"I hate this" she thought to herself.
"Alright! Line up!"
Reluctantly, she stood to her feet along with the rest of the girls, standing shoulder to shoulder as the owner of the brothel guided two men into the room. "Okay gentlemen, these are some of our most prized women. Take your pick; they'll do whatever it is you want~"
"Hehe, alright son today is the day you officially become a man" the older of the two men said.
"I hate this" she thought again. Why did the gods condemn her with such a life? Being violated day after day by these sick perverts. The younger one began skimming through them, greed, and lust in his gaze. When he got to her, he stopped…like they always do.
"Well, hello there~. What's your name?"
She did not want to make eye contact, or even acknowledge his existence.
"Hey! Speak when your spoken to!" the owner's booming voice blared.
She flinched, practically feeling the sting of his palm across her face. Meeting the aspiring patron's gaze, she hesitantly answered. "…Vernal"
"Vernal huh?" the man said. He grabbed the top of her kimono and stripped it down to her waist, exposing her breasts. "Mmm very nice. I'll take her."
"Great, that'll be a thousand lien an hour."
"Here's two thousand. I want a turn with her once he's done" the older one said making the exchange.
"Excellent. Vernal? Show these men a good time" the owner said.
"…Yes sir" she wished she could stab him for every time she heard that. Pulling her kimono over her shoulders, she led the younger stranger to the slide door on the left as a guard opened it for them. They stepped outside into an intermediary area; a fancy rock garden and amber dust lamps providing a beautiful aesthetic for what was otherwise a wretched place.
This was only one of many. Plumeria Village was one of the most infamous settlements in Anima; known extensively for its lucrative casinos, while its black market and red-light districts flew precipitously under the radar. The rock garden was surrounded by a dozen private rooms, and as she escorted the man to hers, she fought to contain the bile she felt rising in her throat. Every day she was forced to indulge in men's sexual fantasies, to take in their disgusting genitals between her legs. She desperately wanted to get out of here, to leave and never look back. She just needed the right opportunity to do so.
They arrived at her room. With a soft sigh, she slid the door open, "Alright, we're here. Are you ready for this~?" she forced herself to say seductively.
The man smiled, "Absolutely."
She went in first, the man closing the door behind them. "…So? What do you want to do?"
"Sit on the edge of the bed" he instructed, unbuckling his belt to take off his pants, tossing each of them onto the mattress.
She went to sit down on the silken sheets as he approached. Strangely though, he got on his knees and removed her sandals. Then, he lifted her feet and pressed his face into her soles, inhaling deeply. "…You like feet?"
"Don't talk anymore."
So, she did. Without another word, she just stared at him in indifference. "They just get weirder and weirder" she thought. He seemed intoxicated by the smell of her feet, his member growing stiffer with every breath. He set her left foot down, gripping his shaft to slowly stroke himself. He then started licking her right foot, making her grimace, "Ugh, gods this is so gross." The feeling of his warm, slimy tongue dragging across her sole, snaking between her toes before he sucked on each one; it made her want to vomit.
Out of nowhere, a loud explosion disrupted the silence, its shockwave causing the very room to shake. "W-what was that?" the man asked worriedly, turning his head to the door.
"…I don't know" Vernal answered. What could have caused an explosion like that? It could not have been Grimm; the village's defenses were too good for them to be a bother…
Another ground-shaking explosion, accompanied with the sound of faint gunshots. The man stood up, facing the door. "This is it!" she thought, finally seeing her opportunity.
"I think we should le-AARGH!"
She threw everything she had behind a kick to his gonads, making him crumple to his knees again. She then hooked his belt around his neck and pulled hard, stomping her foot against the back of his head too. He could not even get a word out as he clawed at his belt, before trying to reach behind him. She refused to waver, pulling harder and harder and harder until…
When she released him, his body fell face first to the floor, blood beginning to pool out of his mouth. Wasting no time, she ran out into the rock garden to see other girls and their suitors rushing toward the exit. She closed the door of her room and quickly followed them.
"What?! What do you mean the village is being raided!" they entered the main lobby to see the brothel owner scramble his henchmen.
"It's true boss! Bandits! The whole Tribe!"
