva held tightly onto her.

"It's okay. It's okay." Mia hugged her back. "It's going to be okay."

'But will it really be?'

Chapter Text

Vein 07 - Memories

VSV Alluvion, en route to Vale Port, Sanus

A shower. Mia forgotten how much she missed an honest-to-god, water pumped, temperature-changeable shower.

Hot showers. Hot showers were the best. And the fragranced soap as well. The bubbles drew her attention more than she was willing to admit.

She had no idea of the length of time she stayed under the showerhead, letting it rinse her entire self until she could feel her wrinkled fingers. But when the water started to turn cold, she sighed and turned the water off. She had her head down, looking at the floor tiles as the water drained away, her hair cascading down her shoulder and water dripped from the strands, her mind wandering...

The whole scene was just a misunderstood debacle. One that, lucky for them, was understood and forgiven by the crew, thanks to Officer Rusty.

Having very few accessibility to large bodies of water in the Gaol, as well as the ‘convenient’ method of regeneration available to the Revenants, the method to save a drowning victim was lost to them. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR for short, was a skill used for restarting an unbeating heart, involving blowing air into the unconscious person's body and compressing the chest. Even before that, the one doing the resuscitation was recommended to blow air into the body several times to encourage the drowned victim to eject all the water from within.

To perform CPR with as little complication as possible, they had to remove the collar and her clothing to allow her chest, breathing tube and lungs to expand to its maximum.

As it was not the first time to have had happened, they had expected some form of confused retaliation from Shiva when she woke and stay awake. They had not expected for the moment of craze and rejection from her.

In the end, the poor man who both saved and resuscitated Shiva had been the only one injured by her friend. Luckily, he was merely bruised and knocked unconscious. Shiva was physically exhausted from her near death (or dispersal, for the Revenants) and could not have done more damage.

When Mia felt a chill, she finally dragged her unwilling self out of the shower and dried herself with a given towel. After replacing the soap, she stepped back into the changing room and donned a prepared bathrobe.

No one else was in the room, but the water was still running in the shower next to hers. After placing the used towel in the laundry basket, Mia took a seat and fiddled with the bathrobe as she waited for Shiva. It was a featureless white robe, one that the business company the ferry's crew worked for had prepared for public use. Long sleeved, long enough to reach the ankles and a cloth belt to pull tight around the waist. Her dress and Shiva's clothing were taken to be washed (and fixed, in the case of Shiva's top), while their Blood Veils remained in the room they were sharing together with Rin. The Veils, which doubled as body armour, required special maintenance for cleaning.

''Cabin.' Midori called it 'Cabin.' Isn't that supposed to be a house? Hm.'

After the lifeboat had been hoisted back onto the ferry, Rin took her backpack and asked to use the ferry's armoury. She had not even thought about cleaning herself up or resting after the harrowing journey just outside their home. She just wanted to repair the broken Queenslayer, so Shiva could go with a weapon. The grateful Captain Garlet had let Rin to it and she took the melted and broken sword with her. If anyone could fix it, it was Rin.

Yakumo and Louis had done the same as Mia and Shiva, heading for the showers next to the women's side. But they had to be long done by now: The men were usually the last to enter the hot spring back at Home Base, then the first to leave after their soak.

'What's taking her?' Mia looked to the stall that Shiva was using, then looked around the changing room.

After another minute of waiting, Mia was contemplating if she should check on Shiva. The water must be completely cold by now. It sounded like Shiva was simply letting the water wash over her, as there had been no change in the pitch and volume of the running liquid.

Half a minute later, Mia got up from her seat and stood next to the stall. "Shiva?" She called out. "Are you fine?"

Moments later, the water shut off. There was no other sound for another few seconds. "…Yeah." Shiva replied. There was a ruffle.

Mia went back to her seat, knowing that Shiva was drying herself. She longed for a cup of tea in her hand suddenly. Maybe she could request one from the cook? She kicked her leg and let it swing.

The stall's door was finally opened. Shiva stepped out, both arms wrapped loosely in wet bandages and an identical towel held in one hand. She looked listless, ignoring the dripping strip of cloth on her arms. Seemingly not noticing Mia was in the room, she strolled across the room to the laundry basket and dropped the towel in. The wet cloth on her right arm unravelled unintentionally, slipping onto the ground before Shiva was able to catch the tail end of it.

Cut scars and bite marks lined the exposed arm, no longer healed by regeneration as she had them before her Revenanification. There were several around her neck and shoulder as well, normally hidden by her mask frame. There was also a large patch of scar on the left of her chest, near her heart. 'Jack did that.' Mia recalled Operation Queenslayer, but something felt…off. Mia could not quite put her thought to it.

Shiva stared at the fallen bandage, before bending down to grab it. Painstakingly, she rewrapped it around the exposed arm. She never liked displaying those scars. The one time Mia caught Shiva in the hot spring and saw the scars on her arms, she had asked about it.

"I don't remember." Was the answer she received. She never doubted it. Shiva simply did not like her marred body and kept the opera gloves on as much as possible. Mia had reevaluated her own question after knowing Eva further and learning of her past when she was a Blood Slave to other Revenants.

"Shiva?" Mia finally opened her mouth.

The woman was visibly surprised. 'She really didn't notice I'm still here.' Shiva turned around to look at Mia, searching for something on her face. Mia then lifted up another bathrobe to Shiva, who nodded in thanks, took it and donned it. After that, she headed for the exit.

Mia stood to follow. "Are you alright?"

Shiva stopped by the door. She had her left hand on the wall, next to the knob. "…Yeah."

Mia put a hand on Shiva's other arm. "You know I'm here." Mia wondered if she recalled any of her lost memories. It would explain her reaction. "So is Louis, Yakumo and Rin."

"…Yeah." Shiva sighed, then opened the door.

—————
They had the cabin next door to the girls, so it was easy to hear them when they had finally returned from their well-deserved shower. Louis, still in the provided bathrobe as his clothes were taken to wash, waited for the shuffling to be over and hearing the creaks of one of the beds. Taking his Blood Veil with him, he headed over and knocked on their door. "Shiva? Mia? It's Louis."

The bed creaked again. A bathrobe-cladded Mia answered the door. "Come on in."

The cabin was the exact copy of the room Yakumo and himself are sharing: A long rectangle; Two sets of bunk beds occupying the walls; Four cabinets by the end of each bed stacked on each other, one for each occupant to place folded clothes inside; A single writing desk with a stool with three drawers sat at the end of the room; A porthole window above the desk that was open, curtains opened, letting in the salty smell of the sea; And finally two bright light bulbs that were built into the ceiling. They were given two crew cabins, on the account that the Alluvion's guest cabins had been fully booked by passengers heading towards the 'Kingdom of Vale' for a 'Vytal Festival.'

While he waited in his cabin, Louis had read a map available on the ferry, skimming for information and learned some of the materials: Such as 'Grimm' had two 'M's when it was written. And 'Vytal' had 'Y' replacing the 'I' for the word; The three inhabited continents of Anima, Solitas (where Mantle was) and Sanus (the continent they were heading to) as well as Metus, the name of the continent where the Gaol was located; And that Mantle, the Kingdom they were looking for, had been replaced by the Kingdom of Atlas, which was a city further inland of Solitas.

"Where is Yakumo?" Mia asked as she sat down on the lower left bunk bed. Despite her smaller stature, it had too little headroom and she had to lean forward, hands placed on her knees as support and rest.

Shiva, also in a bathrobe, sat on the writing desk, looking out to sea through the porthole when he had entered, caressing the Amber Blood Bead. Now she was looking at him when Mia questioned him.

"He went to find Rin." Shiva nodded at his reply. He gestured back. "How are you holding up?"

She looked down to the Amber. "Fine."

