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You Will Be My Enemy

Chapter Text

A Wreath Built of Withered Roses

Pt. I

“I will be your deadman,
with nothing but this blood on my hands.
Stuck in your wonderland,
I want to make you bleed just like me.
So make me your deadman,
With only poison in my veins.
Stuck in your wonderland,
Stagnated by the passivity,
I’m going to make you bleed like me.”

-DWB feat. Fade “One Reason”


She was lost in the darkness. Nothing above her, nothing below her. An endless, starless night encompassing her entire being. She did not know how long she had been here, maybe she had been here forever. Floating in the black sea since the moment of her birth, and only now gained the ego to know where she was. She liked it here, in the void of nothing. Nothing to bring her pain, nothing to bring her hate. No light, no dark. No sadness, no happiness. Nothing. Ruby was at peace here, she took a deep breath and found she could not breathe, maybe she never could in the first place.

"Ruby..."

She opened her eyes at the sound of someone's voice. A familiar voice from so long ago that she could not place it. It called to her again and she turned her head to try and find its source. She looked all around for the source of the voice but found nothing but the endless void. Her name grew louder and louder in her mind until it was ringing in her ears, causing her to cease all her thoughts. She continued to search as her name became a scream in her ears, making her cry out in pain.

Finally, she found the owner of the voice. Standing before her in a bright circle of light was a young woman. She had a grey dress with a white blouse and wore black stockings with a bright green stripe going down the sides. Bright emerald eyes with freckles sprinkled her face. Bright orange hair with an off-centre bow finished the image of Penny Polendina. "Ruby!" she called out. The woman looked worried, scared something might happen to her. "Ruby! Please save me!" She stuck her hand out and reached out to her friend.

Ruby began to sprint towards her, desperate to save her friend. But no matter how quickly she ran, she could not get to her. Penny pleaded and begged for Ruby to come save her, but when Ruby finally made it to her, her body was cut. Long lines separated her limbs and sliced her torso in half. Red petals sprayed out of the wounds she had suffered and Penny fell to the ground in pieces. Ruby was too late; too slow to save her.

Behind Penny stood another one of her friends. A tall woman with deep crimson hair, with kind emerald eyes. She wore bronze armour over her legs and chest. Pyrrha reached out towards Ruby with fear in her eyes as she cried out in pain. "Ruby! Help me!" Quickly, Ruby tried to rush to her friend to save her from the fate she knew was coming, when something grabbed her ankle and tripped her to the ground. Looking down to see what caught her, Ruby saw Penny clutching her ankle with her one arm, pulling herself towards her.

"Ruby! Why didn't you save me..."

"Penny! Let go! I need to save Pyrrha!" But as she turned back to look at the Mistrali champion, an arrow came out from the black around them and struck her in the middle of her chest. Ruby watched as Pyrrha gasped for breath as she fell to her knees, clutching the arrow that took her life. Her green eyes met silver as more petals flowed from her chest, like a geyser that had just burst, coating the ground in crimson flowers.

"Why? Why didn't you save me, Ruby?" she asked as she began to crawl towards the fallen Rose. Penny continued to climb her body, asking the same question.

Why was she not fast enough to save her friends?

Suddenly, Ruby began to sink into the ground. The crimson petals turned into a sea of blood and bodies began to float to the top and limbs took a hold of her wherever they could get their hands on. She saw soldiers of all sides pushing through the thick soup of blood and bodies to cling to Ruby; hoping she could save them, all of them shouting at her to be saved. She felt nails dig into her skin as more and more people were climbing over each other to get to their saviour, but Ruby was getting overwhelmed, sinking further and further into the red sea.

"Save me!"

"Save me! Save me!"

"Please! Save me Ruby!"

There were too many, she could not save them all while saving herself. The water was coming up to her chest. She tried to break free but she was getting dragged down further and further. Someone called out her name and she looked up to see Weiss standing above her, reaching out to save her. "Weiss!" Ruby threw her arm out and tried to reach out to her friend. Weiss strained to reach for her, Ruby felt their fingertips brushing against each other, but a large, blood-soaked hand wrapped around her face and dragged her deep into the crimson.

The water rushed past her head and she could not breathe. Looking around, she saw thousands of people all swimming towards her, looking to be saved. She could not do this, there were just too many to be saved. She was not strong enough to save them all. She struggled and screamed against the hold of her dead captors as she tried to free herself. Strength, she needed more strength. Pushing and pulling, she drove a fist into the face of a faceless soldier, and he floated away from the horde sinking her, only to be replaced by two more, looking to her for life.

"Ruby..."

She looked around for the person who owned this new voice; she searched and found the Red Death standing across from her. While Ruby drowned, the Red Death stood on the bodies of hundreds of people. Her strength was unmatched by those that tried to cling to her for life. Ruby needed that strength, the strength to survive. Reaching out, Ruby tried to get some of that strength, just a little bit. The Red Death smiled a crimson smile as she lazily reached out to help her. "You can't save them, Ruby, they are already dead."

"How! How do I save them!" Ruby screamed out.

Ruby never got her answer. She continued to be dragged down into the depths of her crimson sea, where body after body was piled on top of her until there was no room to breathe. She struggled as a hand wrapped around her throat and began to choke the life out of her. Her chest burned for breath as she scratched at the arm that held her neck. Her lungs tried to force air from her closed throat, pain continued to build in her chest as the seconds ticked by until-

 

Ruby gasped as her eyes shot open and she was torn from her nightmare. She took a few seconds to look at her surroundings, to try and figure out where she was. It looked like a plain hospital room; she was on a plain bed with simple white sheets. Two chairs were sitting against the wall, unmoved and unused. As she caught her breath, she laid back down and pressed the palms of her hands to her eyes to try and centre herself before holding her breath for a count of five and letting it out slowly.

Slowly, Ruby tossed the sheets off her naked body and pushed herself to a sitting position and swung her legs over the side. The floor was cold against her bare feet as she leaned forward and rested her face in the palms of her hands and tried to calm her beating heart. The room was illuminated by the glow of dawn, filtered through simple blue curtains, making everything just bright enough to see everything around her plain room.

"The enemy is still out there..." came the familiar, gargled voice from in front of her. Slowly, Ruby lifted her head from her hands and saw the Red Death standing in front of her. She looked like she always had in her mind, her hair wet, her shirt covered in crimson as her cloak dripped heavy red petals as she stood there. "They, still live. She still lives." Ruby knew exactly who the Red Death was talking about. Shooting up to her feet, she pointed a finger at the crimson woman to make her point known.

"Don't you dare touch her!"

"She is the Enemy!"

"Weiss is not the enemy!" Ruby yelled at the Red Death, "She is my friend!"

"She tried to kill you!" The Red Death screamed back.

"Just leave me alone!" Ruby screamed out, she could feel her throat starting to hurt from the strain.

"The world will turn against you, Ruby! Everything I have done for you was for you and you alone! How many times would you have died if it weren't for me?"

"Shut up..."

"The first day you joined the army and your ship got blown out of the sky? I killed that trooper for you."

"Shut up."

"What about the bridge? When you were trying to get survivors from Vale across the river, but Atlas had it under their control. It was me who taught you how to kill them."

"Shut up!"

"YOU WILL LISTEN!" The Red Death screamed back and stood in front of Ruby. "The day will come where the people you call friends will betray you, and you will have no one else but me!"

"Leave me alone!" Ruby shut her eyes as she screamed her last command out. When she opened them, she was alone in her room. Quickly, she looked around to try and find where the Red Death went, but she was just gone. Ruby let out a deep sigh as she felt her knees began to shake, she could feel the tingling in the back of the throat as her stomach turned against her. Rushing to the door that led to the tiny bathroom in her hospital room, she dove for the toilet and emptied whatever was in her stomach into the shallow water.

Finished, Ruby wiped her mouth clean with the back of her arm as she weakly flushed the toilet. Gathering her strength, she pushed herself to her feet and held onto the sink for support as she began to run cold water to washed her face clear of vomit. Cupping the clear liquid in her hand, she brought it to her mouth to rinse the terrible aftertaste out and take a few sips to cool her sore throat. Looking up in the mirror above the sink, she took in her own body for the first time in a long while.

She looked at herself, really looked, and found herself afraid of what she had become. She had become thin, dangerously so. Ruby could make out the faint outline of her ribcage from her sides, the slight dip from her chest to her stomach. Her arms were beginning to lose their muscle mass, becoming skinnier and weaker. The injection site inside her right arm had continued to get worse and worse. The red infection lines spread further than they were the last time she really paid attention to them.

Looking at herself, she remembered when she was once full of smiles and love for the world. Now she had grown up, lived in the truth of the world, and found it out the hard way. Her love had dried up long ago, her happiness had died, and the warmth she wanted to give to everyone had chilled to ice. She once believed that everyone had good inside of them somewhere, but no longer. Gone was that girl; a tired and broken reflection stood in her place.

She looked at the dark circles under her eyes; she leaned in to get a good look at them when she saw a hand come up from behind her and grab her face. Blood dripped from her fingertips as her nails dug into her skin above her right eye. Before Ruby could do anything, the hand ripped her skin like paper, revealing the face under her skin, and an eye that was black and silver.

 

Gasping as she woke up again, a pair of hands were holding her down as she tried to right against it. "Rose! Take it easy! Breathe!" Ruby looked over and saw Midori was holding her down so she did not thrash around her bed anymore. Keeping their eyes connected, she willed herself to take deep breaths; pain filling her chest with each breath she took. "Easy does it...Easy does it..." Midori released his grip on her arms and began to rub her back, bringing air back into the lungs, easing the pain in her chest.

Finally, she laid back down on the bed and held her head with her hands. Her whole body throbbed painfully as she closed her eyes and just concentrated on breathing without pain. With a nod, Midori took his hands off of her and sat down back in his chair and watched her carefully as she finally got her bearings. She was in a hospital room, but the curtains were open and the sun was coming through, lighting everything up in the afternoon glow.

Looking down at her body, her entire torso was covered in bandages from her chest to her hips. She could see the stains of old blood and something else on the bandages around her side. Every breath she took sent flames through her lungs as she tried to understand what happened. "How are you feeling?" Midori's voice cut through her thoughts. Wincing, Ruby tried to sit up but only managed to lift herself up for a few seconds before giving up and laying back down.

"Everything hurts..."

"Sounds about right," Midori nodded as he pulled his chair closer to the bed and thumbed a switch on her bed. Slowly, she felt the bed slowly rise into a sitting position so she could talk to him. It still hurt, but at least she did not have to use her own, sore muscles to move herself. "What happened out there?"

Ruby blinked a few times as she tried to remember what she did. "What do you mean?" Ruby's voice cracked and she swallowed hard with a hand on her throat. Midori got up out of his seat and picked up a plastic cup that was sitting on the table and walked to the bathroom to fill it up as he explained to her.

"Well, after you ordered everyone to team up with the Atlesians to take down that giant thing, you went and did your hero thing, killed it, then ran into the desert. We found you the next day; half buried in sand, bleeding out, and poisoned." He returned with the cup and gently held it to her mouth. Taking short sips, she let the cold liquid cool her throat and fill her body with a chill that numbed the pain in her chest slightly. "You're lucky you had enough poison inside of your to make an anti-venom, else you probably wouldn't be here right now..."

Ruby looked down at herself and rubbed her side from where Tyrian's stinger had stabbed the Red Death, where it stabbed her. "We also found some other guy in the sand by you. He looked way worse than you did. What the hell happened out there, Rose?" Ruby took a deep breath as she remembered the fight with the scorpion faunus. The way he moved, how he talked to her, his attacks, and how the Red Death took control and fought him. The last dream was fresh in her mind; Ruby gently reached up and felt the skin around her right eye, still intact and unscared.

"He tried to kill me." Ruby finally spoke with a deep breath with a hitch as pain rocked her lungs. With another sip of water, she calmed her breathing down and adjusted herself in her bed before continuing. "He said I killed his daughter."

"Did you?"

"He said his daughter was the giant Grimm..."

Midori took a few moments to process this information, blinking a few times, opening his mouth then closing it and tilting his head to try and look at it from a new angle before speaking. "You mean the fucking spider thing?" Ruby just nodded as she took another sip of water. "What the actual fuck?"

"I don't know, he was weird..." she said with a shake of her head as she downed the rest of the water. "I kinda passed out after I fought him though..."

"Yeah, that was probably the poison. After we found you, were you delirious fighting us as we were trying to save you. Violet gave you some of your stimulants but I think it was too much and you stopped breathing before the ride came."

She looked over at him with a confused glance.  "How did I make it here then?"

"That's when your friend Coco came in..." he sighed as he ran a hand through his dark blue hair. "We tried to keep you alive with chest compressions, but after a while, Violet called it. You were legally dead by her word. Then Coco decided she didn't like that so she slammed her fist into your chest. It worked, but she also broke four of your ribs..." Ruby nodded and rubbed her chest lightly bandages gently. That explained it. "Doctor says you'll be fine in a few days with your Aura. But that brings me to another point..."

Ruby looked over at him as he pushed himself to the edge of his seat and looked at her with a serious look on his face. "What were you thinking, taking on that spider thing by yourself and running off without anyone?" Ruby looked away from him and sighed deeply. "That was extremely dangerous and irresponsible of you. You could have died out there."

"You're not my dad," Ruby snapped at him with a glare from her silver eyes. Midori opened his mouth, but then closed it quickly with a quick sigh.

"No. I'm not. But that doesn't mean I don't care, and I'm not the only one." She saw him nod past her and Ruby looked over at the small bedside table that she had not noticed yet. "This ‘I'm the only one who can do it!’ mentality may sound cool in stories, but that's not how the world works. You can depend on people, on your friends, on us." As he spoke, Ruby studied the one gift that someone left for her. A small glass bowl sat on the table that was filled with water. Floating on the top was a flower that had a pink core that faded to red (like roses) at the tips.

A sharp pain rocked through her brain as she looked at the flower. For a split second, she thought she saw the Red Death hovering over her. She held her eyes closed as Midori continued on, saying that the mute woman and a man in a wheelchair came in yesterday to deliver the flower. Ruby knew it was Ren and Nora, probably the only people in the city who would do that for her. She flinched at his touch as he squeezed her shoulder as he got out of his seat and nodded at her.

"Take a few days, Rose. We're going to be stuck here for a while. Relax, you're safe here." Ruby nodded as she tried to get her breathing under control. When he left, Ruby clenched her eyes shut, trying to control herself. Her breathing became so erratic she heard the soft beeping of her heart rate monitor start to speed up at an alarming rate. Looking around her room for anything to help, she saw Crescent Rose sitting in the corner of her room.

Rushing out of her bed, she ran across the room and knocked over the IV that was connected in her arm. Picking the weapon up, she held it to her chest as she searched the room for the Red Death, but she did not show. With her weapon safely in her hands, her heart began to calm, the once erratic beeping of her monitor began to mellow out and resume to normalcy. With no sighting of anyone else in her room, she limped back to her bed, weapon in hand until she pulled the blanket back over her and took a painful deep breath.

With one last look over at the flower, it looked normal, harmless and perfectly fine. But for just a brief moment, her whole world looked red.

Red like roses.

Chapter Text

A Fledgling Phoenix

Pt.I

“Once I blazed across the sky,
Leaving trails of flame;
I fell to earth, and here I lie -
Who'll help me up again?"
-A Shooting Star

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


 

Anxiety was heavy in Yang's heart. She was just concentrating on breathing and not getting cold feet. Her knee was bouncing as she sat on a soft chair that was somehow uncomfortable at the same time. A gentle throbbing in her head and her shaking hand reminded her that she had not had anything to drink since she woke up this morning; a problem normally remedied by her flask but said flask is being held captive by the shorter woman who was holding her shaking hand, squeezing it to help comfort her. It was helping, but she would feel better if she had something to drink.

Yang never liked hospitals, not since she woke up in one without an arm, without a partner, and without a hope. Ironic, that this hospital was going to give her hope, by giving her an arm provided by her former partner. She would have laughed at the irony if she was not concentrating on not having a panic attack. A soft hand settled on her thigh that was bouncing uncontrollably. Looking over to Neo, she saw worry and compassion in her emerald coloured eyes, making Yang sigh and groan out in frustration.

"Sorry, but I'm just nervous..." Neo smiled lightly and nodded knowingly, agreeing with the statement. Her smaller hand squeezed with reassurance, calming Yang down a little bit more. "You sure I can't just have a small drink?" The look of empathy was thrown away in an instant, replaced with a hated look of annoyance. Now she had done it, the reason they were doing it now and why Neo was holding her precious alcohol hostage was that Yang had missed her first appointment because she was too drunk.

"Sorry..." Neo shook her head, her black pigtails swinging with the movement. Yang was staring at the ground, her nervousness creeping back up, and now she had made her girlfriend mad at her in a single sentence. She tried to pull her only hand away, only for it to be forced to stay where it was. A gentle finger lifted her chin and guided her face to the side, where she was met with the soft lips of Neo. Yang felt herself melt into the sensation of the kiss. Her nerves relaxed and her body stilled. They held the kiss for a few seconds before separating finally.

Yang saw the smile in her eyes and felt herself smiling back. This woman found her when she had nothing left to live for, at the very bottom of her life. Neo found her, held her hand and did not let go even when Yang was trying to push her away. She held on and persisted, and now Yang is the happiest she had been since before the Fall. A wider smile crept across her face as she leaned in for one more kiss, deepening just a bit and sucking on her lips gently, just enough to drive the smaller woman mad.

Before things could escalate any further, their intimate moment was interrupted by someone clearing their throat. Breaking the kiss, Yang looked over at the person who had broken them up. She felt heat rushing to her cheeks from embarrassment of almost getting carried away. "Ms. Jin?" the doctor asked. Yang nodded as she stood up. "We're ready for you now." Giving Neo one last kiss and a squeeze of her hand, she followed the doctor through the halls of one of Mistral's smaller hospitals.

Walking past several other patients in a much worse condition that she was, she was led to a room where a nurse asked her to change out of her clothes and into a generic hospital gown. Complying, she undressed and stacked her clothes on a bench before slipping the simple garment on and coming back out. She was forced into a wheelchair and was brought deeper into the building. With each passing fluorescent light embedded in the ceiling, her nervousness continued to grow.

She was brought into a room where a large, intimidating machine was sitting next to a bed. Transfering herself from the wheelchair to the bed, a doctor in a crisp white coat walked up and smiled. Yang could see his white teeth that were so fake, they might as well be painted over with white-out. "Good morning, Ms. Jin. How are you?" His polite attitude was just like back when she first lost her arm. The memory caused her to feel a wave of pain come from her stump. She resisted the urge to apply pressure to her old wound and nodded.

"I'm alright, a bit nervous."

"That's perfectly normal, just try to relax and we'll get started right away."

Yang nodded and took a deep breath as he walked around and set a few things up with the large machine next to her bed. A sudden humming signalled the machine turning on and she saw some gears shifting and getting ready for her. When everything was ready, the doctor came back around with a marker and lifted her stump to examine it. "We're going to have to take about an inch off of the scar tissue to expose and map out your nervous system. After that..." He explained how the whole operation was going to go as he made a dotted line around her stump; Yang just mindlessly nodded with whatever he said.

A nurse came in and Yang laid down on the bed. From above her, the nurse brought out a face mask and placed it over her mouth and nose. "Deep breaths, dear. I want you to count down from ten." With a nod, Yang allowed the gas to invade her lungs and her body. At first, she started out strong; she stared up at the bright ceiling above and spoke out loud.

"Ten, nine, eight,"

She then began to feel her body began to grow heavy under the effects of the gas. Her eyes fluttered and she began to fight against it.

"Seven, six...five,"

Her vision began to darken, her thoughts began to wander around, her words came out slurred and different.

"four... three..."

In the moment before her mind stopped working, she remembered why she was doing all of this and felt tears slip down her face. "We've got a heart rate increase,"

"It's just her Arua flaring up, increase the gas just a bit."

"Ruby, I'm sorry..."

And her whole world turned back.

The next time she opened her eyes, she was standing in the middle of a war zone. Yang saw the long tables of the Beacon Cafeteria scattered and broken and destroyed chairs and plates littered the ground as she looked around. Through a huge hole in the wall, she could see her school burning. Grimm ran rampant across the school grounds, killing indiscriminately. Yang was about to go out to help when she heard footsteps coming from behind her. Turning, she was about to attack whoever was sneaking up behind her but froze when she saw who it was.

Standing in front of her was Adam Taurus, his eyes hidden behind the White Fang Grimm mask and a dark smirk on his lips. Frozen in fear, she watched her attacker slowly make his way towards her, his hand lazily reaching across his body to grip the handle of his blade. In a fit of panic, Yang activated Ember Celica and began to throw her fists, launching round after round towards him, only for them to harmlessly pass through him. She watched as the blade was slipped from its sheath and raised above his head, ready to strike.

On reflex, he raised her arms to defend herself but found that one of them was missing. His crimson blade came down, and she closed her eyes tightly to avoid seeing her own death, only for it to not come. Slowly, she opened her eyes to peek at her attacker, only to find him gone, as was the burning school and the Grimm. Instead, she found herself in the middle of a dirt field as far as the eye could see. Slowly, she turned in place, trying to figure out where she was.

The ground was devoid of any grass or trees, the sky was a pitch black with flashes of lightning highlighting the curves, rain threatening to fall. As she looked around, a single, red flower petal floated past her vision. Quickly, she reached out and plucked it out of the air to examine it. Looking back, she saw her little sister, Ruby, standing in the middle of the field. "Ruby!" Yang rushed to her sister's side and wrapped her one arm around her as tightly as she could, only for her form to dissolve into a flurry of rose petals.

"You left me, Yang..." The older sister quickly looked behind her at where Ruby was now standing, behind her was a huge wall of fire that was slowly moving closer to them. "You abandoned me..."

"Ruby! I didn't mean to! I-I couldn't help anyone! But I'm here now, I'm here for you!"

"It's too late, Yang..." She shook her head slowly as the wall of flame encroached on them. "You're just like her, abandoning the people you're supposed to protect, the ones you love."

"I'm nothing like my mother!" Yang shouted at her sister.

"Then where were you!" When Ruby looked up at her, Yang could see streaks of red coming from her eyes. Tears of blood dripping down her cheeks. "I needed you! and now I'm gone..." With that, Ruby turned her back on her sister and walked into the flames, Yang tried to chase after her, but the flames were too much for her. She kept calling out for Ruby, but she watched as the flames took her, burnt her body, and turned her clothes to ash. All that remained was a charred skeleton that fell to the ground in a pile before that too became ash and was blown away by the wind.

Yang gasped for air as a bright light stole her nightmare away from her. Drowzy, she tried to sit up and look around, but only got a few inches off her pillow before falling back down. A hand squeezed hers and she slowly looked over to see a worried little girl sitting next to her bed. Yang smiled lightly as she closed her tired eyes and spoke quietly, "Hey, Shortcake." She opened her eyes again and saw her lover move a bit closer and gently push some of Yang's golden hair out of her face. "How long was I out for?"

"You’ve been in and out for most of the day," said the scroll that Neo placed near her face so she could read it. She was still wearing the Nyx mask, which Yang thought made her look adorable. Yang nodded gently as she tried to move a bit but her body felt like it weighed as much as an Ursa. Looking over, she saw the gleam of silver and black connected to her arm. The arm that Blake stole and brought all the way from Atlas for her, and the thing that will help her end the Second Great War and bring Ruby back home. Concentrating as much as her mind would allow, she tried to move the artificial appendage.

It began with a twitch, just the smallest movement of her finger. Then her wrist began to shift slowly and her whole arm fell off of the bed when she tried to move more of it. Neo quickly got out of her chair and rushed to the other side of the bed before the weight of the arm could drag her down. Pulling the arm up and settling it in her lap, the patted it gently before returning to her seat and typing up what she was going to say.

"Relax, you just got out of surgery and you still working the anaesthetic out of your system..."

Yang nodded and just relaxed in her bed. "Thanks for being here for me, Neo..." Neo responded with a smile and held her hands in the shape of a heart over her chest. Yang just smiled at the gesture before sleep took her once again.

The next time she opened her eyes, the hospital room was cloaked in darkness. The only light in the room was from the windows that did not have their curtains drawn across them and the gentle glow of the machines she was hooked up to. Looking over to her side, she saw Neo asleep in the chair with her arms folded over her chest, still wearing her disguise. Yang was suddenly aware of why she had woken up in the middle of the night; she could sense a presence in the stillness of her room, and it was not Neo.

Quickly looking over to her other side, she was startled by a pair of eyes that were reflecting light, giving a startling bright green tint to them. The eyes were floating in the middle of the darkness of the room, simply staring at her. "Hey, Blake..." Yang whispered into the darkness of the room. Silently, a figure walked out of the shadows, taking form as the light from the city highlighted her features, creating the form of Blake Belladonna.

"Hey." Her voice was just barely loud enough to be heard by human ears.

"You could use the door you know, didn't have to crawl through the window."

"Window is quieter," Yang hummed lightly as she examined her former partner more closely. "How are you feeling? You alright?"  

"Nah, I'm all left..."

Yang watched the confusion crawl across the cat faunus's face as she tried to process what she just said. The longer it went on, the wider Yang's grin grew until she finally got it. "Because you don't have a right arm..." Yang's grin grew even more as the smile fought through Blake's stubborn concerned frown and came to the surface. "You're terrible."

"Got you to smile..."

A silence descended upon the two of them as Yang tried to say something to her old friend. She had not seen her for years before she turned up in Mistral to lead them to join the Black Fang. Even after that, she had only seen her for a few fleeting minutes inside the organisation. This was the longest time they had to talk without one or the other needing to be somewhere urgently. "You lost the bow," Yang spoke finally, drawing the raven-haired woman's attention. Her feline ears quickly folded down against her head when they were noticed.

"Y-yeah."

"I like them." Blake smiled at the compliment and her ears slowly raised up and twitched gently.

"Thanks."

"So what have you been up to?"

Blake was quiet for a few moments, taking a deep breath and nervously clutching her arm, trying to come up with an answer. "I've been hunting Adam across Vale, I got it in my head that if I killed him, you'd forgive me for what I've done."

Now, it was Yangs turn to be silent. She wanted to yell and scream at Blake, but with how tired she was and with Neo sleeping soundly in the chair next to her, the blonde found it within herself to keep her voice to a whisper. "It's going to take a lot more than that, Blake. You did more than just leave me without saying goodbye, you abandoned me at my time of need. You just left , Blake, you left Ruby, you left Weiss, you left everyone that cared about you. All I want to know is why. Why did you do that?"

"Because I'm a coward. I was afraid of facing you knowing that I could have stopped Adam before he attacked Beacon. Before everything went wrong."

"Well, everything's already gone to shit, so good job, Blake."

"That's why I wanted to kill him, why I got you that arm."

"My arm?" It was getting harder and harder to keep her voice at a whisper. "You think that's why I'm mad at you? Blake, I was willing to give my life for you, and you couldn't even pull your own head out of your ass for long enough to say goodbye..."

"I'm sorry, Yang." Her voice was barely a whisper. Yang saw tears highlighted on Blake's cheeks as her ears dropped to mimic her emotions. "I'm so, so sorry for everything I've done to you, to all of you, you never deserved any of it." Blake wiped her eyes with her sleeve and steeled her gaze. "But I promise, no more running, I'm helping you get Ruby back and I'll never leave your side ever again." Yang could see the determination in her eyes, even if she saw tears spilling out of her bright amber orbs.

Yang just nodded, "I'll hold you to that." They both nodded to the silent agreement between them as the Faunus turned and silently walked towards the window from which she entered the room. As quiet as a cat, she opened the window and placed a long black boot on the edge. Before she could escape in the night, Yang called out her name. The woman paused and looked over at her, waiting for her to speak one last time. "It was good to see you again, Blake. I missed you."

"I missed you, too."

Yang took a deep breath and willed her own tears back from where they came as Blake slipped out of the window, pushed the window closed, and disappeared into the night. Silence overtook the room once again as the seconds ticked by from her friend's departure. With nothing more to do, and her eyes growing heavy, Yang settled into sleep through the rest of the night. With her human arm, she pulled the blanket up to her chin and allowed sleep to take her.

But as Yang's eyes closed, another set opened, revealing pink and brown irises that stared at the window that the intruder entered. As quietly as she could, she slipped the handgun out from under her arm, gently thumbed the hammer back into place, and clicked the safety back on. Neo had warned her, and the first thing that Roman taught her was not to give out idle threats, but to deliver sincere promises.

Chapter Text

A Cracked Mirror

Pt. I

We enjoy warmth because we have been cold.
We appreciate light because we have been in darkness.
By the same token,
we can experience joy because we have known sadness.

-David Weatherford


 

Fort Meihua was one of the few major cities outside of the capital of the Kingdom of Mistral. It was one of the many capital cities during Mistral's turbulent past, back when there were dozens of warlords each trying to conquer the land for themselves. History said that Meihua was one of the last warring states to come under the control of the Warlord of Mistral. The warlord wanted a unified Mistral, so he declared war on everyone and carved his path through the lands as banners either joined him or fell under his armies.

When he reached the northern lands, he found his enemy to be much harder to conquer than previously thought. It was not the armies that stopped him, for his overwhelming forces easily won every battle, it was the Fort Meihua that stood in his way of a united Mistral. The walls of the city were too tall for arrows to fly over and too thick for the primitive catapults to breach. Any attempt to bash the doors down were met with failure from countless hidden murder holes and other traps.

Just when the Warlord was about to decide his dream was a failure, it was his advisor from the coastal cities who suggested the idea of a Champion's Combat; where both sides choose a single champion to fight each other, and the loser will honour the victor's demands. The Warlord could not continue the siege of Meihua through the winter, and his stores were running dangerously low. With the message sent, the Warlord chose himself to fight for his dream.

The Ruler of Meihua walked out into the open field to meet the Warlord, for he too, had chosen himself as his champion for the fight. Historians could never agree on how long the fight lasted, but everyone knew how it ended. By skill or by fate, the Warlord fell to the Ruler. Legends were passed down of the Warlords final words before the death blow, of how he expressed joy in knowing that whether he lived or died, that Mistral would finally be united.

Moved by his sacrifice and the willingness to die for what he believed in, the Ruler had made the Warlord the first Emperor of Mistral, passing the newly formed title to the Warlord's son. The Ruler then stood by the Child Emperor as one of his many advisors, to help rule a land that was his father's dream. The Kingdom still had minor territory disputes, but only thing history will remember was that one man died so the Imperial Kingdom of Mistral could be born.

 

Now, hundreds of years later, Weiss Schnee, Specialist of the Military State of Atlas, was walking down the street with a dozen soldiers. They were on their way to group up with a strike team that was currently pinned down in a park near the great walls that had made the fort impenetrable so many centuries ago. It was not hard to find the strike team, all she had to do was follow the gunshots to their last known location. When she arrived, her group were quick to run up into cover as bullets rained down on their allies.

The team she was reinforcing were pinned down in what was once a nice hotel. Now the couches and tables were overturned and pressed against the large doors overlooking the park. Windows were blown out and debris was scattered across the ground. The people she was with were quick to take up positions and fire back on the defensive positions the Mistrali had set up. "What's the situation?" Weiss asked as she finally found the person who was in charge of the strike team.

"Its a regular SNAFU operation, courtesy of Atlas Intelligence Division." The man held nothing back as he took cover behind a pillar that was once made out of beautiful marble, now broken and cracked by countless bullet holes. "You here to pull us out?"

"No, we're here to help you push forward," the Specialist said as she checked her Dust cartridges again before getting ready to push their advance.

"Oh good..."

Quickly looking over where everyone was, Weiss pushed a finger to her ear in order to hook into the comms network and spoke quickly, "Penny, I need you to take a team and flank on the right."

"Understood, Specialist Schnee!" came the chipper voice that belonged to Penny Polendina. Weiss was waiting for the artificial woman to get into position before she began her attack. Stepping out from behind her cover, Weiss quickly spun in place as the specialised Dust rotated into place and a large glyph was formed in front of her. With a thrust from her rapier, streaks of ice raced through the air towards their targets. Curving over cover and into the trenches they had dug.

With all their focus on her, Penny and her team were able to come in from the side and catch them off guard. During the confusion, Weiss called for a charge; and like good soldiers, they obeyed their commanding officer. Yelling as they rushed the trenches, rifles were cast aside in favour of combat knives, Dust powered blades, and sidearms. With their only defensive perimeter overrun, the Mistrali soldiers were quickly being pushed back.

Weiss was quick to follow her own order and assault the trenches. Landing on her feet, she was quick to close the gap between herself and the nearest soldier that was not wearing the white battle plate and helmet belonging to the Atlas army. The soldier quickly swung his rifle to the side to aim at her, but the trenches were far too tight for such a weapon. His aim was shaky at best, but he did manage to get one short burst off from the rifle before the Specialist closed in.

She felt a round hit her battle plate, but with the superior Atlas technology and the force of her own Aura, the bullet only managed slow her down a fraction. When she met him, she slapped the rifle out of the way and thrust Myrtenaster into his chest, filling his lungs with blood and dropping him to the ground. Weiss was quick not to linger on the blood that graced her beautiful silvery weapon, or on the fact that she had just killed a man without batting an eye.

She was calm, in an almost meditative state as she ran through ankle-deep mud on her way to take another life. Her heart did not hammer in her chest and her blade hand never wavered. With her sharp blue eyes focused on everything around her, her mind was hyper-focused on finding her targets. To her left, she heard the sounds of rifle fire. From the sound alone she could tell it was from an Atlesian rifle, so she went right to find someone else to fight.

Amidst the chaos of battle, Weiss noticed something that was foreign invading her senses. Quickly, she looked up and found the source of the noise, only to see small black dots screaming as they flew towards them. "INCOMING!" Weiss shouted into the communications network, "FORM UP ON ME OR FIND COVER NOW!" Weiss wasted no time in thrusting her weapon into the air and summoning a glyph as wide and thick as she could. Only a few people managed to make it to her side, while others simply dived to the ground and hoped for the best.

Seconds later, the screaming projectiles showered the ground in explosions as the mortar shots found their marks. Weiss felt the heat wrap around her body and her Aura take the shrapnel and rocks, as she was concentrating on reinforcing the protective ward above her. The seconds seemed to stretch on as the last screams ended in an explosion nearby and then silence permeated the battlefield. As the smoke and dust settled, Weiss lowered the glyph and saw the carnage that resulted from the mortar barrage.

Bodies lay scattered across the numerous craters, no longer did they represent their own kingdoms in war, now they were simply expired meat that was once a life. Limbs were scattered haphazardly, like a child who tore apart their dolls during play time. It was so surreal that it did not really sink in that the Mistral army had mortared their own defensive line just to try and halt the Atlesian assault. "If we're going to take this city, we've got to take out those mortars!" Weiss called out to the handful of soldiers she had left under her command.

"I believe the mortar rounds were coming from north-west of our current position," Penny announced as she jogged up to Weiss's side. Like most other Specialists, Penny was wearing a battle plate over her torso with her normal clothing underneath. Following her was her team of soldiers she had led when she flanked the Mistrali line. With their direction clear, everyone quickly began to jog down the streets of Fort Meihua, stopping every few minutes so that Weiss could erect a protective glyph to stave off another mortar strike.

Eventually, the mortars stopped. Weiss figured that they just entered the area where they could not fire since they were so close to the mortars; however, they now had a new problem. In front of them was an ornate wall with a wide opening, signalling that they were entering the inner sector of the city. Weiss could almost feel the ambush waiting for them as soon as they walked past the wall. If it were up to her, she would have posted a large number of soldiers on only one side of the opening to prevent crossfire and accidental friendly-fire.

The problem was that she did not know which side the Mistrali were hiding behind. If she chose wrong, it could end up costing her a large portion of her already limited forces. Turning to Penny, she pointed to both walls silently as everyone took up a firing line. Understanding what Weiss wanted, the artificial human stepped forward and spread her arms out to either side. The Specialist watched as a compacted sword came out of a small box on the back of the orange-haired woman.

The sword opened up, and suddenly there were six hovering behind her back. With both of her arms, Penny thrust them forward, the blades following her movements as they flew through the air. On either side of the opening, they dug into the stone and waited. Weiss watched as the woman's fingers clenched onto nothing as if she was grabbing the air. She then yanked her arms back, and the blades ripped chunks out of the wall, exposing the Mistrali forces that were hiding behind the left side.

With the enemy exposed, Weiss did not have to give the order before the soldiers opened up on them, cutting them down where they stood. Rushing into the inner city, her forces quickly found another public park that had been turned into the mortar nest with sandbags and long tubes that were responsible for delaying the Fourth Assault so much. Outnumbered, the Atlesians were forced into cover once more, but they had nowhere to flank from and no reinforcements were coming into back them up.

With a deep breath, Weiss closed her eyes as she traced her fingers along the blade of her weapon before thrusting it towards the air. Concentrating on her glyph, she watched as it spun quickly and spit out three snow-white figures that descended towards the Mistrali. The wasp-like Grimm, known as Lancers, buzzed and weaved through the air, causing terrified screams as a few people were lifted up into the air and dropped to their deaths. Weiss watched as a concentrated effort from the enemy took down two of her summons, but not before they launched their stingers, targeting the piles of munitions, causing them to explode.

"NOW!" Weiss shouted and everyone charged forward again using the enemy’s sandbags for their own cover and taking shots as the last of her summons were finally taken out by a rocket fired from a shoulder launcher. Above her, she saw a dozen of Penny's swords all collapsed in half and firing green lasers into the ranks, making quick work of the Mistral soldiers. Within minutes, they had taken the park and cut off the Mistrali from their heavy ordnance support.

 

An all too familiar silence filled the air as Weiss looked over the scene. The dead lay on the ground, their limbs outstretched in uncomfortable positions. Everyone was busy collecting the bodies and dog-tags, counting up the cost of taking the mortar pit. Six dead Atlesians and over thirty casualties counted for Mistral. Objectively speaking, the operation was a great success. They stopped heavy ordnance against allied forces in the city with minimal casualties. Normally, Weiss would be happy with those results, but now that she was just a weapon pointed towards the enemy, she felt hollow.

Reaching into one of the pouches in her belt, she pulled out a white cloth and dragged it across the blade of her weapon, cleaning off the blood of the ones she had killed. As she dragged the cloth, the sharpness of the edge sheared the cloth cleanly and when the blood was gone, she released the soiled material and let the pieces fall to the ground. Satisfied with its cleanliness, Weiss slipped the weapon onto her hip and turned to see Penny as she walked up with a sharp salute.

"Congratulations on your successful mission, Specialist Schnee!" the young woman announced a little too happily for the current situation.

"Thank you, Penny. At least now our forces can continue on unaffected without the fear of explosives coming down onto their heads."

"That is good as well!"

Weiss studied the woman closely as her jade eyes were examining the bodies of Atlas soldiers that were lined up and being made ready to be transported home to be buried. Her cheery smile dropped suddenly and a worried expression took its place. Weiss wondered if androids understood the concept of death. Afterall, Penny died and came back, though her case was much different than others. It was more like copying files from one computer to another, and not simply the end like everyone else.

"Are you okay, Penny?"

She quickly looked away from the death and met Weiss’ gaze. "Of course!" Weiss would have believed that, if she did not end her sentence with an audible hiccup. The Specialist stared the other woman down and Penny slowly began to fidget with her fingers. "Well, while I don't feel good about killing people, I know it is something that I need to do- Because the Chancellors know what is best for the world- And the people of Mistral don't want that- But if a thousand people die to save ten thousand then that is okay- Because that's what Chancellor Watts and father told me when I was deployed."

Between each sentence she spoke, the young woman hiccuped while trying to avoid eye contact with Weiss. She did not know why that was happening, but it was a very odd thing to witness. Before Weiss could question her, the ground began to shake in a familiar pattern and Weiss's attention was drawn away from Penny and towards a Paladin Walker that was heading towards them. Behind them, a neat square of Knight robots marched in formation with a detachment of regular soldiers filling in the gaps.

The Major must have gotten word that the way was clear, so they marched the army forward to surround the central city, where the original walls were first constructed. Weiss watched as the dead were gently picked up on stretchers and carried off to be sent home. "Specialist, if you're still alive, I need to talk to you." From the second Alkmene's voice hit her ear, she fought the urge to grind her teeth in frustration. Without replying with the communication device in her ear, Weiss stormed off the field and towards where the army was coming from.

 

After receiving directions from the man, Weiss found herself on the roof of what used to be an apartment building. She walked towards two people that were standing near the edge. One of them had slick back black hair with the standard Atlas soldier uniform. His white battle plate was still bright white and untested in battle. Walking up to them, Weiss saw Alkmene look back and smile at her. "Oh good, you are alive. I'm glad for that."

Next to Gift, a man who was not wearing any battle plate was holding a pair of binoculars and was overlooking the city. "Maidens have mercy..." he said as he lowered them and looked over at Weiss. Major Sterling Acero was an older man. His grey hair was slick back and he had wrinkles on his forehead above deep blue eyes which had seen decades of peace before the war he was in now. "I live to watch you work, Schnee. That was a very impressive job you did."

"Thank you, Sir." Weiss quickly stood at attention and accepted the praise.

"I'm glad lieutenant Gift's faith in you was not without merit."

"As I've said before, Major Acero, Specialist Schnee is the perfect person to get difficult objectives done." Alkmene smirked as he looked back towards the central city walls. Weiss saw the massive walls that housed the ancient city before expansion during times of peace after the unification of Mistral. The walls were thick and tall, stopping any advance from taking the fort.

"The rest of the Mistrali forces have retreated behind the walls of the fort," the Major observed.

"Well, nothing a few tonnes of fire Dust won't solve..." Gift offered up.

"Absolutely not!" The Major shot Gift a stern look before gesturing towards the old walls. "These walls were built long before we were alive, and they'll remain standing as long as I'm in charge. Doesn't mean we can't get over them." Weiss watched the man point to a tall building that was close to the walls. "We sent a team to setup a zip-line across the way, over the walls, and to open the doors from the inside." Weiss nodded to the man. She did not know why he was so set on preserving the walls, but the plan seemed sound enough. No one will be covering the top of the walls since the Major will likely have snipers covering it.

Before Weiss could comment on the plan, a loud boom echoed through the city and the tower they were looking at and planning around suddenly collapsed and fell to the ground in a pile of dust and debris. They collectively stared in disbelief as the plan fell apart just as quickly as the building. Slowly, Major Acero pulled a radio out from his belt and brought it up to his mouth. "Who just blew up that tower..." There was a long silence as he waited for the answer.

"Tucker did it."

The Major did his best to hold in the sounds of frustration as he questioned who the idiots who destroyed the tower were. Before any actual planning could be done to try and come up with a new plan of attack, Penny came up from the same staircase Weiss had entered. "Salutations, Major Acero! Lieutenant Gift! Specialist Schnee! We have received a communication from the Mistrali Commander!" Penny announced as she stood at attention in front of the officers of the Atlas military.

"I don't suppose they're offering an unconditional surrender to the Atlas Army?" The Major asked as he looked over at her.

"Not quite, Sir. They were offering something called an Honourable Duel. They have already chosen a champion to represent them. If we were to agree to the terms, we must choose our own champion and they fight at dusk at the gate of the wall. The terms include that we honour the results of the Duel, if the Mistral champion wins, Atlas will retreat from the city and not return. If the Atlesian champion wins, Mistral will leave unharmed, leaving us the city without any further bloodshed."

The Major scratched his chin for a few moments as he thought it through. Everyone waited for the commander's decision. Looking over at Penny, he asked, "How confident are you in your abilities?"

"I am combat ready, Sir!"

"Wait! Penny. Your Aura still has not come back. I'm guessing their champion is another Huntsman or a Spartan commando; either way, you will be at a disadvantage."

"What do you recommend, Specialist?" The Major walked over to them and eyed Weiss.

"I'll go."

 

As the sun began to set, Weiss found herself walking up the main street towards the walled-off fortress in the centre of the city. Up close, she could see the massive walls that spanned several kilometres in either direction and dozens of meters into the air. In front of her was a massive bronze gate that had already stopped several advances that day. Behind her, several Atlesian soldiers were behind buildings and in cover, their aim pointed towards the gate, ready for the chance that Weiss would just be picked off by a sniper’s shot.

Suddenly, a bell toll echoed through the city, signalling the sunset. A large bang came from the gate and she took a deep breath to ready herself for the battle. As the bronze gate began to rise, Weiss saw a lone figure standing in the middle of it. Her opponent was just as ready as she was. With one final check of her Dust, Weiss lifted her chin and stepped her foot forward then slid it back just a bit. Her battle stance was perfect as she waited for the gate to open fully; but when it did, Weiss was not ready for what she saw.

The figure walked towards her, his black boots had a steel cap over the toes. Simple blue jeans were tucked into them and he had a red sash hanging off his hips. White armour inlaid with bronze graced his chest and forearms. A single shoulder pauldron sat on his left shoulder. On his hip, Weiss saw a sword in its sheath and a second sword just over his shoulder. On his back was a large disc shield that was ready to be used at a moments notice. A large scar sat on his nose and ran down his right cheek from a battle long past. His scraggly blonde hair and cold blue eyes stared at her as he walked towards her.

Weiss stared wide-eyed as her opponent walked out from the safety of the fortress and stood before her, ready to fight.

"Jaune?..."

Chapter Text

A Loneliness of Shadows

Pt. I


I cannot undo
What I have done;
I can’t un-sing
A song that’s sung.
And the saddest thing
About my regret-
I can’t forgive me,
And you can’t forget.

-A betrayal, Lang Leav


 

Dusk had settled over the area, casting an amber glow over the land. Green trees were highlighted by the dying light as darkness chased it away. She had lost count of how many times she had checked her weapon now. Everything worked, just like it had before, and it still will the next time she checks. Before, she was glad to be put on a mission, instead of constantly worrying about Yang and trying to stay out of eyesight of Neo, Yang's new lover.

Blake's grip tightened around her weapon's handle as she thought of the smaller woman who had somehow captured Yang's heart. Was she jealous? Yes. It took Blake some time to admit it to herself, but she was jealous that Neo had become so intimate with the blonde woman. To be able to run her fingers through her hair was a fantasy to Blake, but now it's a reality for someone else; all because of one choice she made so many years ago. A choice that had cost her so much more than just Yang's friendship, it also strained her relationship with Ruby as well. Not only that, but Blake had drawn her weapon on Weiss during her attempt to try and fix her mistake.

Piece by piece, all the good things Blake had in her life fell away as a result of a single choice she made. The raven-haired woman sighed as she slipped the thin blade into the cleaver sheath and rested the whole thing against her leg. Placing her head in her hands, she let out a heavy sigh and tried to will her mind away from what she could not have, to what she did have. As fragile as it was, her friendship with Yang was beginning to be repaired, slowly, so very slowly.

"Wha' are they doin'?

A voice broke through the melancholy of her mind. Looking up from where she sat on an abandoned couch, she saw the rest of the team who were on this mission with her. With her on the couch was Ram, her mask already over her face with a rifle resting across her lap. Across the room was a woman with white hair with her arms folded over her chest. On her hip was a pair chakrams resting on holsters. Her codename was Songbird. Her dark blue eyes looked over at who had just spoken up, breaking the silence that had come over them in the tiny abandoned room that overlooked a junkyard.

Standing near a window were two people. The first was Velvet's right-hand man, Arnab. He was currently looking out the window through a pair of binoculars, watching something. Next to him was the person who spoke. Wolf. He was with Blake when they attacked the White Fang and the Mistrali informants, her first operation with the Black Fang. He was a shorter man, with a beard on his chin and a knit hat that covered his ears. It had a red stencil style embroidered patch on the side that said " Sane ". What startled her about the man was his eyes, one green eye and one blue; as well as his thick accent that marked him as someone from the distant island region of Northern Vacuo. On either side of his hips sat his impressive handguns. She had seen the damage they could do at range, a close-range shot would probably just turn flesh into a mist. Looking over at the shorter man, Arnab raised an eyebrow at him. "What?"

"I said, Wha' are they doin'?"

"They're just standing there, talking. That's what they were doing fifteen minutes ago, the last time you asked. And if you ask me again in fifteen minutes, I'm going to slap you," the larger man warned as he looked back through the binoculars to watch the targets.

"Ya cunt..." Blake heard the man mumble as he began to walk away from the window, lest he earns Arnab’s wrath. Of course, that was why they were there in the first place; why they were all crammed into this small room in a junkyard watching two people talk elsewhere in the junkyard standing next to a van. One of their contacts inside the White Fang had told them there was a weapons deal going down here. So they were sent here to take the weapons and eliminate the White Fang operatives. They found where the deal was going down and the arms dealers, all they were waiting for was for the White Fang to show up.

Of course, it does not help that they had all been waiting around for at least three hours now. Blake just wanted to be on the move, she hated sitting around in a small room with other people for extended periods of time, especially since she could not leave. She had hoped the mission would help her get her mind off of Yang for a few brief minutes; instead, thoughts of her were stewing in her mind. Running a hand through her hair, she pressed the palms of her hands to her eyes trying to anchor herself and let out another sigh.

"Alright, what's your problem?" Wolf asked loudly. Blake looked up and she saw he was standing in front of her with his arms crossed. They were all dressed in simple clothes resembling that of White Fang members to some degree.

"What?"

"You've been huffing and puffing all afternoon, more so than usual. E'er since that blonde lass joined up you've been even more moody than usual."

"Noir..." the woman with the white hair spoke up, "Why do you even care?"

"What's it to you?" Blake added in.

"Cause I'm bored!" was his only response. "So, what's the deal, you know her?" Wolf, whose name she now knew was Noir, moved closer and leaned in with a raised eyebrow. Blake leaned back and shook her head.

"Yeah. I knew her before the war. She was one of my best friends before everything happened. Adam took her arm away when she tried to save me, and I repaid her by running from her, trying to protect her from him." Blake watched as teasing curiosity was ripped off his face and replaced with a sombre expression. Silence followed her statement and she looked to the ground and ran her hand through her hair. "I thought I was protecting her by staying away, turns out I was hurting her even more."

A silence fell on them, no one moved save to look at each other as Blake continued to stare at her hands, her self-loathing coming in to drown her in her emotions. "You love her, don't you?" a single voice shattered the sudden quiet that hung in the room. Blake looked up at the woman with the white hair and she softly smiled at Blake. "I can see it in your eyes, your words may lie, but your heart never does."

The cat faunus simply stared at the woman and shook her head gently. "How did you know?"

The woman gave a slight chuckle and pointed to the shorter man who started this whole conversation in the first place. She looked between the two of them and shook her head again. "Wait, the two of you?"

"Magnolia and I 'ave been together for a few years. We joined the Black Fang after our little town was put to the torch for ' Anti-Faunus tendencies '. I was the only damn faunus there and everyone treated me all right. 'Cept a few tawts, but they kept their gob shut after a few fists." Noir made a gesture with his fist and nodded. Soon afterwards, his cocky smirk was replaced with a heavy sigh and a sad look on his face. "Adam's got a lot to answer for, mark me words."

Everyone nodded to the promise of making things right. Suddenly, Noir clapped his hands, making Blake jump slightly as he rubbed them together. "Right then, how're we going to get you ya blonde lass, hm?"

Blake stared at him like he was crazy and shook her head again. "It's too late, the damage was done, and she's found someone else already."

"That little girl?" Blake nodded. "Well, that makes things difficult, don't it. Well, the way I see it, being quiet and avoiding the issue put you into this problem. So, doing the opposite should fix it. Go to her, and just tell her ya feelings, and don't back down."

Blake just stared at Noir as he gave out his advice. She blinked a few times and shook her head slightly. "Surprisingly, that's not the worst advice I've ever heard in my life." Now, it was everyone else's turn to be surprised.

"That's kinda troubling, actually."

"Back at Beacon. I was worried about one of my tests and my friend suggested that we break the teacher's legs to steal the test answers and cheat that way, she was an odd one..."

"They're here." Arnab broke the casual conversation as he put the binoculars down and walked away from the window. For a brief moment, Blake had forgotten that they were in the middle of a war, that she was currently on a mission to intercept an arms deal and kill people for her own ends. For a few, brief moments, she was just talking with friends. Everyone quickly got to their feet and pulled weapons to their sides as she felt the adrenaline beginning to pump through her body, preparing her for the firefight to come.

Grabbing the binoculars, Blake saw that a new vehicle had shown up and people in White Fang uniforms were busy talking to the Mistrali black market arms dealers. Quietly, they all left the building and made their way to the deal, ready to pounce. Blake was currently hiding behind a stack of flattened cars with Ram and Arnab. Across a beaten dirt path stood Noir and Magnolia, weapons at the ready. Blake checked her weapon one last time and nodded. At once, everyone slipped their masks onto the face and Arnab made a gesture at Noir, who nodded and peeked around his cover.

For a split second, Blake watched and the green eye on Noir's face glowed for just a moment before he went back into cover. With both pistols in his hand, he took a deep breath and quickly turned the corner. The next second was filled with several loud gunshots as Noir fired off five rounds in quick succession. The rest of them quickly made their way out into the open, only to find four bodies on the ground, splatters of red blood on the sides of the vans and blood leaking out of the driver's side door of the arms dealer's van with the window shattered.

With quick, methodical steps, the group approached the bodies and quickly confirmed their deaths before moving towards the vans themselves. Inspecting the bodies, there was a single bullet hole perfectly centre in each of their heads. Blake remembered the glint of green that came from Noir's eye and figured perfect accuracy had something to do with his semblance. Blake watched as Magnolia placed her hand on the arms dealer's van before walking over to the White Fang van and doing the same.

The white-haired woman stopped and looked at the vehicle for a few moments for stepping away and bringing one of her chakrams up and pointing it to the vehicle. With a flick of her wrist, the ring unfurled and four arms extended out of the sides to create a small crossbow. Dust was channelled into the weapon and a bolt was formed on the back before she pulled the trigger and sent the Dust bolt into the side of the van. Seconds later, the bolt disappeared and a trail of red began to leak out of the small hole it had made. Magnolia declared the clear, and they began to move.

Blake moved with Arnab to the back of the White Fang van, when they opened the door, they were greeted with several large duffle bags and a slumped figure that was clutching a handgun. Jumping inside, Blake looked inside of one of the bags to reveal a large number of lien cards, all neatly bundled and ready to be used. She began to toss them to the opened back of the van where Arnab grabbed them and set them on the ground. She made quick work of the bags, only stopping when she had to move the body for the last bag.

Looking at the White Fang soldier, she looked young, far too young to be doing this sort of thing. Maybe the same age as Blake was, if not younger, when she first started doing raids on SDC mines and attacking SDC trains transporting Dust. Slowly, Blake reached forwards and gripped the white Grimm mask that hid her eyes and slowly pulled it away. Dead, open green eyes stared at her as she laid on her back. Blake felt her cold stare and felt the judgment weigh upon her shoulders.

She stared at the body, and a cold chill went down her spine. Everything around her stopped and she just stared, the woman laying on the floor had her entire life ahead of her and it was just ended because she was guarding something they needed. Black hair sprawled out from her hood that had fallen off after she had flopped onto the floor. It was not hard to see herself trading places with the girl. What if she had never left, what if she had never swallowed her fear and had followed Adam to the end, would she have been at Beacon when he attacked, would she have been killed there or somewhere else?

Blake looked down at her and gritted her teeth. They were both Faunus, and yet they were fighting each other simply because they had different ideas about what was right and what was wrong. It was not her fault, she was just at the wrong place, at the wrong time. "I'm sorry..." Blake whispered to the young woman as she dragged her fingers over her face and closed her eyes, letting the woman rest in peace. She wished they had enough time to bury the dead, but all of that will have to come after the White Fang is destroyed. Gripping the last bag of money, she jumped out of the van and took one last look at the woman who lay in the back of the vehicle.

How many other young faunus had come under Adam's influence? Had they flocked to him voluntarily or was she drafted simply because of her race? Blake did not know. With a heavy sigh, she took the bag to the others, where Noir was currently looking through a large crate that had been pried open and was inspecting its cargo. Inside were rifles that were neatly lined up in a row, with extra magazines stacked up in the bottom. "Vacuo made, super durable and cheap. Best there is for terrorists everywhere..." Noir commented as he picked one up and sighted down it.

The metal and wood rifle came with a curved magazine that came up from the bottom. A wooden grip and stock made it light and the harsh conditions of Vacuo made sure their weapons could go through any kind of environmental problem and still work, no matter what. Blake helped load up the money into the weapon dealer's van, where the other crates of weapons were waiting to be used and hopped into the back. Sitting on top of a crate that was labelled as handguns, she took one last look at the White Fang van and let out a sigh.

Not one of these people had their Auras unlocked, and they were ambushed by a team who had three Aura users with extreme skill. Getting in across from her was Ram and Noir before the door was slammed shut and Blake was now consumed by darkness. The van shook as doors were opened and the driver was disposed of and the other two people got in. The room was filled with the sound of the engine coming to life, and they began to move back to base with their ill-gotten gains. It was only when Blake tried to scratch her nose, did she realise that there was blood on her hands.


 

Standing on a tree branch, a woman was overlooking the junkyard. She watched as the White Fang rolled up and began the trade money for weapons with one of Mistral's many black market dealers. The deal was going well until a second group of White Fang members appeared from the side and gunned down everyone without even a word of warning. She watched from shadows as the second team began to load up all the money and all the weapons into a single van and drove off down the path that the weapon dealers came in.

Reaching for her belt, she pulled a radio out and allowed her natural camouflage fade away as she spoke. "They took the bait, they killed everyone and took everything away." She released the talk button and waited for the voice from the other side to give her next order.

"Was Blake with them?"

The woman stared at the spot where the dead now lay. She played the scene out again in her mind as the figure of a woman in a white coat with long, midnight hair caught her eye. Bringing the radio back up to her mouth, she spoke once again. "Yes, she was there. Our information was right after all."

"Track the van, and tell me the location. We will punish these traitors for what they have done. Do not worry, the faunus will come out of this victorious. You have your orders."

"Yes, High Leader Taurus."

Ilia held the radio near her head for a few more moments, just to make sure there was no more from her leader before clipping it back into place. Her dark skin tone turned black and she jumped from the tree and began to follow the van, back to the location of the Black Fang hideout.

Chapter Text

A Bitter Aftertaste

I am strong,
Because I have been weak.
I am fearless,
because I have been afraid.
I am wise,
because I have been foolish.

-Unknown


 

She stood in front of a small stall set up outside of the graveyard that was selling flowers for a cheap price. As morbid as it was, Coco could not help but admire the clever business practice of setting up shop just outside the gates. The prices were not even jacked up that much either; the proprietor would make a profit, not a large one, but enough to live comfortably in this world lost in a war no one asked for. Now the only thing she needed to figure out was what to buy.

She bought daisies the last time she was here, and small pink ones the time before. Eventually, she settled on something a little more colourful this time, flowers with a white centre that faded into a rich purple. Buying four of them, she paid the woman and began to walk down the path that led into the heart of the graveyard in Feiyan. The main city that housed the Valenese Reclamation Army was one of the last cities inside the fallen Kingdom of Vale.

The sun was high in the sky as Coco pushed her sunglasses higher on her face, covering the fact that she was still missing her eye and half her face was covered in horrible scars. Truth be told, the woman never cared what people thought about her looks, she dressed to impress herself, not them. Of course, you can change your shirt, but no amount of makeup or tacky accessories could cover up what she had become. Thankfully, her hair had grown over the scar over her scalp, but her eye was still useless and she had a permanent smirk thanks to that Schnee-bitch.

Coco's feet carried her to the same location as always, without even realising it she stood in front of a small plaque that sat in the soft grass in the middle of the plot of land. All around her were other plaques, identical to the one she stood in front of, but this one was special; for it bore names that meant more to her than anything else in the world. Crouching down, she brushed some fallen leaves and grass clippings off the plaque so she could read the names printed on it.

Fox Alistair and Yatsuhashi Daichi.

With a sigh, she set the flowers down in front of their plaque and stood back up. Looking around, this was the place where they put small tributes to Huntsmen and Huntresses who had died out in the field and whose bodies could not be retrieved for a proper burial, so at least there was a place for them to be remembered.

So many of them had died that first year of the war trying to do their jobs. Those few who did not choose a side in the war and stuck to their principles, as Huntsmen should, remained unbiased to the concerns of the generals and soldiers. Their only duty was to protect people from the creatures of Grimm; but as the war raged on and spread, it became harder and harder to do as more and more Huntsmen were overrun with tides of Grimm hunting the fleeing and scared people.

It did not help that almost all of the Huntsmen from Atlas turned into Specialists in the army. In response to Atlas all but steamrolling over every town and village they came across, unaligned Huntsmen took up arms against them, trying to defend homes and towns from the relentless Atlas assaults, creating more death. Now, only a handful of Huntsmen remain out in the wilderness, doing what they were trained to do; fight Grimm no matter where they were, and here she was, Coco Adel, Sergeant Major of the VRA.

With a heavy sigh, she reached down into her pocket and pulled out a small paper box and flipped open the top. Pulling out a thin, white stick, she stuck one end into her mouth and pulled a shitty store bought lighter out from another pocket. "I know, I know..." she spoke into the grey whisps as she ignited the end of her cigarette and inhaled the poison. "It's bad for my health and blah blah blah. It's stressful down here, so let me have this one thing..." She pocketed the parts of her bad habit as she just sat in silence and continued to invite smoke through her lips.