A look of horror washed over the owner's face. "G-gather what you can and meet at the edge of town! You sluts make yourselves useful and pack your things!"
"Tsk, I'm not listening to you anymore" Vernal thought as she broke for entrance.
"Hey! Vernal! Get back here!" the owner yelled. But it was too late, she was gone.
"OH MY GODS! NO!" everyone looked towards the rock garden. "She killed him! She killed my son!"
It only took an instant for the owner to connect the dots, "Rrrr! You three go get her! The rest of you-"
"Ngh! … Screw it! Just help pack!"
::::: ::::: ::::: ::::: :::::
"…It really is being ransacked" Vernal thought. She saw the smoke and orange glow of the fires in the distance, figures looting the surrounding buildings and killing any civilians who were unfortunate to encounter them. There was so much hysteria and pandemonium, it would only be a matter of time until Grimm appear. "The airships! They must be evacuating people."
She vaguely remembered where the village's helipads were, sprinting in their general direction. Her heart pounded so hard in her chest, while another explosion shook her very core. Cutting through narrow alleys, shoving through villagers who got in her way. She ran for almost two minutes, when she saw one of the airships taking off, followed by another. "Come on! I'm almost there!"
Suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, two fireballs rocketed through the sky before hitting both ships. They exploded in a horrific blaze, their remains falling onto a tavern and an inn. Vernal's eyes widened with shock, "What the hell?!" Did the bandits have catapults? How was she going to escape now? Her mind was racing too fast to think straight.
The most feared word on Remnant. A woman shouted at the top of her lungs, pointing at the village's east gate. From the forestry emerged a small pack of Beowolves, the glow from their eyes creating ominous trails through the darkness.
"… …What's happening?" her legs went stiff. Her life flashed before her eyes, the years of verbal, physical, and psychological abuse; and it was all going to end like this?
"*Gasp*!" she turned and ran with the rest of the crowd. No. It was not going to end here. The gods delt her this hand, and she refused to give in for their satisfaction. The crowd split apart, herself taking a turn down another alleyway. She looked behind her, her dread growing still as one of the Beowolves tailed behind. "Ah!" she fell forward after tripping on something. When she looked, it was the body of one of the village huntsmen. Next to him was a scimitar, which she quickly grabbed before standing to her feet again. The Beowolf continued to charge, licking its grotesque teeth drawing ever closer. She gritted hers as well, choosing to step forward to challenge her fate. When they met, the Beowolf swiped with its left, but she ducked underneath. It tried with its right, but she swung the scimitar ferociously to meet it halfway.
The blade sliced completely through, severing its arm at the elbow. She followed up, adrenaline coursing through her as she stabbed it in its heart, thrusting the scimitar as far as she could. Within seconds the Beowolf dissolved into black mist, allowing her a much-needed breather. "*pant* *pant* What am I going to do? The bandits could still be around, and the Grimm won't be going anywhere anytime soon. But if they're destroying all the airships, then…"
She looked at the intersection where the alleyway met the street she ran from. There, a behemoth of a Grimm stood on all fours. It appeared to resemble a gorilla, only three times as hulking. It stared her down, almost making a chuckling sound. It knew she was helpless, and she herself froze with fear once again. "…This is it… …I'm really going to die." The beast stood to beat its chest and charged; but before it could reach her, a beam of light struck from above…freezing it solid.
When she looked up, bewilderment overthrew everything else she felt. In the sky overhead, was a person adorned in what looked like huntress attire. Their red and black fabrics stood in contrast to the Grimm-like mask they wore on their face. They descended gracefully, landing on the ground between her and the beast. "Stay away from me!" she shouted, holding up the scimitar towards them.
"I don't think you want to do that" the woman said, placing her hand on the hilt of the blade on her hip. When Vernal eyed the sheath, she was shocked to see it contained over a dozen individual blades, each of them separate sets of colors. How strong was this lady? "*sigh* It's okay…" the woman let go of it, reaching up to remove her mask. Long, black, feathery locks, scarlet red eyes, and a soft pale complexion caught Vernal by surprise. "I'm not here to hurt you."