He had to tread lightly with Shiva. It was the first time anyone had seen her lost it like that. He had no idea how to approach her and she was not one to simply share her thoughts. "We're here for you, Shiva."

That might have been the wrong thing to say, seeing how she tensed up and turned away. Her fingers clenched the Amber. "…Yeah."

"So!" Mia clapped her hands, trying to divert the topic. "We have found people, alive and well out here." She turned from Shiva—who looked up at her—to Louis. "What should we do now? Do we still look for Mantle?"

Louis decided to start from her question. "Mantle, while it still exists as Dominic remembers, is no longer the capital that we were originally looking for. It had been renamed to 'Atlas' after all of their technological advances during the years we were inside of the Gaol. Mantle may be the direction we were heading towards as our goal, but the main idea was to find signs of Life outside of the Gaol, which we have both found and made contact with. Captain Garlet has graciously offered us lodging and transport to the 'Kingdom of Vale,' located on Sanus Continent, which is the land we can see on the starboard side of the ship. We'll find the government and see if—"

A series of knocks on the door interrupted him. "Is anyone in there?" It was Yakumo. "I got Rin with me and two more." Louis looked to Mia and Shiva, whom both nodded, so he opened it. "Yo!" Yakumo greeted with a wave.

His best friend had taken to wearing the sailors' sleeveless vest and pants, which were spare clothing offered by Officer Rusty. The white-coloured clothing fit his physique well, though the bathrobe he still wore on top of them that felt out of place, especially when he was wearing it while going out to the public areas.

Rin, having headed for the ferry's armoury immediately after getting onboard, was still dressed in her own gears. The lack of a backpack and their weapons meant that she left them back at the armoury, except for the large pouch she was holding on to her chest with both arms, which Louis recognised it as the pouch that held the Blood Beads. She had her head tilted slightly with her eyes closed, a greeting only she used since she always wore her purifier mask and she had to express her emotions through different means.

Louis easily recognised Nolan Porifirio's light skin with reddening face and dark red hair, though he was missing his jacket. Next to him was a tanned girl about Mia's height in a black beanie cap pulled down over her left eye, with strands of her off-coloured red hair falling from the side and back. She wore a black scarf over a red-and-white striped jacket and long blue pants. The girl was also holding a notebook and a pen, with her lips twitching as if she was trying to hold back a larger smile that her current one.

It was going to be a tight fit inside the small cabin. "Come on in, everyone." Louis further opened the door.

Yakumo let Rin entered first, while both the teenagers stayed outside. "Shiva! I heard from Yakumo what happened! How are you?" She stepped up to Shiva.

Shiva gave Rin a firm nod, then gestured back at her.

"Not good, truth be told." Rin sighed. "I can't do much without a proper workstation. And there are also another issue...I need to talk to you later about it, Shiva." She nodded in reply. "Alright!" Rin turned to Mia, expressed her way of smiling, then to Louis, passing the pouch of Blood Beads to him. "I'm going to grab a shower. They said they want to see all of us later for something. Team Bronze will be able to explain more."

"Okay." Louis let Rin go. Once she left, Yakumo let the girl in first before Nolan and himself, then closed the door. He laid the pouch on the bed next to him. "So what is this about, Mr. Porfirio?"

While the girl seemed to be vibrate while looking towards Shiva, Nolan snorted. "Just call me Nolan, sir." He nodded. "Well, first!" He flourished his hands to introduce the girl. "May Zedong, our team's Sniper, somehow became Lady Shiva's biggest fangirl during her fight against the Sea Feilong and now she wants an autograph from her."

While Yakumo laughed and Mia giggled, Louis and Shiva blinked. "What?" Shiva asked.

"Lady Shiva! Er..." May dithered for a quick moment, then she raised her notepad and pen towards the person she was addressing. "Please, may I have your autograph!"

"...what?" Shiva tilted her head by that request, then turned in Louis with a confused look and a shrug.

"An autograph is a signature you give to people who looked up to you." Louis explained to her, then to May who also turned to him when he spoke. "Did Mr. Porfirio—Nolan tell you that we aren't the Huntsmen that you think we are?"

"Yup. It doesn't change the fact that you guys are so cool out there, though." May grinned sheepishly. "Both you and Sir Yakumo held the Sea Feilong at bay and saved my idiot teammates." At that, she glared and growled at Nolan, who muttered an apology in return. He likely was missing certain context. "And there's the level of teamwork that three of you displayed without any communications. Seeing a fellow Marksman is always cool," May nodded to Mia, "but Lady Shiva jumping onto the Grimm and fought it on its back is just…way next level! So unbelievably awesome!"

"I…see." Louis simply had no comment. Yakumo just laughed.

Under May's eager eyes, Shiva finally set aside the Amber and took the girl's notepad and pen. She opened to the first page, then stared. "…where?"

May pointed. "Here, please!" And thus, Shiva wrote something in it before giving it back to the girl. "Yes! Thank you!" Then, as she kept the notepad away, she was looking to the desk, at the Amber Blood Bead. "What's this jewelry? It looks pretty."

Louis panicked, wondering how were they to explain what a Blood Bead was, when Shiva took it in hand. Moonlight shining on it reflected off the Bead and dazzled the cabin occupants with a quick lightshow. "Memento from a friend." May studied the Amber for as long as she was allowed, before Shiva kept it away.

'It's a good thing the Amber does not look like a normal Blood Bead.' He would not be able to explain the contents of a Bead to them without the whole thing being weird for the non-Revenants, if they question about it. Louis turned to Nolan. "So, about what Rin said earlier."

Nolan cleared his throat. "Right. Captain Garlet is requesting for all of you to join us in the dining hall in an hour's time."

"Did she say why?" Louis asked.

Nolan shook his head in negative. "Nope, but I'm guessing it's going to be some sort of feast as thanks for slaying the Sea Feilong and saving everyone's hides. The ferry wouldn't have been able to repel it, much less killing it."

"We don't really..." That sounded ungrateful.

Nolan smirked with his hands up in mock surrender. "It's the Captain's idea. We're really just here to let you guys know about it. You might want to bring it up to her instead."

Louis nodded. "Thank you for letting us know."

"Anything for our saviours." Nolan gave him a thumbs up, then looked to May, pointed back with the same thumb while head tilting. "Come on May, let's go get the others."

Once the teenagers left the cabin, Yakumo took a seat next to Mia and focused his attention at Louis. "So, what's our next plan?"

"We were just talking about it, Yakumo." He replied. "Mantle's government had been replaced by the Kingdom of Atlas. Our original plan was to contact Mantle, but the general idea was to contact anyone outside of the Gaol. Since we are now heading towards the Kingdom of Vale, we will instead talk to the leaders of Vale and hopefully find a means for us to help everyone back home."

"Garlet." Shiva said. "Ask her?"

Louis agreed with her. "I'll talk to her when we see her later."

With their immediate plan made, Louis and Yakumo returned to their own cabin to wait. Yakumo took the lower bed on the left, lying back and closed his eyes. Louis checked out two books on the desk. The first book, its title 'The Four Maidens,' had a cover picture of four women in various colouring that reminded him of a children's book. He set the book down and picked up another book. 'The Two Brothers' was an enticing title, but after skimming the first page Louis also set it aside: He had no interest in a religion-themed book. Seeing that there were no other books, Louis took the map and studied it again, though there was nothing else he had not seen from it.

There was some noise from the girls' cabin. Louis assumed that Rin had returned. A look at the clock told him that they were about fifteen minutes away from meeting the Captain at the dining hall. So he woke Yakumo, put on his Blood Veil, as had Yakumo, then waited in the hallway for the girls. Not long after that, the three girls exited from their cabin and joined them, all of them sporting their Veils as well.

It was their only self-defense equipment that they could carry without arousing suspicion.

