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“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.

No!

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?...”

“...no mask....”

“...Tinker? What's...”

“...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?

“...No?”

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.”

“...that’s it?”

“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.

Chapter Text

The kid in red armor moved first. As darkness rose up around us, there was a muffled crack as a bolt of light shot out at me from his pistol. Too fast to dodge. I felt myself knocked back, my Aura absorbing the hit.

“You shot me what the hell?” I shouted, leaping forward with my scythe. He ducked down, missing the slice. The buzzing was getting louder now, and I could feel bugs bouncing against my calves in the black fog that was quickly rising. Behind Clockblocker, a swarm of bugs rose out of the fog.

They’re… sentient bugs? Or being directed? Oh. It must’ve been Skitter’s Semblance. Grue had the fog, she had bugs, Tattletale had… something. Stop it, Ruby. You’re getting distracted. Right. To battle!

Clockblocker was running towards me, the swarm in hot pursuit. He reached a hand out as if to grab me. I didn’t wait to find out why he was trying that maneuver, instead dashing forward and activating my Semblance. I split into rose petals, three bunches darting around him and through the swarm of hornets and other insects I didn’t recognize off the top of my head. I felt a weird sensation in a couple petals that hit his hand.

On the other side, I reformed, watching the swarm of insects harry him. Strangely enough, a handful of petals were suspended in midair, as if… as if frozen in time.

Time semblance. Okay, that’s… workable.

And then everything went black as Grue’s darkness exploded upwards, the street filled. I couldn’t see a thing, my hearing was filled only with the sound of my own heartbeat… I was out of senses. Maybe the three alleged supervillains had a way to see through it, but I didn’t. I spun Crescent Rose around, leaping up into the air and firing a couple shots into the ground, the recoil pushing me up above the street to land on the flat roof of one of the streetside buildings.

The entire street itself was filled with pitch-black fog, darker than the putrid flesh of the Grimm. A river of black with banks of brick and stucco on either side. I couldn’t see or hear a thing in the street itself.

This… wasn’t good. The trio of Hunters who’d pulled me out of the crater were—by their own admission—not good people, but the others, Robes and Clockblocker and the kid with the gun… they’d tried too hard to shut Tattletale up. And on top of that, I had no idea where Zwei was, but I wasn’t about to back out of this little spar.

A swirl in the darkness below, and a patch of white-colored armor was visible for just a second. That was my chance! I leapt forward, scythe held above me, diving through into the darkness after him. I spun Crescent Rose as I landed, hoping to knock him off his feet… nothing but air. Damn.

Now I was back down in the thick of it, but unlike before, I was in a small clearing of darkness, just enough to see the asphalt of the street around me. Around me, the swarming of bugs. It was still a bit spooky, if I was being honest.

“Hey,” a woman said behind me. I squeaked and spun around, Crescent Rose’s blade passing through the source. The bug girl, Skitter, straightened back up, her body language a bit… unhappy.

“Sorry!” I said, my voice trembling. “How do you even see in this stuff?”

She held up a hand, a small cluster of flies taking off and circling my head in formation. “Follow them,” the woman—girl? said, melodramatically stepping back into the shadows.

The swarm booped me in the face, before shooting off to my side. I ran after it, the clearing opening up in front of me to give me sight. Grue’s help? Whoever or whatever was doing it was helping me out, so that was nice. Suddenly, the swarm stopped, and I skidded to a halt.

My heart was pounding, and I couldn’t help but grin. Even with the weirdness of fighting in shadows, it was exhilarating to be in a proper fight. Slowly, Skitter’s bug formation inched forward, and ahead of me the clearing opened up to reveal Clockblocker, his back to me. My grip tightened. He didn’t have a weapon I could see, but with his Semblance… I wasn’t sure he needed one. Regardless, I wasn’t going to give him a chance. I cocked Crescent Rose and darted forward. He began to spin around at the noise, and I fired a shot behind me to give me an extra burst of speed, to get there all the quicker, doing a somersault to bring my blade down below me as I went over his head—

Clockblocker stuck his hand out at the last second, hitting the scythe. It froze in place, but I… kept going. Into the darkness, I strengthened my Aura, not knowing what was on the other side. I slammed into something hard, jarring me. A flicker as my Aura hit critical levels.

