Igor Green stepped forward, followed by the rest of Team ICHR. A group of young people, dressed in black and white, wearing Grimm masks, watched them. They called themselves the White Fang. They had originated as a political group of Faunus rights activists, but when their arguments fell on deaf ears, they had turned themselves into a terrorist or paramilitary organisation, depending on who you asked.
The White Fang soldiers turned towards them, raising weapons.
It was an unfair fight. The White Fang were, for the most part, untrained enthusiasts, hurriedly taught what the harmful part was of guns or swords by other amateurs. Team ICHR had graduated almost fifteen years ago, and had been in the thick of the fight against the Creatures of Grimm. Out in the wilderness, natural or urban, where you learn fast, or perish. Rosalinde, the youngest of the group, had joined five years ago, replacing a dead member. Against civilians, the White Fang were deadly. Against trained hunters, a threat if there were enough of them. Against a seasoned hunter-killer team, they didn't have a chance.
"Behind me," said Igor. He raised his shotgun, frowned, concentrated. Clear crystals started growing on his body, his arms, legs, head, encasing him in mineral armour that the White Fang's bullets bounced off without even making a scratch. He had chosen to make his armour all-over, making him unable to move anything but his trigger finger.
Igor fired his shotgun. "Crystal," he said, his voice strange inside his crystalline armor. Crystal aimed her machine gun to the left of the group of White Fang, then rose into the air and fired, a hailstorm of bullets hitting the group of fighters as she allowed the recoil of her weapon to spin her round. None of them had the time to fire a second time. Igor's armour shattered into a thousand pieces that disappeared before they hit the ground. Stepping over the mangled corpses, they walked towards Beacon Academy tower. A synthetic guard stopped them.
"Halt! No civilians allowed beyond this point. For your comfort and safety, the nearest shelter is..."
Igor raised his shotgun and fired. The guard's chest exploded in a tangled mess of sparks and electric components. They opened the door and walked in.
"There was no call for that Mr. Green," said Hades. "The poor synthoid was just doing its job."
"There is nothing I hate more than apparatchik," said Igor. "Especially mechanical ones."
Team ICHR made their way to the elevator, and hit the button. They found themselves in the Headmaster's office and walked to his desk.
"Good afternoon Sir," said Igor. "Team ICHR at your service. How may we help you?"
Ozpin looked at the group of hunters with raised eyebrows. "Team ICHR? I thought you were all dead."
Rosalinde smiled. "Shouldn't believe everything you hear about us, Sugar. Specially if it's us doing the telling."
"We are not at present dead," said Igor. "Do you wish us to be on pest control, or do you have a special job for us?"
"Special job," said Ozpin, without wasting time. "Do you know a woman named Pyrrha Nikos?"
"Wasn't she on the feed this morning? She won, didn't she?" Crystal sneered. "I had some money riding on that girl, but I don't think they're gonna pay out on account of her cutting her opponent to pieces."
"Quite," said Ozpin. "I need you to go to the Colosseum, collect Miss Nikos, and bring her here."
"Consider it done," said Igor.
Team ICHR turned round and made to walk into the elevator. Hades turned round.
"Oh. Our apologies for the guard, Professor."
"We damaged it a little."
Ozpin shrugged. "It's one of Ironwood's. More expensive toys of his will be broken today."
Weiss Schnee snapped her phone shut. The conversation had been short. Sit tight, we're coming to you, and then Team RWBY would hit the Colosseum to pick up their fourth member, who hadn't been answering her phone. Given the state of pandemonium, Weiss would have been surprised if Ruby's signal had made it through all the other people trying to phone their mom. Side by side, Blake and Weiss sprinted towards the building where their dorm was. The grounds were crawling with White Fang. They had to hide twice, fight once. As they entered their building, closed the door behind them, Blake stood still. She looked at the floor, eyes shut, not allowing her tears to fall. Weiss stood in front of her, hands on her shoulders.
"It was them or us, Blake."
Blake leaned into Weiss' hands. "If I hadn't come to my senses, that could have been me."
"But you did, and here you are. Alive and well."
Blake looked up, her amber eyes hardening.
"And with a job to do."
They ran to their dorm. Yang hadn't been sitting still while they were gone. Three backpacks were on her bed, with extra warm clothes, field rations, and ammo, ammo, ammo. Weiss was just in time to see her stuff a box of chocolate biscuits into her pack.
"She's going to be okay, Yang."
Yang sniffed. "Of course she is. She's my sister. Let's go."