"Then what do you want?! Who are you?! And how the hell did you do that?!" Vernal asked, motioning to the Grimm encased in ice.
The woman however did not answer. Resting a hand on her sheath casually, she approached, her heels clicking softly against the stone roadway. She stopped in front her, eyeing her up and down, "What's your name?"
"What do you do here Vernal?"
"… …I'm… …a whore."
"I see. Well, to answer one of your questions, my name is Raven. I'm the leader of the bandits ransacking this shithole."
Vernal was taken aback; she said that so casually, so carefree. "What?"
"I saw what you did to that Beowolf just now, and you've got a lot of potential. I want you to join us."
Raven took a step back, raising both of her hands. In her right, fire emerged from her palm, appearing not to hurt her in the slightest. In her left, ice crystallized into a rose figurine. "You also want to know how I can do this too right? Join my tribe, and I will tell you the truth about this world. Not only that, but you will also be given food, shelter, and be taught how to fight to survive."
Vernal remained silent. "The truth about this world?" A mystical red glow surrounded Raven's eyes, adding even more intrigue to her offer. She did promise herself that she would escape from this place; and standing right in front of her was her golden ticket. But living life as a bandit? Looting and pillaging villages?
"…No answer?" Raven turned to walk away, "Well then, I guess you're content with sharing the same fate as the rest of-"
"Wait!" Vernal shouted, making Raven stop. "I…I'll join you."
The bandit leader looked back at her, with an oddly warm smile, "Smart choice. Come with me, we're regrouping with everyone else at the town square."
Vernal nodded as she followed her. Who cares if they raided villages? Who cares if they killed innocent people? She already had blood on her hands from tonight anyway. Besides, this world was cruel to begin with; and if the gods did not care before, why would they now?
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Bodies littered the streets, multiple buildings were burned, while some collapsed under their own weight. Bandit members continued looting supplies from the destroyed establishments, and as the two of them passed by, more and more stares fell on Vernal. In turn, she sped up her pace to be closer to Raven, her strong, confident demeanor providing some sense of comfort. "Heh, hey Raven! Decided to take a souvenir huh?"
Vernal shot a glare at the owner of the voice, a man with a five o'clock shadow and long brown hair. "Not quite Shay. As a matter of fact, all of you!" Raven announced, drawing the attention of every single bandit member. "Starting today, Vernal is now a member of our tribe! I expect all of you to treat her with respect!"
"A new member? We should celebrate! We found some really good booze in this place's wine cellar" Shay said, drawing cheers of agreement from the others.
"Raven!" a much burlier voice drew the leader's attention. From the west side of the town's square, a large man with a braided beard and dreadlocks shoved a bounded man with his bladed rifle, making him stumble forward nervously. Four more had their guns aimed at the other bounded victims. "We caught these survivors trying to escape using one of our trucks."
When Vernal looked, her brow furrowed. It was the owner of the brothel, and three of his henchmen. The man with the dreadlocks kicked him behind the knee, making him fall to both. When he looked up again, they made eye contact, "Vernal?! What the hell are you bastards doing with my property!?"
Raven raised an eyebrow, "You know him?"
"He…he was my… …"
"…Your pimp?" Raven finished, Vernal nodding in confirmation. "I see" she gripped the hilt of her sword, unsheathing its crimson red blade.
"W-what? No! You can't be seri-Ugh!" the owner tried standing but received a heel of a rifle to the back of his head, forcing him back down.
"One of the rules of our Tribe is this: You hurt one of us, you hurt all of us. And unfortunately for you, it seems-"
"Raven, wait" Vernal stopped her, placing a hand on her wrist. "… …I want to do it."
Raven could not help but smirk, "Be my guest."
Taking the katana in hand, she approached the man that abused her for so many years, fear growing more and more on his expression. "Y…You ungrateful cunt! After all I've done for you?! You can't just kill me off!" he screamed, his voice wavering from false bravado.
She stopped right in front of him. Part of her wanted to savor this moment, but the other waited far too long for this. Gripping the hilt with both hands, she thrusted the blade into his gut, blood-curling screams ringing through the air. She pushed the blade in further, and further, her eyes unblinking, wanting to see the very moment his life left his body. After several, very long seconds...his body finally went limp.
