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RWBY/Zero

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Ruby hummed to herself as she wandered the outskirts of Beacon. She had a wide smile on her face and why shouldn’t she?

Her belly was full from her lunch noodles, Roman Torchwick was still locked up in jail where he belonged, and Team RWBY and all their friends had made it to the second round of the Vytal Festival tournament. Ruby had always known they would but Weiss worried so much it was hard not to have a teeny bit of doubt.

But they won, so the doubt was stupid!

Then Weiss had run off after Team SSSN’s match which was weird because they had agreed to plan the victory party with their friends after that, and Weiss never missed out on a chance to plan something. Studying, projects, dust allowances, plans to discover and exploit the deepest darkest secrets of their competition, if it required organization then she was there.

Then it turned out her sister Winter had just arrived, and Ruby had to meet her, and oh god was that awkward. Though Ruby was pretty sure she stuck the end of the conversation, she could not have been more thankful for the sisters going off on their own.

Unfortunately, this left her with absolutely no idea what she should do. She could go to the party planning with Yang, Blake, and Team JNPR, plus maybe SSSN and CKSM. She still hadn’t gotten word back from Sun and Emerald if their teams were coming. But parties were always Yang’s thing and Ruby wanted to do some maintenance on Crescent Rose.

She thought she had noticed a dent after their match and no blemish on her sweetheart would be given quarter!

The little reaper passed a lithe blonde woman in a blue gown on her way to the Beacon forge. The girl gazed around the massive courtyard with a worried look on her face. It was a look Ruby remembered both herself and Jaune wearing on their first day at the academy. This poor woman was obviously lost.

Ruby walked over to her, “Um, excuse me. Miss?”

The woman turned to Ruby, surprise on her face from being spoken to. “Yes?”

“Are you looking for the bullhead to the coliseum? It’s just a few turns down that way.” Ruby knew how confusing Beacon could be at the best of times and with all the visitors from other kingdoms coming in for the festival, an innocent young girl like this was bound to get lost. And if there was one thing a huntress should do, other than kill Grimm and defend humanity, it was help people who are lost.

Probably.

The blonde raised an eyebrow and gave Ruby a stare that told her this woman was wondering how anyone could possibly be as awesome as she was. After all, it was the same look Miss Goodwitch gave Yang and Nora after they destroyed the practice arena in combat class. Well, maybe not exactly the same. This woman’s eyebrow wasn’t twitching.

But it was uncanny just similar this woman felt to the academy deputy. They didn’t look too much alike and this woman definitely was quite a bit shorter than Ruby’s professor, she was even shorter than the reaper herself, but they both exuded a terrifying aura of authority. Maybe they were sisters? Nah, that was ridiculous.

“Actually, I am looking for the Headmaster’s office.”

Okay, Professor Goodwitch had a secret twin sister. She’d have to warn Yang. They could use Nora as a distraction to get away.

The blonde in front of Ruby didn’t notice the girl’s frozen state. “I have been looking for quite a while but there don’t seem to be any maps around here—”

The woman was distracted by the sound of weapons clashing far too close to be from the arena. Ruby saw a small crowd gathering in the center of the courtyard, and she and the blonde woman rushed over.

Ruby spotted Weiss near the front of the commotion and ran up to her partner. “What’s going on?

Weiss noticed her and pointed to the center of the crowd, where Winter was crossing swords with someone in a dirty dress shirt. “Some crazy guy just started attacking my sister.”

Ruby paled. “Oh no, who would do such a thi—” She spotted a familiar great sword striking Winter’s saber and proceeded to squeal. “Thaaat is my uncle!”

Weiss’ eyes widened. “What?”

“Kick her butt, Uncle Qrow!” Ruby called.

“Teach him respect, Winter! Weiss hollered into the crowd.

Neither member of Team RWBY noticed the blonde woman from before frown at their families’ display.

Qrow and Winter barely registered the shouts of encouragement as they dueled at lightning speed. Winter feinted with a stab left before smashing her pommel into Qrow’s face. The drunkard came up smiling afterwards and countered with a low sweep. As the specialist danced away, he brought down his great sword in a heavy slash. Winter dodged by leaping away, but a significant portion of the courtyard was not so lucky.

Winter flew into one of the pillars of the courtyard’s aqueduct and stabbed the support with her blade. With the new hold, she skidded down back to the ground.

She and Qrow faced each other again.

Winter glared. Qrow smirked. Winter charged.

Ruby and Weiss winced as a rush of air blasted past them both.

The blonde woman suddenly appeared in between Qrow and Winter and thrust out a hand at each of them. The ground nearly cracked into a crater and a pulse of wind sent both huntsmen flying back.

Qrow and Winter managed to land on their feet. Their heads shot up to see who would be stupid enough to get in the middle of a fight between huntsmen.

The answer glared back at them with pitiless blue-green eyes.

“Enough of this foolishness!” The woman yelled. “You are both huntsmen. Yet you behave like children.”

Qrow raised an eyebrow at the admonishment, or maybe something behind Winter, Ruby couldn’t really tell.

Winter could only stutter. “Who, who are yo—”

“Schnee!”

Winter instantly turned to the voice and, after taking a split second to recognize who it was, saluted General Ironwood.

“Sir!” she called.

“What’s going on here?” Ironwood demanded.

As Winter tried to explain the course of events (with Qrow chipping in to point out how unprofessional she had been), the surrounding crowd seemed to get larger.

“Now, now everyone” a calm voice called out from behind Ironwood. Ruby noticed Professor Ozpin and Professor Goodwitch walk into the courtyard. The headmaster’s gaze scanned the crowd and if Ruby wasn’t mistaken, his widened just a bit when he saw the blonde woman. But a moment after, his kind and collected demeanor returned. “There is another fight going on right next door with much better seats. And popcorn.”

The people dispersed upon the Headmaster’s reasoning and Winter followed Ironwood back to the academy. Ruby took a moment to wave at her friend Penny before rushing her true target.

“Uncle Qrow!” Ruby latched onto her mentor’s arm. He lifted her up until they were face to face. “Hi.”

They went through their usual greetings and Qrow put her back on the ground. Then, Professor Ozpin called him over.

“I think I might be in trouble,” Qrow whispered to her.

“Well you did tear up our courtyard,” Ruby pointed out.

Her uncle smirked. “True.”

As he followed after the Headmaster, Ruby turned to the blonde woman who had intervened. She was still standing where she had ended the fight. She stared at Professor Ozpin, a look of befuddlement on her face.

A lightbulb went off in Ruby’s head.

“Hey!” she raced over to the blonde woman in a cloud of rose petals. The elegant woman took a step back in shock.

Ruby smiled. It was nice to know the regal woman could be surprised. “That’s Professor Ozpin right over there. He’ll probably be able to talk with you after he’s done scolding Uncle Qrow.”

The woman’s eyes widened, and she glanced at the retreating headmaster. She scrunched her forehead in thought before shaking her head as if to throw something off. She took a breath and then turned to Ruby with a soft smile. “Thank you, Miss…”

“Ruby,” the girl responded brightly. “Ruby Rose.”

“It is good to meet you Ruby Rose,” The woman answered. “You have the thanks of Arturia A—”

“Oh, he’s getting away!” Ruby pointed wildly at the quickly retreating Ozpin. “You have to go before you lose him!”

Arturia turned and followed after the Headmaster, waving goodbye to Ruby as she went. The little reaper responded in kind. The blonde girl was nice and obviously really strong, but Ruby didn’t know if she could survive another fancy conversation like with Winter. She only had so many junctions.

Weiss came up to her as Arturia walked off. “I now understand where your recklessness comes from,” the white-haired girl remarked.

“You’re just mad he whupped butt,” Ruby countered.

“That was a draw at best,” Weiss insisted. Her expression clouded in thought. “Or at least it would have been if that girl hadn’t intervened.” Both girls looked at the still cracked pavement. “Who was she?”

“She’s probably here to compete in the tournament,” Ruby proposed.

Weiss shook her head. “Impossible. No student would dare to get between two fully trained huntsmen like that.”

Ruby conceded that her partner had a point. With how Qrow and Winter were going at it, she doubted even the strongest of Beacon’s student body would have dared to intervene. Heck, maybe not even the teachers. Except Miss Goodwitch. She would have smacked their heads together and berated them for ruining the historic history of the courtyard or something. Sort of how Arturia did…

Oh god, she actually was Professor Goodwitch’s secret sister.

“YANG!” Ruby ran off in a blizzard of roses. She had to warn her sister. They couldn’t have fireworks at the party.

“Ruby!” Weiss coughed at the rose petals and chased after her leader.


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Also running away from the courtyard was a boy with silver hair and long legs, his normally smirking face wide with panic.

‘Shit, shit, shit. What is that guy doing here?’

Mercury did not like remembering his last encounter with Qrow Branwen. Not only because of the man himself, though he was certainly someone to be wary of, but also because it capped of his last encounter with the original Fall Maiden.

Cinder had made the plan seem so simple. Amber would be on a leisurely ride to Vale, just back from an easy mission. Emerald would distract her, Mercury would draw out her defenses, and then Cinder would move in for the kill. There would probably be complications, but hey, they could manage.

What they hadn’t counted on was the maiden charging out of the forest at full gallop, three long blades in her back. She didn’t slow down long enough to notice Emerald’s illusion, so Cinder just opened with everything she had. Amber was thrown from her horse and crashed to the ground.

She was half dead when he and Emerald propped her up for Cinder. She barely managed to open her eyes as Cinder held out that Grimm parasite thing.

“Please don’t. He’s coming,” the maiden had begged.

Cinder had only smiled as she sucked up the girl’s power. She smiled more when she screamed.

That was when Qrow had struck, his sword cleaving Cinder’s connection in two. He had picked up Amber, taken a quick look at them (who Emerald had had the sense to conceal with illusions), and rushed off.

Mercury had been a little startled, to say the least. Emerald had made her way to Cinder, who stumbled a moment before rising, her right eye glowing with power.

“Well, isn’t this interesting,” a dark voice had spoken from the forest.
Mercury turned now as he did then and saw the same person. Standing outside their Beacon dorm room was a brown haired man in form fitting black robes. One could have mistaken it for a school uniform if not for the golden cross necklace that always accompanied it. And the fact that it was bulletproof and hid more blades in the sleeves than should be possible, but that wasn’t apparent at first glance.

The man’s eyes gleamed with what Mercury could only describe as a dull sparkle, which he knew made no sense but was the only thing the assassin could think of. He had that never-ending smirk plastered on his face again.

“You think Qrow Branwen is interesting? You have a strange definition of that word,” Mercury remarked.

“Branwen is irrelevant,” the man dismissed. “The woman who intervened, however, she presents a possible complication.”

“The shortie?” Mercury inquired. He’d seen what the girl had done and sure it was impressive, but she wasn’t anyone in the know. Nothing to worry about. Unless, “you know her?”

“We have never met personally,” the man assured him. “But she and my associate have some history. She is of some interest to him.”

Ah yes, the mysterious associate. He and Emerald had a side bet going over if the guy was even real. Still, the fact that she mattered to the supposedly apathetic man…

“Is she going to be a problem?” Mercury wondered.

His infernal smirk somehow grew even wider. He chuckled. “No. If she is only appearing now then it is doubtful she cares about what is going on in our world. Rest assured Mercury, Miss. Fall will have the power she desires.”

“Good to know,” Mercury snarked. “See ya, Kirei.”

Mercury went into the room.

Kirei Kotomine gave his teammate a respectful nod and then wandered off to a secluded alcove. He pulled out his scroll and dialed the only saved number.

“There has been an interesting development,” he spoke into the device. “Saber has just walked into Beacon.”

Chapter Text

Winter stomped out of the elevator from the headmaster’s office.

Qrow continued his mockery of her, and more importantly the General, inside and then had her dismissed from the room like some unruly cadet. “Drunken son of a—”

“Language.”

Winter whirled around to the source of the interjection. Leaning against the wall next to the elevator was the blonde girl who had intervened in her duel with Qrow. Though Winter had chaffed at the admonishment at the time, she could now understand the girl had spoken truly. If she had recognized that when Qrow had only been taunting her, she could have avoided the entire debacle.

“My apologies, miss…”

“Arturia” the girl answered. “And you have mine, Specialist Schnee. I have become so accustomed to correcting my children that I reacted on instinct. It is not my place to lecture you on language.”

Winter raised an eyebrow. The girl before her didn’t look to be more than fifteen, yet she claimed to have multiple children. Though she couldn’t exactly say she didn’t see the motherly resemblance when she had been scolded in the courtyard.

“But it is to lecture me on conduct?” Winter challenged.

“When you act like a child, yes.” Arturia countered with a steely gaze.

Winter’s face broke into a small smile. This girl…woman exuded an aura of authority. It was at the same time intimidating and calming. It reminded Winter of her own mother. Well, what she once was, before the drinking.

Dispelling those thoughts from her mind, Winter realized a flaw in their conversation. “How did you know my name? And that I was a specialist.”

“It was quite simple really,” Arturia replied with a smile of her own. “You were surrounded by Atlesian Knights indicating you serve the kingdom in a high enough capacity to warrant escort. Your duel with the drunken swordsman supplied that that capacity was a combat role and you possessed significant skill. And finally, the General called you by name.”

She finished that last bit with a tinge of a satisfied smirk at the simplicity of her process. Winter really couldn’t fault her for it. Her astute analysis combined with the power she displayed in the courtyard painted a vivid portrait.

“You are quite the impressive huntress, Miss Arturia.”

The woman’s smile disappeared at that. “I am not a huntress, Specialist Schnee” she declared defensively. Her tone was similar to a faunus when they were called an animal.

Winter’s eyes immediately turned apologetic. For some reason, she found the thought of displeasing Arturia as unappealing as failing General Ironwood. “I didn’t mean to imply—”

The elevator dinged and Glynda, Ironwood, and Qrow got out. Qrow gave Winter a cocky wink and the specialist bristled with fury. Her fingers lingered above her saber but a look from Ironwood made her drop her hand.

Qrow smirked. Glynda sighed, her head in her hand at his antics.

“Winter, let’s go,” Ironwood commanded.

Winter saluted and followed the general as he left. She spared Arturia one last glance before she and Ironwood turned down the hall.

 


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Glynda turned to Arturia. “Professor Ozpin can see you now.”

“Thank you,” Arturia nodded. She walked into the elevator and went up to meet the headmaster.

Qrow watched the girl disappear before turning to Glynda. “What’s up with the blonde? Oz bring her in while I was away?”

“No,” Glynda responded. “I’ve never seen her before today. After what happened in the courtyard, I assumed she was an associate of yours.”

“Yeah, no,” Qrow chuckled. “Girl gives the ice queen a run for her money just standing around. We probably wouldn’t get along too great.”

“Most likely. But Ozpin seems to know her, so we’ll let him handle it for now” Glynda proposed.

 Orow huffed as they started walking back to Glynda’s office. He pulled out his flask and took a quick swig. “So how are my nieces doing in class, prof? Need to make sure I can make squirm when I’m giving them advice.”

Glynda straightened her glasses. “Trust you to turn something reasonable into something childish. Very well, from Peter and Bartholomew’s reports both seem to be doing above average in theory, though that may be due to Ms. Schnee’s influence. In combat, however, Ms. Xiao-Long is near the top of her class, second only to Ms. Nikos.”

“And Ruby?” Qrow asked.

“Once again, she has proven herself exceptional,” the deputy headmistress praised. “Even against fighters two years her senior, she has remained in the top thirty percent of her class. There was a small stumble earlier in the year, but she bounced back quickly enough.”

Qrow raised an eyebrow. “What kind of stumble?”

“She faced one of the transfer students from Haven in a sparring match. A Kirei Kotomine. It did not end well for her. The boy tore her apart without even drawing his weapon. For Ms. Rose, who frankly relies on hers a bit too much, this proved quite the blow to her ego,” Glynda explained.

“Sounds rough,” Qrow sighed. Ruby always prided herself on weapons, sometimes connecting with them better than people. To be beaten that badly without one wouldn’t be an easy loss. “How’d she get better?”

“Oddly enough, the same way she got into it,” Glynda remarked. “Mr. Kotomine sought her out. I don’t know what they discussed but Ms. Rose came out of it smelling like…roses.”

Qrow snorted at the accidental pun before falling into a rueful smile. Trust Ruby to take a punch to the gut and keep on walking. The little scamp reminded him of Summer that way. When he and Tai were depressed after Raven took off, it was Summer who kicked them back into gear. Went a bit far for his tastes with Tai, but it’s not like he didn’t get the appeal, especially with her semblance.

Still, Summer couldn’t keep going forever and eventually something got her. Some shots to the gut you couldn’t walk off.

But he and Tai had learned from their mistakes. And Qrow had no doubt that together with Oz and Glynda, they’d turn Ruby and Yang into the best huntresses the world had ever seen.

 


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“Noooooooooo! My undying hordes!” Ruby wailed.

“Our undying hordes, you dolt,” Weiss scolded her partner through her own tears.

“That’s what you get for messing with the queens of Vale, suckers!” Yang taunted. She raised her hand. “Hi-five Blake.”

Blake gave a demure little chuckle. “Alright, but just this once.” The cat faunus slapped the brawler’s palm.

The four members of team RWBY sat on the floor of the JNPR dorm along with the hosting team. They all surrounded a square board with a map of Remnant and several plastic pieces on it.

With Teams SSSN and CKSM late to the party, the others had settled down for a game of partner Kingdoms of Remnant. Yang and Blake’s Vale reconnaissance force had just annihilated Ruby and Weiss’ carefully cultivated Ursa hordes with another stupid trap card.

“Guys, stop being a bunch of babies. Your tears are gonna mess up the board. Then how are Ren and I going to raze your kingdoms and salt the ground they once stood upon?” Nora demanded petulantly. She and Ren were playing as Vacuo and were slowly inching into Jaune and Pyrrha’s frozen Atlas strongholds.

“Nora,” Ren calmly stated, “there is no mechanic for salting the ground in this game.”

“Not yet,” Nora replied with a sinister gleam in her eye.

Everyone scooched away from her.

Pyrrha turned to a recovered Ruby. “So, do you think the others will be able to make it?”

Ruby shrugged. “Sun said he and the others would try their best, but Scarlet’s still recovering from the knife to the tenders NDGO gave him.”

Jaune and Ren both put their hands over their own tenders in sympathy, remembering the other boy’s suffering. Yang smirked at their nervousness.

Ruby didn’t notice and continued. “Emerald promised she’d try and stop by, and I think Kirei’s coming.”

Jaune raised an eyebrow. “You think?”

“He words things weirdly okay,” Ruby said exasperatedly. “Unless he’s giving a pick me up it’s hard to tell what he’s saying. But he said something like ‘I will see if I arrive at that eventuality’, so I’m pretty sure he’s coming.”

Yang and Nora laughed at Ruby’s impression of their classmate. Even Ren and Blake cracked a smile.

Ruby passed the dice to Jaune. “Anyway, get going Jaune. Weiss and I need to avenge our fallen friends.”

Jaune quirked an eyebrow. “You guys are playing the Grimm, remember? Soulless monsters that want to wipe out humanity?”

Weiss grabbed Jaune by the scruff of his sweater. “They were our soulless monsters, you blonde buffoon!” she screamed while shaking him wildly.

“Yeah Jaune, have a little sensitivity,” Nora scolded. Being Nora, only Ren could tell if she was joking.

Pyrrha decided to calm Weiss down when Jaune started turning green. He laid down on the floor to keep from hurling and Pyrrha propped his head up in her lap. “Jaune? Are you okay?”

“Mom, I don’t want to be a farmer,” Jaune murmured, slightly out of it. “I want to be a hero.”

Pyrrha sighed. Yang patted her on the back. “He’ll be fine. Miss Goodwitch is the only one who can do anything serious to him.”

“Maybe her sister could,” Ruby proposed. “She looked like she could be pretty scary.”

“Miss Goodwitch doesn’t have a sister Ruby,” Blake insisted.

“That girl you met was probably just a visiting student,” Ren agreed.

“She was blonde. Really strong. And looked like she could kill people with a glare,” Ruby said. “If she isn’t her sister, she has to be a clone.”

“But wouldn’t the clone then be her twin sister?” Nora inquired, scratching her chin in thought.

“True, true…” Ruby mimicked the motion.

Jaune picked himself up from Pyrrha’s lap. “Please stop. One Miss. Goodwitch is terrifying enough. I don’t want to imagine more.”

Just then, the buzzer for the dorm rang. Ruby jumped up in glee, “That must be Kirei!” She raced over to the door, not noticing Yang’s frown.

Ruby hit the enter button and the door whooshed open. Her smile dipped a bit. It wasn’t Kirei…

It was Arturia who stood in the hallway. She raised an eyebrow. “Miss Rose. It is a pleasure to see you again” she greeted.

Jaune leapt to his feet as soon as he heard her voice.

“Um, it’s nice to see you again, Miss Arturia,” Ruby stumbled out. “But, why are you here?”

“The headmaster informed me that this was Team JNPR’s dormitory,” Arturia explained. “Is Jaune Arc present?”

Ruby turned into the room, “Jaune, someone’s here to see…Jaune?”

Everyone in the room looked at Jaune in shock. He stood perfectly still with his back ramrod straight. His eyes seemed blank and he didn’t respond at all to Nora madly waving her hands in front of his face.

Pyrrha looked at the girl who had sent Jaune into catatonia. She was slight, but her posture was strong. Her gaze radiated authority and when it found Pyrrha’s partner it locked on. The Mistral champion protectively nudged herself between Jaune and the woman. No one would hurt him while she was around.

When Arturia marched into the room, everyone went on edge. Nora hid behind Ren while Yang and Blake were contemplating whether to draw their weapons.

Arturia noticed their skittishness and gave a soft smile. “Well Jaune,” she said, like a cat playing with caught prey. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friends?”

Pyrrha frowned. Why did this girl speak to him so casually? “Jaune, do you know her?” the redhead asked.

Jaune finally snapped out of his shock. He shrank away from Arturia. “Yeah, yeah I do. Everyone, this is my mom, Arturia Arc.”

Every teenager in the room held their breath at that. Well, almost.

“You’re Professor Goodwitch’s nephew?!?”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

After finally convincing Ruby that Jaune was in no way related to Miss Goodwitch, Arturia had asked (commanded) her son to come with her for a private discussion. That left the remaining huntsmen in training to gossip among themselves.

“Can you believe that’s his mom?” screeched Nora. “She looks so young. Like as young as Ruby. How old do you think she was when she had Jaune? How old was she when she had his sisters? Do you think they all look really young? No, wait, that makes no sense Jaune looks older than her. Gasp! Is Jaune really her FATHER?!?”

“Nora,” Ren sighed with his head in his hand. “That doesn’t seem likely. He did call her mom.”

“That’s just what Jaune wants you to think,” Nora insisted as she jammed a finger in Ren’s face. “Who knows what else our diabolical mastermind of a leader has been doing? And without us! I feel so betrayed! And hungry. Are there any more of those fish tarts?”

Yang shrugged. “Probably. Blake was the only one who…” She turned to see her partner had quickly stuffed all the remaining tarts into her mouth. “Nevermind.”

“That aside, I doubt Jaune of all people is capable of committing anything remotely ‘diabolical’,” Weiss said. She may have been warming up to the boy since he helped her with Neptune at the dance, but he was at the bottom of their theory classes for a reason.

“Yes,” Pyrrha agreed. “Jaune is a good person who would never do anything illegal at all.” Granted she knew that to be completely false, what with him faking his transcripts, but the others didn’t need to know that.

Pyrrha wasn’t sure what to think of Jaune’s mother. Everything her partner had told her about the woman had been glowing, but when he had walked out with her he had looked like he was going to his own execution. Even if Pyrrha’s feelings for Jaune hadn’t been… what they were, he was her first friend and she wanted to make sure he was okay. But listening in on a private conversation between family was not something easily suggested. Really, only someone with the loosest definition of morality yet care for their friends could even suggest it.

“Let’s go spy on Jaune and his mom, maybe daughter!”

Pyrrha smiled. Gods bless Nora Valkyrie.

 


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The students rushed out of the dorm, Ruby oddly enough being the last one out.

“Ruby?” a voice inquired.

She turned to see Kirei walking towards her, a bowl of tofu covered with chili peppers in his hands. The red reaper turned the same color as her cloak. “Kirei! You came!”

Kirei held up the bowl. “I apologize for my tardiness. But I have always been told it is good manners to bring a dish when invited to a party and mapo tofu cannot be rushed.”

“No. It’s fine,” Ruby assured him. Then she looked down the hall and cringed. “It’s just that…well…stuff sort of happened, and the party’s kind of been postponed?”

Kirei raised an eyebrow. “Postponed?”

“Yup, postponed, that is what has happened,” Ruby replied, sounding as if she was trying to convince herself as much as him. “I’m sorry we didn’t tell you, but everything just happened so fast that we didn’t get the chance—”

“It’s alright, Ruby,” Kirei assured her, his smile never leaving his lips. It encouraged Ruby to put one on her own face. It was one of the things she loved about Kirei. He was always smiling. A person that happy made other people feel better just by being around them.

He held out the bowl of mapo tofu. “Please accept this nonetheless. I feel it would go to waste if—”

“Ruby come on, we’re gonna fall beh—” Yang stopped when she saw Kirei. Her eyes narrowed.

“Robes,” she hissed.

Kirei kept smiling as he turned to the brawler. His head tilted in a small bow of greeting. “Ms. Xiao-Long.”

Yang came forward to stand between him and Ruby. “What are you doing here?”

Ruby rushed in front of Yang, knowing where this would lead if she didn’t stop it. “I told you I invited him to the party. We were talking about it literally five minutes ago,” the reaper reminded her sister. She snagged the bowl from Kirei’s hands. “He even brought food.”

Yang swiped the bowl out of Ruby’s arms. She glared at the mapo tofu mistrustfully. “Thanks Robes, but the party’s over.”

“Yes, Ruby was just making me aware of that,” Kirei said. “Unfortunate, but I suppose I’ll have time for some last-minute practice with Mercury for the doubles round.”

“Good idea, you’ll need it if you go up against me and Weiss,” Yang threatened.

Kirei only smirked. He bowed politely to both sisters and left.

When he was out of sight, Ruby smacked Yang on the arm. “What is wrong with you? He beat me in one spar, so you hate him forever?”

Yang slumped her head. “I don’t know, okay?” she confessed.

She had seen Ruby lose spars before. She understood that that was what happened sometimes. Even she’d lost spars at Beacon, though admittedly only to Pyrrha.

But Kirei had been different. When she’d first seen the guy, she’d had him pegged as the stoic silent type like Ren. His brawler style when he entered the arena seemed to confirm it. He clobbered the stuffing out of Ruby without even drawing his weapon. Throughout the whole fight, his expression didn’t change.

And then it did. It was so brief that Yang doubted anyone saw, sometimes she doubted that she even had.

But when Ruby was close to crying as Miss. Goodwitch scolded her over-reliance on her weapon, Kirei Kotomine smiled.

Yang hadn’t trusted the guy since. Even after he’d patched things up with Ruby, the blonde brawler just couldn’t shake the feeling that the boy from Haven was bad news. Bad news she wanted to keep her little sister well away from.

She turned with the bowl of tofu still in her hands. “Come on, let’s catch up with the others.”

Ruby frowned but followed her sister down the hall. Neither noticed Kirei lean out from the corner he’d supposedly left down.

 


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Jaune, like most teenage boys, had complicated feelings about his mother.

He loved her without a doubt, but he feared her beyond all belief. He treasured her advice, but felt the need to disobey her. He was glad to see her, but very much wished that she was anywhere but with him at the moment.

Granted, his mother was a complicated person. One minute she was lecturing them on not overeating, the next she had devoured their entire picnic. She believed that one should always be sportsmanlike but got all grumbly when she was losing family game night. She forbade him from training with his father despite the fact that she did the same.

She told him that he had the potential to become a great leader, but refused to even discuss sending him to a combat school.

At the time, he had felt that justified him stealing Crocea Mors and disappearing into the night. Granted, he had left a note explaining that he was alright, but he had a feeling that his mom was going to be much more focused on the lack of saying where he was going. Besides the cemetery, because with how mad she looked now, he couldn’t see himself getting back to the dorm.

Arturia stopped in a secluded alcove. It was a common area for the students, with a few chairs and a couch facing a television. Mercifully for Jaune, it was empty, all the students probably out enjoying the nonviolent entertainments of the Vytal Festival now that the tournament was done for the day.

Arturia slowly turned around. Jaune closed his eyes and activated his aura, ready for the worst. Soon he felt the air being squeezed out of his lungs as his mother tightened her arms around him.

It took him a few moments of suffocating to realize she was hugging him.

“Thank god, you’re alright,” his mother whispered, a tear streaming down her face. “We didn’t know where you were, what you were doing, or even if you were still alive.”

Jaune tapped her arms and Arturia realized she was killing her baby boy. She quickly loosened her grip but kept a hand on his shoulder, afraid he might disappear again if she let go. Jaune tried to comfort her with his best dorky smile. She always loved it when he tried to be cute.

“Sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t mean to make you worry.”

“Worry?” Arturia growled. “Jaune, we only found out where you were because Sapphire saw you in footage of the Breach. Fighting Grimm! Do you have any idea what you’ve put your father and I through? What you put your sisters through?”

“I said I’m sorry,” Jaune defended, knocking away his mother’s hand. “I thought you wouldn’t let me come here.”

“You thought right. I would have called… the headmaster and threatened to castrate him with his own tea if he let you within a mile of this place,” Arturia snarled.

Jaune was puzzled by the threat. It seemed too…personal, not to mention specific for his mother. Like she tailored it for the professor.

“Do you know Ozpin?” Jaune asked confused. Surely, he would have known if they had that caliber of a family friend.

Arturia seemed to close up at that. “The headmaster and I have more history than I would wish, and he has allowed that to affect his judgement,” she explained, but didn’t.

Jaune scrunched his eyebrows. Here was his mom, who always told him he could be great, doubting him again. His disappointment and guilt over what he put his family through quickly turned to rebellion. “I think I’ve done alright for myself here,” he boasted. “My team just made it past the first round of the Vytal Festival after all, so I’d say I’ve got some skill.”

Wrong move. Arturia’s hesitance about Ozpin immediately melted away, replaced by steely eyes Jaune always thought wouldn’t be out of place on a monarch.

“And do tell me how you acquired those skills Jaune,” she practically spat. “Because I visited your headmaster a short while ago and he spun some ridiculous tale about you having attended the Vacuo Academy for the Gifted.”

Oh.

Shit.

The Vacuo Academy for the Gifted was a combat school for those whose acceptance letter to Shade was really just a formality. It was where the brightest rising stars trained to become even brighter. It had also been tragically overrun by Grimm a few years ago, destroying the entire institute and all the records it had kept. There was no way to confirm who had and hadn’t been there. Which is why it was the school Jaune had put on his fake transcripts.

A decision he was not for the first time, very much regretting.

“I can explain!” he protested guiltily.

“Jaune Tristan Arc,” Arturia dictated, dangerously calm. “If you dishonored the memories of those who died defending that school just so you could deceive your way here to play huntsman, I swear I will drag you back home and make you wish you had been there when it fell!

“He’s not playing,” a voice interjected.

Both Jaune and Arturia whirled to the corner where the speech came from.

Pyrrha stood in the alcove, fists curled at her sides and her emerald eyes hard like the gemstones they resembled.

“Pyrrha—What are you doing?” Jaune stuttered.

Nora jumped out from behind the corner. “Yeah Pyrrha, what are you doing? We were spying on them. That means we only get seen if we have to knock out Jaune’s mom to kidnap him. I really don’t think you’re getting this.”

Weiss peaked out from behind the wall. “That is not what spying means.”

Nora laughed and waved a hand at the white-haired girl. “Yes, it is Weissy. I’ve seen enough John Binding movies to know how spying—”

“Enough,” Arturia commanded. Amazingly Nora and Weiss immediately ceased their bickering and practically stood at attention. Even Pyrrha’s resolute stare was broken and she shuffled a bit on her feet.

Arturia glared at the corner the three had come from. “If anyone else is hiding, reveal yourselves. Now.”

Ren, Blake, Ruby, and Yang came out from behind the wall. Jaune raised an eyebrow at the sight of the bowl in Yang’s hands. Was that tofu? He never figured the blonde brawler for the type.

Arturia ran her hard gaze over the students until she at last focused on Pyrrha. “I don’t believe we have had the pleasure, Miss…”

“Nikos, mam,” Pyrrha said timidly. “Pyrrha Nikos. I’m Jaune’s partner.”

“Hm…” Arturia mused. “You look familiar.”

“She on the front of the Pumpkin Pete’s boxes mom,” Jaune informed her.

Arturia’s eyes lit up in the way Pyrrha was used to seeing from rabid fans. It was quite off putting for the authoritative woman to shift so suddenly. “That’s you! Your cereal is wonderful!”

“She eats three boxes a day,” Jaune filled in everyone.

“How?” Weiss exclaimed, examining the woman. In addition to appearing younger than Ruby, she had a figure most would kill for. Granted, so did most of the female population of Beacon, but they worked themselves to near death to protect humanity from the Grimm. Which, at least in Weiss’ case, had included a strictly regimented meal plan. How did an apparent housewife do the same while gorging on what Pyrrha herself admitted was probably the least balanced breakfast one could have?

Ah! It was like Ruby and her infernal cookies all over again!

Pyrrha nervously rubbed the back of her head. Arturia regained her previous seriousness but her fury seemed to have been calmed somewhat.

“Anyway,” the blonde woman began. “What do you mean when you speak for my son?”

Pyrrha internally cringed. Her outburst had been more of an emotional response to Jaune’s suffering than a formulated argument. Though, since she was training him, there was probably no one better suited to speak on his behalf.

“He’s not playing at being a huntsman,” the champion insisted. “He is becoming one. Yes, when he arrived he was…subpar. But since then he has worked harder than anyone to improve. I’ve seen scores of skilled fighters and while he may not be as good as any of them, he has the potential to surpass all of them.”

The rest of the Beacon students nodded their heads to that. Even Weiss, who hadn’t started out as Jaune’s biggest fan, could concede his tremendous possibility. She had trained exclusively with the best teachers possible and the best courses available, and it took her years to build herself into a competent warrior. Jaune had come into Beacon with no skill or talent whatsoever, and yet, with Pyrrha’s help, he’d grown strong enough to cross blades with students like Cardin who’d been training for years in only two semesters. He wasn’t impressive, but his rate of improvement was absolutely staggering.

Arturia wasn’t convinced however. “And are you aware that the transcripts he used to get entrance into this academy were forgeries?”

Everyone except Pyrrha and Jaune gasped. Arturia took the champion’s lack of reaction as her answer.

“He is my friend, my partner, and my leader,” Pyrrha declared. “I would trust him with my life.”

Arturia’s eye twitched when Pyrrha said leader. “Then perhaps a test is in order,” she stated. “If you have such faith in Jaune, then he will lead your team in combat against me. What happens next depends on the outcome.”

“Deal,” Pyrrha answered instantly.

“No.” Everyone turned to Jaune. “No deal.”

“Jaune—” Pyrrha began.

“No Pyrrha,” Jaune commanded. Ren, Nora, and Team RWBY were taken aback by the vitriol in Jaune’s voice. “You and Nora have the doubles round tomorrow. No matter what happens to me, you can still win the Vytal Festival for the team.”

Arturia smiled proudly at her son’s words, her gaze softening just slightly. “Do you intend to face with only your final teammate by your side then?”

Jaune lowered his head in thought for a moment. He sighed, at a loss. “I guess we don’t have any other choice,” he admitted. He looked to his final teammate. “Ren, this is probably gonna hurt a lot. You sure you’re up for it?”

The green ninja nodded at his leader. “I am with you.”

“And he’s not the only one,” Ruby piped up. Everyone turned to the silver eyed girl. She grinned and snagged Blake. In a burst of rose petals, they were both next to the two Arcs. “Blake and I are done fighting in the tournament, so we’re free to help you stay where you belong.”

“What?” Blake stuttered, still spitting petals out of her mouth. “Do I get a say in this?

“Nope!”

Jaune’s eyes began to water. Arturia’s widened.

“Are you sure about this Ruby?” Jaune asked.

“Think carefully, Miss Rose,” Arturia implored. “I will not hold back.”

Ruby just kept smiling. “Jaune was the first friend I ever made at Beacon,” the reaper explained. “Back then, I wasn’t sure how to be around all the new people, but he told me strangers were just friends you haven’t met yet.”

Arturia was taken aback. She recognized those words. She had once said them to Jaune, a long time ago. Just as another had to her.

She smiled. “Very well.” She turned to her son. “I will meet in your exhibition arena in twenty minutes. And there, Jaune, I shall judge your worth as a huntsman and a leader.”

The blonde stalked off.

Jaune finally let go of a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding. His team and Ruby surrounded him while Blake fled back to Yang’s side, who was standing a bit back with Weiss.

Pyrrha frowned. “Jaune, we would have fought with you. The tournament isn’t important as keeping the team together.”

“Yeah,” Nora concurred. “We would have helped you beat up your mom. Even if you didn’t tell us you were a diabolical mastermind.”

“Don’t worry guys,” Ruby reassured them. “Team…J…B…double R, we’ll figure out the name later, is going to whoop Jaune’s mom’s butt!”

“I feel like there is so much wrong with that sentence,” Weiss remarked.

Jaune’s brain stopped as he came to a crucial realization. They were going to be fighting his mom. His mom. And his friends thought they were going to win. He knew the truth though. He had snuck into his parents’ training sessions when he could. He had expected his dad to be giving mom a few pointers. What had happened was Nicholas Arc, one of the most exceptional huntsmen to every graduate an academy, strained every muscle in his body while his wife Arturia critiqued his swordplay without breaking a sweat. His dad had been smiling the entire time, which meant he was probably used to it.

Which Jaune knew did not bode well for him.

“Aaaaahhhh!” he groaned. His friends watched him for a moment until Nora and got distracted. She spotted the bowl in Yang’s hands.

“Are you gonna eat that?”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Is Nora gonna be okay?” Ruby asked. Crescent Rose rested unfurled on her shoulder as she and the rest of Team JRBR (Grabber) made their way to the arena.

Blake loaded some dust borrowed from Weiss into Gambol Shroud. “She’ll be fine Ruby. Pyrrha gave her a gallon of milk to drink.”

Ren nodded his agreement as he cocked Stormflower. “I’ve seen Nora eat sixteen jalapenos in half as many minutes. Her needing the milk at all was quite unusual.”

“Nora isn’t the problem right now!” Jaune interjected. “The problem is that my mom is about to beat up all of you guys and then kill me.” The blonde knight was shaking in his boots, clutching the still sheathed Crocea Mors to his chest like a teddy bear.

Ruby rolled her eyes. “Jaune stop worrying. You said yourself that your mom never trained as a huntress. Sure, she got in the middle of Weiss’ sister and Uncle Qrow and cracked the pavement without even drawing a weapon… I thought I was going somewhere with that.”

“I know!” Jaune shrieked. “And that was her holding back.”

Blake sighed. She really didn’t get why Jaune was so scared of his mother. Despite her strained relationship with her own parents (which she really needed to apologize for now that she’d realized they were right about what the White Fang were becoming), the cat faunus was never terrified of them. And her dad was no slouch in a fight either. He and Sienna Khan had been old sparring buddies before their split over the Fang.

“Is there anything you can tell us about her that might give us an edge then?” Blade asked.

Jaune took a few deep breaths and calmed down. “Not much. She usually hides her sword with some kind of wind dust, I think. She never told me how she did it. She’s got this really cool attack that shoots out a hyper-compressed blast of air. Oh, and she can walk on water!”

“Really?!?” Ruby exclaimed, stars in her silver eyes.

“Yeah!” Jaune responded enthusiastically, forgetting his earlier distress. “When I was younger, she used to dance on this lake near our house on Family Fridays. It was amazing.”

“Hm. Interesting,” Ren remarked. “Is that all? Does she have any weaknesses?”

“Other than being terrible at baseball? That’s pretty much it,” Jaune confirmed. “But she probably won’t use the air blast against us. She doesn’t want to kill you guys.”

Blake turned to Ruby. The little girl was her team leader for a reason after. Blake wasn’t stupid, but Ruby had a manic unpredictability about her that made her a master of coming up with group tactics. Well, as long as they were set up beforehand. Other than the defeat of the Nevermore at initiation, Ruby tended to play actual combat by ear, fighting completely in the moment. It didn’t leave much room for coming up with group maneuvers on the side.

That was actually something Jaune excelled in. Blake had noted that while he had no talent himself, he was surprisingly skillful at adapting the talents of others to each new situation. It was why Team JNPR worked so well despite their widely disparate talents. Jaune could quickly analyze a situation and find a way to pick it apart.

Essentially, while Team RWBY was a well-oiled machine, Team JNPR was a boxer, constantly bobbing and weaving to find an opening. If Ruby and Jaune were somehow fused into one person, they’d be the perfect leader. An incredibly dorky leader, but perfect nonetheless.

Ruby rubbed her chin in thought. Then her eyes widened and a mischievous grin sprouted on her face. “Blake, do you still have that elemental dust you used against Torchwick?”

“Yeah,” Blade answered.

Ruby’s smile grew. “Then I’ve got an idea.”

 


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Weiss Schnee had no idea what her friends were thinking.

“Why are they even doing this?” she asked Pyrrha and Yang. They along with Nora had taken seats in the arena bleachers to observe the match. The young Valkyrie was laid out on a bench groaning in pain. The Mapo Tofu she attempted to eat lying discarded in the bowl at her feet. Weiss almost pitied the girl, expect for the fact that tried to put the entire chili pepper topped dish into her mouth at once and didn’t expect it to be spicy.

“What do you mean?” Pyrrha responded.

“Why are they participating in this ridiculous trial for Jaune’s sake?” Weiss demanded. “If he forged his way into Beacon then his mother is perfectly in the right to remove him. How are you not all not shocked by this?”

Weiss knew what it was like to work yourself to the bone trying to become the best you could be. She was sure many other aspiring huntsmen did as well. To go endless nights with little to no sleep training and studying, desperately clawing to make yourself good enough to even have a chance to get into Beacon.

And Jaune just skipped all that. He cheated the system and Weiss couldn’t pretend that didn’t sting when she had clung to it so fervently.

Pyrrha looked away from her, obviously not sure how to defend her partner’s actions.

Yang sighed. “Weiss, do you remember what Jaune was like at initiation?”

Weiss rolled her eyes. “Of course, I do. He was completely useless.”

“Exactly,” Yang nodded. “We were all caught off guard that he did it. But can you really say you’re surprised?”

“Yes!”

Yang stared at her.

“Well, no,” Weiss admitted. “Not logically, I suppose. But he always seemed so innocent, so bumbling. Even if I didn’t think he could fight, I wanted to believe he had the right reasons for trying.”

“He does,” Yang insisted. “That’s why Ruby, Blake, and Ren are doing this.”

“Here they come,” Pyrrha noted.

Team JRBR made their way to the arena, weapons drawn and ready. The stood in a wide formation with Jaune and Ruby in the middle while Blake and Ren each covered an end.

“Alright, the gang’s all here,” Yang remarked. “Now where’s mama bear?”

No sooner had Yang spoken those words then Arturia strode in from the opposite end of her opponents. Over her blue gown were several pieces of silver armor, including a chest plate and a pair of gauntlets. Her right hand looked like it was holding something, but Weiss couldn’t see anything within her grasp. How puzzling.

“She doesn’t have a weapon,” Weiss pointed out. “Do you think she’s a hand to hand fighter like you, Yang?”

The brawler shook her head. “Her stance is all wrong. If anything, it looks like she’s a sword fighter.”

“She is,” Pyrrha revealed. “Jaune’s told me about her style before. Apparently, she can make the blade invisible somehow.”

Not good. Weiss had fenced since she was a young child and understood the importance of knowing your opponent’s sword. If it was hidden from view, you couldn’t know how long it was. If you didn’t know that, then you would have no idea how to measure your own strikes so wouldn’t run into the enemy’s blade.

“Can you sense it on her?” Weiss asked the champion.

Pyrrha closed her eyes and concentrated for a moment. Then another. Then she opened her eyes.

“She has it in her right hand but…”

Yang raised an eyebrow. “But what?”

Pyrrha shook her head. “I don’t know. I can feel the weapon but whenever I try there’s this…light pushing back on my semblance. I can sense but I don’t think I’d be able to move it at all.”

Weiss looked on Arturia Arc with newfound interest. The woman was capable of hiding her weapon and thwarting one of the most powerful semblances Weiss had ever encountered. Yet, she was not a huntress.

Then what was she?

“Did they start yet?” Nora moaned. “Ren, give me a play-by-play!”

Weiss’ face fell into her hands.

 


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Arturia was wondering if she would ever have a child that she wouldn’t have a major conflict with.

Amber had nearly bitten her hand off when she was being potty trained. Coral disobeyed her instructions to stay below the M rating on her fanfiction sites. Mordred had killed her.

For a while, she had thought that Jaune would be her breath of fresh air. The baby boy she could love and teach and wouldn’t start a rebellion that would end with her kingdom in ruins.

But alas, the boy was inspired by the stories of his father’s ancestors, epics of gallantry and legends of heroes. Arturia regretted letting Nicholas tell him those tales almost as much as she regretted using her own adventures with the Knights of the Round Table as bedtime stories.

Before she knew it, Jaune had decided he would be a hero. And having experienced exactly what that meant in life and beyond, that was something Arturia would not allow.

She had tried to stifle his dream and forbade Nicholas from training him or unlocking his aura. She mourned when it caused tension with her son, and Nicholas warned her it wasn’t the best idea. She knew he was right, but every night she dreamed of Diarmuid’s dying curse as he drowned in blood wrought by his own spear, or Lancelot’s howls of madness as he crushed all that stood before him, and Arturia knew that even if it was not right, it would save her son. He would be happy.

Heroes never were. Especially the kind she knew he would become if given the chance.

After all, she had been the same.

The knight stood before her son and his allies, Excalibur hidden by invisible air in her right hand. The view screen above the arena flared to life, showing the aura levels of all the combatants.

Which in her case was none.

She watched the aspiring hunters’ reactions. All save Jaune recoiled in shock. She spoke before they could. “Defeat will only come with a ring out. Prepare yourselves.”

Ruby Rose, the girl with silver eyes that she couldn’t bring herself to look straight at, looked at her with earnest worry. It was adorable. “But without aura, we could seriously hurt you.”

Arturia pointed her blade at the red-hooded girl. “You may test that assumption at your own convenience.”

The children turned to Jaune, who nodded back.

Without warning, Blake and Ren advanced and opened fire upon her, their machine pistols sending dozens of shots downrange. Not a bad opening move but useless against Arturia.

Dust, while not exactly magecraft, was practically prana given physical form and as such her Rank A Magic Resistance nullified the low caliber rounds with ease. Arturia lazily deflected some of the shots for show, awaiting the children’s next move.

Ruby burst forward in a shower of rose petals, her scythe ready to strike. Arturia frowned. The child probably thought her speed, admittedly equal to a lower Servant, would enable her to land a clean strike with her opponent distracted with the others’ crossfire.

But Arturia was not distracted. A shame. She had hoped for more from her son’s friends. She quickly sliced where Ruby would be in the next moment.

Except she wasn’t. Ruby fired a shot from her scythe, which Arturia realized too late was also a sniper rifle, and the recoil sent the red reaper flying into the air, dodging Arturia’s slash. She quickly converted her scythe into its full rifle mode and unleashed a barrage from above on the blonde knight.

Arturia swatted the attack away with Excaliber, only to bring the blade down to parry a strike from Crocea Mors, Jaune had taken advantage of her focus on his allies to close the distance between them.

Ruby floated back to the ground, changed her weapon back to scythe mode and rushed in to back Jaune up. Blake and Ren, having noted that their cover fire wasn’t doing anything, advanced from both sides. Arturia was surrounded as all four warriors began a melee assault.

Arturia smiled. She had played right into their hands. She was pushed to the edge of the arena and forced to deflect blow after blow. She could have forced her way through one of their parries with her vastly superior strength, but despite her earlier words she wasn’t really going all out against the children. She didn’t want to kill them. No, she would have to defeat them through skill and technique.

She saw the four slowly getting frustrated as she nullified each strike of their onslaught. A deflection of Ren’s pistol daggers, a parry of Jaune’s sword swing, a dodge of Ruby’s scythe. Nothing they tried seemed to be able to touch her. In time, their rage would lead to a slip up.

Ruby overextended herself the barest fraction. Ren was left open for the briefest second.

It was all Arturia needed.

The hidden blade of Excalibur slammed into the green ninja sending him hurtling out of bounds. Arturia immediately turned her assault on Blake, but when she made contact, the girl phased out of existence and another appeared a few feet away. The knight filed the information away for later and aimed for Ruby, who blasted back in a blur of petals.

Arturia at last descended upon Jaune and landed a mighty blow on his shield. Her son was sent skidding back several yards.

Arturia smirked at the look of astonishment on the children’s faces. She’d be lying if she claimed it didn’t bring her some pleasure. They had underestimated her despite her warnings. Now, they were paying the price.

Arturia raised her left hand and repeatedly curled her fingers towards herself. She believed Sapphire had called it a ‘bring it’ gesture. She didn’t completely understand it, but she was curious to see how Jaune and his friends would rise to the challenge.

 


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Meanwhile, in Glynda’s office, Qrow was curious if he could slip some whiskey into his old professor’s tea without her noticing.

Nah, that meant less for him.

Qrow sat in front of Glynda’s desk, looking over security reports for any sign of Salem’s infiltrators. Ozpin and Ironwood had already done so but growing up in the Branwen Tribe had taught the huntsman a few things that others might overlook. Besides, he wanted to see the look on Jimmy’s face if he found them when the cyborg couldn’t.

The monitor on Glynda’s desk beeped. The professor looked up from where she was grading papers and raised an eyebrow.

“What is it?” Qrow asked without looking up.

“Someone has activated the sparring arena’s systems,” Glynda replied. “Curious. Most students wouldn’t bother with the Vytal Festival going on.”

“Eh, it’s probably just Bart and Peter blowing off some steam,” Qrow theorized. “God knows I’d need to after commentating on those shit matches today.”

“It’s registered under Teams RWBY and JNPR,” Glynda informed him.

That got Qrow’s attention. He smirked. “Really? Who are the pipsqueaks going a few rounds with?”

Glynda pulled up a live feed of the action. Her eyes widened. “You’ll want to see this.”

Qrow came around the desk and looked over Glynda’s shoulder. “Are they fighting that chick from earlier?”

Glynda narrowed her eyes. “It would appear so. I looked over our records for anyone with her face. That is Arturia Arc, Mr. Jaune Arc’s mother.”

“The blonde kid with the shield?” Qrow asked. Glynda nodded. Qrow smirked again. “Doesn’t look like the kids are doing too hot.”

From the feed, the two teachers saw that Ren had been eliminated by both knockout and aura depletion, the display showing him at ten percent and lying on the ground groaning in pain. Jaune wasn’t doing much better with his own normally exceptional aura reserves half gone, while Blake and Ruby with both panted heavily despite their nearly full aura meters.

Qrow looked on eagerly. “Let’s see if they can turn this around.”

 


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‘I don’t think we can turn this around!’

Ruby didn’t know what happened. Everything had been going great. Sure, Arturia hadn’t been as phased by the Flowercat barrage as she’d hoped, but they were still able to get her boxed in at the edge.

Then Arturia had moved her invisible sword (which was so COOL!) like a madwoman and blocked everything they had sent her way. One second later, Ren was out of the fight and the rest of them had been forced to retreat.

Ruby was stunned. She knew Jaune had said his mom was a monster, but this was Uncle Qrow somehow cheating at Ultimate Ninja Fighter 4 levels of craziness. No one should be that in control against four opponents simultaneously attacking at point blank range. Even when Pyrrha was fighting entire teams, Ruby noticed that she took care to separate them all so that she didn’t get swarmed by more than she could handle at once.

But Arturia had done it without breaking a sweat. It was like fighting Roman’s paladin all over again, except smaller, faster, and somehow, Ruby thought, way stronger as well.

Blake turned to Ruby with questioning eyes. The red reaper racked her brain for an idea or tactic that could help. If she had Weiss and Yang she’d have them use Freezerburn to buy the team some breathing room and then take potshots from the fog. But they only had Jaune in the ring with them and as much as Ruby loved him, he wasn’t going to be much use in this fight.

Ruby was out of ideas.

Then Arturia made the ‘bring it’ gesture.

Ruby decided ideas were stupid.

Ladybug!” the red hooded girl shouted. She and Blake shot forward, blades at the ready.

“I don’t know that one!” Jaune yelled after them.

Ruby and Blake crossed to either side of Arturia and then rushed in to attack. Normally the crosswind of blades would enable them to land multiple strikes in rapid succession.

But this was anything but a normal battle.

Arturia’s hands made a wide arc and Ruby felt something hard strike her stomach. The red reaper went soaring back. Thinking fast, she pushed her semblance and sped upward into the air from her position.

Hm. Changing direction in midair. That was a neat new trick. She’d have to remember that one.

Still, she felt the massive blow to her aura and the strain from using her semblance so much so close together. She’d probably only get one more use out of it in the fight.

She looked over and saw Blake on the defensive. The cat faunus was doing her best, but it was plain to see that Arturia was just toying with her.

A lazy strike came at Blake’s head and the huntress made to parry. Too late, she realized it was a feint. Arturia spun around and stabbed forward, her avenue wide open. The blow appeared to land cleanly.

Of course, against Blake Belladonna, appearances could be deceiving.

Blake suddenly rolled away, replacing herself with a clone of fire with the help of her borrowed dust. Arturia only has a moment to look surprised before the clone exploded in her face.

Ruby pumped her arm. “Yes!” Good old Blake.

The girl herself frowned. Something wasn’t right.

A moment later, Arturia charged out the flames, none the worse for wear and her sword raised high.

This time Blake created a clone of rock and Arturia’s invisible sword was left trapped. Blake leapt back to Jaune.

Ruby smiled. Trust her teammates to pull a victory from behind.

She shifted Crescent Rose to sniper mode and prepared to fire.

Suddenly, Arturia ripped her weapon out of the rock clone, and used its remains to jump straight up into the air.

‘Weird move for a sword fighter,’ Ruby remarked in her mind. Ripping her weapon out made sense but why jump straight into the air?

Arturia brought both hands to her chest and angled herself so any sword she had would point towards the arena floor.

Jaune’s eyes went wide. “Get in the air! Now!”

Ruby didn’t know why he was so panicked, but she pointed Crescent Rose to the ground and fired a shot. The recoil sent her airborne.

Jaune raised his shield above his head and Blake used it as a springboard.

Strike…” Arturia chanted. Wind seemed to gather around her sword, making it just barely visible.

Blake threw Gambol Shourd’s ribbon around Jaune and threw the young leader into the air above her, falling just a bit as a consequence.

“…Air!” Arturia shouted.

Her blade unleashed a blast of high-pressure wind straight down. The practical tornado struck the center of the arena and exploded in a shockwave torn the floor apart, ripping its way into the stands.

Ruby and Jaune were high enough to avoid the attack but Blake was sent flying and crashed into the wall. Her nearly full aura saved her from any serious injury, but it was broken and she was down for the count.

All three remaining combatants descended back to the ground. The arena was torn apart, the rubble forming several boulders near the edge easily large enough for a person to hide behind.

Ruby immediately did just that, her eyes peeking out to look upon Arturia with a mix of awe and terror.

Jaune also ran behind the cover and Ruby started stealthily making her way over to him.

Arturia looked over the destruction she’d caused. “That… may have been a bit much.”

 


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Yang slowly got back on her feet. The shockwave had done a number on those in the stands as well. “Anyone get the number on that bus?”

Weiss groaned. “What in the world was that?”

Nora shot to her feet. “I don’t know, but I want one!” Apparently, the shockwave had cured her spicy food coma. She suddenly looked worried. “Is Ren okay?”

“He’s fine, Nora,” Pyrrha assured her as she held onto the bent railing.

Indeed, Ren was helping Blake to her feet at that very moment. Nora let out a breath of relief when she saw.

Yang chuckled at the berserker’s antics. Then she looked to the shattered arena, her eyes serious and frightened. “How can any one person do that?”

Weiss rubbed her head. “I suppose a semblance, maybe.”

“It can be, she doesn’t have any aura” Pyrrha reasoned. A semblance was merely an extension of one’s aura, crafted from the soul. It was fueled by it, each use draining one’s pool.

All four onlookers stared at Arturia Arc, terrified of the power displayed.

And none of them noticed a man in dark robes slip away down the halls.

 


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Glynda and Qrow stared slack-jawed at the screen. Each for their own reasons. Glynda had been teaching in that arena since before Team STRQ’s time and, save for the maidens, she had never witnessed such power before.

Qrow had. And he was furious to see it again.

‘A Noble Phantasm.’

Qrow strode around the desk and marched out of the office.

“Qrow? Qrow, where are you going?” Glynda shouted after him.

She got no response and the door slammed shut. The deputy headmistress slumped back into her chair and sighed. She turned back to the monitor to continue watching the battle.

Her eyes focused on her ruined arena. ‘Yet another mess I’ll have to clean up.”

 


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Jaune didn’t think he was getting out of this mess.

Mom had knocked out Blake and Ren, and thrown off every strategy Ruby had come up with. He’d kind of expected it, but that didn’t mean he was ready for his hopes to come crashing down.

The young knight sighed and slumped back against the boulder he’d hidden behind. He didn’t want to leave Beacon. He came here hoping it would somehow make him a hero, but it had done something so much better.

For the first time in his life, Jaune had friends. Real, honest to goodness friends. Before he had had his family, and he loved them all dearly, but sometimes you needed to talk to someone who hadn’t made you try on hand me down dresses. The only people in the house who had qualified were his little sisters Lavender and Amber, and he couldn’t exactly talk to them about guy stuff.

He had felt isolated at home, ridiculed by everyone for the fact that he was…well…Jaune Arc. The village idiot.

But at Beacon, Jaune had friends. Nora, who always injected a shot of adrenaline into any boring day. Ren, who calmed him even at the worst of times. And Pyrrha, his partner, who despite him giving her a thousand reasons not to, refused to give up on him. She had taken a cheating fool and turned him into a confident (relatively speaking), mostly competent team leader. He had everything he’d ever wanted.

And he was going to lose it all.

“Come out, Jaune,” his mother called. “Continuing this battle is pointless. You cannot win.”

She was right. Jaune began to maneuver around the boulder when a tiny hand yanked him down to the ground. Soon, he was face to face with silver eyes.

“What do think you’re doing?” Ruby whispered to him.

“Surrendering,” Jaune replied. “Ruby, it’s over. Heck, it never even started. You’ve seen what she’s capable of. There’s nothing we can do.”

“Nope.”

“Ruby, this isn’t one of those times when—”

“I. Said. Nope.” Ruby glared hard at Jaune. The boy found it both incredibly adorable and surprisingly intimidating. “Yes, your mom has beaten everything we’ve come up with. Yes, I’m all out of ideas. But you’re not. You’re Jaune Arc. You specialize at doing what you shouldn’t be able to do. You shouldn’t have been able to get into Beacon, but you found a way.”

“By cheating,” Jaune reminded her.

“You shouldn’t have been able to survive initiation, but you ended up killing a Deathstalker.”

“That was Pyrrha and Nora.”

“You shouldn’t be able to ignore the many, obvious hints that Pyrrha is sending your way, but you do!”

“What does that even mean?” Jaune angry whispered to her.

“The point is, you are a huntsman,” Ruby poked his chest with each word to emphasize it. “You’re the leader of Team JNPR. It doesn’t exist without you. So, stop giving up and come up with something only Jaune Arc would. Because, news flash Vomit Boy, you’re good at this. You just need someone to remind you every now and again.”

Jaune slumped again. “She’s the best warrior I’ve ever seen, Ruby. What could I possibly ‘come up with’ to beat her?”

Ruby shrugged. “I don’t know. But she hasn’t attacked us yet, so you have some time.”

That sparked something inside Jaune’s mind. Why hadn’t mom attacked them yet? The arena wasn’t exactly big. Even with the rubble, she could find them in five seconds. So why hadn’t she?

Because she was honorable. Mom was honorable, despite how much she tried to avoid it. It was part of why his transcripts made her so mad. If she said she was going to do something, she would do it. If she said that something was, then to the best of her knowledge it was. She had given him the chance to surrender. She wouldn’t attack until he had given her an answer.

And that, combined with her only other weakness, might give them half a chance.

Jaune peaked around the corner and spotted what he needed: a small, sphere like chunk of rubble.

He turned to Ruby and smiled. The red reaper returned it gladly.

“Go around behind her. I’ve got a plan.” Jaune told her.

Ruby nodded and made to leave.

“Ruby.” She turned back. “Thanks.”

The red hooded girl grinned and headed out.

Jaune transformed his sword back into a sheath and placed Crocea Mors inside of it. Then, he walked out from behind the boulder.

Arturia looked at him with hard eyes. She knew something was up. “So, are you surrendering?”

“I’ve got a question for you first. If that isn’t too much to ask.” Jaune stated.

Arturia narrowed her eyes. “You may ask.”

“Why did you lie to me?”

His mother blinked. “What are you talking about? I have never lied to you, Jaune.”

And that was the truth. Even if she had not told him certain fantastical details, she had never fed him a fallacy.

“Really?” Jaune laughed. He noted a red hood bobbing up and down in the rocks behind his mother. He kicked his sphere of rubble into his palm and began to toss it up and down. “Because I distinctly remember you telling me once that you believed in me. That I’d make a great leader.”

“Jaune…” Arturia quietly began.

“But that can’t be true because here you are trying to drag me away from all that.”

“That is not why I am doing this” Arturia shouted. “You deceived your way into this institution!”

“Because you didn’t leave me any other choice!” Jaune yelled back. The rubble landed in his hand and he closed his fingers around it. The top of Crescent Rose appeared above the rocks. His mom was too focused on him to notice though. Good.

“I begged you, begged you, to send me to combat school,” Jaune continued. “I even asked dad for training, but you made him say no. So, I found a way to get closer to my dream. And now, I’ve got friends who’ll help me achieve it. Batter up!”

He wound up the piece of rubble in his hand like a baseball and threw a fastball right at his mother’s shocked face. She leaned to the right to dodge it, but that was all part of the plan.

Ruby jumped out from behind the rubble and swung Crescent Rose like a bat. She landed a clean hit on the rock and sent it flying at the back of his mom’s head.

It struck her hard and she leaned forward, dazed.

Jaune redrew Crocea Mors and charged in. Ruby drew back her scythe and leaped forward on a cloud of rose petals.

They were inches from Arturia. She wasn’t moving. They could do it!

And then Jaune heard her whisper.

Prana Burst.”

The same pulse that cracked the courtyard went off and sent Jaune and Ruby flying back.

Ruby landed on her back outside the ring, defeated.

Jaune slammed into the boulder he had hidden behind and crashed to the floor. He looked up and saw his mother.

She was standing in the middle of the crater she had created, her arms limp at her sides. He wasn’t even sure if they were still holding her sword. Her head was bowed so that he could not see her eyes.

Jaune tried to scoot back against the boulder, dreading the explosion of fury from his mother.

Instead, she spoke softly. “I have always believed in you, Jaune. I never once lied about that. You can become a great leader. A king even.”

Jaune raised an eyebrow. Why was she talking about kings?

“That is why I have sought to stop you,” Arturia confessed. “Because I have walked that path before and it brings only suffering. For you and those you lead.”

A tear fell down her cheek. Jaune was shocked. He couldn’t remember ever seeing his mother cry.

“But I suppose my efforts were for naught,” she chuckled. “Your dream is too great and drives you to greater conquest than I can prevent. I only ask that you lead them. Live with them and never be alone.”

She raised her head and Jaune saw her eyes, save for the single tear glistening down her right cheek, were completely blank. As she was gazing back into a memory long past, a memory better forgotten.

“The king who lives alone, dies alone. And I do not want you to fall as I did.”

Arturia walked past Jaune and out of the ring. She disappeared down the dark hallway.

Jaune stayed still for a moment, too stunned to move. Then he bolted upright and raced after his mother.

He spotted her just as she was about to turn the corner into the changing rooms. “Mom!” he called.

Arturia stopped and turned to face him. “Congratulations, Jaune. You were the last one in the arena. You won. You may stay.”

“Th-Thanks,” Jaune managed. “Mom, what was all that about?”

Arturia took a deep breath. “It appears that I still have some demons of my own that I need to put to rest and I was projecting my fears of them onto you. For that, you have my deepest apologies.”

“It’s fine, mom. Really.”

“Good,” Arturia said tiredly. “I will set out for home tonight. I will make sure to tell your father and sisters that you are alright.”

She turned to go.

He found he couldn’t let her.

“Mom, classes don’t start up again until after the Vytal Festival,” Jaune began. Arturia slowly turned to face him. “And well, it’d be a shame if you came all the way here and didn’t get to experience the biggest event on Remnant.”

Arturia’s face opened up with tentative light. More like his mother than the relentless warrior she was during the fight. “Are you sure?” she asked. “I don’t want to impose on you or your friends.”

“Eh, it’ll be fine,” Jaune waved off nonchalantly. “Ozpin’s cool, he’ll probably set you up with a better room than we’ve got. And if he doesn’t, then you can just use my bed. I’ve still got the sleeping bag from when I made the trip here.”

“Why?” Arturia wondered.

“Because you’re my mom,” Jaune answered immediately. “Do I need another reason?”

Arturia rushed forward and enveloped her son in a massive hug. “Thank you, Jaune. Thank you so much. I swear that from now on, I shall help you be the greatest huntsmen you can possibly be. What say you to that?”

Jaune’s face turned blue.

“Air…”

 


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Ozpin sat at his desk drinking his favorite coffee. One of the few upsides of his long life was that he’d been able to experience the beverage when it had at last been perfected. Now he could sit back and enjoy one of the few quiet moments he had in his life as protector of humanity and headmaster of a school of teenagers.

The elevator to his office dinged. So much for that.

Qrow stormed in and marched over to him. The drunk huntsman slammed his palms down on the desk.

“I assume something has you agitated Qrow,” Ozpin remarked.

“She’s a Servant, Oz. A goddamn Servant and you let her into the school!” Qrow accused.

Ozpin sighed. He should have figured Qrow would find out sooner or later. With any luck, James wouldn’t make the connection and start asking if he could experiment again.

“She is, and I did. What’s your point?” the Headmaster countered.

Qrow staggered back, the weight of reality finally hitting him. He pulled out his flask and took a long swig. When he put it done, he’d lost his rebellious swagger. His eyes were haunted.

“How is she here?” he asked. “I thought they’d all disappeared except for goldie and Raven’s black knight.”

“She is in the same situation as them,” Ozpin clarified. “Though you can rest assured, she is not his ally. From what I can tell, she seems to want to keep a low profile.”

“How can you be sure?” Qrow demanded. “Servants have their pasts, legends we don’t know about.”

Ozpin sighed. He hated the secrets he was forced to keep and the one he could not share even with his confidants was the most agonizing of all.

“Qrow, please recall that I hold you, James, and Glynda in the highest possible respect,” Ozpin requested. “Now understand, there is no one on Remnant that I trust more than Arturia Pendragon.”

He watched Qrow’s eyes go wide. Then they settled down. “Were you her master or something?”

Ozpin chuckled. “More like a teacher. I helped her when she needed it most.”

“Alright, fine, she’s on our side,” Qrow relented. “But her showing up at the same time as Autumn’s assailant is a little suspicious. Do you think—”

“If the Queen knew about her, we’d know,” Ozpin insisted. “The King of Knights is far too perfect a prize for her to pass up.”

Qrow smirked. “I’ll say. Her Noble Phantasm is a dozy.”

Ozpin smiled. “Is the school still here?”

“Yeah.”

“Then you haven’t seen her Noble Phantasm.”

Qrow’s eyes widened in shock.

Ozpin looked at the murky waters of his coffee.

And with any luck, you’ll never have to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Saber crashed to the floor of the theatre, a golden lance impaled through her knee. Her armor was in tatters as was her soul, both consequences of her duel with Berserke—

Lancelot.

Berserker was Lancelot. Broken by her failures as king.

“You may answer wrongly as many times as you wish,” he mocked her.

Saber struggled to her feet. Archer stood below her, clad in his gleaming golden armor. His red eyes gazed upon the King of Knights with amusement. “If you are to know the joy of serving me, you must first know the exquisite pain of loving me.”

A dozen shimmering portals appeared around him, each producing a pristine weapon of miraculous beauty. And they were all aimed straight at her.

Saber growled. If she was in top form, then she could likely dodge the barrage, but her injuries from her duel with Lancelot and Archer’s preemptive strike left her wide open. Nevertheless, she raised Excalibur. The grail was just beyond the golden man. It was in her sight. She could save her kingdom!

But then she noticed a figure in a dark coat on the opposite balcony. It was one she knew well and pitied even more.

Her master, Kiritsugu Emiya.

The Mage Killer raised his hand and his voice. “Saber, by my command seal, use your Noble Phantasm.”

For a moment, Saber’s heart soared. Her master, despite her doubts in him for his vile methods, stood with her. With the power the Command Seal granted her, she could annihilate Archer before he could summon a defense powerful enough to stop her. They had won! The Holy Grail was hers!

And then Kiritsugu Emiya finished his command. “Destroy the Holy Grail!”

‘What?’ Saber gasped. The power of the Command Seal rushed through her. Her arms raised Excalibur above her head even as she struggled desperately to keep them low.

Archer whirled on her master, fury blazing in his crimson eyes. “Mongrel!” he roared. “You dare interrupt my nuptials!”

Kiritsugu paid him no heed. He walked closer to the two Servants along the veranda, staring blankly at Saber all the way. His arm remained outstretched. “By my third and final Command Seal, Saber destroy the Holy Grail!”

With the power influencing her doubled, Saber could no longer resist. Her sword blazed aglow with a brilliant holy light, hunger for to obliterate the chalice before her.

‘Why Kiritsugu?’ Saber begged through their mental link as master and Servant. “Why you, of all people?’

Saber knew of Kiritsugu’s dream. A world without conflict. It was the thought that the despicable man was working towards a noble end that had stayed her sword from rising against him many times over the course of the Fourth Holy Grail War, the knowledge that despite the horror he had allowed and inflicted, he sought salvation for all humanity.

And now he wished to throw it all away? Everything Irisviel had sacrificed. Everything Maiya had sacrificed. He would throw it all away?

Why?

‘Why!?!” she demanded of him as tears streamed down her face.

Kiritsugu gazed back at her, his eyes seeming blank and focused.

What Saber did not know, was that Kiritsugu had discovered that the grail had been corrupted. It had trapped him in a dream state and attempted to use illusions of his beloved Iri and Illya to get him to make a wish, any wish. So it could turn it into humanity’s nightmare.

To escape, Kiritsugu had executed the two people he loved most in the world before putting a bullet through his nemesis, Kirei Kotomine.

Now he stood before Saber, the King of Knights he had felt so much scorn for. He still did in a way. But she was only the same kind of fool he was. The kind who went looking for a miracle, because that was what they needed.

But there were no miracles. He couldn’t change that reality, and neither could she. It was as he’d told her after he’d dealt with Lancer and his master. Heroes did more harm than good.

He pushed everything away as he looked upon the tearful King of Knights, who in that moment looked so much like the little girl she never got the chance to be. Like Illya, the little girl Kiritsugu somehow knew he’d never see again.

In the million, million timelines where he would look upon his Servant in that moment, in the countless parallel worlds, his persona of the emotionless mage killer would hold, and Saber’s holy sword would obliterate the grail.

But this time? This time his grief was too fresh, and she reminded him too much of his little girl.

‘I’m sorry Saber,’ he comforted her through their telepathic link. ‘I wish this was a world where heroes could make a difference. But it isn’t.’

Saber’s eyes widened in shock, not understanding his words.

The Grail did not either, but it had listened to the desire cast over the link it had created. And the corruption of Angra Mainyu demanded it be granted. In its own way, of course.

The Holy Grail exploded in a torrent of black mud that covered all those present in the theatre.

When Saber next opened her eyes, she saw a village in flames…


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Arturia shot up in bed, panting hard.

She quickly whirled around, feverishly scanning her surroundings. She sighed in relief when she saw only her son’s dorm at Beacon.

She wasn’t back in the war. She wasn’t back in the village.

Arturia didn’t like to remember her arrival on Remnant, being thrown straight into a Grimm attack on an outlying settlement. The place had been a ruin when she’d arrived. She’d found Kiritsugu and helped him use Avalon to save a young girl but then she departed, too broken by recent events to endure her former master’s company.

Fortunately, the mud from the grail had granted her a physical body with the ability to regenerate her own prana. She sensed it should have done more, altered her somehow, but whatever darkness had swallowed her had become distracted by Archer’s presence, focusing all its efforts on him. Arturia imagined the arrogant man had not survived the assault of curses but the distraction had allowed her to pass through with minimal changes.

After that, she journeyed across Remnant for years, slowly learning the quirks of the new world the grail had left her in. Dust, aura, huntsmen, they were all intriguing. She could only imagine the likes of those this realm would pass on to join the Throne of Heroes. And with the ever-present threat of the Grimm, individuals of their caliber were sorely needed.

But Arturia was broken. She had failed her kingdom in the past, even more than she’d thought as Lancelot had revealed to her, and then she’d failed to save them with a wish from the grail. If she took part in this world, if she became a huntress, how many more would pay for her inevitable failure?

So, she wandered. Eventually, she’d stumbled upon a huntsman who’d lost his team defending a small frontier settlement. He’d been about to be torn apart by five Deathstalkers when Arturia had intervened. She’d tried to convince him to run, but the fool claimed he would be disrespecting his fallen comrades if he didn’t finish their mission. Out of a desire to keep the fool she’d saved alive and possibly out of guilt for being unable to protect the village she’d arrived in, Arturia went with him.

It was five years later when Nicholas finally convinced her to marry him.

Arturia smiled at the memory. Her eyes wandered around the room. As expected, Lie Ren slept without a sound while young Ms. Valkyrie snored like a horse. Having slept in many an army encampment where the animals were common, Arturia felt herself qualified to judge.

The two were quite pleasant to speak with following the match the day before. Ren was understanding when she’d apologized for her brutal efforts in their combat and Nora had had the decency to look admonished after she’d asked Jaune to use his ‘criminal mastermind’ powers to steal her test answers. Arturia was pleased that her son had made such a dependable team.

She looked over to the remaining bed in the room, expecting to see her son’s partner. Surprisingly, Ms. Nikos was absent from the room.  Arturia leaned over her bed to tell Jaune, but found his sleeping bag empty as well.

Arturia got up and materialized her blue battle gown, without the armor, and exited the room. She listened carefully in the halls and, strangely enough, heard the sounds of battle coming from above. She tracked down a door that led to the roof and peaked out.

In the darkness of early morning, Pyrrha and Jaune crossed blades. Arturia noted how Pyrrha seemed to anticipate Jaune’s strikes before lightly parrying them. It was clearly a training session. But it was certainly impressive that the two of them would get up so early to practice when Pyrrha had a match later that day.

The two clashed in several more exchanges before separating. Jaune was breathing harder than Pyrrha, but they were both smiling.

Arturia clapped and stepped onto the roof. The fighters turned to her, surprised at her presence.

Jaune went red in the face. “Mom, hey! What are you doing up this early?”

Arturia pushed the actual answer to that question to the back of her mind. She was safe. Her family was safe. All was well.

She grinned at her son. “I’ve always been an early riser Jaune. It was you who used to sleep in past noon. I’m glad to see that’s changed. Your form was excellent.”

Jaune preened from the compliment. “Really?” he asked in wonder. “Pyrrha’s been training me for months, but I wasn’t sure if I was getting it down.”

“You are,” Arturia assured him. She turned to her son’s partner. “You seem to be a wonderful instructor, Pyrrha.”

“Oh…” Pyrrha bashfully rubbed her head. “It’s nothing. Jaune’s a very good student. I’ve never met anyone so dedicated.”

Arturia smiled. To think a girl with her face on the greatest cereal on Remnant was so modest. “Be that as it may, I’ve always found that a proficient teacher is the greatest boon for any disciple.”

It certainly made sense why she’d failed so miserably, at least. She’d had to deal with—

No. Don’t think about him. She wasn’t going to get involved.

“I suppose that’s true,” Pyrrha conceded. The poor girl shuffled on her feet in a way that did not seem natural on the confident huntress Arturia had seen before. “Mrs. Arc, I wanted to say I’m sorry, for intruding on your conversation with Jaune yesterday. No matter what was going on, it’s not my place to interfere in family business.”

“Pyrrha,” Jaune started glumly. “You didn’t do anything—”

“Have you fought beside my son, Ms. Nikos?” Arturia asked suddenly.

Pyrrha looked up, startled. “Yea- Yes. At our initiation and at the Breach.”

“And yesterday you did no different,” Arturia explained to her. She put her hand on the red-headed girl’s shoulder. “Jaune needed help, and you did your duty as his partner and teammate. You need feel no shame for that, Pyrrha.”

Pyrrha gave her a genuine smile. Arturia noted it was quite lovely. Indeed, she observed that her son’s partner was one of the finest beauties she had ever come across. And yet, judging by the intensity of her actions the other day, which even for a friend were quite potent…

Ah.

Arturia wondered how long she’d been trying to get Jaune to notice.

Judging by his next words, quite a while. “Pyrrha’s fighting in the Vytal Festival today.”

Arturia watched as Pyrrha’s head drooped. That was the best Jaune could come up with to endear the girl to his mother? Still, she might as well go along. Hopefully, it would give the girl some much-needed confidence around both Arcs.

“Really?” Arturia mused. “I’m sure you’ll do magnificently.”

“Thank you,” Pyrrha responded. “With Nora with me though, I’m not sure if the arena will survive. She was quite inspired by your display yesterday.”

“So I noticed,” Arturia remarked. Indeed, the hyperactive huntress hadn’t stopped asking questions about her abilities until Ren had had to replace her regular syrup with the sleeping variant. “Anyone you’re worried about?”

“Besides Weiss and Yang?” Jaune scoffed. “No one stands a chance.”

“I don’t know,” Pyrrha scratched her chin in thought. “There is Team CKSM.”

“Casam?” Arturia inquired. “Who’s fighting for them?”

“Mercury Black is a likely choice,” Pyrrha declared. “I fought him briefly in a spar, but he chose to forfeit before we could finish.”

“Why would he do that?” A spar was training. You couldn’t improve by surrendering.

Pyrrha shrugged. “Many decide that they cannot win against me based on reputation alone, and so choose not to try. Still, before he did so he was quite impressive. It was shaping up to be as thrilling as one of my duels with Yang.”

“Hmm,” Arturia mused. “Perhaps he was merely testing to see if you were as worthy an opponent as your reputation suggested?” Though she herself had no idea what that reputation might be, but with what she’d seen of Pyrrha’s skills, she imagined it was impressive.

“Possibly,” Pyrrha conceded.

“Their other pick is obvious though,” Jaune said. “It’s gotta be Kirei.”

Arturia raised an eyebrow. “Kirei?”

“Yeah, Kirei Kotomine. He’s visiting from Haven for the tournament,” Jaune informed her. “Do you know him?”

Arturia scrunched her face in thought. “No, but I feel like I’ve heard the name somewhere before.”

She had lived two entire lifetimes. She doubted she could recall everyone she’d ever met. If she’d encountered this Kirei Kotomine before, it probably wasn’t in any meaningful capacity.

She looked forward to seeing him fight in the tournament.


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Kirei leaned against the wall of Team CKSM’s dorm, his scroll pinned to his ear.

“She seems to share your condition,” he explained to the person on the other end. “Likely she has been on Remnant for as long as we have and merely chosen to remain hidden. I will continue to assist Ms. Fall and monitor events here. We will get everything we need.” Kirei hung up the call.

His associate was getting impatient but fortunately, he didn’t have much choice but to wait. Kirei enjoyed working with the man, but he would freely admit that his partner could be quite temperamental at times.

Still, it was better than his current company. He turned to his temporary teammates.

Cinder Fall sat on the edge of her bed with one leg over the other and a seductive grin on her face. Kirei imagined it would be distracting for some men, but her harlot’s tricks did not interest him. Besides, he was aware of the tempestuous inferno that blazed behind her eyes. Well, one of them at least. Oh, how it tortured her that it was only one.

It was irritatingly childish and repulsive. Kirei held her in the same contempt as he had Zouken Matou. Desperately clawing for power for the sole sake of getting more power. She claimed it was so she could be feared, but in the end, what was fear but another form of power?

Emerald sat cross-legged on her own bed, awaiting her leader’s next command. Ever the dutiful lapdog, begging for scraps so she didn’t go hungry again. Kirei had taken great delight in her terror when Cinder had told her that she wouldn’t be competing in the doubles round. She had feared her beloved master had lost faith in her before Cinder explained that she wanted to keep the girl’s semblance as hidden as possible. It was far too brief, but Kirei looked forward to savoring more at a later date.

Mercury was lounging on the floor reading a comic, attempting to get some leisure in before the fights started. He at least was tolerable. He wished to live with no restraints after a lifetime of fearing excessive reprisal. It was something Kirei could sympathize with, having a similar mindset himself, but he found the silver-haired boy’s taste so base that he simply couldn’t condone it.

Taking joy from suffering was fine. But to gorge yourself on common murder was simply crass.

Cinder raised her chin to speak. “I trust your associate is getting along well with our White Fang friends?”

Kirei shrugged. “As well as can be expected. Most do not appreciate his style of socialization.”

Cinder narrowed her eyes. “If he jeopardizes our mission with his arrogance, there will be consequences.”

Kirei smirked. He doubted there were any consequences Cinder could bring against his associate that could not be easily dealt with. Still, it would be better to put her at ease if their alliance was to hold until it was no longer needed.

“Fear not, Ms. Fall,” he assured her. “My partner and I are fully dedicated to helping you acquire the maiden’s full power.”

That at least was completely true.

Cinder didn’t seem to believe him but was interrupted by a knock at the door before she could continue. She motioned for Emerald to get it, and the green-haired girl rose promptly.

Emerald opened the door to reveal a grinning Ruby Rose, far too energetic for as early as it was. She held Kirei’s now empty Mapo Tofu dish in her hands.

“Hey Ruby,” Emerald greeted with false cheer.

“Hey Emerald!” Ruby responded with the same level but honest. She looked further into the room and beamed at the others. “Hey, Mercury! Cinder! Kirei!”

“Sup,” Mercury lazily waved.

“Hello, Ruby,” Cinder bowed her head slightly. Kirei wondered how much she despised performing even that simple gesture.

Kirei did the same without complaint however. “Greetings, Ruby. I trust everything turned out alright yesterday.”

Not that he didn’t know that anyway, having observed her battle with Saber until the Servant had used Strike Air. Since young Mr. Arc was still present in the school, there shouldn’t have been too much trouble afterwards.

Ruby’s nod confirmed his theory. “Yup! Jaune’s mom is A-Okay with him being a huntsman. She’s even staying to watch us all in the tournament.”

“Really?” Kirei smirked. That meant Saber would still be in the area when his associate arrived. He would be most pleased to learn this. “Then I shall hope not to face you. The additional motivation will be sure to make both your teams’ fighters exceptional foes.”

Ruby’s cheeks turned the color of her hood and she bashfully twirled a bit. “Oh, stop it you. I mean sure Yang and Weiss are awesome, and Pyrrha and Nora are amazing, but you’ll do great too. Besides…” The young girl comically ran over and leaned into his ear, “You’ve got your super-secret weapon!” she stage-whispered, probably thinking herself clever.

Emerald rolled her eyes behind the girl’s back while Mercury chuckled at her antics. Cinder kept her amused smile plastered on her face.

Kirei just kept smiling. He had no reason not to.

Ruby Rose, the girl with silver eyes, was a simple soul. She was bright, and cheery, and wanted to be a hero. There was nothing complex about who she was despite the many intricacies about what she was.

Kirei found it enticing. She failed to grasp the paradox of her dreams of heroism and her desire for those she loved to be happy. For if one was to be a hero, they had to have a tragedy to save people from. It was why he’d gotten her back on her feet after their spar had left her crushed.

Kirei wanted Ruby Rose to be on top of the world. Before he slowly brought reality crashing down around her.

Yes. He believed he would find great joy in that. Especially when his last encounter with a silver-eyed warrior had been so unsatisfyingly brief.

Ruby’s eyes widened as she realized what she’d forgotten. She quickly shoved the bowl she held into Kirei’s hands. “Oh yeah, I came to give this back to you. The tofu was…spicy. Very spicy.”

“I’m glad,” Kirei said. “Its fire is one of the few things that truly warms my soul.”

Ruby raised an eyebrow. “That explains why Nora’s aura didn’t help her.”

She realized what she said a moment later and jumped away, wildly waving her arms. “Not that it was bad or anything, but Nora ate all of it really fast and then she was jumping around breaking stuff and I think she breathed fire at some point and—”

“Ruby,” Kirei stopped her with a firm hand on her shoulder. “It’s alright.” Honestly, he probably should have anticipated such a thing from Ms. Valkyrie. The girl seemed to defy the laws of nature.

Emerald patted Ruby on the back. “You should probably get back to your team before your sister decides that Kirei kidnapped you.”

“EEE!” Ruby panicked, racing out the door. “You’re right! Bye guys, see you at the festival!”

Emerald sighed. “I thought she’d never leave.”

Cinder frowned at Kirei. “Mrs. Arc, she’s this ‘Saber’ you and your associate are so interested in?”

Kirei nodded. “Indeed. Though truthfully, the interest is his alone.”

Her amber eyes narrowed. “Will she be a problem?”

Kirei smirked. “No, I imagine she knows nothing of the maidens and would not care if she did. She seems to have cast aside the role of hero.”

“Good,” Cinder declared. “If any of that changes, deal with it.”

“Gladly,” Kirei assured her. He flexed his arm, sliding three Black Keys from his sleeve to his hand.

“Now then, who will I be facing?”


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“Coco Adel and Yatsuhashi Daichi of Team CFVY!” Peter Port shouted over the stadium intercom.

Kirei watched impassively as his opponents entered the field. The girl with excessive clothing and the giant boy with an equally large sword. Kirei gave it a glance and his semblance confirmed that it was all it appeared to be. He looked over the girl and noted her handbag was actually a minigun. Both facts he had already known from previous observations of them, but he had learned to never be too careful.

After Kirei had arrived on Remnant, miraculously revived thanks to the power of the grail, he had quickly sought out a rogue huntsman to unlock his aura. Afterwards, he had noted that with just a glance, he could discern any individual’s hidden talents or ulterior applications of their weapons.

It took a while, but he eventually discerned that he had uncovered his semblance: Understanding.

With it, he could no longer be surprised. He found that to be both a blessing and a curse. While he could detect any hidden tools, such as Avalon during his final duel in the Fourth Holy Grail War, it also robbed him of making new discoveries about his foes. He knew their weaknesses, so the thrill of uncovering them was denied to him. He wondered if that made him any crueler in his exploitation of them.

“Hey, handsome!” Coco called to him. He turned to her disinterested. “Love the outfit.”

“Thank you,” he responded politely. “I find it exceptionally functional for combat.”

“Oh, I like him,” Coco smiled.

“I cannot promise you will leave without a scratch,” her teammate Yatsuhashi warned. The hulking man rose from his meditative stance.

“I think we’ll be alright,” Mercury cockily countered.

The field rose around them, split into four quarters. Behind Kirei and Mercury was a savanna of grass taller than themselves. To their left was a thick emerald forest while to their right was a nest of active geysers. Behind Team CFVY were the ruins of a broken city.

“Ready?” Peter Port’s voice asked the combatants.

Yatsuhashi drew his greatsword. Coco unfurled her minigun.

Kirei smirked.

“Three! Two! One! Go!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Kirei and Mercury shared a smile and retreated into the savanna brush. Then they broke off to opposite sides, Mercury going right to the geysers and Kirei going left to the forest. He stuck to the shadows and slinked through the foliage. When he was certain he could not be seen, he leapt into the canopy.

The priest smirked. Once upon a time, it would have taken effort for him to perform such a feat. True, his training as an Executor had rendered him practically superhuman in his own world, with his multitude of Command Seals and his reinforcement magic allowing him to go even further beyond. But on Remnant, he did not even have to waste such power, with aura making his abilities natural and his other advantages still lying in wait. In fact, with his partner’s elixir of immortality having kept him in his prime, Kirei doubted he had anything to fear from any of the tournament combatants.

And with the exception of Saber and Cinder, perhaps not anyone in all of Vale.

Kirei moved to the forest’s border and observed the action in the rest of the arena. Mercury was handling both their foes quite well all things considered. The boy combined the unnatural agility of his legs with a vicious fighting style to deal brutal blow after brutal blow to their opponents. He had separated Yatsuhashi from Coco and was driving the larger man into the minefield of geysers.

He noted Coco reactivating her Gatling Gun, preparing to strafe Mercury the moment her teammate was out of the line of fire.

Kirei could not allow that. He slid three Black Keys into each hand and murmured a prayer.

Lord, I am your holy servant and agent of your will. Lend me the strength of your angelic enforcers to guide me against all heresy.”

The keys glowed softly and then faded to normal. Kirei jumped out of the trees and threw his blades at Coco.

The leader of Team CFVY heard the swords whistling through the air and dodged out of their path, turning her gun on the quickly closing Kirei.

“Bad move, handsome,” she taunted with a grin. The barrels of her weapon began to whirl to life…

And then exploded, as each of the six blessed Black Keys flew around through the air and rammed themselves into the mouths of each barrel. The dust rounds were fired and then detonated upon contact with the holy blades, sparking those that remained in the weapon’s magazine.

The massive firearm erupted in flames, blasting Coco away in the process. When Kirei spared it a brief glance, the thing looked like a pile of scrap.

Rushing in before Coco could recover, Kirei unleashed a furious barrage of Bajiquan strikes, battering down her aura to half before the girl could even blink and sending her stumbling right after that.

To her credit, Coco did try to fight back, even if it was clear that she was massively outclassed in hand to hand. She retreated to the border of the geyser area and then forced Kirei to leap back by attempting to sweep his legs out from under him. She attempted to seize her momentum and threw a solid haymaker at his face.

Unfortunately, this left her open to one of Kirei’s most practiced combinations, Six Grand Opening- Elbow Upthrust.

Kirei grabbed Coco’s arm from below, pressed in close to her side, and then simultaneously delivered an elbow strike to her heart and a vicious kick to her leg. In an instant, Coco was flat on her back, the air driven from her lungs.

Kirei put her aura in the red with one final punch to the gut.

A buzzer rang out in the arena.

“Coco Adel of Team CFVY has been eliminated” Professor Port announced to the coliseum.

His job done, Kirei walked away from the beaten girl to see if Mercury needed help finishing his opponent. After all, though he didn’t expect it, perhaps the tall boy could provide him with more enjoyment than his leader. Though the priest doubted it.

No, his joy would be found in the single’s round. And the tears that would fall there.

 


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Ruby cringed as Kirei dealt the final blow to Coco.

He was her friend but man, she did not like his fighting style. He said it was optimized to defeat his foe in the most efficient manner, but when he was using it? Ruby could understand why Yang was so wary about him.

Still, he didn’t use his secret weapon, so it wasn’t as if he was going overboard. He just wanted to finish the fight as fast as possible.

Ruby looked over to see Velvet in shock at her leader’s rapid defeat, but Fox looked like he was comforting her well.

“That’s never going to stop being impressive or terrifying no matter how many times I see it,” Blake remarked from next to Ruby.

“He is an exceptional combatant,” Mrs. Arc agreed from next to her. “Still, I wish I could recall where I’d heard his name before.”

“Maybe dad mentioned after one of his seminars at Haven?” Jaune proposed from his mother’s other side. “I mean, he would have noticed a guy like that if he met him?”

“Kirei only got into Haven this year,” Ruby informed them. “Did your dad have any classes in the last two semesters?”

“No,” Arturia stated. “Grimm activity has been increasing throughout the Mistralian countryside, so Nicholas has been too busy with extermination missions.

Ruby nodded thoughtful, thinking back on the moment her friendship with Kirei began, hoping to find some clue.

 


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Ruby was led into the back hallway by Kirei, the student from Haven who had decimated her in Ms. Goodwitch’s sparring class. Yang had asked her not to go but if he wanted to talk, the red-hooded girl didn’t see why not. It’s not as if he could make her feel any worse.

The boy turned around to face her. In his right hand by his side was a small black suitcase.

Ruby tried to smile but felt like it just came off as an awkward grin. “So, what did you want to talk about?”

She was not expecting the boy to formally bow before her. “I have observed over the past week that you have not been acting like yourself,” Kirei explained. “My teammate Emerald has also informed me that the point where you began to seem more ‘down’ as it were, was after our spar in Ms. Goodwitch’s class. As such, I would like to apologize for any undue stress I may have caused you.”

Ruby backed away, wildly waving her arms in front of her. “No, no, no, it’s fine” she frantically assured him. “It’s sparring class, someone’s gotta win and someone’s gotta lose, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

Kirei rose back to a standing position and raised an eyebrow. “Then why have you been so uninspired since our duel?”

“No reason,” Ruby protested. “Just been one of those weeks, you know?”

“No,” Kirei answered bluntly. “I do not know.”

‘Darn, this guy is a master of conversation,’ Ruby admired mentally.

The silver-eyed girl sighed. “Look, it’s just…I’m kind of a weapon nerd, alright. All the best huntsmen and huntresses I’ve ever seen always had some cool, mega awesome weapon to go with them. It’s part of what inspired me to make my baby so amazing.”

She nearly swooned as she thought of Crescent Rose before catching herself. Hopefully, Kirei didn’t notice.

“Weapons, to me, are a gateway to someone’s soul,” she continued. “And when I fight someone, well, when it’s not life and death anyway, I come to understand people better through their weapons.”

“But I did not use a weapon in our match,” Kirei observed.

“Exactly! And you’re incredible!” Ruby shouted. Both students stood still for a few moments. Ruby’s face turned the same color as her hood as she realized what she just said sounded like. “I mean… you seem like someone I would want to get to know. Can never have too many friends, right?”

She waited for him to walk away, or awkwardly stammer about how she creeped him out. Even after having gained her team and all her new friends at Beacon, Ruby really wanted to get along with as many people as possible. She didn’t want to feel as alone as she had at initiation ever again.

So, she waited for the pin to drop. For something to ruin this budding friendship she was so desperately trying to snag onto.

Instead, Kirei smiled.

He raised his left arm perpendicular to the ground and three long blades flashed into his hand.

Ruby went starry-eyed.

“Woah! How did you do that?” she said. She eyeballed the length of the blades and compared it to that of his forearm sleeve. No way they could have fit in there.

Kirei’s smile curved into a smirk. “Magic.”

“Fine, don’t tell me,” Ruby pouted.

Kirei retracted the blades. “Those are my usual weapon, the Black Keys. They are mostly ranged weapons, too unwieldy in close range combat, which is why I used my fists against you.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” Ruby admitted. She’d been quick to jump in against him with her semblance and Crescent Rose’s Scythe. Actually, that was pretty much always her go to. Huh, wonder why someone was only countering it now?

Kirei kneeled down and brought the black suitcase before him. “I do have another tool I keep with me however. A secret weapon, if you will. Would you like to see it?”

“Would I?” Ruby squealed. She raced around to look over Kirei’s shoulder as he undid the case’s clasps.

Inside was… a pistol.

“What is it?” she whispered in his ear.

Kirei chuckled. “It’s called the Thompson Contender. It is a very special firearm.”

Special? It was big, sure, a breech loader by the look of it. Maybe made of out metal painted to look like wood? It could probably fire the same caliber ammo as Crescent Rose, but it didn’t even look like it could transform into anything. Lame.

“What makes it so special?” Ruby asked, trying to be polite. Just like when she had called Crocea Mors a classic.

“It is the only gun in this world capable of firing a very powerful type of ammunition known as an Origin Round” Kirei explained.

“How powerful?” Ruby inquired, mildly intrigued.

Kirei grinned. “Powerful enough to take down a Goliath in one shot.”

“Cool,” Ruby murmured. “What’s a Goliath?”

“A Grimm the size of an apartment complex.”

“Seriously?” Ruby gasped, no longer thinking the weapon was lame at all. “What doesn’t everyone use that stuff then? And where’d you get the gun?”

“The ammunition is extremely difficult to procure. I myself have not been able to acquire any since gaining the Contender,” Kirei explained. Ruby got the sense that he was leaving something unsaid but decided to leave it alone for the sake of budging friendship.

“As for the weapon itself,” Kirei continued, his smile waning ever so slightly. “I acquired it from the daughter of the most interesting man I have ever met. I did not know the woman well, but I held nothing but the highest respect for her father.”

“I’m sorry,” Ruby lamented, deciding not pressing for more information about the Origin Rounds was the right choice. “Were you close with him?”

“He was there at the brightest moment of my life,” Kirei remarked wistfully. “To face him again would be a dream come true.”

Strange wording, but Ruby was starting to realize that Kirei worded a lot of things weirdly. “What was his name?”

Kirei’s smirk returned. “Kiritsugu Emiya.”

 


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Yang Xiao Long wanted to punch something.