It was considerably easier to get to the flight pad with Yang there as well. There were no more White Fang, but there were lots of Grimm rampaging about, and Yang had wanted to hit things really hard ever since she'd been disqualified from the tournament. All Blake and Weiss had to do was keep out of the way. They got to the flight pad, where they saw a heavy man in a green suit. Next to him were a large woman with a ridiculously large machine gun, a long-haired man leaning on a staff, and a woman clothed all in form fitting black leather.
A Bullhead aircraft landed, and a group of people came out, to be herded towards the shelters by armed guards.
"Good afternoon, Sir," said the green man. "Please may I ride with you to the Colosseum?"
"Haha no," said the guard. "Civilians get off, not on."
"We are looking for a Miss Nikos. Pyrrha Nikos. Have you seen her?"
"Me and a million others, mate. If she's still in the colosseum, she's coming off. Now if you don't mind..."
The guard jumped on board and banged the bulkhead with his fist. The aircraft swerved, and set off for the Colosseum. The green man heaved a sigh. The machine gun lady stepped forward.
"Guess we're gonna have to do this the hard way then?"
"I regret that this is so. Let us move."
"Wait!" Weiss sprang forward. "Did you say you were looking for Pyrrha?"
"Yes," said the man.
"She lives in the dorm across from us. Do you have a way of getting into the Colosseum?"
"You're looking at her, girl," said the machine gun lady. "I can make anything totally lack in gravitas."
"We know what Pyrrha looks like," said Weiss.
"I've eaten a lot of Pumpkin Pete cereal. I think we're good."
"Does Pyrrha know you? You don't look like Beacon security staff."
The green man looked at Weiss thoughtfully. "That is because we are not Beacon staff, security or otherwise. You make a good point. Come with us. I am Igor. This is Crystal. The dark lady is Rosalinde and the gentleman there is Hades. We are Team ICHR, at your service."
"You are Team ICHR?" Blake stared at them. "The first team to have both Humans and Faunus? I thought you were all dead!"
Hades laughed. "Please don't tell anyone otherwise. We like being dead. It's quiet."
The Amity Colosseum always parked itself above an uninhabited area of whichever part of the world the Vytal people were spreading joy in. That way, if the anti-grav devices would all fail at the same time, it would not come down on the heads of unsuspecting citizens. This was simple wisdom. Still, for people who needed to be right underneath it, it was a bit of a problem. The ground under the Colosseum was crawling with Grimm. Packs of Creeps, Beowolves, Ursai, even the occasional Death Stalker. It turned out to be a good thing that there were seven of them. Crystal, Igor, and Yang took out the largest Grimm, while Blake, Weiss, Hades, and Rosalinde took down the smaller ones that managed to escape the barrage of fire. Finally, they made their way to the very spot where the Colosseum loomed overhead. At a brief lull in the waves of attacking Grimm, Crystal stood up, rolling up her sleeves.
"Everybody! Hold on to me. Take off your gloves if you have them, it has to be skin on skin or it won't work. Do I need to explain what will happen if you let go of me? No? Good. Hold on tight now."
Crystal concentrated as Hades jumped onto her back and Igor, Rosalinde, Weiss, Blake and Yang grabbed Crystal's bare arms. They felt their weight fall away, and soon they were rising up towards the massive floating building overhead, faster and faster. They rose above the edge of the outside floor. Hades produced a grappling hook and found a place to hook it onto. He carefully pulled, so as not to make anyone lose their grip, and they landed safely on the observation deck of the Colosseum. Yang beamed at Crystal, eyes aglow.
"That is cool! How do you do it?"
Crystal shrugged. "It's my semblance. I ask the laws of nature politely to look the other way for a moment. They have machines to do it now, like the one you're standing on. Much easier."
Blake pointed up. "Nevermore!"
Igor turned round. "Now, we go inside."
The stadium was still half full, and everybody was screaming, shouting, jostling for a way to get out of this place, the angels of mercy that were the Atlas military aircraft. The angels didn't have it easy, though. Many times they had to fight off attacking birds of Grimm, the Nevermore, and progress was slow. The air was thick with the anger that is born from fear, the fear that makes people abandon their humanity and push and claw their way to safety, trampling their fellows on the way. The Creatures of Grimm, who feast upon these emotions, gathered round the colosseum like ants and locusts, beating on the heavy force-fields overhead with a frightening humming noise. The desparate voices of the commentators, Professors Oobleck and Port, sounded over the loud speakers, begging people to remain calm.