"I still haven't found Velvet yet, I can only hope she's safe in Menagerie. I really wish  that the girl actually listened to me, gods forbid something happened to her. But hey, if she's up there, tell her hi for me." Coco was silent for a few more moments as she took another drag of her cigarette and held it in her lungs for a few seconds before exhaling through her nose. "Course, I'd probably be up there with you guys if it wasn't for Ruby. Remember her? The small red one with the massive scythe? We were hiding out in the underground  trying to save this monkey guy who got his stomach all torn up when we got ambushed by a bunch of Grimm."

"Anyways, we were stuck down there for a few days until she pops around the corner and manages to bring us all back to the town. Course, calling it a town is being generous. I should see how she's doing, she got really messed up too, at least now I have someone alive to talk to instead of just standing out here like an idiot talking to the air..." Looking down at the plate in the grass, she reached up and gently traced the two beads she had tied into the single lock of caramel hair in her head of dark brown. One a deep green, the other a dark red. "I miss you guys..."

 

After she crawled her way out from under the building they fought Weiss Schnee in, half blind and struggling to keep her mind straight, she woke up in a medical tent covered in bandages. With her Aura, it only took two weeks before she was up and fighting again. Longer since she now had to get used to seeing and interacting with the world with one blind eye. Eating the shitty camp food was rough on her for the first while.

She wished she had died with the rest of her friends that day, but just like everything in her life, she got used to it. She got used to growing up in a house where her parents pressured her into social norms. She got used to working out every day and training to become a Huntress. She got used to being a leader for strangers. She got used to cafeteria food. She got used to fear. She got used to war. She got used to never seeing her friends ever again. She got used to fighting with just one eye. She got used to those few seconds after she wakes up every morning where she thought everything was as it was before, until she remembers what happened.

 

With another sigh, she took one last drag of her cigarette to finish it off and blew it out slowly. Scraping the remaining embers on the heel of her boot, she held onto the filter until she made it to the next garbage can to dispose of it properly. Walking past the flower vendor again, she walked down the street with her hands in her pockets and her bag hanging off her shoulder. She did not know where she was going, but just walking around made her feel a little better coming from a place like that.

Her mindless feet followed a scent familiar to her. The sharp aroma filled the air as she found herself walking into a little cafe that sat on the corner of the street. On one side there was a barber shop with the spinning sign, on the other side was some kind of deli. Between the deli and the cafe was a man sitting on the sidewalk with his head down. He looked like he had not had a shower in years or worn clean clothes in even longer. In front of him was a small cardboard sign that read "Gods bless," written with a sharp black marker.

Hiding behind the sign was the fact that he was missing a leg. His pants were rolled up and pinned in place so he would not drag them across the ground as he tried to make his way anywhere. The last thing Coco noticed about the man before she was about to ignore him was a pair of twitching ears hidden behind his mop of dark, dirty hair. He was a faunus out in the open in a human city, asking for them to take pity on him. She did not know if he was desperate, or if he had completely given up on life and he did not care if someone beat him to death simply for having an extra pair of ears.

After it became common knowledge that the White Fang was responsible for the Fall of Vale, it had become absolute chaos for every Faunus living in outlying communities. All around the world, there was a mass exodus to Menagerie; boats and ships were loaded up beyond max capacity just to try and save one more Faunus from the Humans. Those who could not make it had suffered the consequences. Coco had seen evidence of horrible acts that had never been seen since the Faunus War... people hung and butchered simply for not being human. Worst of all, not even children were spared. Coco had to force the images of what she had witnessed out of her mind before it got worse.

Reaching into her pocket, she deviated from her path to the cafe and slipped a few lien cards into the small food container that had a few sient coins that people casually tossed in, probably whatever they had in their pockets when they crossed his path. The man watched as she put the money in the box and looked up at her as she stood up. "Gods save you, ma'am," he said as he picked up his tray and quickly pocketed the money before anyone else saw it. At least he could get a few sandwiches from a store with it.

"Stay safe out there." She turned and walked into the cafe and stood in the small line until it was her turn. Leaving the small cafe, she made her way down the street with a mission in her mind. She may not have many friends left, but there was at least one person who would be happy to have some company. She walked down the sidewalks and crossed the streets with a tray with two coffees and a bag in her other hand. Walking into the building, she quickly checked in and walked up the stairs to the room she had been told earlier.

With a gentle knock, she opened the door a few moments later and was greeted by the sight of a woman sitting up in her bed. "Coco?" Ruby Rose looked much better than she did when she first found her out in the desert. She had dark circles under her eyes and looked a little jumpy when she first entered. Coco spotted the bandages that wrapped around her chest under her hospital gown. Without her clothes and weapon in her hands, she seemed so small and frail.

"Hey, Ruby." Coco closed the door behind her and walked further in before sitting down in the chair next to the bed. "Brought you some coffee and doughnuts." The brunette set the tray and on the table nearby and handed her the warm paper cup. She watched as the red tipped woman reached out for the cup; her hands were shaking as she took the liquid in her hand and nodded.

"Thanks." She took a sip and made a face.

"Cream and sugar?"

"Please."

After handing her the packets of coffee additives, she watched as Ruby opened the lid and emptied five packets of sugar and a small cup of cream into the black liquid. Coco wanted to comment on how she butchered the taste but kept her mouth shut. She was already in the hospital, she did not need a lecture on the proper way to drink coffee. "How you doing?" she finally asked as she sipped her drink and leaned back in her chair. Ruby shrugged a bit as she took a sip and seemed to be happy with the flavour now.

"Alright, I hate being stuck in here though..." She sighed as she pushed some of her dark hair out of her silver eyes. Coco noticed that her hand scratched at the healing scabs inside her right elbow.

"Stop picking, I know the IV sucks, but if you keep picking at your scabs, you might get an infection." Ruby looked down at the scabs in her arm, and Coco realised that either the doctors had a really hard time finding a vein in her arm so they had to keep trying, or something else was being injected into her arm. Coco decided to leave it alone when Ruby covered her scabs and looked away. Silence filled the room as they both sipped on the drinks, neither really knowing what to talk about.

"You said you brought doughnuts?" Coco's concentration broke when Ruby spoke up. Quickly, she reached into the bag, taking a little extra time to actually open it and not just smack it onto the ground by accident since it was on her blind side. Handing a plain doughnut to the younger woman, she nodded and began to nibble at the edge before taking a bigger bite. "How long were you stationed at Ritrr?" Ruby asked after another few bites.

"About three years; been constantly been pushed back by Atlas. We always managed to stop scout parties or patrols of those robots, but when the main army rolls in, we usually bounce before anything big happens. You?"

"I got there with the rest of the Valenese reinforcements. I managed to stop that big push into Ritrr that was being led by Weiss."

"You stopped Weiss Schnee? Damn..." Coco was impressed. She had heard stories that whenever Weiss had led an attack on a Resistance group they were wiped out. The fact that the small, red-cloaked woman could not only slow her down but make her retreat with her army was an impressive feat. Coco was always mad that she got stationed at places that the white-haired Specialist was not, revenge was always on her mind when it came to thoughts of her former acquaintance.

"So, what happened?"

Coco looked at Ruby and sighed deeply. She knows what she was asking, it still hurt to bring it up, but it was the truth. Reaching up, she pulled her sunglasses off her face to reveal her broken eye and the rest of the scars on her face. "Your friend, Weiss, is was happened. We were supposed to clear out the Atlesians from this small town. We were doing a good job at it too until she showed up and started throwing Dust all around. It was three on one, we had every advantage against her, but we still lost. She summoned this massive knight...thing that killed Fox and Yatsu. Then a white Ursa came out of a glyph and tore up my face. But damn, if I still don't look good."

That made Ruby smile a little bit and she nodded. Coco continued, "At Ritrr, I thought we were all going to die when that thing showed up. It's strange, but for years we have been fighting each other in this war, but as soon as Grimm start showing up, I don't even see the enemy anymore, I see people that I need to defend. Even before the order was given to work together, I was standing on this car, covering a squad of Atlas soldiers as we all gathered down centre street to fire at that massive Grimm. Then there you were, standing on top of a building with her, preparing to kill that thing."

"When things went sideways, your boys picked me up. You guys saved me twice now, I hate owing favours, by the way."

"Well, I'm still healing from the last time you saved me. So nothing too hard please." Ruby added as she rubbed her chest that was covered in the bandages.

"I'll try."

"How did you guys find me, anyway?"

Coco was hesitant to speak, but she shook her head and continued, "Well, believe it or not, Ozpin told us where you where..."

"Like, Headmaster Ozpin?"

"Yeah. Just showed up out of nowhere, nearly ran him over. Then he told us where you were, then disappeared with a woman in red armour. I wasn't sure if we were all going crazy until we found you in the sand. How did you end up there anyway?"

It was Ruby's turn to be quiet. Nursing her drink, she set the half-eaten doughnut on the table next to her bed and ran a hand through her hair. "Me and Weiss ran into a cellar that was in the middle of the desert and waited for the Grimm to pass us. When the morning came, I got away from her and was ambushed by some guy trying to kill me."

"Atlesian Specialist?"

"No, I don't think so. He was a scorpion Faunus with a tail. He was also really crazy too, spoke like a weirdo. But he was strong and fast."

"How did you kill him?"

Ruby looked down and shook her head. "I just killed him, it doesn't matter how I did it, all that matters is that he's dead..."

Coco was quiet for a few moments, buying herself time by sipping her drink before continuing. "I haven't forgotten what she's done. But maybe, just maybe, there's still hope for us yet. One way or another, the war is going to end and we'll have to work twice as hard to make up for all the others who have died."

"But Weiss is the enemy..."

Coco was caught off guard by the sudden statement from the younger girl. She seemed to have changed in the blink of an eye. Her voice was deeper and had a gravel to it, her face was hidden by her hair as she looked down at the coffee in her hands, which were shaking even more than before. Something was wrong, every part of her mind was telling her to just run. Instead, Coco just leaned in to look at her with a worried expression on her face.

Suddenly, Ruby looked over at Coco and the blood turned cold in her veins. She looked the same, but something about her eyes just held so much hatred and pain. Her pupils were tiny specks in a sea of iron. "My. Enemy..." Just as quickly as it came, her expression changed from whatever that was to raw pain, as she clutched her head and cried out. The cup in her lap was knocked off her bed and the lid popped off as it hit the floor. Coco got out of her seat and quickly slipped her glasses on her face by reflex.

"Ruby, are you-"

"GO AWAY!"

She jumped away from the screaming Huntress and was already gripping the handle of her weapon. Holding her head with both her hands, Ruby took deep breaths as she fought with whatever was happening to her. Gripping her hair and pulling it, she saw strands of her hair being pulled out of her scalp, but whatever it was, it was hurting her. After a few moments, she calmed down and curled in on herself, facing away from the other woman in the room.

"Do you need a nurse or something?" Coco finally asked as she stood in place, unsure what she needed.

"I just need to rest, I'm tired." Her voice was soft, almost a whisper. Coco nodded as she released the grip of her weapon and quickly picked up her own coffee, the need to drink it long forgotten after what had happened. Heading towards the door, she opened it and looked back.

"Well, get well soon, Ruby..."

"Yeah..."

Coco left the hospital room and sighed. The war had taken its toll on everyone, some worse than others. But before she got too far, Coco thought she heard something coming from behind the door, just a whisper.

"Red like roses..."

Chapter Text

A Wreath Built of Withered Roses

Pt. II


 

She pushed the plunger down and pumped the contents of the syringe into her bloodstream. She opened her mouth and allowed the Aura Stimulant to flood her body, making her feel like she was floating as she sat on the toilet in her small hospital room. A deep breath left her body as she closed her eyes and leaned back, her head resting against the wall behind her. It had been almost a week without the Aura Stimulant since she had been put in here for her injuries. She was finally going to be released today; and with that came her personal effects, including her precious drug that was still inside a pouch on her belt.

Now that she finally had her hit, she felt better than she ever had before, like her Aura was finally full despite the long rest at the hospital. Pushing herself to her feet, Ruby leaned on the wall for a few moments while the world stopped spinning around her. It had been a long time since her last hit of stimulant, so she may have taken a larger dose than she was used to. Finally, she collected herself and slowly made her way towards the mirror that hung over the sink.

Looking at herself, Ruby made sure her appearance did not give too much away as to how she actually felt. Her corset and shirt were stitched back together and most of the blood had been cleaned off. She could see spots of pink stains sticking out from the corset; blood was next to impossible to get out of white, so whoever did this tried their best. With all her clothes back on, Ruby looked better now. No more skin and bones, all hidden behind layers, hidden from worried eyes. The collection of holes in her cape continued to grow with each battle she fought.

Looking into her own eyes, the gentle silver glow scanned over her own body, only to hover on a hooded figure standing behind her. Turning around, she saw Summer Rose, the image of her mother, standing next to the toilet. They locked silver eyes and stared at each for a few moments before Summer looked down and focused on something at her feet. The image of her mother bent down and picked up the used syringe off the ground and then looked back up at Ruby.

Of everything her mother did, what Ruby hated the most was the pity and sorrow that she held in her eyes whenever she looked at her. Ruby watched as her mother walked towards her and stood just before her. She looked into her eyes, never backing down even as she reached past her daughter and placed the syringe on the counter. Her eyebrows pinched together in worry and compassion, her hands slipped onto Ruby's shoulders and she felt the weight fall onto her body.

"Ruby..." She closed her eyes and looked down. She did not want to look at her mother. "Ruby, please. You don't need this. You're being torn apart, she's tearing you apart!" Ruby did not want to do this. Breaking out of her grasp, she slapped Summer's hands away from her and bared her teeth.

" She has done more to help me than you ever have. Just leave me alone. Both of you," Ruby gave her warning in a low growl as she grabbed the syringe and stormed out of the bathroom into her hospital room. She all but threw the medical tool into the small yellow bin for used syringes next to the table. Grabbing her weapon off the bed, she made sure it was loaded up before slipping it back into its place behind her waist. Lastly, she picked up the small glass bowl with the flower and headed towards the door.

"She will kill everyone you love."

Ruby stopped and looked back at her mother, standing in her room with the same concerned expression she always has. "Everyone else will be killed if I stop fighting..." She closed the door and left her mother. Walking through the halls of the hospital, she passed people that were much worse than she was. People who had lost limbs and had bandages wrapped around their whole bodies. She even walked past a door where someone was busy throwing up into a bucket. The sick and dying were all around her; she could smell the death in the air.

Finally, she made it out into the open air and took a deep breath. Clearing her lungs of the illness and scent of the sterile air, she made her way down the street towards her destination, walking down the sidewalks of Feiyan, now the makeshift capital of Vale. With most of the population fleeing Vale after it's fall, the bulk of them went to the cities that lined the coast: Feiyan, Gelber Ziegelstein, and Giglio. However, Atlas attacked the closest city to Vale, Giglio, and destroyed it with aerial bombardment and overwhelming forces.

It was that day that she had earned the nickname "Red Death." She then passed it onto the being that was constantly watching her, helping her wage her war against the enemy. But somewhere along the way, the Red Death had lost who the enemy was, and declared that everyone was her enemy. Just like her mother, the Red Death was trying to help her in her own way, by pushing her and whispering to her for death, to paint the world red like roses.

Finally, she found the building she was looking for. Walking through the front doors, she walked past the wall of mailboxes, stepped into the elevator, and pushed the button for the floor she wanted. She stayed close to the corner as the box closed and ascended up the shaft. She was glad when no one else got on as it made a quick trip up and the doors opened into a hallway with several doors, all with different numbers. She walked down the worn carpet floors until she found the door she was looking for. She knocked three times before taking a step back.

She did not have to wait long before the sound of someone walking around grew closer to her before the door finally opened. Behind it, Ruby saw both Ren and Nora with a surprised expression on their faces. Both were in fairly casual clothing, Nora with just a pair of pink pyjama pants and a loose white top. Ren had a long green silk gown in a traditional Mistrali fashion. "Ruby," Ren's usual tone betraying just a little bit of his surprise, "I didn't hear from the hospital that you were going to be released. We would have come and picked you up." Nora simply nodded.

Ruby did not tell anyone she was leaving, so whoever was supposed to check up on her was probably going to be in for a shock. "I was just dropping by to return your flower bowl," Ruby said as she extended the water bowl with the flower floating in the middle, bobbing gently.

"That is unneeded, it was a gift for you. I am glad to see you're doing better. We were about to sit down for lunch if you'd like to join us."

Ruby did not get the chance to answer before Nora opened the door wider and pulled the crimson-cloaked woman in. Ren simply shook his head with a small smile before turning in place and wheeling himself further into their small apartment. It was a small one bedroom apartment with green painted walls. Trails were worn on the carpet from Ren's wheelchair, years of going back and forth doing the cheap carpeting did it no favours. She was dragged to the dining area, which was just a low sitting table with a single folding chair at one end.

Being forced into the lone chair, Nora smiled as she went into a closet nearby and pulled the second chair and unfolded it so she could sit next to Ruby as Ren wheeled himself into the small kitchen area to pour soup into a third bowl for her. Ruby let herself smile softly, it felt nice to be reminded that she had friends who cared for her so much. "Thanks," Ruby took a deep breath and pushed herself closer to the table as Ren came to her side and slipped the soup in front of her as well as a spoon.

"It's no problem at all, Ruby. I'm glad to see you're okay now."

Picking up the spoon, Ruby was about to dive in when she looked at what she was about to eat. The bowl was a simple cheap ceramic with a green ring around the lip. A rich tomato soup was filled to nearly the brim. In the bright red (like roses) of the soup, she saw herself drowning in a sea of red (like roses). Looking up, she saw the Red death standing across from her. Blood dripped down the right side of her face, her black and silver eyes staring back at Ruby.

The Red Death's mouth opened and crimson flowed down her chin. "Enemy..." her voice echoed through Ruby’s ears as her breathing grew more shallow the closer she got to her. "Give me the tool, and I will paint this world red like roses..." Ruby quickly reached behind her and gripped Crescent Rose tightly, making sure the Red Death would not take it away from her. Suddenly, there was a hand on her shoulder and Ruby jumped to her feet. Her weapon sprang to life in her hands as she took aim at her enemy, only to see green where she expected to see red (like roses).

"Ruby..." Ren's calm voice cut through the inky crimson of her mind and she realised what had happened. Looking around, the table was knocked to the side, the soup was spilt and was gently dripping onto the ground, staining the carpet. Nora was gripping her weapon and forcibly aimed it at the wall towards the hall, her face was chiselled anger and her eyes were dangerous.

"Enemy..."

Nora was trying to stop her from killing her enemy, but she was looking at Ren, her friend. A sharp pain shot through her brain, causing her to cry out as she tried to wrestle her weapon out of the Red Death's iron grip. She pulled as hard as she could, but she was refused her weapon. "Ruby! Breathe..." It was only because of his voice that she felt the burning in her chest; opening her mouth, she sucked air in greedily as her vision quickly cleared. Her resolve weakened and she began to lower her weapon with Nora's aid to make sure it was not pointed at Ren.

With the muzzle clear of any target, Nora finally let go of the weapon and stood to the side, her anger slipping away and being replaced with concern. Looking between the two of them, Ruby hung her head in shame of what she had just done. She aimed her tool of death at her friend for no reason, she just reacted and could not stop herself. "I'm sorry, I-I don't..."

"Ruby, look at me." Slowly, she looked up through her crimson tinted hair to the man confined to a wheelchair and saw him tilting himself so he could look at her face. "It wasn't your fault, it was mine."

"But, but I-"

He held his hand up to silence her.

"I wasn't being careful around you and I startled you by accident. You simply reacted the way you've learned to react to being surprised. Nora is the same way, if she doesn't know I'm about to touch her, she'll also jump as if to fight off someone when it was only me. It isn't your fault, Ruby."

Nora simply nodded to what the man was saying, giving her own, sad smile to accompany it. Slowly, the woman with Aqua eyes reached out and gently touched Ruby's shoulder, making sure she knew she was there before wrapping both her arms around and pulling Ruby into a firm hug.

Ruby let herself sink into the heat of another person before wrapping her one arm around Nora, still holding onto the weapon with her left hand. She felt tears rolling down her cheeks as the simple act of a hug made her feel so whole that when they broke apart finally, she felt hollow on the inside. With a hard sniff to stop the snot running down her lips and using her wrist to wipe the tears, she nodded gently as Ren approached her and held his hand out for her.

With him being in the chair all the time, it was hard to give out hugs. Instead, he offered his hands and she held them warmly in exchange. It still had the desired effect for her as Ren looked up at her. "I'm sorry..." she whispered lightly as she took deep breaths to calm herself.

"It's fine." He smiled at her as he squeezed her hand with both of his.

"I didn't mean it..."

"I know, Ruby,"

"I just, I don't have a lot of friends left...and I don't want to lose you guys like the others, because of something I did..." Tears began to race down her face again as she remembered everyone she had lost in the Fall and the war that erupted in its wake.

"Ruby, none of that is your fault. You can't blame yourself for what you couldn't do back then. Penny died because of a mistake made by Pyrrha during their fight. Pyhrra died because she fought someone so much stronger than herself, even if all of us fought her I doubt we'd come out much better. And what happened to Jaune, I don't think anyone could have seen what happened to him. I don't blame him, loss does terrible things to people, I just wish I could have talked to him before all of this happened..."

Sorrow leaked from his eyes as he sighed heavily. It was Ruby's turn to squeeze his hands and help her friend. "It wasn't your fault, Ren..." He gave her a small smile with a nod before slipping his hands away from hers.

"Thank you, always remember that you have us, Ruby."

"I will, thanks." After a few moments, she looked at the mess she had caused and sighed deeply. "I'll help you guys clean up." She slipped her weapon back into its holster and began to walk towards the table, picked up the cooled soup bowls, and began to take them back to the sink. Nora had moved the table and Ren began to wet cloths so they could hopefully get the liquid from the carpet. After a few minutes of pressing and scrubbing, the floor was left with a few new orange stains of different sizes.

Looking at the time, she sighed deeply as she rung the soiled cloth out in the sink and hung it off the side. "I'm really sorry about that, Ren," she said as she began to wash her own hands of the soup, "It's starting to get a little late out, I'll take off so I can stop ruining your house."

"I already told you it was fine, Ruby. Here, for when you get home tonight." In his hand was a plastic container with a blue lid tightly sealed over the top. The contents were more of the soup she had spilt during their lunch. "Get home safe, Ruby." She nodded and accepted the container before saying one last goodbye to everyone with a hug before taking her leave. Getting into the elevator at the end of the hall, she closed her eyes and sighed deeply, letting her head lean back, she hit the wall gently as she allowed the sensation of going down fill her body.

As it stopped, she straightened herself and opened her eyes to walk out into the world, only to be stopped by the Red Death standing in front of the doors, blocking her path. They locked eyes and Ruby immediately gripped her weapon to ensure it did not get into her hands. "Why do you fight me constantly?" she asked as the soft chime echoed through the tiny room and the doors slid open. Instead of answering her, Ruby just barreled past her and stormed out of the apartment building.

"They are the enemy!"

"Leave them alone."

"She tried to kill you!"

"I almost killed Ren because of you!" Ruby snapped and looked back at the Red Death, "Leave. Me. Alone." Without waiting for her response, Ruby rushed to her own small home inside the city.

While Ren and Nora lived in a one bedroom apartment with low income and military help, Ruby was far worse than them. Where their home was filled with the warmth of someone living there, her one bedroom apartment was filled with a cold that came with idleness. Plain white walls with cracks all over the place were most of her view. A very old and worn couch sat in front of a dead fireplace, on top of it was the node for the television that was decades older than she was.

Walking into the kitchen, she was met with more of the run-down atmosphere that was her home. The fridge was old and the same could be said for the cupboards with peeling paint and rusty hinges. Opening the white fridge, she saw the light flicker somewhat as she placed Ren's soup on one of the empty racks, next to an expired bottle of mustard and a jar of pickles that she was pretty sure came with the fridge. At least it kept things cold. Making her way through her tiny apartment, she made it to the bedroom, where a dirty mattress sat on the floor with nothing else around it.

A place to sleep and eat was all she needed since she was first deployed, for the most part; so she did not need much in the way of housewares, what she had was enough. With a heavy sigh, she let her cloak fall to the floor and she began to unstring her corset as she made her way to the bathroom. With only one lightbulb out of three over the mirror that worked, her visibility was limited as she undressed and began to run a shower.

Half-way through the shower, she was hit with an itch for the stimulant that was still in her clothes. Pulling the shower curtains to the side, Ruby carefully got onto her knees and reached for her clothes. Opening the pouch and pulling out what she needed, she just sat in the tub as water poured over her body. She pulled the milky fluid from the small container and pushed the needle into her skin like always. Pushing down, she injected the drug into her system once more and felt the haze come over her again.

Her eyes drifted shut as she basked in the aftermath of her high. She did not know how long she sat in the tub... the water raining down on her had gone from warm to cold, but she was too far gone to care. She closed her eyes again and the next time she opened them the Red Death was sitting on the edge of the tub. The water turned a pure shade of crimson as it flowed off her body from the showerhead. Ruby watched as her dark reflection reached out and cupped her face with both of her hands and leaned forward until their foreheads touched.

"Paint the world..." she whispered to her.

"Red like roses..."

Chapter Text

A Fledgling Phoenix

Pt. II


 

Yang stared at the table before her, concentrating on what was placed on it. A series of coloured cards were arranged in a grid, five by four, each with their own colour. On one side, the blonde sat and waited, her new robotic arm resting on the side of the table as her other hand was nervously tapping at the table top. Across from her, Neo sat reading the small journal that came with the aforementioned arm. They were sitting in the physical therapy room where a few others were trying to get back on their feet in one way or another.

Neo had taken up the role of the nurse to help with her rehabilitation and transition into using an artificial limb. Blake was off doing a mission for the Black Fang, and as soon as Yang was familiar with her metal arm, she was going to go head first into missions as well. Anything to end this war faster and bring her sister back to her. Finally, the woman with her black hair tied in twin tails put the journal down and pulled her scroll out to begin to type. Anxiety began to pump in her heart as she waited for Neo.

It had only been two days since she had her arm attached. While simple movements seemed to come back naturally to her, fine motor controls were still giving her trouble. Mainly, her finger control and wrist movement were severely hindered. But, when she moved her arm for the first time in five years, she was so happy and excited she almost put her arm through a wall. Since then, Yang had been doing her best to limit how much damage her arm could do if she was not careful. Finally, Neo flipped her scroll over and showed off the colour green.

Looking down at the table, she quickly located the green card and took a deep breath. Lifting her arm was the easy part, it was positioning her hand, wrist, and fingers that became more difficult. Hovering over the chosen card, Yang curled her fingers in and lowered her wrist in an attempt to pick up the colour. She managed to pull her index finger out and tried to pinch the card between her thumb and her finger, but only managed to push the card a few inches when she tried to bring it all together.

Concentrating, she continued to try and pick up the card, only succeeding in shifting it across the table. Eventually, she ran out of table and when she tried for the last attempt, the card refused to go where she wanted it to and it fell to the ground with a pathetic flutter and stared up at her, mocking her in her failure. Closing her eyes, she took deep breaths as she willed the fire in her gut to simmer so she did not break anything, least of all the arm. Opening her lilac eyes, she nodded to Neo, who nodded back and held up the colour orange.

Like the green card, Yang moved the chrome and carbon arm across the table and stopped on top of the orange card. With slow, calculated movements, she lowered her fingers and tried to pick up the card off the table. And just like the green card, she only shifted it across the table before it fell onto the floor. She went through another two cards before her patience was stretched to its breaking point. Before she could throw the table, Neo was there with her hand on her arm to calm her.

Just her warm hand on the scarred skin was enough to calm her fire as well as make her self-conscious about her body. Yang had never been one to back away from any advances made towards her. From her flirtatious attitude and her way of diving into things head first, she had handled anything and everything. That was when she was whole, and now she is broken. She had stopped wearing her revealing clothing and withdrew into herself. Then Neo came along.

She never drew attention to her scarred stump, never made her feel like she was not whole. She filled her body with the warmth that was missing in Yang's soul, a need to be comforted when she was always the one to comfort. She stayed with Yang when everyone else abandoned her; even better, she is here now, helping her get over this hurdle. With a smile, she leaned down to her level and gave her a small peck on the lips, getting a small giggle from the slimmer woman who batted her eyelashes and winked at the blonde.

Pulling away, Neo decided to start a different exercise. Neo put her hand up and Yang mirrored her. Slowly, she began to touch her thumb to each of her fingers in a pattern. Yang did her best to follow, but she was much slower and her movements were jerky. Index, middle, ring, pinky, pinky, ring, middle, index. Over and over again, she repeated the pattern and felt herself getting used to how it moved. But before she got too excited, Neo snapped her fingers twice to get her attention.

With two fingers, she gestured to her false, emerald eyes, then to Yang's eyes and then back to her own eyes and then continued the pattern. "Maintain eye contact, don't look at your hand." This was the real test. Could Yang do it by feel alone? Truth be told, she could not feel it at all, it was like she was wearing a metal glove and her sense of touch was completely lost to her. Staring deeply into Neo's eyes, she tried to accomplish the task, but from the corner of her eye, she saw her thumb slipping between her fingertips or the wrong finger trying to go out of order.

She grit her teeth as she heard the soft scraping of metal fingers rubbing up against each other as she tried to tap the fingertips over and over again; until she threw her arms out in anger and ran her left hand over her face, trying to contain herself. Neo walked up to her and held her hands up, trying to calm her down. "How can I be calm! My sister is out there fighting and I'm here trying to do the stupidest thing with my hand that I can't even control! It's going to take me weeks just to flip someone off, let alone fight!"

While Yang ranted and raved about her inability to use her arm, Neo was not looking at her; her emerald gaze was focused on something else entirely. "What!" The smaller woman simply pointed to her right arm. Following her gaze, she looked down at her false arm and saw that her fist was clenched and her arm slightly bent. The once shiny chrome plates were now a brilliant yellow. She did not notice her arm was moving as she was yelling, causing everyone in the room to stop what they were doing and watch. Slowly, Yang began to open her palm and watched as the fingers began to spread.

It began as one smooth movement, but as Yang concentrated on it, the more her fingers jerked as she willed the contraption to obey her. She did not understand fully why it was not working like it was before when she was not paying attention or why the yellow began to fade. Two quick finger snaps took her attention as she looked back at Neo, scroll in her hand as she typed out a quick message and held it up to Yang. "Did you put your Aura through it?" Yang looked back down at her hand and trailed her eyes up the forearm and up to her bicep.

With just a small level of Aura, something that most Huntsmen and Huntresses do not even think about, her arm began to move as she wanted it to. Up and down, closing and opening her hand with ease, but as soon as she pulled her Aura back, the movements became jerky and slow. It was hard to concentrate on such a small level of Aura; pulling lessons from her father and teachers back at Signal from her memory, she felt a low level amount of Aura fill her body. When she became confident she could regulate her Aura so it does not make her arm explode, she began to channel more.

The black ink dragon that took shape under her skin stared back at her, daring her to use it again. Looking back at Neo, she shrugged lightly and waited to see the reaction. Looking back to her arm, she took a deep breath and began to will her Aura back through her arm like she had before. She felt the tingling of the Dust infused tattoo activating in response, turning a deep black to a glowing gold as her Aura flowed up her body and down her arm.

The dragon's head glowed finally, and when the sensation reached her stump, she felt her Aura try to make sense of what was in its way. Before Yang could call it off, her Aura flowed into her arm, filling it with its warmth. The metal that was once chrome and reflective began to shift and change in hue, becoming a brilliant yellow to match her Arua. From her elbow to her fingertips, the metal turned yellow and she could feel it flowing through her like it had before. Now the flames of her soul were contained in the metal of her arm, and when she moved, her body followed.

Yang tested her hand by flexing her fingers and rolling her wrist experimentally. Without so much as a thought, it followed her command like it was made of flesh and blood, with her since her birth. Slowly, she began to place her hand on the table and inhaled sharply. She could actually feel the wood under her palm, it was muted and numb, but the sensation of touch was there. Bringing her hand back up, she looked into the palm of her metal hand and slowly closed it into a fist.

No hesitation in her fingers, she willed and they obeyed. Her fist was her resolve, unwavering and solid. Suddenly, she turned and shot her arm out in a punch and she held her form, waiting for her arm to waver or change the way she fought, but nothing was different. She gave a few experimental jabs and wide swings and nodded with satisfaction. "There must be Dust infused in the metal, it's reacting to my Aura like my tattoo. Whoever designed this was really smart," Yang said as she stretched her arms out and brought her fists together with a grin on her face.

Looking over, she saw that Neo had a smile on her face as well. Releasing her Aura, she watched as the golden colour drained from her arm and tattoo until it returned to the original shiny metal and inked black on her arm. Even with her Aura no longer influencing her arm, she could still faintly feel her soul in the metal. She walked back to the table and bent down to where the cards had fallen earlier and, with great ease, picked them up like nothing. Returning to her lover, she handed the cards back to her and was nearly tackled to the ground by the force of the hug she had received from her.

She wrapped her arms, both of them, around Neo and held her close to her as she ran a hand through her black twin tails. "Thanks, Shortcake," Yang said as she closed her eyes and took in Neo's scent. No matter what form or mask she wore, she always smelled like hints of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. They held the embrace for a few moments before separating and staring into each other's eyes. "I think we deserve a break, don't you?"

Neo simply smiled and nodded. Together, they cleaned up the table with the coloured cards and put their chairs away. Hand in hand, they walked out into the bright sun after collecting their things and leaving the hospital behind them. For the first time, Yang felt like she had been fixed from being broken for so long. She squeezed Neo's hand in hers, and together, they walked down the sidewalk, feeling brighter than she ever had before.


 

With a sudden gasp, Ozpin sat up in his seat. Quickly, he got out of his chair and rushed to the door of his small house and threw it door open. He stared at the sky and studied it.

Blue.

The sky was blue.

"Sir?"

Spinning in place, the grip on his cane made his fingers hurt and he was ready to attack; only to force breath into his lungs as Ceil raised her dark eyebrow at him. "Are you okay, sir?" she asked, large scroll in her gloved hands as data and information streamed past her fingertips. Blinking a few times, he shook his head and forced himself to calm down. After one final breath, he looked up and looked right into her eyes and gave a gentle smile.

"Yes, Ms Soleil. I'm fine."

"Are you sure? I've never seen you act like this before..."

"A simple nightmare, my dear. My mind isn't what it used to be."

"Would you like me to prepare some coffee, sir?"

"That would be lovely, thank you."

With a nod, the younger woman turned and walked deeper into the house to prepare the hot beverage for him. Ozpin walked towards the door, but before he entered the house, he turned back and stared at the sky to ensure its colour before walking inside and closing the door. Sitting back in his seat, he looked across the small table and saw Qrow staring at him with a worried expression on his face. "You sure you're okay, Oz? you looked pretty spooked when you woke up."

"After the many lifetimes I've had, you would have a few nightmares yourself, Qrow." The aging uncle of two simply grunted and nodded. A few moments passed and Ceil walked into the small living room and handed him the tin cup filled with the hot liquid. He thanked her as he accepted the cup and stared into his dark reflection when he was about to take a sip. He watched as small ripples from his trembling hand shook his drink. He was more shaken than he realised.

"So what's the next plan of action?"

Ozpin looked up from his drink and set it on the table, glad for the distraction. For his answer, he looked to Ceil, who was busy looking through the information on her scroll. "The Black Fang have begun to move against the White Fang. Emerald is giving out targets and Raven is keeping tabs on them. Blake has given Yang the arm and Ruby is back in Feiyan. Weiss is currently in Mistral leading the Atlesian Fourth Assault towards the city of Mistral but is being stopped at Fort Meihua."

Ozpin nodded to the flow of information that was being given to him. "With Ms Schnee leading the assault, I doubt the fort will last very long. Any news on what the other headmasters are doing?"

"Lionheart has not reported in since the beginning of the war, and Ironwood is moving with the Fourth Assault."

Ozpin nodded as his mind began to spin and put pieces into place. Leonardo had not so much as sent a word his way since the Fall of Vale. It made sense that James would travel with his army to secure the last city that was not destroyed by his army and the last member of the Headmasters died during the opening salvo of the Second Great War; not to be replaced for some time now.

A heavy thought entered the back of his mind, and he looked to Qrow. "I have a mission for you."

"Finally!" The man cried out as he shot to his feet and made a beeline towards Ceil. "I was beginning to get cabin fever from being cooped up here." He watched as the dark-skinned woman reluctantly took the man's flask out of a pocket and handed it to him. Barely a second had passed since he received the flask to when he was pouring it down his throat, after a long drink, he gave a sigh of relief and capped it off before turning back to Ozpin. "So what do you need me to do?"

"I need you to make sure the other Relics are still secured,"

"You think Salem managed to get one?"

"If she did, she is holding onto it for the right opportunity, and I'd rather be safe than sorry..."

Qrow nodded and headed out, his weapon resting on his hip before he flew off into the sky. "Will you be needing anything else, sir?" The young woman asked. Ozpin just smiled at her and shook his head.

"No, thank you Ms. Soleil. That will be all for now." She nodded and stepped out of the room so she could better organise the small amount of people that Ozpin had under his command, a number that was quickly becoming smaller and smaller the longer the war went on. Worse still, he could not get that image out of his mind. He had peered into the Tides of Calamity to see where he needed to be. Inside the Tides, all of the universes was at his to bear witness.

Every choice, every chance was his to view and watch. To learn and change. Until the one he stumbled upon that caused him to rip himself from the Tides of Calamity and return home. He still remembered it, and it chilled him to his core. Whatever had happened there was the absolute worse outcome that could ever happen.

The trees were all dead, their branches like skeletal fingers reaching out for someone or something to save them. The ground had all been burned to ash, never to allow anything to grow along its surface again. There were no green plants, no animals to paint the world with song. All that remained was death and destruction. But the one thing that scared him more than anything in his many lives before was that there was no one. He could not sense a single person in that whole world. A world where everything that was created had died under a red sky.

A sky that was red like roses.

Chapter Text

A Cracked Mirror

Pt. II


Weiss stared at her opponent, clad in white and gold armour with two separate sets of swords and shields. A gust of wind passed through the street, causing the red sash he had wrapped around his waist flutter away from him. His blond hair fell in front of his cerulean eyes as his expression went from determination to surprise at seeing her. "Weiss..." She heard his voice on the wind as they stared at each other. Her enemy, another friend from Beacon, a past that felt more like a dream than reality.

A torrent of questions entered her mind; Why was he here, in Mistral? Why was he chosen as their champion? Before she could ask any of these questions, the shocked look on his face quickly drained, replaced with a look of steep anger that quickly grew in fury. He bared his teeth and his eyes narrowed on his target. She could feel the aggression coming off of his body as he tensed up and focused solely on her. He reached across his body and ripped his blade from its sheath at the same time as he reached behind himself and pulled a familiar shield to bear.

The large bronze shield that once belonged to Pyrrha Nikos was now being wielded by Jaune Arc. How he obtained it was beyond Weiss; perhaps it was a remake, she could not be sure of which. All she did know at this moment, was the Jaune was not about to let her go. The hatred in his eyes made her blood turn cold as he tightened his grip on the handle of his sword, Weiss doing the same. With a deep battle cry from his lungs, the Mistrali Champion charged towards her, sprinting towards his opponent.

Weiss had a few seconds to prepare a defense plan before he made it to her. She studied his form as he ran towards her; she could see the muscles under his armour, his once lanky and inexperienced form had transformed into something worthy of being chosen as a Champion. Even sprinting towards her, he made sure his shield was covering vital parts of his body. When he finally made it to her, Weiss took a step back and readied her Dust for a protective glyph as he brought his sword down in a heavy, overhead strike.

Raising her own weapon to block, Weiss was caught off guard by the power of his attack, forcing her to backpedal even further to create enough space so she did not have to block his next attack. Before she could even try to recover, Jaune was on her with a series of slashes and thrusts that pushed Weiss to her limit right off the start. Only by deflecting an attack with a glyph and jumping back out of his reach with her Dust could she get a breath in. Standing tall before her, Jaune raised his blade and pointed towards Weiss.

"Where is SHE?!?" he demanded. His breathing was not even laboured, despite the impressive display of ferocity in the opening move of the fight.

"Who?"

"Ruby..."

Weiss narrowed her eyes at the blond knight, from the tone of his voice, she was sure that he was not looking for her to regroup and have a talk. "Why?"

"She let her die!" Jaune screamed out as he charged forward again. His attacks were now furiously uncoordinated from his own anger. Weiss easily blocked and deflected the attacks as they came, even managing to counter the last one. He went in for a thrust, but his weapon was thick and flat, while hers was thin and flexible. She managed to slip her weapon under his thrust and managed a strike against his chest plate, adding another scratch to the collection.

Jumping away from each other, Jaune spun his blade in his hand to reposition his grip and raised his shield to his nose to prepare for Weiss's offensive. "We did everything we could to save her! So many people died that night!"

"But she was the only one that mattered to me, and then Ruby let HER DIE!" He charged forward again, Pyrrha's shield covering his core as he closed the gap once again. Sharp, quick slashes pushed Weiss back, but she was done with playing the defensive game. After one last quick slash from the man, Weiss dodged out of the way with a series of black flips until she landed on a glyph she had positioned behind her,  angled upwards. She jumped off of it and created a series of glyphs as a set of stairs to close the gap between them and get above him.

With a downward thrust, she descended upon him, forcing him to crouch down and raise the shield above his head to protect himself. Sliding off the smooth surface of the metal, she landed on her feet and created another glyph under her, causing her to move faster than before. She attacked him from several angles, forcing him to block and deflect attacks the best he could. With each attack that bounced off his blade or shield, she added another new cut on his exposed skin that bled a little before his Aura closed it.

Through the years they spent apart, she saw the skills that he gained from fighting in this war. At Beacon, Jaune could not last five minutes when he was paired up against her. Now, she understands how this man was able to kill Specialist Coal and Katt and why he was called the Knight-Spartan. Breaking from the combat, she watched as Jaune kept the shield up and stared at her from over the top of its rim. She needed to get rid of it somehow. With a plan in place, Weiss spun the chambers of her weapon and chose her Dust to end this fight.

Using her glyphs, she sped towards her opponent and thrust towards him. Just as she expected, Jaune raised his shield to block the attack; but just before the steel hit, she activated the Dust in her weapon and it glowed a light blue. When she struck, a flash of light came from the contact and ice grew across the bronze shield, weighing it down. Despite the new weight of his shield, he tried to keep fighting, but it was quickly becoming a losing battle. With a quick jerk of his arm, the shield slid off his gauntlet and he reached down to his sheath and pulled it up. It expanded into a kite shield and he was back in action.

Annoyed with his resilience, Weiss sped up her attacks, only to be blocked by Jaune at almost every turn. His seemingly inexhaustible supply of Aura was making any attack that did go through meaningless in the long run. Jaune was just letting her attack him, using up more and more energy as the fight was dragged out. With one last attack, Weiss jumped back to catch her breath and try to think of a new way to get past him for a more lethal attack. As she was doing this, Jaune changed his stance and opted for a new tactic as well.

Sliding his sword back into his shield, the sides retracted back near its original form but then extended forward slightly. She watched as he charged her with a very obvious overhead slash. The Specialist raised her own blade to block the attack, only to learn the error of her choice the hard way. With the weight of the shield added to his sword, she felt her bones shake in her arm as the heavy attack landed on her poor defence. Caught off guard, she was forced to defend as she tried to fight her way through the numb tingling in her arm as she now dodged the attacks from the heavy blade.

Flipping and rolling out of the way of most of his attacks, she was forced to defend from one particular attack when he forced her into a position where she could not dodge fast enough. Learning from her last mistake, Weiss braced the length of her weapon with her other arm as Jaune landed another heavy hit, sending her back. Before she could recover fully, he launched himself into the air and came down with another heavy swing. Flipping one way to avoid the downward slash, she flipped back to dodge the follow-up, only to be caught by a third attack in the chain.

Being launched back once more, Weiss growled as she narrowed her eyes and flipped through her Dust to select the right chamber before flicking her wrist and crafting a glyph to use. Speeding herself forward, she moved faster than he could see. Barely avoiding a heavy slash, she stopped suddenly and launched herself up, spinning over the heavy blade stuck in the concrete and spun as she flew, slashing at Jaune with each turn she made. At the apex of her jump, she made another glyph to launch herself at him again, driving her blade towards his face.

Jaune managed to jerk his head to the side just before her thin blade made contact with his flesh. She watched as it sailed across his cheek, his Aura shimmering as it protected him from any real harm. Following through with the thrust, she quickly spun with a slash and created the opening she needed. Knocking him back, she slashed and thrust him back, his armoured arm providing all of his defence as she refused to let up on her assault. His retaliations were sluggish, easy to avoid and move around, and only made more openings for her to exploit.

In the middle of her assault, she thrust upwards suddenly and launched herself into the air, forcing Jaune back further. Landing on her feet on the other side of him, she quickly jumped and flipped over another haphazard slash as he turned to face her. However, as she was landing, she was caught off guard by a sudden fist that came from the Knight-Spartan. She felt her Aura bend and flex to cushion the blow the best it could before she was sent flying through the air; landing hard on the ground and sliding across gravel and broken concrete, leaving the Specialist sore and bruised. Gritting her teeth, she forced herself to her knees where she watched as her opponent switched his combat style once more. His heavy blade attachment folded back into itself and he put it back on his hip before slipping his sword out of it. With his left hand,  he reached up over his shoulder and slipped a second sword from its place on his back and brandished it.

Weiss watched as Jaune pulled the red and gold sword out from his back, her sword, with two bands of copper that wrapped around the blade's body and two small emerald stones dangling from the bottom of the handle. Seeing the weapon again brought a whole new level of sorrow for Weiss. Of the day Pyrrha Nikos never returned. Her reminiscing was cut short when she heard cries coming from the fort walls. Looking up, she saw that Mistrali soldiers were watching the fight, cheering on their champion.

"Kill her!"

"Kick her ass!"

"Do it for Mistral and the world!"

"Put her down!"

They all believed in him, he was more than their champion for this fight, he was their hero. Weiss looked back at her own forces. The Atleisan soldiers were all stoic, watching her while keeping their weapons trained on the fort. Their rigid discipline kept them from yelling out like the Mistrali and she was glad for that... less of a distraction for her. With what energy she had left, she pushed herself to her feet and stumbled slightly as Jaune twirled the two blades in his hands. With a deep breath, Weiss steadied herself and prepared for another bout.

Rolling her shoulders, she lifted her weapon and drew her arm back, two fingers sliding against the face of the blade as she steadied herself for Jaune to charge at her once again. From sword and shield to a two-handed heavy blade, and now to twin blade. Jaune had become a much stronger person in their time apart since the Fall of Vale. His slashes came fast, and Weiss had to react just as quickly to block one attack and be ready for the next one to come from a different direction.

Just as with his heavy blade style, his twin blade technique lacked any real defensive abilities and Weiss used that to her advantage. The air around them became a symphony of clashing metal. Block, slash, counter, riposte, thrust; each move have a counter between the two of them. They began their death dance, where one false step could lead to a fate worse than death for Weiss since her life is directly tied to those she cares about. If she were to fail now, their lives would be forfeit.

She watched as he chained his slashes with each other, how he would spin and always be moving, never in one place for very long while using two swords. A good technique, but he was beginning to show a pattern in his attack. Defending and waiting for the perfect moment to strike, she watched and quickly dashed to the side after a fast over-head strike from the blond man. Before he could recover or follow up with another attack, Weiss thrust quickly and found her mark. An un-armoured section of his bicep.

He cried out in pain as looked at the blade protruding through his flesh, a thin red line of blood began to leak from the wound that his Aura was already healing. Dropping his sword, the steel clattering on the ground, he reached over and gripped her blade and began to force it out of his arm. Weiss tried to pull her blade out of his grip, but his strength was too much for her. His powerful Aura protected his hand and began sealing the wound as soon as her blade was free of his arm.

With her blade no longer in his arm, Weiss quickly pulled her weapon out of his grip and readied for his next attack, but was caught off guard when he suddenly threw himself at her. Dropping his shoulder, he charged and collided with her smaller body and pinned her against the wall of a building nearby. She felt her chest compress from his form slamming her into the wall and struggling for breath as the air was pushed out of her lungs.

Weiss only had a second to catch her breath when Jaune brought Pyrrha's weapon up and used all his might to stab the tip of the blade into Weiss's chest. Casting a glyph, Weiss used her weapon as a platform to press the glyph against and braced herself against the blade. Unfortunately, she was too slow with her cast and only managed to catch the sword in her protective ward with a third of it poking through the other side. Pressing her other hand to the face of her weapon to help push against Jaune's attempt to run her through.

The longer the stalemate went on, the harder it got for her. Concentrating all her willpower into her arms, she pushed against Jaune's weight and was unable to summon another glyph to send him away. Her arms screamed at her as Jaune refused to let up, going so far as him slamming his weight into her and gripping the sword with both hands, forcing even more pressure on his weapon. Weiss was having problems keeping her strength up as the tip grew closer and closer to her neck.

Taking shallow, quick breaths, Weiss tried her best to force Jaune off of her. But he was much heavier than her and physically stronger as well. Slowly, she began to push his weapon to the side with her failing strength, but it was too slow. She felt the tip of the blade dig into her shoulder, just past the strap of her chest plate. She felt her Aura stretch around her body, trying to stop the blade from getting through, but the longer this went on, the harder it was. It was only a matter of seconds before her Aura failed and shimmered out.

She felt the tip press against her bare body, the fear of pain giving her just a little more strength to push against her enemy, but he just lifted himself up and pushed even more of his weight against her. The tip of the blade pressed against her right shoulder again, and she felt her flesh give way and the warmth of her blood as it poured out from the hole in her body to stain her blue dress. She cried out in pain as the blade delved further and further into her meat, the terrifying look of hatred on Jaune's face chilling her to the bone.

The pain spread through her shoulder and her arm as his sword continued to slip deeper and deeper into her body, widening the hole in her shoulder with each passing second. Tears threatened to fall from her eyes as her right arm began to shake. Her voice came out with each breath as she pushed as much strength into pushing him away as she could, but he did not budge an inch. She watched as he changed his grip and felt the blade began to turn inside of her shoulder.

Using all of her strength, she tried her best to stop him from twisting the blade, causing even more damage and forcing her to cry out in pain. From behind Jaune's head, something caught Weiss's attention. A green object that was on fire flew right towards them and slammed into the wall next to them, leaving a hole where it entered. In less than a second after it flew past them, the wall behind her erupted in fire and noise, throwing them both several feet away. The Specialist felt Pyrrha's sword slip from her shoulder as they landed on the ground.

The whole world was muted as a ringing in her ears was all she could hear. Slowly, she looked around and saw that Jaune had recovered faster than she had. He had reclaimed his discarded weapon and shield and was quickly looking around for whoever had launched the Dust Propelled Grenade at them. As hearing slowly came back to her, she could hear the sounds of gunfire and shouting filling the street. Suddenly, she saw Jaune turn and stare at her.

Quickly locating Myrtenaster in the rubble, Weiss lunged at it and spun the Dust in the cylinder and hastily created a glyph under his feet. Unprepared for it, he was shot back towards the walls of Fort Meihua. The last thing she saw of Jaune Arc was him disappearing through the large bronze gates just before they slammed shut, cutting them off from each other. Whatever had happened, the pair’s duel was over, and the war had begun again. Quickly, she got to her feet and stumbled as fast as she could into an alleyway, giving her cover from the flying bullets.

Weiss let her weapon fall from her hand and to the ground as she pressed up against the wall and slid to the floor, leaving a crimson smear as she fell. She did not have to see the wound to know it was bad. She could feel more and more blood leaking with every movement she made. Her breathing came in sharp, short breaths as she pressed her hand to the wound to stem the flow of blood. Pulling her hand back, she could see it was completely covered in blood.

"Fuck..." she hissed out as she reached down to her belt and pulled out a small white tube about as thick as her wrist. With shallow breaths, she began to shake the tube to mix its contents fully before bringing the tip to her mouth and biting down on the cap. Pulling the cap off with her teeth, she revealed two small syringes and a thin funnel. Building up the courage to do what needed to be done, she took short breaths to psych herself up before shoving the large tip into the sword wound in her shoulder and pushing down hard enough to activate the device.

She felt the two syringes push into her skin and empty their contents into her body as the large funnel began to fill the cavity with a medical foam. She tried her best to keep her cries of pain to herself, but it was just too much for her and she ended up crying out through gritted teeth with each haggard breath she took. What she just used was something that most Specialists had on their persons when they went out into the field. It had a proper name, but everyone simply calls them "Combat Boosters"

The first step was the Med-Foam, it filled the wound to stop the bleeding and start the healing process. Not only did the applicator have to be inserted directly into the wound, but the foam itself needed to fill the cavity for it to work properly. It felt like a thousand tiny knives were attacking her from the inside of her wound, which would normally stop any movement if it was not for the second function of the booster. The next thing that was injected was morphine to numb the pain from the wound and the foam itself, making it so she could keep fighting.

The third part was the reason only Specialists were given the Combat Boosters in the first place. The last syringe injected her with Aura Stimulant, forcing her Aura to come back without the need to wait around for it to come back on its own after a long rest. The whole process only took a few seconds to transition from excruciating pain into a relieving numbness. Pulling the empty canister from her wound, she watched as the yellowish foam overflowed from her wound before solidifying to seal the wound fully, but still be able to flex with her movements.

Tossing aside the spent medical device, she sighed and leaned her head against the wall behind her and took deep, calming breaths as the battle waged on around her. She closed her eyes and just concentrated on breathing as the pain subsided and she felt the familiar sensation of her Aura filling her body once again. "Specialist..." She opened her eyes and gritted her teeth. The sound of Gift's voice coming through her ear was enough to cause her wounds to flare up again. Weiss would rather apply another booster than listen to him, but he had her family in the palm of his hand.

"If you're still alive, take the fort..."

Taking one last breath and holding it, Weiss counted to five before gripping her weapon and using it to help her stand on her own two feet. With a flick of her wrist, the weapon opened and Weiss pulled the empty and half spent Dust cartridges out and let them fall to the floor before she reached into her belt and gingerly pulled out replacements for them. The weapon clicked closed with another flick and Weiss stretched her arm, testing how much movement she still had left without breaking the foam.

The duel was interrupted by outside forces; but while it probably saved her life, it violated the honour of the fight. There was no way the Mistrali soldiers would agree to another one now, but that meant she did not have to be restrained to just fighting as a single person now. Weiss took one last deep breath and gathered herself before turning and facing the entrance to the alley. She could run, in all the chaos of the battle, she could just slip away and disappear as just another soldier whose body was never found, but then everything she fought to protect would be gone.

With her path decided for her, Weiss marched back into war.

Chapter Text

A Loneliness of Shadows

Pt. II


She watched from afar, as she had done before. A dozen other eyes were watching as well, for the sight that stood before them was a masterpiece in living form. From her place in the rafters, high above the rest of them and hidden from prying eyes, Blake watched as other members of the Black Fang continued to gather and watch a sparring session that was growing in scale rapidly. Amber eyes watched everyone cheering as one of their own was effortlessly thrown to the ground by Yang Xiao Long, standing proudly as the victor.

From her place in the ceiling, Blake watched as Yang flexed her wrist, testing the range of motion in her prosthetic limb as her opponent from before got to his feet and turned back to face her. "Again?" the man asked. The blonde brawler just smiled and shook her head before pointing to people already dressed in work out clothing. The three selected people all looked at each other before stepping onto the mat and stretching their limbs to get ready for the fight that had just become a four on one.

With that signature smirk of hers, Yang brought her arms up and got ready in her own stance and waited for her opponents to make their moves. Slowly, each of them slipped around her, covering each direction she could turn and nervously looked at each other. Each of them knew what Yang could do, they all saw her lift weights like they were nothing to her, not to mention the large black dragon that was etched into her skin was on display for everyone to see, making her even more intimidating to face off against; even if the numbers were in their favour.

The first attack came from her left. Blake watched as Yang easily moved aside and smacked the flying fist out of her way as she countered it with a low shot to the gut, knocking the wind from his lungs and putting him on the ground. The next came from the front, easy blocks and a quick shot to the face brought her opponent down once again. Then, before anyone could attack her, she quickly jumped into the air and spun, bringing her leg down and kicking number three across the mat with a smirk.

The last thought he had the drop on her; with her back turned towards him, she could not see him coming, but Blake saw the smirk on the blonde's face and she knew who the victor was already. Just as the last person went for a swing at her head, Yang raised her arm to block the punch. Before he could pull away, she quickly grabbed his wrist and twisted it hard, forcing him to follow the movements as Yang turned to face him, only to earn himself a hard fist to the face, marking the end to the spar.

A loud cheer erupted from everyone who was watching. Some light-hearted jabs went to those who Yang had effortlessly defeated, who were getting up off the ground with bruised egos. For someone like Yang, a person who had been training for years to hunt and kill the creatures of Grimm; beasts that were, at times, three times the size of a full grown man, four non-Aura trained people barely made her sweat. "Better luck next time, boys," Yang said with her brilliant smile and wink of her eye.

While everyone was standing around, few noticed when a new person walked onto the sparring mat to challenge Yang until she whistled a sweet little tune. All eyes turned to the newcomer to reveal the short woman clad in pink, brown and white, her torn pant leg revealing a long thigh high black sock and a suggestive amount of bare thigh. Her sleeves were rolled above her elbows and a pair of brown leather gloves graced her hands. A simple grey scarf wrapped around her neck and a black bowler hat sat on her head with a familiar red band wrapped around it. Her umbrella was in her hand, opened and spinning slowly as it rested on her shoulder.

The feline Faunus watched as the target of her affection turned to look at the smaller woman and a small grin formed on her face. Turning to face her new opponent, Yang tilted her head to loosen up as her chrome arm and dragon tattoo began to shift and change in colour, going from a reflective steel and pitch black to a brilliant, flaming yellow as her Aura was channelled more completely into her body. Fighting four ordinary people was one thing, but someone who has not only had their Aura unlocked, but also possessed the combat experience to rival master Hunstmen was something else entirely. The smaller woman just smirked and raised an eyebrow while she kept her mismatched eyes on her target.

Seeing that Yang had activated her Aura, the people who had gathered to watch the fights began to back away with large steps, giving the fighters a wide berth lest they get drawn into a fight between superhumans. Blake would be lying if she was not excited to see Neo get what she was coming to her, and from Yang no less. She knew that Yang would never hurt one of her friends, much less her lover, but accidents happen. Blake watched as Yang took up her stance, fists up and head lowered, ready to accept any strike that came her way. Neo, on the other hand, looked as casual as ever as she retracted the pink umbrella and tossed it to the side to be caught by someone.

From her perch above the fight, Blake watched as Neo smirked and gave Yang a wink before breaking off into a sprint towards her. With a jump and a flip, Yang blocked a kick that was coming from above. They began to exchange punches and kicks for blocks and counters, dancing around the arena that was given to them as everyone continued to shout. For one such as small as Neo, she had no problem reaching with her legs and acrobatic skills. For every punch and kick Yang had in her repertoire, Neo had a twist, twirl, and a flip to counter it.

Blake could see the frustration rising in Yang for every near miss and tactful dodge that Neo pulled during their fight. The shift from violet to crimson in the blonde's eyes with every attack she made was the first sign of this, the next was her increase in growling as more and more attacks just missed their marks. The smaller woman took advantage of this when she ducked under a strong punch and brought her leg up and kicked the back of Yang's knee, forcing her to go down.

The next kick hit her back and forced Yang to bend over, making a wide-open target for Neo to bring her foot to her face with an artful flip, knocking the blonde flat on her back. As Neo landed, one hand holding the black hat in place on her head, Yang brought her legs back and flipped herself back onto her feet. Blake could see the anger on her face, her hair was slowly lifting itself from the heat rising from her body, threatening to combust. Blake expected her to blindly charge in with directionless aggression, instead, Yang took a deep breath and held it in as she closed her eyes.

The flames around her body died down as she centred herself. Finally, she brought her fists up and slammed her knuckles together to release her pent-up heat. She opened her red eyes and stared her opponent down, fully concentrating on the fight and nothing else. Blake had never seen her so focused and calm before. Even during their fight, Yang was nothing but rage made flesh, but now she was slowing things down and forming a plan inside her head.

With a careful approach, Neo took notice of Yang's calmer form an went for a series of kicks at her side, only be blocked by her leg and arms and a duck that flowed into a leg sweep. They danced around each other with martial skill, Yang having more power behind her attacks with her size compared to Neo and it was beginning to show. Neo tried again to come in close for a series of kicks, only for her ankle to be caught by a metal palm. The look of surprise on Neo's face was priceless as Yang pulled her leg and knocked her off balance.

Rather than be thrown to the ground, Neo jumped up with her other leg and tried to smash her heel against the blonde's head, only for it to be grabbed by her other hand. As a counter, Neo then leaned back and pulled Yang with her; that turned her capture into a platform to throw Yang across the mat. The brawler landed with a roll and was quick to get back on her feet and back to the fight, giving Neo no chance to breathe or to slow down.

Neo did her best to counter the offensive that Yang had unleashed, but Yang's new strategy to keep the multicoloured girl's legs down by pushing them down with each block was working. Her arms were much shorter compared to Yang's, so blocking the powerful punches without her umbrella to help seemed to be taking its toll on her. The smaller woman was caught off-guard by a sudden fist to her gut that was followed up by an uppercut which knocked her back and away from Yang. The audience all cried out in pain just watching the show of force, surprised by the sudden shift in momentum.