“Owwww…” I groaned. The darkness opened up around me. I’d slammed into the black van with the “PRT” letters, leaving a sizable dent. I picked myself up off the ground, brushing dust and paint flakes off of my skirt. Around me, the fly squadron circled. “I’m fineeee.” I wasn’t sure if Skitter could hear my grumbling through her bugs, but it seemed to appease them.

Footsteps behind me, and I spun around to see Clockblocker. He slowed to a stop when I spotted him, lowering his hand. “Shit, you alright?”

“I’m fine!” I shouted, glaring at him. “What did you do to Crescent Rose?”

“To what?”

“My scythe!”

“Jeez, chill out, Red. It’s just stuck in place. You, on the other hand… look. Tattletale got to you, it happens to the best of us. But nobody’s gotten hurt, so why don’t we talk this through.”

I paused, cocking my head to the side. “...got to me?”

Clockblocker groaned. “You really are new to this, aren’t you? She’s—” There was a muffled thunk in the darkness behind him, and he groaned before continuing. “—She’s manipulating you. That’s what she uses her power for”

Oh. Ohhhhh. If true, that was… awkward. “So that stuff about case numbers and poking and prodding…?”

“That was bullshit. Distorting the hell out of the truth.”

“And why should I believe you over her?” I asked warily. Behind him, a swath of darkness opened up to reveal Crescent Rose sitting on the pavement.

“I don’t have an agenda...we don’t have an agenda, as long as you aren’t a supervillain. If you are willing to let us do ‘poking and prodding’ then the PRT’s nerds would love a chance, but we’re not gonna lock you up and send you to Area 51 or something.”

I started walking over towards Crescent Rose, giving him a wide berth. He let me go past. “And them? The Underwhatsits?”

“Undersiders. Why Tattletale wants to talk to you, I don’t know, but she’s a Thinker, and she’s not exactly what you’d call a good guy. Imagine if someone could figure out your deepest darkest secrets, somehow, and use them against you. An unknown factor like you is a gold mine for her.”

I picked up my scythe, brushing the flecks of dirt and bugs off of it. “I still need to find Zwei. He’s got to be here somewhere.”

“Zwei is…?”

“My dog. He’s why I’m here in the first place. He ran off in the forest, and—”

“Hold on. You were chasing after your dog and, what, took a wrong turn and fell out of the sky?”

“I don’t know!” I shouted. “It was all so quick. I just want to find him, and get home before my sister finds out I’m lost in another world, okay?”

He sighed. “Okay. But you can’t be running with supervillains while you’re here—” he cut himself off at the sound of footsteps behind me. “Kid, no!”

I looked behind me. The red-armored dude, spiders and wasps covering every surface of his armor, running towards me. Oh no! I swung Crescent Rose as Grue’s darkness contracted, blindly aiming—

There was barely any resistance as the hardened steel went through his legs. Blood. Screaming. Lots of blood.

Why did he attack me with his Aura down??? ... Oh god… what have I done???

I fell to my knees, mouth agape in horror. The red-stained scythe fell from my hands. Clockblocker ran past me, grabbing his teammate and freezing him in a  pool of blood. Why didn’t I just dodge away? He turned, grabbing me—

They were both gone. The pool of blood, congealing. No more darkness, either. Flashing lights painted green light across the faces of a gathered crowd.

What?

“She’s back,” someone said, their voice muffled. I looked up, confused. A man stood, laden in blue-and-silver armor, only his bearded lower face visible. He held a strange-looking halberd in one hand.

Oh. I… must’ve been frozen in time?