Following the signs, Louis led them towards the dining hall, in the heart of the lower deck. It was a large, flat-cube feasting hall that was nearly filled up with occupants, with a stage that the officer crews were congregating at, discussing something among themselves. Almost immediately after stepping into the dining hall, Officer Rusty spotted them and waved at them.

His action attracted others at the tables to look, turning their heads to the Revenants. It took a minute for the noisy hall to fall into silence and for everyone to look at them. Louis sweated and took a step back.

It was the pressure from so many unfamiliar eyes, peering right at him.

And the smell. Not from the various cooked morsels that were already laid on the tables and feasted by them.

It was the heavy scent of Humans, so dense due to the many bodies in one tiny room, closed off room. He had not even notice it until now, standing at the edge of the crowd and looking at the sight. He backed up into something soft.

When was the last time he had a drink from a Blood Bead? He could not recall. And he had not been holding back by much degree when they fought the Horrors, burning through his ichor reserves before they learned of the Horrors' undrainable blood. He did not have a drop of it because he had not needed it. But now the severe scent of fresh blood was overpo--

Someone grabbed him by his chest and pulled him back, dragging him away from them. "Go on." He heard her say, then faces passed by his sight before going out of the door, which was slammed shut.

—————
The entire room was watching the awkward reaction by Mr. Amamiya, before Lady Shiva threw a hand over his body and dragged the man out of the hall. At first, the other three companions were worried, but Rusty's grabbed their attention and brought them to the front.

"What was that about?" Nolan took a sip of soda.

"What else could it be?" Nolan turned to Roy, who was grinning while looking at his direction. "It's gonna be for some 'stress relief.'" He wiggled his eyebrows.

Nolan caught the meaning and laughed.

Unfortunately, Roy's comment also caught the attention of their two other teammates. Brawnz sighed, while May shot to her feet, walked behind the two, raised her fists and gave them noogies. "Yewouch!"

"Stop being so vulgar!" May growled.

"Yes ma'am!" They wisely replied.

—————
He was taken to a room, shut and locked with whomever had taken him, before he was pushed to the wall and he slid to the ground. A moment later, something yellowish and soft was pushed into his mouth, a sweet scent of lavender and liquidy, coppery taste. "Drink."

The taste of blood overpowered his rationality. He drank, his tongue lapping up the slow flowing liquid from the tube. Just twice, before his mind cleared and realised what he was doing and nearly done. He pushed the arm away and looked up to see Shiva looking back at him. He palmed his forehead in frustration. 'I nearly lost control.'

"All good?"

"Yeah, I think." Louis slowly pushed himself back up.

It was not unheard of for a Revenant to drink blood from another Revenant to remain sane. Rin had let Shiva drink from her only just recently, and Ichor Blends existed specifically for that reason, though Blend-versions were mixed with the blood of the Lost to prevent severe addiction to a single source.

And it seemed to be what Shiva was making now, taking a vial of ichor concentration and stabbing her bleeding wrist with it to draw her own blood into it, mixing the contents together into an improvised Blend. She took a look at the mix, then offered it to Louis. "Should be fine."

Louis took the improvised Blend. "Thank you." Activating his Veil's absorption mask, he drained the content and immediately felt better.

Seeing that, Shiva regenerated, blood boiling from her wrist, before she wiped the remaining with her Veil, draining them. "Ready?"

He kept away the emptied vial and sighed. "As much as I can be." Shiva nodded.

It seemed that the crew had not exactly waited for Shiva and himself, having reentered the dining hall in the middle of a speech by a scarlet-haired woman. The three bars embossed on her shoulder told him that it was the Captain herself, Garlet. "—evening. So we'll reach Vale Port by another day, in the late afternoon by the latest. We apologise for the inconvenience."

'Inconvenience? Seriously?' Most of the people in the hall laughed, some yelled back, but the general atmosphere was a relief in stress. Everyone understood just how close to death they had been and, now that the danger had passed, was releasing it in some way.

Louis felt a poke. "Feeling alright?" Shiva asked, concerned.

The heavy scent of Humans had not pass, but now there was also an odd mix of non-human scent that he could not identify. "Yeah." He nodded. He was in control.

"And now, the hero that saved us from a watery grave! Huntress Shiva!" Captain Garlet flourished in the direction of the two of them.

She was taken aback. "What!" And the crowd went wild with claps and whistles.

Then it quickly died down, in a sudden and confusing manner, until about less than half of them continued on the cheer for a moment more. Instead, murmuring had started up.

"A Faunus?" "Wait, is she joking?" "…a mistake?" "Shh, quiet, it'll hear..." Some of the words came from the tables nearby them, with the speakers turning away from the two of them. Louis frowned, wondering what was it about? 'And what is a Faunus?' He could see the diners started glaring at each other from tables to tables. Idly, he noticed the animal features at the ones glaring, whom were mostly the people that had continued the cheer as well.

"Psst," the seaman behind them whispered to Shiva, though Louis could hear it, "don't worry about, ya! Just go ta de Cap'n, ya don't hafta say nothin' to them." Shiva nodded and marched to Garlet. Louis joined his friends, standing behind Rusty and a green-haired man with a First-Mate rank. Louis recalled the name 'Midori.'

As Captain Garlet strained herself to spin a tale of heroism to the crowd that seemed to bear a grudge towards Shiva, Rin leaned towards Louis. "What was that about? Everyone seemed to have gone weird when Garlet waved to Shiva."

Mia was frowning, doing that 'Thinking Pose' herself. "I recall that Officer Rusty called Shiva a 'Cat Faunus,' back on the lifeboat." She looked to Shiva intently, who was bearing the brunt of the stares while politely waiting beside Garlet. "Shiva...She always had those cat ears, didn't she? And it isn't just some accessories?"

Louis had only met Shiva for the first time in the Ruined City, in the underground depths where he was tracking the Bloodspring. "When I saw her for the first time, she already had them." He turned to Mia. "You think those are what made her what they called her? A 'Faunus?'"

Yakumo piped in. "She already had them back in Operation: Queenslayer." Of course, Louis recalled the trip down Shiva's vestige back at the Cathedral.

"Why even call someone a 'Faunus' like its a derogatory term?" Rin said. "It doesn't even make sense! Animals were always known to have better senses than Humans. If anything, that just made Shiva that much better!"

It certainly explained some of the stuff that she could do and did, such as spotting and hearing Losts hiding in places or pretending to be dead, seeing so well in the dark to spot that camouflaging Grimm at the ruined apartment and even see the ferry so far out in the sea. Cats have great night-vision, though how she had spotted the ferry was a mystery, since cats were known to have shortsightedness. 'Maybe the benefits of an Animal combines with that of a Human's? So being a Cat Faunus meant she have the visual clarity of a Human and the sharpness of a Cat? How does it work?’

Yakumo inhaled noisy, bringing Louis back to focus and noticing he missed something. "—doesn't matter. Faunus or not, she's our friend! Nothing's going to change that."

Mia and Rin looked towards each other, Yakumo then Louis, giving them a firm nod.

"Ya done discussin'?" The same seaman from the door surprised them. Louis only realised that he was an older man, not quite elderly yet, but he could probably trade stories with Davis or Silva. He gave each of them a look, grinned, then nodded. "Gud da know that, ya know?" He pointed to a table, where the officer crew and Shiva were standing. "Dey be done hypin' the tuff crowd. Go join yer friend." Nodding with thanks to the seaman, Louis and the others headed towards the group. Yakumo let out a whistle as they approached.

"Woah, now that's a feast!"

The round table was filled with dishes: Morsels in gravies that were still steaming; Prepared greens that had been done to perfection; Various fresh fruits cut and kept chilled in plates with ice; And glasses that had already been filled with a wine of some kind, its bottle not visible on the table. Louis had not seen so much food since becoming a Revenant and, in honesty, seeing the feast after such a long time was making his mouth watering…

"We…can't accept this." Said Shiva. Louis agreed, reining his desire—

"Shiva." Mia said. "You're drooling."