Blake leaned forward from her perch above everyone, gripping one of the steel rods that formed the rafters; she watched Yang smirk as she brought her fists back and bounced on her feet gently as Neo tested the tenderness of her jaw. "Slowing down just for me, babe? You shouldn't have," she teased with her signature smirk on her face as she readied for the next attack. Neo got to her feet, her hat laying on the ground nearby. With a smirk of her own, she took off to a dead sprint towards Yang, her arms pumping with effort.

Leaping at Yang, her metal fist shot out to connect with Neo, only for her to shatter into glass. Realising her mistake, Yang tried to spin around into a defensive pose, only for it to be too little too late. From somewhere Blake did not see, Neo shot out and grabbed Yang's yellow arm and throw herself towards her. Her legs wrapped around her head as she spun around with the momentum of her charge. In a blur of disorienting colour, Neo twisted and turned Yang until she grabbed her other arm and effortlessly threw her onto the mat below them with a loud thud as both bodies made contact.

Before Yang could get back up, Neo had mounted her and held her down by her neck with her other hand ready to strike. They stared at each other for a few moments before Yang finally relented and sighed heavily as all the tension in her body left and she flopped her head back onto the mat. Everyone cried out as Neo was declared the victor, in the excitement of everything, they all missed the touches each of them gave each other while staring into their eyes. But Blake saw.

She saw as Neo's fingers released their grip on Yang's neck, only to scrape down her skin and trail towards the exposed cleavage, making Yang's breath hitch as she bit her lip. The blonde's hands moved to Neo’s legs and slowly ran up her thighs, making her  smirk as she lowered herself closer, their faces just inches away. As Blake watched this, she could feel her knuckles whiten with pressure as she ground her teeth in frustration. Jealousy and fury boiled inside of her as she watched them make such blatant displays of affection towards each other.

Deep down, Blake wished that was her, so close to Yang. To peer into her lavender eyes and to feel the same warmth and affection be returned to her. Instead, Blake is forced to stand at a distance and stew in her emotions. The muscles in her jaw began to hurt from the amount of pressure she was putting on them when her attention, along with everyone else's, was pulled away from the couple when someone cleared their throat loudly. Velvet stood nearby with her arms folded, obviously looking uncomfortable at such public displays in front of everyone.

"Uh... What's up, boss?" Yang asked from her position, her face flush with embarrassment, "Need me for something?"

"No, I need the one who's sitting on your chest..." The rabbit Faunus refused to look in their general direction, instead she was looking at the row of currently unused weights. Upon hearing that she was the one that wanted to be talked to, Neo simply sat up and turned her head to look at the leader but remained seated on top of Yang. Finally, Velvet looked at them and cleared her throat again so she could converse with the mute. "Do you still have connections in Mistral?"

A single nod was her answer.

"Do you have owed favours you can call in? White Fang raids are good, but each one attracts more attention towards us and they'll be on high alert after the last few." Neo looked up at the ceiling and tapped her chin with a single finger in thought before raising an eyebrow and nodding lightly as the conversation went on within her own head. Reaching a conclusion, Neo gave a more definite nod before leaning down and giving Yang a quick kiss and pushing herself up and off her lover.

She collected her umbrella from the Black Fang member she threw it to and casually spun it in her hand. With the tip of it, she picked up her hat and flipped it into the air where she caught it with her off hand, spun it around her finger and flipped it onto her head in an impressive display of dexterity; all while walking towards Velvet to help her out. With all the fighting done, the group began to disperse and wander off to whatever they were doing before. Yang gave a slight huff with a smile as she dragged herself to her feet and began to walk towards the area where she left her things.

With Neo distracted with Velvet and everyone leaving the area, Blake figured this was her chance to talk to Yang alone. Silently, she descended from the rafters and landed far enough away to not attract attention. Blake watched Yang as she used the towel to wipe the sweat from her forehead and neck. Her skin glistened under the bright lights above them as she hung the towel on her shoulder and reached for her jacket. With one last check to see if anyone was watching them, Blake began to walk towards the blonde brawler before stopping suddenly when someone approached Yang.

"Good fight," Arnab said as he extended a water bottle towards her, "Water?"

"Thanks, but I'm covered." Yang then proceeded to pull the flask she always drank from out from her jacket with a smile and popped open the top.

"Water is really better-" Arnab was interrupted by Yang raising a single finger at him as she continued to drain the alcoholic contents of her flask with a tilt of her head. "Wow..." he said in complete shock at what he was just witnessed. With a satisfied sigh, once enough of the contents were emptied to her preference, Yang capped the flask and slipped it back into her jacket before taking the water bottle from him and starting to down that as well. The man simply nodded awkwardly and left the blond alone. With no one else coming close, Blake made her approach.

"Hey," Blake spoke softly.

Yang turned around and for a split second, Blake saw the light in her eyes when she looked at her; but just as fast as it came, it left, replaced by a dim hurt in her lavender eyes. "Hey."

Blake could smell the sharp scent of booze on her breath, reminding her of everything she had failed to do for her partner. "How are you feeling?"

Yang smiled as she showed off her new arm, flexing the slim metallic fingers and turning her wrist to show off the movements. With no Aura channelling through her body, the tattoo and arm had returned to their original colours of coal black and shiny chrome. "Pretty good. I still get pains sometimes, but I manage to push through them." A small smirk formed on her full lips and Blake wished she could control her heart for just a few moments. "Thanks again for the arm, It's nice to feel even again." She put her arm down and stretched her shoulders by pushing her chest out and groaning lightly.

Blake had to look away while she did that, the signature small orange tank top only covered so much of her body, making it hard to think straight. After a few quiet moments, Blake spoke up. "Yang, back when we were fighting, I just want you to know that what I said was true..."

Yang had grown quiet and forced herself not to look at Blake. Instead, she was looking at the bench she was standing in front of that had her jacket hanging off of it. "I know..." she whispered back.

"I love you, Yang."

The blonde just closed her eyes and Blake saw her jaw tense up a few times before she whispered again, "I know, Blake..."

"Do you love me?"

"You know I'm with Neo,"

"That's not what I asked..."

Yang was silent for a long moment, her hand gripping her jacket as the silence stretched for what felt like hours. Neither woman moved and Blake held her breath, her heart hammering in her chest and drowned out any sound in her ears, her Faunus trait twitching nervously as she waited for her response. "I have to get ready for a mission..." was Yang's only reply as she pulled her jacket on and pulled her golden mane out with a slight flourish. Without looking at Blake, the blonde quickly walked away, leaving her alone without an answer.

With a sigh, Blake turned and began to walk away slowly, her feet dragging her away from the open area and towards one of the corridors that connected to the makeshift bedrooms. Tears stung her amber eyes as they threatened to spill over and her heart strained to stay in one piece in her chest. The more she thought about the exchange, the worse it got for her. She palmed her eyes, stopping the tears before they could fall, as she closed the door behind her before anyone could see her like this.

Why did she have to do that? She may have just ruined what little of their friendship they had repaired after so many years of it being broken. Why did she have to listen Noir, the crazy highlander from some Vacuo island that she had never heard of? Confront your problem?. What a joke, I should have just stayed quiet... The more she thought about it, the angrier she became towards the man who planted the idea in her head. Instead of going to the room, she was going to find him and punch him in his face for giving such terrible advice.

Stomping down the corridor, just as she was about to open the door to look for the Faunus, she felt a gentle vibration and the chime from her scroll, telling her she had gotten a notification. With a sigh, she pulled the device out and opened it, ready to delete another notification for some spam mail she had somehow signed up for. Instead, a single message was brought up on the small screen of her device.

"I warned you."

And then the world around Blake shattered.

Chapter Text

A Champion in Her Name

Pt. I

The saddest word
in the whole wide world
is the word almost.

She was almost in love.
He was almost good for her.
He almost stopped her.
She almost waited.
She almost lived.
They almost made it

- Nikita Gill


Flying through the air, Jaune landed heavily on his back and skidded across the ground, the screech of his armour filling his ears as he slowed down enough to simply tumble a few times before finally stopping on his stomach. With a groan, the Mistrali Champion slowly got to his feet, his muscles yelling at him to just lay on the ground, but he ignored the pain in his limbs. Looking around, he saw all his soldiers running to and from their stations, yelling orders and questions as the symphony of war filled the air.

"Champion!"

He looked over to where a woman was running towards him; blood on the blue and green camouflage of her uniform, her battle vest torn and well used, dark hair pulled into a tight ponytail, and deep blue eyes. She placed a hand on his shoulder to check him over for wounds before he nodded to her, signalling he was fine.

"What happened?" he demanded as they both flinched when a series of bullets hit the wall near them, showering them with dust and stone crumbs.

"We don't know, Sir. But we were also hit with DPGs and lost a few soldiers. We also saw smoke coming from the Atlesian lines before we pulled back into the fort. They probably got hit too if I had to guess..."

"White Fang..." Jaune had known that the White Fang had been attacking both sides of this war with guerilla tactics and taking whatever they can get their hands on. The fact that both Mistrali and Atlesian forces were attacked was enough to know that it was the White Fang who had interfered with the duel. "They'll use this as an excuse to come down with everything they have, get ready to-"

" INCOMING! " Jaune was cut off by someone screaming from the wall, springing as fast as he could from the ramparts before the sounds of a heavy engine were cutting through the air. " GET AWAY FROM THE GATE! GET AWAY FROM-"

Jaune watched as the formerly sealed shut bronze gate was torn out of its place in the wall, as well as the stone around it being thrown to the air as the massive form of an Atlesian Paladin walker mech stormed through the wall; creating a hole in the wall, and compromising the protection it offered. The machine of war quickly spun around and Jaune heard the sound of the rotary heavy machine guns spinning up, giving Jaune only a few seconds to raise his shield and pull the soldier near him to his side before a shower of metal came over them.

"Someone take it out!" Jaune shouted as bullets bounced off his shield and the soldier kept close to him. He watched as three soldiers were torn to shreds from the hail of metal coming from the large mech. He could see Knight robots starting to come through the opening hole as the Paladin continued to draw everyone's attention and lay a suppressive fire. A few soldiers tried to get a few shots off at it, only to be cut down by fire after their bullets did nothing but scuff the paint off of it.

From behind another piece of cover, the champion watched as someone crouched out with a shoulder-mounted explosive launcher with a green speartip. Just before he launched it, the large mech turned and opened up on him, killing the soldier where he stood. The distraction gave Jaune enough time to stand and run for cover, however, with the woman on his tail. "Nothing works against that thing!" she called out as she popped out of cover and fired several bursts of rifle fire at the small cluster of Knight robots spreading out to take over the fort.

"We need to take out the pilot!" Jaune called out as he pointed to the front of the mech, where the pilot would be sitting at the controls. The only problem was the no one had the ability to get up there at the moment and everyone who had a DPG was pinned down with the enemy closing in. "Call Chloris and get her over here! I'll pull it's attention so she can get up there!" The soldier nodded as she ducked back into cover, pulled out a radio from her belt, and began to shout into it. With everything taken care off, Jaune jumped out of the small bit of wall he was behind and charged towards the mech, yelling as he did so.

With all the Paladin’s attention drawn towards him, both its arms took aim at him as he crouched down to make himself as small of a target as he could as bullets bounced off Akoúo̱'s bronze face. He gritted his teeth as he used both hands to weather the storm of bullets that tore up the ground around him. Seconds felt like hours as he held his breath and solely concentrated his strength on keeping the shield flat when he saw a shadow quickly pass over him going towards the Paladin.

Looking up over his shield he saw a young woman speeding towards the mech on a bladed hoverboard. The attention was quickly taken off of Jaune and onto the woman speeding towards it; but she was too fast for the slow turning speed of the large mech, leading to all the shots missing as she sped towards it. Pulling up, she landed on top of the mech and kicked her board into the air only to grab it and snap in half. Each half folded and formed bladed submachine guns in her hands.

Quickly, she aimed down and began to fire round after round into the cockpit, opening a hole in the metal. When the hole was big enough, she pulled a grenade off of the tactical vest she wore and pulled the pin before dropping it into the hole and jumping off. Seconds later, the mech's cockpit exploded from the inside, killing the pilot and disabling the machine. Standing up as the woman landed next to him, she looked over at him and nodded with a thumbs up.

Reese Chloris was one of the many Huntsmen and Huntresses that had joined up when the war started. A shorter woman with bright, light green hair that swept to the right from under a purple hoodie that sat over her head. Her tactical vest hugged her chest, showing how small she really was. Two black lines rested under her green eyes, and she wore knee pads as well as fingerless gloves on her hands. "You good?" she asked as she reformed her bladed hoverboard and jumped onto it, making her taller than he was now.

"Yeah, thanks. Get to the top of the walls and help support the ones up there, we need to stop any more robots from getting in!" The woman nodded and sped to her task. Jaune looked over at the wall breach, where several Atlas robots laid on the ground with sparks coming out of bullet holes and saw a few real soldiers taking cover behind larger chunks of the wall. Rushing towards the breach, he ran with his shield in front of him, blocking bullets as he closed the gap between himself and the hole.

Reaching it, he got to work slashing and thrusting with his blade, cutting open robots and flesh alike. Keeping his Aura up at all times, he felt stray bullets hit him and bounce off his Aura, protecting himself from any more harm. But deep down, he felt his Aura starting to strain to keep up, slowly draining with each hit he took. Before he could stab one more soldier, however, a familiar blue arcane circle appeared in front of his blade, stopping it from taking another life. He only had a few seconds to raise his shield and block a sudden thrust from his opponent from earlier.

Jumping back to give himself space, he saw Weiss standing before him, her sharp blue eyes glowing faintly with a furious look on her face. He could see the dark purple patch where her blood and the blue of her dress mixed. From the wound itself, he saw a sickly green foam filling the stab wound he had inflicted her in their duel. All around him, a series of glyphs appeared and the Atlesian Specialist sped off in a blue blur as she bounced from glyph to glyph, slashing at him with every pass.

With his armour and shield, Jaune was able to block most of the attacks that came at him, his inexhaustible Aura beginning to strain under the assault from his former classmate as each strike came faster, one after the other. Staying on the defence, he picked his moment carefully before pushing his Aura outwards and knocking Weiss away from him, forcing her array of glyphs to break and disappear. With nothing stopping him, Jaune charged towards her once again, his blade held high in his hand and coming down towards her.

With a flick of her wrist, her rapier glowed a deep red as she thrust up to meet his blade. An explosion of flame erupted between the two of them as he jumped back to dodge the flames. With a quick look around, he saw that more and more Atlas soldiers were coming in through the opening while he was dealing with Weiss, he needed to end her now. Leaping towards her once again, he was caught off guard when she had used a series of glyphs to make more space between them with a gentle landing, her ivory locks gently swaying in the low breeze.

She spun her wrist and readied herself as a massive white glyph appeared behind her and began to spin. Jaune did not know what it was, but from the size, he knew it was not good. "Take her out!" he shouted out to everyone who could hear him. A second passed before several weapons were pointed at her and all fired at once. Through all the bullets and several grenades, a large dust cloud was kicked up in the dirt and obscured his vision of his enemy.

He watched and waited as the fire died down and the others quickly resumed firing at the enemy at their door. He held his breath as he waited for the smoke to fade away, to reveal his former classmate only to curse and grit his teeth harder as he saw what waited for him. She stood, unharmed thanks to the massive white sword that was blocking all of the incoming fire. Behind her was the giant form of a knight, who held the greatsword that protected her. Cerulean orbs of anger stared back at him, defying his purpose of protecting her homeland.

The one who defended him when no other did. The one who trained him in the ways of war and defence of others. The one who loved him when she had no reason to.

His partner.

His friend.

His Goddess.

"You will fight," her words to him echoing in his mind, "and fight, and fight until you die. Only then, can you be forgiven..."

With his purpose in life flashing before his eyes, he bellowed a warcry and charged his enemy. He sprinted across the courtyard, his arms pumping to carry the weight of his armour and weapons as he continued his quest to be forgiven. The knight rose to its feet and swung its heavy blade at Jaune, forcing the Champion of Mistral to roll under the swing in order to continue on his way towards her. Now, he was close enough to strike, but Weiss was just as strong as she was before, and blocked his attack with ease using her glyphs to strengthen her weapon against his.

Their weapons clashed as the war raged on around them. Weapon fire filled the air as Weiss and her knight fought as one. Each one fell into step with the other seamlessly and Jaune far away from Weiss, the summoner. With its long reach, the knight kept him away while Weiss assaulted him with ranged attacks. Streaks of ice flew through the air and curved around her knight to try and hit him. Only by constantly moving did he avoid being frozen in place for her knight to kill him.

Suddenly, a streak of flame shot through the air and exploded against the knight, knocking it to the side and onto its knees with only the sword holding it up. Eyes following the smoke back to where the projectile came from, Jaune saw two Mistrali soldiers standing near a piece of the wall, using it as cover. One of them was firing an assault rifle at Weiss, who had erected a glyph to defend herself while the other one was quickly shoving another green speartip into the shoulder mounted launcher. "Cover the Champion!" he cried out as he launched the Dust explosive at the knight.

The second explosion threw the knight into the wall of the fort, creating a web of cracks in the ancient stonework. With Weiss distracted from the interference, Jaune quickly sprinted towards her, shoving the sword back into his shield and tossing Pyrrha's shield onto his back. Pulling the converted heavy blade from his hip, he cried out as he brought his blade down with all the weight of his anger towards her. The Specialist only had a moment to erect a glyph to protect herself from the attack, leaving her open to another burst of fire. He watched as she cried out in pain as body shimmered in blue, her Arua straining to protect her.

He brought his weapon up to bash down on her again, but something in the corner of his eye stole his attention. With a masterful swing of his blade, the wide surface deflected one of the flying swords coming towards him, but two others continued on their path. One bounced off his arm, his Aura deflecting the blade, but the other skimmed across his thigh, tearing his pants and opening flesh from where it touched. With a quick roll, he dodged three more flying swords until there was enough space between himself and Weiss, his wound already closed and healing from focusing his Aura.

He followed the flying swords as they returned to their owner. A young woman with bright, orange hair and a pink bow cocked to the side. Emerald eyes stared at him as she pulled her arm back and the swords arranged themselves behind her, ready to strike. Another Specialist, judging by the breastplate covering a green dress and black stockings on her legs.

"Specialist Schnee! Are you okay?" The newcomer called out.

"Penny! why are you here?"

"I'm here to assist! But you are badly wounded. I urge you to fall back and take up a supporting role to ensure our forces capture the fort with minimal casualties."

"But your Aura!"

"Don't worry, Weiss!" the woman, Penny, said while turning her attention back to Jaune, "I am Combat Ready."

Before Jaune could do anything, the ginger crouched down and leapt into the air. The swords on her back acting as wings as she soared through the air and dove towards him. Jaune quickly made himself as small of a target as he could, using the flat side of his sword again to deflect a sword as she landed in front of him with a heavy thud. With a wave of her arms, the blades danced and spun in a large circle before being thrown at Jaune, knocking him back as he forced his Aura to block what he could not cover with his sword.

"Please, cease this action!" Penny cried out. Her swords returning to her and hovering above her back like wings of death. "Your forces are surrounded and outnumbered, please surrender! There is no victory here for you!"

Jaune paused. His memory of this girl clicked. Penny. The girl who Cinder tricked Pyrrha into killing during the tournament to ruin her reputation and draw the Grimm to attack Vytal with the combination of her death and the Witch’s speech. How was she here?

Her argument made sense when he actually paused to consider it… He wasn’t sure he could bring himself to kill her again… There were a lot of innocent people in danger, maybe a fair surrender agreement could actually be reached since Atlas had agreed to the duel before. In the back of his mind, through the haze of his devotion, he remembered that Ruby had told them that she was “kinda” a robot created by Atlas. But Penny was Ruby’s friend. Ruby failed her. Penny was helping her Partner invade her homeland... Penny was the enemy.

Jaune ignored her plea and charged at her with a sword in each of his hands. For a brief moment, there was sorrow and remorse on her freckled face before stern determination replaced it. With his blades in his hand, he began an assault of quick slashes and stabs all turning and forming into each other and she blocked each one through the sheer amount of swords she had at her fingertips.

After one block, she pushed against his blades and he held firm, but from over her shoulder, he watched as another blade was lifted up and aimed at him. He had to disengage in order to avoid being impaled by her blade. Spinning to the side, he slashed at her as he came around and it was blocked by another sword. This woman could not be hit no matter what he did, why was she not leading the charge instead of Weiss? Something did not seem right.

With another shout nearby, Jaune quickly rolled out of the way as a torrent of bullet fire came from somewhere. Penny quickly spun her wrist and her blades came to her, spinning in a large circle to deflect each round that came towards her. Seeing his opening, he ducked behind her and went for a thrust through her spine, only to be stopped by another blade that was being controlled by her once more. With a wave of her arm, five blades all came towards him in a wave and knocked him back several feet, straining his thinning Aura.

With another flick of her wrists and wave of her arms, two blades were thrown from her body and up, digging into the walls of the fort and lifting herself up into the air. While she was up there, the blades began to move around her body and folded in half. Each of them was pointed in a different direction and began to glow green for a moment before releasing a beam of green light heading towards their targets. Jaune watched as a single beam went through a person who had no Aura and melted a hole through their body, he watched as they dropped to the ground, dead in an instant.

A storm of green light erupted from the woman, killing all Mistrali forces in the immediate area. Jaune watched as she pulled her blades together and they began to spin around in a circle as an orb of green energy began to build up pointed directly at him. Jaune quickly sheathed Pyrrha's blade over his back and pulled out her shield to block the massive beam that was launched at him. He felt the burning sensation on his limbs as he was thrown across the courtyard and into one of the building's walls before settling onto the ground.

With a groan, he pulled himself to his feet and looked around him. Atlesian mechs and soldiers were pouring through the breach point, Weiss and her knight were rushing through defensive lines like they were made of paper and the newest woman, Penny was on top of the battlements, taking care of any resistance from there. His body felt so heavy and tired. His breaths came in deep and laboured. He did all he could and it was not enough. He had failed her again.

"Champion! This way!"

Looking back at the voice, he saw someone in a Mistrali uniform rushing towards him, another two giving covering fire as he was dragged deeper into the fort. Inside, he was taken to a large square room that may have once been the throne room of some king in ancient times; now it was a converted barracks with everything pushed up against the wall. As soon as they came through the door, it was slammed shut and was busy being boarded up with whatever they could get their hands on.

On the other side, behind a destroyed brick wall was a tunnel that leads downwards into the earth that the wounded were being led down. "Where did that tunnel come from?" Jaune asked as he watched people disappear into the darkness.

"It was an escape route for the king back before the unification of Mistral, and it's our way out of this fight..." the soldier said as he stood next to Jaune. The blond knight nodded and looked around.

"Then everyone gets in. I'll hold them off so you can all escape," he spoke as he turned towards the door and stood before it, steel sword and bronze shield in hand ready to face his end. There were people talking quietly with themselves as he heard Atlas forces coming towards the last bastion of safety. A hand was placed on his shoulder and he turned to see four soldiers, each decked out with vests filled with whatever ammunition and weapons that were left.

"Please, you must go with them back to the capitol to protect them," one of them begged him.

"This is my duty, Go now!" the Champion demanded as the grip was tightened on his sword. Another hand was placed on his other shoulder forcing him to look over. For a brief, painful second, she stood before him. Her beautiful crimson hair flowing as her deep emerald eyes connected with his; a soft smile was on her lips and she stood, her hand on his shoulder. But just as quickly as the image of Pyrrha was formed in his head, his brain broke through the confusion with logic and reason.

The woman who stood before him had short hair, the shade of red was much lighter than the deep red that Pyrrha had, her eyes were more blue than green, and she had more freckles on her face showing how pale her skin was. "Champion, please, you will lead us to victory over Atlas, I believe this. But you need to live to do so," she said as she walked around and placed her other hand on his shoulder. Jaune was just staring at her for a few moments as he looked past her at the door. Her hand gently cupped his cheek and forced him to look into her eyes.

"Please, my Champion, let us be just as devoted to her as you are."

Jaune just looked at her, then to the other three that all nodded to the woman's words. He did not even know their names but they were so determined to give their lives for others, he knew that deep down, he should force them back down the tunnel. Instead, he just nodded and looked at each of them in the eye; but before he could leave, they all did something he was not expecting. They each kneeled before him and bowed their heads and spoke as one. "For it is in passing, that we achieve immortality."

He looked down at each of them in shock. Had they been watching him pray to Pyrrha when he thought he was alone? He was angry at them for spying on him, but then they were just as devoted to her as he was. Pyrrha saw something in him when they had first met, maybe he could do the same for them. Kneeling with them, he pulled her shield and placed it on the ground before him. Each of them reached out and gently placed their fingertips on the rim of the bronze. Jaune then pulled out her blade and placed the tip against it and bowed his head.

"Through this, we become a paragon of virtue and glory to rise above all..."

In turn, they all stood up and took out their weapons to aim at the barricaded door and Jaune turned to walk down the tunnel. He made sure he was the last one before nodding to one of the other soldiers who was kneeling near the entrance, with a small box in his hands with wires coming out of it connected to a small set of explosives that would cause the entrance to collapse, sealing them in. With one last look at the four who would give their lives to make sure the rest got away, he looked into the eyes of the red-haired woman and nodded.

"Do it."

With one last confirmation, the man hit the switch and a series of small explosions deafened him as stone and earth fell from the ceiling and collapsed from the sides, surrounding them in darkness. With nothing left for him here, he turned and walked down the tunnel, leading the wounded to safety back in the city of Mistral. He did not know how long it would take, but he promised to protect her home. And by his shoulder, he would protect as many as he could and die a warrior's death in her name.

Only then could he be forgiven. 

Chapter Text

A Wreath Built of Withered Roses

Pt.III


The gentle flicker of flame broke through the darkness of her apartment. The curtains were drawn over the windows, blocking out the sun as she sat on the couch of her living room. Ruby studied the flame for a few moments, watched as it reached upwards at a perfect point until she breathed on it, making it shiver and dance. The small disposable lighter illuminated her face; she knew she had circles and bags under her silver eyes, the Red Death's crimson shadow had been towering over her in dreams as well as when she was awake.

Reaching to the small coffee table, she picked up a simple metal spoon that looked like it had seen much better days. The metal was distorted and burnt, a rainbow of shades from the alloy showing through as the milky white liquid that was sitting inside of it shook gently with the slow, deliberate movements. She brought the spoon to the lighter and sat it on top of its flame and left it there. Silver eyes watched as the fluid began to shift and bubble, quickly coming to a boiling point.

The Aura Stimulant that she used was good to keep her going in her every day, injecting it into her arm whenever she needed it to make herself feel better. It had a drawback, however, in that it took a long time to fully go through her system. From the point of injection to about an hour later, her Aura would be restored, but in the middle of a fight, she did not have that long for her Aura to come back. The concentrated doses, however, did just that. By cooking the impurities out of the medical substance and concentrating it, it becomes a much more potent tool for her to use in the middle of a fight.

With the cooking done, Ruby put the lighter down and quickly got one of the small booster packages with the tiny needle at the tip and poured the concentrated dose of Aura Stimulant into it. Once she got all she could off the spoon, she picked up the lighter again and began to run the flame over the plastic opening a few times before putting the lighter away again and pressing the warm, soft plastic together. The burning pain was no longer there, Ruby had done this so many times her fingertips were scarred and callused over now so she did not feel anything there anymore.

Setting the finished product down with the small pile of already done ones, Ruby began to work on the next one when she felt the cushion next to her dip down as someone sat down. Ruby took a deep breath and held it as she closed her eyes, readying herself for the conversation to come. "Is this going to be enough?" The deep, garbled voice of the Red Death cut through her mind, disrupting the moment of peace she had while preparing the concentrated doses.

"Enough for what?"

"The world." She picked up one of the finished doses and examined it in front of her black and silver eyes. Ruby reached over and plucked it from her hand and set it with the others before she could ruin it. It was because of her that Ruby was running low on the concentrated doses in the first place. Collecting the finished ones, she slipped them all into her pouch and shook her head. She used almost half of a vial of Aura Stimulant just to replace the ones that she had used up to this point.

"The world is not the enemy," Ruby quickly shot back at the Red Death as she pulled another shot of Stimulant out with a syringe and gently emptied its contents into the burnt, used spoon, "and Weiss is not the enemy either." She could feel the glare from the dark woman as she pulled the spoon closer and began to heat its contents to cook the dose.

"Weiss is from Atlas, Atlas is the enemy,"

"I am sick of hearing you say that..."

Ruby was concentrating on watching the drug and did not see when the Red Death got out of her seat and kneeled next to her, her palms on her legs and looking up at her. Ruby looked away and into the silver rings floating in an endless sea of onyx, the right side of her face stained red with blood, with her cloak settled on her shoulders, and her white shirt stained crimson. "But it's the truth, Ruby. There is nothing left in this world full of pain and sorrow and anger. They would kill you in a second if you let them, so you must kill them first. Paint them red like roses."

Ruby stared at the Red Death as she whispered to her; her cold hands slowly slipping further up her legs, getting closer to the weapon that was resting on her hip. "They are so concerned with their own battles and they will never stop until they paint everyone else a shade of red that is not ours." Ruby felt her eyes slowly grow heavy, the weight slowly being lifted off of her body as her hands ghosted over her hips and gripped Crescent Rose, slowly taking it out of its holster. "We must paint them,"

"Red like roses..." she murmured as she saw the Red Death smile slowly and lift the weapon from her body. A sharp, burning pain cut through the inky crimson that was drowning her mind. On reflex, she released the object that was causing so much pain. A clatter of metal on wood took her attention, the metal spoon lay on the ground, the burnt and spoiled stimulant already soaked into the grey, dirty carpet. A moment of disbelief passed through her before sheer anger took control of her.

She shot to her knees as she tried to salvage anything she could, but everything from that dose was lost. "FUCK!" Ruby cried out as she slammed the metal spoon on the table and began to pace; fury was boiling inside of her and she was not sure what to do. "You fucking bitch! I can't get anymore Stimulant! Every bit we waste can't be replaced!" She shouted at her dark reflection as she ran her hands through her hair, deep breaths going in and out of her, as she tried to calm herself down.

"Then we need to hurry, we need to paint-"

" Shut up! " Her scream tore at her throat, and even the Red Death hesitated in coming closer, "Just leave me alone! Just fuck off!"

"Ruby,"

The Red Death did not get any closer after Ruby reached behind her and pulled her weapon free from its holder. It snapped open into a rifle and she aimed it right at the Red Death's heart. "Fuck. Off." They stared each other down for a few moments before the Red Death simply reached behind her head and pulled the damp hood of her cloak over her head, obscuring her face. She walked through the house, leaving a trail of rose petals in her wake as she walked to the bedroom and slammed the door shut, making Ruby jump from the sudden noise.

With the Red Death gone, Ruby let out the breath she had been holding in for a while before she folded her weapon and slipped it back into its place. Hot tears stung her eyes as the strength in her legs were sapped from her and she leaned against the counter. With deep, ragged breaths, she held back her sobs as she blinked over and over again, lest her sorrow leak from her eyes. She brought her hands to her eyes to catch a few tears that fell but felt her hand already wet and something scratch on her face. When she looked at her right hand, she saw a large piece of glass sticking out of her bloodied palm.

She stared at it, her mind coming up with no reason why this had happened. Slowly, she pulled the shard out of her hand, a strange numbness had overtaken her, making the extraction painless. Looking around, she saw that the small window over her kitchen sink had been smashed somehow. A gentle breeze came into her small home, chilling her despite how warm it was. Inspecting her hand again, she saw that her Aura had not kicked in yet. The shaking in her hand and the headache that was beginning to form told her that it had been some time since her last injection.

With red (like roses) blood dripping from her fingers, she slowly moved back to the worn couch and started to collect her drug pieces and put them back into place. The lighter, now covered in blood, was put in a kitchen drawer with the cooled spoon. The bottle of stimulant was collected and was carried to the bathroom, where the door was locked as she leaned up against the door. Opening the mirror, she picked up the small box with the picture of a syringe on the shelf and shook it.

Empty.

With a growl, she threw it to the ground and began to search the bathroom up and down for any more needles that may have slipped out. Taking the few other things off the shelves, behind the sink and in her pouches, she came up empty-handed. "Fuck!" She ran her hands down her face as she began to try and think through a clouded mind before her eyes finally found the trash can that was sitting between the sink and the toilet. Desperation drove her to the small plastic can and she pulled it out of its place.

Throwing used toilet paper and wrappers, she found what she was looking for; the last needle she had used. Carefully, she pulled it from the depths of the trash can and inspected the medical steel and ensured that it was still straight. Placing the can back down, she looked the syringe over carefully before she began to run hot water through the sink. She waited for it to get as hot as it could be before slipping it into the water and pulling some of it into it and shaking it. She repeated the process a few times before turning the faucet off and nodding.

Even if it was a few days old, it was her own blood that would be inside of it anyway, so it should not be that bad anyways. Making sure that there was no more water inside of it, she stuck the tip in the bottle and pulled her usual amount of Aura Stimulant out and slipped the syringe between her teeth to roll up her sleeve. That was when she caught notice of her face. Staring at herself, she saw the whole right side of her face had red(like roses) blood smeared across her skin.

She stared at herself and felt she was staring into a stranger's face. Her world began to turn red, her breath was caught in her throat and she could not look away. Her reflection smiled and moved closer, gripping the mirror's frame and pulling herself out of it. Ruby dropped the syringe and moved as far as she could, but she was trapped in the small bathroom with her reflection. Her breaths came in shallow and quick as she was beginning to panic.

The reflection fell to the floor, but before it could get to its feet, Ruby quickly kicked it in the stomach, flipping it over. Ruby then mounted it and brought her fist to its face over and over again, trying to kill it. After one punch, it's body shattered into a thousand tiny red blobs. Each blob opened up into a mini version of Ruby and they all turned towards her and began to charge at her. Ruby could feel each of their tiny nails digging into her skin. She began to slap them off and rip them from her body, but there was just too many of them as she tried to endure the horde.

A loud knocking startled Ruby as she jumped slightly from where she laid. Groggy eyes began to look around, trying to figure out where she was. She recognised her toilet, sink and shower. Slowly pieces began to come together that she was laying on her bathroom floor. She eyed the used syringe, empty of its contents and still sticking out of her arm. Slowly, she pulled it out of her arm and watched it pull some of the skin with it before it popped out.

Slowly, she pulled herself to her knees and finally to her feet and held onto her skin to balance herself as another wave of knocking urged her to find out where it was coming from. Looking at herself in the mirror, she saw the right half of her face was still covered in blood, but it was dried and caked on. Looking back at her hand, she saw the large scar of where the glass cut that her Aura had healed, leaving it a faint hint of red(like roses) from her Aura.

Running warm water, she washed her face of the blood that was dried on from before she passed out. Maybe she put too much in the syringe or something. Yet another round of knocking made her hurry up and make sure everything was fine before she disposed of the syringe and went to the front door, checking the bedroom for the Red Death. With no sighting of her , Ruby finally went to the front door and opened it up a crack to see who was knocking at her door for the last few minutes, only to be surprised at who had found her.

"Midori, what the hell are you doing here?"

The tall man with dark blue hair raised his hand in response. In his grip was a small, cardboard container with a handle, inside of it were six dark bottles all neatly sitting in their places. "What? Can't we come and have pizza and beer with our squad leader?" the man asked as he shook the carrier of beer. Ruby just looked at at the man strangely before poking her head out of the doorway and looking down the hall, seeing the rest of D-squad all standing nearby. Each of them was holding more beer or a stack of pizza boxes.

With a reluctant sigh, she opened the door wider and turned the light on in the apartment, illuminating the dark room from the sunset glow with the artificial bulbs in the ceiling. A steady stream of people walked into her apartment and set their things on the table across from the couch. Each of them was dressed in casual civilian clothing, jeans and t-shirts with a few little things on the front of them, as they sat down and began to pass on the food and drinks.

Ruby walked up to the table and took a slice of pizza from the top box. Simple pepperoni, nothing wrong with that. She grabbed a napkin and held it in her hand as she sat down, only to have an opened bottle of beer pressed into her hand. Before she could refuse the alcoholic drink, Midori raised his own beer and looked at each of them, "To the memory of Ray Pewt and Cobalt Tucks, who died in the Vacuo Resistance Army  defence of the last city in Vacuo, Ritrr."

As everyone raised their own bottles in silence, Ruby quickly did a head count and saw that Tucks was indeed missing. This was the first time she had seen her squad since the battle of Ritrr and when everyone got separated after Arachne came out of the ground and forced everyone to retreat. With everything that happened, he must have been left behind when everyone left. Somberly, Ruby raised her own bottle in memory to her former squad mate. When everyone took their drink from their bottle, so too did Ruby.

The red cloaked woman nearly choked on the foul liquid as it passed through her lips and landed on her tongue. Holding the little amount of her tongue, she took the bottle away from her mouth and simply did her best not to spit it back out. It took everything she had to swallow the bitter water and when it was finally done, she quickly took a bite of the greasy pizza slice to cover the terrible aftertaste that lingered in her mouth. Looking around, she saw that everyone was all eating their pizza and drinking in a calm manner.

Looking down, Ruby began to eat at the slice in her hand. Sure, she was hungry, but she did not really feel like eating. It would have been worse for one of them to try and force her to eat rather than just eating slowly. "Yo, Rose," Sapphi said as she leaned over the back of the couch to hover next to her, "got the remote for the TV?" After a few moments to think about it, Ruby got out of her spot and walked over to the dead fireplace and picked up the simple black plastic rectangle with buttons on it. After she tossed it to the woman, she was thanked and got out of the way as the small node was turned on and the display came to view.

The shaven woman began to flick through the channels available as the others were simply filling the air with casual conversation. "Damn, Rose, how old is this thing?" the woman asked as she examined the remote closely as she tried to find more channels that were not simply static.

"Probably as old as this apartment..." Concador said as he ran a hand down the window and examined the dust that had collected over the years, "When was the last time you cleaned this place?"

"I'm not home much to worry about it..." Ruby admitted as the monotone man examined the broken window and raised an eyebrow at her. Silver eyes avoided the man as Sapphi finally found something that was not just static.

"-And with the continued efforts from Vacuo, the last of the refugees from the desert region have finally been placed in temporary homes in the outskirts of Feiyan and Gelber Ziegelstein, as well as surrounding, smaller communities. While some people are still against welcoming the displaced people for fear of Grimm attacks, others have welcomed them with open arms. Huntsmen and Huntresses from around the globe have begun to fight back against larger hordes that have been plaguing cities, but not without their own casualties."

"While some Huntsmen and Huntresses had voiced concerns over the growing number of Grimm, their efforts are not without praise and they each urge every single person to be kind to their neighbour and donate to those less fortunate than others. For while it is negative emotions that draw Grimm to our walls, kindness and happiness is what keeps us safe from the hordes being drawn in. While this is true, the Huntsmen would like to remind us all that any sighting of Grimm can still lead to disaster; so any sighting should be reported imminently to local police so that trained professionals can deal with it. And now, onto the weather,"

The image of Lisa Lavender, the voice of the Vale News Network, was taken off the screen where a graph of the region showing clouds that were coming in that would rain down on them before the end of the week. As Ruby listened to the news personality talk about air pressure and humidity, Ruby was once again reminded about her own shortcomings in what she was supposed to be, and what she was now. Turning over her hand, she saw the red-tinted scar on her hand, and she followed the small trail of similar scars that pocked her hands from her time as a soldier and not a Huntress.

"You okay?" Ruby was taken out of her small world when Midori walked up to her and sat on the armrest of the couch next to where she was sitting. Ruby quickly pulled her hand away before he noticed the new scar and began to nibble at the cooling pizza in her hand.

"Fine,"

"Really?"

Ruby just stared at him and he slipped off the armrest and held his hands up in surrender. She sighed as she shoved the rest of the crust into her mouth and reached for another piece from the opened box. "Why are you worried about me?" she asked as she tested another sip of beer and decided that it still tasted horrible to her, but she forced the small sip down her throat before biting into the slice of pizza she had taken.

"Why wouldn't I be?" Midori said as he gestured to the room around her. "This place is is pretty much a dump. You got water stains on the ceiling, cracks in the wall. Your sink drips and almost nothing for furniture, makes a guy worry when a girl stays here on her own, you know?" Ruby sighed as she looked around the place and saw everything he was talking about. It did look like a dump, like it was just one bad repair away from being declared condemned for looks alone.

"It helps that I'm not here often. I'm mainly deployed so this is just a place to stay until I go out again..." Midori nodded to her explanation as he sipped his own drink.

"So where are you from, anyways?" Ruby looked over to Violet, who spoke over the weather report that was going over next weeks expected temperatures. Ruby saw that everyone seemed way more interested in her home than whatever was going on on the screen, so she indulged them to the best she could.

"I grew up on a small island city, Patch. It's just west of Vale, and I went to school at Signal there. For as long as I remember, it was just the three of us, Dad, Yang and me. My mom died when I was really young, I can't really remember her, but I know I missed her a lot. Some of my only memories of her are the lullabies she would sing for me and the cookies she made..." She felt a small smile creep across her face at the memories filling her mind.

"My sister raised me mainly, my dad was busy concentrating on his job so he could put food on the table for us. He did everything he could to make us happy, and we were. We may not have had the newest and the best things, but we had a home to live in at the end of the day." Recalling her childhood home, she remembered how warm and filled with love her home on Patch was; and how cold and hollow her current home was, with its plain white walls and bare shelves. She wanted to go back to those times more than anything.

Everyone was silent for a little while before Pixie smiled and nodded. "It sounds like a lovely home, maybe one day, when this is all over, you could show us around." Ruby looked over at the pink haired woman and smiled gently with a nod. A familiar warmth filled her body as everyone else nodded and clicked their bottles together in a promise to visit Patch when the war was over. Ruby looked back at the TV when she saw something catch her eye, on the small screen posted next to the news anchor showed the symbol of Beacon, the twin axes with a crack running between them.

"And in other news, today marks the fifth anniversary of the tragedy that happened at Beacon during the fortieth Vytal Festival, where a series of tragic events orchestrated by White Fang extremists led to a horde of Grimm being drawn to the city; quickly overwhelming the defence forces stationed there, resulting in the deaths of thousands from every kingdom that came to participate in the event... including the horrific on-air death of Penny Polendina, an Atlesian Huntress-in-training that came to participate in the festival tournament, from an accidental fatality by the hand of Mistrali native and favourite to win the tournament, Pyrrha Nikos."

On the small screen next to Lisa Lavender was the pictures of both Pyrrha and Penny, her friends from years ago. Had it really been five years since the Fall? Five years since her life had been consumed by grief and war? Five years since the incident with Jaune, where Nora became silent and Ren was confined to a wheelchair? Memories flashed before her mind. Memories of her standing in the doorway, seeing Penny ripped to pieces for all the world to witness; of Pyrrha with an arrow sticking out of her chest; of Cinder with the bow in her hands and a smile on her face, her dark hair and red(like roses) dress billowing with the breeze as Pyrrha became ash before their eyes...

Ruby was taken out of her daze when she heard another name she had recognised. "Few people still blame the actions of Patch native, Yang Xiao Long, for her unnecessary brutality in her match against Mercury Black, dealing an unprovoked attack while his Aura was gone at the end of their match. While not solely responsible for the events that happened that day, her actions did not help the general mood of everyone around Vale to prepare for the subsequent attack and drawing of the Grimm to the city."

"Adam Taurus is still at large, leading the White Fang, the Faunus extremist group that took responsibility for the destruction of Vale; leading the Grimm provoked by a mysterious woman who had hacked into Vale’s security system to broadcast a message of fear across the city and all the world, drawing in the Creatures of Grimm. Because of this event, the CCT in Vale was destroyed, making our words and the words of everyone silent between the kingdoms. This, in turn, led to a tragic misunderstanding in the form of the Second Great War... Simply because we could no longer talk to each other."

"Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones because of this war; to everyone, from Faunus to Human; from the deserts of Vacuo to the badlands of Mistral; from the frozen tundra of Atlas to the plains of Menagerie. All of us here hope and pray for a quick end to this war. This is Lisa Lavender for the Vale News Network, have a good night and stay safe." The light in the studio dimmed and the ending theme began to play. Ruby just stared at the screen as some credits began to roll and gave a sniff, tears threatening to spill down her cheeks.

"I'll drink to that!" a loud voice called out as Auburn held his drink out and nodded. Everyone else agreed with him and took a long sip of beer, Ruby following suit but only just a little bit. When everyone was done, Auburn turned to Ruby and nodded to her. "You were there, right? When everything went down?" Everyone looked between the two of them as Ruby looked back at the screen, some kind of rerun for an infomercial selling a ladder of some kind.

"I was," Ruby lamented, "I was there when Penny was killed, she was my friend. I was her first real friend. Not one that had try and be nice to her since they were on a Team together." She felt a hand on her shoulder, and when she looked to see who it was, her mother smiled at her gently. Half her face was hidden by the red and white cloak that she wore. Ruby tried to blink the tears out of her eyes, but they ended up just rolling down her cheeks followed by another heavy sniff to try to clear her runny nose as she continued to talk.

"She was gone. Just like that. I didn't even say goodbye, we left the arena to fight in the city. I left her body behind and I never went back to bury her..." Tears now freely escaped her eyes as she found herself just letting it all out. She felt Summer squeeze her shoulder to urge her to continue, to release everything that she had been holding onto since that day. "And Pyrrha, she was the best of us. She was kind, and strong, and generous, and never raised her voice at anything. And I couldn't save her. I was too slow to save her, to save either of them. I watched as Cinder killed her on top of the tower that night because I was too slow."

"I was too slow..." Her voice was nothing but a whisper now and no one was paying attention to the TV anymore. In a flash, Sapphi moved from where she was leaning up against the wall and rushed towards Ruby, enveloping her in a warm embrace. When she felt the touch of another person, everything just spilled out. She cried into her shoulder as the woman squeezed her tightly. Everyone else just watched unsure of what to do now. After a while of crying, she took a deep breath and released the pink haired woman before she began to wipe the tears and snot running down her face with her sleeve. "Thank you..." she whispered gently as she took deep breaths to calm herself.

"Anytime, Rose. You're not alone in this...we're all here with you."

Ruby simply nodded as she stared down at the ground.

Violet was the next to comfort her, "You went through a lot, Rose; and at a young age. That kind of shit doesn't just go away if you ignore it. You gotta talk about it," she was kneeling in front of her and gently holding her hands with her own, unaffected by the fact that her hands were wet and snotty. "You were fifteen when all that happened, and ever since then, you've done nothing but fight this war and that just isn't right. You need to stop and breathe and just work things through..."

She looked around and saw that everyone in her squad all nodded to Violet’s words; they were all here for her whenever she needed them. The last set of eyes she saw was a pair of silver ones standing by the wall. Her mother smiled like she always did and nodded, knowing that she was with people who cared about her. They stared at each other for a few moments before she took a deep breath and thanked them all again. When she calmed down enough, she got out of her seat and walked to the kitchen to get herself a glass of water. Choosing the one that had the least amount of dust settled on it, she filled it up and took a deep drink as everyone settled back down.

"So," Sapphi began as she ran a hand over her shaven head and looked over at the young Huntress, "Who is Cinder?"

The words passed through her lips like a reflex, like it was just the right thing to do. That the whole world made sense with one, simple phrase.

From the corner of her eye, she saw the Red Death approach and speak in unison with her, "The enemy..."

A sudden burst of music stole everyone's attention as a graphic with the words ‘Breaking News’ passed over the screen and Lisa Lavender appeared again. This time, she was looking over a piece of paper and talking to someone off screen, quickly getting ready and making sure what she was given to read off of was correct. When the jingle was finished, the woman took a deep breath and spoke.

"This is Lisa Lavender with the Vale News Network, live with breaking news. The city of Fort Meihua has fallen under Atlesian control earlier this week and the Mistral War Council has called for a full retreat to the Capital. Civilians from Western Anima are being evacuated and will be coming to the Valenese Reclamation Army-controlled cities before the end of the week. Everyone is urged to open your doors, if you haven't already, to help out those less fortunate than yourself. Donate money or time to help build temporary homes to help ease the stress. Any old clothing or spare food will be accepted at the same centres as before."

"Mistral is also looking for any volunteers from the Army to be deployed in Mistral to help with the defence of the city. Those looking to help are urged to go to a VRA building and sign up as soon as possible. Details as soon as we can receive them. Please, help any and every way you can. Please stay tuned for details regarding opening your home or donation centres..." Ruby watched as the woman continued to talk about everything people could do to help those coming from Mistral and to prepare for the influx of refugees.

Ruby just stared, unbelieving that the final stand of Mistral would happen in the Capitol. Something pulled at her insides, a feeling of something that she could not describe pulling her toward it. She stared at the screen and began to turn; she stared right into the eyes of the Red Death, who smiled at her, knowing what she was going to do. But she was not doing this for her; she was not going there to kill everyone she met. She was going there to help. She was going to Weiss.

"Rose?" She heard Midori's voice as she began to walk towards her door. He called out her name again before she stopped and turned around to face him, "Don't tell me you're going..." Everyone looked at her, worry and shock on their faces, as she had just balled her eyes out about fighting and now she was going back.

"I have to..." she said as she pulled her cloak closer towards herself and began to walk closer to her door.

"Why?"

She stopped and thought about it; but she just looked back at him, at everyone, before lowering her head and closing her eyes. "I'm sorry, but I have to."

And so she left her squad behind in her apartment. Reaching the ground floor, Ruby made quick work of getting from her building to where they were taking in volunteers to fight in Mistral. When she arrived, she saw someone was already waiting for her to get there.

Her friend stood up from her place on a bench and nodded to her. Nora had changed into a black bomber jacket that was opened to reveal a white blouse that had a torn heart in the middle of her chest.

Of course Nora was not going to sit this out, people were in danger, and she goes wherever that danger is to save everyone she can. Without Any more distractions, Ruby placed a hand on Nora’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze, ”Let's go.”

And together they marched off to war.

Chapter Text

A Fledgling Phoenix

Pt. III


"I love you, Yang."

Those four words had been floating around her head for the last couple of hours; haunting her whenever she had a moment of silence in her mind. Blake's voice was on repeat, her words echoing at every given moment. Worse still, was how her heart fluttered when hearing those words from her; she had to hold her breath and avoid her gaze just to tell her she was with Neo, biting her tongue to stop herself from saying the same words back. Yang had to remind herself that Blake did not deserve her love, Neo did.

She was the one that was there to help her up after her whole world came down- not Blake. She was the one who stayed by her side for their entire trek through the forests of Vale, over the sea and into the heart of Mistral- not Blake. She was the one who held her after all of her panic attacks from her nightmares of Adam Taurus, the man who stole her arm and began the whole descent into the bottom of the bottle- not Blake. She was the one who was with her every night, stealing her breath with moans and gentle cries of ecstasy from her mouth as they made love in the moonlight-

Not Blake.

But she was there, in her mind, like a shadow that never went away. Her eyes, her hair, her soft voice that made Yang want to drop everything and cry for her- but she did not. She could not. She felt her life was being torn in two because of Blake. One the one hand, Neo was everything she wanted out of Blake. She was open, smiled lots, and was not afraid to open up to her. Sure, Neo had a few touchy subjects; anything to do with her childhood or before her and Roman paired up, but everything else she was willing to talk about, in a sense.

But Blake was still Blake, the woman who was her partner and opened her heart to help her get out of the darkest ditch in her life. What made matters worse right now was that after Blake confessed to her, Yang got ready to go on her first mission as a member of the Black Fang, a mix of Humans and Faunus doing what needed to be done to stop the White Fang from destroying everything they touched. What really made her sad about the whole thing was Velvet, the kind rabbit Faunus she knew back in school, was now ordering people to kill and steal in the name of the greater good.

Yang knew that the White Fang were killing indiscriminately, but what the Black Fang did sometimes make them seem to be just as bad... She just hoped that Velvet knew where to draw the line; and when to stop. Not like Yang had any right to tell her that, it's not like she hadn’t killed people already while trying to end this war to save her sister. Sure, one of them was Mercury and she had burned him from the inside out with her Aura. But the other one was Cardin, a former classmate.

Granted he was a giant asshole from the moment she met him; but still, he died by her own hand. That blood will never wash away.

To make things worse, Neo hadn’t been able see her off. The van was loaded and Yang waited around to give her lover one last kiss before they were separated for a few days. But she never got to see the tri-coloured woman. Figuring she was still busy with Velvet's needs for more supplies for their guerrilla operations, Yang settled for a text message goodbye. She smiled gently at the simple typed heart she got back from the shorter woman, feeling a little better about the war that was happening inside her heart and mind.

Of course, to make matters worse for Yang, she was now stuck in one of three large box vans that were traveling across nearly half the continent to get where they needed to go; filled with Black Fang members of different races and creeds, all armed to the teeth and ready to do what needed to be done for peace. A grumpy Emerald wasn’t helping; she really did not want to get dragged into this since had already spent so much time travelling from one place to another, but she would be regulating Yang’s alcohol intake like she had been for months.

And her mother.

Just the fact that she was going to be stuck next to Raven for almost the entire trip was driving her to the breaking point. In the cabin of the front van, Yang was looking out the passenger window as her mother was driving down the beaten dirt roads. For the last few hours, the only conversation between them had been a simple greeting and then nothing else at all. She knew they had a talk before at the bar, but if she was telling the truth, she could not really remember some of it. Maybe she was drinking a little too much.

Speaking of... Yang reached into her pocket and pulled the silver and black leather flask out of her pocket and popped the top. Even with her new hand, some habits were just too hard to kick. Like opening her flask with one hand, operating most things left handed despite getting her dominant hand back, and several other things she had never even thought about. With a little shake of the container, she guessed she still had maybe half a flask left to last her until her next refill from Emerald. They were just turning a corner when Yang started to take a sip, but then her mother spoke for the first time since they began their trip several hours ago.

"Shit."

Lowering the flask, she saw a large tree had fallen over the road when they came around the bend, forcing them to slow down to a stop. Capping her drink, Yang raised her eyebrow and looked around, trying to find a different route that did not involve going through the forest by foot or getting the vans stuck in a marsh. "It's a bandit trap," Raven said as she put the vehicle in park and checked in the mirror to see the rest of the vans pulling up and stopping behind them, confusion on the driver's faces.

"How do you know?" Yang asked.

"'Cause it's my trap..."

From the trees, a group of people began to come forward, each of them pointing weapons at the vans as the one in charge stepped over the fallen tree and stood there with a smirk on his long face. He had dark blond hair and an unkempt face aged him terribly, making him look older than he probably actually was. A torn denim jacket and a red bandana tied around his neck completed the look of total scum. Yang heard Raven sigh in disgust when she saw him. "You know him?"

"Unfortunately..." Brushing some of her black hair out of her face, Raven went to grab her weapon and mask when Yang held her hand up and opened the passenger door.

"I'll take care of it, I've got some stuff to work out..." Without waiting for her to voice her disapproval, Yang was already walking towards the group. From the back, Emerald poked her head out from between the seats and watched as Yang strode out to "talk" to the bandits.

"What's her problem?" Raven voiced as she watched.

"Other than alcoholism and mommy issues?"

If looks could kill, the look Raven gave Emerald would probably have killed at least fifty people. Not caring about the older woman's feelings, Emerald just shrugged it off, "Some kind of drama between her, her girlfriend, and her former best friend..."

The mother was silent for a few moments before looking back to witness whatever her daughter was about to do.

"Sounds like my fourth year at Beacon..."

 

Outside, Yang approached the bandits. Up close, the main guy looked like the shadiest character she had ever seen. The grin that grew on his face as she walked forward made her stomach roll as she suppressed a shiver of disgust running down her spine from where his eyes crawled up and down her body. "Well, look at you..." his voice scraped across her eardrums; just hearing his voice was causing her physical pain. She was not drunk enough to deal with this.

"Move the tree..."

"Seriously," he went on as he began to walk towards her, appraising her body, "not too bulky, not too lean, you're-"

"Move. The. Tree." He was next to her now, still soaking in her body.

"And your hair..." His dirty hand came out and went to touch her golden locks. Before he could defile her hair, her hand struck out and grabbed his wrist. With a quick motion, she twisted his arm, forced him around, and kicked at his knee; dropping him down before throwing him into the dirt face first. Everyone flinched and averted their aim from the vans to her now as the man sputtered and spat dirt out of his mouth, trying to get back up to his feet.

"You'll pay for that, bitch!" he growled at her as he finally got up and wiped his mouth of any remaining dirt that was on his face. Yang just put a smile on her face, folded her arms behind her back, and took a step back.

"Oh, come on now! I was just playing with you. Don't be so sensitive, how about we kiss and make up, okay?" Yang offered with a sultry smirk on her lips. The man just narrowed his beady little eyes at her as she leaned over just enough to be playful. Agreeing to the terms, he nodded and walked up to her and leaned over to pucker his lips. Without warning, Yang's metal arm shot out and connected to the man's mouth, sending him flying back and into a tree.

Men...

Watching their band leader slowly get up, he opened his mouth to spit, sending a tooth out with the blood, sporting a new hole in his mouth. "Kill her!" With a throw of her arm, Ember Celica expanded and covered her left forearm in its protective shell. On her right, a small port opened up and a gun barrel expanded from it, making her even on both arms. Reading through the blueprints had revealed that the arm had a gun port hidden inside the forearm that fired the same calibre rounds as her gauntlet did.

They took their aim and Yang pulsed her Aura, covering her body in its protective barrier while turning the chrome in the arm to a brilliant yellow. Bringing her metal arm to cover her face and her other arm to cover her chest, she made herself as small of a target as she could as the group opened up on her with their firearms. Simple scavenged weapons that had not been maintained did little damage to her face and simply bounced off her Aura, letting melee fighters with machetes close the distance.

When the bullets stopped, Yang stalked forward to meet her enemy head-on. The first was a simple guy with a large blade; he went to step off with one leg, but Yang easily kicked his knee, knocking him off balance before sweeping his other leg and punching him into the ground with ease. The next came at her with a horizontal slash, but she easily ducked under it and flipped back to kick it out of her way as she landed. When he swung back, she shot a round behind her to build momentum and backhanded his knee, making him miss again.

Spinning as she stood, she dodged another slash as she jumped into the air and dealt a hard roundhouse kick to his face, knocking him to the ground. The rest started to close in, so Yang had to start acting faster to avoid being surrounded. She was good, but even with her semblance, she did not like her odds if she was overwhelmed by them. Using her shots to propel her from side to side, she dodged their shots as she closed the gap.

Simple bandits were easy to take care of when she was close to them, with little to no Aura to call upon, a single, good punch took them out of the fight pretty quickly. Before she knew it, there were only four of them left; the others lying on the ground, either groaning in pain or making no noise at all. Jumping into the air, propelled by her fists, she kicked the rifle out of one's hand so hard that she heard the snap of bone as he cried out in pain before having his feet taken out from under him and falling flat on his back.

Next was a woman who straight up charged at her with a fist. Yang had to give her props for doing so, but she was simply countered with a block and a jab to the chin. With a sharp turn and a high kick, Yang managed to push back the other three enough to bump into each other in confusion. With a wind-up, Yang brought her fist up and took it to the front person's chest with enough force for them to catch the other two behind them and sent all three of them flying.

Looking back at the man who started this whole thing, she was surprised when two people slowly approached from behind. Each of them were wearing a martial arts gi in two different shades of green. They looked like twins with dark olive skin and shaven heads. Each of them had half a skull tattooed on the opposite sides of their faces. On their wrists and legs were stolen vambraces and greaves from Atlas soldiers painted black and white with barbed wire wrapped around them, one of them said "Truth " while the other brother had a set that said "Lies" .

At least they looked like more of a challenge.

Before anyone could act, Yang charged the shady man first. He raised a revolver and aimed at her, only for her to grab his wrist and aim it away as she stomped on his foot. As he tried bend over in pain, he only found her knee waiting for him; waiting to make his jaw snap shut and knock him to the ground. Quickly turning, she launched herself up into the air and punched towards the new arrivals, sending explosive rounds towards the twins, forcing them to do a series of flips backwards to dodge out of the way.

When she landed, she kept firing rounds at them until they closed the gaps and began their assault. They attacked as one, knowing where each other were at all times as punches and kicks came at her from every direction. From the way they took her hits, Yang could tell their Auras were unlocked, and that if they had better training, they probably would have made decent Huntsmen. Spinning, she tried to kick one in the side, only for her leg to be caught in one of the brothers’ grasp. Before he could do something with it, Yang leapt into the air and spun in his grasp and connected her heel to his face, dropping him to the ground.

Launching herself up into the air, she soared over the other twin and began her own attack now that the numbers were no longer in their favour. With quick strikes and kicks, he blocked and countered her attacks, trying desperately to stifle her assault on him. With a final kick to his thigh, she broke through his defence with a shot to his stomach, doubling him over. With two more quick jabs, he was launched into the air with her shotgun rounds before one final punch sent him flying through the air past the other twin coming towards her.

Trading blows, they danced around each other with barbed wire scraping against her own metal and brushing against her Aura. With a sudden kick to her stomach, she was forced back from his blow and further back when he began to take advantage of the break in momentum. More punches and kicks were traded, and Yang knew she needed to take care of this one before the other came to intervene. With a sudden drop, she spun and brought her elbow to his stomach, pushing the air out of his lungs.