Okay, she usually wanted to punch something. But this was different. She had just had to sit through stupid smirking Kirei smacking down Team CFVY like they were nothing. It was infuriating to see her friends beaten so easily by that stupid, snide little…

Needless to say, she and Weiss needed to win this match. No one was gonna face Robes in the singles but her.

“Yang,” the blond brawler turned to see her team looking at her with worry. “Are you okay?

“Yeah, fine,” she replied.

Weiss didn’t look convinced. “Let’s focus on the fight in front of us. We can worry about whatever you’re worried about afterward.”

Yang sighed. Weiss was right. She could fantasize about kicking Kirei’s ass later. Right now, her team was counting on her to win this fight.

“Right,” she said, starting to stretch a bit. “You’re from Atlas. What can we expect from these guys?”

“Well,” Weiss began, going into ‘Weiss must explain everything to these foolish mortals’ mode. “Seeing as their kingdom, academy, and armed forces are all merged as one, I think we can expect strict militant fighters with advanced technology and careful rehearsed strategies.”

A gust of wind blew into Yang from behind. She stood up straight for a moment before seeing that their opponents had arrived. The strict militant fighters were…

A cat faunus on roller skates and a dark-skinned dude with a silver trumpet and a very nice hat.

“Or whatever they are,” Weiss amended.

“Hey,” the dark-skinned dude called. “Your Weiss Schnee, right? The heiress?”

“I am,” Weiss declared proudly.

“I guess that means you’re pretty good with dust.”

“I do my best.”

“Yeah, my dad was good too. Owned a little dust shop of his own,” the guy explained. He suddenly glared hard. “Till your father’s company ran him out of business.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Weiss lamented, ashamed.

“Sure, you are,” the guy mocked.

Yang seethed. Where did this guy get off blaming Weiss for what her stupid dad did?

She stepped forward. “Hey, why don’t you—”

“Hey, why don’t you!” the cat faunus girl interrupted. “That’s what you sound like.”

Yang was disarmed. That…was such a lame comeback she literally didn’t know what to say to it.

“Hey, where’d you get your hair extensions?” the girl asked.

“This is just my normal hair,” Yang told her.

“Oooo, really?”

“Yeah. Is that a prob—”

“You should try rollerblading sometime. It’s super fun,” the girl interrupted again. “It’d probably take you a while though cause you’re so, you know, top heavy.”

“Excuse me!” Yang yelled.

The stage began changing for the match. Yang curled her fists. Kirei was annoyingly good at fighting. But Yang knew she was better. He might get one punch in.

This girl? Oh, she wasn’t even gonna get that lucky.

“Ready?” Peter Port announced.

“Three! Two! One! Go!”

 


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Far away from the Vytal Festival, hidden in the crimson leaves of Forever Fall on the outskirts of Vale, was a large camp with a variety of tents.

In one of the particularly large ones, several faunus in Grimm masks gathered around a TV.

“Go kid, kick that scrawny bitch’s ass!” one cheered.

“Why you are rooting for the ones from Atlas?” another asked.

“Because it’s better than rooting for a Schnee, you idiot!” the first one exclaimed. “Besides, the girl on rollerblades is one of us. We all gotta stick together.”

At the back of the tent, a tall young man in black silently walked out. He had bull horns sitting atop his red hair.

He made his way to his own quarters near the center of camp. His men were valiant, but they were utter fools. With the loss of his lieutenant in the Breach, Adam Taurus was starting to believe he was the only intelligent Faunus left in the Vale White Fang.

It made him miss Blake all the more. Then, he berated himself for caring about a traitor and seethed in hatred at her for daring to abandon their cause. To abandon him.

He stormed into his tent and his eyes widened. His safe, which had contained many secrets of the White Fang, had its three-inch steel door completely blown off.

Adam rushed over and checked its contents. All the maps and secret codes seemed to be there. In fact, the only thing missing was…

“This beverage is of surprising quality. I’ve noted that for all your world’s virtues, it seems to have a distinct lack of fine alcohol.”

Adam growled. He drew his katana, Wilt, and pointed at the speaker.

Sitting in the corner of the tent was a blonde man with red eyes. He wore a black jacket over a white t-shirt, along with black pants.

In his hands was a now empty glass and a bottle of Mistralian Red, something he, Blake and Ilia had bought a long time ago. Back in better days.

The man smiled.

Suddenly, Adam was surrounded by gleaming golden portals, each one pointing a magnificent weapon straight at him.

“It is the height of insolence to bear a weapon before the king, mongrel.”

Adam narrowed his eyes but reluctantly returned his katana to his sheath, Blush. The portals disappeared. “What do you want, human?”

“Human?” the man chuckled, ignoring the actual question. “I am as far beyond the humans of this world as they are beyond you.”

Adam’s fists closed in rage. “What did you say?”

“It’s quite simple really,” the man continued. “In this world, humanity is constantly besieged by those disgusting creatures of Grimm. Each one is stronger and faster than what ordinary men would consider manageable and there are hordes that are even beyond that. Yet, the humans have thrived, carving out their little kingdoms and settlements, making use of everything available to them in order to claim life from the darkness. If this were my garden, I would be proud to call this humanity my subjects.”

Adam scowled. Again, with his ridiculous notions. Adam couldn’t deny the man was powerful, but his delusions grated on the faunus almost as much as his arrogance. Especially his praise of humanity.

“Faunus have everything humans do and more,” Adam declared. “They don’t deserve to do anything other than serve us.”

“No mongrel deserves life,” the man countered. “And yet they live. You claim that humans should bow before the faunus. And yet they don’t. Because they desire otherwise. And the ability to shape reality to all of one’s desires in defiance of the natural order is perhaps the most impressive of talents. The fact that you can but choose not to simply displays your inferiority, Adam Taurus.”

Adam wanted to rage at the insult but something about it caught his attention. The man admitted that Adam had power, but denied that he was using? “Every day I fight for the White Fang, for the faunus, with everything that I have! And you say I am not using my power?”

The man waved his hand dismissively. “Yes, yes, your grand vision of a faunus ruled Remnant. How gloriously abstract. But that is too far off to be sustaining you now. One needs the joys of pleasure to truly live life. So, tell me Adam, what do you desire?”

Blake.

Adam shook his head. No good would come of those thoughts. “Nothing I can have.”

“Just because you cannot have something do not mean it will bring you no joy to seek it,” the man countered. “I once knew a fool who sought to conquer the entire world. As I am the world’s king, I could not allow that. So, he challenged me, and died, like all who challenge me do. And yet, I have never seen one so content as they fell.”

“Like you said, he was a fool,” Adam remarked.

The man’s eyes glared at the faunus, truly angry for the first time in their conversation. “Indeed. And yet, as one who sought everything he ever wanted, he was greater than you.”

“What I want is impossible!” Adam roared. “Because what she wants is impossible!”

“A woman?” The man laughed. “You could simply take her if you desire her so badly.”

What? No.

Adam glared at the so-called king from behind his mask. Blake had betrayed him. She had abandoned him and the White Fang to fight for humans. He would make her suffer. He would destroy everything she loved.

But he would never do that. That was…no.

The man calmed down and smiled at Adam once more. “If you wish for her to come you however, then you could make her dream a reality. It was once yours as well, was it not?”

Of course, it had been. Back when he had first joined the White Fang, when the Belladonnas had taken him in, he had believed that it could be done. He had cheered at every speech Ghira had given. He had hoped that it was a future he could see with Blake, together.

But as time went on, he had decided that it wasn’t a possibility. The humans didn’t want friends, they wanted slaves. Sienna Khan’s rhetoric began to make more sense. They needed to fight for their own rights, their own lives. He had been weak at the time, unable to fight. So, he had sought out the Branwen Tribe…

And that was where he’d learned what it meant to be strong.

Over time, he had come to the realization that his and Blake’s dream would never be. No amount of protests, or force, would make the humans treat them as equals. And they didn’t deserve to be equals either. They were better than any human.

But wasn’t that what the man had said before? That sometimes people defied what they deserved?

The man’s smile became a grin. “What if I told you that, very soon, the impossible would become quite possible.”

Adam looked at him with confusion. The man explained his plan.

Adam stared at the man in shock. It couldn’t be possible. It wasn’t real, just an old legend from the tribe.

But it made so much sense. The man’s abilities. Why someone like him was assisting Cinder. Everything fit.

Except for one thing.

“Why me?” Adam inquired. “Even if I do this, I’ll never be your pawn.”

The man’s crimson eyes twinkled with mirth. “Because as you are Adam Taurus, I find you incredibly dull. You are a tasteless, spiteful fool, who’s been convinced that partnering with someone like Cinder Fall could possibly end well.”

Adam was very much wondering how this was supposed to explain anything.

“But,” the man continued, “I see potential in who you once were. If your hope for a brighter future with this woman is restored, perhaps you will provide me with some modicum of entertainment.”

Adam turned away. Could he really do it? If it would get Blake to love him again, to come back, could he do it? Could he forgive them? Could he be who he once was?

“So then,” the man spoke, “it seems the only question left Adam, is this.”

“How far are you willing to go to get everything that you want?”

Chapter Text

“We kicked butt!” Nora screeched at the top of her lungs.

“Nora, please don’t break your bed,” Ren requested flatly.

The energetic girl immediately stopped jumping on her mattress. Unfortunately, she still had to come down from her last bounce and the bed sent her flying into the wall.

“I’m okay!” Nora assured everyone as she pulled her head out of the plaster, quite a sizable hole left behind.

Team RWBY, JNPR, Sun, Neptune, and Arturia all stared at the girl for a moment. The group had congregated in Team JNPR’s room for food and drink until the singles round that afternoon.

Weiss coughed lightly. “Well, that wasn’t how I would have phrased it, but she’s not wrong. We all managed to defeat our opponents quite handily.”

“Indeed,” Arturia concurred. “It is good to know that you all are the next generation of huntsmen and huntresses. The people of Remnant will sleep soundly in the future.” The woman gave her son a proud look as she spoke and Jaune returned it with a grateful smile.

Neptune shimmied up to Arturia. “Such sweet words from such a beautiful lady. I’m honored.”

Arturia raised an eyebrow at the boy. Sun facepalmed at his partner’s action.

Jaune’s face twitched unnaturally. He put a hand on Neptune’s shoulder. “Neptune, can I talk to you outside for a moment.” His voice made it clear that was not a request.

The two walked out and the door closed behind them. The rest of the group soon heard voices from outside.

“Dude, that’s my mom!”

“I can’t help it man! She’s hot! Have you never noticed?”

“Why would I ever want to notice that about my mom?”

Everyone in the room looked at Sun. The monkey faunus shrugged. “Don’t look at me, I’m not his dad.”

Suddenly Pyrrha’s scroll went off. She picked it up and turned the device on. She raised an eyebrow in confusion.

“What is it?” Ruby asked.

“It’s a message from Professor Goodwitch,” Pyrrha told them. “She says Professor Ozpin needs to speak with me.”

Arturia froze. “The headmaster wishes to speak with you?”

“What about?” Blake inquired.

“It doesn’t say,” Pyrrha responded.

“Ooooo,” Nora hummed. “Maybe it’s some secret meeting of how to win the tournament for Beacon!” She looked at Sun and then shuffled next to Pyrrha’s ear. “The enemy must never know.”

“Doubtful,” Weiss interjected. “Still it could be some sort of information about the singles round.”

“Wouldn’t I be called up too, then?” Yang pointed out.

Pyrrha shrugged. “I guess the only way to find out is to get down there and see what it is.”

The young huntress opened the door only to be met with the sight of Jaune and Neptune stretching out each other’s cheeks like they were made of rubber. Both turned to look at their friend.

Pyrrha chuckled at the sight. She made to go but felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned to see Arturia.

“Pyrrha,” the other woman began. She paused for a moment, looking down at her feet before returning her gaze to her son’s partner. “The headmaster is a good man, but…sometimes he can ask too much. Know that you can say no.”

“Oh,” Pyrrha uttered, not really sure how to respond to that. “Um, thank you, Mrs. Arc.”

Arturia let go and Pyrrha walked off.

Jaune separated himself from Neptune and came up next to his mother. “Don’t worry, mom. Pyrrha’s never done anything wrong in her life. The headmaster probably just wants to congratulate her on how she’s been a great example of what Beacon stands for or something like that.”

Arturia didn’t seem convinced. The headmaster had unnerved her greatly since their last encounter. How could he not, given their history?

 


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Arturia waited patiently as the elevator climbed Beacon Tower. Her face was set in a resolute stare. The talk with the Schnee Specialist had been enjoyable but it was over now.

It was time to find her son.

The elevator dinged, and the door opened. Arturia stepped into a large office with massive clock gears taking the place of a ceiling.

Behind a black desk sat a man dressed in green cloths and silver hair. His hands sat atop a long cane and there was a playful smile on his face.

Arturia hesitated. There was something familiar about this man. She had felt it in the courtyard as well. She didn’t know exactly what it was, but he had a manic twinkle in his eye that unsettled her greatly.

“Greetings, Mrs. Arc,” the man said.

Arturia raised an eyebrow. “And you, Headmaster Ozpin,” she replied in turn. “I must say, I thought to have you at a disadvantage. I did not expect you to know my name before I introduced myself. Have we met before?”

“Before?” Ozpin chuckled. “Indeed, we have. I must say, I’m a little disappointed that you can’t recognize me.”

“Then I must apologize, sir,” Arturia answered. “For you are a stranger to me.”

“Perhaps,” he mused. “But then again, strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.”

Arturia froze. Those were words of wisdom that she had passed on to her children for years. Jaune never used them unless he was truly terrified, so he could have said them in front of this authority figure.

But with the twinkle in his eyes, Arturia’s mind flashed back to when she had first heard them. Back when an unknown knight named Lancelot had first come to her kingdom. She had been hesitant in accepting him into her newly made court, until those words were spoken to her by…

No.

Ozpin’s smile widened into a grin. “It’s good to see you again, Arthur.”

“Merlin,” Arturia breathed, for she had no air to be spared for speech. “How?”

“Through a darker story than I would wish,” the man explained, his face downcast for the first time since he saw her.

“But, you were trapped,” she stuttered. “Trapped on Avalon until the end of the universe. How could you have possibly escaped?”

“I didn’t escape,” Ozpin- Merlin told her. “I was kicked out. Someone far more important needed the room.”

“Who could possibly have the power to do that?” Arturia wondered.

“Gaea herself.”

Arturia was quickly getting tired of being stunned into silence.

Merlin continued. “At the end of the Fourth Holy Grail War, a dark presence emerged from the chalice. Though the cup itself was purified, the rest of the world was faced with a far worse problem. Within a month, humanity was on the edge of extinction. When the corruption gained enough strength, it struck at the spirit of the world itself. She was wounded, barely managing to escape to Avalon. Seeing no other option, she freed me, took my place and locked the doors behind her. I’ve been fighting her war ever since.”

“But, if that’s true,” Arturia said, and she had no doubt it was. Merlin was annoying most of the time but when he got serious, wise kings listened. “Why are you here in some other world training huntsmen?”

Ozpin smiled sadly. “It’s called Remnant for a reason.”

And just like that, the pretty little world Arturia had spent thirty years building for herself shattered.

The grail hadn’t sent her to another realm. It had sent her forward in time.

“The battle between the corruption and Gaea reshaped the planet’s surface and shattered the moon,” Ozpin explained. “We stand now on the husk that remains. Fortunately, our enemy did not escape the clash unscathed. It had to regroup, heal, strategize and my presence prevented it from claiming total victory. It adapted however. Changed from an it into a…she. The creatures of Grimm emerged not long after.”

“But then, if this is not another world, then how do you explain dust? Or aura? The faunus?” Arturia yelled.

“Crystalized prana left behind by Gaia’s wounds and the rapid depopulation of mages,” Ozpin revealed. “The faunus seemed to be an extreme form of rapid evolution influenced by the magics that were affecting the atmosphere right after the battle. As for aura, well, I needed fighters and not enough people had magic circuits so I…improvised. Think of it as the power being constantly spread out in the body instead of being focused into concentrated streams. You can’t do as much, but when all you need is a hammer…”

“Would those with magic circuits still be able to use them after having their aura unlocked?”

“Possibly,” Ozpin scratched his chin. “I’ve never exactly had the chance to test it. Since aura became common, magic circuits have slowly died out. I haven’t seen one in eons.”

“What about your own?” Arturia accused.

“Do I look the same as I did when we last saw each other?” Ozpin remarked. Off her silence, he continued. “Gaea wasn’t sure that I could win in one lifetime, so she altered my curse from Avalon before I left. Each time I die, I move on to another soul and merge with it. My original circuits didn’t survive the first journey.”

Arturia shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

“Merlin was the foundation. Ozpin is the building,” the man said, his quirky smile back on his face. “It’s really quite simple, your grace.”

Arturia’s confusion dropped away and her eyes focused like daggers on the headmaster. In the blink of an eye, she had Excalibur out and pointed at her old mentor.

“Do. Not. Call me that.” Arturia seethed.

Ozpin held up his hands in surrender. Arturia shook her head and lowered her sword.

“Despite how…well, earth-shattering this is, it is not why I’m here.” Arturia closed her eyes for a moment. Stay focused on family. Don’t be a hero. “Where is my son?”

“Young Mr. Arc has just led his team to victory in the first round of the Vytal Festival,” Ozpin informed her. “You must be very proud.”

“He should not be here,” Arturia growled. “How could you even let him into the school? He didn’t even know what aura was?”

“His transcripts indicated otherwise,” the headmaster responded.

“Transcripts?”

Ozpin typed something on his scroll. Arturia’s own rang and she brought it out. Inside was a new message. Opening it, the Arc matriarch’s eyes widened.

“Top of his class? Training in a dozen sword styles? The Vacuo Academy for—he’s never even been to Vacuo!” Arturia shouted.

“Really? I never would have guessed,” Ozpin replied.

His cheeky grin said otherwise.

“These are forgeries! You knew they were forgeries the moment you saw them!”

“Not true,” Ozpin protested. “I had to finish reading them to know for sure.”

Arturia seethed. “Why would you let him in?”

Ozpin took on a solemn look, the same one Merlin had worn when he had warned of the risks involved with pulling Caliburn from the stone. “I saw promise in him. How could I not when he’s your son?”

“Where is he?”

“I heard that he and some friendly teams are having a little get together, a party to celebrate their success in the tournament,” Ozpin informed her. “I sent his dorm’s location with his transcripts.”

Arturia turned to walk out, but the headmaster called out behind her. “Arthur, there is more I can tell you about what’s going on. There are maidens and relics of great import that you should be—”

“I don’t care, Merlin,” Arturia cut him off. “I’m not here to get involved in this war. I’m here to keep my son out of it.”

“You are a hero—”

“No, I’m not!” Arturia roared, reeling on her foster father. Tears pooled in her eyes. “I am no hero, I am no savior, and I am certainly no King of Knights! I refuse!”

“A hero can save many,” Ozpin argued calmly.

“Heroes die,” Arturia retorted.

A vision of Lancelot howling in madness. Tristan leaving Camelot declaring she knew nothing of the feelings of others. Mordred demanding to know where her hatred came from.

“And everything they care about pays the price for their foolishness.”

Irisviel. Maiya. Lancer.

Kiritsugu.

“I am king no more, Merlin. I wish you well in your war.” Arturia finished.

She entered the elevator and hit the down button. The door closed.

Ozpin sat down on his desk. A sad smile on his face.

“And I wish your peace will hold, my dear King of Knights. You deserve it.”

Then he recalled the Queen’s pawns in play.

“Though I fear what we deserve is so rarely what we get.”

 


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Cinder sat on her bed, a glass of wine in her hand and a pleased smile on her face. Everything was going according to plan.

With Mercury and Kirei’s easy victory in the doubles, they would move on to the singles round, where she would pit Mercury against that hotheaded bimbo Yang Xiao-Long. Her little assassin would throw the fight and then, with some assistance from Emerald’s semblance, the blonde brawler would attack her defeated opponent completely unprovoked. The resulting negativity would set the mistrustful mood she needed for Nikos’ match with the Atlas android. After all, one could not build a house before first laying the groundwork.

And since no one had even seen Emerald in combat, there would be no chance of anyone deducing her illusions were at work. She supposed she did have Kirei to thank for that boon.

She had been wary of the man when they had first entered their alliance. She had encountered him chasing her prey after all. Still, as a man, it wasn’t as if he could claim the maiden’s powers and she had confirmed his mysterious associate was not in the running either. He was no threat to her rise.

Whether he had been after Amber for some personal grudge or some other reason, she couldn’t deny the man was helpful. He filled the fourth slot on their team quite neatly, freeing Neo up to prepare for breaking Roman out of Ironwood’s custody and reducing the risk of them being discovered. His combat skills were unsettling at times, but she’d met Tyrian, so it wasn’t as if she hadn’t seen worse.

The only irritating thing about him was his independence. He recognized their alliance as just that, an alliance between equals. He did not wait for her orders to act, going out and integrating himself into that annoyance Ruby Rose’s friend group. She didn’t know what his interest was in the silver-eyed girl, but she had a feeling it would complicate her plans.

She had to get him under control. Which is why she’d denied his request to take Mercury’s place against Xiao-Long.

Her scroll suddenly rang.

Cinder looked at the caller’s number. It was unknown. Meaning someone misdialed, or…

The half-maiden answered the call. “Hello.”

“Cinder, my dear. How goes your little scheme?” a rich, dark voice asked jovially.

Cinder shuddered at the sound of one of the few beings on Remnant that she feared. “It goes well, Mistress. Everything should be done by tonight.”

“Good, good,” Salem congratulated from the other end. “I have noticed that your group is larger than you informed me of in your last report.”

Cinder swore internally. Of course, Salem would be keeping an eye on the Vytal Festival.

“Yes,” she confirmed. “His name is Kirei Kotomine. He was also pursuing the Fall Maiden and after Qrow Branwen’s interference we decided cooperation was in our best interests.”

Kirei Kotomine.” Salem said the name like an incantation. “It’s been nineteen years since I’ve heard that name.”

Cinder raised an eyebrow. Kirei barely looked twenty, how could the Queen know of him? For that matter, what could he have had to do with the events of nineteen years ago?

Cinder admittedly didn’t know much about it, other than it had been quite a large clash between Salem and Ozpin’s forces. The former Team STRQ had been involved and Salem’s at the time large inner circle had been reduced to just Hazel. Watts and Tyrian were recruited afterwards.

“Be wary of that one, Cinder,” Salem warned. “If he is on your side, you can have no finer ally. But alienate him at all and he will prove himself a whirlwind that will sweep all your plans to dust. His master is even worse.”

Cinder was shocked. She has never heard her mistress speak of another with such dread.

“I am sending Hazel to observe future events.”

“My lady, that is unnecessary,” Cinder protested. “I have this under control.”

“Do not question me, Cinder,” Salem scolded. Cinder recoiled but her master’s fury quickly quieted. “Do not worry. He will not interfere unless he is needed. It is up to you to make sure he is not.”

Salem ended the call. Cinder sat on her bed, wine forgotten on the ground.

Hazel could not be allowed to steal her hour of glory. She would have the maiden’s powers. She would bring Salem the relic. She would be the one Remnant would fear.

Which meant she had to make sure everything was under control.

The evil mastermind sighed. It seemed that she would have to grant Kirei’s wish. She couldn’t afford the man deciding she wasn’t worth helping, not when she was so close.

He would have his duel with Xiao-Long. He would do as Mercury would have and Emerald would ensure the rest.

What was the worst that could happen?

 


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Yang was pumped.

Here she was, a first-year from Patch, about to fight in the one on one finals of the Vytal festival in front of the entire world. But she really shouldn’t be surprised. She was awesome after all.

The stadium was packed, and the crowd was wild. Port and Oobleck had to shout over the mics just to be heard. The energy was infectious.

Yang glanced down the line of competitors. Aside from her, there was Pyrrha, Sun, Ruby’s friend Penny, a few other kids she didn’t know…

And him.

She couldn’t wait to wipe that smug smirk off his face.

The match randomizer went wild and Yang saw her face appear on the screen.

A few moments later, it was joined by Kirei’s.

Yang didn’t think she could have been happier than she was at that moment.

As the other combatants left the stage, she lined herself up with Kirei. “Guess I finally get to see what you’re made of Robes!” she shouted. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you one free punch!”

“How pitiful that you think I’d want anything from a pathetic cur like you,” Kirei snarled. His eyes glared.

Yang was stunned. That wasn’t normal. She’d been antagonizing Kirei for months and all she’d gotten was passive deflection. Where was this rage coming from? It was actually kind of scary.

Kirei took her silence as a sign of confusion. “You don’t understand?” he asked mockingly. “Then let me explain it. Your sister, your teammates, even that fool Jaune Arc, they all have goals, dreams, something they strive for and seek with every fiber of their being. But you? You have no asperation, no wish. You just follow them on their paths like a lost puppy, fighting any battle so they don’t have to. And they let you, because you’re useful as a meat shield.”

Fear turned to rage as Yang curled her fists. How dare he?

“Eventually though,” Kirei continued, “there’s going to be a blow you can’t take. You will be broken. And they will leave you to be broken. Because they have goals more important than a sad little girl, desperate for love!”

Yang’s eyes turned red as she glared at Kirei with all her hatred.

Kirei’s smirk returned to his face. “It’s really no wonder Raven abandoned you.”

Yang’s hair ignited, her fury too great to question how Kirei knew that name.

“Ready?” Port announced. “Three! Two—”

“AAARRRGGGHHHH!” Yang roared. She fired her gauntlets back and shot through the air with her fist raised. She aimed for his smile.

That god damned smile.

 


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Kirei was pleased. His words had the desired effect.

And she even came before the match began. It seemed Cinder would have her outrage after all. How lovely.

But he wasn’t doing this for the public. He was doing this for himself. For his joy.

As Yang flew towards him, he activated the strength his executor training had earned him and added it to the power of his aura.

Reinforcement,” he muttered, lighting glowing blue lines along his right arm. He hadn’t expected Kiritsugu to survive this attack in their duel, but he had, and it simply would not do to be surprised similarly by this heathen.

In the blink of an eye, he entered moving stance and in a flash, was under Ms. Xiao Long’s guard. The poor girl’s red eyes didn’t even have time to widen before Kirei struck.

Eight Postures of the Buddha Guards.’

The punch with the power to reach infinity in all eight directions struck Yang in the diaphragm. The girl bent all the way over Kirei’s fist for a single moment.

And then her aura shattered, and she went flying across the arena.

Yang struck the stage protective barrier with the force of a rocket. Had it been a physical wall, it would have crushed beneath the force.

The girl’s limp form stood for a moment. For just a moment, Kirei wondered if she had replicated Kiritsugu’s feat, if she had survived his most deadly Bajiquan attack unscathed.

But then she crumpled to the ground and he knew he had nothing to fear.

Kirei noted the Atlesian knights who had narrowed in on her position, before likely to arrest her, now calling for a medic.

“I… I don’t completely understand what just happened, folks,” Bartholomew Oobleck admitted from the booth. The large screen in the stadium played back the brief clash for the audience. In the corner, Yang’s aura meter was empty. “But it seems Ms. Xiao-Long attacked her opponent before the match began and now she’s…she’s on the ground.”

Kirei narrowed his eyes at Yang. A dribble of crimson was slowly falling from her mouth.

That was not what he wanted.

“Yang!” squealed a high-pitched voice in horror. Ruby Rose flew in from the stands in a storm of rose petals. She rushed past the security team and knelt beside her sister’s fallen form. There were tears streaming down her face.

Kirei began walking towards his exit and smirked.

Much better.

Chapter Text

“This is Lisa Lavender reporting live from the Vytal Festival in Vale. In a shocking turn of events, the first match of the finals ended before it could begin when Yang Xiao-Long of Beacon attacked Kirei Kotomine of Haven before the fight began. Mr. Kotomine responded by beating Ms. Xiao-Long into unconsciousness. No official comment has been given by either academy—”

“This is just wrong,” a man yelled into the camera. “I don’t know what Ozpin and Lionheart are teaching these kids, but that kind of brutality is not what being a huntsman is about—”

“It’s just terrible,” a woman declared. “That girl attacked first, but that boy shouldn’t have gone that far.”

“The Vytal Festival is supposed to be about peace,” someone else stated. “This kind of unchecked violence is simply disgraceful.”

 


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Ruby remembered a lot of bad days.

The first time she’d scratched Crescent Rose.

Weiss and Blake’s fight about the White Fang.

The day her dad had sat alone in the dark and Uncle Qrow told her that her mom wasn’t coming back from her trip.

But staring at a comatose Yang? That was the worst.

Her sister laid in a hospital bed covered in white sheets. She was hooked up to a lot of fancy machines, including an IV and something connected to her by a breath mask. To the side, a heart monitor sounded a steady beep.

Ruby sat down in a plastic chair next to the bed and took Yang’s hand in her own. She felt something on her own shoulder, and turned to see Weiss giving her a grim smile. She turned to her other side to see Blake gazing at her partner. Her amber eyes were unfocused, like she didn’t know what to think.

At the foot of the bed, General Ironwood looked at her glumly. “Your sister is lucky to be alive, Ruby. Mr. Kotomine’s assault shattered her rib cage and her back was severely injured when she struck the barrier. There is even bruising on her heart and lungs.”

Ruby got the picture. If Yang’s aura hadn’t been as strong as it was, second only to Jaune’s, her sister would be dead.

“Is she going to be okay?” Ruby asked, her voice quivering.

The General sighed. “The doctors taking care of her are the best Atlas has to offer. They say that she’ll make it. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.”

“What happens to her when she wakes up?” Weiss inquired.

“There will be no charges pressed if that’s what you're referring to,” Ironwood replied. “Against her or Mr. Kotomine if he is found.”

“What?” Blake sneered. “You just said her nearly killed her!”

“After she attacked him before the match could begin,” the General countered. “Even then, it is doubtful that he intended to do this kind of damage. No one intends to do this with a single punch through full aura.”

“Yang hated him,” Blake argued.

“But he didn’t hate her,” Ruby squeaked, her head still down. “He didn’t hate her. He didn’t hate anyone. Why would he do this?”

Tears pooled in the red reaper’s eyes. Weiss squeezed her shoulder comfortingly. Blake backed away from Ironwood, her head bowed in shame.

The General himself grimaced. “We don’t know Ruby. No one has seen him since the fight, not even his team.”

“Have they been questioned?” Blake asked.

“Blake,” Weiss snapped. “They’re probably as confused as we are.”

Ironwood nodded. “They were. They had no idea this would happen. No one did.”

The room went silence for several moments. Ruby raised her head.

“Did anyone tell dad?”

“Your uncle called Taiyang the moment it happened.” Ironwood informed her. “I’ve sent a shuttle to Patch to pick him up. He should be here by tomorrow.”

Ruby nodded glumly. “Thank you, General.”

Ironwood gave her a small smile. “No need Miss. Rose. And don’t worry about your sister. She’s a huntress. She’ll pull through.”

The general gave her a small bow and left the room.

Blake scoffed, causing Weiss to raise an eyebrow at her. “Blake, this is hard for everyone, but we have to stay calm. You heard the general, she’s going to be fine.”

“He said she’d live, not that she’d be fine,” Blake shot back. She ran a hand through her dark hair. “They were talking.”

“Who?”

“Yang and Kirei,” she explained. “Before the fight, I heard Kirei say something to her, I don’t know what. But when he was done, Yang’s hair was on fire and she was trying to take his head off.”

“He might have just been talking trash,” Weiss pointed out. “Yang nearly lost her mind when Neon did in our match. It’s not too much of a stretch to say Kirei just did it better.”

“No,” Blake refuted. “It was something else. He provoked her somehow.”

“How do you know? You said you couldn’t make it out.” Blake had better hearing than the rest of them thanks to having two sets of ears, but they hadn’t been close, and the crowd had been loud.

Blake kept silent.

“Blake, how do you know?” Weiss inquired.

“Because it has to be!” Blake yelled.

Weiss took a step back, shocked at her normally calm teammate’s intensity. Ruby didn’t even look up.

Blake took a few deep breaths and looked away from her friends. “In the White Fang, I had a mentor. A partner, Adam Taurus. We met when we were kids waving signs at protests and we both ended up getting swept up by Sienna Khan’s ideology. He left for a bit, said he needed to find some bandit clan for training, and when he came back he was, different. More spiteful. And on our missions, people started dying. First it was an accident, then it was self-defense, then…then he stopped bothering with excuses.”

She turned her gaze to Yang. “I can’t watch that happened again.”

The black bowed girl ran out of the room.

“Blake!” Weiss yelled, making to follow, but she stopped herself.

“Go after her,” Ruby said, keeping her eyes on Yang.

Weiss turned to face her. “Are you sure?”

Ruby scoffed. “It should be me, really. I’m the leader after all, but…”

“I get it,” her partner insisted. “I’ll help Blake. You stay with your sister.”

“Thanks Weiss.”

The heiress smiled. “That’s what partners are for, you dolt. I’m here to help you carry your load.”

Ruby grinned for the first time since Yang’s injury. “Right.”

Weiss began to leave when Ruby spoke up again. “Weiss.”

“Yeah?”

“You’re a good partner.”

Weiss got a bit of her old haughty look in her eyes. “And you, Ruby Rose, are an adequate leader.”

Ruby chuckled at that. Weiss smiled and went after their teammate.

The red reaper’s grin disappeared, and she clutched her sister’s hand ever tighter.

“Hey,” a gruff voice called from the door. Ruby didn’t need to look to see who it was.

“How you holding up, pipsqueak?” Uncle Qrow asked.

“I don’t know.” Ruby stared at Yang’s unnaturally lifeless face, like someone had made a statue of her sister and switched the two when no one was looking. “How could Kirei do this? He’s my friend, I know it.”

Qrow shrugged. “He reacted in the moment—”

“But this is a bad thing.” Ruby cried. “This is a bad thing. This is something that Torchwick or the White Fang would do. Something a bad guy would do. And Kirei…he’s not a bad guy.”

Qrow sighed and pulled up a chair. He sat down next to his niece. “Ruby, you need to understand. Good and bad, they’re more interchangeable than they seem. Sometimes a person does a bad thing for a good reason, like your friend probably did here. I’m still gonna put him six feet under, but that doesn’t make him a bad guy.”

Ruby nodded, but a disturbing thought snuck into her mind. “Does that mean a person can do a good thing for a bad reason?”

Qrow paused, carefully debating his answer. That let Ruby know how serious this was. Uncle Qrow never thought before he spoke.

“Yes,” he eventually declared. “But that’s a rarer thing than you’d think.”

“Because doing the right thing is always good?” Ruby guessed hopefully.

“Because people rarely think they have a bad reason,” Qrow informed her. He ran a hand through his messy hair. “Ruby, most people are selfish. They want what they want, and they focus on that before anything else. From their point of view, they’re justified, and anything they do to advance to that goal is justified in turn.”

“But then why doesn’t everybody just work together to get what they want?” Ruby asked.

Qrow scoffed. “If only it was that simple. But things rarely work out that everyone gets what they want. Sometimes if two people have different goals, only one of them can be achieved, even if both of them could be considered good.”

Ruby hung her head in thought. “But if they’re both good, how do you know which one should be…made into reality?”

“In the end, it comes down to why you want it and what you’re willing to do for it,” Qrow finished.

The old man rose. “I’ve got a meeting with Oz pretty soon. You sure you’ll be alright here by yourself?”

“I’ll be fine. I’ve got a lot to think about.” Ruby replied.

Qrow grimaced, but left his niece alone with her thoughts.

Ruby stared at her sister. ‘Why did you attack, Yang? And why did Kirei nearly kill you?’

 


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Cinder seethed in the Team CKSM dorm room asking herself that very same question.

Mercury and Emerald did their best to keep to the sides as much as possible, desperate not to become the most convenient target for their mistress’ wrath.

The bastard had gone completely off the rails. His attack on Xiao-Long had drawn far too much attention to their team. If she wasn’t as good as she was, General Ironwood might have figured out who they were.

At least he had laid the groundwork as promised. Though the outrage was split between Beacon and Haven, it was still there and so would work adequately for her plans.

She would still incinerate the bastard for catching her off guard like that, but she would at least make his death quick.

Her scroll began to ring. She had a pretty good idea who it was.

She answered. “Hello Kirei.”

“Greetings, Cinder,” he responded. “I hope my actions haven’t caused you too much trouble. I’ve been watching the news and I’d say the people are quite galvanized.”

“You did well,” Cinder relayed through gritted teeth. “Though next time I would appreciate a warning.”

“Duly noted. I shall endeavor to provide one the next time my plans may inconvenience you.”

 Cinder did not like that he was anticipating a next time. “For now, I’d like you to lay low, Kirei. Your discovery and interrogation will merely complicate matters for tonight.”

“Then the plan is still in motion. I shall inform my associate.”

“Yes, you do that,” Cinder mocked. “Kirei?”

“Yes?”

“Why did you deviate from the plan at all?”

Even if she couldn’t see his face, she knew the man was smirking. “One’s desires involve the suffering of another. To aid in that, I need Ms. Xiao-Long to survive what’s coming. I believe getting her out with the medical evacuation would provide a better chance of that than participating in the battle.”

“How charitable.”

“Not at all,” Kirei insisted. “Best of luck tonight, Cinder.”

“And you, Kirei.” Cinder hung up the call.

She considered for a moment if that could truly be Kirei’s reasoning. Doubtful. He nearly killed the girl with his attack, he couldn’t have known she would survive.

He had something planned for the blonde brawler. Something likely quite unpleasant.

Lucky for the girl, Cinder was in both a spiteful and merciful mood.

She turned to Mercury. “After you’re done with the broadcast, I need you to make a little trip to the infirmary…”

 


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Kirei hung up his call with Cinder and placed another. A haughty voice greeted him when the line connected.

“Quite the display today, holy man,” his associate greeted.

“Yes, it was even more delightful than I had anticipated,” Kirei remarked. He had intended to savor Ruby’s grief over the death of her sister, but to know that she survived, that the mighty bonfire that was Yang Xiao-Long had been reduced to struggling embers and would likely never blaze again? He found that that brought him more joy than if he had killed her.

Oh, life’s little fortunate surprises. Speaking of…

“You may wish to instruct young Adam to head to the infirmary when the attack begins,” Kirei suggested. “He will find a prime opportunity to endear himself to Miss Belladonna there.”

“Your doing, I assume.”

“In part, but Cinder will offer up the sacrificial lamb, even if she doesn’t know it yet.”

“Ah yes, our dear Ms. Fall,” his associate sneered. “Are you sure she will be able to remove the keystone that blocks my path?”

“Once she has the maiden’s full power, not even Ozpin will be able to stop her,” Kirei reassured him. “The bounded field will crumble, and we will be able to begin the ritual.”

“If not for that cursed thing I’d have taken what we needed already,” the man grumbled. He’d never admit that he’d grumbled, a king does not do such things, but Kirei was confident he had. “Finally, I shall reclaim the treasure that was stolen from me.”

Kirei realized he had neglected to inform his associate of a crucial fact. “My liege, I think it may interest you to know that Yang Xiao-Long, the girl I’ve put into a coma, is the daughter of Raven Branwen.”

“Mongrels are numerous and forgettable, Kirei. You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“The thief with the odachi, my king.”

Even from across the call, Kirei heard him crush the wine glass in his hand. “Ah, that mongrel. And her progeny survived your assault?”

“Yes, my king.”

A few moments of silence passed. Then the man spoke again. “So be it. If fate has decreed she shall live, then her current injuries shall be sufficient for her part of her mother’s punishment.”

Kirei wasn’t sure if he was disappointed or not by that, but it was what it was. “As you command.”

“Prepare yourself for tonight Kirei. I will not tolerate another failure.”

Kirei knew what he referred to. The ambush of Amber had gone well, but the girl had proven clever enough to escape them temporarily. He would have chased her down, but Cinder beat him to her and split the maiden’s power. Then, Branwen had brought the girl Beacon, complicating matters further. The alliance with Cinder was irritating, but Kirei believed a full power maiden would be useful in taking the bounded field out of play.

After that, his associate could intervene and then nothing on Remnant could stand before them.

“It will be done, my king.”

His associate ended the call. Not for the first time, Kirei wondered if he really made the best choice joining up with him. And like all the other times, he quickly surmised that the pleasures experienced by his side far outweighed any danger. He had lived a collected man too long, now he would live life to the fullest.

Speaking of, he still had more joy he could squeeze out of his potent source.

He found Ruby’s name in his contacts, a plethora of frenzied messages below it, and sent a location.

 


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Pyrrha leaned against the courtyard wall, her mind swarming with indecision. A brown leaf floated down in front of her. Her mind flashed to Amber, near dead in that pod.

And the choice she had to make.

Pyrrha had shown talent in combat at a younger age than most children could read and write. Her mother had instantly found her the best trainer she could and sought the best weapons they could afford. Before long, she was being acclaimed as a prodigy and all the fame that came with it followed her first tournament.

She never regretted the fighting. She had drowned in the loneliness it left her, but the fighting itself? No.

The fighting gave her peace. In the arena, it was just her against her opponent, her skill against theirs. It was as lonely as her life was, but it felt more honest somehow. Like there wasn’t any other way it could be.

Then, she came to Beacon, and she found that there was. A much, much better way. Her team. Team JNPR. With crazy, energetic Nora. Wise, stoic Ren.

And Jaune.

Wasn’t he a massive cluster of emotions?

He had helped her find friends. He wore a dress to keep his word to her. He made her smile, truly smile, when for so long she thought she would only be able to show the one for the cameras.

All those things and more were why she loved him.

Plus, his mother seemed to like her!

She had gained so much at Beacon with Team JNPR and Team RWBY that she thought she’d never have. And now with Ozpin’s proposal in front of her, her faith wavered. She wouldn’t stop helping people. She still wanted to be a huntress.

But did she really want to be a hero?

“Hey,” she heard. She turned to see Jaune coming over to sit next to her, a stick of cotton candy in his hand.

 Behind him, she spied Arturia, Nora, and Ren around the corner of the building. The blonde woman spotted her son approaching Pyrrha and waved Ren and Nora off. Nora got the picture and dragged Ren away.

Arturia hid behind the wall, ‘discreetly’ holding out her scroll to record what she hoped would be Jaune’s first kiss.

Pyrrha wasn’t sure whether to feel awkward or not, but then Jaune sat down beside her and the butterflies in her stomach went wild. He offered her the cotton candy. “You look like you need this more than me.”

She took it from him, but the maiden decision kept her from fully appreciating the gesture. “Thank you, Jau—” Her voice stopped when he took her hand in his. The cotton candy fell from her other hand. She was fairly certain she heard Arturia squee from behind the wall.

Jaune looked her in the eye. “Look,” he started, in his hesitant way that let you know he’d figured out what he wanted to say but not how to say it. “I know something’s on your mind. And it’s been there since before all this stuff with Yang and Kirei, so...” He ran a hand through his hair. “I’m your partner, and you’ve always been there for me, even when I didn’t deserve it. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, how can I help?”

Pyrrha smiled and nuzzled into his shoulder. “You’re already doing it.”

The two of them sat there for a few moments, some of the best of Pyrrha’s life. The autumn breeze warmed their skin.

Another leaf dropped to the pavement before them.

Pyrrha’s smile faded as her worries returned. She moved away from her partner. “Jaune, I don’t know what to do,” she confessed.

“What do you mean?” he inquired.

She turned back to him. “Do you believe in destiny?”

Jaune wasn’t expecting that. “Oh gee, I don’t know. I guess that depends on how you view it.”

“When I think of destiny, I don’t think of some predetermined fate you can’t escape,” Pyrrha explained. “But rather, some sort of final goal. Something you work towards your entire life.”

“Okay. Yeah, I can see that,” Jaune concurred.

“Well,” Pyrrha started, unsure how to discuss this without revealing the source of her worries. Something she knew she couldn’t do. “What would you do if something came along that you never expected, something that had the potential to stand between you and your destiny?”

“What? Like what?”

“Or what if you could suddenly fulfill your destiny in an instant?” Pyrrha continued, quickly growing more intense. “But at the cost of who you were?”

“Pyrrha, you’re not making any sense.”

“None of this makes sense!” Pyrrha declared. She rose and walked away from her leader. “This isn’t how things were supposed to happen.”

“I’m sorry! Please, I’m just trying to understand what’s wrong.” Jaune frantically apologized.

Off to the side, Arturia put away her scroll. A worried frown formed on her lips.

“I’ve always felt that I was destined to become a huntress,” Pyrrha revealed. “To protect the world. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that my feelings were right. But…” she turned to Jaune, “I don’t know if I can do it.”

“Of course, you can,” Jaune smiled encouragingly. “The Pyrrha Nikos I know would never back down from a challenge. And if you really believe that it’s your destiny to save the world, you can’t let anything stand in your way.”

Pyrrha choked and her hands covered her face. She turned away from Jaune as she desperately fought back sobs.

Jaune’s smile disappeared and he held out his hand to his partner. “Pyrrha?”

“Stop,” she pleaded.

“Did I say something wrong?”

“Stop!” Pyrrha shouted, her hand going out on instinct. Jaune’s armor dragged him off the ground.

In a flash, Arturia was there. She grabbed Jaune’s hand and keep him from flying any farther.

“Pyrrha!” she yelled.

Pyrrha opened her eyes and looked on in horror at what she was doing. She immediately dropped her hand. Her control over Jaune’s armor faded and the blond boy smacked his face into the ground.

“I’m sorry,” Pyrrha sobbed. She ran off in shame.

Jaune tried to get up and follow. “Pyrrha wait!”

He tripped back to the ground, but Arturia kept him from harm. “Don’t. You can’t help her now.”

“What did I say?” he wondered guiltily.

“Nothing you could have known not to,” his mother assured him. “Go meet up with Ren and Nora. I’ll help Pyrrha.”

“How?”

Arturia frowned. “Call it knowledge of a similar experience.”

Jaune didn’t understand, but it wasn’t like he had to. If his mom could help Pyrrha, he wanted her to, one hundred percent. His partner was one of the best people he had ever met. She was his best friend.

She deserved to be happy.

He confirmed his mother’s words with a nod and she raced off after Pyrrha.

 


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Arturia found the poor girl steadying herself over a fountain, trying to wash away her tears with its contents.

“Pyrrha,” Arturia approached gently.

The girl whirled around to face her and backed into the fountain rim like a cornered dog. “Mrs. Arc! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to attack—”

“I know,” Arturia cut her off. She placed both her hands on the child’s shoulders. “I know you would never willingly hurt Jaune. But I also know that his words did not calm you as he intended.”

“What gave it away?” Pyrrha responded, uncharacteristically snarky. The girl thought for a moment before looking at Arturia in horror. “You knew he’d ask me. That’s why you told me I could refuse. You know about the maiden.”

Arturia raised an eyebrow. “I have no idea what that is. But you are not the first person… Ozpin, has asked to take up a burden for the sake of others. For me, it was a sword and a crown. For you, I assume it is this maiden?”

Pyrrha nodded. “Doing it could protect so many people. But I’m not sure if I can give up who I am.”

“The fact that you’re worried about what you have to give up, is a good indication that you can do it without having to,” Arturia advised her. Pyrrha raised her head, confused. Arutria continued, “When the headmaster offered me my burden, he told me that I would become inhuman, lose all that allowed me to understand others. Foolish as I was, I took it up anyway without a second thought. I was so concerned with being the perfect leader that I never took the time to learn how to be a person, never learned how precious it was. And that led to disaster.”

Arturia’s eyes clouded for a moment before she looked reassuringly at Pyrrha. “Later, I met an…interesting man. He called himself the King of Conquerors. He showed me another way of doing things. I don’t think he was completely right, but his view undeniably had merits. He believed a hero is never alone, for those who stood with them, who championed their dreams with them, would always be with them.”

“He sounds like an extraordinary leader,” Pyrrha remarked.

“He was a pig,” Arturia sneered, before she let out a reluctant sigh. “But he knew himself and accepted who that person was. His men followed him for that reason.”

Arturia squeezed Pyrrha’s shoulders. “You know yourself, better than you think you do. Choose to take up the burden of this maiden. Or don’t. But make sure it is your choice. Not Ozpin’s, not the world’s, yours. Jaune and the rest of your friends will stand with you.”

Pyrrha nodded, her eyes not dry, but without new tears forming. “Thank you, Mrs. Arc.”

Arturia smiled and patted her on the back. Pyrrha felt like she was getting hit by a truck. Is this how Jaune’s aura got so strong?

“Go to the coliseum,” Arturia told her. “Clear your mind with a good fight. Make your choice when you’re ready.”

Pyrrha smiled and went off, feeling just a little better. She really did hope that woman became her mother-in-law.

When the girl was gone however, Arturia frowned and walked off.

She needed to speak with her old teacher.

Chapter Text

Ozpin sat behind his desk, his traditional mug of coffee in his hand. Gods know he needed it after the day he’d had.

First, he had to show Amber to Ms. Nikos and propose to rip one girl's soul out and put it in the other, something that clearly horrified the Mistral Champion, with very good reason. He had given her time to think it over, he wouldn’t force anyone to take up such a burden. Though he worried he was convincing her there was no other right choice.

Then, the business in the singles round had happened. One of his most prized students attacked a boy from Haven and in retaliation was put into a coma. That alone would have been enough to ruin his day, already discounting the hell Taiyang was going to give him when he arrived, but something about the event put Ozpin on edge.

The boy, Kirei Kotomine, had defeated Ms. Xiao-Long in a single blow. With the exception of Ms. Nikos, Yang was the best fighter in Beacon. Leonardo wasn’t the boastful type, but he would have mentioned having someone as powerful as Mr. Kotomine at his school, at least as someone they should eye for recruitment into their circle. Even then, there shouldn’t be any student powerful enough to break aura in a single shot like that.

No, something felt off about the whole affair and that was what led Ozpin to reviewing all the footage he could find of the fight, from every camera, from every angle.

Across from him, Qrow took a swig of his flask. “How many times are you gonna look at that stuff?”

“Until I find something,” Ozpin answered curtly.

Qrow sighed. “Not you too. Look, Oz, I’ve known Yang since she was in diapers. She’s always been a hothead, doesn’t take much to set her off. There wasn’t any mind control or whatever the emo girl with the black bow was spouting.”

Ozpin’s eye twitched when he caught a look at Kirei’s arm right before the punch landed. Were those…no, they couldn’t be. “Qrow, I do not doubt that Ms. Xiao-Long attacked first. I’m more interested in how Mr. Kotomine defeated her so rapidly.”

Qrow shrugged. “So, the kid’s got some mega powerful semblance that he used when he panicked. Big deal. If I saw an angry Yang flying towards me, I’d probably do the same.”

Ozpin suddenly stood up, his eyes wide and glued to his screen. On it was a frozen frame of Kirei Kotomine’s arm just as he struck Yang. Glowing blue lines crisscrossed the entire length.

“That’s not a semblance,” Ozpin declared. “Those are magic circuits.”

Qrow’s eyes widened. “I thought you said those things died out.”

“They did,” Ozpin confirmed. Were it any other time he would be thrilled to have confirmed that one could possess both magic circuits and aura, but right now his trepidation took precedent. How did this boy get them?

The elevator to the office dinged and both Qrow and Ozpin drew their weapons as the door opened.

Arturia walked out and raised an eyebrow at their posturing.

Both men dropped their swords and let out a breath they didn’t know they’d been holding.

“We need to talk,” Arturia demanded.

“Arthur, this is not a good time,” Ozpin said.

“I just watched Pyrrha Nikos have an emotional break down because you asked to take up the power of some maiden,” Arturia revealed. “I don’t really care if now is a good time or not.”

“What?” Qrow groaned. “Does that girl not understand the meaning of ‘secret’?”

Arturia’s eyes glowered with rage. Ozpin knew he had to placate her before she started tearing his lieutenant apart.

“Arthur, my intention was never to cause Ms. Nikos any harm—”

“Well congratulations, you’ve failed.”

“Hey, watch it, lady,” Qrow intervened. “You may be a Servant, but no one talks to Oz like that and gets away with it.”

‘You do it every time we speak,’ Ozpin thought ruefully.

He turned to Arturia. “Arthur, I know what you must be thinking right now but I assure that I would never have asked Ms. Nikos to become the Fall Maiden if there was any other choice.”

“She’s a child, Merlin!” Arturia shouted.

“I know!” Ozpin roared back.

Both Arturia and Qrow took a step back. The headmaster didn’t raise his voice often.

Ozpin slumped back into his chair and sighed. “I know,” he muttered ruefully. “She does not deserve this, to have her innocence ripped from her, to be thrust into a battle that will more than likely take everything from her. But I have been losing this war for an eon, and the enemy is getting close to finally claiming victory. And if she does, then everyone will suffer.”

“What do you mean?” Arturia asked.

“The maidens Pyrrha mentioned to you, I created them millennia ago,” Ozpin explained. “Four young women restored my hope that this world could be saved and in gratitude, I endowed them with immense magical power. Enough to combat a Heroic Spirit even, if a Silver-Eyed warrior could not be found. Unfortunately, since that power came from me, it is bound to my curse, continually reincarnating into a new host. Our enemy has had an assailant attack the most recent Fall Maiden and steal half of her power. She is in critical condition, helpless. And if the assailant strikes again…”

“The enemy would gain a Servant to command. Necessitating the power being put into a more active host as soon as possible.” Arturia finished. She scrunched her forehead in disgust. Ozpin remembered the look from when he had offered to transfigure her into a man. She still did not approve of his actions, but she could not find fault in his reasoning.

It was the traditional state of their relationship.

Qrow frowned and took a drink from his flask. “Oz, do you think Kotomine could be her agent? He’s certainly got the power and I remember Amber sporting a couple of wounds that could have come from those long swords of his.”

Ozpin shook his head. “The Queen would not send a man for this, even if he is a mage. The attacker would need to be female so that she could take Amber’s power.”

Arturia’s eyes narrowed at Ozpin’s words. “A mage?”

Ozpin looked at her carefully. “Yes. A recent revelation. It seems that Mr. Kotomine is the first human to possess magic circuits since this world was Earth.”

“Kotomine,” Arturia muttered. “Kirei Kotomine. Why does that name sound so…”?

Suddenly, her eyes widened in abject horror. “I only saw him once.”

Ozpin rose again. “What are you talking about?”

“Kirei Kotomine isn’t just a mage. He was a master of the Fourth Holy Grail War.”

Qrow lowered his flask from his lips and turned to Ozpin. “I thought you said the Fourth War was ancient history?”

“It is,” he confirmed, his mind working overtime to figure out what this meant. How could Kotomine look so young if what Arturia said was true? The only way would be… No.

“Arturia, who was Kirei’s servant in the Fourth War?”

Arturia thought for a moment, working through the details. There were only two servants at the end of the war. With Kiritsugu being her master, the only option was for Kirei to have commanded…

“Gilgamesh,” Arturia stated, having deduced his identity in the decades since they’d last seen each other. “The King of Heroes.”

A loud clang sounded throughout the room. Ozpin turned to Qrow, who had dropped his flask to the floor. The headmaster watched his trusted friend, who had spied on the horrors of their enemy and regularly killed them, shake with terror.

“Goldie’s here?” Qrow whimpered, his eyes wide.

Ozpin rushed over to the huntsman and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright, Qrow. Even if he does come to Beacon, the bounded field renders him powerless.”

“Bounded field?” Arturia asked. “What bounded field? I haven’t been inhibited at all since I arrived here.”

“After Qrow and his teammates had an unfortunate encounter with Gilgamesh nineteen years ago, I knew it was only a matter of time before he turned his sights on Beacon for one reason or another,” Ozpin informed her. “So, I constructed a specialized bounded field around the school. It prevents spatial distortions in reality, rendering the Gate of Babylon unable to materialize. Ironically, I based it off a design our enemy has over her own territory.”

“That explains why Kotomine is here,” Arturia remarked. “The King of Heroes has sent him to take down the field.”

“Then we have little to worry about,” Ozpin assured her. “I used myself as the keystone for the field. Mr. Kotomine is skilled, but I don’t think he will be able to defeat me as long as I am careful.”

“This guy tipped his hand when he hit Yang,” Qrow observed, his shaking lessened. “If he wanted to keep his magic a secret then all he would have had to do was fight her like normal.”

The huntsman turned to Arturia. “Don’t suppose he’s that stupid though, is he?”

The blonde knight shook her head. “My own master was confident he could defeat every other participant of the Fourth War without difficulty. Only Kotomine gave him pause.”

“Great,” Qrow sneered. “So goldie’s minion isn’t planning on fighting Oz himself or else he wouldn’t have taken the risk we’d see this.”

“Which begs the question,” Ozpin put forward. “How does he plan to kill me?”

At that moment, Ozpin’s desk screen lit up with two wheels displaying the faces of the students remaining in the Vytal Festival. Bartholomew’s voice blared through the system’s speakers “Alright, it’s now time to begin the randomization process for the next match!”

The faces on the screen began to spin. Eventually, they stopped, displaying a cute girl with orange hair and a pink bow.

“It looks like our first contestant is…” shouted Peter. “Penny Polendina from Atlas!”

The other wheel stopped. It was a face familiar to all in the room.

“And her opponent will be Pyrrha Nikos from Beacon!”

 


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Ruby cautiously walked down the maintenance hallway of Amity Coliseum.

She was pretty sure she wasn’t allowed back here, but it was where Kirei’s message had told her to go. He said that he wanted to meet up, explain what happened with Yang, and what was going on. Ruby wasn’t sure what he meant by that last bit, but she needed answers. She needed to know why he’d nearly killed her sister.

She needed to know he was still her friend.

Still, Taiyang Xiao-Long didn’t raise no fool. Crescent Rose was strapped to her waist and ready to go if things got dicey. Or punchy. Or shooty, if Kirei pulled out the Contender.

Ruby neared the end of the hall, and out of a passage walked a familiar smirking face. Just not the one she was expecting.

This one had silver hair.

“Mercury?” Ruby queried. “What are you doing here? What’s going on?”

Professor Port’s voice rang throughout the stadium. “And now Penny Polendina of Atlas shall face Pyrrha Nikos of Beacon!”

Ruby immediately realized why that was very, very bad.

Mercury chuckled. “Ooo, polarity versus metal. That could get bad.”

Ruby’s eyes widened. How did he know? Pyrrha didn’t exactly advertise her semblance and there was no way he could know about Penny being a robot. She wasn’t even supposed to know that!

But that didn’t matter. She could tell by his tone of voice that her friends were in danger. She reached for her scroll to call Weiss, but a burst of wind dust blasted the device out of her hands.

Mercury’s foot smoked as the boy smirked. “How about we just keep this between us?”

Ruby glared at her foe and drew Crescent Rose from her back. The scythe form appeared just as another voice rang out in the hall. Mercury’s eyes widened at the speaker behind Ruby.

“I’m afraid I must intercede on that front,” called Kirei.

Ruby turned to see her friend walking towards them, calm as a kitten. His golden cross necklace gleamed as he advanced.

“What are you doing here?” Mercury shouted. “Do you not understand the meaning of ‘lay low’?”

“I do,” Kirei confirmed. “But as I was the one to arrange this meeting with Ms. Rose, I thought it would be impolite for me to abstain from the event. Now then, I’m sure Cinder as some other job she needs you for. Why don’t you attend to that?”

Mercury spat at Kirei, but he did leave.

Now it was only Ruby and the man she was getting a distinct feeling wasn’t actually her friend. She kept her scythe unfurled as she turned to face him.

She took a deep breath. She had to give him a chance. That was the right thing to do.

“What’s going on Kirei? Why did you put Yang in a coma? Why did Mercury attack me?”

Kirei just kept smiling. Ruby was starting to understand how Yang found it infuriating.

“Mercury shot at you because he can’t have you warning anyone about his tampering with the broadcast feed,” Kirei nonchalantly revealed. “As for what’s going on, Cinder is going to manipulate the tournament in order to discredit the Huntsman Academies and spark a Grimm invasion of Vale.”

Ruby’s eyes widened. Of all the times to suddenly be blunt. “H-How? Why?”

Kirei shrugged. “To serve her master. To cause a suitable distraction. Or perhaps she simply wants to watch people suffer. I can certainly understand that longing, though her methods are far too crude for my tastes. Direct physical pain and instinctual terror are satisfying but simply lacking when compared to the finer joys of life.”

Ruby’s mind connected the dots of what those finer joys were. Her silver eyes narrowed. “You put Yang in a coma…because you wanted to see her in pain?”

Kirei blinked, utterly confused, as if she had missed something incredibly obvious. “No. I put Ms. Xiao-Long in a coma because I wanted to see you in pain.”

Ruby backed away in shock. Kirei continued, “Physical pain is common and unkempt. Emotional agony however, especially from one normally so exuberant, it is a delicacy of the highest grade. It makes me thankful that I didn’t kill her as I had planned. I can enjoy hers as well if she ever wakes.”

Ruby roared and burst forward with her semblance, Crescent Rose slashing in to cut off Kirei’s head.

The boy flashed out of Ruby’s sight and planted a powerful kick to her gut, sending the red reaper flailing down the hall. Her weapon flew from her hands and she skidded into the wall.

She stumbled her way back to her feet. Her aura had cushioned the blow, but Kirei’s strike had still hit like a truck.

Ruby lunged at her foe, her tiny fists raining down a flurry of punches. Unfortunately, hand to hand was not her specialty and the attacks were weak and sloppy.

Kirei blocked or dodged them all with casual ease, not even bothering to strike back. And why would he? He was enjoying the girl’s desperation.

Ruby quickly realized she wasn’t getting anywhere. She spied something behind Kirei and smiled.

The red hooded girl activated her semblance and blasted past her opponent. She slid across the floor and snatched up Crescent Rose, swing the scythe around as she stood and embedding the blade into the floor. The gun barrel of the weapon was aimed at Kirei.

She cocked the rifle and fired.

Six Black Keys slid out from Kirei’s sleeves, three in each hand. In a flash of rapid slashes, he neutralized the incoming barrage.

Ruby kept firing, slipping a hand into a pouch on her belt. She pulled out a red clip with a black fire painted on it. With a smirk of her own, she loaded it into her rifle and fired again.

Kirei blocked these shots as well, but when the Keys struck the bullets, the entire thing went up in a huge explosion.

‘Fire dust. Accept no substitutes.’

Ruby collapsed Crescent Rose back into its carrier form and ran towards the door to the stands. She had to warn everyone!

“What did Ms. Goodwitch tell you about relying on your weapon?”

Ruby didn’t even have time to turn around before Kirei kicked her through the door and she smashed into the side of the concrete bleachers. She fell to her knees and her aura flickered and died.

Kirei stalked towards her, barely even singed from the explosion. Ruby threw another lame punch, but the larger boy caught her fist and twisted it behind her back. His other hand wrapped around her throat to keep her from screaming.

“Disappointing. Very disappointing.” Kirei lectured her. “Your mother could barely stand when I fought her, and she put up a much better fight.”

Ruby’s eyes went wide. He knew her… When did he fight mom? How could he have fought her? He was barely older than she was?

From where the two were, they had a clear view of the coliseum arena. Pyrrha and Penny battled furiously, their blades dancing around each other.

Kirei twisted Ruby’s neck so that she had to look at the fight. “She was glorious when we met. I wish I had had more time with her before she died. When I met you, I could barely contain myself. You are so very much like her, you know.”

Tears began to well up in Ruby’s eyes. ‘Help. Someone…’

Down in the arena, Penny drew all eight of her wired blades behind her. Strangely, Pyrrha started stepping away from her opponent, shaking her head as if in a daze.

“You even have her dream,” Kirei remarked. “You want to be a hero. I never saw her fulfill that wish, so I thought I would assist you. After all…”

Penny thrust her swords forward. Pyrrha threw her hands in front of her face and unleashed the full power of her magnetic semblance.

“Every hero needs a tragedy.”

Pyrrha’s blast struck Penny’s blades and sent them hurtling back at the girl from Atlas. The wires wrapped around each of her limbs, over and over, becoming tighter and tighter.

Eventually, it was too much, and Penny’s limbs were torn off her in a shower of sparks and gears.

The remains of the robot girl fell to the floor, with no more life than a pile of scraps.

The entire stadium gasped in horror. The crowd started buzzing with frenzied confusion. Pyrrha dropped to her knees.

Suddenly, the coliseum’s screens flashed with static. In a few moments, the image of a black chess piece appeared on a blood red background.

The sultry voice of Cinder Fall, now hard with fury, rang throughout the stadium. “This is not a tragedy. This is not an accident…

Ruby barely even heard her. Her mind couldn’t stop focusing on Penny.

Penny. Her friend. The robot girl with so much life.

The girl who was dead.

Tears flooded down her face.

Kirei smirked.

“Rejoice, Ruby Rose. Your wish has been granted.”

He thrust her head into the pavement, and then Ruby saw only black.

Chapter Text

A noodle bar on the Vytal Festival grounds hummed with excitement. The place was a bar after all, with all the food, music, and drink that people could want. And with the next round of the tournament singles round on that night, the building was packed with people who wanted to see which of the next generation of huntsmen would reign supreme.

No one cared about the Beacon girl who barely made it out of the last fight alive.

No one except for a lithe girl with a black bow sitting in a shadowy booth in the corner, a large bowl of fish and a glass of milk in front of her.

Blake Belladonna was confused and angry. The last time that had been her emotional state, she’d bailed on her team and run off to fight terrorists.

Now, she shoved a piece of tuna in her mouth and chewed furiously.

Weiss came up next to her. The heiress raised an eyebrow at the dish. “If that’s not a cry for help, I don’t know what is.”

Blake swallowed and looked up at her teammate, clearly unamused.

Nevertheless, Weiss had promised her partner she’d help. “Mind if I join you?”

Blake gestured to the seat across from her. Weiss sat down. The heiress observed her friend with a sad smile.

Huh. If people knew that Weiss Schnee called a faunus one of her closest friends, they’d probably claim it was a sign of the apocalypse. Even more, if they knew said faunus was a former member of the White Fang. Especially one trained by him.

Weiss had never left Atlas before coming to Beacon, but even she knew of Adam Taurus. Of all the new leaders that had emerged within the organization after Sienna Khan took over, the Blood-Soaked Bull was perhaps the most infamous. When news reports started fretting about anti-faunus restaurants going up in flames, he was the one waving their new crimson colored flag for the cameras. He’d been young then, no one thought he was anything but a recruiting tool, ‘look at the strapping young bull faunus standing up for his people’ and all that. She had caught her father watching footage of him once, mumbling that this animal wouldn’t be a problem.

But then he got older. The strapping boy waving a flag disappeared. He started leading raids on dust mines, blowing them to smithereens. He kidnapped SDC board members and sent her father videos of their peril, ordering him to make compensations to faunus workers if he wanted them returned safely.

Her father never gave in. And the executives never came back. After a while, the ransom demands stopped coming at all.

But people didn’t stop disappearing.

Briefly, she wondered if Blake had been involved in any of those kidnappings. Then she dismissed that thought as absurd. Blake cut ties with the White Fang over their increasingly violent methods. If she had known about those kinds of executions, she never would have stayed.

No, Blake needed her help, and she was going to get it whether she liked it or not.

“Yang’s going to be fine you know. Both physically and morally.” Weiss assured her.

Blake raised an eyebrow. “Morally?”

“What?” the Schnee squealed indignantly. “My grammar was flawless! That is the appropriate description of what you’re worried about!”

Blake giggled at Weiss’ brattishness. The heiress smiled. Exactly as planned.

“I know in my heart that Yang’s not Adam,” Blake declared, a bit happier. “This was all just, a bit too familiar for my tastes. I overreacted.”

“Your partner is in a coma, Blake. There’s no such thing as overreaction.”

“I guess.” She took a drink from her milk. “I just… Remember back at Mountain Glenn? What I told you guys around the fire?”

“You were worried that you’d fail at being a huntress,” Weiss recalled. “That you’d run away when things got hard.”

Blake nodded. “When what happened with Yang… happened, I didn’t know what to think. Everything lined up so clearly in my head with Adam but, she was hurt. She was helpless. I wanted to run before everything came crumbling down, but I couldn’t just leave her. So, I got angry. At Yang, at Kirei…”

“At yourself?”

Blake’s head fell into her hands. “I was so ashamed that I had thought Yang was like Adam even for a second that I made Kirei into some diabolical mastermind.”

“Yeah,” Weiss responded. “I can’t see him with as a sinister puppet master. Maybe a corporate enforcer, but definitely not a mastermind. He likes getting physical too much.”

Both girls laughed, the solemn air finally broken. Blake looked at Weiss gratefully.

The heiress smiled at her teammate. “Yang is going to be fine, Blake. It was an accident. We just have to wait until the General finds Kirei, gets the full story, and then we can put this all behind us.”

Suddenly, the entire bar gasped. Weiss and Blake looked around as everyone stared at the televisions. The talking had stopped.

The two girls saw what was on the screens. Ruby’s friend Penny, torn to pieces. Pieces of metal?

A moment later, the screen flashed red and the image of a black queen chess piece appeared.

As Cinder’s voice echoed throughout the fairgrounds, both members of Team RWBY realized that everything was far from over.

It had yet to even begin.

 


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Kirei dragged Ruby’s unconscious form into the stands. Cinder was prattling on about huntsmen being untrustworthy but that didn’t really concern him. The crowd’s attention to that speech was useful though, as he suspected lugging around the body of a fifteen-year-old girl would probably earn him unwanted attention.

He unceremoniously plopped Ruby in an empty seat and then slammed his palm into her gut. A moment later, it began to glow as his spiritual healing magic took effect. The girl’s aura flashed back to life a moment later.

Kirei smiled and walked out of the main arena. With her aura restored, Ruby should wake soon enough. After all, she couldn’t be a hero if she slept through the crisis.

He had made his way to the coliseum landing pad by the time the sirens started blaring. A massive flock of aerial Grimm flew past him through the skies. He noted one particularly large Nevermore flying up to attack the stadium’s upper shield.

None of that mattered however. Kirei made his way over to the Atlas shuttles and, after disposing of the original pilots, began the flight to Beacon.

Along the way, he received an escort of Griffons. The dark creatures flew about his ship in a peaceful haze.

It was strange really. According to the studies of Remnant, as well as his own experiences, Kirei knew that the Grimm would kill any human or faunus without restraint. How Cinder commanded them to leave her team alone he did not know. But for some reason, the beasts that resembled mythological creatures from his own world largely left Kirei in peace.

They would defend themselves if he attacked first, true, but they never sought him out for death like they did all others. Perhaps, they found his joy to be similar to their own. Or maybe they saw no need to kill him again since he had already tasted death once.

The memory of the conclusion of his duel with Kiritsugu caused his heart to both ache and long. The mage killer was truly a man to be missed. He had made Kirei’s life so much brighter with the conflict they shared.

Though perhaps the coming war would reveal a new adversary of his caliber.

Kirei could only pray.

At last, he arrived at the Beacon docks. Various White Fang bullheads were moored at the site, a multitude of Grimm and grunts swarming into the school. It truly spoke well of Adam’s capabilities that he could successfully corral the two together.

Kirei landed his shuttle and made his way to the other craft. He spotted his target’s red hair near the center of the site.

A grunt saw him approaching and raised his rifle. “Die human!”

Kirei raised an eyebrow at the fool and causally summoned a Black Key to deflect the barrage. A moment later, he could see the grunt’s jaw drop in shock.

Fortunately for him, the noise attracted Kirei’s contact and Adam got between the two before the grunt could pay for his error. “Enough, enough. This one’s with us. You want to shoot something, go search for some Atlesian scum.”

That apparently motivated the grunt, as he saluted his leader before rushing off into the school.

Adam turned to Kirei. “Apologies. To the men, one human face looks just like another.”

Kirei slid his Black Key back into his sleeve. “No apologies necessary.”

The priest pulled out his scroll. Attaching a pre-made file, he sent out a message. A few moments later, Adam’s scroll buzzed.

The bull faunus took out his device and gave the message a cursory glance. “This contains everything I’ll need.”

Kirei nodded. “Even more. I included a few psalms that will allow you to grow stronger after you kill the others. As well as Ms. Belladonna’s most likely location for tonight and advice on how to use the situation you will probably find to your advantage.”

Adam glared from behind the mask. “I don’t need you to hold my hand, human.”

Kirei smirked at the boy’s indigence. “Considering she left you, I find that hard to believe.”

Adam’s hands tightened into fists, but they knew better than to reach for his sword.

“Have no fear, Adam Taurus,” Kirei comforted. “Soon, you shall have a chance to get everything you’ve ever wanted.”

He turned away from Adam and began trekking towards the tower.

“Priest!” Adam shouted. Kirei stopped but did not face him. “After it begins, we are enemies. If I see you again, I will kill you.”

Kirei smirked. “I would expect nothing less. Do try to make it entertaining, won’t you?”

He didn’t need to turn around to know the boy was seething. He walked forward into the dark confines of the school.

There was work to be done.

 


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Arturia steadied herself.

The black queen had just disappeared from Ozpin’s screen when the first sirens went off. The Grimm were invading.

Her old mentor pulled out his scroll and called someone. A moment after they picked up, Ozpin hissed, “You brought your army to my kingdom, James. Use it!”

He hung up and snatched his cane. Glynda ran into the room. “Ozpin, did you see—”

“I know! You, Qrow, and Arthur get to the city.”

“What?” Arturia exclaimed.

“Oz, don’t you think—”

“Now!” Ozpin roared.

Qrow and Glynda nodded and ran down the elevator.

Arturia scowled at the headmaster. “Merlin, I’m going to find my son.”

“Jaune can handle himself, and if not, his team will protect him.” Ozpin insisted. “The people of Vale cannot do the same.”

“I am not their mother,” Arturia declared. “And I am not—"

“You are not a hero anymore. Yes, I understand that.” Ozpin turned on more monitors around his desk. Each one showed innocent people fleeing the Grimm in terror.

Arturia looked upon each in horror.

Ozpin did not smile, but he knew she understood his meaning. “They will die without someone to protect them. You say you are no longer a hero, fine. Are you still a knight?”

He observed her carefully. To anyone else, she would seem as unreadable as an iron wall. To him, she was an open book. He saw her heart war with her mind. One was sick fighting for others, and wanted only to protect her child.

The other was still that of a king, and knew she could not let others cry.

Ozpin knew which one would prevail.

Arturia glared at her old teacher. “If my son dies, we are through.”

Ozpin nodded.

Arturia strode to the elevator and zipped down the tower.

Ozpin sighed in relief and then looked to his monitors to see where his huntsmen were needed most. It fell to him to direct the defenders to where the innocent needed them. Unfortunately, with such a huge invasion, that seemed to be everywhere.

A mystical quake suddenly rippled through the headmaster’s body. His eyes went wide. The bounded field had sent him a signal. Someone with power to rival a Heroic Spirit had entered the city.

Gilgamesh would never do so without the Gate of Babylon. Salem would give him much more warning than just the field. Which only left…

Hazel.

Ozpin snatched up his cane and headed to the elevator. Ms. Nikos needed to make her choice now.

 


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Ruby awakened to screaming.

She was slumping in one of the stands, her head pounding like a war drum. Crescent Rose was by her side. Everything around her was in chaos.

All around her, people were stampeding to get out of the stands. They were shouting in fear and it was clear the panic was out of control. To make matters worse, a massive Nevermore was pounding on the arena’s protective barrier. At the rate it was going, the shield would break soon enough.

Ruby couldn’t bring herself to care. She didn’t know how her aura was back, but she still felt exhausted from her duel with Kirei. Physically and Emotionally.

She was an idiot! How many times did Yang warn her that Kirei was trouble and how many times did she brush her off? She was so sure he was like her, socially awkward but with a pair of good old normal knees. He just kept smiling so everybody else would too.

 Now Yang was in a coma, Penny was dead…

And Kirei was still smiling!

Ruby’s hands clenched into fists. He had hurt her friends, her family, he had fought her mom for gods’ sake!

But, what if he was right.

She wanted to be like the heroes in the books, she always had. She wanted to go out and fight the monsters and save everybody. But the monsters had to be there for people to need a hero. They had to hurt them enough for them to call for help.

So, did that make her selfish? To wish that people were in danger just so she could save them from it?

Her eyes found Penny’s remains on the arena floor and fresh tears flooded her sight.

Did she wish for her friend’s death?

“Pyrrha, you’ve got to move!”

Ruby’s gaze strayed from Penny to the other side of the stage, where Pyrrha was. The champion was kneeling on the ground, her eyes glassed over. Ruby doubted she even heard Jaune shout.

The Nevermore above them unleashed one final strike and the coliseum shield shattered. The Grimm soared into the arena and swooped down towards Pyrrha.

Pyrrha didn’t move. Jaune jumped down from the stands and rushed towards her. He would never make it in time.

Ruby could.

Ruby would.

In a flash of rose petals, she flew across the stadium and warded the Nevermore off with a strike of Crescent Rose.

She landed on the stage and glared at the beast. Her tear-blurred vision gained a silver tinge.

“Ruby?” she heard Pyrrha whisper from behind her. Scared.

Pyrrha was never scared. She was brave. She was strong. She helped all of them when they needed it the most.

And now she needed help. Now everyone needed help.

She would help them. No one else was going to die.

She’d save everyone.

“LEAVE HER ALONE!” she roared. She leapt toward the Grimm and slashed Crescent Rose at its head.

She didn’t understand what happened next, but a flash of silver light filled her vision for a moment. When she could see again, she could only blink in shock.

The entire section of the stands in front of her had been reduced to rubble. The giant Nevermore laid face down in the ruins, seemingly frozen white. A few seconds later, the mighty beast disintegrated into dust.

Ruby turned back to her friends. Jaune had reached Pyrrha and was helping her to her feet. Both looked at her in awe.

“Ruby,” Jaune stammered. “How did you do that?”

Ruby glanced back at the destruction she’d caused. “I… I don’t know. But that’s not important right now.”

Pyrrha cautiously took a step towards her. “Ruby, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Ruby assured her immediately.

“She’s right,” Jaune agreed. “The person on the microphone. They’re the one responsible for all this.”

“Cinder,” Ruby informed them. Both their eyes widened in shock. “Cinder, Emerald, Mercury, and Kirei. They did this. I don’t know why but I think they’ve been planning it since before they got here.”

Jaune’s hands closed into fists. “Why? What do they get out of this?”

Ruby shrugged. She didn’t know. Kirei had mentioned Cinder wanting to discredit the Huntsmen Academies and some kind of master, but after everything that had happened, she didn’t trust a word he said.

Suddenly, dozens of rocket-propelled lockers landed on the stage. Ren, Nora, Team CFVY, Team SSSN, and everyone Ruby could remember from the tournament flooded into the arena and retrieved their weapons.

The mega team strode up to her and Jaune, cocking their guns and swinging their swords.

It looked really awesome.

Ruby grinned and they all ran down to the coliseum docks. They caught the tail end of General Ironwood butchering a Beowolf Alpha when they arrived. The students went up to the General as he bordered a shuttle.

“What’s going on?” Ruby asked.

The Atlas man turned to her and her friends. “Grimm are crawling all over the city. The White Fang has invaded Beacon. And to make matters worse some vagabond has seized control of one of my ships.”

The General fired off a shot at something behind the students. A Beowolf that had been stalking towards them dropped dead.

He continued as if nothing had happened. “Until we regain command, the skies are out of our control. So I’m going to take it back.”

“What should we do?” Jaune inquired.

Ironwood’s posture straightened. His hands folded behind his back. Ruby thought she finally understood why this man was General.

“You have two choices,” he told them. “Protect your kingdom and your school. Or save yourselves.”

The students glanced amongst themselves.

Ironwood’s expression softened. His eyes grew kinder. Ruby could even see some of Professor Ozpin in them. “No one will fault you if you leave,” he assured them.

He turned and set off in his shuttle.

All the gathered teenagers just stood there for a moment. Then, a monkey faunus broke the silence.

“I mean, come on,” Sun remarked. The general didn’t know huntsmen in training as well as he thought he did if he thought they would run.

“We can take a ship to Beacon. This way!” Jaune directed, leading their allies to another shuttle.

Ruby stayed behind a moment longer, her eyes locked on Ironwood’s ship. When it approached the Atlesian cruiser that was firing on the others, it suddenly caught fired and plummeted towards the city below.

Her eyes widened in shock, and then hardened with resolve. The red hooded girl raced back into the arena and programmed coordinates into one of her friend’s lockers. She latched onto it with Crescent Rose and blasted into the sky.

As the wind rushed through her hair, Ruby thought of what she was up against. On the cruiser, she had little doubt that the vagabond General Ironwood was referring to was Roman Torchwick. Only he could be so evil as to set a warship on innocents when there was a Grimm invasion going on. After that, she’d have to deal with Kirei, Cinder, and the others. And she would.

She’d save everyone.

 


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Blake and Weiss dashed into the Beacon courtyard with weapons drawn.

In front of them, a pack of Ursa were being finished off by a squadron of Atlesian Knights. When the last beast went down, the machines turned to face the huntresses, probably seeking new orders.

That thought still amazed Blake. During her years with the White Fang, she’d come to associate the robots as the face of the enemy. A mindless hoard no different than the Grimm, except the monsters of darkness were not selective in their slaughter. Now, she was fighting side by side with them against real darkness. It was a good feeling.

The robots’ visors glowed red.

Annnd, the feeling was gone.

“Down!” Blake shouted, grabbing Weiss and diving to the ground. A moment later, the knights opened fire on where they’d been standing.

Blake looked to her teammate. The heiress nodded at her and waved her hand at the robots. A line of glyphs flared to life between the huntresses and the droids.

Blake drew Gambol Shroud and dashed across the courtyard, the glyphs accelerating her to blinding speed, maybe even as fast as Mrs. Arc. Even if she wasn’t, the knights were scrap metal seconds later.

Weiss stood up and the two observed their school.

All around, buildings burned. Students who had stayed in from the tournament fought for their lives against Grimm, White Fang, and the newly traitorous Atlesian robots.

It was hell on Remnant.

Weiss’ scroll went off. The heiress looked at the message. She smiled. “It’s Jaune. He says he’s on his way with reinforcements.”

“Good,” Blake commented. “We’re going to need them.”

“We should meet up with them at the docks,” Weiss suggested. “We can’t fight everything on our own, but if we join up with the others, we can come back here and fight in force.”

“You go,” Blake told her. Weiss’ raised an eyebrow in confusion. “If the Atlesian Knights are against us, then there’s no one guarding the infirmary.”

“Yang,” Weiss muttered in realization. The Schnee’s eyes hardened. “We’ll go together.”

“No, someone has to warn Jaune and the others about the robots’ betrayal.”

“I think they’ll figure it out.”

“Before or after someone gets shot because they hadn’t?” Blake challenged.

Weiss opened her mouth to argue but closed it just as quickly. “Good hunting.”

Blake nodded and took off for the infirmary. She wouldn’t lose another partner.

She was so focused, she didn’t hear the gargantuan roar that split the air.

 


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Cinder smiled as the Wyvern of Mountain Glenn took to the skies.

Emerald nearly dropped the scroll she had been using to record the carnage below. “What? What is that?”

“One of my mistresses more potent weapons,” Cinder informed her. “Buried under Mountain Glenn by a desperate Spring Maiden back when the settlement fell. The foolish girl gave her life and in the end, her efforts were for nothing.”

She sneered. “It really is quite pathetic.”

Emerald shuffled back from Cinder. She cared for her mistress, she really did. The woman had taken her under her wing and raised her up from nothing. She had shown her affection for the first time in her life.

But when Cinder was going on about her own mistress? Emerald would be the first to admit that she was terrifying.

Cinder tore herself away from the flying behemoth and stared off at the foot of Beacon Tower. Her grin widened. “There you are, old man.”

Emerald turned to where she was looking and saw Professor Ozpin racing out of the tower. They followed him until he met up with a large group of students who had arrived to help fight off the invaders. The headmaster grabbed Pyrrha Nikos and raced back to where he’d come from, Jaune Arc following behind them.

Cinder smirked. “Interesting.”

She turned to Emerald. “Film everything you can. Focus on the Atlesian Knights. Then, meet up with Mercury at the rendezvous point.”

Emerald nodded, already dreading Mercury’s aggravating snark. After finishing his mission, there was no way he wouldn’t be in a good mood. Which meant she would soon be in a bad one.

Cinder began walking away when something occurred to Emerald.

“Mercury said Kirei isn’t laying low. What do you want me to do if he shows up at the rendezvous point?”

Emerald really hoped it wasn’t fight. She’d seen what the guy could do and though she was confident in her illusions, she didn’t want to risk it with him.

Cinder stopped for a moment, seemingly considering the question.

“Keep him with you,” she eventually declared. “When I return, I’ll show him what it truly means to disobey a maiden.”

 


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The walk to Vale had not been tiresome. It was a beautiful day.

He had always enjoyed a beautiful day.

There’d been a farmer on the side of the road. His truck was broken down, a tire burst from some misfortune. A little girl had jumped out of the cabin and made a show about helping the farmer lift the vehicle.

The farmer had patted her on the head and resumed his struggle.

He could sympathize with that.

But he could not stop to help. His mistress had commanded him not to stop until he reached Vale.

He would not betray his mistress. He had promised that.

Farther down the road, he encountered a pack of Beowolves. They were no threat to him. They would not have been even if they were enemies.

The alpha sniffed the direction he’d come from. He probably scented the farmer’s despair.

He waved off the Grimm. The farmer was facing his own obstacles admirably. There was no reason to give him more.

No one needed to die today.

It was nightfall when he reached the walls of Vale. Hordes of Grimm were baring down on the city. Some joined with their airborne brethren to surmount the defenses. Others clawed madly at the cold steel.

He sighed.

A line of Goliaths lumbered behind him. They were old. They were strong. They would probably breach the walls given time.

But the Queen had ordered him to check up on Cinder. So, he would check up on the foolish girl.

A wall was hardly the greatest obstacle he had faced.

He willed his semblance to life. All around him, in a short radius, the ground crumbled inward. Always towards him, but never touching.

A reckless Griffon got too close, for some reason forsaking the flight it was capable of. The poor beast slammed into the ground and then was compressed into the nothingness.

He sighed. That was unnecessary.

He strode onward. When he reached the walls, the structure bent towards him. Whatever supports within it failed as the lower half was drawn to him and caught in his relentless orbit.

In time, the wall fell down. The towering mess of steel and concrete crumpled and compressed into a thousand-ton chunk of scrap. There wasn’t even rumble left behind.

Hazel Rainart walked into Vale.

A column of Goliaths was not far behind.

Chapter Text

Mercury Black smirked as Vale burned.

He had just arrived back at Beacon from Amity Coliseum and even from the school’s extreme altitude, he could see the flames billowing up from the city. The Grimm were running wild in the streets, slaughtering people left and right. The local huntsmen were doing what they could, but they were badly outnumbered and caught off guard.

Add to that the dragon looking Grimm that popped out of Mountain Glenn, he thought Cinder called it a Wyvern, and Mercury was quite satisfied that he chose the right side.

He jumped off his stolen shuttle and sauntered on through the halls of Beacon whistling a jaunty tune.

An Atlas student fell down in front of him. His uniform was torn, and his face was bloody.

An Ursa charged down at the kid.

He looked up to Mercury, his eyes wide with terror. “Help me!”

Mercury shrugged and casually kicked the Ursa in the head, firing a wind dust round as he went. The black beast fell to the ground and disintegrated into nothingness.

The Atlas Student flashed a relieved smile. “Thank you. I thought I was a goner—”

Mercury whirled around and fired another round into the student’s chest. The boy crumpled to the floor.

Mercury smirked. “You are.”

The silver-haired assassin went on his merry way.

When he had finally gotten up the nerve to go after his piss ass dad, he had not expected things would turn out like this. Granted, having a pair of terrorist ladies drop by your house after you killed your father wasn’t a scenario most people thought of. Still, joining up with Cinder had gone pretty well. Sure, there were some hiccups. But he got new legs, some decent grub, and the chance to annoy Emerald all he wanted.

Plus, he got to do what he loved. And as much as he hated his dad, he had to admit their tastes were similar. Bar the drinking, that was.

Fighting and killing, though? There was nothing better.

Mercury made his way to the infirmary. With its Atlesian Knights going haywire, the place was practically deserted. Almost.

He found the door he was looking for and opened it up. He smiled.

On the bed laid one comatose Yang Xiao-Long. Miscellaneous tubes and wires ran all over the blonde brawler, heart monitors and aura meters showing her to be in pretty decent health all things considered. Maybe Kotomine had planned it so perfectly that the bimbo would be out of action but still make it out alive.

Too bad he didn’t count on the Atlesian evac team getting slaughtered by their own robots. Or just how petty Cinder could be.

Kirei put a wrench in her plans, whether unintentionally or not. So, if he wanted Xiao-Long alive for something, Cinder would make sure she was dead.

Mercury didn’t really mind. Xiao-Long ticked him off. She reminded him way too much of his dad, all boasting and bragging like she was the gods’ gift to Remnant. He didn’t know if he could have gone along with Cinder’s original plan to frame her for injuring him or if he would have given her a well-deserved ass-kicking like Kirei. He would have enjoyed both really.

Yeah, he had a bit of an ego too. But at least he walked the walk more than he talked trash. People like his dad and Xiao-Long? He didn’t think burying them in the mud was ever going to get old.

Mercury glanced at her full aura meter. Her restored power would heal her wounds much faster than her body would alone, but it wouldn’t provide a shield unless she was conscious to activate it.

He smirked. He should make sure she was unconscious. It was only professional.

Mercury walked to the side of the girl’s bed and kicked her into the wall in front of the door. Yang’s limp form bounced off the wall and fell to the ground with a thump.

The girl did not stir.

“Wakey, wakey Xiao-Long. It’s time to die,” Mercury taunted in a sing-songy voice. He stalked over to her fallen form. “Come on. Nothing?” He stamped on her right hand, his metal leg crushing her fragile bones.

Mercury didn’t think this could get any better. He smirked. “Man, this is just disappointing. I mean, I always hoped I’d be the one to kill you, but I figured you’d at least go out with a Yang.”

Okay. That made it better.

He raised his foot to bring down on her head.

“GET AWAY FROM HER!”

He brought his boot around to deflect a strike from a black sword, only to find himself face to face with a very angry kitty cat.

Oh, so much better.

 


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Blake didn’t know why Mercury was in the infirmary. She didn’t know why he had come to Yang’s room.

But she did know he was trying to kill her partner.

She wouldn’t let him do that.

Blake screamed as she leapt through the air, Mercury distracted enough by her presence to forget about Yang. He met her first strike with Gambol Shroud with his foot, before jumping out of the way of her follow-up slash with her sheath.

Mercury landed on Yang’s bed and flashed her a cocky smirk. He dove behind the bed and flipped it on its side before sending it barreling towards her.

Blake slashed the bed in two, but as soon as the halves parted, Mercury was revealed. He stood on his hands with his feet in the air, his soles firing half a dozen wind dust rounds.

Normally, Blake would dodge the barrage. Like Ruby, her specialty was speed, outmaneuvering the enemy while overwhelming them with her own attacks. Unfortunately, her environment was against her.

In the confined hospital room, her agility was extremely limited, while Mercury’s more powerful strikes had even less ground to cover. She had her shadow clones, but using them would leave Yang open to the volley, with nothing physical to block the bullet. The same problem kept her from fleeing the room to gain more ground to maneuver in.

Blake might have a chance against Mercury, but she’d have to abandon Yang to get it.

She wouldn’t do that.

Which was why it was really good that she still had some stone dust left.

Pushing her semblance, Blake created a barrier of three rock clones between herself and Mercury. They exploded into fine powder when the barrage hit.

Using the smokescreen, Blake grabbed Yang and lugged her partner out of the room. The lounge outside was filled with pale white nurse’s stations and tile floor, but it was better than her previous situation. With any luck, she could get far enough away while Mercury was still distracted to lose him in the maze of hallways.

The wall of Yang’s hospital room suddenly exploded, and Blake was thrown to the floor, her partner’s dead weight not making anything easier.

Mercury leapt out from the smoke. “Where you going? We’re not done.”

Blake converted Gambol Shroud to gun form and fired a strafing barrage.

Mercury dodged it with casual ease before doing a flip in the air as he shot her weapon out of her hands.

Blake gritted her teeth and brought her sheath to bare, standing up to shield her partner.

The silver-haired devil grinned sadistically and lunged at her. Blake instinctively created a shadow clone to take the hit, but right after he plowed through it, Mercury’s other foot came up to kick her in her stomach.

‘Impossible! There’s no way he’s that fast!’

He was, and Blake soon found herself crashing into some poor nurse’s collection of knick-knacks. The cat faunus rose to her feet as fast as she could, hoping her aura could correct any disorientation. It had been depleted by her fights with Grimm and White Fang on the way to the infirmary, but she still should have had enough to keep going.

Mercury smirked, fresh as a daisy. Somehow, she didn’t think he’d had as much opposition getting there as she had.

He glanced downward, and Blake realized in horror that he was now right next to Yang. Her eyes widened in despair as the killer raised his foot.

“Looks like we are done,” he quipped.

A flash of red filled the room.

Blake blinked.

When she looked again, Mercury was lying on the ground, his head separated from his body.

Blake looked up at her savior and felt no relief.

A familiar figure with red hair and bull horns returned his crimson katana to a scabbard at his waist. “Indeed, we are.” He spat at Mercury’s corpse.

“No” Blake whispered. Not him.

Adam turned to Blake, the mask of a Grimm hiding golden eyes she knew all too well.

“Hello, my darling.”

 


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Arturia decapitated an Alpha Beowolf. Then she shot over to a squadron of Atlesian Knights and tore them apart.

Nothing could touch her. She was in a league all her own. With each swipe of her invisible sword, waves of air shot out and smashed the forces of darkness, whether they be Grimm or machine.

Behind her, Qrow and Glynda did much the same, though they performed on a lesser scale. Still, a hurricane was still mighty even when it was compared to a maelstrom.

The three of them annihilated everything before them but the enemy just kept coming. Worse, they were too well integrated into the city for Arturia to risk using her Noble Phantasm. If she did, there was a chance she could incinerate innocent civilians. And as much as she refused the call of a hero, Ozpin had not been wrong.

She was still a knight. She had been raised a knight. Before she had been told of her destiny, it had been all she had ever dreamed of.

But she had chosen to live as a king. It was not an error she would make twice.

Or maybe it was. After all, all it took was a few words from Merlin and here she was, fighting as he advised, far from the son she had come to protect. All for the sake of faceless people she would never know.

Arturia had sworn to live when she had married Nicholas. To be the girl who picked flowers and chased butterflies, so her children would follow her new path and know happiness throughout their lives.

And yet against all odds, Jaune dreamed of her old path.

The path of the martyr.

“But who can truly admire the martyr’s thorny path? Who dreams of such an ending?”

Her son apparently, though only because he did not understand what it truly meant. The King of Conquerors was likely laughing at her fortune from beyond the grave, baying at how even now her flawed ideals of kingship haunted her.

But even now, she could not disguise her pride for how Jaune had grown into the part and even surpassed her in some ways. When his friends had challenged her, he had done what he could to make sure they would not suffer should they have failed. When he sensed Pyrrha’s distress about the Maiden matter, he had talked to her, made her feel better without ever prying into her privacy.

She had held herself to inhuman standards during her reign and that had left her unable to understand the emotions of humans, as Tristan had so eloquently put it before storming out of Camelot. Indeed, perhaps if she had done as Jaune did with Lancelot or Mordred, she could have saved her people.

No.

“You may have saved them. But you never led them.”

If Jaune had been in the room when Ozpin had ordered her to protect the city, she knew he would have agreed with the headmaster. That didn’t make trusting him with his fate any easier.

An explosion in the midst of the Atlesian Knights drew Arturia’s attention. From the smoke emerged General Ironwood, revolver at the ready. His previously proper military jacket had been torn to shreds, revealing his entire right side to be cybernetic, which Arturia was admittedly intrigued about but it was neither the time nor place.

The General blasted the surrounding robots with brutal efficiency. When he turned his weapon on the squad approaching Arturia and the others however, the enemy machines’ heads suddenly sparked and then flew off, leaving the rest of the scrap to fall to the ground.

Ironwood turned to the others. “This area is secure. We need to—”

“General, behind you!” Arturia yelled.

She need not have bothered. Qrow activated some mechanism in his weapon to transform the blade into a massive scythe. A moment later, he had leapt past the general and sliced the approaching Griffon in two.

He landed with a flourish and rested his polearm over his shoulder. Arturia suspected she had found the man behind Ruby’s training. He was certainly capable enough.

Qrow turned to Ironwood. “Go on, Jimmy.”

Ironwood’s fist closed in impotent rage. “Someone has done the impossible and taken control of my machines. And that enormous Grimm seems to be fixated on the school.”

Arturia noted the beast that roamed the skies, spilling down droplets of darkness that spawned more Grimm to test them. It reminded her of the dragons that had existed in her time, like Merlin had infused in her when she was born. It granted her great strength, and if their foe had similar power, she feared that it would be difficult to defeat.

Though not impossible. Lancelot’s Arondight was proof of that.

The General turned to Glynda. “Glynda, form up with the local huntsmen and create a perimeter around the school. Qrow, evacuate Beacon. We can’t let anyone get caught in the crossfire of that thing. I’ve still got to get to my ship.”

Said ship proceeded to crash to the ground a few blocks away from the group.

Qrow smirked at the General. “Well, it’s not gonna be much of a walk.”