Louis blinked and looked to Shiva who…actually was drooling as she sucked in her saliva and wiped her mouth with a sleeve. "Nope." She denied it.

'Maybe if I…' He elbowed her on her arm. "It's rude to say no—"

"Then I'll have this fish." Shiva cut him off while magically had the large, steaming plate of carp in her hands.

"Oie!" Yakumo mock-raged. Shiva's expression dropped. "What about the rest of us—"

Shiva actually hissed at Yakumo as she stepped away from him. "Mine." She pulled the stewed fish further away. "Find your own."

"Aww! But I want it too!" Rin stepped up beside Shiva. The Cat-Woman looked from Rin to the dish, then to Rin, then repeated looking between them, before it became a smooth motion of 'No.'

Louis sighed. 'So much for friendship. Broken over food that we don't even need.' While around them, the ferry's crew were simply laughing at their antics. Louis turned to Captain Garlet, wanting to talk about their current problem, but first. "Thank you for this."

Captain Garlet waved it off. "We should be thanking you instead, saving us from that Sea Feilong. This route never had a Grimm like this before. Sea Feilongs tend to hang out in much more open oceans. You and yours being at the right place at the right time was to our fortune." She gestured to the table, where his friends had already taken their seats, though they were still having fun and making jokes. "We don't really have anything else much other than food to offer, though."

"It's more than enough." He simply could not tell them that Revenants did not need to eat, period. Especially with the kind of reception that the normal civilians had displayed. He had no idea just how they would react to undying beings like themselves sustained themselves by drinking blood, not substances. He should just change the subject now. "This 'Kingdom of Vale,' do you know how we could contact the government leaders? We still have people trapped on Metus Continent and our objective was to find help."

Garlet nodded. "Asking the police officers in Vale is probably the fastest way to get a direction there, or a map from the shops." She shook her head lightly. "I won't be able to help you beyond that. My job doesn't extend to making contacts with the head of government."

"It's better than what we have. Thank you very much, Captain Garlet, for picking and taking us along." The good Captain and Louis shared a handshake.

"As I said earlier, when both you and Shiva were gone for…stress relieve." She winked. Louis missed the context at first, but then he frowned…

'Did they know about the Blood draining? How do I explain it? No way that a normal person will—'

Garlet's laughter cut his thoughts off. "Young, serious ones like you are always the best to tease. But hey, you got a good catch, aye?" Then she proceeded to elbow him playfully.

'...what exactly is she talking about?' Because it sure did not sound like Blood draining.

Seeing that she would not be getting the response she was expecting, she stopped her spontaneous laughter and sighed, then continued. "Anyway, our ferry's navigation system took a hit, so we're sailing somewhat blinded. It's still just a straight shot from here to Vale, but we're taking it a little easier since we can't follow the planned route. We'll reach Vale by the following day."

Louis nodded in appreciation. "I understand."

"Until then, feel free to use any amenities available on the ship. I've made sure the crew knew that you and yours have permission for them. Miss Murasame was certainly using our armoury to its fullest, though it still isn't much for her work."

"Thank you."

Captain Garlet nodded, counting something under her breath. "That's all, I believe. Now, lets eat and enjoy the rest of the night! If you need to find me, I'll be at the Bridge."

"Got it."

The Captain finally left him to his device and headed out of the dining hall. She was probably having her dinner with her crew elsewhere on the ferry. Louis exhaled, exhausted with everything, then turned to the table his friends were at. They still seemed to have things to have fun and joke about, not yet touching any of the food. Except Shiva, who was prodding her carp with a finger.

They were close to what they had set out on their mission to do—Finding civilisation and getting help. Only four days had elapsed since leaving the Gaol which, when Louis thought about it, was a surprisingly short amount of time. 'We've learned many things, though. And a lot more mystery.' What correlation did the Great Collapse and the Great War had? Why did they call the 'Grimm' as 'Horrors?' And how would the outside world react to Revenants as a whole?

Questions for the future when he have more data.

For now, as the good Captain had said, it was time to enjoy the rest of the night. And celebrate their good fortune thus far.

—————
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Yukihime and I will be your impromptu deejay for the rest of your journey to Vale. Due to the Grimm's attack, we no longer have the public radio stations available until repairs are made. Until then, please sit back, relax and enjoy the music library I shall be sharing. And for the Readers, please enjoy reading this word dump.

As it is getting late, allow me to share with you an album of jazz music. It was recorded 'LIVE at Grillby's,' played by the artist 'insaneintherainmusic.' Have a good evening and sweet dreams for our passengers.
----------
The door was locked, as it should for security. After rapping it with a knuckle and waiting, Rin answered it. "Ah! Shiva, you're here." She nodded, then was let in by the Armourer.

Jazz music playing from the announcement system was the first thing Shiva heard upon entering the Armoury, then the grunts of the other occupant—a black-skinned bald seaman—who was scrutinising Oni-Bane. She did not recall when she lost Yakumo's weapon. She assumed that the rescuer must have had pried it out of her hand when she was unconscious.

That reminded her, she should apologise to the sailor who resuscitated her. She still felt bad hitting the poor guy while she was delirious while he was saving her.

The room itself was lined with racks and holders, the former carrying clear cases of ammunitions in front and metal boxes behind them. The latter held a mix of ranged and melee weapons, all of them sorted and arranged according to their types and locked behind glass windows. The entrance was divided from the main portion of the room by a service table bolted to the floor, leaving only a small path to enter the room. Immediately behind the service table, occupying the middle of the room, were several workbenches arranged two-by-two.

Rin's backpack was at the end of the tables on the floor. On the two tables were slabs of forging metals that she used in Home Base. And a familiar red-and-black short blade. At the back of the room, locked away from the room by additional bars from ceiling to floor, were crates labelled 'Explosives, Handle With Care' and a picture of a snowflake on the side.

While Rin got around the service table, Shiva stayed outside to wait for permission from the ferry's muniton officer. But he was busy checking out Yakumo's sword and ignored both of them. Rin picked by the short blade and approached Shiva, laying it on the table. She sighed.

"This is all that's left of Queenslayer." She said sadly. "I'm sorry."

A partially melted and broken blade. All that remained after Shiva used it to defend against the Lightning Blast. She recalled that she tossed the hilt away in a random direction to free her hand for using Oni-Bane. It must be at the bottom of the sea now. Though Shiva never put much stock into a specific weapon--especially since Queenslayer was a literal mass-produced basic equipment for the Revenants back during Operation: Queenslayer—this one sword had survived countless battles in her hands by her side, all the way from the Operation until now. She took the broken blade in her hand.

"I won't be able to rebuild it here." This was just a weapon storage room, so Shiva understood. "And even then, it likely won't feel the same to you if I did. Louis is right, too: We need to update our equipment for fighting Grimm. Especially since we can't drain them for the ichor functions." Rin whispered the last part.

It felt like she had lost a friend, even though it was just a mass produced sword. "Thank you, Rin." She tucked the blade in her bathrobe.

"Captain Garlet had actually given us permission to take a weapon from here for you to use it." Rin nodded to the Melee-weapons section. "That's why I needed you to come here, for it as well as to pick something."

It was a nice gesture. Unfortunately, none of the weapons available caught her fancy. In the end, Shiva simply point at a random sword.

Even Rin could see that she was just reluctantly picking one. She pat Shiva's arm and smiled. "Once we contact someone outside and go back to Home Base, I'll make something for you."

Shiva nodded in appreciation. "Thanks, Rin."

—————
”Good morning everyone, the time now is seven thirteen A.M.. Current temperature is thirty one degree celsius. And the current word count is 6500, including formatting text boxes. Breakfast is available in the dining hall for all of you early risers. We are still on our way merry way to Vale with no issues in sight. Please sit back and enjoy the ride.