Disorientating her foe, she grabbed his arm and began to spin him around to further confuse him. Releasing his arm, she continued to spin until she jumped up and delivered a massive kick to his face, dropping him to the ground with a small cloud of dust and a painful groan escaping his lips. Yang only had a second to react as she heard the sound of a round being loaded and fired at her. Moving her head out of the way, she watched a bullet fly past her face and looked to see where it came from.

With his revolver aimed at her, the shady man pulled the trigger again, only for the weapon to misfire and stop working, no matter how many times he pulled the trigger. After she launched herself forward with her weapons, the closer she got, the more panicked he became. Eventually, she was about to the blade that was attached to the bottom of his revolver when she raised her arm and grabbed the hand that was wrapped around his weapon.

She held her ground as he tried to free his hand by pulling, only to cry out in pain as she began to apply pressure. Slowly, she squeezed down more and more, making him cry out louder and louder until he fell to his knees. Faint cracks entered her ears as he tried to pull his hand from her metal grasp before all of his fingers broke. She stared down at him and gritted her teeth together as she saw tears running down his face from one particularly loud crack from his knuckles.

Pain.

The one thing she knew better than everyone, was hers to control now. She still remembers how painful her arm was when it was taken away from her; the constant throbbing from her stump and the phantom pains when she tried to do something from memory or habit. That pain fueled goal to save her sister. That pain fueled her ability to fight. That pain filled her ability to cause pain to others. She wanted to make Adam feel as much pain as she felt when he took her limb. She wanted Blake to feel as broken as she had left her.

" Please! let me go!"

The man's cry for mercy broke her from the dark thoughts she did not even realise she had slipped into. Opening her hand, he gasped as he gripped his broken fingers and began to limp away, whimpering as he walked. Gathering their wounded and still unconscious members of their band, Yang could hear the twins muttering to each other. "I could have taken her if you hadn't fucked it up," said one brother to the other.

"No you couldn't, shut up."

Leaving them to do that, Yang turned her attention to the object that had caused this in the first place, the fallen tree. Walking up to it, she tested how heavy it was before nodding, it was not too heavy for her to simply pull it off the road using her Aura to strengthen her. When she reached out, she saw that her real hand was shaking a bit. She watched it for a few moments before taking a deep breath and gripping her own wrist with her metal one. After a few moments, the shaking died down and she reached for her flask to down a few sips before lifting one end of the tree with ease and dragging it off the road.

With the tree out of the way and the bandits all gone, Yang returned to her spot in the passenger seat of the lead van. When she got in, she sighed and ran her hand down her face to try and wipe the dark thoughts from her mind. "Better?" Raven asked as she put the vehicle into drive and began to continue their path towards their mission. Yang just stared at her hand and pulled it into a tight fist, hoping that her mind would not wander like that when they all got there.

Yes, she wanted Adam to suffer a fate worse than death for what he had done to her, but Blake? She was not too sure if she really wanted Blake to feel like that. Sure, she made her feel like shit for years after she left, but something deep down inside of her wanted to forget all of that and pull the cat Faunus into her arms and forgive every little thing she had done. With a defeated sigh, Yang pulled the flask from her pocket and lifted it to her mouth.

"No..."

Chapter Text

A Cracked Mirror

Pt. III


 

Weiss was leaning against a stone wall, struggling to catch her breath. She was exhausted from all the running around she had done to support the main force as they stormed through the breach the Paladin mech had made in the fortress wall. She could feel the ache in her shoulder; the morphine was beginning to fade away and the Aura stimulant was wearing off, leaving her with only her own Aura to finish healing her. She could feel the new scar tissue stretching and reopening with every move she made, but they were so close to capturing the fort that Weiss had decided to put off seeing the medic for the time being. Instead, she made her way to where the last pocket of Mistral's forces stood.

Making her way into the fortress, the Specialist quickly found where they were holed up. Six soldiers were all stacked up against the walls that were on either side of what was once a set of grand oak doors. Now they were nowhere to be seen, but Weiss had an idea where they went from the look of the black blast marks around where the door once stood. All around the ground, she could see bullet shells and Knight robots lying where they had been shot into shutting down. She then witnessed a soldier prepping a grenade and leaping out of cover to throw it, only for his arm to be shot as soon as it passed the stone wall that divided them from their enemies.

With a cry, he dropped the grenade and fell to the ground, clutching his arm. Acting quickly, Weiss thrust her rapier and formed a protective glyph around the explosive before it detonated. Her ward contained the blast and shrapnel as everyone flinched and dove for cover. When the coast was clear, they dragged the wounded soldier away to be patched up before everyone took up positions once again. Making her way to the one with the highest rank on the wall, she pressed as close as she could to the wall as a burst of rifle fire forced everyone into cover.

"What's going on?"

The soldier turned around and shook his head. "A last stand, Ma'am. They're probably the last combatants in the area but they're refusing to give up." He threw a thumb over his shoulder to whoever was stopping them. "I think they're trying to die for their cause." With a nod and a sigh, Weiss began to make her way up to the front of the stacked soldiers. They easily gave her enough room to be the closest person to the door before she reached back and pulled on the radio a soldier had and turning the volume on loudly so she could try to talk some sense into them.

"This is Weiss Schnee of the Special Operations Unit of the Military State of Atlas. Your fort has fallen and you have nowhere else to run to. Throw your weapons to the ground and surrender peacefully and I will personally guarantee your safety." They replied with a hail of gunshots against the stone walls and the sides of the stone were chipping away as more bullets ate through the walls. With a shake of her head, Weiss checked her Dust stock in her weapon before looking to the soldiers on either side of the door. "I'll go in first and draw their fire, you storm in ten seconds after I create some cover for you."

"Yes, Ma'am! " they all called out in a chorus.

With a deep breath, Weiss formed a large ice wall as she turned and sprinted into the room. Instantly, the soldiers inside began to open fire into the wall, chipping away at its thickness as she prepared her next set of glyphs. As soon as the bullets stopped and the sound of dry clicking sounded in the room, she ran to the side and slashed her blade through the air, creating another glyph for her to jump on and send herself across the room nearly instantly.

When she landed, she was behind a makeshift barricade of wooden tables and small tourist stands that held information about the room they were in. She managed to catch the first soldier, a man with a heavy stubble that blended in with his tanned skin, unaware as he tried to put another magazine into his rifle. She knocked him to the ground and ran him through with ease with her rapier. The next second she running towards the next person, a woman with short, red hair and freckles across her face. She managed to reload her weapon but was too slow to aim it before the Specialist's blade slipped through her ribs and sent her falling to the floor with a cry of pain.

By now, the other two had their weapons reloaded and aimed at her. Before she could erect a glyph to protect her, the other soldiers came from the side of her ice wall and fired a few bursts into the of the Mistral fighters in the room. They systematically spread out, to check on their allies as well as confirm the dead combatants. Weiss sighed and turned around to walk towards them when they all shouted and aimed their rifles at her. On reflex, Weiss raised her blade to summon a protective glyph to defend herself. Now that Weiss had taken the fort, Gift had no need for her now.

Before she could though, she felt an arm wrap around her chest as someone pressed up against her back. The person's other hand came around the side of her head and she saw a bloody hand clutching a grenade. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the woman she had run through before, blood seeping from her lips with a wild look in her green eyes. Their eyes connected and she smiled gently as she spoke, "For it is in passing, that we achieve immortality..." with that, she released the grenade.

Her mind played everything in slow motion. Sapphire eyes watched as the explosive device began to drop, the lever jumped up and it dropped slowly through the air. Weiss held her breath as she simply reacted with reflex and summoned something as the device slipped from her fingers. A white Beowolf appeared in front of her and reached out as fast as lightning and grabbed the grenade as it bounced off the ground and held it close to his chest before curling up into a ball. A second later, the explosion ripped through the air, knocking the Mistrali woman and Weiss to the floor as the fire and shrapnel ripped through her summon and went flying through the air.

The sound of the small explosion filled her ears, then nothing except for a loud ringing. The room was spinning around her as she tried to get to her feet, in the sway of her mind, she saw a few of her soldiers on the ground while another one was kneeling over a fellow soldier doing chest compressions while his mouth moved. Weiss did not know what he was saying as she felt her eyelids slowly crawl across her eyes as the dust began to settle.

Rolling over onto her side, she felt so weak as she tried to push herself up, only for some rubble to slide under her hand and cause her to fall onto her face. Everything was in a strange numbness for her, she knew that she was in pain, but it was like her body did know it yet. Looking back she saw that the woman who had used the grenade was laying on her back. A large shard of the grenade shell was jutting out of her neck, her skin covered in the crimson water. Weiss's arms gave out again and she fell once more, her eyes never leaving the empty look the enemy had.

Slowly, feeling began to return to her body. She could feel the throbbing in her shoulder and moisture on her face as the insistent ringing began to fade away. The room was slowly filling with shouting and people running in with weapons drawn. Running a hand down the side of her head, she pulled back to reveal blood and wondered where it came from when Penny came rushing up towards her. Looking at her, Weiss saw her mouth moving but could not understand the words that were coming out.

Weiss stared at her as Penny shook her by her shoulders for several seconds before the ringing finally left her completely and she could finally hear what her friend was saying. "Weiss! Weiss, we need to get you to the medic!" With a nod, Weiss went to try and sit up only for Penny to throw her arm over her shoulder and lift her up with ease and carry her over her shoulder. Weiss knew this was embarrassing, but she just did not have the energy to deal with it.

Around her, more wounded were being moved to the medics, who were rushing back and forth deciding who needed to be shipped back to a MASH unit or who could just be patched up and sent for rest. There was a third option, but she really did not want to think about it.

As gently as she could, Penny sat her down on a crate and Weiss leaned against the cool stone wall. Her strength was returning to her, but the feeling of vertigo and nausea was not fading away. Most likely a concussion, if she had to guess. Someone shook her knee and Weiss jerked into consciousness, not even knowing when she had closed her eyes. "You doing alright, Specialist? You're looking pretty bad," a young man asked as he reached up to her face and pulled it to the side gently, opening her eyelids wider so he could shine a light on them. For whatever reason, he sounded off to her.

"Yeah, I think I have a concussion..." she managed to get out of her mouth. The medic nodded and began to turn her head to the side a bit to examine her.

"Yep, and I see you've used your foam. Still going to need to take out the shrapnel and stitch you closed though," he said as he helped her remove her chest plate and put it to the side. Pulling her small jacket off, seeing the sickly green foam mixed with her blood made her stomach roll as he took a combat knife out of its holster and began to scrape away at some of the crusty hardened foam in her shoulder. The foam itself would help her heal, but he still needed to sew her wound up. When he removed enough of it, he took a suture kit out and got it ready in a matter of seconds before pushing the curved needle into her skin and pulled her separated flesh closer together.

As he was doing this, Weiss watched as soldiers rushed back and forth, carrying wounded and separating the dead; collecting dog tags, ammunition and weapons from the fallen so they could either be used or destroyed safely. A stinging sensation passed through her body as the Medic sprayed some antiseptic over the fresh stitches and stuck a bandage over the damage. He quickly checked her body over for any more parts of metal jutting out from her body. Thankfully, her Aura managed to slow the shards of the grenade down to just under the skin and did not damage anything irreparable before he looked closely at her ear. After using a light to look into her head, he brought his hand up to her side and snapped his fingers right next to her ear a few times.

"Did you hear that?" he asked her. How could she not? it was right next to her ear and it was loud. With a nod, she pushed his hand away to stop him from doing it again. Moving his hand to the other side of her head, he watched her face as she began to pull her jacket back over her shoulder. "And here?"

"You didn't do anything..."

But when he pulled his hand in view of her face, he snapped his fingers again, and Weiss heard nothing. She held her hand up to her right ear and snapped her own fingers and did not hear anything. She brought her hand up to her face and snapped her fingers again just to make sure she was not imagining this. Her left ear picked up the snap, but her right could not. Looking up at the medic, he put his hands on her shoulders and looked right into her eyes. "Specialist, I need you to calm down and take a breath."

As she took deep breaths, the medic moved to her left side and spoke quickly. "You have a ruptured eardrum which caused you to go deaf in your right ear. I don't know how bad the damage is but it's usually temporary, usually a few months to fully heal. We're going to have to send you to a proper doctor to really know the damage, but you're alive and standing with all your bits still attached. Keep water out of your ear and see about a medical transfer onto the Dreadnaught for a better look. I need to go tend to others." He handed her two little white pills, which Weiss swallowed before taking another deep breath.

A medical transfer was out of the question with Gift's threat hanging over her. She would need to figure something out to keep Gift off her back for the time being, right now, she was just too tired. Sitting on the box, people left her alone as she leaned against the wall. She nodded off a few times, but the shock of her sliding to the side stopping her from getting any restful sleep. As the sun began to set, all the work was already done. Bodies that were still intact were loaded up into trucks to be sent back home for burial in home soil, while Mistral bodies were set to the side so the enemy could collect them from a location later.

While Weiss was chewing on a dry ration pack, Penny came up to her once again, smiling at seeing that she was alive and well. Weiss was already feeling better with something in her stomach and just sitting around and resting for a few hours. "How are you feeling, Specialist Schnee?" the ginger asked with her usual enthusiasm.

"I've been better, Penny. But I'm alive."

"That is good to hear."

"Is there something you needed?" Weiss looked up at the false human as she spoke.

"Yes! lieutenant Gift if wishes to speak to you immediately."

"Of course he does..." Weiss mumbled under her breath as she pooled all of her mental strength to just deal with whatever he was going to do. With a few deep breaths, she prepared herself and pushed up to her feet, only to stumble a bit as exhaustion and pain flooded her body. Using the wall to help her walk, she waved Penny away, saying that she would make her own way to Gift. Truth was, she did not want Penny to know about her deafness because she would likely inform someone of it and she would be pulled off the assault.

As she walked, she felt her strength slowly come back, feeling better as she went. She managed to stop using the wall to walk straight but found herself with a slight limp. Using her canteen of water and the reflection of some intact glass of a storefront, she managed to wash the blood off her face and neck to make herself more presentable as well as hiding whatever evidence that she might be injured too gravely. When she arrived at his tent, she saw two soldiers standing in front of it, rifles at the ready and looking straight ahead. She could not help but notice that their armour was pure white and clean, they probably were not there during the attack.

When she walked into the tent, the man himself was sitting at a small table with a chicken dinner on a plate. He was reading over a report on a large scroll as his fork stabbed a potato chunk before it went into his mouth. "Another resounding success, Specialist. Good job," he said with a small bit of food in his mouth without looking up from his report, "Sixty-five enemies eliminated and with minimum casualties on our side. You deserve a medal."

As Weiss walked up to him, she looked around the tent for herself and saw a number of items that she knew he did not come with, including a small liquor cabinet filled with half-full bottles of various different vintages. "We're going to push towards the capital as soon as we can. So make sure everything is ready for my order."

"Your order?" Weiss had to tilt herself to the right slightly, just to pick up what he was saying. She was glad that he did not notice it, or else she might have a bigger problem on her hands. "What about Major Acero, what are his plans going forward?" she asked as she slipped her hands to her side, one gently resting on the hilt of her blade.

"Major Acero has been compromised to a permanent end." Gift finally looked up at her as he shook his head, "A member of the White Fang had infiltrated our ranks and when the attack happened, he was assassinated before anyone could do anything." He reached for a tin cup and sipped from its contents. "But we must move forward, we cannot look behind us, we must let the past die." He then looked at her, his pale green eyes meeting with her deep blue ones. "Kill it, if we have to."

A cold chill passed through her body as he spoke those words. The realisation hit her stomach and she stared at the man. "You killed him. It wasn't the White Fang that did all of this, it was you."

"He was an archaeologist in charge of an army. We must destroy the things that hold us to our past and build the future on top of the rubble." He then leaned forward to whisper to her quietly, "The official records will show that it was the White Fang, and that is that."

"I know it was you who did that." Weiss stood before Alkmene in his tent. "You ruined the chance to save those people! If you and your little cult hadn’t gotten involved, the Mistrali could have just gone home with only a few killed, but you had to storm a fucking Paladin through the main gate." Her voice was quiet enough that if soldiers passed the tent, all they would think was that Weiss was yelling at the man. Not that it was far from the truth, but the less information that gets leaked, the better. The man in question looked up from the table, where he was halfway through his meal on a thin metal plate.

"No cause comes without sacrifice, Schnee," he said while pointing his food at her; a bit of chicken speared at the end of his fork.

"They were just soldiers, ignorant of your hand in all of this. They didn't deserve that end."

Weiss was about to continue her tirade when a sudden burst of weapons fire echoed through the air. The two soldiers paused their argument to listen in order to make sure they both heard the same thing. A second stream of bullets and cries followed suit. A firefight had broken out in the middle of their camp. Running to their weapons, Weiss pulled her rapier from her side as Gift racked the breach of his rifle and switched the safety off. The two of them rushed to the entrance of the tent when a dark figure walked in.

The person was tall; all features were hidden behind mottled black and grey clothing. A full face Grimm mask hid their identity with a hood over their head to hide their hair. Their forearms were covered in painted black steel with dark red lines running up the lengths, matching the intricate patterns on their mask. Weiss acted instantly with a thrust of her weapon. The blade was caught in assailant's hand. Weiss tried to pull her blade free; but it would not budge from their grip, despite only holding onto the blade with their gloved hand.

Whoever this was yanked suddenly, causing Weiss to lose her balance. A swift kick connected to her stomach, forcing the air from her lungs as another kick blocked her vision. Weiss was knocked onto her back with such ease that she needed a second just to register what had happened. When she got up, her stomach protested against the movements, but she pushed through the pain of her stitches pulling her flesh. Looking up, she saw that the unknown assailant, who had just disarmed the Specialist in mere seconds, was currently going after Alkmene.

The person grabbed the barrel of the rifle with their hand as a round was fired, but if it affected them, they did not show any of it. A strong enough Aura being focused could do that. As the rifle was torn from his grip, the person reached back for a mighty punch, and Weiss saw a blade spring out from the gauntlet. It was long and had a series of lines that ran the width of the blade, not unlike box cutter blades. Weiss rushed to her feet, adrenaline pumping in her veins as Gift ducked under the slash and tried to run away, knocking over his dinner table in the process.

The specialist quickly rushed to pick up her weapon as the White Fang assassin stalked towards its prey. Weiss was quick to slash and thrust at them, but the area was so limited that she could not fully use her Dust or Glyphs to do anything more other than purely martial attacks. Her blade bounced off the metal gauntlets on their arms as her wrist was captured in a feat of hand to hand combat, before twisting it and throwing her over her shoulder and onto her back. Weiss cried out in pain as her stitches were ripped out of her skin and her weakened Aura flickered out.

As she struggled to get to her feet, Weiss saw that Gift was doing his best to fight for his life. He was trained in hand to hand combat, but not to the limit of their assailant. Every punch he threw was blocked and countered. He threw a hard right, only for it to be smacked to the side and for a fist to rearrange his nose. He cried out in pain as he held his face and backed up as far as he could go; into the liquor cabinet. He threw the door open and grabbed one of the bottles and went to smash it over their assailant, sending glass and alcohol as it shattered against the gauntlet.

Now faced with an improvised weapon, they became a lot more cautious with their attacks. Weiss found her chance and rushed towards their back with her blade. They managed to jump just out of the way as their Aura was healing a small cut on their side as it happened. Rolling out of the way, the attacker rushed forward with their gauntlet blade and thrust it towards Weiss, only to have the blade caught when she created a glyph to trap it. They tried to pull it out of the glyph as Gift used this chance to run.

With no other option, the attacker quickly twisted their wrist and snapped the blade along one of the lines before punching the air and sent what was left towards Gift. The metal blade was shot right into the black of his knee, making him fall to the ground and cry out in pain as he began to crawl through the dirt to where the entrance to the tent was, trying to escape. No longer held by her glyph and with Gift incapacitated, the White Fang member turned to Weiss and quickly got into her reach.

Weiss tried to defend herself, but she was too sluggish and was easily thrown to the floor once again with a solid punch to her face. A haze came over her mind as Gift was dragged back into the tent and was flipped over onto his back, only for him to grab the broken neck of the bottle he was using earlier and slashing it towards his attacker. The glass was embedded in the attacker's arm, but they gave no inclination that it affected them at all.

They grabbed the man's arm and slipped it between theirs before applying pressure. He cried and screamed until a sick snapping sound came from his arm until he released the neck of the bottle and was crying even louder in pain. The attacker proceeded to drive their fist into his face over and over again. The sound of wet flesh being beaten filled the room as Weiss fought for the strength to get up. Eventually, they got off of him and circled their prey before grabbing his hair and forcing him to kneel. The attacker walked around to his back and Weiss saw Gift's face, covered in blood and broken. One of their hands slipped under his chin while the other grabbed his head.

"No!"

Snap

Alkmene Gift fell to the ground, his neck twisted in a frightening angle as all strength left his body, blood leaking from his nose as he stared unblinking at the wall. Weiss did not know if he had given Watts his report yet. If he was late, then someone she cared about was going to die. Fear for her loved ones drove her to her knees as she created a glyph to stop the murderer from leaving. Seeing this, the masked person looked back at Weiss, and she saw them shake their head before turning towards her.

It took all of her strength just to stay upright as the person walked towards her, stepping onto his body without a care. Weiss needed to kill this person, maybe if she delivered the body, Watts would understand what had happened and would let Winter or someone else live. When they got close enough, Weiss lunged at them weakly, only to have her feet knocked out from under her and fall to her hands and knees. Defiantly, she stared up at the attacker as tears began to well in her eyes. The last thing she saw was the attacker line up their large fist to her face.

“Sorry Ice Queen.”

And all she knew was black.


 

A warehouse was holding several vans as White Fang members were loading up what they managed to grab from their ambush. A few wounded were helped into the backs as handfuls of weapons, Dust and ammo were loaded up in record time. While everyone was rushing, one person was walking calmly towards one of the vans and someone else in a full White Fang uniform jumped out and looked at them. "Dragonfly, Is it done?" the man asked, his mouth moving from under his White Fang visor.

The attacker visibly deflated as they reached up and gripped the full-length Grimm mask and pulled it off of their head, followed by the hood that held long, golden locks at bay as she fought. "Alkmene Gift is dead," Yang said solemnly, pulling the voice changer off her neck. The man nodded and began to shout at everyone to load up and that they were leaving in a minute. The rush back and forth sped up as people found their spots for the long drive back home. Yang just looked back up at the shattered moon and remembered how desperate Weiss sounded when she had killed the target that Velvet had given her. She remembered that his death was just one more step towards Saving Ruby, then she turned back and got into her seat as the convoy made their way back home.

Chapter Text

A Loneliness of Shadows

Pt. III


The world all around Blake shattered like painted glass and fell to the floor with a crash. Her surroundings had changed from inside a hallway to a rooftop where she could see treetops on one side and a large clearing in the back that led to some back roads. The Faunus woman only concentrated on this for a brief second as the sudden sensation of nausea ripped through her stomach and brought her to her knees. The contents of her stomach boiled over and she found herself vomiting the basic lunch she had eaten not an hour earlier. Tears bled through closed eyes as the burning feeling of some of her stomach contents came through her nose, adding to her misery.

As quickly as it came, her empty stomach settled and Blake coughed up what little remained in her throat before she wiped her mouth with the back of her shaky arm. From the side, she saw a pair of legs appear in her sight and walk around to her front before kneeling down and revealing Neo. The two woman stared at each other, Blake trying to catch her breath and will the foul bitter taste out of the back of her throat, and Neo just playfully pouting at her. When her strength returned, Blake stood up and stumbled a bit and glared at the smaller woman, who just set her small umbrella on her shoulder and twirled it with her fingertips, spinning the pink fabric behind her back.

When Neo reached into her pocket, Blake flinched and took a step back, only for the girl to pull out her scroll and began to type with one hand. Seconds later, Blake's own scroll chimed in with whatever Neo was trying to say. Without looking away, she pulled it out and held it up high enough to read it without looking away too far.

"I gave you every opportunity to just leave it, but you just don't listen." Neo was shaking her head while Blake read the message. Before she could comment on it, another one appeared with a slight vibration in her hand. "And now, I'm going to have to teach you what happens if you try to touch what's mine." Blake lowered the social device just in time as Neo dove forward with her weapon, her chocolate and strawberry hair flowing behind her in a wave.

Blake jumped back and pulled her own weapon from over her shoulder to block the simple attack. For an umbrella, the fabric had a very surprising amount of fortitude, there must have been enough Dust infused with the material to bankrupt a small store. Slash after slash, Blake backpedalled over and over again as Neo advanced on her until she suddenly stopped and leaned back on her foot, waiting for her. Blake narrowed her eyes and gritted her teeth. She was going to pay for everything she had done to her and Yang. With a tilt of her head, the Faunus spat out the last bit of foul taste in her mouth before she launched her own attack.

The heavy, black cleaver sliced through the air towards her target; the one who stole Yang's affections from her. Neo met her attack with her own weapon, blocking each slash and turn with a single hand as they danced around the rooftop. With a small jump, Blake feigned an attack and dove under the block that was supposed to come. Sliding along the stones on the roof, Blake slipped the cleaver sheath off of the rest of the weapon and quickly turned to pounce on the opening she had just created for herself.

Neo quickly looked back and saw the attack coming, and only opened her umbrella to block the coming attack without turning towards her. Her sharpened blades did not even scratch the surface of the umbrella as Neo turned with the movement and folded her weapon up and continued to block the stream of slashes and thrusts coming from Blake. The longer the fight continued, the more frustrated Blake became as the smirk on the woman's face grew as she began to dodge more than outright blocking.

It got to the point where she just put her hand on her hip and turned her body to avoid all coming attacks. A side step for a hard slash, a bend at the waist for a body swing and a twirl to avoid the slash coming up from the ground. Blake let out a battle cry of frustration as she pushed her anger into her attacks, wildly slashing and hoping for anything to hit. Eventually, Neo began to block the attacks again but suddenly got inside of her reach. The Faunus tried to escape her by slashing and stepping back, but it was all part of the smaller one's plan.

With another block, Neo had locked Blake's arm in her own and continued to move around her, shoving and pulling her arms in such a way that it was hard to keep up until her nose met with the toe of Neo's high heeled boot, knocking her back before she received a kick to the gut to throw her even further. When Blake recovered, Neo gently tilted her head and raised her eyebrow with that condescending smile on her face. Taking a deep breath, she knew what Neo was planning. She was just baiting her into attacking wildly, and she had been playing right into her hand.

Taking her time now, she planned her next attack. Circling her opponent, two-toned eyes watched her as she walked around, moving her head to keep her in sight. Picking her moment, Blake charged forward with a slash and waited for the trap to be sprung. With a swing of her umbrella, Neo knocked her weapons away and went to stab at her with the blunt end of her umbrella, only for Blake to vanish as her shadow took the hit for her. She wished she could capture the look of shock on Neo's face as her counter failed and was met with her own boot to her face.

Her smaller frame was sent flying, but she managed to recover in midair and landed on her feet. The cocky look on her face was wiped off, now a small, angry girl was standing in front of her. She stretched her neck out, earning the soft pops from her bones before she twisted the handle on her umbrella and a long blade shot out of the top. Knowing that she was being serious now, Blake crouched down and held her weapons in a defensive form, ready to take her assault.

Neo opened it up with a short run before jumping into the fray. Both women used technique and speed as their main fighting style, with counters and dodges being their main form of attack and defence. Blake was doing everything she could to stay in front of her, letting her shadows slip off of her to throw off Neo's momentum in her fighting style, only to have her own attacks be countered at every move. She waited for Neo to make one mistake, but she made very few, and the ones she did make had the barest window to make an attack.

After one thrust from her umbrella blade, Blake slipped her shadow off of her body but Neo had overextended and slipped on the loose stones on the roof. Seeing her chance, Blake quickly brought her blade down and slashed it against her skull, only for her body to shatter like glass and crash to the ground. Before Blake could put her defence up again, she felt an elbow dig into her spine, dropping her to the ground in pain. She quickly rolled out of the way and jumped back up to her feet and turned to face her foe.

Both of them were now circling each other. Blake had used up quite a bit of her Aura to summon so many shadows of herself in her defence. She did not know how much Aura it takes for Neo to teleport the way she does, but it could not be a small amount. Both women were now slashing and disappearing from each other's attacks. Glass shattered as shadow clones were killed left and right. Blake felt sweat starting to build on on her forehead as she pushed her body faster and faster to keep up with Neo's unending torrent of counters and acrobatics. She needed a new plan or else she was going to lose.

She knew what she was about to do was dangerous, but it had to be done. She baited a thrust from the woman and did not summon one of her shadows. The blade just barely slipped past her stomach and Neo was already turning to expect the counter coming from somewhere else, not realising that she was not a clone. Blake dropped her weapons to grab onto Neo's arm and pulled her off her feet before throwing her to the ground hard. The smaller woman's head bounced off the stones below them and her eyes lost focus for a brief moment. Just long enough for Blake to get on top of her.

With nowhere for her to run to now, Blake wound up and dealt a solid punch to the face. The smaller woman took it in her daze and her head whipped to the side. All the anger and jealousy for what she had done to her was coming out with each of her strikes against Neo’s face. With each punch, Blake was chipping away at her Aura that flashed a dull grey when it finally broke. One more punch and Blake saw something strange happen to the woman below her. For a split second, her colours changed from pink and brown to something pale. Blake was stopped hitting her for just a second to register what she saw but that was enough for Neo to recover from the beating.

Raising her arms to defend her face, Blake tried to move her arms out of the way, only for the smaller hands to grip her arms and Neo bucked under her suddenly, momentarily releasing herself from the mount. Just as quickly as she moved, she rolled up on her shoulders and wrapped her legs around Blake’s shoulders and neck while pulling one of her arms close to her chest. She tried to pull the arm that was not being held out to try and free herself from the hold, but that was when the hold was locked in and she felt her breath be caught in her throat.

Her own shoulder was being used to cut off her air. As Blake began to struggle with the chokehold, she began to see dark spots as the oxygen in her body was being used up quickly. The darkness began to set in when Neo threw her to the side and changed positions so she was sitting on top of Blake's chest and had her arms pinned down with her knees. Before she could fight back, Neo pulled out a small pocket knife and twirled it around before pressing the sharp metal against her throat, stopping the struggle and ending the fight there.

It was hard to breathe with the woman sitting on her throat, but amber eyes did not dare to look away as she began to apply a little pressure to the knife, forcing Blake to concentrate her Aura on making sure the blade did not break the skin. They stayed like this while both women caught their breath, waiting for the other to start talking. It was Blake that relented and spoke first.

"Why."

Neo just turned her head in confusion.

"Why Yang. It could have been anyone else, why did you choose her?"

Neo just shrugged and smiled gently. With her free hand, she pulled out her scroll and began to type out a message before turning the device around so Blake could read it.

"Why not?"

"Because she doesn't belong to you!" Blake shouted as she tried to fight back against the smaller woman, only to be reminded that she could not with the blade pressed against her throat.

"She doesn't belong to you either."

"I love her!"

"And I don't?" Neo's face darkened as she leaned in closer. "I was there when Mercury tried to kill her. When she was waiting for us to kill her so she could stop hurting, and you weren't."

"I don't believe that you love her. I doubt you love anything other than money-"

Slap

Blake was shocked by the sudden, single attack and just stared at her. Tears filling pale, white eyes as she stared down at her. Anger traded with anguish as she took a deep, shaky breath. The scroll was pushed into her face, impossible to ignore. "I lost the one thing I loved when Vale fell."

"Bullshit! You were paid to do that!" Blake snapped as she tried to pull her arms away, only to have her knees dig into her biceps.

"It wasn't about what we had to gain from that job. It was what we couldn't afford to lose. And I lost everything."

Blake stared up at the woman who was doing everything she could to not let a tear shed from her eyes. "Torchwick's dead isn't he..." Neo just stared at her and gave a single reluctant nod. "Good."

Before the word was out of her mouth, Neo's fist was against her face. Her small fist hammering into her face over and over again. The absolute fury in her arms broke Blake’s Aura in seconds and continued on for a number of seconds before she grabbed her black hair and yanked hard on it, bringing it closer to her and pressing the knife even harder against her throat. She stared into pitch black eyes, filled with anger. She felt her hand shaking the blade against her skin, the smallest jerk would break the skin and Blake might actually die. She waited for her end to come, but it never did.

Neo's shoulders sagged and she dropped the knife on the ground before pulling herself to her feet and began to walk away. Blake felt her neck and only felt a small cut with a single drop of blood coming from the wound. Sitting up, she saw the smaller woman sit down on a power box and pull her scroll out before sending a message. Blake already pulled her device out to read it as she received it. "Just leave her alone. Leave us alone. We've all suffered enough. She didn't choose you. Move on."

Blake looked up at the woman, all the bravado and confidence was stripped away in that moment of anger. All that was left was exhaustion and emotional pain. Slowly, Blake got to her feet and walked towards the edge, looking over to the forest that was slowly encroaching on a rusted chain-link fence and gazed out towards the rain clouds that were moving in. "I can't..." Blake said softly into the wind, "I can't just give up on her, and I'll keep fighting for her every day of my life until she forgives me, or I die." She felt the vibration in her hand for Neo's response.

"I tried to be you, to try and get her interested in me..."

Blake turned around and looked at Neo, who was now looking much different than all other forms she had seen her take before. Black leggings that faded to purple, Black vest with a white top under with and midnight hair. Identical amber eyes stared back at her as Neo typed her message again. "She told me that ‘ I'm not you.’ Every time, before we make love, she whispers that to me." It took everything Blake had to not try and resume the fight after reading that, but she waited as the next message came through.

"At first, I thought she was telling me that I can't replace you, that I'll just be cast aside when you show up eventually. But now, I think she's saying that to herself. To remind herself that I will still be there in the morning, that I won't run away while she's asleep. Like what you did."

Blake could feel the hot sting of tears threatening to break free from behind her eyes. The words on the small screen were getting blurry, she almost missed her last message. "I make her happy, this is the first time in years she is actually happy. You mean so much to her, I would hate to have to kill you because you just won't leave us alone. Because that would make her sad, and none of us wants that..." Blake did look up when the sound of glass shattering echoed through the air, signalling Neo's exit from the area.

She stood there, numb, alone on a roof after fighting with someone that makes Yang happy. Was that really enough for her?

It would have to be.

She forced herself to walk to the edge and stared down at the cracked concrete below. She wondered if it would be painless, but realised even with what tiny amount of Aura she had recovered, the best she would have would be a few broken bones and a cracked skull. With a deep breath, she took a step back and turned around, only to freeze in place as a dark figure stood before her on the roof. Their skin was as black as coal, long hair pulled into a ponytail that reached their hips, a rig over a tight jumpsuit highlighted what little curves they had on their body.

The only contrast to the eternal blackness of their outfit was the horned Grimm mask they wore on their face. Slowly, their skin began to brighten in shades until it was a tanned brown. Large splotches of darker tones scattered across their face and exposed arms and legs. Their hair turned into a rich chocolate as they stood in the middle of the roof. Even before she reached up to remove her mask, Blake knew who was standing before her.

"Ilia..." Blake could hardly believe she was seeing who was standing before her. Pale grey eyes stared back at her before tears lined them and spilt down her face.

"Blake...I'm so sorry..."

Chapter Text

A Fractured White Fang

 

The truth is this:
every monster you have met or will ever meet was once a human being with a soul that was as soft and light as silk.
Someone stole that silk from their soul and turned them into this.
So when you see a monster next always remember do not fear the thing before you
fear the thing that created it
Instead.

-Nikita Gill


 

The halls of the keep were adorned with long red banners and torches that illuminated the room. Adam walked the length of the long red carpet until he came to the end of it. Looking up through his white and red Grimm mask, he saw his leader, High Leader Sienna Khan, sitting upon her throne. The Faunus woman had carved a path through their organization to sit on that throne, being one of the first to speak for violence when only violence would work. With a sharp gesture, he ensured that his personal banner that hung off his hip would not catch as he knelt before his leader and bowed his head.

"High Leader Khan. You summoned me?" he spoke through the stifling silence that hung in the large room.

"Adam." Her voice carried through the air with authority, the same voice that would spark riots and acts of rebellion against those who sought to keep the Faunus down. "I called you here to discuss your recent actions out in Vale, and your punishment for the consequences you have brought upon us."

"Punishment?" His questioning was cut short when she slammed her fist on the arm of her throne, her black hair and feline ears shaking with fury as she stared down at him with pointed amber eyes.

"Yes! Your actions are questionable at best or punishable by execution at worst!" she shouted as she jumped out of her seat, making the four guards that stood next to her throne flinch as she walked down the short staircase so she could yell at him. "The complete destruction of Vale, the attack on Beacon, a Huntsmen academy, and the full-scale conscription of our kind from the waves of people seeking refuge from the carnage that you brought to their doorstep! On top of that, you have the audacity to request reinforcements and supplies to attack Haven academy?!"

"High Leader-"

"Listen, and listen well, Adam, because I will not be repeating myself," She turned her back to him as she ascended back to her throne and took her seat. "The White Fang will not be attacking Haven Academy, is that clear?" Adam remained silent, his head still bowed as he quelled the burning anger that was building inside of him, pushing his fist into the carpet slowly as to not draw her attention, his arm shaking from the strain. "Is that clear!"

"Under your leadership, High Leader Khan," Adam said as he lifted his head and watched her. She accepted his answer and deflated slightly as she leaned back in her seat, going so far as to kick her foot up to rest it on her knee, as she often did.

"Good. You are a symbol for many in our organization, but that doesn't make you infallible. Just what on Remnant were you thinking?"

"I was just following your example, High Leader," Adam said as he leaned up from his kneel and rested his arm on his knee, his one hand holding onto his sheathed blade, never far from his reach.

"And what example might that be?"

"Strength. Strength and unwavering conviction. The humans have seen that strength now."

Sienna sighed deeply and shook her head. "What the humans saw, was Faunus attacking an entire city using Grimm and destroying the CCT, bringing global communication to a standstill. The threat of war hangs over the horizon and the first thing they're going to do is attack the Faunus. You have brought the threat of genocide of our people, for what! Empty promises from a group of humans? Humans we still know nothing about, and come and go as they please! These are not examples of strength, Adam. They are examples of your talents being diminished by short-sightedness!"

Adam rose from his kneel and looked deeply into her eyes. "If you want to know more about them, perhaps you should ask one of them yourself." The Bull Faunus turned and nodded to the guard that stood at the door. The hooded man nodded back and opened the great wooden doors.

A large man walked through the opening. Hazel was a tall and imposing man with muscular, tanned forearms filled with scars for all to see. His unkempt face added to his hard look as he approached Adam as he stood. Sienna launched herself to her feet as the guards quickly aimed their spears at the human as he stared Adam down as he passed him and kneeled before her. "Ma'am," his voice lowly echoed through the room as he looked up at her, "I'm not here to hurt anyone..."

"You brought a human to this location?" the leader of the White Fang all but screeched at him, "Do you have any idea what you've done!" At her yelling, the doors opened up and full squads of White Fang soldiers came storming in, swords and guns at the ready as they took up a circle around them and aimed their weapons at the human and Adam. "After everything I've done for you, Adam. THIS is how you repay me?! This is grounds for something far worse than execution. Unfortunately, it will have to do."

"Ma'am-" Hazel rose to his feet and tried to reason with the tigress, only for her to cut him off with a slash of her arm and her sharp voice cutting through his.

"You will shut your filthy mouth! I wanted the Humans to fear the Faunus, to know that we demand respect! Not to start a war with them that we can't win!" Her ears were pinned against her head as she stared down at the two of them. "Kill them where they stand." The four guards at her side aimed their ornate spears towards the two men, but the ones circling them did nothing. "What are you doing? Kill them!" Adam had to fight himself to not betray the smile that was building on his face.

"I will admit, Sienna, you were right about my popularity. My followers in Vale already see me as the true High Leader. And many here in Mistral feel the same." At a subtle gesture of his hand, the soldiers that surrounded them turned and aimed their weapons at Sienna and her retinue. Each of them had a red cloth tied around their arms, marking them as one of the ones that were loyal to Adam. Shock and horror passed over her face, her tanned fists shaking in pure fury as her shock made way for hatred.

"What are you doing?" she asked through gritted teeth.

Adam answered simply, like it was the only natural response, "What's right for the Faunus."

"This is high treason!" With that yell, the battle broke out. Sienna charged at Adam by leaping off from the top of the short steps with her claws ready to slash at him. Her guards charged forward with her into the group of turncoats; each of them had skill and Aura to back them up in a fight, Sienna chose her guards carefully. Hazel was forced to fight with Adam's turncoats as he deflected a swinging spear with just his forearms.

Adam had only a small moment to bring his weapon up and drew his blade just enough to block the attack. He saw the intense anger in her yellow eyes as metal slowly began to creep around her hands, forming metallic claws around her fingertips, her semblance giving her weapons to fight him. The bull Faunus had to back up several steps as she slashed and swiped with her claws at lightning speed. Angling his blade to block each attack, he ducked under one slash and freed Wilt from Blush and connected a slash across Sienna's side before standing up behind her and firing three shots into her back before returning blade to sheath.

With a feral cry, she turned and pounced on him, knocking him down and bringing her claws down on his face. Adam focused his Aura to defend from her attack and aimed him blade carefully before it launched itself from the sheath and collided with her face, knocking her off of him. Before the blade hit the ground, Adam grabbed it, rolled to his feet, and ran full sprint at her to drive his elbow into her gut, knocking the air from her lungs and giving him a chance to slash at her body, draining her Aura even further.

The room was in complete chaos as bodies fell and bullets were fired. Adam continued his duel against his leader, paying the battle around no attention as she tried to kick him and followed up with a series of strikes and slashes that he had to avoid to draw her focus. Blocking the stronger slashes with his blade, he continued to collect energy for his Semblance, waiting for the perfect opportunity to unleash it. However, Sienna knew this as well, so she did not give him the chance to set up to channel the attack into a single strike.

Seeing his chance, he took the fight to her. A hard kick to her thigh disrupted her attacks long enough for Adam to draw his blade in a quick slash, sending sparks to the ground as the blade bounced off her metal claws. With each slash, he stepped closer to her, sheathing and unsheathing his blade with perfect precision and timing to keep her off balance until he rushed forward and slashed upwards, only to turn sharply and try to stab her by thrusting the blade past his side while his back was turned, forcing her to jump away, giving him the time he needed to charge his Semblance.

Crouching down, he gripped the hilt of his blade and channelled all the energy he had built up. He could feel his Aura shifting and moving through his body in preparation for the final strike. His hair and the red markings on his mask began to glow as his world turned red and he zeroed in on his target just as she tried to attack him before the strike could finalise. He freed Wilt from Blush and his whole world slowed down to a crawl. He saw such twisted anger in her face as she screamed for what seemed like minutes to him.

The glowing red blade was slipped free from its home and arced across the air in front of him as the strike shot towards her. Adam was so focused on his target, he did not see one of Sienna's guards leap in front of his blade, taking the strike for her. He watched as his Aura was drained in an instant and his body was separated in two. Blood left his body like petals as he fell slowly towards the leader from the momentum of the strike. Slamming his blade back into place, he cut himself off from the slow world that his Semblance made for him, and he was returned to the real world.

The two pieces of the guard slammed into Sienna, knocking her to the floor. As she was throwing the chunks of flesh off of her, his soldiers grabbed her by her arms and kicked her knees in, forcing her to kneel before Adam as they twisted her arms and pushed on her shoulders, stopping her from fighting back. Looking around, Adam saw a number of his soldiers laying on the ground, either dead or dying, and Hazel with blood on his hands as he looked around at the carnage at his feet. One of his men walked up to Sienna and began to mercilessly beat her face in with the but of his rifle, chipping away at her Aura until it finally broke.

Her head jerked with each smash, breaking her nose and cutting her temple with the metal until Adam called for him to stop. He looked down at the leader, one eye swelling closed as blood dripped from her nose and busted lips. She bore bloody fangs at him as she struggled against those who were holding her down. "You're wrong, Sienna, We can win a war against the humans. Not only because we have the support of Hazel’s master, but because the Faunus are the dominant species of this planet. We’re better than humans. We have everything humans have and more. Humans shouldn’t just fear the Faunus, they should serve the Faunus."

"You're a madman with a god complex, Adam! Do you really think I'll just let you do this? I still have people loyal to me and you will not have your victory!"

"You're right," He said as he gestured to the men holding her down. Pulling her arms, they raised her to her feet where Adam took two steps and slipped his blade into her stomach. He stepped closer to her and heard her gasp as the life left her body slowly, waiting out the gentle shaking as her body began to shut down as she struggled to breathe. "Thank you, Sienna. You were there for our people when they needed you to take over from Ghira, and now I must take over from you... I'm sorry you won't be able to see the world I will build for us."

With a twist of his wrist, the blade opened up a larger hole in her body, letting the blood drain. He held her with his other hand as her body collapsed against him and he carried her to the ground and held her as she breathed her final breath. Her yellow eyes were void of life as he slipped his blade out of her body and set it on the ground gently. He picked her up with both of his hands and nodded to one of the turncoats, who left for a moment before returning with two humans, bound and gagged.

Both of them were tall with the tanned skin native to the people of Mistral. Both of them were Huntsmen, one of them had striking black hair with a yellow sash across his chest. The other had striking pink hair on top of his head and a white jacket that was now dirty from blood after the two of them were beaten and bound to drain their Auras. Holding the former leader in his arms, his men stood on either side of Adam and aimed their weapons at them before filling them with bullets. Once dead, their restraints were removed and they were dragged towards the great door. Everything was set, now he just had to play the role.

Taking the lead, Adam walked through the halls of the White Fang base until he reached the front doors, where hundreds of Faunus were gathered after the gunshots were heard and commotion drew everyone close. When Adam walked through, carrying Sienna in his arms, everyone stared in disbelief as he looked down at the dead body in his arms and shook his head. "Sienna Khan is dead!" he called out to his people. A cry of anguish echoed through the crowd as people passed around the news.

"She was assassinated by Human Huntsmen!" The humans were then thrown down the steps as proof of their deeds, already dead but that did not stop people from stomping on their corpses until they became nothing more than piles of pounded flesh. "These humans came to our home to kill our leader! Year after year of oppression and chains have brought it all to this! Sneaking in like cowards and killing our leaders! We need to do more! We must fight back!" A loud cheer erupted as fists were raised to the sky by an army now more devoted than ever before.

Adam descended the steps and gave Sienna's body to the waiting hands of her people. She was carried off as a martyr through the city, to be buried as a hero who stood up for the Faunus. Turning his back to them, the new high leader walked back through the halls, stepping over the blood trails that stained the red carpets and back into the throne room. He picked up his blade off the floor and wiped it off with a cloth from his pocket. He stood before the throne, his throne, and felt a small grin creep across his face.



It felt like so long ago that Adam had staged the coup and taken the throne from Sienna; he had not been back here in a number of years, but the image of that throne never seemed to stop the grin from appearing of his face. Heavy boots echoed behind him and he watched as Hazel walked in from a side door; he looked older since then, with more wrinkles on his face but he still had the same stern look. "Why the long face, Hazel?" Adam asked as he walked up the steps and stood before the seat of power.

Hazel just sighed and looked at the High Leader before folding his arms, a pointed look in his eyes. "Are you still upset about that? It was five years ago."

"Nobody had to die that day..."

Adam took his seat on the throne and pulled his blade out and placed it across his knees, a small smile on his face. "I disagree."

From the same door that Hazel entered from two more people followed him in. One of them was Cinder, looking much worse than the last time he had seen her. Her hair was shorter and a mask covered half of her face, covering a large patch of scar tissue that continued past the mask. A long, asymmetrical red dress graced her figure with a single, exposed leg wrapped in a black stocking. Next to her, an Atlesian robot marched in with its rifle in its hands. Adam was quick to jump to his feet before Hazel raised his hand to call him off.

"Relax, It's Watts," the large man said as he folded his arms again.

"Yes, I can only hold this secure connection for so long, so let's get down to business, shall we?" The robot's lights flashed with each syllable that came out of it, carrying the man's voice. "I have been losing agents left and right because of your "people" Adam. I need you to rein them in or do something about it."

"It isn't the White Fang," Adam began as he sat back down on his throne and lounged in the seat, "There is a rogue splinter cell calling themselves the Black Fang. They're taking every bit of information they can get their hands on an impeding our actions by taking supplies and killing your people."

"How many are there?" Hazel asked as turned his body to look at the Faunus leader.

"I don't know, we're still trying to get information out of the few we've found. I've sent one of my best to follow a shipment of weapons we used as bait. I'm just waiting for her to get back to me with their location and take them out at the heart." Ilia had been gone for a number of days now with no communications since then. He was not one to be worried for her, she knew what she was getting into when he sent her, but he could not but help but consider that something may have happened. Either she was found out and killed, or lost the van and is trying to track any clues down inside of Mistral city. "Are we still on schedule for the attack?"

"Yes, at the end of the week, the Fourth assault will reach Mistral. Giving you your chance to do what you've always wanted, your patience will finally pay off." Adam nodded and ran his fingers along the flat of his blade. He was promised the planet for his people, that humans could become slaves to the Faunus. Of course, he knew that as soon as it was time to collect on his prize, they would double-cross him. First, he was going to take Mistral, then when Atlas was weakened from their attack, he was going to personally assault Atlas and take the head of all those in charge.

And after all that, he would turn his attention to their master, and there was nothing they could do about it. A small smirk grew on his face as they all looked at him. "Let slip, the dogs of war."

Chapter Text

A Red Morning After

Pt. I


 

The sound of gunfire was her constant companion as she sprinted from one burned out tank husk to the next. She could feel the water and mud that had seeped through her boots hours ago from the constant downpour. Her red (like roses) cloak was weighed down from the rain, the hood blocking out most of the water from getting into her eyes as she pressed up against another tank. She flinched when a bullet bounced off the thick metal that she tried to peek around to see her enemy.

Ruby's current mission was to retake a dam that Atlas had taken shortly after Fort Meihua. If Mistral could retake it quickly enough, they could slow down the Fourth Assault to buy more time to entrench the defence forces in the city. This was Ruby's task alongside an attack force of a hundred soldiers and a hand full of tanks for support. There were more than a few problems with taking back the dam when the attack began. The first was the unseasonal downpour that turned the earth around the area into the knee-high mud, making the tanks sitting ducks for explosives. The second was snipers on the dam's wall.

With no armoured vehicles to advance with, it was easy pickings for Atlesian snipers to take out anyone who tried to so much as peek out from behind cover. The only reason Ruby had not been hit yet was her Semblance; but even with it, it was hard to move through the soft mud. She was currently crouched behind the tank that reached closest to the wall, but it was still way more open ground than she would have liked before reaching one end of dam wall to start her own attack.

The mud would slow her down enough that a skilled sniper could probably drop her Aura to dangerous levels even with her Semblance, so that meant she had to shoot them before they shot her. Ruby closed her silver eyes and took several deep breaths, trying to calm her heart so her aim would not be as shaky. Pulling the breach back a little, she eyed up the large caliber bullet that was chambered before pressing her shoulder into the stock. Slowly, she turned to peek around the side of the vehicle to try and spot anything.

The dam itself was not that large, only wide enough to allow trucks to cross the large gap that once held a river back; but it had dried up years ago. Now, it was being prepared to carry the Atlas ground forces across the gap without having to go around. A guard tower with a superior vantage point was keeping the Atlas sniper covered as they kept taking shots at everyone who came. Ruby also knew that there were at least two more on ground level, judging by the fire rate she heard through the rain.

A split second movement was the only warning Ruby had to throw her head back into cover before a bullet hit the metal. Quickly crouching and coming out from cover, she hurriedly sighted down her scope and waited for a beat as a figure came up from the guard tower wall to aim. Her crosshairs zeroed in on their chest before she pulled the trigger and sent her bullet to them, rending flesh and breaking bones as it tore through their body, leaving a crimson mess as the body fell backwards over the wall and landed with a heavy thud when it reached the ground.

As quickly as she popped out, she moved back into the cover in time to avoid the bullets that were sent her way. If she could just get to drier land, she could use her semblance and really do some damage. Looking back at the other Mistrali forces, she saw them all flinching behind what little cover they had. A few brave ones were slowly crawling through the mud, hoping the snipers would not see them. With one of the snipers down, she had an easier time to line her shots up and paint the walls with red (like roses) flowers.

With nothing else stopping her, Ruby rushed forward in a flurry of rose petals. Her feet pushed through mud and water until she finally stepped onto solid ground and dove behind a wall before she could get hit by a hail of automatic rifle fire. With the firefight continuing on, Atlas had gotten a chance to set up defences, including a heavy machine gun emplacement on the roof of an armoured truck. Quickly, she pulled the breach back and popped the round out of the chamber before reaching into her pouch to pull out a bullet that was painted red (like roses).

Slipping it into the chamber, she racked the breach and popped around the corner to fire at the truck. The bullet was a bright streak against the gloomy grey of the day until it struck true against crates of Dust it was carrying in back. The soldiers only had a few seconds to turn and start to run before a great explosion erupted from the vehicle, sending scrap metal and molten chunks of Dust flying in every direction, killing indiscriminately as the pieces hit whoever was unlucky nearby.

With the way clear, Ruby took a deep breath before pulling out the small radio attached to her belt and thumbed the button as a brief shock of static came from the small device. "This is Rose, the way is clear to move onto the wall," she spoke to the team she was working with as she looked around the area quickly for any enemies that might come to stop their advance. Suddenly, all the rain that was falling straight down moved to the side all at once. Every drop aiming straight for the burning wreckage that was once a vehicle, putting out the flames and revealing a figure in the smoke.

"NOT CLEAR! SPECIALIST ON THE FIELD, STAY AWAY!" Ruby threw the radio away and quickly aimed her sniper-scythe at the figure who was walking towards her. With a confident stride, the Specialist showed herself in full form. The standard chest plate was covered in scratches, dents, and chipped paint, exposing the metallic core that kept her safe. Her dark skin was marred with scars and her grey hair was done up with three rows that ran from her scalp to a braid behind her back. In her hands were two axes with long picks on the back of the handles; they were just as scratched as her armour was.

Ruby narrowed her eyes at her opponent as she stood away from her, waiting for her to make a move. Instead, the woman tilted her head and looked down her nose at the cloaked woman. "The Red Death, I was hoping I would be able to face you one day." She spun her twin axes in her hands and got into a battle stance, holding one of the weapons above her head while the other was in front of her, ready to strike and defend at the same time.

Without taking her eyes off of the Specialist, she saw the Red Death walking up from behind the woman. She studied the woman briefly before shaking her head. "Poor woman," she said while strolling towards Ruby, "She doesn't even know she's already dead." Ruby gritted her teeth as a crimson haze flooded her mind as the Red Death moved to stand next to her and leaned in close to her. She could feel the heat of her breath, the putrid smell coming from her mouth as a bloodied hand traced her arm, inching closer to Crescent Rose in her hands. "Shall we show her?"

"Go away..." Ruby whispered as she shook her head, trying to clear the encroaching red (like roses) from her vision. When she opened them, the woman had chosen that moment to begin her attack. Launching herself into the air, she came down with both axes, forcing the younger woman to hold her weapon out to block the attack. Sparks flew from where blades met metal with each rapid slash she dished out, chaining overhead slashes with spinning cuts, looking for any angle to get a hit in.

Each step she took back was a defeat that she felt as the rain continued, the distant rumble of thunder adding itself to the melody of clashing weapons and the stream of rain. Using her Semblance, Ruby created a large space between the two of them in order to start swinging her weapon around, building momentum for her scythe blade to do some damage. Her first attack met with a duel axe defence, but obviously, the Atlesian underestimated how much weight was behind her attack and was nearly thrown off her feet. Only her years of battle experience kept her from falling to the ground.

Jumping from one foot to the other, Ruby kept up her offensive against her enemy. With a burst of Semblance, she launched herself at her; a look of surprise on her face as the scythe blade that was aimed at her neck was blocked by the axe hafts and carried away before being thrown along the length of the dam wall, tumbling head over heels before pushing herself to her feet, using her weapons to help her up. Back on her feet, she tilted her head enough to crack the bones before charging headlong back into the battle.

Ruby was ready for her; blocking two slashes, she dropped to her knee and managed to angle her weapon between her legs before firing, tripping her up and making her land on her back. Just as the scythe user was about to raise her weapon for the killing blow, she felt her foot slide across the stone wall under her and throw her off balance, giving the other woman the chance to flip up onto her feet and swing her weapons. The pick on the back of the haft came flying towards her, forcing Ruby to throw her head backwards, but the pick found purchase against the scythe's shaft.

With a sharp yank, the weapon was nearly ripped from her hands. Momentarily defenceless, all Ruby could do to was to focus her Aura as the other axe blade came straight for her face. Knocked to the side and forced to release her weapon, she rolled along the wet ground until she was at the short wall that prevented people from falling over. She heard the clatter of her weapon being thrown to the ground as Ruby pushed herself to her feet using the wall for support. When she got to her feet, a cold ball of despair filled her stomach as she tried to fathom what she was looking at.

Where the lake was once filled with water decades ago, the dried crater was now filled to the brim with Grimm. Individual figures were impossible to pick out from the mass of black with specks of white and red (like roses) in the middle of it. The dam wall combined with sheer rock walls contained the Grimm in a prison that none of them could get out of. "Do you see now?" the woman called out to her. Ruby turned to face her, the crimson cloak blown off her head, bringing streaks of water to run down her face.

"We are trying to bring the world into order and security! To protect everyone from those beasts! That is what they can't understand, so we will save them from themselves!" the woman called out to Ruby as she stood before her, "So, will you stand with us to bring the world into safety, or will you die like the rest?" she asked as she pointed an axe and Ruby's face. In a flurry of petals, she slapped the weapon out of her face and disappeared before the weapon came into contact with her body. Landing on her feet and sliding to a stop, she quickly picked up her sniper-scythe and swapped her ammunition for gravity rounds.

Lastly, she reached into her pouch and pulled an Aura booster from the small stash she had and pulled the cap off with her teeth before jabbing the small syringe into her thigh. She felt the rush of strength and energy fill her body as she tossed the spent package to the ground and swung her weapon in preparation. The woman stared at her and nodded before taking a deep breath and swung her blade in the air. In an instant, Ruby saw all the raindrops around her stopped in mid-air and frozen instantly, forming micro ice spears that were all turned and hurled towards her suddenly.

She spun her weapon around, blocking most of them but she still felt the sting of pain when a few of them broke through her defence and broke against her Aura. The woman used this to close the gap between them and charge into the attack. Swing for swing. Slash for slash. They fell into a lethal dance, where one wrong move could end them. Ducking and dodging, Ruby used her Semblance to get her the edge for getting in and around her foe, but she kept freezing the ground around her feet, making it hard to catch herself when she would go from one side to the other.

Focusing on the fight, Ruby began to fall into a strange calm as she began to block out everything that did not matter in this fight; her wet clothes, the sounds of Grimm coming from the empty lake, even the sound of their weapons clashing were being drowned out as a static overcame her, the world around her was fading away, being consumed by a crimson static that left only her enemy and herself. Nothing else mattered; only violence, only victory, only blood.

She ducked under another axe swing and spun her weapon on her back, knocking the specialist's arm away enough for Ruby to stand up suddenly and swing her weapon hard, knocking the axe out of her hand. Down one weapon, Ruby pushed the advantage, forcing her to dodge more rather than block. The back of her scythe staff found its way through her defence and connected to her stomach, knocking the wind out of her and throwing her away as her other axe was dropped from her hand from the force.

Ruby saw the deep blue shimmer of her Aura, straining as she pushed herself to a kneeling position. From her boots, she pulled out two combat knives and charged forward with a yell. Ruby could see every move she was making in the hyper-focused state she was in. The knives were far less effective than her axes, but they were faster and wielded with extreme mastery. Slashes and stabs came in rapid chains, faster than Ruby can block with her own weapon.

With no way to bring her weapon up fast enough to block a stab at her face, Ruby brought her hand up, focused her Aura, and grabbed the blade before any damage could be done. But in doing so, she created an opening for her to swiftly spin and crouch down in the same movement and dig the second blade into her thigh. Ruby screamed as pain ran through her body and she tried to slash at her opponent to create some space. With no space to build momentum, the slash was easily caught in one hand while the other hand spread her fingers out.

Suddenly, her sleeve and glove were sliced open from a hidden blade that came from inside her arm. Refusing to release her weapon, Ruby had to focus her Aura to block the slashes from the blade until she found her moment and jumped up to connect her head with the Specialist's chin. With the sudden attack, the Specialist backed up a few feet and went for a high kick, only for her pant leg and boot to explode as a projectile was launched from her appendage.

Being sent back, Ruby rolled on the ground before connecting to the small wall that separated her and a sudden drop into a writhing mass of darkness. Before she could recover, the Atlesian was on her, pulling her up and pushing her against the wall, trying to throw her off. Her hands gripped her shirt and arm, the blade slicing through the shirt and into her arm. Ruby did her best to prevent being thrown over the wall the only way she could; she was gripping the enemy's body for her life as she slowly felt herself being tipped over the edge.