On one of the seats at the side of the arena, utterly alone despite being surrounded by her team and friends, sat a red-haired young woman, staring with eyes that could no longer cry, at the remains of her opponent. Pyrrha Nikos didn't know Penny Polendina very well. She had seen her fight, and made her notes on how to counter her many swords, but apart from that, all she knew about her was her cheerful voice as she introduced herself at what should have been a challenging match of skills. Who could have known that Penny could summon so many swords? Who could have known that the strings attached to them could cut through her very body? And who could have known that she wasn't even human? There was a tiny glimmer of hope in the back of Pyrrha's mind, and she clung to it. Robots weren't human. If you took the batteries out of your scroll, you could put them back in and turn it on again, and it would come back just the way it had been. Could they do that to Penny? Could they repair her? If they could, then this wouldn't have happened. Then Pyrrha would not be a... She closed her eyes.
Team ICHR and three quarters of Team RWBY walked into the stadium. They saw Team JNPR, Pyrrha's team. Ruby was sitting next to Pyrrha, hand on her shoulder. Yang and Ruby saw each other and ran. They met in the middle, Yang's arms tightly round her little sister.
"Yang..." Ruby's tears started to flow again. "Penny's dead."
"I know Sis." Yang gently rocked her little sister in her arms. "I know."
Ruby's eyes snapped up. "I saw Mercury. He attacked me. You didn't break his leg. His leg is fine."
Yang's jaw dropped. "You saw Mercury? Are you sure?"
Ruby stuck her jaw forward. "He kicked me in the head with that leg. Yeah, I'm sure. It was all a setup. Velvet told me... Coco... Emerald... Emerald! She was here too!"
"Emerald? So much for being with their families then."
Ruby grabbed Yang's shoulders. "Emerald makes people see things! That's why you thought Mercury was attacking you. And that's why Pyrrha went full strength on..." Ruby swallowed, screwing her eyes shut. "On Penny. I've been trying to tell her that it wasn't her fault, but..." Ruby looked over her shoulder. "She's not listening."
Yang straightened herself up, then walked over to Pyrrha. "Damn, Pyrrha! I only shot at his leg. You took her legs clean off! Stop trying to one-up me, will you?"
Pyrrha looked up at Yang, baring her teeth, shaking with a sudden anger. She pulled back her fist and aimed her best punch at Yang's face. Yang had expected that and blocked her. She grabbed Pyrrha's face between her hands.
"Good! Now that I have your attention, listen up Nikos! It. Is. Not. Your. Fault! Emerald messed with your head. Emerald messed with my head. Emerald messed with Coco's head. She messed with everybody's head! You weren't thinking straight. It's not your fault!"
"She's dead," said Pyrrha, all anger deflated. "Broken. Gone. And I did it. I should have..."
"I know," said Yang, gently stroking Pyrrha's cheek. "I'm starting a club of head cases with Coco. Wanna join?"
Pyrrha shook her head. "Oh you don't know the half of it."
Jaune Arc, Pyrrha's team leader, currently hovering somewhere between Friends and More Than Friends, put an arm round Pyrrha's shouders.
"We're here for you, Pyrrha. Anything you have to go through. We're here."
Pyrrha smiled at him, rubbed her eyes. "Thank you."
Igor stepped up. "Good afternoon, Ladies. Gentlemen. I am working under orders of Professor Ozpin." He bent down to Pyrrha. "The Head Master wishes to see you in his office. We will now take you there."
"Who are you?"
Igor stood up, raised his arms. "I am Igor, and this is my team, Team ICHR."
"Now I know you're lying," said Pyrrha. "Everyone in Team ICHR is dead."
"I told you," said Hades. "Pretending to be dead would come back to bite us."
"It seemed like good idea at the time," said Igor.
Rosalinde bumped Jaune aside, and sat down next to Pyrrha. "Honey, the only one in our team who's really dead is Rhodiz. I joined this band of apes so I could take my revenge. We're the real deal. Prof Oz wants you to be safe." Rosalinde closed her eyes. "Hades? Flash?"
In a splintered second, the whole world turned white. Pyrrha jumped up, blinded, and struck out. She felt a sudden pain in her neck, and then her legs stopped working and she fell to the ground, gently guided by strong arms. Someone picked her up and ran off with her. When her eyes started working again, she found herself in a corridor, on the broad shoulders of the man in the green suit.
"Please..." said Pyrrha. "My, my team."
"Your team will be fine, honey," said Crystal. "The aircraft will get them off and safe. Don't you worry your head about them. We're taking you to a safe place."
"Pyrrha!" Jaune shook his head, willing his eyes back into functioning while everyone around him was doing the same.