If you're still refusing to get off the bed and imagine the salty sea in your nose, then I recommend the 'JT Music' channel for some awesome rap music. This next music playing is called 'Undead Lullaby' and it is with regards to a title that attracted little old me, which then got me interested in the Code. This has been Yukihime, have a great day ahead!”
----------
At the observation deck, Shiva found Mia and May with their respective weapons in the other's hands. Both Mia and herself were back in their own wears since they found their washed clothing placed outside their cabin in the morning, but Mia had left her Veil behind and hat behind. When she approached Mia and May, she could hear the two snipers discussing about the finer points of sniping.

'Hmm, I can go for some candies...'

Mia was the first to see her, since she was approaching from behind May. "Hey Shiva." She greeted.

"Lady Shiva!" May turned around, a little bit too rapidly, to greet her. She blushed when she saw her.

Shiva returned the greeting with a wave.

"We were just talking about our weapons." Mia started. "It's very interesting how modern weapons had adapted Melee weapons into their Range weapon."

"It-it's not very good." May stuttered. "I mean, Nornhowl basically just had part of the barrel replaced with a blade for me to use it as an axe, in case I had to go into close range combat." She scratched her covered eye. "And I'm not very good at close combat."

Shiva patted her on the shoulder.

"It is still a great way of incorporating it into your main arsenal." Mia praised, then gestured to the bayonet in May's hand. "Brodiaea just had a blade attached to the front of it. I can't count the number of times Losts had parried my swings from the barrel and left me vulnerable." Mia tapped her chin with a finger. "If Brodiaea could have one of those transformation mechanisms like you said earlier, maybe I can fix that little problem."

"Durability would be an issue though." May lifted a finger. "It's infamously known that transformative weapons tend to break at the most inconvenient of moments, most of them due to the small parts within the mechanics. So you will have to perform maintenance every couple of uses to make sure everything works right."

"Say, Shiva. What do you think about it?" Mia suddenly asked. "Should I try and change Brodiaea?"

Shiva shrugged. "Louis wants us to upgrade." Then she took out the broken blade. "Need to replace too."

Mia reached for the broken blade. Shiva let her take it. "What will you do for now?"

Shiva shrugged again. The curved sword she picked was still locked away in the Armoury. "Captain offered. Took a Cutlass for now."

"I'm sure there are weapon shops in Vale City where we can get something for you, Lady Shiva." May suggested. "We can check them out tomorrow when we finally get off this boat."

Shiva nodded. "Thank you."

—————
”Good afternoon, listeners and readers and welcome back to the Yukihime Section. If you plan to stay outside on the Observation Deck, be sure to bring sunscreen with you! It is cloudless today and the burning star one and a half hundred million kilometres away is bearing down on us directly. Just two more sections to go and we will finally reach Vale!

If you haven't noticed, we are actually within Vale's CCTS range now, so you can now use your Scrolls again to call your loved ones or business partners about the whole Grimm incident, pun intended. Otherwise, you can turn on the radio for your own musical entertainment than from my Music Library.

But if still want to hear something from me, here's a bit of 'A Thousand Eyes' by the artist 'Miracle of Sound.' Complete awesome!”

—————
Shiva found Louis in his cabin. "Come on in Shiva." He opened the door and let her in, before he returned to the desk, where a book that laid opened told her what he was doing. There was an empty Bead on the table as well. She closed the door. "Doing a round of social visit, I'm assuming?" Louis turned the chair around so he could take a seat facing her. "You enjoyed doing so whenever we took a break back home."

Shiva would not deny that. She reached into her pouch and retrieved an aluminium foil package with contents rattling within, a bold, cursive MnM was printed on it. She tossed it to Louis. "Enjoy."

"What's this?" Louis read the label. "Chocolate candies?" Shiva nodded. "Thank you, I will enjoy this." He placed the gift aside on the table and took the book, showing the title to her. "I've been reading up on the Grimms, trying to learn as much as I can about them."

Shiva nodded. "Problem?"

"A few. First," Louis flipped the pages until he stopped at the content he wanted to show, letting Shiva see the picture, "the Snake Greater Horror that both you and Rin faced. According to the Grimm bestiary, the 'King Taijitu' is an uncommon Grimm that is ranked among some of the weaker tier of Grimms."

Shiva blinked. "They're 'weak?'" She was almost eaten twice by it!

"The biggest danger comes from its uncommon sightings and its massive size, which tends to exaggerate Huntsman's caution and overthink things." Louis summarised what the book wrote. "It has only two methods of attacking: Bites and constrictions, but it can incorporate ambush tactics with its alternate head. Beyond that, it is recommended for two Huntsmen to tackle King Taijitus at the same time, so they could split the attention of the two heads."

It…was not too far different from what Rin and herself had done. Rin took care of the White Head while she did the same for the Black. She supposed that the bestiary had useful hints to learn from. "What else?"

Louis flipped the pages again, stopping at a bipedal dog Grimm. "While the two of you faced the Snake, we fought a rather large pack of Beowolves." Shiva committed the creature's picture to her memory. "The Beowolves share the same weakest ranking with several other Grimms, but what made them dangerous were their Pack Mentality. They barely ever travel alone, not even those that act as a Scout. They are also theorised to evolve the fastest, as every pack met by Huntsmen always had one 'Alpha Beowolf' as the leader. The preferred strategy to fight them was to 'cut off their head,' as in killing the Alpha, then the rest of the Beowolves will either revert back to their instincts or flee."

"Your experience?" Shiva asked.

"We never engaged the Alpha, it hid behind its subordinates and had the survival instincts to protect itself from Mia's shooting." Louis went into his 'Thinking Pose.' "It also seems to answer to Grimms that are more powerful than itself, or at least fear or respect them. I'm assuming this because the Alpha retreated after both of you had killed the Snake."

Shiva nodded. "The Sea Grimm?"

"The 'Sea Feilong.'" Louis flipped the pages forward. "They are a rare sight and thus they do not have a whole lot of background information about it. Their Lightning Breath is considered one of the most dangerous range-based abilities in the entire Grimm kingdom, but they could only do so once every few times, or they would need a 'very long charging time,' leaving themselves open to attacks."

Shiva frowned. "Garlet got lucky."

"I assume so." Louis closed the book. "It shot at us, then immediately tried to shoot at the ship." He tapped the book on his knee. "We need to understand how each Grimm functions. We only ever fought so many kinds of Losts back home, but the number of Grimm types far exceeds the number of Lost types."

"Vale area." Shiva suggested.

Louis nodded. "I agree. I'll check out the Kingdom's list of Grimms and make sure we're prepared to face them."

—————
”Good evening everyone! This is Yukihime and I am here with the latest news, for those who missed the CCTS broadcast. Roman Torchwick, Master Thief! In cahoots with the White Fang? Captured members of the White Fang had thrown their conspirator under the bus! For those not in the know, eyewitnesses reported, two days ago, that they saw a battle occurred between the Huntresses of Beacon and White Fang, who were working as subordinates to one Roman Torchwick. Despite the battle that resulted in three destroyed Bullheads, no one had suffered more damage than a scraped knee.

I mean, can you actually believe that? Them dropping out of the laser-dissected airships from around three stories high, or an intact, piloted Bullhead crashing into a stack of crates then exploded completely. Maybe it was a RC-Bullhead? But we're not here to speculate!”

—————
Somehow, Shiva was not surprised to find Yakumo at the bar having a drink and looking at his precious photograph. "Seat taken?" She took a hold of the bar stool.

Yakumo briefly looked up and huffed with a smile. "Not at all. Go ahead."

Shiva obliged. The bartender swiftly approached Shiva when she had taken her seat. "Something stiff."