Both of them were pushing against each other until the Specialist released her shirt and began to hammer her fist into Ruby's face. Her vision became blurry as she felt her Aura straining under the series of heavy blows to her head. She felt her grip loosen after one more fist to her face, breaking her Aura. Finally, she pressed her palm against her head and began to fully tip her over the edge of the dam, the cries of Grimm waiting for their meal echoing in the daze of her mind.

The sensation of falling quickly pushed through the haze of her mind and Ruby acted instinctively. She grabbed onto the Specialist's coat and suddenly bit down on her flesh hand. She screamed as she tried to pull the limb away from the sharp teeth, but the strength of the yank gave her teeth enough strain to sink into her flesh. She tasted the sharp copper of blood as she was thrown to the stone ground. Spitting a chunk of tainted meat out of her mouth, she coughed up what blood had entered her lungs and saw it stain the ground below her, the red (like roses) spidering out like a web as the rain washed it away.

Looking up, she saw blood was staining the crisp white uniform of the Specialist, her chest plate was splattered where the wound bled. The red (like roses) was stark against he bold white. It was such a contrast, the shade of vermillion on a blank canvas was mesmerising. Such a beautiful colour. Lovely colour. A red (like roses) like no other. Nothing came close to it than blood. Blood really was the best for painting the world red (like roses). Like her. Like Ruby.

Everything should be red (like roses).

A sudden sharp pain caused Ruby to cry out and the inky red that was blocking her thoughts vanished. Looking to where the pain had come from, the knife the specialist had stabbed into her thigh was gone, leaving a trail of oozing blood from where it came free, staining her torn leggings and dripping onto the wet ground. Looking up when she saw a flash of crimson, she saw the Red Death screaming as she charged towards the Specialist, throwing all caution to the wind and tackling her to the ground, where she mounted her and held the knife up with both her hands before driving it down.

She tried to defend herself, but the Red Death was far too gone in her rage. Over and over again, she drove the blade down at her face, stabbing through her hand and arm before sparking and denting the prosthetic arm. One wild stab found its way past her defence and sliced open the side of her neck. Beautiful red (like roses) flowed from the wound as strength began to leave her body.
Grunting with effort, the Red Death kept her assault on her face, driving the knife over and over again, turning a scarred face into a macabre painting of flesh, bone, and blood; her body twitching with each movement.
Ruby watched as he continued until there was nothing left that resembled a human face anymore. Only then, did the Red Death stop, breathing deeply from exertion before tossing the knife away and sticking her hands into the bloody mess in order to cover her hands in red (like roses) and running it down her face, painting the pale skin a frightening carmine. Then, and only then, did she get off the enemy and stalk towards Ruby, her black and crimson eyes staring deeply into her silver ones.

"Must I do everything for you?" she asked as she simply walked past her, "Perhaps I should just do everything myself!" Ruby quickly realized what she was going to do.

Jumping to her feet, she ignored the pain that flared in her leg as she sprinted at the Red Death and pushed her to the ground before she could pick up Crescent Rose. Before she could get up, Ruby grabbed the weapon and kicked her in the stomach hard, knocking the wind from her lungs and sending a glob of thick blood out of her mouth. Another kick pushed her onto her back and she stomped on her chest before bringing the weapon to bear, aimed right at her bloody face.

"Fuck. Off!" Ruby said through gritted teeth as she threatened to pull the trigger. The Red Death just glared up at her, daring her to pull the trigger.

"You need me."

"Fuck you!"

"Sergent Major Rose! Come in, over!"
The two of them stopped and looked over at the radio that crackled to life. "Sergent Major Rose! Are you there? Over!" Ruby took a deep breath before looking back at the darkness of her mind that she currently had pinned under her boot. To make the message clear, she pressed hard against her chest and the Red Death hissed in pain before Ruby pushed off of her and made way to the radio. The person on the other side of the device continued to try and get her attention, but something else had.

Slipped behind a group of pipes, a simple canvas bag was just peeking out from the side. Something tickled in the back of her mind as she made her way to it and was pulling it from its hiding place. The sound of thunder following the flash of lightning overhead signalled the heart of the storm was coming closer. Inspecting the bag, she felt it was rather heavy, but there was no logo painted on the front of sides. If it was Mistrali or Atlesian military, their logo would have been somewhere on it. Opening the flap, her heart sank into her stomach as she slowly pulled a device out of the bag.

Metal pipes connected to wires as a small indicator on the front had a blinking red (like roses) light. The device had half a roll of tape wrapped around it to secure it to a stack of sticks that were all labelled with enough warning signs to make Nora nervous about handling it.

It was a bomb.

Slowly. Carefully. Ruby began to turn the explosive device around in her hand to try and figure it out if it was on a timer, or batteries, or something. Before she could get too far into her investigation, she felt her arms pinned to her sides by something behind her. Dropping the bomb back onto the bag, she tried to stand and turn, only to be thrown onto her side where she saw her attackers. Two people were standing in the rain in tight black clothing, a man with dark hair and bat wings on his back and a woman with grey hair and grey skin coming from her hands going up her arms. In one hand was a line of web that was connected to Ruby's sides, stopping her from using her arms.

Before she could do anything, the man walked up to her and pulled her weapon from her back and looked it over, before smiling darkly at her. The last thing she saw was a large boot coming down on top of her head before her world turned black.

Chapter Text

 

A Yellow Setting Sun

Pt. I


 

The van slowly came to a stop just inside of a warehouse while a war was happening all around them. Luckily for them, the fighting had distracted everyone so Yang's group of Black Fang members could sneak in without being spotted. Inside, they waited while they were getting prepared for what they needed to do tonight. Yang was busy getting dressed in the stolen White Fang garb she had been given. Of course it was tight around her chest, but she could not be picky with what was available.

The worst part about the waiting was the sounds that went on around them. Explosions and bullet fire echoed in the dark warehouse as Yang was getting used to the weapons she was going to use. Not unlike her gauntlets, her new weapons wrapped around her wrists and she would use a similar fighting style as before. Only this time she had blades hidden inside each of the gauntlets, bringing a more flashy way of fighting than she was used to, but it was definitely something she could handle.

As the sun fell and the darkness began to take hold, Yang was beginning to become even more nervous, going so far as to pace back and forth. Her flask was already half empty and she needed to be at least mostly sober to accomplish the task at hand.

Murder.

She had volunteered for this job. If killing a single person would help bring Ruby back to her faster, then that was what she was going to do. As the last call for weapons check went out, Yang did a last minute look over of her weapons and her outfit. In no way could any of it lead back to the Black Fang, so if anyone recognised her or her weapons, everything would be ruined. The worst part was when Yang had to pull her golden locks back into the hood so it would keep them out of sight.

"Yang..." She stopped and turned to see her mother, Raven, walking towards her. The rolling of her stomach sped up as she stood next to her, looking at the door that they were all about to go through to accomplish their goals. She could feel the shaking in her arm and held her breath to suppress the urge to hold it still or take another drink from her flask. "Are you sure you want to do this?" the older woman asked quietly. Yang just looked into her red eyes and stared deeply into them.

"Why do you care?" Yang scoffed as she tried to distract herself by adjusting the strap on her wrist that was unneeded, "Just because we shared a few drinks and talked a few things out, doesn't make up for over twenty years of abandonment." She could almost taste the bitterness in her mouth after she said that. Her mother was going to have to work on gaining her forgiveness and trust.

Just like Blake.

"I know, I was just making sure. Taking a life isn't easy..."

"Hasn't stopped me before..." Images of what she had done to Cardin and Mercury filled her mind; how she broke the neck of the bully of Beacon with a single hand in her moment of fury; how she burned her assassin from the inside out with her angry flames. It felt so refreshing to truly unleash what she could do, to let loose and let herself do what she has always wanted to do. The retribution of delivering justice to those who deserve it was more fulfilling than anything she had done before.

It made her feel so alive.

It also terrified her.

 

She had lost control and killed two people. Lives were taken by her hand and she was sickened by how good it felt; she was going to kill that shady man who stopped their van earlier but she managed to pull away from it. For Yang, her anger was her greatest strength and her biggest weakness. It could easily go all wrong if she were to lose control again. Focusing on Ruby will hopefully give her something to pull herself back from the brink if she drowns in the ocean of her rage again; lest she hurts someone close to her.

A quick pat on her shoulder pulled her from her thoughts as one of the Black Fang members was going around whispering to people that it was two minutes to the mission time. Yang just nodded and took another deep breath as she looked over as Raven tilted her head from side to side, cracking the bones and loosening her muscles for what was to come. "Just do your job Mom , and I'll do mine." Yang was about to slip the Grimm mask over her face when a hand with a crimson red gauntlet was placed over it and pushed it away.

"Here," in her hand was her Grimm Mask. The bone white and red accented faceplate and feathered headdress painted a terrifying image. Slowly, Yang took the mask and felt the weight of it.

"Pretty heavy for a mask..."

"Pour some Aura into it and it'll stop anything short of a rocket." Raven tapped the forehead for emphasis. Yang nodded as she strapped the voice changer onto her neck and clicked it on before slipping the mask over her face and adjusting it to fit comfortably. The door opened and people began to quickly storm out of the building as quietly as they could. With one last look back at her mother, she peered at her through the eye pieces on the mask.

"I didn't realise you and dad were into this sorta thing, how often did you break them out before I was born?"

Raven just looked at her with an expression that rivalled Weiss's whenever she told a shity joke. The woman seemed to age five years just processing it before sighing deeply and resting her forehead in her hand. "You are your father's daughter alright..."

With a smile hidden behind the mask, Yang turned and rushed out of the warehouse with the rest of the attack team as they all made their way through the dead city and towards their targets. The shattered moon lit their way as they all moved carefully through alleyways and hollowed out buildings. Everyone split into two teams; one was the distraction- they would engage with Atlesian soldiers near one side of their camp to draw their attention, while the other was going to sneak in and take the things they needed. Weapons, ammunition, and medicine were the top priority. Yang, however, had a separate task- to kill Alkmene Gift.

They managed to get to the camp’s walls without getting detected and waited for the signal. Yang used this time to pull a picture of the man out of her pocket and study it intensely, like she had when she first got this task. Every feature of the man had been memorised as she thought about the best location for her to find him in the camp. He was leading the attack, so the biggest tent near the back would be her first guess. Finally, a small voice in her ear told her that they were starting the attack, so Yang rushed towards the wall before the first round was fired in order to give herself the most time to find her target.

Dodging past sandbags and improvised guard posts, Yang ran behind tents as the attack began. Bullets echoed through the night air as people began to rush towards where the fighting was. Finding the biggest tent was easy, and it was in the back, just like she had guessed, and sure enough, on the side of the entrance flap the name "Gift" was stencilled on the fabric. This was the best chance she had for finding him. Pushing her hand through the flap, she walked into the tent and was blinded by a bright light.

 

When she lowered her hand she was outside, the soft chirping echoing in the perfect blue sky as the scent of the ocean wafted towards her. Looking at her hands, she was whole, her right arm was made of flesh and bone again. She could feel the heat of the sun on her skin as she took a few steps away from her father's house on Patch, enjoying the sense of serenity that overcame her as she closed her eyes and relaxed for the first time in what seemed like forever.

"So who will you choose?" a voice called to her. Opening her eyes, she spun around and was ready to attack whoever had snuck up behind her. Instead, her house was missing and there were the twins from the ambush standing in front of her; each with an identical door of their own placed behind them. Each door was plain and made out of a dark wood and there appeared to be nothing beyond them but the frame itself. Yang took a step back and studied them, each of them stood with their arms over their chests and stared at her. Everyone was silent for a time before Yang lowered her fists and looked between the two.

"Who are you?"

The first one placed a hand on his chest and bowed. "I always tell the truth,"

His brother pointed towards the bowing one. "And he always lies,"

"Ask us, and we will answer," they spoke in unison.

Yang narrowed her eyes, unsure of how to proceed. What should she ask? What could she ask? Looking between the two brothers, she decided on her first question. "Who loves me?"

Their answers came at the same time.

"Blake."

"Neo."

"Who do I love?"

Again, their answers were simultaneous.

"Neo."

"Blake."

Yang closed her eyes. She needed answers, but these two were not helping. One was telling the truth, but she needed to know which one. Before she could ask another question, a familiar voice spoke up behind her, "Just go with your gut." Turning, she came face to face with herself. The Yang that stood before her looked like she did back in Beacon, with her short jacket and an orange bandana wrapped around her neck. Her golden hair shone in the sun as she threw it over her shoulder with a flair.

"What could go wrong?"

"Everything..." Yang said as she went to point at the younger, naive version of herself to yell at her, but discovered that her arm was missing, like it was in reality. Her breathing was beginning to become shallow and she was having problems concentrating on everything that was happening around her. The young woman shook her head and began to pace, circling her as she spoke with venom in her voice.

"Look at you, you used to be so confident, so strong. You were the Golden Dragon of Signal! A force of nature that no one could stop when you put your mind to it. Now, look at you! You're just a scared little girl running from your problems and worried about whose feelings will get hurt if you choose wrong. But who cares! Just choose and let the cards fall where they may." The woman made a full rotation before standing before her, folding her arms and smiling like she used to.

"You don't understand-"

"No! You don't understand! Did you lose your spine when he cut off your arm?" she asked as she walked up and gripped the stump of her arm. Pain spread through her body as she tried to force her off, but she refused to move. "Just choose before the choice is taken from you!"

"Yang!"

Looking behind her, the world turned from the bright world outside her father's house to the ruins of Beacon. Flames and death all around her as Adam slowly walked towards her like last time, and every time before that. Each step he took echoed through the air as he made his way towards a figure standing between the two doors. With a red hood and silver eyes, Yang saw her sister standing there with a pleading look in her eyes. "Yang! Help me!" As he slowly walked, Adam began to pull the sword out of its sheath.

"Ruby!" Yang tried to rush to her aid, but she was pulled back by the younger one's grip on her stump. The two doors opened up and there they stood. Neo and Blake were looking at her, waiting for her answer as she struggled to pull out of the grasp. The more she pulled, the tighter her grip seemed to get. "Please! Let go! I have to save her!"

"Then why didn't you save her when she left?" the younger woman asked, her voice dark as she leaned in close. "Not strong enough? Not fast enough?" she continued as a dark grin formed on her lips and her eyes turned a fiery crimson. With a yank, Yang was pulled close to her so she could whisper into her ear. "Go ahead. Let loose, you can do it, I know you want to..." It was so hard to keep her anger under control as she pulled harder and harder away from her.

"Maybe you just haven't had enough to drink." Before Yang could do anything, the younger one pulled a flask from somewhere and began to pour it over her face. She felt the alcohol burn as it got into her eyes and was forced to breathe it in, making her limited air even smaller. With a yell, she threw a wicked left hook and socked her younger self in the face, knocking her back with the sound of something breaking. Recovering from the hit, Yang saw her slowly turn, her face cracked like an old porcelain doll.

There was a look of shock on her face as the cracks spread through her whole person until she finally shattered and all that remained was a small child. Her blonde hair was pulled into pigtails and big tears coming out of her lavender eyes. She stared at the child version of herself. The scared, vulnerable child taking deep breaths, doing her best to not fall apart completely as she took a step towards her. "You were supposed to protect her! You promised after mommy died that you'd protect her! Now it’s too late!"

Quickly, Yang turned to save Ruby, but instead of rushing towards her, she was met with the barrel of Crescent Rose aimed right at her face. Ruby was holding the gun with her finger on the trigger. She looked so tired now, like the world had failed her. "Too late..." And she pulled the trigger.

 

Yang was shocked out of her sleep and she could not breathe. Throwing what was weighing her down, she struggled for breath as she threw herself out of the bed and ran into a wall in the darkness. Her breaths came back with a wheezing sound that entered her ears as she tried desperately to keep her world from falling down around her. A hand fell on her shoulder gently as she quickly spun around and threw a punch, only for it to be caught and held.

She tried to pull back but she had no strength. As she tried to push herself deeper into the corner but found no more space for her to move, a gentle hand pushed her golden bangs out of her face; which finally allowed her to look around at her surroundings. In front of her was Neo, her features highlighted by a lamp next to their bed. Yang's wrist was being held in her hand while her other was gently running through her hair. Slowly, she felt full breaths finally entering her lungs as she took gasping breaths before her body relaxed and she crumpled under her own exhaustion.

Sobs wracked her body as she cried freely, Neo's slender fingers finding home between Yang's rough ones as she felt a pair of lips on her forehead. Yang did not know how long they stayed like this for, but eventually, she got all the heavy crying out of her system and took a deep, shaky breath as she looked around the room. The blankets to the bed were thrown off and she realised that she had probably simply thrown Neo off her body when she woke up panicking.

"I'm sorry, shortcake..." she whispered to her as she brought her hand close and kissed the back of it. The smaller woman just shook her head, the strawberry and chocolate hair waving with the movement as she pressed their foreheads together. Lavender met pink and brown as they shared a simple, calming kiss. Eventually, Neo helped her to her shaky feet and guided her back to the bed. Sitting down, she rested her head in her hand as she concentrated on breathing and slowing down her heart.

Against her head, she felt the shaking of her hand and the headache that came from not drinking enough. Quickly, she eyed up her flask that was standing next to her arm on the nightstand, she scooped it up with a shaking hand and could not pop the top off fast enough. She brought the foul liquid to her lips and took three deep gulps before lowering it for a breath, she was going to go for more when she caught Neo's stare from the corner of her eye. When Yang looked, she had a concerned look on her face, but she was not sure if it was from her night terror or from her drinking.

Yang knew that Neo tried her best to comfort her, but the quick looks of disappointment or sadness she saw when she took a drink could not always be hidden fast enough. Looking back down at the flask, it was the one thing that kept the nightmares and depression at bay. With one more small sip, she closed the cap and set it back on the nightstand with a quiet clank and turned to Neo. "Just enough to keep the edge off..." She smiled gently at Neo, who smiled back, but Yang saw the sadness behind it.

The two women brought the blankets back onto the bed before turning out the light and settling back in their usual sleeping positions; Yang resting on her back with Neo resting on top of her with her head nestled between her breasts. The smaller body bare against her own brought a sense of comfort that only came from skin to skin contact and intimacy that calmed her mind and settled her heart. As usual, a slim finger began to trace the black lines tattooed on her arm, following the curves and lines that made up the dragon on her body. The simple pattern began to lull her into a gentle sense of mind.

Her own hand ran through Neo's hair until they settled on her bare back, where she began to do the same thing. Gently tracing mindless patterns on her skin as she closed her eyes and willed herself to relax. Eventually, the finger that moved against her tattoo slowed down until it stopped with Neo falling asleep. Now, she was alone with her thoughts, something she would rather never do again, but she would have to face her demons eventually, she just wanted a little more peace before then. So she kept her eyes closed and took in the scent of her lover and hoping for better dreams.

Chapter Text

A Cold White Day

Pt. I


 

The gentle scratching of a pencil on a paper filled the air as Weiss could feel the gentle breeze of another beautiful spring day flowing through the opened window of their room. The assignment was not due until the end of the week, but that did not mean that it should not be done as soon as it could be. With it out of the way, she would have more time to do whatever she wanted during the weekend, maybe she could even catch a movie. The rhythm of her writing was broken by an obnoxious snort of laughter, causing her pencil to veer down the page. Her eye twitched as she sharply turned to the trio across the room.

"That's gross, Yang!" Ruby laughed as she held her sides, wiping tears off her face.

"I'm serious! I grabbed his gonads and he squeaked like a chew toy, it was so funny!" Yang laughed with her sister as they sat on Blake's bed; the Faunus woman's attention was occupied by the book in her hand, but the twitch of her bow and the small smirk on her face suggested she was listening to the conversation just as much. Annoyance flared through Weiss's veins as the rest of her team were so casual about their school assignments.

"Excuse me!" The laughter died instantly as everyone looked at her. "If you have time to talk about molesting grown men in a club, then you have time to do the work that's still unfinished."

A confident smirk formed on Yang's lips as she held up one of her fingers. "One. I did not 'molest' Junior, I just made sure he didn't take me lightly; and two, it's not due till Friday, we've got lots of time."

It was Weiss's chance to strike. "Ah! But if we get it done sooner, rather than later, we'll have free time during the week to do something other than work." She smiled triumphantly as she folded her arms. Everyone looked at each other and Ruby was the first to get off the bed and walk towards her half of the room to collect her bag.

"She's right, the faster we get it done, the faster we can relax without any panic." She made sure her books were in place before walking back to the bed as everyone began to move. "Come guys! Let's go!"

Blake let out a huff of resistance before crawling out of her bed to start on the work as well. Yang simply shrugged and got up and stretched a bit. "I guess you've got a point," she said with a kinder smile before moving to get her books to get to work. Satisfied, Weiss turned back to her work and began to erase the mistake that was made and resume.

"I often do, if only you'd listen to me, you big oaf." In the time she spent with her team, she had learned that they tend to react positively with playful banter or light-hearted insults. She could almost feel the eye roll at the back of her head from Yang.

"Well, sorry, Ice Queen."

Weiss stopped. Everything around her stopped. She had heard that before, but where? "What did you say?" She turned to face Yang, but she was gone. Everyone was gone, their dorm room was empty, void of everyone else. She got out of her seat and took a few steps towards where they were standing before, hoping to find the answer to her question.

"Well, sorry Ice Queen!"

 

Weiss turned around and the world around her changed in an instant. Where she was once in her dorm room back in Beacon, she was now in the middle of a field. In front of her was a group of people all dressed in white camouflage fatigues standing at attention. Their faces were straight out in front of them while a man with a military hat was standing in front of them. Weiss could see herself in the middle of the group, the target of the drill sergeant's attention. "We don't have champagne and silk sheets stocked in the barracks, I hope that doesn't bother you, Ice Queen," he asked as he stared down at her.

Without looking up at him, Weiss watched herself call out like all other recruits do when they are asked a question. "No, sir!"

"No, sir..." he repeated slowly, savouring the fact that a Schnee had called him 'sir'. Slowly, he leaned in to talk quietly to her, his authority stopping anyone from doing anything as he invaded her personal space to speak to her. "I bet you called your daddy that too, didn't you, rich girl." He chuckled darkly as he leaned back to watch her expression. She saw her jaw muscles tense up as she struggled just to stop herself from shaking in pure rage.

"No, sir." Weiss's fists shook as she pushed her nails into the palms of her hands.

"Don't lie to me, Schnee!" His voice boomed over the squad of recruits as he made an example of her, "Know what happened to me whenever I lied? My daddy spanked me. I bet your daddy paid someone to spank you." He laughed at his own joke as he looked across the many faces of the squad to see their reactions. What he did not see was Weiss's eyes shift over to him, or her fist when he turned back to yell at her some more. The Aura infused surprise attack knocked him right on his back as he fell to the ground.

All at once, the squad broke up to hold Weiss down and stop the drill instructor from jumping back up to fight her. People were yelling back and forth; a few were trying to egg them on to continue their fight, while others were trying to calm everyone down. Suddenly, there was a booming voice that stopped everyone in their tracks and forced everyone to attention. The commander of the camp was standing next to them, her hands behind her back as she looked everyone in the eye, trying to figure out what was going on.

"Just what in the hell is going on here!" she yelled out as she turned to the drill instructor. The man snapped a salute to his commanding officer before speaking.

"Recruit Schnee struck an officer in the face, Ma'am," he spoke quickly while making eye contact with her. Even as his face was impassive, she could feel the smug behind his eyes. The woman turned to the younger Weiss and eyed her up critically before turning back to the instructor.

"If Recruit Schnee managed to put you on your ass, it sounds like you need to run the obstacle course with some added weight to stop you from being knocked over by a strong breeze." The sound of suppressed snickers came from the squad as they tried to stop themselves as the look of shock overcame the instructor. He was about to argue with her before clearing his throat and looking straight ahead.

"Yes, Ma'am!" He then snapped a salute and then began to jog to his new task as quickly as he could. Weiss and the officer shared a stare before walking away to continue her duties. Weiss remembered this from her first day of the Accelerated Specialist Program, where she made a name for herself. She watched her younger self get patted on the back from people congratulating her for standing up for herself as everyone broke formation to walk back to their barracks for some free time since no one told them what to do.

"Sorry, Ice Queen."

 

Weiss heard the voice again and turned to see her surrounding changed once again. Now she was inside a tent, Alkmene Gift and herself were heading for the tent flap when someone walked in and stopped them in their tracks. The golden head of Yang was bright against the simple Dust lamp that illuminated the insides. She had her gentle smile on her face as she sprung into action, easily knocking herself and Gift around like they were toys. Being knocked to the ground, Weiss watched as Yang got on top of Gift and began to push her fist into his face over and over again, blood pouring from opened wounds and his nose breaking.

Without losing the smile on her face, she pulled him up by his hair, slipped her bloody fingers around his chin, and gripped his forehead before snapping his neck right in front of her. For the second time, Weiss watched as the man fell to the ground with his neck at an inhuman angle. The blonde woman stepped over the body and stood above Weiss, a cocky wink was the only warning she got before she pulled her fist back and smirked at her. "Sorry, Ice Queen," she said before launching her fist right into her face.

 

Weiss woke up with a start just as Yang's fist hit her face. Disorientation racked her brain as she quickly looked around at her surroundings. A white curtain was pulled around her, blocking her from seeing anything more than four feet away from her. A gentle hand on her shoulder made her flinch as she tried to struggle, only for her to be held down. A familiar voice entered her ears, "It's okay, Weiss. You're safe, relax..." Looking around, she saw Winter hovering over her, holding her steady with her hand while her other gripped the cane, keeping her upright.

Taking deep breaths, Weiss willed her heart to settle as she watched her older sister gingerly sit in the seat next to her bed. "Where am I?" she asked. Her voice scratched her throat as it left her mouth, making herself wince at the sound and pain. Winter pointed to the glass of water on the table next to the table with her cane as she spoke.

"The infirmary onboard the Mantle of Responsibility. You were brought up on my request to make sure you're okay after your fight with the Knight-Spartan." A throb hit her shoulder at the sound of his title. Jaune Arc, the Mistral champion and the person Atlas knew as the Knight-Spartan. The person responsible for pushing back nearly every Atlesian attack into the heart of Mistral and killing Specialists by the handful. How long ago it felt when she saw the young man smile like a dork while strumming on a guitar to ask her to the dance, she could hardly believe they were the same person.

The water was cold on her tongue and felt instant relief when it cooled her sore throat. "What happened down there?" Weiss asked as she finished half of the glass and held onto it as she began to sit up in her bed. Her core screamed at her to stay down while her shoulder felt like it was about to tear itself off when she put some weight on it to push herself up. Eventually, she made it up with a few seconds of determined struggling.

"A White Fang ambush," Winter said as she settled in her seat, rubbing her leg where the flesh and metal met under her pants. "Only six died, but the Fang managed to make off with crates of supplies when everyone was distracted with the attack at the front gates. Weapons and ammunition were the targets, as well as the assassination of the one in charge, Gift. You're lucky they pulled out when they did, or you might not be alive, Weiss."

No, Weiss thought. I wasn't lucky, and it wasn't the Fang. She would bet her life that it was Yang that entered the tent and killed Gift, but that just brought up so many more questions about the whole thing. Obviously, it was not the White Fang that attacked since Yang was there, but why was she wearing the clothes and hidden so much. Worst of all, because Yang left her alive, she might have accidentally exposed whatever organisation she worked for since the "White Fang" left Weiss Schnee alive...

Touching her face, Weiss hissed as she touched the part on her head that Yang punched and felt the shock of pain cut through her body. "How bad do I look?" she asked as she gently touched around the bruised area.

"I've seen steak less tender, let's put it that way.”

Weiss sighed as she rubbed her shoulder and felt the line of stitches that kept her skin together to heal faster. Her whole body hurt and it was not getting better anytime soon.

"So, what's the plan?" Weiss asked as she looked over at her sister.

"Well, We're starting the final preparations for assaulting Mistral actual. Their forces are pulling almost all of their troops to either defend the city or delaying tactics which-" A ringing in her ear began to rise in volume until it drowned out the voice of her sister. Weiss stared at Winter's moving mouth as she talked about the plan but could not understand what was being said. No sound was registering in one ear and the other was filled with ringing. This was not good.

As subtly as she could, Weiss pushed her finger into her good ear and wiggled it around, trying to get the ringing to stop, but it refused to. A slow panic began to settle in Weiss's chest, unable to hear anything was disorienting as someone opened the curtain to her bed and looked between the two Schnee sisters. The man was in military fatigues with a patch of a blue cross on a red background on his arm. He was obviously one of the doctors on the dreadnaught. He had a clipboard under one arm and a small tray with two mugs on it.

She watched in silence as the doctor and Winter began to converse; both of their lips were moving so fast that Weiss could not keep up with or make sense of any of it. Before long, the doctor turned to her and began to talk to her. Weiss did not know what to respond to something she did not hear, so she just stared and tried to get her mind in order. She could see the worry on her sister's face as she called out her name, or at least, that was what she assumed Winter was saying. What if it never came back? what if she was permanently deaf now.

Luck was on her side, however, as the ringing in her ear finally began to fade away and she heard her name being called. "-iss? Are you okay?" Winter's voice sounded like music to her when her hearing finally returned. She sighed in relief as the panic began to subside and could hear again.

"Sorry, I'm just tired." It was a bad lie, but it was the best she could come up with at the moment. The doctor hummed thoughtfully as he set the tray of drinks down and pulled a small flashlight from a pocket on his chest. Leaning in, he pulled Weiss's eyelid down and shone the light into her eyes before waving it back and forth quickly, slightly blinding her.

"Could be a concussion..." he said more to himself than to the others in the room. "That's a nasty hit, maybe some damage to the brain. We'll set up a scan as soon as we can." He made a note on his clipboard and looked between the two of them. "Just in case, I don't want you to drink anything but water for the time being. Went through the trouble of making tea for the two of you, but that's a shame..." He smiled jokingly as he picked up one of the mugs and sipped it with a hum.

"As I said, General, she'll be in fine in a few days, a week at most with her Aura and some medicine. And Specialist, get some rest and relax, you're done fighting for now." He then nodded to the two women before exiting and pulling the curtain closed as he left.

Weiss heard Winter sigh deeply as she reached over for the other mug and blew on it, pushing some steam away from her face. "You'd be done fighting for good if it were up to me..." Winter mumbled into her tea as she took a sip before making a bitter face and staring down at the liquid, "This is the worst thing I've ever tasted in my life. I know the military doesn't spend much, but we should at least be able to afford a decent cup of tea, it tastes like someone just boiled a leaf to death."

"That's what tea is, Winter."

"Still, he could have put at least one cube of sugar in it or something." She was cut off by a sudden cough while rubbing her throat. "Oh great, it’s stuck in my throat,"

Weiss just smiled as she sipped her water. It was nice to relax with her sister and have some simple banter between the two of them. Before Weiss could say something else, Winter coughed again, and again. Each cough came deeper and carried with it a weight that sounded like she had some kind of infection. Winter began to throw her whole body into a coughing fit as she doubled over before pulling her hands away from her hands and Weiss saw blood dripping from her lips.

Winter's body began to rapidly pale as a stream of blood began to leak from her nose. "Winter!" The older woman fell to the ground and began to shake violently on the floor of the room. Weiss kept screaming her sister's name and jamming her finger into the button to call one of the doctors to her side. For several long seconds, Weiss could do nothing but crawl to the side of the bed and reach out for her sister without falling off. Winter looked up at her, fear deep in her bloodshot eyes as her breathing came in laboured spurts as blood continued to seep from her mouth.

Finally, a team of doctors ripped the curtains open and rushed to her side. Each of them was yelling something as they pulled Winter to her feet and supported her onto a wheeled bed nearby before rushing her to another part of the infirmary. In seconds, she was alone with a pool of her sister's blood quickly staining the white and blue checkered pattern on the floor. Alone, she moved to the centre of the bed and stared out to where they took Winter, waiting for an answer from anyone. She was about to force herself out of the bed to find something out when someone walked in and gently closed the curtains behind him.

"Hello, Ms Schnee," Arthur Watts said as he walked into the room and slipped his hands behind his back, "How are you feeling?"

His greying hair was beginning to spread to the moustache on his lip. Weiss stared at him as she pushed herself back onto the bed and found her throat dry. He stood there, staring at her and waited for her answer.

"I'm alright." She had never heard her own voice so quiet before. She was not sure what she could do right now.

"Well, obviously better than your sister..." He eyed the pool of blood that was still on the ground and carefully stepped over it so he could stand at the foot of the bed. Slowly, he reached out with his hands and gripped the bar at the end of the bed that held her clipboard and leaned in to stare into her blue eyes. "This is what happens when you fail me, Weiss."

"I took the fort!"

"But Alkmene died. It was your job to protect him while doing what he asked, or was that not clear?" Weiss looked back at the blood on the floor and feared for her sister even more now. Was she dead? Did they save her? Could they save her? A thousand thoughts went through her mind as the Chancellor just stared at her. "Well, let's hope you only have to learn this lesson once. I don't like it when my tools fail. Understand?"

Weiss could do nothing but nod, knowing now that he truly had the power to kill off her loved ones. She just witnessed his influence first hand as he poisoned Winter right under her nose, and on the Atlesian Flagship no less. "So, who killed him?" he asked as he leaned back and slipped his hands behind his back like he did not just threaten everything in her life. Weiss had to be careful not to give anything away, or she could lose more than what was left of her family.

"It was a White Fang assassin." That part was at least true.

"Curious then, that the White Fang assassin would kill a random high ranking officer, but leave Weiss Schnee alive, and unconscious at that." He narrowed his eyes at her and stared at her. "Is there something you're not telling me?" he asked dangerously. She knew that with a snap of his fingers, he could probably have one of the engine rooms explode and no one would be the wiser.

"Of course not, sir."

"Then how are you still alive?"

Weiss pooled all of her confidence and determination to sell the last part, the one part that could keep people alive. "Luck, I suppose."

"Luck..." He let the word click off his tongue as he straightened his tie and adjusted the cuffs on his shirt. "Well, let's hope your sister is as lucky as you are. But I'm sure you'll agree with me that her luck might just improve a little when this war is finally over. Wouldn't you agree, Specialist?"

"Yes, Chancellor."

"And I'm sure you'll do everything in your power to end it, won't you, Specialist?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Good. The Fourth Assault will be reaching Mistral actual within the week without any further delays. So make sure you're ready, Specialist." And with that, he left the room.

Weiss was alone with nothing but the weight of the world on her shoulders and a pool of blood that was slowly drying out next to her bed. With a shaky breath, she knew she needed to do something to fix this whole mess, but she must be prepared to do what must be done.


 

Trifa smiled as she pulled the strand of webbed rope from her hand and let it fall to the ground. The red cloaked woman was out cold and Yuma walked over to the edge of the dam to peer at the mass of Grimm they were about to release into the world. "Look at all of them, packed tighter than sardines." Trifa nodded as she looked with him and grinned at the thought of them overrunning the Mistrali and Atlesians that were coming here. Both sides will lose and there will be next to nothing to stop the horde from crashing into the capital city, weakening it for them to sweep in and take everything.

A groan came from the girl behind them as she began to stir in her bindings. "Check on the bomb, Sister Trifa. Make sure we have enough time to be long gone before it goes off. I'll take care of her."

"Yes, Brother Yuma." She turned and walked to the fallen explosive device and checked it over. Everything was still in place and none of the wires were loose. Pushing her wet hair out of her face, she found the timer, a simple kitchen timer that was rigged to the rest of the device, and doubled the time on it before pushing it back inside the bag and closing it. Just as she was about to slide it back in its hiding place, she felt the hair on her arms raise and a chill run down the back of her spine.

Something was wrong. So very wrong.

Before she could think about it anymore, a single rose petal floated into her vision. Confusion stopped any rational thought as she watched it float towards her and land on her arm, only for it to slice open her skin like a razor. Hissing, she held the bleeding wound as she pulled her arm back and stood up, backing away from the razor petal. Turning around, she froze at the sight before her. Brother Yuma was laying on the ground, blood coming out of hundreds of cuts all over his body, and the girl in red was standing over him.

Quickly, Trifa pulled her dagger from its sheath, but in the span it took to pull it free, the girl had already leapt over Yuma's body and was on her. Her hasty attack was knocked back, her weapon lost in the rain as her feet were taken out from under her. Falling on her back, she looked up and saw the massive scythe spinning in the red girl's hands before it came straight down at her. Trifa concentrated all her Aura on the impact zone, but the weight of the weapon and the strength of her arms broke through it like it was paper.

The steel was pushed straight through her body into the stone under her. Trifa felt her insides be rearranged as the massive weapon tore through her like nothing. Shock numbed any pain she may had felt and created a strange, out of body sensation as she coughed up blood. The fear of death was creeping over her as the girl crouched down close and stared into her eyes. The only sound between them was the thunder that was getting louder with each passing lightning strike.

A hand was pressed to her wound, pushing pain through her shocked body before retracting. Trifa watched as the girl pushed her hair out of the way and dragged her bloody hand down her face, painting the right half with her blood. A sick grin formed on her face as her hand reached out, clasped over her mouth, and held her down.

"My enemy..." was the last thing Trifa heard before her world became red like roses.

Chapter Text

A Black Starless Night

Pt. I


The evacuation of Mistral was in full swing. People leaving cars in the middle of the roads when the traffic became too thick, constant announcements over speaker systems reminding people to bring only one case of possessions with them. While civilians were all running moving towards the air docks and sea docks, the military was moving tools and weapons to strategic places all over the city. Motors, heavy machine guns, even a few Paladins that were either stolen or bought off the black market were painted with Mistral colours and positioned to do the most damage.

While the city streets above were buzzing with people, below in the sewers, Blake found herself wading through calf-deep sewage water with her usual team looking for something. She was doing everything she could to breathe through her mouth and not take in the terrible smell that surrounded them. Noir, on the other hand, was holding his nose closed with a pair of earplugs shoved up his nostrils. He was the one leading the group through the labyrinth of tunnels that made up the sewer system of Mistral.

Right behind him was Magnolia, her weapons in hand as everyone checked each tunnel for anyone that could jump out at them. Blake hated it down here. Dark, cramped, and smelling terrible, but she needed to be on this team to find out if their intel was true or not. The group stopped at a ladder that reached to the ceiling where a manhole cover blocked most of the light coming from the sun above them. They all stopped when Noir did as he looked up with his flashlight. "Right, if that's third and tenth, then we need to go east..."

They had been following the map for the last hour and Blake could feel the agitation building in her mind. Finally, they came up to an electrical box and Noir handed the map back to Arnab before walking towards it and opening it. With a low whistle, the man in the wool hat pulled a device from the box and carefully turned it over a number of times. Blake could see it was a kind of bomb made from normal materials one could buy from a basic hardware store. "Looks like your friend was right, Blake."

Ilia Amitola, her friend back when she was in the White Fang; back when she thought she was making a difference by hijacking train shipments of Dust and holding people hostage until their demands were met. She had come to her on the roof after her fight with Neo. Blake was not sure what she would do, but she did not expect her to cry and throw herself into Blake's arms. After she had calmed down, they talked and Blake found out that Ilia had left like Blake had; abandoning the White Fang when their ideals and goals went beyond helping the Faunus and started to hurt the innocent, regardless of what race they were. Then there was Adam. His obsession had completely taken over and his war against the humans raged on.

Blake had brought Velvet to the roof since Ilia was willing to talk about the White Fang movements and their plans. She was hoping to trade those off for a place inside the Black Fang and protection from Adam. The first thing they needed to do was make sure that what she was saying was true, so she made a map of bomb placements throughout the city, and Blake went to investigate.

Now, they knew it was true, so that meant that Ilia could be trusted. Blake was glad for that, she did not need to fight another friend after everything that happened to her. From Ruby to Weiss to Yang, everything was falling apart around her. But with the information that Ilia could give them, it would give them a massive advantage over the White Fang.

Noir continued to examine the bomb and shook his head. "Well? can you disarm it?" Arnab asked as he marked the map.

"Yeah, just give me a second..." Noir said as he continued to turn the explosive in his hand carefully.

Before long, he pulled the touque off his head to reveal a pair of greying wolf ears on top of his head. Holding the explosive up to his ears, he listened carefully before shaking his head. "So, There isn't a timer that I can hear, so it must be remotely activated with some sort of signal." He then began to pick at something with his nail before giving a triumphant 'HA' and pulling something out of it before proceeding to toss the bomb at Arnab; who swore loudly and had trouble catching it, bouncing a few times in his hands before he held it still.

"What the hell is wrong with you!" the large man shouted as Noir began to howl with laughter. Blake felt her own heart nearly jump out of her chest when she saw the bomb so casually tossed through the air. Everyone stared at the wolf Faunus, who was still laughing until Magnolia came up and punched him, hard, in the arm.

"Relax! I took the batteries out!" He wiped the tears from his eyes while holding up a small pack that was once plugged into the bomb. "The only thing that'll set it off is a direct hit to the Dust inside of it, and since it's probably the cheap stuff, it'll take a lot." Blake sighed as she walked up to Arnab and took the bomb from him to look it over. She looked it over and noticed that the amount of Dust that was inside of it was not much, but where it was placed was strategic. If they all went off and blew up the support for the sewers, it would cause complete chaos for everyone on the surface.

With the mission completed, everyone made their way out of the sewers and headed back to the abandoned factory that the Black Fang was currently using as a base. It was near the evening, the sun was setting and everything was starting to grow darker with the amber light from the sun fading. Walking through the hallways, Blake found Velvet standing outside of the break room. She was leaning against the wall until she noticed the feline Faunus when she straightened up and let her arms drop from their crossed position.

"Well?"

"The bombs were where she marked on the map. They're not powerful but since they're placed in the right places, they can do a lot of damage. We only managed to get a few before coming back," Blake informed her as she handed the disarmed explosive over to the leader of the Black Fang. Velvet looked over the bomb in her hand and nodded before slipping it into one of the pouches on her vest.

"We might be able to hack into the signal and disable them, if not I'll send teams to sweep the rest of the sewers for the remaining bombs. I guess that means we can take the rest of what she says at face value." Blake was worried that Velvet would kill Ilia on sight, but agreed to a scouting mission to see if her intel was correct. "I know she is your friend, Blake, but none of the White Fang members has ever come to us before, so I just needed to make sure."

Blake knew the precautions were a little extreme but understood why. With a nod, Velvet turned and opened the door to the small office that was currently being used as a holding cell. Inside, two Black Fang members were holding rifles while Ilia was sitting in a chair against the back of the room. When they entered the room, she looked up and stood up from her seat before holding her hands nervously in front of her. Her eyes locked onto Blake's and a small smile formed on her freckled face.

"We found some of the bombs you showed us on the map. Thank you." With a nod, Velvet ordered the guards out of the room so they could talk more comfortably. "I'm sorry for all the guards and stuff and leaving you in this room for the last few days, but I hope you understand."

"I do. Thank you for listening to me," she said as she took a deep breath, "Adam is going too far with his plans, he needs to be stopped."

"Agreed." Velvet walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. "And thanks to you, we'll be a few steps ahead of him,"

"But not for long. He knows about the Black Fang and has been interrogating people about it. He's not above torture. The things I've seen..." Her voice grew quiet as she took shaky breaths, trying to calm herself. Velvet squeezed her shoulders with both hands and looked into her eyes.

"Thanks to you, we'll be able to put a stop to him."

Ilia nodded and took a few calming breaths before the scarred woman released her and guided her out of the room. The three of them walked around the base as Velvet told her what was going on and what she'll be doing to help fight against the White Fang. With everything set, Velvet left Ilia with Blake and went to assign people to new tasks. Alone with her friend, they sat down on a crate and just watched the people go back and forth, carrying weapons or plans to and from stations to be utilised in the future.

They sat in silence for a long time.

Blake nearly jumped when Ilia broke it. "I'm sorry, Blake," she said just quietly enough for her to hear.

"For what?"

Ilia took her time to answer the question, the seconds ticked by before she opened her mouth again. "After you left us behind, Adam began to blame you for everything. Calling you a traitor who would rather be a pet to the Humans than fight for your freedom. I was too blinded by the pain of betrayal that I followed him through everything. I've done things that I wish I could take back, and I'm sorry for thinking of you that way."

There it was again, the pain in the deepest part of her gut. The pain of betrayal that she had inflicted on her friends. She knew that leaving the White Fang the way she did would have consequences, but she did not expect it to blow up on her friends like it did. Just another person she had hurt in her attempt to fix things. "I'm sorry for putting you in that position Ilia, it wasn't my intention."

"I know, you were just doing what you thought was right." She felt her hand on her shoulder and felt her heart lift just a little bit.

"Thanks."

A flash of gold took her attention from her old friend when Yang entered the large room. She was wearing the long coat that nearly reached the floor and was making her way towards the weights when she saw Blake sitting by the crates. Even the sight of her made her heart soar, only for it to come crashing down when she remembered the fight she had with Neo and the words that they traded. The threat still fresh in her mind as Yang changed her direction and headed right towards them. Blake took a deep breath and carefully looked around for any sight of the smaller woman before Yang finally stopped in front of them.

"Hey, Blake," she said. Yang’s voice was like music to her ears.

"Hey." She was lost in her lavender eyes for a second before she remembered where she was and who she was with. "Oh, uh, this is my friend, Ilia. She was my friend while I was in the White Fang, she defected a few days ago and just got the green light to work with us." Blake gestured to the woman sitting next to her and gestured to Yang. "Ilia, this is Yang, my partner back at Beacon." The two woman nodded and shook each other's hands. She could see the shock on Ilia's face when she gripped the mechanical limb to shake it.

"Nice to meet ya, welcome to the good guys!" Yang said with her usual upbeat attitude. Blake could see the bags under her eyes and her heart lurched a bit, she could see evidence that she was not sleeping at night but she did not know how to help. Swallowing the question, she asked another one.

"How did your mission go?"

The blonde looked back at her and paused. She saw the gentle shaking in her left hand for only a second before she reached into her pocket and pulled out the flask and downed a gulp before capping it. "It went fine," her upbeat voice dipped to a more serious one, "It's scary being out on the front lines, I can't believe it's coming here soon and that we're going to be in the thick of it." Blake nodded, it was going to get much worse before it was going to get better, she knew that. It was the only thing any of them could do.

"Yeah, but Weiss was out there."

"What?"

"Yeah, she was in the tent of the guy I had to take care of." Yang took another sip of her drink before putting the flask back in her pocket.

"What did you do?"

"I panicked and knocked her out. But she might be on her way here with the rest of them so that's going to be a bigger problem." Blake sighed and ran her hand through her hair, trying to figure out what to do now.

"I'm sorry, I know I'm new and all, but who are we talking about?" Ilia piped up with a raised finger.

Blake and Yang looked at each other and shrugged. Since she was on their side and they were not exactly keeping secrets, Blake felt no reason to hide it from her. "Weiss Schnee." The look on the Faunus' face said it all; the look of shock and disgust passed by in a second, but it was still there.

"As in the Schnee Dust Company?"

Blake knew that was coming and Yang cut her off with her reply. "Yeah, but she's cool. She wants to make a change, but I think this war is throwing everyone's priorities to the wind."

"How do you guys know her?"

"She was on our team at Beacon," Blake stepped in, "We had a fight after she found out I was a Faunus, but she was accepting of it after it. She didn't know it was you, right? 'Cause that would ruin everything if Atlas found out it was actually us and not the White Fang that attacked."

"I was covered head to toe in a White Fang uniform, not even a hair was left behind."

Blake nodded and relaxed a bit. With how many spies the people controlling the war had, she was not sure how they react if things went wrong. "Anyways, I gotta go. My girl is waiting for me. Nice meeting you, Ilia." And with that, Yang waved them goodbye and walked away towards the familiar short figure of Neo standing by a door. Blake had to suppress the anger from taking over when she saw her friend bend down to kiss her. Just before they left the room, Neo gave Blake a look before linking her arms with Yang and walking away.

"I can't believe you were friends with a Schnee." Ilia broke through her anger with her voice and Blake took a deep breath to center herself.

"Like Yang said, she's different."

There was a silence between the two of them again before Ilia stood up. "Hey, I'm kinda tired so could you show me where I'll be sleeping?"

"Sure," Blake lead her through the halls to one of the rooms where there were bunk beds all arranged in rows. She checked one of the lockers to make sure one of the beds were not taken and gestured it to her. "This is it, I'm just down the hall in another room if you want to talk." Ilia nodded, her long ponytail shaking with the movement.

"We should catch up, Blake, I've missed you." She smiled at her and approached Blake before she knew it, she was drawn into a hug and she acted automatically with her own arms wrapping around the smaller woman. They held onto each other for a few seconds before releasing and nodding.

"I've missed you too. I'll talk to you later."

With that, they went their separate ways and Blake decided to wander around aimlessly. She ended up on the roof where she was surprised to see someone else sitting on one of the large air units, staring at the setting sun. Emerald looked back at Blake then quickly wiped her face free of tears. With nothing else to do, Blake sat on the ground next to the woman and looked out over the expansive forest that was slowly taking back the parking lot around the building.

They remained silent for the time being. Blake noticed that the other woman was gently turning a small red tube between her fingers, the gentle smell of apples and a flower she could not place coming from the tube. "We're all a mess, aren't we?" Blake broke through the silence after a while. The amber glow covered everything as the stars slowly began to show themselves as the sky above them grew darker and darker. The shattered moon starting to cast it's glow over the world as the sun prepared to dip down the other horizon.

"Oh yeah, we're a regular high school drama." Emerald gave a cynical laugh as she sniffed tears away. "We're in the middle of a war and all we're worried about is if someone loves us back or not. We all fucked up our chances with those people and we're just hoping for a second chance..."

Blake just sighed and rested her head against the cold steel of the air unit. She could feel the vibrations of the motors and the air rushing through it. "Sounds about right..."

This was the first time Blake was alone with Emerald. Every other time she had seen the former enemy she had been talking to Velvet or pouring more booze into Yang's flask to fuel her addiction. "So," Blake broke the silence between them as she looked out to the sky, "Why did you betray Cinder?" she asked finally. Emerald paused before she sighed deeply, she heard the woman shifting around above her before she finally answered.

"I'm not drunk enough to talk about her..." Looking over, she saw the now lounging woman pull a clear, long-necked bottle filled with some brown liquid to her lips and swallowed a few times before pulling it away. "What I got from her was what I thought was love. A few looks and a touch here and there, it was all I needed for her to get me wrapped around her finger. But then I met someone who actually showed me what love truly feels like. And when I looked back at her, I felt hollow. So I left."

As Emerald spoke, her own memories began to replay scenes and feelings she thought she had forgotten. "Yeah, I know that feeling..." Blake let her head lightly tap against the metal housing as she looked up at the darkening sky. From the side, the bottle was passed towards her and she did not have it in her to refuse. She brought the bottle to her lips and let the poison flow inside her. The burning felt almost as painful as her past. "I left the person I thought I loved too..."

"Who's that?"

"Adam Taurus." She put as much spite in her voice as she could as she took another sip, trying to purge the taste of his name off her tongue.

"The fucking White Fang Edgelord?!?" Blake nearly choked on her mouthful when she heard Adam be called that. Nodding while coughing, she passed the bottle back to Emerald who shook her head and began to take her share of the drink.

"Yeah, I mean, looking back at it, all the signs were there. The lying, the need to control everything and how fired up he would get about the simplest things. We were going to make a difference in the world, but then protests started becoming more and more violent. He actually killed a person during one of them and he said he was defending himself, but it happened again and again, each time with the same excuse until he just stopped making excuses."

"The last straw was when we were hijacking a train filled with Dust in Forever Fall. We had just gotten to the shipment when he was about to set charges to blow the whole thing up. When I asked him about the people on the train, he said, 'what about them '. And that's when I knew the person I had fallen in love with before was gone. Or maybe I was just blind the whole time until then..."

They remained like that until the sun was gone completely and they just sat there in silence passing the bottle back and forth until Emerald broke it with a gentle voice. "What was Jaune like before the Fall?" That one question threw Blake through as many loops as it could. She looked up at the woman, who was now laying across the air unit and staring up at the night sky, her dark skin shining in the glow of the moon. Blake had to think about it for a few moments before speaking.

"He was a dork, for one. Always goofing off and reading comics or playing games, completely untrained with how to fight or what to do with his weapons. But he was determined and was always there for all of his friends. Dense as a brick though, he kept going after Weiss, going so far as to play a guitar in front of our dorm room trying to woo her when we all knew Pyrrha liked him. I haven't seen him since the fall, but I've heard rumours about him, people talking about him being the Mistral Champion and that he will push Atlas back."

Emerald hummed above her and she heard a heavy sigh escape her lips before she was quiet again. "What would you do to have the one you love?" she asked finally.

"Everything," Blake's answer came without hesitation, "Everything and anything to get them back."

"Yeah, that's what I thought..."

Chapter Text

A Destiny Burned Away

Pt. I

Some women fear the fire,
Some women simply become it

- R.H. Sin


 

The plan was set, Mistral will fall and Cinder could walk in and take the Relic before the city was completely lost to the Grimm. The only problem was that she lacked the keys to the Relic of Knowledge that were hidden in the city; the location of said vault, and the corresponding Maiden that would open the door to the Relic. Despite her best efforts in the short amount of time she was there, she could find nothing about either one; meaning she would have to ask for help.

She knew that Adam was ignorant of the Relics and the Maidens, so he would give her no answers. Hazel was also keeping a close eye on him, making sure he stayed in line so he had no time to search for her. Leaving only one option that she greatly regretted. As she was leaving the throne room of the White Fang, she could hardly believe how arrogant the man was with his throne room, thinking himself a king when he was a simple pawn.

Leaving with the Atlesian Knight robot, she waited until the doors were closed behind them before turning to it. "Watts..." The robot stopped and turned to face her. Staring into its face, she was sure she could sense the annoyed look on the man's face when she called out to him.

"What is it Cinder, I don't have much time left on this connection..." Just his voice coming from a speaker was enough to push her annoyance to barely manageable levels.

"Lady Salem has tasked me with helping you awaken the Ancient One, as well as reclaiming the Relic from the vault." She just needed the information from him and she could just never speak to him again.

"Has she now?" the robot asked as it turned fully to face her. "Well, who am I to argue with her demands? There's just one thing I have to do before I tell you."

"And what's that, Watts?"

His response was for his robot to pull the rifle that was strapped to its back and shoulder it like the robot it was. It then placed the muzzle of it under its chin and pulled the trigger, sending the round through the robotic skull and severing the connection it had between the two. Cinder watched as the machine struggled to stay on its feet before it fell to the ground like a child's toy that had been discarded since it was broken, not far from the truth.

Cinder just stared at the broken mech, hoping the man behind it caught fire as she stormed out of the White Fang base and got into the waiting airship that would bring her into the city. With all the evacuation ships coming and going, it was simple for her to slip in undetected and even easier for her to find a place for her to call her own until Atlas forces reached the city. She had previously selected an upscale apartment when she first arrived. She was looking forward to starting her search for the Maiden and Relic in the morning after a good rest and a hot shower.

 

The sun had long set by the time she arrived at the apartment she had taken earlier. However, when she opened the door, she saw a single light coming from the end of the hall and the soft sounds of something landing on top of something else. Someone else was here. Readying her powers, Cinder walked towards the light and was ready to burn anyone who dared trespass on what she had claimed. Rounding the corner, she stood still as she saw the two people she really did not want to see again in her life sitting in the open kitchen on two chairs pulled from the dining room.

The man was leaning back in his seat, his ashen hair neatly gelled back with the sides of his head shaven down to just a buzz. He was wearing a long dark jacket that was open with a second jacket inside. He was simply passing time by throwing cards from his hands into a wastebasket that was near where Cinder was standing. She watched as a single card was lazily tossed and landed inside, joining the growing pile that was already there. With no other cards on the ground, she had to assume that he had managed to get every card into the basket.

In the other chair, a woman was sitting on the lap of another woman. While Cinder did not know who the third woman was, she knew the one who was currently sitting on the lap of the other. Her bright, fiery orange hair with streaks of yellow blended in forming a flame that was pulled back into a ponytail. Like the man, she had the sides shaved down to a buzz. Her outfit was dark like his but much more revealing, with one bare arm and a zipper pulled down to reveal generous amounts of cleavage. She was busy cooing over the woman she was sitting on, gently stroking the third woman's cheeks and staring deep into her eyes.

When Cinder walked in, they looked up from what they were doing, they both had sunglasses on despite the sun already having gone down. "Ah, our Maiden finally comes home," the man said with a smile spreading across his face, " We've been waiting for you, Cinder."

"Ash, Ember." Cinder acknowledged the siblings with a simple nod. "What are you doing here? I thought you were tracking down the Winter Maiden," she asked as she walked further into the room and folded her arms over her chest. Something she found harder to do since it hurt to do anything with her arm now after Ruby burned her.

"Lady Salem has requested for us to provide assistance to your goal, Cinder," Ash said with a smile as he spread his hand before her. A gentle giggle came from Ember as she continued to fawn over the woman. "And here we are."

"I don't need your help." Cinder was quick to dismiss them, the faster they were gone, the faster she could wash her body. Just being around them made her skin crawl.

"Oh, don't be like that, Cinder dear. We've brought you a present." With a gesture, Ember got off the woman and stood next to the chair.

"Stand." Ember's voice was stern and hard. The woman obeyed instantly. Standing before her, Cinder could see she had short brown hair, only one of her eyes opened to reveal a bright blue orb. She was only wearing a large white t-shirt that came down to her thighs, exposing fresh scabs up and down her legs, and she could see a large scar that encompassed nearly her full bicep on her left arm. Cinder could see her shaking as she stood there, her one eye not looking up at her.

"Cinder, this is the Spring Maiden." Ash gestured with his hand to the woman who was standing before her. Cinder could not believe it, half her work was already done thanks to them. But she knew they wanted something in return, they always did. "Isn't that right, Vernal?"

"Y-y-y" Before Vernal could finish the world she was stuttering on, Ember came around with a heavy hand to the side of her head and knocked her to the ground with a solid thud. Cinder flinched at the sudden brutality from the woman while Ash simply sat in his chair without a care in the world. Calmly, Ember told Vernal to stand and patiently waited for her to push herself to her feet, barely containing her sobbing as she stood before the sister. Ember scanned the woman up and down before winding up and bashing her face with a brutal backhand, making Cinder flinch again as a small splatter of blood landed on her face.

"Brother asked you a question, Vernal! We removed some of your teeth, not your tongue!" Ember barked at Vernal as she began to cry and try to push herself away from the imposing woman who was now towering over her. Blood was seeping out from her mouth from where she was hit. Ash simply pulled a card from the deck in his hand and lazily tossed it across the room and into the bin like it was nothing. Cinder knew they were brutal, even by her standards, but this was one of the few times she had witnessed it first hand.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" the bleeding woman began to cry out as she was pinned to the ground by a leather boot on her chest. Her tearful apologies momentarily stopped Ember's rampage, but it only came back hotter than before.

"You're sorry! I'll show you sorry! She then proceeded to kick and stomp on the woman, staining the carpet with her blood. "Stop crying! I'll give you something to cry about!" With her hand, she reached down and gripped Vernal's hair and yanked her up onto her knees while her other hand went to her belt and began to undo it angerly. It only then did Ash even look over in their direction and sighed deeply.

"Sister dear." But she ignored him as her belt came off and Vernal was doing her best to stifle her cries as Ember was preparing something horrible to put her through again. "Ember." Ash only raised his voice a little, but it was enough for her to notice and stop her actions. The only sounds in the room were Vernal's ragged breaths as she struggled to keep her crying to a minimum volume. With a glare that could kill, she stared at her brother from over her shoulder and waited for him to speak.

"It would be rather impolite to spoil our gift to the Fall Maiden, wouldn't it,"

Ember looked at him and clicked her tongue before throwing Vernal to the ground, where she curled up to protect herself the best she could. "I suppose you're right, Brother mine," she spoke as she walked up to Cinder, adjusting her tight leather pants back into place and doing up the belt. "There's no fun in playing with a toy that's already broken." She paused next to Cinder and dragged her thumb down her cheek, collecting the splatter of blood before sucking it off her finger. "It a shame, she was really fun to play with..." she pouted behind her sunglasses as she walked into the kitchen and began to scour the fridge for something.

"Now now, we'll find a new toy for you to play with," Ash reassured her as he flicked his wrist and the deck of cards disappeared with a blink of an eye. "For now, we should concentrate on helping Cinder find the Vault, don't you think so?" he asked her. She wanted nothing to do with them, but she knew that if she failed Salem again, she would not be getting any hospitality from her, nor could she hide with people like Ash and Ember at her disposal.

"Perhaps the Headmaster of the Academy could give you some insight?" Cinder offered, just trying to get them out of her place.

"What a wonderful idea," Ash agreed as Ember walked past her with a bottle of water in her hand. "He's on our payroll anyways, I'm sure he'll give us all the information we need. Sister dear, go get ready to visit the headmaster." With a nod, Ember turned to leave, but not before staring at Cinder and reaching out with a gentle hand and traced the ridge of her mask.

"Such a shame, I always liked your face,"

"Leave," Cinder growled at her, her Maiden powers flaring in an unspoken threat. Ember pulled her hand away and walked past her down the hall to the front door.

The man with ashen hair got up from his seat and walked towards her. She wanted to get out of his way, but she was stronger than him, she needed to be the bigger person. "I hope you use your gift well, Cinder," he told her callously as he turned to look back at the woman he had presented her with. She was still on the floor, blood leaking from her mouth as she tried her best to get to her feet using one hand. Eventually, she managed to stand on her own, albeit it still shaking from what trauma she had endured at their hands.