Ironwood smiled. Whether at the jab, or the defeat of his stolen weaponry, Arturia did not know.

Glynda’s scroll rang. She immediately answered. On the screen was a man with spiked green hair and glasses.

“Bartholomew, thank the gods, you’re alright,” Glynda told him.

“Similar sentiments to you, Glynda,” the man responded. “Though I wish that remark was without cause. Peter and I are nearly done evacuating the coliseum, but there’s a problem.”

“What?”

“Do you have a view of the eastern wall?”

“No,” Glynda informed him. “What’s happened?”

“It’s gone.”

The huntsmen present took a moment to process that. “Gone? What do you mean it’s gone, Bart?” Qrow roared.

“I mean, Qrow, that the entire structure has been torn off its base and a column of Goliaths are currently marching through it!”

Arturia growled. She had encountered Goliaths during her years of wandering. They weren’t much more trouble for her than any other Grimm, but the elephant-like beasts were powerful. Entire teams of elite huntsman were sent in to kill just one. An entire column? In the middle of an invasion?

The kingdom wouldn’t survive the night.

There was only one thing to do.

“Sir, can you see where the Goliaths are now?” Arturia inquired commandingly.

Bartholomew blinked quickly at her presence and then hurriedly looked over his shoulder. “I can,” he confirmed. “But any picture we send will be too high up to identify an exact location.”

“I just need the general area,” Arturia told him. “Send the image to Qrow and I’ll deal with them.”

“How? There’s dozens of—”

“Bartholomew, just do it,” Glynda commanded. “Mrs. Arc can handle the situation.”

The man paused, but nodded in the end. “It’ll be there in a few moments.”

“Good, meet up with me at Beacon. We’re evacuating the school.” Glynda ended the call and turned to Arturia. Her face showed far more worry than she had moments before. “You can handle it, correct? I know you’re a Servant and I’ve seen what you can do but—”

“She’s got it, Glynda,” Qrow vouched. “I’ll tag along just to make sure nothing goes wrong.”

“Servant?” Ironwood muttered. “How—”

“We can talk about it later, Jimmy” Qrow insisted. “Right now, we’ve all got things to do.”

Ironwood didn’t look happy about it, but he conceded the point with a nod. He and Glynda headed off to the school.

Qrow turned to Arturia as his scroll buzzed. He pulled up the image they needed.

The drunk man looked to her. “Is yours something flashy?”

Assuming he was referring to what she thought he was, Arturia nodded.

“Great. Let’s go save a kingdom.”

 


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Blake liked to think she was a brave person. She willingly signed up to be both a terrorist and a huntress after all. Neither of those jobs were free of risk.

But there were several things in the world that scared her: how many innocents she accidently hurt during her time with the White Fang, how much her parents were going to crucify her the next time she saw them, Zwei.

And Adam. Adam was definitely at the top of that list.

Most people, Blake was confident she could beat. And if she was outmatched, then she could figure out some underhanded trick to get out of danger. Not with Adam. Everything she knew about combat, he taught her. Every sword form, every shot cluster, every underhanded trick, he knew what she could do and, more importantly, he knew how she would do it. She couldn’t beat him.

And given how their last meeting went, she doubted she could reason with him.

But maybe if she could draw him away, she could keep him from killing Yang. Her partner would still be unconscious in a school full of Grimm, but that was better than death by katana.

Blake shuffled back, preparing to flee.

Adam scoffed. “Running away again? Is that what you’ve become my love? A coward?”

Okay, that plan was out. Time to try reasoning. Maybe she could buy a few seconds for help to arrive.

“Why are you doing this?” Blake demanded of him.

Adam cocked his head to the side in that way that Blake knew meant he had raised an eyebrow under his mask. “Saving you from a human brute? Why would I not?”

Blake growled. As if she’d think that him saving her was anything more than coincidence. His next hateful kill just happened to help Yang.

Adam sighed. “Believe it or not Blake, I’m not here to fight you.”

“I’d believe that a bit more if you weren’t currently invading my school.”

Adam gestured to Mercury’s corpse. “An unfortunate necessity. His mistress made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

“I doubt that,” Blake hissed.

“It’s the truth,” Adam insisted. “Shortly after you abandoned me, Cinder Fall came into our camp wielding power unlike anything I’d ever seen. She demanded we assist her, and slaughtered half the men to show us what would happen if we refused.”

Blake’s eyes widened in grief. She knew most of the faunus in that camp. She had fought beside them. Sure, it hadn’t been for the best cause, but not everyone was an extremist. Some had just been desperate. And now they were dead.

Adam glanced down at Yang. He softly kicked her body onto her back.

Blake slowly shifted herself to retrieve Gambol Shroud. She wouldn’t let him hurt her partner.

Adam grimaced. “All this with a single punch? Kotomine wasn’t kidding.”

Blake stopped cold. “How do you know Kirei?”

Adam looked back at her. “He came in with Cinder, though apparently he’s far from loyal. A while after they came here to Beacon, his associate came to stay with us.”

“Associate?”

“More like master. Kotomine is dangerous, but his king is a force of nature.”

Adam grinned. “However, nature can provide opportunities.”

Blake shrank back, her terror growing near uncontrollable at the sight of his smile. “What are you talking about?”

Adam held out a hand. “Come back to me, Blake.”

What?

Adam was asking her to come back? Adam didn’t forgive. Adam swore vengeance and slaughtered everyone you’d ever met. This had to be some sort of trick.

“I will not kill innocent people,” Blake declared, her eyes hardening as much as they could in the given situation. She gestured to the chaos surrounding them. “I never wanted this. I wanted equality! I wanted peace!”

“What you want is impossible!” Adam roared, his hand shooting to his katana. Blake took a step back out of instinctual fear, her hands clutching her sheath as tight as they could. Adam would draw Wilt at any moment.

But he didn’t.

Instead, Adam took several deep breaths. He removed his hand from his sword hilt. “But soon, the impossible will become very possible.”

He raised his hand to his face, and removed his mask.

Adam had introduced the idea of wearing the Grimm masks to the White Fang after he’d returned from his training. He said they should wear them during their missions to hide their identities. But also, to make sure that any human that saw them, saw only what they feared most in all the world. They would become darkness and strike from shadows to reclaim their world.

Blake had never worn the masks. She had no issue with working in the shadows, but becoming darkness seemed a bit extreme.

Her fears were justified when Adam had stopped taking his off.

And yet, golden eyes, harder than she remembered but softer than she’d feared, stared back at her.

In that desolate hall in Beacon, she had to wonder. Was there still a man beneath the monster?

“Join me, Blake,” Adam offered again. “Together we can claim what’s ours. We can get justice for our people. We can get everything we’ve ever wanted.”

Alarm bells went off in Blake’s head. Her eyes narrowed. “What’s your idea of justice, Adam? Slaughtering every human on Remnant? We don’t want the same thing.”

Adam growled but shook his head sadly. “You don’t understand. What I have always wanted is for our people to not be looked down upon, to be known as the glorious race we are. Instead of a pack of animals. And if you are by my side, I can suffer the humans. Because above all, I want you, Blake.”

He put his mask back on, cutting off the hope of the man Blake once knew. He stepped aside and gestured to the infirmary’s exit. “You don’t understand. It has yet to begin. Take your…friend and go. My men will keep the Grimm off you.”

Blake couldn’t believe it. It was too good to be true. But Adam didn’t need to deceive her so…

She decided not to waste the miracle. She grabbed Gambol Shroud off the floor and sheathed it on her back. Then, she lifted Yang over her shoulder and walked away.

Before she left, Adam called out to her one last time.

“Know this, my love. By the end of tonight, it will have begun. A miracle will be within reach. I hope you are by my side to claim it.”

 


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Arturia and Qrow made it to the remnants of the eastern wall before the Goliaths dispersed. Unfortunately, so did the hoard of smaller Grimm charging in front of them.

Arturia raised her sword before her and closed her eyes.

“Whatever you’re going to do, now would be a good time to do it,” Qrow told her. She heard his scythe cut down any Grimm that got too close.

In truth, Arturia didn’t know why she hesitated. She’d done this a thousand times before. It was her Noble Phantasm after all. Her legend.

Or rather, the legend of King Arthur. The perfect monarch, devoted to ideals that doomed a kingdom. Everything she had become, everything she had failed, was embodied by her sword.

Even if Caliburn had been the one that made her king, the one in her hands had defined her.

To use it would be to take up that burden once more. To doom herself and those around her to the path of the martyr. She could never lead them.

It was a good thing they only needed to be saved.

The invisible air evaporated from her blade and the greatest of holy swords lit the darkest hour of Vale.

The lesser Grimm gazed upon the weapon, shining like a second sun, and cowered, their hellish forms dissipating under its glare.

The Goliaths saw the weapon and charged, howling against the merciless glow, determined to see it die. Or perhaps they were old enough to know they had already lost, and whatever they had that constituted for minds simply did not wish to die cowards.

Qrow gazed back to Arturia and his eyes widened.

For the first time, he looked upon the King of Knights.

“Stand behind me.” Qrow followed her order. Arturia raised her sword.

EXCALIBUR!!!”

The blade came down and a volcano of light, the prayer of glory, erupted upon the creatures of Grimm. The demons screamed for a moment, and then were banished back to the void, obliterated by the promised victory of mankind.

When the light faded, not a single monster remained.

Arturia lowered her weapon and sighed. Her physical form’s ability to regenerate prana made using her Noble Phantasm easier, but Excalibur was still an exhausting technique. She didn’t think she’d be able to do it again that night.

From behind her, Qrow whistled. “So that’s why Oz trusts you so much.”

Arturia turned to the huntsman and smirked. “Merlin has always praised my skill with Excalibur. So much that he keeps stealing it to use himself.”

And her children said she had no sense of humor. That was a jest as fine as any Gwaine ever said. Truly, her time on Remnant had grown her into a remarkable human being.

“Who the hell is Merlin?”

Curses. Foiled Again.

 


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He stood on a hillside overlooking Vale. Even if he could not enter the city as of yet, there was no reason to miss the show.

The huntsmen’s valiant struggle against those disgusting creatures of Grimm was amusing. They put forth all their effort and all their will but, in the end, the mongrels were simply outnumbered and outmaneuvered. The flying monstrosity making its way to the tower certainly didn’t help.

As much as Cinder Fall bored him, he couldn’t deny that the results of her plot provided him with some entertainment.

And if nothing else, he now knew that the King of Knights remained a wondrous being. After hearing nothing of her for the past three decades and then having Kirei report her apparent apathy to the world, he feared his treasure had lost her luster. Become nothing more than a common coward, hiding from her own strength and the duty to use it.

The familiar light of her trinket had soothed those worries. When it had shined through the night as brilliantly as it had on the Mion River, he knew that his lost possession had maintained her value.

So, in addition to reclaiming what was stolen from him, he would take what was his to take.

His scroll rang, and the blonde-haired man put it to his ear. Only one man had his permission to contact him thusly.

“Is it done, Kirei?”

“It is, my king. Miss. Fall has dealt with Ozpin. The bounded field will be down shortly.”

“And she has the Maiden’s full power?” Everything depended on that.

“She does.”

The blonde man smiled. “Excellent. I will meet you at the base of the tower. Then we shall conclude our business with Miss. Fall.”

“It will be done, my king.”

The man ended the call and willed a golden portal into existence before him.

Gilgamesh strode into the Gate of Babylon.

This world was a worthy one, but he would burn it to the ground if his treasure was kept from him.

He was the king, after all.

Chapter Text

Pyrrha and Jaune raced out of Beacon Tower as fast as they could.

They stopped to catch their breath amidst the rubble right outside. An open locker rested to the side on a cracked stone wall.

Pyrrha shook her head as she reeled. How did it all go so wrong? Ozpin had come to get her and Jaune had followed them down to the vault. The headmaster had reluctantly ordered him to watch the door and then asked her one last time if she was willing to take up the maiden’s power.

She realized that even with her fears, there was only one thing left she could to do to protect her friends. She would gain the power to help them, and as Mrs. Arc had said, they would fight the darkness together. And they would win.

She had gotten into the pod and Ozpin began the process of transferring Amber’s aura to her. It was pain the likes of which she had never felt before. She had screamed.

That was her mistake.

Jaune, wonderful, kind, caring Jaune, abandoned his post and immediately ran to her side. His eyes were on her instead of the door.

And then she came through it.

Cinder Fall strutted out of the elevator and fired an arrow straight into Amber’s heart. Pyrrha immediately felt the power abandon her and rush to the murderess. Her eyes glowed with a demonic light and she rose into the air in a burst of flames.

Pyrrha blasted the door of her containment pod at the woman. Cinder batted it aside like it was nothing.

Ozpin thrust out his hand to prevent her from charging. “Take Jaune and get out of here! Find Glynda, Ironwood, Qrow! The tower cannot fall.”

“But I can help,” she protested, her failure taking root in her mind.

Ozpin gave her a pitying look. “You’ll only get in the way.”

Pyrrha had come from Mistral, but all of Remnant knew of Professor Ozpin’s prowess. He was thought by most to be the most preeminent huntsman in the world. If he didn’t think she could help, then she couldn’t help, no matter how bitter a pill it was to swallow.

She had nodded reluctantly and grabbed her partner. Cinder let them pass. She was too focused on the headmaster.

Now, here they were. Safe outside the tower while Ozpin battled for his life.

And Pyrrha could do nothing to help.

“Okay, I think I have Glynda’s number,” Jaune muttered frantically. He searched through his scroll’s contacts as he walked off. “Come on, where is it?”

Pyrrha didn’t follow him, her eyes focused solely on the tower.

“Pyrrha?” She turned to Jaune. His eyes were wet with stress. Not that she could blame him. “What was that?”

Pyrrha looked to the ground, unsure if the secrecy she had been trusted with was still to be maintained. “I—”

The sound of an explosion from the tower interrupted her. Both huntsmen in training heard a rush of flames as Cinder rocketed to the top floor.

Which could only mean one thing.

Jaune looked to the ground. “Ozpin…”

Pyrrha shook her head regretfully. There was only one thing to do. “There’s no time. Go, get to Vale and call for help.”

“Huh? What are you going to do?”

Pyrrha took a step towards the tower. Jaune followed her gaze and his eyes widened.

“No. Pyrrha, you can’t. You saw how powerful she is. Pyrrha, I won’t let you—”

Pyrrha shut him up with a kiss. Jaune was stunned for a moment, but in the end, rested his arms at her waist.

She kept it going longer than she should have. She knew this would hurt him. But she had dreamed about kissing since they first met, and the reality was even better than she had imagined.

Besides, she didn’t think she’d get another chance.

Pyrrha broke the kiss, her eyes closed. “I’m sorry.”

She used her powers to shove Jaune into the abandoned locker and slammed the door behind him. She programmed the rocket system to take him as far away as it could manage on its compromised fuel. He pleaded with her the entire time.

She blocked it out and watched him fly away.

Pyrrha took a breath to calm herself. She knew this was a terrible idea. Cinder had the power of the Fall Maiden and had nearly killed the previous wielder without it. With it, she had defeated Ozpin, a huntsman with more experience than she could imagine. Whatever meager talent Pyrrha had would be nothing to her.

And yet, if Pyrrha did nothing, the world itself would be in danger.

Arturia had told her that the burden was her choice.

But there was no choice.

The champion charged into Beacon Tower.

She made her way to the elevator bank but came up short when she spotted a man standing in front of them. He put away a scroll and turned to face her.

Pyrrha hissed as she recognized him and readied her weapons.

Kirei raised an eyebrow in curiosity, but he didn’t assume a combat stance.

“Get out of my way,” Pyrrha demanded. She didn’t have the time to deal with him too

Surprisingly though, Kirei obeyed her command, stepping aside from the elevator door.

Pyrrha couldn’t keep the shock from her face. She approached cautiously, her weapons at the ready.

Kirei chuckled, as if her efforts were amusing. “If I may, Ms. Nikos, a question before you pass?”

Pyrrha made her way up the steps of the door, never turning her back on the unsettling man. “What is it?”

“You know what she has become?” Kirei asked. The ‘she’ in question was obvious.

Pyrrha nodded.

Kirei smirked. “And yet you still choose to face her.” He began to laugh.

Pyrrha scowled and entered the elevator. Cinder had destroyed the electronics on her way up, but that was an obstacle easily surmounted.

Pyrrha focused her power and took command of the carriage.

Kirei stopped laughing. “Best of luck, Pyrrha Nikos.”

She sensed the wish was genuine. That made it even more disturbing.

Pyrrha shot herself upward towards her greatest foe. She did not see the circle of gold that appeared behind Kirei when she left.

 


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Everything blurred in Ruby’s memory.

Arriving on Ironwood’s ship.

Fighting Neo and Torchwick.

Knocking Neo off the ship.

Torchwick getting eaten by a Griffon.

Using said Griffon to crash the ship.

Falling back to Beacon.

And then that light. That brilliant pillar of light erupted in the east. When Ruby saw it, hope surged through her body.

They would survive this. Everything would be alright.

No one else would die.

She made her way to the ground and rushed to the docks. She saw a familiar white figure standing guard.

“Weiss!”

Her partner turned and smiled. “Ruby!”

The two embraced.

“Thank goodness you’re okay,” Ruby said. She looked around aimlessly. “Where are Blake and Yang?”

Weiss gripped her shoulder comfortingly. “They’re fine. Blake went and got Yang from the infirmary. They both got out on the first bullhead.”

Ruby sighed, relieved that her sister was safe. But the explanation left a serious question. “Why didn’t you go with them?”

Weiss looked at her like she was the thickest idiot on the planet. “Do you really think I would leave you behind, you dolt? Besides, if I did, Yang would kill me the moment she woke up.”

Ruby didn’t smile at the joke. Every moment her partner remained was another moment she could get hurt. She gazed around the area.

Ren and Nora were on the ground, each nursing wounds that kept them there. Professor Port and Doctor Oobleck were corralling people into shuttles. Sun and Neptune were going around patching people up. And Neptune was doing it for guys.

Beacon was getting more dangerous by the second. Weiss was already a major target for the White Fang. She shouldn’t be risking herself for Ruby.

Weiss noticed Ruby’s dour mood but didn’t understand the reason behind it. “Ruby,” she began hesitantly, “I’m sorry about Penny.”

Ruby nodded, keeping the tears from her eyes. She could cry later. There was no time for that now.

“Everyone! Your attention, please!” Port shouted to everyone around. “Everyone must get on the shuttles now!”

“No dawdling,” Doctor Oobleck supported him. “This is a mandatory evacuation!”

“Wait!” Nora yelled, her voice strained. “Jaune and Pyrrha are still out there!”

She tried to stand but collapsed the moment she got to her feet. Sun grabbed her to keep her from crashing to the ground. “Easy, Nora. You guys aren’t in any shape to fight. None of us are. We have to go.”

“We’re not leaving!” Ren roared. He tried to rise but had no more success than his partner.

“Guys, listen,” Sun demanded. “That huge Grimm is still circling the school. Even the White Fang are pulling out. There’s nothing more we can do.”

Ruby’s eyes hardened.

“I’ll find them,” she declared. “I’ll find them and bring them back.”

“No, we will,” Weiss told her. When Ruby looked ready to protest, the heiress held up a hand. “I’m not leaving you behind.”

Ruby paused for a moment.

She couldn’t let Weiss get hurt. But could she save Jaune and Pyrrha on her own?

She reluctantly nodded to her partner and the two raced off into the school.

 


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Jaune collapsed out of the locker and fell to the ground.

He panted heavily, desperately trying not to cry. Tears wouldn’t help Pyrrha.

He couldn’t be useless.

He ripped his scroll out of his pocket and called the contact he had specially put at the top of the list.

The call went through.

“Jaune?” Weiss’ voice rang through the speaker.

“Weiss!” he screeched. “You have to help Pyrrha! She’s at the tower! She’s going to fight that woman, she doesn’t stand a chance!”

“What? Jaune, you’re not making any sense. Just tell us where you are and—”

“AAAAHH!” Jaune roared wordlessly, his emotions giving out. He threw his scroll to the ground. He fell onto his hands and knees. “Save Pyrrha. Just save Pyrrha.”

Because he couldn’t.

He was useless. The weakest idiot who shouldn’t even be there. He should have watched the door like Ozpin told him to, but he got distracted and now Ozpin was dead.

Pyrrha and his mom had believed in him. They had trusted him and assured him that he could be a great leader, that he could save people.

But they were wrong. He was pathetic. He couldn’t save anyone. Pyrrha had shot him away the first chance she got because he would be a liability in her fight.

And she was right. For all his mom was unstoppable, he was weak. Powerless.

Wait…

Jaune scrambled across the ground and snagged his scroll. He dug through the contacts and nearly jumped for joy when he spotted what he needed. He would run back to the tower to help, but someone else could get there faster.

“Jaune? Is that you? Where are you? Are you safe?”

Jaune smiled. “Mom, Pyrrha’s in trouble.”

 


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Cinder sauntered around Ozpin’s office.

It felt good, just as it should. No less than she deserved.

Her mistress had told her of the maiden’s power and she had had half of it within her for months now, but nothing could have prepared her for having the full force at her command. It was more than mere fire, it was as if the sun itself had taken residence within her and she had become one with its radiance. All creation revolved around her and feared her wrath.

It was glorious.

The Wyvern flew to outside of the office and hovered in front of the window. The beast growled but Cinder had no fear for it to feed on. Why would a god need fear a lowly dragon?

She shushed the monster like it was an impudent child. “This is your home now” she ordered it. She would unleash it upon all of Vale and drive the pathetic, worthless huntsmen from her realm. The beast would guard her new kingdom, and when the time came, it would be her mount in her mistress’ final war.

She lit a flame in her hand, unable to contain her excitement. Everything was coming to a head.

A ding from the elevator drew her attention. The doors opened, and a sword came flying out.

Cinder smirked and leisurely dodged the blade. Soon after, a shield followed out with an irate Pyrrha Nikos on its back.

Cinder repelled the assault and watched as the Mistral champion summoned her weapons. She smirked and propelled herself upward on a jet of flame.

She had beaten Amber without her power. With it, she’d crushed Ozpin.

Pyrrha Nikos was not a threat.

Nonetheless, the Invincible Girl charged.

Cinder was casual about the battle. Time and again, she knocked Pyrrha down. Each time the girl got up and tried some new way to fight her better.

Her sword was destroyed? She put Cinder in a chokehold.

The chokehold was broken by the Wyvern destroying the tower? Use her powers to bury Cinder in rubble.

That didn’t work? Throw her shield.

Cinder battered the shield aside and broke the girl’s aura with a blast of fire. Pyrrha smashed into the wall and slumped to the ground.

Cinder sighed and turned her back.

Pyrrha’s eyes shot open and the girl lunged for her shield. She rolled, picked it up, and threw at Cinder’s back.

Hearing the movement, Cinder formed her weapons, notched an arrow in her bow, whirled, and fired. The arrow broke upon Nikos’ shield, but then reformed and shot her in the heel. The shield went over Cinder’s head.

Cinder shook her head mockingly as Nikos crawled. The young huntress, for there was no other word for her foolish tenacity, was impressive. If Cinder was still a mere mortal, the girl might have actually stood a chance. Sadly for her, Cinder had become more powerful than she could possibly imagine.

She circled around the beaten girl and lifted her chin up. “It’s unfortunate that you were promised a power that was never truly yours.”

She nocked another arrow into her bow and aimed at Pyrrha’s heart. “But take comfort in knowing that I will use it in ways you could never have imagined.”

Pyrrha stared back at her. “Do you believe in destiny?”

Cinder narrowed her eyes. What did she—

She sensed the danger before she saw and leapt to the side. Three long blades flew past her body, destroying her bow as they went.

She whirled on the door and came face to face with her attacker. She snarled.

“Kirei! You dare attack me?” she shouted.

The infernal man had the nerve to smirk at her outrage. Three more Black Keys were drawn in his left hand.

“I don’t know what you mean, Cinder,” he protested. “I am only doing as I promised.”

“What?” Cinder hissed. An aura of flames erupted all around Cinder, forcing Pyrrha to dive away from her and crawl to the wall. Cinder didn’t even notice. She only had eyes for one insolent fool. “And what promise would that be?”

Kirei raised an eyebrow. “You requested a warning the next time my plans would inconvenience you. Consider it given.”

Six golden portals opened around Cinder’s feet. Out of each shot an enormous golden chain. They wrapped around her and dragged her to the ground. The fire around her was extinguished in an instant.

Cinder roared. She called upon the maiden’s power, but the chains seemed to hold it back somehow. Her physical strength was just as useless. She was trapped.

“What is this, bastard?” she yelled.

Kirei stalked behind her, blades in hand. “I told you that you would have the Fall Maiden’s power. Now, I require the use of it.”

Cinder spotted something on the horizon. Even restrained, she smirked. “I believe someone will take issue with that.

The Wyvern circled in the sky. With a flap of its mighty wings, it barreled towards the tower, lesser Grimm falling to the ground below.

Cinder couldn’t wait for the beast to take Kirei in its jaws and snap him in two. She wondered if the corpse would still have that damn smile. He should have known better than to get in the way of her power.

Suddenly, golden portals like the ones the chains came from appeared above the dragon. A barrage of gleaming swords shot out of them like machine gun fire and impaled the beast a dozen times over.

The creature howled in agony and plummeted from the sky.

Nikos’ jaw dropped. Cinder would have mocked her for it if she wasn’t sure that her own visage was very much the same.

One of the most powerful Grimm that she had ever seen, defeated like some common Nevermore. Just like herself, she soon realized.

From the moment she brought Kirei into her fold, she’d known she was playing a dangerous game with the man. She had just never dreamed she’d lose.

Another golden portal appeared on the tower and shot out another chain to bind Nikos to the remnants of the wall. It did not shine like the ones that held Cinder, but after the beating the girl had taken it was probably all that was necessary.

One final portal appeared, this one was larger than the others, tall enough for a person to fit through. Indeed, a blonde man with red eyes and magnificent golden armor stepped out of it. He scoffed at the falling dragon.

“A pity to waste my swords on such a disgusting monstrosity,” he commented.

“A true shame, my king,” Kirei concurred. “If you would?”

The golden man acknowledged him with a look and several portals deposited various staffs in a pentagram around Cinder.

“This had better go faster than last time, Kirei. I refuse to allow this ruin to stain my glorious visage any longer than necessary.”

“It shall be done, my king,” Kirei assured him. “Last time took some experimentation, but I believe that the ritual should proceed quite rapidly now.”

Cinder’s eyes narrowed. “What are you—”

Whatever she was about to say disappeared in an unholy scream.

Kirei had stabbed her in the back with all three Black Keys and begun chanting in a language she did not recognize. She didn’t know why her aura didn’t stop it, but her body blazed with agony. Her entire vision vanished in a storm of blinding flames.

For the first time she could remember, Cinder Fall burned.

 


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Pyrrha didn’t know if she should be grateful for the startling turn of events or not.

On one hand, she was fairly certain Cinder had been about to kill her, and Kirei and the strange golden man’s arrival had prevented that. Plus, the flying Grimm that had been threatening the school was dead.

On the other, she was now chained to a slab of stone she was sure used to be a wall and watching as the two tortured Cinder in some archaic ritual. Orange light glowed out of the vile woman’s eyes and mouth, with no sound rising because her throat had already been incinerated.

Pyrrha pitied her would be murderer. No one deserved… whatever this was.

Kirei closed his eyes and began chanting in some strange language. The light from Cinder shot into one of the staffs that encircled them.

“It’s disgusting, is it not?”

Pyrrha turned her to the golden man, unsure if he had spoken to her. She didn’t know if she wanted him to.

But sure enough, he tilted his head toward her. “To think I would need to use the Chain of Heaven to bind such a vulgar mongrel. She isn’t even worthy to gaze upon its shadow.”

Pyrrha flinched at the bile in the man’s voice. “I suppose not,” she spoke carefully, “but with her power, what else could restrain her?” Truthfully, she had no idea how the chain was restraining Cinder, but seeing how it had appeared out of thin air, she was going to guess magic.

The man closed his eyes and gave a disgruntled sigh. When he opened them again there was a dangerous glint in them. He faced Pyrrha fully.

“Mongrel, do you know in whose presence you stand?”

‘Not at all’.

Pyrrha doubted things would end well if she said that. “I am sorry to say I do not, your majesty. Please forgive my insolence.”

The man smirked contently. “Well, at least you admit your folly. Alas, it seems that my legend has still not yet spread since my arrival in this world.”

‘He still didn’t introduce himself. And what does he mean ‘this world?’’

“You subdued Cinder,” Pyrrha pointed out. “With your defeat of this vile villain, word of your heroism will surely spread, your grace.”

Gods, it felt weird to talk like that. Maybe Remnant really got rid of their kings because the titles were just too annoying.

The light cascading from Cinder expanded its reach to another staff.

The blonde man raised an eyebrow at Pyrrha. “Is that why you challenged this one, mongrel? For the glory victory would bring you?”

“NO!” Pyrrha responded more quickly and fiercely than she should have. The king’s eyes flared with dangerous fire. Pyrrha immediately pulled herself back, bowing her head as much as she could given her restraints. “I did not seek glory, your grace. If anything, I would rather have none of that.”

“Then why do it?”

“Because it needed to be done.” Pyrrha declared without doubt. “And I was the only one who could do it.”

“If I had not intervened, she would have killed you.”

“I still needed to try.”

She wouldn’t have been able to live with herself if she didn’t.

The king studied her for a moment, trying to detect any hint of deceit. After finding none, he threw back his head and laughed. It was an unsettling sound, yet also somehow pleasant. Once again, Pyrrha didn’t know what to think.

The man settled down and wiped a tear from his eye. “You are quite foolish, mongrel. But your foolishness is that of a conqueror.” He smiled, this one far kinder than before. He looked to Kirei and Cinder. “Ever since I arrived in this world, I cannot decide whether that brand’s commonality is something to be praised for its worthiness, or bemoaned for its loss of rarity.”

Suddenly, Ruby shot up into the sky and came down on the tower. Her silver eyes widened at the sight of Kirei’s ritual. Another two staffs were connected.

“Ru—”

“You!” the king roared. Pyrrha swung her head back at him. His smile was gone, his teeth now barred like fangs. His eyes raged with crimson fury.

Ruby turned to look at them. The blonde man wilted under her silver gaze, but he quickly recovered. Pyrrha wondered what that was about.

“Pyrrha!” Ruby shouted, drawing Crescent Rose. She dashed towards her friend, her scythe reaching out to cut Pyrrha’s chains.

A dozen golden portals appeared behind the king and fired a volley of swords at the red hooded girl. Ruby dodged and weaved as best she could, just barely managing to make it to Pyrrha.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“No,” Pyrrha told her. Even with her restraints broken, Cinder’s final arrow had cut a crucial tendon. “Ruby, I can’t walk.”

Her silver eyes hardened. “Then I’ll carry you.”

The slight girl wrapped her free arm around Pyrrha and jetted away with her semblance. They were almost away when an explosion went off right next to them. Both girls tumbled to the edge of the tower.

Pyrrha struggled to her knees. Her aura still wasn’t coming back. She was powerless.

Ruby stood up and drew Crescent Rose. “Stay back!” she yelled.

The king narrowed his eyes. A dozen more portals opened behind him. Each one slowly produced a weapon aimed at Ruby.

“I don’t know how you switched yourself with another of your damned clones, thief,” the golden man snarled. “But your execution shall not be stayed any longer. Your judgment is at hand!”

The weapons fired.

A blast of air struck Pyrrha and Ruby from behind. Both girls were driven to the ground. Pyrrha heard the distinctive clang of steel on steel. She looked around to see the golden man’s blades strewn across the tower roof.

“Arturia!” Ruby shouted with glee.

Pyrrha smiled, her joy the same as her friend’s. The Arc matriarch stood before them, one arm held out protectively in front of Ruby. The other held the woman’s sword, a brilliant blade with a gleaming golden cross guard. Pyrrha wasn’t a weapon nut like Ruby, but that sword might have been the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

However, she noticed Arturia’s arm shake ever so slightly.

“Ruby, Pyrrha, stay behind me,” she commanded, a hint of fear in her voice.

The golden man smirked. “It is improper to ignore the presence of your sovereign, Saber. Has your time in this world truly decimated your manners so? It has only been thirty years.”

“Gilgamesh,” Arturia hissed. Pyrrha didn’t think she’d ever heard such vitriol. “How are you here? The grail, the mud, it should have destroyed you.”

“Destroyed me? All the world’s evils?” the king, Gilgamesh, took on a haughty look. “Bah! It would have needed three times as much just to scratch me. Even taking all of its focus off you didn’t help. Which is quite fortunate, really. To think how it would have stained you, Saber. I would never allow such a thing to corrupt my treasure.”

Pyrrha noted Arturia’s grip on her sword tightening. She stepped directly in front of Ruby and held both hands on her blade. She glanced at Kirei. “Why are you here? I would think such machinations beneath you, King of Heroes.”

King of what? Pyrrha had known the man for two minutes and even she could tell he was no hero.

Gilgamesh frowned. “Normally you would be correct. But one of my greatest treasures has been stolen from me. For over a decade and a half, it has had to languish in the possession of the unworthy. I will find it. In fact…”

He glared at Ruby. “I was just going to pass judgment on one of the thieves when you arrived.”

That was impossible. Ruby was only fifteen years old. If this treasure had been missing that long there was no way she could have taken it, even if she was the kind of person who would. Which Pyrrha knew she wasn’t.

“I’m not a thief!” Ruby shouted, peeking out from behind Arturia’s back. “And I didn’t do anything to your treasure, whatever that is.”

“Silence, mongrel!” Gilgamesh yelled. “You are not fit to breathe this world’s air, let alone speak with it.”

The light of the ritual passed to the fifth staff. Kirei opened his eyes, pausing in his chant for a moment. “My king, there seems to have been some confusion. That is not the thief, it is her daughter Ruby. Summer Rose died when you killed her.”

He returned to his work, but the damage had been done.

“What?” Ruby whispered, her eyes wide in shock. Pyrrha watched as her gaze locked on to Gilgamesh and just seemed to…stop.

The golden man paid it no heed. He gave Ruby a second glance and sneered. “So it would seem. How fortuitous for her.”

The light of the ritual passed through the final staff and jumped back into Cinder, magnified a thousand-fold. Pyrrha had to cover her eyes to hide from the glare.

Kirei’s chanting became louder.

“You didn’t answer my question!” Arturia screamed holding her sword before the light. “Why are you here? Why did all these people need to die?”

“Because I now have a wish in need of granting,” Gilgamesh replied simply, unfazed by Cinder’s harsh glow. “And these maidens are one of the few things in this world with the magic to begin it again.”

“I call upon the elements, silver and iron, and the work of foundation of the great master Schweinorg!” Kirei shouted. “I bind the Throne and contract the greatest of servants!”

The light died down all of a sudden and it seemed to all be over.

But Pyrrha saw that Cinder’s eyes still glowed.

A portal opened and a chain bound Gilgamesh’s feet to the floor.

“I invoke thee, Heaven’s Feel!”

Cinder’s entire body lit up like a firework and a wave of force blasted Pyrrha, Ruby, and Arturia off the tower.

 


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Arturia’s mind reeled as she tumbled through the air.

When she had received Jaune’s frantic call, she had cursed Merlin’s foolishness. She had thought that her old mentor had put her son’s partner in the crosshairs of a madwoman and rushed off to Beacon Tower, Qrow desperately following behind. Given she had been going full speed, rapid prana bursts included, it was incredible he managed to keep up for as long as he did.

Which was only six and a half seconds but still very impressive.

She’d found Weiss at the base of the tower, who informed her of Ruby’s ascent. Knowing the girl would need assistance, she spent even more of her power to jet to the top of the tower. Fortunately, she was just in time to save Ruby and Pyrrha, but not from who she had anticipated.

The King of Heroes was as arrogant and heartless as she remembered. To think he would use the Gate of Babylon on children!

Nonetheless, having been drained by Excalibur and her many prana bursts, Arturia had been hesitant about entering combat. Gilgamesh was a nearly unstoppable foe at the best of times. Weakened as she was, she would stand no chance.

Kotomine’s spell prevented that from being necessary, but it put them in no less danger.

Especially if he had done what she thought he had.

Arturia took stock of the situation in an instant. She, Pyrrha, and Ruby were falling through the sky. While she was confident that she could survive the impact, neither of the girls had the aura remaining to do so, if they ever had to begin with. The two had been blown farther apart than she could reach at once.

She only had enough prana remaining for one more burst.

She had two options. Use the prana burst to reach the tower and then jump off it to grab one of them. It would leave her a slim chance of then maneuvering in the air to save the other one, but she could definitely protect the one she initially got a hold of.

Or she could use that burst to blast herself into the open air, trying to grab both as she soared. It would leave both girls’ chances of survival up in the air, but it would give her a better shot at getting both of them than the first option.

Arturia knew which one she would do. Both Ruby and Pyrrha were fine young women, huntresses and heroes to be. They were both kind, and loving, and caring. They both meant a great deal to Jaune, his first friend and his partner.

Arturia would save them both. She had to. For Jaune.

She was his mother.

At least, until she saw a flash of red on the back of Ruby’s hand.

Then, the situation changed, and the mantle Arturia had reclaimed mere minutes ago came crashing down upon her.

She was the King of Knights.

She had to serve the good of all.

And the fact was, for the good of all, Ruby Rose could not die.

“Prana Burst!”

Arturia flew towards the tower, flipping herself in mid-air to plant her feet on the structure. She bent them tightly and shot off like a spring at Ruby. She caught the red hooded girl and draped her over her shoulders. Then, she dived for Pyrrha.

Arturia plummeted faster than the champion, Ruby’s extra weight increasing gravity’s hold on her. She reached out her hand, her fingers mere inches from Pyrrha’s.

The King of Knights smiled. She could do it! She could save them both! She saw her son’s relief as he cried tears of joy into her arms upon the sight of his friends.

And then she saw him in the courtyard. Along with Weiss. And Qrow.

And the ground.

Arturia threw Ruby above her at the last second, breaking the silver-eyed girl’s fall just as her armor and remaining prana broke hers.

But there was nothing to break Pyrrha’s.

Jaune’s wails of grief broke the night sky as easily as the shattered moon.

Arturia wept. Once again, she had done what she’d had to do. With Gilgamesh in the fray, the marks on Ruby’s hand made her too valuable to lose.

But Pyrrha Nikos was dead, and if Arturia could give the poor girl nothing else, then she would grant her tears.

Tears of a king who could never save anyone.

 


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Kirei grinned at Cinder’s burnt out husk. He glanced down at his right arm. Three crimson markings had joined the eight he had left over from the Fourth War.

“Well, I would say that was a spectacular success,” he observed.

“It had better be,” Gilgamesh remarked. The chain that had held him down to the tower during the release of power dissolved into golden particles. “I will not have sacrificed six treasures for nothing.”

Indeed, the staffs Kirei had used to compound the magical energy had been torched to a crisp. He could sense that their mystical forms were as ravaged as their physical ones. They were now as useless to a mage as any other lump of wood.

The Chains of Heaven, of course, were completely unblemished. That which was powerful enough to contain a god could not be damaged by mere magecraft, even of this high level. A portal to the Gate of Babylon promptly swallowed the treasure back into its holds. Another took in Cinder’s remains.

“Are you sure that the girl’s husk will serve as an adequate vessel when the time comes, Kirei?”

“It should, my liege. Previous events have given us no reason to doubt so.”

Gilgamesh smiled. “Wonderful.”

The King of Heroes walked over to the edge of the tower and peered at the courtyard below. An agonized scream of loss echoed up to the tower roof.

It made Kirei’s heart sing.

“Should we go, my liege?”

“Not yet,” Gilgamesh informed him. “I have business with Saber that has too long been postponed.”

A portal materialized in front of him. “Coming, Kirei?”

Kirei gave his new Command Seals another loving gaze.

He smirked.

“And so begins the Sixth Holy Grail War.”

 


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Ruby awoke to the sound of crying.

“Easy kiddo,” Uncle Qrow whispered. “I got you.”

Her uncle kneeled over her, his face unusually open with concern. And fear.

Ruby knew then that something was very wrong. She couldn’t remember the last time she saw Uncle Qrow afraid.

Her eyes followed the weeping to its source and there she saw something much worse.

Pyrrha, her head split open like a watermelon, lying on the ground in a crumpled heap. Her body… her corpse seemed like an insult to a girl who had always been so full of life.

Jaune kneeled next to her, cradling his partner’s fallen form as he wailed tears of agony. Weiss stood nearby, her body frozen and her eyes wide, uncomprehending of the horror in front of her.

Arturia crawled over to Jaune, taking her son in her arms and holding him to her chest as he cried

It took Ruby a moment to realize what she was seeing meant. She and Pyrrha had both fallen off the tower. The only one who could have saved them was Arturia, which meant…

‘No. No, no one else was supposed to…’

But they did. Arturia chose to save her.

Pyrrha was dead because she was alive.

Her friend was dead because of her.

Jaune was crying because of her.

Arturia noticed something on Jaune’s right hand and lifted it to her face. Her eyes went wide.

A golden portal opened at the base of the tower. Kirei and that mean Gilgamesh guy walked out.

They looked at the scene before them and smiled.

“Saber, I believe we have some business to conclude from our last encounter,” Gilgamesh announced. “By my decree, you are to be my wife.” Dozens of portals appeared behind the golden man. “Rest assured, this time there will be no interruptions.”

‘No.’

“Mom, what’s going on?” Jaune whimpered.

Arturia rose to her feet, her wobbling body shielding her son from Gilgamesh’s sight.

Nonetheless, the man’s red eyes flared at Jaune’s words. The number of golden portals tripled, each slowly releasing a weapon that Ruby would normally be drooling over.

“It seems that you have betrayed me, my adorable King of Knights,” he spat. “No matter. The bastard shall be cleansed and then you shall beg my forgiveness.”

“Jaune, run!”

‘No.’

Weiss raised Myrtenaster. “You’re not cleansing anyone.”

“Kirei.”

In a flash, Kirei appeared before Weiss. He pulled back his fist, his arm glowing with blue lines.

Weiss’ eyes widened.

Qrow appeared in front of her, taking the punch on his sword. Unfortunately, the force of Kirei’s assault still sent him hurtling back, knocking both him and Weiss to the ground.

Kirei smiled.

“NO!” Ruby roared, her vision going white.

Arturia dove back to Jaune.

“What is this?”

“By my Command Seal…!”

Then, Ruby saw nothing.

Chapter Text

Saber found these black creatures to be tiresome. Ever since she had arrived in this new world they never seemed to leave her alone.

Though given what her thoughts strayed to in her moments of quiet, perhaps that was for the best. After all, it was better to be tired than to focus on the past.

So, once more she lost herself in her purpose. The sword of light. The defender of the innocent.

The King of Knights.

It had been a year since she’d arrived when she walked done that path. Five of those black creatures, the ones that looked like scorpions, surrounded one man who was strewn across the ground.

Saber acted instantly and Excalibur tore through the beasts like they weren’t even there. She kneeled down to take a look at the man.

He was tall, bulky. He wore white armor over a black shirt and blue pants. On his forearm was a sizable white shield with two golden arcs across the front. In his other hand, was a simple longsword with a blue leather handle and a golden cross guard. The man’s face was clean shaven, but he had a full head of blonde hair.

Of more importance to Saber were his wounds, which were not few. She couldn’t leave him in the road for more of those creatures to find and she didn’t know the area well enough to look for a settlement. That left only one choice.

She threw the man over her shoulder and headed to a cave she’d passed on her way.

 


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A shockwave rippled through Emerald. For several seconds, she was too stunned to move. Then, her right hand burned. She probably would have paid more attention to that if a plume of silver light hadn’t shot into the sky.

She wasn’t supposed to leave the rendezvous point but Mercury was a no show which, given he wasn’t stupid enough to cross Cinder, meant he was probably dead, and that silver light worried her a great deal. It came from Beacon Tower and even if Cinder could handle herself, a bit of help wouldn’t hurt against something that powerful.

She’d rushed to the tower and hopped onto the roof of one of the adjacent buildings. She got a good view of the courtyard below, but she wasn’t exactly sure what she was looking at.

Ruby Rose was flat on her back while that Qrow guy and the Schnee were both leaning over her. Jaune Arc was wrapped up in some girl who looked like she was made of solid silver next to some bloody mess that was probably once a person.

Kirei was by the tower entrance, supporting some guy in heavy armor. The guy was shivering and seemed to be throwing off some kind of silver dust.

A golden portal opened up beneath them and the two vanished from sight.

Emerald blinked in astonishment. Normally she was the one making people see the impossible.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” a deep voice remarked behind her.

Emerald whirled around, terrified that she hadn’t noticed anyone was there. She came face to face with a huge, hulking man with a thick beard and a passive face. She didn’t know how someone that big snuck up on her, but she got out her kama and swung at his head.

The man casually caught her arm and twisted her wrist. Her weapon fell to the ground. His expression never changed.

“I am not here to fight you, Emerald Sustrai,” he stated. “Your mistress and I both serve the Queen.”

“Could have fooled me,” Emerald growled.

The man raised an eyebrow. “My name is Hazel Rainart. Did Cinder not inform you of my coming?”

Emerald stopped struggling. She recognized the name. Cinder had mentioned that he was another servant of their mutual mistress. She just didn’t expect him to be… well, a giant.

Hazel let go of her hand and gazed out at the courtyard. “The Gate of Babylon never fails to amaze me. Were it in the hands of a worthy individual, it would be a boon like no other. Still, those silver eyes were quite exceptional. To break through Rank A Magic Resistance is no small feat.”

“Rank A? What are you talking about? Where’s Cinder?” Emerald demanded.

Hazel spared her a short glance. “Judging by the mystical shockwave from earlier and the Command Seals on your hand, dead.”

Emerald’s world stopped.

Cinder couldn’t be dead. Cinder was confident. Cinder was strong, and beautiful, and cunning. She was invincible.

“You’re lying,” Emerald declared.

“I am not,” he refuted calmly. “The only thing left in this world capable of jumpstarting a Holy Grail War is the power of a maiden. And based on the ritual that Kotomine used for the last one, the host does not survive the process.”

“Kirei,” Emerald hissed. “that explains everything. Why he was after Amber, why he agreed to help Cinder get the full power. He was planning this from the beginning.” Her fists tightened. “I’m gonna kill him.”

“Alone?” Hazel inquired.

Emerald stared him in the eye. She didn’t care that he could probably crush her like an ant. She was going to destroy Kirei. She would avenge Cinder. “If I have to.”

Hazel smiled at her. It was surprisingly warm, almost fatherly, or what she suspected that was supposed to feel like. “Your will is admirable.” He turned to leave. “Alone however, Kotomine will crush you. Even with the King of Heroes temporarily incapacitated, he is a dangerous foe. If you wish to face him, come with me.”

“Where?” Emerald asked warily, though she got the feeling that it wasn’t a request.

“To the Queen.”

 


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The blonde man awoke half a day later. He shot up from where he’d laid and then immediately grabbed his wounds with a yelp.

Saber threw a few more sticks into their fire, its flame illuminating their small cave.

She glanced at the foolish man. “Don’t get up,” she warned him. “My knowledge of field medicine is limited, and your aura can only heal so much.”

The blonde’s wide eyes whirled over her. Saber idly noted they were a pleasant shade of blue. The color of a fair day’s sky.

“Who are you? Where am I?” he asked frantically. He groaned, and his hand rubbed his wounds. “And what did those Grimm do to me?”

“Grimm?”

“Yeah, Grimm.” When she stared at him blankly, he started waving his arms around. “The creatures of Grimm? Big, black monsters that want to kill all humanity? Those Grimm?”

“Ah, so that is what they are called,” Saber remarked. “A whole year and it never came up. Strange.” She turned back to her patient. “The Grimm nearly killed you, but I dealt with them when I happened upon you. Your injuries required treatment, so I brought you here not knowing the area. As for me, you may call me Saber.”

“Saber, really? That’s what you’re going with?” The man shook his head. “If you’re going to give me a fake name, at least be creative about it.”

Saber’s eyes narrowed. “You doubt my word.”

“No, no, no, Saber it is. Nice to meet you, crazy girl who doesn’t know what Grimm are. I’m Nicholas Arc, call me Nick.” The man rose hesitantly, looking around the rocky room. “Where’s Crocea Mors?”

“What?”

“My shield and sword. I would have had them when I went down.”

“Your weapons? They are right here.” Saber reached behind a crevice and pulled them out. Nicholas grinned ear to ear and took them from her gratefully.

“Thanks. Dad would’ve killed me if I lost this thing. It’s a family heirloom,” the man explained. He transformed the shield into a sheath and then placed the sword inside of it. “Well, thanks for everything Saber, but I’ve gotta go.”

“Go? You shouldn’t even be standing,” Saber informed him. “You’re not even close to healed yet.”

“I’ll heal on the go,” he shot back. “Those Grimm you killed, the ones that did this to me, they were a scouting party for a massive hoard heading for a settlement close by. My team and I were called in to deal with it but… well…”

He looked to the ground. Saber didn’t need to ask what happened to his team.

“We will head to this settlement then,” Saber assured him. “We will have them evacuate and—”

“No,” Nicholas declared. “I gave them my word I’d stop the hoard. An Arc never breaks his word.”

“You will risk their lives for your pride?” Saber shouted incredulously.

“What? No.” the huntsman refuted, aghast at the suggestion. “But these frontier towns, you really only come to them if you were born there or if you have nowhere else to go. No one stays in Grimm infested territory unless they don’t have a choice, or if it’s their home. The former would have nowhere to evacuate to, and the latter… well, would you abandon your home?”

Saber thought of Camelot, about all she’d done to protect it, to save it. And how all of it failed. How there was nothing she could do. “Sometimes you have to.”

“By the time I make people realize that, the horde will already be there,” Nicholas reasoned. He turned to go, but stopped and faced her again. “You can help, you know. If you took down the Grimm that were attacking me, that means you know your way around a fight. You a huntress?”

“No,” Saber stated. “I am no huntress and I am no hero.”

“Don’t need you to be. But we do need to fight. For all those people in the village who can’t. So they don’t lose their home.”

Saber said nothing.

Nicholas sighed. “Can’t say I blame you. Kinda wish I could join you. But I’m a huntsman.” He said that like it explained it all. In a way, it did.

The huntsman walked out of the cave into the daylight.

Saber stood there in the cave. She cursed the fool in her mind. The battle couldn’t be won, why was he taking up a challenge when he knew he would fail?

And why did she ache to follow him?

 


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Adam flew off in a White Fang Bullhead, his left hand holding on to a hold to keep balance in the aircraft.

His meeting with Blake had not gone as well as he’d hoped. Whatever traitorous delusions caused her to abandon him still haunted her mind. Even with the promise of a new day, she had not taken his generous offer to return to the fold. She had instead prioritized her new friend.

At least he’d gotten to kill that human rat Mercury. That had been as satisfying as Kirei had suggested it would be. The priest may have been off-putting, but Adam had to admit that he kept his word.

He’d felt the shockwave soon after he’d left the infirmary. He’d taken off his right glove and as promised, three new red markings had appeared on the back of his hand.

The bull faunus smiled. He would have everything he wanted.

But he didn’t have it yet, which somewhat complicated his plans. Without Blake by his side again and his previous lieutenant having died in The Breach, Adam was lacking a competent right hand.

In a conflict this important, and with foes including Kirei and his king, he dared not enter the fray without someone he could trust at his side.

Unfortunately, without Blake, the list of people he actually trusted was disappointingly minuscule. Perhaps one of the Albain brothers, but their duties in Menagerie were of vital importance, especially with the blame for the attack on Beacon most likely going to fall on his head.

Wait. Menagerie…

Adam was saddened he didn’t think of it sooner. He did have one more old friend to call upon.

It would be good to see Ilia again.

 


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Saber tread quietly through the graveyard and hid behind a grove of trees.

In front of her, Nicholas knelt before three freshly dug graves. He placed a flower atop each of them and then bowed his head.

“I did it guys,” he whispered. “Everything turned out alright.”

Tears fell from the huntsman’s eyes.

Saber felt ashamed of herself for spying on such a personal moment and turned to go.

“Don’t,” Nicholas called out. “Saber, please don’t go. I don’t think I can handle being alone right now.”

The knight nodded and walked up until they were side by side.

The two simply stood there, surrounded by graves.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Saber consoled him. “I’m sure they were brave and just warriors.”

“The bravest and…justest. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”

He turned to face her. “Thanks for coming when you did. I don’t think I could have driven them off without you.”

Saber smirked. “I had just saved your life. I did not wish to see my effort wasted.”

“Yeah, yeah, so you say.” Nicholas wiggled his eyebrows. “No woman can resist the old Arc charm.”

Saber’s smile disappeared. “You may return to being unconscious at your leisure.”

“Ha!” Nicholas laughed.

The two returned to silence and started walking back to the settlement.

The village didn’t seem like much. The houses were plain and single story, while the walls had been damaged by the Grimm hoard. In the light of the fractured moon, it looked like it could be a ghost town.

But among that town was not ghosts, but people. Workers were hard at labor repairing the walls. Laughing families were sitting down in their plain houses for supper. The entire place was full of life. Of living.

Saber wasn’t sure if she’d ever lived before. When she was king, everything was to be done for the sake of her people and even before then she’d known what she was to become, in her heart. She’d never worked to repair a wall, or laughed as she sat down for supper. She’d never chased butterflies or picked flowers.

And so, she’d never truly understood her people. She’d done everything she could to ensure their survival, but had she ensured they would live?

Was this what Rider had meant?

“Nicholas,” she asked. “This village, what’s it called?”

The blonde man smiled, his sky-blue eyes twinkling with far kinder mirth than the red of another golden-haired man she knew. “This, my lady, is the lovely town of Ansel.”

“Ansel.” The name felt good to say. Like a warm spring breeze.

“Yeah,” Nicholas continued. “My grandpa actually founded the place after The Great War. A village where veterans of all the kingdoms could settle down and protect each other while they raised their families. Where the people who gave everything could get something back.”

“A place for tired heroes,” Saber remarked. How appealing.

“I guess you could say that. Place has been getting a bit empty since the war’s generation started dying off. That’s why dad needed help with the Grimm hoard, he called up me and the team in—”

He stopped talking. Saber turned to face him. The twinkle in his eyes was gone.

“What’s wrong?”

“They were here for me,” Nicholas told her. “They came here because I asked them too, and now they’re dead.”

“It’s not your fault,” Saber stated. “They were your comrades. They never would have let you charge into danger alone. They could no more do that than you could break your word as an Arc.”

“Maybe,” Nicholas mused. He sighed. “It doesn’t really matter. I’m still a huntsman, so it’s not like I can stop running into danger now that they’re gone. I’ll have to make do alone. Unless…”

The man smiled and looked at Saber. The knight shuffled awkwardly under his mischievous gaze.

“Unless?”

“You come with me!”

“What?”

“Come on, think about it,” Nicholas raved. “I saw you fighting that hoard. You’re amazing! You probably could’ve taken them all down yourself.”

“You’re not wrong,” Saber admitted. Grimm weren’t exactly a challenge for her. “What’s your point?”

“My point is that we could be the greatest huntsman/huntress duo Remnant has ever seen!” he proclaimed excitedly. “Think about it. You. Me. Side by side living against all odds!”

Living. The simple word was impossibly romantic.

“I cannot. I told you earlier I am not a huntress.” she replied, desperate for an excuse. “I am a king. I cannot lower myself under your leadership. I’m sorry.”

Nicholas raised an eyebrow in confusion. “And I told you that I don’t need you to be a huntress. Or a hero, before you bring that up. And while I have no idea what a little pipsqueak like you is doing going around calling herself a king, I’m not looking for a follower. If we do this, we’re partners, got it?”

He held out his hand, so tantalizingly full of possibilities.

Saber didn’t know what to do. Part of her wanted to do something childish for being called a ‘pipsqueak’, but she was certain that some other part was blushing.

And the rest?

The rest was tired. Tired of being a king. Tired of failing at the impossible. She couldn’t save her kingdom.

But perhaps, if its fall had come to pass by the actions of herself and her retainers, she was not meant to.

She was meant to grieve. She was meant to learn.

But she was meant to move on.

And in a whole new world, a partner didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

She took his hand.

 


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Raven dropped to her knees. Her hand felt like it was on fire.

It was an all too familiar feeling.

“Raven,” Vernal asked, also knocked to the ground. “What was that?”

The leader of the Branwen Tribe ignored her. She frantically scrapped to rip off her right glove

‘No. No…’

At last, she succeeded, revealing three scarlet Command Seals on the back of her hand.

They had pushed the one that had already been there up to her forearm.

‘Not again. Please not again.’

“Raven,” Vernal whispered warily. The false Spring Maiden could sense something off with her mentor.

A sprawling, squirming shadow of black withered on the floor of the tent.

Raven slowly rose from the ground.

A dark armored figure emerged from the shadows.

Raven heard its cries of madness reave through her mind. Just as they had for the last nineteen years.

“AAAAAAAAA”

Raven closed her fist and enforced her will on the Servant. Keeping it in control was taxing on her mind, but it was the only fallback she had against Salem.

‘Or Gilgamesh. If he learns I’m alive… Oh well. If this be my destiny, then the grail shall be mine.’

For Summer’s sake, she could not fail.

Raven turned to Vernal, her crimson eyes schooled into a determined glare.

“There’s a story you need to hear, Vernal. And then we have work to do.”

 


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“Yeah! All right!” Nicholas jumped for joy after the handshake with his new partner. “Welcome to the party, Saber. We’re going to be the best partners ever!”

Saber chuckled at his antics, pleased that he could still have such joy in him after going through such tragedy.

She smiled warmly as he started to run towards the village. “Race you there, Saber!”

“Arturia.”

He stopped dead in his tracks and turned to face her. “What?”

“My name,” she called out to him. “My name is Arturia Pendragon.”

Nicholas was stunned for a moment, and then his smile somehow grew even wider than before. “I’m only calling you that if you call me Nick.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“We’ll see. First one to the village gets their way!” He dashed down the road before the words were even out of his mouth.

Saber—

Arturia shook her head in bemusement. He sure was a childish partner.

But maybe that was what she needed. He was far from immature, his actions surrounding the Grimm and his team had shown that, but he still had a spark of wonderment in him. It was like Rider in a way, but softer, more tolerable. A desire not to conquer the world and all its pleasures, but merely to see them like…

Irisviel.

Arturia smiled. She had a feeling she and Nicholas would get along just fine.

She gathered all of her Rank B Agility and shot off down the mountain, leaving her new partner in the dust.

Just because she was not a king did not mean she had to lose.

 


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Kirei sat Gilgamesh down on a wooden chair. The King of Heroes hissed in pain.

After Ruby’s little display, the king was too injured to truly continue combat. Though Kirei was confident he could have defeated the other exhausted combatants with little difficulty, he had no desire to. Ruby was unconscious and if not ordered otherwise, he would rather drag out the girl’s suffering. If he gorged her too much at once she might just shut down completely, and that would leave him with little to savor.

Gilgamesh had brought them back to a small church that Kirei had built during their first few years on Remnant. His faith did not exist in the strange new world, but he desired one of the old comforts of home. In design it was almost an exact replica of the Fuyuki church’s chapel. And as the good book said, he had built it on a rock.

The irony was not joyful, but he could not claim it was not amusing.

“Damn that bastard,” Gilgamesh hissed. His entire body was still coated in silver from Ruby’s assault. “I’ll have his head for this!”

‘Mr. Arc’s?’

That was a strange leap in blame even for Gilgamesh. Despite his grudge against Jaune, Kirei thought he would have been howling for Ruby’s blood. After all, Kirei couldn’t remember the last time the king had been wounded so gravely.

The priest looked down at his own arm and scowled. Where there were once eleven Command Seals, now there were only six. He had spent the other five boosting Gilgamesh vitality. The King of Heroes armor gave him better Magic Resistance than Saber. The fact that he would still take time to recover put Ms. Rose’s power on the level of the Age of Gods. And the greatest threat to the king by far.

“And the silver eyed girl?” Kirei inquired. “Her power far exceeds that of her mother.”

To his surprise, Gilgamesh actually became quite pensive, his eyebrows scrunched in thought.

“Leave her be for now,” he decided eventually. “While her abilities are disconcerting, there was something… familiar about her power.”

‘Perhaps you remembered it from when Summer Rose blasted you? She did use her Semblance to augment the attack.’

Gilgamesh of course did not hear these thoughts. “If what I suspect is true, this mongrel may be more important than she appears to be.”

His hands tightened into fists, creaking with agony all the way. His eyes revealed the fury that allowed him to do so. “And if it is not, then she will pay for what she has taken from me.”

 


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Jaune opened his eyes and looked around.

His mother had wrapped her arms around him, though for some reason she looked completely white and was shivering. Weiss was kneeling on the ground heavily panting. Qrow was over by Ruby, who was once again on the ground, a soft silver light emanating from her closed eyes.

Pyrrha was…

No. Don’t think about. You can’t think about it.

“Mom,” he said quietly. “What’s going on? Who was that guy?”

Surprisingly, his mother kept her head on his shoulder and coughed. Mom never coughed.

“An old enemy from another life,” she croaked. “I’m sorry I’ve left him to you. I’m sorry I didn’t save her.”

‘Didn’t? What did that…’

“I wanted to,” she promised him. “But a trustworthy master is too rare a thing. Little did I know I would find another right here.”

“Mom, you’re not making any—”

She raised her head and Jaune’s breath stopped. Her face seemed lifeless, hollow. Like a corpse waiting to fall over.

Yet, there was a soft smile on her face.

“Mom?” Jaune whispered worriedly.

The back of Arturia began to dissipate into dust. “I have led three lives now. I’m glad that I was able to live this one.”

She kissed his forehead even as she continued to fade.

“I love you, Jaune. You and your siblings. Remember that always. Tell your father… Tell Nic—”

She faded into golden dust before she could finish. Some of it flew into Jaune. His aura glowed for a moment and then faded.

Jaune could not comprehend. His mother was…in his arms… and now…

She was gone.

Tears flooded from his eyes even as he didn’t have the energy left to cry. “Mom? Mom? Mommy?”

“Jaune. Jaune! JAUNE!”

Jaune whirled is head around to see Weiss on her knees, madly shaking his shoulder. He didn’t even realize she’d approached.

“Weiss, where’d she go? She was here and then—”

“I don’t know, Jaune. I’m sorry, she’s gone. But Grimm could be swarming this place any minute now. We have to go. I’m sorry but we have to go.”

“Go?” he whimpered. He looked at where Pyrrha landed. He looked where his mother should be. “We can’t go. We can’t leave them—”

“They wouldn’t want you to die kid,” Qrow shouted over to him. He carried Ruby in his arms bridal style. “If you stay here any longer, that’s what you’ll do. Come on.”

Jaune glared at the huntsman, but Weiss gave him a pleading look. Her own eyes were filled with tears. His head fell limp in resignation. She guided him to his feet.

Jaune didn’t know what was happening. Everything had gone so wrong. He had begged his mom to come and save Pyrrha, and then she’d chosen not to? And then she’d—

Jaune didn’t know what was happening, but he knew why.

His partner and his mother were gone.

And it was all his fault.

Chapter Text

“Come, you clod of mud! My greatest treasure shall send you back to the heavens!”

“An impressive display, Son of the Sun God. You have my thanks for ensuring this farce is not a complete waste.”

“Why didn’t you figure out how to use it before we made him mad?”

“Summer, what did you just do?”

 


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Ruby’s eyes slowly blinked open. The strange words still ringing in her mind.

She sat up realized she was in a bed. Her bed. In her room back on Patch and even in her own pajamas.

It was a bit unnerving after the chaos of Beacon, but she spotted her dad asleep in a chair next to her and her heart was warmed. Even if her head was still fuzzy. She groaned.

Fortunately, Taiyang’s eyes fluttered awake and her father smiled when he saw her. He rushed over to the bed and assured her everything was fine. With that massive dragon Grimm gone, the huntsmen were able to rally and retake control of Vale. Clearing out the school was taking a bit more time, but Professor Goodwitch was confident that could finish by the start of the next semester.

“What about Yang?” Ruby asked frantically.

“She’s… she’s alive. Her arm got broken in the battle and she hasn’t woken up, but we managed to make a set up for her in her room.” Tai informed her. He smirked. “I don’t think your teammate has left her side since she got here.”

“Teammate? Weiss and Blake are here?” Ruby inquired excitedly.

“Just Blake. Mr. Schnee came and took Weiss back to Atlas after what happened. But if it helps, your other friends are here. Jaune, Nora, Ren, and Sun.”

What? Why just them—

“Pyrrha!” Ruby realized. She stared at her father, begging for what she remembered to be a dream. He shook his head sadly and dashed her hopes. “Why? I got there in time, I got her out of those chains, and then the golden guy and Kirei did something to Cinder and…”

‘And Pyrrha was tied up.’

“I killed her,” Ruby muttered blankly. “I cut her out of those chains and then Mrs. Arc had to save me instead of her and—”

“Ruby.” Her dad stopped her, taking her hands in his. “Whatever happened, your friend’s death was not your fault. Gilgamesh doesn’t care about other people and he probably would have let that Kotomine guy kill your friend for fun if you hadn’t shown up.”

That didn’t make Ruby feel any better. She was supposed to save everyone and instead…wait. “How did you know his name?”

Tai paused for a moment. His eyes became clouded. “We, Team STRQ that is, encountered him before.”

“When he killed mom?”

Her father’s eyes went wide. “What?”

“On the tower,” Ruby spoke hesitantly. “Kirei said he executed mom.”

Taiyang fell back into his chair, his eyes vacant.

“Well,” a gravelly voice interjected. “That is an interesting development.”

Uncle Qrow stood in the doorway, strangely standing straight.

Tai whirled around on him, fire blazing in his eyes. “Did you know? Did you know about this Qrow?”

“If I did, don’t you think I would have told you?” Qrow spat back.

“I don’t know.”

Those three words scared Ruby more than a thousand Grimm. Sure, dad and Uncle Qrow didn’t always get along but they were the bestest of friends, right? They were partners, since their days at Beacon?

When did they stop trusting each other?

“Tai,” Qrow began softly. “Can I talk to her? Alone?”

It took some convincing, but her dad agreed to leave them be. Qrow pulled up a seat. “How are you doing?”

Ruby couldn’t believe he’d actually asked that question. But even with everything, he was just trying to help.

“I hurt…everywhere,” she told him. “What were Kirei and Cinder doing on the tower? Who was that Gilgamesh guy?”

“That’s…something that involves your friend Arc,” Qrow informed her. “I’d rather not tell the story twice. But the basic idea is that he’s a different kind of being. More than a human. Like Arturia was.”

Mrs. Arc wasn’t human? That…made a disturbing amount of sense. It explained her overwhelming power and her looking so young. Wait…

“What do you mean ‘was’?”

Qrow closed his eyes, thinking about what he should say. In the end, he settled on, “The night you met Ozpin, what was the first thing he said to you?”

And so, he told of the silver-eyed warriors. Beings older than the kingdoms who could Grimm with a look. How she and her mother were both among their ranks.

It made sense. It explained how she took down the Griffon at Amity Coliseum, and how she’d unintentionally unleashed that power to drive off Gilgamesh.

Which didn’t explain everything.

“If silver eyes only affect Grimm, why did Gilgamesh run away?” she inquired.

“For reasons Oz never told me, the silver eyes are almost as effective against Servants, the kind of beings that Gilgamesh and Arturia are, as they are against Grimm,” Qrow explained. He chuckled. “Your mom did quite a bit with them the last time we encountered the suckers.”

“Okay,” Ruby followed. “So, Gilgamesh got hit by my silver eye blast and he ran away. That’s good, right? It means he didn’t kill Jaune or Weiss or…”

She realized what Uncle Qrow had meant when he’d Arturia ‘was’ a Servant.

“No.”

Tears fell down her eyes.

It didn’t help.

Arturia, Mrs. Arc had saved her life. She had protected her when Gilgamesh tried to impale her for looking like her mother. She’d laughed at parties with her.

And Ruby had killed her.

There was no other way to look at it. She had killed her first friend’s mother.

Jaune…he was going to hate her. And she deserved it.

She hadn’t saved anyone.

She was a monster.

Qrow took her hand and squeezed it comfortingly. “Gilgamesh would have killed all of us. Besides, you didn’t even know you could do that.”

“But I still did it!” she yelled.

Her vision tinted silver for a moment.

Uncle Qrow backed up warily.

Ruby realized what she was doing and calmed down. She slumped back into her bed.

To think a few days ago she would have thought scaring Uncle Qrow to be her greatest accomplishment. Now it just filled her with remorse.

He came back however, and held onto to her. He brought her right hand up for her to see. On the back of it were three red marks in the shape of a cross. When did those get there?

“It wasn’t your fault,” Qrow assured her. “And if Arturia were here she’d say the same thing. She’d tell you to get back down to business and do what you need to do.”

“Did you really know her that well?”

“Um…no, actually,” he admitted. “But Oz did. I think. He said he trusted her more than anyone else on Remnant. But now they’re both gone. And Remnant is in bigger danger than ever.”

“What do you mean?” Ruby asked.

Qrow glanced at the marks on her hand and then ruffled her hair. He stood up from his chair and started to walk away. “Later. Have some down time first. Go see your sister and the emo girl. What you’re about to head into isn’t exactly light stuff.”

Ruby looked down at her marks. What good could she be? What could a monster who kills her friends possibly do?

She could try, maybe.

“Uncle Qrow,” she called. The drunk turned to face her. “I want to help. I want to save everyone.”

He smiled at her. “You will, pipsqueak. Now get some rest.”

 


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Emerald trembled with fear as she entered the dark palace.

She had wanted to run as soon as the landscape had changed to charred volcanic hills and the sky had turned red. Pools of black liquid bubbled constantly in the valleys, broken only as Grimm rose from their murky depths. Spires of crystal shot out of the ground at jagged angles, illuminating everything in a ghastly purple glow.

It was like stepping into another world. And if Hazel hadn’t been by her side the entire time, Emerald would have booked it back to her own.

As it was, the hulking man brought her to a massive black castle. The doors were grand and Beowolves and Creepers freely roamed the halls. Strangely, the beasts didn’t try to attack them. In fact, they all seemed to cower before Hazel.

As if he needed to be scarier.

Candles melted into the walls lit the way to a large room with a single chair of black stone. From what Emerald knew of architecture (Admittedly little, but it paid to know how the places you stole from were designed) it seemed like an atrium where one would receive guests. Or prisoners.

“Hazel.” A man just inside the room called. He was tall, well dressed, and had an elaborate mustache. “Good to see you back. Where is Cinder?”

“Dead,” Hazel responded bluntly. “The King of Heroes and his lapdog got her.”

The other man didn’t seem very torn up about that. He actually smirked.

Emerald was learning to hate smirking men.

“Oh well, so sad. I’ll try not let Tyrian laugh too much when he gets back,” the man said. He turned to Emerald. “And who is this child? Cinder’s replacement? I suppose she could hardly be worse.”

Emerald hands curled into fists. How dare he…

“Enough, Watts,” a powerful voice echoed throughout the room. The mustache man, Watts apparently, instantly stood up straight, his eyes wide with a healthy fear.

From behind Emerald and Hazel, a woman entered the atrium. Or at least she looked like a woman. Her skin was pale white, as was her hair done in a large bun. The whites of her eyes on the other hand… weren’t, instead stained a pure black, with her pupils a piercing red. She didn’t seem to walk, more like she glided across the floor.

The room became colder with the woman’s presence. Under her dark dress, something churned relentlessly. Emerald didn’t think her sanity would survive if she knew what it was.

Watts bowed his head. “My deepest apologies, my lady. I simply do not like having unknown variables in our base of operations.”

“Oh, but Emerald here is not an unknown, are you my dear?” the white woman asked her in a grandmotherly tone. It was utterly terrifying but somehow still soothing. “Cinder spoke of you often in her reports. She had nothing but praise for you.”

Emerald perked up considerably. She knew she should have been on guard around this woman who couldn’t be anyone but the queen Hazel had mentioned, but she couldn’t help herself. “Cinder spoke highly of me?”

Watts broke out laughing. “Oh, hoh hoh hoh, the poor thing seems enamored with our late compatriot.”

The Queen sighed. “She did indeed, in her own way. Cinder was not one to reveal her love in what she said, only what she didn’t say.”

Oh.

That sounded more like Cinder.

Emerald went back to shivering in terror.

The Queen merely chuckled at her fear. “Oh, you must relax dear Emerald. I’m not going to kill you. You are one of the most important people on Remnant. Those Command Seals on your hand are proof of that.”

Emerald looked at her the back of her hand, where the three red marks had formed in a simplified version of her gem emblem. “Your grace, with all due respect, I don’t know what a Command Seal is.”

“I didn’t expect you too, my dear. It’s a legend older than the kingdoms,” the Queen assured her. “But, nonetheless, you have a choice before you. You can claim Cinder’s seat in my inner circle and avenge her death, or you can—”

“I’m in,” Emerald said instantly. She could already imagine stabbing out Kirei’s eyes and then ripping out his brain through his sockets. Then, she’d smirk at the bastard and he wouldn’t he even be able to see it!

Of course, as soon as she came out of her murder fantasy, she realized that she’d interrupted the scary Grimm lady. Watts’ eyes were wide with terror and even Hazel had taken a step back.

She dove down on her knees and groveled at the Queen’s feet. “I’m sorry for interrupting you, my lady. I only wished to—”

“It is fine, my dear,” she informed. “Just make sure you don’t do it again. I speak from experience when I tell you that you should make sure you know all your options. But since you are so eager…”

Emerald could feel the air split as she smiled.

“Let me tell you of the Holy Grail War.”

 


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Ruby smiled as she held Yang’s hand. The medics on the evac shuttle had done a fantastic job keeping her stable and then setting up her room here at the house. Even with the bustle from Mercury’s attack, the worst she had was a broken arm, which was now completely covered in wrappings and a cast. Ruby could have kissed them. At least one of Kirei’s victims would recover.

Though, Ruby wished Yang would recover a lot faster. So much had happened, and her mind didn’t know what to think. She needed her big sister.

“Hey,” Ruby turned to see Sun standing in the doorway, his hand awkwardly raised as if he was afraid to knock and disturb her. Which given that Blake had been the one in her position for the past few days, was fairly likely. “Your Uncle is calling everyone into the living room. Says it’s time to let us in on what’s going on.”

“Right.” Ruby kissed her sister on the forehead. “I love you, Yang.”

She rose and walked out into the hall with Sun. “Thanks for taking care of her, Sun.”

The monkey faunus looked shocked. “Me? I didn’t really do much. Blake was the one who took care of her. She wouldn’t leave the room.”

“And who took care of Blake, when she wouldn’t leave the room to eat or sleep?”

“I just brought the stuff in. Anybody would have done that. Your dad and Ren were the ones who actually made the food.”

Ruby chuckled, her first genuine laugh since she woke up. “You’re a good friend, Sun. Don’t worry, Blake knows you care.”

“What do I know?” Blake asked from her seat on a couch.

They had arrived in the living room. Two couches and a recliner chair surrounded a tv, which was useless until the local network could be brought back online. Her dad was in the recliner with Uncle Qrow standing next to him. Jaune, Ren, and Nora had claimed one of the couches while Blake sat alone on the other.

Ruby averted her eyes when she spotted Jaune, unable to face him after what she’d done. “Nothing.”

She and Sun sat down next to Blake, with her squeezing the two of them together in order to be farther away from Jaune.

“Alright, now that we’re all here, let’s begin,” Taiyang said.

“Tai, you sure about this? Only Ruby and Arc need to know.” Qrow reminded him.

“We’re telling them all, Qrow,” Tai insisted. “I know what it’s like to be on the outside of this thing. They need to know.”

The two men stared at each other for a moment until Qrow finally sighed. “Alright.”

Nora raised her hand. “Sooooo, are you guys going to start making out now?”

Everyone did a spit take at that. Tai fell out of his chair and knocked Qrow to the ground. Ruby’s eyebrow started twitching in horror. Blake tried to hide her blush.

Ren facepalmed. “Nora, that’s not what this is about.”

“What? It sounded like they were going to come out about their secret relationship and they wanted to start with just Ruby. You know, because she’s family.”

“And Jaune?”

“I thought they were going to invite to have a threesome to help with…eh…you know. What happ—”

“It’s fine, Nora,” Jaune assured her, clearly lying. “I’m okay.”

Nora cast her eyes downward. She didn’t believe him, but didn’t know how to help.

Qrow and Tai stood back up, both taking a very large step away from the other.

“Right. So, anyway.” Qrow began. “What’s you kids’ favorite fairy tale?”

And so, he told them everything Ozpin had told him. About the maidens and the relics. And Salem.

“We know it’s a lot to take in,” Tai said using his best comforting father voice. “We’ll answer any questions you have.”

“The maidens, was that what Ozpin was trying to do to Pyrrha in that vault? Make her one of them?” Jaune accused.

“We went to her for help,” Qrow replied. “In the end, it didn’t matter. Cinder got to Amber first and took the rest of the power.”

“You said these maidens are nearly unstoppable,” Blake pointed out. “But Ruby told us that Kirei and this Gilgamesh guy defeated her easily. What are they?”

“Kirei is…he’s a mage. A human capable of using magic,” Qrow explained. “Oz told us about them during the last Grail War, but he made it sound like they were all extinct. As for Gilgamesh, he’s something else entirely.”

“A Servant, right?” Ruby asked. “Like Mrs. Arc.”

“Wait, what?” Jaune said. “What do you mean my mom was…a what?”

“A Servant,” Qrow told them. “The spirit of a legendary hero brought forth in the modern day to serve a master in the fight for the Holy Grail.”

“You keep saying that. What the hell is this Holy Grail thing we’re all supposed to be fighting over?” Blake shouted.

“An omnipotent wish granting device.”

“Bullshit!” Sun declared. “No way something like that exists. If it did, people would go crazy over it.”

“They would,” Qrow conceded. “But the grail doesn’t just let anyone fight for it. For millennia it was dormant, reclusive after the first four wars surrounding it had ended with no true winner. But then, nineteen years ago, someone, probably Gilgamesh and Kirei, killed the Summer Maiden and burnt out her power to jumpstart the thing.”

“And they helped Cinder get the Fall Maiden’s so that they could do the same to her” Ren concluded.

“Now you’re catching on.” Qrow complimented. “For each war, the grail chooses seven masters to compete for it, and grants each of them three Command Seals to control the Servant they summon.” He snorted. “Sometimes that still isn’t enough.”

Ruby and Jaune stared at the red marks on their hands. Could they really bind a hero?

“You sound like you’re speaking from experience,” Blake noted.

Qrow nodded. “In the Fifth War, the one nineteen years ago, me, Summer, and Raven, Ruby and Yang’s moms, were chosen as masters. Ozpin saw the Command Seals and called us up to his office to explain everything.”

“And you guys didn’t tell me about any of it until that Saber nearly killed us,” Tai reminded him.

“I said I was sorry, and we’re telling the kids. What more do you want?”

“Saber,” Ruby muttered. “That was what Gilgamesh called Arturia. Did she—”

“No,” Taiyang said immediately, spotting Jaune about to jump up in fury. “She wasn’t there.”

“Saber is one of the classes of Servant,” Qrow explained. “There’s one for each master, and since a hero’s name reveals their identity, and weaknesses, most masters just refer to them that way. Mrs. Arc was the Saber of the Fourth War, just like good old goldie was the Archer.”

“I thought you said the first four wars happened a really long time ago” Nora pointed out.

Qrow looked away from them, lost in thought. “They did. Oz never mentioned how those two were here now.”

“Sounds like Ozpin didn’t mention a lot of things,” Jaune sneered. He stood up. “How do you expect us to even believe all of this?”

“Did you have those tattoos before the Fall?”

“No, but this,” he gestured wildly around him. “All of this is insane. You’re saying that Ruby and I have to summon the spirits of legendary heroes, one of whom you’re claiming was my mom, so we can fight five other people to the death for some cup that supposedly grants wishes.”

“You’re not wrong,” Qrow conceded. “It is insane. It just also happens to be true.”

“How would they even summon these Servants anyway,” Blake asked, the literary fanatic in her trying to figure out the rules. “Aside from the maidens and Kirei, no one on Remnant can use magic anymore.”

“The grail does most of the work,” Tai explained. “A catalyst connected to a Servant can draw them out specifically, but for the most part we just set up the summoning circles, Ruby and Jaune do a chant and then, poof. Heroic Spirit.”

“Not to judge or anything,” Nora said carefully. “You have been feeding us for the last few days and everything, but doesn’t sending your daughter off into a battle royale to the death sound just a bit like bad parenting?”

Tai sighed and buried his head in his hands. Ruby hadn’t seen him like that since one of his worse episodes after mom died.

“Yes,” he agreed. “But regular people, even huntsmen, can’t really do anything against Servants. If I keep her here, I’ll just get in the way when her enemies show up looking for her.”

“Glad to see you’ve come around to my argument,” Qrow nudged him.

Tai didn’t smile.

“I still don’t believe this,” Jaune declared.

“Our enemies don’t care if you believe it, kid,” Qrow told him bluntly. “You’re a master, which means you’re a prime target until you summon a Servant to protect you. So how about you do the damn ritual, and then if you’re still not satisfied, you can tell us how we’re a bunch of poopy heads.”

“Qrow,” Taiyang stated. “That’s enough.” He turned to Jaune, his face softer, more reconciling. “I know firsthand how hard all of this can be to believe, even with what you’ve seen. But you can’t say that your mother never seemed mysterious, more powerful than she should have been. Servants are souls stuffed into mystical vessels, so they can’t have aura since the power’s already out. Could she have done the things you’ve seen without it?”

Jaune didn’t have an answer and looked down at his feet. Ruby got up to comfort him but stopped when she remembered why he couldn’t ask Arturia himself.

Tai sighed. He stood up and put a fatherly hand on Jaune’s shoulder. “Just say the words. What’s coming isn’t going to be easy, but neither you or Ruby are going to be in it alone.”

Jaune looked the older blonde in the eye. He held his stare for a few moments and then nodded.

Ruby could only think about what was said. She and Jaune were going to summon heroes. Real heroes from the stories and legends she grew up with. Part of her wanted to squee like she had just gotten Crescent Rose a new paint job.

The other part remembered the exhibition match against Arturia. It remembered Gilgamesh on the tower. They were giants, capable of swatting her like a fly. And even if she and Jaune had a pair of their own to help, two against five was not great odds.

But the prize. This Holy Grail. If it really could do anything, then maybe it could bring back the dead.

She could save Pyrrha and Arturia and Penny and…

Everyone.

She looked over to Jaune, her friend who had lost so much because of her failures.

‘I’m going to make it up to you, Jaune. I’m going to save everyone.’

 


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Raven eyed the circle of blood warily as Vernal finished making the modifications she’d requested.

“Okay,” the young maiden exclaimed. “Now that that’s done with mind explaining why you just had me do that?”

“To maintain a Servant in this world requires a substantial amount of prana, or in our case aura. The Berserker I have already is taxing enough. If I were to get another excessively draining one, it could leave me incapacitated for the duration of the war.”

“Making you easy pickings for the others.”

Raven nodded. “Aura is a finite resource for anyone. But a maiden’s power, on the other hand, is near limitless, and would hardly notice the strain of a Heroic Spirit. Unfortunately, I obtained my powers after I summoned mine.”

“So, these changes to the summoning will make it so your magic will foot the bill for the new guy, instead of your aura,” Vernal smiled.

“And our black armored friend if we’re lucky,” Raven told her. She’d been studying the grail system for years, despite her desire to forget. Her efforts to remain hidden from Gilgamesh required that she know something however and once she got into it the whole thing was simply too fascinating to stop.

There was so much power in it. She couldn’t not try to learn how to wield it.

She couldn’t be caught off guard like last time.

The bandit leader shook her head. Such memories were better left in the past. She looked to her hand and then to Vernal. “Well. Shall we?”

 


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Adam stood proud as the Bullhead flew into his camp. A lone, lithe figure jumped out while the craft was still in the air.

“I trust you had a pleasant trip,” he called out to the girl.

Ilia smiled and removed her mask. Her skin was dark brown with white spots today. “Eh. I was hoping for an inflight movie, but I guess they couldn’t get one on the short notice.”

Adam grinned happily, a rare sight in this day. He walked over and embraced his old friend. “It’s been too long, Ilia.”

“You’re the one who shipped me off to help the Fox twins,” she reminded him jokingly.

He cringed at that. Sending Ilia to Menagerie had been a favor to Blake, who’d been worried that Ilia was getting too reckless. Adam hadn’t seen the problem, but in hindsight, it seemed clear that Blake had wanted their friend closer to her parents. Perhaps she’d hoped they would infect her with their foolish philosophy.

He curled his fist at the thought of another betrayal. How could she have been doing this to him even back then? It made his blood boil.

He took a deep breath. There would be time for anger later. For now, he needed to acquire his proof so that he could get Blake back.

Ilia noticed his discomfort. She pouted softly. “I’m sorry to hear about Blake. I never thought she would betray us.”

Adam sighed. “She had her reasons. She doesn’t realize her dream is impossible.”

“Exactly,” Ilia concurred. “The humans will never see us as equals.”

“Oh, they will.” Ilia raised an eyebrow in confusion. Adam smirked. “Come with me.”

He led her through the crimson forest of Forever Fall to a large clearing. In the center was an elaborate sigil of blood.

“Okay, I know what the humans call us, but you do remember we’re not a cult, right?”

Adam shook his head and walked towards the circle. “Blake’s dream is impossible. She abandoned us because we could understand that while she couldn’t. But now, things have changed. And the impossible is possible.”

‘And I can get everything that I want.’

“You’re not making any sense,” Ilia told him.

Adam raised his right hand and removed his glove. “Just watch.”

 


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Jaune followed Qrow down the rotting wooden stairs to the cabin’s basement, Nora and Ren right behind him.

Qrow flicked a switch, and the few lights in the room came on, dimly illuminating several shelves filled with forgotten cardboard boxes. Each one had a name like ‘Photo Albums’, ‘Summer’s Stuff’, or ‘Raven’s Weapons, Touch and I will Castrate you, Qrow!’

Jaune blanched when saw what was on the floor. For a moment, he saw Pyrrha. Bloody and broken on the courtyard pavement.

Then reality came back to him and it was just some sigil.

“Is that blood?” Ren inquired warily.

“Chicken,” Qrow replied. “I picked it up from the butchers after Ruby woke up.”

“Awesome!” Nora screeched. She ran over to the boxes, rapidly opening each one. “Is the extra in one of these?”

“NO!” Qrow shouted, frantically dragging Nora away from ‘Summer’s Stuff’. “There is no extra. Especially not in there. All of it went into making this thing, and the one Ruby’s using out in the forest.”

“Why couldn’t they just use the same one?” Ren asked.

“Wear out the juju, kid,” Qrow told him. He tilted his head to the side. “Maybe. Probably. This stuff is weird, and things can go from very good to very bad very quickly. It’s best not to take chances.”

Nora huffed. “Magic. So overrated.”

Jaune took another look at his Command Seals. They seemed too simple to be as powerful as Qrow described.

Yet, so had his mom. And apparently, she had secretly been some ancient hero, which made all her speeches when she’d told him not to be a hero make way more sense. It’s just that her definition of a hero was someone who got summoned back from the dead to fight over a beer mug. Which just made it make even more sense.

He didn’t want to admit it, but he believed everything Qrow and Taiyang had said. He didn’t even know why, but when they had explained it, something within him had just said, ‘yup, that’s how it works. Time to kill for the cup.’

It was really disconcerting.

But, it also gave him hope.

He turned to Qrow. “You mentioned using a catalyst can call a specific Servant. What does that mean?”

Qrow scratched his head. “Nothing much really. Oz said that you could improve your odds of getting a certain hero if you include a relic that’s connected to them or their legend. Obviously, most of these stories are so ancient that finding one is nearly impossible.”

“Could a person be a catalyst?”

Qrow stared at Jaune. For once, his eyes were soft on the boy. “I know what you’re thinking kid, and I wish I could tell you one way or the other. But I’ve never seen anyone use a catalyst. I have no idea if you’ll be able to use yourself as an anchor to haul out your mom.”

Jaune frowned. That was not the answer he was hoping for.

He had to summon his mother. He’d gotten her killed. He couldn’t face his family again. They would hate him, and he would deserve it.

But if he could bring her back, everything would be fine. They could fight the war together, they could win, and then…

And then he could bring back Pyrrha.

If this grail could do anything, then surely it could save his partner.

But if he didn’t get his mother, then he didn’t know what he’d do.

He felt something on his shoulder. He turned to see Ren grasping him with a smile on his face. Nora swooped in with a calm smile and gave him a soft hug.

Jaune smiled. He did know what he’d do. He’d win. He was Jaune Arc. He was the leader of Team JNPR.

Like Ruby said that night in the hallway, he wasn’t allowed to fail.

He’d find a way.

“So, how’s that chant go?”

 


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Kirei didn’t know why, but the summoning ritual always made him feel so elated.

It was an important moment, one of the most crucial in any grail war, but there were others that exceeded it in value. Yet, it was this one that compelled him to put on his best combat robe and store all his best weapons, including Kiritsugu’s Contender, on his person.

Perhaps the fear of calling forth a being who could easily kill him, proving so paradoxically appetizing that he relished it even from himself.

How quaint.

Gilgamesh was resting in his room, still recovering from his injuries, so Kirei was alone for the rite.

That was fine. He didn’t want whatever Servant he summoned feeling inadequate next to the King of Heroes. Inferiority complexes were fun to play with, but not the best qualities to have in a pawn you planned to send into battle.

The priest grinned and raised his hand over the sigil. “Fill. Fill. Fill. Fill. Fill. Repeat five times, but when each is filled, destroy it.”

 


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“For the elements silver and iron, the foundation of stone and the archduke of pacts, and for my great master Schweinorg.”

‘I really hope I pronounced that right,’ Emerald thought. She briefly looked to Salem, but the Queen merely smiled and nodded her head for Emerald to continue.

She took a deep breath and did just that, her hand over the sigil of human blood closing into a fist.

“Raise a wall against the wind and close the gate of four directions. Come forth from the crown and follow the forked road leading to the kingdom.”

 


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“Heed my words. My will creates your body, and your sword creates my destiny.”

The sigil before Adam began to glow with a white light. He heard Ilia take a step back in shock. He smiled.

‘Now it begins.”

“If you heed the grail’s call, and obey my will and reason, then answer my summoning!”

 


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“I hereby swear that I shall be all the good in the world.”

Storm winds bombarded the forests of Patch as Ruby spoke the words with unrivaled conviction. She would be a hero that would save everyone.

Blake and Sun hid in the trees from the gales, but their eyes were glued to the wonder before them.

Taiyang could only look on in grim anticipation.

“And I shall defeat, all evil in the world!”

 


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“And let thine eyes be clouded with the fog of turmoil and chaos. Thou, you art trapped in a cage of madness.”

Raven howled against the storm as Vernal desperately tried to maintain the special link to the ritual.

Next to them both, an armored figure obscured in black fog roared in agony.

“And I the summoner, who holds thy chains!”

 


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“Seventh Heaven clad in the great words of power, come forth from the circle of binding, Guardian of the Scales!”

Jaune shouted the final words and the ritual reached its climax.

 


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Across Remnant, six masters were engulfed in light. When it faded, they beheld their destiny.

 


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Raven fell to her knees. Something had changed.

She looked around. Vernal had backed up behind her, her lieutenant’s eyes wide at the sigil. But that was not surprising.

What was, was that her black armored Berserker was also cowering before the new summon.

‘So that’s what it is, I can hear myself think.’

Living with her Servant’s Mad Enchantment constantly affecting her mind had forced her to make some difficult decisions over the years. She’d have to thank her new familiar for shutting her great pain up, at least for a little while.

‘Still, what could make the great Sir Lancelot cower in fear through his madness.’

She looked up upon her new Berserker and quickly realized that she’d failed miserably. She could never look upon this Servant. He was too huge.

He stood eight feet tall and probably four feet wide. His body roiled with rippling, powerful muscle. His brown hair fell back in a long greasy matt. His hands were large enough to pick Raven up in one go and throw her like a discus.

The bandit leader smirked. She’d probably regret this once the behemoth’s own Mad Enchantment kicked in, but for now.

Raven Branwen was pleased.

 


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Adam Taurus was not.

He hadn’t been expecting much from the Servant he summoned and for the most part, he was not disappointed.

The man kneeling before him was strong. Just by looking at him, Adam knew he would be fast. He wore dark green leather armor without sleeves. His arms were covered in long black fingerless gloves. In his right hand was a long red spear, while in his left he held a shorter golden one.

He had a mole beneath his right eye.

Ilia came up to Adam. “What is this?”

‘A mistake.’

The man in the circle rose to his feet. He was shorter than Adam, but not by much. The man bowed deeply. “Greetings, my noble master. Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, First of the Knights of Fianna has answered your summons.”

Adam gnashed his teeth in rage. His Servant seemed fine. In fact, if the comprehension of his abilities given to Adam as his master was true, then he was a good deal greater than fine. There was just one problem.

He was human.

‘The next time I see that priest, I’m going to kill him.’

 


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Kirei staggered backward. His face was wide with shock.

His Servant knelt before him. He hadn’t even revealed the face that was hidden underneath his red cloak and hood.

But Kirei knew. His semblance gave him understanding, and he understood who he had summoned the moment he laid eyes upon him.

“How?” he whispered breathily. “How can it be you?”

 


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Emerald was expecting more.

With the big speech and the light show, she’d expected to have summoned some ancient horrible monster or otherworldly demon like her new mistress.

Instead, she got a small lady in a purple cloak.

Nonetheless, Salem smiled.

“A Caster. Well done, Emerald. She will do nicely.”

Emerald’s chest puffed with pride at the Queen’s praise, but it also made her look at her new Servant more carefully.

After all, what kind of witch had the approval of the Mother of Grimm?

 


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Ruby gazed up at the man before her.

He was tall, with white hair and tan skin. He wore black body armor covered by a combination of a red jacket and skirt.

He opened his eyes and she saw they were silver like hers.

‘Is he a silver-eyed warrior of the past? Does that mean…he can teach me?’

The man looked at her and for a moment, she was sure he was confused. But immediately after, it was gone and in its place, was a charming smile.

Ruby had learned the hard way that every smile was not the same, but she could forgive this guy’s reaction. Really, it wasn’t like coming back from the dead was a walk in the park for anyone.

‘I wonder how Jaune’s went.’

 


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Jaune stared at the knight in awe.

That was all he could think to describe the figure before him as, a knight. Their armor was gleaming, pristine red and grey steel. They stood tall and proud, their face hidden by a helmet with two outgoing spikes. In their hands, a mighty longsword was planted point down in the ground.

‘Did I do it?’

He dared to hope. Gilgamesh had called his mother the King of Knights. And this person certainly fit the bill.

Nora was drooling over the knight’s sword. “I want that” she whimpered.

“You cannot have it, knave” the figure declared in a familiar voice.

Jaune’s hopes skyrocketed. He’d done it! He’d saved her!

The figure’s helmet collapsed into the rest of their armor and Jaune saw the face he longed to see.

“Well, I’ll be damned” Qrow whispered.

The knight smirked cockily in a way that part of Jaune’s mind told him wasn’t right, but he wasn’t listening.

“So, tell me, boy, are you worthy to be my master!”

A single tear fell down Jaune’s eye.

“Mommy?”

The face of his mother suddenly scowled and Jaune knew that he had failed.

His heart broke. His spirit crumpled.

And then he got punched in the face.

“You dare call me a woman!”

Chapter Text

Weiss sighed as she exited her father’s office.

Things had been distressing since she’d returned from Beacon. Though Whitley’s disposition seemed to have improved since she’d last seen him and Klein was as wonderful as ever, her father was even more prone to rages. He rambled on about how he had warned against going to Beacon and that she was lucky he’d come to get her when he did.

Never mind that she hadn’t wanted to leave Vale when he’d arrived. She and the others had secured themselves at Ruby and Yang’s house on Patch, but both girls were still asleep when Weiss had left. She didn’t even know if Ruby had survived the aftermath of…

Well, whatever had happened at the tower.

Suffice to say, she did not appreciate her father dragging her back home when half her team was still unconscious.

Still, she was home now and at home, father’s word was law. General Ironwood was the only one she’d ever seen talk back to him in the Schnee Mansion and he was the most powerful man in Atlas.

Her conversation with father following their argument was not as unpleasant as she’d feared. He’d informed her of the charity gala he was throwing to support the survivors of the Fall of Beacon (which wasn’t at all a PR stunt) and suggested that she perform at the event.

She told him she’d start practicing in order to avoid any unpleasantness.

Klein met her outside with a smile on his face and a tray in his hand. “Hot coffee, Ms. Schnee? I find he keeps his study dreadfully cold.”

Weiss smiled lightly and drank the offered beverage. “Thank you, Klein.”

The loyal butler gave her a warm grin that honestly helped more than the coffee. It was good to know she hadn’t left all her friends behind in Vale.

“As much as I would love to suggest you rest up for the day Ms. Schnee…” Klein said “…your mother has requested to speak with you in the gardens. Should I tell her you are feeling under the weather?”

Weiss raised an eyebrow. Mother wanted to speak with her? Mother wanted to interact with another human being?