“Is… is he okay?” I asked, shakily, my voice trembling from adrenaline and horror. I’d… I could’ve killed him.

“What were you thinking?” Halberd said. “You could’ve killed him!”

“He attacked with his Aura down!” I shouted, not that it made it any better. At least it was could’ve instead of… did.

I could only see a bare hint of eyes behind his visor, but I got the strong impression he was glaring at me. “Get up,” he said after a pause. Before I had a chance to comply, two hands grabbed my shoulders and yanked me upwards. I looked up in surprise. Two… guards?... in black armor, pulling me to my feet. One had a weird-looking flamethrower and the other a grenade launcher of some sort. It was pretty clear they were here to babysit me.

With an agitated growl, I followed after Blue Halberd Guy. We passed by a trio of the black-armored guards, loading Crescent Rose into the back of one of those vans. “The boy with the armor, is he alright?”

“Yes, luckily Panacea was in the area.”

“Panacea?”

“The young woman with the white robes.”

“Oh.”

Blue Halberd lead me to a van, opening the back and gesturing for me to climb in. I did so hesitantly, sitting down on one of the hard metal benches running along the sides of the van. Halberd and the two babysitter guards clambered in after me. I couldn’t help but notice at least one of them was watching me the entire time.

“Where… where are we going?” I asked hesitantly, swallowing the worried lump in my throat.

“PRT HQ,” Halberd said gruffly from his position across from me. His halberd was held to the side in one hand, running the length of the cab. “Downtown.”

“I… see…” I was trying really hard not to think about the allegedly false poking and prodding Tattletale had mentioned. Either she or Clockblocker was lying, and I was really hoping it was her right about now. “Um… am I under arrest or something?”

“That depends on how the next half hour goes. If this is all just a big misunderstanding and accident, then you will be free to go, although I’d recommend against it.” Halberd paused, and I behind his visor I could see the faintest hint of his eyes staring me down. “Aura. You said Kid Win had his ‘aura’ down, earlier. Explain.”

I blinked. “Sorry?” Halberd didn’t respond, so I hesitantly continued. “...Aura. You know, force that powers all living things?” I pulled out my Scroll—causing them all to tense up in alarm—and loaded up my combat display before handing it to him. “See? Aura.”

Halberd looked it over. “‘Ruby Rose’? Is that your name?”

“Yes! Ruby Rose, leader of team RWBY!” I said, offering a hand. He glanced at my hand, at me, and then back to my Scroll.

“And these other names? Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna, Yang… Xiao-Long? That’s your team?” I nodded, and he handed my Scroll back. He was quiet for a long minute, clearly thinking, before he spoke. “You said all living things have Aura, where you’re from?”

I nodded. “Well, except for Grimm, but they don’t really count as—”

“Grimm?”

“Wow, this really isn’t Remnant, is it? Grimm, big monsters, attracted to negativity? No?”

The babysitters glanced at each other, Halberd leaned forward. “No, we don’t have Grimm. Nor do we have Aura. You’re a long way from home, Miss… Rose.”

I nodded, looking behind him at the unfamiliar buildings passing by. I didn’t know what to say or do. I’d fallen down a hole, woken up in a crater, been ‘rescued’ by Huntsmen with strange semblances… Except, they’d called them powers, right? Were they different? A million questions swirled through my head, and I wasn’t sure any of them would help me find Zwei and get home.

One of the babysitters nudged me, causing me to jump up. “Wha--?”

“We’re here,” they said, pointing to the open back of the van. I’d gotten distracted.

“Oh.” I hopped out. We were on the ground floor of a parking garage, next to a large building made of dark glass. The three sides not facing the building were lined with chain-link fencing filled with black and purple slats obscuring the view out. The garage itself was filled with more of the “PRT” vans, some mounted with turrets, as well as a handful of more ordinary-looking vehicles and motorcycles. There was a handful of the armored guards, many armed with the weird flamethrowers and grenade launchers, all watching me warily. Clockblocker was there as well, along with a woman in green with a colorful scarf. I could see red lines on his white armor, where blood had been wiped away with a rag. He stepped forward as I got out, but the scarf woman grabbed his shoulder firmly, stopping him.

