“Zwei!” I shouted for what felt like the millionth time. “Zweiiiiiiii! Come here boy!”
It was supposed to be a quiet morning stroll through the Forest of Forever Fall, enjoying the fresh air, letting Zwei roll in the leaf piles, Yang and myself finally catching up after so long.
But then the damn dog had gone and run off.
I sighed, and sat down on a mushroom-covered log, pulling out my Scroll. No new messages. Of course not. Ever since Weiss and I had had that fight—Blake taking her side, Yang taking mine—it was over the dumbest thing, I know, but she was going to be the one to apologize first, this time.
That had been a week ago, and that prissy, white-haired, cake-butler-having princess hadn't said a word to me since.
I put the Scroll away, considering standing...nah. In a minute or so. My feet were killing me. Six hours hunting for Zwei and—
What was that?
I jumped up, grabbing Crescent Rose, my always-dependable scythe, looking around the clearing cautiously.
I'd heard something...a growl? No, a bark? A bark!
“ZWEI!!!!!!!!!” I screamed. “COME HERE!!!!!”
I heard the bark again, and I took off, darting through the trees in its direction. Shooting through the branches like a red-caped bolt of lightning, here and there changing into my Semblance to clear the brambles more easily.
Another bark. I was close! “Zwei, come on, it's Ruby!” I shouted, perching atop a tree branch. “I'll let you eat Blake's stuff again!”
Nothing. The sound of silence. Even the birds had stopped their chirping, and the breeze had stopped rustling the crimson leaves of the forest.
“Zwei?” I called.
Had I done something wrong? Was he mad at me for some reason? I'd been busy with my studies, I had to admit, and hadn't been able to walk him as much as I should have. But that wasn't enough reason to hate me, to run away from home as soon as he was off the leash, was it?
There was a lump in my throat at that thought. Our dog, Zwei, always there for us...until he wasn't.
A new noise, one I hadn't heard before. A low, resonant thwop thwop thwop sound, running through my bones, causing the tree I was perched on to tremble. The ground shuddered a bit, and some leaves fell, landing in my hood.
And then I heard yelping, only for a second before it stopped abruptly.
I darted down, towards Zwei. I ran, faster than I'd run before, screaming his name. He was lost, confused—hurt? Tree branches grabbed at me as I sprinted, pulling on my dress, on my cloak, but I ignored it. I had to help Zwei. I had to—
My foot snagged something—an exposed root?—and I fell, hitting my head on a rock. My aura held, but I still tumbled forward, bouncing off rough bark and stone before I landed in a clearing. Rough grass surrounded me, and I could feel rocks poking into my back. “Ow…”
The ground shuddered underneath me.
Slowly, I pulled myself up to a sitting position, rubbing my head. A quick check of my scroll—my Aura was half-gone, already. I shakily stood, looking around, but everything moved—no, I moved. The ground was moving!
I ran, trying to get out of the clearing as it began sinking into the ground, but even as I ran it felt like the trees didn't get any closer, only higher-up as the clearing fell inwards, the flat meadow crumbling and turning into cliffs.
Now I was scaling upwards, dirt crumbling underneath my grip even as I climbed desperately. What even is this? No, it didn't matter. I just had to get out.
Above me, a rock in the pit's wall came loose, heading towards me. Nowhere to dodge without letting go. It didn't make a difference, when the boulder hit me I lost my already-tenuous grasp on the wall, and I fell.
Around me, everything became darker as I fell down, bouncing off the walls of the pit, which were now a hard, painful stone. The pitiful light from above winked out, leaving me in darkness, falling.
The last thing I remembered before giving in to the pain was a flash of blue sky.
- - -
“...the hell… cape?...”
“...oh… also a gun?”
Everything hurt. Oh, wow. Everything hurt.
I moaned in pain as it all hit me. I was sore all over, my right leg felt...off, somehow, and there was a coppery taste in my mouth.
“Hey,” A voice said, nearby. A girl? But her voice was...weird. Something poked me in the side. No, that felt like a boot.
I groaned in response.
“Hey! She's alive!” the girl with the weird voice shouted.
My eyes flickered open.
Looking down at me were two masked people. One, dressed in dark leather, with a skull-helmet, looking down with his arms crossed. The other, the one who I think had been talking? She was kneeling next to me, eyes behind yellow lenses looking at me with concern. Her outfit reminded me of a bug, kinda.
“What happened?” I asked. Well, tried to ask. What came out was more of a quiet, pained groan, ending in a question mark.
“Don't move,” the skull person said, his voice deep. “Your leg has a compound fracture.”
A compound what?
I looked down at my leg.
Oh. That's a compound fracture.
I turned my head away, trying not to be sick. Instead, I looked around. I was in some sort of hole. Rubble littered the hole, and several broken pipes sprayed water. Ah, that would explain the wet feeling, I thought with relief.