"Brother mine, we need to leave if we want to get to the station on time!" his sister called out from the hallway. Ash simply smiled and turned back to the Fall maiden.

"Coming, Sister dear!" he called past Cinder. Looking back down at her, she could see herself in the reflection of his sunglasses as he leaned in close. "Remember who gave you this gift, my Maiden. And remember who asked us to help you."

"I don't need your help," Cinder snapped back at him.

He just gave a soft chuckle as he scratched his cheek lightly. "Of course, but what kind of person would I be if I didn't give my offerings to you?" Cinder narrowed her eye at him as Ember called out to him once more from outside the door. "Regardless of everything, Cinder. Try not to fail again. After all, you more than anyone knows that everything burns..." He then leaned in close to her; she could feel his breath on her skin and she felt disgusted by his presence. He pressed his lips to her scarred cheek in a quick, fluttering kiss; before his whisper entered her ear, " Everyone burns... "

A disgusted chill went down her spine as he slipped past her and left the apartment with a gentle click of the door. With them gone, she turned her attention to the woman they left her with. Walking up to her, she inspected her carefully. Her left arm hung loosely at her side while her left eye did not open despite tears still coming from her right side. A sense of dread filled her stomach as she began to notice a pattern. Reaching up, she carefully pushed down on her cheekbone, opening the eyelid to reveal an empty space where it should have been.

Ordering her to open her mouth, she did so and she saw all of the teeth on the left side of her mouth were removed. Grabbing her left arm, Vernal cried out in pain as Cinder felt everything from her shoulder all the way down to her fingers. All the bones were missing from her arm and the scar on her bicep looked like it was from her skin being flayed off; not deep enough to pull the bones out from there. Cinder realised what she was staring at now.

They had damaged Vernal in the same way that her own body was damaged. Her left side was covered in burns and twisted flesh, a sick mirror of her own injuries. She was furious with their actions, she wanted to burn this woman to ashes but she could not since she needed her powers to open the door. She cursed Ash and Ember loudly as she lost her temper and threw one of the chairs they had set up across the room and smashed a wall full of photos of the family that lived there before.

Vernal flinched and held her one working hand in front of her face, hoping to defend against her anger. Cinder stared at the woman before her, she was the Spring Maiden, a walking god made in the image of man like Cinder. Just what had Ash and Ember done to her to break whatever spirit she had before, to degrade her so fully that she would not even bring her Aura up when she was being beaten on by Ember. They were sadists in the highest order, deriving their pleasure from the pain of others.

Cinder stared at the woman, her broken reflection and pointed to a door. "Wash yourself, I don't want to hear a peep out of your until we leave, understand?"

"Y-Yes Lady Cinder" Her voice was quiet and broken as she quickly left Cinder alone in the room to wash the blood off her face and clothes the best she could. At least it would be easy to control her, she was already broken. Not like Emerald or Mercury, but she had made mistakes with them, she only needed Vernal until the end of the week then she could deliver her to Salem and she would do whatever she wanted with her.

She stared out over the darkened city, only a few lights were on now as everyone was trying to leave. Knowing the siblings, they would probably grow bored and start killing homeless people or find someone desperate enough to willingly go with them, only to become their next victim.

 

This was far from the worst she had seen them do. She had been with them while they 'interrogated' someone for information. A man strapped to a chair, screaming as Ash and Ember stood around him, each of them bloodying their hands as the pried information from him. The first thing to go was his fingernails. One by one, Ember took pleasure in hearing him cry out in pain as she dug a pair of pliers under the nail and slowly pull it out to stretch the agony, humming happily as she did so.

Then Ash always asked the questions, he was never one to raise his voice. His calm tones were always more unsettling than anything as he made knives and cards disappear in his hands. When Ember was done with his nails, it was his turn to play with their victim. She did not know who made him scream the loudest. While Ember pulled his nails off, Ash went for the bones. One by one, starting with each individual one in his hands. Of course, Ember was always the impatient one and would dive right in when she could not wait any longer.

Rape, mutilation and flaying were just a few of the things she would do to her victims. Drawing such intense pleasure from their pain she would moan with their screams. If they liked someone, they would keep them as a pet, only to draw their suffering out slowly. If not, then their end would come sooner or later by their hands, but never before they got their fill. Cinder did not know how long she stayed in that room with them; when it was all over, all that remained was body barely held together. Everything that could be used to identify his body was removed by knife or pliers.

"The Fall Maiden is in Southern Vale," Ash told her as he used a cloth to wipe the blood off his blades while Ember was busy putting her clothes back on.

"He told us that an hour ago." Cinder said as she eyed up the man.

"Well, what kind of professional would I be if I didn't make sure."

 

Cinder was pulled back from her memory when she caught Vernal's figure reflected in the window. "Sleep on the couch. Try not to get anything dirty." Her voice was sharp as she stormed to the bedroom only to stop short of slamming the door closed. She all but tore the mask from her face and her gloved fingers ghosted over the exposed bone that was burned away by the flash of silver all those years ago. The itch had returned in full force and it took everything she had not to scratch at the back of her hollow eye socket. Ash and Ember had done so much more than just remind her of was done to her.

 

Their cruelty truly knew no bounds.

Chapter Text

A Red (Like Roses)

Pt. II

Every nightmare just discloses
It's your blood
That's red
Like roses.

-Red Like Roses Part II 

Jeff Williams


 

She stood over the dead body, the life torn from her soul as the rain soaked through her clothes and washed the blood off skin and stone alike. Her cloak sagged and felt heavier than she had ever felt before. Her skin had felt cold for so long that she no longer felt it, numb to the sensations around her. Water dripped off her crimson-tipped hair, making it stick to her face. The combined weight of the water and ammunition strapped to her body made it hard to breathe easily.

But the Red Death had never felt more alive.

She could not stop the wicked smile that crawled across her lips as she used one hand to wipe her face clean of excess water before her other hand was dipped back into the blood of her enemies and brought down the right half of her face, renewing the paint that had begun to be washed away by the rain already before turning to watch as Atlas soldiers rushed towards her position, weapons drawn and aimed at her. A small smile crept across her face as she reached into her pouch and pulled a booster packet of the Aura Stimulant out.

With her teeth, she pulled the cap off to expose the small needle before thrusting it into her thigh, filling her body up with the high that only came from her Aura rushing back to her. A squad of soldiers all took cover and aimed their rifles; the Red Death only had a second to summon her rose petals to surround her, cloaking her body and clouding their view of her as bullets flew across the gap between them. With her petals cloaking her body, she was able to dodge and roll her way towards them unharmed until she was close enough to end her enemy.

Unfolding the blade with a flick of her wrist, she spun over their heads before landing. With the momentum, she spun while crouching to arc her blade across each of their throats and chests. They all stood for a few seconds before each of them fell to the ground with blood pouring from their wounds, leaving the Red Death to stand up from her crouch. Another group of soldiers saw this happen and she saw the fear in their eyes as she turned to face them.

Frozen in fear, they simply did not move as she reached back and swung her scythe in a wide arc, sending a wave of petals in their direction to distract them as she charged forward. Using the momentum from her weapon, she launched herself forward into the group. Bullets easily whizzing past her as slashed and cut her way through soldiers like paper. One person had run out of ammunition and was trying to put a new magazine in, but his fear made his hands clumsy and he bumbled with his weapon.

Slowly, drawing out his fear, the Red Death stalked towards him, her petals surrounding her like locusts as she took careful, slow steps. The closer she got, the more panicked he became until he gave up on his weapon and threw it to the ground. With no other options, he turned and sprinted away from her as fast as he could. Calmly, the Red Death folded the weapon back up and took careful aim at the back of his knee before pulling the trigger and making him fall to the ground, separating limb from body.

She followed his cries of agony as he tried to crawl away from her. A tune met her lips as she hopped over bodies and sandbag barricades, humming happily as she made her way towards the bleeding man. He looked over his shoulder and his cries increased in volume as he dragged what was left of his leg across the ground, leaving behind a crimson smear that was already being washed away by the rain. Stopping at the discarded leg, she leaned down to pick it up before casually tossing it over the side for the Grimm to devour.

When she finally reached him, she stomped on the blown out knee and caused him to cry out loudly in pain. "PLEASE! I HAVE A FAMILY! DON'T KILL ME PLEASE!" his voice carried through the air as he begged for his life. Slowly, she slipped the tip of the scythe under his chin and his begging and cries quieted down as his whole body shook. This man was the enemy, and there was no mercy for the enemy.

"I will paint this world, red like roses." She pulled her arm back and his head was separated from his body. She watched as it rolled for a second before stopping and spinning in place, to stare at her. His eyes were hidden behind the combat helmet that Atlesians always wore over their heads. Stepping on the body to get to it, she picked it up and examined it as she turned it from side to side, to look at every angle. With a bloody hand, she painted the right half of his face with his own blood before setting it back on top of the body. Painted to perfection.

Looking back from where she came, she saw a group of Mistrali soldiers making their way to the dam wall to secure it. Each of them had their weapons ready, but none of them were pointed at her. When they made sure everything was safe, they all took a more relaxed state as one of them walked up towards her. "Well, you've made a mess of this, haven't you..." he said as he looked over the bloody bodies that littered the ground.

"The enemy still lives," she told him as he looked over the side of the dam to inspect the mass of Grimm that were all getting riled up because of how many people were near them now. But between the sheer rock cliffs that surrounded them and the rain making every surface slick, it was next to impossible for them to get any hold on anything. But the determination of the mindless was infinite, and a few more determined Beowolves with longer claws were able to get a few feet above the horde before falling back into the masses.

"Where?" he asked as he turned back to face her; but when he did, he was met with the muzzle of Crescent Rose. Before he could say anything, he was shot in the chest with enough force to launch him off the edge and down into the Grimm pit. The people who came with him all looked to see where the sound had come from and in the moment of confusion, the Red Death used that to her advantage. She fired two more times into the chests of the Mistrali soldiers before the rest of them dove into cover.

In their confusion, they had no idea where they were being shot from until one of them called out to her to get to cover before her head exploded into a shower of blood and bits. It was almost too easy for her, she jumped over barricades and swung her scythe, killing everything that was her enemy. She watched as one of them tried to get onto the radio but found his throat slit open when one of her petals danced across his neck. With the rest of the Mistrali still holding by the destroyed tanks on the far side of the dam, it would be quick work for her to take them out.

Turning to start walking back to the Mistrali line, she stopped when she saw the one person she really did not want to see right now. Standing over Ruby, her white cloak fluttered in the storm as her silver eyes bore into the Red Death. Her clothing looked much like her own with the colours changed. Her shirt was a basic black with a white trim, same with her skirt. Black leggings over large combat boots, the spitting image of her daughter. The Red Death let out a small chuckle as she brought her weapon to her shoulder and aimed at Summer Rose.

"Ruby can't save you now." With a grin, she pulled the trigger and sent a high calibre round singing through the air as Summer made no move to dodge it. The Red Death watched as her shoulder was torn apart by the bullet and her flesh was scattered to the wind, only for it to turn to white petals. She watched as the petals fluttered back to Summer Rose and reformed her body like nothing had happened. Losing her smile, the Red Death took aim and fired twice more into her body, carving away half of her stomach and her chest.

She watched as her body was reformed with the petals as they settled on her body. When she was sure the Red Death was done, Summer took a step towards her with the look of death in her eyes. "Ruby can't save you now," Summer said her words back to her before charging forward, her white cloak flowing behind her as she made quick work of the distance between them. The Red Death only had a few moments to bring the weapon to block a powerful punch from the mother, her fists channelling Aura through them as she descended upon her.

The Red Death fought with Summer over top of the broken dam and the bodies of the fallen; flashes of white and red going back and forth as they clashed with each other. The Red Death was a soldier, killing was in her nature and she never hesitated, but Summer was a full Huntress, hunting was in her blood. She was doing everything she could to stay inside of the Red Death's reach, rendering her scythe useless in such close combat.

The Red Death was forced to keep backing up, trying to find a chance to swing her weapon with full lethality before Summer could finish her off. The Red Death saw a kick coming and forced herself to take it in the stomach, sending her away with the Aura coursing through Summer's body. With the distance between them, dark reflection finally found her chance as she wound up her body for a large swing of her scythe. When Summer came close enough, she swung the weapon and as she predicted, Summer scattered into white petals before reforming but it was too late.

Charging forward suddenly just as Summer reformed her body, she shoulder checked her opponent and sent her to the ground. The mother could only scatter and reform when she was concentrating on it, anything that caught her off guard would not cause her to dissipate. With this, the Red Death went on the offensive. Using her scythe as more of a tool to get around, she stabbed the tip of the blade into the stone dam and kicked off a wall, swinging herself around and kick Summer in the face.

Like before, to avoid any real damage, she scattered, but as she was coming back, she fired the weapon and sent the blade right for her neck; forcing the mother to concentrate her Aura so she was not decapitated instantly. They were both forced to the ground, slipping on the wet surface as a bright flash of lightning blinded them and a sudden crack of a tree being struck nearby, setting it aflame. The Red Death quickly got up and rushed to Summer before she could do the same. Kicking her onto her back and stomping on her chest, she held the barrel of the gun to her face and fired.

The woman scattered into the wind and reformed away from her. Summer was having trouble breathing as she clutched her chest, rage dripping off her face as her hair stuck to her skin. "Give it up, Summer! You can't protect Ruby from the world forever!"

"I don't have to protect her from the world. Only from you!"

"You're a fool!" the Red Death screamed, shaking her head, "Her friends abandoned her, her own family left her, all she has is me to protect her!"

"You're a monster!" Summer cried out as she balled her hands into fists.

"And you're weak! The code of Huntsmen and Huntresses is useless in a world filled with war! The only way to survive is to fight and kill and never stop until everything is dead! Only then will she be safe!"

Summer just shook her head. "You're mad."

"And you're not willing to make the sacrifices needed to survive."

With another flash of lightning, the deafening boom of thunder disoriented them for a brief moment, but it was enough for the Red Death to make her move. Charging forward, she threw a wave of crimson rose petals towards her, forcing her to block them with her Aura and opening her up for an attack from her scythe. With a slice to her midsection, she watched as Summer was torn apart and was beginning to reassemble. The Red Death used this as she moved with the momentum and brought the back of her foot up and connected to Summer's face with a wicked kick.

The Red Death watched as Summer rolled onto the ground and quickly righted herself fast enough to stop the dark reflection from landing on top of her with a solid stomp. Summer charged forward and quickly caught the weapon before it could be swung and held it with her own strength. The Red Death struggled to push her away, their strength equal to each other's as they fought for control of the weapon. "Why are you so hell-bent on killing everyone?" Summer asked through gritted teeth as she struggled to gain control.

"Because they are not perfect," the Red Death began, "The only way to find something that is pure is to find something that can't be broken. Friendships, love, people, all of these things broke Ruby and turned her into what she is now. People killed her friends, her love was betrayed and her friendship was broken by those who she trusted the most. She has nothing but me!" Suddenly, the weapon folded up into the rifle and she used this distraction to move it suddenly so it was aimed just under Summer's chin. A round was fired and she just barely moved out of the way for the projectile.

Their struggle renewed as the barrel was trying to be forced to aim at either one of them. "But why are you doing all of this!" A crack of lightning hit one of the buildings on the dam left a huge scorch mark that ran down the simple building, the boom of the thunder nearly drowning out Summer's question.

"The only way to find something that can't be broken is to break everything." The Red Death leaned in close as she saw the horror in Summer's silver eyes. "And I will paint everything, red like roses."

A sudden boom shook the dam and the Red Death looked around in the confusion. She saw a plume of black smoke coming from the outer wall of the dam, which was quickly followed by a second explosion, and a third. Cracks began to spider around their feet as the Grimm behind the dam began to roar and cry out, desperate to escape. Three more explosions at the base of the dam echoed out as they both looked at the satchel holding the final bomb.

With a sudden headbutt, Summer disorientated the Red Death and stole the weapon from her hands. Before she could say anything, she turned and sprinted for Ruby, who was lying next to the final bomb and quickly threw her over her shoulder before sprinting towards the Mistrali reserves that were by the tanks. Swearing, the Red Death took off after them, she needed to get the weapon back to paint the world. The Red Death sprinted to catch up, but they were back in the deep mud and it slowed her down significantly and she was too slow to catch the white cloaked woman.

When they arrived at the group, Summer set Ruby down next to one of the blown-out tanks before one of the officers came up to her. "Maam, just what the hell is going on over there?" he asked as he looked between Summer and the dam as another explosion sent stone tumbling to the valley below.

"The White Fang sabotaged the dam with bombs and it's about to explode releasing all the Grimm that's it's been blocking." Summer quickly spoke as she held the weapon securely in her hands and away from the Red Death. "The last bomb is about to go off, pull everyone back and form a defensive perimeter at the mouth of the valley and send a message to Mistral asking for as many Huntsmen they could send before-" She could not get the last part off as the next bomb went off and the valley was filled with the sounds of stone being moved from its place.

Everyone watched in horror as large chunks of the dam wall were falling off from where they stood for years and tumbling to the ground. The Red Death could feel the vibrations in the ground as the middle of the dam fell in a pile of dust and rubble. The dust was quickly being suppressed by the rain, and she saw the Grimm sprinting out of the hole.

Hundreds of them were all clawing over each other and screaming as they all but fought each other for the freedom they had been wishing for since they had been trapped here for years. Without wasting any more time, Summer turned and shouted at the man to get going and everyone quickly turned and sprinted back the way they came, getting back into vehicles and yelling into comm systems for reinforcements for an imminent Grimm attack.

Turning to the edge of the valley, Summer walked to the edge and watched as the tide of blackness spread through the valley floor. "Ma'am, we're waiting on you, let's go!" Summer turned back to the officer and shook her head. "You go ahead, I'll slow them down here."

"What? Are you crazy?"

The Red Death scoffed at that question, earning a dirty look from Summer. "No," she said calmly, "I'm a Huntress." With that, she turned and ran away from the edge before turning back to it and sprinting at it with all of her strength. The Red Death watched as she ran past everyone and leapt from the valley edge and sailed through the air, her white cape flowing behind her as she used Crescent Rose to push her further into the middle of the valley before she finally began her decent.

She watched as the caring mother fell through the air and landed on the ground. From where she stood, she could not see exactly what was happening, but she saw that Summer was carving out a small area for her to fight in with the borrowed sniper-scythe. All the Grimm that were around her turned towards her and began to surround her; with wide swings of her weapon she cleaved them into pieces, but it was quickly becoming too much for even her.

She stopped and the Red Death could feel something coming. A small ray of light was beginning to come off the woman, a single beacon in a tide of darkness. As the light began to get brighter and brighter, the Grimm that was charging towards her suddenly began to stop and turn back, fighting against the tide to try and escape whatever the woman was doing. With an echoing scream that overtook the rain around them, she erupted into a ball of light that quickly expanded from her, consuming Grimm in its path.

The Red Death could do nothing but cover her dark eyes as she was blinded by a silver light.

Chapter Text

A Yellow Setting Sun

Pt.II


 

"Are you sure you're ready for this?"

Yang stood in the middle of the woods just outside the Black Fang base. She barely heard Emerald's question, since she was devoting almost her entire mind to just breathing. Before stood Neo, umbrella in her hand and a worried look on her face. Everyone knew what was about to happen, but Yang needed this to happen. Her mouth felt dry as her heart threatened to explode out of her chest; she could feel the slight tremor in her hand coming. To distract herself, she reached behind her, pulled the flask out of its devoted pocket, and took a mouthful of the drink. With a final nod, she put it away and tilted her neck to one side and then the other.

"Yeah, I'm not going to get better without pushing myself." She did not know if she was trying to convince the two women in front of her or herself, but she could not back down now; she needed to do this.

"But you don't get over your fear of water by being thrown into the deep end of a pool, Yang," Emerald stated with mild concern. She ignored her and just nodded to Neo, who nodded back and turned to Emerald with another nod. The woman just rolled her eyes and began to walk over to a fallen log to sit down. "Fine, suit yourself; but don't say that I didn't warn you!"

With one last breath, Yang took one look at her lover and soaked in the sight. A last little bit of calm settled over her before she closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. When she opened them, Neo was gone, and Adam stood in her place. Just the sight of him made her heart pound and a cold sweat begin to drip down the back of her neck. She stared at the man of her nightmares for a few moments before she took a step back and flicked her wrists. Ember Celica expanded up her wrist while the small barrel port opened on her artificial arm. She raised her hands and got ready for the fight before her. Adam began to walk towards her, sword at his side with a hand on the hilt, ready to start.

Yang knew she might have pushed it too far when she asked Neo not to stop the fight if she got a hard hit on her. They were going for something closer the Aura loss rules she had in school, but could Yang stay in control long enough to actually follow through was the question everyone had in the back of their minds.

 

Yang acted first, her panic getting the better of her. She launched herself with her weapons and flew towards him, only to veer off to the side suddenly with a shot to the side, avoiding a slash from the crimson blade. As soon as her feet landed on the ground, she launched herself towards him again, this time leading with her metal arm that was glowing a bright yellow from her Aura channelling through it. When he went to block the attack, Yang grabbed the blade with her metal hand and pulled it to the side to land a hit with her left fist, only for it to be blocked by the sheath.

Breaking up the stalemate, they jumped away from each other only to circle and go at it again. Yang had to make sure she used her metal arm with some Aura focusing to block the sharp blade that Adam swung expertly. Slashes and kicks were met with fists and sheaths, the longer the fight went on, the tighter her chest felt. Everything she did, he met her effortlessly with blocks and dodges. With a yell, Yang tried to push through his blocks with strength alone.

She managed to knock the blade out of the way and opened him to a hard left hook that sent him skidding along the ground while struggling to stay on his feet. He quickly slipped the blade back into his sheath and dashed from side to side, forcing Yang to back up several steps until he was at her face and lashing out at her. The sounds of steel on steel echoed through the air as she tried her best to block each of the slashes until a foot to her face caught her off guard.

She tried to bend back as far as she could but did not block the point-blank shot to her stomach. Grunting in pain, she used that to fuel her semblance; she could already feel her eyes shifting in hue as she struggled to breathe. Before she could fully recover, she had to dodge three quick slashes and then jump out of the way of a final slash that just barely missed the tip of her nose. She could see her own reflection in the metal of the blade as it flew past her.

Spinning out of the way, she ducked under another slash and popped up with a hard uppercut. A shiver went down her spine when she heard the sound of teeth slamming against each other from her attack, but she needed to keep the momentum in her favour. With a round from her weapon, she sent her elbow into his solar plexus, knocking the wind from his lungs and putting him in the perfect position for her to grab his neck and flip him over her shoulder to throw him to the ground.

He let out a grunt as he landed on his back and stared up at her through his Grimm mask. Pulling her arm back, she was about to land a massive blow to his face when he aimed his sheath to her face and fired. She did not feel any actual impact come from it, but there was a bright flash and the sound of a gunshot, disorientating her and forcing her to back away. When her senses came back, she saw Adam right in front of her, a smirk on his face and his hand on the blade that was still in its sheath.

Everything went still… her mind stopped and her body froze. She did nothing as the blade shot out of his sheath and the slash came towards her. The blade was coming at her and she could do nothing. She could smell the smoke of buildings and bodies burning around her. The sick oily scent of Grimm Dissipation mixed with the smoke as her vision was filled with red, the crimson blade just barely ghosted across her stomach, but she felt every little bit of it.

That was when the pain started.

Though the wound happened five years ago, it felt like it was happening to her again just now; a shock of pain so fierce it brought Yang to her knees. As she gripped the stub that was once her arm, all around her was smoke and fire. Adam was still walking towards her as tears began to slowly roll down her face. His red blade reflecting her own fear back at her, shining in the light of the fire that was once her school. She fell back and began to drag herself as far away from Adam as she could without looking away from him.

Her voice was lost in her throat as she just tried to get away from him. Her breaths came up short and shallow. Black began to creep in all around her and she could do nothing but shut her eyes and wait for her end to come. Whimpering into her arm as she tried to hide in as small a form as she could make herself, she hoped Adam would just pass her over and find some other hapless person to torment and leave her alone. She had been tormented by him enough.

A soft poke to her hand made her jump and look up, only to find that she was no longer at the burning rubble that was Beacon Academy. She was back in the woods outside of the Black Fang base. In front of her was a set of brown and pink eyes, her brows pinched together in worry as she crouched down to Yang's level. Behind her, Emerald was standing nearby, an equally worried expression on her face mixed with guilt. Her attention was taken away from the illusionist when Neo gently poked her hand again.

Looking at her, Neo made exaggerated movements of her breathing and Yang began to follow, releasing a breath she did not know she was holding until it escaped her lungs. Dragging a shuddering breath back into her body, the black spots began to recede as Yang followed Neo's instructions and just kept breathing until she finally calmed down. After some time, Neo leaned in and pressed their foreheads together and just stared into her eyes.

They stayed like that for some time until Yang finally swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded gently. She dragged her hands down her face, trying to clear it of the tears she had shed and only being a little surprised by the chill of her metal arm against her bare skin. "Sorry, Shortcake...." Yang finally managed to croak out with a heavy sniff and a nod before she pushed herself to her feet and used the black glove she wore with her weapon to wipe the remaining tears away and dry her face.

Neo just shook her head and then took her hand and gave it a squeeze as Emerald walked towards her slowly, almost unsure what to do at this point. She was stopped when Neo turned her head suddenly and let her cold, white glare bore into her. "That wasn't me!" the woman yelled as she gestured to the shaken Yang. "I dressed you up like I always do, whatever she saw after she started screaming has nothing to do with me!" Neo turned to stalk towards her when Yang shot her arm out and grabbed her, stopping her from doing anything she might regret.

"Neo," her voice was still shaky. The smaller woman turned and placed her hands on her arms, sliding them down to hold her hands as she looked up through the curtain of gold to look into her lavender eyes. "She's right, I don't think it was her that did that to me." A gentle squeeze anchored her as tears began to threaten to fall from her lavender eyes again. "I thought I was doing better... But I don't think I am. I don't know if I'll ever be okay again..." Neo just shook her head and released her hands to gently tap at her own wrist before placed a hand on Yang's chest, just over her heart and then on her forehead before tapping on her wrist again.

"Time will heal you, but it will take time"

Yang let out a heavy sigh as she mentally translated what she thought Neo was saying to her. "He's out there, somewhere, he could just waltz up any day and I'll just freeze in front of him! I can barely sleep without his face tearing me apart from the inside!" Restless feet began to carry her as her hands ran up her face to slip her fingers through her hair, the muted sensations echoing through her Aura-infused metal arm. With nothing to hold her still, she gripped her locks and began to pull, the pain cutting through some of the fog that had closed in around her mind.

"How am I supposed to save my sister if I can't even save myself! How can I do anything..." Tears began to slip down her face again as she struggled to breathe. Everything was closing in around her, her vision was going blurry as Neo and Emerald began to move towards her, worry heavy on their blurry faces. Shuddering sobs croaked out of a tired throat as the smaller woman wrapped her arms around Yang’s waist and rested her head on her chest. Emerald was standing close with a hand on her back, rubbing away the pain.

Yang just stood there, unsure of what to do as everything began to come out, "I just, don't know how to do anything anymore..." Her words became nothing more than mummers hidden inside a cracking voice and sobbing wails. Time passed around them and she did not know how long she stood there for, just holding onto Neo, her only anchor in a dark world of demons from her past. At some point, Emerald had left them, probably sick of being around someone so depressing when her own sad world was already so flooded with her own demons of unrequited love.

 

Eventually, her breathing evened out and she finally stopped crying, heavily sniffing as she tried to control her body while wiping her tears off her face. "I'm sorry, Neo. I keep losing it and it's not fair to you..." Neo just shook her head and gave her a smile. Running her hands over her cheeks, taking the tears away as she stood up on her tippy toes and pulled down on Yang's jacket to close the gap between them. A soft, gentle kiss settled her heart and it felt like a weight was slowly being lifted off her shoulders.

When they broke apart, she smiled at her and took a deep, calming breath. Letting the gentle scent of strawberries and chocolate fill her nose, a sense of ease finally settled onto her as they just stood in the middle of the forest in each other's embrace. Finally, after one or two kisses, they separated and Yang felt better than she had in a long while. Yang stroked Neo's cheek with her fingertips, feeling the softness of her skin on her own.

"Thanks, Shortcake," she whispered to her.

Neo smiled back before pulling away and taking Yang’s hand in her own. Together, they walked back to the base, ignoring the looks some of the other people were giving them until they were wandering the few halls that lead into the separate rooms that people slept in, eventually finding one that was unoccupied. When they entered, Yang sat on the edge of the bed while Neo closed the door behind them. Once they were alone, the smaller woman made quick work of the gap between them and all but leapt into her lap.

Her hands explored her body, eager to touch her skin. Her lips were ravenous as they kissed in the small room. Neo's fingertips found all of her pressure points with experienced ease; in the short amount of time she had called Neo her lover, she had found all the small spots that drove her wild. Before Yang could even think about what she was going to do back to her, the zipper on her jacket was opened and fingers were running through her golden locks, gently scratching at her scalp.

Forcibly, Yang pulled Neo back so she could finally breathe, only to pull away from her when she tried to kiss her again. All actions to make love to her stopped, replaced with a confused and worried look in her deep hazel and pink eyes.

With a smile, she reassured Neo that she did nothing wrong by giving her a soft kiss and pressing her forehead against hers. "It's not you, don't worry. I'm just tired, that took a lot out of me, y'know?" Understanding, Neo nodded against her head as she closed her own eyes and pulled Yang's jacket closed but left it undone. "I'm just going to take a nap, we can continue this tonight, 'kay?" she whispered to her lover with a smile.

Neo nodded and offered her one last kiss before getting off of her lap. Yang pulled her boots off and just laid on top of the blanket as the gentle sound of the door closing marked Neo's exit. Soft sunlight came through the window, muted sounds of people talking and training drills echoed in the air, and despite how truly tired Yang was, she just could not drift off into sleep.

She laid there, staring up at the tiled ceiling, willing sleep to come to her but when her eyes finally drifted closed, a flash of red and a cry of pain rocked her brain, reminding her of who took her arm away from her. Gripping the stump of her arm, she squeezed to ease the soreness of her limb before finally giving up on rest and grabbing her flask. Sitting on the bed again, she flipped it open and began to down its contents, quickly gulping down mouthfuls until the flask was completely empty. With a sigh, she set the empty container down in disappointment. Just enough to give her a decent buzz…

Boredom quickly settled in as she began to rummage through the desk of the person who usually worked in this room. Scattered on the top were letters and messages from other Black Fang agents, all of it was in a code that she could not decipher in her current state. Opening the drawers, she found pens, a locked scroll, and other standard desk supplies until she opened the bottom drawer; when a long glass bottle rolled out into the light.

Yang stared at it for a second before pulling it out to examine it more closely. Amber liquid she knew all too well shone in the light of the room. She turned it over in her hand and was surprised by an old label boasting about a whiskey aged for thirty years. With how ornate the glass was and how much gold foil trimmed the paper label, she figured that it must be very pricey. Looking back into the drawer, she saw two unused glasses, proper ones for this kind of high-class alcohol at that. Looking back at the bottle, she shrugged with a 'fuck it' and gripped the cap on it.

With ease, it cracked opened as she spun the top of it easily and it fell to the ground. After the day she had so far, as well as everything that had haunted her for the last five years of her life, maybe she needed a bottle of whiskey that was older than she was to heal her. She knew it was the lamest excuse to steal someone else's fancy bottle to drink her problems away, but at this point, she was not trying very hard to come up with an excuse to drink.

With a silent salute to herself, she brought the bottle to her lips and drank.

Chapter Text

A Cold White Day

pt. II


 

 

Pain flooded her nerves as she pushed her body more and more. The simple weight in her hand felt so much heavier with her arm fully stretched out; her jaw hurt from how hard she was clenching her teeth together. Weiss could feel the fresh scar tissue threatening to open again under the simple exercise; moving her arm from side to side as slowly as possible in order to build the strength needed to get out of the rehabilitation treatment as fast as she could.

It had been two days since Weiss watched as her sister was poisoned right in front of her eyes and given the ultimatum of finishing what Watts started when he created the attack on Atlas. The need to run that man through with her blade was one of the only things that kept her going right now, that and the thought of her sister dying a horrible and painful death that she could do nothing to prevent if she did not stop that man somehow.

Setting the lighter weight back on the rack, Weiss took a deep breath and stretched her limb out without the added weight. Relief quickly replaced the pain as she began running her fingers over the newly formed scar that had come from Jaune's sword when he pushed it through her shoulder. She was still sore and the bruise had not yet healed, showing off deep purple and bleeding blues from her tank top as she stood in the Mantle of Responsibility' s training room.

The flagship was outfitted with everything a moving army could ever need. Even the food was better than what she got in the usual camps and firebases she had been a part of in the past, but knowing that Watts was here with her somewhere stopped her from relaxing even a little. Reaching for her water bottle, she all but inhaled the liquid before setting it back down and used a towel to wipe off the small layer of sweat that began to form around her neck.

Tomorrow, she would be back on the ground and joining the march towards Mistral. The anti-air batteries were keeping all the bullheads and support ships far behind the army until strike teams had a chance to sabotage and stop them. With another deep breath, she turned around and was about to move onto another machine when someone blocked her way. Just seeing her turned her foul mood sour as she saw the shock trooper.

"Specialist," the woman said as a greeting.

"Petty officer," Weiss replied in kind.

"That's a nice trophy there," Resdea said with her usual borage accent as she nodded towards the healing scar on her right shoulder. "Heard it was a good fight 'tween you and some right cunt down there, shame me and the lads weren't there to see it." She sported a wide grin, Weiss could see the light blue of whatever gum she was currently chewing on as she continued to block her path.

"Yes, a shame. What were you doing while I was advancing the line anyways?" Weiss asked, not really trying to hide the bitterness in her voice. The grin died as the woman blew her brown bangs out of her face, only to fall back into place as the woman quickly closed the gap between them and got in her face.

"Making sure me lads were still alive after the shite you pulled back in Vacuo," Any pretense of a civil conversation was thrown out the window as her minty breath filled Weiss’ nose, "First, you made us side with the enemy; then you make us hand out our weapons to'em; then to top it all off, I see you standing on a roof next to the Red Death herself. Acting all buddy buddy with 'er." Her voice got quieter as she leaned in, Weiss could only stare into her pale green eyes, making the scar that ran across her nose and cheekbones stand out more.

"Makes me think; which side ya really on, Schnee..."

"Are you questioning my loyalty, Resdea?" Weiss asked as she rose to be as tall as she could, only managing to be just a little shorter than the shock trooper.

"am questioning why you're not being held down in shackles in the brig..."

"In case you didn't notice, Petty Officer, we were under attack by a massive Grimm the size of a building as well as an entire horde of lesser ones. I made the call that made the most sense for dealing with what was happening." Weiss took a half step back and picked up the abandoned weight to put it back where she had found it. "Now, if you'll excuse me." She brushed past Resdea, only to stop when the Trooper grabbed her arm and pulled, putting a strain on her wounded shoulder and forcing Weiss not to hiss in pain from the sudden added stress.

"Two of me lads died out there, Schnee, and I'm holding you responsible for that,"

With a simple move, Weiss twisted her wrist out of the woman's grasp and shook her head. "People die in war; that's how it works," she all but hissed at her. Turning around and storming out of the gym, her mood was ruined and she did not feel like exercising anymore.

"I'll be watching you, Schnee!" the woman called after her.

"Then I hope you appreciate the view!"

 

Getting to her room, Weiss sighed deeply as she sat on her bunk and continued to stretch out her arm. Her quarters were generous by military standards; but still only enough room for a small bed, a tiny closet that only fit maybe three outfits, a porthole to look out of, and just enough clear space to walk along the side of her bed and to the door. More of a broom closet than a room, but it was hers, one of the perks for being a Specialist of the Atlesian military.

Gathering her small bathroom kit, she made her way to the shower room where she found an unoccupied tiny stall and began to strip out of her training clothes to wash the sweat off her body. She hardly had enough room to stand without her shoulders touching either side of the stall. As the barely warm water shot down on her, Weiss began to quickly scrub her body of the sweat she had worked up before the pre-set timer would turn the water off for her.

Washing quickly, she managed to get enough time to stand with her thoughts, letting the constant fall of water lull her mind into wandering the memories she had made in her time at Beacon, with the first people she truly considered friends. She remembered when she first had to shower in such a public place, she was flabbergasted at the lack of privacy in such a school. Bathroom stalls with simple curtains that would block wondering eyes. Lockers with cheap, rough towels her only means to dry her body.

As much as she hated it, she grew used to it, then looked forward to it as the days went by, just like everything at that school. She was used to prised chefs and their unique creations every day for every meal back at the Schnee estate. But if she was given a choice between what she had before or the mass-produced food that sat under heat lamps for Gods knew how long, she would take a school meal with her friends every day for the rest of her life.

The sudden stop of the water shocked her back to reality. Her time remembering what she used to have was up. With a deep breath to brace against the sudden cold, she pushed the curtain aside and stepped out of the stall. While back at Beacon, people walked around with towels wrapped around their bodies for the most part, but with the military, people simply did not have the time or the care for that while inside of the shower rooms. Weiss had become desensitized to the casual nudity around her, not even bothering with it herself.

Dried, changed into a more casual uniform, and as refreshed as she could get, she walked out of the shower room and stopped off at her room to make some final adjustments to her uniform. She rolled up the sleeves of her uniform to just above her elbows, making sure the cuff was within regulation. Dropping off her dirty clothes and her bathroom kit, she left her room and began to walk down the halls that made up the Dreadnought-class warship.

Naval personnel rushed back and forth, giving orders or moving messages from one area to another, making sure everything was in order for the battle to come in Mistral. Making her way to the infirmary, she pushed past the medics getting ready for the war on the ground by preparing medpacks and other kits. Weiss was reminded that she should probably get a few more combat boosters for the fight. Moving to a separate room, she stood on the other side of a curtain to see a woman lying in a bed.

Her pale skin made even more pale than usual with the black veins that spidered across her body and disappeared under her infirmary gown. Winter's body twitched and convulsed randomly as she struggled to breathe on her own. A heart rate monitor was hooked up, giving readings saying that her heart was beating too fast. Weiss watched as her sister broke into a coughing fit, blood leaking from her lips, only for a nurse with medical scrubs and a face mask to wipe her face and try to ease her back into position on the bed.

Weiss watched from behind the curtains, guilt keeping her from her sister's side as she fought for every breath she took. It was her fault Winter was like this, she knew if it was up to her sister, Winter would have asked to be put out of her misery. Unfortunately for the younger sister, Watts would keep her alive just to keep her on a leash, a short one at that. She watched her for a few more moments, before turning away and leaving the infirmary.

Walking into the mess hall, she forced herself to eat a little bit of food even though the plain bagel sat heavy in her stomach from all the turmoil that shook her soul. There was really nothing left to do but to wait until tomorrow, where she was to be deployed with a detachment of soldiers to clear out anti-air gun emplacements so that Atlas could utilize their superior air force to support ground troops during the main assault.

 

With nothing else to do, she turned to the armoury to get her kit ready for the day that was about to come. Pulling her weapon case out of her locker, she brought it to one of the empty tables where she opened it and examined the cold steel and elegant design. Pulling the multi-action Dust rapier from its velvet indent in the case, she examined the weapon carefully before pulling a well-worn rag and a small bottle of oil from its place and began the lengthy process of her usual maintenance cleaning.

She removed the individual Dust cartridges from their places and pulled a small rod out from its place and began to scrub at the leftover residue from usual Dust use. While cleaning her weapon to a shine, Weiss could not help but remember how worn Crescent Rose was when she inspected it while Ruby slept. The nicks and buffs that would never be allowed to exist should Ruby ever see them. Her mind wandered from the weapon to its owner, to Ruby Rose and how far she had fallen.

It had been some time since they crossed paths in Ritrr, from fighting that colossal Grimm to their short-lived reunion in the forgotten basement of some house that simply did not exist for possibly decades before they stumbled into it. How thin and fragile her body had become, and how dangerous and muted her silver eyes had dimmed since last she saw her during the fall of Vale. Her hands around her throat and the dangerous look in her eyes when she said her goodbye before disappearing in a flurry of rose petals. Years ago, she promised to be the best teammate she could be. Now, she felt like she had failed that duty. She was never there for Ruby, for any of her former teammates and now she's marching off to destroy everything in her path to save her sister.

The gods of Remnant were so cruel.

With her weapon fully oiled and cleaned, there was nothing left but the wait now.

She had gone over her kit three times, her clothes were clean and mended where they needed to be. Her chest plate was polished and the painted medals were restored and everything was placed so that she could leave the minute her ride was ready to carry her down to the surface. By the time night came, Weiss had done everything she could think of to keep her occupied until tomorrow. That was the problem with the military, rushing back and forth only to wait around for the next orders, it was mind-numbing.

By the time night had settled, Weiss was looking forward to sleeping in an actual bed for the first time in so long. Sure, the medical bed she was confined to for some time was not bad, but this was something that was hers, without a stream of doctors and nurses coming up to her and checking up on her constantly. Laying down, she turned off the small light that illuminated the room and let the darkness of the night descend upon her. Pulling apart the perfectly made bed, she settled under the blanket and sheets and rested her head on the pillow.

Finally, something nice for once.

But sleep escaped her.

For the military, everything was perfect for her tastes, so why was she having such a hard time sleeping in a simple bed? She tossed and turned and sighed into the darkness around her. Nothing was comfortable, nothing was easing her mind so she could finally sleep. Laying in the bed with her eyes closed, she could almost count the seconds as they passed her, every one meant a restful night was laughing at her as she tried her best to sleep.

After some time, she sighed again and ran a hand down her face, only to notice the trembling once it touched her face. Balling her hand in a fist, she swore under her breath as she sat up in the bunk. Opening the small port window, she let the glow of the moon cascade over her pale skin so she could watch her fingers shake uncontrollably in the faint light. How long had it been trembling for? With a deep breath, she held her hand and squeezed, trying to will herself to stop.

Something inside of her just broke, she got up off her bed and stormed over to her small closet to pull on her combat dress. The clean material itched her skin until she took it off and picked up one of her older uniforms, one that was torn from bullets and stained in blood, the material felt like silk as she pulled it in place. Next, she slipped the battle plate over her chest, it was almost like she could breath easier now. Finally, she grabbed the blanket off the bed and wrapped it around herself before kneeling onto the floor next to her bunk and laying down, using her own arm as a pillow. Just like that, it felt like she was whole again, like something that was missing returned now.

The struggle to sleep was over, now it embraced her like a lost lover and she fell asleep in only a few seconds.

 

When her alarm sounded, it only chimed once before she sat up and felt fully rested, the best she had felt since she came onboard the Mantle of Responsibility. Pushing herself to her feet, she made her bed to military perfectionist standards and took off the old, torn uniform and got dressed in the crisp and clean combat skirt she usually wore. The itch returned, but it was manageable as she clipped the battle plate in place and did one last inspection of her room before leaving it.

Collecting her gear from the armoury, she made her way to the landing dock in the dreadnaught, where the rest of the team she was going in with was waiting. With her rapier in place on her hip and her pouched filled with extra Dust and bullets for the standard handgun she had, she made her way to the team she was assigned. As she approached, one of them noticed her and stood up straight with his arms at his sides. "Officer on deck!" At once, the whole team stopped what they were doing and stood at attention as she came up to them.

Six people stood around in a loose circle, each of their armours was painted black with dents and scrapes one each of them, making them unique to each soldier. Shock Trooper special forces were always an odd bunch, but no better soldiers for dangerous situations. She saw Petty Officer Reseda and locked eyes with her for a second before clasping her hands behind her back, "At ease." They all relaxed and turned to listen to her speak.

Weiss was quick to give the general objective to her team. "Our objective is the anti-air cannons that line the northernmost checkpoints that make up the Mistrali defence lines. Instead of spreading our forces to flank around and try to find an opening, we're going to punch straight through the Mistrali defences as the spear-tip, opening the way for the main ground forces and allowing our airships to provide support during the attack on Mistral actual. Any questions?"

"Will we have support, Ma'am?" One of them asked with a raised hand.

"We will have two squads with us and a platoon of Atlesian Knights for support as well as two Paladins that will stay at range and shell the checkpoint just before we storm the gates. Once we take out the heavy weapons platforms, they will come in to help clean up the rabble."

"At range?" a different Trooper spoke up, "Why not ram them through the wall?"

"It’s a wide open area, they'll get picked off by DPGs and heavy cannon fire. We need to take care of those first before they can do their part."

When no one else spoke up, she nodded to the bullhead they were going to take to the ground. One by one, the Shock Troopers picked up their rifles and marched onto the aircraft with Weiss following behind. Once everything was secured and everyone strapped in, the bullhead lifted off and floated out of the hangar bay before flying to the rally point.

 

Chapter Text

A Black Starless Night

Pt.II


 

So few people remained in Mistral now. Almost all the civilians had evacuated the city, leaving only a handful to remain to keep a few services up until the last possible second. Militia auxiliary were reinforcing the Mistral army and were getting last minute training on how to hold a rifle so they do not accidentally shoot their own forces. Factories were churning out barely edible food to feed the large force until the workers either joined the militia or left on the last Bullhead out of the city.

Blake watched as a homeless man was rummaging through a garbage can under the rooftop she had been standing on to look over the city. The limp, dirty tail that was poking out of his long coat made it all the worse when she watched him empty out a garbage bin and try to see if there was anything left inside of a tin can that someone had thrown in there; but she knew there was nothing left since he was the third person to check this can and the ones around it.

Blake pushed the urge to help him deep inside her. They needed to get the positions of all the emplacements that the Mistrali set up so they do not get caught by them during the battle that is to come when Atlas finally arrives. When that happened, operation "Black Infection" comes to a head, and the White Fang will be no more. That was the plan anyway. All they could do now is wait and plan and map every little thing that Mistral does so they can plan around it.

"I saw one of the Mistrali guys take a case of ammo and a sniper rifle to the brown building across the way," Ilia said, walking up next to Blake, "Not sure where they're setting up, but it shouldn't take much to find out." She stopped next to her and looked out over the city, with the sounds of a few bullets echoing through the air as well as some shouting periodically. A sigh escaped her lips as she shook her head slowly. "To think that Atlas will be here so soon, it seems almost unreal,"

"I know. After everything we've done, this war is finally ending... one way or another." Blake's voice was soft on the wind as the two of them watched as three tanks drove down the road in a line to be placed at intersections. “It feels almost like a dream..."

"Should we take a break? We've been at this for a few hours now..."

Blake nodded to Ilia's suggestion and the two of them sat down against the lip of the building they were on. Side by side, they each broke out a protein bar that was long past it's best by date and began to chew on the stale chocolate and tough core of it. Minutes passed in silence as the two friends just watched a few birds fly around the city near them. After a couple more moments of silence, Ilia broke it again. "So, what was Beacon like?"

Blake put her bar down and just stared up at the endless sky above them. She told her friend about the massive buildings and the bigger yards, about the classes where she learned things she had already knew but from a new perspective. About the joy of being in a room with three other people all of them complaining about dirty clothes on the floor. While she would have loved to say that she hated it, she knew she had a lot of fun while she was a part of that team.

"Then there was the one time Ruby got mad at Yang, so she stole one of her bras and sprinted across the school with it, waving it around until she handed it to our friend Jaune and rushed away. There was a lot of property damage that day..." The smile formed effortlessly on her face and Ilia began to laugh, holding her side with one hand as she struggled to keep the volume down. "Yeah, and then there was the food fight. Oh god, that was a day..." she chuckled as she pocketed the other half of her bar.

"From what you tell me, it seems like Yang was a much different person back then," Ilia's comment stopped the mirth that filled her soul and replaced it with the heavy guilt she had been burdened with for the last five years.

"Yeah, I mean. Everything changed when the Fall happened. Yang lost her arm, Weiss was taken back to Atlas by force and Ruby was unconscious when I ran away from everything..." The weight of the silence between them was crushing, being reminded of her failure again made it hard not to cry.

"Why did you run?"

"Because I was afraid. Afraid of what Yang would say to me since it was my fault she got her arm cut off," Blake could not see the surprise on her friend's face from how her amber eyes stared down at the roof in shame.

"How was it your fault?"

It took Blake a few seconds to build up the strength to even speak his name and when she did, it came out as an angry whisper. "Adam."

"What?"

"He cornered me in the school and told me that he would destroy everything that I love, and then Yang showed up." She could see the flames licking at the building, the scar from his sword plunging into her side ached as she tried to ease it with her hand. The sight of Yang’s fury and anger as she flew across the room for her was breathtaking, but what came after had scarred her for life; Adam’s voice haunting her every dream and nightmare since Beacon and Vale fell.

What she could not see was the disappointed look on Ilia's face when she spoke. "For five years, I've hunted that bastard down for what he has done to hurt everyone, Faunus and Human alike. When Atlas gets here and the attack starts, he dies."

The dark promise hung in the air as they sat there for a little while. Eventually, Ilia was the first to get up and clear her throat slightly, Blake could see hints of purple seeping from around her hairline and neck. She knew that she could change her skin tone based on her emotions, and if she tried hard enough, she could repress it.

Through the years of being her friend in the past, she had seen Ilia shift through different colours that painted her skin based on which emotion she felt, but she had no idea what purple meant.

"Come on, we should probably get going and scout out some possible mortar locations, I think I saw a few people lugging those shells around."

Getting to her feet, Blake agreed with Ilia and they were about to resume their task when they heard something coming from the alleyway down below them. Blake could almost taste the venom in his voice as he called out loudly, "Well, well, well... what do we have here?" Blake and Ilia shared a look and walked to the edge to peer down without being seen.

Looking down below, a squad of Mistrali soldiers had the homeless man cornered against the garbage bin, every escape route is blocked by a person with a uniform and a gun. The man was desperately trying to find an escape route but found nothing. "Looks like one of those dirty animals, Sarge," a different soldier said as he took a drag on a cigarette and blow the smoke out with a chuckle.

"Sure does..."

Everyone had a small smirk on their face as they began to close in on the poor man who began to beg them to let him go. From the corner of her eye, Blake saw Ilia's skin change shades and a rich crimson enveloped her fully. The freckles on her face turned a bright yellow as her fist shook from the pressure she was putting on it. Blake reached out and grabbed her wrist to stop her from doing something stupid. A dangerous look flashed past her face as she leaned into Blake.

"What are you doing? We need to stop them!" the angry whisper came through gritted teeth. "We can't do anything," Blake replied in kind.

"What?!"

"If we do anything to draw more attention to ourselves, the Mistrali will amp up their patrols and increase security, making everything we're trying to do a lot harder," She could tell that Ilia was having a lot of trouble accepting that answer. "We'll step in if things get too out of hand. I don't like it either, but we need to stay hidden." Ilia pressed her mouth into a thin line before looking back down at the scene.

"Please! I didn't do anything!" the man begged as one of the soldiers walked up to him, "Please, just let me go, you'll never see-"

His plea was suddenly ended when the butt of a rifle met his face, knocking him to the ground. Before long, three soldiers began to stomp on him while the other two just shared a cigarette and watched the beat down happen. The longer it went, the harder it was getting harder to hold Ilia back while not jumping down herself to put an end to it.

It got worse when they swapped out with the two that were smoking, giving them a break as the other two pulled out batons and began to beat him harder. The painful cries echoed loudly through the alleyway as wet, heavy thuds blended together as the bone was broken and the flesh was beaten. They laughed at his pain as his cries became whimpers as the beating slowed down with their exhaustion until there was only one person left stomping on the poor man.

Eventually, he stopped after the Faunus stopped responding to the attacks against him. They all laughed and began to turn, walking away from the bleeding and broken man they left in the alley. A sense of relief washed over Blake, it was over and he was still alive. "Once they’re gone, we can take him back to base; give him the help he needs." Ilia was still red and yellow, but she nodded as Blake finally released her grip on her wrist. Before they left, however, one of them said something and walked back to the man.

They all watched as the soldier walked right up to where the homeless Faunus laid on the ground and began to unbuckle his pants. With a laugh from all the other soldiers, the one began to urinate on the broken man. A blinding rage filled Blake as she witnessed such an act that happened right in front of her. She barely checked herself from leaping down there, but in that moment of shock and horror, she had forgotten about keeping Ilia in check, and the Faunus woman jumped from the rooftop to engage.

Cursing, Blake followed her down, but Ilia landed before she did. With a shocked cry from the soldiers, the red-skinned woman quickly turned around and thrust her thin blade through the back of the one soldier, killing him and letting him fall to the floor with his shame. The others quickly pulled their weapons out while shouting out that the enemy was here and everyone dove for cover. Automatic weapon fire boomed through the tight space between buildings as Blake quickly pressed herself up against a wall, her collapsed weapon in her hand, as chunks of building came off from bullet strikes.

Using her Semblance, she dove down the alleyway with four copies of herself with Ilia behind her to quickly close the gap between them and the soldiers. With no Aura, a few quick slashes with their weapons made quick work of them until they got to the Sergeant, who fired rounds at them until they closed the gap and knocked the weapon out of his hands while Ilia dove below to duck under him and run him through with her weapons, only for his knee to meet her face.

Trying to see if her friend was okay opened her up for a sudden right hook from the soldier. "Fucking animals!" he shouted out as he pulled his handgun out and looked up, "Where do you think you're going!" He aimed and fired down the alley and Blake saw the man from before, getting up and trying to leave, only for him to fall down again when the bullet hit him in the back. A scream of anguish came from Ilia as she lashed out with her weapon and the blade broke apart and waved through the air, extending and flexing as it reached its target.

The soldier choked as the whip weapon wrapped around his neck. He tried to pull it off, but Ilia pushed her Aura into her muscles and yelled out as she whipped the weapon back, throwing him across the alley and onto his back with a sickening crack. His body did not move as the two Faunus just looked at each other from a brief moment before Blake rushed down to help the one person who had nothing to do with this fight.

Turning him over, she could hear the gasps of breath as he struggled. Blood poured from his mouth as he coughed, his fingers reached up and gripped her jacket. Wide, wild blue eyes locked with her amber ones as his chest raised and lowered rapidly. Then, all at once, he stopped. His hands fell from her jacket while his last breath passed his lips and his body went limp. His eyes continued to stare at her until she laid him down on the ground and ran her fingers down his face, closing them.

"Fuck you!" Ilia's voice broke through Blake's mind. Looking down the way she came, she saw the smaller woman kicking the body of one of the soldiers they had killed. Her body was so red that it was nearly blinding in contrast with the bleak surroundings. Pushing herself to her feet, Blake stormed down the way, passing the sergeant on her way. Looking down at his body, she saw that he was mostly unharmed, save for the dark red line around his neck and the surreal sight of his neck being far too long for the shape of his body from where it broke.

When she reached Ilia, she was putting all her anger and frustration on one of the other ones. Grabbing her, she forced her to turn and face Blake and before she could speak, Blake shouted at her, "What was that!"

"We had to do something!"

"This isn't what we wanted!" Blake began, "If we had just waited a little longer, everyone would still be alive! He would still be alive!"

That stopped Ilia; her eyes went past Blake to see the dead Faunus laying on the ground. The red in her body faded away and was replaced with green, her hair and freckles turning blue. "If you had just waited, pushed through the hate for just a minute, everyone would still be alive!" The red came back in full force as she turned and began to shout at Blake again.

"You'd let these racist fucks live? Is that what would make you happy?" she asked with no control in her volume.

"NO! But this is the exact thing that made the White Fang what it is, why Adam needs to die!"

"Violence is the only thing the Humans seem to understand!"

"Our violence killed that Faunus!" Blake pushed Ilia harshly, rage stopping any self-control. "This is what the White Fang does, it acts without thinking. Entire families of Faunus, people who had nothing to do with the Fall were slaughtered because of the White Fang solution to Humans! They need to be stopped, yes, but by doing this, that makes us no better than Adam!" Blake gestured around her, pointing to the dead bodies and blood that painted the walls from their attack. Ilia stopped and looked around, the anger leaving her body and reason coming back slowly.

Blake continued with a quieter tone. "This is why I left the White Fang in the first place, why I needed to. Because this isn't me, this isn't the Faunus. When we do this, we play into the role that they want to see us as, we are not better than them, we can't have peace if we keep doing this..." Silence crept up and surrounded them. Ilia kept looking from body to body, to what she had done.

"I'm sorry..." she whispered, "But I just couldn't stand there and watch them do that to him. I just couldn't..." Tears began to slip from her grey eyes as she looked at the dead Faunus. Blake stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her, pulling her into a tight hug.

"I know. Things are going to get better, Ilia. We're making sure of it, but we need to have patience." The hug was broken when they heard a voice come from one of the bodies. When they looked they could see the black radio on his belt calling out to the team of soldiers, asking for their location and for them to respond. "Come on, we need to get out of here before more soldiers show up." Ilia nodded, but not before bending over, grabbing a piece of cardboard, and dipping it into the crimson blood of one of the soldiers.

"What are you doing?" Blake asked as Ilia began to smear it on the wall.

"We need to cover our tracks, if they think it was the White Fang, then they won't investigate it too deeply." She had a point. They would scour these buildings and find their hidden supply caches if they did not lead this back to the White Fang. By doing this, the army would up the patrols and number of soldiers in the squads; but if they chalked this incident up to White Fang, then it would be assumed that they moved on right after the attack.

With a crude bloody painting of the White Fang logo on the wall, the two of them quickly retreated to the roof of the building and away from the scene of the crime.

Chapter Text

A Bird Of A Feather

 Pt. I

I regret those times when I've chosen the dark side.
I've wasted enough time not being happy.

-Jessica Lange


 

People always thought that Dust was so easy to work with. Which is true to an extent, but not many people really use it like Raven does; mixing the different Dusts with a compound that would make it harder and less brittle, then filling a mould she had made decades ago. It took her a long time to perfect the art of making her Dust infused blades; hours spent mixing and testing different combinations until she finally found the perfect ratios she had been searching for. Now, it all came naturally to her; no longer needing measuring cups or spoons, she could do it by feel alone.

With the mixture ready, she began to coat the two sides of her sword mould with the red Dust before pressing it together and tightening the clamps in order to let it sit for a few hours so it can cure. Grabbing one of the other moulds she had, she pulled out the completed blade she had prepared earlier and began the lengthy process of breaking off the excess and sharpening the blade to her preference. The methodical movements of dragging the blade over a whetstone and filling the room with the scraping were calming to her.

At least until the door to the smaller side of the warehouse was suddenly slammed open. Jumping a bit, Raven spun around to see Yang standing in the doorway, her boot coming down from where she had kicked the door open and the stumbling of her trying to get her balance back. That was when she saw the nearly empty bottle in her daughter's hand as she finally found her balance. "Hello, mom," she slurred as she took a few heavy steps into the machine room.

"Have you been drinking?" She already knew the answer, but it was just one of those questions one had to ask.

To answer her, Yang tilted her head back and sucked down whatever was left in the bottle before casually tossing it to the side, letting smash against the floor and sending glass all over the place. "Nope, just finished actually..." She then cracked her neck by pushing her chin with one hand and then the other before staring her down with glazed over eyes. "We still need to have a little chit-chat."

With a sigh, Raven set the unfinished infused blade to the side and stood up from her working table. "Yang, I don't think you're in any condition to have a conversation."

That got her daughter to start chuckling lightly as she strolled over to Raven with unsteady feet. "Not that kind of talk, mom."

The venom whenever she called her that stung the wound from so many years ago, she probably would never let that go. Before Raven could comment on her intoxication level, she had to dodge a sudden left hook from her. Knocking the limb out of the way on reflex, that sent Yang stumbling away until she caught herself with a heavy stomp. Turning back around, she had her arms up and was ready to continue the fight.

"Yang! What are you doing?!"

"The way I see it, I owe you a solid punch for every year in my life you left me for. So that's going to be twenty-two face punches at least. Plus, I think I've earned some interest for every missed birthday party and special event I had." Yang began to circle around her, the drunken stupor making her movements easy to read and follow.

"Didn't your father ever teach you to pick your battles?"

"I'm drunk and pissed, so I'm picking all of them." With that, Yang launched herself at Raven again. It was easy to block and dodge the drunken assault from her daughter but the guilt was eating away at her soul. She was right, she had been missing Yang's life for a long time; she was barely a month old when Raven was forced to leave, lest she bring harm to her new family. Those first few months were the hardest for her, pacing around in the forest; hoping her baby was alright, having to put trust in her old team to take care of her.

She found a way to cope with the loss, by taking over a bandit tribe that tried to get money out of her. In less than a day, she had taken it and rebranded it for herself. The need to lead the lawless left her cold inside; but eventually, she began to use that to her advantage. The longer she acted heartless and uncaring, the easier it became to actually feel it. Eventually, the mask became her face; and she hid away the love and the warmth.

But she still held onto it, deep inside of her. It took everything she had not to break down in front of her daughter upon seeing her for the first time since that fateful day on the train. Seeing her so broken, inside and out, it tore her apart. Nothing could prepare her for that, just like nothing could prepare her to fight her drunken daughter in the middle of a workshop when there was a war going on just outside the walls of their base.

While her movements were sloppy and easy to read, that did not stop Yang from surprising her with a sudden feint with one arm, only to spin in place and bring her foot up to connect her heel with the side of Raven's head. She swore under her breath as she pushed herself up to her feet and looked at Yang. She was expecting a victorious smirk, but all she got was a tight frown.