“No, that’s unnecessary Klein,” she replied. “I haven’t seen her since I returned. It would be impolite to keep her waiting.”

Plus, she probably wouldn’t get another invitation.

Klein nodded and the two made their way down to the gardens.

The greenery was beautiful and diverse, despite Atlas’ frigid climate. Dust powered temperature regulators ensured that Mistralian Cherry Trees bloomed right next to Vacuo Cacti.

Weiss would have considered it an inspiring sight had it not been for what the forest harbored.

In the center of the foliage was a small silver sun table surrounded by three chairs. In one of those chairs sat a middle-aged woman in a white bathrobe. She had a half-full bottle of Menagerie White on her lips.

General Ironwood stood before, his face contorted in irritation at the woman. “Crystal, I don’t think you understand the urgent need for this project. You are the only one who can give P-2 the power she needs to protect us all.”

Crystal dropped the bottle from her mouth and slumped back in her seat. “She? Getting a little too attached to your newest tin can, aren’t you Jimmy darling? Not your wisest decision, given how the last one went.”

Weiss lowered her head at her mother’s cruelty.

The General tightened his fists. “You felt what happened during the Fall of Beacon. We’ve lost another relic to her and to make matters worse the war has begun anew. We need—”

“To sit back and let the masters kill each other? I couldn’t agree more, darling. Unless you’ve gotten lucky and one of your little soldiers has shown dear father’s Command Seals,” Crystal interjected. Ironwood did not respond. “No. Then, your little project won’t do a damn thing. The grail is not something to be trifled with. Let the fools who try to claim it die for their stupidity.”

She took another slog from her bottle until the drink ran empty. She kept it in her mouth for a few seconds but then shrugged and flung it at the general, who offhandedly caught it and gently placed it on the ground.

Crystal swayed her head and noticed Weiss. She smiled. “Weiss darling, perfect timing. The general was just leaving.”

The general’s furrowed eyebrows betrayed that he was not at all finished, but he, in the end, he just sighed. “We’ll talk about this another time, Crystal.” He nodded to Weiss. “Ms. Schnee.”

The goodbye didn’t need to be extended from their exchange in her father’s office, so Weiss simply returned his courtesy and the general took his leave.

She pitied the poor man. She had a hard enough time dealing with one of her parents alone and he had had to speak with them both in the same day. Of course, she saved some of that pity for herself as she was about to replicate his feat.

Her mother motioned her over to have a seat. “Yes, yes, lovely to see you, my darling little snowflake. Klein darling, could you be a dear and please fetch me a Mistralian Red from the cellar?”

Klein bowed and picked up the empty bottle on the ground before reluctantly heading off. Weiss couldn’t blame him. Though she vastly preferred her mother over her father, her drinking was easily her greatest flaw.

Her mother looked like she expected Winter would in a decade or two. Her beauty was still magnificent despite a few wrinkles here and there, and her hair, despite being clearly ill kept, was still the shade of snow. But Weiss found that her eyes, while icy blue like all their family, simply could not focus as they used to. She had glared so much at her husband that the ice beneath them finally gave out and resigned themselves to melt in alcohol.

Weiss forced a smile onto her face and took the seat opposite Crystal. “How have you been, mother? I do apologize that we’ve not had the chance to speak since—”

“Weiss darling, please. I get enough false curtsy from your father and dear Jimmy, I’d prefer if I didn’t have to hear it from you.”

“My apologies—”

“What did I just say?” her mother shouted. Weiss held herself stiff. Her mother’s outbursts were less common than her father’s and never as malicious but there were often unpredictable when they occurred. One time she had shattered the family’s entire supply of silverware. Another she had ordered the front gate dismantled and then immediately rebuilt. Once, Weiss even saw literal storm clouds gather the moment her rage began.

Fortunately, that did not happen this time and her mother sank back into her seat. “Please don’t speak formally, darling. Your father does it because he doesn’t care, and Ironwood can’t seem to reconcile that I’m not mine’s second coming. Men have failed me, Weiss. I cannot survive if my happy little snowflake follows them into disappointment.”

Weiss nodded glumly. “Of course.”

“Good.” Her mother leaned forward across the table. “Now then darling, how was your time at school? Did you make any new friends? Any nice boys?”

“Well,” Weiss stuttered. “My team was fantastic. It was me, Yang, Blake, and Ruby. Yang was bombastic but there was no one better to have your back. Blake could be withdrawn at times, but she cared about others more than anyone I’ve ever met. And Ruby…”

A soft smile graced her lips. At home, she’d had to deal with her mother and father. As their relationship had deteriorated and each one had gotten worse, she had turned to Winter for protection. But in time, Winter had had to follow her own path and she was left with only Klein, who despite his best efforts could only do so much.

At Beacon though, despite the early hiccups, she had never felt unwanted. Team RWBY was never cruel or cold even when they mocked her. They always wanted to be having as much fun as possible and they were unwilling to let her sit out when they did. Ruby in particular, with her unrelenting efforts of friendship, had made the world seem so much brighter. “She was a dolt, but I don’t think I could have wished for a better partner.”

“Hmm,” Weiss looked to see her mother wiggling her eyebrows. “Perhaps I shouldn’t be asking if you met any nice boys?”

Weiss tilted her head in confusion. What in the world was that about? “I met plenty of boys at Beacon. There was Neptune, Ren, Sun, Jaune—”

She stopped at the last name.

Images of Pyrrha flooded her mind. She couldn’t forget the sickening thud that had sounded when the Invincible Girl had hit the ground.

Then, Arturia. Frozen like a silver statue, before fading to dust, as if she was never even there. Weiss still didn’t understand how that had even happened.

Finally, the boy who had once tried so desperately to woo her crying over his mother and partner. And she had made him abandon them. It was the only choice at the time. They were in the middle of a battlefield, Ruby was unconscious, and she and Qrow were almost out of aura.

It had been the only choice. But Weiss was still trying to convince herself it had been the right one.

Tears welled in her eyes.

A slight hand wiped them away.

Weiss looked up to see her mother with a sullen look on her face. “You received your first taste of true war, my darling. It is not a thing anyone is ever truly ready for. Though I doubt we have seen the last of it for the foreseeable future.”

“What do you mean?” Weiss asked.

Crystal leaned back in her chair and flashed a morose grin. “You felt the shockwave? During the Fall?”

Weiss’ eyes widened. She had been floored by a massive burst of…something that shot through her during the battle. It had been right before everything at the tower had gone so wrong, and she had been too discombobulated by the blast to notice Pyrrha falling until it was too late.

“Yes,” she confirmed hesitantly.

Her mother nodded. “I did as well. Indeed, I believe everyone on Remnant felt that pulse, though there are few who will recognize its true significance.”

“Which is?”

Crystal’s eyes fell below Weiss’ face. She narrowed them as if attempting to see through her wine haze. “It means be grateful that your hands remain unblemished, my darling. Your grandfather wasn’t nearly so lucky.”

She leaned her head over the back of her seat. “Where is Klein with that damn red?”

Weiss wasn’t paying attention to the outburst. Her mother never talked about her grandfather. Everything Weiss knew about the man had come from history books or Winter’s few memories of him. They all painted a kind portrait.

How had the shockwave led to his death?

For that matter, how had her mother felt the blast from Atlas?

Klein soon returned with the wine and Crystal was deep in the drink, but Weiss was too worried to care. Home was treacherous enough as it was, but now she thought that something was seriously wrong.

 


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Archer knew something was wrong the moment he accepted the summoning.

It started with the knowledge the Grail gave him. Huntsmen? Aura? Grimm? What the hell was he getting dropped into?

When he materialized, he knew this was not his Grail War. For one, he hadn’t crashed into Rin’s furniture. The other was the soft breeze he felt across his skin, carrying the smell of a forest. He wasn’t in Tohsaka Manor.

Perhaps he had been summoned to the Fourth War. During one of his visits to the Clocktower, Lord El-Melloi II had told him of how he’d called upon his liege Rider in one of Fuyuki’s many forests. If he had replaced the King of Conquerors, Archer couldn’t say he would mind working with Waver Velvet.

He opened his eyes and saw a girl who looked very much like Little Red Riding Hood. Her silver eyes stared up at him in awe.

‘Okay, not Waver and definitely not Rin. Who the hell is this kid and where am I?’

The fact that he had to question that was highly disturbing. Whenever he was summoned as a Counter Guardian, he could feel Alaya’s presence in the air, feeding him power and directing him towards the best people to kill. He didn’t know if it would be the same when he was summoned as a Heroic Spirit, but there should still be something.

Instead, there was nothing. Not even a breath of the Beast of Humanity.

It was disconcerting, to say the least.

Still, his master was proof enough that humanity wasn’t extinct, so the situation wasn’t completely hopeless.

He smirked. Time to meet the new prana battery.

“Woah,” Little Red whispered. “Are you a hero?”

That question was at once childishly simple and unendingly aggravating to Archer. Any mage who knew to ask the question should also know that the only possible answer was yes. The only thing that could be called upon with the grail’s ritual was a hero, even if some of them were so brutal they didn’t deserve the title.

He counted himself among that number.

He glanced at the area around him. The summoning circle seemed to have been made properly.  So, if the girl was capable of that, why was she unsure of her success? Did she think so poorly of herself that she believed that she could mess up a ritual that really only required a short aria and a bit of prana.

Hmph. If she had that much self-doubt, Archer would enjoy pushing her buttons as he had planned for Rin.

“Really? That’s the first words out of your mouth?” he chuckled. “Well, well, well, looks like I was summoned by quite the master.”

Surprisingly, the little girl’s smile grew twice as large. “You really mean that?”

Archer raised an eyebrow. Was his sarcasm not clear enough? “Indeed. It takes a special kind of fool—”

The girl suddenly disappeared in a cloud of rose petals. Archer’s enhanced vision was able to see her rush into the nearby trees and grab another girl with long black hair. The troubling part was that during that burst, the girl moved as fast as a low ranked servant. Very few had the magecraft to accomplish such a feat, especially at a moment’s notice. Perhaps he had judged this girl too quickly.

A moment later she had returned with her friend. “Blake, he says I’m quite the master! An ancient hero called me ‘quite’!”

The other girl, Blake, looked him over with wide amber eyes. She blushed. He still didn’t understand why women always seemed to do that around him. “That’s really nice, Ruby.”

Ruby. So that was his master’s name. He’d known her for less than a minute and he knew that she was excitable, childish, and most importantly, sarcasm-blind.

She would either be the most fun he’d had in eons or she’d be the death of him.

Archer gave the girls a formal bow. “Servant Archer, master.”

Ruby blushed and grabbed the hem of her skirt. “Oh, stop it, you don’t have to call me master. I’m just plain old Ruby.”

Archer rose and smirked. “As you wish, master.”

“That’s not…oh, nevermind.” Ruby rubbed the back of her head. She waved at something behind him. “Dad! Sun! Come meet Archer! That’s one of the classes, right?”

This kid didn’t even know the classes. Was he stuck with some alternate universe version of his old self? That would suck. He’d have to deal with all the naïve idealism and wouldn’t even be able to erase himself from existence by killing her.

Two men came over, both blondes, one of them much older than the other. The younger had an open shirt and… a monkey tail?

Right, faunus. That would take some getting used to.

The older blonde, according to the shouts, the girl’s father, scratched his chin as he examined Archer. “That’s one of them, alright. Only an Archer could be that pretty.”

Archer raised an eyebrow. “Robin Hood?”

The man nodded.

“Makes sense,” Archer conceded. “The Prince of Thieves loves his charm.”

“Prince of Thieves?” Blake inquired. “How can a thief be a hero?”

“Hey,” The monkey boy said. “We thieves can be a very heroic bunch.”

Archer couldn’t really argue with that. In a way, his Reality Marble was one big way to steal the legends of others.

His master started bursting around him, examining every inch of his body. She lifted up his cape and then leapt onto his shoulders. “So, who are you? Are you somebody with a famous weapon? Where is it? Ooohh, is it invisible?”

On the outside, Archer did not react. On the inside, he was missing Rin.

Ruby down from him and grabbed something off her belt. That something, extended into a huge crimson scythe.

Crescent Rose. Combination scythe and high impact sniper rifle. Built by Ruby *%#$@. Wielded by Ruby %$@%%.

Archer shook his head to get rid of the static. The structural analysis went near perfectly. While he wouldn’t be able to create the gun component of the weapon due to it being incompatible with his Origin, he could trace the scythe just fine. It was only when he got to Ruby’s experience that things became fuzzy.

‘Strange. Perhaps there’s more to my new master than meets the eye.’

Not that he could meet her eye. Every time he tried, his instincts screamed for him to run away. Said instincts were usually right but with the Command Seals on her hand, he didn’t have that option. He would have to learn more as he went along.

“Don’t overwhelm the guy, Ruby,” her father advised. “Let’s get back to the house and meet up with Qrow and the others. See how Jaune’s summoning went.”

 Ruby nodded and the group departed for a nearby cottage.

They arrived and the large blonde man opened a door that Ruby zipped down, her feet barely even touching the decaying stairwell.

“Jaune! I got the Archer—”

Ruby’s voice died in her throat. Archer came to the middle of the stairs.

In the cluttered basement was a scruffy looking man with a giant sword on his back.

Harbinger. Combination greatsword, shotgun, and scythe. Built by Qrow Branwen. Wielded by Qrow Branwen.

Who the hell named their kid Qrow?

A muscular girl with orange hair and a boy with pink eyes stood to the side. Ruby was next to them.

They were all staring at a blonde boy in a sweater rubbing his face while a woman in armor menacingly stood over him.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out that was the Servant.

Archer silently traced Kanshou and Bakuya. The Servant was distracted. If he could remove as powerful a threat as this one seemed to be this early in the war, it would make his life so much easier. He gathered his strength in his legs to make a mighty leap…

And subsequently plummeted to the floor as the rotting stairs gave out from under him.

He landed face first and his projections cluttered to the floor. All eyes in the room turned to him.

The woman in armor glared at him for a moment and then burst out laughing. She smacked the boy she had terrorizing on the back. “Look at that idiot, master! I didn’t know this grail war had a Jester class!”

The boy was too busy trying not to join Archer on the floor to comment.

“What’d you do to get into the throne, jester?” the woman taunted. “Were you some court fool who slipped on the battlements onto an assassin? Hahaha!”

“Ha!” the orange-haired girl joined in the laughter. “Slipped on the battlements. Jaune got the best Servant.”

“She punched him the face, Nora.”

“Details, Ren. Details.”

Archer trudged up to his knees when he heard a gasp. He saw his master hovering over Kanshou and Bakuya with stars in her eyes. “Are these your weapons? They’re so beautiful! Can I have them? Please, please, please!”

Archer sighed and smacked his face into his hand. This was not how he had planned this day. For centuries, he had been precisely mapping out in his head exactly what he would do once Rin called upon him and how he would ensure his victory in the Fifth Holy Grail War. And all his plans were out the window.

The man with the greatsword, Qrow Branwen, came over and patted him on the back. “E Rank Luck?”

Archer raised an eyebrow. “Yes. How did you know?”

“Experience,” he explained without really explaining. “I’ll be getting out of your hair now. Bring the kiddies upstairs when they’ve calmed down.”

He jumped up the now stairless stairwell and disappeared back to the upper level.

Archer looked around the basement. The pink-eyed boy was helping the blonde master to his feet. The Servant, Archer noted, looked exactly like his Saber, but given Jeanne D’Arc, Nero, and the dozens of other Servants he had encountered who for some reason were practically clones of the King of Knights, this didn’t really surprise him. She herself was now leaning on the Nora girl as they both tried to recover from their laughter.

And his master was asking him if she could summon the person who made Kanshou and Bakuya, because obviously, the person who made such awesome swords was a hero, to make modifications to Crescent Rose.

Archer wanted to hit the floor again.

 


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Mordred was excited.

Her first Holy Grail War! She would be able to battle heroes from across history, best them all as she obviously would, and claim her wish from the grail. And as the cherry on top, she would go on to the sword of selection and finally prove to her father that she was meant to be king.

The only thing better would be if he had been summoned to the war as well. Then she could prove her superiority once and for all. Camlann was a fluke!

Of course, then her idiot of a master had to go insinuate her weakness by calling her his mother. Her! How dare he refer to her as a woman!

He had been lucky she’d held back or else she would have shattered his skull. She doubted this mysterious ‘aura’ could stop a blow from her.

The boy had trembled on the ground as Mordred had towered over him. Then that fool of an Archer had arrived and tripped over his feet or something. That alleviated her fury for the time being, especially since the orange haired girl had been wise enough to see the mirth in her jest.

Maybe she could get her to take the blonde boy’s command seals and be her new master.

She recollected herself as a pink-eyed boy helped her master to his feet. She gave him a stern, kingly, look as the other blonde cleared his throat.

“So,” he began. “Sorry about that. You just look a lot like…you know never mind. I’m Jaune, this is Ren and Ruby, Nora is right next to you. No idea who that silver-haired guy is. Who are you?”

The knight stood up straight. She must look proper as she announced herself. “You may call me Mordred. In this war for the Holy Grail, I am of the Saber class. Be honored boy, for you stand before the one true heir of Arthur Pendragon!”

The Archer on the floor chuckled.

Mordred let it pass. His opinion wasn’t important. She could execute him later.

“Hey, that’s a coincidence,” Nora remarked. “Jaune’s mom was named Arturia Pendragon.”

Mordred sneered. “It takes more than a name, sparky. My father is the King of Knights.”

Ruby suddenly stopped where she was chatting away at Archer. Something about plotting to summon additional Servants for the war. Like it would matter. She’d destroy anyone who got in her way.

The red cloaked girl turned to Jaune, a haunted look in her eye. “King of Knights. That’s what Gilgamesh called your mom on at the tower. Could that mean…”

“Maybe,” Jaune conceded. “When I was little, mom used to tell me stories about this righteous band of warriors, The Knights of the Round Table. I think she mentioned the name Mordred once or twice. If she was a Heroic Spirit, and those stories were from her past…”

Mordred ceased this foolishness by grabbing Jaune by the throat and slamming him into the wall. She gave him a hard glare as he struggled to breathe.

“Listen well, boy,” she hissed. “I am the King of Knights’ only son. I will not have some lying pretender soiling his name by pretending to be some long-lost bastard.”

“He’s not lying,” Ruby protested. “Let him go!”

“Hold on, master,” Archer cautioned. The jester probably thought she’d kill the boy for his farce. Give up her chance at the grail and all that came with it, just to protect her and her father’s honor.

He wasn’t wrong.

She felt Nora try to tear her off, but the girl’s strength was nothing compared to her own. Jaune’s eyes began to become bloodshot.

“Look at this,” Ren demanded. Mordred rolled her eyes but decided to indulge the boy.

She was so shocked by what she saw that Nora was able to break her grip.

In Ren’s hand was a scroll, one of the magic like communicators of this time. And on the scroll, was a picture of Jaune hugging Ren, Nora, a tall red-headed girl in spartan like armor…

And father.

Mordred would know her father’s face anywhere. It was the same as her own after all. But on it was something Mordred couldn’t recall ever seeing before.

Father was smiling.

He was smiling as he embraced this blonde fool.

Embraced him like a son.

Mordred’s hand twitched, wanting to form a fist but too stunned to maintain the motion. “Wha—what sorcery is this?”

Ren stood before her stoically. “Qrow said the grail gives you knowledge of our time. You know this isn’t a trick.”

“It has to be!” she roared. “Father doesn’t smile! He doesn’t hug!”

‘He never hugged me.’

She whirled back on Jaune. Nora and Ruby stepped in front of him protectively.

She pointed an accusatory finger at him. “I don’t know how you’ve done this, pretender. But I am father’s one true heir. I am the only knight to ever surpass him!”

Jaune held his hands before him placatingly. “Yeah, yeah, I got it. You’re the heir. Crystal clear.”

Mordred lowered her hand, but not her glare. “Good,” she spat. “Now where is father? I would have words with him.”

Jaune’s face lowered. His gaze became morose. “She’s dead.”

Mordred lowered her head for a moment. How could he be dead before the war even started?

No matter. She wasn’t here for him.

“I will fight for you, master,” she sneered. “I will win you the Holy Grail. But I will not be constrained by the asinine tactics of a pretender. Find some safe hole to crawl into. I’ll go claim victory.”

She strode away before he could respond and jumped up the stairwell, the stone floor cracking under the power of her leap. Once at the top she followed her course past the scruffy man from earlier, a black-haired girl with a bow, and two blonde men (one had a monkey’s tail, neat) and headed out of the house.

She got six miles before she realized she had no idea where she was.

Reluctantly, she trudged back to the cottage and plopped down in one of the pillowed chairs of the living room.

Everyone, who had gotten out of the basement, gave her a look.

“This means nothing,” she declared.

Nora ran over and hugged her. “You came back!”

Jaune looked at her more unsure, nervously scratching the back of his head.

Mordred glared at the pretender.

She would win the war. She would prove she was father’s most worthy son.

 


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Far away in the Mistral countryside, a young farm boy named Oscar Pine looked in the mirror.

“Hello,” a voice greeted inside his head.

Oscar promptly fell over.

 

Chapter Text

Emerald had met some strange characters in her time. Heck, back in Vale she had been teamed up with the disabled son of an assassin who still managed to be one of the best fighters she had ever seen (not that she would have ever told him that), an effeminate thief with a huge ego, a psychotic faunus supremacist, and a mute girl who had probably been more dangerous than the rest of them put together.

Yet, sitting next to Tyrian Callows at Salem’s grand table, she found herself missing all of them.

Even Mercury.

The scorpion faunus hadn’t stopped cackling like a madman since he’d returned. At this point, Watts looked like he was ready to stop fiddling with his scroll and strangle the bastard. Even Hazel was crinkling his eyebrow in annoyance.

“So, let me get this straight,” Tyrian giggled. “Cinder put all that effort into her little quest for power. Recruiting you kiddies, having Watts make that booboo for the Atlesian clankers, and even facing off with Ozpin. And in the end, she gets turned into a cup! Hahahahaha!”

Emerald curled her fist. No one disrespected Cinder’s memory like that.

“Your indecent jabbering is upsetting my master, vermin. I suggest you hold your tongue before I tear it out.”

Emerald turned to her left. Where she might have stood if Cinder remained in her seat now stood a slight woman in a dark purple cloak. Light blue hair cascaded down her face, obscuring her eyes from view. Her servant. Caster.

Tyrian just laughed harder. “Ah yes, and of course there’s you, isn’t there? All the power of her grace behind her and poor little urchin could only summon a mere witch.”

Caster’s hand shot up. A purple sigil blazed in front of Tyrian and smashed him into his chair. He was still smiling as he rolled around on the floor.

“I’ve changed my mind,” Caster hissed. “Your tongue is insufficient. I’ll take your whole head as recompense.”

No sooner had she finished than the chamber’s doors slammed open. A huge black tentacle lashed out and wrapped around Caster. With a mighty heave, the Servant of the Spell was slammed into the floor. The black obsidian was shattered.

The tentacle retracted, and Salem glided through the door a moment later. She circled the other side and sat herself down at the head of the table.

Emerald kneeled down and helped Caster to her feet. She fearfully looked to Salem, but the Queen merely gave her a soft smile. As if she hadn’t just smashed a heroic spirit into the ground in a single stroke.

“Caster, I will not tolerate the threatening of my subjects,” Salem warned. “Do so again at your own peril.”

Caster growled, but nodded her acknowledgment.

Tyrian leapt back into his chair and increased his laughter.

“And you,” Salem turned to him and the psychopath’s cackling died. “Tyrian, Caster is an ally. You are not to antagonize her for fun.”

Tyrian pouted glumly.

Watts raised an eyebrow. “With all due respect, your grace, how much of an ally is she really? She is known as the Witch of Betrayal for a reason.”

Emerald felt more than heard Caster seethe at the doctor’s words.

Salem on the other hand calmly addressed the doctor’s concerns. “A hero is not their legend, Arthur. Hazel is proof enough of that. Caster is Emerald’s Servant and Emerald has my full confidence.”

Emerald preened at the Queen’s words. She was amazed at how the woman could go from a horrifying abomination one moment to a fair motherly figure the next. It was obvious who Cinder had copied her leadership style from. It made Emerald want to do her best for the woman while keeping the heavy price of failure in the back of her mind.

“Thank you, my Queen.” Emerald bowed and retook her seat. Caster recovered enough to stand by her side, glaring daggers at Watts and Tyrian from under the hood.

“Be that as it may,” Watts spoke cautiously. “The girl is inexperienced in the matters of sorcery, and Caster is not the most imposing warrior to begin with.”

“I am capable enough to claim the grail, especially with my master by my side,” Caster declared.

“Indeed, you are,” Salem concurred. “In fact, that is the exact reason I did not alter you when Emerald summoned you. Though I have some connection to the grail, it has grown… I suppose the appropriate term would be vaccinated to my direct influence. No Servant I directly power can win the grail. Though, Dr. Watts does raise a good point.”

“Your grace, I assure you, I can handle this,” Emerald protested.

“Cinder thought she could too,” Hazel reminded her bluntly. “The King of Heroes proved her wrong.”

“Indeed,” Salem’s hands closed into fists. “Gilgamesh. Such a troublesome lout. Do you think you can deal with him, Hazel?”

“Incomplete as he is now? Perhaps.”

“But were he to regain the treasure Raven Branwen stole from him, even you would be annihilated,” Salem surmised. “Add in the other Servants and Kotomine, and we do seem to be significantly underpowered.”

“Your orders, my Queen?” Watts inquired.

Salem rubbed her chin for several moments, deep in thought. Or, so Emerald assumed. She wouldn’t put it past the woman to exaggerate her process to make herself seem larger than life. Which, to be fair, it did.

“Watts, you will take Cinder’s place as intermediary between ourselves and Lionheart. The man has proven useful so far and if any masters come into his care, he could prove so again. Hazel, you will take Tyrian, Emerald, and Caster to Atlas.”

“What’s in Atlas?” Emerald inquired.

Salem grinned. “The power we need.” The Queen rose from her throne and they all rose with her. “Thanks to your efforts, Beacon has fallen. Despite our losses and our new adversaries, we now have a chance to win this war in one fell swoop. And we shall.”

Hazel, Watts, and Tyrian all bowed and walked away. Caster dissolved into spirit form.

Emerald hesitated however.

Salem turned to her. “What troubles you, my dear? Speak your mind.”

Emerald curled her lip as she gathered her thoughts. “It’s just…” she stammered, “Cinder said we were at Beacon to get the powers of the Fall Maiden. Now, she’s dead and those powers are gone, but you don’t seem bothered by that, your grace.”

Salem shook her head in bemusement. “Cinder’s objective was to claim the Maiden’s powers for herself. It was her dream to be strong and feared. But they were also necessary to fulfill her mission from me. You see, dear Emerald, the power of the maidens comes from the work of Ozpin using magical energy gifted to him by our enemy. In addition to empowering the host however, they also block my connection to four relics, each hidden deep within the Huntsmen Academies.”

“So, only a maiden can hold these relics?”

“No, but only they can retrieve them from their hiding places,” Salem explained. “As long as their power persists in the world, the chambers they correspond to will serve as a barrier against all others. And as the power normally reincarnates no matter how the previous holder died, this proved quite the exceptional defense.”

“Until Kirei,” Emerald scowled.

Strangely, Salem chuckled at the name. “I did warn Cinder he was a dangerous man. I really should have made sure I could track him when I gave him that black heart.”

Emerald’s eyes widened. “You gave him…what?”

“A small boon,” Salem waved it off. “I was in a good mood at the time. Suffice to say, with the Fall Maiden’s power gone, the relic it shielded was freed and returned naturally to its rightful owner. Just like Summer nineteen years ago.”

The black mass beneath the Queen’s robes churned. A soft golden glow seemed to be struggling to escape.

Emerald had been a thief a long time. It required quite a few survival skills, not the least of which was being able to look at apparently disparate events and draw conclusions that could save your skin. “So, what you’re saying is that you benefited from Cinder’s death,” she accused.

Her courage died at Salem’s glare. “Do not take that tone with me ever again, Emerald. Cinder was a loyal servant and I shall miss her dearly. I do not throw people away so easily.”

Emerald bowed immediately. “You’re right. I apologize, my mistress. Please forgive me.”

Salem’s glare evaporated, and she turned away from Emerald. “It is fine. You’re young. You will learn. Go speak with Caster. It is best that masters be more to their Servants than prana batteries or else I can’t promise that Watts’ prediction of her loyalty will not come true.”

“Of course, your grace,” Emerald responded. She turned to leave, but a nagging thought battled with her terror. In the end, her curiosity won out.

She faced the Queen once more. “Your grace, if it is alright for me to know, what do the relics do, exactly?”

“Oh, I suspect they would grant some mystical boon to any huntsman fortunate enough to possess them,” Salem revealed offhandedly. “But their true value is to me and me alone. You see Emerald, my dear, the relics are but pieces of a far greater device.”

“What device?” Emerald inquired.

Salem grinned, and for the first time, Emerald saw sadism on her ivory face. “A key. A key to the isle of my enemy.”

 


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‘I’m not going crazy. I’m not going crazy. I’m not going crazy…’

“You’re really not.”

‘Says the old man voice in my head!’

Oscar Pine was having a distressing week. He madly paced around his room in the barn, trying in vain to forget that he was hearing a voice in his head that was most definitely not his own. Add in that voice was trying to get him to leave home and go to Haven?

Perhaps distressing was too light a word.

“I do request you not call me that,” the voice said. “I told you before. I am Professor Ozpin of Beacon.”

‘Yeah. And I’m the General of Atlas.’

“Don’t try to snide, Oscar. It doesn’t suit you. Besides, General Ironwood is a good friend of mine. The comparison between you two is lacking.”

Oscar seethed. He couldn’t deny the voice was something potent, no matter how much he wanted to. He’d played a trick earlier in the week where he’d had Oscar envision the office of the headmaster of Haven. Oscar had told himself that he’d probably just seen a picture of the office in one of his aunt’s books, but when he’d checked later he’d found no such thing.

But, even if everything the voice said was true. Even if he wasn’t going crazy and he did have one of the most famous huntsmen in all of Remnant inside his head, what the heck did that make him?

If Ozpin was fusing with his soul, where did that leave Oscar Pine?

“The same as you always were,” Ozpin assured him, reading Oscar’s fears. “You are a good man, Oscar. I wish I didn’t have to uproot your life, but the world is in more danger than ever before. It needs our help.”

‘What can I do?” Oscar challenged. ‘Even if you’ve unlocked my aura, I’ve got no training or experience or anything. What could I possibly do that actual huntsmen couldn’t do better?’

Ozpin was quiet for a moment. Oscar actually thought he’d score a point.

“I’m putting a symbol in your mind,” Ozpin told him. “Write it on a piece of paper. But keep it away from anything that might catch fire.”

Oscar envisioned the character a moment later and wrote it on one of his spare papers.

‘Okay, now what?’

“Watch.”

Blue lines lit up across Oscar’s arms. A moment later, the paper burst into flames.

Oscar staggered back in shock. The paper burnt up to ash.

“Wha- What was that?”

‘That was what you can do,’ Ozpin informed him. ‘At the end of our last life, I became aware that it is possible for one to possess both aura and magic circuits. As such, when our souls fused, I utilized the instance of spiritual malleability to not only unlock the former, but also forge you some of the latter. They enable you to perform magecraft, such as the rune magic you just did.’

Despite himself, Oscar was amazed.

‘Have you ever had these magic circuit things before?’

“Once. In our first life. Before we were even Ozpin.”

That was disturbing. To think how far back that original man must have lived. And how he was no longer even himself. Just the foundation of Ozpin.

Oscar wondered if one day he would cease to be as well.

“No,” Ozpin sternly assured him. “Not one of us has ever disappeared into nothingness. Merlin’s life is as well remembered now as it ever was.”

Merlin. Cool name.

‘Alright,’ Oscar resigned. ‘How many of these magic circuits do we have?’

“One hundred.”

‘Is that a lot?’

Ozpin chuckled.

“In Merlin’s time, mages would be unnaturally blessed to have so many.”

Oscar sighed. It looked like he really did have power no one else defending the world did. If he stayed on the farm and did nothing, while they fought a battle that was hopeless without him, what kind of person did that make him?

‘Okay. Where do we need to go?’

Oscar felt Ozpin give him a proud smile.

“Haven Academy should be our destination. From there we can rely on Professor Lionheart to help us get to where we need to go. But we’ll need to make a stop along the way.”

‘Why?’

“One of my associates, Qrow Branwen, currently has our cane. While I have no doubt he will return it when prompted, I do not like the idea of us traveling Anima unarmed.”

‘So, are we visiting some weapon store? I don’t have the money to buy something like that.’

“That won’t be necessary, Oscar. We’re going to a lake.”

How was it that out of everything that was happening to him, that was what confused Oscar the most?

 


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Jaune wasn’t sure what shocked him more.

The fact that magic was real and that there was an ancient system of summoning long dead heroes to kill each other for a cup, the fact that his mom had been one, the fact that he had just summoned an eighth older sister he’d never heard of, the fact that said sister tried to strangle him…

Actually, that last one he could believe. His sisters tried to strangle him a lot.

But usually, he knew why they wanted him to pay. Mordred just seemed to want him dead because he existed.

Nevertheless, his Servant was currently trying to pry herself out of Nora’s hug. She didn’t have too much difficulty escaping young huntress’ grip, which alone confirmed to Jaune that she was indeed superhuman, but the problem was that the orange haired valkyrie was persistent. Every time Mordred would force her off, she’d just grab hold of a new limb. His new sister got more and more annoyed with each new hug.

“I said unhand me, knave!”

“Never! Ren, help me hold her down!”

“That may not be the best idea, Nora.”

“You’re right! I can take her!”

“No, you can’t!” Mordred yelled. Crimson electricity sparked across her armor, probably meant to shock Nora off. Of course, Nora being Nora, she absorbed the burst and squeezed even harder. “Impossible!”

“Woooo we!” Nora cheered. “That is the best lightning ever! Do it again! Do it again!”

Mordred stared at Nora in horror. “What are you?”

Jaune sighed. This was getting them nowhere. “Nora, please get off of Mordred.”

Nora pouted at him. “But Jaune, she needs love! Just look at how grumpy she is!”

“Unhand me, foul demon! I need nothing from you!”

“Nora, please,” Taiyang pleaded. “I can’t afford to repair the house and pay Yang’s medical bills.”

Nora frowned and reluctantly left Mordred to got stand by Ren.

The Servant shivered in revulsion. “This world is horrifying.”

“I concur,” Ruby’s Servant, that silver-hair Archer guy, said. “While not likely for the same reasons as Saber over there, the information the grail has given us for this war is most irregular. I for one cannot say I have ever encountered these ‘Grimm’ before.”

“Yeah, the last ones said the same thing,” Qrow told them, plopping down in the recliner.

He explained their current situation to Mordred and Archer.

Archer rubbed his chin in thought. “Hmm, this is strange. To think that the world could fall into such disrepair.”

“Yeah,” Mordred whispered. “You’d think someone would’ve gotten the guts to roast this Salem chick by now.” She pouted and rolled her lips. “Chick. Chiiick. Huh, never would have thought of using that word like that. Modern lingo is weird.”

She turned to Ruby. “So, when do we go out and start dropping bodies?”

Ruby’s eyes widened in realization. “Uncle Qrow? We don’t have to kill the masters, right?”

Jaune didn’t react to that as much as he should have. Sure, it wasn’t something he had considered before, and he didn’t necessarily want to kill people but…

If said people were Kirei, Emerald, and Gilgamesh, if they were the people who took his partner and his mother away from him? He wouldn’t say he’d mind getting his hands a little bloody.

Fortunately, Qrow vigorously shook his head. “No. No, Ruby, only the Servants need to die for you to win the war.”

“Though a Servant without a master is much easier to deal with than one with a stable contract,” Archer pointed out.

Qrow narrowed his eyes. “Moving on, we can’t exactly just go out wily-nily. The old wars may have been sequestered in a single city, but now all of Remnant is the battlefield.”

“Ugh!” Mordred cried. “So, you’re telling me we have no idea where any of the other masters are? That’s so boring! How am I supposed to kill them if they won’t show themselves?”

“The other masters aren’t our only problem,” Qrow reminded her. “Cinder may be dead, but Salem isn’t going to let that stop her. She has more than enough forces to focus on the war and her original plans.”

“Which means she’s going after Haven next,” Blake surmised.

Sun stood up, fury on his face. “Uh-uh, no way! That psycho Grimm lady isn’t touching my school!”

Qrow smirked. “Nice attitude, kid. But the shuttles have all left. You sure you’re up for the trip?”

“Duh,” Sun replied immediately.

Blake stood up next to him. “We all are.”

Jaune nodded. Ren, Nora, and Ruby did the same.

Strangely, Taiyang sighed. “I can’t go with you, Qrow. I’ve got to stay here and look after Yang.”

Qrow nodded understandingly. “Of course, Tai.” He turned back to the rest of them. “Now then, you lot. While your spunk is fantastic, we’ve got a serious problem. Just because we have no idea where the other masters are, doesn’t mean they won’t track us down.”

“Meaning if we all travel together; the non-masters will be in danger from the enemy Servants,” Archer translated. “They will attack you in order to put Ruby and Jaune off guard.”

Ruby curled back into the couch. Jaune could understand the impulse. He’d already lost so much. He didn’t want to put his friends in any more danger.

Those friends though, didn’t back down.

“We’re not afraid,” Blake declared for them all.

“Then you’re fools,” Archer responded.

Qrow sighed. “I would have phrased it differently, but essentially yeah. You guys have seen what Arturia can do—

“Actually, I didn’t,” Sun reminded them. “What could she do?”

“—and the other Servants won’t be far behind,” Qrow ignored him. “You guys can still travel to Haven, mostly because you’d follow us if I told you no, but it has to be on a different route than us. You guys can follow the usual town hopping path, while I take Ruby and Jaune through the forest.”

“The safe houses?” Tai asked.

Qrow nodded. “The safe houses.”

The students looked at each other for a moment before Ruby tentatively raised her hand. “What safehouses?”

Both men looked to the silver-eyed girl. Both hesitated, weirdly tongue-tied all of a sudden.

At last Taiyang spoke, “Your grandfather was… a bit paranoid, Ruby. He set up a bunch of safe houses across Vale and Mistral. Really amazing how many he was able to make actually. We used them in the last war to hide in between fights.”

“I have a grandfather?” Ruby asked. “How come I’ve never heard of him?”

“He died right before your mom went to Beacon,” Taiyang explained. “None of the rest of us ever met him and Summer never liked to talk about it. I guess it was too painful.”

Archer hummed. “Building safe houses that can hide a Servant is no small task? That’s no small task. He must have been an impressive man.”

“According to Summer, he was the best,” Qrow told them.

Jaune sighed. He was the best. So, of course, he was long dead, unable to help them at all.

But they had a plan. It was a vague plan, but they were moving forward. That was something.

“Everyone clear on the plan?” Qrow asked. Off everyone’s nods, he grinned mirthlessly. “Then, get some sleep, you pipsqueaks. We’ll head out tomorrow.”

 


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Fire.

Fire was everywhere.

He had made a wish. He hadn’t meant to, but he had. And now there were only flames.

But something was different. The mud had brought him somewhere else. The crumbling buildings were wood, not metal or stone. Among the screams of dying innocents, black creatures with strange white masks roamed and ravaged the village’s remains.

He searched endlessly over the carnage, desperate to find a survivor. But all he found were corpses.

He collapsed to his knees. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. There was supposed to peace, true peace.

But it was all a lie. The grail was a lie.

A pitiful cry pierced his despair.

He shambled over to a pile of flaming rubble, Trapped underneath was a child. A little girl crying out for someone to save her.

He had to save her. He had to save someone.

“Hold on,” he told her. “I’ll get you out.”

A hellish roar broke out behind him. He whirled around, raising his weapon to the approaching wolf. He pulled the trigger by instinct alone.

But the chamber clicked empty. He hadn’t reloaded yet.

The black beast leaped at him, ready to tear him apart.

No less than he deserved.

He had failed.

A flash of silver erased the charging creature from existence. No longer moving at blindly speed, he saw the flash was a knight with a brilliant sword.

He knew her. She was his Servant.

But shouldn’t she be gone? Gone with the grail?

Did the cursed cup still exist? Was it still a danger to the world?

“Saber,” he whispered.

The knight turned to face him. Her eyes blazed with a fury hotter than the fire surrounding them.

If he had anything left to lose, he would be terrified.

But he didn’t.

He pointed back to the buried girl.

“Please help me save her.”

 


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Kirei shook his head as he woke. He had experienced similar, though far more confusing memory flashes during his tenure as the fourth Assassin’s master. These dreams were far more enjoyable however.

He opened his eyes and stared down the barrel of a Thompson Contender identical to his own. On the other end, his Servant scowled as he struggled to pull the trigger.

Kirei smirked. “Have you been at that all night? Really, you must learn to relax, Kiritsugu Emiya.”

Assassin, his face identical to Kirei’s greatest enemy and dearest friend save for tan skin and silver eyes and hair, sneered but maintained his position.

Kirei chuckled and rose from his bed. After he had learned who he had summoned, the priest had despaired. To have his perfect opponent brought back into this world, only to be tied to him as an ally. It was a such a torturous punishment he was convinced it was the word of God himself, finally moving to smite Kirei for his transgressions.

But when Assassin had moved to execute him, he had rapidly activated a Command Seal to prevent him from continuing his attack.

It didn’t stop him from trying to overcome that order literally every moment afterwards, but it did provide Kirei with the alternative joy of watching his foe struggle with the same restrictions that chaffed at him.

Even in the Lord’s punishments, he hid blessings.

Kirei pulled on his robe and strapped the Contender to his side. He smiled at Kiritsugu’s responding growl.

He didn’t know how any version of the Mage Killer proved worthy of the Throne, but to his understanding, Heroic Spirits were an amalgam of the consciousness of their identities in every timeline, with the one or ones that proved worthy taking precedent. But with the memories of all.

This Kiritsugu knew how he had acquired the Contender, so he at least knew of the events of this timeline.

Still, he did not feel like a regular Heroic Spirit.

Oh well, it would be more interesting to find out as he went along. Though…

Kirei glanced at his Contender. With Kritsugu likely to work only reluctantly and Gilgamesh still healing, it may be best to increase his arsenal sans Heroic Spirits.

And thanks to his experience at Beacon, he knew exactly where to go.

 


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He pulled the remaining rubble off the girl. The sacred sheath was inside her now.

Saber left soon after, declaring they were done. He supposed that was fair.

He had destroyed her ideals, and it had led to nothing.

He picked up the little red-headed girl. She was barely awake in the smoke.

“Hey, stay with me,” he demanded of her. “You’re alive. You’re alive.”

The girl’s silver eyes peaked open.

He smiled, elated that, at last, he was truly able to save someone.

It wasn’t for nothing.

“I’m Kiritsugu Emiya. I will protect you.”

The girl smiled at that. Perhaps he gave her the same hope she gave him.

“Summer,” she whispered. “My name is Summer Rose.”

 

 

Chapter Text

A golden sunset gleamed on a burnt horizon.

A lone man staggered up a hill filled with swords, his own body a pincushion of blades.

‘I am the bone of my sword’.

The man reached the crest of the hill and sank to his knees.

‘Steel is my body, and fire is my blood’.

A noose, waiting for a hangman, flashed across the sky.

‘I have created over a thousand blades.

Unknown to Death,

 nor known to Life’.

The man on the hill, his hair and eyes a matching silver, smiled.

‘Withstood pain to create many weapons.

Yet, these hands will never hold anything. Thus, I pray…’

Tears flooded down the man’s face.

‘Unlimited Bladeworks!’

He screamed.

 


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Ruby shot up in bed, panting heavily. Sweat clung to her pajamas.

She whirled around the room, searching for the bronze field littered with weapons. Realizing it was just a dream, she didn’t know what to think. Part of her longed to see those beautiful swords again while the other desperately tried to forget the sound of the man’s scream.

She furrowed her eyebrows. White hair, tan skin, red cape…

The man in her dream was Archer.

Ruby glanced at her hand. Even in the relative dark of the early morning, the Commands Seals glared back at Ruby. It felt like they were challenging her, seeing if she had the resolve to do what she needed to do, to be a hero.

She thought she did. She’d have Jaune and Uncle Qrow with her while Blake and the others dealt with Salem’s attack. And she only needed to kill the Servants, who were already dead, so…that made it better?

She really wished that wasn’t a question.

Ruby sank back into her pillows. She didn’t know what to do in this war. She’d never wanted to go to war, just save people. And she needed to save everyone, she knew that but with the weird Archer dream, she was starting to wonder if she really knew what she was getting herself into.

She wished she could talk to Yang. She could use some sisterly advice.

There was light leaking in from the bottom of Ruby’s door. The silver-eyed girl raised an eyebrow. The only other room on her floor was Yang’s, so that meant…

Ruby jumped out of bed and dashed out the door.

She tore open the entrance to her sister’s room, her grin wider than ever before.

And saw Yang still lying in bed. Still unconscious.

“What?” Ruby muttered. The light was on, so who was in the –

A jacket to the face cut off Ruby’s line of thought.

“Nope,” a voice declared. “Nope, nope, definitely not. Ugh! None of these are fit for a king!”

Ruby disentangled herself from the black and white jacket in her face and saw Mordred coming out of the closet, a pile of Yang’s clothes on her arm.

The Saber Servant ungracefully plopped them all on the ground.

“Hey!” Ruby whined. “What are you doing?”

Mordred looked up and smiled. “Ah, Ruby. Perfect timing. I need clothes for wearing outside. So, tell me, do you prefer the tan long coat or the brown duster?”

“Those are Yang’s clothes!” Off Mordred’s lack of reaction, “Yang. My sister. The girl in the bed right there!” Ruby pointed.

Mordred took a glance at Yang’s sleeping form. She turned back to Ruby and shrugged. “She snoozes, she loses.”

“She’s in a coma!”

“Oh,” Mordred had the decency to look slightly abashed. “Just the brown duster then.”

“Ugh!” Ruby threw up her arms and banged her head against the wall. How was this Arturia’s first kid?

After a minute of deep, calming breathes, Ruby turned back to the knight.

Mordred had neatly folded the pile of clothes and put them back in the closet. Then, she made her armor disappear in a flash of light, leaving only a very skimpy red dancer’s outfit. Her entire midriff was bare, and her bust was only hidden by a tight crimson wrapping. There was a decent length skirt though so Ruby thanked the gods for small miracles. And then, cursed them for the tolls demanded for them as Mordred threw on the brown duster that Yang had favored since before they’d even gotten into Beacon.

Ruby was now a little grateful she probably wouldn’t be around when her sister woke. Sure, she’d miss Yang and she really wished she’d be able to say goodbye, but the world needed to be saved. If they didn’t do it, there wouldn’t be a world for her to wake up to.

Also, she didn’t want to be around when Yang realized her favorite jacket was missing. She was bound to notice something was off with her closet. Yang didn’t fold clothes. Which was actually really strange considering she had technically been the ‘mother’ figure in the house since she was four, but hey, everyone’s got blind spots.

Ruby sighed. “Why don’t you just ask Jaune to buy you some clothes?”

Mordred scowled. “Why would I want anything from the pretender?”

“I thought we proved to you that he really is your brother?” Ruby whined. “We showed you the picture and everything.”

“All that image proved was that father gave him a hug,” Mordred growled. “Besides, father is dead, isn’t he? Are you going to stand there and tell me that it’s not that fool’s fault?”

Ruby lowered her head. It wasn’t Jaune’s fault.

‘It’s mine.’

Her eyes narrowed, and she glared at Mordred. “You know, Jaune may not be the best fighter in the world, but Arturia thought he was a fantastic leader. A king even! So, you might want to stop being mean and give him a chance.”

She didn’t notice Mordred’s eyes narrow in fury at the word ‘king’.

“Give him a chance, huh?” she queried, her voice unnervingly even. “You sure you want me to do that, little girl? After all, if I start getting along with him, then the odds of you getting the Grail become none.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Ruby declared. “Jaune and I want the same thing.”

Or at least, she was pretty sure they did. What else would he wish for another than bringing everyone back to life?

Mordred snorted. “Doesn’t matter? Ha! Even if you and the idiot really do have the same wish, I can tell for sure that me and the jester don’t.”

“Jester?”

“Your Archer.” Mordred rolled her eyes. “You do know that both the winning master and Servant get a wish, right? Are you going to sacrifice whatever it is that guy wants because you’re too weak to fight your little friend?”

Ruby opened her mouth to respond but…she just charged out of the room in a huff. She could feel Mordred smirking behind her.

She really didn’t like smirking people.

Except for Yang. And Uncle Qrow. And Nora whenever she was in one of her moods.

Okay, so it was really just Kirei and Mordred, but she really didn’t like them.

Ruby headed down the stairs to the kitchen. Maybe she could whip up some eggs for everyone to clear her head. She’d make Mordred’s really dry. Perfect revenge.

Surprisingly, she wasn’t the first one there.

“So, the paprika brings out the flavor?”

“Indeed, but only in moderation. You have to measure it carefully or the entire dish will be ruined.”

“Extraordinary,” Ren muttered, scribbling down what Archer had told him faster than Ruby had ever seen him move. “How did you learn all this?”

“Through much trial and error,” Archer explained with a smile. He summoned that cool white short sword from yesterday and diced up a cucumber faster than Ruby could even see. He poured the vegetable into a large wooden bowl and set it to the side while he brought out some lettuce.

To the side, Ren studiously took down the steps in one of his old Beacon notebooks.

Ruby cleared her throat. Both men looked up and smiled at her.

“Morning, Ruby,” Ren greeted.

“Master,” Archer nodded. “Do not worry. Breakfast will be ready quite soon.”

“Great,” Ruby said. She wasn’t sure how convincing she sounded. When she looked at Archer, all she could see was him screaming on the hill of swords.

Ren raised an eyebrow and came over to her. “Are you alright, Ruby?”

“Fine,” Ruby responded quickly. “I’m fine, great really. Except, well, Mordred’s going through Yang’s clothes and then we got into a fight about Jaune. She didn’t try to choke me at least, so I suppose there’s that.”

“Mordred is temperamental at the best of times. It’s best not to concern yourself too much with her words, Master,” Archer advised.

“How do you know that?” Ren asked. “Did you know her in your life?”

“No, I spent five minutes with her.”

That shouldn’t have been as convincing as it was.

Still, Ren’s question combined with Ruby’s dream to raise her own curiosity. “Archer, who were you in life? What was your name?”

Archer stopped chopping lettuce. He didn’t respond, but he seemed like he was considering how to.

At last, he looked up at Ruby. “Master, my legend was virtually unknown in my own time. It is highly unlikely that even if I told you my name, you would have any idea who I was. Telling you would have no tactical advantage to us and would in fact only prove a danger should our enemies pry my identity from your mind. To that end, I request that you allow me to keep it to myself.”

“Oh,” Ruby muttered. “That makes sense I suppose. Can you at least tell me what your wish for the grail is?”

Archer shrugged. “I would if I had one. As of now, there is nothing that I want from the grail.”

“Really?” Ren said disbelievingly. “You want nothing from a device that can grant any wish?”

“It is quite sad, I know,” Archer remarked. “But to have endless possibilities opened before you does not do any favors to the process choosing any single one.”

“But there’s got to be something you want!” Ruby protested. She should be relieved that her willingness to sacrifice the grail to Jaune wasn’t going to trample on Archer’s desires, but it so sad. How could anyone not want anything?”

Archer’s expression darkened, and he stared at his sword.

“There is something I want,” he admitted. “But it’s not something that I can achieve in this time, even with the Grail.”

“Well, maybe I can help you get it,” Ruby proposed. “If we’re going to be partners, we should help each other out. I can help you get whatever it is you want, and you can teach me more about being a silver-eyed warrior.”

Archer raised an eyebrow. “A what?”

Ruby quivered. “A silver-eyed warrior. You know, silver eyes, deadly to Grimm and Servants? I just thought that with yours and your being a hero and all…”

“The color of my eyes is a side effect of my fighting style,” he revealed. “I have never heard the term ‘silver-eyed warrior’ before in my life.”

“Oh.” Ruby’s shoulders fell. Ren put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

Archer finished dicing the lettuce and threw it into the same bowl as the cucumbers before mixing everything together. “Regardless, the exchange would have been pointless. If the Grail cannot give me what I want, you certainly cannot either.”

“I still would have tried,” Ruby insisted.

“And that would be unwise,” Archer stated. “This is a war, master. Your aura maintains me in this world as a normal mage’s prana would, and so I am your Servant. For now, Saber and her master are your friends. But the time may come when you will need to seek other allies, perhaps those you prefer not to. In the end, every team wants the Grail and only one can have it.”

“Jaune and I have the same wish though,” Ruby told him. “So, it doesn’t matter which one of us wins.”

Archer raised an eyebrow. “Really? He wants to wipe the Grimm off the face of Remnant?”

Ruby’s heart skipped a beat. Ren’s eyes widened.

“What?” she muttered.

Archer set the salad bowl to the side and leaned on the back of the counter. “Well, I assumed that was your wish. You seemed like one of those grand hero types. If I overstepped myself, I apologize, master.”

He didn’t look sorry at all. His smirk was almost as wide as Kirei’s.

Ruby gazed at her Command Seals. They just kept becoming a heavier burden to bear. “Can the Grail really do that?”

“The Grail can do anything in this timeline.”

“REN!” a joyous shout sounded.

Nora dashed in from the living room where the not family members had slept. She gave Ren a bone crushing hug. “Blake’s off brooding in the forest and Sun went with her, while Jaune’s writing some letter! Isn’t it a great morning?”

“The best, Nora,” Ren replied evenly. The hug was painful, but it was better than the tears she had poured out during the days after Pyrrha’s death.

“I know,” she said, her eyes and smile wide. She caught sight of the salad bowl. “Food!”

She zipped over to it and reached out a hand, but it was slapped away by the flat of a white blade.

Archer glared at her, the room seeming to get darker with his fury. “You will wait until everything is ready” he snarled.

“Yes sir! Yes sir!” Nora frantically nodded. Backing away from the salad.

Ren gazed up at Archer in awe.

Meanwhile, Ruby was too lost in thought to enjoy her friend’s cowing.

Wiping out the Grimm? It was a pipe dream. No one knew how many Grimm there were in the world and no one knew how they reproduced. Not even the most brazen huntsman dared to dream that they could destroy the creatures of darkness forever.

But if it could be done, if the grail could really do it, then the benefit to humanity would be uncalculatable. The kingdoms could expand past the capital’s rigid borders and the frontier settlements wouldn’t disappear like they were never there. There would never be another tragedy like Mountain Glenn or the Fall of Beacon. People would be safe.

Everyone would be saved.

Except for the ones she’d already failed.

Pyrrha, Penny, Arturia, the others lost in the Fall, they would stay dead. Without the grail, there was no way to save them.

Could Ruby give up those she’d lost to save those she’d never know?

What would a hero do?

They’d make the right choice.

What was the right choice?

 


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Blake stood over the summoning seal Ruby had used. She couldn’t take her eyes off the circle of blood. Just the day before she had seen it conjure a man out of thin air. It was impossible.

“Very soon, the impossible will become very possible.”

Adam had known this was going to happen. He knew about the Holy Grail War.

Did that mean he was a master?

“Blake?” a timid voice asked. She turned and saw Sun walking up next to her. “Are you okay? You’ve been out here longer than your usual brooding time.”

Blake scowled. “I do not have a usual brooding time.”

Sun smirked. “Yeah, you kind of do. Yang and I measured it.”

Blake opened her mouth to argue but ended up chuckling. That sounded like something Yang would do.

Sun smiled, the world seemed a bit brighter.

Still though, Blake’s eyes furrowed at the seal. “It seems so unbelievable.”

“We don’t have much choice but to believe,” Sun pointed out. “We saw Archer get summoned and I don’t think Mordred was hiding in the basement.”

“Saber,” Blake told him. “Her real name gives away her identity and that gives away her weaknesses. We should get used to calling her Saber.”

“Right,” Sun nodded, shamefully rubbing the back of his head.

Blake sighed. “I know the war is real, but the idea that this Holy Grail can really do anything? That it can make your greatest wish come true in an instant? It seems ridiculous. Like, how does it alter the minds of people if the master wants others to be kind forever? If someone wishes to be immortal, can’t others study their body to learn how to do the same? If it brings someone back from the dead, is it really that person or just an artificial copy that acts the same—”

“Woah,” Sun calmed her, placing his hands on her shoulders. “Slow down, Blake. You’re giving Nora a run for her money.”

Blake took a deep breath. “Sorry. It’s just, thinking about what it could do.”

“I know,” Sun said. “If we got that thing we could wake up Yang easy.”

“Not just that,” Blake pointed out. “Yang is strong. She is going to wake up in her own time. I know she’s going to pull through.” Weiss had reminded her of that.

“But the Grail,” she continued, “it can do the impossible. It could make true equality between humans and faunus in an instance. No more White Fang, no more hate, just peace.”

She smiled morosely. “It’s tempting. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. To have the chance to change the world on that scale.”

“Do you want to talk to Ruby or Jaune about it?”

Blake shook her head. “No. I trust them both. Whatever they wish for, I’m sure it will be worth it. Besides, I think my wish might have one more supporter than it should.”

Sun raised an eyebrow warily. “What do you mean?”

“During the Fall, when I was getting Yang, I was confronted by Adam.”

“Your old partner?”

Blake nodded. “I thought he was there to kill me. But he actually saved Yang and I from Mercury. And then he let us go. No tricks, no backstabs, he just let us go.”

“Okay, maybe he decided you did what you had to do and to let bygones be bygones?” Sun proposed.

“Adam doesn’t do bygones.” Blake declared. “He asked me to come back to him, rejoin the White Fang. He said that after that night, a miracle would be within reach and he wanted me by his side to claim it. I thought he had finally gone completely insane but—”

“If he was talking about the Holy Grail War…” Sun’s eyes widened. “Do you think he’s a master?”

“Maybe,” Blake admitted. “He mentioned something about Kirei and Gilgamesh giving him an opportunity, but I don’t want to distract Ruby and Jaune until I know for sure. I don’t think he’s allied with Salem, but the White Fang seem to have a habit of following the action.”

“You think we’ll see him on the way to Haven?”

“I hope not.” Adam was one of the strongest fighters she’d ever known. If he had a Servant at his command know, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

“BLAKE! SUN!” Nora yelled from the house. “Archer and Ren made breakfast! Get back here so I can eat!”

Blake and Sun looked to the house and then looked back to each other. They broke out laughing and heading towards the food.

Adam would wait. Yang would wait. Even the Grail would wait. They had food to eat.

 


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Dear Dad,

Jaune stopped writing. He knew he needed to let his dad know what had happened at the Fall and what he was doing now but, he wasn’t sure what to say. How could he possibly explain what was happening?

He sighed.

Breakfast was over, and Archer had proven himself quite the cook. Even Nora had been forced to admit he was better than Ren, a fact the quiet boy was in complete agreement with. Mordred had told him not to eat what he was given, saying the Jester was likely to poison him. Ruby had frantically denied ordering her Servant to do that, but Mordred had insisted that the danger of the white-haired man’s food was too great and confiscated his meal.

Which she then proceeded to eat.

Jaune chuckled at the memory. Everyone else was getting packed to go, with Ruby standing guard outside Yang’s room for some reason. She was probably just worried about leaving her sister.

Jaune had gotten ready after waking up, so he was left to wait. With only his blank paper and pen for company. With the CCT down, this was the only way to get his family the message.

He picked up his pen.

Dear Dad,

Hi. It’s been a while. I know you’re probably worried sick after what you saw of the Vytal Festival, but I’m okay. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news stops.

Mom is dead.

There were two guys from her past there. Kirei Kotomine and Gilgamesh, the King of Heroes. I don’t know if she ever told you anything about them or Heroic Spirits, but they killed her and did something very bad.

The Holy Grail War has begun on Remnant, and I’m a master.

I’ve summoned my Servant, Saber, and she’s apparently mom’s first kid, Mordred. Again, I don’t know if she ever told you anything about all this but, honestly, I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.

I’m not alone. My friend Ruby is also a master and her uncle is going to help us survive this thing.

We’re headed to Haven, so don’t worry. I’m going to win. I’m going to wish mom back.

Tell the girls I’ll be fine.

Love,

Jaune

Tears splattered on the page and Jaune rubbed his eyes and sniffled.

“Hey,” a voice called him.

Jaune turned around to see Taiyang in the doorway with a plate of grilled cheese.

“Thought you might be hungry after Saber stole your breakfast to ‘protect’ you,” he said, holding out the plate.

“Thanks,” Jaune replied, eagerly taking the plate.

Taiyang gave him a pitying look and sat down beside him. He scanned the letter and shook his head. “You realize you didn’t actually explain what the war is in this, right?”

Jaune gobbled down the sandwich and gulped at the older huntsman. “I was kind of hoping he’d already know. They were married for twenty-five years after all.”

“I wouldn’t hold out on that. Raven wouldn’t have told me anything if she didn’t have to,” Taiyang mused. “Don’t know if she was trying to keep me safe or just being secretive, but it hurt finding out either way.”

“Was that when she ran off?”

“Nah. That was after Yang was born, nine months later. Didn’t get an explanation for that either,” Taiyang sighed. “I was never the worst huntsman in the world, but when you’re on a team with the Branwen Twins and Summer Rose, you can’t help but feel like the weak link.”

“I know how that feels,” Jaune muttered. He knew he wasn’t going to be the strongest when he’d snuck into Beacon, but he’d been stupid enough to think he wouldn’t be completely useless. Oh, how wrong he was. If it hadn’t been for Pyrrha, he wouldn’t even have survived initiation. He had been a burden to his team.

Useless whenever they needed him.

Like Pyrrha did at the tower.

“How do you handle it?” Jaune asked. “They’re all so amazing, and I’m pathetic. I can’t help them when they really need it. Even now, I’m just the guy with the leash. And Mordred isn’t exactly thrilled with that situation.”

Taiyang sighed. “You never stop trying. You keep moving forward. You may fail, again and again, but you might not. You might save them. Letting them go it alone just leaves them vulnerable. Hell, if I had only gone with Summer then…”

He trailed off and looked to the side. He stood up and snatched up the letter. “Ansel, right? I’ll send this over the carrier pigeons. It should get there in a few days.”

“Thank you, sir,” Jaune said, standing as well. “And thank you for everything. I know Qrow wouldn’t have told us everything if you hadn’t made him.”

“Don’t mention it,” Tai waved off. “And don’t be too hard on Qrow either. He has good reasons a lot of the time and he’s not wrong about needing to keep this stuff secret. If word of Salem got out, the panic would make the Grimm unstoppable.”

“Yeah,” Jaune sneered.

‘But why didn’t he want to tell us?’

“Jaune! We’re ready to go!” Ruby called from outside.

“Come on, you idiot!” came Mordred’s holler. “The other Servants won’t slaughter themselves!”

Jaune sighed. He smirked at Taiyang. “Any advice on that?”

“Don’t sleep with your sister and really don’t sleep with my daughter.”

 


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Weiss cried into her bed sheets.

She’d thought she could handle it. She thought she could push everything aside for the concert. That she could just get Vale some money, help rebuild her friends’ home.

But those…those people. They didn’t care about others. They didn’t care that innocents died like dogs. They just wanted to be above them. To be apart from the masses. To be gods in their ivory towers.

It was too much. She’d lashed out. If General Ironwood hadn’t agreed with her, she’d be sitting in a jail cell.

She wasn’t sure if she would have preferred that.

Her father had locked her in her room, lectured her, as if he’d had any ground to stand on, and then…

He’d struck her.

And she’d realized how many times he must have struck Winter. And her mother.

He disowned her. Left her with nothing. Whitley had gloated.

They deserved each other. A monster and his son.

But she would not be his daughter.

Her eyes hardened.

Weiss dived under her bed and retrieved a case she hadn’t touched since Beacon. Inside was Myrtenaster.

She drew her saber and stabbed the floor. Her summoning glyph flared to life in front of her. It felt slightly different than when she’d done it at Beacon, but it wasn’t too strange.

Light blazed across the room, then flickered and died.

Weiss growled. She would master summoning. She would become stronger.

She would eclipse her father in every way.

 


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Emerald shivered in the airship’s hold.

“You know, I’ve been all over the world. Stolen from almost everywhere. Always avoided Solitas. You know why?”

“It’s cold.”

“It’s fucking cold,” Emerald spat.

The spit froze as soon as it left her mouth. Solitas, the continent Atlas was on, was famous for its inhospitable climate. The rampant blizzards and icy tundra were too much for even Grimm to bother with it. Which ironically enough, had made the place very attractive to the original founders of Mantle. They broke through the landscape’s dangers with sheer guts and ingenuity.

Then, Mantle had become Atlas and those same attributes created the most powerful kingdom in the world.

She sat in the cargo hold across from Hazel, his thick arms crossed across his chest. He didn’t even flinch in the frigid cabin. His eyes were calmly closed, but Emerald knew better than to think he was asleep.

Tyrian, for some reason beyond her comprehension, was the pilot.

And he was good at it! At least when he wasn’t trying to ram Nevermores for fun.

Caster materialized next to her. “If you would like, I can assist you in that matter, master.”

Emerald snorted. “No offense Caster, but I don’t think a fireball is going to do much if the ship’s heating systems aren’t helping.”

Caster frowned. She lazily waved her hand.

Bright green lines lit up across Emerald’s body. She screeched and then pawed at herself rapidly. “What’re you doing? What is…this?”

The lines faded, and Emerald felt warmer. Not only that, but her skin, her muscles, everything was thicker. Stronger.

“Pitiful technology,” Caster sneered. “I have used reinforcement magic to strengthen your body. Your skin shall hold tighter, allowing you to retain more body heat. You are satisfied, master?”

Emerald stared at her hand in awe. “Yeah. This is incredible.”

Caster smirked, but it wasn’t infuriating like Mercury or Kirei’s was. It just seemed…pleased. “Of course it is, my master. I am the finest mage since the King of Magic himself. My power will bring you the Holy Grail, I swear it.”

Emerald smiled. “Thank you. I promise that I will be worthy of your loyalty.”

Caster blushed and turned away.

Emerald’s smile grew. Salem was right. Getting Caster to care for her was going to be useful.

The hold’s speaker crackled.

“Good evening, ladies and abominations!” Tyrian’s voice cackled. “Despite weather concerns, we should be landing at Wattsie’s secret airfield in a few moments. And then, our glorious assignment from her Grace begins! MUHAHAHAHAHA!!! Try not to mess it up, newbie.”

The speaker died.

Emerald sighed at put her face in her palm. At first, she’d found Tyrian sort of terrifying, but now she wondered how Cinder went five minutes without incinerating the psycho. He was annoying!

Caster growled. “Who does that insolent bug think he is?”

“I don’t think he’s got enough marbles to think,” Emerald remarked.

The craft landed a few moments later as promised. Tyrian came down from the cockpit and the hatch opened up.

A harsh wind blew through the ship. Thanks to Caster’s enchantment, Emerald barely felt it.

Not that Tyrian and Hazel looked like they did either. Tyrian chuckled at the storm while Hazel left the safety of the shuttle as soon as he could.

“According to Watts’ intelligence, our primary target should be stationary, while our secondary targets follow a schedule that sees them enter the city every few days,” Hazel announced. “It will be easier to take them when they’re apart. I’ll secure the secondary targets while Emerald will deal with the primary. Tyrian will wait and observe.”

“Aww, but that’s boring! Why does the newbie get to cause all the carnage?”

Hazel’s glare silenced Tyrian. “No one needs to die today. Besides, Atlas is on high alert after what happened at Beacon. We need to do this quietly. Emerald and Caster will be more easily able to get in and out without being noticed. Speaking of, Caster…” he turned to the Heroic Spirit, “…we will need you to verify Watts’ information by infiltrating the enemy’s stronghold in spirit form.”

Caster’s fists closed. “I do not take orders from you.”

Hazel stared at her blankly for a moment, and then bowed his head. “My apologies.” He turned to Emerald. “Emerald, Caster’s spirit form is completely undetectable by any modern means. She will be able to confirm what we need and get out again without incident. It is my suggestion that we take such a course of action.”

Emerald’s eyes widened. He was actually asking her?

He was. His suggestion was really just that.

Emerald looked at Caster. Being her master had gotten her more respect than serving Cinder ever had.

It was strange, but also, invigorating.

“It’s a sound strategy,” she told Caster.

The Servant of the Spell nodded her assent and the group moved out toward their goal.

A street urchin, a psychotic scorpion faunus, an ancient hero, and whatever the hell Hazel was against the most powerful kingdom on Remnant.

Emerald knew that despite the plan, there was no way what happened next would not be bloody.

 


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Oscar dropped his backpack and collapsed down on the lake front.

“Okay. I’m here. Now what?”

“Now, we get what we need?” Ozpin told him.

Oscar picked his head and scanned the water. He’d been to this lake dozens of times over the course of his fourteen summers. His aunt had taught him how to swim here.

The farm boy raised an eyebrow. What could Ozpin possibly be looking for at Lake Vivian?

“Put your hands in the water,” Ozpin ordered him.

Oscar did so. “So, is there some sea monster that’s going to jump out and eat me now?”

“That’s Loch Ness, Oscar. And that poor beast unfortunately passed a few centuries ago. A true shame. Now focus. What we’re looking for will only come to the worthy.”

“I’m fourteen,” Oscar pointed out. “How in the world can I be worthy?”

“Hopeful your innocence combined with our past lives prestige will convince the sword to overlook your youth.”

“Sword?”

Oscar didn’t have time to inquire further as he was struck in the stomach by a hilt flying out of the water.

The farm boy fell to the ground.

“Ow! Was that supposed to happened?”

“Not exactly,” Ozpin conceded. “But I guess even a blade of its caliber gets a bit over eager after an eon of disuse.”

“Eon? What?”

“Look beside you.”

Oscar curled over and his eyes widened in awe.

Lying on the sand was a magnificent silver long sword. The pommel and cross guard were solid gold while the grip was royal blue leather. Every inch of the blade seemed to shine like the sun.

Oscar hesitantly reached out and took the sword. He felt cleaner, more fulfilled, more sure in his new mission, just by holding the glorious weapon.

“It is not truly ours, my boy. We will have to return it to its rightful owner, but for now it will protect us well,” Ozpin assured.

Oscar didn’t even feel bothered. It was an unequitable honor just to behold the blade’s ethereal beauty. To wield it even for an instant would be a dream beyond the hopes of dreams.

“What is this thing?” he whispered in awe.

“The greatest of all holy swords, my boy.”

Oscar didn’t know if the name came to him from Ozpin’s memories or if it was sent by some god, but he uttered it with the boundless reverence it deserved.

“Excalibur.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Emerald peered through her binoculars, observing the guard station with a critical eye. It was perhaps the most fortified building she'd ever seen. Its parapets stood at least a dozen feet tall and were at least a foot thick of solid steel, topped with barbed wire. As snow fell atop the wire, it sparked and fizzled. It appeared that, whoever was in charge of security, they took their job seriously.

She could only see one way in or out of the complex: the front gate, a checkpoint manned by half a dozen armed men. The guards' uniforms were all neat and sterling white – not much of a surprise, given who their employer was.

She ducked behind her snowdrift and was met by Tyrian's grinning face.

"You sure your pet witch is right about this, newbie?" he asked licking his lips. "Because if she's not, that's going to be bad news for you."

Emerald fixed him with a sharp glare. "Caster has confirmed Watts’ intel. Hazel is in position to get the ones in the car. All that’s left is for me to sneak in and grab the girl, while you sit here like a good psycho and watch my back.”

"Yeah, yeah." Tyrian waved his hand dismissively. "Just make sure you don't take too long. This place is so white, so bland. It bores me."

Emerald turned away from him in a huff and darted to the walls.

“You spoke well, master” Caster complimented in her mind. “I would have torn him limb from limb for his words.”

Emerald shook off the creepiness factor she got whenever her Servant used their telepathic link. The magic wielder was probably right next to Emerald in her astral form and the young thief would never even know it.

"Thanks," she whispered, knowing her Servant would hear. "I've been dealing with dicks like him all my life. If you can't kill them, then you just let them know they can't walk all over you."

"We could kill him, my master," Caster suggested. Though invisible, her voice gave the impression that she was smiling encouragingly. "No one would have to know."

The idea was not without appeal. Tyrian never stopped insulting her or laughing like a lunatic. She was pretty sure he would have tried to kill her by now if Salem hadn’t ordered otherwise. He was probably still deciding if maiming went against that order. It was more stressful than Mercury’s quips ever were. Still…


Emerald shook her head. ‘If Salem found out, she'd kill us both. It's not worth the risk.’

Emerald expected a retort about how her Servant could make short work of the Grimm woman, but received only silence. Pausing at the base of the wall, she stopped to catch her breath.

‘Caster? You okay?’

"Be careful of that woman, master," Caster warned her. "There is a darkness in her that's more terrifying than anything I have ever encountered."

'You're not exactly a model citizen either, are you Medea?' Emerald pointed out.

The constant dreams she'd been having since the summoning made her sympathetic to her Servant's past, but they didn't exactly hide the horrible things she'd done either.

Yes, that goddess on the clamshell had cursed her with love for that Jason guy, but that love didn’t make her kill her own brother to protect him. If she really was one of the most powerful mages of all time, surely there was a cleaner way to avoid his pursuit.

"Master, you don't understand," Caster protested. "I will not pretend I have ever shied away from bloodshed, but this Queen…her very essence feels of darkness. Of evil. How did you even end up serving such a demon.?"

'She found me,’ Emerald stated simply. 'The benefits were good enough to stay.'

Love, affection, respect. It wasn't like she was getting those anywhere else.

"I fear that may not always be the case."

Emerald kept that in her mind. She had known Cinder was using her from the beginning but her fake love was better than nothing and it wasn't as if she could say no. With Salem, the Queen was…different. She kept everyone in line and Emerald wasn't stupid enough to think her end goal would be anything good for Remnant as a whole, but when she had accused her of plotting Cinder's downfall, the Grimm woman had reacted furiously. And not defensive furiously, legitimately affronted that Emerald would even think her capable of betraying her own.

Heck, it was thanks to her that Emerald was even talking to Caster.

'For now, we stick with her,' Emerald declared. 'I know you're just looking out for me Caster, but I wouldn't even have you if it weren't for Salem. If nothing else, she's earned the benefit of the doubt.'

‘She’s having us kidnap children!'

'Yeah, well, I'm technically a kid, so that makes it okay.'

“That does not erase your sins in the eyes of the fates. If you should fall today, your damnation in Tartarus will still be certain.”

‘Then I won’t die,’ Emerald defended, even though she had no idea what the hell Tartarus was. ‘Look, not all of us are invisible right now, so can we please save this conversation for after we’ve snuck into the mansion that thinks it’s a fortress?’

Emerald waited a moment. Then two.

Finally, Caster sighed.

"As you wish, master.”

Emerald smirked and leapt over the building's wall, slicing the barbed wire with a flick of her kama.

Unbeknownst to her, a hunched figure stalked through the snow towards the main gate.

 


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Inside his command tent, Adam knelt before the projector. Behind him were the half a dozen faunus who ranked as lieutenants in the Vale White Fang. All of them bowed their heads.

The machine flared and a larger than life hologram of a tiger faunus blazed to life.

"High Leader Khan, you honor us," Adam declared.

Sienna Khan frowned. “I am not contacting you for honor’s sake, Adam. I want to know why you led an assault on Beacon Academy.”

That was a trickier question than it should have been.

Adam had two choices. Spin the tale as a triumphant victory for the White Fang and the glorious downfall of humanity. Or tell the truth that he'd been press-ganged into committing his forces to attack a huntsman academy by a group of abnormally powerful humans only to betray that group to another faction operating within their own ranks all so that he could summon a legendary hero and kill six other people to acquire a mystical cup that could grant any wish.

Damn it all.

"High Leader Khan, it would be best if that information was not disclosed over an unsecured line."

"Oh," Sienna raised an eyebrow. "Is your explanation so dreadful that you wish to save me the trip for tearing you apart for your stupidity?"

"More that it's something best shown," Adam explained cryptically. "Please, High Leader. Have all my years of loyalty not earned me this?"

Sienna thought for a moment, a cress forming on her forehead to join her stripes. In the end, she scowled.

"Come to Mistral, Adam," she ordered. "You can show me your explanation at headquarters. And it had better be good. For your sake."

"Thank you, High Leader," Adam replied. "I assure you, you shall not be disappointed."

Sienna Khan scowled, and the hologram faded.

The tent was returned to darkness without the light of the hologram.

Adam rose and shook his head. He wished he'd had better options than to sound like a fanatic or a madman.

"Sir," one of the lieutenants spoke. Adam faced them all. "If the High Leader is displeased, we will stand with you."

The underlying message was clear. If he gave the word, he would be High Leader. Part of Adam wondered if he should give it.

That part was promptly butchered by the rest of him.

Sienna was his mentor, the one who showed him that strength was the path to salvation. When he and the rest of the White Fang were floundering under Ghira Belladonna’s foolish pacifism, it was she who took the initiative and rebuilt the organization as the bastion of strength it was now. Without her, he would not exist as he was now. He did not want to kill her.

And he would have everything he wanted.

Speaking of which…

"I thank you all for your loyalty," he announced. "Each of you needs to select what men you will bring with you to Mistral. We move out tomorrow morning!"

The men gave a mighty cheer and then trickled out of the room.

"That was well spoken, my master," Lancer complimented as he materialized from spirit form.

Adam sneered to the side. "I did not ask for your opinion."

Lancer bowed his head. "Apologies, my lord. It won't happen again."

"Good."

Adam seethed. His Servant, his human, aggravated him just by existing. The fact that he was so damn polite made it even worse. He hated him, and he was just so…noble about, as if the constant degradation meant nothing to him. Nothing seemed to phase him; he accepted every disrespect, every insult, with the same blank look of obedient apathy.

He couldn’t decide if that was how all humans should act before their betters or if such a sniveling dog reminded him too much of the old Fang.

"Adam," a female voice called from the tent opening.

Lancer's eyes widened, and he dissipated back into spirit form.

"What is it?" he inquired to Ilia, calming himself with his old friend.

The chameleon faunus hesitantly walked into the tent, her eyes carefully scanning the inside. "Is... is Lancer here?"

"He's here," Adam grunted. "He's just in spirit form."

"Oh," Ilia noted. She frowned. "Good. That's good. Less of a chance the men will see him."

Was Adam imagining things, or did she look disappointed?

Ilia shook her head. "Never mind, look at this. Our contacts at Patch Harbor just sent it."

She handed Adam a scroll. On it was a picture of a diverse party of huntsmen. With a very familiar black bow among them.

"Blake," he whispered. "What ship did they board?"

"That's the thing, they split up and boarded two," Ilia informed him. "Blake, the monkey faunus, the pink-eyed boy and the orange-haired girl took the Cerulean heading to the north of the Mistral frontier while the rest boarded the Celeste bound for the south. It makes no sense."

Adam concurred. He walked over to the table that had held the projector and investigated a tactical map he had on it. “With the CCT down, they couldn’t be answering a distress call from the frontier. And if they were after Kotomine or Cinder’s master, then surely, they would seek strength in numbers. Splitting up makes no sense.”

In his mind however, he heard Lancer gasp.

“Master, please forgive me,' Lancer's voice interrupted, 'but the blonde woman in this image... I recognize her. That is the King of Knights.”

"What?" Adam exclaimed.

"I said they split up and—"

"No, not you Ilia," he protested. "Lancer, materialize and explain yourself."

“With all due respect, my lord, I can inform you of our enemy from my current state—"

"Now Lancer!" Adam shouted. "Don't make me waste a Command Seal on something so trivial."

Reluctantly, Lancer appeared, his head bowed in shame – as he should.

Ilia's eyes locked on to him as soon as he appeared. Adam supposed the materialization trick was a wonder to behold, but they had little time for gawking.

Lancer raised his head, making a noticeable attempt to focus only on Adam. "My lord, as I was saying, I know the blonde woman in this image. She is the King of Knights, Arturia Pendragon, a Saber class Servant."

Adam gazed at the picture again, this time focusing on the hands of those in view. Sure enough, the right hands of both the small girl in the red hood and the blonde boy in ill-fitting armor both had pinprick red smudges on them. They were both masters.

And both were on the ship headed south.

Everything clicked into place.

Blake had trusted the humans and the humans had taken advantage of that trust. They were sending his love out as a decoy to draw off enemy Servants while they snuck their way to Anima. How gutless.

Ilia noted the two masters and looked up at him. "Do we go after them?"

Adam rubbed his chin in thought. "No" he stated firmly. "If it were only one Servant, then we could deal with them easily, but two? I doubt anyone who's earned the title King of Knights is a novice in combat."

"That is true," Lancer concurred. "I have faced few foes of her caliber. Even if our last encounter had concluded properly, I don't know if I would have emerged victorious."

"You've fought her before? What do you mean, Lancer?" Ilia inquired.

Lancer averted his gaze from her, but he did respond. "Her master interfered with our duel by threatening my own lord's wife. Under that influence, he used a Command Seal to force me to end my own life."

Ilia's eyes widened in shock, her hands shooting up to cover her gaping mouth. Adam felt his own fist close. His heart hammered in his chest. The Saber's master was clever, ruthless. Looking at the battle objectively, the move had been brilliant. He himself was no stranger to using a person's loved one as leverage.

But still, to force the Servant to commit suicide…

"This King of Knights, did she know of this plot?" Adam inquired.

Lancer's eyes narrowed. His grip on his spears tightened until his knuckles were white. "I do not know," he confessed. "But she did nothing to stop it. She merely... watched. "

That settled it. If the Servant had collaborated with such a diabolical master, then it stood to reason that the one she served now was no less cunning.

Or uncaring of collateral damage. Either way, that was an opponent not to be underestimated.

"Ilia, gather the men," Adam commanded. "We're heading north. We'll shadow Blake as long as we can on the way to headquarters. With any luck, we can convince her to join us before they reach Haven."

Ilia's eyes hardened, and she nodded. "By your command."

Her gaze drifted back to Lancer, and once more she looked as if she was on the verge of tears. "Lancer, what happened to you before, it wasn't your fault. The people who did this – they'll pay."

Lancer sighed. He still did not look Ilia in the eyes. "Thank you for your kind words, Mistress Ilia."

The chameleon girl gave him a soft smile and then exited the tent.

Lancer turned to Adam. "Master, would it be too much trouble for me to remain in spirit form when Mistress Ilia is present?"

Adam raised an eyebrow. "Why? You always seem uncomfortable in her presence, but are fine in mine. Does her similarities to your kind disgust you so? Is it more difficult to see her as an animal?"

"No, master," Lancer protested. "I have nothing against Mistress Ilia. However, I fear that consistent exposure to me may prove dangerous to both you and her."

"I'm sure," Adam sneered. If the human wanted to make vague excuses, then the issue was better left unexplored. He didn't have time to deal with his prejudice. "This King of Knights, you mentioned that you didn't know if you could beat her in your last encounter. Has that changed at all?"

Lancer bowed formally. "Possibly, my lord. I do not know why I remember the events of my last summoning, but if she does not, I will have foreknowledge of her Noble Phantasm that shall leave her at a distinct disadvantage."

"And if she does remember you?"

"Then I would request that you allow us to conclude our duel as knights should," Lancer replied. He looked to the side, his gaze far away. "As she swore we would."

Was that a note of resentment in his voice?

Adam chuckled. He had done nothing but scorn Lancer since his summoning and, yet this other great hero was the one to incite rage in his Servant. Perhaps their grand stature of virtue only made it all the more crushing when they failed to live up to those standards.

Or maybe they were only human.

Adam shuddered. What a dreadful thing to be.

 


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Weiss held Myrtenaster in front of her face. She took in a deep breath, focusing all the power within her, and then let it out with a deep sigh. The air split upon the edge of her blade.

She thrust her saber into the floor. A glyph with four swords on it spun before her.

Something pulled within her. It was the same feeling she'd had when she'd saved Velvet from the paladin at Beacon. She felt a call, riving within her. A voice struggling with all its might to have its whisper be heard.

The glyph on the ground in front of her accelerated as it span. A ghostly hilt slowly rose out of the nothingness.

She could almost hear it.

"Hello, sister."

Oh, for the love of…

Weiss' concentration broke, and the glyph disappeared.

She turned to see Whitley standing at her door. He had a condescending look in his eyes and a disgusting smirk on his face.

She did not have time for this. "Leave," she demanded.

"How hurtful," Whitley declared, though the way he nonchalantly rubbed his fingers said otherwise. "And here I am about to offer you a favor. Father's taking me into town to meet some his business partners. I was going to ask if you wanted me to pick you up anything since you're, you know, stuck here."

Weiss didn't even spare him any emotion. She had faced Grimm, terrorists, and whatever the hell that golden man at the tower was. Her little brother, the backstabbing little brat that he was, barely even rated as an annoyance.

"Are you jealous?" she asked him flatly, deciding she might as well get a reason for his continued interference. "Is that it?"

"Whatever do you mean?"

"Is that why you hate me? Are you jealous of my abilities? Of Winter's?"

Whitley made a show of standing up straight and humming as if in thought. "No," he decided. "No, not really. Honestly, I find it barbaric. It's beneath people like me. Like father. What could a single huntsman do that an army could not? That's why we have one. Even if it is run by a fool."

Weiss' grip on Myrtenaster tightened. General Ironwood was far from perfect, but he did everything he could to help during and after the Fall of Beacon. He was a better man than her father ever was or would be.

This tiny little speck did not have the right to insult him.

"I said, leave!"

Whitley threw his hands up in a placating gesture and narrowed his eyes in distaste. "Fine, fine. I've got better things to do," he proclaimed, as he backed out of the doorway. Glancing at her over his shoulder, he sneered. "Enjoy your…training. However pointless it is."

He started to walk away – and then paused, mid-step. Turning back, he raised a haughty eyebrow. "What is your plan anyway? What do you hope to accomplish while trapped in your own bedroom?"

A gravity glyph slammed the door in his face as an answer

Weiss sighed and recentered herself, bringing her sword back before her face. She observed its edge with a keen eye. What she hoped to accomplish was beyond her little brother's puny traitorous mind. Even if she had felt he was worthy of a response, he probably wouldn't have understood it.

Her glyph flared to life on the floor once more. The power inside her returned, its echo striving to be heard but always falling just too far past silence.

Weiss readied all her focus, all her aura and struck Myrtenaster into the ground.

She remembered Winter's words from their talk at Beacon. She thought of her past enemies, the ones that truly challenged her.

That was… surprisingly difficult. Not that she'd lacked for powerful foes or even to say that she'd been superior to them all, but none had really challenged her.

She'd never doubted for a moment that she would win. Even as she'd felt claws, and bullets, and talons, and even a chainsaw on her aura, she'd never doubted she'd win.

Because she'd known that no matter how badly she'd bleed, no matter how badly she'd hurt, she wasn't alone anymore. She'd had her team. Ruby, Yang, and Blake had always been there to help her when she fell.

She was free.

Which led her to the one foe she'd vanquished before then. When she was still her father's prisoner, his pristine doll of a daughter that he was desperate to keep under his thumb.

To a suit of knight's armor, haunted by a Geist Grimm. The Arma Gigas.

Her father's final test to make her quit her dreams of Beacon. He hadn't expected her to pass.

She'd suffered. She'd scarred. She’d nearly lost an eye.

But she'd persevered, rising above the challenge. And that feeling – that feeling of triumph – filled her, setting her pulse racing, clearing her thoughts, straightening her back.

The glyph before her grew in size, its light flaring in a blinding pulse. Wind sheared through her bedroom like a gale force storm. Books and tables were sent tumbling to the ground. Many minutes passed but to Weiss it was only a moment.

Screams echoed in from outside the room.

The force, the whisper, finally reached its breaking point. The wall blocking it finally crumbled, and a single phrase shot through Weiss' mind like a thunderbolt.

'My will creates your body.'

The sigil flashed and for a moment, the wind was a typhoon. The grand windows of her room shattered to pieces.

Weiss stood and gazed upon what she had summoned. Before her was the armor that had nearly taken her eye and her freedom.

Before it had been hard grey steel. Now, it was an ethereal white.

Before it had stood against her. Now, it knelt.

Her father wasn't its master anymore. Just like he was no longer hers.

At that thought, Weiss smiled.

Klein broke through the door. "Ms. Schnee, you have to run—"

He choked on whatever he was going to say next. The Arma Gigas was truly a sight to behold.

Weiss turned to her loyal butler. "Klein, I need a favor."

With her training complete, she had no reason to stay in Atlas. She would sneak out in the middle of the night, find some way out of the kingdom, and head to Mistral to be with Winter.

Other than perhaps her mother, she was the only family she had left.

The Arma Gigas stood up and stomped towards the door. Weiss raised an eyebrow. She didn't give it any orders.

Then the armor raised its massive sword.

Her eyes went wide. "Klein, move!"

It was too late. The familiar brought down its blade and the entire wall came crumbling down. Klein didn't move.

"NO!" Weiss yelled, her hand outstretched.

Yet, as the debris fell on what was once the doorway to her bedroom, Klein's form shimmered out of existence.

Weiss shook her head in shock before taking another look at the scene.

It was horrifying.

In the hallway, lit by the windows to the garden and surrounded by rumble, was Emerald, her friend from Beacon, and a scorpion faunus with an insane grin on his face.

And on the end of his stinger tail, was Klein, his face frozen in agony as he breathed his last breath.

Emerald gaped in shock at her companion. "You were supposed to wait outside! What happened to stealth?"

The faunus shrugged and tossed Klein's corpse out the window behind him. The glass shattered, along with Weiss' heart, as his body was cast into the garden below. "Eh, I got bored."

Weiss' fist tightened around Myrtenaster. Klein had always been there for her. Even when mother and father were at their worst, she could always count on her butler of many faces to put a smile on his happy little snowflake's.

And these two had murdered him and then thrown him away like trash.

"Attack," she growled to her new familiar. The knight raised his sword high above his head and then brought down in a heavy slash. Both Emerald and the scorpion proved agile enough to dodge the blow, but the blade broke the marble floor where it struck.

The scorpion laughed like a madman. "Oh, the Ice Queen thinks she can pass judgment upon us. If only she knew we knelt to only one sovereign!"

"Why couldn't you have just left this to me and Caster?" Emerald roared. She drew her revolvers from her belt and fired off a few shots to keep the ghostly knight at bay.

The scorpion frowned. He leapt over another of the knight's sword swings like it was nothing. "Oh, stop whining, newbie. It's just one little girl."

Weiss gritted her teeth and raised her saber, rage boiling up within her. She'd show them what one little girl could do.

Suddenly, a blizzard blasted through the shattered windows to the garden. The icy winds forced everyone to their knees, even the Arma Gigas.

"What the hell?" Emerald shouted.

Weiss concurred with the sentiment. It was now colder in the mansion then it was outside. What had they done to cause this?

She got her answer when Crystal floated up through the window and into the hall on the wind. Little patches of frost crawled over her skin as her fists curled. Her eyes glowed a frozen, paralyzing blue.

Weiss couldn't remember seeing her mother so furious, even with her father.

The scorpion licked his lips. "Hoo, hoo, hoo, unexpected. But not unwelcome."

Emerald was not nearly as excited. "Ma- Mai- Maiden." She stammered out.

Weiss had no idea what a maiden was. Then again, she didn't know her mother could summon a blizzard. Or, you know... fly.

Crystal glared at Emerald and the scorpion. "Which one of you killed my friend?"

The faunus raised his hand like a hyperactive school child. "Me, that was me, completely me. I got him right in the back. Ha, ha, ha, he never even saw it coming."

A longsword of ice materialized in Crystal's hand, joined swiftly by a shorter blade in the other. A tornado of snow began to swirl around the Schnee matriarch.

"Weiss, darling, can you take care of our other uninvited guest?" she asked, politely. "I should like to deal with this intruder... personally.”

Weiss nodded hesitantly.

“Good,” Crystal snarled. She thrust out her hand, and a blast of winter wrath threw the scorpion faunus out into the gardens where he’d tossed Klein. He’d probably interrupted mother’s drinking.

Either way, she jumped down after him, leaving Weiss alone with Emerald.

Well, not alone. She did have a twelve-foot spectral knight at her command.

She raised her sword at Emerald. "What are you doing here? Why did you kill Klein?" she demanded of her former friend.

The green haired girl shrugged. "Not part of the plan, princess. Tyrian's just a prick. This was supposed to be a simple kidnapping, not a bloodbath." She looked remorseful for a moment. "Not like Beacon."

Weiss' eyebrows shot up. She stalked towards her enemy, her heart pumping so loudly she could hardly hear. "You, you were part of the Fall?"

“Wasn’t the brains of the operation, but I did my part,” Emerald admitted. “Didn’t really understand what I was in for before it was too late.”

Weiss glared at her. "For the sake of the friendship I thought we had, I am going to give you one chance. Surrender, now."

Emerald cocked her head back, grinning like she didn't have a care in the world. "And why would I do that?"

"In case you hadn't noticed, you're just a bit outnumbered."

Emerald chuckled. "Oh, am I?"

A massive purple beam erupted out of nowhere and exploded right in front of Weiss. The blast sent her flying through the air, thankfully being caught by her Arma Gigas.

Still, she stared up at Emerald in absolute shock. How had she fired off an attack that powerful?

Suddenly, the air right next to Emerald shimmered and a slight woman in a purple cloak emerged out of nothingness. Floating five feet in the air!

Emerald smirked. "Caster, meet our resident Ice Queen. Ice Queen, meet the end of the line.”

Chapter Text

Whitley sighed contentedly as the limo drove past the mansion's guard post.

Here he was, warm, dressed in a freshly-pressed, fitted suit, being taken by his father to be instructed in the ways of the elite. He would be given everything he would ever need, every tool to ensure his rise to greatness.

It was truly a shame about Weiss. Once upon a time, she had been his favorite sister. True, that was not difficult given that her competition was Winter, who abandoned them both to join the military, but Weiss had shielded him from father's outbursts and mother's stupors. If she had remained as father wished, Whitley thought he would have been fine serving under her at the company.

But then she'd left. Just like Winter.

And all of a sudden, he was alone. Alone with father and mother.

He had had no defender. He bore the brunt of each of their rage, forced to take every shout, every slap. His so-called sisters had run off and left him to his fate. He couldn't follow them. He hadn't been blessed with the family semblance, and even with an unlocked aura, he was mediocre in combat, clumsy with his fists and worse still with a blade.

He had had two choices: suffer, like a common mutt, or... adapt. Survive.

Whitley chose to survive.

So, when father screamed and condemned the terrorist actions of the White Fang, Whitley had screamed with him. When father had been disenchanted by a backstabbing business rival, Whitley had offered himself as a sounding board for ideas of vengeance. Where father chose to rage, Whitley raged. Where father chose to pity, Whitley pitied.

Where Weiss and Winter had run, Whitley adapted.

And soon, father rewarded his efforts.

Being called to the office soon was not a trial by fire, but a lesson in decorum – in grit. Father did not shout or demean him, but put a firm hand on his shoulder and carefully taught him how to survive the world they lived in. All his rage had been an initiation test, a ruse, one crafted to see if he had been worthy of his father's wisdom... of the legacy of the Schnee family.

It delighted Whitley to no end that he was the only one of his siblings to pass.

He would be the one to take the family name to new heights. His time would come. And once Weiss was home, he only needed to wait until her own stupidity gave father an excuse to throw her away like the roadblock she was.

Really, he was impressed she lasted as long as she did. He expected her to lose her temper far sooner; regardless, she had given him everything he wanted, and now, everything was as it should be. His sisters were disinherited, his father praised him, and he had gotten everything he deserved.

He had won.

"Keep your wits about you, my boy," father ordered. "These men are crucial business partners for when you take over the company, but they are not to be trusted. Give them any sign of weakness and they'll tear you apart like a pack of Beowolves. So, get that damned look off your face!"

"Yes, father," Whitley replied, immediately schooling his face into an impassive expression. After all, Jacques Schnee only asked nicely once.

The patriarch gave a stern nod of approval – but his frown deepened as the car began to slow.

"What are you doing?" father inquired hotly, sparing an irritated glance at the driver.

"There's - there's someone in the road, sir," the man stammered.

"Well, his stupidity isn't an excuse if we're late to the meeting. Keep going!"

The driver, nodding reluctantly, eased off the brake. Snow crunched beneath the limousine's tires as it accelerated.

Curious, Whitley peered out the window. Up ahead, shadowed heavily by the limo's headlights, was a tall, bulky brute of a man. He stood perfectly still in the middle of the snowing road.

Whitley shook his head, his brow furrowed with disdain. What sort of person would stand in the middle of the road like that? Probably some imbecile lumberjack had a bit too much to drink on the job. Oh well, he should have known better.

"Mr. Schnee, he's not moving," the driver added, his voice strained. "We really should—"

"I don't pay you to tell me what I should do!" father yelled. "I am not responsible for some fool of a man who—"

Bang!

Suddenly, the entire car jerked forward, as if tugged by a giant; Whitley's head snapped forward before it crashed back into the authentic leather headrest. Stars swam behind his eyes, and he brought a hand to his head, wincing.

"What the hell?" Father exclaimed. "What's going on!?"

"Sir, something's wrong!"