“We need to move her, Grue,” the weird bug girl said. “The sewer line’s ruptured, and she's got open wounds.”
“Skitter,” the skull guy—Grue?—replied. “She left a massive crater when she fell. We're going to have company any minute.”
Skitter ignored Grue, and looked me in the eyes. “Hey, can you talk?”
“Y-yes,” I managed.
“Okay. Do you have a spare mask?” she asked.
A spare mask? Why would I have a mask?
Skitter looked at the other one, Grue, who just shrugged. They both moved at once, the girl grabbing my good leg, the guy kneeling down to put his hands under my back.
“Wait, what are you—” I was cut off as agony lanced through me, as they picked me up.
Sometime later, either seconds or decades, I was on the ground again, this time hard asphalt, looking up at the bright blue sky.
“Tattletale, why didn't you say there was a crowd?” Grue asked angrily. “And where are Bitch and Regent?”
Tattletale? And...did he say bitch? That’s a bit uncalled for.
“The entire city just saw a meteor fall from the sky. You don't need to be a Thinker to figure this one out.” Another woman said, Tattletale? “Also, don’t you know you’re not supposed to move injured people? That’s basically rule number one of first aid.”
A blonde woman with a mask and an eyeball emblem on her chest stepped into my field of view, looking down at me.
She looked down at me, her head cocked to the side, a wry smile visible under her mask. I met her gaze as calmly as I could, taking shallow, ragged breaths, hoping I didn't start crying from the pain.
“Well, aren't you interesting,” she remarked, before turning to the other two. “Bitch isn't coming. Hung up the phone when I asked why. Regent's on his way. I don't think he'll get here before—” she was interrupted by the sound of screeching tires. “—before they get here.”
Grue looked towards the sound, making a snarling sound. “Dammit, Skitter! This is why I said we should go.”
“It's fine,” Skitter replied. The Tattletale girl gave her a glance, but she continued speaking. “We haven't done anything except pull a girl out of a crater.”
Still, I could tell she was worried. She was tense, as if ready to pounce. I hadn't noticed before, but there was a cloud of bugs buzzing around her. Or maybe it was thicker now, and that's why I noticed? Honestly, it hurt too much for me to concentrate on it.”
“Undersiders!” someone shouted. A guy, younger by the sound of it.
“Ugh,” Tattletale said to herself. “Wait, at least… oh, good news finally, they have Panacea with them.”
Skitter stepped towards the man who had shouted, her arms held out. Then she was out of my field of view, and I couldn't exactly move my head without making everything hurt.
“Okay,” Tattletale said, looking down at me. “While Skitter's getting herself arrested, let's chat, Red.”
Just from Grue's body language I could tell he was rolling his eyes, but I said weakly, “Okay.”
“First off, I'm Tattletale. This is Grue, and that's Skitter, over there. You're in Brockton Bay, do you know where that is?”
“No...” I said weakly. “How did I...”
“Beats me. Maybe we can figure that out. What's your name, cape name...wait, no. You have powers, but you're not a cape, are you?”
“I'm...Huntress...training.” Why was it getting so hard to speak.
“Hey, stay with me, Red, okay?” She glanced over in the direction the weird bug girl had gone. “You're gonna be all better in just a moment, okay? Now can you tell me about your power?”
Power? What? “I'm...you mean Semblance?”
“Sure, yeah. What's your Semblance?”
I coughed, wincing and grabbing at my ribs. “I move, quick. Rose petals. Like my name.”
Tattletale stood, suddenly, and stepped back. Another person appeared, a girl clad in white robes, with a red scarf covering the lower half of her face. She knelt down next to me, placing her hand one on mine and another on the… bits sticking out of my leg. Behind her, a figure clad entirely in white armor, with...clocks adorning it?... watched, glancing behind him occasionally, his body language wary.
Freckled robe girl muttered to herself, but I didn't hear what she said. Suddenly, I felt my leg shift, felt my ribs start to move around, reconnect. Something she's doing? Putting me back together? My thoughts were interrupted as my leg snapped back into place, earning a pained gasp from me.
“You shouldn't have moved her,” Robes said, glaring at Grue. “What if I hadn't been here? Half her bones are broken, you could've killed her... Okay, whoever you are, get up.”
Oh. She was talking to me, there. I slowly pulled myself to a sitting position—expecting agonizing pain but feeling none?—and looked around for the first time. I was sitting on a black-paved street, the pavement next to me consumed by a twenty foot wide crater. Beyond that, there was a crowd of people, looking from a distance. Quite a few had old-fashioned-looking Scrolls out.
I turned my attention to myself. Somehow, I still had Crescent Rose with me, at my back. My dress had a couple tears, my leggings were covered in blood, but other than that, I felt… normal.