Three gunshots, and the three remaining henchmen fell dead. Vernal pulled the katana out, stepping back as Raven came to her side. When they exchanged looks, Raven extended her hand.
"Welcome to the Family"
To Be Continued…
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Vernal and Raven approached the Northern gate of Plumeria. On the outskirts awaited a caravan of vehicles. The Tribe members were loading three box trucks with the blundered supplies, while the remaining four were long bed trucks with two parallel rows of seats. "How are we on time?!" Raven asked.
Sitting on top of the lead one, a raccoon faunus turned her head, "We're just over half-an-hour!"
"Alright, let's wrap it up!" Raven announced. She walked to the back of the truck, opening a compartment under one of the seats for a folded quilt. "Here. When we get back to camp, we'll get you some more fitting clothes."
"Thank you" Vernal said. The nights started growing chillier this time of year; and with being in nothing but a short-length kimono, a soft, thick blanket was certainly welcome. She draped it over her shoulders and climbed into the back of the truck, taking the very first seat up front. Meanwhile, the rest of the members gathered around.
"We're all set Raven" the man with dreadlocks said.
"Good. Time to go everyone! I'm gonna fly up and scout" Raven said. But then something happened that utterly shocked Vernal. From her view, Raven crouched below her line of sight, and a black bird took off into the air.
"How did she?" her thoughts were cut off when the other members climbed on board. The man with dreadlocks sat opposite her, while the rest found spots of their own. The raccoon faunus climbed down and through the window into the front seat, starting the truck as all the others followed suit.
When they started moving, Vernal clutched the quilt tighter around herself. It was an understatement to say she felt out of place. The other members broke in the chatter about the raid and the hull they brought in, yet no one was questioning how Raven turned into a bird.
She looked up at the man opposite her, "…Yeah."
He laid his bladed rifle upright, then leaned back relaxed in his seat. "I can't blame you for still being suspicious, but you're one of us now. You're okay"
"Just give her some time babe, she'll loosen up after a while" a coyote faunus said, resting her fluffy tail on his lap. "Name's Lyra, and he's right. You can relax, we're all kin."
The way Lyra rested against the man surprised Vernal. They appeared to be lovers, but she did not expect Raven to allow such things, given the group's lifestyle. Speaking of which, "How did she turn into a bird?" she asked.
The two looked at each other, "Sorry, afraid you'll have to wait for Raven to tell you herself." the man answered.
"Oh yeah, what happened when she found you anyway? It's not often a random civilian pique her interest" Lyra asked.
Before Vernal answered, she noticed their conversation started drawing attention from the others on board. "Well…I killed a beowolf while I was running."
"You killed a grimm by yourself? Have you ever fought before?"
"No, I just picked up a sword and…acted on instinct."
"Heh, wow. We may be in the presence of a future badass. The name's Onyx" the man introduced.
He looked up at Raven flying overhead, grinning ear-to-ear, "HaHA! We're in the clear!"
"YEEAAH!" the members from all trucks cheered, everyone on theirs high-fiving and embracing with congrats.
All the while, Vernal looked at Raven confused, "You guys can understand her?"
"…Pffahahaha! She's a fucking bird, of course not. That's the signal for all clear, meaning there's no grimm or any kingdom reinforcements coming for us. Now it's just a smooth trek back to camp" Lyra explained.
A strong breeze blew past, making Vernal sit up into a fetal position to conserve more heat. "Yeah, sorry about that. You must be pretty tired to after being woken up like that."
"Woken up." Vernal scoffed in her head.
"But once we get back to camp, we'll be having a feast to celebrate tonight's raid. You're free to join us if you want."
"Are you kidding? She's had a rough night. She probably wants to rest" Lyra said.
"Words right out of my-" Vernal's thoughts were cut off by a loud growl from her stomach. How long has it been since she ate? The idea of a feast suddenly did not sound so bad.
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The drive took nearly an hour, taking them through several valleys of the Sakura mountain range, occasionally going off-road to cut through deep forests. Eventually, they arrived. Approaching from within the thick canopy, was a border wall made of large wooden pikes. All the trucks stopped in front of a gate. From above, Raven descended, shifting back to human instantly as she landed, "Alright, get those spoils into storage. Vernal, come with me."