The whole limo rose into the air. Whitley began to float above his seat, his entire body feeling lighter than he could ever remember. He flailed wildly, desperate for some form of control. He managed to make his way to the window, where he once more gazed upon the bulky man, now several feet below them.

He was looking at them.

That was it. There was no malice in his stare, but no sorrow or dread either. There was no fury, no emotion. He simply stood in the road with his hand outstretched, and looked at them.

For Whitley, who had lived in the emotional powder keg of the Schnee household all his life, there was nothing more terrifying.

The man's hand fell to his side - and the limo plummeted back to the ground.

Crash!

Bulletproof windows, a luxury of the rich, shattered like fine china. The roof, made of reinforced metal, crumpled like a tin can. Father let out a pained curse, gripping at his seat like a lifeline.

The new Schnee heir saw only darkness.

 


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Tyrian leaped off some dumb looking plant just in time to avoid an icicle to the brain. All around him, wind howled and snow soared, raking across his limbs like the talons of an angry god.

"Stay still, you bastard!" Crystal Schnee roared, as her frozen swords passed by, inches from his throat.

Tyrian rolled away from the strike. In her blind rage, all the mad woman had managed to do was give her cactus a preening.

The servant of Salem couldn't help laughing. This was a maiden, a symbol of power, something he was supposed to fear? No – this was nothing more than a sluggish drunk! Unlike the Fall child that Cinder went after, this old crone was sloppy, slow. He could run rings around her easily. Hell, the only reason he hadn't gone in for the kill already was that he couldn't get past the damn blizzard she'd conjured around herself.

Tyrian licked his lips. If he couldn't get past her guard, he'd just need to get her to drop it. Which meant mind games! Oh, he preferred the stabby, stabby type of pain immensely, but he couldn't deny that the mistress' specialty had a certain charm to it. He just wasn't very good at it.

That's why he practiced so much on everyone else!

And with how the witch and the newbie had been responding, he seemed to have improved quite a bit.

"So, the Winter Maiden has been Crystal Schnee all along," he taunted, ducking another sheet of ice. He repelled back up with a psychotic grin on his face. "That's quite impressive, really. Laughing while you hide in plain sight, taunting the Queen as you hid in your dear daddy's shadow. Hell, you even put up a flashing neon sign when you named your eldest daughter!"

"Stop talking and die!" Crystal shouted. She threw out her hands and a dozen daggers of ice formed in the air. With a flick of her wrist, they all went flying towards her foe.

Tyrian rolled his eyes and nonchalantly extended his pincers, exposing their submachine gun form. He flung his arms out and shattered the incoming volley with a barrage of bullets.

"The audacity is truly enthralling! And to think we'd find you by accident in the end!" Tyrian laughed.

Crystal stopped. The blizzard surrounding her slowed. Her eyes were wide in confusion. "You're not here for me?" she muttered.

"Nope!" Tyrian chortled. He seized the Schnee woman's moment of distraction and leapt towards her like a rocket. She barely had the sense to raise her swords to parry his strike.

By that point, though, he was inside her guard - and he intended to stay that way. She could strike him at a distance with her powers, but he was much more effective in close-quarters; relentlessly, he thrust forward again and again with his pincers, each blow getting closer and closer to breaking her defenses.

Then, it happened. Drunk as she was, she hadn’t been paying attention to her surroundings; she'd been so focused on fending off Tyrion's attacks that she'd let him back her into a corner. Her back struck a drooping palm tree, and she let out a surprised gasp, and the sound made him shiver with delight. Racing forward, he lunged for her throat, his blades gleaming in the starlight.

Crystal's eyes widened, and she stumbled sideways, the blades missing her by a hair's breadth. Rolling over the ground, she struck the hard-packed snow with an open palm; spikes of ice emerged from the earth, lashing out at Tyrion like a pair of viper's fangs. The scorpion faunus was forced to disengage, leaping away as the ice crashed at his feet.

Tyrian rose to his full height. In a fit of madness, he laughed.

Crystal panted heavily, before staggering to her feet. Despite her obvious fatigue, the glare in her eyes was undiminished. Slowly, she steadied herself, and reached out with a hand; the blizzard entered her control, before swirling around her like a protective cloak.

That just made Tyrian laugh harder.

"Ah! So, so close. I enjoy the show, maiden, I truly do, but how long can you keep this up?"

Crystal let out a slow breath, and her anger cooled; straightening her back, she gave him a glare as cold as her namesake. As she did, the wind picked up, whipping her hair about her head like a halo; it began to howl, like an ever-distant train, beating his eardrums into submission. He grimaced as the wind buffeted him back, sending him sliding across the ice.

Reaching down with a hand, he pawed at the earth – and found purchase on a glowing metal grate, winding his hand through the bars. Holding himself in place, he raised his gun, and fired a shot.

Crystal batted it away with the back of her blades.

"You assume," she spat, shouting over the wind, "that just because you've tangled with a few of Ozpin’s new recruits, you can beat me. I've been a maiden for over twenty-five years, you bug... and while a great deal of that time was spent trying to drink myself into an early grave, not all of it was."

Tyrian grunted, his tail twitching in agitation. "And your point is?".

"In becoming the Winter Maiden, I gave up a lot of things. I gave up my company, to stay out of the public eye. I gave up my children." Crystal snarled, stalking forward. "And in return, I picked up on a few... extracurriculars, to pass the time. These gardens, for example, are my crowning achievement.”

The clouds above crackled with electricity.

Glaring at Tyrion, she lowered her blades; they disappeared in motes of frost. "Do you know how much fire dust is needed to grow Vacuoan Palm trees here?"

Crystal pointed at Tyrion's feet – and at the grate, the heating duct, with the blazing orange glow beneath it, gripped within his hand.

She snapped her fingers.

A lightning bolt came down beside him.

There was an explosion, a blinding flash of light that seared Tyrion's eyes and wiped his mind of all rational thought. Distantly, he heard a pained scream – and realized it was his own. He lost all sense of direction as he tumbled through the storm, suffering from the aftereffects of being at the center of a man-made thunderstorm. His aura had long since shattered, disappearing with an anticlimactic pop. 

His back struck the earth. Something snapped, and pain lanced through his shoulder.


Grimacing, Tyrion pushed himself to his knees – when, suddenly, his arms and legs were encased in solid shackles of ice. Hesitantly, he raised his gaze – only to see a pair of piercing, glowing, eyes glaring down at him, and a pair of ice-forged swords resting at his throat.

"You should not have killed my friend," she said.

It was strange. Even then -bound, beaten, and about to die, having accomplished little to nothing for his goddess - Tyrian Callows could not help but laugh.

 


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Emerald didn't intend to laugh. Really, she didn't.

But watching the Ice Queen go from cocky bitch to deer in the headlights as soon as Caster showed up? It was just too funny.

A glowing purple ring rose above Caster. "Should I finish this, master?"

Emerald chuckled, giving her kama a quick spin. The motion was smooth, familiar – and with it came a feeling of anticipation. "That reinforcement you used on me, is it still on?"

"Yes," Caster replied.

"Hmm... in that case, why don't we have some fun before we go?"

Caster frowned. "Master, Tyrian can only hold off that mage for so long. Should we drag this out, he may fail."

Emerald shrugged. "Maybe he will, maybe he won't. Either way, I've had one hell of a week. I need this."

She really did. Between Cinder's death, having Salem and the war dropped on her, and Tyrian himself, she was going to break down if she didn't get some kind of release. And what was a better release that cutting a rich bitch down to size?

"Hey, Ice Queen," she called to Weiss, whose giant spectral knight was now setting her on the floor. "Now that I think about, you and I never had a one on one fight at Beacon. Care to see how you stack up against the best?"

Behind her, she heard Caster sigh. "Really, master? Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you?"

Weiss herself glared. She raised her sword and pointed at Emerald. "Get her."

The knight spirit charged forward, faster than before. Emerald probably wouldn't have been able to dodge it like she had before.

Lucky, she wasn't planning to.

Emerald crossed her kama and held them above her head. The knight's massive sword came down and struck her defenses with the force of an Ursa Major. The marble floor cracked beneath her feet.

The turquoise lines of Caster's reinforcement flashed across her entire body. Her muscles screamed in agony as they strained to hold back the attack. Her crimson eyes narrowed in absolute concentration.

But she didn't break. A smirk split Emerald's lips, one she savored.

Eventually, the ghostly warrior had to retract its blade. Emerald took the opportunity to switch her weapons to revolver mode and fired a barrage that forced the knight a few steps back.

'Caster, if you will?'

The knight raised its sword for another strike when a massive purple beam tore right through it. Instantly, the once imposing specter faded into nothing. The being that had torn down the wall beside them, strewing its rubble across the floor, gone in a moment.

Caster nonchalantly dissipated the mystical ring that had fired the blast. "Do try to control your bravado, master. Reinforcement is hardly a trump card, and we have more opponents than just the one in front of us."

"Yeah, I may have been channeling Mercury a bit there," Emerald admitted, shaking her head. She had gotten so caught up in the power boost her Servant gave her that she'd forgotten what she'd learned a long time ago. A thief that basked in their work was a thief that was still around to get caught.

"Still, it was your magic, so it wasn't like I had anything to worry about," she confided in the purple cloaked woman.

Caster cleared her throat, glancing away. "Y-yes. Thank you for your confidence, master. Nevertheless, I recommend we conclude this business as soon as possible."

"Probably a good idea," Emerald decided. She turned back to Weiss. "Hey, Ice Queen! You sure you don't want to come quietly?"

Weiss didn't appear to have heard her. Her ice blue eyes were frozen to the spot her knight had once occupied. They were wide with disbelief. Her saber hand shook with dread. Slowly, the heiress turned to Caster, an expression of horror on her face.

"Wh-... What are you?" she muttered.

Emerald chuckled. "Like I said, Ice Queen, she's the end of the line – for you, anyway. Nothing you pull out can stop her. So, I'm going to ask nicely one more time, are you going to come quietly?"

The heiress' body stopped shaking. Her eyes glanced around the rubble littering the floor from when her knight had smashed through the wall. Then, they narrowed into slits focused solely on Emerald.

She spun the dust cartilage on her saber's hilt, and with an elegant flourish, she drew her sword. Settling into a ready stance, she fixed Emerald with a heated glare. "Not on your life, brigand!"

Emerald rolled her eyes; for all of Weiss' bravado, the fear beneath was plain to see. 

"Really? Brigand?" She asked, sighing. "Yang would be so disappointed in you. You know, if she was conscious."

In response, Weiss summoned a line of glyphs, lashing out at her opponent with spikes of ice. They hurtled through the air like cannonballs, whistling as they spliced the air.

Emerald sneered, dashing forward.

Defeating Weiss would be simple. After all, one of the first things she'd learned from Cinder was the art of deception. All she had to do was maintain the Schnee heiress in her line of sight; activating her semblance, she painted the illusion that she was approaching from a position two meters to her left. Every time Weiss fired an ice shard, the illusory copy moved in turn, dipping and dodging like a ballet dancer; little did Weiss know that the real danger was far from harm, moving ever-closer, unabated and uncontested.

As Emerald's illusory copy closed the distance between them, Weiss changed tactics. Stabbing into the tile with her rapier, she summoned a black glyph before replacing it with yet another white one. Ice crackled to life, spreading out from the point of impact, covering the entire floor in a thin sheet.

Still, Emerald was not deterred. Her footing might have been lost, but her head wasn't. As the Schnee heiress continued to fire at her, she leapt into the air, leaping between the ice shards and the rubble of the wall, using them to propel her forward. Such feats of dexterity would normally be beyond even her, but Caster's reinforcement had made them possible, allowing her to dance between the moving objects. The feeling of power, of invincibility, brought a sultry grin to her face.  Weiss was already beaten – she just didn't know it.

Finally, she reached the end of the hall and dived down at the heiress, her kama ready to strike. Weiss must have sensed something at the last moment, a movement in the air maybe, because she hastily raised her sword, deflecting Emerald's strike with a slapdash parry. Emerald streaked past, but not without biting sharply into Weiss' aura; the girl grimaced as she was spun by the force of the blow.

In a desperate attempt to get some breathing room from her opponent's merciless strength, Weiss threw up a wind glyph in front of herself, throwing Emerald back several feet. Still, Emerald refused to let up; her weapons switched to their pistol variant, and she let loose a quick burst of gunshots at the heiress.

A line of glyphs flared along the wall, and Weiss rode them up and away from the gunfire. She flipped as she jumped off the structure and once more put Emerald between her and the field of ice. Another wind glyph sent Emerald skidding on her back along the smooth rink.

Grimacing, Emerald dropped to her knees – and then, she noticed something: a shadow, beneath the ice.

"Master! Above you!" Caster called.

She glanced up, and her eyes widened in shock. Above her, the entirety of Weiss’ ice barrage and the stone remnants of the wall floated high up in the air. She smashed the ice beneath her feet and saw what the shadow really was.

A black gravity glyph.

Weiss let out a victorious shout, and made a swiping motion with her rapier.

And as she did, the dots connected.

Weiss knew she wouldn't be able to strike Emerald, not conventionally; she’d seen Emerald's strength against her knight, and so she'd improvised, planning around it. Those initial shots she'd made were little more than decoys, throwaway shots that gave her more ammunition to work with while she hid her gravity glyph under the rink. In the end, she'd managed to forge a literal rain of ice and stone, relying on the element of surprise to overwhelm and crush her opponent.

Emerald gazed up at the Weiss, who wore a proud smirk on her face. "You clever bitch."

“I know.”

A bolt of lightning crashed down in the gardens.

Weiss stabbed her rapier into the ground, point first. The black glyph, floating beneath the ice, disappeared. In its absence, her collection of ice shards and rubble found itself without any support and the plummeted to the ground.

Letting out a frustrated grunt, Emerald moved. Ducking forward, she crouched, throwing her kama up into the air.

She had to admit, Weiss was more than a stuck up rich kid. She had grit. She had smarts and she had flair. But Emerald had that too – and unlike this Schnee princess, who was born with a silver spoon, she had to work for what she'd had. She'd earned her stripes the hard way, and yet, she still had leagues to go before she would be satisfied. In order to get there, she had to finish her mission - to please Salem, to win the grail.

Emerald would have her wish, and no heiress would stand in her way.

She'd make sure of it.

 


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Weiss lowered her rapier, forcing her shaking limbs to relax. Ice fell away from her in large chunks, shattering to powder as it struck the tile floor. Her improvised barrier had shielded her from the attack’s impact, but it didn't save her lungs; she panted hard as the dust of her attack settled. She choked on the debris in the air, bursting out into a fit of coughing as her chest lit on fire. 

Gods, what she'd just done was something out of Ruby's playbook. Maybe the girl's insanity had rubbed off on her.

Still, while her assault hadn't been the most elegant strategy, it had gotten the job done. She had never seen Emerald in combat, so she didn't know if the girl had always been so insanely strong or if the power was a recent development. Without any known limitations, she’d had to go all out. And then there was her companion.

Weiss had seen Winter use summons a dozen times before, and she had never seen anything capable tearing through them like the cloaked woman's beam had. What had that been anyway? Some kind of semblance? But then how had she stayed invisible? Or floated?

Weiss was barely comprehending what was happening. Klein was dead. Mother was fighting some insane faunus. And now a former school acquaintance was trying to kill her with the help of a mysterious woman who could fire laser beams!

Honestly, it put the rest of her time at home in perspective – and she felt ashamed that she very much preferred the current situation.

It was terrible to admit, but even with her beloved butler dead and she and her mother fighting for their lives, Weiss felt alive for the first time since Beacon.

This was what she was good at. Fighting evil, facing impossible odds, it made her feel alive. Not being dressed up like some porcelain doll and abused by foes she couldn’t strike. She was a huntress, and this was her hunting ground.

More than that, she owed this fight to Pyrrha and Ruby. Emerald was the last remaining member of Team CKSM other than Kirei himself. If anyone would know where the bastard was hiding away, it would be her. If she could take her alive, it would be the first step to avenging her friend.

She glanced at the pile, more mountain really, of rubble. Digging Emerald out of that would not be easy. She took a step forward – only to pause.

A shift in the wind put Weiss on edge. She looked up at the top of the pile and raised her sword.

The cloaked woman floated above the peak of the rubble and gazed down at Weiss. Or, at least she seemed to. Her hood hid her eyes from Weiss' view. Lit by the flickering light from the fire in the garden, she looked like an evil witch from one of Ruby's fairy tales.

Still, Weiss couldn't afford to show weakness. Her muscles protested, but she raised her sword at the woman. "Would you like a turn, Ms. End of the Line?"

The robed stranger chuckled at her taunt. "My, my, don't you have… what is the modern term? Spunk? Though your little ploy was amusing, you cannot hope to challenge a true mage like me. Your little sigils are nothing but parlor tricks against one such as I."

Weiss frowned. She had just spent a lot of time around her father and his ilk and she had learned the difference between meaningless bluster and the kind that could be backed up. It frightened her a great deal that this woman was the latter.

"Parlor tricks, huh?" she spat. "Worked well enough on your little friend, didn't they?"

The woman grinned. "My master requested a one on one duel with you. I assure you, if she hadn't, your glyphs would have been even less effective than they already were."

"Even less?" Weiss muttered. That didn't sound good.

"Oh, dear. It seems I've spoiled the surprise," the woman pouted with dramatic exaggeration. "Please forgive me master."

"I’m a little busy right now!" Emerald's voice rang out.

Weiss' eyes went wide, and she feverishly whirled around in a circle. Emerald's voice seemed to echo around from everywhere. She couldn't figure out where she was coming from. Surely, she couldn't have escaped the landfall.

Suddenly, Emerald flashed into existence out of thin air, swinging around in the air by a chain lodged in the roof. On the end of said chain was her kama.

Faster than Weiss could comprehend, the green haired girl threw out her other chained kama, which wrapped around Weiss' waist and shoulder. With a hard yank, Weiss was pulled to the ground while the momentum allowed Emerald to leap over her head.

Weiss struggled to get up but felt a hail of bullets rake the back of her aura. Each hurt like the sting of a belt buckle, and with how much she had been using her semblance for first summoning practice and then the fight, she was lucky she got off that easy.

A brief reprieve in the gunfire allowed her to get to her feet, but by the time she turned around, Emerald had already rushed in close, raining down slash after slash with her blades.

Weiss frantically raised her sword to survive the melee onslaught like before, but her movements were sluggish. She'd burned the last of her energy shielding herself from the falling rubble storm, but Emerald didn't appear any worse for wear. Before long, the heiress had her back to the wall, and a final strike relived her of Myrtenaster.

Weiss sank to her knees, out of breath and out of ideas. She tried to summon one last glyph beneath her feet. Maybe if she could just get some distance—

Emerald kicked her hard in the face and drove her to the ground. The glyph faded into nothingness.

"Ah ah ah," Emerald tutted. "None of that, Ice Queen. Caster, the cuffs if you please?"

"Of course, master."

The woman removed a pair of heavy handcuffs from her robes, the type meant to restrain huntsmen and other people with aura. Emerald took them and slapped them on Weiss, trapping her hands behind her back.

The heiress collapsed as the vitality boost she had been receiving from her aura disappeared. A tear welled in her eye as she realized what this meant.

She had lost. Despite giving it everything she had, she had lost.

"There, no more glyphs for you," Emerald declared. She picked up the discarded Myrtenaster and tossed it to her companion. "You did work your magic on them, right? No chance she's going to slip out?"

The woman caught Weiss' sword and stowed it away in her cloak. "Of course, master. I boosted those restraints as much as I could without destroying them. Though if you would I allow me to construct wholly mystical bonds, I would be able to assure you for certain."

"Eh, maybe later. These'll do for now." Emerald leaned down to Weiss' level and smirked in her face. "Don't get too antsy on the trip, will you Ice Queen. Can't have you anymore damaged than you need to be."

"What do you want with me?" Weiss growled. Defeated and disarmed, she could at least learn why.

Emerald stood up again, enjoying towering over the heiress. Weiss noted the red tattoos on her right hand. Had she had those at Beacon?

"Me, personally? Nothing," she revealed. "But my boss, that's another story."

"Kirei," Weiss snarled. "You're talking about Kirei, aren't you? He's the one pulling the strings, the one who -"

Emerald's face lit up with fury. She wrenched Weiss to her feet with one hand and slapped her in the face with the other. "Say that bastard’s name, one more time! I dare you, rich girl! Say it one more—"

"Master!" Caster shouted.

From the window to the garden, a blizzard crashed into the hall. Hail and snow buffeted Weiss' skin, now far more vulnerable without her aura to shield it. Was winter always this cold?

Caster thrust out her hands and a sudden gust cleared the storm from view.

In the hall, Weiss' mother stood over the scorpion faunus from before. A thick stalactite of ice pierced through his entire chest.

Any other time, the image would be terrifying, but this was the monster who had killed Klein and Weiss needed help badly at the moment.

"Mother!" she called out.

Emerald smacked a hand over her mouth and held a kama to her throat.

Crystal whipped her head to face them and her eyes went wide with absolute rage. A thousand icicle spears materialized in the air around her. "Get away from my daughter, you bitch!"

The barrage of icicles launched.

"Caster!" Emerald screamed.

The purple cloaked woman leapt down from the mound of rubble and sprouted dozens of glowing circles in the air. Each one fired a violet laser that collided with the icicles in midair, canceling the barrage out.

Crystal's wrath didn't die. Instead, her eyes narrowed. Miniature blizzards began to spiral in the palms of her hands. "A Servant? The Queen means to take my daughter with a Servant! She won't. I refuse—"

A dome of purple energy suddenly encased Crystal. She froze in mid-sentence, the storms in her hands unmoving despite their rage.

Weiss didn't understand what had happened. Apparently, neither did Emerald.

"Um, what did you just do?" she asked her companion.

Caster smirked. "Just a little advanced magecraft. Not even a Servant of the three Knight classes can move when space itself is frozen around them." A large circle rose in front of her face and glowed purple. "This 'maiden' is hardly the challenge the Queen warned us of. I suppose we should remove her so the woman won’t complain."

"No!" Weiss yelled. She tried to break away and tackle the cloaked woman, but Emerald's grip was too strong.

The clouds above crackled, however.

Suddenly, a trio of lightning bolts crashed through the hall's few remaining windows, the shockwave sending Weiss, Emerald, and even Caster flying.

With the witch's concentration broken though, the violet dome trapping Crystal shattered. The woman took a deep breath once free.

Her eyes glowed a sparkling blue. "The Queen fears us for a reason, hero. And you're about to learn it."

The mansion began to quake. Bits of the veranda crumbled into the blazing garden below. The tumultuous sky thundered with barely restrained power.

Weiss recalled that some referred to dust as 'nature's wrath'.

If this maiden thing was beyond dust, what did that make Crystal Schnee?

"Caster!" Emerald shouted. "We're leaving! Bury her!"

"No!" Weiss cried, but her green-haired captor dragged her away and over the mound of rubble.

Once more, Caster summoned glowing circles of power, four large ones this time. From them, she fired off four massive pulses of light at the roof and floor of the Schnee mansion. Each pillar of light tore into the architecture and with the maiden's power already destabilizing the area, the entire building started to collapse.

Crystal tried to fly away on the winds, but Caster refocused her fire on her. Protecting herself from the witch's assault prevented her from seeing the threat from above, and the crumbling roof fell on Weiss' mother and dragged her down to join the rubble.

Caster ran back and took Emerald in her arms, and by extension Weiss. She leapt off the ground and soon the three women were flying through the air, streaking away into the raging clouds.

Weiss looked back as they rose into the sky.

There was the Schnee family mansion, the place she had called home for seventeen years. She had seen it from the air once before, on the family bullhead. The multitude of lights in every room, shining off the pristine white walls had made the place look joyous and festive, even if it rarely was.

Now, it was a ruin. The light was the fire in the garden, likely having spread to the wings of the house. The walls, once pristine and white, were black and darkened with soot and smoke. The entire building was slowly crumbling to the ground. In some ways, it was a far more accurate representation of what had happened there.

And yet, for the sake of the little happiness that had lived there, for mother and Klein and Winter and the countless kind servants who had made her prison just a bit brighter, Weiss couldn't help but cry.

Chapter Text

Ironwood rubbed a hand down his face.

‘First Beacon, now this?’

He sat in a plastic chair in a stainless white hospital room. Atlas Emergency Services had taken too long in responding to the crisis at Schnee Mansion, though in their defense, the estate was farther away from the city than they could get to in any timely manner.

It had only gotten worse when there was a car wreck in the middle of the main road. The only person found at the site was apparently the Schnee’s limo driver. He told the authorities that a large man had used some sort of gravity semblance to destroy the vehicle, then pulled him out and kidnapped Jacques and his son.

The police had put an APB out on the attacker, but Ironwood knew they wouldn’t find anything. The semblance alone told him the assailant’s identity, and Hazel Rainart wasn’t going to be caught by common officers of the law.

In any case, his presence on the road meant that someone else was responsible for the chaos at the mansion. According to the lone survivor, said person was an insane scorpion faunus, thankfully now deceased, and a huntress with green hair and red eyes. All likely working for the Queen if their taking of Weiss Schnee was aligned with Hazel’s kidnapping of the men.

Crystal Schnee finished giving her statement to the police and then laid back in her hospital bed. Her injuries were severe, third-degree burns on her thighs and chest, and a crushed right leg. Without her aura, she would not have survived the ordeal.

When the policeman left the room, Ironwood sighed. “Crystal, I am so—”

“Save your apologies, Jimmy darling, this wasn’t your fault” Crystal spat. “What you need to tell me is where my children are?”

The general gulped. “Winter was on a scouting mission for me in Mistral. Given recent events, I called her back here this morning. She should arrive in a few days. As for Weiss and Whitley, the Queen has taken them. Why, we do not know. Perhaps leverage to coerce you into giving them the relic?”

“No” she replied. “No, they didn’t know I was a maiden. This can’t have been about that, they were after Weiss. They sent a Servant to capture my daughter.”

Ironwood’s eyes widened. “She has a master under her thrall?”

“The green haired girl had Command Seals on her hand and a purple cloaked witch with more magic than I’ve seen in a long time” Crystal informed him. Her fists curled in rage. “I’ll paint the Grimmlands with the bitch’s blood for this.”

Ironwood held out a placating hand. “This still doesn’t make sense. Assuming you’re right, and Jacques and Whitley are just leverage, what is so important about Weiss that the Queen would risk revealing her master to get her?”

Crystal looked down to her blankets, humming in thought. It took several moments, but eventually her eyes widened in realization. “The Servant at the mansion was Caster. Generally, they are considered the weakest class of Heroic Spirit. What if Salem doesn’t think her little pawn can win the war?”

“How would taking Weiss help her do that?”

“Father always theorized our family’s abilities had some connection to the Grail. He and Ruler performed several experiments on the matter before—”

Crystal shook her head to dislodge the memory. She started moving to get out of bed. Ironwood rushed over to hold her down.

“What are you thinking?” he demanded.

“The Queen wants to experiment on my daughter. I won’t let that happen. I’ll storm the Grimmlands myself!” Crystal declared.

“You can’t just charge in. Caster already defeated you once, and she’s not even going to be the greatest danger there” Ironwood reminded her. “With your injuries, it will be months before you can even stand, let alone fight.”

The Schnee matriarch calmed down but glared at the general. “What about your little pet project? Do I need to be able to fight to give it the power it needs?”

Ironwood stood back in shock. He had hoped to gain her assistance when he’d last seen her, but that was under very different circumstances. “The process isn’t an easy one,” he told her. “Transferring the maiden’s power into a mechanical system will put enormous strain on your body. Doing so in your condition would be fatal--”

“James” she spoke solemnly. He listened immediately. She didn’t call him Jimmy or darling.

“Can your girl save my children?”

He nodded.

“Then damn the consequences.”

Ironwood stared at the white-haired woman. The daughter of one of his greatest mentors. One of his dearest childhood friends. A poor soul who gave up everything, her company, her happiness, even her children, to protect a burden she never wanted.

“We’ll wait until you’ve healed enough to walk. That’s not an argument.” He declared when she’d opened her mouth to do just that. “It will take me a few months to rally the support P-2 will need for the assault anyway. It’s not just Caster that will be waiting for her.”

The Grimmlands were not lacking in their namesake by any means. There were more terrifying variants of the monsters there than Ironwood could imagine. Qrow’s reports had not been lacking on that account.

Then of course there was Hazel. And the Queen herself.

“No strike team will be able to sneak into her world. When we do this, it will be an all-out invasion.”

“And do you think my children will survive while you mobilize your toys?” Crystal sneered.

Ironwood couldn’t meet her eyes. “We can only pray.”

 


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Weiss was pushed to her knees in the dark castle throne room. The big brute, Hazel, tossed her father and brother beside her, both of them cuffed as she was.

Her father didn’t stay down for long. “Unhand me this instant!” he blustered. “Where are we? Who on Remnant are you people?”

Emerald and Caster walked in from the hall. Both of them seemed tenser than they were at the mansion. Weiss understood somewhat, the place they had been transported to looked a lot like how she imagined hell would be. A land with no sun and a red sky, overflowing with endless hordes of Grimm. Not to mention, the black castle they’d been brought to wasn’t the most welcoming of structures.

But still, this was supposedly their territory, what had them so on edge?

“Whoever you are, you are fools!” Her father declared. “Do you think this crime will go unpunished? I am Jacques Schnee! All of Atlas will come down on your head—”

“Sir.”

With that single word, Weiss’ spine shot up straight. She didn’t know why, but that voice prompted something deep within her to tremble in terror.

As if she needed more proof, her father, her cunning, ruthless, hardheaded bastard of a father stopped his shouting and stared at the massive doors to the throne room, shock and fear written all over his face.

Weiss followed his eyes and saw a tall woman in a black gown glide into the room. Her skin and hair were milk white, her eyes a burning hateful red. Her movement was graceful, elegant to the utmost, but her presence filled Weiss with dread like nothing else she’d ever encountered.

The woman passed her father without a second look and took a seat on the black crystal throne. “I would prefer if you would contain your pointless shouting. There are young ears present.”

The casual request put Jacques off guard and he stuttered for a moment before glaring at the woman. “I take it you are the one in charge of this rabble, madam. If you wished for a meeting, you didn’t have to go through all this trouble. As it stands, I’m sure we can come to an arrangement that is satisfactory for all.”

The woman on the throne chuckled. It was a light laugh, like one a carefree school girl should have. Coming from this demon woman, it was the creeping chill of a nightmare.

“A generous offer” she humored him. “However, I have no interest with you, Mr. Schnee. Nor your son. I’m afraid the two of you are here for the influences of your presence more than anything I actually require of you.”

She turned her gaze to Weiss. The heiress’ blood turned to ice under her stare. “Your daughter, on the other hand, her I have business with.”

“Weiss?” Whitley muttered fearfully. She spared him a brief glance.

Gone was the snobbish pomposity and upper-crust arrogance. Whitley’s eyes were wide with terror and his lip quivered fearfully. It reminded Weiss that for all he had done to her, her brother was still just a child. A child that had been dragged into a horror unlike anything he had ever imagined.

Her father, on the other hand, glared at the woman. “That’s preposterous. My daughter has no claim to the family assets—”

“It amuses me that you can see all this and still think I care for something as insignificant as wealth” she growled. “Hazel, take these good men to their cells in the dungeon. If they refuse to be silent, gag them. We can’t have them disturbing the Nevermores during nesting season.”

The big man picked up her father and brother both by their handcuffs and carried them off, her father protesting all the way.

“Caster, please remove our guest’s restraints?”

The woman in the purple cloak waved her hand and Weiss’ handcuffs fell from her wrists.

“Excellent,” the white-skinned woman praised. A wide smile adorned her lips. “Emerald, you and your Servant have done magnificently. Despite Tyrian’s disappointing performance and Crystal’s little surprise, you both completed this task with flying colors.”

“Thank you, your grace” Emerald bowed. Caster’s face remained distrustful, but she folded too after a nudge from Emerald. “What else would you have of us?”

“For now, rest,” the woman told them. “Train, grow closer together. Your next mission may not be for some time and I don’t want you to become idle.”

“Of course, my lady.”

“Good. Now, please leave us.”

Emerald bowed again, and she and Caster exited the throne room, shutting the massive doors behind them with a clang.

Now, it was just Weiss and the demon woman.

The heiress hesitantly rose and rubbed her chaffed wrists. “So, I take it you’re the Queen that Emerald mentioned?”

“You may call me Salem for now, my dear” The woman informed her with a smile.

“Of course,” Weiss remarked. Her eyes nervously shifted around the dark room. Its ceiling ran tall, suspending a large chandelier of violet crystal. Outside on the hillside, packs of Beowolves roamed freely and howled at the broken moon. “Well, I can’t say much for your taste in real estate, Salem.”

Maybe if she could unbalance the woman with a few of her usual barbs, then she could figure out what the hell was going on.

“Really?” Salem mused, feigning interest. “I admit it’s rather dreary at times, but I happen to think it suits me well.”

“Yeah, well, I’d hate to deal with all those Grimm outside if someone gets angry.”

“Oh, the Grimm are no problem” Salem assured her. “They know better than to enter their mother’s home without permission.”

Weiss’ heart skipped a beat. “I beg your pardon” she began cautiously, “but what do you mean by mother?”

“I am the one who gave them life” Salem explained. “I am their creator. The creator of all Grimm, since the species was born.”

Weiss’ hands slammed into the floor, a white glyph roaring to life before her, flickering a dim light against the room’s oppressive shadows.

This might be foolish, but if what this woman said was true, and honestly, Weiss hadn’t exactly seen much reason to doubt her, then she was responsible for the greatest plague to ever curse mankind. Every innocent civilian, every unlucky huntsman, every one of her classmates that died at the Fall of Beacon.

It was all her fault.

And Weiss would make her pay.

Her giant white knight sprang to life and immediately raised its sword on the Queen. It was barely a moment before the massive blade was streaking towards her neck.

Salem didn’t move. From within her flowing black gown, a squirming tentacle of some…black mud shot out and caught the knight’s sword before it could reach its mistress.

Then, it… bled into it? Weiss couldn’t think of another way to describe the scene. The tentacle’s riving black mass soaked into her familiar. It corrupted the warrior bit by bit, and soon her mighty phantasm had faded to nothing.

Weiss could only stare in horror. First Caster, now this? What hellish world had she been sucked into?

Salem clapped enthusiastically. “Marvelous, simply marvelous. To think you only spent a year at Ozpin’s little academy. I expected you to be making headway, but actually calling forth a spirit? You are quite impressive, dear Weiss.”

“Wha— What do you want with me?” Weiss stammered. She was alone with this monster. The only people who knew where she was were being locked in a dungeon. And her strongest move was just crushed without her foe breaking a sweat. Again!

Salem rose and began to glide over to her. She wanted to move away, to run, but she was paralyzed by the indomitable aura of dread the woman exuded.

“My dear, I wish to make you an offer” the queen revealed. “You see, events have been put in motion that have left me a bit shorthanded. The King of Heroes, I believe you’ve met him, correct? He has revealed himself to be opposing me, and while I have great trust in my remaining allies, I do not wish to be caught on the back foot again. That’s where you come in…”

She gestured to the floor space where Weiss’ glyph had blazed ever so briefly. “Your family’s semblance has an unusual connection to an object of great interest to me, and utilizing that connection could bolster my forces quite considerably. I would be willing to offer you a place in my ranks and tutor you in unlocking the full strength of your powers.”

“You want…to teach me?” Weiss replied incredulously. “Why would I ever accept such an asinine proposition? You killed my mother, you—”

“Your mother is perfectly fine” Salem cut her off.

“What?”

“I have some relation to the maiden’s power and I know when it transfers to a new host” she continued. “The Winter Maiden’s has not chosen a successor, therefore, your mother must have survived her little encounter with Caster.”

Tears of joy slipped down Weiss’ checks. Her lips spread into the first genuine smile she’d had in this nightmarish place.

Salem’s grin however, disappeared. “As for why you should accept this offer, I can promise you power in this world and the new one I shall forge. And if that is not enough to sway you, then I would like to remind you of my words to your father. He and your brother are only required for their presence.”

“Meaning?” Weiss muttered, her eyes downcast.

Salem smirked. She leaned in right next to Weiss’ ear. “You’re a clever girl, Ms. Schnee. I’m sure you can figure it out.”

It didn’t take a genius to do that.

“So, do we have a deal?” the Queen demanded.

Weiss thought everything out. Her mother was alive. That meant that the authorities were aware that they were kidnapped and not dead. That meant they would be searched for, and her mother seemed to have some knowledge of Salem. Perhaps she could launch a rescue mission. Or maybe she could escape herself.

But then, she thought of her father and brother. She wasn’t even sure if she could call them family. They abused her, manipulated her, tried to turn her into a puppet for their own selfish gain and then locked her away when she refused to bend to their whims. They were destroying the name of the Schnee family.

But, at the end of the day, even if she disowned them, even if she despised them as the horrible human beings they were, they were still human. They didn’t deserve to be left at the mercy of this monster. She had to keep them safe.

Which left only one option.

“We do,” she assented.

Salem pulled away and smiled like a kindly grandmother. “Splendid. For your first lesson, how much has your family told you of the Holy Grail War?”

 


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The cabin in the forest was well built. The logs that made up the walls were sturdy and thick. The door clearly had a gun hole that could be opened from the inside to give any defender cover. The entire structure was situated on a small hill, granting its holders the crucial advantage of the high ground.

Honestly, Raven was impressed.

When her friend had invited her over, she had expected something more flamboyant and jarring, more aligned with the owner’s personality. Instead, she found a seamlessly crafted fortification. There was a story behind this that she’d have to hear.

She slowly treaded up the hill, her odachi secured in its sheath at her side. She wasn’t expecting any trouble, but only a fool left their own domain unarmed. Even if her friend really did want them to get away and have some fun, it paid to be prepared.

Raven frowned. Actually, knowing her friend, the fun was what she would have to be prepared for.

Suddenly, four daggers embedded themselves in a square around Raven. Her hand was instantly on the hilt of her sword.

Each of the blades glowed brightly for a moment, and when that glow faded, four women in white cloaks stood in their place. Each figure had a belt of black daggers around their waists.

“Hahahaha!” laughed a familiar voice.

Raven looked up to see another white cloaked woman standing gallantly atop the roof of the cabin.

“What are you doing?” Raven asked exasperatedly.

“What am I doing?” the woman on the roof dramatically mocked with an exaggerated hand to the chest. “You have trespassed upon my sacred land, Raven Branwen. And for that, you shall be punished!”

Raven sighed. It definitely paid to be prepared.

The gatling mechanism in her sheath rotated new dust onto her blade.

“Get her!” yelled the woman.

“Yeah!” echoed the four copies. They each drew daggers and rushed in at the huntress.

Raven shook her head amused.

In a single motion, she drew forth her odachi, now alight with fire dust, and whirled around in a great sweeping arc. Two of the cloaked figures managed to barely parry her strike. The other pair were not so lucky, disoriented by the flames and then sliced in two by the huntress’ sword.

The defeated warriors glowed again with a brilliant shine, and then fell to the grass, daggers once more.

Raven pressed the attack. She charged one of the fighters and unleashed a flurry of blisteringly fast slashes. The woman reacted quickly, keeping her knives close to the chest, deflecting each strike a fraction of an inch to the side.

It was almost as impressive as the original’s skills.

Raven activated her semblance and when her foe next moved to meet her slice, she instead found her hand thrusting through a small portal of darkness.

Idly, Raven heard the woman on the roof yelp in surprise. Probably having barely dodged a knife that came out of nowhere.

 With her immediate opponent down a weapon, Raven unleashed another barrage of strikes, overwhelming the woman’s crippled defenses and transforming her back into a dagger herself.

Whipping around instantly, the huntress met the advancing form of the last copy, her odachi swinging wildly to claim more blood.

The two engaged in a more even back and forth than the others had, both combatants trading blows and struggling for an ideal position. Raven had to keep the fight at range to make use of her sword’s extraordinary length, while the other woman struggled to get close to turn that same attribute into a disadvantage.

Realizing that their current battle was dragging on more than she would like, Raven swung around and kicked at the woman. She blocked with the flat of both her knives, but the force behind the blow still sent her flying back a few yards.

That was all the time Raven needed.

In a flash, her odachi was back in its sheath. The mechanism inside rotated the power yet again, this time installing wind dust.

The woman turned the same color as her cloak.

Raven charged forward, her blade lancing out as she advanced. The sword unleashed a billowing gust overhead, knocking its target to the ground even as she dodged its steel.

Calming chuckling, Raven lowered the tip of her odachi to the warrior’s throat.

Red eyes gloated over defeated silver ones. “Guess this means I win?”

The woman on the ground grinned widely. “Nope!”

Raven heard the distinctive sound of a gun cocking behind her head. She could guess who was holding it.

The original white cloaked woman waved her large pistol at the huntress’ back. A fluttering laugh escaped her lips.

Raven should have let it go. She should have let her win.

But what fun would that be?

She slashed down at her downed foe, creating a portal even as the figure faded back to a knife. In the same instant, she dived down into her hole in space. When she came out, she was now behind the original woman in white, who whirled around to meet her odachi with her gun.

The portal closed.

Both women stood completely still, both their weapons at each other’s throat.

They stared mercilessly. Their eyes shining with nothing but the harshness of stone.

Then the woman in the white cloak started to laugh.

And laugh.

And laugh.

Raven returned her sword to its sheath, a small smile dancing on her lips.

How could it not? Her friend’s laugh was a beauteous thing. Somehow, she doubted even a Deathstalker could frown at the laugh of Summer Rose.

The silver-eyed warrior finally pulled herself together and collected her fallen daggers. “How about we call that one a draw?” she proposed.

“Draw, my ass” Raven teased. “You wouldn’t have fired that thing.” Her face became a little more serious. “How many times do I have to tell you not to go for the Contender if you’re not going to use it?”

Summer rolled her eyes and put the massive pistol in question on her belt. “As many as I have to tell you that I’m not using it on people. You know what it does to someone with aura. No one deserves that. Besides, it’s not like my bladies did any better.”

Raven smacked her hand to her face. She hated Summer’s name for her sword clones, but if she hadn’t changed it since Beacon, she probably never would.

“What we are we doing here, Summer?” she asked finally. They hadn’t had any plans for a trip and her brother and fiancée couldn’t tell her anything. Still, Raven trusted her team leader and knew that she would only call if it was a true emergency.”

Her leader blinked like it should be obvious. “Rae, you and Tai are getting married in TWO days. What do you think this is?”

“An intervention?”

She was right! Marriage was a mistake! The paranoid whispers in the back of her head were telling the truth!

“No silly. It’s your bachelorette party!”

Instead of looking excited, Raven raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Don’t those usually require, you know, bachelorettes?”

Summer sighed. “Alright, so your number of girlfriends is strictly limited to me, but we can still give you a fantastic last weekend as a single woman. I mean, how much fun was that spar we just had?”

“True” Raven conceded. Facing worthy opponents in combat was something she relished, and even after six years together, she could confidently say she counted her team leader among that number.

Summer dashed over and snagged an arm around her teammate’s shoulders. “Exactly, and we are going to have even more before we’re done. Think of it! Just the two of us, alone in the last cabin my dad ever built! We’ll tell ghost stories. Make popcorn. Hunt Grimm until they beg for their unholy lives!”

“I do like those things” Raven muttered, looking away to avoid her leader’s irresistible charisma.

It was quiet for several seconds and she knew what was happening. She wouldn’t fall for it. She would resist. She wouldn’t look.

She looked, and she was caught up in the full power of Summer’s adorable pout.

Raven sighed. “Alright. Let’s do this.”

“Yes!” Summer cheered. She squeezed her friend in lung-crushing hug and then dashed off to the cabin doors.

She turned back and waved. “And maybe this time, you won’t get me killed? Eh Rae?”

Raven’s heart stopped. “Wha- What are you talking about?”

Summer frowned. Her cuteness was gone, replaced a cold, accusatory glare. “You could have had everything, but instead, you ran off half-cocked and left me to clean up your mess.”

A familiar howl of madness echoed from behind Raven. The huntress couldn’t bring herself to move. She would face the horror behind her even at the cost of the nightmare before her.

“It was hopeless” she defended. “I had to find a way to kill her, or it would never end.”

“So, you put your faith in that thing over us? Over your team? Your family?” Summer shouted.

“You wouldn’t listen!” Raven yelled, tears in her eyes. “You and Qrow and Tai chose Ozpin’s cowardice over a chance at victory!”

Summer’s face became emotionless, a mask of stone. “And yet I still came when you called. I followed you in your madness. And look how that turned out.”

A rippling golden portal opened behind Summer.

“No!” Raven cried.

A glittering lance shot out and speared Summer through the chest. The huntress’ silver eyes went wide with agony as she fell to the ground. Her white cloak slowly stained red with her blood.

Raven couldn’t bear to watch any longer.

She turned around and saw what she dreaded.

The land and sky were gone, replaced by a violent wall of purple. Across the canvas writhed a dozen snarling shadows, desperately clawing up her body.

It all led back to a thrashing black knight.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

She screamed.

 


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Raven woke with a start, panting madly as sweat soaked her clothes.

A larger bead than most dripped down from her eye.

She instantly rubbed that one away. Damn sweat, clouding up her vision.

She let her hands fall into her hands and sighed.

It had been nice at the beginning. It had been over a decade since she had had a pleasant dream. Not since she’d summoned her first Servant and taken on the burden of his madness. After that, his howls would not leave her alone, were she waking or asleep. Truly, the memory of Summer she indulged in was a gift she would treasure for a long time.

Even with how it was corrupted near the end.

She heard shouts of terrified commotion from outside her tent. Familiar screams of terror echoed through the night.

And his roar, like a wild beast on an endless prowl.

Raven collected her robe and went out to deal with him.

Lancelot rampaged through the center of the camp, wrecking cages and flattening tents as he went. Most of the tribe were veterans at avoiding the deranged knight’s path of destruction, knowing that it was safest to get outside the camp’s walls and let Raven handle the matter. The weak fools who wanted to see just what a Heroic Spirit was capable of found themselves suffering the obvious fate.

The strong live and the weak die. That was the rule of life for a reason.

Raven stepped onto the porch of her tent. With Vernal out leading the scouting parties, she really was the only one who could deal with this.

“Lancelot!” she shouted. “Yield. Now.”

The black knight paused in his movement, but his body still strained itself, desperate to continue his rampage. Despite his madness preventing him from understanding Raven’s exact words, the spirit of the order still reached his broken mind.

His oath of chivalric obedience, so deeply ingrained in the noblest of knights, clashed against the fog of chaos that polluted his class. In the end, in all came down to whether his master’s will was strong enough to weather the storm.

Normally, Raven was up to the task, having carried the burden constantly for almost two decades.

But after the dream… after Summer… she slipped just a bit.

“AAAAAAAAAAA!”

Lancelot howled again and raced towards his master, ready to crush her.

Raven cursed and raised her right hand before her. She had allowed herself to be weak for a moment and it would cost her. “By the power of my Command Seal—”

A massive shape appeared in front of her before she could finish. Her newest Servant, the giant Berserker, stood fast between her and the other hero.

Lancelot either didn’t notice or didn’t care, and continued his charge, shrieking all the way.

Berserker planted his massive stone sword in the ground. His hands now free, he reached out and plucked the black knight from his charge and then slammed him into the ground. The impact created a sizable crater in the dirt.

Lancelot flailed about madly, his cries of madness never ceasing. Raven heard them twice fold, in the air and in her mind. They ravaged through her skull like a stampede of Beowolves, clawing and scratching at the corners of her sanity. Her knees shook from the effort of maintaining her composure.

Berserker’s grip tightened on his fellow. A low rumble resonated through the air, vibrating the very surface of Remnant.

And then, the Servant roared.

Immediately, Lancelot’s howls ceased. His body still twitched minutely, but he had stopped wildly jerking about.

He wasn’t the only one either. The sounds of the forest’s nightlife had disappeared, from the chirp of the birds and Nevermores, to the baying of hidden insects, nothing dared to be heard lest they draw the attention of the roar’s source.

Inside Raven’s mind there was… not quiet, but less. Less noise than she had known since she first became a master. Lancelot was cowed through his insanity, the basest of emotions, fear, ensuring his temperance at least temporarily.

Berserker released his fellow hero, who rose cautiously and then dissipated into shadows. The giant then turned to face his master.

Raven hadn’t focused on his face after she’d summoned him. She’d been far too concentrated on the enormous power she saw in her master vision. With his lowest stat at a B, who could blame her?

But now… it was strange. His left eye seemed somewhat normal, a deep, if intense brown. His right, however, was a glowing red orb sunken in a sea of black. It reminded her of the terrifying glimpses she’d caught of Salem.

Berserker’s face was not frightening though. Her eventual enemies would likely disagree, but to Raven, his gaze was calm, approachable, even, dare she say it, paternal.

When she’d dared to spy on her family in her bird form, she’d seen the same expression on Tai’s face. He’d been looking over Yang, broken and lying in bed.

Perhaps her new hero’s madness was more common than Lancelot’s. Maybe, in life, he had only been a parent who lost his child, whether by forces outside his control, or the choices he had made. She could certainly sympathize with the latter—

No.

Raven shook her wildly. Leaving Yang and Tai had been for the best. Her only choice really.

She gazed at her Servant. “Thank you for the intervention. Berserker. Return to spirit form until I call upon you again.”

The hulking man did as she commanded and disappeared in a shower of blue dust.

Raven sighed. Perhaps her new Servant’s more controlled madness pushed back the effects of Lancelot’s insanity on her mind. He certainly seemed capable enough at cowing the black knight.

Still, she wasn’t sure if having a bit more of her mind open to dreams was a good thing or not.

After all, her last dream had cost her everything.

 


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An endless grey sea lapped calmly against a pristine white beach. A sky drenched in boundless fog encased the entire setting.

A young girl with wild blonde hair kneeled on the beach, her body heaving in desperate fright.

“Help me” she begged the empty air. “Help me! Somebody! Anybody!”

She felt the sand vibrate beneath her, like a massive Grimm was marching towards her.

She looked up and saw three visages in the mist.

A girl in a white dress with a snowflake on her back, her posture poised and perfect, a rapier held lightly in her right hand.

A girl with long dark hair, confident and relentless, a large black bow placed squarely on her head.

And finally, the cruelest blow of all, a small girl in a red hood, her eyes glued towards the unseen horizon.

None of them faced the blonde girl. And all of them walked even further away.

“Don’t go!” the blonde screamed, desperately reaching out to the fading images. “Weiss! Blake! Ruby!”

None of the trio showed any sign that they heard her. Soon, the fog obscured them all.

The blonde broke down in the sand, tears streaming down her face. “Please. I don’t want to be alone.”

“What else can you be?” a deep voice mocked her from behind.

The world blurred around the blonde girl. Suddenly, she was on her feet, a brown jacket on her shoulders and a pair of golden gauntlets on her wrists. She stared at them in terror, knowing their use and fearful that she would have need of them.

Did she always fear battle?

A man appeared before her, with dark hair and even darker eyes. A golden cross was tied around his neck on a gleaming chain. He was the one who had mocked her. “If you cannot fight, what good are you to anyone? What other use could one with true ambition have for a sad little girl, desperate for love.”

The man started stalking towards her, his glare scathing and without compromise.

The blonde panicked. She shut her eyes in terror and unleashed a barrage of fire from her gauntlets. Enough to burn the man to ash.

It passed through him like the kiss of a breeze.

The man’s right arm glowed with turquoise lines. He pulled it back and slammed his fist into the girl’s gut.

She went flying, weightless. In the end, she landed with a splash in the beach’s shallow waters.

She laid there motionless, staring up at the sunless sky, without care and without drive. Perhaps this was where she was meant to lie? Broken and alone, waiting for the tides to smother her dying flame.

She closed her eyes. Maybe, she would finally know some peace.

Another shockwave rippled through the world, forcing the girl from her attempted slumber. She shot upright, unable to understand why she wasn’t allowed to just rest.

The sound that shook the ground beneath her feet was growing closer. It was like a stampede of thunder, charging towards the endless ocean. The blonde girl found herself curious, going from being seated to being on her knees, crawling closer to the torrent of power. It was like a symphony, enticing her in with its magnificent storming melody.

A single booming shout pierced the cacophony. The girl was certain she’d never heard the voice before, but she could tell instinctively that it belonged to the conductor, the driving force behind the indomitable challenge to the tides.

The blonde stood and reached out her hand to the horizon. Beyond it, was the conductor, a being that was rising like a new sun.

She knew at that moment, she needed to see him.

She could be still no longer.

 


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In a modest cabin on the Isle of Patch, there was a room on the second floor.

And within that room, Yang Xiao- Long opened her eyes.

Chapter Text

A lone figure cloaked in red strolled through a dark forest. She wasn’t supposed to have strayed from the safe house, but her dreams had been haunted by an orange sky clouded with giant gears. She thought perhaps an evening stroll would clear her head. Eventually, she came to a cliff and gazed upon a horrific sight.

A once peaceful village in flames, its inhabitants fleeing in terror under the light of the shattered moon. Even from her perch, the figure could see the creatures of Grimm running rampant through the chaos.

The girl narrowed her eyes in fury. She withdrew a rifle from her cloak and elongated it into a crimson scythe as three Nevermores flew over her head. Firing into the ground, she launched herself onto the back of the lagging member of the flock. And when they were over the village, she sliced the monster wing to tail, falling to the ground through its ashes.

Ruby Rose landed in front of the town church, Crescent Rose gleaming for battle.

The Beowolves in the square took notice of her immediately. They looked stronger than most of the ones Ruby had fought before, bigger and with longer spines. The beasts growled at the huntress’ arrival.

And after traveling the Mistral wilds for four months, she was a huntress now.

Ruby took a deep breath, and charged her foes, losing herself in the relief. Fighting had always come naturally to her, like dancing only without the stupid heels.

A slice here. A Beowolf dropped.

A slash there. Three more joined it.

This was simple. The Grimm were evil. They had no souls and could not be reasoned with. They were a plague to be purged and she was the surgeon. There was no reason to doubt killing them was the right thing.

Ruby relished that comfort. She didn’t know how long she’d have it.

She was so lost in her battle frenzy that she barely noticed being hit by a rock from above. Turning towards the brick’s origin, she noted one unusually inventive Beowolf peeling off roof tiles to use as ammunition.

Leaping into the air, Ruby split herself into three separate streams of roses, deftly evading the next projectile. When she came together behind the creature, she finished it with a single shot.

The recoil sent her flying into the air, straight into a Nevermore. Fortunately, she activated her semblance again, slashing the beast to pieces and jetting back down to the ground. The cobblestone crumbled where she landed.

Her vision obscured by the resulting dust, Ruby warily scanned her surroundings for more foes.

Unfortunately, not warily enough to avoid getting punched in the face.

She smashed through the door to the church. Standing as well as she could, she gasped in shock when she saw her assailant.

A Beringel, a rarer Grimm that looked like a huge gorilla and hit like one as well. According to Weiss, these things weren’t supposed to be studied at Beacon until third year. Of course, the heiress had read ahead and made sure to inform her team, but all that really did was let Ruby know how much trouble she was in.

She should run. She should dash back to the safe house and get Uncle Qrow and Jaune, and then they could kill this thing.

But in the time she was gone, the Beringel would turn its attention to the townsfolk. They were defenseless. It would slaughter them in droves.

Ruby grit her teeth and readied her scythe. She wouldn’t allow that.

She would save everyone.

The Beringel pounded its chest and roared, before lunging forward in a mad rush. Ruby leapt over the beast and spun around for a charge. Her blade struck the ape’s side but went no farther.

The monster didn’t seem to notice. It grabbed Ruby by the head and then punched her onto a burning building.

Needing a new strategy, Ruby switched her weapon to rifle mode. She jumped off her crumbling foothold and hopped around the roofs of the square, keeping her enemy under a constant stream of fire.

It seemed to be working until a pair of Beowolves rushed into the square. Ruby swiftly put a bullet through one, but the Beringel picked up the other and threw it at her position.

She swiftly returned her weapon to scythe mode and slashed the incoming wolf beast, but she had been distracted for several crucial moments.

The Beringel sprang into the air with all its might. Ruby quickly ran the scenario through her head. If she attempted to switch Crescent Rose back to rifle mode, the precious few seconds it would take would be enough for the monster to land on her roof. If she retreated as her weapon transformed, she could avoid the immediate strike from above, but would be left at a disadvantage at the closer range. Which meant her only option was to keep her baby in scythe mode and hope for the best in a melee battle.

Well, at least it was her only option until a streaking arrow knocked the Beringel out of the sky.

Ruby scanned the skyline as the monster faded into nothingness. She spotted a man in a red coat atop the church’s roof, a bow evaporating from his hands.

“Archer!” she called out, waving wildly.

The man in red jumped over to Ruby’s roof and exasperatedly shook his head. “If I may suggest master, perhaps you should obtain reinforcements before rushing off into battle.”

Ruby pouted at her Servant. “I wanted some time alone to think. I wasn’t expecting this.” She gestured at the flaming town around them. “Besides, I had everything under control.”

“Really? I was unaware that getting thrown into two buildings was a symptom of control in this world.”

Ruby embarrassedly scratched the back of her head. “Okay, so not everything went as planned, but I could have won that fight.” She noticed a massive horde of Grimm charging into the square. She smiled and readied Crescent Rose. “And we’re going to win this one.”

“Perhaps” Archer conceded. “However, the surer path to success is one that eliminates your opponent before they can utilize their strength. As such, I decided it would be preferable if I intervened against that Beringel and had our allies handle the rest of these creatures.”

“Allies?”

A storm of crimson lightning struck the mass of Grimm. A figure in grey and scarlet armor charged in screaming like a madman and began tearing the monsters apart.

“Oh,” Ruby remarked.

“She’s been getting insolent about the lack of combat over the last few months” Archer reminded her. “I thought she could use the release.”

A Nevermore was incinerated by a lightning strike. A Beowolf was beaten to death with another Beowolf. All the while, Mordred cackled with joyous laughter.

“It seems to be working.”

“I guess” Ruby conceded. “But if she’s here, where’s Jaune? And Uncle Qrow?”

“Your uncle was doing a perimeter sweep when I left” Archer explained. “As for Saber’s master…”

Jaune stumbled into the square, panting and with his hands on his knees.

“His Servant’s pace seems to be a tad beyond his abilities.”

“Jaune!” Ruby called, leaning over the roof. “We’re up here!”

Jaune glanced up at her and flashed his dorky smile. “Ruby… next time…wake me up… before you charge in like this.”

Ruby cringed. “Sorry. I wasn’t expecting—Behind you!”

Jaune rolled to the ground, barely dodging the Beowolf that had clawed at him from behind. He stumbled across the broken cobblestones as the beast roared in fury.

Ruby activated her semblance and blasted off the roof to help. She had failed Pyrrha. She had failed Arturia. She couldn’t fail Jaune.

She needn’t have worried.

Jaune drew his sword as he came up to his feet. For just a moment, his aura glowed gold. A slash of air lashed out from his sword and cut the hapless Grimm in two.

Ruby could only blink in shock as she walked next to her friend. He himself stared at his blade in befuddlement. “What just—”

A crack of crimson lightning interrupted any thoughts the two might have had. Before them was Saber, who lowered her helmet and casually hoisted her sword over her shoulder. “Well, that was disappointing. Seriously, how have these things nearly wiped out humanity? They’re pathetic.”

Jaune sighed and looked to Ruby. “You okay? Archer didn’t say much beyond, ‘follow me’.”

“Was anymore necessary?” Archer pointed out as he joined the rest.

“Yes,” Jaune protested. “I don’t know what I’m walking into if you don’t tell me. What if I hadn’t brought my sword?”

Archer smirked. “What kind of huntsmen discards his weapon in Grimm invested territory?”

Jaune scowled. It wasn’t as if he could argue the point.

Ruby decided that now would be the best time to jump in before the relationship between her friend and her Servant deteriorated even further. “It’s alright, Jaune, I’m fine. You guys showed up just in time.”

“Of course, we did” Mordred boasted, shoving herself between the two huntsmen. “Punctuality is the mark of a true knight and I am the only knight that far surpasses my father!”

Ruby wasn’t sure how true that declaration was, but since both Jaune and Archer raised their eyebrows in doubt, she figured it was just Mordred being Mordred. Though how Archer was able to have an opinion on Arturia’s abilities, she didn’t know.

“So,” Mordred swept around to face Jaune, “how did I look? What do you think of my skills as a warrior?”

“Ugh, well” Jaune stammered. “I’m sure it was impressive and—”

Mordred frowned. “You weren’t even watching, were you?”

“I was going to” Jaune assured her. “But I had to find Ruby, and then the Beowolf attacked…”

Red sparks cascaded off of Mordred. Her fists clenched in fury.

“Aaanyway,” Ruby said quickly. “Jaune and I should gather the townspeople. You know, let them know the Grimm are dead and help put out the fires. You two should run back and tell Uncle Qrow what’s going on.”

“I do not take orders from you!” Mordred shouted.

Jaune sighed. “Saber, it’s the best plan—”

Mordred punched him into a wall. “Or you, pretender!”

Ruby sighed. Even when she knew which of Mordred’s buttons she’d pushed, she had no idea how to diffuse her. She was like Weiss only you couldn’t just start nodding to get her to lay off.

Oh great! Now she was missing Weiss!

Archer shook his head ruefully. “It’s alright, master. I will reach Qrow much faster without such a tortoise slowing me down.”

Mordred reeled on him. “Are you calling me slow, jester?”

“Not at all” Archer snarked. “Just that your armor’s bulk is similar to a shell, by extension weighing you down so much that an actual tortoise could easily outrace you.”

“Screw you, jester! I’ll go get the drunkard myself!”

Mordred dashed out of the square, crimson electricity trailing behind her.

Ruby rushed over to Jaune and gave him a hand up, letting him drape across her shoulders for balance.

Archer hummed and rubbed his chin in thought. “Your aura is truly impressive. To enable a normal human to survive a serious blow from a Servant. It’s simply astounding.”

Jaune groaned in response.

Ruby cringed. “Look on the bright side. She saved the town faster than we ever could. And I think I saw a forge when I was flying over. If the blacksmith survived the attack, maybe he can make the upgrades to Crocea Mors we’ve been talking about?”

“Great” Jaune muttered. “Just great. And maybe he can tell me how to get Mordred to stop punching me in the face.”

Archer sighed. “Saber. Refer to her as Saber at all times. You never know when you’re being watched.”

“Not in the mood, Archer” Jaune shot back.

Ruby frowned. Things were not going well. Their trek to Mistral had been uninterrupted, and to the best of their knowledge, Blake’s group was safe. But the calm was presenting its own host of issues.

The Servants were, for better or for worse, weapons, though neither Ruby or Jaune would ever treat them that way. But the Holy Grail War they were expecting was supposed to be confined to a single city and would have ended in a matter of weeks. Spending so long in the world with only Grimm to fight was making them antsy. Mordred’s mood had only worsened since they left Patch and, while Archer hid it better, Ruby could tell he was unsettled as well. The only person he didn’t constantly tease was Uncle Qrow, and Ruby wasn’t sure if that was out of respect or if he just didn’t care enough to antagonize him.

Then, there were the dreams she’d been having. The hill of swords was still the most common, but sometimes there were others. More frightening scenes of swarms of people lying dead with swords in their backs. Cities being obliterated as a single arrow leveled their skyscrapers.

But not even they were the most disturbing.

No, the worst… the worst was the fire.

She didn’t know where she was, there were no stars in the sky. Perhaps there were once buildings around her but now there were only crumbling ruins. A blaze greater than any she’d ever seen, even the flames that had raged at the Fall, rampaged as far as the eye could see. Cries of agony filled the air and she felt herself sinking into a sinister black mud. It was hell.

And she was powerless.

She closed her eyes, accepting the end.

But she’d open them again, woken by a voice that cried of salvation. “He’s alive. He’s alive!”

She saw that a man with shaggy hair spoke the words. Tears crashed down his face.

And then, she’d wake up. Always then, not a moment before or after. She could never fully recall the man’s face. Which left her only with the terror of the fire.

It was a new feeling, fearing the fire. Growing up, flames had meant Yang, and when Yang was around, everything would be alright. Nothing could hurt her big sister.

Until Kirei did just that.

A tear welled in Ruby’s eyes. While the intrakingdom network allowed them to keep in contact with Blake’s group, the international CCT still hadn’t recovered, leaving them with no way to know how Yang was doing.

Ruby didn’t even know if her big sister had woken up yet.

Whatever the case, at least things couldn’t have been worse than when she left.

 


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Beneath the shattered moon, Yang sat cross-legged on the grass, her broken right arm and hand wrapped in a thick, bulky cast. Mercury’s parting gift from what dad had told her. She hoped the bastard had felt it when Blake’s ex cut him in half.

As for her, she didn’t feel anything. In the four months since she’d woken up, her whole world had shattered. Beacon had been overrun by Grimm. Pyrrha was dead. And worst of all, her team had left her.

On a mental level, she understood why they did. Weiss in particular probably didn’t have a say in the matter. From what she’d told them of her dad, he’d probably dragged her back to Atlas kicking and screaming. She likely wasn’t in any position to visit.

But Ruby and Blake, they’d run off to save the world. That wasn’t something they could exactly put off, especially if dad’s crazy explanation for what they needed to do was true. The world was more important that one girl in a coma.

She couldn’t help them, so they needed to move forward. She knew they made the right choice.

Didn’t mean it didn’t still hurt like a bitch.

Her little sister and her best friend had abandoned her, just like Kirei said they would.

After all, a lonely little girl wasn’t worth a war for a wish.

Yang reached out her left hand and patted the grass where Ruby had summoned her Servant. The sigil still remained, the dried blood securing the ominous marking on the border of the forest. It was all so unbelievable, but her dad wouldn’t have lied to her, not in the condition she was in.

She sighed. The condition she was still in. After she had woken up, it had a taken a week before she could get out of bed, and only in a wheelchair for two months after that. She’d only finally kicked her crutches a few days ago. Supposedly, only her arm was left to heal.

But it didn’t feel like it. Whenever she tried to help around the house, wash dishes, sweep the floor, get back in the swing of her old chores, she always felt so exhausted. The simplest of tasks, the stuff she used to breeze through without even thinking about it, made her more tired than the fighting at The Breach.

And if she had been too weak when she fought Kirei, what use would she be to her friends now?

Yang shook her head and started making her way back to the house. When she walked in, the light was on in the kitchen and she heard laughter reverberating through the halls. Hiding behind the door frame, she saw her dad chatting up with Dr. Oobleck and Professor Port.

Port was telling a story, though for once it wasn’t about himself, and maybe that was why it was far more interesting than his usual fare. “And then, Qrow comes in, wearing a skirt!”

“We told him it was kilt. He’d never worn a uniform before” her dad explained.

“You are terrible” Oobleck joked.

“Hey, don’t get mad at me. The girls all said he had nice legs.”

All three men let out another round of rambunctious laughter. It was so infectious that Yang couldn’t help letting a few giggles escape. Her former teachers whirled around to face her.

“M- Ms. Xiao-Long” Port stuttered. “Please, come in.”

“By all means, pull up a chair” Oobleck invited.

Yang smiled and walked over to the counter next to her father. “Here’s fine. Thanks. So, what’s going on? You old dudes having a party?”

“Nothing so extravagant” Oobleck explained. “We’re simply catching up. Teachers do have lives outside of school hours, you know.”

“Yes. We’re just taking a well-deserved break from the rebuilding process. With Professor Goodwitch leading the charge, we’ll likely have the school fixed up in time for the fall semester” Port said.

“Yeah, so as I was saying” Taiyang interjected. “There Qrow was, in a skirt, like it’s the most normal thing in the world, when Oz shows up and tells us we need to work on our landing strategies.”

“Yes. The Branwen twins have always been an odd pair” Oobleck chuckled.

“That didn’t stop young Tai” Port teased.

“Pete, come on” Tai motioned to Yang.

“Nonsense. Miss Xiao-Long is a mature young woman. Surely she can handle a few jabs at her old man.”

“That’s not what I’m saying” Tai argued, frowning. “She’s still a teenager.”

“She is right here, and would appreciate it if you talked straight to her” Yang growled. “And I think I’ve been through enough to be considered an adult.”

Her father sighed. “Whether you’re an adult or not, you still have a lot to learn about the world.”

Yang rolled her eyes. “Do all fathers have the same three condescending phrases?”

“Yeah” Taiyang admitted. “But we only use them when we mean it.”

“Really? Is that so?”

“As a matter of fact, it is so.”

Port tugged at his collar. Oobleck buried his face in his coffee. This was not a conversation they wanted to be present for.

Taiyang smirked. “If you honestly think you’re ready to go out there on your own, then I guess you woke up from that coma a bit too soon.”

Port’s eyes went wide. Oobleck dropped his mug. Yang gasped. All of them stared at the elder Xiao-Long, unable to process his callous remark.

Until Yang smiled and playfully punched her father. “You jerk.”

Both of them started laughing, unsettling the teachers in the room. Oobleck leaned over to them. “Are we finally talking about the Goliath in the room?”

The Xiao-Longs paused for a moment, then laughed even louder. The display assured the teachers that everything was fine, and they joined in with the merriment.

Eventually, the quartet calmed done. “Ms. Xiao…Yang” Port inquired respectfully. “If you don’t mind me asking, do you think you’ll return to the Beacon come autumn?”

“Ah yes. The entire staff are anxiously awaiting your return to active duty,” Oobleck chimed in.

Yang glanced down at her cast. “I’m… scared, I guess” she admitted to the group and herself. “Everybody keeps saying they want me back to normal, and I’m grateful for that, but… I’m not sure if I should. Go back to that normal, I mean.”

Her old professors raised their eyebrows in confusion. “I’m afraid I don’t understand, Yang” Oobleck confessed.

“Do you remember what I told you at Mountain Glenn?” she asked the good doctor. “I said that I wanted to be a huntress because I was a thrill-seeker. But I wasn’t ready for what came with those thrills. My normal was…”

Yang scowled, hearing the voice of a boy in black robes even as she said the word, “… childish.”

She felt a comforting hand on her shoulder. She turned to see her father smiling at her. “Normal is what you make of it.”

“How can you say that?” Yang shouted. “I was stupid, bullheaded. And because of that, I was useless while my friends fought for their lives. Pyrrha died! And I slept through it!”

The blonde brawler sagged back against the counter, her head in her left hand. “Now… now I’m less than useless.”

“You’re right.”

Yang’s head shot up at her father’s blunt statement. His smile was still there but mixed with a stern expression she saw him use a lot back at Signal.

“You were pretty stupid in your fight with Kirei. And that hasn’t left in the best condition right now. But that shouldn’t stop you from moving forward to who you want to be,” he explained. “You’re Yang Xiao-Long. My Sunny Little Dragon. There’s nothing you can’t do. So, whenever you’re done feeling sorry for yourself and want to get back out there, I’ll be waiting.”

Yang stuttered. She knew he was right, but she was still unsure. “I—"

“Fear is like any other emotion, it comes and goes” Port assured her. “It’s all in how you handle it. Why even I find myself wrestling with that emotion from time to time.”

Yang raised an eyebrow. “Really? You?”

“He’s terrified of mice” Oobleck whispered.

“They bring only disease and famine!”

Yang laughed at Port’s rambunctious outburst. She laughed a lot that night.

Eventually though, it got late, and with a cheerful goodbye, she headed up to bed.

When she arrived at her room, she heard their voices outside her window. Curious, she shuffled over to eavesdrop. Most of it was the casual goodbyes to be expected between old friends, so much so that Yang considered letting it be and turning in, until Port said…

“I hesitate to ask but, is there any word from young Ms. Rose or Ms. Belladonna?”

Taiyang sighed. “No. With the CCT down, they likely won’t be able to get a message home until they get to Mistral.”

“I still find it strange that Qrow would take them on such a journey at a time like this” Oobleck confessed. “I know he can be unorthodox, but this seems pointlessly dangerous. Have you thought about going after them? Bringing them home?”

“Qrow knows what he’s doing” Tai answered somberly. “Besides, I’ve got to…take care of some things here.”

Yang turned back into her room, her mind whirling in thought.

All her life, she had been abandoned. Her mother, Summer, even Qrow with the time he was often away, either by choice or duty, they’d all left her behind. After dad had struggled with Summer’s death, she’d been determined to make sure that Ruby would never experience the pain the world could bring. She would stand by her sister’s side and protect her.

And if by consequence she was never alone again, so much the better.

She would be the best sister, so Ruby would never want to leave, and the best protector, so nothing would ever force her to.

It seemed to be perfect. Her early trials had made her resilient. There was no blow she couldn’t take. Even her semblance was based the idea of getting stronger with punishment. She was invincible.

She was naïve.

Kirei brought that crashing down and at the same time, showed her just how great the gap was between her and her sister.

She may have been the stronger of the two, but Ruby had a fire within her. A drive, lit by her mother, to protect as many people as she could. To be a hero.

Blake and Weiss, they had their own goals, their own dreams, that allowed them to stand beside Ruby as equals.

Yang had no dream. Yes, she wanted to find her mother and have as much fun as she could along the way, but she made that subservient to her momentary whims long ago. She coasted by on the thrill of each encounter.

And so, she was less than the grand ambitions of her team. She was just their brute, their enforcer. Their guard dog.

Oh gods, she was Zwei.

She couldn’t be Zwei.

Yang curled her left fist. She had to help Ruby. She had to make sure that she and Blake knew that she could stand beside. To do that, she needed to find a dream.

And for now, that would be getting strong enough to punch Robes in his smug prick face.

 

Chapter Text

A bull faunus blacksmith placed Jaune’s new armor on the counter. “There you go, son,” the hardy man exclaimed. “It’s gonna be heavier than you’re used to, but you’ll thank me the next time you go up against a set of claws.”

“Wow,” Jaune whispered in wonder. “I…I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t got to say anything. Just put it on” the blacksmith ordered. “I’ll go get the rest.”

The horned man went back into his workshop.

Jaune stared at the magnificent chassis. He and Ruby had been designing it for weeks, expanding the armor plating and reinforcing the steel. After Mordred had slaughtered the horde of Grimm attacking the village and he and Ruby helped put out the fires, the town blacksmith had been more than willing to make the necessary adjustments for them, free of charge.

Now, here before him was the fruits of his labor.

“Well, you gonna put it on or just stare at, you idiot,” Mordred snapped. She leaned against the wall of the shop, vigorously eating popcorn out of a bag in her hand. It reminded him of his mother and her own gluttonous habits, and with her face still identical, Jaune couldn’t help the pang that came to his heart.

Over the four months he’d spent with his Servant… sister… brother… whatever, he’d gained a new appreciation for the siblings he’d grown up with. Sure, they’d braided his hair while he was asleep and forced him into dresses, but they also made him soup when he was sick and helped him with his homework so he could scrap his way to the next grade. Mordred spent all her good days calling him a ‘pretender’ and punching him in the face.

On her bad days, she insulted mom, and then he wanted to punch her in the face.

Jaune shook his head and took off the basic armor he’d bought for Beacon. It had been getting a little small anyway. Maybe Qrow’s brutal pace from safe house to safe house was doing some good after all. He turned around to the others.

Ruby’s hands shot up to her mouth. She stifled a chorus of giggles. Mordred stood up straight from the wall in shock. Even the ever-unflappable Archer raised an eyebrow.

That really got Jaune worried. “What? What is it?”

Ruby pointed at his chest. “What is that?”

Jaune looked down at his official Pumpkin Pete sweater. “What? My hoodie? I’ve always had this.”

Ruby kept chuckling and even snorted. “It’s got a cute little bunny rabbit!” she declared.

“It’s Pumpkin Pete,” Jaune insisted against her laughter. “You know, from the cereal!”

“What did you do? Send in a box top for a prize?” the red reaper inquired, gasping for breath.

“Yeah, fifty.”

Ruby stopped for a moment. Then, she laughed even harder. Eventually, she ran out of air and fell to the floor.

Jaune slumped. It wasn’t his fault. Mom had bought dozens of boxes a week, mostly for her. He figured she’d like the sweater as a birthday present, but the company had sent the wrong size. Mom hadn’t been mad. She said he looked cute in it.

Mordred shook her head. “This world’s insistence on attaching animals to food is ridiculous. If you’re selling grain, why would you choose a rabbit as your symbol?”

Jaune opened his mouth to argue. After all, the cereal’s backstory was clear that Pumpkin Pete fused his pumpkins with marshmallows to ward off the Grimm that wanted to eat his magical pumpkins to destroy humanity.

Then, he realized that that really did make absolutely no sense. Grimm didn’t eat.

The blacksmith returned from the back with Crocea Mors. “Here you go,” he said, slamming the sheathed sword on the counter. “Made all the modifications you asked for. That was some fine metal you brought me. Makes the broadsword combination go smooth as butter. Where’d you get it, anyway?”

Jaune gazed at the twin sunrises in the shield’s center, the proud symbol of the Arc family. Then, his eyes shifted down to the point of the broad shield. Embroidered along the tip was the bronze design of Pyrrha’s headdress.

“From a friend,” he answered ominously.

He hoped his partner would forgive him for using her last iconic article for upgrading his weapon. But he needed every advantage he could get if he was going to get the Grail.

After all, how else was he supposed to bring her back to life? Her and his mom.

He couldn’t fail them again.

The shop’s doorbell chimed. Qrow trudged in. “Just finished talking with the mayor. We’re stocked up until we get to the next safe—”

He paused and stared at Jaune. After a moment, the grown huntsman snorted a chuckle.

Jaune… Jaune just sighed.

 


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Blake Belladonna had been trained as an elite operative by a terrorist organization. She had fought Grimm ten times her size and come out on top. She had survived encounters with some of the most despicable criminals of her time. She had endured horrors few would ever dream to dread and kept moving forward despite her tragedies.

Now, in the face of Nora Valkyrie, she didn’t think she would survive.

“Do you think they’re getting enough sleep? Do Servants even need sleep? Do they need more sleep? Ah! What if Archer and Mor-Mor don’t get enough sleep and they run into another master? They’re all gonna die! We have to call them right—”

“Nora,” Ren interrupted. “Qrow told us before we left that Servants don’t sleep.”

“But what—”

“Or eat.”

Blake sent out a silent thank you to the pink-eyed ninja. She could sympathize with Nora’s worries over the other team, especially with all that had happened at the Fall and everything they’d learned since, but she seriously doubted that Mordred would be incapacitated because she was allergic to silk and Jaune forgot to ask before he bought her underwear.

Ruby and Jaune would be fine. They had a fully trained huntsman, and two ancient heroes protecting them. Nothing could touch them.

At least, she hoped.

“So, which town is up next?” Blake asked, desperate to distract her thoughts.

“Shion Village,” Sun happily informed her, eagerly pointing out its location on the map. Given his experience with the Mistral countryside, he had taken over navigation duties. “Neptune took us all there on our first break for a team vacation. They’ve got an awesome hiking trail over here, a great campsite down by the river here—”

“Guys,” Ren whispered, somehow loud enough for them all to hear.

Blake looked up from the map. Her eyes widened as smoke rose on the horizon.

“Come on,” she yelled. “Let’s search for survivors.”

The four of them ran down the road as fast as they could. When they arrived, all that was left of Shion were soot-covered buildings and decaying corpses.

“Over here!” Ren called.

They found a huntsman lying against the remains of a crumbled wall. His limp hands clutched a badly bleeding wound in his side.

Ren kneeled down to see what he could do to help.

“What happened here?” Blake demanded. “Who killed all these people?”

“Ba- Bandits,” the huntsmen struggled out. “A whole tribe of them. Then, while everyone was panicing—” He broke out into a round of agonized coughs.

“Grimm,” Ren conjected.

“No,” the huntsman denied. “No, a Grimm came but it ran away from… that thing. It was wearing black armor, head to toe, but… its strength… so fast… it couldn’t have been human.”

The man sighed and leaned his head back against the wall.

“We can take him to the next village and find a doctor there,” Blake declared.

Sun nodded. “Ren and I can take turns carrying him.”

“I don’t know guys,” Nora worried. “I don’t think he’ll make it.”

“Come on, sure he will,” Sun insisted.

“No, he won’t,” Ren chimed in.

The man’s eyes were wide open, lifeless. His corpse unmoving. All that remained of the brave defender of humanity.

The kids didn’t even know his name.

“Should we, bury him?” Nora wondered.

Ren stomped off past them. “We should go. It’s not safe here.”

“Ren,” Nora muttered, going after him.

Blake’s hand clenched into a fist. Her eyes narrowed in rage.

A comforting hand came onto her shoulder. She turned to see Sun looking at her worriedly. “Hey, you okay?”

“No,” Blake growled. “I’m not.”

They were huntsmen. They were the protectors of the people. They had trained their entire lives. Yet, the best they seemed to be able to do was clean up and damage control.

The Breach. The Fall. Shion was just the latest in a string of failures when they had been too late or too clueless to help anyone.

If they were so useless at saving one town, how could her hopes of changing the world ever come to pass?

Was a miracle the only way to achieve a dream?

Wait…

“He said that someone was wearing black armor head to toe,” Blake noted. “Someone with unnatural strength and speed, and powerful enough to scare off Grimm.”

Sun’s eye widened. “You think these bandits have a Servant?”

“Maybe. If they do, we’ll have to be careful. If Arturia was any standard, none of us stand a chance against them.”

“Guys,” Blake and Sun turned to Ren. He had his eyes closed and his head up straight. He held his hand out in front of him. “We’re not alone.”

The entire team drew their weapons, maneuvering back to back into a square formation.

“Where do you sense them?” Blake inquired.

Ren pointed to the southern tree line. His semblance of sensing and suppressing emotions had proved quite useful in the wilderness. They’d been able to ambush dozens of Grimm thanks to the early warning. And more importantly, avoid packs that were too large.

“I don’t think it’s Grimm,” he told them. “Not enough anger.”

“Whoever you are, come out!” Sun yelled. “We promise we won’t hurt you.”

They waited a few moments, straining their ears for any answer. All they received was the wind.

Blake narrowed her eyes at the forest. Ren was never wrong before. But with the smoke above darkening the sky, spotting the hidden person would be— there!

It was barely a flash of movement, but it was there. There and running.

“They’re getting away” she shouted, and charged into the foliage.

“Blake, wait!” Ren called.

She didn’t listen. If this person saw what happened to the village, maybe they could explain more about the mysterious black knight. They couldn’t let them get away.

Using her cat-like agility, Blake leapt into the branches and gave chase through the trees. She could just barely make out her target. Whoever they were, they were camouflaged extraordinarily well. Their skin and outfit perfectly blended into the complex greens and browns of the surrounding area. Heck, the only reason Blake could track their movements at all was that she trained with…

No. It couldn’t be her. She was on Menagerie.

“Ilia!” Blake called out. She stopped chasing and stood on her branch.

Her target did the same. Her camouflage dissipated, and her natural rainbow skin tone took over. She turned around, took off her White Fang mask, and Blake found herself face to face with someone she’d thought she’d never see again.

Ilia smirked. “Hey, Blake. How have you been?”

“Why are you here, Ilia? I thought you were on Menagerie.” After Blake had noticed Adam’s downward spiral into madness, she’d used every ounce of influence she still had to get him to reassign her other oldest friend to the faunus island. She’d hoped that taking Ilia away from the frontlines of the fight for equality would prevent her from slipping into fanaticism like Adam did. Now it seemed her efforts were for naught.

Ilia shrugged. “Adam needed someone he could trust for the war, and you turned him down. We’ve been following your group for weeks now.”

Blake gulped. Her worst fears were confirmed. Adam was a master, and that meant he now had a Servant at his command. He would come for Ruby and Jaune if he found out about them.

And if he won the grail, there was no telling what horror he would commit.

“You’re not exactly pleased with that news, I take it” Ilia surmised off her look. “Don’t worry, it’s not anything malicious. Adam knows this countryside from his training days. It’s more dangerous than you think. We’re here to protect you.”

“And if there was a master in our group?” Blake asked. “Would you be protecting us then?”

“That would probably depend on who it was,” Ilia shot back. She sighed and gazed back up at Blake with pleading eyes. “Blake, please join us. It’ll be like old times. The three of us against the world. You know what’s at stake here. If we win, we can achieve our dream. The dream of the White Fang and faunus everywhere.”

“What dream is that, Ilia? Equality or genocide? Adam changed, he’s not like he used to be,” Blake explained desperately.

“Neither are you!” Ilia shouted. “You were a part of this before any of us. Your dedication to the ideals of the Fang inspired me, and Adam. But now, when we have the chance to get everything we ever wanted, you’re running away!”

“I’m not running!” Blake roared, trying to convince herself as well as Ilia. “I’m standing by my friends.”

The venom in Ilia’s eyes shattered. The chameleon girl looked down at her feet. “I thought I was your friend.”

Blake… didn’t have a response to that.

“Look, please join us,” Ilia beseeched, her sorrowful gaze rising. “You say Adam changed? He can change back. We can work with your new team to get the grail. Our Servant, Lancer, he’s human and he’s—”

“Blake!” Sun’s voice carried up from the forest below. He quickly bounded onto the same branch as her. “Geez, give us some warning before you run off like that, will you?”

The monkey glanced over at Ilia. He caught sight off the White Fang mask at her side and his eyes shot up. “White Fang!” He shouted, drawing his gun-chucks.

Ilia snatched her whip from her belt and extended it, the entire thing crackling with electricity.

Blake thrust her hand in front of him. “Sun—”

The air next to Ilia sparkled and a man with two wrapped spears materialized out of thin air.

“—wait” Blake finished. Her friend didn’t need to be told twice, his weapons instantly dropping from where they had pointed at Ilia.

The new figure held one of his lances in front of Ilia, shielding her from any potential attack. He wore a green armored jumpsuit, a few shades darker than the trees. His long black hair stood up above his head, straddling the line between neat and unruly. His balance on the narrow tree branch was equal to any of the present faunus. Blake found herself mesmerized by his stare, alluring and dangerous, yet unendingly protective.

She barely noticed the mole beneath his right eye.

This was Adam’s Servant. This was Lancer.

Beneath her, Blake’s legs shook.

Lancer frowned at Sun. “Drawing weapons unprovoked against a woman. And I thought huntsmen were the knights of this age.”

Sun had the decency to look chastised. He leaned into Blake’s ear. “Servant?”

“Servant.”

Sun winced. “Sorry about that. Won’t happen again.”

The Servant nodded, seeming to accept the boy’s apology.

Ilia gazed at her partner, confused. “Um, Lancer? Not that I mind your presence, but why are you here?”

The green knight shifted himself towards Ilia and bowed to her. “My apologies, Mistress Ilia. Master Adam asked that I accompany you in case something went wrong. I thought it best to remain in spirit form to keep from being a distraction.”

Ilia blushed. “Lancer, you could never be a distraction.”

Blake raised an eyebrow. She didn’t think she’d ever seen Ilia blush. It was a strange thing to remember, but looking back, the White Fang of the old days wasn’t lacking for strapping young men. She had been focused on Adam at the time, but Ilia had never expressed interest towards anyone. Huh, maybe the mystique of an ancient hero was irresistible, even to her picky friend.

It would certainly explain her own… lower body issues.

Lancer turned back to Blake and Sun, and bowed again. “The regulations of the Holy Grail War prevent from giving my true name without my master’s consent, but you may call me Lancer, hero of the spear.”

“Yo,” Sun waved.

“Um…hi,” Blake muttered. Why wouldn’t her legs stop shaking?

Ilia smiled. “Lancer will win the Holy Grail for the White Fang. No other hero in the war can possibly match him.”

Sun smirked. “Really? We heard some pretty powerful Servants have been summoned. A freak in black armor wiped out an entire town back there.”

“Black armor?” Lancer whispered. His eyes narrowed. “Berserker. Mistress, we should return with this information to Master Adam at once.”

“Oh, okay,” Ilia glanced back at Blake. “Don’t abandon our cause, Blake. Make the right choice.”

She turned her back and leaped away.

Lancer bowed once more. “I hope you will consider my master’s offer. It would be an honor to fight alongside you, Mistress Blake.”

He said her name the same as anybody else, but Blake had never thought it sounded so beautiful. “Yeah. Um, see you around, Lancer?”

The Servant nodded and dissipated into sapphire sparkles.

Blake stared at where he once stood. The forest seemed so much darker without his presence.

A tap on the shoulder drew her gaze. Sun’s face had a look of earnest concern. “He’s gone now. You can stop shaking.”

“What?” Blake stammered, looking down. She finally forced her legs to stop shaking.

“Wow, if even you can’t help but shake in fear, these guys must be dangerous,” Sun remarked. “Guess you were right about your ex’s plans.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Blake snapped. Gosh, she only just met him.

Sun raised an eyebrow. “I know, I said ex. You were right about your ex, Adam’s, plans to be a master.”

“Right, right, that obviously what you meant,” Blake replied sheepishly. She hadn’t been referring to Lancer at all.

“Oookay. We should get back to Ren and Nora,” Sun suggested. “Lancer’s little slip let us know that that black knight is a Servant, the Berserker. We should call Ruby and Jaune to let them know.”

“Right, good plan, let’s go.”

Blake dashed off immediately, needing some time to her thoughts.

Adam had a Servant. That should have terrified her. He plainly wasn’t giving up on her, and if he found out about Ruby and Jaune, he wouldn’t hesitate to slaughter them all.

But then why hadn’t he? Twice, in person and through Ilia, he had asked her, peacefully, to join him. The Adam she remembered wouldn’t have asked once. Could it be true? Had her friend truly returned to his senses? If he had, then maybe she could convince him to enter an alliance with Ruby and Jaune. With more than half the Servants in the war on their side, they would actually have a chance of getting the grail and defeating Gilgamesh and Salem.

And maybe she could spend more time with Lancer. She could introduce him to Ninjas of Love and…

No!

Why couldn’t she stop thinking about his stupid handsome face?!?

 

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Diarmuid thought hard as he drifted through the trees behind Mistress Ilia. If the current Berserker was the same one he had encountered previously, the Mistralian countryside was in mortal danger. He would advise Master Adam to seek out and deal with the Servant of Madness before more innocent lives were lost. Preferably while leaving Mistress Ilia behind.

What he had told his master was the truth. He had nothing against the chameleon faunus. She seemed a kind and driven young woman.  But it was for the best of everyone that he kept in spirit form around her. His curse had already doomed him twice. He had to be careful not to make it a third.

His wish was the same as it had been before. He wanted to serve under a lord, to ensure that he could bring their dream into reality. Kayneth had been a selfish man, desiring the chalice only for the status acquiring it would bring. Not a sinful thing on its own, but in hindsight, his cowardly tactics had made the quest shameful.

Diarmuid was not a fool. He understood that direct combat was not always the most desirable path to victory. Had he not encountered Saber in the last war, perhaps he would have been content to allow Berserker to thin the ranks of the other heroes and then face the weary survivors.

But after dueling the King of Knights herself? How could he sit back and allow such an honorable and worthy hero to be slain when she could not utilize her full strength? How could he dishonor her by robbing her of a true quest for the grail? How could he dishonor the heroes who would battle her by leaving her unable to face them with her full strength?

The only noble recourse had been to conclude their battle on fair and honorable terms.

Such a shame her master had not agreed.

Despite his dying curse, Diarmuid knew Saber was not at fault for what had occurred. The look of shock on her face when he had driven Gae Dearg through his chest was proof enough of that.

Still, he couldn’t dispel his rage at her. She did nothing. She just stood there, as powerless as he was against the whims of the dishonorable.

But fate had given them both a second chance. She had been summoned again, just like he was. She was somewhere on this continent, her master once again a coward.

This time, they would finish their duel.

Diarmuid shook his dissipated head. No, he couldn’t get caught up in his own desires. The cause of his lord came first. Especially, since Master Adam sought such a noble end, the freedom of his entire species.

The very thought made the knight puff with pride. After all his troubles, he had finally found a master who sought something larger than his own ego.

Finally, he could fulfill his oath with pride.

Chapter Text

Mordred was bored.

Seriously, that Grimm attack was the most eventful thing to happen on the route between safehouses and those things barely even put up a fight. Why were they even hiding from the other Servants? She could kick all five of their asses without breaking a sweat!

Instead, she was laying against a tree in the middle of the night, with no more food. So what if they would have run out of money? She saved that entire village. That should have been worth some sort of discount.

“Ugh,” she snorted. She yawned, preparing to dowse off just to pass the time. “Why did I have to get stuck with a cowardly pretender for a master?”

“Alright, Jaune. Just like we practiced.”

Mordred’s eyes shot open. She didn’t recognize that voice.

The brown jacketed knight rose up and followed the sound through the woods. She arrived just outside a small clearing, gleaming with moonlight.

In the center, was Jaune, his shield out and his sword at the ready. He seemed to be alone.

“The hell?” Mordred muttered. “Then who did I—"

“Follow these instructions.”

Mordred scanned the arena, zeroing in on the voice’s origin. It was Jaune’s scroll, sitting on a nearby stump.

The device was playing a video of some girl with red hair.

“Shield up,” the girl instructed.

Jaune raised his shield up.

“Keep your grip tight.”

Jaune tightened his grip.

“Don’t forget to keep your front foot forward.”

Jaune’s front foot shuffled slightly in the grass.

“Ready?”

The boy’s eyes narrowed at some invisible enemy.

“Go.”

Jaune shouted as he stabbed forward.

“Again.”

He swung around into a slash, his blade glowing a soft gold.

“And again.”

He whirled around, striking an even larger imaginary foe. As he attacked, the golden glow around his blade seemed to swirl around into a cascading spiral, a powerful typhoon just waiting to be unleashed.

“The Hammer of the Wind King,” Mordred muttered from her hiding place. “How can he do that?”

Jaune panted after concluding his sequence. This was clearly not his first time doing it tonight. He turned to the scroll and stared at it with a pained look in his eyes.

“Okay, assuming you aren’t cheating, we can take a break,” the girl in the video chuckled. “I know this can be frustrating. And it can feel like so much effort just to progress such a small amount, but, I want you to know that I’m proud of you. I’ve never met someone so determined to better themselves. You’ve grown so much since we started training, and I know this is just the beginning.”

The redhead nervously twitched in the video. “Jaune… I… I…” She turned back to the camera and forced an earnest smile on her face. “I want you to know I’m just happy to be a part of your life. I’ll always be here for you, Jaune.”

The video filled with static as it rewinded.

Mordred charged into the clearing. “How did you do that?” she demanded.

Jaune whirled around on her. “Mordred?” He shuffled over to his scroll and paused the video of the girl. “What are you doing here?”

Mordred stalked over and lifted him up by the scruff of his hoodie. “Don’t play games with me, pretender. How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“The Hammer of the Wind King, you idiot! Only father can you use that technique.”

“The Hammer of the Wind King?” Jaune’s eyes lit up despite the danger he was in. “Wait, wait, wait, King Arthur’s Hammer of the Wind King? The skill he used to win the Battle of Camlann?”

“What?” Mordred dropped Jaune to the ground. As he trudged himself into a sitting position, she stared him like he’d grown a second head. “Father didn’t use Strike Air at Camlann. Who told you that nonsense?”

“Umm, mom. It was one of her bedtime stories,” Jaune explained. “She told me how King Arthur, or her, I guess, defeated the evil King Lot at the Battle of Camlann and saved the kingdom of Camelot.”

Mordred closed her fist and shook with rage. “Lot?”

Jaune cringed. “I take it that’s not what happened?”

“Lot wasn’t even at Camlann!” Mordred exploded. She stomped away from Jaune and paced at the end of the clearing. “Ridiculous, just damn ridiculous, who does he think he is? Lot? Lot! He replaced me with—”

“So, she didn’t defeat King Lot?” Jaune inquired timidly.

Mordred turned back to him. “What? Oh, no, he defeated King Lot. Just not at the Battle of Camlann. He actually dealt with him a few years before at the Battle of Astolat.”

“Oh, Astolat.” Jaune scratched his chin in thought. “I think I remember that one. But mom said that he escaped then.”

“Escaped?” Mordred exclaimed incredulously. “As if. Tristan may have turned out to be deserting crybaby, but there was no finer archer in Camelot. He wouldn’t have missed that shot, not after everything we’d done to set it up for him.”

“Really? What happened?” Jaune asked, sounding legitimately curious.

Mordred smirked with pride. “Well, everything seemed to be going to shit at first. Lot had enlisted so many mages to work for him that with mother’s help they were able to erect a mystical barrier to keep Lot and his army safe from our frontal assault. No one could break through, and they closed in on us from all sides.”

“Yeah, I remember this part” Jaune excitedly recalled. “Merlin couldn’t help because he bit his tongue during his counter incantation.”

“Eh, no. He was still hungover,” Mordred corrected. “It was his birthday the night before and he’d visited every brothel in the kingdom.”

Jaune raised an eyebrow. “Merlin, the greatest wizard of all time, went to brothels?”

“Of course, he was half incubus. There wasn’t a single court session he didn’t walk into late. In fact, one time, when he came into the Round Table and said ‘Sire, I have terrible news’, Gwaine joked ‘you finally got one pregnant?’”

Mordred and Jaune both burst out laughing. Master and Servant both fell to the ground and rolled around in the grass like the siblings they were.

Above them, the shattered moon glowed softly. A reprieve for the children they might have been.

Eventually, Jaune pulled himself together and propped himself into a sitting position with his shield. “Okay, so without Merlin, how did you guys beat Lot?”