Something wasn’t right, though. These people… Skitter, Grue, and Tattletale were all off to one side, and Robes, Clock, and some kid in red and gold armor had retreated to stand next to a black vehicle with purple “PRT” painted on the side. There was… tension was one word.
“What’s going on…?” I asked warily, glancing between the two groups. Tattletale whispered something to her friends, I didn’t catch what.
“Undersiders,” Clock said loudly, to Grue’s group. “We’ll handle this from here. Step away from the girl and crawl off to whatever rock you live under.”
“Hmmm… How about no?” Tattletale said. “I kinda like her.” What?
“Dude, we should be arresting you right now. The only reason we’re not is because you helped her out. Come on.”
I felt something around my feet, and looked down to see darkness pooling around my boots. I followed the source to the skull guy, Grue. It was coming out of his helmet.
“Hey Red,” Tattletale said to me, walking over.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“You’re looking for something. Or someone, right? Right.” How the heck did she… “So here’s the deal. You come with us, humor a Thinker for a couple hours, and we’ll help you find it.”
“You’ll do that?” I asked, the same time as Clock cleared his throat loudly.
“Look, Red Riding Hood, we don’t have all day.”
A fly landed on my cheek. I swatted it away, but it came right back. Grue stepped forward, between me and the Clock Guy’s group.
“Psst,” Tattletale stage-whispered at me. “This is one of those us-or-them things.”
“You… you’ll help me find Zwei?” I asked, glancing between her and the other three.
“Sure. Skitter here is great at finding things.”
“I am?” Skitter asked.
“Yeah!” Tattletale laughed a little loudly. “I’m glad you picked up on the subtext there.”
“Red. Whatever your name is,” Clock Guy said. “Your new friends are supervillains who stole thousands in a bank robbery a couple days ago. Just in case you wanna think twice before, y’know, siding with them.”
I paused, looking at the trio near me. “Robbery?” I asked quietly, taking a step away. “What’s Clock Guy talking about?”
“It’s Clockblocker!” Clock Guy shouted.
“What’s Clock...blocker… talking about?” I repeated, my voice raising angrily.
Tattletale shrugged. “He’s right. We’re big bad evil supervillains. For what it’s worth, we’re on your side.”
“And just why is that?” I took a step away from her, swatting at another fly.
“Red, you’re new here. There’s something you should probably know about these losers. They’re… you called it Semblance? They have Semblances just like us, except they’re—”
“Shut up!” Robes shouted. She shoved at one of her teammates. “You’re just gonna let her run her mouth? After what she did… what they all did?”
“Red, listen closely.” Tattletale’s voice was rushed, with her walking closer to me to be heard over Robes’s protests. “They’re with a group called the Parahuman Response Team. Their job is to arrest people like us, lock them away. And you—”
“Stop her!” Robes snarled. The guy in red armor stepped forward, but Grue stepped forward as well, as if blocking the way. A standoff.
“—you’re weird. Not from here. Or Aleph…”
“Aleph?” I asked.
“Not important. What you need to know, is that those guys? They’re going to put you in a room, and poke and prod at you because you’re an oddity. You won’t be yourself, you’ll just be some case number.”
“That’s enough!” Clockblocker shouted angrily. “Red, or whatever the hell your name is. Come with us. These guys are dangerous.”
I glanced between him and Tattletale. Geeeeeez. What had I gotten myself into?
Robes was almost foaming at the mouth at this point. “Tattletale’s getting to her. Just like she gets to everyone.”
“You’re not leaving with the newbie,” Clockblocker said flatly. “Sorry.”
“And what if I don’t want to go with you guys?” I asked, stepping forward. Ruby, what the hell are you doing? “You’re awfully insistent on her not telling me things, and I don’t trust that.”
“Fuck me,” Robes groaned. “She drank the kool-aid.”
Red Armor drew a small pistol of some sort. I didn’t get a good look at it unfortunately. Still, he’d drawn a weapon, which meant...
I stepped forward, spinning Crescent Rose in a circle as it extended into scythe form. It was a showy move, to be sure, but with the crowd watching (many holding their Scrolls out like they were recording), it didn’t hurt to have a little flair. “I’m not going with you. Thank you for fixing my leg and stuff, but I’m leaving now.”
“Hey Red,” Tattletale poked me in the side, making me jump a bit. “Quick run-down, since we’re doing this. Don’t kill anyone.”
“No, but that’s the big one.”
“Okay?” I’d been awake for less than ten minutes, and I was already getting in a fight. My tightened my grip on my scythe, and took a deep breath as I activated my aura. Skitter and Grue positioned themselves next to me, and I started to hear muted buzzing from the darkness at our feet.
Well… I guess this is a thing.