The bartender nodded and went off for a moment to prepare her drink, which arrived to her just as swiftly, sliding across the bar top into her waiting hand. Picking up the glass, she tapped Yakumo's raised glass of brandy in a clink and drained half the volume. The poison burned her throat and stomach, then settled and warmed her body.

Alcoholic drinks did not do much for a Revenant beyond that.

They sat in silence after that, Yakumo swimming in his memories and Shiva nursing the rest of her drink, staring at the bubbles that continued to reappear in the drink itself.

Shiva envied them at times, having the memories of their past to dwell within for a source of strength and conviction. Shiva had none of hers, the cycle of dispersal and regeneration had robbed her of nearly all her memories. She had nothing left to call her own, back then.

Io gave her something. Then Louis and Yakumo. Coco, Rin and Davis. Mia and Nicola. Jack and Eva.

"I didn't peg you to be a drinker." Shiva turned to Yakumo. He was leading on the bar top and facing her.

Shiva shook her glass, making the ice clink together. "Don't know." She could not recall having ever drank something like this.

Yakumo leaned back and looked up. "You know, we never did have that brandy together." He meant the one she found in Juzo Mido's underground lab: One of his employees must have had snuck a few bottles in but never had a chance to drink it. Oh well, their loss was Yakumo's gain. He turned to her grinning, and pointed at her with his glass in hand. "When we get back to Home Base, let's crack it open and celebrate our successful mission outside Gaol. It'll be a great memory!"

Shiva blinked at his suggestion, smiled, then raised her glass to his, tapping it again. "Promise."

But it will never occur.

—————
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is Captain Garlet speaking. In two hours' time, we shall be docking at the Vale Port. First, I would like to thank everyone for the patience and understanding for our delay. Next, we like to thank you for riding with VSV Alluvion. For those who had booked a return trip ride with us, please approach our Vale Branch's office for further information regarding your return trip. I wish everyone a good day ahead."

—————

Vale dock, Kingdom of Vale

Yakumo remembered once upon a time, the Ruined City looked like this.

Standing on the wooden planks that made up the docks, Yakumo looked up the perfectly undamaged breakwater wall to see colourful apartments and glass-walled office buildings standing tall. People in casual clothing were pacing behind the railings, some stopped to admire the sea and boats while others were travelling to other places. Beyond what he could see, he could hear vehicle engines rumbling over the idling noise of the Alluvion. "What a sight."

"Indeed." Louis agreed.

Rin ran a few steps forward, her backpack jiggling from the movement, turned sideways and spread opened her hands. "Look at these! Everything looks so perfect!" The males of Team BRNZ—Brawnz had explained the colour abbreviation to the Revenants back on Alluvion—joined her.

Meanwhile, Mia and May were looking over a hungover Shiva lagging behind them. "You really shouldn't have drank something so strong." May said.

"Uuugghhh..." Shiva had a hand to her head. "At least I knew now that I probably never drank before." She sounded like an old man currently. "Can't even be drunk but the effect—" A gulp cut off her sentence. "Drinking sucks." She dragged out the last word.

Yakumo laughed at her hangover. "When we have that brandy, we'll get some food inside you to lessen that effect."

Mia smacked his back with Brodiaea. "Stop laughing! Half of this is your fault! She was vomiting the whole night!"

"Eeh, screw this." Shiva used Panacea's Essence, which turned the gathered ichor in her palm from red to a pinkish smoke that quickly emitted from her hand to her body. Almost immediately, her expression went from pained to her default frowning blank. "Better. Should've done earlier." Yakumo snorted. A hangover cure! How awesome was that?

May blinked at what had just occurred. "What is your Semblance exactly, Lady Shiva? A form of healing through the use of blood?"

Except for Rin who was ahead, the Revenants looked between themselves. Louis was the one to answer. "It's hard to explain without fully disclosing our origin beyond being survivors of the Ruined City. Suffice to say, it's not what you called 'Semblance,' but instead we called it 'Gift.'" May nodded, understanding thus far. "Simply put, all of us can use several different Gifts that are unique to ourselves, except for Shiva herself."

May frowned. "That actually sounds like 'Semblance?'" She was thinking over it. "'Semblance' is also unique to each individual which can be evolved through growth, which has been known to change functions in some Huntsmen."

"I'll let you have a more satisfactory and complete explanation when we have the time after our mission." Louis said. May nodded in acceptance.

Rin and the males of Team BRNZ were waiting just further ahead, which the four of them were quick to rejoin once they started moving once more. The dock had already been cleared of disembarking passengers from Alluvion, so they had the whole dock to their unhurried walk. As the group in front stepped onto the concrete pavement of the staircase, Yakumo heard Shiva commenting about something. "Check this out..."

"What's that, Shiva?" Yakumo turned to her, who looked confusedly back.

Shiva shook her head.

"What's wrong?" Louis was at the first step when he looked to them.

Yakumo scratched his head. "It's nothing, I thought I--"

"Sh!" Shiva suddenly put up her hand. "I'm going to be the first..."

‘…Wait a moment. She did not open her mouth to say that!’

"Was that...?" Louis was paying attention now.

Shiva nodded. "Vestige."

'The voice from it...' "Could it be your own?" Yakumo watched as Shiva gave a deliberate nod.

"How could there be one here?" Louis stepped next to the two of them.

"Guys, what's wrong?" Rin was looking down at them from the second flight of staircase, almost reaching the top of the wall. Mia and Team BRNZ had stopped as well.

While Yakumo and Shiva had started looking around the wooden dock, Louis answered their companions. "We heard the echoing sound of a Vestige."

Mia and Rin were just as surprised, with a shout of "What!" before they scrambled back down the staircase.

Team BRNZ was absolutely confused. "What is going on? What did you hear?" Brawnz was leading the questions. But none of the Revenants answered him, for they were focused on trying to pinpoint the location of the hidden Vestige. Without an answer, the Team was left to stand confusedly on the landing.

As the Revenants were spreading further out, Mia was the one to find it. "It's under the dock, in the shallow water!" She pointed at the spot.

When Mia called out under the dock, Shiva had already jumped down into the water. She waddled her way to the glowing red crystal under the greyish waters as Yakumo and Louis joined her in the water. Rin and Mia stayed on the dock and they were shortly joined by Team BRNZ.

"Wait!" Louis called out. Yakumo and Shiva stopped in their tracks, with Shiva standing close to the glowing spot. "Shiva, you can't access Vestiges anymore, remember?"

'Ah, that's right! She no longer has the Relic.'

"Is that Burn Dust?" May was the one who asked.

"'Dust?'" Mia questioned while Rin took out the Vestige container that the late Attendant, Leda used a long time ago. "No, whatever you're thinking of, that's not it."

Louis took the container from Rin. "It is for the best if we just take it with us for now."

"Louis." Shiva was still staring at the Vestige. "If it was your voice echoing from the Vestige, wouldn't you want to know?"

"Shiva, Aurora told you before. You're not a Successor anymore." Louis stepped forward to the Vestige. "If you try to access that Vestige now, you'll frenzy."

Not knowing what else he could do, missing out on the context of their conversation, Yakumo could only approach his two best friends and stand by Shiva's side.

"But," Louis continued, "but I'll admit that I would want to know." He looked down at the Vestige. "What was my life like before the Collapse? I know I was a student, but what was I studying? What about my school life? Friends from back then? But Shiva," he turned to her. "you can't do that anymore. It is going to cost you if you keep insisting."

Shiva closed her eyes and inhaled. "It'll be fine." She said.

"Shiva!" Louis hooked a hand through hers. He watched her with a pregnant pause. "...that day you were brought in to Karen...Did you nearly Frenzied that day because you found a Vestige of your own?"

'What? When did that happen?’