Following her orders, the other members dismounted towards the box trucks. Vernal, meanwhile, joined Raven at her side as the gate opened. She was initially surprised by the length of the border wall, covering a sizeable amount of forest, but inside was something too. Passing by three gunmen on guard, the inner grounds revealed a large settlement. Dozens upon dozens of tents were set up with many torches spread throughout to illuminate the camp.
But then, Vernal was struck by an amazing scent. The tribe members who remained here had several bonfires blazing, four with giant rotisseries cooking, while another two had cauldrons, presumably broiling stews. It was enough to make her stomach growl again, and her mouth water too. Another surprise, was among the remaining tribe members, were a few preteens and teenagers as well. "Coming?"
She had not realized she stopped. "Sorry" she caught up to her, "it's…a lot livelier than I thought it would be."
"Heh, we may be bandits, but that doesn't mean we're uncivilized. We just prefer a simpler way of life" Raven said. Walking to the very end of the camp, they approached the largest of all the tents. "This is where I stay, you can rest here for tonight" they walked up the wooden steps as she held the flap open.
When Vernal stepped inside, she was taken aback. The room was spacious, and quite homey for a bandit leader. Several large rugs collaged the floor, while the left wall was decorated with dreamcatcher netting and large feathers. In the back, a chest, barrel, dresser, and a map of Remnant above it. Three amber dust lamps lit the room, one on the dresser, one on the nightstand next to Raven's bed on the right, and the last on the small table in the center, surrounded by red seat cushions.
"Make yourself home" Raven said, taking her weapon and resting it upright against her bed. "There's some extra clothes in the dresser…" she walked to the chest, opening it up to get a towel and a fresh bar of soap. "If you want to bathe, they should have prepared a tub of water out back."
Vernal set down the quilt, taking the toiletries in hand, "Thank you."
"I'll get us some food, take as much time as you need."
When she left, Vernal took a moment for herself. "…I can't believe this is actually happening." Just yesterday, she was a prostitute in one of the most corrupt villages in Mistral; and now she is about to share a meal with a bandit leader. She chuckled thinking about the odds of such a circumstance. Walking out through the back of tent, a sizeable wooden tub laid next to the staircase. She noticed it had a lid, and when she removed it, the water was steaming. Since the small area was secluded, she quickly stripped down, stepping into the tub, and sitting down.
"*sigh* …Gods" the calming embrace of the water was certainly welcome. It was the perfect temperature too, and she felt like she could stay in it forever; but the prospect of food made her not want to dottle.
::::: ::::: ::::: ::::: :::::
When she entered the tent again, she saw Raven sitting at the table in the center. She had set a plate and a bowl for them both, pouring tea into fancy cups from a matching pitcher. She had also changed attire, removing her gloves, forearm guards, leg warmers, and wearing her kimono top around her waist, a black undershirt beneath. Vernal was still wrapped in her towel, and when she looked at the dresser, a set of clothes was already laid out for her. "… …Um… Raven?"
"Would you mind…you know…" she motioned with her hand for the leader to turn around.
"What? We're both women here" Raven chuckled.
Noticing the somberness of her voice, Raven sighed and granted her privacy. Soon enough, Vernal joined her, taking the seat cushion on the opposite side. Raven turned back, "I'm sure you have plenty of questions."
"But it's late, and trust me, it'll be easier to process with a night's rest." Raven explained. She sipped her tea. "Mm~. You know, it's better when it's hot."
Vernal looked at her food, a juicy slice of lamb and a bowl of vegetable stew. It was the most decent meal she had seen in a long time. Taking her utensils, she dug in, the savory taste of the meat alighting her tastebuds. "Mm, wow. This is so good." She looked at Raven, who was sipping her tea again. It was then she truly noticed Raven's physique. She was absolutely ripped, her muscle definition like that of an Amazon.
"…It's pretty rude to stare like that" Raven said.
Vernal blushed, "S-sorry. It's just…you seem really strong."