"I was only seven when Summer died, and I had to take care of Ruby," she said as she looked lost in her thoughts.

"I'm sor-"

"Did you know I went to look for you when I was just a kid?" she asked suddenly, "I knew we needed a mother since dad was in a dark place, he was having trouble keeping himself together to help us those first few months. So I went to find you. Loaded Ruby up in my little red wagon, and began to trek through the woods, looking for you. Did you know that?"

She did. In one of the few interactions she had with her brother after she had fled her family, he had told her exactly what had happened and how he was forced to save them. It was also when she had been told the fate of her friend, Summer Rose. The grief she had felt over that news was insurmountable, she had secluded herself from the bandit tribe she had taken over so she could openly weep for the innocent girl, who always smiled and had broken through the walls she had put up back in Beacon. She wiped her mouth of the dust that was from the ground and spat out her answer, "Yes, I did."

"And you still just sat there and did nothing." Shaking her head, she sprinted across the gap between them and began another barrage of punches and kicks. Raven did everything she could to block them with her own armoured gauntlets but she admittedly did not have the martial skill Yang did; Tai had trained their daughter well... Too invested in her defence meant she could not focus on attacking back, leaving her open for a kick to the side and a metal fist to her forehead.

Hitting the table behind her, she saw her weapon sitting on top of it and quickly drew the sword from the revolving multi-blade sheath, she turned and held the blade between the two of them as Yang started to walk around her. "I lost my first tooth when I was eight. They all started coming out quickly after that, dad was worried that I wasn't drinking enough milk, but he was pretty overprotective of us back then," she spoke softly as she watched her mother, "then Ruby got jealous about me growing up so she tried to pull her own teeth out with one of dad's tools. That was pretty funny..."

Like lightning, Yang struck again. Using her blade to block the fist, she was doing much better with a weapon in her hand. Bracing the blade against her off hand, she managed to block a number of quick punches that were sent her way before she managed to push Yang back and take a swipe at her. Her daughter simply grabbed the blade with her metal hand and held it with the grip that only came from a limb like hers.

"I unlocked my Aura when I was taking Ruby with that wagon, but I found out my Semblance when I was in a fist fight at school when I was eleven. Someone had made fun of Ruby for always wearing her red cloak, so I made them eat their words."

After sharing another piece of her past, Yang pushed her mother away and brought her fists up once more. Considering the circumstances, Raven was overjoyed with her daughter sharing the key moments in her life. However, she was also twisting the blade deep in her gut with the amount of guilt welling up inside her during the interaction. She just had to get into a drunken fight with her to draw out these moments Raven had missed.

Choosing her moment, Raven went on the offensive and surprised Yang with a few quick slashes. With only a few moments to react, she brought her arms up to deflect the blade rather than letting it take a chunk out of her skin. Using the reach to her advantage, she kept Yang too far away for her to punch her, and she had more than enough room to back off and use her blade to keep her kicks at bay. They stared at each other for a few moments before Yang charged forward with a yell. Reacting to a quick overhead strike, Raven tried to jump back but instead found the table she had been working on before, knocking her stuff over and leaving herself vulnerable.

Even with the sword now in her hands, fighting in a room with tables and long defunct industrial equipment did not give her a lot of room to fight in. Distracted by the table for only a second, Raven had left herself open; an opening that Yang did not pass up. With a quick sprint, she pulled her arm back and let loose a massive right hook with a battle cry. Her mother pressed the blade between them but as soon as her punch connected to the flat of the sword, the compressed Dust shattered and showered her before the punch continued on its path and knocked her straight back, through the table and onto her back.

"I got my first period when I was twelve," Yang continued like she had not just punched her mother through a table. Groaning as she pushed shards of wood and Dust off of her, Raven sat up and looked up at her. Yang's blurry eyes were looking past her as she remembered times long past. "Dad was freaking out, it was pretty funny to watch looking back. He came back from the store with like, five different brands of pads and tampons, as well as six boxes of chocolate. By the time Ruby had hers, he had figured it all out."

Looking back on it all, Raven was so lucky to have a man like Taiyang in her life. Sure, when they first met, he was annoying with his too cheerful attitude or his bad puns. But he also had a huge anger problem that was rooted deeply in his own past. It only took one glimpse at the man going from one extreme to the other to tell her that something was deeply wrong. Summer had torn down the cheerful walls he had put up around himself and told everyone about his past, something that she was so glad to have known after Summer had done the same to her. Tossing the empty hilt away, she looked up at her daughter and shook her head. "Sounds like you had a hell of a father to look after you."

"Yeah, I did..." She gave a deep sigh as she tried to lean on one of the machines, only to miss and land with her back to it. With a long groan, her eyes began to drift closed as she sank lower and lower until she was sitting on the ground. Raven watched her go down and wondered if she had finally passed out. When she came in with that bottle mostly empty, she was worried what kind of damage Yang had been doing to her liver. It was, by no means, a small bottle. She was about to call out of Yang when she blurted out another sentence.

"I lost my virginity when I was fifteen,"

Raven stopped and just stared at her, before physically scrubbing that mental image from her eyes. "I didn't need to know that."

"His name was Blaze,"

"Please stop,"

"He was a senior at Signal,"

"I'm begging you."

"It was the big end of year dance when all of the other fourth years went on to the big academies. We had been sorta dating for a few months before then, wanting to keep it quiet since I know how dad would have reacted if he had found out."

"This is my divine punishment, I suppose..."

"I can hardly remember that night, looking back," Yang continued, she either did not notice her mother's suffering or simply did not care. "It was done and over with in maybe, two minutes. Afterwards, he lied to me about which school he was going to, but by then, I was already used to people leaving me."

Raven watched her as she reached down into her pouch and pulled out her flask. With a single hand, she popped the top and began to tilt her head back to try and drink from it; but she ended up just hitting her head on the machine she was sitting up against and tossing the empty container on the ground.

Looking up at the ceiling, she closed her lavender eyes as a smile began to creep across her face. "Then there was Rouge, my first girlfriend and first public partner. Dad liked her enough and we dated for a couple of months, but she got all bitchy about me taking care of my sister so much. She made me choose between Ruby and her, so I punched her in the face and then took Ruby for some ice cream." She chuckled as she shook her head. "Oh, the look on her face was priceless. Sure, it sucked, but anyone who makes me choose between them or my family is getting an ass-kicking."

The silence in the air was heavy as Yang's head began to droop down into her chest, before jolting away and looking right at Raven, tears suddenly threatening to leave her eyes. "And then there's Blake, I thought she would have been that special someone when I finally found her back in Beacon. She had that, mysterious-" She gestured wildly into the air in front of her. "-thing, about her. But then, stupid Cinder and stupid everyone had to fuck everything up, and then she ran when I needed her the most, just like everyone does..."

Raven reflected on her daughter's words. When Yang needed her the most, she abandoned her because she was afraid to lose what she could not protect... but by running to protect them, she lost them all anyway. She had the powers that could make mortal men bend their knees to her and worship her like a goddess. Instead, she chose to hide away and never once used her powers to protect what she cherished most; her little Sunshine.

Had it really been over twenty years since she was born? The only time they met after that was when she saw her and her team go to Mountain Glen and nearly get stabbed by Neo on that train. She remembered that day, something had bothered her in the back of her mind; the feeling that her child was in mortal danger. So she chose that one moment to intervene, to break her promise to stay away from her family so one threat would stay away from them in order to protect her from another.

On the train that day, it was the first time she had seen her since she was a baby; how she had grown in what felt like a blink of an eye. No longer was she the babe crying for food, she had grown into a strong young woman that made Raven so proud. Her own trip down memory lane was cut short by a sudden snore that broke through the quiet of the room. Looking over, she saw Yang with her mouth wide open and her head tilting up. Each breath she took, an unflattering snore came from her mouth.

Raven watched in complete disbelief that she would just pass out like that. Then again, she had no idea how much she had had to drink before storming into the room to demand a fist fight. She watched as her sleeping, snoring daughter began to slide to the side and end up fully on the ground, her sleep unbroken by the sudden change in position. Shaking her head, Raven pushed herself to her feet and walked over to the mass of blonde hair.

"Like father, like daughter," she mused as she kneeled down to push her hair out of her face so she could gaze upon her daughter. While the moment was meant to be nice, to remember how it felt to carry the baby back to her room when it was time for her to sleep, it suddenly became apparent that it was anything but. She weighed a great deal more than previously thought, not to mentioned her limbs were limp and dead, meaning she had to use way more strength to pick her up. A sharp pain threatened to remind Raven of just how old she was becoming. "Puberty hit you like a truck, eh?"

With a heave, she lifted Yang in her arms and turned towards the door. She needed to put her to bed, and that meant carrying her through the building. Her back was going to complain about it later, but the pain was going to be worth it…

She hoped.

Chapter Text

A Red Morning After

Pt. III


 

She knew this place, she had walked this path so many times it was ingrained in her skin. Step after step she took down the red (like roses) path, between trees where the bodies hung. Their faces were hidden in darkness and their blood shone like a beacon against the black trees and the white snow. Each drop of blood ran down their bodies and dripped off their feet, landing in the endless white that made up the ground. As it touched the ground, the blood made its way to the path, where it joined all the rest of it to become part of the infinite red.

She did not know how many bodies there were in the forest now, but with each stage of the war, each battle, each killing, a new body was hung. From Atlesian soldiers to White Fang grunts, everyone she had ever killed all stared at her as she walked along the path. Their dead hollow eyes following her as made her way; she did not bother looking at them anymore, knowing what she would see. Step by step, the puddle of blood became a stream, opening up to a river that she walked on top of, all of it belonged to her.

She stood at the end of the river, where it split apart and surrounded a single gravestone. Summer stood where she always stood in the forest, where everyone comes to remember her. She stood with her back turned to Ruby, her white and red (like roses) cloak fluttering to the side, even with no wind. White petals drifted off of her, only to be caught by the river that flowed over the edge of her cliff. Looking out, the endless forest was drowning in blood now, the blood that she had reaped from the dead with every swing of her scythe.

"Ruby," her mother called out as she turned to face her, "Look at the carnage she has brought you, look at the dead she piles at your feet. You must stop her!" Summer begged as she shook her head, tears rolling down her eyes.

"How?" replied Ruby’s voice tight and dry, "How am I supposed to stop her when all she does is kill? How am I supposed to win this war without her?"

Summer just shook her head and pointed to the forest behind her. "She will kill you just as she did them! She will not rest until everything is dead! Is that what you want? Is that what I taught you?"

"You didn't teach me anything!" Ruby shouted at her mother, taking a step forward and sending ripples through the path, "You left me alone when I was just a kid with no way of knowing how the world worked! I was brought up with stories and tales of how good you were, but never anything from you! You left! You died! You didn't raise me, Yang did!" Summer took a step back from her outburst and looked to the ground in shame. Everything she said was true, and she knew it.

"I'm so sorry, Ruby, I never meant for this to happen,"

"But it did! If you really want to help, then go away!"

And with that, Summer faded in a flurry of white petals. Ruby knew she would be back to try and pressure her again, but at least it was not now. Walking up to the grave, even the stone was bleeding for her, adding its own to the rivers that flowed into the lake before her. As she stared out, she wondered how many more people will die at her hands, or at the hands of the Red Death. From the corner of her eye, she saw something that disturbed her.

A sudden body fell from the endless night above her and landed on a tree nearby. His body still swung as the sound of rope stretching echoed in her ears. His throat was opened and draining the bright red (like roses) blood that joined the path to end up in the lake. But what left her speechless was the Mistrali colours of his uniform and the lamp that was sown into his shoulder. Another fell from the sky and was hung next to him. She also was wearing a Mistrali military uniform.

Twelve more people appeared on trees, each of them hanging from their necks as their blood dripped off their bodies and flowed to the path. Each of them were wearing a Mistrali uniform with wounds on each of their bodies told the tale of a large caliber bullet or a massive blade that nearly cut them in half in one way or another. "No..." She shook her head as she backed away from the Mistrali soldiers that were hanging in her forest of the dead, she did not kill those people, why were they here?

Backing up, she did not see the cliff behind her and lost her footing. With a cry, she began to fall into the lake, but the water never came. She saw bodies fly up past her as a bright, endless red (like roses) began to become the only thing she could see. It blinded her, invaded every sense until she was lost to the endless crimson. Eventually, she came to a soft landing at the bottom, the ground was littered with bones and skulls of the first dead, the foundation of the lake and everything above her, the walls of the blood ocean being held back.

Looking up, she saw what could only be called a throne; taller than any wall she had seen and made of bodies piled up on top of each other haphazardly. Each of the dead bodies that made for building material stared at her, their dead eyes never leaving her, no matter where they were positioned. "You!" Ruby stood up and stared up at the Red Death. "You killed them!" The woman who sat on top of the throne tilted her head slightly, the blood that ran down the right side of her face dripped down her shirt, adding to the crimson colour.

"They were the enemy," was the Red Death's only answer.

"They were our allies! We were supposed to protect the Mistrali people, not kill them!"

The Red Death had heard enough. Standing from her seat, she descended down a staircase built of bodies, blood, and bone, her red cape leaving trails of crimson that fluttered past her as she walked towards her goal. "Why do you fight me? I gave you everything you needed to survive. The strength to kill, the will to wage war after war upon the world. Everything I've done was for you!"

The crimson woman stood before her and spread her arms out as red petals filled her vision and scattered to the winds in order to cover the world. "I will paint the world red like roses. I will flood the heavens and drown the hells in red. I will kill the light and the dark beyond that. I will proclaim War-Eternal upon all that exists. If anyone, anything, steps in the way of my Crimson Crusade, then my words will carry to every inch of the universe: You will be my enemy!" The walls of blood began to collapse around Ruby, falling down and spilling all over the ground around them. She tried to get to her feet quickly to try and escape, but she was too slow and it raged past the Red Death, hitting her directly.


Ruby woke with a gasp of air, water filled her lungs as she struggled to right herself. She coughed up whatever she had swallowed and dragged deep breaths into her body as she pushed herself up, only to fall face first when her hand slipped in the deep mud that surrounded her. With every breath she took, strength began to come back to her, she managed to push herself to her knees and saw a Beowolf lunging at her. In a mad panic, she threw herself to the side and found her sniper scythe in the mud nearby. Quickly taking aim, she fired off a round and shattered the Grimm's head.

With one hostile down, she began to look for anything else, only to find that she was completely surrounded by Grimm. Fast as lightning, she jumped to the side, leaving behind a trail of petals as she shot three more Grimm in the face and spun around to check to see where the next attack was coming from. But one never came. She looked at each of the Grimm around her; each of them was attacking her but did not move, frozen in time at the moment of their attack. Even the ones she shot before, their heads were missing, but their bodies remained.

Stone. They were made out of stone.

Looking around, she could see hundreds of Grimm, all of them carved from stone in some form or another. The ones around her were attacking her, but the further she looked, she saw that some of them were rushing past or even moving away from where she woke up. Spinning around, she saw the huge wall of the dam, broken in the middle by a massive hole where there should have been none. Following the top of the dam wall, she saw where her forces were moving to take the dam back from Atlas.

How did she end up down here, in the middle of these statues? One moment she was looking at a bomb and she was attacked from behind; the next she was face deep in a mud pit, surrounded by Grimm statues. A headache pulsed against her skull, threatening to crack it open if she tried to look into the gap in her memory. "Ruby, you need to leave, now." Looking back, she saw Summer Rose standing in the centre of the Grimm statues, looking around and tracking something that was moving beyond her sight. "It's not safe here."

Ruby was about to ask what it was when a scream tore her attention away and a flash of red (like roses) shot past her, right into Summer. The Red Death grabbed her by her shoulders and threw her against one of the Grimm statues. "You lied to us!" the Red Death shouted, her voice echoing in the light rain. The dark gravel in her voice sent a shiver down Ruby spine as Summer tried to fight her off, but was caught off guard by a sudden headbutt. "You have the silver light! You have the power!"

Summer decked the Red Death across the face to give herself some breathing room and push her away. With the Red Death's hands still firmly clutching Summer's cloak, they would only end up an arm's length away from each other. "I can't give it to you! Or anyone! Ruby needs to unlock it for herself!"

"You will give it!"

Ruby had enough. She fired her weapon and the Grimm statue they were fighting against shattered to the ground, making them both flinch and turned to Ruby. "Enough! I have the weapon, both of you shut up!" She looked at each of as they stayed quiet, but did not let each other go. "We need to leave and regroup with the team. The dam is lost so Atlas will the strolling through any time now."

"The enemy still-"

Ruby cut her off with another round just barely flying past her head, making her flinch and duck under the bullet. Ruby kept her aim steady and stared the Red Death down. Her dark reflection reluctantly released Summer and took a step back, her black and silver eyes staring deeply into Ruby's until they suddenly shifted to something behind her. "Enemy!"

Spinning in place, Ruby lifted her sniper up again and saw blue where all that was around her before were muted colours from the rain and mud. She fired a round at the person, who quickly ducked behind a stone statue. Ruby fired twice more, destroying that statue and the next one they hid behind. "Whoa whoa! Friendly! Friendly!" the person, a man, began to shout as a pair of hands rose up over the statues.

"Friendly to who!" Ruby shouted back at him.

"Mistral!"

Ruby hesitated for a moment before lowering her weapon. "Okay!" The person's hands wavered and finally lowered as they began to make their way from between the statues to stand in front of her, only to stop in shock as they saw each other.

"Ruby?"

"Neptune?!?"

Ruby was just as surprised as he was. The man laughed once and rushed up to her, his blue hair defying gravity with the amount of rain that soaked through everything. He had changed very little since she last saw him years ago; some more armour plates on his arms, but that was about it. A few new scars graced his face and his goggles sported a large scratch on one of the lenses. Standing before her, he smiled as he placed both his hands on her shoulders and looked at her.

"Holy shit! You're actually here!"

"Hey, Neptune." She would have been lying if she said that some of his friendly attitude was not just a little infectious. "It's good to see you again."

"Yeah, no shit!" he laughed as he turned around and called out to someone else out in the statues. In a few moments, the small open space around her was filled with eight more people; Scarlet and Sage, as well as some uniformed Mistrali soldiers. "We got called out because someone was saying a massive horde of Grimm were on their way to Mistral. We got a barricade set up; but when nothing showed up but a handful of them, we decided to come and see what happened. Next thing we know, there's a whole army of Grimm statues and now you. Did you do this?"

"I, I don't know..."

"Well, it doesn't matter now. The rest either scattered or were dealt with by the barricade at the mouth of the canyon. Let's get you out of here,"

Ruby was thankful for the support as she began to pass between each of the statues that formed around them. Small idle chatter filled the space between them. Neptune asked why she was here, and she told him about the request for volunteers for the assault on Mistral and that she and Nora had joined up. She told him how she met up with Sun back in a Vacuo city and that he was transported back to Feiyan with an injury. As the minutes ticked by, everyone stopped when they heard an inhuman scream echo out through the valley. They each turned to look at where they thought it came from.

"What was that?" one of the soldiers said,

"Nothing good," Sage said as he reached behind him and grabbed his large sword and slowly pulled it off his back. The scream came back again, only this time, it was much closer. In the distance, they saw a huge figure with horns on its head. Ruby's stomach dropped at the sight of it's human-like glowing red eyes.

"Run!"

They all broke into a sprint, trying to get away from the creature. Slipping between the statues was slowing them all down enough to hear the sounds of hooves stomping over the statues behind them. Ruby could probably use her semblance to escape but that would mean leaving Neptune and everyone else to their deaths with whatever that thing was behind them. She could not do that, so she ran next to them, trying to make sure the normal soldiers were in front of her.

After another scream behind them, something appeared above her. She followed the path of the statue falling from the air as it hit the soldier in front of her, leaving only a broken and bloody body under a ruined statue. "Holy fuck!" one of them shouted as they continued to run. The sounds of a galloping horse grew louder as they kept running, the soldiers hauling ass like no other until the beast caught up to them in a matter of seconds.

Destroying statues as it rushed in front of them, everyone stopped at the sight of the nightmare that stood before them. It stood twice, maybe three times as stall as any of the Grimm statues that surrounded them. What she saw first was the body of a horse, a Grimm skull exposed from its blackened flesh; next was the limp, disproportionate body that sat on top of it. Exposed ribs and bones were jutting out of its spine; impossibly long arms dragged on the ground as the creature as a whole began to position itself better.

Finally, the upper body snapped upright with the sound of bones popping into place. Its face was covered in a mask topped with two long, curved horns on top. Its movements were nothing more than twitches as it stared at each and every person, in turn, unnerving her even more. Finally, it threw its head back; its black flesh stretching across its mouth, looking like someone had tried to stitch its mouth shut, and let out an ungodly shriek. Everyone was forced to drop their weapons so they could cover their ears to protect themselves from the pitch that came out of its mouth.

Ruby watched as one of its hands twitched and was thrown back with such force that it stretched far behind it before it shot forward with such speed that she only had a few beats to jump out of the way. Unfortunately, missing its target, the hand shot back to the body, grabbing one of the soldiers on the return trip. He screamed as he was pulled, only to be thrown behind the beast. Ruby saw the soldier land and his screaming died the moment he did.

"What the fuck is that thing?" one of the remaining soldiers asked as he picked his weapon back up and took aim.

"I don't know. I don't remember seeing anything like it before," Ruby began as she slowly picked up her weapon off the ground, making sure to make her movements were not tracked immediately. "Are you guys set up for anti-Grimm fighting?" She received nods from the remainder before they all had their weapons trained on it. "Good, don't stop moving and aim for the eyes. Let us take care of the actual damage," When she spoke, the Grimm turned its head sideways and peered at her with its twitchy movements before letting out another scream, signalling the start to the fight.

Everyone moved at once, the soldiers began to fire in bursts at the Grimm, pulling its attention in several directions at once. Everyone with ranged weapons joined in on the firing to keep it distracted while Sage rushed in with his greatsword. The bullets the soldiers were using did barely any damage to the beast's thick hide, while Ruby's heavier rounds were taking larger chunks out of its flesh. With Sage's sword, she watched as he carved a large chunk out of the hind legs of the beast, which let out a painful cry as the chunk of black that fell off dissipated instantly.

In response, the monster back kicked Sage with its massive hooved feet, sending him through three statues by force alone. It began to target each of the soldiers and Neptune with its rubbery arms. Shooting them out in every way, but everyone kept moving so it only grabbed onto the stone statues that were everywhere. Growing frustrated with their tactics, the beast growled and pulled its arms in close. Suddenly, it began to spin on the axis and sent its arms out; smashing every statue in the vicinity to clear room for itself.

"HIT THE DIRT!"

Everyone dropped to the floor instantly as the arms spun over their heads, she could feel the wind and smell the stink of Grimm flesh as they flew over top of her. One of the soldiers was not quite fast enough, and ducked enough to have his head knocked clean off by the force of its arms. The headless body fell to the ground with a thud as the beast continued to spin. Finally finished, she watched as its limbs shook and wiggled back into form.

"YOU BASTARD!" one of the remaining soldiers shouted out as he ran forward, holding down the trigger and sending a hail of bullets at it. In response, the Grimm pulled its arms close to its chest and began to cry out. She watched as the joints on its back suddenly grew into long, bony blades and its horns on its head grew as well. Lashing out with its arms, the soldier was grabbed and pulled in close. Now face to face with it, it opened its mouth wider and wider until the small bits of flesh snapped and it screamed right in his face.

He screamed back in pure fear as his eardrums ruptured and blood began to leak from his eyes. Without missing a beat, the Grimm tore the man in half like a toy and tossed each piece to the sides, setting its blazing red eyes on a new target. "How are we going to kill this thing?" Neptune asked as he eyed up the nightmare being.

"We need to disable its arms somehow!"

It screamed at them again as it threw its arms out, aimed at Scarlet. The man dodged and rolled out of the way while bringing his sword up behind him, running the sharp blade across its wrist, causing it to scream out and knock him to the side. The man knocked over several statues as he flew through the air and finally came down. Ruby could see the light red shimmer of his Aura threatening to break, making him vulnerable to attack. They needed to do something now, or none of them would make it out of there alive.

Another arm was shot out at Sage, who deflected it to the ground with his sword and stabbed it with the weight behind the weapon. A terrible shriek came from the Grimm as it tried to pull its arm back, but it could not free itself. Sage called out for Neptune as the Grimm pulled its arm back to prepare for another attack against Sage. Understanding what his teammate wanted, he looked to Ruby, who nodded in return, forming a strategy in the few short seconds they had before the arm came out.

Using her Semblance, Ruby shot herself into the path of the arm and knocked it off course. Landing on top of it, she stabbed the heavy scythe through its flesh and pinned it to the ground. Screaming, it began to right itself to charge towards them. Calling out for Neptune, the man rushed towards her and transformed his weapon into a trident before thrusting it into where her scythe was. Pulling Crescent Rose out of the Grimm, Ruby sprinted to the side, leaving petals behind her before she got into position.

Pooling her Aura into her Semblance, she shot out with a round from her weapon and soared through the air in the blink of an eye. The scythe blade caught the Grimm where the two bodies were conjoined and stretched it impossibly long. Stretching as far as they could, Ruby locked eyes with it in the brief moment when the momentum and the stretch ran out. Pulling the trigger, she sheared the black flesh apart and it screamed as it was slingshotted back to its arms.

Neptune and Sage were quick to pull their weapons back and get away as the Grimm half was dragged across the muddy ground until it stopped. It began convulsing violently, its arms waving in every direction as its screams lasted. The horse looked to its former rider and reared itself on its hind legs and let out a terrible wail, black smoke coming from its mouth as it began to charge towards Sage and Neptune. Ruby had to hurry back to the fight before anyone else got hurt.

When she got there, she watched the rider right itself on the two arms and begin to run towards the soldiers with unnatural speed. With another shot, she launched herself into a spiral and drop kicked the rider out of the way as Sage and Neptune got the better of the horse. With a jump to the side, Sage cleaved off the two legs on one side, making it fall onto its flanks. Neptune then got up close to it and began to fire round after round into its exposed chest until there was a large enough hole in its flesh. One of the soldiers then ran up with three grenades and dropped them all into the black, bloody hole before everyone ran as far as they could away from the horse.

A second passed before it exploded in blackened chunks of Grimm flesh that dissipated in seconds. The rider screamed out for its lost half and began to wildly swing its arms at everyone; one catching Neptune off guard and pulling him close. Opening its mouth wider than it has before, it tried to tear him apart with its teeth but that was where Ruby found her opening.

With the mouth open as wide as it could go, she slipped her scythe in its gaping maw and pulled the trigger. She separated the two halves of its face instantly and it threw Neptune away to writhe and scream in pain; spasming as the last of its life drained from it before finally stilling and turning to black smoke. Everyone was taking deep breaths and looking at each other, making sure nothing else came from the side to attack them.


When the coast was clear, the remaining soldiers began to radio in to make sure there was medical ready for them and to collect the tags of the dead.

Ruby helped Neptune back up with a hand as Sage picked Scarlet up. "You okay?" Ruby asked him. The blue haired man just nodded and looked at where the rider had died.

"Yeah, but I don't think I'm going to be sleeping peacefully anytime soon..." He cleared his throat and rubbed his neck gently. "Thanks for the help."

"It's what I do. Come on, let's get out of here." With everyone's agreement, they all made it to the blockade when the rain finally stopped. Medics came rushing out to take the wounded and patch them up and take them back to a MASH camp for the ones who needed it. Ruby found herself sitting on a crate of ammunition and catching her breath. Everything had gone wrong with that mission, from losing, then letting the dam be destroyed and a horde of Grimm getting loose, to the fight with that huge Grimm creature resulting in even more dead. Ruby considered that mission a failure.

Ruby looked up when she heard someone swear under their breath. The medic that was coming to take a look at her stopped and just stared off into the air past her. Getting off her box, she looked back and saw several ships flying through the air, including one massive one in the middle of the fleet. They had broken through somewhere that was not the dam, the whole thing was a distraction from the get-go.

All around her, the barricade began to pack up everything lightning fast, they left anything that was not mission critical behind in order to make it back to Mistral before the Atlas Assault.

From beside her, the Red Death stepped forward to gaze at the fleet of Atlas ships making their way slowly across the air. Her words tore at the back of her mind, like wet sandpaper against her skull. Ruby wished she was wrong, but knew that she was right. A single phrase that spoke at who she needed to fight, who she needed to kill.

"The Enemy."

Chapter Text

A Yellow Setting Sun

Pt. III


She woke up with a shock, jolting awake as she tried to sit up, only to groan as the light attacked her eyes and lit her brain on fire. She could feel dried spit in her mouth and her tongue felt like she had licked all the wool off a sheep. Opening her eyes slowly, she found herself laying in a bathtub with her leg and arm hanging out of the side of it. Slowly, she tried to pull her limbs back towards herself and found all her muscles urging her just to lay back down.

Pushing herself to a sitting position, she recognized a few of the bathroom things as hers and Neo's, meaning that she was back in their hotel room in Mistral. With a groan, she forced herself out of the rub, using the sink as a support as she tried to get her limbs to cooperate with her. Grabbing the cup that always sat next to the sink, she filled it up and downed its contents a few times before turning the water back off and stumbling into the main room. Opening the door, the lamp was on and the sound of rain pattered against the window that overlooked the city.

Sitting on a chair facing her was Neo, her arms and legs crossed with the most pissed off look Yang had ever seen on her face. It would be adorable if her girlfriend was not so terrifying. Clearing her throat to make sure she did not croak, she spoke to her. "Hey, Shortc---." Before she could finish the pet name, Neo's hand shot up with a single finger extended and shook it furiously. Closing her mouth, Yang hung her head and took a deep breath.

Two snaps got her attention and she saw Neo point and gesture with her hands faster than anything she could mentally translate. "Neo, slow down, I can't understand you," She hated how tired her voice sounded but with her pounding headache and the sick feeling in her stomach, that was all she could get out. Looking even more furious in her small body, Neo turned and began to write quickly on a small pad of paper that sat on the table. Before long, she threw the pad at her when she was finished.

Yang flinched when it hit her, not expecting the outburst. Picking the paper off the ground, she looked at the hastily scribbled note and read it over.

"Do you have any idea how worried I've been for you?"

Yang sighed as she looked up at Neo, the fury never leaving her smaller frame. "I'm sorry, Neo. I kinda over did it this time." The way her face lit up with mocked surprise and the tilt of her head made Yang believe that she would have scoffed if she could. Grabbing the pad out of Yang's hand, she scribbled on the paper as she paced around the room. Yang could see her

anger in each pen stroke until she quickly turned and raised her arm up, the pad of paper in hand, and threw it back at her. Yang was more prepared for this one and caught it against her body before reading it.

"Overdid it is not what I would say, Because Blake had to drag your ass to me so I could throw you in the tub."

Yang had to reread the last sentence twice over before she shook her head. Why would Blake bring her to Neo when she went to talk to Raven. At least, that was the last thing she could remember before everything went hazy before waking up in the bathtub. "Why did Blake have me?" Neo responded by throwing her arms up in the air wildly with a shrug. Yang sighed and rubbed her face, the terrible feeling in her stomach and in her head not going away any time soon. Again, her lover grabbed the pad and wrote in big letters and held it up to her face.

"Where were you?"

Yang scratched at her head, trying to stall for enough time to get her thoughts in order before speaking. "I went to talk to Raven." She rubbed her face, trying to wipe the terrible feeling out of her body. Neo just stood there, arms folded and waiting for the rest of the story. "I drank too much... I hardly remember the talk I had with her or anything that happened after I got there anyway." The smaller woman threw her hands up in the air in frustration. "I'm sorry, Neo."

She was expecting her to write something down and throw it at her again, instead, she got a fist to the arm. It was not hard, but it was enough to get the point across that she was mad. Rubbing the spot she punched, she saw that tears were forming in the mismatched eyes that were filled with equal parts anger and sadness. Before Yang could say anything, Neo punched her in the arm again and was about to do it a third time but Yang caught the offending limb and held it. "Hey! Stop that, I said I was sorry!"

But Neo tried to fight against her, forcing Yang to grab her other hand when she tried to use that one as a weapon. Struggling against Yang for a few moments, the fury gave way and the fighting stopped to make way for tears that freely dropped down her face. Her shoulders jumped in silent sobbing as she tried to keep her face still, but could not stop her teeth from clenching. Yang just watched her sniffle and take deep breaths, trying to compose herself but failing it.

Watching this happen to Neo was breaking her heart even more by the second. She knew her drinking had gotten worse with the fact that Emerald was no longer solely enforcing her alcohol consumption after they had gotten to the city. Easy booze just an hour walk into the city was hard not to say no to. Combine that with her increased training habits, and trying to push through her mental problems with brute force alone was taking a bigger toll that she had thought, and seeing the effects of her drinking was painful.

With the will to fight gone, Yang released Neo's hands and wrapped her arms around her smaller body. She felt her arms wrapped around her neck and her tear-streaked face pressed against her shoulder. With ease, Yang picked her up and she felt her legs wrap around her waist on reflex. Sitting down on the bed, she pushed Neo away just enough so she could look her in the face. With her warm hand, she brushed the tears away from Neo's cheeks and leaned their foreheads together.

"I'm so sorry to put you through all this, Neo," she whispered to her, "I didn't know it was affecting you this much."

"Worried." The one-word response from Neo's lips felt like a cold hand wrapped around her heart and squeezed tightly. The fact that she forced Neo to speak, causing herself pain in doing so, meant so much more than she thought.

"Why were you worried?"

With a solid sniffle, she leaned back a little more and detangled her hands from around Yang's neck, so she could reach into her top and pull out her scroll. She took a few seconds to type out her response before flipping the device around to show her what she wrote.

"I came to check up on you a bit later, and you were gone. I may have overreacted, but I don't want to lose you like I lost him." She read the small message and brushed some pink hair out of her face so she could cup her cheeks carefully, gently brushing more tears from her face as her eyes swapped colours between blinks.

"You're not going to lose me, Neo, I promise you that." But she just shook her head and typed more.

"I wasn't there when he died. I don't even know what happened to him." A fresh wave of tears fell from her eyes just at the thought of Roman Torchwick. Pulling her forward, Yang kissed her forehead and wrapped her arms around her, holding her close so she could cry as much as she needed. She could feel the tremor going down her arm and into her hand. Yang tried her best to ignore it and hold it in, but Neo still noticed it. Pulling back, she pulled her left hand out from where it was holding her close, and brought her knuckles to her lips.

Despite the shaking, Neo still wrapped her hand around Yang's. Holding it close to her, she laced their fingers together and held it close to her until the shaking passed. When it finally did, Yang took a deep breath and thanked whatever was out there that took pity on her that she was gifted such a loving person to help her through everything. Pulling her close, Yang kissed her soft lips and tasted the subtle chocolate and strawberry of her lip balm. She held the kiss until her lungs burned, and only then did Yang pull away.

Pressing their foreheads together again, she closed her eyes and took in her scent; it always seemed to calm her down a little bit. "I promise not to drink again." But that just made Neo shake her head. Pulling her scroll out again, she typed out a response without even pulling away.

"Cold turkey would be even worse for you than drinking too much. We need you to be steady during the big battle coming up. Cutting back would make me feel a lot better." With a nod, she kissed Neo again to seal the deal.

"Cutting back, I can do that for you."

That made her smile. With the argument and the tears finally over, they stayed in each other's arms until a greater need overcame her. "Hey, Shortcake, I don't suppose there are any restaurants still open?" That made Neo’s shoulders jump in a silent giggle as she shook her head.

"Everyone left. No one around to cook greasy food for you."

"Lame."


With that, Neo pulled herself off of Yang's lap and helped the taller woman to her feet. Freshening up from her bender, she showered and brushed her teeth while Neo was preparing something for her. When she came out of the bathroom feeling much better, Neo was sitting on the bed with the in-room electric kettle boiling away. She then produced a small styrofoam cup with instant noodles written across the side of it. Yang raised her eyebrow at the simple meal and looked at her girlfriend. "Really?"

With a gesture to the window, she was shown that the corner convenience store had a large hole through the window and was still being looted by some local gang that did not leave with the rest of the civilians. People rushing out with arms full of snacks and drinks. A pair of older men were carrying out the mobile bank machine that used to be in the back corner. "You looted a store for me?" Yang smiled as she turned to watch Neo make a heart out of her hands and a wink. "Aww, thanks, babe."

While the instant noodles were not the best thing she had ever eaten before, they were still leagues better than the ones she got often back on Patch, and according to the packaging, they were local as well. The two of them sat at the small table in the room, slurping up noddles with cheap chopsticks and funny faces. With the meal over, Yang felt much better than when she first woke up. With nothing else to do than to toss the cups in the trash, they made their way to the door until Neo grabbed her hand and stopped her in her tracks.

Looking back, she held the flask, her flaming heart printed in the yellow leather band that wrapped around its middle. She held it out to Yang with a small smile on her face. Taking the flask from her, she immediately popped the top on reflex alone. She took one long sip and was about to go for a second one when she caught the look Neo was giving her from the corner of her eyes. Stopping for just a moment, she took one more, much smaller sip and pocketed the flask.

"Baby steps."

Neo accepted the compromise and nodded. With a single raised eyebrow and the silent question attached to it, Yang took a deep breath and held it for a count of three with her eyes closed before releasing it. "Do it."

 


She heard the sound of glass being smashed as well as the familiar sensation of her body rejecting everything about Neo's teleport technique. When she opened her eyes, they were no longer in their hotel room. Instead, they were in the Balck Fang base near the forest. All around them were Black Fang soldiers rushing to and from the different posts that were set up inside the building, carrying messages or supplies in preparation for the coming battle.

Looking around, she saw that almost everyone was in their White Fang outfits, meaning they were probably getting ready to mobilize nearly everyone in the next few hours for the largest operation she had ever seen pulled off by this group. Wondering what she should be doing at the moment, she was about to ask for Velvet's location when she saw the familiar set of ears on the equally familiar midnight black hair. "Blake!" Yang called out with a short jog to her friend's location.

She was busy talking to someone else, wearing the full uniform, so Yang had no idea who it actually was. When she approached, the person saw her coming and made a quick exit, leaving the two of them alone. "Hey," Yang said with a small smile when she finally stood in front of her.

"Hey," Blake replied in kind, looking off to the side, "Glad to see you're feeling better. I was kinda worried since you were pretty far gone yesterday."

Yang grimaced as she scratched the back of her head in embarrassment. "Yeah, I'm really sorry about that. I went to talk to Raven,"

"Oh, that would explain a lot..."

"Yeah, again. Super sorry you had to see me like that, I didn't say anything too bad, did I?" Yang was really worried she may have done something was really bad, considering that she could not remember any of it. Blake seemed to mull it over in her mind, avoiding eye contact and nervously tapping her fingers to her thigh.

"No," she finally said after a few seconds, "Nothing too bad just kept apologizing."

"Yeah, I've been doing that a lot this morning..." Looking back, she saw Neo watching them closely. "Listen, I know you and Neo haven't really been seeing eye to eye, but thank you for looking for her when I was out. It really means a lot to me, to us." Blake finally looked at her. If Yang did not know any better, she would guess she saw a kind of sadness in her amber eyes. It went just as quickly as it came on as she nodded in agreement. The conversation was broken when another Black Fang member in full uniform rushed up towards them.

"Blake, your friend was looking for you, she's over by the stairs." She just nodded while the man moved on.

"I gotta go see what Ilia's up to, I'll talk to you later, Yang." Before she could even give an answer, Blake was already beginning to leave.

"Wait, do you know where Velvet is?"

Blake paused just long enough to give her answer. "In one of the planning rooms,"


Thanking her Beacon partner, Yang rushed over to the offices to find the leader of the Black Fang. Checking room after room, she finally found the rabbit faunus leaning over a table with a map of the city on it. There were red 'X's marked in several locations. Around the table were others in charge of other parts of the Black Fang. Not wanting to interrupt, Yang just hung out by the wall and waited until the meeting was over. It did not stop her from listening in.

"-check on the other bombs, we can't afford to be caught off guard if the White Fang decided to set them off early before Atlas gets here. With almost everyone gone, White Fang movements are going to be more out in the open so keep the humans out of the streets as much as we can. We can't afford to get sloppy now. Human militia will be out looking for White Fang, so keep out of their way. Make sure our supplies are getting shared to the White Fang to avoid suspicion. Be careful out there; we're almost through this hell."

Everyone around the table nodded and began to file out. Once everyone was gone, Velvet finally noticed Yang and approached her. "Whatcha need, boss?" Yang was eager to help out, she never liked just sitting around. The woman quickly looked out of the room to make sure no one was coming before bringing her over to the table and began to talk in a hushed tone.

"Yang, I need to level with you," She already did not like where this was going. "I know you're doing this for your sister, but keeping this from you might just do more harm than good for everyone." She was waiting for the other shoe to drop as Velvet reached into a drawer and pulled out a paper file and set it on the table, but did not remove her hand from the top of it, keeping its contents secured. After some internal debate, she pushed the file towards Yang and leaned on the table before speaking.

"Ruby's in Mistral."

Yang just stared at Velvet in disbelief. She was worried about finding her little sister and now she's just here, in the same city. Looking down at the file, she opened it and the first thing she saw was a picture that looked more like a mug shot of Ruby. Attached to the picture was a file on her, with the symbol of the Vale Military stamped at the top. With each line of text she read, her heart sank deeper and deeper. A list of strengths went on and on, including HVT removal and vanguard assignments, whatever those meant. A confirmed kill count in the high hundreds, nearly a thousand people.

All that was not including the three pages of missions that she was a part of; Defences and Offences, Specialist Hunts, and Scouting. Each mission had the details printed in plain text that anyone could read. Her baby sister was so deep in this war, it almost seemed like the Vale military lived or died with each mission Ruby went on. Each mission was life-threatening for her, but she lived and survived to fight and kill again and again. Page after page of mission statements and details that Yang was forced to put the file down before she could not remember the Ruby she grew up with.

"Mistral asked Vale for volunteers from their military to help repel the Atlesian assault. Ruby volunteered and has been here for the last week, running missions to buy Mistral as much time as she could give to prepare the defences."

"And you're just telling me this, now?" Yang could hardly keep her anger in check.

"I just found out yesterday, when one of my informants in the Mistrali military dropped a stack of Huntsmen’ and Huntresses’ files on my desk. Your sister is not the only one who's fighting, I think this is going to be the worst fight that's going to happen in the war." Just as she finished speaking, she suddenly jerked her head to the side and squinted her eyes, like she was trying to hear something. When Yang asked what was happening, Velvet just shushed her and took a few steps across the room.

Her one ear, broken and folded in half, swayed with each twitch while her other one, just cut in half, moved in different directions, trying to figure out what she was hearing. Yang was about to ask what she was hearing again when a loud voice cut in from the outside, filling the whole building with their commanding voice.

"This is the Mistrali Army! All White Fang soldiers, put down your weapons and come out peacefully. We have your base surrounded!"

Chapter Text

A Cold White Day

Pt. II


 

 

She saw, but could not believe what she was seeing through the binoculars. Off in the far distance was their target, a military camp that had reinforced walls erected around it to protect a series of anti-air turrets that was swaying back and forth, scanning the sky for a potential target. Everything was going according to plan; that was until the strike force had sent a reconnaissance team to give them an idea of what they were going up against. Unfortunately, the Mistral army had a few tricks up their sleeves.

"How in the blood-soaked, dust fucking hell, did Mistral get their grubby hands on Paladins?"

While Petty officer Resdea's response to the current situation was uncultured and vulgar, she was not wrong. Sitting just behind the wall that marked the camp, two Atlesian Paladins stood between guard towers. Their white plating was painted in the colours of Mistral, a rough camouflage of deep blue and rich green in different shades and shapes, breaking up the rigid form of the mechanical war machine. To make matters worse, an oversized cannon mounted on the shoulders of said mechs made even Weiss start to rethink their approach.

"I don't know, but those railguns are going to cause us even more problems if we don't figure out a way around them quickly." Weiss backed away from the bank, letting a sniper take her spot and sight in the area of operation. The addition of the railguns to the stolen Paladins extended the effective range of their anti-air defence to beyond the turrets, making them able to pick them off even if the Bullheads were skimming across the ground, as was the original plan. "So, what are our options?"

The members of the Shock Troopers squad 'Argo' and herself stood in a loose circle, each of them was throwing ideas out and shooting them down just as quickly.

"Well, our Paladins can't out fire those things, they'd get pegged before they're in range of our guns."

"Snipers could maybe get a handful of guys before they find their nest and take it out with those damn guns."

"We can't call for an aerial bombardment from the Dreadnaughts without running the risk of them getting shot out of the sky," Weiss added her own plan, as well as why it would not work. They were all silent for a number of moments before one of them perked up and snapped his fingers.

"We could drop a deuce..."

For all the gods above, Weiss cursed whoever she had pissed off since right after a soldier had said that, her hearing had gone. What she wouldn’t give to make the ringing in her ear drown out everything just a few seconds before he said that, now it was the only thing running through her head as she tried to play off her disabled hearing. She watched as the soldier in black armour began to speak to the others, explaining the plan to nodding heads. Weiss feigned interest for long enough to try and get her hearing to come back before the explanation was over, but the plan was simple, and everyone turned to her for confirmation.

"I'm thinking..." She had to focus on making sure her voice was even as the ringing continued in one ear and absolutely nothing from the other. With no end to the ringing in sight, Weiss suppressed a sigh and nodded to the Shock troopers to get the plan started. She really did not like this plan, but she was out of options that would not out her injury. She watched as they all started to load up into one of the Bullheads, weapons ready and some extra munitions added to each person for an extended firefight.

Slowly, the ringing began to finally subside, much to her relief. Being able to hear out of only one side of her head was a vast improvement over none. With everything in motion around her, people got up from their stations, a few soldiers catching a few minutes of sleep while others munched on ration bars before getting mobilized. "Go grab some tin cans, we need the extra firepower for this one."

"You won't," Resdea chimed in, "Grab some people with actual skin. I'd rather have someone who can think watch my back rather than those high tech can-openers." She pushed her helmet over her head and stalked into the Bullhead. For a moment, Weiss was about to go rip her a new one, pulling rank if she had to when she remembered that Penny's true origin was still a top secret by Atlas command. Looking back, she saw the woman staring at where Resdea was standing with sad eyes.

Walking up to her, she placed a hand on her shoulder to draw her attention. "Maybe it'll be better if you lead the ground forces once we take care of the Paladins and turrets." Weiss watched as her green eyes shifted slightly, the movement so subtle she nearly missed the lens like apparatus that functioned as her iris shifting to focus on her.

"Perhaps, it would be best. I'd much rather lead the ground assault than-," Penny interrupted herself with a hiccup. "Than be with- you in- the Bullhead-" Weiss just raised an eyebrow and nodded, there was no time to question the android of her odd behaviour, there was a mission to complete.

Getting onto the Bullhead, she took her seat and looked around at the specialized airship that the Shock Troopers travelled around in. One after another, they all loaded up and got into their places, leaving twelve soldiers seated with safety harnesses keeping them there. With everything ready and everyone strapped in, the Bullhead began to take off in the opposite direction of the Mistrali emplacement. The minutes ticked by as everyone began last minute weapon checks and hugged them close to their chests. The shock troopers seemed to be at ease while the general infantry kept shifting nervously.

"So, what exactly is, 'dropping a deuce'?" one of the GI's asked.

"Well, it's when we-"

"Shh!" Resdea interrupted with a grin on her face, her eyes covered by the helmet, "Don't ruin the surprise." A few of them laughed and got ready.

The minutes ticked by as the Bullhead got higher and higher. A blaring noise filled the cabin as a light began to blink from one of the walls, illuminating everything in an amber glow. The Shock Troopers all pressed a button on their helmets and facepiece slid into place, sealing their heads from the airless cabin. The GIs followed suit with their own helmets, unsure what exactly was about to happen. Weiss, however, did not wear one of the soldiers' helmets. She pulled a small mask from a pouch and strapped it to her face, allowing her to breathe as they continued to climb higher into the sky.

When another buzzer echoed through the cabin, everyone looked up at the speaker as it began to speak to them. "Alright folks, this is your captain speaking, we have reached our cruising altitude and will take twenty seconds to reach our destination. Please make sure your belongings are secured, your trays are in the up and locked position, and thank you for flying air Atlas." While Weiss could not see anyone's faces with their masks in place, she could feel the confused looks on the GIs as they looked between herself and the Shock Troopers.

"Brace yourselves and try not to get whiplash," Weiss shouted as she pressed her head against her headrest and gripped her harness tightly. Then it started. The sensation of weightlessness, the feeling of her stomach floating in her body and the tickle in her chest. Just as quickly as it came, it was made worse when the whole Bullhead began to drop. Everything shook, her smaller body threatening to slip out from the straps holding her in.

Over the few people screaming for dear life, she heard laughter coming from the Shock Troopers. One of them was kicking their feet while laughing, another was chanting some military marching song that came from the Shock Troopers, something about descending into hell. Finally, she looked over at Petty Officer Resdea, who was staring right at her. With a single motion, she gestured to her eyes and then pointed at Weiss. Before long, the pilot’s voice came back, stating that they were landing in ten seconds.

As the countdown began, the Shock Troopers got their weapons ready while Resdea was shouting over the sound of the Bullhead dropping. "The Generals and politicians like to think they are the ones who win battles and sway the tides of war! But they're wrong! It's us! The soldiers who do what it takes and win it for them! It's our bodies being thrown against the enemies over and over again, and we will save this damned world for them with two things!"

Then, all of the members of the Shock Troopers all shouted over the sound of wind rushing past the hull as it dropped. "Boots and blood!"

"BRACE!"

Weiss seized her body up and stiffened her neck as she pressed it against the back of her seat. Not even a second after the command came out, the Bullhead activated its engine and blasted out in the opposite way, dead stopping the freefall. She felt the safety harness struggle to hold her in as the momentum tried to throw her all over the inside of the Bullhead, but she managed to make it out with only a small bump to the back of her head when she jumped around a bit.

The back door opened and the safety harnesses all released themselves so everyone could charge out. The Shock Troopers all jumped to their feet and rushed out, followed by Weiss. The regular soldiers took a brief moment to collect themselves before rushing down the ramp to follow suit. Outside was chaos, the Mistrali soldiers were all running to and from cover, getting ready to attack the Atlesian troops that had suddenly appeared. Grenades were thrown and bullets were fired in all directions, keeping people pinned behind cover and making an opening for Weiss to get into cover.

First things first, however, the Paladins needed to be taken care of.

 

Rushing to the first one, she saw three of the Shock Troopers rushing with her, giving her covering fire as the stolen Atlesian mechs began to turn around to face them. The massive weapons mounted onto their shoulders weighed them down considerably, making their movements sluggish and slow; which gave Weiss time to raise her hand and flick her sword, creating a defensive glyph to block a hail of auto-fire from the wrist-mounted machine guns. Bullets bounced off the spinning white glyph as they charged forward, one of the Shock Troopers pulling something from his belt.

Spinning a small satchel in their hand, they released it at full swing and it flew over the barrier Weiss had erected and stuck to the mech at its waist joint. The soldier then pulled a small switch out and pressed the lever, setting off the satchel charge and blowing a hole straight through the steel. With the excessive weight of the mech, it collapsed at the waist and fell to the ground on the other side of the wall, leaving the path clear to the second Paladin, which the other team of Shock Troopers were already approaching.

The plan came together effortlessly, the regular soldiers were keeping the Mistrali pinned down while the elites were taking down the anti-air platforms so the rest of the army could roll up in Bullheads and take the fort with overwhelming numbers. With three shots from stolen DPGs, the second Paladin was nothing more than a smoking pile of scrap metal. Without needing to give the order, the troopers began to charge the anti-air guns to disable them; Weiss was about to join them when she got a call over the comms.

"Schnee! Get ya pale ass over here now! Some bitch with swords is carving us up!" It did not take long for Weiss to find where Reseda had been, and finding the person she was fighting was just as easy. One Shock Trooper was on the ground, his blood splattered in the dirt, as Reseda was using her rifle to hold two thin swords at bay. Using glyphs to run above everyone else, Weiss slipped a glyph between the two women and separated them before landing between them.

 

"Go take out the turrets, I'll take care of her," Weiss ordered as she stood up straight and stared at the woman before her. The fact that she had a sword in each hand meant she was not just a regular soldier. The Mistrali uniform was unkempt with the sleeves rolled up past her elbows. Her loose top exposed a large scar across her neck, and scaled skin marking her as a Faunus. Even more interesting was the mundane alarm clock that sat on her hip, seemingly out of place.

"Well, looky here, the famous Weiss Schnee." The woman grinned, revealing a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth that did not sit well with Weiss. "This must be my lucky day."

"Stand down and surrender," Weiss called out as she readied herself in her stance, "This base will fall and you'll all die if you don't."

This sent the woman into a fit of giggles as she thrust one sword into the ground to keep it there while she pulled the clock from her belt and began to wind it. "That's rich, coming from someone in your position..." She set the clock back on her hip and pulled her sword back from the ground.

"I warned you, it's only a matter of time before this base is under Atlas control." Weiss tensed her body, getting ready to attack.

"Well, I just hope you don't have any regrets," the woman said as she pressed the button on the clock, a gentle ticking noise adding to the sounds of war around them, " 'cause this will be the last sixty seconds of your life."

With the woman not willing to surrender, Weiss shot a string of glyphs to the woman and charged forward with her sword thrusting out. The glyphs made quick work of the distance between them as the tip of Weiss's blade was aimed right at her face. She made no attempt to dodge out of the way and just stood there, staring her down. The blade aimed true but stopped just before the blade touched her skin. Wide blue eyes saw the yellow shimmer of her Aura stopping the blade dead. A large, knowing, toothy grin formed on her face, knowing her trap was sprung.

In a flurry of blades, the two women began a careful dance with each other. Back and forth, Weiss tried to keep the woman on defence, but whatever was keeping her blade at bay continued as her opponent allowed some attacks to slip through harmlessly to slip in for a quick thrust. Pushing away from her, the Specialist tried to keep her distance, only for her to follow her, the grin on her face only growing wider with each wild attack.

The tick-tock of the clock continued as Weiss found herself quickly on the defence, explosions and gunfire only broken up by the shouts of soldiers going back and forth. She went up to block an overhead swing of her sword, only to have to jump out of the way from a sudden thrust to her gut. Pulling a glyph to her hand, Weiss tried a different tactic she had once used to beat her sister; to simply stop her opponent with gravity. As the woman fell to her knees, the blades were the only thing that was holding her up while she tried to fight it.

With a breath, Weiss watched the woman struggle to stay upright, her bright, yellow eyes staring her down. Spinning the chambers in her weapon, Weiss readied her fire Dust to burn her to the ground. Just as she was about to stab her weapon to the ground, adding the flames to her prison, Weiss saw the quick movements of her eyes go from her to something behind her. She did not turn fast enough to stop the soldier from putting a barrel up to her head and pulling the trigger.

Weiss only had a brief moment to focus her Aura so the bullet did not kill her instantly. The power behind it threw her to the ground as the ringing in her ear came back tenfold. Disorientated and with the strongest headache she had ever had, she tried to get to her feet; only to have her arm kicked out from under her, sending her weapon sliding across the ground. The same foot knocked her onto her back and stomped down on her plated chest. The woman from before grinned a murderous smile as she held the clock up and dangled in front of her.

Without sound, the woman's mouth moved as she talked. The bells on the clock shaking violently as a yellow shimmer floated across her body. The Mistrali soldier laughing as he kept his weapon trained on Weiss. The woman slipped the clock back onto her belt and brought her sword to bear. Just before she could deliver the killing blow, the look on her face changed from murder to shock and surprise as a blade poked through her stomach. Everyone looked at the sudden sword for a moment before the woman was hurled through the air and thrown across the base.

Standing behind her was Penny, her swords floating out behind her like wings as the sword she used slid back into place. The Mistrali soldier turned to shoot at her, only for him to take a green laser through his chest, dropping him to the ground instantly. Looking around, she could see Atlesian soldiers and Knights gaining ground in the base as the Paladins they brought with them took up places where the Mistrali Paladins were, keeping watch and taking care of any more heavy weapons platforms that remained. Without any sound coming in, it all looked very out of place and disjointed.

A hand grasped her arm and hauled her up onto her feet. Meeting Penny's eyes, she could tell she was saying something, but Weiss did not know what. The pain in her brain made her flinch as she gripped her head, her flesh tender where her Aura had deflected the bullet from earlier. She tried to walk away from Penny, but she kept hovering around her, worry clear across her face. Looking out into the base, she saw Mistrali soldiers being paraded out with their hands above their heads with weapons aimed at them carefully.

With a strange popping noise and a strange sensation, her hearing came back in her good ear just in time for someone to yell 'fire'. All at once, the soldiers opened fire onto the Mistrali that surrendered to them. Their blood painted the wall behind them as their bodies fell to the ground. Weiss stared in disbelief as prisoners were so heartlessly executed before her eyes. She had killed people, she would be the first to admit that in this senseless war, but those people had been fighting her; it was either her or them. What she saw was simply slaughter.

She could not look at those bodies any longer. Sharply turning, she picked up her weapon and was about to demand who ordered that massacre when Penny stepped in front of her. "Specialist Schnee! Are you okay?!?" Her voice was loud and slow, making sure to enunciate each word carefully.

"Yes, Penny, I'm fine." Even as she said that she grimaced from the pain in her head.

"That is good to hear, I was starting to get worried since you were not responding to my earlier comments,"

"Sorry, Penny. I was a little disoriented," -a statement not far from the truth.

"Well, I am happy to inform you that the base is now under Atlas control!" Penny's cheerful attitude was far too much to take at this very moment, so she ignored the salute the girl gave her. Instead, her attention was drawn to Petty Officer Resdea, who was walking up with her helmet tucked under her arm and a cigar in her mouth. The tip of it glowed as she took a deep breath in and blew the smoke out of her nose.

"Nice work, Schnee. Thanks for the assist," she said through her cigar.

"Why did you kill those people?" Weiss demanded.

The shock trooper blinked a few times before pulling the foul-smelling stick out of her mouth. "Orders are orders, Schnee."

Shaking her head, Weiss pointed to where the bodies were being loaded up and catalogued to be shipped back to Atlas for burial or sent somewhere to be stored until they could be buried in native soil.

"Who gave you the order to execute prisoners of war?"

Reseda just shrugged as she took another deep inhale. "Someone up high, that's all I got." She then pointed at Weiss, making sure she heard what was about to be said. "While you were up on the ship, we got some new shit the Mistrali are pulling. Suicide bombers all chanting about immortality in death started popping up all over the place, posing as people who surrendered, so the order came down to dispose of them and let whatever god they're worshipping now sort 'em out."

Weiss was painfully reminded of the grenade that nearly killed her not too long ago, and the dangerous whisper that came from the dead woman's mouth. With nothing else to do, Weiss reached up and opened the communications channel to the Mantle of Responsibility. “This is specialist Schnee, objective secured."

She released her hand and looked out to watch the mass of ships starting to come into view. The only thing that was left now was Mistral itself...

Chapter Text

A Black Starless Night

Pt. III


 

The silence was heavy in the air as Blake sat in front of Velvet while Ilia nervously tapped at her leg, avoiding the scarred face of their leader. They had just told her about the series of event that led them to return early without a detailed report of where the Mistrali forces were setting up their defences. Blake had not felt this tense since she was being interrogated by Ozpin back at Beacon, when she was giving him the information she needed to be allowed into the Huntsman academy without taking prior tests.

Beside her, Ilia was shifting her posture in her seat, trying to get comfortable in the tense room. With a heavy sigh, Velvet let her hand flop onto the desk she was using with a gentle slam, making the two of them jump slightly. "Without a proper map of the area and where everything is set up, we can't risk anybody going down that part of the city." Velvet leaned back and looked behind her to the large map that covered almost the whole wall.

Pictures of machine gun nests and sniper posts littered the wall with coloured pins denoting where ammunition piles and heavy weapons were located; arrows pointing in various directions that predicted where both armies would go as well as where the Black Fang would be during the big battle. "I'm sorry," Ilia's voice softly rang out as her eyes drifted down to the floor. Looking back, Velvet stood up and approached the crestfallen Faunus and crouched in front of her.

"I know why you did it, and I can't fault you for it. If I were there, I don't know if I could not do what you did..." She reached out and grabbed onto her hands and gave them a squeeze. "But I also know what the stakes are by the end of this. If letting one person die is all it takes to end this war, end all the conflict in the world, I would pull the trigger myself. Hell, I'd sacrifice myself for it! But the world doesn't work that way, it takes strong people to weather the storm and do what needs to be done."

The two Faunus looked at each other before Ilia took a deep breath. "Even if it means standing by and watching someone, one of your own, be beaten to an inch of their life and pissed on like they're less than dirt?"

The rabbit Faunus paused and gritted her teeth before taking a deep breath. "If it means putting an end to all the hate, all the inequality, and finally having the Faunus being seen and treated as equals, yes."

The two of them held each other gaze for a few moments before Ilila nodded and gently slid her hands out of Velvet's "You're very determined for your future."

"It's the only one that lets me be with the one I love, " Velvet replied as she stood back up and took a shaky breath. Blake watched as she turned her back to them to discreetly run her hand across her eyes, trying to hide tears threatening to spill over.

"So what's the plan then?" Blake piped up as she stood up and crossed her arms over her chest.