Shiva nodded, shrugging off Louis' hand and kneeled down. "Mia, Rin, don't let them come near." She meant Team BRNZ. "Louis, Yakumo. If it does go wrong...I trust the two of you."

"Shiva!"

The Revenants yelled as she reached into the murky water. Almost immediately, she lifted her hand up into the air, an object held in hand. The Vestige pulsed a sickly red glow in her palm. With it out of the water, Shiva's voice echoing out of the Vestige became clearer. ”—are the real—”

"Woah, that's a pretty big Burn Dust." Nolan said.

"But what is with that sound?" Roy asked.

For a moment, nothing seemed to be happening. Shiva was still grasping onto the Vestige while Louis and Yakumo was standing behind her. Mia and Rin were anticipating what was to come, while Team BRNZ were curious about what they were doing.

"Uh, guys?" May started. "What exactly are y—"

The Vestige's spiked parts suddenly shot through Shiva's hand, as they had expected it. She grunted from the pain, while Team BRNZ was surprised and yelled out.

Yakumo largely ignored the teenagers, keeping an eye on Shiva as she held the activated Vestige. Slowly, painfully, Shiva pulled her other hand up and held the wrist of the first. Her eyes glowed scarlet as blood ran down her arms.

Then she collapsed into a kneel and started growling.

"Shiva!" Yakumo leapt forward, reaching for her shoulder. He was going to pull that Vestige out of her hand, consequences be damned!

But when he placed his hand on her shoulder, the world went silent.

—————

???, ???

Yakumo blinked rapidly and shook his head. Around his immediate area was nothing but darkness. The breakwater wall was gone, so was the water he was standing in, the dock that was above him and all of his friends.

It reminded him of the memory delves that Shiva used to be able to do.

'In fact, it probably is.' Yakumo thought, trying to find something in the darkness. 'Maybe Louis and Aurora's tests are wrong? Maybe Shiva could actually still do this without a Relic?'

In front of him, the lightless world was brightened by a single lamp post, erected on a floating platform that he had no immediate way to get to. And underneath the lamp post, he saw her. "Shiva!" She did not react to him. Yakumo stepped forward, walking on the sidewalk that were floating towards his feet and forming walkable path for him. 'This is absolutely similar to the memory restorations Shiva and Io used to do for us...' "Shiva?"

She was enraptured by whatever sight was between two buildings. He could recognise an alleyway when he saw one. Taking a couple more steps, he stopped beside her and peered into the alleyway to see what had captured her attention.

As he had expected, several garbage bins filled the alleyway: Two large bins, one closer to the entrance and another one further inside; One smaller bin was placed beside a side door, while the last two similar sized bin had fallen, their contents scattered across the ground in the ashen-colours of the memory walk. But those were not what had his attention.

It was the two tiny figures, also coloured in ash, that were beside the large bin at the back that caught his attention. Both the ash statues were tiny—children, the smaller one sitting with its back to the bin while the slighting bigger one was standing wide with hands splayed out towards the sitter.

Yakumo noted that both the children figures had pointed ears on their heads.

Shiva: "Check it out, Kali! I've found some drumsticks! Hazzah! We're gonna eat like Princesses tonight!"

Kali: "…"

Shiva: "Kali? What's wrong?"

Kali: "Why do they hit us? We did not do anything…"

Shiva: "…Adults play rough! That's what Papa used to say…"

Kali: "Where is 'Papa'? Where is 'Mama'?"

Shiva: "They are protecting us from the Grimm!"

Kali: "…I want to see Papa and Mama…I never see them before..."

Shiva: "…"

"When Kali was a baby, our parents died to the Grimm." Shiva suddenly said, unknowingly answering a question that was forming in his mind. Yakumo looked away from the two children statues to the grown-up woman beside him, still forlornly staring at the statues. "You weren't here at the beginning. My Father told us to run. My Mother gave Kali to me then distracted them."

Yakumo patted her on the shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Shiva."

Shiva walked up to the statues and kneeled beside the statue of Kali. "Her last words were 'You're the big sister. Protect your little sister.' She sighed. "I can't even recall her face, just the desperation." Yakumo had no idea what to reply. He—and likely most of the Revenants—had never thought about his own parents until now.

Shiva stood back up. She turned to Yakumo, scrutinising him. She tilted her head. "How…?"

Yakumo shook his head. "I have no idea. You collapsed into the water and started to scream. I was able to catch you then, at the next moment, I'm there." He pointed back the way he came from with a thumb.

Shiva nodded, seemingly not at all minding his presence, and turned to the other side of the alleyway, where another lamp post stood before a road. "Maybe there's an answer further ahead…" Yakumo followed her in silent as she stepped away from her childhood.

As the road brightened, Yakumo began to see figures appearing. They were standing around facing a make-shift podium using a vehicle. The most prominent features of these group of statue-people were their various additional body parts: Horns, Tails, or Ears. Yakumo stood beside Shiva, who was standing behind two familiar statues.

In this scene, it would seem that Shiva and Kali had grown older by a few years. The taller Shiva was pulling the shorter Kali, seemingly trying to leave the scene.

Kali: "I can't see him!"

Shiva: "We can hear him just fine. He's so loud!"

Kali: "But I want to see him! That handsome face! That hulking body! Kyaah!"

Shiva: "Gi—Girl! You're too young for this! Time to go."

Kali: "Not fair! You do this but I can't!"

Shiva: "Hm! I'm the older sister! You're just a pipsqueak. Come on."

Kali: "Ah, wait! I need to get a photo of Ghira!"

Shiva: "No!"

Yakumo laughed at the scene. Shiva, big sister extraordinaire! Trying to control her little starstruck sister. At the least, he now understood why she was good with Mia, Rin and Io. When he tore his eyes away from the sisters, he saw that Shiva had approached the man standing on the podium. "So, who is he?" He asked as he joined Shiva.

Shiva shook her head, then tilted her head: She had no idea as well, yet. She scanned the area, wondering where she had to go, then stopped at the roadside tree near the junction.

Yakumo once again followed her lead.

As they rounded the corner with the tree, the darkness began to brightened and a forest grew rapidly in front of his eyes. A less travelled path was created between the trees, leading into a secluded clearing. There, in the clearing, he could see the man and the sisters. The man now had spikes around his chin, which Yakumo assumed was the start of a beard. Statue Shiva was nearly reaching her own current height, while Kali was shorter but her ears was larger by comparison. Kali was seen wrapping her arms around the waist of the far bigger man, hugging the shocked man, while Statue Shiva was tilting and scratching her head, seemingly in exasperation.

Ghira: "For it is in Liberation that we achieve Morality. Through this, we become a paragon of Virtue and Integrity to understand those who fear. Infinite in truth and unbound by emotion, I release your soul, and by my strength, guide thee."

Shiva and Kali: "Woah!"

In front of Yakumo, Shiva suddenly collapsed, gasping for air as she held her chest. "Shiva! What's wrong?" He held her up by the shoulders. She was sweating profusely, droplets of water dripping to the dirt.

Ghira: "What the two of you felt is the feeling of your Auras unlocking and, for the first time, running wild. Don't do too much, however. You'll run out of Aura after the high and simply collapse in exhaustion."

Shiva: "So this is Aura...What Huntsman uses..."

Kali: "Thank you Ghira!"

Ghira: "It—It's no problem! The White Fang will certainly gain better standing with your help. Both of you."

Shiva: "Mhm. Sure thing, Boss. You got it."

Ghira: "Bo-Boss! Please just call me by my name. I'm not your Boss. We're a family."

Kali: "Kyaah!"

Ghira: "Opff! Can't…Breath…”

Shiva: "Kali! Let the Boss go before you kill him!"