Halberd led me over to the pair. “This is her. ‘Ruby Rose’.”

Scarf looked me over, and I got the sense Clockblocker was glaring at me behind his featureless helmet. “Is that a civilian or cape name?”

“That’s… my name? What’s a cape name?” I asked hesitantly.

“Tattletale was calling her Red, for what it’s worth,” Clockblocker said, his voice tight.

“That will do for now.” Scarf pulled a small piece of cloth out of a pocket and handed it to me. It was a black mask of some sort, with a piece of elastic to keep it attached. “We’re going to be calling you Red for now, we’ll figure out a better cape name later, but for now, use that when you’re in costume.”

“...in costume?” Scarf looked pointedly at my dress and hood. “This is my normal clothes.”

“In that case, I would recommend dressing more conservatively when you aren’t looking for a fight. Come, the Director is waiting for you.”

I followed after her, her teammates falling in behind me as I put the weird mask on. I couldn’t help but feel distinctly… uncomfortable… with it on. Not only because of the elastic pulling at my hair, but hiding my face felt wrong. I was reminded of something Blake had said once, about why the White Fang wore masks… I put that out of my mind. The last thing I wanted was to be thinking about how my current situation paralleled being a terrorist criminal.

We passed through a set of double doors held open by guards and into a low-ceilinged, fluorescent-lit hallway. After maybe a minute of walking through the nondescript hallways, including a trip on an elevator that hardly felt like it moved at all, we stepped into a warmly-lit conference room.

A blonde woman in a rather large suit jacket was sitting in the center position of the table, and she gestured for me to sit across from her. I did so hesitantly, with Clockblocker standing right behind me, and the two still-unnamed older-seeming capes flanking the jacket woman. Between us was an emblem set into the wood of the table, a winged shield with the letters “PRT” on it, wreathed in laurels and stars.

Scarf cleared her throat. “I don’t think think we’ve gone over names. You’ve met Clockblocker, this is Armsmaster—” she gestured at Halberd. “—This is Director Emily Piggot, and you can call me Miss Militia.”

I nodded hesitantly. “I’m Ru—Red.” That felt weird to say. Why couldn’t I just use my name?

“Well,” Piggot spoke. Her voice wasn’t what I expected. “Why don’t you, in your own words, tell me what happened earlier.”

Oh. Well, that’s simple enough. “Well, it all started when I was walking my dog, Zwei…” I gave her a retelling of the events. Falling through a hole, waking up in a crater, Panacea healing me, the Undersiders, the fight… ending with the attack. “...and then Clockblocker grabbed me, and I guess I was stuck in time or something? I don’t know where Tattletale and the others went.”

Clockblocker cleared his throat. I couldn’t help but suddenly realize why he in particular was right behind me. “They ran off after I froze her. I don’t think any of them, Tattletale included, were expecting that.”

“Red, you mentioned to Armsmaster something you called Aura, is that correct? Is it something you can control?”

I nodded. “Of course. I thought that guy… Kid Win, was it? I figured, if he’s a Huntsman like he seemed to be, he’d have his Aura up? But he didn’t have it unlocked, even?”

Piggot’s face crinkled up. “Huntsman. That is what you call people like Kid Win where you’re from?”

I nodded, giving Miss Militia a glance. “Or Huntresses. I’m training to become one, at Beacon Academy. You’ve probably never heard of it.”

“On Earth, we call them parahumans,” Miss Militia spoke up. “People with unique, unusual powers. Your Huntresses, I suppose, are our ‘Protectorate’. Kid Win and Clockblocker here are ‘Wards’, essentially junior members. How old are you?”

“Uhhh… Fifteen?”

Miss Militia nodded, glancing at her colleagues. “Given the circumstances, this seems to be a misunderstanding. Kid Win will be perfectly fine thanks to Panacea, so in the end nobody was hurt except PR.”