"I'll have to think of something, luckily, that area should be swarming with Atlesians before we would be down there, so we just need to make sure no one goes near that sector for a flank." All three of them studied the map for a few moments, each of them trying to think of some sort of plan when the door to the office was kicked open and Raven, of all people, walked in. In her arms was the familiar form of Yang, completely passed out and snoring as only a drunk could.

"Blake!" A strain was apparent in her voice and she looked like she was in a lot of pain. Bruising covered her face from an apparent fight she and Yang probably had. Blake was worried about what would happen if the two of them were alone in a room together, she was just glad it looked like nothing too bad happened other than a few punches. "Have you seen Neo?"

"Not lately."

"Neo's out talking to one of her contacts about supplies," Velvet chimed in looking at what was happening before her.

"Fucks sake..." the mother breathed out as she locked eyes with Blake, "Here, take her for me." She shuffled into the room, struggling to hold her daughter. Blake could only accept the unconscious form of her friend as it was thrust onto her. Struggling to drape her arm over her shoulder and support her weight, she saw Raven stretch her back out with a groan, tapping her spine a few times before looking back at them. "Sorry, but she's heavier than looks, mind dropping her off for me?"

Before Blake could say anything, Raven had already thanked her and gingerly left the room with her hand on her back. She just stared at the open door in disbelief before shaking her head and looked at the others in the room, trying to understand if what just happened was not part of some sudden onset fever dream. Velvet and Ilia just looked at Blake, then each other as Yang started to slip out of her grip. "A little help?"

The other two just looked at each other before rushing to the door. "Sorry, I need to make sure everything is prepped..." Velvet made a quick path to the door. Ilia was quick to follow, claiming she needed to check on something. Alone in the room, clinging to someone who reeked of booze, Blake just sighed as she adjusted her grip on Yang's flesh arm with her other hand gripping her hip to make sure she did not slip again.

"Thanks, guys, great help..." she muttered to herself as she began to make her way out of the room and down the halls, looking for someplace to stash Yang until Neo can come and take her back to the hotel they go to during the nights.

The woman in her arms proved to be heavier than she had thought before, forcing her to slow her pace even more so as the mass of blonde hair started to fall into her face. Blowing it out of her face, Blake began to shake Yang lightly while saying her name, trying to encourage her to wake up so she could at least stumble next to Blake. A soft groan came from the woman's lips as she slowly began to come around, strength returned to her legs and she took some of her own weight off of Blake, much to her relief.

"Raven?" unfocused lilac eyes struggled to lock onto Blake's face as she fought to stand.

"Yang, It's Blake." She pulled Yang in front of her and held onto her shoulders so the brawler could see her fully. When Yang finally recognized her, she began to pull away, only to fall into Blake when she tripped over her own two feet. "It's okay, Yang, I've got you," she whispered to her as she pushed her back onto her feet but kept her hands on her to stop her from falling over again. Yang still tried to weakly push away from her, only to fall against the wall when she tried to push against it.

"I'm trying to help you!" Blake said as she was scrambling to keep Yang from hitting her head on anything around them.

"I don't want your help!" Yang slurred loudly as she pulled herself off of Blake and took a few steps to balance herself, "I want Neo, where's Neo? NEO!" She began to shout down the hall while shambling down it. With a growl, Blake grabbed her arm and opened one of the doors down the hallway and pulled Yang in with her. The room they entered was filled with dusty equipment that was probably used regularly when the factory was running, but now it's all just being hoarded here. Shushing Yang, she sat her down on a box and lowered herself so she could talk to her face to face.

"I'll get you to Neo, just please be quiet." Blake wanted to cry, seeing her like this; hardly able to even sit straight, swaying side to side with a void look on her face. Crouching down, she took a deep breath as she took Yang’s hands in her own. The overwhelming warmth from flesh and the sudden cold from metal, a subtle vibration coming from the internal systems inside the arm she had gotten for her. Yang tried to pull her prosthetic away, but Blake held onto it.

"Yang, I'm so sorry for everything, and I don't know how long it will take but I will say this every day until you forgive me." Her thumb gently traced the lines in the metal and felt the flexible material between the solid parts in the arm. She could feel the scars and calluses in her other hand as her thumb traced small circles into her skin.

"Whatever it takes, I'm sorry."

A silence hung in the air afterwards as she just held Yang's hands for as long as she could get away with. Slowly, she slipped her hands out of Yang's and let them fall to her sides, tears threatening to slip from amber eyes as took a deep breath to control her emotions. Suddenly, the hands she was just holding cupped her cheeks, forcing her to look up.

Looking into Yang's eyes, she was lost in the colour as she spoke to her. "Blake, I know you're sorry, but I hurt so much," she began as her thumb traced her skin under her eye. She could feel the texture of the grip they used to make it. "Every time I see you, I see that man standing over you with that blade in his hand. Every time I hear your voice, all I hear is your scream. Every time I sleep, I see him and I hear him and I FEEL him, and I hurt, Blake, I hurt so much that I can barely do anything without the pain of what he did to me, to us ."

She felt her hand tug at her head, her lips came close and Blake did nothing to stop Yang from closing the gap between them until they connected. Her heart threatened to pump itself so hard it would crash through her chest. Blake could taste and smell the strong alcohol on her breath as she melted into the kiss. For years, she had come to terms with her feelings for Yang when Adam targeted her. She had dreamed of kissing these lips and now every dream had become reality.

When their lips separated, their foreheads pressed together and Blake was the happiest she could ever be. She pushed past the heavy scent of booze to find that familiar flower and citrus that always had the smallest hint of smoke that clung to her. "I love you, Blake." She refused to open her eyes, her heart stopped for a second, only to pound heavier in her ears. Amidst the hate and war that the world threw at them, hearing those words from Yang made everything so much brighter.

"But I can't love you, Blake." Her forehead was pulled away and she tried to follow them but was held back by Yang's hands. Opening her eyes to look at her, she saw such sadness in her eyes that it hurt every part of her body and soul. Tears began to flow from her eyes as she saw Yang do the same as she shook her head. "I'm sorry, Blake. I'm so sorry. If you had shown up ten minutes earlier before Em and Neo found me... I would have given you my everything after I punched you. With everything you told me, you could have been my everything but now you have nothing, and I'm so sorry..."

Yang repeated those words, her apology for loving her, over and over again. She hated herself for how true her words were. If Blake had not been so obsessed with finding Adam and using his death to buy Yang's forgiveness; if she had just gone to her and waited for Adam to show up instead of tracking him down to stop him from targeting her; she could have had her dream. Waking up next to golden hair brighter than the sun; instead she had nothing but the darkness.

Yang's voice became quieter and quieter as her apologies were dragged out until she was silent. Blake opened her tear-filled eyes to see her leaning against a dust-covered box, completely passed out again. The Faunus watched her friend, her loved one, and reached out to push some of her hair out of her mouth and behind her ear. Fingers lingering on the curves of her jaw and ghosting the lips she had just kissed seconds ago. She forced herself to pull her arm away and sat on the floor across from her, wiping her tears off her face with shuddering breaths, she tried to control herself from her heartbreak.

Making sure Yang was in no danger of hurting herself, Blake finally got to her feet and walked out of the room and just sat against the door with her knees brought up, her face hiding behind them, and her arms resting on top of them. She listened to Yang's gentle breathing outside the door, making sure she did not hurt herself while she was out in the hall. She wanted more than anything to stay with her, but she knew it would only hurt her more if she was so close now.

Hours passed and Blake ignored the curious glances that a few Black Fang members gave her as they passed by. Eventually, she heard a series of rushing heels peeling down the hallways, slowly making their way towards her position. Knowing who it was, Blake schooled her emotions and took a steadying breath before standing up and waiting for her. A flash of pink, white and brown came rushing around a corner and rushed towards her. Before Neo could even whip her scroll out to question, Blake held her hands up to stop her.

"She's safe, she's in here," To prove her point, she opened the door to reveal the unconscious form of Yang. A visible wave of relief passed over the smaller woman as she walked into the room and checked her over. Satisfied, Neo turned to Blake with an eyebrow raised. "Raven dropped her on me, she was already drunk when she did." A sigh came from her as she turned back to Yang and cupped her face gently before throwing her arm over her shoulder and picking her up with surprising ease. With a nod to Blake, the form of the two of them shattered in broken glass and the woman she loved was gone.

Watching as the broken glass simply dissipated into nothing, Blake was left alone again. With her heart broken and nothing else she needed to do, Blake went through the motions of getting dinner and forcing some of it down before getting a shower and going to bed in the shared room she slept in. The night came and went slowly, Blake finding it hard to sleep with her heart still in pieces from Yang's words, making it worse when she saw her the next morning.


"Hey." With the way acted and how she greeted her, it was obvious that Yang did not know what she did to her yesterday.

"Hey." Blake figured it would probably be better if she took that to the grave with her. Not only would it put Yang in an uncomfortable position, but it could also break what little friendship they managed to stitch together. "Glad to see you're feeling better. I was kinda worried since you were pretty far gone yesterday."

"Yeah, I'm really sorry about that. I went to talk to Raven."

"Oh, that would explain a lot."

"Yeah, again. Super sorry you had to see me like that, I didn't say anything too bad, did I?"

Blake wanted to scream and shout at her about the admission of love and the heartbreak afterwards, but she fought with herself and bit her tongue just long enough to control her feelings and looked away. "No, nothing too bad, just kept apologizing."

"Yeah, I've been doing that a lot this morning. Listen, I know you and Neo haven't really been seeing eye to eye, but thank you for looking for her when I was out. It really means a lot to me, to us."

Blake looked over at her and caught a glimpse of Neo off to the side. While the stare was there, there was less heat behind her mismatched eyes. She could not trust herself to not speak out, so she settled for a nod. Her attention was taken away when a Black Fang member walked up to them and told Blake that Ilia wanted to talk to her. After pointing Yang in the direction of Velvet, she went out to search for her friend. Finding her by the stairs leading up to the roof, the woman shifted nervously when they finally met up.

"Do you mind, I we talked in private?"

"Sure."

Ilia lead the way to the rooftop, where the gentle breeze made the trees around them dance and sway to a silent song. Ilia stayed silent, despite the fact that they were alone now, so Blake spoke first to break the silence. "What did you want to talk about?"

Ilia opened her mouth, but then closed it before opening it again. "I'm sorry," she said quickly.

"You already apologized about yesterday."

The woman shook her head as she held herself. "No, not about that, about everything."

Blake walked up to her and placed her hands on her shoulders and gave them a squeeze. "Ilia, what happened in the White Fang wasn't your fault, it was Adam's. What he's done was-" Blake stopped talked when she heard several trucks speeding towards the building. Turning, she rushed to the edge to watch as eight trucks crashed through the rusted chain-link fence gate that blocked the road and spread out in front of the building. As soon as they stopped, the sides opened up and soldiers poured out with rifles and handguns, each taking a window and a doorway before a man with a red beret on his head brought a megaphone to his mouth.

"This is the Mistrali Army! All White Fang soldiers, put down your weapons and come out peacefully, your base is surrounded! "

More than two dozen soldiers, all decked out in armour and weapons were ready for the attack. "We need to get Velvet and-" Blake turned to rush to the door when she was facing down the barrel of a handgun being held by Ilia. Her friend's hand shook slightly; she was holding the handgun too tightly, the look of anger and sadness warring inside her eyes. Slowly, Blake lifted her hands in surrender so as not to startle her. "Ilia... Think about it..."

"Oh, I have..." Seething hatred was barely contained in her voice as she shook her head, her skin taking on a red shade. "I'm sorry it had to come to this, Blake, but I could not just stand here anymore while you defend the humans for what they've done to us!"

"Ilia, please just listen to me."

"No, you listen! For years we have been kicked and spat on by humans, and when I found out that you're working with them, I couldn't believe it. For years, we've been fighting them, and now you're just another stone to be stepped on for them."

"Ilia, that's not what's happening here!"

"What do you think's going to happen when this is all over, Blake? That the humans will just let us go and live our lives without the hate? You're just as blind now as you were then."

Blake just looked at her in confusion, her arms still up in the air. "What do you mean?"

"Oh please, I'm not blind, Blake. You look at her just like you looked at Adam."

Disgust flooded her to the very idea of Yang being compared to Adam. "What are you talking about?"

"You love her, Blake! You love a fucking human! You chase her like you chased Adam while being blind to those right in front of you." The freckles along her body began to shift to a pink hue as tears welled and slipped from her grey eyes. "All I've ever wanted, was for you to look at me like you looked at them, Blake. But you're so blind and selfish, chasing people that could never love you as I do."

Blake stared at her, shocked at the confession at gunpoint as the sounds of soldiers readying for a raid continued in the background. "Ilia, I never knew-"

"No, you didn't. Adam was right about you, you were blind to what was happening to us, cared only for yourself when you left us, left the cause to join them."

"What Adam wants isn't equality!"

"Equality was never going to work, Blake! There is only one thing the Humans understand and that's fear, and I think humans are finally starting to fear us, and if not, they soon will." The dangerous look in Ilia's eyes was setting off all kinds of warnings inside of Blake's mind. "When this war is over, the Faunus will finally be where they belong."

"Ilia, please, you don't want to do this,"

"No, I don't. But you can't argue with the results..."

A final warning echoed out from the soldiers outside the doors, the clicks of safety switches being turned off, making the threat real. Tilting her head, Ilia looked at the side of the building, where the Mistrali soldiers were and Blake could see the regret of what she had done hit her. Turning back to Blake, she kept the handgun raised but her voice was softer. "I never wanted this, Blake. But there's still time for us to escape. Just the two of us, away from them, away from Adam. Just the two of us. We can escape and hide and wait for everything to just pass by."

Blake watched her but finally shook her head. "I can't do that, Ilia. Not again."

Ilia took a deep breath and her hand stopped shaking. "I know..." She aimed her pistol right at Blake’s head and pulled the trigger.

Then all hell broke loose.

Chapter Text

A Bird of a Feather

Pt. II

You drew memories in my mind
That I could never erase,

You painted colours in my heart
I could never replace.

- Perry Poetry


 

"Qrow..."

Her voice stirred his mind, gently waking him up from his slumber. With a groan, he kept his eyes closed and pulled the blanket closer to his body, wrapping himself up in the soft warmth it offered him. "Come on, Qrow, we're going to be late." A soft chuckle came with her voice as a hand shook his shoulder. The man groaned and turned over in his bed, never opening his eyes. He had decided to stay up a bit later to converse with the good people at the Inn's bar, but it resulted with him not getting enough sleep that night.

"Ugh, why do you have to be so difficult!" He felt the hand on his shoulder press down on him as she pressed her body up against his, he felt her breath on his ear as her voice entered his mind. "If you get up, I'll make pancakes when we get back," she sang softly in his ear. The promise of her cooking was enough to push himself up.

"Alright, Summer, I'm up..." When he opened his eyes, the dream ended.



Sitting up on cold concrete, he looked around for a brief moment, looking for his lost friend before remembering that she had been gone for a long time now. With a groan, he ran his hands down his face and rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he finally got to his feet. The small fire pit he used last night long dead, he did not bother kicking it over or hiding the fact that he had been camping in this building. Weapon in hand, he took a quick swig from his flask as he walked to the opening he used to get in the first place. A portion of the wall had fallen in and he easily climbed to the top and looked out into the morning.

Vacuo was a sorry sight to behold. Buildings ruined from cannon fire and Dust charges. Hollow and burned out, tilted or completely fallen over from time and wear. Picking his way through the rubble, he made his way down the street towards the defunct CCT tower. Bodies of Mistral citizens and military personal laid side by side with Atlesian soldiers and machines, the heat from the desert sun had dried their bodies over the last five years, pulling their skin back into dark leather and exposing teeth and bone. The most curious thing about it was the fact that he had come across so few Grimm during his travels inside the city.

From what he knew, the reason Atlas did not occupy the city was that the fighting had brought Grimm from all over the desert and they flooded the streets.

So where the hell was they all?

Deciding that it questioning it would bring down an army around him, he let the sleeping dog lay as he continued to make his way to Shade academy and the CCT tower in the center of the city. Walking up the steps, he saw children, Huntsman in training, laying on the ground with weapons in their hands. Armour and clothes either ripped apart by Grimm claws or bullets from Atlesian rifles. In the front courtyard, he could read the story from the way the bodies lay on the ground.

The teachers and students all stood in a circle around civilians with Atlas surrounding them. Judging by the carnage around and the dried blood on the walls and ground, Atlas had fired on them, then the Grimm had taken care of them afterwards. Walking up to a body that was laying in front of the protectors, Qrow knelt down next to her and sighed. "I'm sorry, you didn't deserve this; no one did." He then reached down and slipped his hand into the pocket of the corpse that was once the Headmistress of Shade Academy and pulled a small iron key from her pocket.

With the key in hand, he walked to the base of the CCT tower and stopped at the doors. When he looked at them, he could see they were barred with some sort of device from Atlas that blocked the whole thing from opening. Looking for another way in, he managed to find a window nearby to fly up into and peered inside. If the outside had been terrible, the inside was horrendous.

Dozens of bodies were pressed up against the walls, another mass pushing up against the door. All of them burned to a crisp with evidence of a fire that blackened the walls all around. These people were just trying to hide and the Atlesians barred the door and threw incendiary grenades through the windows and let them burn. Disgust sat in his stomach as he fluttered towards the ground as a bird and landed just before he hit it. Up close, it was even worse.

Walking up to a statue that was in the middle of the room. Looking up at the blackened stone, he saw the King of Vale standing tall and proud. In his hands was the legendary blade that ended the Great War in a single swing. "If only it were that easy now, eh, Oz?" he asked the room as he began to rub the soot off the king's belt and found where he needed to put the key. Slipping it into the indent, he took a few steps back as the ground around him began to shake.

Within seconds, the floor Qrow was standing on began to descend into the ground. It took far too long for the platform to reach the bottom, but when it did, the sight took his breath away. Before him was a great acacia tree bearing glowing, purple flowers growing out of a wall. Leading up to the wall was a wide pathway that had a sheer drop into darkness on either side of it. At the end of the path, under the great tree was a door, the one thing he as looking for.

The fact that the door existed meant that the Relic of Destruction was still in its resting place. Taking his time, he examined the door to make sure no one tampered with the magical gateway into a different place. The swirling patterns on the cool metal reacted to his touch, but nothing moved. With one last look around the vault for anyone who may have somehow made their way in, he began to make his way back to the elevator.

Destruction was still sealed away. Qrow had faith in Ozpin's confidence that Choice was still hidden away and no one has mentioned an army showing up out of nowhere, so Jimmy has not revealed Creation to anyone. All that was left was to check on Knowledge in Mistral. When the platform reached the top, he was back in the room full of burned bodies. He was about to make his way out of the room when he was distracted by his scroll going off with a notification.

Pulling it out, he was confused since the local networks were all down. Opening the device, he saw his calendar popped up with a single word and today's date.

Summer.

He stared at the little device; with one word, it took everything away and left him feeling cold, colder than he felt in a long time. At least that explained the dream. He needed to get to Mistral to check on the Relic, but there was something he had to do first.



He was bleeding, they both were. The pitch black of the mines being illuminated by flashlights strapped to their chests. The constant screams of the Grimm creatures echoed through the labyrinth of tunnels and joined their ragged breaths as he and Summer tried to make it back to the entrance. There were so many Grimm, so many more than they had thought when they first walked in what felt like a week ago. Their only saving grace was his Semblance causing a cave in to separate them.

"Come on, Qrow. We're almost there..." He could hear Summer's strained voice as she threw all her little weight into every step. Looking up, he could see the glow of the sun, but it was so far away. His leg was mangled by the claws and it was hard for him to breathe, but there was hope. Stopping for just a moment, Qrow took this time to look back down the way they came, he could see the blackened spots and drag marks they made with their blood.

"Oz! It's Summer!" he heard her call into her Comms system, "We need back up, now! Qrow can't walk and we're both losing a lot of blood, but you were right, it’s here!"

" Summer! Understood, we're coming to get you, just keep moving!" Qrow could hear Ozpin's voice in his ear as the screams in the cave sounded closer to them.

"Shit..." Tightening her grip on Qrow, she began to drag him as fast as she could.

"Summer, wait..." He could hear the weakness in his own voice as he feebly moved his feet to help her in any way possible. "It's too late, just leave me..."

"Not going to happen, bird boy," Summer growled through clenched teeth, "I'm not going to lose both of you, you're my family now..." Determined silver eyes stared ahead at the entrance that was getting closer, one inch at a time. He felt her pull him closer to her, staining her snow white cloak red with their blood.

"Summer--"

"Shut up, Qrow, I'm not leaving you behind."

They were so close now, he could feel the cold breeze of fresh air sting the cuts on his face.

"I need to tell you something."

"Now's not the time to throwing secrets out."

"I-"

"Save it, Qrow! You can tell me on the ride back home, Ruby's waiting for her uncle. Besides, I already know you stole my chocolate bar, there are not many people who can reach those stupid cupboards you put up. I need you to trust me." The screams were so close now, he could feel their breath on the back of his neck.

The sound of an air vehicle landing quickly made his heart jump. From the light, he saw figures rushing towards them, Ozpin being first to close the gap. Following closely was Glynda Goodwitch, the new assistant to Ozpin. With them, the familiar faces of Peter Port and Bartholomew Oobleck were close behind. He allowed a smile to grace his face as Ozpin all but raced to them to take Qrow off of Summer. Ozpin's strong arms held him up at the side, his arm thrown over his shoulder and a hand on his hip to support him.

Looking back at Summer, she looked like hell. Blood dripping from a cut somewhere in her hair, her white cloak was stained red and her skirt was more torn than still together. There was a smile on her face as she looked at Qrow. Everything happened in slow motion after that, etched in his memory as a figure jumped from the eternal darkness behind her. Black skin stretched across long bones, an exposed ribcage that was covered in gore. Long, painfully thin arms with even longer claws tipped each hand.

The head of the Wendigo Grimm was the most terrifying part. The skull of an elk sat on its shoulders, decaying skin gave way for a long skull with exposed teeth and hollowed eyes. Great horns sat on top of its head, each point sharp and long enough to pass right through a man. Faster than anyone could react, it landed behind Summer and wrapped one hand around her torso, its long fingers reaching fully across her chest as the other hand wrapped around her head. All anyone could do was stare, the last thing he saw was wide, scared silver eyes between the Grimm's long fingers.

She was pulled into the darkness so fast, she did not even get a chance to scream.

"SUMMER!"

He tried to go after her, but Ozpin held him still as the others rushed past them to charge head first into battle. Struggling against the headmaster, he was pulled into the sunlight while screaming Summer's name. "Qrow! Qrow calm down! We'll get her back!" He was then handed off to the pilot who was starting to wrap bandages around his wounds and forced to sit on the ground next to the airship. Qrow watched as Ozpin extended his cane with a flick of his wrist and sprinted into the cave with the other teachers while Qrow was forced to wait.

 

Hours passed, the sun had set and set the sky aflame by the time they began to file out. First was Peter, his once great mustache now singed at the tips with his clothing torn and covered in sweat. Next was Bart, looking similar to Peter; Qrow had never seen the man move so slow before. Next was Glynda, her hair had come out of her bun and she was walking with a limp; their eyes met each other for just a moment before she looked away in shame. Last was Ozpin, bleeding, tired, and alone.

He stopped in front of Qrow, the dark spectacles on his face hiding his eyes. "I'm sorry, Qrow," was all he said before he pulled Qrow into the airship and strapped him in. No one said a word as they left the mine, the silence broken only by Qrow's choked crying.



When he arrived at Patch, a few people saw him walking through the town and called out to him. It was nice to see a few familiar faces in the quiet town, he tried to be as friendly as he could to them, but they all knew what day it was. He did stop at a few places before moving on. One was to buy a bottle of liquor and another to choose a few flowers from the stand. Making his way up the hill and down the road, he arrived at the house that he called home.

With a deep breath, he walked through the front door, eyeing up a basket of dead flowers and get well soon cards addressed to Yang piled neatly to the side. Inside was a warzone. Things were thrown to the ground and everything that could hold something was opened and cast aside. Picking his way through the living room, he stepped over a shattered, empty picture frame and made his way to the kitchen and towards the back door. The stench of rotting food was heavy in the air as he pushed through the back door and found himself in the backyard.

Opening the door to the shed, a motorcycle rested on its side, beaten to all hell and destroyed beyond repair. Yang's pride and joy, Bumblebee, lay ruined from a vicious attack. Qrow was honestly surprised it was not on fire and glad it was not as he reached for a small basket filled with lawn supplies and began to walk down a beaten path that led into the forest. He knew this path; he had walked it countless times before, even if he closed his eyes and let his feet wander, he would still wind up here after so many years.

Summer Rose's gravestone sat in the ground as it always has. Time continued and the grass had overgrown around it and he lost count of how many empty and shattered bottles littered the ground around it from Yang's binging. Setting the flowers down, he went into the basket of garden tools and pulled a bag out to start picking up the bottles and the glass shards. Once that was done, he got to work with trimming the grass around the stone and brushing away the fallen leaves from its face.

With that done, he pulled out the bottle of apple whiskey. At first, he hated it, but it was Summer's favourite, and now it’s what fills his flask. With it filled, he capped it and slipped it back into his pocket before taking a mouthful direct from the bottle, then poured some over the ground in front of her stone. "I'm sorry, Summer," he said to the air after downing another two sips. How many years has it been since that fateful day? Between the missions and watching his nieces grow up, he had lost track of time. Looking up, he saw a flock of birds flying off into the bright, clear sky. A haunting memory to the first time he was standing here.

 

It was too beautiful of a day for this. The sun was high, the skies were clear and everyone was wearing black. A dozen people stood around a gravestone as a man was reading out of a book, saying that Summer Rose was gone from the earth, but as long as they remembered her and kept her in their hearts, she was never far from them. Each of them stared at the freshly carved stone as flowers were placed around it. Some people were openly crying while others suppressed it better. Qrow just stared, dead-eyed and solemn.

With the service done, people began to leave to go back to their homes. Next, it was the teachers, former classmates of Summer and their team. A squeeze on his shoulder from Glynda and a light pat from Peter. Looking over, he saw Taiyang with Ruby in his arms and Yang at his side. Tears were falling from the little firecracker while Ruby looked on. Tai was doing so much to not breakdown again. Everyone looked over at Ruby as she shook her father lightly to get his attention.

"Daddy, I'm hungry..."

"Okay, Ruby," his voice was hoarse, and he had to clear it a few times before he could speak clearly, "let's get you some food then." He took Yang's hand and the twice motherless family all turned to walk back home; leaving Qrow and Ozpin the last ones standing.

Without looking up from the gravestone, Ozpin spoke, "I'm sorry, Qrow. I really am."

"Yeah..."

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled the Flask out, the last birthday present he had gotten from Summer, filled with her favourite whiskey, and took a sip. The burn made him grimace but he fought through it. "Did you find what you were looking for down there?" Qrow asked as he put the cap back on.

"I did."

"Was it worth it?"

Ozpin was silent. Deciding to leave, Qrow turned to talk away or else he would have punched the man in the face for this. As he turned and took a few steps, Ozpin finally called out.

"Do you hate me, Qrow?"

Without looking at him, he answered, "She's a Huntress, Oz. One of the best. She'd give her life for anyone without a question. She's what we all dream of being when we go to those schools and fight those monsters. I don't hate you for not saving her..."

"I hate you because you didn't let me die with her."

Chapter Text

An End To All Things

Pt. I

“They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country.
But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying.
You will die like a dog for no good reason.”
― Ernest Hemingway


 

The first thing they did was fire gas grenades through the dirty windows. Great plumes of white smoke quickly filled the rooms as everyone rushed back and forth, arming themselves with whatever was closest to them and hastily setting up defensive lines. Yang rushed to the armaments room, pushing through the mass of people all trying to do the same thing and managed to slip through the stream of bodies to her personal locker that was set up in there.

Though the beating heart hammering in her ears, she could hear Velvet shouting commands to people, evacuating most while others held the line. All but ripping the door open of her locker, Yang slipped the bladed gauntlets over her arms and threw her mother's mask over her face. If they were to find out that humans were fighting with the White Fang, everything would be ruined. Grabbing a shotgun and a handful of shells, she rushed out the entrance to shop floor where the battle was raging.

Throwing herself against a wall, she hammered shells into the weapon and finally pumped it before spinning around the corner and aiming at the first thing she saw. The door had been blown open and she could see figures through the smoke. Special tactical Mistrali soldiers rushed in with gas masks and reinforced armour and weapons. Flashes of gunfire cut through the smoke as both sides called out enemies to be taken down. With a pull of the trigger, Yang watched as a Mistrali's face mask shattered and filled with red before dropping to the ground. Pumping a fresh shell, she fired again to buy people more time to evacuate.

She blindly fired through the smoke at the opened doors until she had run out of ammo then tossed the weapon to the floor. "Fall back! I'll keep them busy!" Yang cried out as she rushed out from her cover and leapt over the metal bin that was being used by someone else. With a flick of her wrist, the blades shot out of their housing and she focused her Aura in front of her. She felt the biting bullets as they bounced off her and channelled it into her Semblance, but held off on unleashing it until she needed to.

Inside the smoke, a quick slash cut a rifle in half, another sliced through body armour like cloth as people began to react to her intervention. Three small rifles all aimed at her, but did little damage before she moved with precise reactions. A back kick knocked one rifle away as she grabbed the other two and yanked the two soldiers into each other. Turning around, she blocked a combat knife coming for her face and easily overpowered them, twisting their arm until she felt bones snap under the pressure. With a scream, they dropped to the ground and she turned to meet whatever was coming next, but only saw the barrel of a vehicle-mounted machine gun aimed right at her from outside.

Even with her Aura, there was no way she could block that kind of damage. Sprinting away, she ran back towards the main base as the heavy bullets carved holes through the simple concrete and metal walls. Diving through the doorway, she stayed on the ground as the bullets screamed over her head. She watched as a body exploded when several bullets hit the flesh, painting the walls around them a bloody mess. With the front clear, she needed to cover the retreat into the sewers, where they could scatter and hide.

Rushing into the next area, she ran over dead soldiers from both sides until she saw the next fight. Jumping over cover with a kick, she blocked buck shot with her gauntlet and sliced the weapon in half and thrust the other blade into the throat of the soldier, killing them before they hit the floor. She knew the evacuation plan, everyone did, but she needed to make sure Neo, Emerald and Blake got out before she could make her own escape.

From the corner of her eye, she saw a dart come flying at her and felt the edge glance off the material of her mask before flying back to its owner. A woman walked in with golden white hair in stark contrast to her scarred, dark skin. With a yell, she threw the rope dart at Yang again and it wrapped around her arm when she tried to block it. She could feel the metal around her arm warping from the tension being put on it before she was pulled off her feet from the bare strength of the familiar woman before her.

Spinning in the air, Yang flew feet first towards her former opponent from the Vytal Festival so many years ago, who blocked her with her right arm, covered in a full yellow sleeve of her outfit. She could see the pale, olive green of her eyes as she held her ground and threw her off, only to yank her back since her weapon was still wrapped around Yang's wrist. Pulled off guard, she was on the receiving end of a hard clothesline and was dropped to the floor. Yang only had a second to roll out of the way before a stomp crushed her head in, as evidenced by the dent she put into the ground with her foot.

Rolling to her feet, she cut the dagger free of her arm and got ready in her fighting stance as the war waged on around her. Rushing forward, Yang and Arslan traded kicks and punches, each being masterfully blocked and dodged as two close combat specialists showed off their expertise against each other. However, Yang was still rusty from her time spent being a useless drunk, and was easily caught off guard from a sudden feint and received a fist to the gut, draining the air from her lungs.

Blocking a fist coming for her face, she countered with a stab with her bladed gauntlet only for her hand to be slapped away. Yang still got her attack in with a sudden lurch forward and connected her covered forehead to the other's face, forcing her to stumble back. Taking her advantage, Yang unleashed a flurry of slashes and kicks that forced Arslan to back up to dodge her attacks. With a charge forward, Yang swung the blades in a wide arc aimed right at the enemy.

With a deep breath, Arslan stood her ground and pulled her hand back before thrusting her palm forward to block the blades. When the blades hit her hand, they shattered instantly. Metal shards danced through the air as Yang followed through with the attack and spun when she landed to deliver a kick to the face that made her drop her guard. Dealing a series of hard punches to Arslan, she saw her Aura start to strain under her attacks but as quickly as it came, she countered with a knee to her core. Yang felt the pain spread through her chest as her Aura struggled to protect her from serious damage.

A kick to the side of her head shook her vision as she was knocked away from her opponent. With a deep, shaky breath, Yang pushed herself to her feet as Arslan used the wall as a platform and launched herself with a leap in the air and her muscular arm preparing for a death blow. Yang met her punch with her own, metal met flesh and with a sickening crunch, Arslan screamed out as her Aura failed her and her mortal body gave way for cold metal. Yang took advantage of her momentary distraction and delivered a roundhouse kick to her temple, sending her into a wall and leaving a bloody mark where her head met concrete.

Yang held her ribs, she could feel her bones shifting under her skin from that last attack. That woman was insanely strong to be able to deal damage through her Aura. Pushing her pain to the back of her head, she turned and ran through the halls of the building until she came across the last group of people getting ready to leave through the back doors. She saw Velvet pulling a wounded Fanus with her towards the door with Emerald firing down a different hallway.

A flash of pink and white was the only warning she had before her probably broken ribs were pushed around from the force of the hug Neo gave her. She could not stop herself from crying out in pain from the sudden display of affection. Just as quickly, Neo pulled away to examine her with a worried look on her face. "I'm fine," Yang said quickly. The look on Neo's face said that she did not believe her, but that did not matter. Looking around quickly, she could not see the last person she needed to know was safe.

"Em! Where's Blake?" Her voice was muffled from behind the mask.

"Fuck if I know!" was her only response. She was about to ask if Velvet had seen her when she heard that scream. The scream that haunted her dreams since she first woke up missing an arm, it sent a flare of pain through the stump of her arm as she whipped her head around to find its source. Taking off in that direction in a dead sprint, Yang called out for Blake as she entered the shipping area of the shop. Shattered glass covered the ground, the ceiling window was broken and in the middle of the mess was Blake. Standing over her was a man in white and bronze armour, his sword raised above his head for a final blow.

She was back, again. Back at Beacon; with the walls on fire and Grimm running slaughtering everyone in their path, the White Fang leading the charge and causing everything to crumble around them. In the middle of the room, they stood. The man with the red sword, embedded in Blake, her partner and closest friend she had at Beacon. It was happening again, right in front of her. With a flick of her wrists, the bladed gauntlets fell to the floor and her proper weapon extended up her arm and popped out of her other one.

"GET AWAY FROM HER!"

Launching herself through the air with a battle cry. The person who was about to attack her spun around brought a shield up to defend himself from the massive punch he was about to receive. Knocking him back, Yang looked down and quickly helped Blake up to her feet. She had several cuts across her exposed skin. She could feel her Aura straining to heal them and protect her at the same time. Amber eyes were wide and could not move away from her attacker. "You okay?"

"We need to leave," was her only response. Following her gaze, Yang saw what made her so afraid. Pulling himself to his feet; white gilded armour painted with fresh blood shone in the sunlight; a long sword in one hand and a familiar bronze circular shield in the other; messy blond hair; and bright blue eyes that dragged memories of better days back from her mind. Yang could hardly believe who was standing in front of them now.

"Jaune?"

He stood tall and proud before them but his eyes screamed of hatred and darkness. Before he could attack them, she took a step forward with her hands raised. "Just listen, We're not your enemy, we're on the same side!" For a brief moment, the anger was gone and it was replaced with genuine surprise. Just as quickly as it came, it was gone and his anger returned two-fold. He raised his blade and pointed it right at Blake.

"He doesn't want to listen, I tried." Blake struggled to whisper through gritted teeth. Yang could hear how much pain she was in.

"Where is she?" he asked finally.

"Who?"

"The Betrayer..." Anger was barely held in check as he swung his blade in his hand and crouched down, his shield covering most of his face and was ready to charge in. Yang brought her hands up to prepare for his attack as she asked who he was talking about. "Ruby! She let her die. She let Pyrrha die!" Before Yang could question him more, he charged forward with unbelievable speed. She had to block the sword before it could strike true, but before she could react for a counter, the shield connected with her face and knocked her back.

Blinking to clear her eyes from the shock, Yang had to push herself to block and dodge the assault from him. Finding an opening, he pushed forward suddenly and pushed her with his shield and kept pushing until she was pinned between a box and metal. He aimed with his sword and was about to stab it into her face if it was not for Blake to appear behind him and connect a cleaver slash against his head, knocking him to the side. Her ribs begged her for her to stop moving as she took deep breaths from the attack as she stood next to Blake.

Even with the weight of the cleaver sheath, there was no evidence that Jaune had taken any damage at all. Standing before them, he shook Pyrrha's shield free of his arm and reached over his shoulder to pull her blade out. With a blade in each hand, he charged forward with a yell and a slash at each of them. The women each took a side of Jaune to defend against his attacks but could not find an opening in his form to counter. Even when he turned to block Blake's attack with both blades, he kicked his foot out and hit Yang's knee, stopping her attack while holding both of Blake's blades at bay.

Bringing his foot up, he kicked the Faunus in the stomach before turning and forcing Yang to kick her leg out of the way so he could not stab her thigh, his swords digging into the ground. Kicking his arms away from him, she got past his guard to deliver a massive punch to the back of his shoulder that dropped him to the floor. Before he could recover, Blake was right there to aim her folded pistol at him. "Jaune, please! We're on the same side!" He kicked out and found Blake's knee with his foot, making it buckle under her own weight and she cried out in pain and fell to the floor.

Jumping back up to his feet, Yang narrowly avoided a thrust at her throat by catching the sword with her metal hand. Letting her Semblance flow out from her soul, she channelled strength into her arms as she sharply turned the blade away from her and rocked Jaune with a left hook. The two blades fell from his hands as he tried to steady himself on his hands and knees. Towering over him, Yang reached back and delivered a massive punch to his back, making him bounce off the ground and watched his Aura strengthen to protect him from serious harm.

Blind to her own rage, she brought her foot down on his head and pressed him down against the ground. She watched his Aura flare up to protect him from the glass and the pressure he was being put under. He cried out in pain as he struggled to push her boot off his head. She loved the sound of that cry, the pain in his voice and how he struggled under her boot. This much power and control were addicting for sure, she was only a little bit aware that she should be worried about the feeling of euphoria she got from this but for now, she wanted to hear more.

"Yang!" Looking over, she saw Blake struggling to stay on her feet. Bleeding from a number of small cuts and bruises already starting to form, her amber eyes were wide with fear and worry. "That's enough!" It was only then did she realize that she was being carried away by her rage, by the need to be in control of the situation and inflicting pain to everyone around her to do so. Had she changed that much since then?

Where she once loved the thrill of a good sparring match; now she just wanted others to feel as she felt.

Pain.

She let her Semblance slip from her grasp and felt the small exhaustion that came with it. At that moment, Jaune took his chance while her Aura was dropped for just a moment. Grabbing a shard of glass, she spun and knocked her boot off the side of his head and drove the glass shard into her calf. Shouting out, Yang fell to the ground when she tried to step on that foot, only for it to collapse under her weight. Falling to the ground, Jaune leapt on top of her and tried to wrap his hands around her neck. Catching his hands, Yang struggled to overcome his strength as she stared into his blue eyes, filled with nothing but hate.

Is that what she looked like under her mother's mask when she lets her Semblance take over?

Is this what Adam looked like?

With a yell, she watched as a blur of black knocked Jaune off of her. Blake was standing next to her with her weapon in her hands. "We need to go!" Before she could do anything else, Blake was thrown to the ground as a shield came from nowhere and bashed her chest and broke her Aura.

"Blake!" Looking at Jaune, she watched as he pulled his sheath off his hip and turned it into another shield. Before he could march over to Blake, Yang bounced up to her feet and used the pain she felt from the shard of glass in her leg to dig just a little bit more of her Semblance out and let out a yell as she threw her fist right at Jaune. He brought his shield up to block it, but from her power, it sent him flying across the room and dented the concrete wall on the far side before falling to the ground with a groan.

Taking deep breaths, she yanked the bloody glass out of her body and saw that her Aura had already cauterized the wound and sealed it shut with a yellow tinted scar. Rushing to Blake, she pulled her to her feet and began to rush out as fast as she could while holding her hand. Limping her way back to the back door, she saw Velvet was firing down one hallway with her weapon while Neo was standing outside, a grenade launcher in her hand, searching the skies.

"The hell was that?" Emerald asked as she looked at them quickly before keeping her eyes down the hallway she was supposed to be covering with her handguns.

"Jaune's here," Yang managed to get out as she struggled for breath, she really needed to get her ribs checked out. Emerald stopped and turned to look at them, before looking back down the hall they just came from. "We need to leave before he gets here, the two of us barely made it out alive."

"You two are the last ones, everyone else is gone or buying us time, let's go!" Velvet pulled a grenade from her vest and hurled it down the hallway to stop the advancing army force. Pushing past Emerald, Yang helped Blake through the door to the outside where the firefight was continuing through the forest out back. They managed to get a few steps away from the building before she turned back to see Emerald still standing inside and staring down the hallway.

"Emerald! We got to go!" Emerald finally looked at them and grabbed the door.

"I'll keep him busy and give you guys time to escape." She kicked at the door stop and it began to close. Yang quickly rushed back to it and held it open for the woman to escape still.

"Emerald, he'll kill you."

She just looked back at Yang, acceptance in her ruby eyes as she shook her head. "If that's what happens, then I deserve it. But this could be my only chance to tell him the truth and be honest with myself. If he kills me because of it, then so be it."

Yang was about to argue with her when the sound of a Bullhead overtook anything she was going to say. When it came around the building, Neo was there with the grenade launcher already aimed at it. With a heavy thunk, a round exploded against its side, causing it to start smoking and forcing it away from the battlefield. A shove from Emerald sealed her fate when the door closed and was locked with a click. "Damn it!" Yang bashed her fist against the door and was about to break it down when Neo grabbed her arm and began to force her down the path into the forest and the sewer entrance hidden inside.

Looking back at the building, Yang was not really a religious person but she hoped someone out there was still taking prayers because she did not want to lose another friend.


Emerald stood and stared at the closed door as the battle continued around her. The bullets and yelling filled her ears as she took a deep breath before reaching into her pocket and pulling out the familiar tube of lip balm she started to fiddle with whenever she got nervous about something. Her heart was pounding in her chest as she pulled the cap off and coated her lips with the familiar taste and smell. She could hear his heavy footsteps through the gunshots coming towards her.

Afraid was not even close to what she felt at this moment. Her death was approaching her in the form of the man she fell in love with. Taking deep breaths, she tried to steady her heart as she began to concentrate so she could channel her Semblance one last time. Despite her fear of dying, a strange calm had taken over her as she turned around and stared down the hallway Jaune would be coming from. She deserved this, this was her redemption for everything she had done.

As soon as she saw that blond hair, she hid from his vision until he was close enough for her words to reach him. "Jaune," she called out, her voice covered with another's. The man stopped and turned around, searching for his love.

"Pyrrha?"

That was when she chose to show herself. Wearing Pyrrha like a mask, she stood before the man and smiled at him. How long had she dreamed of standing before him again, even if she was making herself look like someone else, but when his smile formed on his lips, she could not stop her heart from blooming. Calling her name again, he approached her, letting his sword and shield fall to the floor with a clatter. Stopping just before her, she saw the tears welling in his eyes as he carefully moved his hands to cup her face. "You're back,"

"Hello again," she whispered to him. He choked back a sob as he leaned into her touch when she cupped his face with her hand. She felt the rough hairs on his face and sent shivers through her body.

"I've done what you've asked me," he told her, "I've fought and haven't stopped fighting since then."

"I know, Jaune. I've been watching you," Her fingers moved through his hair, now was her only chance to fix what she had done to him. "But you're so full of hate, of rage, and it's killing you." She saw the confusion in his beautiful blue eyes as he stared into the form of a dead woman.

"What do I need to do?"

"Love, Jaune." She pulled him close, felt his breath on her lips and braced herself. "You need to love." She pressed her lips against his and felt the warmth explode through her soul as his Aura wrapped around hers just like the first time. It flowed through her and became her everything as they deepened the kiss, she could feel his strength as his hands slipped down her cheeks and down her shoulders and arms to settle on her hips. Now came the moment of truth, she let her Semblance slip, dispelling Pyrrha Nikos, leaving her nothing to hide behind.

When the kiss broke, she saw his eyes open and stare at her. He was quick to release her and step back, looking around the room to find the woman she was pretending to be. "Pyrrha?" she could feel her heart clench as he called out her name. She stood still and watched him look around the entire room, searching for her before his eyes met back with hers. She took a shaky breath and held it, prepared to meet her end by his hands.

"Did she send you to me?"

Emerald stared at him for a moment, she was seconds away from death now. There was no way he would not kill her once he knew she was just putting on a facade that made him the monster he was now. She opened her mouth and spoke.

"Yes,"

Liar.

"She sent me to you;"

Thief.

"Your heart was so full of anger, that it was consuming you from the inside;"

Coward.

"So she sent me; To love you."

Rat.

How easy it was to lie for her. She survived by lying to everyone she came across, including herself, and now she was still lying to Jaune to postpone her own blackened soul being claimed. Before Jaune could say anything, Mistrali soldiers stormed down the halls with their weapons ready, a few guns were trained on her while the others cleared the room. One of the soldiers, a man wearing a red beret and several chevrons on his shoulder walked up to Jaune before snapping a salute to him.

"Area secured, Sir, but the rest of the bastards escaped into the woods and into the sewers."

"Can we follow them?" Jaune was quick to assume command of the situation, leaving Emerald to watch the interaction.

"We took three steps into the tunnel before a claymore blew two of our own to shit. We could follow them, but there's no telling how many other traps they have waiting for us if we pursue them. Plus, Arslan is in critical condition with her head cracked open and is being medevac'd out of here, so it'd just be you with your Aura but it's your call, Champion." Emerald could see the gears spinning behind Jaune's eyes as he tried to figure out a strategy, only to shake his head.

"Pull everyone back, we've suffered too many casualties to follow them down there. We've got their plans and whatever supplies they couldn't carry with them when they escaped. Airlift as many people to the hospitals as we can, everyone not in critical condition will ride back."

"By your order, Champion." People around them began to follow his orders, shouting for medics and collecting the Black Fang evidence to be used against them. Finally, the man turned to Emerald and nodded towards her, his voice lower to talk to Jaune. "Who's she?" At that, Jaune looked back at her, waiting for an answer.

"I was taken prisoner by the White Fang," more lying, but it was the only thing she was good at. "When you attacked, it gave me the opportunity to escape."

"Well, we'll take you back for a debriefing-" Before the officer could reach out and take her arm to guide her out, Jaune stopped him before he could touch her.

"She's with me," his voice was stern with authority, "I'll debrief her myself and send the report to you afterwards." The officer just stared at him for a moment, before pulling his arm back and nodding.

"By your order, Champion." He snapped off a salute before leaving to perform his duties. With one last look from Jaune, she followed him out of the building.

Chapter Text

An End to All Things

Pt. II

"The Japanese say you have three faces. 
The first face, you show to the world.
The second face, you show to your close friends and your family.
The third face, you never show anyone.
It is the truest reflection of who you are."


The base was gone but the plan continued. Neo watched as Velvet gave orders to the Black Fang that was with them, informing them that this was what they had been training for, to take down the White Fang once and for all. Plans that had been drawn up months ago were put into action, leaving only Yang, Blake and herself with nothing to actually do until Atlas arrived. With the battle happening within a day or two, they were left to their own devices until it happened with their roles already known.

With an urgent need to care for Yang, Neo reluctantly brought Blake with them back to their hotel building they had been staying at. Everyone else had been evacuated already and no power meant a few flights of stairs for them. When they got to their floor, Neo used a simple hacking device to break into one of the rooms for Blake, who was reluctant to leave Yang, but the blonde managed to convince her that Neo had it under control.

As gently as she could, Neo brought Yang back to their room where she sat her on the bed and gestured to her to take her shirt off while she grabbed the basic first-aid kit that was in the bathroom. When she came back, Neo could see the black and purple bruises forming under her skin, it broke her heart to see that her lover would be in so much pain because of this whole mess.

With soft fingers, she traced the outline of the wounds and felt for anything broken. Stopping when Yang hissed out, worried eyes met a calm smile, "I'm fine, Shortcake, I promise. My Aura will have me back in business in no time." She wished she could believe her. Yang's Aura was strong, but that was not what worried her the most.

She saw how Yang reacted when she heard Blake's scream. How she completely changed direction and charged head first to find her. When they came back, Neo saw how tightly they were holding hands, and the subtle looks Yang gave to the Faunus. Her mind plagued her with scenarios and 'what ifs' while she wrapped a bandage around her lover's chest. As she finished, her hands were caught by Yang, her flesh was warm but her metal was cold like it always was.

"What's wrong, Shortcake?" Her voice was soft and warm like the sun, and it hurt even more. Pulling her hands away from her, she pushed them up to her face to capture her lips with her own. Strong hands slipped to her hips as she stood between her legs. It only took a gentle prod to get her to open up, to deepen the kiss with her dragon. Fingers carefully, so carefully, threaded through her golden locks and scratched at her scalp. She felt the rumble of her moan more than she heard it, hands gliding across her waist and slipping up behind her jacket and trailing the lines of cloth up her back.

It was so easy to get lost in her lips, to embrace her warmth and just forget about the cold world around them. She felt her jacket slipping off her shoulders and falling to the floor in a heap. Next was Roman's hat, carefully taken off the top of her head and set to the side before fingers slipped through her three-tone hair. She could taste her tongue on her lips, asking for permission and she gave it in a heartbeat. Firm hands gripped her hips and pulled her closer to her heat source. Her boots slipped off her feet as she straddled Yang's lap and cupped her face.

It only took a small push for Yang to fall on her back, Neo chasing her lips. Hot breath seeping through the kisses as belts were undone and skin was carefully explored, tracing the black lines that were tattooed onto Yang that she was so familiar with. Neo wanted to dive in as she always did, but there was a tickle in the back of her mind, one that she could not ignore anymore. Pulling away from the kiss, she watched as Yang tired to follow but could not find those lips. "Neo?" Yang called out her name as she dismounted her body and stood before her. "What's wrong?" With a deep breath, Neo began to move her arms.

First, it was to point to Yang, then Neo placed her hand over her own heart before finally pointing to the wall in the direction Blake was in. It took Yang a few moments to understand what Neo was trying to say. "Babe, we were about to have sex, Blake is the last person I want to think about right now," But Neo stood there, staring at her and waiting for an answer. The blonde stared back, her answer resolute, but beginning to crack.

"She wasn't there for me. You were. That's all that matters." Neo stood her ground. "Maybe once upon a time; maybe, but not now. Now I have you and that's all I need," Neo felt her own heart breaking as she stood there, waiting for the truth to come out. Tears began to form in her perfect, lilac eyes as her breathing begun to get heavy with emotion. "No. She left me, she…" Her voice cracked before she could finish lying to herself. Taking steps towards her, Neo cupped her face gently and looked deep into her eyes. Silently, Yang begged for her not to ask, but she knew that if she did not, Neo knew it would only hurt more.

"Do you love her?" Her voice strained with effort as she tried to speak. She hated what her voice sounded like, but she had to ask, even if she already knew the answer. Tears welled up and slipped down Yang's face as she took a deep breath and shook her head. Stopping her, Neo forced Yang to look up at her, her thumb gently wiping tears off her cheeks before leaning in to press her forehead against hers. A sob broke through her lips as her body shook. Gathering up her strength, Neo pushed her heavy voice through her throat, "Do you love her?"

"Yes…" Yang whispered back.

Neo knew the truth would hurt, but she did not think it would hurt this much. "I'm sorry..." Her voice was so strained; Neo wanted to take everything back, but it was too late now. With her face still in her small hands, Neo pulled her into a gentle kiss. She could taste the tears on her lips as they shared one more moment of intimacy. Her kisses were always so sweet and warm, so full of love and kindness. But she didn't know how bittersweet a last kiss goodbye could be.

When they finally broke apart, Yang put her head in her hands and cried. Collecting her things and cases, she took one last look back from the open door and saw the woman she fell in love with convulsing with every quieted sob. The next steps were the hardest she had ever taken as the door softly closed behind her and the crying echoed louder. With an iron will, Neo marched down the hallway until she got to a certain door. With a shaky fist, she knocked on it and waited for it to open, revealing the raven-haired woman.

It looked like she had been trying to sleep before Neo showed up. With a flick of her wrist, she pulled her scroll out and typed out a message before Blake could even ask what she wanted.

"She needs you" was all she wrote. Without wasting a moment, Blake ran down the hall and got to their door before opening it and going in. Pressing her back against the now closed door, Neo listened to them, one last moment to see if she was wrong, if anything had changed in Yang's mind from when she left until Blake showed up.

"Blake!" Her voice wobbled as she cried out. Neo heard a series of muffled cries and apologies from either woman. Yang was with the person she truly loved now, that would have to be enough for Neo. Dragging her feet, she walked to a room far enough away so she would not hear them and closed the door behind her. The silence was deafening in her room, every little sound she made was intense as she set her things down and placed Roman's hat on the little table in her room. Walking to the bathroom, she turned on the light and was shocked at what she saw.

In the mirror, she saw Neo crying. Neo was not supposed to cry. Neo was strong! Neo was sexy! Neo was confident!

Neo was supposed to be happy.

Wiping her Neo face free of tears, she looked at herself, really looked at herself. When was the last time she saw her ? When was the last time she stopped and removed her mask to see what she really looked like. Years? A decade? Maybe more? With deep breaths, she closed her eyes and tried to focus her strength on just letting go. She tried to remember what it felt like to be her, what if felt like to not wear a mask. When Neo finally slipped away, she felt so naked. Like her clothing was taken away from her, so vulnerable and afraid. Finally, she opened her eyes and saw her.

It felt like she was staring at someone else. Everything was so different from what she was used to. Her skin, her hair, her eyes, her scars. She was everything Neo was not. She was frail. She was weak. She was ugly. She was violated, tormented and rented around like someone's property.

She was broken.

Memories began to flood back to her; memories of a sunny day and a park, of a mother whose face she could no longer remember. Of the man with the music with his broken smile and the bag he put her in. Memories of the woman who took her, who beat and broke her down and looked her in a cage like an animal. She remembered the first day she was taken out of her cage, only to be thrown into a room with a man. She fought against him, but could not overpower his advances on her. She had lost so much that day, things she could never get back.

It happened routinely after that, day after day, someone would pay the woman and she would be taken to a room for someone to have their way with her, then she would be returned after they had finished. It did not take long for her to stop fighting it. She unlocked her Aura after one person would beat her while it was his turn. She discovered her semblance when she tried to blend in with a group of people when she was thrown into a larger cage filled with others. But that only brought her more pain.

People would pay much more for her to look like anyone they wanted. So she used her Semblance to change her hair, her eyes, even her skin tone for the people that used her. She even got a little extra food for doing so, not just enough to stave off starvation. That was her life, to change herself and be used and beaten by people, only to be tossed back into her cage and left alone to do it again later. She had grown accustomed to it, used to it for what was possibly years. That was until that man showed up.

The amount of money that he paid the woman was staggering. She had never seen so much money in her life. After that, he had taken her out of her cage and led her out of the building. She had no idea what was going on, but if she was being taken away from that place, she was more than happy to be that man's slave. How wrong she would be.

He lead her through the snowy streets and down a back alley, that was when he struck first. Large hands filled with rings attacked her face and tore away her clothing. Why did she think this would have been any different. The only difference now was that she got to see the stars for the first time in years as the man had his way with her. When he was done, she thought he was just going to bring her back to that place, but instead, he punched her. Again and again, until her Aura broke; then continued.

Golden rings came back with red dripping off of them. Diamonds turned into rubies with her blood as he continued to beat her over and over again. When he finally stopped, she watched him through swollen eyes as he reached into his suit and pulled out a knife. He opened it with practiced ease and leaned over her, his skin was as dark as coal and his eyes matched the black of his soul. With one last dark moment of her life, he dragged his tongue up her face, her cuts stinging as he pressed the knife to her neck, and dragged it across her flesh.

She felt her strength leaving her as he left. The biting cold was stinging her open wounds but numbed her body afterwards, her blood loss was making her vision darken and blur. Left in an alley to die, she was ready for her suffering to end, so she could finally sleep in peace. Her end had finally come, and she embraced the void.

Until she woke up.

Warmth was the first thing she felt when consciousness came back to her. She was in a room she had never seen before and she was laying on a couch with a blanket. A flurry of emotions all came out at once; anger, sadness, joy, and regret all confused her until she tried to call out for help, but found her voice just as broken as her skin. Everything came closing in around her at once, she wanted to scream but her voice failed, she wanted to run but her legs refused, she wanted to curl up and die, but her heart kept beating. Everything was so overwhelming until he showed up.

Walking through the door, a man with sparkling green eyes and bright orange hair came in with a paper bag filled with stuff. He was so happy she was awake and told her that he had found her almost dead. She wished he would have just kept walking. He tried to ask for her name, but she refused. She flinched when he reached out, expecting to be beaten again. Instead, he reached into his bag and pulled out a small bar. It was cold to the touch and when she took the wrapper off she saw a sandwich with ice cream in the middle of it, pink, white and brown.

It was so cold, she was she almost spat it back out, but he just laughed and said that it was his favourite flavour. He said his name was Roman Torchwick; but she did not know who she was anymore. As time passed, he took care of her and she grew more accustomed to him, they became closer as he taught her how to defend herself and she used those skills to help him steal things. It was easy for her to just take anything she wanted because she could become someone else in the blink of an eye. While they were out, she would be someone else, but back at his home, she was her.

Years passed, and she was getting better with her Semblance. She could call upon the Neo mask whenever she wanted to and could even sleep with it on. It got to the point where she did not even realize she had the mask on, and she lived her life as Neo. When Roman asked why she kept wearing the Neo mask at home, even though she did not have to, she said it was because it was his favourite. He found it funny, since his favourite was whatever she wanted to be.

That was when she knew she had fallen in love with him. She had been for a long time, but this was when she had felt it so deep in her heart, that it hurt. She shared her past with him, from the man with the music to the woman and the cage, to the man who would have killed her, she told him everything and he just held her. Later, she came to him in the night, got into his bed and held him close. He said she did not have to do that, but she wanted to. That was the first night she had made love and understood how much different it was.

He was soft to touch but quick to follow her. Where she was just used to quick thrusts and a body to be used, his touch was fire to her skin as they became one. Her words would always fail her, but she would never let him know that she did not love him. Years passed and she was forgotten, just another piece of her past that meant to stay there.

That was until that day, so many years ago. The last she saw of Roman was on the airship when Little Red had knocked her off and she floated to the ground. She knew the plan, they would meet up outside the city for each other. She waited for a whole week until Cinder and her entourage of misfits found her and told her of Roman's fate. She refused to believe it. Roman was her everything, he could not die; but he never showed up, so that was the only explanation.

With nothing else, Neo followed Cinder around until they got to Mistral, that was when she met the man in green. She had woken up in an endless white room; she saw no walls or ceiling, nothing but the void. She walked for what felt like hours until she found a mannequin with an outfit and a blank mask on it. Then she stumbled on another one with a different outfit, then another and another. She came to recognize them all as her own outfits for her different masks and disguises she used with Roman. She walked through a whole army of them with different clothes and masks until she came to the front and saw Neo.

But if Neo was there, then she was wearing no mask.

"Hello." Spinning around, she saw the man in green, Ozpin, sitting behind a desk with his hands folded neatly on top of it. Panicking, she hid behind Neo and only peeked at him. He gave her a kind smile and offered her up a deal. Tell her what Cinder was up to, and he could help bring her down. Neo had no love for her; in fact, she hated her for setting up the job that Roman could not refuse in the first place. She agreed to his terms and betrayed Cinder.

And then she found Yang.

Broken and damaged like she was, so she did as Roman had done for her, and loved her. Neo did not know how quickly she could fall in love with someone else, even with the pain of losing him, it was made easier when she could love someone else as well. Everything had been going fine until Blake showed up. That made her realize that maybe they were both just looking for someone to love them... Now Yang had that someone what loved with her, while she was left with nothing.

The memories hurt her, she felt her chest tighten and struggle for breath. With a weak cry, she brought her fist up and punched the mirror. Cracks spidered across the length of it, highlighting her scars and faults, bringing attention to how damaged she was. The walls were closing in around her, she could not breathe and could not get away from her. In the blink of an eye, she pulled the mask on and she became Neo. Neo's breath steadied out and the room stopped spinning. Her scars and deformities were hidden behind the mask, where no one could see.

Leaving the bathroom, she reached into one of her bags and pulled out a small wooden box. Opening it, she pulled out a partially burned cigar and the spare flip lighter that was stored inside. Neo knew it was not a healthy coping technique but she needed this right now. She pulled a chair so it was facing the full-length mirror across the room and sat down. With a flick of her wrist, the lighter opened up and exposed a flickering flame. Bringing the chewed end to her mouth, she ignited the one end again and took a deep inhale. She let the poison fill her lungs and when she breathed out, she took in the familiar aroma. Just the smell alone was helping her as she took another long breath and let it slip from her lips.

And when she opened her eyes, Roman was sitting across from her.