Silence descended as this stage of the memory walk had ended. Yakumo was still holding onto Shiva, who had leaned against him as she recovered from her sudden ordeal. She was looking at her own hands, glowing with an ethereal violet colour that, from Yakumo's sight, covered her entire body and seeping into himself. "It's unlocked...No, it's released." Shiva whispered.

"What is that? 'Aura?'" This was the first time he heard of the term. He had no idea what it meant. As well as what she meant.

Shiva nodded. She dropped her hands to her side, the colour covering herself and him disappearing as she did. "Manifestation of our Soul. All Living Creatures have a soul, thus have an Aura. But it needs to be unlocked, through training or, as you just witnessed, by another skilled Aura user."

'All living creatures?' "Does that mean I can have my Aura unlocked too? What does it actually do?"

Shiva lifted a hand, in her palm she clutched the broken Queenslayer. Before Yakumo thought about how she was going to explain Aura, she brought the sharp edge down on her other hand's elbow. Then, as Yakumo blinked at her action, she took away the blade. The exposed flesh of her elbow remained undamaged and flawless. "It provides a form of Energy Shield that recharges over time. It can enhance attacks and even equipment as well. And that is just the base uses for it.”

"A permanent shield and empowered attacks?" That explained some of the things the woman could do or had done back in the Gaol. "So you always had it?"

But Shiva shook her head, disproving his thought. "I had my Aura…held back."

Yakumo blinked. "Why?"

Shiva opened her mouth and inhaled. Then closed it again. She did it once more, before she audibly swallowed and simply shook her head. Either she did not want to explain it, or she did not know how to..

"So…" Yakumo was trying to think of something to break the silence. "That Ghira guy was your…Boss?"

"Not…Boss, per say. He is the Founder and Leader of a Faunus Group named White Fang. Faunus are people like me, who have additional animal traits. But we were discriminated by Humans." Shiva, with the support of Yakumo, stood up. She walked up to the statues. "He's our mentor, he picked us up from our...predicament."

"He is a good man." Yakumo could see why Shiva's sister seemed to have a huge crush on him. "Is he...? ‘Alive?’ Yakumo trailed off.

Shiva shook her head. "I do not know." She understood his unfinished question. She pushed away from Yakumo, standing unsteadily under her own power. She stepped pass the three statues of her past and deeper into the forest.

Following Shiva, Yakumo found themselves stepping onto bricked pavement once again. To his right, he could see a frozen sea that reached the breakwater wall they were atop of, very much similar to the dock that they had arrived in. He could see the wooden jetty as well, though it was a single path instead of the multiple split version they had arrived at. Perhaps this was a different jetty? Or perhaps this was before the additional branches were built? Yakumo walked two steps behind Shiva as she descended down the snaking staircase and approached the two statues at the end of the dock.

Shiva: "Goal for the future? Hhmm…What about you?"

Kali: "I asked you first, dear sister. Hehe."

Shiva: "Hhmm…I have no idea."

Kali: "How about a Professor? I've seen the way you teach the kids. Some of them seems absolutely smittened."

Shiva: "Don't remind me. The number of times they asked to have their Aura unlocked…Ugh. Once is enough. Sienna is already a handful. Don't want to deal with them."

Kali: "I know you don't mean that. You like them. That's why I believe you'll make a good Professor, or at least a Teacher."

Shiva: "Sigh. You really think so?"

Kali: "Mmhhmm."

Shiva: "Fine. In that case, I'm going to be the first Faunus Headmaster--"

Kali: "Woah!"

Shiva: "—probably, when someone decides to build an Academy at Menagerie. Like the kids like to say recently: Go big or go home. And it's not like we got a 'home.' Going big is the next thing on the list."

Kali: "*Clap clap* You'll be a great Headmaster someday."

Shiva: "Now, what about you?"

Kali: "I'm going to be Ghira's wife!"

Shiva: "*whispers* Bros damn it... *speaks* I can't believe you're still on about that."

Kali: "Think about it! When my future husband approaches the Mayor and makes the request to build an Academy on Menagerie, he's going to do everything to please my darling Ghira's request."

Shiva: "*whispers* Sigh...Bros damn it."

Kali: "Hey! It's a great plan!"

"But I didn't want that." Shiva said, kneeling behind the statue of Kali, a hand on her head. "Everything I said was to satisfy her." She frowned, other hand clenched into a fist. "All I really wanted to do was to protect her."

That sounded borderline obsessive. Did Shiva thought of what Kali wanted? If Shiva was being overbearingly protective of little Kali, it was no wonder she seemed to have drifted away. Kali's obsession to Ghira might have simply being a way for her to show or tell youth Shiva that she could or should trust someone else. But Yakumo would not know from here. But one thing was for sure, she loved her little sister, even after all these time. Even now. "Let's go look for her. She have to be somewhere out here."

Shiva said nothing immediately nor made any motion. She kept her hand on the statue's head, eyeing the back of the representation of her sister, thinking of something that she was not keen to share. When the world around them had darkened into nothingness but the planked jetty she stood back up. She turned to Yakumo with a smile and nodded. "Yeah." She finally replied.

Additional planks and supports erected themselves at the end of the jetty, elongating the footpath and lead them towards the carved stone steps of the Memory Gate that would take them out of the Vestige. Shiva led Yakumo forward, stepping from wood to stone and up the staircase as the door began to open, letting in the white blinding light that was always behind the massive gate.

"YOU HUMANS ARE THE REAL, FUCKING ANIMALS!—"

Yakumo whirled around in surprise at the scream, just as the blinding light engulfed him.

But for just a short moment before the light swallowed him, he saw it.

Two walls, an alleyway. A gigantic snowflake made the alleyway a deadend. Tiny bodies sown the ground, some with appendages that defined the Faunus. Six figures stood erect, clutching rods and tools in their hands, none of them having any animalistic features.

And in the centre of the bodies sat a familiar statue with pointed triangles on the head.

And he saw no more, blinded by the whiteness of the gate.

But he heard it all.

"I'm going to kill you. I'M GOING TO FUCKING KILL EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU!"

—————

Vale Dock

Yakumo stepped back in shock, waddling in the water that reached up to his knees. His head rang with an echo and a pulsation that he tried to shake off, his free hand reaching for his forehead: It felt like it was about to burst and he was seeing double.

"Yakumo!" He heard Louis yelled beside him. He sounded as if he was having a mouthful of water. "Shiva! What happened?"

He had no idea. "I—" They never had such a bad reaction to entering and exiting Vestige before. He collapsed to a knee.

"Yakumo!"

"I'm fine..." He forced the words out. He tried to make out the shape in front of his eyes. "How's—" A blood-curdling scream cut his words off.

Shiva was going frenzy! Veins were exposing themselves from the rush of blood on her right arm as she fell face-first into the shallow water. Yakumo got to his feet with the support of his sword as Louis and Rin—when had she gotten into the water?—waddled across the water to reach the woman. Louis immediate grabbed a hold of her the moment he reached the shaking woman.

"What is happening?" Yakumo heard one of Team BRNZ shouted. He took a quick glance to see Mia holding them back from dropping in as well.

It was dangerous for any of the teenagers to approach them.

Her Ivy Blood Vein suddenly manifested into their drain mode. The twin lines went wild, tearing across the water and shooting up towards the dock, where one—with a hook end—crashed into and stuck there. Louis caught the other out-of-control Veil at the same time as he tried to hold onto the shaking Shiva above the water. "Rin! We need Blood Beads, now!"

Rin swung her backpack off herself, throwing it into the water in a rush to pull open the compartment where the Beads were kept. The Veil that was in the wood tore itself off and went towards her, nearly piercing her if not for Yakumo reaching for it and grasping the line.

Rin pulled out two Beads, one in each hand. Another fell out of the bag and hit the water, floating with the waves.

"Shiva! Hang on!" Louis tried in vain to calm down the frenzying woman, still screaming and kicking away trying to free herself. "Shiva!"