Director Piggot spoke. “With that in mind, we’d like to recruit you into the Wards. For—”

“I can’t do that, I’m sorry,” I interrupted. “I have to find Zwei and get back home, to Vale.”

“Red,” Halberd—Armsmaster spoke. “There’s no going home. Wherever Vale is, it’s nowhere on this planet.”

“Whatever you guys did to pull me here, can’t you just reverse it? Send me back?” There was an uncomfortable tightness in my throat. “I have to get home. Yang is probably looking for me. My team is probably looking for me.”

Dad, on top of that. He’d lost Yang’s mom, lost mine too. He couldn’t… I couldn’t do that to him, or Yang. “I don’t think you understand—” Armsmaster began.

“No! You don’t understand!” I shouted. “I can’t stay here. I’m going to find my dog and go home. I can’t… I can’t be here.” There were tears running down my cheeks, I realized. “Just tell me who brought me here so I can have them send me back.”

Miss Militia walked around the table, sitting next to me. She went to rest her hand on mine but I jerked it away. “Red… Ruby,” she said quietly. “We don’t know how you got here. This is all new to us too. We can make some calls, but… I’m not going to lie to you. The odds are thin right now.”

I pulled my feet up onto the chair, closing my eyes and hugging my bloodstained knees. Maybe it was childlike to cry, but right now I didn’t care. My dad, Yang, Weiss… I couldn’t do this to them. There was a voice next to me, Miss Militia murmuring something to the others, the creaking of a chair as Piggot got up, the sound of the door shutting.

Sometime later, once my heart had stopped racing, I wiped my face on my sleeve. Miss Militia was looking at me, concern clear in her eyes. She spoke, her voice surprisingly hesitant. “When I was a young girl, there was war in my country. The village I grew up in, all my friends… they’re gone now.” She cleared her throat. “Ruby, I can’t promise we’ll succeed in getting you home, but we’re going to do everything we can. I won’t do nothing and let you lose your home too.”

“Thank you.” My voice was hoarse.

“Until then… why don’t we find you settled in somewhere, get you some lunch?”

I shook my head. “Thank you, but I need to find Zwei. He’s probably scared and confused and hungry and…” I trailed off. “Sorry.”

“That’s fine,” she replied, standing. I stood as well. “You’ll need to be careful out there. Tattletale lying is surprisingly enough one of the smaller problems in Brockton.”

“Okay. Um, can I have Crescent Rose back?”

“Pardon?”

“My scythe.”

“Oh. Yes, We have it. I’m sure it won’t be a problem, so long as you don’t…”

“Don’t cut people in half because they don’t have Aura?” I asked bitterly.

“I was trying to find a more political wording, but yes.”

“I’ll… try and hold back.” My voice was quiet. Miss Militia led me out of the conference room, and back to the weird elevator. We stepped out into a pleasant-looking lobby, lined with portraits of not-Huntsman and not-Huntresses. A few people were milling about, giving myself and Miss Militia strange looks on their way to and from what looked like a small store in the lobby.

We waited there for about a minute, before a pair of the PRT guards appeared, wheeling out my still locked-open scythe on a flatbed cart. I rushed over and grabbed it, looking it over for any damage. Nothing, finally some good news. With a flourish I collapsed it and clipped it in its spot under my hood.

Miss Militia cleared her throat. I turned around, to see her offering me an older-looking Scroll. “PRT issue. I’ve programmed in the number for our dispatch if you get into trouble… Please try not to join any gangs.”

“No Ma’am,” I replied, tucking the Scroll away. “Just looking for my dog.”

“Stay in touch, Red,” she cautioned, before walking back to the elevator.

I made my way out the front doors, giving a couple staring bystanders an awkward wave. Out the doors, walking a bit faster. To the sidewalk at a jog. By the time I turned the corner and tore the stupid mask off my face, I was sprinting.