Ruby took a deep breath, and shot off, leaving a trail of rose petals. The others ran after her as fast as they could. She caught up with Team ICHR just as they reached the balustrade to the observation deck.
Igor turned round, sighed, put away his shotgun and walked over to Ruby, Pyrrha helpless on his shoulders.
"We are taking Miss Nikos to Professor Ozpin. When the aircraft takes you to Beacon, you can go and see her."
"Oh no you don't!" Ruby made a grab for Pyrrha's arm, but Igor was too fast for her. He grabbed Ruby's arm and frowned. There was a cracking noise and white crystals grew from Ruby's legs, pinning her to the floor.
"Do not fear for your friend, young lady. She is in our hands, and who wants to hurt her, will have to kill us first."
He climbed onto the balustrade where his teammates were waiting. Holding hands, they jumped.
Ren, Yang, Weiss, Blake, Nora, and Jaune arrived a moment later. Jaune leaned over the balustrade.
"Pyrrha!" He made to climb over, but Nora grabbed him.
"Jaune! I don't know if you've been working on your landing strategy, but I'm sure you haven't and anyway, there's loads of Grimm down there. You'll be eaten and then when we find Pyrrha back, she'll be sad, and then she'll kick our butts for letting you jump. So stay here."
Ren put his hand on Jaune's shoulder. "We'll find her. Hopefully in the Head Master's office, but if she's not there, we will find her."
"We need to get down from this thing," said Weiss.
"I'm stuck!" said Ruby.
"Not a problem," said Yang.
She wound up and punched the crystals round Ruby's feet with an extra helping of red Dust. They didn't show even a crack.
"Oh," said Yang. "Nora?"
"Haven't got Magnhild with me," said Nora. "They don't allow people to bring weapons into the Colosseum so any fights that break out on the stands are fist fights only."
Yang scratched her head, looking at Ruby's legs. "Then how are we going to get her loose?"
Nora looked at Yang. Yang looked back at Nora. They both shook their heads.
"Too soon," said Yang.
After a few minutes discussion, and some ineffective shots and punches from Yang, Weiss, and Blake, who were the only ones armed, the problem solved itself. There was a loud crack and the crystals round Ruby's feet turned to dust. They ran back into the arena, to find that most of the crowd was still there. Aircraft were hovering outside, picking off attacking Nevermore birds with their plasma cannons, but the doors stayed closed.
"Smart," said Blake. "If they open those doors, they're going to fall off like lemmings."
"Why don't they calm down?" said Nora, expert on all things tranquil and serene.
"They're scared," said Ren. "They're not thinking."
"They need something to snap them out of it," said Weiss.
"Somehow, I don't think a loud noise is going to do it," said Blake.
"I know about this," said Nora. "You need to give them something strange, something they're not expecting. That'll work."
"Yeah but what?" said Yang.
Nora grinned like a maniac. "Fart noises! Never not funny!"
"Very good," said Jaune. "Now all we need is a super-size whoopee cushion."
Weiss looked at the crowd. There wasn't anyone there she knew. She blinked. Except... She ran forward and put a hand on his shoulder.
Flynt Coal, one of Team RWBY's opponents in the tournament, looked over his shoulder. "Oh hi Schnee. How's it hanging?"
"Weiss!" said Neon Katt, Flynt's partner. "You never called!"
"Bit busy sorry," said Weiss, pulling Flynt along with her, away from the crowds. "You know how it is. Say, do you have that horn with you?"
"Never go anywhere without it," said Flynt. "Luckily, they don't see it as a weapon."
"We have to distract these people. Do you know anything I can sing?"
Flynt looked at Weiss over his sunglasses. "What can you sing?"
Weiss racked her brain for something she knew in Flynt's repertoire. She smiled. "Do you know a song called Blue Skies? Irving Berlin?"
Flynt raised his trumpet, blew a few notes. He looked at Weiss. Weiss nodded, waited for the intro to end, then took a breath.
Blue skies, smiling at me
nothing but blue skies do I see
At first, nobody noticed them, until Weiss raised her voice a bit more. People in the back of the crowd started to pay attention to what was happening behind them, and to turn round, looking strangely at the pretty girl singing to the sound of a trumpet.
Bluebirds singing a song
Nothing but bluebirds all day long
Up in the commentator's box, Doctor Oobleck looked up, frowned, bent forward.
"I say, Port. Who is that down there?"
Port, who had his head on the desk, groaned. "Leave me alone. Nobody's listening to us. It's like my history class all over again."