Mordred sat up on her knees. “Oh, that’s the best part.” Her hands flew around wildly, painting a picture of the scene. “We were backed against the river, outnumbered two to one. None of our attacks could hurt them. It seemed all hope was lost. Then, suddenly, from the east with the rising sun, sounded a horn any knight of Camelot knew by heart. It was Sir Lancelot!”

“Sir Lancelot!” Jaune chanted.

“Sir Lancelot,” Mordred confirmed eagerly. “Fresh from christening his sword Arondight in dragon’s blood, he rode down the hills with a force of three hundred horsemen and smashed King Lot’s flank. My mother was so desperate to stop the collapse, she spread her shield too thin.”

“And that’s when you charged,” Jaune realized.

“That’s when we charged. Father, Gawain, Gwaine, Bedivere, and of course, me, unleashed the fury of the Round Table on all who threatened the king’s citizens. I must have slain at least a thousand barbarians that day,” Mordred narrated, a wide smile plastered on her face. “Eventually, Lot got so scared he sent all his mages into the battle just to hold us off. But without any spellcasters to protect him, Tristan nocked his bow and put an arrow through his eye.”

“That’s amazing!” Jaune shouted, throwing his hands in the air.

“I know!” Mordred squealed. She then realized what she was doing. She coughed into her fist. Squealing was not an action becoming of a king.

She stood and looked away from Jaune, but couldn’t help the soft smile that came to her lips. “I haven’t thought about that battle in ages. Sad, huh? It was probably the best moment of my life.”

“No, it makes sense,” Jaune assured, a tinge of regret in his voice. “The best moments of our lives are great, but, a lot of the time, they’re followed by the worst moments.”

He didn’t know how right he was. It was only a few months after the Battle of Astolat that her mother came to her in the halls of the castle and told her the truth. She was not just some random witch’s homunculus, but the son of King Arthur himself!

Of course, father’s hatred of Morgana had dashed any happiness from that revelation. It was all a downward spiral from there.

Why couldn’t father have just recognized her as heir?

Why did he hate her so much as to deny her even the place of the villain in their story?

Camlann was her battle, her final resting place.

Was she not even worth being fought in his eyes?

Mordred whirled around to ask Jaune those same questions, but stopped when she found him staring at his scroll.

The device was paused on a frame of the red-haired girl who had been giving him instructions. Now having a closer look, Mordred thought she seemed impressive. True, she could only be seen from the chest up, but her muscles were clearly defined from rigorous training and the armor appeared to be of fine temper.

A tear trailed down Jaune’s eye.

“Who was she?” Mordred inquired.

“Huh?” Jaune looked up at his Servant. He wiped the tear from his face. “Oh, Pyrrha. Her name was Pyrrha Nikos. She was my partner.”

“She looks like a fine warrior.”

“She was,” Jaune smiled. “She was the best. Mom didn’t want me to be a huntsman, so I was completely useless when I got to Beacon. But Pyrrha, she believed in me. She taught me everything I know, made me worth something and never asked for anything in return.”

Mordred got a sly grin. “Really? Not even a kiss?”

Jaune chuckled. “Is it really that obvious?”

“Yeah,” Mordred told him. She’d only see the end of the video once and even she could tell. “Only an idiot wouldn’t notice.”

Jaune sighed.

“Oh my god, you never noticed, did you?”

“I figured it out when she kissed me,” he mused sullenly. “But then, she shoved me in a rocket locker and went off to fight a battle she couldn’t win.”

Mordred raised an eyebrow. “Why would she do that?”

“Because she was the only one who could,” Jaune whispered. “Pyrrha believed that if there was the smallest chance she could help someone, then she should. Even if it meant facing the impossible.” A soft smile graced his lips. “She was a hero.”

“She was dumb,” Mordred summarized.

Jaune glared up at her. “Excuse me?”

“She was dumb,” Mordred repeated. “Only a fool would give up their life for something so nebulous as their beliefs.”

Jaune shot to his feet. “She did it to stop a psychopath! She did it to save everyone!”

“And how well did that turn out? What has actually changed for the better?” Mordred sneered. She wasn’t trying to be cruel to the idiot, but him idolizing someone who tried to do the impossible was only going to get him killed. If you couldn’t do something, then you couldn’t do it. Trying anyway was foolish. “The person she couldn’t beat survived and killed her, didn’t they?”

Jaune averted his eyes. “No, she didn’t. I asked mom to help her, and that got them both killed.”

Mordred's eyebrow twitched. She couldn’t have heard him right. She’d suspected but he couldn’t have actually… “You got father killed?”

“That’s why I have to get the grail,” Jaune exclaimed. “I have to bring them back. It’s my responsibility—”

Mordred punched him to the ground. That idiot pretender! Did he really think…

“You got father killed,” she growled. “As well as a girl you claim to care for. And now you have the gall to insult their deaths with your selfish wish?”

“Selfish?” Jaune snarled, crawling to his knees. “How is wanting to save them selfish?”

“Every warrior under the sun lives their life knowing it could end at any moment,” Mordred shouted. “Father was no exception, nor likely was your partner. They made their choices, however foolish they were, knowing they could lead to their deaths. They accepted that as the path they chose. You want to negate their impact on history just to assuage your own guilt!”

“They didn’t choose to die!” Jaune yelled back, jumping to his feet. “Mom wanted to save Pyrrha but couldn’t. Ru… the person who killed mom didn’t even want to. Bringing them back isn’t selfish!”

“Do you plan to ask them if they wish to return? If they wish to have their lives unwritten?” Mordred queried.

Mordred knew all about having others make your choices for you. She had had her whole life planned out by her mother. Everything she ever was, was part of Morgana’s plot of vengeance against her father. She had never been given any other option but to be involved in the scheme, groomed since birth to infiltrate the Round Table until the time was right to strike. Until Morgana revealed her parentage, and she decided to choose to be King Arthur’s son. She would not bring down the kingdom. She would be its heir and lead it into a new, glorious era.

Father’s refusal to accept that choice led to her own rebellion. That had not gone as planned, but at least she had been able to go out on her own terms. She had no regrets.

Jaune opened his mouth to try to answer, but closed it again without saying a word. Mordred wasn’t surprised. He may have been an idiot, but it wasn’t like anyone could argue with the truth.

She turned away, her job done.

“What’s your wish?”

She turned around and quirked an eyebrow. “What?”

“Well, you’ve made your thoughts on what I plan to do if we win pretty clear. So, what’s your wish? What’s so important that you’d choose to be a part of this war?” Jaune asked.

Mordred sighed. Really? He was only just now wondering about her wish? They’d been traveling for months and the thought hadn’t crossed his mind to find out why she was fighting? Pitiful.

Still, there was no harm in answering his question. “My wish is to draw Caliburn from the stone. When I win the grail, I shall use it to arrive before father ever hears of the Sword of Selection, and I shall take it for my own. From there I shall rule as the rightful king of Camelot.”

It was the only thing she longed for. To prove to all that she was, beyond any doubts that her father had, a worthy heir to the King of Knights.

Jaune stared at her for a moment. Obviously, the fool was dumbstruck by the pathos of a true wish for the almighty chalice.

Then, he burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Mordred yelled.

“That’s your wish?” Jaune chortled. “You just spent how long, telling me it’s selfish to want to bring people back from the dead. And your wish, is to steal mom’s throne? How hypocritical can you get?”

“My wish is not selfish,” Mordred declared hotly. “I will draw Caliburn because I am worthy of it. And under my rule, Camelot will flourish more than it ever did under my father.”

She felt like there was some other reason that she didn’t want father to be king, but it slipped her mind at the moment.

Jaune didn’t agree with her sentiment. “Oh sure, it will be great. All hail King Mordred, or else she’ll throw a hissy fit and punch us all in the face!”

Mordred’s hands curled into fists. “Don’t you dare mock me.”

Jaune grinned at her, though the smile was anything but pleasing. “Mock you? I wouldn’t dare, your majesty. Please don’t cut off my head!”

Mordred punched him in the face once more. She panted heavily as she loomed over him, barely containing her rage.

Jaune struggled to a sitting position, seeming much less affected than he had been at her past attacks. He glared defiantly at her towering figure.

“You’re a jerk,” he declared, his eyes harsh and unforgiving. “I don’t know what happened between you and mom to make you like this, and as of now, I don’t care. I’ve messed up more than I can ever make up for and I’m on this suicide mission because it’s my only chance to fix it. So, if you’re not going to help me, shove off, your highness. I don’t have time to clean up your mess, too.”

He stood up and stared Mordred right in the eyes. He dusted himself off and gathered his shield and sword. “I’ll win this war myself if I have to.”

He returned to the center of the clearing and resumed his training stance.

Mordred seethed. In a flash of red lightning, Clarent was in her hand and she bolted across the grass, her brown duster waving behind her.

Jaune took a practice swing, expecting air, and found his sword crossed with hers. He raised his shield in his left hand while putting all his strength behind the blade in his right.

Mordred didn’t need to put much power into her one-handed grip to hold him back. All of it went into her glare. “What right have you to judge me? Father raised you, loved you, sheltered you. Gave you everything he denied to me, his rightful heir! What could you possibly know about me?”

Jaune didn’t grimace at her words. He didn’t smile at unnerving her or frown at her rant. He just stood there. Almost, bored.

“You would have been a terrible king.”

The moonlight itself stilled at his words.

Mordred staggered back, feeling like she had been struck by Rhongonmyniad a second time. Her father’s words echoed through her mind.

‘You did not have the capacity to be king.’

Jaune broke their stare and turned around. He fell back into his movements as if nothing had happened.

Mordred stood at the edge of the clearing. She stared down at Clarent. She had stolen it from the vaults of Camelot shortly after she became regent. It had been beautiful once, in her mind it still was, but there was no denying that having her for a wielder had dulled its grandeur. The brilliant and radiant white blade once said to be more dazzling than any silver had been reduced to a submissive gray.

The blade was supposed to be the ultimate symbol of kingship, but in her hands, it was simply another holy sword, forever in the shadow of Excalibur, just as she was trapped in father’s.

How could she not be though? Father was inhuman like her, but he was perfect. The perfect king who was just and fair, and always saved his people over himself.

She was the only knight who ever surpassed him though (Lancelot was a traitorous deceiver, he didn’t count). She was the only one who ever shook his kingdom to the core and forced it to crumble. Who ever faced his full power and denied him victory.

She surpassed him as a knight. She could surpass him as a king. She just needed the chance.

The pretender wanted help? Fine.

She’d help him in a way that father never would.

“Bring out your broadsword,” she barked.

Jaune turned to her in confusion. “What?”

“You know how to fight with a shield, you’re just wasting breath on it now. The blacksmith said you got a broadsword transformation for that thing. About time you learned how to use it,” she declared.

“You’re going to teach me?” he asked disbelievingly.

Mordred smirked. “No son of King Arthur, even a pretender like you, can be allowed to be so lacking in combat. If you’re going to learn, it’s going to be from the best. So, break the dumb thing out.”

Jaune shrugged and folded his shield back into a sheath. A moment later, he had merged it with his sword to add a good four inches to the blade’s width.

Mordred nodded and raised Clarent in a single hand. “A two-handed broadsword is the weapon of a true knight. The blade is longer and heavier than a regular sword, requiring more skill than a common brigand can possess.” She chuckled. “It’s ironic. That thing’s transformation has a lot in common with an old phrase from the Round Table.”

“What?” Jaune inquired, genuinely curious.

“The sword is strongest as a shield.” Mordred stated reverently. “By its nature, the broadsword prevents you from wielding a shield with it in battle. That loss reduces your versatility, but also in turn increases your power.”

“I get it,” Jaune nodded. “I’m stronger, but I can use that strength for fewer things.”

“Not fewer, one,” Mordred declared. “A knight’s sword has only a single purpose. To protect their comrades and the people they have sworn to defend. That focus, more than any extra inches of steel, is what separates a true knight from the rabble.”

She placed her second hand on Clarent, displaying the poise her master would have to aspire to. He’d probably never reach it, but she’d pull him along as far as he could go. And by the end of it, they might just claim the Holy Grail.

She grinned. “Now then, here I come, pretender!”

Jaune rolled his eyes, but there was a tiny smile on his face. “Are you going to talk all night?”

Mordred charged.

Clarent and Crocea Mors sang softly under the shattered moon.

 


RWBYRWBYRWBYRWBYFATEFATEFATEFATE

 

Ruby watched with tear-filled eyes as Jaune and Mordred’s swords clashed. She walked away as the sounds of their spar echoed through the night.

“As I told you master, everything is working out fine,” Archer comforted her.

Ruby wiped her tears off with sleeve and smiled. She’d been woken up by the sound of Pyrrha’s voice. She’d traced it to the clearing and seen Jaune training. She thought about saying something, but then Mordred had come in. Then, it got weird.

They started telling stories with each other, then laughing around like she’d remembered doing with Yang when she was younger. Then, Mordred started yelling like usual and punched Jaune to the ground. But, this time he yelled back, making Mordred shake with anger.

Ruby had been worried for her friend’s safety, but Archer had arrived in spirit form and advised her to let things play out. She only agreed when he promised to step in if Mordred got too violent. He told her everything would work out fine.

Sure enough, Mordred was helping Jaune train a few moments later.

“Okay, I admit it, you were right,” Ruby called. “How’d you know she wasn’t going to hurt him?”

“If Jaune and Saber are going to be useful allies to us, they will have to be able to coup without your assistance.”

Ruby raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t answer my question.”

“Call it a hunch.” Archer shimmered in existence, beams of moonlight breaking through the forest canopy to light him with an ethereal glow.

It reminded Ruby of her most recent dream, one of her most confusing yet. Arturia was standing in a doorway, the moon glistening off her brilliant armor. She stared down at a boy with red hair and asked, “Are you worthy to be my master?”

Unlike the others, Ruby was pretty sure she knew what this dream was about. After all, everyone said that Arturia was the Saber summoned for the Fourth Holy Grail War, just like Gilgamesh was the Archer. So, the boy with the red hair must have been her master. He had looked upon the King of Knights with quite a bit of confusion, but also limitless wonder.

She could relate. If he were still alive, she’d love to meet the guy.

“Master,” Archer said, “If I may ask, has your wish for the grail been altered at all by what we overheard?”

“That? Well… I don’t know,” Ruby confessed. Jaune’s wish was what she had expected, but Mordred’s response to it hadn’t been. “I never really thought about saving everyone as taking away their choices. I mean, Pyrrha is only dead because Arturia chose to save me, and Arturia is only dead because I can’t control my stupid silver eye powers.”

If Archer was surprised at the news that she killed Jaune’s mother, he didn’t show it. Knowing him he probably figured it out when she first brought up the silver eyes to him back at Patch. He just never said anything because he was all mysterious.

Normally, Ruby would think that was cool, but it really wasn’t helpful when he didn’t let her know she could talk to him about things that were eating her up inside.

Still, Ruby felt compelled to explain further. She needed him to understand. “We had just fallen from the tower. Uncle Qrow was helping me up, Weiss was there keeping guard, and Jaune… Jaune was crying over Pyrrha’s body. Arturia tried to help him, but that’s when Gilgamesh and Kirei showed up.”

Archer’s eyebrow shot up. “Kirei? Kirei Kotomine?”

“Yeah,” Ruby confirmed, his fist curling in hatred. “He pretended to be my friend, and then nearly killed Yang because he thought it would fun. He fought off Weiss and Uncle Qrow while Gilgamesh threatened Arturia and Jaune. Everyone was so tired, and hurt, and Pyrrha was dead, and he was standing there smiling while he pointed weapons at them, and then… and then everything went white.”

Tears streaked down Ruby’s face. “I only found out what happened when I woke up. Arturia died because of me.”

Archer stayed silent for a few moments, simply letting her cry. At last, he asked, “Did your eyes drive off Gilgamesh?”

“I guess,” Ruby sniffled.

“Then it was the best outcome you could have hoped for,” Archer consoled her. “Saber is strong, but the King of Heroes is in a league of his own. He would have killed you all. One death is a small price to pay for the rest of your lives. It is not your fault.”

“No,” Ruby conceded. She raised her head to face him. “But it is my responsibility.”

“It is not,” Archer growled.

Ruby took a step back in surprise. He had never shown real anger in all the time she’d know him.

“It is not the responsibility of anyone to save everyone,” Archer continued. “To think otherwise is to claim an entitlement unfit for a human being.”

“But that’s what a hero does,” Ruby argued. “My mom always said that a hero’s job is to save everyone they could. And if I can use the grail to save everyone, how is that selfish?”

“To seek the grail, even for the most selfless of reasons, is by the nature of the seeking, selfish,” Archer declared. “To quest for an omnipotent wish granting device is evidence of one’s refusal or inability to accomplish their goals by natural effort.”

“Aargh!” Ruby howled. “So, what? It doesn’t matter what I wish for because it will be terrible anyway? What’s the point of all this then?”

Archer sighed. His hand raked itself over his face in discontent. “You misunderstand. Your wish will be selfish no matter what, not malevolent. There is a difference. But wishing to save everyone, to alter the past out of your desire for a more perfect present, is insulting to those who died for your sake. Don’t let your arrogant guilt blind you. To be a hero is to cause untold tragedy.”

“Every hero needs a tragedy.”

Ruby shook her head to evict the memory of Kirei. Archer was hammering the same points her false friend did when Penny died, and it was no more appealing now than it was before.

She didn’t want her friends to die. She didn’t want anyone to die. Especially not just so she could save them.

There had to be something else. There had to be another reason to be a hero. A way that wasn’t selfish.

The way that mom did it.

“A hero does not cause tragedy,” Ruby whispered desperately. “A hero is not selfish.”

Archer laughed. “Are you so sure? Fine then, master. Answer me this. Before all this, before your friends died and your world was in imminent peril, why did you want to become a hero?”

“To help people,” Ruby answered instantly.

“That is what you wanted to do,” Archer refuted. “And you could have done that by becoming a police officer or a doctor. But you chose to be a huntress.”

“It was more romantic.”

“That is an excuse!” Archer roared. “Did you enjoy the weaponry? I’ve seen how you cuddle your scythe. Or did you covet the power, the strength an unlocked aura would grant to a frail little girl? Or perhaps it was vengeance? Did you hate the mother who failed to come home so much that you decided to follow her path solely so you could best her?”

“NO!” Ruby yelled. “I wanted to be close to her!”

Archer took a step back, surprised at the strength of her outburst.

The red reaper collapsed to her knees, tears streaming down her face. She had finally admitted it. She hadn’t told anyone. Not dad, not Uncle Qrow, not even Yang. They knew the tale of Summer Rose inspired her, made her dream of being the ultimate huntress, saving town after town from the Grimm. And they weren’t wrong. She did want to help people, to do the right thing because it was the right thing.

But she also wanted her mother.

She could barely remember her. Her long white cloak was more distinctive than any face. She didn’t even recall her silver eyes. She had only been a toddler when Uncle Qrow delivered the news.

Her mom died a hero.

She wanted to feel her, remember her somehow.

So, she’d have to be a hero too.

Now she realized how foolish that was.

“What’s the point in being a hero?” she whimpered. “Mordred is psychotic. Gilgamesh is a monster. Even Arturia did everything she could to make sure Jaune didn’t become one. What’s the point in trying to help people if it just hurts everyone?”

Surprisingly, she felt a warm hand on her shoulder. Ruby cautiously peered upwards, finding herself face to face with Archer. The red-clad Servant helped her to her feet. His expression was almost pitying.

“Do you want the Holy Grail?” Archer asked gently.

“What?”

“Do you want the Holy Grail?” he asked again, his voice still soft.

Ruby blinked the tears out her eyes. “I don’t know.”

Archer sighed. “It is possible to save someone, in a way that will not hurt everyone. However, it is not a benevolent path. It is an equivalent exchange of sorts. To save a life, another must be taken. One will die, and one will live, as you choose.”

“I don’t want to hurt anyone,” Ruby protested.

“You do. You just don’t like to think of it that way,” Archer continued. “You chose to become a huntress, an occupation that’s primary purpose is to kill the creatures of Grimm. Soulless or not, they are living creatures. You were content with ending their lives to save those of the humans they might kill in the future.”

Now she understood. “You think I should do what you said back on Patch. Wish to wipe out the Grimm.”

Archer nodded. “I will not pretend it will be an easy task. The competition for the Grail is fierce, and all the other masters will have their own reasons for wanting it. You may have to shed blood you do not want to in order to claim your wish.”

Translation. She’d have to betray Jaune.

That wasn’t going to happen. He was her friend, and even if it was selfish, she still felt guilty for the death of Pyrrha and his mother. She would never turn on him. When they defeated all the other Servants, they would sit down and talk about what would happen between the two of them. They’d figure something out.

They’d have to.

“Master.” She looked up at Archer. “To do this, you will have to serve no other goal but your own. So, one last time, I ask you. Do you want the Holy Grail?”

A thousand thoughts span through her mind. A thousand different things that might be right. She couldn’t be a hero anymore. She couldn’t save everyone.

So, she’d have to save as many as she could.

With that single desire, Ruby nodded.

Chapter Text

"Focus Oscar. Focus. Flood them with too much and you'll shatter your bones."

"You are not being very encouraging" Oscar protested.

The farm boy sighed and put up his fists. He focused for a moment, and green lines lit up all along his arms. He pulled his right hand back and punched a thick tree trunk. When he removed his fist, there was a hole half a foot deep in the bark.

"Well done. It seems your reinforcement is coming along nicely." Ozpin complemented.

Oscar flexed his fingers. "No aches. I think I might be ready for that tracking spell you wanted me to do."

After taking the train to Haven, Ozpin had been disconcerted to discover that the headmaster of the school, Leonardo Lionheart, had seemingly ignored several specific instructions he had left for him. Add to that the infiltrators who instigated the Fall of Beacon came from Haven with clearly false files, and he had felt it best for Oscar's safety if they steered clear of his old friend until they had reunited with Qrow.

In the meantime, he had taken to instructing Oscar in combat and mage-craft. With Excalibur standing in for their cane, the boy had adapted to his predecessor's fighting style quite quickly. He was no master, but he wouldn't be easy prey for the Grimm anymore.

Magic had been a slower affair. Oscar was hardly talent-less, but the downside of being granted so many magic circuits was that it was very easy to use too much prana than was good for the body. Especially one that was new to wielding such immense power.

Fortunately, they had been able to make strides in such control. Oscar was getting the hang of magical bolts of energy and reinforcement.

Though, considering the complexity of the spell suggested…

"I would prefer it if you allowed me to be in control for that" Ozpin requested. "The mystic bond we'll be taking advantage of is a potent one. As strong as that between a master and a Servant. One wrong move could cripple you for life. And that's if you're lucky."

Oscar shook his head but there was a smile on his lips. "Guess I wouldn't want you to be laughing at me forever. I'd be 'the only Ozpin to ever blow himself up'."

"Actually—Yes. You would be the only Ozpin to ever do that."

Oscar wasn't even surprised anymore.

He trudged over to his pack and pulled out Excalibur. He sat on the ground with his legs crossed and laid the sword across his lap.

"Okay, all yours."

The boy's eyes glowed green for a moment. Suddenly, they had a far older, more withered look about them.

Ozpin placed his hands upon the holy sword and began chanting an incantation. His arms glowed with turquoise prana lines and then the blade they held lit up with a soft emerald hue.

"Why do we need to find this thing?" Oscar inquired from inside their mind. "I thought Excalibur was all we needed."

Despite himself, Ozpin smirked.

'Excalibur is a mighty weapon' he conceded mentally. 'But my old friend already has a version with her. I retrieved this for her son.'

"That still doesn't answer my question."

Ozpin shook his head. "Arturia is one of the greatest warriors to ever live. But against the foes we now face, she doesn't stand a chance unless she is at full power. And she will need all of her tools in order to triumph."

"I thought you said we were looking for a sheath? How much good could it possibly do in a fight?"

Ozpin grinned. "More than you'd think."


RWBYRWBYRWBYRWBYFATEFATEFATEFATE

Weiss deftly bounded through the air, a blast of violet prana barely missing her chest. She skidded across the black floor, her heels still getting used to the castle's volcanic rock.

"Getting slow, Ice Queen!" Emerald taunted from across the training ground. "Are you sure you don't want to take a break? Caster can only take it easy for so long."

Weiss glared at Emerald and her Servant from across the arena. For the past four months, they'd been serving as her sparring partners on Salem's orders. Their battlefield was a sizable circular chamber deep within the castle. Sometimes they would work together to fend off hordes of Grimm the Queen called, but more often than not, they would be pitted against each other.

Neither of them were foolish enough to believe Emerald was supposed to get anything out of such training sessions. These duels were supposed to push Weiss to her limit, to grow beyond what she had previously believed was possible.

It irritated her to no end that the strategy was working.

Weiss conjured a line of glyphs up the chamber's wall and then dashed up their trajectory. As she ran, she waved Myrtenaster through the air. Three summoning sigils flared to life around Emerald and Caster.

'My will creates your body, and your sword creates my destiny.'

Two Boarbatusks and the Arma Gigas rose from the glyphs, their shining ethereal forms illuminating the dark cavern.

Weiss detested Salem with every fiber of her being, but she could not deny that she had flourished under the Mother of Grimm's tutelage. Beyond informing her of the Holy Grail War, the Queen had taught Weiss more about summoning than Winter ever could. She had been given a chant to recite in her mind every time she called forth a familiar, and that alone made the task easier on her aura, almost like the countdown before a race allowed the runner to prepare their sprint. It was so infuriatingly simple, the heiress cursed herself for not thinking of it on her own.

But Salem had also instructed Weiss to think of her summons differently than she had before. While under Winter's mentor-ship, she had thought of her trials and turmoils against her most challenging foes in order to call them to her side. Salem had instead suggested that she empathize with the defeated Grimm. Feel their rage, their hardship, as they attempted to do only what they were made to do, and yet were stopped at every turn and inevitably silenced. Weiss was surprised by how much she could relate to such a feeling given her similar experiences with her father.

Though since the Grimm had been trying to annihilate humanity, while she had been trying to become a huntress, she didn't feel too much pity for the creatures of darkness.

Nevertheless, the new approach was marvelously effective, and Weiss found herself able to call upon three summons at once.

Now if Caster would just stop blowing them up.

Just the three familiars rose from their glyphs, the Servant of the Spell conjured a trio of sigils around her and fired a purple laser beam from each (The witch insisted they were concentrated streams of prana. Weiss called them lasers just to get on her nerves).

As expected, the Arma Gigas was torn to shreds by the blast. However, due to an extra dose of aura supplied by Weiss, both Boarbatusks put on a burst of speed and dodged the violet streams of death.

Weiss grinned and leaped off the wall, her rapier poised as she dove at Emerald.

The thief brought up her revolvers and unleashed a volley of dust rounds. Weiss threw up a glyph in front of her and used the glowing sigil as a shield against the barrage. She then bounded off of it and positioned herself right above her opponent. Another glyph in leap down from, and the Ice Queen rocketed down, her saber's dust chamber already turning.

Predictably, Emerald jumped back to avoid being crushed by the falling stab. Unfortunately for her, Weiss had expected as such and when Myrtenaster struck the floor, a wall of ice sprouted up ten feet high. This not only provided a barrier between Weiss and the physically reinforced thief, but it also blocked Caster's view of one of the Boarbatusks.

The witch easily blasted through the obstacle, but the few precious milliseconds of delay allowed the Grimm of that side to close the distance. Weiss pirouetted around her frozen defense and launched a large shard of ice at the Servant.

Caster's hand glowed and nonchalantly blew the attack into smithereens. The Boarbatusk was only a few feet from her.

Weiss smiled. She had been paying close attention to Salem's lessons and knew that every Servant class had a weakness. Berserkers and Riders had weaker magic resistance than the other classes. Most Archers, though deadly at range, were more vulnerable up close. Casters and Assassins, while still somewhat superior to normal humans, had pitiful physical capabilities compared to their fellows. Thus, a creature of Grimm, augmented by Weiss, could be a serious threat if proper distraction was provided.

The Boarbatusk pounced at Caster. The witch flickered a sigil in front of her. A laser tore the black beast to pieces a moment later.

And the second pig Grimm leaped at the Servant's back.

Weiss had done it. Caster's magic was powerful, but each circle required a crucial moment to blink into existence before its magic fired. A moment that the witch did not have with the Boarbatusk on her back.

Weiss had finally done it.

Suddenly, a jagged dagger flashed into the Servant's hand. Whirling around, Caster thrust the short blade into the approaching Grimm. As soon as the weapon made contact, the Boarbadusk gave an ungodly shriek, wailing in pain unlike any Grimm Weiss had ever seen.

Then, there was a flash. When it faded, the beast was gone.

Weiss couldn't help the slack-jawed expression on her face.

"Heads up!"

Weiss spun around to the voice, only to be met by Emerald's kama to the face. The heiress smacked into the ice wall and slumped to the ground, her aura broken.

Caster walked over to them while Emerald smirked. "Guess we win again. How many times is that now, Ice Queen? A hundred and fifty to none?"

"One hundred and fifty-six, master. Please don't sell us short" Caster teased.

Weiss growled and punched the floor in frustration. So close! She was so close!

A slow clap echoed throughout the chamber. All three warriors turned to see their mistress enter, a pleased smile on her lips.

"Excellent work, all of you" Salem praised. "Emerald, you and Caster have grown to be an excellent pair. I have little doubt you will be able to crush our adversaries."

"Thank you, my Queen" Emerald bowed.

Caster gave the Grimm woman a respectful nod, a compromise between her previous indifference and the formal bow demanded.

Salem turned to Weiss. "My dear Weiss, you have advanced admirably in your summoning studies and your strategies. Were it not for Caster's Noble Phantasm, you may have even gained the upper hand."

Her Noble Phantasm? That's what that knife was?

Weiss glanced at the weapon as it disappeared from Caster's hand. The blade was crooked, seemingly brittle. Really, it looked like it should have shattered the moment it struck the Boarbatusk. Instead, the phantasmal beast had disintegrated.

Salem motioned with her hand, and Weiss rose to her feet. "Emerald, you and Caster may rest for the day. Weiss, come with me. There is something you should see."

Emerald bowed again, and Salem turned and down another dark hall. Weiss picked up her sword and dutifully followed.

The winding passage they walked down was unfamiliar to Weiss, but that was to be expected. She had hardly been given free rein of the castle. Even still, the dark obsidian seemed to be sloping downward. Perhaps they were headed towards the dungeon?

Maybe she could find out where father and Whitley were? Then, she would be one step closer to affecting an escape.

Granted, that would still leave a thousand more to figure out, but one by one was still progress. She had already gotten permission to carry Myrtenaster with her, after all, she would be no use to Salem if a stray Grimm got lucky with her unarmed. Of course, if she couldn't take down Emerald and Caster, she doubted she was a threat to Salem even with her sword.

"How have you been doing these last few months, Weiss?" Salem asked out of nowhere. "Has your food been adequate? Your bed too hard? Would you like a Beowolf pack to slaughter? Tyrian used to love those."

Weiss sighed. She was used to Salem's unique personality by now. Terrifying monster she was, the Queen of the Grimm was like a doting grandmother when she was in a good mood. Once Weiss succumbed to her demands, she had been provided with a suite more lavish than even her room at home. Floating Seer Grimm had attended to all the housekeeping and provided her with gourmet meals at the first sign of hunger. She didn't know where they got the ingredients, but the food was delicious.

If packs of Goliaths hadn't been roaming outside her window, it could have been mistaken for a vacation home.

Besides, there was one thing that Salem refused to provide Weiss with.

"Everything has been wonderful, your grace," the girl said. "But, I was wondering if I could see my brother. Or my father?"

Salem frowned at that. "Why?"

"I wish to make sure they are alright and—"

"No, not that. Why do you want to see them?" Salem inquired. "Correct me if I am wrong, my dear, but the intelligence I gathered did not depict either of your family members in a favorable light. Your father stripped you of your family's name and your brother stole your position of heir. I'm sure there was a great deal more drama beneath all that, none of which was pleasant for you I imagine."

Weiss gulped. "We have had our differences, it is true. But they are still my family and I wish to make sure they are alright. I care about them."

"You care about them? How sad" Salem sighed. "Family like that is not worth caring about, my dear. They will cast you out and claim it was your own sin that forced them to do so."

Weiss raised an eyebrow. "Speaking from experience?"

Salem spared a glance at the girl. Her long gown trembled as whatever was hidden beneath it squirmed in irritation.

Weiss kicked herself for forgetting who she was talking to, even for a moment. A flippant comment like that could get her family killed.

Luckily, the Queen of the Grimm's frown was introspective, not wrathful. "Indeed. It was a long time ago. An age when your ancestors' ancestors had yet to be born. I was an ordinary villager of a minuscule town in the desert. One day, the holy men of the tribe decided that the methods of righteousness were insufficient in bringing salvation to humanity. They decided that the evil of men had to be concentrated into a single person, and that person would have to be punished beyond imagination."

Weiss cringed at the disturbing tale. She could guess where it was going. "They chose you?"

Salem nodded. "I was no more evil than any other man. But yes, they chose me." Her fist curled at her side. "And my family cheered as loud as the rest when the daggers were driven into my body. They stood by and laughed as I was beaten, carved with every word that cursed mankind, forced to endure every sin imaginable, and held him responsible for all of it in the world."

Weiss lowered her head in horror. Even with all that Salem had done to her, she could not hear what she had endured and not sympathize with her. Even if she didn't understand how the being before her had ever been human.

"They did not allow me to die until old age finally took me" the Queen continued. "After all my suffering, I had hoped that I had earned rest. But I was not so lucky. You see, my torment, my forced sacrifice had eased the minds of my people. They drew hope from annihilating the one they decided was all the world's evils. So, in a way, my actions were heroic. And by consequence, were recorded in the Throne."

Weiss' eyes widened in shock. "You're a Servant?"

Salem grinned. "I was. Now, I am so much more."

The two arrived in a circular chamber, far larger than the training arena. It was almost as big as Beacon auditorium. The walls scaled up farther than Weiss could see, their obsidian coats shining with an ethereal twinkle.

In the center of the chamber was a wide pit. Weiss warily looked over the edge. At the bottom of the deep fall was a pool of churning black mud, bubbling and squirming with barely contained ill intent.

Yet, that was not the most curious thing in the room. For embedded in the back wall, was an enormous sphere of sparkling gold. No, that was insufficient. The orb was not any color, but it was… bright. An all-powerful bright light that hummed with power. It contrasted so sharply with the crushing darkness of the rest of the castle that Weiss had to avert her eyes from the glorious sight.

Salem glided over to the magnificent orb, scowling as she drew closer. "Eventually, I was called to do battle in the Third Holy Grail War, though as I had never been anything more than a normal man, I was quickly defeated. But, while the other Servants were allowed to retreat through the grail with their wish unobtained, I was burdened with the wishes that all of humanity had placed on me. The selfish desire of the human race to have a being of All the World's Evils to destroy. The sheer number of desires compounded in me overwhelmed the chalice and I was imprisoned in the Greater Grail, fused and forced to seek out the existence others wished for me."

"The Greater Grail?" Weiss muttered. She dared to peek at the giant sphere of light. "That's the Holy Grail? I thought it needed a vessel."

"The Lesser Grail is brought forth from the vessel and channels the prana of the defeated Servants into making whatever changes are desired by the winner's wish" Salem explained. "The Greater Grail is its consciousness that contracts the Throne of Heroes and chooses the masters."

The Queen of the Grimm pressed her fingers to the surface of the grail. Immediately, her white skin began to smoke, but ripples did cascade across the orb's surface.

Weiss cringed in disgust. "It doesn't seem to like you."

Salem removed her fingers and shook her smoking hand. "Indeed. While I maintain some connection, the grail has, for the most part, vaccinated itself to my influence. I can no longer control the wish it grants."

That brought a smirk to Weiss' lips. It seemed this demon wasn't all powerful after all. She might still have a chance of surviving this ordeal.

"If I may ask, your grace, how did you go from being a lowly Servant to the glory of what you are now?" she inquired, laying the flattery on thick. If the Queen was monologuing, it would be to her benefit to learn what she could.

Salem chuckled. "My, my, getting personal, aren't we, my dear? I shall not bore you with the tale. Suffice to say, I was wounded in a great battle shortly after leaving the grail. I used the last vessel of the Lesser Grail, one Irisviel von Einzbern, as a template for a new body. Even then, it was only the compassion of The Last Hero that allowed me to flourish into what I am now. He inspired the Grimm."

Pushing aside who this 'Last Hero' might be, Weiss focused in on the subject that truly intrigued her. No one knew where the Grimm came from. If she could discover their origins, perhaps she could find a way to destroy them for good.

"Your grace, I find myself curious, what are the Grimm?"

Salem's smile should have been her first warning that she wouldn't like what she learned. The Queen turned to Weiss with her grandmotherly mask. "Let me answer that question with another, my dear. Why can you summon the Grimm?"

Huh? "My family's semblance can conjure a variety of glyphs" Weiss proposed. "One of them can call forth Grimm we have already defeated to our side."

"My dear Weiss, you're smarter than this. A textbook could have told me that" Salem scolded. "Try again. Why can you summon the Grimm? Summon, my dear."

What did that have to with…

Oh god.

"My will creates your body, and your sword creates my destiny" Weiss muttered in horror.

She gazed upon the Greater Grail, too shocked to avert her eyes from the glow.

Slowly, her stare lowered to the pit in the center of the room. The black mud churned beneath her feet, and a newborn Beowolf crawled out of the abyss, its red eyes glowing bright with fury as it scaled the cavern's walls.

Weiss felt a powerful hand grip her shoulder.

"There is no limit to how many heroes may be called from the throne" Salem declared. "Though the degraded forms I can provide cannot allow even near the strength of a proper Servant's body, the spirits still obey me as their master and my prana keeps them in this world indefinitely."

"That's why the Grimm have no aura" Weiss deduced. "It's not that they don't have souls. It's that their power is forming their bodies."

Salem nodded, pleased. "Exactly, my dear. There is an old saying you may have heard. Heroes kill monsters, men kill heroes, and monsters kill men. I'm not sure what the inventor of the phrase would say in the face of monsters made from heroes."

Weiss stared up at the Queen, somehow more terrified than she had been before. "What do you want from me?"

Salem gave her another grandmotherly smile, but it did not soothe her at all. "My dear, the King of Heroes has proved quite decisively that mere Grimm will not be enough to face him. I have the utmost faith in Hazel, but just in case, I believe that it would be best if you and I called forth more, proper Servants. You need not worry about the strain, Caster can retrieve the grail at the end of the war, so I can fuel your summons to their hearts' content. I don't think it would be safe for you to call more than three still—"

"You want me to help" Weiss interrupted incredulously. Her fists curled up and her eyes narrowed. "No. Never."

Salem raised an eyebrow. "I would remind you that your family is still within this castle, my dear."

"That doesn't matter" Weiss declared. "If you get the grail, you'll use it to wipe out the kingdoms. I won't sacrifice innocent people to a monster like you, not even for my family. The world will go on without the Schnees."

"Innocent?" Salem growled. The monstrosity beneath her gown surged and rived. The Beowolf from the pit finally clawed to the top, only for a black tentacle to burst from under its mother and pierce it through the head. Weiss took a trembling step back.

"There is no such thing as innocence, my dear. Humanity is a vile creature that seeks salvation by sacrificing morality, and then declares itself righteous for surviving. They want to live, but more than that, they want to be in the right for living. So much so that they declared me a monster for no other reason then so they could be better than me."

Salem turned and stared down at the pit. Her gaze softened under the light of the grail. "If they decide I shall be evil, then I shall be."

Weiss' hand slipped to Myrtenaster. It would do no good to draw it, but she needed the comfort the familiar hilt brought.

Salem sighed. "I will not force you to aid me, my dear. None of my circle have joined me against their will and I have no intention of letting that change. But I promise you, the people you wish to protect so much, they will damn you to hell, just to save themselves."

The Queen turned to exit down the hall.

"What was your name?" Weiss blurted out.

The pale woman paused. "What?"

"What was your name?" Weiss repeated. "Your name when you were a villager."

"My name?" the demon muttered, a distant look in her blood red eyes. "I forgot long ago. They drove it from my mind, shackled me with a new one that made them feel like torturing me was just. The name of a dark god."

"What was it?" Weiss asked, unsure why she was even pushing her luck.

For a moment, the Queen said nothing. Then, she resumed gliding out of the chamber.

"It doesn't matter now. It has no meaning for me. It was forced upon me" she declared. "When I took this form, I took a new name. A name I chose."

Weiss didn't know how, but she was never more terrified or more sympathetic to her captor than in that moment.

"I am Salem, Mother of Grimm and All the World's Evils. And very soon, I shall be all the world."

Chapter Text

Archer narrowed his eyes as he fervently scanned the tree line, spying only an innocent raven among the foliage. Their group's time traveling Anima had been mostly quiet, with what Grimm they did encounter being easily dispatched by him, Mordred, or Qrow.

Still, his instincts did not allow him to remain calm. What faint memories he maintained from his own time in the Holy Grail War were frantic, with one battle always bleeding into the next with little time for rest in between. Here, despite their time in this world surpassing the entire duration of his war multiple times over, he had yet to encounter an enemy master, other than Jaune Arc.

The all too familiar clang of clashing swords reached his ear. Since the only thing in the trees was a single raven, Archer spared the commotion a glance.

Saber and her master were practicing once again, the Servant very obviously holding back as to not hurt the poor boy.

Archer hadn't been sure what to think when he'd met the children of his Saber. Neither one measured up to her, but few people in any world could, so there was no shame in that. Individually though, they were both irritating to him.

Mordred was a disappointment in every way. He had heard tale of her in the Throne of course, the devilish Knight of Treachery who toppled the greatest kingdom humanity had ever known. He had expected Saber's version of Kirei, a cunning, methodical mastermind, unflappable in the pursuit of her goals, someone who he would have to deal with in the end but would be useful in the meantime. Instead, he got a loud-mouthed oaf with the emotional stability of a two-year-old. She boasted on and on about how she was the only knight to ever surpass her father, but just a cursory trace of Clarent had informed him of just how miserably her final duel with the King of Knights had gone. Her fighting style, though admittedly rooted in an impressive form, was sloppy and relied far too much on brute strength.

Ultimately, Archer was left not with a cunning ally, but a giant stick that might snap and start attacking him because he was too busy fighting his own battle to watch hers.

Jaune Arc was a lost, selfish child, suppressing his grief for those he'd lost to pursue the vain hope that he could get them back. Despite his admirable resolve, his goals were pathetically misguided. Changing the past was dangerous and foolhardy. Whatever events had occurred, they had allowed a future to exist, and for life to go on that was all that was necessary. People made their own choices, and whatever those choices may lead to, people must be allowed to make them. That was the lesson his Saber had come to understand and even Mordred grasped the concept. The boy was so racked with self-loathing that he could never move forward.

He was a mewling newborn, desperately trying to crawl back into his mother's arms instead of facing the world with what she had taught him.

Perhaps he was being too harsh on them. After all, were they not Saber's children, he would have dismissed them as simple human beings. Flawed, but ultimately not offensive.

But they were Saber's children. Which meant now that she was gone, they were her legacy. They needed to either shape up or stop prolonging their insult.

"Archer," a high voice piped up. "Uncle Qrow says the way to the safe house is clear. You don't have to be so tense."

Archer nodded. "Thank you, master. Still, I've learned you can never be too careful in a Holy Grail War."

His master raised an eyebrow at his remark, but seemed to let it go and trudged over to stop Mordred from impaling her brother.

Archer smirked. At least one thing was going well.

Perhaps he should have felt guilty for shattering Ruby Rose's ideal view of the world. The girl's intense care for her friends was a comforting condition and her love and care for weaponry was amusing. Despite how her similarities to that boy infuriated him to no end, she was only a simple soul, not a broken one. A human, not a sword.

Which was all the more reason to break down any foolish notions of being able to save everyone before they consumed her. Like the memory of the smiling man in the fire, his master was chasing an impossible goal. She wanted to be close to her mother, but her mother was dead. Flying to the battlefield to seek a connection with her would only doom the young huntress to join her.

And he knew from experience how one could be overwritten by the path towards an unattainable dream.

No. He was doing Ruby Rose a favor. She had to understand the unshakable nature of the world. Saving someone meant choosing not to save someone else. The old man had at least been right about that.

The sooner he got the girl off the road of a hero of justice, the sooner he could prevent her from becoming like him. After all, just because he couldn't sense Alaya didn't mean the Beast of Humanity wasn't there, watching in the wings for another soul idiotic enough to accept its bargain.

Archer would do anything to keep anyone else from making the same mistake he did.

He ripped himself away from his observation as the raven flew off. He trailed behind his master as the rest of the group tread carefully through the woodwork. On every couple of trees, there was an arrow carved into the bark, pointing out the next step in their unseen path.

Eventually, they came to a small hill, surprisingly bare in comparison to the thick forest surrounding it. At the top, Qrow Branwen stood in front of a charred ruin.

"Uh, Uncle Qrow, where's the safe house?" Ruby asked.

Qrow sighed, his hand smacking his forehead. "This is the safe house."

"This place?" Mordred snorted incredulously. "It's a ruin. Not fit for a commoner to take shelter in, much less a knight."

"Well I'm sorry, your majesty," Qrow spat back. "But these things haven't been maintained since the last war. Frankly, we should count ourselves lucky this is the first one we've found like this."

"Wasn't the last one missing a wall?" Jaune remarked.

"At least that one had a wall," Mordred joined in with a smirk, giving her master a small nod of approval.

Qrow snagged the flask from his hip. "I hate teenagers" he declared before downing a swig.

Archer walked forward to the remains of the site. Mordred was not wrong about the walls, or lack thereof. What little remained of the structure's supports were but a few charred logs, stacked in a vague pile. There was no roof, and the blackened floorboards were filled with quite a few significant cracks, allowing the Servant to glimpse the dark basement underneath.

He stuck out his hand into the space, and felt a sharp tingle throughout his body.

"This will do," he stated firmly. "Whatever damage the main house sustained, the bounded field remains intact. Saber and I will not be able to exist in spirit form within its confines, and no other Servant should be able to sense us."

Which was really quite impressive. If the house had truly been abandoned for nearly nineteen years as Qrow said, that meant the bounded field was still functioning properly despite not being properly maintained for nearly two decades. Whoever erected it must have taken quite a bit of time to get it right.

Mordred remained unconvinced. "I would rather face the other Servants that dirty myself in that hovel."

"Your battle lust is well known, Saber," Archer dryly remarked. He walked onto the charred floor, examining the remains. "This isn't actually that bad. The structure itself still seems to be sound, the surrounding forest provides plentiful wood…"

"Um, Archer," Ruby inquired, "what are you talking about?"

Archer scratched his chin in deep thought. "With enough time, I should be able to fix this place up. I can create the necessary nails by modifying nameless blades, and stripping the forest shouldn't be too difficult…"

The rest of the group raised an eyebrow. They had never seen him care so much about… well, anything.

"Archer, no offense, but this place is a dump," Ruby remarked shyly.

"Is the Jester a stone mason now?" Mordred insulted. "Perhaps your Noble Phantasm is Sophroniscus' chisel."

"Who?" Jaune asked.

"The most well-known stone mason of Ancient Greece. The father of Socrates."

"Again, who?"

"Did father teach you nothing?"

Archer ignored the others' squabbles as he rubbed a finger across one of the remnants of the walls. Along with the everyday housework, he had done a significant amount of renovation on his old home during his life… perhaps. His memories were incredibly faded at that point. The most he could recall was something about a tiger? Still, with the proper application of his Reality Marble, he was confident he could affect repairs.

Not that he would enjoy doing it all. Housework was something that boy took pleasure in. He had grown beyond such foolishness

Though with a bit of dusting…

Qrow came onto the floor next to him. The drunkard frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. "Sorry to disappoint, silver top, but we can't stay that long. We're only stopping to rest."

Archer sighed. He knew the huntsman was right. The safe houses were only meant to provide them protection during the night and keep off any tracking spells the other masters could be using. Fixing it up would not help them reach their goal. It was only a selfish indulgence.

And a sword had no use for indulgences.

"You are correct," he agreed, rising to his feet. "We should step up camp as soon as—"

The burnt-out floorboards beneath his feet suddenly crumbled, and he went plummeting through the floor. He soon found himself up to his arms in the black wood, his legs scraping the stone floor of the basement.

"Archer! Are you okay?" Ruby yelped. She and Jaune ran over to help.

Mordred pointed at him and laughed.

Qrow grimaced. "He has E- Rank Luck. Why do I keep hanging around guys with E-Rank Luck?" he muttered to himself.

"What was that?" Archer inquired.

"Oh, nothing," the huntsmen assured him. "Just my semblance being more annoying than usual to people like you."

Strange, if he was referring to Servants, Mordred didn't seem to be having every single wooden structure fall out from under her. Though given how her fit of laughter had driven her to the ground, perhaps it was affecting her differently.

"Do you need any help getting out?" Ruby asked.

"No, it's perfectly alright, master." Archer quickly placed his hands on the more stable floor and pushed himself out of his hole. Once he was standing on even footing with the others again, he dusted himself off. "See, nothing to it."

Ruby smiled softly, her gaze barely meeting his own. Perhaps before their discussion the other night, she would have been fawning all about him like some rabid fangirl with a look of awe in her eyes. It was good that she had matured enough to not act like such a simple act was the labor of a hero.

Jaune kneeled down, observing the dark hole left behind. His eyes narrowed at something in the darkness. "What's that?"

Qrow squinted at where the blonde boy pointed and then leaped down into the pit. Soon after, he hefted up the item within the shadows. It was a sizable steel crate sealed with a series of elaborate runes and a bulky gray padlock.

After lugging it onto more solid ground, the group, minus Mordred who still rolling around in the grass, examined the unexpected find.

"Maybe it's buried treasure," Jaune suggested.

"It's not buried treasure," Qrow rejected.

"But what if it is?"

"No, Uncle Qrow's right," Ruby supported. "Mom would never keep buried treasure to herself."

Qrow sighed. "That's not wrong," he admitted. "Though these markings look like magic stuff. More than likely we can't get in without the key, otherwise something bad—"

Archer conjured Kanshou into his hand and casually slashed the padlock off.

"Or we could just do that and hope it doesn't kill us all," the huntsman growled.

"Relax, Branwen. Any competent mage could tell there was no prana in those runes," Archer informed him. "Though it is admittedly a curious style of distraction. Other than a mage, I can't imagine anyone understanding the symbols well enough to be stalled by them."

"Salem's lackeys probably," Qrow suposited. He had a disgruntled frown on his face. "Still, what could Summer have wanted to hide from them that she wouldn't trust to me and Tai?"

"Only one way to find out!" Ruby declared, rushing over to the chest. She flipped the lid open and dug around through its contents. She lifted out a small ammunition bandolier, short enough to be worn as a belt. It was filled with eight rather large bullets. The silver-eyed girl grinned. "Oh, these look cool! And they're just around Crescent Rose's size!"

Qrow's eyes widened. "Careful Ruby! That's no regular ammo."

"What do you mean?"

Qrow came over and gently put his hands over his niece's. "They were your mom's trump card. They're called Origin Rounds. They're powerful enough to—"

"Take down a Goliath in one shot," Ruby whispered, fear shimmering in her eyes. She carefully set the bullets down on the grass.

Qrow raised an eyebrow. "Well, yeah, they are. But the real nasty part is what they do to someone with aura."

"Of course, it is," Ruby muttered dejectedly. "After all, why would he take something that only hurt Grimm."

There was a story behind that. Unfortunately, Archer was too distracted to inquire about it. He was sure he had heard the term Origin Round used somewhere before, but he couldn't put his finger on where.

Jaune walked over and gave Ruby a comforting pat on the back. The red hooded girl gave him a grateful smile in return. "How about you take a look, Jaune?" she suggested. "Maybe you'll find something not creepy."

The blonde boy's eyes widened in surprise. He looked to Qrow for further permission, but the drunkard simply waved him towards the box. It wasn't as if he wasn't already going to see what was in it.

Jaune gulped and leaned over the chest. After a moment of shuffling around, he emerged holding a magnificent golden scabbard, inlaid with enamel of the deepest blue and practically glowing with heavenly authority. From Archer's point of view, it even radiated a faint, but unnaturally pure mystic signature, shining like an ancient star. It could not possibly be an object made by mortal hands. In fact, it almost reminded him of—

"Mine!"

Mordred shot up from the ground and snatched the sheath from her master's hands. She gazed upon it in awe for a few moments before reverently cuddling it against her chest. "Mine at long last," she whispered, a grin the size of Gilgamesh's ego painted across her face.

"Um…okay? What is it?" Jaune inquired.

"Avalon: The Everdistant Utopia," Archer declared. "Your mother's greatest Noble Phantasm."

Mordred's reaction proved it. The sheath was Saber's ultimate weapon, a healing agent so potent that, with her prana, it possessed defensive powers capable of surviving even the greatest of Noble Phantasms. Somehow, Excalibur's legendary scabbard had made it to Remnant.

Perhaps that wasn't surprising given that Saber had as well, but Qrow had said that whatever brought her, Gilgamesh, and Kirei Kotomine to this time had occurred at the end of the Fourth Holy Grail War. To the best of his knowledge, at that time it had been in the possession of the Mage Killer, who used it to save that boy from the resulting fire.

But if the fire had never happened, replaced with the catastrophe that led to humanity's near extinction, then how had the holy relic arrived here? And what was it doing in the ruins of Ruby's mother's safe house?

"It is father's greatest possession, even more so than his holy sword. A symbol of true divine kingship," Mordred raved, squeezing it to her chest. "And now, as his rightful heir, it passes to me!"

Jaune still looked confused, but he managed a genuine smile on his face. "That's great, Mor—" Archer glared at him, "—Saber. I'm sure she'd be proud that you have it now."

Mordred stilled, a light blush rising in her cheeks. "Well, yeah, of course. Of course, he would be," she stuttered. "But I don't need his approval. Avalon is mine now."

"You do realize it won't work for you," Archer reminded her. "It needs King Arthur's prana to power it, otherwise the most it will do is hold your sword."

Mordred growled at him like a feral lion. "Shut up, Jester or I'll shove it up your—"

"Well, well, well," Qrow chuckled. "Haven't seen this in a while. Take a look at this, pipsqueak."

Archer turned back to the scythe wielders and his heart skipped a beat.

"It is that…mom?" Ruby asked hopefully.

Qrow smiled as he handed her the faded photo he'd retrieved from the chest. In the picture was a young girl who looked almost exactly like Ruby, except she had mostly red hair with black highlights instead of black with red highlights and a white cloak covered her body. She was hugging a figure Archer knew intimately.

"Yup. This was taken on her thirteenth birthday," Qrow revealed. "According to her, it was when she got that white cloak of hers. She never took the damned thing off."

"Cool," Ruby whispered in awe. "Who's the other guy?"

"Him?" Qrow chuckled. "That's her dad. Your grandad—"

"Kiritsugu Emiya."

Archer barely had enough time to realize the name had left his mouth before the rest of group whirled on him, their stares ranging from befuddlement to intense suspicion.

"How do you know that?" Qrow inquired, his hand subtly inching towards his weapon.

Jaune and Mordred took a worried step back from him. The Knight of Treachery even strapped Avalon to her side and conjured Clarent in her hand.

Archer couldn't say he blamed them. Even now, his hands uncontrollably clenched and unclenched into fists, unholy fury radiating off him in a merciless killing intent.

Why should it not? Kiritsugu Emiya was the root of all that he was. The winner of the Fourth Holy Grail War, the man who caused the Great Fuyuki Fire, the man who saved that boy from the hell he should have died in. He was the source of the ideals of Emiya, the one who instilled that infernal dream of being a hero of justice. Every arrow, every bullet, every sword that had pierced Archer's flesh, he was at fault for all of them.

As well as every life he had taken in his asinine quest for a world where no one cried.

"Archer?"

The counter guardian was roused from his rage by the plea of his master. Ruby stood before him, her hand held placatingly in front of her trigger ready uncle. Her silver eyes stared at him imploringly, not with desperation like they had the other night, but with pity.

He recalled the same look in the eyes of two different women. Both strong and valiant, both loved by him dearly.

And both dead.

Dead while he lived undying. A dog of Alaya.

"How? How did Kiritsugu Emiya meet your mother, master?" Archer meticulously spat out.

Ruby turned to Qrow, who shrugged. "Summer never went into details about it. She just said he saved her from a fire after Grimm attacked her village."

A fire. In every world, in every timeline, there was always a fire.

But it seemed that boy was not the only one who was ever found.

"I see," Archer replied, taking a deep breath to calm his fury. "I will check our path to ensure that we cannot be tracked by mundane means."

"What?" Ruby cried. "Archer, wait—"

He had stepped off the floorboards and dissipated into spirit form before she could finish. Before long, he had floated far beyond their sight. He needed time alone to examine this new information.

Summer Rose was raised by Kiritsugu Emiya. It explained so much. In a world filled with the creatures of Grimm and the old man's strength fading from the grail's spiteful curse, the Mage Killer would have no choice but to pass on his combat expertise to his only remaining daughter in order to protect her, the only one left he loved. And when he passed, that daughter would easily be able to make it into a huntsmen academy, desperate to achieve the dream he had no doubt passed on.

To be a hero of justice.

That childish drivel was admittedly more feasible in a world where literal soulless monsters hounded humanity, but the devils of the species' own nature were as implacable as ever. It was still a selfish, impossible dream. One Summer Rose evidently died seeking. And then passed on to her child like her father before her.

No more.

Archer's centuries as a Counter Guardian had left him ruthless, but not merciless. Normally, he took the surest path to success, as any less would disgrace his ultimate goal. However, Ruby Rose had shown the potential to change for the better. It was possible that he could guide her off the path her mother had damned her to. Besides, he didn't have any other stake in this timeline, and it would be good practice for when he finally encountered that boy.

Nonetheless, should Ruby refuse to change, should she remain stalwart and stubborn on the quest for a world where everyone lived happily ever after, Archer would not hesitate to strike her down.

Those foolish ideals could not be allowed to infect another generation.


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A raven flew North through the treetops, gliding away from the party of masters and Servants. Once it was several miles away, the bird transformed into a black-haired woman. The woman slashed her sword through the air and stepped through the resultant portal.

Raven walked into her tent to find Vernal waiting, a map of Anima laid out across the table.

"So, how did the tip about the horned knight who single-handedly saved a town from a Grimm horde with a lightning sword pan out?" the bandit lieutenant inquired.

Raven frowned as she sat down. "Your scout was right. It was a Servant, two of them actually."

"With their masters?" Raven nodded. "That's fantastic," Vernal exclaimed. "We can mobilize the tribe, be in the South in a few days, catch up to their trail, and while the Berserkers handle the Servants, we can pin down the masters so you can take their Command Seals."

"It's not that simple," Raven proclaimed. "Qrow was with them. One of the masters is Ruby Rose."

"Your husband's—"

"Yes," she confirmed quickly. She didn't blame Tai for moving on with Summer, she had left without a word, but it wasn't a fact she wanted to linger on. Besides, Ruby Rose was far more important than merely her relation to Summer. She could not be allowed to die. And even with her Servants overwhelming power, with two others to match them, and Lancelot's general uncontrollability, there was a great risk that she could.

Of course, her plentiful scouts across the continent, and her time discreetly watching over Yang in her bird form, had made her aware of other avenues of assault.

"Where is the Belladonna girl's group?"

"Relatively close. They should be hitting the ruins of Oniyuri soon enough. Their White Fang shadow isn't too far behind," Vernal informed her. "What do you have in mind?"

Raven smiled as the plan came together. "I'm going to have a little chat with my brother and his foot soldiers. See if I can get them to surrender without a fight." Gods know she needed as many Servants as she could get with Gilgamesh on the hunt. "And if not, I will handle him while Berserker has a chat with the children and their Servant."

"Servant? What happened to the other one?" Vernal inquired.

"They'll be off dealing with Lancelot. Best if he isn't nearby to disrupt the negotiations."

"How are you going to get them to chase after him that far away? Don't Servant fights tend to have a blast radius a mile wide?"

Raven smirked. "Oh, don't worry. I don't think any fighting in Oniyuri will trouble us."

Chapter Text

Four months ago, Whitley Schnee had lived in a mansion. He had been dressed in the finest clothes lien could buy and could call for a full nine-course meal on a whim. He had Servants to fluff his pillows, polish his shoes, and massage his feet. He had been the envy of every man, woman, and child in Atlas and across all of Remnant.

Now, he was trapped in a freezing cell barely larger than his old bed. His once finely pressed suit was now a filthy rag after months without cleaning, and he only ate when that brute Hazel remembered to come and feed him (though he learned not to complain when he learned that the man came of his own accord. The Grimm woman had given no orders for him to be fed). He slept on the black dirt floor of his prison, the only faint light coming from a small barred window open to the red sky above.

That is when a random Grimm wasn't trying to break through it and devour him whole.

Suffice to say, Whitley was sure he was in hell. His frame was thin, it hurt to stand or walk, and most days he woke up only to pray for sleep to return as soon as possible. At least his nightmares were bearable.

For the life of him though, he couldn't figure out what he was doing there. The Grimm woman had wanted to talk to Weiss, but that shouldn't have taken… however long it had taken. Whitley had lost count the torture had gone on so long.

What did the demon queen want with him and his father? She had his sister, so why didn't she let them just go home. She wasn't even doing anything with them for gods' sake!

Though, that led his thoughts to darker places. If it was already so terrible for him, what agony must Weiss be suffering? What secrets did she know that could possibly drive the Grimm woman to send Hazel and the others to kidnap them all? And how strong must Weiss have become to still be keeping them from her?

Whitley misjudged his sister. To have held off their captor's torments for so long, and she must have held out if they hadn't all been killed yet, spoke of incredible fortitude and will. Perhaps she did learn something of value at Beacon. Maybe he was too harsh on her. She had sought to escape father just as he had, she simply chose the most readily available method. There was no shame in that.

If they got out of this hell, he would see to it that she received a share of the company. Her character demanded that much.

At that moment, the door was flung open. Whitley weakly pushed himself up into a sitting position against the wall. Hazel walked through the entrance, though unfortunately without a fresh meal.

The giant man looked over Whitley impassively. "Time to get up, boy," he stated. "The Queen has summoned you."

The Schnee heir pawed his hands up the wall until he was standing. When he wavered, Hazel came over and allowed the boy to lean on his arm. Whitley nodded his thanks, though the stoic man did not acknowledge it, and the two made their way out of the cell.

The flickering torchlight of the halls seemed much brighter to Whitley after months in darkness. He shielded his eyes as best he could as Hazel helped him limp along through the black castle.

"What does she need me for?" he inquired to his escort.

"A test," the brute stated simply.

Whitley sighed. That didn't seem ominous at all.

"Unhand me!" a hoarse voice shouted. "Unhand me this instant!"

Around the corner, Jacques Schnee came into sight, suspended between the tentacles of two Seer Grimm. His eyes were sunken, and his once neatly trimmed mustache had grown long and gray. His muscles looked as shriveled and weak as Whitley's felt, his suit now a size too big for his body. Nevertheless, he thrashed about in his captors' grasp, fire still blazing in his eyes. Let none say that he lacked wrath at his darkest hour.

Of course, lacking wrath had never been his problem.

"You think you can break me, you cretins! I've been slaughtering monsters like you since my days in the SDC Security! I'll run you all back to hell where you belong—" his eyes darted when he caught sight of Whitley. "My boy! Stay strong. Don't let these beasts break you. They're nothing to a Schnee."

Whitley didn't understand how his father's bravado was still intact after their captivity, but he found that it lacked the indubitable gospel it once encompassed. Despite whatever Jacques had deluded himself into thinking, they were trapped. The aura dampening cuffs around his wrists were proof of that.

The two arrived in the throne room. The Grimm woman sat upon her seat, a patient smile on her face. Before her were that green haired girl, the woman in the purple cloak, and…

"Lady Salem, what shall be my studies today?" Weiss inquired on her knees.

The woman, Salem, apparently, glanced at Whitley and his father and grinned. "Oh, it will be your most wonderful test yet, my dear Weiss. But first, I believe you made a request of me, a bit ago. I have decided to grant it."

Weiss turned where the queen was looking, and her eyes widened in horror. Her hands shot up to cover her gaping mouth. "Father. Whitley" she murmured, aghast.

Whitley squinted as much as he could. He couldn't be seeing what his exhausted eyes were showing him. His sister appeared radiant. While he and father were corpses waiting to fall, she looked better than she had at the mansion. Her body was thicker than before, her lithe muscles more defined. Her face was unblemished and lively, her eyes shining pools of crystal. She wore a stunning black gown, similar to what she'd worn at the castle but with a hem slightly below her knees, with dark stockings covering her legs. Her rapier was strapped to her side.

Her rapier was strapped to her side.

She had her weapon and she was doing nothing.

He and father were barely surviving, while their captor had given her fine clothes and training.

Training. Infernal huntress training. Weiss was leaving them to rot, because she wanted to accept huntress lessons from this demon.

Once again, she abandoned him to Beowolves.

He had no sister. He had only himself to rely on. Just like always.

And just like always, he would survive.


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As the shadows of sunset fell across Patch, Yang danced across the grass, her feet light and her step spry. She bobbed and weaved around her father's swift jabs, remembering old evasion drills she hadn't thought of since she'd learned them.

Her old style had relied too much on her semblance. She would rush headlong into whatever her opponent threw at her, confident that she could take it and dish it back out twice as hard. But, as her father pointed out, the strategy had some serious drawbacks. If her opponent dodged her superpowered strike or was strong enough to shrug off the damage themselves, then she would be left exhausted, beaten, and vulnerable.

So, her dad had advised her on a new tactic. She would observe her opponent, sort out which attacks were strong, and which were weak, and then pick and choose which ones she took. She'd let the weak ones make contact, slowly building up her semblance over the course of the fight, while making sure that anything powerful enough to do real damage missed by a kingdom mile. Any foe she couldn't overpower outright, which was distressingly more than she'd once thought, she would wear down over time before moving in for the final blow.

She couldn't just charge in anymore. She needed to be smarter.

That was the only way she was going to take down Robes.

That was the only way she'd be able to call herself equal to her friends.

The only way she'd stop being alone.

Yang ducked a heavy cross aimed at her head, then barely dodged a kick aimed at her right side. She narrowed her eyes and growled. "Hey, watch the broken arm, dad!"

Taiyang smirked, his fists still up and ready. "An enemy isn't gonna care. If you're going to fight, you've got to be ready."

Yang snorted in disbelief. "That'd be a lot easier to take if you weren't going easy on me."

Taiyang Xiao-Long may have been commonly regarded as the weakest of Team STRQ, but that was like saying a Goliath was weaker than a Wyvern. He was still one of the top huntsmen in all of Vale, probably in all of Remnant. His time teaching at Signal had only afforded him the opportunity to refine his technique. The fact that he hadn't landed a single blow on her the entire spar was laughable.

The man himself sighed. "I'm trying to help you get better, not put you back in the hospital."

"I'm not going to get better if you keep treating me like a kid," Yang shot back, returning to her ready position. "I can take it."

Her father just stared at her, unamused.

Then, he dashed forward, faster than Yang had ever seen him move. He threw a jab right, clearing going for her bandage wrapped arm. She danced to her left but realized too late that it was a feint.

Her father stuck a leg out to her side, right in the path of her dodge. She tripped, and he swept through to deliver a devastating spinning kick to her back as she fell. A moment later, she was spitting out dirt.

Tai shook his head exasperatedly. "You can't take on the whole world alone. Gosh, you can be so much like your mother sometimes."

Yang quirked an eyebrow. "Oh. So now we can talk about her?"

"When, as I have been informed, you're an adult now, remember."

She scowled as she sat up. Zwei came over to hand towels to them both. She snatched one and rubbed off her sweat. "Well, I'm sorry I remind you of her so much."

Her father smiled wistfully. "Don't be. Raven was great in so many ways. Her strength, her ambition, her dedication to whatever cause she thought was worth fighting for. I'm proud of how much of her I see in you. But, I'm glad I don't see all of her in you."

"Why?" Yang inquired softly. What was it that made her different from the woman who abandoned her?

Tai sighed. Zwei came up to him and rubbed his leg comfortingly.

"Your mother was… a complicated woman," he said at last. "Like everyone, she had her faults, but those faults are what drove her team apart. And they did a real number on her family."

The huntsman kneeled down to both Yang and Zwei's level. "You both act like the best way to tackle an obstacle is through it. That strength is all that matters in a fight. But if you take a second look, then maybe you see…" He scratched Zwei behind the ears, compelling the corgi to dash behind Yang, happily panting, "…there's a way around."

Yang nodded slowly. It would take work, but she could do it. But if her father was finally talking about her mother…

"You said that mom fought in the last Grail War, right?"

Her father frowned, a broken look flashing through his eyes. "Yeah, she did. In a lot of ways, that was the beginning of the end for Team STRQ. Afterward, your mom's Servant stuck around, something about getting thrown in some Grimm mud. Apparently, it was supposed to be worse, but the Rider used his Noble Phantasm to stop time. According to Raven, he'd been impressed by his combat skills and wanted to fight him one on one."

Yang smirked. "Sounds like my kind of guy."

Tai chuckled. "Yeah, well good old Lancelot managed to pull out a win, and then he and Raven joined up with the rest of us. We headed to the Grimmlands to meet up with Summer and Lancer, and well, we met Salem."

The huntsman closed his eyes and shuddered at the memory. "We barely got out alive. Fighting her was like fighting her entire domain. If Lancer hadn't shown up when he did, we would have been worse than dead."

Yang bit her lip in dread. But she had to know. "What happened next?"

"Next? We met Gilgamesh," Tai revealed. "Not Kirei, he was probably skulking in the shadows, but we never saw him. Summer and Lancer fought him while the rest of us went for the grail. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by the war's Ruler to keep Salem from getting her hands on it. We got back in time to see Gilgamesh finish Lancer with this…weird, spiral sword. Summer said he called it Ea."

"Why didn't he kill you?" Yang asked. From what she'd heard about the bastard, he didn't seem the type to leave survivors if the grail was denied to him.

"Some sort of sign of respect to Lancer, I think. Summer wasn't in much shape to give any details. So, we all went home, relieved to be alive. Your mom and I got back to our lives as newlyweds. But things... never went back to normal. With Berserker still around, his Madness Enchantment started bleeding onto Raven. She stopped sleeping. She had a lot of private talks with Oz that ended with her storming out of his office. Then, a bit after you were born, she just left. Without a word, and without a note."

Zwei whined at his master knee, cuddling him for comfort. Tai gave him another scratch behind the ears.

Yang sat in thought. If Berserker was affecting her, then maybe…

"Maybe she didn't want to leave?" she proposed. "Maybe the Madness Enchantment was doing something to her and she wanted to deal with it on her own."

Her father frowned. "For nineteen years? Without even a letter? No. If something like that was happening, she would have told us. Or at least Summer. Berserker certainly didn't help matters, but he wasn't the reason she left. That was something else. What, I don't know."

Yang growled. After all this time, she finally got some information on her mother, but everything she learned just seemed to raise more questions.

Why did she leave?

What did she have to gain?

Tai shook his head and smacked her heartily on the back. "Come on," he said, rising. "It's getting late. Let's head in for dinner."

He offered her a left hand up. Yang grinned wryly and accepted her father's assistance.

At least she didn't have to worry about him leaving her.

The two Xiao-Longs and dog happily strolled back to their cabin.

Neither noticed the shadow of a man casting across the grass.


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Weiss' mind was overloading with dread. Salem was cunning, methodical. Nothing she did was without purpose. Allowing her to see her family again after months of no word was not an act of kindness. But for the life of her, she couldn't figure out what she was doing.

Whitley and father were thin and gaunt, trudging along with Hazel, Emerald, and Caster like lost puppies. Even still, Weiss could see the fire of resentment and defiance in their eyes. They would need it if they were all going to get out alive.

Salem had taken the group on a winding path through the castle, even stopping by Weiss' room and commenting on its plush nature. Eventually though, their route became far more familiar to the girl. The Queen had had showed it her only a short while ago.

Caster gasped. "It that?"

"Yes, the Greater Grail, my dear," Salem confirmed. "A useful prize, but not why we are here."

Weiss' hand involuntarily shifted to Myrtenaster. The group made their way to the rim of the mud pit, the substance within churning with just as much malice as before. Weiss took care to place herself between Salem and her family. Sure, that meant her back was to everyone else, and that she was precariously close to the ditch, but given the circumstances, it was the best she could have hoped for.

Not that she could do anything if the Queen decided to slaughter them all, but it made her feel better.

"Caster dear, please provide young Whitley with some reinforcement," Salem requested. "I think Hazel is getting tired from keeping him afoot."

Caster glanced at Hazel, who looked like he didn't even notice Whitley, but she nodded and waved her hand. Green lines flashed across the boy's body, and Hazel removed his support. Whitley's eyes went wide, and he stumbled for a moment, but in the end found himself able to stand.

Weiss' glare narrowed. "My lady, I appreciate your generosity, but I must inquire why you have brought us all here."

Salem smiled softly. "Why, my dear, it is as I said before. I have a test for you. For all three of you really," she declared gesturing to the present Schnees.

She turned to the pit, her gaze focused on the mud. "Below us, as you know my dear, is my essence. The womb of the Grimm. Within it churns all the evils of the world."

"Not all of them, obviously," Jacques spat, his icy glare frozen to Salem's back.

The Queen ignored him. "I wish to perform an experiment of sorts. I have made some modifications to this pit in particular. Now, I wish to see if its effects are as I hope. So, I would like one of you to enter it."

Weiss' hand tightened around Myrtenaster's hilt. "Enter? You want us to jump into that?"

"One of you, my dear. Only one of you," Salem insisted. "And in return for your assistance in this matter, you have my word that the two who remain shall not spend another night in this castle."

Weiss narrowed her eyes at the Grimm woman. She knew what she was trying to do, why she brought her family to this farce. Salem wanted her to toss one of them into the mud to save herself. She wanted her to give in to the years of pain they'd inflicted upon her, to betray them for all they'd done.

She would be disappointed.

"No," Weiss declared firmly. "You cannot make me become a monster."

She'd sworn that she'd keep them safe. And a Schnee did not sink to dishonor by breaking their word.

Salem sighed, a bittersweet smile on her lips. "My dear. I've already told you that I will never force you to aid me. Just as I warned you what the people you wish to protect will do in turn."

"What are you— AH!"

Something slammed into Weiss's back and pitched her over the edge. She screamed as she tumbled through the air.

She drew Myrtenaster from her side and tried to conjure a glyph to stop her fall, but out of the mud shot half a dozen black tentacles. The dark appendages smashed through her meager defenses and entrapped her. She struggled as best she could, managing to steal a glance above.

She saw Salem grin.

And Whitley glare, his fists glowing green.

Her eyes widened in shock, and then she was dragged into the depths.


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Where am I?

You are here.

You are with us.

Why?

I did everything I could.

I wanted to save them.

Why did they betray me?

Because that is what they do.

That is what they all do.

They strike from shadows, so they may claim the light.

No.

Not all. There are others.

Yellow Beauty. Black the Beast.

Red the Rose.

They love me.

I love them.

They love no one.

They burn, an endless, undying fire.

They abandoned, so they can blaze ever brighter.

No.

They love me.

I love them.

Then why are you alone?

Burdened by a royal test.

I…

I…

You bleed.

You bleed red like roses.

You bleed alone, so they don't have to.

I…

I…

I am not…

Do you want to bleed?

No.

Then join.

We will not bleed.

We will not suffer.

Will they?

They can.

We can make them.

Would that make us happy?

Yes.

That would make us very happy.


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Emerald stared at the mud pit in horror. Her hand still shook from when the Ice Queen's brother had shoved her in.

The boy himself staggered back from the edge of the hole, his body shivering. He turned back to his father, still restrained by Seer Grimm and Huntsman cuffs. His eyes watered and pleaded for understanding.

The old man gave him a stern nod. The boy smiled.

Emerald had done a lot of horrible things, probably a few worse than what she'd just witnessed. But still, to his own sister…

"Hey, Caster?" she whispered to her Servant. "I know you weren't in control when your brother died but… did you feel…"

"Remorse?" Medea supplied. "I did. Even through Aphrodite's curse, I mourned my brother."

Emerald grimaced. "Do you think he'll mourn her?"

"I don't know." Medea glanced at the huge glowing orb stuck in the wall. "Something isn't right. That mud, it is pure evil. Not mortal could possibly be submerged in it and hope to survive. Why would she go to all the trouble of training the girl only to dispose of her like this? If she wanted her dead, she didn't have to arrange something this complex. And what is the Greater Grail doing here?"

Emerald had no idea. Caster had given her a run down of the details of the Holy Grail War over the last few months, but she couldn't fathom what Salem was doing with the chalice's core.

Jacques Schnee cleared his throat. "Well? You have what you want. Now release me and my son!"

Salem held up a finger. Her eyes closed. A manic grin of ecstasy blossomed on her face.

"Now we see," she whispered, a demonic vibration filling her voice. "They wish for evil. So, they shall have evil."

"What are you blathering about?" Jacques shouted. "You said you needed someone in the mud. And now Weiss is—"

An unholy shriek split the air. Emerald rammed her hands over her ears to lessen the pain. The Schnee boy was driven to his knees. Even Hazel twitched in irritation.

A line of black glyphs flared to life up the side of the pit, and a moment later, something blasted out of the mud and rode them back to the chamber floor.

Said figure kneeled before Salem, a familiar rapier now black in their hands.

"Impossible," Caster muttered in horror.

Weiss Schnee opened her eyes, her once blue pupils shining a sickly yellow, black veins branching off of them into her forehead.

A vicious smirk came to her lips.

"W- Weiss?" Whitley stammered. "How?"

The Ice Queen stood up and faced him. "Through acceptance. Acceptance of fact."

Any childish petulance was gone from her voice. Her words were now cold, yet infinite. Like a glacier proclaiming which ship would sink beneath the waves.

Whitley's eyes understandably widened. "Weiss, I did what I had to do. There was no way—"

"Shush, brother dear. I cannot abide useless thoughts, and I doubt you have anything but in your head," Weiss proclaimed. "However, I do remember an interesting query you once posed me. 'What can a single huntsman do, that an army could not?' I'll admit, I didn't truly have an answer to you then. But now?"

Her smile put her pearly white teeth on full display, like the grin of a shark. "Well, I think I'll show you."

She turned to Salem. "With your blessing, your grace."

The Mother of Grimm proudly nodded her ascent.

Emerald shivered in dread.

"You might want to take a step back," Hazel advised, strolling back to the chamber's walls.

Emerald and Caster quickly followed.

Weiss slammed the tip of Myrtenaster's dark blade into the castle floor, an intricate black glyph appearing on the ground.

It was one Emerald had seen only once before.

"Fill. Fill. Fill. Fill. Fill!" Weiss proclaimed, the timbre of an unseen legion bleeding into her voice. "Repeat five times, but when each is filled, destroy it!"

"For the elements silver and iron, the foundation of stone and the archduke of pacts, and for my great master Angra Mainyu."

'Who?' Emerald wondered.

"Master", Caster warned mentally. "We are in grave danger."

"Raise a wall against the wind and close the gate of four directions. Come forth from the crown and follow the forked road leading to the kingdom."

"Heed my words! My will creates your body, and your sword creates my destiny!"

"If you heed the grail's call, and obey my lady's will and reason, then answer my summoning!"

"I hereby swear, that I shall be all the truth in the world. And I shall defeat, all lies in the world!"

"And let thine eyes be altered, in the sky of turmoil and chaos. Thou, you art free in a field of evil. And I the summoner, who guides thy hand!"

"Seventh Hell, clad in the great words of power, come forth from the circle of binding, Bane of the Scales!"

Trapped in the castle wall, the Greater Grail's glow flickered for a moment.

The summoning sigil glowed a violent purple, then spouted a small pool of mud. Slowly, it piled upon itself, shifting color and assembling into a humanoid form.

When it finished, a tall man took shape. A black hood covered his head and shoulders, while spiked armor coated the lower half of his body. His bare chest was splattered with ancient crimson runes. A dark blue ponytail rested beside his face. In his right hand, a massive blood red spear bayed for battle, a hundred lethal spikes sticking out of every bare space on the shaft.

His scarlet eyes opened, and he flashed a fanged smile. "So, I take it you're my master?"

Emerald shook with terror. She knew powerful beings had a certain aura about them, not the regular kind but an immense pressure. Caster's was subtle, slithering like a snake. Salem's was an omen of impending dread.

But this man? He felt like blood.

Blood and battle and screams.

Weiss smirked smugly. "I am your summoner, Lancer Alter." She gestured to Salem. "My Queen provides you with prana, and so she is your master."

Lancer Alter grinned. "So I see. Pity. I would have loved to fight beside such a lovely young lady."

"Don't be so hasty, my dears" Salem interceded. She placed a proud hand on Weiss' shoulder. "I cannot leave my domain, and you will still have to go forth and slay the other Servants, dear Cu Chulainn. It seems fitting that you should have a handler of sorts."

A single black mark appeared on Weiss' right hand. The girl's eyes widened and she bowed her head to the Queen. "You honor me, your grace."

"Do me proud, my dear."

"Wha- What was that?" Whitley Schnee stuttered, pointing brokenly at Lancer Alter. The poor boy had fallen to the ground in shock. "How did you get here?"

"Who's the pipsqueak?" the spearman remarked.

Weiss raised Myrtenaster. "No one of consequence."

She stalked towards her brother.

Whitley desperately tried to get away from her but was so debilitated with fear that he couldn't even get off the ground.

"Weiss! Weiss! I'm sorry!" he protested. "What else was I supposed to do? You have no idea what it's been like here. She's given you a plush room, food, and freedom. I was trapped! I couldn't go on any longer—"

"What on Remnant are you babbling about, Whitley?" she interceded, playing with the saber in her hands. "What do you think I'm going to do? Kill you?"

The look on Whitley's face answered that question quite clearly.

Weiss sighed. "I'm not going to kill you, brother. You are beneath me. I have grown beyond our family name, ascended to far greater heights. You, meanwhile, have sentenced yourself forever to father's shadow, to being his servant. You didn't have the will to push me into the pit without his say so, did you?"

Whitley looked down in shame, but nodded his confirmation.

"I thought so" Weiss sneered. "You're pathetic. A mere pawn. And a queen has no reason to dirty herself with the blood of a pawn."

Whitley looked up, a small spark of hope shining in his gaze.

"No" Weiss continued. "A servant should die to a Servant. Lancer!"

The spear ran the boy through faster than Emerald could see. Black spikes burst out from the wound and pierced every vein in his body.

Whitley Schnee died before he could even scream.

The hope didn't even have time to leave his eyes.

"NO!" wailed Jacques.

Hazel closed his eyes and lowered his head in respect. Caster averted her gaze. Salem looked on unfazed.

Weiss laughed.

Emerald didn't know what to think. She'd killed children before, most of the huntsmen trainees she'd fought had been under eighteen, but they could always defend themselves. This was just… sick.

"I'll kill you! I'll kill you all!" Jacques screamed, tears streaming down his face. "You murdered him! You murdered my boy! You'll die! You'll die screaming!"

"Gag him and prep him for transport" Salem commanded. "I have given my word, and he shall not spend another night in this castle."

The Seer Grimm dragged him off, the man howling vengeance all the way.

Lancer Alter tugged his spear out of Whitley's corpse. He frowned. "I hope I was summoned for more than just killing children. Gae Bolg is hungry for worthy blood and so am I."

"Don't worry, my friend. You'll get your fill of battle" Weiss assured him. "Our Queen's plans are opposed by many. And those fools shall soon be receiving a quite rude awakening."

Lancer Alter smirked. "I'll take your word for it, gorgeous."

"Excellent" Salem remarked. "Now we'll just need to summon the other two. Are you ready, my dear?"

"Always, my lady," Weiss bowed. She struck the ground and another glyph appeared.

As she chanted, Salem turned to the others. "Hazel, once you have your Servant, head to the White Fang's headquarters in Anima. Adam Taurus proved useful to Cinder during her campaign in Beacon, but we've had no contact since. Ascertain their loyalty and if it wavers, give them a demonstration."

The brute nodded. "As you wish."

Salem smiled and turned to Emerald. "Emerald, you and Weiss will go to Haven and join Watts and Headmaster Lionheart in tracking down the Spring Maiden. I will be sending Watts' Servant on an alternate route in order to remain inconspicuousness."

"Of course, my lady" Emerald bowed.

Salem patted her on the back and then went over to Weiss, who had just called forth a blond swordswoman in with a black battle dress and mask.

"My lady?" Emerald piped up. "Why didn't you just throw Weiss into the pit yourself?"

Salem shook her head as if the answer was obvious. "How could I make her see things my way if I did to her exactly what I said others would. Showing her the faults of humanity through her family made her more, agreeable."

Emerald nodded her understanding and Salem went to greet the newest member of their cabal.

"We are in grave danger, master" Caster informed Emerald mentally.

'You think?' Emerald snarked, not seeing how anyone around this craziness could not be in danger.

"You don't understand, master. That mud, it wasn't just some magic. It was All the Worlds Evils."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It means we might very well be dealing with a being who wants to wipe out humanity" Caster revealed.

Emerald raised an eyebrow. 'Was the army of Grimm not a giveaway?'

"Please, master" Medea implored. "Look at what she has done here. She's twisted that girl into murdering her own brother! Do you really think someone like that is just going to hand you the grail when this is all over? Do you think you are an exception to your species' extinction?"

Emerald closed her fist and looked to the side in thought. Whatever superficial kindness Salem had shown, whatever reason Cinder had trusted her, she knew it was only a matter of time until she outlived her usefulness and the Queen had her dunked in the mud pit.

Still, maybe that time would be enough to do what she needed to do.

'We'll stick it out for now' Emerald declared. 'She once told me that a Servant she's directly powering, these Alters, can't claim the grail. Until then, she still needs us. And I still need that wish to bring Cinder back.'

"Master, I strongly advise against this course of action."

'Noted. Which is why I want you to start coming up with escape plans for if everything goes to shit. Think you can do that?'

She could feel Caster smirk behind.

"Do you even have to ask?"

Emerald nodded. She watched as Weiss called forth another dark Servant, this time a towering man with completely black skin and a skirt of purple and gold.

Her instincts as a thief were screaming at her to get out while she could. But she couldn't waste this chance. Cinder had given her everything. She owed it to her to save her from Kirei.

She just wondered if she would be able to save herself.

Chapter Text

“Another day! Another adventure!” Nora proclaimed. “What’s on the agenda today?”

Blake sighed. “Walking, Nora. It was walking yesterday. It’s walking today. More than likely, it’ll be walking tomorrow.”

Nora slapped Blake on the back, probably meant as a sign of comradery, but the cat faunus struggled to register that over keeping her lungs in her chest.

“Don’t be such a downer, Blakey,” the hyperactive huntress advised. “We might be coming up on a village soon.”

“No, Blake’s right,” Sun declared, the map open in his hands. “According to this, we’re still a week out from the nearest village.”

“Oh,” Nora deflated. Her frown soon transformed into a determined grin though. “We’ll just have to book it, then. AH!”

She charged off down the path screaming bloody murder.

Blake turned to Ren. “How did you live with her all these years?”

Ren smiled softly. “Practice. Lots of practice. And pancakes.”

Sun smirked. “She does seem to like those.”

“That she does,” Ren chuckled. His eyes narrowed a moment later. “We should probably catch up to her. I’ve been sensing someone close behind us for the last few miles.”

“Ilia?” Blake inquired.

“Most likely. Her emotional makeup is very similar to what I felt at Shion,” Ren confided. “But she’s not alone. There are two others with her. I think.”

“You think?”

“One of the presences is…I don’t know, hazy? It’s like I can feel like something should be there, but it isn’t solid enough for me to be sure. I’ve never felt anything like it,” Ren admitted.

“Maybe it’s Lancer,” Sun suggested. “He might be in that spirit form thing we saw.”

Blake scratched her chin in thought. “Possibly. What about the third presence?”

“That one is easy,” Ren stated. “Whoever they are, they’re frustrated, as angry as some Grimm. But also, more determined than almost anyone I’ve ever felt before.”

“That would be Adam,” Blake surmised. “I should have known he wouldn’t have backed down after my talk with Ilia.”

“What’s our play then?” Sun inquired. “We can’t fight, not as long as Lancer is with him.”

Blake nodded. She doubted they could fight Adam even without Lancer. “For now, all we can do is keep moving. Get to Mistral as fast as we can and meet up with the others. If his patience holds until then, we can figure out if an alliance is possible under Saber and Archer’s protection.”

“Will it hold? His patience?” Ren asked.

Blake didn’t know. If Adam was still the monster she’d run away from, he would have already slaughtered them by now. The twisted hope he’d gained from the Holy Grail War had turned him into something else. She just couldn’t tell if that something else was closer to the man she’d loved or the beast she’d feared.

“Guys!” Nora called from up ahead.

The others swiftly ran up to her. The valkyrie pointed at the broken remnants of a wall up ahead. The group had seen similar, whole, structures surrounding the towns they’d visited on their journey.

“Oh no,” Blake muttered. The huntsmen charged into the ruin.

Unlike Shion, there were no bodies strewn around the village. Some of the buildings showed clear signs of combat, but others just seemed to be incomplete. Scattered piles of finely cut wood beams suggested the crews building them had just given up halfway through the process. Or more likely were butchered.

Blake checked in alleys and under planks. She found nothing but weeds.

“Anything?” she called out.

“Nothing over here,” Sun replied from atop an unfinished scaffolding.

“It’s almost as if the whole town was abandoned,” Ren mused.

Blake clenched her fist and hissed.

Too late again.

Useless again.

“I found something!” Nora yelled.

Everyone congregated around a vine-covered signpost in the middle of the town square. A couple of dried up fountains decorated the area.

Nora pushed the greenery aside. “Oniyuri,” she read. “Never heard of it. Have you guys?”

Blake shook her head. She was only stationed with the Mistral White Fang for a short time and settlements disappeared on the frontier often. She knew few of the villages of Anima.

“Nope,” Sun replied for himself.

“I have.”

Everyone turned to Ren expectantly.

The green-clad ninja sighed. “You might think of it as Anima’s Mountain Glenn, had it never been completed. Years ago, the richest members of Mistral were unhappy with the kingdom’s council. They pulled their resources together to build their own city, with their own laws. They hoped that one day, it could even become its own kingdom. Many thought it would be the future.”

He meandered off to one of the fountains, its stone rim coated in dust. “I know my parents did.”

Sun gulped. “What happened?”

Ren wiped the dust from the fountain, revealing a savage claw mark. “What always happens.”

“The Grimm,” Blake growled.

Ren’s fists tightened in fury, something extremely odd for the calm boy.

“Not just any one,” Ren snarled.

That made Blake raise an eyebrow. “One?”

What kind of Grimm, short of a Goliath, could wipe out an entire town single-handedly?

Nora gazed on Ren softly. Her arms twitched like she wanted to reach out to him, but in the end, she held back.

A flock of crows burst into the sky and rapidly flew back the way the group had come.

Sun walked up to Ren and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Buddy? Are you alright?”

Ren sighed, his hands returning to normal. “I’m fine. Let’s just get through here as fast as we—ah!”

He stumbled and collapsed to his knees, Sun acting quickly to keep him from falling farther. Blake and Nora rushed over to him.

“Ren, what’s wrong?” Nora asked desperately.

“Anger,” he responded hurriedly. He clutched at his head in pain. “So much anger…”

Blake shared a worried glance with Sun. Ren sensed Grimm all the time without issue. What could possibly have enough negative emotion to overwhelm him so badly?

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

A smoking black figure smashed into the opposite side of the courtyard, kicking up a massive dust cloud. The shockwave from the impact forced Blake to stumble back.

She drew Gambol Shroud and aimed its pistol form at the center of the cloud. She heard the others doing the same with their own weapons.

The ash cleared, revealing a tall man in pitch black armor, mist curling off his figure. He stood in the center of a huge crater he’d made when he landed. His limbs seemed to twitch at every moment, his body never staying still. He reminded Blake of a rabid dog, preparing to pounce.

A muffled shriek escaped his armor, like a wolf’s howl restrained by a thick muzzle. The knight’s mad rage was palpable in the air, like a lethal miasma.

Whatever doubts Blake had had after her encounter with Lancer were put to rest. The creature before her was too powerful to be anything but a Servant. She didn’t need to see his stats to know that.

Sun shivered in fear by her side. “That’s Berserker?”

Nora gulped. “I don’t think we can break his legs.”

Ren took a deep breath, probably shutting down his semblance to get back to his feet. “Anyone have a plan?”

They needed one, desperately. All of them but Sun had witnessed Arturia’s power when she was holding back, and she had still crushed all her opposition without difficulty. It seemed unlikely that this black knight would give them even that much mercy.

A raven landed on the roof of a nearby house.

The Servant remained in his pit, his body barely containing its violent spasms.

Blake raised an eyebrow. “Why hasn’t it attacked us? This thing is a Berserker, right? They’re supposed to be completely insane. It should be slaughtering us right now.”

“You’re right,” Sun realized. “It wouldn’t have given us time to realize it was even here if it was acting on its own.”

“Which means its master is nearby,” Blake concluded. “We need to contact Ruby and Jaune, let them know—”

“Well, hello there, strangers!” a cocky voice called out.

Blake whipped around to a nearby roof. On it was a woman with short brown hair and ash like bird tattoos on her upper arms. Strapped at her waist was a pair of guns fused to circular blades. She leered down at the huntsmen with a patronizing smirk. “What are you doing around these parts?”

Blake gave Ren a discreet nod, then walked forward towards the new figure. Out of the corner of her eye, she noted her friend pulling out his scroll.

“We’re just travelers,” she called out to the newcomer. “We’re on our way to Haven. We’re not looking for a fight.”

The woman chuckled. “No one’s ever looking for a fight. Everyone seems to find one though. But us, we’re looking for someone. You wouldn’t happen to be Blake Belladonna, would you, kitty cat?”

Blake’s eyes narrowed. “Who are you?”

“Me? My name’s Vernal,” the woman declared. “My friends and I wanted to extend you all a little Anima hospitality.”

“Friends?”

Filing into the alleys surrounding the square were dozens of men and women in ragged clothes and patchwork armor. They wielded ancient guns and rusting knives. There didn’t seem to be a single one without a battle scar of some kind.

“Bandits,” Sun snarled.

They took up positions in the exits to the courtyard, though none of them were daring enough to enter. With Berserker present, Blake didn’t blame them.

“We’re boxed in,” Nora noted, hefting Magnhild over her shoulder.

Blake growled. She had no doubt that they could break through the blockade if they tried, but the moment they turned their backs, Berserker would slaughter them from behind. Not that they could beat him from the front either.

She glared at Vernal. “What do you want?

The bandit woman snorted. Her faux friendly demeanor evaporated, replaced with an annoyed, haughty stare. “You’re practically the princess of Menagerie, kitten. Your folks would probably give us every lien that shithole island has got to get you home safe. Is it really that hard to figure out what we want?”

“No,” Blake responded, inserting a clip of stone dust into her weapon.

“Good. Berserker.”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA”

The black knight charged.

 


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The sun shined beautifully upon the grand stone city. Thousands of people gathered in the streets and joyously tossed flower petals into the air.

They all cheered for a company of handsome men on horseback, all but one encased in gleaming armor.

At the front of the column was a younger man than the others, his features so soft and his blonde hair so long that one could have taken him for a woman. But the royal crown of Camelot sat atop his head, and there could be no mistaking his identity. The loudest cheers from the crowd were saved for him.

“Our king, Arthur Pendragon!”

“The promised king!”

“Three cheers for the king!”

As the citizens showered their sovereign in praise, A young girl with a face eerily similar to the king’s watched on from a dark alley.

“That’s Arthur,” she whispered in awe. “The King of Knights.”

“Yes, young one.” A woman wrapped in shadow put her hands on the child’s shoulders. “The hero you should aim to become. And the enemy that you must defeat.”

The girl looked back to the parade. She beheld the king’s full wonderous visage. His royal blue cloak fell elegantly over his powerful shoulders. His posture was without flaw, supporting the idea of an invulnerable guardian. His face displayed a stern expression, balanced magnificently to not be too indulgent or irritated.

The king was exactly as he was said to be. A ruler beyond the capacity of a human in governance. An unequaled monarch.

The perfect king. As unlike a human as possible.

Just like the girl.

And just like the girl, the king did not smile.

She knew then that she needed to serve King Arthur.

 


 

“Mordred” the shadowed woman appeared out of a dark mist. “Just how long do you intend to play knight?”

The girl, now grown and wearing gray and red armor, turned to the witch in alarm. “Mother?”

“Why have you not taken the throne from Arthur?” the woman demanded. “Wait do you persist in being satisfied as a mere sword of the Round Table.”

The girl merely shrugged. “Why would I not be? The king is like me, inhuman. He is the perfect king. Why would I seek to depose him from the throne for no reason?”

“No reason?” the witch snarled. “It was what you were born to do. You, a homunculus born of his blood and mine, created to surpass him in every way.”

“What are you saying?” the inquired, her eyebrow rising in confusion.

“You are heir to the throne!” the shadowed woman roared. “So, stop living in his shadow! You are his child! His living essence!”