"I am strong. When I was younger, I attended Beacon Academy to receive huntress training."
"Yes. Aside from the Grimm, huntsmen are the only ones capable of thwarting our raids. We needed a counterforce" Raven explained.
"So…you killed Plumeria's huntsmen?"
Vernal did not know what to say. The huntsmen of Plumeria were top of the line, and she had the unfortunate pleasure of 'servicing' a few from time to time. But Raven managed to kill all six of them? "We needed vital supplies" she continued, "We do well enough sustaining ourselves throughout the year. But when winter comes, things can get rough. To prepare, we pillage villages; we go in, get what we need, then we get out, letting the Grimm have the rest. I think you'd agree that place won't be particularly missed."
"…You'd be surprised."
"Whatever the case, with all the destruction and Grimm, the kingdom's authorities will have a hell of a time trying to trace it back to us." Raven said as she started eating. Vernal scarfed her meal down rather quickly. She picked up her cup, her tea cool enough to drink now, "It's ginseng. I find it helps recover my aura faster." Raven explained.
Vernal looked at her curiously, "What's aura?"
"The very essence of your soul, and crucial for when you learn to fight. With enough training, you'll be able to project your own, allowing you to shield yourself from lethal damage and heal small wounds."
"…Will you be teaching me?"
"Of course. But not just me, my lieutenants Onyx and Lyra too. It's not going to be easy, but with time, I'm sure you'll become one hell of a threat." Raven said. She took out a scroll, opening it and setting it on the table. A hard-light dust screen shown above it, playing video of two women about to fight.
"What's this" Vernal asked.
"The Mistral Regional Tournament. Every year the junior combat schools hold an even to test the skills of their students. That girl there is Pyrrha Nikos, and she's won the tournament two years in a row already."
"Really?" Vernal looked at the screen. The girl in bronze armor with blazing red hair faced another with brown skin and platinum blonde hair, who seemed confident fighting empty-handed. The referee between them gave the signal to start, both girls dashing forward to engage. Vernal was immediately blown away; their speed, their technique, and their creativity were the likes she's never seen. The Nikos girl seemed proficient with her sword and shield, but the other girl appeared nimbler. In one crisp motion, she unraveled and wrapped the bandaging on her right hand around Nikos's ankle, sweeping her legs from under her and landing a heavy kick to her midsection. It sent her quite a distance, and a red glow momentarily shimmered across her body.
"Was that her aura?"
Raven only nodded. Back on screen, Nikos stood to her feet again as other continued the offensive. But instead of going for her weapons, she held her fists up and engaged in hand to hand. This caught Vernal, and apparently the other girl off guard too. Nikos seemed just as good empty-handed as she was with her weapons. They exchanged several blows, until she through a right roundhouse kick. The other girl ducked, but when she stood, Nikos's shield came flying in, slamming into her temple. She reeled, the shield somehow reattaching to Nikos's forearm as she planted her feet, throwing all her weight behind a backhand. Her shield connected with the other girl's face, sending her to her back as her aura crackled before dissipating. The referee blew their whistle, indicating the match ended. The crowd in the stadium cheered, the video ending with Nikos declared the winner.
"Wow, so I'll be able to fight like that too?" Vernal asked.
"Not exactly. It's up to you to develop your own style" Raven said closing the scroll. "We'll start tomorrow morning. You can sleep over there" she got up, going around to turn off the dust lamps.
Vernal looked behind her, where a makeshift bed was laid out for her. Three furry elk pelts were layered over each other, while a silk sheet was spread on top. Raven opened the chest again, taking out another thick blanket and handing it to her. "Thank you."
"…Listen…I know you've been through a lot tonight but do try to get some rest. I promise you don't need to worry anymore… …your safe here." There it was again. A smile so warm and genuine, one would never guess it belonged to a killer. It gave Vernal an overwhelming sense of comfort, making her blush and look away sheepishly. Raven went to her own bed, turning off the last lamp on her nightstand before getting under the covers. Vernal laid down too, resting her head on her soft feather pillow and closing her eyes. With a sigh, she let her drowse take over and fell asleep. Tomorrow was the start of her new life.
To Be Continued…