"Look man! Down there! Something is happening!"
Peter Port sighed, looked where Oobleck was pointing. His bushy eyebrows rose, nearly revealing his eyes. "By George, Oobleck, That's young Miss Schnee singing there, and Flynt Coal on the trumpet."
"And people are listening to them! Genius! Genius!"
"That reminds me of my college days, Bartholomew. If I may say so, I was a bit of a musician myself, was in a barber shop quartet named 'C Sharp'. Basso Profundo, I was. And nowhere was there any bass more profo-"
"Then what are you doing here, man? Get down there. Wait! Take these microphones."
Never saw the sun shining so bright
never saw things going so right
Weiss, concentrating on her singing more than anything else, suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder. Someone put a microphone in front of her face, and was singing deep notes accompanying her and Flynt. She looked over her shoulder, and saw that it was Professor Port.
"Bom bom bom bom bobom bom please follow me bom bobom."
Weiss and Flynt, never missing a beat, walked slowly into the arena. A technician, still at his station despite all the commotion, as befits a true craftsman, focused all the spotlights on them and turned down the house lights a bit, as the impromptu trio started to sound over the arena's speakers. People gathered round, watching. In the relative shadow, two medics came with a stretcher and finally took away the sad remains of Penny Polendina, but Weiss didn't notice. A rush she hadn't felt for a long time coursed through her. Her friends started gathering round, looking at her. The crowd slowly turned round, some of them actually returning to their seats to watch this.
Noticing the days hurrying by
When you're in love, my how they fly
Yang felt someone tap her shoulder, looked, and saw it was Lie Ren.
"Is it my turn for cuddles yet?"
Yang grinned, turned round and kissed Ren. Apparently it was.
Outside, the Creatures of Grimm hesitated. The anger, fear, and hatred that had drawn them to the Colosseum in their thousands, had lessened till they could hardly feel it at all. Some of them turned to the city, where they could sense more of the darkness that they craved. Most of them walked round aimlessly. In the air, a few final Nevermores were picked off by gunfire from the heavy aircraft, and then the doors opened. People started to file out in an orderly fashion.
Blue days, all of them gone
Nothing but blue skies from now on
Weiss glanced at Flynt, who activated his semblance, creating three almost identical copies of himself. He started to play one of the most inspired improvisations of his entire life as a musician. He cocked an eye at Weiss, and she and Port picked up for another round, this time with Port and Weiss singing in unison. They ended on a high note from Flynt's trumpet. The Killer Quartet joined itself back into one, and Weiss, Flynt, and Professor Port grinned at each other from the sheer joy of a song well played. There was a loud applause.
"Well Schnee," said Flynt. "You just got us an audience. Feel like another one?"
Flynt grinned at Weiss, and started to play notes very familiar to her. Her eyes shone.
"How do you know that one?"
Flynt paused a moment. "I started out as a classical player, but Jazz is where it's at. From the top, Schnee."
Flynt started again. Weiss took a deep breath. Her voice rang out, clear as a bell, hauntingly beautiful.
Tell me something.
Tell me who's the loneliest
Two hours and many songs later, the last of them were bundled into the waiting Bullhead aircraft. Weiss still felt the buzz from her performance, and from the way he was smiling, so did Flynt. Neon lay down and put her head on Flynt's lap.
"That was totally completely awesome! I told you we should definitely party together sometime!"
Igor walked into the Head Master's office, and put down the limp body of Pyrrha Nikos on his desk. He spread his arms.
"Here I present to you, Miss Pyrrha Nikos. Team ICHR at your service."
Ozpin frowned. "What's the matter with her?"
"Nothing much Prof," said Rosalinde. "Wouldn't come quietly, so I gave her a little something to calm down. Do her good. Poor girl is in a bit of a state. She'll be all peachy in ten minutes or so."
Ozpin stood up, took off his jacket, rolled it up, and put it under Pyrrha's head.
"Thank you, Team ICHR. Are you properly back in action?"
Igor gave a grunt. "If we said no, Grimm would find us anyway. We may as well be told what is happening. You have my telephone number, no?"
Ozpin handed Igor a transceiver from a cupboard. "These will work even when the scroll net goes down."
Igor pocketed the transceiver. "Now, we go to catch some sleep. It was hard work."
"Have Jeannie show you one of the dorms. Not one of the first-years, please."
Igor gave a short nod, and wandered off. Ozpin put his elbows on the desk, and looked at Pyrrha, who was starting to move her fingers.
"How are you doing, Pyrrha?"