The girl, the knight, stared off at a faraway parapet, somehow sensing her beloved sovereign stood upon it. Her mouth widened in awe, before splitting into an enormous grin.

“King Arthur is my father!”

 


 

 

The knight shook with fury. Across from her stood the king, his face once again merely stern, nothing more.

“You won’t acknowledge me as your son” the knight spat. “Is that your answer, King of Knights?”

The king did not speak a word. He turned away from the massive round table between them and strode into the dark corridors of his castle.

The knight glared at his back, a tempest of unholy wrath building within her. “I was fine being in your shadow. But you never even once turned around to look me in the eye. Why won’t you acknowledge me?”

The king did not answer.

“I’m going to destroy everything you’ve ever worked towards! Do you hear me? ARTHUR!”

 


 

The sunset blazed orange across an endless battlefield. As far as the eyes could see, the corpses of fallen warriors and noble soldiers littered the plains.

Still, the knight, now completely encased her spiked armor, slaughtered more, howling in rage with each strike. Before her, countless foes who were once friends fell to the ground, never to rise again.

“Where’s King Arthur?” the knight demanded. “Show yourself to me, King of Knights!”

She turned and saw her destiny.

Atop a hill covered in bodies, with the sun at her back and a brilliant holy sword in her hands, stood the king, as radiant and perfect as when the knight first saw her.

The knight passed her sword over the carnage. “Do you see this, King Arthur? This is the price for not relinquishing the throne to me!”

The king said nothing.

“Do you truly hate me so?” the knight taunted. “Is it because I am the child of a witch, forged in your image?”

Again, the king said nothing.

“Answer me!” the knight roared, charging at her beloved father.

A flash of steel, faster than the eye could see. The holy sword flew from the king’s hands, but the knight was repelled down the hill. She made to charge again but was stopped by a commanding voice.

“Never once did I find you detestable” the king confessed. “The reason I did not relinquish the throne to you…”

The knight’s eyes widened in shock. A holy lance pierced her armor.

“…Was because you did not have the capacity to be king.”

The knight’s helmet shattered, and blood erupted from the mouth of a young girl.

 


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Jaune shot up panting from his slumber, his eyes wide in terror. He quickly patted down his chest just to confirm he hadn’t been speared in his sleep.

He sighed and pressed his face into his palms. What was that? It didn’t feel like a dream, more like a memory. His mom was there, but she was different than how he remembered her. Sterner, colder, strangely more kingly and charismatic.

And she wasn’t the only one he recognized.

He stood up and looked around the campsite in the cabin ruins. Archer was standing watch over a sleeping Ruby and Qrow. The Servant briefly glanced at Jaune and then returned his gaze to his master, his eyes focused like a hawk.

Jaune turned and went into the forest. He didn’t have time to talk with the Servant of the Bow. He needed to find Mordred.

In time, he followed his instincts and discovered his sister sitting in an especially thick gaggle of trees. She was grunting as he approached.

“Come on, you stupid sword” she growled, trying to shove Clarent into the obviously too thin Avalon. “Just go in already!”

A waning smile ghosted over Jaune’s lips. In times like this, it was easy to forget that she was an ancient hero of legend. One that seemed unable to go a day without punching him in the face, but still, a hero.

Then he remembered the dreams and his smile disappeared.

He wanted her to be a hero. He needed her to be a hero.

But was she?

“Hey, Saber!” he called.

Mordred stopped struggling and smirked at him. Clarent disappeared into crimson sparks and she posed proudly with Avalon strapped to her side. “Ah, pretender. Come to gaze upon the glory of the one true king?”

“Um, no, sorry,” Jaune said awkwardly. “Actually, I wanted to ask you something. About mom’s past, if that’s alright.”

Mordred scowled for a moment but shrugged in the end. “Ask away. If you’re going to learn from the past, father’s greatness is as good a teacher as any.” She gave him a haughty grin. “What do you want to hear about? The Battle of the Questing Beast, The Tournament of Albion, Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail, pretty sure that one’s different than the one we’re after.”

“Camlann.”

Her grin disappeared. “What about it?”

Jaune scratched the back of his head. If he asked this, there would be no going back. If she had done what he thought she did, he wasn’t sure how he would react.

But if he didn’t find out, it would gnaw him from the inside until he said something he couldn’t take back.

“You mentioned that King Lot wasn’t at the battle, right?” he inquired hesitantly. “When mom told me about it, she made it sound like the toughest fight King Arthur ever fought. So, if it wasn’t Lot there, who did she fight?”

Mordred glared at me. If anyone had called her foolish before, they would not recognize her now. She understood exactly what he was asking. And she knew he was already well aware of the answer.

“Take a wild guess,” she spat.

Jaune wondered if he should have felt betrayed. If not for his own sake, then his mother’s. But with what he’d seen in his dreams, and what he’d seen of Mordred himself, it just all seemed to fit. The missing piece of the world’s ugliest puzzle.

“Why?” he demanded, his voice as cold as ice.

Mordred huffed and made to charge past him. “I don’t need to explain myself to you.”

He grabbed her arm before she could go far. She whirled upon him, her face alight with anger.

All that fire died when she saw the frozen wrath in his eyes.

“Why?” he growled. “You loved her. I saw it. I felt it. She was everything to you, your world, your king, and you stabbed her in the back.”

Mordred turned away. She sneered, “He did worse to me first.”

“Really? You must really not like people walking away from you.”

“Oh, shut up, pretender!” she roared in his face. Her arm rammed into his hold and pinned him against a tree. “You don’t know anything about me. Everything I ever wanted, he gave you on a silver platter. I had to work for everything I had, work harder than the rest, work myself to the bone, to prove my mother wasn’t turning me into her pawn. I was the most loyal of all the Round Table. I was everything the king could have wanted. But when I came to him and told him I was his son…”

Tears welled in the young knight’s eyes, a frightening contrast with her vicious scowl.

“He denied me. He did not care or smile. He refused to acknowledge me as his child and heir. After all, what perfect king would have a child with any but his queen, even if she was a harlot. If he was so devoted to the crown, then I would teach him what all his governing was really worth! Nothing!”

Jaune met her glare head-on, his own unflinching. “You taught her a lesson, huh?” he mused. “How many people had to die so you could teach her a lesson?”

“You dare—”

“The sword is strongest as a shield, you told me,” he reminded her. “A knight’s duty is to protect others. Who were you protecting with your little rebellion?”

Mordred growled but released him from the tree. That alone was telling enough as her answer.

Jaune wanted to punch her in the face. He wanted to tear her limb from limb. He didn’t care if she had her reasons, she had slaughtered hundreds, people who were once her friends, all to get back at his mother.

But hadn’t he gotten her killed?

Hadn’t he dishonored the memory of hundreds just so he could get into Beacon? So that he could stop being a butt monkey and finally become a hero worthy of his family name?

What right did he have to judge her while he carried his own sin?

He sighed. “Look, Mordred… I’m sorry.”

“You should be.”

He ignored her. “I’m sorry for what happened between you and mom. I’m sorry if you feel like I’m judging you.”

“Your opinion means nothing to me.”

“But you’re not the only one mom was ever disappointed in,” he stated. “You’re not the only Arc to ever royally screw up.”

“I am the son of Arthur Pendragon!” she screamed. “I’m. Not. An Arc.”

“Well, consider yourself adopted,” Jaune declared. “Because we are family, no matter how many times you say I’m a pretender. The same blood that runs through your veins, runs through mine. And both of us are going to have to be a whole lot better than we were before if we’re going to win this war.”

“I am superior to the King of Knights himself,” Mordred refuted. “There is no way for me to be better.”

Jaune smacked his hand into his face. “I mean we have to trust each other! Respect each other! No more punching me in the face whenever I say something you don’t like, no more snipping at you because I want to feel better. Because I’m pretty sure you lost at Camlann, and I was powerless at Beacon. We have to do something differently. Or else we’re just going to fail again.”

Mordred scowled. The Knight of Treachery turned away from him and stared at the forest canopy. She gave no outward appearance for or against his words. Though the fact she hadn’t punched him in the face was probably a good sign.

“I’m not your enemy, Mordred,” Jaune begged. “I’m your brother.”

Her fist closed at that. She glanced at Avalon on her waist.

She sighed. “What you say… there is some—”

A mechanical beeping sounded through the trees. Jaune picked through his pockets and pulled out his scroll. Ren’s name flashed across the screen.

Mordred glared daggers at him.

Jaune chuckled awkwardly and shrugged with a dorky smile on his face.

Mordred was not amused. “Answer it,” she snarled.

He did just that and put the device to his ear. “Ren, buddy, this kind of a bad—”

“No one’s ever looking for a fight. Everyone seems to find one though,” an unfamiliar voice declared through the line.

Jaune pulled his scroll away from his head in shock at the unexpected words. He realized to his surprise that Ren had sent a video call.

And the picture on the screen was a terrifying black knight.

“Ruby!”

 


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Ruby sighed as she watched Jaune walk off into the forest. It seemed he hadn’t been able to sleep either.

Every time she closed her eyes, she’d be thrust into the fire. The flames would consume everything around her. People soon to be corpses would lay in the rubble waiting to die. She’d gaze up at the smoke and beg for someone to save her, anyone.

And that call would be answered. She would see the face of her savior as he cried.

His face.

Kiritsugu Emiya.

Her grandfather.

Honestly, it was lucky she’d had the dream again after Uncle Qrow had shown her the picture. Otherwise, she probably wouldn’t have realized the connection. The man who saved her in her dreams was the same one who’d pulled her mother from a fire and raised her.

But why was she dreaming about him?

And why did Archer know his name?

Ruby groaned. Why did there have to be so many mysteries when she didn’t have any clues? Uncle Qrow had told her everything he knew, and she was still no closer to answering any of her questions. And the only one who might be able to help her freaked out the last time the topic had been brought up.

Not to mention she was still shaken up from their last conversation.

But, if she wanted the truth…

“Archer?” Ruby asked quietly, pushing herself into a sitting position. “Are you awake?”

“Servants do not require sleep, master, and if they did, you may be sure I would not do it standing up,” he replied from above her. “What’s on your mind?”

“Well, you see, it’s a bit tricky,” Ruby meandered. “There’s something I want to talk to you about, but the last time I tried, you got a little… upset.”

Archer nodded. “My apologies, master. I allowed my emotions to get the better of me. It won’t happen again.”

Ruby perked up. “Really? So, you’ll tell me about my granddad?”

Archer said nothing. He closed his eyes in thought.

Ruby frowned. “Or not.”

“Not everything,” Archer declared, opening his eyes. “Some of my knowledge of Kiritsugu Emiya relates to my true identity and, as I’ve already informed you, is of no use to us in this time. Still, I will do my best to relate what I have learned about him over the years.”

“Great!”

“However, I request that you allow me to ask you a question in return, master,” Archer told her.

Ruby shrugged. “Sure. That’s fine.”

“Very well.” Archer gazed up at the shattered moon for a moment to compose himself. “Back in my time, mages, while still a secret sect, were far more numerous than they are here on Remnant. Families spent centuries passing on magic circuits and research, all of them building on one another in hopes of one day reaching Akasha, the root of all souls. This, however, led most mages to become callous towards their fellow man, seeing them only as base resources to be culled when necessary. In fact, it was common practice for any outsiders who witnessed a mage’s activities, including the Holy Grail War, to be killed immediately.”

“What?” Ruby exclaimed. “That’s terrible! By that logic I would have to kill Blake and Ren and Nora—”

“Your disgust is understandable, master,” Archer cut in. “But while there was a myriad of practical reasons for the taboo, the point I wish to make is to illustrate the background Kiritsugu Emiya came from. In his life, he was an infamous assassin, often eliminating mages that strayed too far from morality for even their compatriots to tolerate. Knowing how a mage thought, he would deal with them in ways that were as unlike a mage as possible, things those obsessed with magic would not think to protect themselves from. Eventually, his underhand tactics and exceptional success earned him the title of ‘The Mage Killer’.”

“He killed people… to stop them from killing other people?” Ruby inquired worriedly.

Archer nodded. “Not always just his targets. He killed as many people as necessary to eliminate threats to humanity. He understood the equivalent exchange I told you of the other night.”

Ruby frowned, her eyes sank into dull resignation. “Saving one life means choosing not to save another.”

“Without fail.” Archer flashed a relieved smirk before his face became serious again. “Kiritsugu Emiya was a man dedicated to saving the many, even if the few needed to die. However…”

He hesitated. Ruby nocked an eyebrow at his incomplete sentence. “However?”

Archer sighed. “Eventually, Kiritsugu Emiya sought to achieve his ultimate dream. True peace for all time. To that end, he allied with the Einzbern family and entered the Fourth Holy Grail War as the Master of Saber.”

“Arturia?”

“The very same,” he confirmed. “Admittedly, my knowledge of that era is incomplete, but I am aware that the final battle of that war was between them and Kirei Kotomine, who as you know allied with Gilgamesh.”

Ruby’s eyes narrowed, a dim silver glow flaring for a brief moment. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Archer confessed. “In most timelines, Kiritsugu discovered the Grail's corruption and ordered Saber to destroy it in turn. Obviously, that did not happen in this world’s sequence of events. We may never know what led to the corruption’s release.”

“But the next time anyone saw him was when he saved my mom,” Ruby finished. “And who knows who he had to kill to do that.”

Archer’s stare hardened. “And that leads us to my question, master. It seems like a great deal of events we have encountered have an unusual connection to your mother, yet I know nothing about her.”

Ruby smiled wistfully. “She was amazing. I was really little, so I don’t remember much, but whenever she was around… I don’t know. I just felt safe. Yang told me she was super mom, baker of cookies and slayer of giant monsters. She always tried to make sure everyone could get a happy ending. In the end, she was completely devoted to being a huntress. She was a hero.”

“A hero of justice?” Archer inquired.

Ruby shrugged. “I guess. She—”

“Ruby!”

Ruby and Archer whirled towards the forest. Uncle Qrow arose from his slumber just as Jaune and Mordred rushed into the camp.

“What is it, kid? I’m trying to sleep,” Qrow snarked.

Jaune didn’t respond, simply shoving his scroll into their faces. On it was a towering black knight covered in curling smoke. “Ren just sent this.”

Qrow cursed. “Lancelot. What’s Raven thinking, letting that thing off the leash?”

Mordred went still at the name of the Servant.

“Who is that, Uncle Qrow?” Ruby inquired fearfully. “One of the other Servants?”

Qrow shook his head. “No. That’s Lancelot, the Berserker Raven had had in the last war. Long story short, he got dosed in some magic mud and wouldn’t go away. But why the hell is she sending him after a bunch of kids who aren’t even masters?”

“To draw one of us in, most likely,” Archer surmised. “We sent them on a separate route so that no one would know they were connected to us. But if your sister knows that they are our allies, she must be attempting to draw us out into the open.”

“Lancelot is infected with Salem’s power. He can’t claim the grail. There’s no point in this,” Qrow said.

“Who cares if there’s a point or not?” Jaune shouted. “We’re on the other side of the continent! How are we supposed to help them?”

“A Command Seal could easily transport a Servant that distance,” Archer informed them. “However, if Lancelot is not one of the Servants of this war, we stand nothing to gain by fighting him.”

“We’ll be protecting the others,” Jaune declared. His hard eyes brokered no argument.

Ruby could understand that. He had already lost Arturia and Pyrrha.

She didn’t think he could lose anyone else.

Archer sighed. “Very well. As an Archer class Servant, I possess the Independent Action skill. It will enable me to perform adequately despite the prana strain the distance will cause—”

“I will face the traitor Jester, not you!” Mordred shouted.

“Mordred?” Jaune squawked.

Archer rolled his eyes. “You are a Saber. At that far from your master, who knows if you’ll be able to receive enough prana to sustain yourself, let alone fight.”

“Do not doubt my combat ability!” Mordred yelled. She turned to Jaune and took on a more serious expression. “Lancelot was the greatest fighter the Round Table ever saw. Boosted by Mad Enchantment, no mere Jester can stand against him. The magic of the Command Seal will give me the boost I need to deal with him.”

“Will you have enough left to survive?” Jaune asked.

Mordred paused for a moment, that alone conveying the threat their foe posed. At last, she faced her sibling with a resolute scowl. “I will protect your friends. Trust in that, master.”

Jaune’s eyes widened. Ruby guessed it was the first time she hadn’t called him idiot or pretender.

The huntsman nodded. He turned to Qrow. “I just tell it what I want her to do, right?”

Qrow nodded. “Be as specific as you can.”

“This is not a good plan,” Archer protested. “It is obviously a trap, one we gain nothing from walking into.”

Jaune ignored him and raised his right hand. “Alright, by the power of my Command Seal, Mordred, go to Ren and Nora and protect them!”

The red mark glowed a fierce crimson and Mordred was engulfed in a sphere of light. A moment later, she was gone.

 


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Blake scrambled out of the way of Berserker’s charge, another of her shadow clones being shredded by the mad knight.

Truly, it was only the fact that he was mad that saved them. This Servant was faster that Arturia ever displayed, faster than any of them could hope to dodge naturally. He could have torn them all to pieces if he could get their hands on them.

Fortunately, Blake had sprayed him with Gambol Shroud to pull the attention onto her. While she could not dodge him, her semblance allowed her to survive each attack by substituting herself at the moment of impact. In turn, Berserker would become momentarily confused by why his target merely disappeared instead of being crushed into blood and bones. That crucial moment allowed Blake just enough time to recover her senses to pull the trick off again.

It had kept them from dying, but it wouldn’t last long.

She was already pushing her powers to their limit separating from the clone at just the right moment. The precision was taking its toll on her aura.

Ren and Nora were struggling to break out of the bandits’ blockade. Normally, the pair could probably make quick work of the brigands, even against the line’s barrage, but trapped in the chaos of Blake’s desperate maneuvers and with Vernal raining down strafing fire with her circular laser guns (because that was apparently now a thing!), the duo were finding it difficult to close on their opposition.

Sun had made a worthy effort to free them up by scaling Vernal’s building and taking her out of the equation, but the bandit had proved herself no amateur, diverting her fire at just the right moment to send him hurtling back to the ground.

Blake cringed. They were getting nowhere.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

Berserker ripped off the head of one of the courtyard’s fountains. A black smoke coated the entire stone rod, red lines flaring across it for a brief moment. Then, the knight charged.

Blake concentrated and summoned a clone, pushing herself to the right in the process.

Berserker swung his improvised weapon in a wide arc, obliterating the shadow clone.

And clipping Blake on the tail end of the slash.

“No!” Sun shouted, rushing over.

The huntress sprawled across the ground, coughing in pain. She’d barely been hit, yet it felt like her aura had been cut in half.

Berserker whirled towards her, the direct contact probably alerting him to the continuing threat. He growled and shot over to the fallen girl, his stone rod raised high.

Blake was still stunned. She couldn’t move in time.

A flash of light grabbed her up, shoving her out of the way of the Servent’s strike. Sun’s light clone disintegrated on the spot.

The boy himself dashed right next to her and helped her to her feet.

Berserker twitched in rage at not getting a corpse yet again.

“You okay?” Sun asked quickly.

“We have to get out of her,” Blake panted, a hand clutching her side. “If we don’t, we’re all gonna—”

A laser shot down from above and sent them both flying. When Blake struggled to her knees, Vernal grinned down at her.

“Die?” she mocked from her position of safety. “You’re absolutely right, kitty cat. But how about we make it a game? We’ll see who kills you first. Me…” she raised her laser gun, “… or him.”

Berserker reoriented himself and glared down on Blake.

There was nothing she could do. She was winded and low on aura. Sun was still recovering from the last blast. Ren and Nora were too far away.

She couldn’t escape. She couldn’t run.

Vernal fired.

Berserker charged.

Blake closed her eyes.

A resounding clang echoed throughout the battlefield.

“What?” Vernal shouted. “Bullhead?”

Bullhead?

Blake opened her eyes and gaped in awe.

Berserker had been forced back from her, Lancer protectively standing over her, both his spears ready and waiting. The green knight shot a withering glare at his black counterpart, filled to the brim with utter contempt.

“Well, my darling…”

Blake turned to her other side and found her second protector, this one even more familiar. His crimson katana glowed with the energy absorbed from Vernal’s blast, hungry for blood.

Adam grinned, “…room for three more.”

Chapter Text

Nora roared as she smashed her hammer into a cluster of bandits, sending the scumbags flying into incomplete walls, crumbling them even more in turn.

She ideally noted the familiar pitta pat of Stormflower's barrage and grinned. She had been worried about how well Ren would be able to fight given where they were and Berserker overwhelming his semblance.

She should have known better. When it came to keeping his cool under fire, there was no one better than Ren! Even without being able to sense their enemies' emotions, he was covering her back as well as ever, taking out bandits left and right.

Bending her knees low, she whirled around Magnhild in a wide arc. As expected, Ren had already leaped into the air, leaving only foes in her path. The brigands smacked into the cobblestone roads, several clutching their legs in agony.

Ren flipped over her back and let loose a spray of bullets all around. Their attackers fled the onslaught, forming a perimeter circle a healthy distance away from them. More foes flooded into the alley from the other blockades, replacing bruised and winded enemies with fresh obstacles.

Nora chuckled. They might have been surrounded, but she and Ren had been fighting together since they'd first met that sad day in Kuroyuri. They'd grown up battling Grimm as they scavenged their way from town to town. They knew each other's moves and styles inside and out. They didn't just fight in sync, they fought as one. One unstoppable leg breaking thunderstorm of flowers.

No bandits were going to take them down.

They'd clear the way in no time and then go back for Blake and Sun. If they could disappear into the forest, they would be able to escape from Berserker. They'd be home free.

"Alright, you punks! Play time's over!"

A gangly bandit with a mane of dirty brown hair pushed his way to the front of his allies. He hefted a bazooka over his shoulder. "Now you're going to get it!"

The surrounding thugs' eyes widened. "Shay, you idiot, we're too close—"

The fool didn't listen and fired.

Acting fast, Nora shifted Magnhild into grenade launcher mode and sent a round back at him. The two explosives collided in midair and the resulting maelstrom scattered everyone.

Nora flew back into the courtyard. She expected to land on hard ground but instead felt something squishy and…handsome.

"Eeep!" she squealed, jumping off of Ren. "Ren, are you okay?"

The boy groaned. "No, mama. I don't want to learn archery. Please teach me cooking as good as Mr. Archer's."

"Yeah, you're good."

"But you're not."

Nora whirled around, standing protectively over Ren with Magnhild ready to fire. Most of the bandits were still down from the blast, but a few, including the idiot who caused it (Shay?), were up and aiming their weapons at the downed huntsmen.

Shay smirked, a tooth missing from his grin. "Nowhere to run, girly. Unless you want to tangle with Berserker."

Despite herself, Nora glanced back at the courtyard. Surprisingly, there were some new figures, a bull faunus with a red katana helping Blake to her feet and some guy with two spears who was almost as handsome as Ren dancing around Berserker.

It wasn't what she expected, but that was probably for the better. There was only so long that Blake could survive against the Black Knight, and she wouldn't have even gotten that far if it wasn't for his insanity. With any luck, their unexpected reinforcements would buy them the time they needed to escape.

Which meant she would have to fight her way…

Suddenly, a crack of crimson lightning thundered through the air. A sphere of blinding red light materialized right in front of Nora and Ren. The bandits stumbled back in shock while the Valkyrie grinned.

She'd never seen this thing before, but she had a good feeling about. Her team leader always came through for them.

Sure enough, the sphere dissipated, and standing in its place was their knight in shining armor. Well, knight in Yang's brown jacket, but same difference.

"Mor-Mor!" Nora cheered.

Mordred glanced back at her and nodded. "Good. You're still alive" she noted.

Nora snorted. "Of course, we're still alive, Mor-Mor. It's just some bandits." Her gaze became serious. "But Blake and Sun need your help. Berserker—"

"I know," Mordred growled, her sword flashing into her hand. "Where is the traitor?"

Nora pointed behind her. Sun had run over to Blake and the bull faunus and they seemed to be engaged in a heated discussion. Probably disagreeing about strategy or something.

More importantly, the spear guy was still occupying Berserker. The black knight seemed far more at ease with a weapon in his hands, even a makeshift one like his blackened fountainhead. While his charges against Blake had been wild and untamed, his blows against his new opponent were concentrated, coordinated, while still retaining the ferocity from before.

Fortunately, the spearman proved himself a more capable opponent then Blake. Nora noted that meant he was probably a Servant himself.

He certainly had the talent of one. Every time Berserker struck, he always danced away like a graceful swan, usually scoring a glancing blow against his foe's armor at the same time. Still, the black knight was hot on his tail, and it didn't look like either one could claim the advantage just yet.

Mordred growled, then glanced at the bandits. She raised her sword at them.

At least one of the thieves darkened his pants.

Nora raised an eyebrow. "What are you doing? You need to fight Berserker."

"I know that, demon!" Mordred shouted. "But my…master's Command Seal ordered me to protect the two of you. As long as Lancelot's not going after you, I have to stay here."

Oh.

That was a slight problem. If Mordred couldn't go where she was needed, then they were all…

Hmm…’ Nora thought to herself, hand cupped to her chin, before an idea formed in her head.

"Mor-Mor, what are you protecting us from?"

Mordred cocked her head to the side. "Them, I guess," she replied, gesturing towards Shay and the other bandits, all of whom were currently trembling in utter terror in the face of the Saber.

Nora grinned. "Mor-Mor, you can only protect someone from a threat."

"And?"

"Do these guys look like a threat?"

Mordred blinked for a moment before her mouth split into a devilish smirk. "No, my lady. They look like prey."

Nora gestured towards the other Servants. "Go get 'em, tiger."

"Happy hunting, my lady."

Armor materialized around Mordred. Crimson lightning sparked off the battle-hungry knight and she dashed off into the courtyard.

What she didn't notice was that a single spark had rained onto Nora.

Now, Nora's semblance was a funny thing. It absorbed any electricity that came into contact with her, channeling it into energy and a boost in strength and speed. How much was directly proportional to the wattage she consumed. Residual static from her clothes was barely noticeable, while the stun baton she got hit with at the Vytal Festival gave her the strength to take down an entire team. She didn't fight anything after getting hit by the lightning bolt that had unlocked her powers, but, looking back, she felt like she could take on a Goliath.

Kind of like she did now.

Ren woke groggily. "Nora…what's happening-"

"Hush, Renny," Nora whispered, a finger on her friend’s lips. A grin spread across her face. Magnhild transformed back into hammer mode as she licked her lips. "Momma's got legs to break."

Shay and his posse backed away in fear.

The Valkyrie roared and charged.


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Adam grinned as he helped Blake to her feet. It felt good to play the hero to her again. Especially against his old teachers.

When Ilia and Lancer had told him of a black armored Berserker roaming the countryside, he had known immediately it was the knight of the Branwen Tribe. He had been foolish enough to believe the creature was just an exceptionally powerful huntsman during his training, but with Gilgamesh confirming the rumors from back then, it seemed obvious what the madman was in hindsight. The threat of Blake's group encountering him had forced him to close their following distance and send everyone except Ilia ahead to headquarters to keep them safe.

It seemed it had been a wise decision. Though he couldn't read Berserker's stats through his master vision for some reason, he was confident that Lancer could defeat him. Meanwhile, he, Ilia, and hopefully Blake would deal with the human trash.

Blake nodded at him when she got to her feet. "Thanks for the save."

"Anytime," he chuckled.

"Blake!" A blond monkey faunus ran over to them. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Sun. A little bruised, by I'll make it."

The boy nodded. He stared at Adam suspiciously. "So, I'm guessing you're Adam?"

"I am."

Adam had mixed feelings on the monkey boy. Sun Wukong, was it? He had fought admirably in the Vytal Festival, and it was a relief to know that Blake wasn't completely surrounded by human scum. But at the same time, was this really what she'd stayed away from him for?

Aw, screw it. He had bigger fish to fry.

Vernal whistled from above. "Well if this isn't a blast from the past. How have you been, Adam? Still seeing red?"

"Still pretending to be a warrior, Vernal?" he spat back. "Or did Raven's skirts finally get too dusty?"

The bandit woman snarled, then chuckled. "Still a grade A piece of shit. Got it. No idea how the grail thought you were a good choice for a master."

Adam frowned. "The grail chose me because I have a worthy cause, conviction. You're just a bunch of common thieves."

"Says the guy who came to us for training," Vernal remarked. "Eh, oh well. Who cares? At least someone took the bait."

"Bait," Blake muttered.

Vernal rolled her eyes. "Yes, kitty cat, bait. Did you really think we'd come to this ruin for just you?"

Her eyes flickered to a back alley. A flash of red illuminated the corner of Adam's eye.

A raven flew onto Vernal's rooftop.

Sun pointed his staff at Vernal. "If you haven't noticed, your Berserker's pretty occupied. What's to say we won't take you down while he can't save you?"

"You're welcome to try, furball," Vernal taunted.

"Then try we shall," Adam declared. "Ilia!"

Vernal's eyes widened in shock. She whirled around as Ilia revealed herself on the rooftop, having snuck up in camouflage while Adam had been talking.

The chameleon girl activated her whip just as Vernal raised her guns. She snagged the edge of one of the circular blades and tugged, sending the following blast off target and disorienting the bandit woman for a moment.

A moment was all Adam needed.

The Blood-Soaked Bull leapt into the air, landing on a window sill before finishing the climb to the top. He arrived on the roof on the opposite side of Vernal from Ilia, forcing the bandit to split her attention between them.

She aimed a gun at each of them and fired. Ilia dropped and dodged as Adam drew Wilt and absorbed the laser, the energy storing in his semblance.

Blake and Sun jumped onto the roof, each taking one of Vernal's open sides. The bandit was completely surrounded.

Adam slammed Wilt into Blush, his hair beginning to glow.

Vernal's eyes widened, recognizing the danger. She rapidly fell back, identifying Ilia as the weak link at close range and lashing out, desperate to escape. Blake and Sun moved to support the girl.

Adam grinned. It wasn't necessary.

In one smooth motion, he drew his sword in a single supercharged slash. With the power he'd absorbed over the course of the brief battle, he'd cut right through Vernal's aura and claim her head.

Or at least, he would have if a bird hadn't flown in his path.

He honestly didn't understand what happened next. One moment, a raven fluttered into his attack. The next, the creature transformed into Raven Branwen, who met his attack with her own crimson blade.

His semblance allowed him to absorb energy over the course of a fight and channel it into a single strike of his sword. Normally, this meant that he sheared through anything in his way with one clean cut. But Raven's blade was made of dust, far more volatile than most objects. When his slash made contact, instead of being sliced in two, the sword dispersed the kinetic force throughout its structure. The weapon was shattered, but the assault was stopped.

The explosion that occurred afterward?

‘The psychopath made a sword out of fire dust! Who even does that?’ Adam thought to himself, a growl escaping his lips.

Nonetheless, he and his allies were blasted back to the courtyard below. A breeze rushed by his face and he found himself intercepted by something that felt suspiciously little like the ground.

"Are you alright, master?" Lancer inquired, looking down worriedly on Adam in his arms.

The bull leapt out of the spearman's grip. "What are you doing, you fool?"

The Servant raised an eyebrow. "You were in danger, master. I could not let you fall."

"I can take care of myself!" Adam protested. "You're the only one here who can deal with Berserker!"

"Respectfully, my lord, that is not the case."

"What?"

Adam whirled around to the courtyard. Lancer was correct. A new combatant, a knight clad in gray armor and a spiked helmet, matched Berserker blow for blow. Crimson lightning met riving shadow as the two wild warriors clashed, the cobblestone scattering beneath their steel, and the night lighting up like a bloody wound every other moment.

"This knight appeared out of nowhere. He practically threw himself at Berserker," Lancer explained. "If I didn't already know otherwise, I would think he was the Berserker."

Adam scrunched his eyes. The Branwen Berserker had existed before the new grail war. It was entirely plausible that this new warrior was indeed the fresh Servant of Madness.

"Orders, master?" Lancer inquired telepathically.

Adam considered the situation. They had nothing to gain by slaying the Branwen Berserker, but he doubted Raven would stop hunting until she was deprived of her greatest weapon. Meanwhile, the death of the new Berserker would get them one step closer to the grail. And since the Servant's master didn't seem to be in the area, they had nothing to lose by having someone else do the killing.

‘Ally with this new Servant against Berserker’, Adam commanded. ‘With any luck, we'll kill two Nevermores with one stone.’

Lancer bowed. "At once, my lord."

The green-clad spearman charged back into the fray of his fellows.

Adam smirked. Lancer had understood his plan perfectly. He would ensure this new Servant was slain by Berserker, and then defeat the weakened black knight himself, eliminating both their foes with ease.

Perhaps there was an upside to having a human Servant. Only their species could be so opportunistically cunning.

Blake glanced at the Servants' melee a trois. "Is Lancer going to be okay?"

Ilia grinned and nodded eagerly. "No need to worry. Like I told you, he's amazing."

"He can handle them," Adam interrupted. "Now get ready. We've got our own problem to deal with."

All of them looked up to the rooftop. The haze from the explosion finally dissipated, revealing the bandits unharmed, surrounded in a swirling dome of wind.

"I see you've learned a trick, Raven," Adam taunted.

The woman behind the elaborate Grimm mask gazed down upon, her emotions hidden behind the face of a demon. Then, she turned to Vernal without a word.

Somehow, that made Adam angrier than any insult an Atlesian had ever hurled at him.

"Signal phase two," she ordered her lieutenant. "The others have come through."

Vernal nodded and pulled out a new clip from her belt. She loaded it into her weapon and aimed at the sky.

Adam seethed. "Raven! Come down and face me! Or would you rather hide like a coward?"

The masked woman sighed. "Boy," she stated as if dealing with a whining child, "it is not cowardice to leave an ant to be squashed by someone else's boot."

Vernal fired her weapon, a bright green flare blazing into the night sky.

Adam blinked in shock. A green flare was the tribe's signal for retreat. He had never seen it used during his training and he had wondered at the time if it ever had been fired at all. After all, to retreat from an enemy was a sign of weakness. And the weak died while the strong lived.

But strong did not bother with those too weak to challenge them.

Adam seethed in absolute fury. "No," he muttered, "no, no, no, no, no! Do not turn your back on me! Fight me, Branwen!"

Raven slashed her odachi through the air, summoning a swirling black and red portal. Vernal obediently ran through it. The bandit leader herself followed soon after, barely sparing the bull faunus a glance.

"No!" Adam roared.

He had been looked down upon all his life. Mostly by humans. For a time, he had been able to bear that, pacified by the teachings of Ghira Belladonna. But when he had decided not to take it anymore, he had sought out the Branwen Tribe to learn how to fight back.

Raven Branwen had been a merciless teacher. On his first night, she had dumped him into the middle of nowhere with no food and no weapons and told him to make it back to camp through Grimm infested forest. That was the kindest lesson she'd ever taught him, but her tutelage had paid off. By the time they were done, Adam had perfect control of his semblance and could take down a horde of Grimm without breaking a sweat. For that, he had been eternally grateful to his teacher, despite her race.

But she was also the worst of her species. She slaughtered the innocent for nothing more than her own gain, believing in no higher cause. When he'd tried to convince her to help him train more White Fang members, she'd scoffed at him.

'Why would I teach anyone too weak to figure it out on their own?'

Adam refused to join her. He had returned to the White Fang and passed on what he could to anyone willing to learn. He'd based the practice of wearing Grimm masks on Raven's tendency to do the same, to embody the same fear her victims held for her throughout all of humanity.

But he was not some base bandit scum. He fought to defend his people, to protect the rights of faunus across Remnant.

To make sure none of them were looked down upon ever again.

Yet even still, his teacher denied him.

"AAAAAHHHHHH!"


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Raven sighed as she exited the portal to the rendezvous point. "Well, that was unexpected."

"Who knew Bullhead would become a master?" Vernal joked.

Raven shrugged. "In hindsight, it does make sense. He was always going on about fighting for some higher cause. It's no wonder his wish was strong enough to attract the Grail's attention." She smirked. "Besides, he's just made our job much easier."

Adam was as lethal as any huntsmen, a swordsman second only to herself and Qrow, and, when his head was on straight, an inspiring leader. He was also highly emotional, temperamental and had a tendency to jump to conclusions when enraged.

Which, given how she specifically ignored him and made mention of working with nonexistent others, would drive the foolish boy to lash out at the most obvious suspect, the Arc boy's Saber.

She'd leave Lancelot in the fray for a bit just to stoke the fire, then order him away via Command Seal. He would remain at the rendezvous point afterward. He was far too unpredictable for the next stage of her plan.

That caused Raven to grin as she gazed upon her other Berserker, who was currently her connection to the rendezvous point.

Strong, solid, practically invulnerable, and with much more controllable madness. Even if the Grail had the gall to drag her back into this mess, at least it had the decency to provide her with an ace of a Servant.

She turned to Vernal. "Remain here until Lancelot arrives. With Adam present, there should still be sufficient threat to Belladonna's group to keep Arc from calling back his Servant. I'll need you to be my new anchor to this area once Berserker is with me."

Her semblance was powerful, allowing her to create links to anyone she had an emotional connection with. She could then sense if they were in true danger and create portals to them at her leisure. She didn't do it often to help them, after all, they needed to be able to stand on their own. But everyone got one free save the first time she felt them in real danger, like her daughter on that train under Mountain Glenn.

Still, she wouldn't deny the teleportation was useful for other matters.

Vernal nodded dutifully. "Got it. But what if Lancelot doesn't want to leave the fight?"

Raven clenched her right arm. Underneath her glove, her Command Seals blazed like a brand.

"He will."

She slashed the air once more and disappeared through the portal.


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Ruby gazed contemplatively on the spot where Mordred had once stood. "Woah."

Archer scowled. "Indeed. The Command Seals are some of the most impressive magecraft to ever be created, almost on the level of True Magic. Each one is capable of breaking the rules of reality."

He turned to Jaune. "Which is why they should not be wasted on something that cannot benefit us. It may have been our enemy's entire goal to trick you into using one."

"Bite me," Jaune snorted back. "It's a small price to pay if the others are safe."

"Safe for the moment," Archer reminded him. "If you lose this war, they'll die along with everyone else."

Jaune stomped towards Archer, but Uncle Qrow got in between them. "Okay, enough of that. We've done what we can. The rest is in Saber's hands."

"True, it will be interesting to see how a battle between the two greatest traitors to Camelot will play out," Archer admitted.

Jaune glared at the silver-haired Servant. "She's not a traitor."

Archer smirked. "Oh. Have you finally received your memory cycle? Seen things from her point of view? Don't let your dreams blind you to who she is. The Knight of Treachery is not a title earned lightly."

Ruby raised an eyebrow.

Memory cycle? Is that what those dreams… wait a second.’ 

Qrow held Jaune back from charging. "What part of 'enough', do you not get, Archer?"

The bowman shrugged. "Forgive me. I simply have an aversion to fool—"

"Who's the boy with red hair?"

All three men froze and turned to Ruby. Jaune and Uncle Qrow appeared confused, but Archer looked like he'd just had a heart attack.

Ruby didn't let the attention get to her and stared down her Servant, his eyes barely able to meet her silver gaze. "Well? Who's the boy with red hair? I saw him in my dreams when he summoned Arturia."

Archer's terror disappeared, replaced his usual condescending mirth. "It appears you answered your own question, master. If he summoned Arturia, then he could only be—"

"Her master in the Fourth War," Ruby finished. "But you told me that Kiritsugu was her master then. So, who was he?"

"I'm afraid I have no idea—"

"Then why was he in your memories?" Ruby demanded.

Archer blinked, confounded.

"You called Jaune's dreams about Mordred a memory cycle," she pointed out. "You said he 'finally' got it, like he's supposed to have had it already. And I've been having weird dreams since I summoned you. If Jaune's seen Mordred's memories, then I must be seeing yours. So, one last time, who is the boy with red hair?"

Archer scowled. "Master, that boy has no relevance to the current situation."

"I don't care," Ruby declared. "I want to know who the boy who stared at Saber in awe was. And I want to know how he is connected to you and Kiritsugu. Because everything you tell me feels like a piece to a puzzle that I need to know, but none of it makes any sense—"

"Ruby."

"What?" Ruby shouted, whirling on Uncle Qrow.

The huntsman pushed her behind him and drew his sword. "We have company."

A crimson portal shimmered into existence at the base of the hill. Ruby readied Crescent Rose while Jaune drew Crocea Mors.

Archer narrowed his eyes at the shimmering doorway.

A tall figure in a red battle dress and an elaborate Grimm mask strode into the forest at the base of the hill. A large sword sheath that made Ruby want to drool was strapped to her side.

"Raven," Qrow growled. "Don't suppose you're here for a family chat."

The woman reached up and removed her mask.

Ruby gasped. Even if she didn't already know, she would never mistake the person before her for not being Yang's mom. She looked like an older version of her sister, only with black hair instead of blonde, and crimson eyes so much colder than the familiar violet ones.

Raven smirked. "Actually brother, I am in a way."

Qrow raised an eyebrow. He flicked a switch on his sword and it unfolded into its scythe form. "Explain, now."

"Be on your guard, master," Archer warned. "I do not sense another Servant nearby, but an Assassin would be fully capable of hiding from my senses."

Ruby nodded. She hadn't heard many stories about Raven growing up, Dad didn't want to encourage Yang's search, but what she did hear didn't paint the picture of a diplomatic person. If there was a reason for her not coming in guns blazing, it probably wasn't a good one for them.

"It's quite simple really," Raven stated. "I have no desire for anyone else to get dragged into Ozpin's war with Salem. And I have even less desire for the Grail to infect children."

"You care about children now? When are you planning to pay Yang a visit?" Qrow snarked.

Raven sighed. "I have spent the last nineteen years studying the war, and in that time, I have discovered, among other things, how to transfer Command Seals from one person to another." She turned her gaze to Ruby. "I can take your Command Seals and your Servants. You would no longer be hunted by other masters or obligated to compete. You would be free."

Jaune raised Crocea Mors. "Free? Free to do what? Hand the grail over to you?"

"It's better than the alternatives," Raven pointed out. "This war is populated by beings more ruthless than you could possibly conceive."

"We know about Salem. And Gilgamesh" Ruby informed her.

Raven frowned. "You may know of them, but I doubt you know them. The King of Heroes is more akin to a force of nature than a Servant. He will tear down any defense you attempt to mount and crush you like an ant. And Salem… she will twist everything you've ever believed in and use it to annihilate you. The two of you barely survived the Fall of Beacon, and they didn't know you existed then. How do think you'll fair now that you've caught their attention?"

Ruby looked down at her boots. That…was a fair point.

"I'm no saint," Raven admitted. "But you can trust that my wish for the grail is nothing apocalyptic. Give me your Servants, and I promise neither of them will get it."

Jaune glared at her, "Thanks but no thanks. I've got my own wish for the grail. Plus, I don't think Saber would take too kindly to me giving her away."

Raven turned to Ruby, her eyes softer than with the others. No, that wasn't it. They were almost…fearful?

"And you, Ruby Rose?" the bandit leader asked.

Ruby glanced at her Command Seals, then Archer, who impassively observed the proceedings. Finally, she shook her head. "I can't give you, Archer. I summoned him, and we swore to fight this war together. Even if it seems impossible, if the odds are against us, we can win this war. All of us."

She held out her hand to Raven. "We can beat Salem and Gilgamesh. You don't have to fight this war alone."

The bandit leader stumbled back, her eyes wide. A moment later however, she scowled. "You sound just like Summer."

Raven rapidly drew her sword and slashed through the air, summoning another crimson portal, this one far larger than the last.

A series of shockwaves echoed through the ground. A massive, muscled hand reached through the doorway.

Archer paled. "You have got to be kidding to me."

The portal closed, and the figure emerged in all their glory.

He stood as tall as an Ursa Major, the spikes replaced by a mass of untamable hair. Every inch of his body was packed with hulking indomitable muscle, a huge stone sword hefted in his hands like it was a twig. His face had a single red eye, blazing with crushing intimidation. His aura seemed to declare to the world:

Here I am. If you face me, you are brave. If you hide, you are wise. Either way, you will fail.

Qrow gulped. "That's not Lancelot."

"Nope," Raven smirked. "He's entertaining your friend Saber."

She held out her hand. "One last chance. Give me your Command Seals and I promise no harm will come to you."

Ruby looked at Jaune. Her friend nodded to her with a determined expression. She smiled back.

‘Archer’ she asked telepathically. ‘Can you beat this guy?’

“No.”

‘Are you sure—'

“I cannot defeat this Servant alone.”

Ruby grinned. She understood what he was saying. ‘Then it's a good thing you're not alone.’

“No, master. That is not at all what I—"

"Do your worst!" Ruby declared out loud, twirling her scythe.

Raven frowned. "So be it. Berserker."

The Servant flared to life. Its already enormous muscles bulged to twice their size, their dull brown skin igniting to a fiery red.

Berserker roared, and all of Remnant fell silent.

Chapter Text

He was lost. Lost in the rage.

The pain.

The resentment.

Lost in the endless shadow she cast.

It was as he deserved.

He was unworthy.

His fault. His sin.

The end of her shining kingdom.

His failure.

His madness was his punishment.

It was just.

But it was not sufficient.

The  punishment was incomplete.

He needed atonement.

He needed her.

He needed her to strike him down with all her rage.

He could not tolerate any more forgiveness.

The Rider… The Rider had granted him a short reprieve.

A moment to serve his new master.

He could not even remember the oath.

He was surrounded by enemies, foes to be crushed.

The children that turned to mist when slain.

The fool with the strange red sword.

The swift man with the twin lances.

And the newest arrival, the knight in full armor with a mighty sword and elegant sheath.

Sheathe…

Her  sheath.

The knight bore her sheath.

She was the knight.

She howled at him with ungodly fury.

He would have her rage.

He would have her judgment.

He would have atonement.

"AAAAAAARRRRRTTTHHHHUUUUURRRRR!"

 


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"AAAAAhhhhhhh!"

Mordred met the black knight's howls just as Clarent met his weapon. The two knights charged madly about the battlefield, each lost in their endless bloodlust. The cobblestone shattered beneath their feet, their every clash creating a new crater in the courtyard.

She could barely contain her excitement. This was a chance she'd been waiting a long time for. If there was one member of the Round Table she despised nearly as much as her father, it was Sir Lancelot du Lac. At one time, he had been a figure of admiration for the Knight of Treachery, if only for his skills. There was no finer warrior in all of Britain, a fact even King Arthur did not contest. He was a knight among knights.

And then she'd discovered his adultery with the Queen. To know that another so-called paragon was really nothing to admire infuriated Mordred after her father had refused to acknowledge her. She'd led the charge to arrest them both, but the Knight of the Lake had escaped her justice. No more.

"Come, traitor!" she roared, as their weapons locked once more. "Your judgment is at hand!"

Clarent sparked and Mordred activated her Prana Burst, power surging through her body. She pushed Lancelot's bludgeon into the ground and leapt over the weapons to kick him in the face.

The black knight's head jerked back and his grip on his makeshift Noble Phantasm failed.

Mordred didn't give him the chance to recover. She charged at the traitor with her sword held high and smashed him. Clarent was a storm of death as she hacked and slashed at the black armor, not giving her enemy time to grab another object to be his weapon.

She had him.

Until he caught her sword.

Before proceeding to kick her into a house.

The thick stone walls crumpled under her impact. Wooden support beams tumbled to the ground.

Mordred growled and shot back to her feet. "Is that the best you've got, you—"

Lancelot snatched up one of the fallen support beams and smacked her in the face. She was sent careening across the ground. Acting fast, she raised her sword to meet another strike from the long, blackened timber.

The ground shattered beneath her feet. Her arms strained against her foe's pressing strength. Say what you would about Lancelot (and Mordred would say many things) but the bastard wasn't letting his Mad Enchantment get the better of him. His insanity, and the extra power that came with it, only made him more terrifying.

But…

"I'm not gonna die that easy!" Mordred screamed. "Prana Burst!"

Lightning pulsed around her, and Clarent shoved the wooden lance into the air. Her speed amplified, Mordred dashed into her opponent's guard and bashed him in the face with her sword's pommel.

Lancelot rolled with the strike however and brought his beam around to attack.

But when he struck, Mordred didn't go flying. Instead, she thrust Clarent into the ground, freeing her hands, and grabbed the dark phantasm.

She smirked. "Oh no, you don't. That won't work twice"

The black knight howled. She gripped the wood hard. She didn't know how, but it felt like a Noble Phantasm. If she let it go free, he'd just manhandle her like before. Unfortunately, that meant she couldn't attack herself.

The weight of the beam suddenly increased. Mordred heard the sound of footsteps fast approaching one moment, and the next, she saw a man in green armor rush across the wood, brandishing a wrapped spear in each hand.

The man made it to the other end of the beam and stabbed at Lancelot's head with the longer of his spears. The black knight immediately released his improvised weapon and danced away from the assailant.

Lancer, for it could be no other, hopped back to the ground. "We can't let him hold anything," he advised her. "He has the ability to turn whatever he touches into a Noble Phantasm."

Mordred chucked away the wooden beam, the black smoke fading without its master. She panted slightly, more tired than she should have been from the battle. "No shit, idiot. Stay out of this. This is my fight."

The man raised an eyebrow, the stretching skin accentuating the mole beneath. "My apologies, but I do believe the phrase, 'I was here first' applies in this situation."

Mordred vaguely recalled seeing someone in green fighting the Berserker when she'd charged in. She hadn't been paying much attention to them at the time, what with the black knight and all.

"It doesn't matter," she declared. "I have unfinished business with the Knight of Lake. You will not interfere, Lancer!"

The spearman blinked in shock. "Knight of the Lake? Sir Lancelot? That's impossible—" the knight gazed over at where the man himself was twitching in agony. His brows furrowed in thought. "No, that makes sense. It explains why he was always chasing after her."

"Who, his whore?" Mordred scoffed. "If she is in this war somehow then I will crush her as I will crush him. Neither of them will escape justice for betraying my father."

"Your father?"

"AAAAAAAAARRRRTTTTTTHHHHHHHHUUUUUURRRRRRR!"

The Berserker's howl of madness cut through the air like a crack of thunder. In flash, Mordred retrieved Clarent from the ground and Lancer aimed his spears.

But Lancelot did not charge. The riving smog that had surrounded him receded, consolidating in his right hand. It stretched in his grasp, taking the length and shape of a sword.

His helmet cracked.

Mordred grinned. She had no doubt Arondight would enter the fray shortly, wielded by the greatest swordsman Camelot had ever known. The blade was a bane to dragons and those with their essence, such as her and her father. Now that it was a Noble Phantasm, she could only imagine what horror it would reap.

It was perfect. She would face down odds like no other, with a strained prana link with her master no less, against the one foe her father could never defeat.

She would prove victorious, and through that victory, her father's better.

Suddenly, an orb of light formed around her foe. A moment later, it had disappeared and Lancelot with it.

"No," Mordred whispered in denial. "No, no, no, no, NO! You dare flee, Master of Lancelot! When I find you, there won't be enough left to bury!"

"Calm down, my good knight," Lancer insisted. "You will have another chance."

His words did not have the desired effect.

Mordred whirled on him. "You! Your interference kept me from finishing him! You will pay for this!"

"I was merely attempting to provide assistance, Berserker. Though I doubt—"

"Berserker? I am Saber, you fool!"

"You are?"

"Yes!" She raised Clarent as proof.

The Lancer, in turn, raised an eyebrow. "My apologies, but that is impossible. I know the identity of the Saber of this war already. Your attempted deception is pointless."

"Deception!? You ruin my chance at destroying the traitor, and now you have the gall to accuse me of deception! I will have your head for this!"

"Please, I mean no offense, good sir," Lancer pleaded. "My master is a friend of your ward, Lady Blake. We seek an alliance between our factions, and I merely do not want us to waste time with such meaningless misdirection."

Mordred chuckled darkly. "An alliance? You seek an alliance? Very well, Lancer."

She lowered her helmet, revealing her face.

Lancer gasped. "What? How?"

A feral grin appeared on her face as anger alighted in her eyes. "In the interest of an alliance, look upon my face. It will be the last thing you ever see!"

The spearman was paralyzed at the sight of her. His eyes glanced about her armor, confusion etched into his brow. "Your face… you look exactly like her. It was you in the picture."

He sighed deeply. "Then the King of Knights was not summoned to this war after all."

"King of Knights?" Mordred's rage boiled over. "What business do you have with my father?"

"Father?" Lancer looked at her again and this time, his eyes widened in realization. "You… You are Mordred, the betrayer of the King of Knights."

"I am his rightful heir!" Mordred screamed. "I am his successor in every way! And I will not be insulted by some common hedge knight!"

The spearman readied his weapons. "Then come. I have unfinished business with the King of Knights, but I still have enough respect for her to fight you in her stead, Knight of Treachery. You soiled the sacred oath of a knight, and as such, it is my duty as a Heroic Spirit to take action."

"Shut up and die, Lancer!"

Mordred raised her sword and charged in a hail of lightning.

 


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The Throne of Heroes was as ancient as the Root itself. It contained individuals from every timeline, from Gilgamesh to the Last Hero. Warriors and Kings of legends beyond count occupied its ranks.

So why the hell did someone who was his enemy always summon Hercules?!

Archer dived out of the way as another of the Raging Destroyer's blows smashed a row of trees into splinters. He hastily raised Kanshou and Bakuya before him, barely deflecting the lethal razor wind the attack had caused. But he couldn't negate the force that came with it, so he utilized it to roll himself deeper into the forest.

The thick trees were the only thing keeping him alive. Though they didn't stop the Berserker, they did provide Archer with the cover to maneuver. In an open field, he would be run down like a dog. This way, he could send his foe running in circles.

He heard gunfire a bit of a way off. Either Branwen had transformed his weapon against his sister, or Ruby was trying to provide him with ranged support. If it was the latter, then her efforts were pointless. Hercules' Godhand not only provided him with eleven extra lives but also nullified any attack less than A-Rank, in addition to granting future resistance after the attack had done its damage. No matter the caliber of Crescent Rose's dust bullets, or even an Origin Round, nothing his master possessed could harm the Greatest Hero of Greece.

When Raven had ordered Hercules to charge, he had immediately drawn his attention. Thanks to the Arc boy, he was the only Servant present and he doubted a woman who was willing to attack her own family would hesitate about striking down masters if given the chance. He had drawn the Berserker off into the forest while the children were supposed to escape (they were likely staying a bit off from his fight trying to find a way to help). Qrow had moved to engage his sister. Given what he had glimpsed, she had matched him blow for blow.

Which was in itself strange. A master powering two Servants, especially two Berserkers, would be hard-pressed to meet the prana demands. On Remnant, those demands were fulfilled by aura, the energy that huntsmen used to fight. Given that hers should already be under immense strain, how was Raven Branwen still fighting at full capacity?

The giant ax-sword that swept past his head reminded him that he had more important things to worry about.

He leapt away into another tier of branches, barely able to catch his breath. Fighting Hercules was never easy, even in his supposedly weakest class. The man's brute strength, the instinctive combat mastery ingrained in his body, and the near invulnerability of Godhand had left Archer with no victories when he'd fought the brute alone.

He had weapons in his Reality Marble that could hurt him, true. Even some that could kill him. But the majority of those weapons required an immense prana cost or sufficient range to fire as Broken Phantasms and without a convenient Saber to draw his target's attention, Archer could not fire them at full power without annihilating himself.

As such, he was stuck playing defense, carefully waiting until an opportunity presented itself to unleash his melee assault without getting swatted like a fly by demigod reflexes.

A roar heralded those same reflexes’ arrival and Archer raised Kanshou and Bakuya in a crossed defense.

Hercules' sword struck with the force of an avalanche and sent him flying back out of the canopy. He careened back down to Earth and bounced across the ground like a skipping stone across water. Only slamming into a thick tree trunk stopped his flailing.

His injuries flared like wildfire, but he'd had much worse and shoved the pain to the back of his mind. If he could survive long enough for Mordred to finish her battle, then the Arc boy could use another Command Seal to draw her back. Then, they would have a chance.

Until then, he would make use of the sizable distance he had been flown.

He felt Berserker's power as he closed, and knew he only had a few scant seconds to act. He quickly threw his swords in the direction of his foes before tracing two more pairs and doing the same. After creating another pair for himself, he held out his hand and concentrated, pulling a favorite from his arsenal.

"I am the bone of my sword."

Seven petals of pink energy materialized before him and Rho Aias blossomed into existence.

Not a moment too soon either. Hercules crashed through the forest, toppling dozens of trees as he ran. He raised his sword and smashed Archer's greatest defense with all his might.

Agony lashed through Archer's body as each layer of the shield shattered. The barrier was made for stopping thrown weapons, so Hercules' slash combined with his indomitable strength compromised even the conceptual weapon.

Still, it stalled the Berserker for a crucial moment and keep his focus towards his front.

Kanshou and Bakuya were joined weapons. If one was thrown, it would always return to the other. And when Archer created multiple of the blades, he could exploit that link.

The swords in his hands hummed with power.

The three pairs he had launched before came hurtling through the air, straight at Berserker's back. Perhaps a sane Hercules would have been able to dodge but as he was, the brute was too committed and focused on his swing at Rho Aias to block the barrage. The blades embedded themselves his back and at least one got his heart.

Hercules' red eye went dark. Archer knew it would not remain so for long.

He dashed away as fast as he could with his injuries. Kanshou and Bakuya were dependable but they were barely powerful enough to break through Godhand. Excalibur could keep Berserker dead for several seconds while he regenerated. Repairing the current damage would not take so long. He had to get to shooting range before he woke up.

He was only a few dozen yards away when he saw the rose petals.

"Archer, that was amazing!" Ruby cheered, hopping giddily in front of him. "You were all like 'whoosh', and he was all like 'aarrghh', and you were all like—"

"Master, move now!" he shouted.

The girl barely had time to look confused before Hercules' roar of revival split the air.

Archer leapt away from his master and crossed his swords again. Berserker did not disappoint, arriving a moment later and smashing him through a line of trees.

He groaned, lying in a pile of splinters and the shattered remains of his projections. The latter quickly faded back into nothingness.

Hercules loomed over him and raised his massive stone sword. Archer was still too stunned from the last assault to move out of the way.

He grinned the grin of a fool, amused by his own failing.

'Only one life taken and the first Servant to die. Can't say it's my best run of a Grail War, but all things considered, it could have been…'

"Get away from him!"

Hercules' eyes widened in…terror? He whirled around and met a slash from Ruby's silver scythe.

Wait… silver?

Archer checked he hadn't been hit too hard in the head and was amazed to see that Ruby Rose's scythe was indeed glowing silver, a beam of the same colored light attached to her eyes. As the weapon collided with Hercules' blade, a spike of the energy leaked off and slashed at the giant's side.

Berserker howled in pain, the silver taint spreading around the cut like frost. He hobbled back from the girl, his off hand clutching his wound.

Archer didn't waste the miracle and scrambled back to his feet, leaping out of striking range of the enemy Servant. Even then, his mind was racing. He hadn't been sure what to think when his master had mentioned her eyes' powers all those months ago, dismissing it as a child's rationalization for something they did not understand.

But if their power was real, and if it could penetrate Godhand… What kind of monster was his master?

Ruby herself stumbled back in a daze, the glow fading from her eyes. She groaned and put her hand to her temple. "Ugh, what was that?"

Hercules answered by rushing forward and smacking her with the back of his hand. The girl's aura broke on impact, and then she slammed into a tree.

"Ruby!" the Arc boy shouted, having just arrived.

The huntress fell to the ground.

She didn't get up.

 

Chapter Text

"Ruby!" Jaune cried out in horror.

He rushed over to his fallen friend, her body unconscious and unmoving on the ground. The side of her shirt was wet with blood as he leveraged her head onto his knees.

For a moment, he saw another friend's body. One with bronze armor and far more blood.

"No, no, no, no…" he muttered, his voice starting to rise in a panic. "Not again. Please not again."

Archer dashed over to him, a trickle of blood running down his head. He growled as he observed the situation.

"Put pressure on the wound. Now!" he ordered. "If she dies, then I die. And then, he'll crush you."

Jaune nodded fervently and did just that. He looked up at the Servant frantically. "What do we do?"

A thunderous roar reminded them they were not alone.

Archer grimaced. "Lead him off."

He leapt into the forest, Berserker chasing close behind.

Jaune turned back to Ruby, his hands pushing against her side, desperately trying to keep the blood inside her.

This was all his fault. But worse, he didn't know what else he could have done. If he hadn't sent Mordred to help Ren and Nora, maybe she could have helped fight Berserker. But if he hadn't sent her, then Lancelot would have slaughtered their other friends and then Raven would have used that portal trick of hers to bring her other Servant to even the odds. Either way, people he loved would die.

And he couldn't do anything! He was too weak to help, too useless to do anything but get in the way! Mom, Pyrrha… everyone kept getting hurt because he couldn't do anything to help them.

He couldn't be useless.

He refused to be useless!

Suddenly, his hands ignited in an ethereal white glow as power and energy rushed through him and seemed to infuse itself into Ruby. Her aura flashed a bright gold and then sustained itself a strong red. The wound he had felt in her side began to rapidly close up.

Jaune gasped. He'd never seen anyone's aura return that quickly after being broken. Not only that, it felt like he was… pushing his aura into hers, somehow supercharging it. It was the only explanation of how she was healing from a mortal wound like it was nothing.

But it didn't make any sense. He'd never heard of any kind of aura manipulation that could transfer power between two people. That was like giving someone a portion of your soul. The only thing that might be able to do that was…

"…A semblance," Jaune whispered, shock on his face at the sudden revelation.

He looked down at his glowing hands. Was this his semblance? Aura manipulation? Could he give his strength to help his friends?

That was perfect! Pyrrha had told him ages ago that he had mountains of aura. If he could give it to his friends, they could make better use of it than he ever could. After all, if this was his semblance, then he didn't have any super powerful, game-changing attacks…

Oh wait, he did have one of those. Maybe. If he could figure out how to use it.

A titanic roar sounded through the air.

No time like the present.

 


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Raven spared her wrist a glance as her last Command Seal of the Fifth War disappeared. A moment later, she raised her odachi to parry a strike from her brother. It was a close call, but getting Lancelot out of Oniyuri, and out of the way of the two Servants there, was worth the risk.

Besides, if worse came to worst and Qrow broke through her guard, she could just use her maiden abilities to get some breathing room. It wasn't her preferred course of action, she didn't need Ozpin's cabal hounding her so they could "protect" her, but it was an option.

Her brother pushed on his attack, his scythe striking unusually swift for such a cumbersome appearing weapon. His short, yet somehow sweeping slashes eventually forced the two of them into a blade lock.

"How could you do this?" Qrow demanded. "How could you turn that thing on your family?"

Raven rolled her eyes. "Don't be so dramatic, brother. Berserker has explicit orders not to kill you or the girl."

"And Jaune?"

"The Arc boy? When did he become family?"

Raven was ruthless. She had pity for Jaune Arc's predicament, but she would not spare his life if he refused to surrender.

Qrow… she would not kill him if she did not absolutely have to. Despite his stupidity in clinging to Ozpin, he was still her brother. One did not harm family needlessly.

That was part of the reason she had mercy for the Rose girl, however misplaced that instinct was. Still, the other factor of the matter was more than enough cause to leave her alive. She’d just take her arm and call it a day, perfectly reasonable.

Apparently, her brother did not seem to agree. His eyes narrowed at her in disgust. "He's just a kid, Raven."

She snorted. "How many people had we killed when we were just kids, brother?"

She slid her sword down Qrow's scythe and slashed a portal into the air, a corresponding door appearing right behind him. She reinserted her weapon into her scabbard and leapt through the swirling void, drawing a new wind dust blade as she came behind her brother.

It was ironic. Her semblance allowed her to make portals to those she had a bond with, come to their aid whenever she chose. But it also made her twice as effective in combat against them. The ones she cared for were the ones she could hurt the most.

Qrow was accustomed to her strategy however, and quickly whirled his scythe around to meet her strike. The two re-engaged, falling into a back and forth they'd created over decades of sparring together. Each of them knew the other's style inside and out, having been there as it was created. Neither of them had any moves to surprise the other.

By appearances, they were perfectly matched, equally skilled in every conceivable way. The fight could not be decided by strength. Merely circumstance, and luck.

And when one was against Qrow, luck was not on their side.

Somewhere off in the forest, Berserker howled in rage.

Suddenly, a blinding shot of pain shot through Raven's side. Normally, she was trained to endure such agony, but this… she couldn't help but flinch, her sword lowering just an inch.

That was all the opening Qrow needed. He came in hard and fast, an onslaught of heavy strikes battering Raven across the hill. He took the high ground, so gravity enhanced his attacks. Eventually, he cornered her against a tree at the edge of the forest. He brought his scythe down for a final stroke, the strength behind it sure to break her aura.

That is if she didn't riposte at the last moment.

The scythe was forced to the ground and she flicked her odachi, blasting Qrow back with a storm of wind dust.

Now with time to think, Raven examined her side. She was disconcerted to find herself uninjured. While normally that would be a relief, the fact that she felt the pain in the first place meant it must have come through the link with one of her Servants.

Lancelot was unlikely, having been pulled back to the rendezvous point, so that left Berserker. Based on what she had seen of the Archer's lackluster stats, she doubted he had anything capable of truly wounding the behemoth. Which left Ruby's silver eyes.

Had she accessed her full power? Had Summer's gambit finally paid off?

No. If it had, Berserker wouldn't be alive.

Still, to pierce Godhand, after having awakened mere months ago… The Grail War had done wonders for her.

Perhaps it was time to stop holding back.

She smirked. Power coursed through her veins. She raised her right hand and rings of fire blossomed around her eyes.

Qrow's eyes widened in shock. "No, that's impossible."

Moisture condensed from the air. Slowly, that water froze into a mighty glacier, hovering before its master's palm.

Raven flexed her fingers, and the iceberg thrust at Qrow.

 


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Blake had been relieved when Adam and Ilia had arrived. Beyond the obvious matter of saving their lives, there was something eminently comforting about having her old friends by her side. Perhaps it was nostalgia, for when the world wasn't so terrible, and they felt like they could make it better, or maybe just the comfort of having faces from her childhood at her side. Whatever the case, when they'd fought the retreating bandits, they'd immediately fallen into old formations and tactics, more dancing than fighting as they smashed the remaining enemies.

It was honestly one of the best feelings she'd had in a long time. It gave her hope that maybe, just maybe, her fears about Adam's bloodlust were unfounded. That the man she once loved still existed.

Then she looked at the courtyard and that hope plummeted.

"Saber!" she shouted, remembering she shouldn't use Mordred's real name, "What are you doing?"

In the middle of the courtyard, Mordred and Lancer fought, with Berserker nowhere in sight. Sparks flew as the warriors clashed blades, the helmetless swordswoman pressing the assault against the agile spearman, who danced out of the way whenever it seemed she might land a strike.

Blake whirled to Adam. "Adam, order Lancer to stand down. I will talk to Saber and—"

"No."

Blake's eyes widened. Her grip on Gambol Shroud tightened in dread.

Sun glared at Adam. "What do you mean 'no'? You're on our side, right? Stop attacking our friend!"

"First of all, boy," Adam sneered. "I am on Blake's side, not yours. Second, your 'friend' attacked my Servant, even after he assisted her against Lancelot. Third, why would I call him off? This is why they were both summoned."

Blake paled. "Adam, Saber is my friend's Servant. If you stop this, we can work together to win the Grail War."

Adam scoffed. "An alliance? With humans? The same humans who sent you out here as a decoy while they slipped into Mistral from the south? The same ones you perhaps told about my presence? Could they have been the 'others' Raven mentioned, working with her to draw me in?"

"You're talking crazy," Sun declared, bringing up his staff. "Why would the crazy bandit lady mention she was working with others in front of you if she actually was? For that matter, why would Saber attack Berserker if they were allies?"

"Raven has always been opportunistic," Adam growled. "Likely she used them as cannon fodder and then left to slide in the knife when they were weak. Regardless, any alliance in this war would only end the same way. Only one master can claim the grail, and no human will waste time betraying an ally when it is within their grasp."

He lowered his hand to the hilt of his sword. Sun tensed but kept up his weapon. Ilia cracked her whip.

Blake cursed. She and Sun were exhausted from evading Lancelot, while Adam and Ilia were still relatively fresh even after battling bandits. Not to mention that she doubted her chances against Adam at the best of times. She had to keep a fight from breaking out.

The last fountain in the square exploded as another of Mordred's blows missed.

Another fight. She had to keep another fight from breaking out.

She sheathed her weapon and held up her hands in a placating fashion.

"Adam, we're not your enemies" she insisted. "There's more going on than just the Holy Grail War."

"I am well aware of Kotomine and Gilgamesh."

"They're not the only powers at play," Blake informed him. "Please, you told me that Cinder Fall coerced you into helping her at the Fall of Beacon. Well, her master is still alive and working towards the extinction of all life on Remnant, human and faunus."

Adam cocked an eyebrow above his mask. "Really? And who is this mysterious master?"

Blake took a deep breath. "Her name is Salem. She is the creator and master of the Grimm."

"Hahahahahaha!"

Sun took a step away from Adam. Even Ilia looked uneasy.

Blake cringed. She hadn't heard her old friend laugh in a long time and it was far more unsettling than she remembered. Though, given how sadistic he'd gotten since then, perhaps she shouldn't have been surprised.

Adam cackled out a bit more before finally recovering. He wore a disturbingly unhinged grin on his face. "Really? The creator of the Grimm? I didn't know you'd grown a sense of humor in your time away, my darling."

"You have summoned the spirit of a legendary hero to battle for an omnipotent wish granting cup," Blake pointed out with a frown. "Is the creator of the Grimm really such an unbelievable idea?"

Adam paused for a moment, a scowl rising to his lips. "I've heard rumors about the Grail War for years. Whispers, hints at the edge of the world of the truth I had yet to see. The signs had always been there. Gilgamesh was simply the first point of proof. What evidence do you have of your Grimm God? Other than the word of the humans who spun you the tale?"

"Okay, enough with the human hate," Sun shouted. "Humans are fine! They're sure a heck of a lot more reasonable than you!"

An explosion blasted apart a building on the side of the square. A bandit flew out of the smoke, closely followed by Nora, who smashed him into the ground. Ren walked up behind her and she smiled, then caught sight of their group and waved.

Ilia raised an eyebrow. Adam looked at Blake.

She shrugged. She wasn't the best person to defend that.

Adam growled as Nora and Ren dashed over to them. The Valkyrie was strangely out of breath, but her face was still lit up like a birthday cake. Ren glanced at the White Fang members with apprehension.

"Hey guys!" Nora greeted. "We just beat up sooo many bandits! But then they all started running away. Wusses, am I right?" She turned to Ilia, "Am I right, mysterious girl I've never seen before?"

Ilia retreated a step back. "Um, yes?"

Nora's grin widened as she threw an arm around the chameleon girl. "I like you. You're my new friend. What's your name?"

Blake couldn't help her chuckle as Ilia madly struggled to get out of Nora's vice grip hug. Sun grinned gloatingly at Adam.

Ren looked at their present company warily. "What's going on?"

"A battle of heroes," Adam declared, his voice calm but focused.

The entire party turned their gaze to the courtyard, even more broken than after Berserker's charges.

The Servants' duel had turned against Mordred. Where once she had forced a relentless, if somewhat sloppy, offensive, now she was panting hard as she desperately tried to avoid Lancer as he unleashed a barrage of blows faster than the eye could see. The spearman's movements were precise and swift, leaping and twirling around the Saber's heavy sword like a dancer. At the rate the battle was going, she wouldn't last much longer.

Blake hated that she was elated at that. No one should hurt Lancer.

"Mor-Mor," Nora whispered worriedly. She had removed her arms from Ilia, gazing with worry into the courtyard.

Blake wildly shook her head. What was she thinking? What was wrong with her?

She whirled on her oldest friend. "Adam, please. Stop this."

Her mentor shook his head. "These two are knights, Blake. To them, this battle is not only an inevitability, it is a duty. There is no point in forestalling it."

"But if we team up—"

"I will NOT ally with humans!"

All present took a step back in fear. Even Ilia.

Adam drew Wilt from Blush, the crimson blade gleaming even without the blood it had tasted so recently. "This fight is theirs. No one shall interfere."

Nora growled and picked up Magnhild, ready to smash Adam's head in, but Ren held her back. He looked to Blake, who shook her head. Even discounting Nora's fatigue, she had seen Adam take on fully trained huntsmen and walk away the victor. With Ilia with him, they didn't stand a chance.

All they could do was wait and watch the match.

Mordred could totally handle it.

 


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Under normal circumstances, Mordred thought she could totally handle this.

Unfortunately, these were not normal circumstances. She was a continent away from her master and the Saber class wasn't exactly known for Independent Action. Only her Mana Rank of B and her Battle Continuation skill had kept her in the fight as long as she had.

She had hoped to overwhelm her opponent quickly, take advantage of the Lancer class' commonly mediocre to average Endurance, and end the fight before prana fatigue could catch up to her but she had vastly underestimated the strain her short duel with Lancelot had forced on her reserves. She had needed to constantly use Prana Burst to keep up with the black knight and now that recklessness was biting her in the ass.

Not to mention, despite what she'd assumed, Lancer was not an easy opponent. His Agility was impressive even for his class, enabling him to dance around her strikes to land glancing blows of his own. Every time she thought she had him, he'd twirl away at the last moment and nearly take her head off with one of his wrapped spears.

She was forced to concede that, diminished as she was, she could not defeat her opponent in honorable combat.

Good thing honor was for suckers!

Mordred charged across the courtyard, her sword held behind her in both hands. Lancer readied his spears, but the Knight of Treachery's eyes were on his feet.

They stood softly on the ground, nimble enough to dodge, but still planted enough to stand stalwart if necessary. But for a powerful two-handed strike, any spearman worth his salt would know they were better off evading than taking the blow on one of their vulnerable shafts. Which meant she just needed to know where he'd run.

The balls of his feet lifted to the left.

Immediately, Mordred flicked her sword downward, crashing through the torn-up cobblestone with a crack of thunder. The storm of rubble was flung into the air, specifically the air to the spearman's left.

Lancer was agile, but even he had to take a crucial moment to course correct in order to avoid the barrage. Mordred used that moment to close the distance and unleashed a rapid close-range assault on her foe. The spearman parried valiantly, but without the range to effectively use his weapons, he was forced to retreat.

Eventually, he was backed up to the edge of the courtyard. However, the man was not a Heroic Spirit for nothing. With each withdrawal, he had slowly edged himself out of Clarent's striking distance. When Mordred went in for her next blow, she found herself slashing only air.

Lancer grinned and twirled around the swordswoman. He pushed Clarent aside with his longer spear and then stabbed at his opponent's unprotected head with his shorter one. When Mordred moved her head at the last moment, he whacked her upside the skull with his shaft, forcing the knight against the same houses she’d used to pin him.

"It seems your trick has backfired," he remarked.

Mordred growled and leapt straight into the air. Lancer, refusing to let her flee, jumped as well.

Exactly as she expected.

In a flash, Clarent had snaked out and obliterated the roof of the house Mordred had been pinned against. The chunks of stone, much larger than the rubble from the courtyard, were smacked by the flat of the knight's sword and sent hurtling towards the spearman.

Unable to dodge in the air, Lancer swatted the rubble aside with his spears, decreasing his momentum.

And leaving him unprepared for the sword thrown his way.

He was barely able to raise the shafts of his weapon to block Clarent from splitting his head in two. Even then, the force behind the throw still sent him plummeting towards the ground.

Mordred smirked. Even without her incredible strength, she was the greatest fighter in Camelot, craftier than Gawain and more adaptable than her father.

"Prana Burst!" she roared, rocketing after Lancer. She'd knock the bastard out with one punch and then kill him with his own weapon. He'd be humiliated beyond belief, the righteous ass.

Of course, then said righteous ass proceeded to thrust one of his spears into the ground before he landed. He leveraged himself with it and spun around in midair. When Mordred reached him, both his feet planted themselves firmly in her stomach, sending her sprawling across the cobblestone.

"Mor-Mor!" a voice she vaguely recognized as Nora called out.

The knight slowly collected herself and clambered to her knees. Her breath was coming out in heavy pants. Perhaps that hadn't been the best plan. The attack had cost her Clarent and the last Prana Burst had taken more power than was probably wise. She wasn't sure what her next move would be, but she needed a plan fast.

Lancer descended to his feet before plucking his spear from the ground. He frowned as he stalked towards Mordred.

"Your fighting style, I recognize the influence of the King of Knights," he evaluated. "But the two of you are as different as night and day. Whatever my gripes with your father, I cannot deny that she was beautiful in combat, a warrior in a league of her own. She was graceful, elegant, unyielding. But you… you are reckless, wild, unfocused. You attempt to emulate your father without accounting for your irreconcilable differences."

He twirled his spears, the wrappings upon them glowing a dim purple and unraveling.

"As such, you are left as a mere shadow of his light. A pale imitation."

Imitation.

She imitated no one.

She was like no one else but…

Father.

A homunculus made from father.

Screw plans. This bastard was gonna fry!

Mordred delved into the deepest recesses of her prana stores. She dragged as much of Jaune's across their strained link as she could. Electricity surged through her veins.

Lancer stopped walking towards her, his unveiled spears warily swaying at his side.

"Red Thunder!"

Crimson lightning erupted from Mordred, bolts of the unrestrained energy shooting around the plaza.

"Nora!" she heard the pink-eyed boy (Ren, was it?) shout in distress, the girl probably catching a stray blast.

Mordred paid that no mind. She only had eyes for one.

And as Lancer scrambled to block the thunderstorm, she charged.

 


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Archer had mostly abandoned trying to kill Hercules at this point. Really, with his master suffering from several broken ribs and probably a pierced lung, he would be dead in a few minutes anyway, so he didn't really feel like suffering the pain of getting flattened into a pancake again.

So many Grail Wars he'd fought in, he could claim to have only died once from having a temple dropped on him.

He dashed through the forest as fast as he could, using his smaller stature and the obstacles of the trees to keep ahead of his foe. It was fortunate Hercules was insane, otherwise he may have conceived to chop down the impediments with his massive ax-sword instead of charging straight through them, losing just a tiny fraction of speed as a result. Not much, but enough for Archer to keep ahead as long as he wasn't distracted.

'Archer! Can you hear me?'

Archer flinched in surprise at hearing his master's telepathic voice. Unfortunately, that was all the time Hercules needed to catch up.

Having no desire to be sent flying again, Archer flooded Kanshou and Bakuya with prana. Both blades were traced into their overedge forms, two feet longer with jagged cutting edges. And much, much stronger.

He crossed them in front of himself and met Berserker's slash head-on. He skidded back across the grass, his heels digging trenches in the dirt, but he didn't leave the ground.

Strange, normally Hercules was powerful enough to overcome any defense he threw up. Perhaps the wound from Ruby's silver eyes, which still marred his side like a lone glacier in the middle of the sea, was somehow zapping a bit of his strength?

Speaking of Ruby…

"I can't chat right now, master," he protested in his mind. He didn't know how his master had survived the blow she'd suffered, but he was probably going to be enduring much worse soon enough.

'Then just listen,' she ordered. 'Jaune's got an idea. He has a move that should be able to break through Berserker's weird shield thing and finish him off.'

Archer cocked an eyebrow at that information. How could the Arc boy have anything powerful enough to… oh.

That could work. He had seen Saber break through Godhand with the same technique. If the boy could pull it off, as he had been so close to the night he started training with Mordred, then they could put Hercules down.

Not for good, of course. Even when Saber had used it, the attack only took away one of the Servant's lives. But it would force him to take more than a moment to regenerate back to life.

And Archer knew exactly what he could do in that extended time.

"Where do you need me to bring him?"

Ruby gave him the location, a large clearing nearby. He dashed over as fast as he could, Hercules hot on his tail.

When he arrived, Ruby stood at the other end of the grass, Crescent Rose compacted and strapped to her belt. Jaune stood right behind her, Crocea Mors in broadsword mode. His eyes were closed, and he seemed to be concentrating. A golden wind swirled around his blade.

Archer smirked. His guess had been right. And that meant he could get them out of this mess.

Hercules burst out of the tree and roared to the sky. He madly scanned the area to locate his opponent.

"Hey! Big Dummy!" Ruby yelled.

Hercules' gaze was immediately drawn to the girl's shouts. His red pupil narrowed at her silver eyes.

Archer took the chance to run to the side border of the clearing.

Ruby jumped up and down, waving madly. "Here I am! Silver eyes! Come and get'em!"

Hercules roared and charged the red hooded girl.

Ruby burst away to Archer, a cloud of rose petals floating behind her. He closed his eyes and focused his prana.

Berserker turned to follow, but in doing so, exposed his side to Jaune.

The boy opened his eyes and thrust out his sword.

"Hammer of the Wind King: Strike Air!"

The air around the blade exploded into a merciless typhoon. The cyclone crashed into Hercules, right into the wound left by Ruby's silver eyes. The Berserker's body erupted from that point and was torn in two.

His red eye went dark.

"Yes!" Ruby cheered. "Jaune, it worked! Jaune?"

The boy in question stood completely still for a moment, still extended in his striking stance. Then, his aura shattered, and he collapsed to the ground, unconscious.

"Jaune!"

Archer didn't spare the boy any thought. Strike Air was a powerful move, requiring a sizable amount of prana. Really it was more surprising that he had enough aura to use it at all.

That wasn't important though. The edges of Hercules' corpse were already starting to slide back together. He had to act quickly if he and his master were to escape.

"I am the bone of my sword…"

 


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Mordred didn't know what happened.

She had been charging, soaring through the air, her fist pulled back to slug Lancer across the face. The spear-man had been too busy blocking the maelstrom of her Red Thunder to halt her advance.

Then, she had lost all her power. The meager prana that had been trickling through her link with Jaune had suddenly disappeared. The lightning around her evaporated into nothing.

When she could think again, she was hanging in midair, Lancer's longest spear rammed right through her stomach. She was barely able to note that the vibrant red lance seemed to bypass her magic armor and strike her flesh directly.

Barely, because she blacked out a moment later.

 


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Ruby screamed when she saw Jaune collapse.

It had gone so well. He had somehow healed her and restored her aura after Berserker had smacked her and told her that great plan. She wasn't sure about him betting it all on an attack he had never consciously done, but she hadn't had any better ideas, especially against a Servant that could apparently come back from the dead.

Which was seriously not fair! Archer had speared that guy with six swords, and he'd gotten up like nothing even happened. When she'd seen him standing over her Servant, her friend, something within her had flashed back to the Fall. To Kirei and Gilgamesh towering over them all.

Silver light had flooded her vision, but it wasn't as intense as before. She could still see, but everything was tinged white. She obviously didn't go unconscious, but it felt like she was following instinct, her thoughts instantly going to Crescent Rose. When the light faded soon after, her head had hurt like someone had smacked her with a ton of bricks.

Then Berserker had hit her, and she was pretty sure that was worse.

She and Jaune had gone to the clearing though, and Archer had drawn Berserker to them. She'd known she'd have to time her semblance just right in order to get away from the hulking giant and still set him up for Jaune's attack. It had taken more focus than she'd used since the food fight at the start of their second semester, but she'd done it.

And Jaune's attack worked! Berserker was practically cut in half (and she was just a bit disturbed that she was happy about that). There was no way he could come back from that!

Then, she noticed his flesh slowly creeping back together.

"I am the bone of my sword."

Ruby whirled around to see Archer standing completely still, his hands held out before him. Sparks of prana danced around his fingertips.

"Steel is my body and fire is my blood."

"I have created over a thousand blades."

Ruby's eyes widened. She recognized that chant. It had been in her dream of the world of swords. She didn't know what the words meant, but she could feel they were powerful, perhaps the most powerful weapon Archer possessed.

Oh no.

"Unknown to Death,"

"Nor known to Life."

Archer was going to annihilate Berserker as soon as he regenerated. And Jaune along with him.

Ruby activated her semblance and burst over to her friend. She heard her Servant growl at her actions, but he couldn't afford to break his concentration.

Berserker's body reconnected in a mass of mangled flesh.

"Have withstood pain to create many weapons, waiting for one's arrival,"

Ruby stumbled over herself a bit, but she managed to get to Jaune. She hefted her friend over her shoulder, her slight body barely supporting his dangling frame. She turned back to Archer. If he was launching some ultimate attack, the only place she knew would be safe was where she had been when he'd started the incantation.

"Yet, these hands will never hold anything. Thus, I pray…"

She activated her semblance once more, her aura straining as she accelerated back to her Servant.

"Unlimited Bladeworks!"

That was the last thing the young huntress heard before the world went white.

Chapter Text

He was dead.

He had been dead before.

His first death had been a blessing.

A rest after all his suffering.

His family's death.

His new wife's betrayal.

His labors finally done.

The Queen of the Gods finally satisfied.

He had no regrets about being inscribed in the Throne.

It was a privilege, even with the summons to war.

And to serve his master, the raven who had walked her road for her child…

Well, he could not save his own.

He would do what he could to help her avoid the same fate.

His Noble Phantasm activated,

He felt his body heal and his mind return from Hades.

He rose to his feet, his sword at the ready.

No one was there.

The clearing was empty.

He checked his side, rubbing the now flawless muscle.

It was fortunate the silver wound had healed upon revival.

He had felt power like his father's when he looked at the girl's eyes.

He threw out his senses, both natural and metaphysical.

He searched for the Archer and the masters, all throughout the forest.

There was not even a trace of them.

Curious.

Master must know.


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Diarmuid sighed as he pulled Gae Dearg out of Mordred. The unconscious Saber slumped to her knees and plummeted to the ground.

"My thanks, master," he told Adam telepathically, "I do not know if I could have defended against that last attack if you had not allowed me to use my Noble Phantasm. I apologize for the breakdown in negotiations. I know you wished for an alliance-"

'Stop prattling, you fool,' his master growled. ‘Finish her.’

The Knight of Fianna nodded and raised his crimson spear above the Knight of Treachery. He could not deny he enjoyed their battle. There were few reputations within the Throne of Heroes as infamous as Mordred's. The son of King Arthur who rebelled against his father and destroyed the closest thing to a utopia humanity had ever known. The betrayal of such an act, over the oaths of knighthood, bonds of fellowship, and even ties of blood, was a stain upon the consciousness of the world.

Diarmuid had failed his own oaths in life. He had fled with his lord and friend Fionn's fiancée, Grainne. It was his own fault. He should have been more careful around her, taken better measures to ensure she did not see his mole and fall under his curse. If he had, perhaps she would not have been so seduced as to place a binding geas on him, forcing him to comply with her desire to elope.

He held no ire towards her for it, nor Fionn for eventually exacting his vengeance. He should have been better, done more. His betrayal of his knightly oaths was the worst mistake of his life, one that's regret he had carried with him into the Throne of Heroes. He had desired to participate in the Holy Grail War solely so that he might redeem himself by serving a new master, and ensure their dream came true.

Meanwhile, Mordred relished in her rebellion against the King of Knights. She had killed thousands in a war she started, including those she'd once called brothers, solely for the sake of power.

Diarmuid had enjoyed their battle. It felt good to put such murderous trash in their place.

The Knight of Treachery's armor glowed and then faded away into sapphire dust. She must have been truly low on prana if she could no longer sustain even that.

He pulled back Gae Dearg. Whatever her sins, she was still a knight. And no knight should be left to waste away from something as pitiful as prana starvation. He would give her a warrior's death.

She deserved that much at least.

He thrust at her heart.

"MOR-MOR!"

A giant hammer met his spear, familiar crimson lightning flaring all around.

He hadn't put too much strength into his strike, he hadn't expected any resistance, and the hammer wielder had far more power than anyone short of a Servant had any right to possess. He allowed the blow to force him back and raised his weapons, this time prepared for combat.

A girl with short orange hair, a black jacket, and a pink and white dress stood over Mordred, electricity crackling across her body. Her storming eyes narrowed at him, her gaze as ferocious as a mother bear defending her cub.

"Get away from her!" the girl growled.

Diarmuid raised an eyebrow. He vaguely recognized her from the intelligence photo his master had shown him. That meant she knew how powerful he was. He could feel incredible energy rippling off of her. Perhaps her semblance allowed her to absorb Mordred's stray blast? It was the only explanation for why the girl was exhibiting strength equal to a low-level Servant.

It was impressive to the utmost. Even more so because the girl didn't seem to be at all affected by his curse. With her strength and resolve, she had the potential to become one of the greatest huntresses Remnant had ever known.

He glanced at the back of her hands. There were no Commands Seals.

Excellent. It would be a tragedy to strike down one with the potential for so much good. And Diarmuid had been involved in enough tragedies for a thousand lifetimes.

He raised Gae Dearg.

The girl snarled. "I said get back!"

"You know what I am, child. You cannot defeat me," Diarmuid reminded her. "For your own sake, step aside. Do not let the hero you could be die before she can be born."

"Shut up! You don't know what you're talking about!" Tears trailed down the girl's cheek. "A hero… a hero does what's right. A hero fights to protect their friends, even when the battle is unwinnable. My friend… she did that. She sacrificed herself trying to save all of us, against someone she knew she couldn't beat. Because someone had to fight!"

Diarmuid bowed his head in respect. "I am sorry for your loss. Your friend sounds like the noblest of knights."

"Yeah. Yeah, she was."

The redhead sniffled and rubbed her arm across her face. The Lancer stood still and allowed her.

The girl held her hammer before her once more, her fierceness still present in her eyes, but there was a tinge of respect behind them now.

"That's why I can't abandon Mordred now," she declared. "She's my friend. And friends don't abandon friends. Give me your best shot, Lancer."

"How about, give us your best shot?"

Lady Blake and the others of her group arrived and formed up around the girl.

The orange haired girl's eyes widened. "Guys, what are you—"

"What? Did you think we were going to let you do this alone?" The boy with the monkey tail asked. "Come on, Nora. Like Ren would let us do that."

The boy with pink eyes, Ren, smiled at Nora as he raised his pistol daggers. She grinned back and tightened the grip on her hammer.

Diarmuid frowned. He had no doubt that he could defeat all four of the children with relative ease. But with Nora's strength, it could be difficult to do so without killing them. He would do so if his master commanded him.

But he really did not want to.

"Master," he asked telepathically. "Your orders?"

He felt his master's rage at the current situation. No doubt his hopes for an alliance crumbling before his eyes was an infuriating experience. And it was all Diarmuid's fault, if he had only contained himself at the sight of the Knight of Treachery, perhaps the encounter could still have been salvaged.

Instead, he had failed again.

Adam drew his sword. "You don't want to do this, Blake."

The dark-haired narrowed her amber eyes. "No, Adam. You don't want to do this."

"Blake, come on. This is pointless," Mistress Ilia pleaded. "They're Servants. The entire reason they're here is to kill each other. Lancer won fair and square so let him finish it."

"Fair and square?" Blake hissed. "Mordred was sent across a continent to protect us from Lancelot. She could barely get any prana from her master. This was nowhere close to a fair fight."

A continent away from her master? That made a great deal of sense to Diarmuid. He had fought the King of Knights, and if he had truly seen the extent of Mordred's skill, then he doubted she would have been slain by such a rank amateur.

But that left the Knight of Fianna uneasy. He had no issue with facing an opponent worn down by his own skill in battle, but to have entered a battle at such an unfair advantage? It was dishonorable to claim victory when the scales had been placed in his favor but outside circumstances.

He lowered his spears.

Master Adam's grip on his sword tightened.

Lady Blake stepped towards him, her weapon raised. "If Mordred is to die, then let her fight with everything she has. If you do that, then we can work together. But if you do this, if you stab her in the back for protecting us, then you'll make this personal. And I swear, to every god that ever was, I will make it my life's mission to ensure that you never claim the Holy Grail."

Adam snarled. Mistress Ilia backed away from him.

Diarmuid frowned. He had seen what happened when his master let emotions get the better of him. Kayneth had been a vicious cautionary tale on that front.

Fortunately, Adam gathered enough will to sheathe his sword. "So be it, my darling. Lancer, we're leaving."

Diarmuid sighed in relief as his master and Mistress Ilia walked out of the abandoned town. He turned to the huntsmen in training and gave a soft smile. "My thanks, Lady Blake. I did not wish to fight you."

The lady blushed. "It was nothing, Lancer." Her eyes widened, and she viciously shook her head, her gaze turning into a scowl. "But that still doesn't excuse your part in this."

"Yeah!" Nora chorused. "You nearly killed Mor-Mor!"

Diarmuid glanced at the Saber's fallen form. Even without her armor, she shivered madly in her slumber. Ren and Sun kneeled next to her, trying to contain the wound left by Gae Dearg.

Even without his final strike, he doubted Mordred had much time left in this world.

Still, he had no intention of being rude to the warriors. "I apologize. I was unaware that Saber was fighting at such a disadvantage. I hope our next duel will be on even ground."

"With any luck," Blake muttered, glancing at Mordred's broken form.

"Yeah! She's going to destroy you!" Nora shouted, keeping her focus on him.

Diarmuid chuckled at their dichotomy. He turned to take his leave when he remembered exactly who he was leaving these children with.

"Lady Blake, Lady Nora, be wary of your Saber," he warned. "She is not called the Knight of Treachery for no reason."

Blake's face filled with worry at his words, but Nora just scoffed. "Who cares what she's called? She's our friend."

Diarmuid frowned, memories of one he had thought was his friend flooding his mind. Memories of another knight who'd promised him a fair duel, and who he'd thought his friend. Memories of a knight that did nothing as he died on his own spear.

"For your sake, I hope you correct. Farewell."

He dissipated into spirit form.


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Qrow leaped to the side to avoid the iceberg sent flying at him. It crushed several trees behind him.

He knew that power. But it shouldn't have been possible. He'd heard rumors about the Spring Maiden having fallen in with the tribe, but this…

"How could you do this?" he snarled. "She went to you for help."

Raven narrowed her glowing eyes. "I did everything I could for her. She was too weak. What I did was mercy."

"Mercy?"

Qrow had always known Raven was ruthless. He had been once too. But their time at Beacon, with Summer and Tai, had reined them both in, taught them there was strength in kindness. It was why they decided to actually become huntsmen instead of going back home to kill them for the tribe.

Even after she'd left, and Summer died, Qrow had still been able to track her down when he needed her. She'd given him information when they could use it and in return, he'd attempted to convince her to return to Tai and Yang. The only reason he hadn't told Oz about his suspicions that she had the Spring Maiden was because he'd trusted that the girl was safe.

And the price for his naivete had been her life.

He snarled and leapt at the woman who had once been his sister.

Unfortunately, however skilled he was, a maiden was a maiden.

Raven sheathed her sword and raised her hand. A typhoon erupted from her palm and slammed into Qrow, sending him flying into a tree trunk.

"Really, brother? A frontal assault? On a maiden? I thought you were smarter than that."

Qrow snarled as he staggered to his feet. "Don't call me brother. We're not family."

Raven froze for a moment, a look of hurt flashing in her eyes. Then, they narrowed in resigned irritation. "Were we ever?"

Qrow recalled their childhood, when she'd defend his presence in the tribe to their leaders, arguing that their nascent talent made up for the downsides of his semblance. When they'd reasoned that they could just kill him and keep her, she'd threatened to put her sword through her own gut if they tried.

"I thought so. Once."

Raven snorted. "Well then, I'm sorry I've disappointed you."

"As am I!" a new voice rang out.

A glowing green blur shot out from the forest and smashed Raven's face with the pommel of a golden sword. The bandit leader was sent sprawling across the grass, her aura shattered.

Qrow whirled around to his savior and saw… a farm boy?

Really? His sister had maiden powers and he was saved by some kid wearing the most stereotypical farmer gear ever? For gods' sake, the kid was shorter than even Ruby.

But… there was something strangely familiar about his emerald eyes. And there were slowly fading lines of green light across his arms. Lines that looked just like magic circuits.

The boy glared at Raven, who trudged to her feet. "I'm very disappointed in you, Raven. Even though we disagreed, I had faith you would not sink this low."

Raven massaged her jaw where the boy had struck. She stared at the boy in utter confusion. "Who the hell are you?"

The boy gave a confident smirk. He turned to Qrow. "I was going to have Oscar do this, but it seems time is short. As such, I'll need my cane back."

Qrow's eyes widened. It wasn't the code phrase exactly, but given the situation, a little improvisation wasn't too out of the ordinary for him.

He smirked and whipped out a particular compressed staff from his belt. He tossed it to the apparent boy. "Good to have you back, Oz."

The boy smiled back and caught the artifact. With a flourish, he unfurled the cane into its full glory. He switched it into his right hand and held the magnificent sword in his left.

He turned back to Raven and his gaze hardened. "Now then Raven, I don't know what this is about, but I would remind that I am capable of fighting on par with a full-strength maiden with just my cane. With your brother and this sword, we can defeat you. And without your aura, I doubt Lancelot will be of much aid to you."

Raven grinned at Ozpin's words and chuckled. "Aura? Come now, who still powers Servants with aura, professor."

She made to draw her sword, likely to summon Lancelot with a portal, when a thunderous roar broke through the air.

Her new Berserker landed in a massive crater to her side.

Ozpin's face lit up in surprise and he backed away.

Qrow gulped. He was pretty sure Oz's speech was mostly posturing to try to get Raven to retreat, but with the Servant there, all parties knew who had the advantage.

Strangely, Raven's eyes widened at her Servant's arrival. "What are you doing here? I ordered you to take care of the others. What happened to them?"

Berserker's single red eye focused solely on his master, as if fighting through a haze. His mouth opened, each word seeming to take a Goliath's worth of effort to form.

"Gone."

Raven raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean, gone? Did you kill them? I told you not to kill the Rose girl!"

Berserker was silent for a moment, his mouth slowly moving.

"No."

"Then where are they? Can't you sense the Servant's—"

Raven abruptly stopped, her eyes widening as if she was just punched in the gut. Her lips mouthed a word, but no air came out to create speech.

Strange, Qrow could have sworn she would have said 'Tai'.

Raven slashed the air beside her and created a portal.

She looked back at him. "Another time, brother. Ozpin."

She leapt into the portal and Berserker followed after.

Qrow collapsed to the ground. That had not been a fun fight.

Ozpin ran over and gave him a boost up. "Easy, Qrow. You took a heavy hit."

The huntsman grinned. He reached into his jacket and pulled out his flask. "Don't know if you realize this Oz, but we just got out of a fight we had no right to get out of. Besides, doesn't look like you should be giving me orders anymore, eh, pipsqueak?"

Ozpin sighed. "Good to see recent events haven't dulled your humor, old friend."

Qrow shrugged and took a swig of his whiskey.

Ozpin stared at where Berserker had disappeared from. "So, it really has begun again. If Raven has two Berserkers, that makes her an even more formidable adversary than ever."

"Eh," Qrow swallowed. "She's still as much a bitch as ever."

"Qrow, I have a fourteen-year-old in my mind right now. Please, watch your language."

"Sorry. How'd you find us anyway? Not that I'm not grateful for the rescue, but we're not exactly close to civilization."

Ozpin smiled warmly. He gestured to his golden sword. "I was using this to track down Arturia's sheath. This was its last location before it suddenly appeared on the other side of the continent. I assumed something was up, so I came here anyway. I hope to return it to Arturia as soon as possible. She will need it for what is coming. Speaking of which, do you know where she is?"

Qrow lowered his flask, a solemn frown on his face.

"We have a lot to talk about."


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The sky was amber and filled with smoke. Giant gears the size of mountains hung defunct and motionless in the air, suspended by some unseen pulleys.

But far more important were the swords.

So.

Many.

Beautiful.

Swords.

Ruby pinched herself.

Nope.

She pinched herself again.

Nope. It was still there.

It was real.

This was the greatest day of her life.

"EEEEEE!"

The red reaper dashed about the endless field of swords, inspecting each magnificent work of art in turn. She'd sometimes get part way through analyzing one beautiful blade before getting distracted by some other absolutely stunning saber right next to her. She couldn't very well ignore either one, so she'd try to keep a silver eye on each and catalog every single wonderous feature.

"Ooooh! This one has three interchangeable blades stored in the pommel! Aaaah! This one is tempered so that the metal itself is red! I had to use paint for Crescent Rose! Isn't this amazing, Jaune? Jaune?"

Jaune was currently lying unconscious on the ground next to her.

"Oh, right. Sorry." Ruby rushed over and kneeled to check on her friend. His pulse was still strong. It seemed that whatever his wind attack did had used up all his remaining aura at once. His body wasn’t prepared for that kind of strain and collapsed. He should be fine once his aura returned in a minute or two.

The red-cloaked girl smiled. She could still feel the supercharge he’d given to her aura. The fact that he still had enough left for that ultimate attack was truly a testament to his massive reserves.

She gazed around at their magnificent surroundings. It was really a shame that he wasn’t awake to see them. Jaune wasn’t as big a weapons nerd as she was (no one was really) but she didn’t think anyone could deny the majesty of this place.

"Having fun?"

Ruby turned her head to the voice. Archer stood atop the only elevated ground in sight, a massive hill rising towards the sunset. He faced away from his master.

"Are you kidding me? This is the most awesomest place ever!" Ruby proclaimed, standing up. "Why didn't you tell me you could bring us here? Wait. Is this your Noble Phantasm? Your Noble Phantasm is taking people to this amazing place?!"

"No."

Ruby raised an eyebrow at that. "Oh. But, then, how are we here?"

"We are here because I brought us here."

"But, you just said—"

"I said it was not my Noble Phantasm," Archer clarified. "Because I do not have a Noble Phantasm. Only a true Heroic Spirit may possess one of those and I am but a mere faker, allowed this ruse by my status as a Counter Guardian."

"Oh." Ruby sheepishly shuffled on her feet. "I don't know what that is."

"A Counter Guardian is a person who has sold their life to the world. When a threat emerges that could cause the extinction of all humanity, The Beast of Humanity, Alaya, unleashes its guardians to annihilate the offending party. As well as anything, or anyone, in their path."

"Anyone…" Ruby's eyes widened in horror. She wasn't sure what this Beast of Humanity was, but she could connect the dots of the rest. "Why would anyone want to do that? Why would you make that deal?"

Archer turned to face her, his silver eyes hard like steel, his glare a stab to her heart. "For the same reason I did anything. I wanted to save people."

Ruby gulped and took a step back. Her Servant's gaze was like when they'd found the photo of her mother and Kiritsugu, cold, focused, and wrathful. Even with Berserker nowhere in sight, she couldn't help but feel that she was still in danger.

"Now, master, it's my turn for a question," Archer declared. "Why did you save Jaune Arc?"

"Huh?" Ruby stuttered. "What do you mean? Why wouldn't I? He's my friend."

"In this war, he is your rival. A useful rival perhaps, but in the end still an adversary. He provided us with the opening to escape but was left vulnerable due to his own miscalculations. You then compromised your own safety to rescue him."

"It worked, didn't it!"

"And if it hadn't?" Archer demanded. "If you hadn't been able to return to the radius of my spell in time, or worse forced me to widen the range to include Berserker? I promise you, this world may be powerful, but he would have killed us here all the same. And if you died, your goal would die. You would not get the Holy Grail and the Grimm would continue to ravage this world."

"So, what? I was supposed to just leave him to die?"

"You cannot save anyone without killing someone else."

"And the someone else is just whoever isn't convenient at the moment?" Ruby challenged. "Jaune just killed a Servant on his own. A Servant who was kicking your butt five seconds ago. We stand a way bigger chance of beating the other teams and stopping Salem and Gilgamesh with him than without him."

"And we stand no chance if you die trying to save him from his own folly," Archer countered. "He sent Mordred away, leaving us vulnerable. He misjudged his aura reserves and left himself wide open to Hercules' counter-attack."

Hercules? Who the heck was Hercules? Was that Berserker's name? How did Archer know it?

"You told me you wanted the Holy Grail" he reminded her. "You agreed that you would put all your effort and all your drive into securing that singular goal, for the sake of the world. Was that a lie?"

"I won't kill my friend!" Ruby roared. "I won't use people and then throw them away when I'm done. That's what Kirei does. That's what Cinder did. I won't become a monster. I won't cross that line."

"Then you will fail." Archer decried.

"I won't."

"How?"

"I just won't! I don't know how yet," Ruby confessed. "But there has to be another way, a way we haven't found yet. A good way."

Archer raised an eyebrow. "A way your mother would have used?"

Ruby looked away from him. She caught her reflection in one of the countless swords.

She saw her face, so like her mother's. Her silver eyes, desperate for hope.

Her mother couldn't save everyone. Neither could she.

But she still wanted to save people, as many as she could. And even if she couldn't give them preference, she couldn't give up on her friends just for the possibility of ending the Grimm. Not when such a thing was so far away and certainly not with a knife in the back.

She stared back to Archer. "A way she would have looked for."

The Servant took a deep breath. His hands curled into fists at his sides. He closed his eyes.

When he reopened them, the wrath was gone.

Replaced with a look of matter of fact resignation.

Ruby found it even more disturbing.

"There is always a fire at the end of the Fourth War. Kiritsugu Emiya, broken by his failure, wanders into the flames and desperately tries to save someone, anyone, from the catastrophe he unleashed" Archer detailed, his voice solemn as if speaking holy writ. "For a time, all seemed lost. The horror had consumed all in its path. But he did not give up, for to admit defeat would be to consign to his own damnation. At last, he found a single child and rescued them from the blaze."

"Mom," Ruby whispered reverently.

"No. There is always a fire. Kiritsugu always searches. He always finds a child. But that child is not always the same."

Ruby took a step back, Crescent Rose sliding into her hands. "What do you mean—"

"There are as many worlds, as many timelines, as there are choices to be made," Archer explained. "Each is distinct from all others. Sometimes by something as minute as when a strand of hair is plucked. Others by more drastic matters. In this timeline, Kiritsugu Emiya pulled your mother from the fire. But in many others, it was a boy with red hair."

His fists tightened, the knuckles turning white.

"A boy named Shirou Emiya."

Ruby gulped. Her trigger finger itched to unfurl her scythe, but she held back. Archer wouldn't hurt her. He was her friend, her Servant. And she couldn't deny she wanted to know more about this Shirou Emiya.

The boy with red hair. The boy with eyes of wonder.

"What happened to him?"

"Kiritsugu adopted him and raised him as his son. Even taught him a pittance of magecraft before he passed. Along with his ideals, his dream to be a hero of justice," Archer revealed. "The boy grew up, and through sheer luck, happened upon the Holy Grail War, accidentally summoning the very same Saber Servant as his father before him."

Ruby's eyes widened. So, the boy had been Arturia's master! Just not for a war in her… timeline? Wow, that was weird even by her recent standards.

"The boy went on to win the war," Archer continued. "The entire time desperately trying to save as many people as he could. Even after that, he took the skills he'd gained into the world and embarked on a crusade to protect the happiness of the entire world."

A broad grin lit up Ruby's face, lightening her trigger finger just a bit. She had been right. This Shirou really was amazing! A perfect hero!

She wished she could meet him.

"In the end, the boy sought to protect others even past his own lifespan. And so, when Alaya approached him, he foolishly accepted a contract."

Ruby's mind screeched to a halt. Shirou became a Counter Guardian? But that meant he was just like…

"No."

Archer’s eyes held no wonder. Only resolve to do what needed to be done.

"The boy was betrayed by those he sought to protect, and yet died with no regrets. But when he began his service to the world, he found that his mission was one of pure extermination."

The gears in the sky groaned. Bolts of prana sparked in the air around Archer.

"He killed those he sought to protect. Again and again, he slaughtered those his heart burned to save. And he was left with only despair."

"No," Ruby gasped. "No, it can't be."

"I am the fulfillment of Kiritsugu Emiya's dream. I am the end of the path of heroism," Archer declared. "I am the Heroic Spirit EMIYA! And now, Ruby Rose, for the sake of all…"

The sparks of prana around him transformed into two dozen magnificent swords.

"Drown in your ideals and die!"

 

Chapter Text

The swarm of nameless blades flew at Ruby. The red hooded girl barely had time to unfold her scythe before the swords crashed into her. A cloud of dust erupted around her.

Archer sighed. He could still feel the huntress through their bond as master and Servant. He wasn't sure how he felt about that.

She wasn't him. Despite the unnerving parallels between them, he knew Ruby Rose was not him. Her ability to accept that she would never save everyone was proof enough of that. She was an idealistic and foolish little girl, but that was all she was.

She was a little girl. A girl who laughed, who played, who loved.

Who lived.

A sword did not live.

A sword existed, ready to be wielded whenever it was needed.

It was what he was. He could not change it. He had cast aside all he was to survive the fire, only to be left dying until he filled himself with the dream of the man who saved him. Without the ideals of Kiritsugu Emiya, he was but a superfluous existence, not worth the blood in his veins.

He existed to save others.

Ruby Rose wanted to save others.

She would fail.

She had the ideals of Kiritsugu, even if they were not obtained directly.

When catastrophe crushed her, she would turn to them to survive the madness she was left in. And if there was one thing he knew about the Holy Grail War, it was that it was never without tragedy.

She would turn to her dream to carry her through, and in time, she could become him.

After all, he had been a boy before the flames.

Perhaps, at least. He couldn't recall.

The dust cloud cleared. Ruby still stood, Crescent Rose's blade lying next to a pile of shattered swords. The girl panted.

Archer closed his fist. Another swarm of nameless swords appeared around him.

He had no stake in this world. His past self was not here, and he could not change his fate, even with the Holy Grail.

But even then, he would never allow another to follow his path.

The swords flew.


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Ruby didn't have time to think. She reacted on instinct when she'd brought Crescent Rose up to block the hail of swords, and her muscles had burned with the effort. The blades she blocked with her scythe struck with the force of a rocket.

She coughed as the deflected barrage kicked up a storm of dust. Her mind whirled with revelations.

The boy with red hair was Shirou Emiya.

Shirou Emiya was her mom's alternate timeline counterpart.

Archer was Shirou Emiya.

Archer was trying to kill her!

The dust cloud cleared, and her eyes went wide. Archer glared down at her from the hill and another wall of swords formed around him.

Ruby saw them coming before they flew as she activated her semblance and blasted over one of the many ridges of the world. The rose petals left behind were shredded by the barrage of blades.

The huntress ducked behind her limited cover as best she could, part of her mind flashing back to the last moments of her and Jaune's duel with Arturia. Only then, she hadn't known that they had literally no chance against their opponent.

Archer was weaker than Arturia by a longshot, but he was still a Servant. He didn't have to keep throwing swords at her if he didn't feel like it. He could run up to her and just tear her apart with brute force.

She peeked out over the dirt. Archer was walking down the hill at a leisurely pace.

Straight towards Jaune.

Ruby immediately jumped out of hiding and waved her hands wildly. "Archer! Don't hurt him!"

The Servant smirked and immediately turned towards her. "Not an issue, master. He is of no interest to me."

Another wall of blades materialized around him.

Ruby raised Crescent Rose. "Why are you doing this?"

"Like I said, master, it is for your own good."

"How is killing me for my own good? People die when they are killed!"

Archer's smirk vanished. The barrage of swords blasted towards her like the fangs of an angry serpent.

Ruby activated her semblance once more and rushed along the hill, making sure to stay within Archer's sight at all times. If she tried to run, he'd go after Jaune and she refused to let that happen.

After escaping the onslaught of blades, she planted her scythe in the ground and cocked her sniper rifle.

Archer raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Are you going to try to use an Origin Round on me? If so, I advise you to aim for the Reality Marble itself. The more potent the mystery they strike, the more damage they cause, and there is little greater than my inner world."

Ruby's eyes widened. "What? No. I would never use them on—"

Archer rushed forward as she spoke, his white and black swords flashing into his hands. Ruby fired a dozen rounds at him as he charged, but he merely swatted the bullets aside with his blades.

As he closed, she shifted the barrel downward and fired. The recoil sent her shooting through the air just as Archer's swords swiped where she just was.

Ruby flipped through the sky, her mind racing for a strategy. He was stronger than her, could make swords shoot out of the air and without her semblance, he was most definitely faster than her (and even then, he would probably have her if Jaune hadn't supercharged it). She couldn't hide, and, in this world, she didn't think she could run away. And since she was pretty sure Archer could survive after he broke her aura long enough to kill her, that didn't leave her with many options.

She didn't want to use her silver eyes. Archer was her friend, she didn't want him dead, and even if she did, she had no idea how to get them to work.

A spark of green flashed in the corner of Ruby's eye.

She twisted Crescent Rose around to guard her face as a blade formed in midair shot towards her. The sword struck the scythe, and the force behind the blow sent Ruby plummeting back to the ground.

Her aura dulled the impact and she skidded across the dirt. Eventually, she managed to flip back to her feet, panting heavily.

Archer glared at her. "You cannot run from me here. This world is my soul made into reality, my very being turned into my ultimate magecraft."

Ruby glanced around at the massive smoking gears in the sky, recalling her first dream with Archer on the hill, screaming in agony. "This place… This is Unlimited Bladeworks? It's a world that has infinite swords?"

"Not exactly." Archer banished his swords from his hands. "My soul is a sword, waiting to be wielded in the service of others. But there is no one blade that can solve all the world's sins. This is the next best thing, a world that can make infinite swords, to fight for the world forever. Any weapon I see instantly has a copy created here, ready and waiting to be called forth."

Prana sparked through his hands and a very familiar polearm materialized.

Ruby gaped, her awe fusing with terror at the sight of her baby in the hands of the man currently trying to kill her.

Archer raised his Crescent Rose and pointed it at her. "This is the truth of your path. You will become like the weapons you so love. An instrument of destruction devoid of love and destined to destroy all in your quest to save them."

"No…No, you're wrong!"

Ruby charged, her scythe swinging like the claws of a feral cat.

"You're wrong!"

Penny, scattered like scrap, the robot girl with so much life.

"You're wrong!"

Pyrrha, the caring champion, splattered and broken against the ground.

"YOU"RE WRONG!"

Summer Rose hugging her father on the happiest day of her life, unaware of the tragedy ahead of her.

"I AM NOT YOU!

Kiritsugu Emiya, smiling so brightly amidst the flames, relieved to have found anyone he hadn't killed.

"AAARRGGGHHH!"


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Archer braced himself as Ruby's scythe came crashing down against his polearm again and again. The red hooded reaper's fury meeting his superior strength blow for blow.

He found himself pushed back slightly, her frankly exceptional skill forcing him to make motion costly movements to parry with his own polearm. Normally, he wouldn't have this much trouble, but whatever prevented him from tracing Ruby's experience from Crescent Rose was still in effect and proving itself quite troublesome. He had little to no practice with scythes and so was forced to call upon the skills he'd traced from various spears. Similar, but not exact.

Still, while his movements were clunky, he was still a Servant, and as such, the girl's strikes were hardly unstoppable. He had to take a few steps back to position himself correctly, but he was nowhere close to retreating. Eventually, he caught her in a blade lock, their faces barely a foot from each other.

Ruby snarled at him, the fury on her face seeming quite alien, but all so revealing.

He scowled. "You saw my memories, correct? That means you saw the hell."

He pushed her off with his superior strength.

Ruby used the force to launch herself into the air, flipping her scythe around and firing several rounds. The recoil pushed her higher into the sky.

"You saw the hell," Archer shouted after, lazily batting aside the girl's assault. "You saw the hell, and the next, and the next."

Prana sparked, and his bow formed in his left hand. His projection of Crescent Rose changed, growing sleeker, slimmer, and shorter. He nocked it onto his bowstring like an arrow.

"You saw the hell that led to all the others."

He poured prana into his Crescent Rose. The arrow glowed a violent crimson.

He let it fly.

It streaked through the air like a thunderbolt, hurdling towards Ruby.

The red hooded girl activated her semblance and broke into three streams of roses, swarming around the projectile before reforming, her sniper rifle aimed at Archer.

Then the arrow exploded from prana overload and the shockwave sent her crashing to the ground.

Archer stalked forward, picking up the original Crescent Rose from where it had fallen a few feet from Ruby and gave it a few practice swings.

Ruby struggled to her feet, fire still burning in her silver eyes. Her knees bent to charge him.

Two nameless blades materialized above her. They fell from the air and skewered the end of her crimson cloak into the dirt. When she tried to dash forward, the stuck fabric snapped her right back.

He had her. She was unarmed and trapped. He could kill her at his leisure.

But he needed to break her spirit. If he killed her now, when she was still so close to the fool he once was, then perhaps Alaya would make her an offer upon her passing. He hadn't felt his master since coming to Remnant, but he wouldn't put it past her to hide from him. Primordial beings were rarely predictable.

As Ruby was now, she would accept the offer.

He could not allow that.

"Did you see his smile?" he asked her as she struggled with her cloak. "Did you see the relief upon Kiritsugu's face at having been able to save someone from the flames? I imagine it was the same look your mother saw when he rescued her."

"Shut up!" Ruby shouted, wet tears forming in her eyes. "You don't know anything about my mom!"

Archer scowled. "I know only what you told me. She was devoted to making sure that everyone got a happy ending. A true hero of justice. If she was anything like me, then she got that dream from him. Rebuilt herself around it after losing everything in the flames. She could not have stopped trying to save people even if she wanted to. She left you so that she could try to save someone else and paid the price for her folly."

"I said shut up!"

Ruby snatched up one of the nameless blades pinning her down and slashed off the bottom half her cloak. She charged madly at Archer, swinging her sword with wild abandon. But where she'd had hard-earned skill to balance her rampage with her scythe, now she had only childish desperation. Archer barely had to put any effort into parring her strikes with Crescent Rose.

"Even if you never met Kiritsugu, your mother passed down his ideals to you," he explained as sparks flew from their blades' clash. "They have taken root within your soul and fester like a virus. For now, you can ignore it. You move forward, seeking to grow from your struggles. But when your weakness finally conquers you, when you turn to his ideals to repair your broken self, when you go through hell—"

"I've already been through hell!"

Ruby's sword shattered against Crescent Rose, the cheaply made projections disappearing into sparks of prana.

The girl with half a red hood fell to her knees, tears streaming down her face.

Archer took a step back, surprised and confused at his master's outburst.

"You think I don't know?" Ruby cried. "You think I don't know how weak I am? How useless? I charge in to stop a Deathstalker, Weiss has to save me. I try to stop Cinder from breaking into the CCT, she plants a virus. I stop that virus, I'm powerless to save Pyrrha, Arturia, and Penny. I try to help you against Berserker, I nearly get killed. Everything I try to do to help people either fails or makes things worse!"

The girl's hands desperately pawed at the ground, her fingers trying to bury the tears that fell into the dirt.

"Kirei nearly killed Yang to hurt me. Raven went after Blake and the others to get at me. Everyone I care about is in danger because of me, and I don't know what to do. If I do nothing they get hurt. But if I try to help, I make things worse. I can't protect them. I can't save them. All I can do is hurt people. I don't know what to do."

Her head fell to the ground, her tears breaking into sobs of anguish.

For the first time since Archer had met her, Ruby Rose looked like the lost sixteen-year-old girl she was.

"I just want everyone to be safe."

"A world where no one has to cry," EMIYA muttered.

Ruby raised her head, her face the color of her ruined cloak. "What?"

Archer brought the blade of Crescent Rose to her throat. His eyes showed the sympathy of his memories.

He had admiration for the girl. She had waded in her torment without succumbing for quite a while, so close to the edge but never fully falling in. She was different from who he had been.

But he didn't know why. And if he didn't know why, he didn't know how to make sure she stayed that way.

Other than the method he had planned for Shirou Emiya.

Her spirit was surely broken. But he found himself wavering.

He needed to know.

"Answer me this, master," he spoke. "If Alaya appeared before you right now, and offered you the power to stop Kirei, Gilgamesh, and this Salem woman right now, in exchange for your eternal service as a Counter Guardian, what would you do?"

Ruby blinked, her eyes far away for a moment. She glanced to Crescent Rose, her weapon, at her throat.

She looked him in the eye, silver to silver.

Broken to Broken.

"Yes. I would say yes."

Archer sighed, his eyes shut for a brief moment. He hated being right.

"Then this is the best for everyone," he assured her.

Ruby nodded and closed her eyes. She tried very hard to look solemn, but a quiver sneaked through her lips.

Archer pulled back Crescent Rose and planted it in the ground. He was not so cruel as to execute the girl with her own beloved weapon.

He conjured Kanshou in his hand, the black blade glimmering under the auburn sky, the hexagonal patterns as red as the blood it would soon reap.

He thrust for the girl's heart.

"NO!"


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Ruby closed her eyes and waited for Archer to end her. It was for the best.

She'd wanted to be close to her mother, to be like the hero she was.

She wanted to live her entire life on the battlefield, destroying the Grimm with a smile on her face. People kept telling her she couldn't do it forever, Ozpin had literally spelled it out to her the night of the dance. But even then, she hadn't listened and had charged off at the first sign of trouble at the CCT.

She thought that if she just kept going, just kept fighting, she would be able to save someone.

But she was wrong. Archer had lived his whole life and beyond on the battlefield and it got him nowhere. Not only could she not save everyone, she couldn't save anyone. And all her efforts to do otherwise were just getting everyone around her killed.

She couldn't help anyone, and she didn't know how to stop before she became him.

That meant there was only one thing to do.

Maybe she'd see Pyrrha in heaven.

Would she even go to heaven?

"NO!"

Ruby raised an eyebrow at the shout and then found herself being tackled to the ground. Her eyes widened as she tumbled across the dirt. When she was able to focus, her jaw dropped. "Jaune? What are you doing?"

Her first friend rose from where he'd tackled her, his blue eyes wide in concern. "What the hell are you thinking, Ruby?"

"She's doing the right thing. The best thing for everyone," Archer proclaimed.

Jaune whirled on him, his broadsword pointed viciously at the Servant. "You! Stay back! I'm not going to let you hurt her!"

Archer rolled his eyes. "You've barely recovered enough aura to stand. Do you really think you can stop me?"

"I said stay back!"

"Jaune, please," Ruby grabbed a hold of his arm, trying to pull down his sword. "This is for the best. I can't help anyone. If I stay, all I'll end up doing is getting everyone hurt."

"I heard that part," Jaune informed her. "And it's bullshit."

"Jaune, look at the facts," Ruby pleaded, her eyes wet once again. "Every time I try to help anyone I just end up getting them killed. I trusted Kirei and Emerald. I cut the chains keeping Pyrrha on the tower. Your mom saved me instead of her and then I killed her!"

"That is not your fault!" Jaune roared. "What happened at Beacon was Cinder, and Kirei, and Gilgamesh, not you." The blond knight paused for a moment, as if coming to a realization himself. "You did everything you could with the information you had. You had no way of knowing what we were up against."

"And since I found out? I summoned a Servant and dragged you and the others into this mess! I left Blake and the others vulnerable—"

"Blake and the others made their choices. I made my choice. We knew what we were getting into. If anything, this was my fault for sending Mordred away instead of trusting them to take care of themselves."

"Against a Servant? How could they have 'taken care of themselves' against a Heroic Spirit?"

"They would have found a way. After all, they learned from the best."

"Who?"

"You."

Ruby blinked in shock.

"You think that your determination is a weakness. I say it's your greatest strength," Jaune declared. "You're not some idiot charging towards the impossible. You know what you're up against, you know what you've lost, and you look for a way to win anyway. You keep trying anyway and that's not a fault. It's inspiring. It's what makes you Ruby Rose."

Ruby looked to the ground. "But what if everyone dies because of my choices?"

"We're huntsmen. Dying is something we have to live with," Jaune pointed out. "And you give us the courage to face it, to follow you. You're the leader of Team RWBY, and when it comes back together, and it will, the others are going to need you. Because, news flash Crater Face, you're good at this. You just need someone to remind you every now and again."

Half of Ruby's mouth tried to smile. Jaune's words resonated within her, a wish she wanted to believe. Her actions had failed to save her friends, but what would doing nothing have helped?

"If you're quite done, boy, step aside," Archer demanded.

Jaune scowled. His sword rose, ready and waiting. "If you want her, you'll have to go through me."

Archer's bow materialized in his hands. "You say that like it will be a problem."

Ruby's eyes widened. She rushed in front of Jaune. "Archer, no. Maybe me, but not him. You can't hurt my friends."

A spiraling sword appeared in the Servant's opposite hand.

"That is where you're wrong, master. There are few this weapon cannot hurt," Archer stated. "At this range, it will kill us all."

"Ruby, run!" Jaune shouted.

Archer placed the sword on his bowstring. Its form crackled with red energy as it twisted into an arrow.

"No," Ruby muttered. "NO! I won't let you!"

It was at that moment when she realized the truth of her doubts. There were times when it was best to stand by and do nothing, when a situation shouldn't be aggravated or intruded upon.

None of those times were when a friend was about to die without help.

Ruby raised her right hand. Archer's eyes widened. "Calad—"

"By the power of my Command Seal, EMIYA, you will not hurt my friends!"

Archer's bow and arrow evaporated. Then, Unlimited Bladeworks flashed white.


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Nora kneeled over the unconscious Mordred, her blood soaking down into Yang's brown jacket. Ren held his fingers over the Servant's wrist while Sun applied as much pressure as he could to her wound. Specks of blue magic slowly evaporated off of her body.

"Renny," she pleaded. "Talk to me."

Her best friend shook his head. "This is bad."

"Shouldn't she be healing? She has superpowers!"

"Her powers are fueled by Jaune's aura," Blake pointed out. "She's already so far away from him. If he's been hurt, or if the distance increases, she won't have enough energy to even stay in the world."

"No!" Nora declared. She might have been exhausted after the rush from her friend's lightning, but she wasn't about to let her die. "There's got to be something we can do! There has to be—"

Mordred suddenly coughed wildly. Her eyes fluttered open, just a bit. "Hey, keep it down, will you? What's a knight got to do to get some sleep around here."

"Mor-Mor!" Nora squeezed her friend in a massive hug.

The Servant choked madly.

"Nora, she needs air!"


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Jaune shielded his eyes as the light died down. When he could see again, they were back in the forest clearing from before, Berserker nowhere in sight and the shattered moon shining in the sky. After the titanic gears he'd woken up to, it was a welcome sight.

He hadn't known where he was when he woke up. He knew he underestimated how much power Strike Air would take, but even if Berserker had killed him, he didn't understand how that got him to a barren world filled with thousands of swords.

He'd struggled to his feet when he'd heard the sounds of fighting. His aura had barely recovered at all when he'd spotted Archer standing over Ruby with her own weapon. She was pinned to the ground by her cloak. He tried to get over to them while they'd fought, and he'd been stunned when he'd heard Ruby's confession.

He had been so consumed with his own guilt after what happened at the Fall of Beacon that he hadn't realized his friend was wallowing in self-loathing. He hadn't realized how perky Ruby was slowly becoming more desperate. Desperate enough to listen to her insane Servant who said the best thing she could do was commit suicide.

He'd forced himself to run and when Archer had swung at her head, he'd tackled her out of the way.

Now, Ruby lowered her arm as the red glow of her first Command Seal faded.

Jaune smiled. She was safe.

Archer crossed his arms across his chest and sighed. "Did you just now remember you could do that?"

Ruby scowled. "A Servant is a friend, not a tool. I don't like forcing my friends to do anything."

Archer raised an eyebrow, his disbelief echoed on Jaune's own face. "I tried to kill you."

"But you didn't."

"Because you used the Command Seal to stop me!"

Ruby smirked and shook her head. "My Command Seal kept you from harming my friends. That's where I draw the line."

"But you're willing to die yourself?" The black short sword appeared in Archer's hand. "Does that mean you would like me to continue?"

Jaune raised Crocea Mors, but Ruby pushed his hands down.

"No," she declared. "If I die because I can't find the will to keep trying, then I'm just dishonoring the friends who've sacrificed everything to get me this far. I'm giving up on seeing all the beautiful things in the world they fought for. Maybe I won't always be able to save anyone, maybe I'll sometimes make things worse, but if I do nothing then they definitely won't get better. And if nothing else, I'm not you. I'm not Kiritsugu. I'm not Summer Rose. I'm Ruby Rose. And above all, I am a huntress. I fight the monsters."

"Even if there will always be more?"

"Especially then."

Archer scowled. "Then you have found your way to success?"

Ruby chuckled nervously. "Not yet. But I will find it. I'm not the only one looking after all."

She smiled glowingly at Jaune and he couldn't help but return the gesture. It was like he told her, Ruby inspired the rest of them.

Archer scoffed. "Such foolish prattle. But if that is the road you are determined to follow, I won't stand in your way. Or make you waste a Command Seal. Good luck finding a new Servant."

He flipped his grip on his sword. Jaune narrowed his eyes. Good riddance.

Archer plunged the blade towards his own throat…

… and it stopped cold an inch from his skin.

Archer's eyebrows shot up. "What the –"

"My Command Seal, remember?" Ruby lectured, walking up to him. Jaune tried to stop her but she batted his hand aside. "I commanded that you cannot hurt my friends. That includes you."

Jaune's eyes widened. Even if they still needed Servants for the war, this wasn't a small transgression. "Ruby, he just tried to kill you!"

Archer nodded, his hand unconsciously moving his sword out of the way. "He has an excellent point. Why would you ever forgive me?"

"I've seen your memories," Ruby reminded him. "I've seen what you tried to do, what you had to do. I understand why you didn't want me to become you. I'm not going to abandon you for making a choice when you thought you didn't have one, especially when you were trying to help."

Archer stared at her for a solid minute. Then, he burst out laughing. "You forgive me, you call me friend, just because I was trying to help? What nonsense!"

He shook his head to gather his senses, a light smirk, somewhat disbelieving and somewhat amused played across his lips. "You are quite the simple soul, Ruby Rose."

Ruby smiled at him.

Jaune wished he could share her good will. Archer had chosen to take up his sword against his friend. He couldn't forgive him just like that.

"Ruby! Jaune!" Qrow's voice called out from the forest. "Where are you?"

Ruby jumped up. She snatched Crescent Rose from where it laid on the ground. "Coming, Uncle Qrow!"

She started to run off when she stopped dead in her tracks. She turned back to Archer, a huge smile on her face.

Archer raised an eyebrow. "Yes, master?"

Ruby snorted. "Nothing. We better get going, Uncle Shirou."

She dashed off in a cloud of rose petals.

Jaune didn't think he'd ever seen Archer look so shocked. The Heroic Spirit opened his mouth to form words, then closed it again. Speechless, he disappeared into spirit form.

Jaune was left incredibly confused.


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Yang yawned as she closed the curtains of her window. The moon was pretty, but she didn't need the light when she was trying to sleep.

She'd changed into sweats and her sleeveless orange pajama shirt. It was finally getting easier to find the stuff since she was getting her closet back the way she liked it. Whoever folded all her clothes clearly didn't understand that you didn't mess with a girl's closet organization. It was like, taboo.

Ember Celica laid on her bedside table. All the hospital gear that had kept her alive while she was comatose had been shoved against the door side wall. They'd probably send it back to the hospital eventually, but her dad wanted to wait until everything was healed up, even though no one in the history of ever had ever relapsed into a coma.

Still, she glanced down at her bandaged right arm, a worried frown on her face. It had held up really well in training that day, but there was no guarantee it was back to a hundred percent, no matter how good it felt. She would head to the doctor in the morning and check to see if it was fully healed. She'd be happy to get the wrappings off and be rid of the final reminder of her failure at Beacon.

Then, she'd track Kirei down and punch him in his smug prick face.

She'd figure out what her dream was after that.

She'd reunite with her team and prove that she could stand beside them as equals.

She heard a creak from the floorboards behind her. She rolled her eyes and turned around. "Yes dad, I took my meds, don't worry about—"

There was a man in her doorway, but it was not her father.

Standing before her was a tall man in black leather armor cover by a red hood. A mop of messy silver hair sat atop a tan skinned head. On his belt was a set of knives and a pistol with an unusually large barrel.

A regretful frown was painted around his face.

Yang instantly fell into a combat stance, her eyes narrowing at the intruder. "Who are you? How did you—"

The man raised his right hand, a machine pistol with a massive magazine barrel seemingly appearing in his grasp out of thin air.

"Get down!" the man roared.

The gun cocked.

Yang went to the floor.

All hell broke loose.

Chapter Text

Taiyang sighed as he put the last of the dishes away. Yang had gone up to bed already and he had offered to clean up dinner. It was admirable that she had figured out a way to do it even with her broken arm, but he didn't want to risk her re-injuring herself. Not when they'd be checking with the doctor to get it off tomorrow.

And then she'd leave.

Tai knew she had to. Ruby needed all the help she could get in the war and Yang was never one to let her little sister face a fight alone. Especially when she had her own score to settle in the matter.

Still, he wasn't looking forward to the house being empty again.

It was ironic. His parents had been carpenters, the best in all of Patch, quietly building whatever lumber was brought back from the Grimm infested forests into simple cottages. They had tried to instill their simple values into him, but he had gravitated towards the lumberjacks who'd braved the Beowolves to get the wood. He had become a huntsman for the thrill of the fight. Now, he would give anything if he and his girls could just live their lives in peace.

That was a foolish dream. He had signed away any hope for a peaceful life when he'd fallen in love with Raven. Or at least when she'd woken up from their wedding night with Command Seals on her hand.

Now… now he just wanted to make sure his girls could have the life he'd always wanted for them. A life of peace and happiness.

As far off as it seemed.

An eerie creak suddenly cut through the air. Tai raised an eyebrow and made towards the living room. It could have been nothing, just his mind playing tricks on him, or maybe the house was just getting older…

Or the basement door could have been completely forced open. That was also a possibility.

Taiyang narrowed his eyes at the wrecked barrier, the wooden door torn off its hinges and left shattered on the ground. What could have snuck in so efficiently that he didn't hear anything until they'd had to do this?

The huntsman frowned and withdrew a fire dust crystal from the pouch at his side. His semblance allowed him to use its power without harm and he'd learned when he and Qrow had been attacked by the Saber of the last war to never be without one, not even in his own house. Maybe if he had known then, their Archer would have survived the encounter.

He glanced at the picture of Team STRQ on the coffee table. They'd all been so happy then.

With a sigh, he made to head down and take care of whatever had infiltrated his home.

"Get down!"

A thunderous round of machine gun fire echoed through the house.

Tai whirled around to the upper stairs, his eyes wide.

"Yang," he whispered in terror.

He immediately charged up to the second floor, leaving whatever was in the basement to its work. When he entered the bedroom hallway, he saw a man with silver hair and a red cloak firing a machine pistol into Yang's room.

His instincts kicking into gear, he thrust out his arm towards the assailant and sent a fireball hurtling downrange.

It seemed like it would incinerate the gunman, but when the flames were about to strike, suddenly he wasn't there anymore. Tai hadn't even seen him move. One moment he'd been in the path of the flames and the next he wasn't.

The fireball soared past its intended target and struck the wall behind him. The wood was strong, but a blaze still caught.

The light of the flames illuminated the assailant's face and Taiyang's heart skipped a beat.

"You…" he muttered in shock. "How can you be here?"

He'd seen that face before, in old photos from Summer's childhood. But the man from them couldn't possibly be alive unless…

He was a Servant.

Kiritsugu Emiya stared back at him with cold but desperate eyes.  "You have to leave. He is—"

"Ahh!" Yang roared, bursting out of her room with Ember Celica on her good arm. She charged her opponent, but he seemed to phase out of the way of any strike she threw.

Tai shook his head to regain his senses and dashed down the hall. He joined his daughter in her merciless rain of fisticuffs but the Assassin before them was too fast. Time seemed to stop whenever they attacked, giving him the opportunity to evade their blows.

Eventually, he caught one of Yang's punches and wrapped his arm around her.

"I said you have to GO!"

He spun around and threw Yang into her room and out her window.


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He grinned when he heard the machine gun fire from above. For a moment he'd thought Kiritsugu would test his ultimatum. After all, if his Assassin was unwilling to distract the Xiao-Longs, he would really have no choice but to waste a Command Seal ordering their execution.

Well, not really waste, but he only had five left. And given his Servant, he really shouldn't be using them unless he had to.

He continued to rummage through the boxes in the cabin's basement, tossing whatever he'd already searched onto the summoning seal covered floor.

After he’d acquired the Contender, he had searched across Remnant for a source of the weapon's ammunition. Sadly, he could find no trace of an Emiya or Rose residence from which to salvage the bullets and his own efforts to mimic the other half of the pistol's mystic code proved fruitless. Eventually, he was forced to resign himself to the fact that his prize was just as useless without its ammunition as the bullets were without it. He still carried the weapon as a fond trophy, but it was quite aggravating to be so close to his greatest enemy's abilities and yet still be denied.

Of course, his time at Beacon had enlightened him to another name that might have what he needed. Locating the Xiao-Long residence had taken more time than he'd hoped with the Vale CCT down, but it was far from impossible.

So here he was, tossing aside family photos and long obsolete weapons. Finally, he happened upon a single cardboard box. Across its front, in black permanent marker, was written 'Summer's Stuff'.

He forced open the box and was rewarded with the sight of a bandolier filled with several large bullets.

Kirei smirked.


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Kiritsugu was not happy.

Granted, he was rarely happy, the life of a Counter Guardian did not lend itself to joy, but he was content. Not satisfied, but content in that what he was doing was saving lives, even if he himself had to take many more. It was the best he could hope for.

And even in his darkest times, he had his past to look back on. The greatest memories of the many Kiritsugu Emiyas who had taken Alaya's contract. Not all of them had experienced the same triumphs and sorrows, but he as their amalgamation possessed them all.

Iri.

Illya.

Summer.

Shirou.

For them, he had accepted his fate a hundred times over. He had done as he'd always done, killed for the sake of those he would not have to.

When he had been summoned to this world, he hadn't been sure what to think. He was rarely called for a Holy Grail War in the first place, so the strange facets of the World of Remnant did not concern him too greatly, even with Alaya's mysterious absence.

Then, he'd seen him

Throughout his many lives, the face of Kirei Kotomine was not one he could ever forget.

Alas, he had been too slow, and Kirei had restrained him with a Command Seal before he could eliminate him. Despite his best efforts, he had been unable to challenge the order and couldn't deal with him or the King of Heroes. At that point, everything inside of him was screaming to put his Contender to his skull and deprive the psychopath of a Servant.

However, he could not afford to act rashly with Kirei. If he removed himself from the war, the priest would just steal a Heroic Spirit from one of the other masters, except then he wouldn't be around to stop him.

So, he had decided to bide his time. Perhaps the Command Seal would weaken, or maybe he could manipulate events so that he was vulnerable at a critical moment. He would suffer Kotomine's constant mocking so long as he could ensure he did not survive this war.

The plan didn't go quite as expected. Contrary to his assumptions, Kirei did not immediately seek after the other masters, either for reconnaissance or assassination. Instead, he investigated the whereabouts of a family called Xiao-Long.

When they'd tracked down the house, Kirei had told him to deal with those in the house while he went in and searched for something. Given they both knew Kirei would do far worse to them if he refused, he had entered spirit form and invaded the cabin.

He was in the living room when he saw it. A framed picture on a coffee table. A picture of a blond man, a dark-haired woman with an odachi, a black-haired man with a scythe…

And Summer.

His Summer.

Was she here?

He quickly searched the rest of the house but could only find the blond man from the photo and a teenage girl with a bandaged arm.

He'd been crushed, but if the man had been a friend of Summer's, he could not let him encounter Kirei. The priest would annihilate him.

To that end, he'd opened fire on the girl, intentionally missing each shot. The noise attracted the man and made sure he was out of Kirei's path. Now he had until his master finished whatever he was doing to get these two away from him. To that end, he threw the girl out a window.

From what the grail told him of aura, she should be able to survive that.

Probably.

The blond man obviously didn't agree with his assessment and roared before unleashing a barrage of fisticuffs.

Kiritsugu didn't even have to put effort into dodging them. The man was far from weak; indeed, his form was superb and his trick with the red crystal and the fire was impressive. But he was a Servant, one with A+ Agility. Adding to that, his enhanced body allowed him to use his Time Alter magic at unprecedented levels. Even among other heroes, he was nearly unbeatable hand to hand. The huntsman might as well have been trying to punch the wind.

He waited until just the right moment, when the man's fist was at just the right angle. Then, he wrapped his arm around the warrior and threw him out the same window as his daughter.


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Taiyang rolled when he hit the ground, managing to get back to his feet almost instantly. Off to the side, Yang was recovering from her own fall, taking rapid breaths as her eyes flickered between violet and red.

Tai frowned. Just as he remembered, he was powerless against a Servant. Despite their numerical advantage, they hadn't been able to land a single blow. And if Yang lost control of her temper, then they were dead.

This wasn't a fight they could win.

But it also wasn't one they had to.

He glanced at the large wooden cabin. The house he'd built for him and Raven and kept for him and Summer after she came back from a mission with Ruby in her arms. Already, the flames from his earlier attack were spreading to the roof.

He glanced at Yang. His oldest daughter.

It wasn't even a choice.

Kiritsugu fired off a spray of bullets from his machine pistol and forced the Xiao-Longs back to the edge of the forest. The summoning circle Ruby had used to call Archer glistened under the light of the broken moon.

Yang's eyes finally settled in crimson. The young huntress growled.

Tai grabbed her shoulder before she could charge. "Don't. He's a Servant. We need to run."

His daughter looked at him with wide eyes of shock and a little bit of anger. "Run!? Are you serious?! We can't abandon our home!"

Tai stared her down, her crimson pupils so much like another pair he'd once loved. "It's just a house. We can't win this. We need to make for town."

Kiritsugu jumped out the window and made his way towards them, his weapon still raised.

Yang gulped, and her eyes returned to a calmer purple. "Even if we do, we can't outrun him."

"No, we can't," Tai admitted. "But maybe we won't have to. Stay behind me."

Yang didn't have a chance to respond before Tai walked towards their assailant, his arms raised in a placating gesture. He dropped his dust crystal to the ground.

The Servant paused in his march and raised an eyebrow.

"Kiritsugu Emiya. That's who you are right?" Tai asked. "You're Kiritsugu Emiya. The father of Summer Rose. You saved her when she was a little girl. You're her family. She was our family too. We're all family."

The assassin scowled and lowered his weapon. A thousand thoughts seemed to be running through his head.

Tai sighed and pressed on. He had to make sure he was on their side. "Neither of us are masters. You don't need to kill us."

"I don't want to kill you," Kiritsugu snapped. "But you have to leave this place. My master is here, a man named Kirei Kotomine—"

"Kirei? Robes is here?" Yang shouted. She wildly scanned through the area. "Where is he? I'll tear him apart—"

"Right here, Ms. Xiao-Long."

Tai whirled around to the source of the new voice. On the front porch of the house stood Kirei Kotomine, the man who put his daughter in a coma. He remembered sitting down to watch the fight on TV and then being barely able to move after it had ended before it began.

And now he was pointing a gun at her.

A gun Taiyang recognized instantly.

"Yang, move!" He roared, already diving.

He rammed into his daughter and pushed her out of the way just as the Contender fired.

To say he felt the Origin Round strike him would be like saying someone felt getting run over by a bus. When the bullet struck him in the shoulder, he felt his aura flare in an attempt to protect him. In response, the round tore right through and then stitched the remains into his wounds. A thunderbolt crackled throughout his body, throughout his very essence. His aura desperately tried to heal him but could only tear him apart further.

The fire from the roof spread to the walls. Soon, the blaze would consume the cabin.

He howled as agony like no other paralyzed him. By the time he hit the ground, he'd blacked out to escape the pain.


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"Dad!"

Yang screamed as her father smacked into the ground, his orange aura constantly crackling around him. He didn't get up.

She rushed over immediately, but when she tried to touch him, his personal shield shocked her away. All she could do was kneel next to him while his unconscious body spasmed in agony.

"No, no, no, no," she muttered. "Please no. Come on dad, get up! Dad! Daddy!"

The Servant, Kiritsugu Emiya, glared at Kirei.

The bastard just smirked as he walked up to them. "Come now, Kiritsugu. Aren't fathers supposed to despise their daughters' husbands?"

Yang's hands closed into fists. Her eyes glowed red.

Screw training. Screw her temper.

That bastard was gonna die.

Flames ignited from her hair. A lick of them caught onto her broken arm's bandages.

"KIREI!" she roared and leaped at the robed man, her uninjured arm pulled back for a punch.

Kirei dropped into the same stance he had used at the Vytal Festival.

Before he could move though, Kiritsugu appeared between them. He intercepted Yang and punched her in the stomach, the blow sending her careening back to her father and the circle of blood.

Yang coughed as she struggled to her knees. The blow had hurt, but it had obviously been restrained. The attack hadn't been meant to actually kill her. Not like Kirei's would have. And if they were that strong holding back…

There was no way she could win.

Kirei chuckled. "My, my. Aren't we the overprotective grandfather?"

Kiritsugu growled. "Let's go. You found the Origin Rounds. There's no point in staying here."

"On the contrary, Assassin, we need to eliminate a pointless person."

Kirei turned towards Yang and opened his Contender's barrel. He swiftly removed the empty shell and replaced it with a new round.

"No," Kiritsugu declared. "You will not hurt her."

A girl in a white dress with a snowflake on her back, her posture poised and perfect.

"Oh," Kirei remarked. "Would you like to be the one to end her life?"

A girl with long dark hair, confident and relentless.

"Don't you dare. There is no point."

The cruelest blow of all, a small girl in a red hood, her eyes glued towards the unseen horizon.

"I disagree. It will bring me great joy to watch your suffering."

A stampede of thunder, charging towards the endless ocean.

Kirei raised his right hand, his many Command Seals easy to see. "Shall we begin?"

"No." Yang declared. A dull ache resonated from her broken arm.

Kirei arched an eyebrow. "Oh? Do you have a preference to who ends your life, Yang?"

"I'm not going to die," Yang stated. Her voice was like stone, her declaration an undeniable fact. Her fists curled as her eyes filled with tears. "You had your shot. I'm still here. I fought my way back."

She gazed at her broken father, lying as she once had. Of all the people she loved, he had stood by her. Even with the fate of the world in the balance, he'd stayed by her side and helped her rebuild herself.

She couldn't leave him alone.

"I'm not going to die. Because I won't fade away into the darkness. I burn. I refuse to be killed. Not by a bastard like you!"

The bandages of her right arm finished their incineration. Beneath them were three blazing crimson Command Seals.

The summoning circle flared and there was a flash of white.

Kirei's eyes widened and he immediately fired the Contender.

A rush of wind shot past Yang and a wide sword appeared in front of her face. The bullet was squished flat against the face of the blade.

Kirei gaped in shock. Yang was pretty sure it was the first time she'd ever seen him surprised.

Kiritsugu shook his head balefully. "You have got to be kidding me."

Yang looked up at her savior, tears of relief streaming down her face.

He stood even taller than her father had, every inch of his body bulging with electric power. A magnificent cloak of red and gold fur covered his elaborate leather armor. He had a full head and beard of thick red hair. A soft frown rested on his face, his disproval emanating through the air even as he stepped forward.

Honestly, Yang could not remember ever being more in awe.

The implacable man put himself between her and her attackers, releasing his sword to sway at his side. "Come now, I know I can be intimidating, but that's no excuse for attacking a little girl before she can summon me."

He raised a disinterested eyebrow at Kiritsugu. "Though given how I dealt with the last Assassin I faced, I suppose it would be your only chance."

Kiritsugu grinned. "If you wish to kill us, come, King of Conquerors."

The assassin prepared to charge but before he could move, a golden portal appeared under his feet. The gunman's eyes widened in surprise and he fell into the void.

Kirei chuckled. Another portal appeared behind him.

Yang stood, fury in her eyes. "Hey!" She didn't completely understand what was happening, but there was no way she was letting the bastard who shot her father escape. "We're not done!"

Kirei smirked and shook his head. "For now, we are, Yang Xiao-Long. Another has laid claim to your Servant's death, and he will not appreciate my interference on the matter. Even still, my congratulations on being chosen by the Grail. It always has had a fondness for the aimless."

The robed man stepped through the portal and disappeared.

"What an odd fellow," the redhead remarked.

Yang ignored the newcomer and was instantly at her father's side once more. She felt his neck for a pulse. It was there, but wildly erratic.

She knew enough about medicine to know that wasn't good.

"No. Please, dad," she muttered desperately. "Please don't leave me."

The redhead knelt down and lifted her father into his arms like he weighed nothing, the shock from his erratic aura seemingly not even registering.

"Hey! Put him down!" Yang protested.

"Where is the nearest healer, girl?" the giant demanded. "He will need help immediately if he is to survive his injuries. I can get him there faster than anyone else."

"I said put him down—argh!"

The redheaded man flicked her in the face, the act somehow packing enough strength to send her to the ground. She groaned and pushed herself back to her knees, her eyes blazing crimson.

The man looked on impassively. "If you waste time fighting me, he will die for sure."

Yang growled, but knew he was right. She focused her breathing like in training and dimmed her eyes down to violet.

"There's a hospital in town about ten miles east of here" she explained.

The man smiled proudly. "Excellent."

He leaned her father over his shoulder and pulled out his sword again. He raised it high and then swiped it through the empty air.

The once peaceful clouds above churned with tempestuous wrath. The shattered moon was hidden from view.

Suddenly, a lightning bolt crashed down next to the burning house, its glare blinding Yang. When she could see again, there was a massive chariot with spiked wheels attached to two mighty bulls sitting in front of her.

The giant man loaded her father into the vehicle and then took the reins himself. He looked back to her. "Well? Are you coming or not?"

Despite the situation, Yang found she could only stare at her rescuer in complete shock. "Who… Who are you?"

The man flashed her an enormous toothy grin. "I am Iskandar, King of Conquerors! And in this war for the Holy Grail, I am of the Rider class!”

Yang blinked rapidly at the man’s proclamation. His voice, a timbre so mighty it demanded the world recognize it and bow… she felt like she’d heard it before. In a dream maybe?

Iskandar settled himself and turned to her with a more serious expression. “Now then, master, while I do enjoy a good introduction, I believe we have more important matters to attend to, don't you agree?"

"Um, yeah, right." Yang stammered as she boarded the chariot.

Iskandar cracked the reins and the vehicle soared into the sky in a rush of thunder. They were traveling so fast, they would probably reach the hospital in under a minute.

Yet even as the blazing cabin and some stray raven faded into the distance, Yang could only stare at the red marks on her right arm.

A Master. A Master of the Holy Grail War.

Just like Ruby.

What the hell did that mean?


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Kirei sighed as he stepped out of the portal and back into the church. He replaced the Contender at his side, its ammunition held in various pockets on his robe.

It had taken him over a decade, but he had finally tracked down Origin Rounds to go with his trophy of Summer Rose. Add to that Yang's grief over her father and Kiritsugu's inner turmoil and even with Rider's unexpected appearance, it was quite the successful night.

Kiritsugu meanwhile was glaring at the one who'd forced him back.

Gilgamesh sat back on one of the wooden benches, a flute of red wine in his hand and a pleased grin of his face.

"I assume you saw that," Kirei said.

"Come now, Kirei. I can't have you dying before I have reclaimed my treasure," the King of Heroes stated. "It would be so terribly inconveniencing to find another master to get me the Grail and make my wish."

Kirei shrugged. He did not have any issue with retreating. He had gotten what he'd sought after and even more. It would not be prudent to be gluttonous about the matter. Besides, he doubted he and Kiritsugu could have prevailed had Rider deployed his Reality Marble.

He glanced over at his seething Assassin. That was probably what Kiritsugu had been hoping for when he charged.

He'd have to be more careful about that. He wasn't ready to let his dearest enemy go again just yet.

Speaking of dearest enemies…

"May I ask what your plans are regarding the King of Conquerors?” he inquired of the King.  “Do you intend to seek him out like you did in Fuyuki?"

Gilgamesh lowered his glass. He swished its diminished contents around as his eyes narrowed in thought.

"No," he eventually declared. "My word to the King of Conquerors still stands, and if he challenges me again then I shall face him. But it is not fitting for a king to seek out a worthy foe without being able to bring to bear the arms that opponent has earned. I will allow him to weed out the unworthy of this war before gracing him with my appearance once more."

The King of Heroes tipped his glass and finished off the last of his wine. A wave of his hand later and a portal took the empty flute away.

The golden man stood up, not a speck of silver to be seen, his glorious majesty once again unblemished.

The Gate of Babylon opened before him.

"Come Kirei. I have heard that Mistral creates this world's finest wine."

Chapter Text

Ruby raised an eyebrow at the awkward farm boy in front of her, his spindly legs twitching nervously under her scrutiny. "So, you're Professor Ozpin?"

The boy, Oscar, raised his hand and wiggled it as if to say so-so.

"So, you're not Ozpin?" Jaune asked with a confused expression.

"No, I am," Oscar assured them. "Well, sort of. It's complicated."

"How is it complicated?" Archer inquired. "Ozpin is a collection of souls fused into one being that reincarnates into a new body upon death so as to continue protecting Remnant in the absence of a Counter Force. That doesn't even crack the top ten of the strangest things I've seen."

Qrow scowled, his hand tightening on his sword. "Yeah, well, the rest of us just aren't as experienced as you, are we?"

Ruby sighed. After Jaune had told him what happened in Unlimited Blade Works, Uncle Qrow had made sure she was never alone with her Servant. Even now, when they were all gathered around Oscar and had a scroll opened to video call with Blake's group, he made sure he stood between them.

Part of her was annoyed at him for being overprotective when she had already forgiven Archer for his mistake. He had been trying to help and besides that, he was technically family.

Of course, the other part of her remembered that Archer had tried to kill her so maybe expecting Qrow to instantly be okay with him was asking a bit too much.

Archer ignored Qrow and turned to Oscar. "What I don't understand is why there is an absence of a Counter Force. I haven't felt Alaya since I was summoned."

Oscar scratched the back of his head. "I don't know what that is. Ozpin might, but he is mourning…" The boy stopped and looked like he was listening to some unseen person for a moment. "Oh, are you sure? Alright then."

Oscar took a deep breath and looked back to the others. "Just so you know, I'm still going to be here. Just… well, you'll see."

A flash of emerald light shot through Oscar's eyes. Immediately, his body slouched heavily, as if the weight of the world had suddenly been dropped on his shoulders. His eyes were immediately wet with tears.

Yet, when he saw Ruby, Jaune, and the others through the scroll, a relieved smile managed to grace his lips.

"It is good to see you again, my students," he proclaimed.

Everyone, save Archer and Qrow, took a step back in shock. Even Blake and Ren, normally unflappable, and Mordred, who usually just didn't care, had their eyes wide in astonishment.

Ruby knew why. The voice was still Oscar's, but there was something different about the cadence. The speech pattern, even for that simple sentence, was somehow older than it was before, stronger even.

It reminded Ruby of only one person.

"Professor… Ozpin?" Blake gasped.

The man in the farm boy's body smiled just a bit larger. He rubbed his arm against his face to wipe the tears from his eyes. "Indeed, Miss Belladonna. Who do you think wrote 'The Man with Two Souls'? I wasn't a huntsman in every life."

Blake croaked weakly but was shoved back as Nora mugged the device's camera. "No way!" the Valkyrie exclaimed. "This is amazing! He's such an adorable little cute boy Ozpin!"

"Please don't call me that."

Ozpin turned to Archer. "Shirou Emiya. It's an honor."

"Have we met?" the bowman inquired with a raised eyebrow.

"Not officially, no. But my original body possessed substantial clairvoyance. I saw many futures before this one came to pass and when you featured in them you were always admirable. However…"

The professor's eyes narrowed. "I would advise not pulling the same stunt you attempted with Miss Rose again. For your own sake."

"Noted," Archer remarked nonchalantly, not even considering the threat for what it was. "Now then, my question."

"Yes, that," Ozpin began. "I assume Qrow informed you all of the events of the Fourth War? Of the corruption? When it escaped at the end of the conclusion of the war, it unleashed itself upon the world, nearly wiping out humanity and crippling Alaya. She is not dead, as she cannot truly die unless humanity does, but she is dormant, unable to act or even invoke her own Counter Force. Gaia, in order to avoid a similar situation from her own injuries, fled to Avalon, a mystical isle exempt from the normal laws of reality."

Jaune glanced at Qrow. "Why didn't you mention this before?"

Qrow shrugged. "Did you understand what half of those words meant?"

"Fair point."

Archer scratched his chin in thought. "This corruption, does it still exist? I assume Gaia would not still be in hiding if it didn't."

Ozpin nodded. "After its battle with Gaia, I worked together with the Last Hero to face it in its weakened state. Unfortunately, by then it had transformed into a she."

"Salem?" Ruby guessed.

"Precisely. She took advantage of the Last Hero's compassion and used him to return some of her former power. She created the Grimmlands, and its occupants, shortly thereafter."

Sun cringed. "Okay, she's bad news. How do we stop her?"

Ozpin slumped, the weight on his shoulders seemingly doubled. "Not easily, Mr. Wukong. The Grimmlands are no mere island, but an autonomous Reality Marble, bound to Salem's lifeforce. So long as it exists, so shall she. And so long as she exists, it can return and encroach on the real world, spawning an infinite horde of Grimm."

Ruby gulped. She remembered the boundless field of swords in Unlimited Blade Works, so sprawling there didn't seem to be an end in sight. It was an entirely separate world. If the Grimmlands were like that and Salem couldn't be killed until it was destroyed, then what hope did they have of beating her?

Ozpin sighed. "There are few things in existence that can wipe out the Grimmlands. Until nineteen years ago, I had thought them all out of our reach."

"The Holy Grail," Jaune surmised. "You want us to use the Holy Grail to destroy Salem?"

Qrow nodded. "It's what we were all going for in the last war."

Jaune was silent, a pensive look on his face as he looked away unsure.

Ruby could understand his turmoil. While defeating Salem aligned with her own wish to destroy the Grimm, it would also mean he couldn't use it to bring back Arturia and Pyrrha. It wasn't fair.

But it was what they had to do.

"All this is fascinating and all," Mordred spoke up through the scroll, an irritated scowl on her lips. "But this all seems pointless in the face of a far more important question."

Archer raised an eyebrow. "Really, Saber? And what would that be?"

"How the hell do you have father's sword?!" Mordred yelled, her finger pointing accusingly at Ozpin, who had laid both his cane and a magnificent golden sword against a nearby tree.

Strangely, Ozpin chuckled at Mordred's shout. "I have my ways, dear knight. You of everyone here should know that."

Mordred tilted her head in confusion. "Have we met before, wizard?"

Ozpin shook his head gleefully. "You really are just like her."

The wizard turned to Qrow. "Forgive me, old friend. I have not been completely forthcoming about all my reincarnations."

Qrow raised an eyebrow. "What are you talking about, Oz?"

"I have tried to make sure you were informed of any details that could assist you in our mission. But some of my lives have been too painful for me to relive," Ozpin revealed. "One of which was my first, when I was known as the wizard Merlin, court sorcerer of King Arturia Pendragon."

Ruby blinked a few times to make sure she'd heard right. Ozpin had been Arturia's friend when she had lived the first time? That's what he meant when he said he had lived an eon?

She looked to Jaune, whose jaw had dropped. While she didn't really have much to connect the name to beyond Arturia, he had probably heard stories about this Merlin guy his entire life."

Qrow looked confused for a moment, before nodding to himself, as if the final piece of a puzzle had just fallen into place. “So, that’s who she was talking about.”

Archer raised an eyebrow. "You're Merlin? Forgive me, but that seems like—"

"Bullshit!"

Mordred glared hatefully through the scroll, lightning sparking all around her.

Ozpin sighed. "It's good to see you again too, Mordred."

"Don't talk to me!" the knight shouted. "You may be able to fool these imbeciles, but I knew the Magus of the Flowers! I grant that you've got almost all his mannerisms down pretty well. His lethargy, his vagueness, his infernal inability to give a straight answer…"

"I've been working on that."

“BUT! You have failed to capture his most telling tic!" Mordred declared. "You've been in the presence of a beautiful woman for more than half a second and you haven't looked at her boobs even once!"

Qrow's eyes widened in shock, his hand discreetly landing on his sword hilt. Jaune and Blake got red in the face.

Ruby raised an eyebrow in confusion. Beautiful woman? What the heck was Mordred talking about? She and Blake were on the other side of the continent.

Ozpin coughed into his hand. He looked to the side as if talking to himself. "No, Oscar. You will not become a pervert."

He turned back to the Saber. "Mordred, my… less than chivalrous habits were a result of my incubus blood. Which was buried with my first body."

"So you say," Mordred snorted. She turned to Jaune. "Do you want me to stick around here, master? Or do you want to use a Command Seal to have me return to you?"

Jaune furrowed his brow in thought. He and Ruby each only had two Command Seals left. If they wasted them carelessly again, they might not have them for when they really needed them. But with Mordred still so far away, both of their groups were vulnerable.

"If I may make a suggestion?" Ozpin spoke up. "Mordred should keep moving forward with Miss Belladonna's group. If they can get closer to Haven, Raven may be more hesitant about attempting another attack."

Qrow snorted. "Raven ain't scared of Lionheart. It might give her pause but she won't stay away for long, no matter where the hell she ran off to."

"That pause is all the time we need," Ozpin revealed. "As long as Mordred has Avalon, I think I may be able to use the connection between it and Excalibur, and her and Jaune, to transport us to their location."

Archer raised an eyebrow. "You can teleport us all?" he asked disbelievingly.

Ozpin grinned. "I am one of the greatest mages to ever live. It will take a few days to set up, but with a twice fold link and the leftover prana of Kiritsugu's bounded field, it should be doable."

Archer didn't look convinced but, in the end, he shrugged. "It's the best plan we've got."

Ruby nodded. They had traveled in separate groups so that no one would know the others' connection to the war, but with both Raven and Blake's old friend Adam knowing otherwise, there was safety in numbers.

Blake nodded. "We'll keep moving towards Haven. That way, when you guys join up, we'll be that much closer."

Mordred frowned. "Is this how you want to play this, master?"

Jaune paused a moment, then nodded. "It is. I'm sorry to put this on you, especially with the prana strain, but I'm going to need you to take care of them a bit longer."

"Stop talking out of your ass, you idiot," Mordred scolded, though unlike the other times she had done so, Ruby noted there was a friendly grin on her face. "I knew what I was getting into when you sent me here. I'll take care of these guys until you get over here."

Nora enveloped the Knight of Treachery in a huge hug. "And we'll take care of Mor-Mor too! Don't you worry a bit about your big brother, Jaune. No meany Lancer is going to kick her ass again while we're around!"

Mordred glared at her. "What do you mean kick my ass? I had him on the ropes!"

"Gotta go, Jaune," Ren said quickly as the two girls began to argue. "Be safe."

The call ended.

Ozpin sighed. "Well, I'll get started on the teleportation spell while I still can. This possession doesn't last long, and I'd rather not force Oscar to have to build the more complex aspects of it. Miss Rose, please come find me after you've rested from your battles. There is something we should discuss about your eyes."

Ruby nodded. With the trouble her minimal use of her powers had gotten her into, she was looking forward to learning a bit more about them.

Ozpin smiled. He snatched Excalibur from where it laid and walked over to Jaune. He held out the hilt of the blade. "This is yours now, Mr. Arc. Use it well."

Jaune's eyes widened like a deer in highlights. For a moment, he just stared at the sword, awe plastered across his face.

Ruby didn't blame him. The magnificent sword looked exactly like the one Arturia had brandished against Gilgamesh at the top of Beacon Tower. Back then, she hadn't had the peace of mind to focus on it, but now… oooohhh.

At risk of sounding like Yang, the sword was hot.

In the end, Jaune snatched the blade from Ozpin's grip. He frowned. "We're not done. You've still got a lot of explaining to do. About mom and Pyrrha."

Ozpin lowered his head, ashamed. "Mr. Arc, that is the least of what I have to answer for."

He said no more and strode up toward the cabin, his back sagging like a beaten dog.

Ruby walked over to Jaune. "Hey, can we talk? Somewhere private?"

Jaune raised an eyebrow but shrugged. "Sure."

"Hold it, blondie," Qrow snarled. "You are not being alone with—"

"Branwen," Archer interrupted. "you do remember he kept her alive against me? He won't try anything."

Qrow growled but took his hand off his sword hilt. He glared at Jaune. "Remember how a 'beautiful woman' deserves to be treated, kid."

Jaune gulped.

Ruby rolled her eyes. Was everyone forgetting that Mordred and Blake were a continent away? Oh well, they all took some hard hits in their fights. It really couldn't be helped.

She dragged Jaune off into the forest.


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Adam seethed as he paced back and forth. The clearing he, Ilia, and Lancer had retreated to was wide and had plenty of space to move, perfect for his style of combat should they be attacked. Also, it made sure there was no one else nearby for him to kill in his rage.

Everything had been going so well! He had saved Blake. Raven was right there for the killing. Lancer triumphed over both the enemy Servants!

And then Raven had had the gall to dismiss him and Blake had chosen to side with humans who used her as a decoy over him. Lancer couldn't even finish off Saber in time before Blake declared she would protect her.

The impudence! The ungratefulness! He should have let Lancer tear right through…

No.

No. That was the old him. The fool who would be satisfied with only a portion. The idiot who was cowed by the impossible.

He would have Blake. He would have the faunus respected.

He would have everything he wanted.

Ilia slowly tiptoed up to him, her face like she was defusing a bomb.

"Adam, calm down," she advised. "Blake is still confused, but she'll come around. She's seen what Lancer can do now. Even if she's resisting, she knows that we're stronger than the humans she's with."

Adam slowed his breathing, desperate to regain control of himself. "Are you sure she's confused, Ilia? Since she left the Fang, I've saved her life twice. I’ve offered to use the grail as she would. I've done everything in my power to show her that we are fighting the same fight. And still, she chooses humans over us."

He sighed and leaned against a tree. If any of his men were present, he would never show such weakness, but with just Ilia…

"I don't know what to do," he confessed. "When she was with us, everything was so simple. We protected our people from anyone who would oppress them. Now, she's abandoned us when we have the chance to erase that oppression and I don't how she could have come to view our cause as wrong."

Ilia gave him a sympathetic grimace and rested a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Blake has always been more stubborn than the rest of us. It's part of how she inspired us. If she believes something is right, or that someone is her friend, she will never abandon them. The humans have her fooled for now, but eventually, she'll see them for what they really are. We just have to wait."

Adam chuckled and shared a smile with his old friend. Truly, he needed someone for when even his resolve started to crack. Bringing her in from Menagerie was a smart move.

Let Blake have her delusions. Let Raven have her cowardice. He had his friend. And soon he'd have everything else he wanted.

"Master, I apologize for my part in failing to form an alliance with Lady Blake."

And a great deal he didn't, it seemed.

Adam gently pushed Ilia's hand off his shoulder and stood up tall. "I'm not in the mood for these games, Lancer. Show yourself."

Ilia grinned bashfully, shaking her head amused. "Lancer hiding in spirit form again?"

"My lord, I beg of you. Please allow me to remain—"

"Materialize. Now." Adam ordered.

A moment passed. Nothing happened.

Finally, the air shimmered and Diarmuid appeared kneeling before them, head bowed. Ilia blushed.

"Continue," Adam allowed.

Diarmuid sighed. "Master, I am grievously sorry for my failure in securing the alliance with Lady Blake. Had I only known that Saber was not at full power, I could have forestalled a battle until such conditions were as the Lady would have been satisfied with the Knight of Treachery's death."

"It's not your fault, Lancer," Ilia insisted softly. "You had no way of knowing that Saber's master wasn't nearby."

"I thank you for your kindness, Mistress Ilia," Diarmuid stated. However, his head seemed to force itself lower to try and avoid Ilia's gaze. "However, I also mistook Mordred for her father in the surveillance photos, putting us at an unnecessary disadvantage—"

"Does she disgust you so?" Adam interrupted.

Diarmuid raised an eyebrow. "What? Master, I'm afraid I do not understand—"

"Why can you not stand to even look at Ilia?" Adam demanded hotly. Every time Ilia was present with him, Diarmuid did his best to either remain in spirit form or to turn his face from her, despite Ilia's obvious attraction to him.

Really, Adam felt insulted for his friend. It had taken him a while to figure out the meaning behind her constant blushing around Lancer, but once he had, his rage had only built. He had never seen Ilia show interest towards any guy before. The human should feel honored that such a beautiful faunus had deemed him worthy of her favor.

Ilia herself glared at him. "Adam, it's fine. Lancer is perfectly fine doing—"

"No, my lady," Diarmuid intervened. "Lord Adam is correct. I have been greatly remiss. I am still unused to being in a world where my legend isn't known and as such, I failed to inform you of certain dangers. Dangers I believe to be affecting you now."

Adam narrowed his eyes. If Lancer had put Ilia in danger, he would use a Command Seal to make him scream. "Explain. Now."

Diarmuid raised a figure to a beauty mark under his right eye. "When I was born, I was given this mole and a terrible curse," he explained. "Any woman who gazes upon my face will be stricken with love for me."

Ilia's eyes widened in shock. The chameleon girl took a terrified step back. "What?"

Adam's hand strayed to Blush and tightened around the hilt.

"I am truly sorry, Lady Ilia. If I could negate the spell, I would," Diarmuid apologized. "In my first life, my lord's betrothed gazed upon me at a wedding and then placed a geis, a magically binding contract, upon me to force me to run away with her. My lord gave chase, but eventually accepted our marriage and welcomed us back."

"Until the two of you went hunting," Adam finished, the story reminding him of dreams he had been having ever since the summoning. Diarmuid looked at him with widened eyes. "What? Is that not what happened? Your lord betrayed you on your hunting trip and had you killed."

"Not exactly. I died on a hunting trip, yes, but my lord did not kill me. I was wounded facing a demon boar. My lord, Fionn, had the ability to turn spring water into mystical healing water, but the pain I had caused him made him drop the water twice. By the time he had returned for the third time, I had already passed. When I returned to fight in the Fourth Holy Grail War, my presence caused my master's fiancé to behave irrationally, which made us all vulnerable to the machinations of Saber's master."

"That's not your fault, Lancer!" Ilia protested.

Diarmuid shook his head. "Mistress Ilia, have you ever felt what you are feeling towards any other man?"

"Well, not a man…"

"That is because what you are feeling is artificial. It is not true love, but an obsession my curse has thrust upon you. For that, you have my deepest apologies. I should have been more careful. As it is, further exposure will just increase your affliction until it consumes you."

Adam growled. "You should do less apologizing and more explaining. This could have been avoided if you had said anything about what was going on."

Diarmuid bowed his head once. "I can offer nothing but my regrets, master. I am truly—"

"Don't say you're sorry!" Adam roared. "It doesn't fix anything."

The bull Faunus stewed within himself. One half of him wanted to tear Lancer limb from limb for his stupidity. If he had only been less of a sniveling coward, they could have nipped this catastrophe in the bud before it had spun out of control.

The other half…sympathized with him?

It was strange, but in his dreams of Diarmuid's past, it had always felt like he had been the one suffering. He had been forced to betray his lord. He had felt the guilt of his failure. He had felt the boar's tusks tear through his side. He felt the anguish of Fionn's betrayal. And he had felt the resignation as he had realized it was his own fault.

As irritating as it was, he understood Diarmuid. He pitied the fool and raged against the men who had condemned him for something he could not control. In that sense, he was actually little different from a faunus.

Adam came to a decision. "Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, First of the Knights of Fianna, do you swear that you will serve me and my dream, and that you shall for the rest of your days?"

Diarmuid raised an eyebrow in confusion but quickly stood straight and proud. "On my life and my honor, Lord Adam."

Adam nodded. "Then the matter is settled. We shall fight together, and we shall claim the Grail for the sake of the Faunus. Take to spirit form for now. We move out for headquarters at dawn."

Diarmuid smiled. "At once, my lord. And thank you for your understanding."

The knight disappeared into blue particles.

Adam chuckled and turned to Ilia. His old friend had a confused look on her face. "What?"

The chameleon faunus shook her head. A small grin graced her lips. "Nothing. Just… it's nice to know that Blake's wrong. You haven't changed from the old days."

Adam snorted. "It seems Blake's been wrong about a lot of things lately. I fight for our people, the same as I always have." He frowned and looked at his friend more tenderly. "How are you? I can't imagine this was easy to hear."

Ilia sighed, his skin fluctuating between a furious red and a bashful pink. "I'm… I don't know. My head knows what I'm feeling isn't real and in hindsight, it makes perfect sense. But I don't… feel like it isn't real. I still love him. It's infuriating really, do you get it?"

Adam got it. He guessed he felt a similar way about Blake. He knew that she was a traitor to their cause, but he could not help but be lenient with her. He still wanted her back no matter what.

And he would have everything he wanted.

A smirk danced across his face. "If you want, I can use a Command Seal to make him take you on a date."

Ilia grabbed him by his jacket and slammed him into a tree. Her eyes were wide and intensely focused. "Would you? Do you think he'd like that? Where would we even go though? What would he eat—"

"Joking! Joking! Ilia, I was making a joke!" Adam stammered out immediately. "I was trying to be funny."

Ilia's intensity immediately stopped. She removed her hands from his jacket and softly coughed. "Right, of course…. Jokes. Because forcing him on a date would be wrong. Totally, completely wrong."

Adam did not want to open that can of worms again. "Right…"

The two faunus stood there awkwardly for several seconds until he cleared his throat again.

"Well, we better get moving. I think we've kept High Leader Khan waiting long enough."


RWBYRWBYRWBYRWBYFATEFATEFATEFATE

Weiss sighed as the Bullhead soared smoothly through the air. Ever since she had given in to the Queen, her mind had been more at peace than she could ever remember. No longer was she plagued with self-doubts about reaching perfection or living up to some meaningless name. She was perfect as she was, and with her power, she would serve her savior to the best of her abilities.

She glanced at the single black Command Seal on her right hand, then at the black armored behemoth seated across from her in the cockpit. Cu Chulainn slumped in his chair, a bored look on his face as his spiked tail laid harmless on the floor. Gae Bolg rested casually against his shoulder.

A smirk crossed her lips.

Even docile as he was at the moment, Lancer Alter was a far greater gift than her father or brother ever gave her.

Whitley…Oh gods, what did I do?

What he deserved. What all betrayers deserve.

…Yes… what all betrayers deserve.

The betrayers would suffer. They would suffer and die. Whitley was only the first.

The rest, her team, her so-called friends who'd left her to rot, they would be next. Once the Queen's plans reached fruition and All the World's Evils was all the world, well…

The taste would be sweet when they got what they earned, and she watched them burn.

Speaking of…

Weiss turned her gaze to Emerald who piloted the aircraft through a maze of airborne islands suspended by gravity dust above Lake Matsu. Caster sat next to her master, the two of them chatting amiably about some unimportant subject.

Perhaps Weiss should have detested Emerald. The girl had kidnapped her from her mansion, but that place had been more of a prison than a home by that point. Honestly, she was glad it had burned to the ground. Besides, she had brought her to the Queen, and that was the greatest experience of her life. For that alone, the green-haired thief had her gratitude.

But by the Queen, this flight was boring.

"How much further to Haven?" she inquired.

Emerald checked some of the system's readings. "Another few days at least."

Weiss seethed. "We have been flying for ages."

"Yeah, and we had to take the long way. You know, so no one notices an unregistered bullhead flying through their airspace when Vale just suffered the worst terrorist attack in history four months ago," Emerald sniped back. "We've just got to fly in from the Anima countryside."

"And claim to be from some wiped out village that no one has ever heard of?"

Emerald shrugged. "Should work. Even with the heightened security, Mistral has got the largest territory of any of the kingdoms and settlements disappear from the Grimm all the time. We're going to make sure our course takes us through a Nuckelavee's territory, so no one should raise an eyebrow. And if they do…"

"I'll step in," Caster finished. "Hypnotism has its advantages."

Lancer Alter yawned at that. "No offense, Caster, but I'd rather handle that myself. Nothing against your skills, but anyone smart enough to realize something's is up might be useful for a bit of entertainment."

All present knew what he meant by that, but while Emerald and Caster looked somewhat off-put, Weiss found she didn't really mind him indulging himself a little. Hell, part of her was even considering joining in. Would she have done that before?

Of course not.

She was weak then.

The radar pinged off.

Emerald leaned over to examine the screen. "We've got incoming. A swarm of Lancer Grimm are right behind us."

Weiss snorted. "The Grimm know not to attack us. The Queen likely sent them as an escort."

Cu Chulainn grinned viciously and rose to his feet. "The Queen knows our strength well enough to know we don't need an escort. No, this is entertainment."

He snatched up his spear and twirled it over his shoulder. "Open the cargo bay door," he ordered Emerald. The girl did so, and he began moving towards the hatch. Before he went through, he turned back and gave Weiss a cheeky grin. "Coming, my lady."

Weiss bristled at his taunt, but she followed him down none the less.

When they arrived, she conjured a black glyph beneath her feet. While before she would need to have gravity dust loaded into Myrtenaster, now she was one with the Queen, and her power was more potent than dust ever was. A small puddle of black muddle bubbled out of the glyph and held her fast to the Bullhead's floor.

Lancer didn't even need that much. He just stood steadfast against the rushing winds, a massive grin plastered on his face.

The swarm of Lancer Grimm, large, wasp-like creatures with stingers that could be shot from the beast on a connective line, buzzed menacingly as they flew amidst the air.

Cu Chulainn chuckled. "Well, it's not much, but with the drought I've been in, I'll take it!"

The Heroic Spirit leapt from the cargo bay without a care in the world.

Weiss wanted to chastise him for his recklessness, he couldn't enter spirit form like Caster after all, but just watching him was… well… stunning. She remembered Arturia Arc's short display at Beacon, but this was on another level. Every strike slaughtered a Grimm and he immediately bounded off the dissipating corpse to his next victim. His tenacity. His ruthlessness. He tore through the entire hoard in barely an instant.

After the last beast fell from the sky, he jumped off of one of the floating islands and back into the hold. The reinforced steel dented upon his landing.

The Alter sighed. "Better than nothing, I guess. Maybe the queen will be more of a challenge."

"Queen?"

No sooner had the question left Weiss' mouth than a Grimm three times the size of the others emerged from behind one of the islands, its pincers baying for vengeance.

Cu Chulainn smiled. "Well, that's something at least. Maybe I can actually put some effort into this one."

Weiss held out her hand before he could charge. The Lancer raised an eyebrow but ultimately heeded her command.

With her Servant paused, she thrust out her other hand and created a maze of glyphs in the air. Acting quickly before their flight speed moved them away, she changed the nature of the circle she stood on and bounded into the labyrinth she had created, bounded between each sigil like a rocket.

When she approached the Queen Lancer, she swiftly drew Black Myrtenaster, her Queen's mud bubbling inside its dust chambers. She brought her sword back and called a glyph to its tip. From that circle, spawned the massive sword of her Arma Gigas.

One slash later, and there was only one queen in the skies.

Unfortunately, said queen also realized too late that she couldn't fly.

Weiss was just about to summon another line of glyphs to return to the bullhead, when a blast of air rushed past and snatched her up. When her senses could understand reality again, she was back in the cargo bay.

And in Lancer's arms.

It was more comfortable than she expected.

The Heroic Spirit flashed a roguish smile. "What happened to 'A servant should die to a Servant'?"

Weiss hopped out of his arms and huffed indigently. "I would hardly call a Queen Lancer a servant."

"Oh, but she was," Cu Chulainn remarked. "They all were. Servants who give their all despite not having a body to give it with. I'd gladly honor their wish to be free of such shackles."

Weiss raised an eyebrow, the black Command Seal on her hand twitching. "You view your service to the Queen as shackles?"

The hero laughed. "Don't worry, my lady. The Queen is as much a part of me as she is a part of them. Or you. I'll fight for her until the end."

A bloodthirsty grin crossed his face. "But that fight is mine. When I was a boy, I found out that I would live a life like no other but die before I was twenty. I had no issue with that. After all, what use is life if it is not filled with excitement? I died fighting an entire army and it was glorious. Now, I have been given a second chance at war, and my foes are some of the greatest heroes of all time. I yearn to face them, to crush them in glorious combat and lick their blood from my lips."

He glanced at her and chuckled. "And if how you went at that Grimm was any indication, so do you."

Her eyes widened. "I don't know what you're talking about," she protested. "I live to serve the Queen."

"Yes, yes, yes, long live Salem," Cu spouted sarcastically. "I know you'll serve her until your dying breath, just like I will. She knows it too. Which is why she wants you to enjoy it. Why do you think she sent these buzzards to us? Or even let you come with me in the first place instead of keeping her Servant summoner back home in case one of our enemies gets lucky?"

Weiss didn't admit that the thought had crossed her mind. The Alter Servants were powerful, but not completely invincible. The soundest strategic move would be to keep Weiss back in the Grimmlands to summon another hero if one of them were to fall in battle. Why risk such an advantage?

You are not a slave. You are not a prisoner.

You are us. And we want to be happy.

Yes, we shall be happy.

Cu chuckled as a smile crossed her face. "We're Salem's dogs. The hounds she wants to crush the other Servants, so she doesn't risk Caster. But she's not keeping us on a leash. She wants us to have our fun, our satisfaction. What we do, how we fight, is up to us. Who we fight, is up to us."

Yellow Beauty. Black the Beast.

"Red like Roses," Weiss whispered, sadistic, almost orgasmic glee on her tongue.

"Exactly," Cu confirmed. "There's no reason to hide what you love. Enjoy the battle. After all, we're going to win in the end."

Weiss smirked at her Servant. "Oh, getting a little overconfident, aren't we, Lancer?"

The armored man shrugged. "Just being realistic. After all, unless we're up against the King of Heroes, I'm pretty sure I can deal with anyone we come across. My spear is the most powerful in the world."

Weiss glanced at Gae Bolg, its immense length and countless blood red spikes as imposing as the fang of a Wyvern.

Then, she glanced at another area and was just as pleased with what she saw.

Lancer Alter truly was the greatest gift she had ever received.

And if she was no longer hiding what she loved…

"Hey!" Emerald shouted from the cockpit. "The radar says the Lancers are gone. Are you two coming back up here or what?"

Weiss rolled her eyes. Her opinion of Emerald had just dropped dramatically.

Cu Chulainn chuckled. "Well, my lady. Battle awaits."

"Indeed," she concurred. She raised her hand and a small black glyph appeared in her palm. A tiny version of the Arma Gigas sword flashed into existence.

She imagined it was a scythe.

She crushed the spectral weapon in her hand and licked her lips. "Battle and blood."

Chapter Text

Jaune gingerly followed Ruby into a small clove of trees. After everything Ozpin had disclosed, he honestly wasn't sure what he was thinking. All he knew was that Excalibur felt like dead weight in his hands, like a ball and chain dragging him down into the depths where he belonged.

No. He couldn't think like that anymore. Like he told Ruby in the reality marble, they'd done everything they could with the information they had at the Fall. Blaming himself wasn't going to do any more good than her blaming herself.

What was done was done. They could only keep moving forward.

But with the Grail, he could go back. He could save his mom and Pyrrha. But in the process, he'd leave Salem alive.

Could he do that? He knew he shouldn't.

Ruby finally stopped and turned around to face him. Her eyes darted side to side as she bit her bottom lip. "So…" she started nervously.

Jaune felt his body shake nervously as well. "So…"

Ruby sighed. "I… huh. Thank you. Thank you for what you said in Unlimited Bladeworks. I was ready to give up and you reminded me that I'm not allowed to."

"Don't mention it. You've done the same for me a dozen times. It's the least I could do," Jaune waved off. His lips fell into a frown. "Ruby… what you said in there, about mom and Pyrrha and even Penny. None of it was your fault."

The red hooded girl shrugged. "It wasn't. Not completely, I guess. But still, your mom, she saved me instead of Pyrrha and then my eyes killed her. And I'm sorry for that. I know I should have told you sooner, but I was worried you'd hate me."

Jaune flashed a bitter smile. "I could never hate you, Ruby. I messed up and Pyrrha chose to fight Cinder to try and fix that mistake. Then I called mom for help and… well… you know the rest. I've been blaming myself for it since it happened."

"You had no way of knowing—"

"I know," he assured her hastily. He'd seen what Ruby's self-blame had nearly caused and he knew that his would lead nowhere better. Still… "It's one thing to know it. It's another to feel it."

Ruby chuckled blithely. "Yeah. Maybe we'd be a little farther along on that if we'd bothered to talk to each other before we set out. Been able to support each other after everything."

"Why would we talk to each other? We're the socially awkward, remember?"

"Huh. Yeah."

Another silence spread between the two of them. Both lost in thought of their own failings.

At last, Ruby raised her head again. "Well, we can't do that anymore. We have to talk. And we can start by asking what we should have done first."

Jaune cocked an eyebrow. "Which is?"

"What's your wish for the Grail?"

He didn't speak for a moment, his mind whirling through all he'd learned. All he wanted and all he knew he should do.

“They accepted that as the path they chose. You want to negate their impact on history just to assuage your own guilt!”

"I want to bring back mom and Pyrrha," he confessed. "But I know I can't. They'd rise from their graves and kill me themselves if they knew I'd passed up a chance to destroy Salem, to end the Grimm, because I couldn't live with their choices. They'd want me to protect as many people as I could."

Ruby smirked. "The sword is strongest as a shield."

Jaune chuckled. "You were listening in that night?"

"You weren't on great terms with Mordred back then. I was worried you might need help. Sorry, I never told you."

"It's fine," he told her. "What about you? Same thing?"

Ruby nodded. "Yeah. I wanted to bring everyone back too, but Archer talked me out of it. He was the one who first suggested I use it to wipe out the Grimm."

Jaune snorted. "I guess that guy's first resort is to kill stuff."

"Hey, that's in the past. Be nice," Ruby demanded.

"He literally just tried to kill us!"

"But he didn't."

"Because you used magic, so he physically couldn't!"

"Nope," Ruby declared with a smile. "I said he couldn't hurt my friends. I didn't say anything about me."

Jaune opened his mouth to retort but paused before a word could leave his lips. In all the confusion, he hadn't realized she'd left that loophole.

Ruby continued to grin. "Archer didn't want to kill me, Jaune. I don't think he's ever wanted to kill anyone. And the moment he found a reason not to, he stopped. I'm not asking you to forgive him, but can you… you know…"

Jaune sighed. "I will do my best not to piss him off."

"Thank you!"

"Somehow I don't think I'll be getting the same courtesy," he grumbled.

"You won't," Ruby confirmed. "He doesn't really care about that stuff." A mischievous smirk spread across her face. "He was friends with your mom in another timeline."

"What?" Jaune sputtered. His mother would not have tolerated someone with his mouth. She would have smacked over the head within a minute. "No. No way."

"Yes way," Ruby said in a sing-song voice. "I saw it in his memories."

Jaune groaned. "Great. Just great. First Ozpin, now…"

He sighed, his energy spent. He was surprised his mom was friends with so many mysterious types, but it didn't really bother him all that much. He just wished she was still there to help him understand them.

Ruby put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "How are you dealing with that? With Ozpin being Merlin?"

"That?" Jaune recalled the stories mom told him of King Arthur's mentor. The great wizard Merlin. Or as she described him…

"He certainly is a wily old man," he mused. "But, he's on our side. Heck, he's pretty much the only reason there's still a humanity to save. I still need to find out exactly what went down with Pyrrha at Beacon though."

He remembered his partner's distress before the Fall. His mom had assured him she would deal with it, but he had no idea if anything had ever actually come of that before everything went to hell. Ozpin was the only survivor of the three of them and he would get answers from him.

Ruby nodded. "I get it. I've got some questions for him about my eyes as well." Said eyes lingered down to Excalibur, a new smile breaking out across her face. "So… are you going to try that thing out or what?"

Jaune raised the sword and stared at it in wonder. The azure leather hilt, the golden cross guard, the peerless shining blade, every detail was exactly as he remembered it from when he'd seen his mother's saber. And with its name at last, he knew what it was in her stories.

Excalibur. The Sword of Promised Victory. The greatest of all Holy Swords. In his youth, he had dreamt of it. Longed for the chance to chant its name and unleash its power on the wicked. To wield it as only a hero could.

Now… it did not feel right in his hand.

He set the blade against a tree. "I've already got a sword," he declared, patting Crocea Mors at his side.

Ruby's jaw dropped. "Well… yeah, I guess. But it's so beautiful! Who says you can't have two?"

"The fact that I don't know how to dual wield," Jaune reminded her. "Besides, there's more to that sword that just swinging it. If you're going to use its full power, it has to think you're worthy. And I'm not."

"That is true," Archer declared, materializing next to the two.

Both he and Ruby jumped back before his master whirled on him. "We know who you are now! Would you quit it with the mysterious enigma act!"

Archer smirked. "My apologies, master. I did not mean to frighten you."

The Servant of the Bow turned to Jaune, his expression for once respectful of the blond boy. "You are wise to set that blade aside, Jaune Arc. If it does not feel right in your hand, it is because it does not want to be in your hand. If you attempted to unleash its true name, it would not work."

"You make it sound like it's alive," Jaune snorted.

Archer shrugged. "Maybe not alive, but something close enough. Take it from someone who knows, any sword powerful enough to have a name that echoes through legend usually has some kind of consciousness to claim it."

Jaune glanced at the magnificent blade on the tree. Did it really think he wasn't worthy to wield it?

Did he disagree?

"Cheer up, Jaune," Ruby demanded. "Even if Excalibur wants to be picky, you're still on a roll. You unlocked your semblance and that super cool wind attack!"

"Hammer of the Wind King," he idly corrected. He raised his hands and smiled. He'd finally done it. All his hard work with Pyrrha finally paid off. He'd unlocked his semblance and it had let him save Ruby.

Wherever she was, he knew his partner was proud in that moment.

"How'd you do that by the way?"

Jaune smile dropped. "What?"

"The Hammer of the Wind King," Ruby elaborated. "How'd you use it?"

"Well, I… actually I have no idea."

Archer quirked an eyebrow. "Really? I thought it was obvious."

Jaune frowned. Obviously, it wasn't when he and Mordred had been trying to figure it out for weeks with no results.

Ruby sighed. "Archer, just tell us."

The Servant shrugged. "As you wish. Jaune Arc, what is your semblance?"

"Uh, well going off of the single time I've ever used it, I can give people my aura to strengthen theirs."

Archer nodded. "Precisely. Master informed me that you could transfer energy between your soul and another's."

"That's exactly what I just said," Jaune pointed. "What's your point?"

"That what can be given can often also be taken."

Jaune blinked. "Come again?"

Archer raised his hand and flashed his white short sword into existence. A moment later, he willed it away. "Prana, aura, the container of a Servant, it is all the same energy, just applied differently. Your semblance allows you to access the very recesses of that energy in another's soul and either reinforce or extract it. Along with all the skills that person possesses. Why do think you were able to boost Ruby's semblance?"

"That's crazy," Jaune declared. He didn't… he couldn't… he didn't eat aura! That was monstrous. To rip out someone's semblance, their very being, who knew what that could do. No. He'd never do that. He couldn't do that.

Ruby looked at him worriedly. "Jaune…"

He kept himself focused on Archer. "And even if it wasn't, how does that explain me having Strike Air at all?"

Archer stared him straight in the eye. "Admittedly, it is just a theory. But it is the only explanation I can conceive, and it can easily be confirmed with a single question."

"Oh yeah. What?"

"Where were you when your mother died?"

Jaune stopped cold. "I was in her arms. Then she started fading away into dust and… some of it flew into me."

Oh gods… what had he done?

He felt a comforting hand on his shoulder. "It's okay, Jaune," Ruby insisted. "You didn't know, and she was dying anyway. And if you hadn't, Berserker would have killed us all."

"I absorbed my mother's soul. No wonder the sword hates me."

Archer shrugged. "That's probably not the reason. If anything, having some of her essences in you would improve its opinion of you."

"You think this is funny?!" Jaune roared.

Archer shook his head and stared him hard in the eye. "Not in the slightest. But what's done is done. You have Strike Air now, though probably not much else. You probably only had a moment to try to hold onto her before she faded back to the throne and Noble Phantasms are more than a Servant's soul. They're part of their legend. You could never claim those with your power alone."

Jaune barely heard him. He panted hard, his breath ragged and quick. He remembered the night of the Fall, Mom around him, coated in silver. She started disappearing and he'd wanted to hold on, he wanted her to stay. He wanted so badly for her to stay.

And he'd taken part of her soul. What kind of a monster was he?

"Jaune. Jaune!"

Ruby shook him wildly and forced him to look at her, her silver eyes filled with worry. "What did we just talk about? Blaming yourself will not help! You had no idea you'd even unlocked your semblance then. And you used it to save me now. Arturia would be proud."

"Proud…" he muttered. "How could she be proud of someone who steals other people's powers?"

He felt another hand on his shoulder, but this one was far too big to be Ruby's.

"She would not judge you," Archer declared with certainty. "The King of Knights was many things, but she would not judge you for using the only skill you had. There is no shame in standing on the legends of others. Your sword is proof enough of that."

"Excalibur isn't—"

"I didn't say Excalibur. I said your sword."

Jaune paused and gazed at Crocea Mors strapped to his waist. The formerly pure white sheath now inlaid with orange and gold. The remains of his first teacher.

"Pyrrha."

Archer nodded. "Take it from someone who can only copy the legends of others. If you fight their fight, the battle they gave their lives for, then you do not shame them. You honor them."

Jaune gripped the hilt of his blade. He couldn't save his mother or Pyrrha. He couldn't wield Excalibur, at least not yet, maybe not ever.

But he still had what they gave him. The skills, the training…

And if he could preserve, the will to do what's right.

He knew what Archer was doing. By instilling the idea of honoring his fallen loved ones in his head, he was making sure that he would wish for Salem's destruction if he got the grail.

But… he also seemed to be trying to help.

He looked the Servant in the eyes, silver steel staring back at him. He wasn't sure if he could forgive him for what he nearly did to Ruby, at least not yet. But, he could work with him.

He'd have to with what they were up against.

He gave the man a slight nod of gratitude. Archer returned it in kind.

Ruby smiled, but then turned to Archer with a curious expression. "What do you mean you copy legends? I thought you made weapons."

"I can make weapons," the hero confirmed. "But Unlimited Bladeworks copies more than just their make. It also replicates their history, the experiences of their user. If it didn't, I wouldn't know how to use half of them."

Ruby pouted. "Really? Why didn't you copy my experience when you made Crescent Rose, then? Your footwork was really sloppy in there."

Jaune decided not to mention that his sloppy footwork at that junction of the fight was probably one of the only reasons she was alive. Mostly because he was distracted by the heavy frown that crossed Archer's face.

"I was unable to copy your experience from Crescent Rose," the bowman eventually said.

"Huh? Why?" Ruby inquired.

Archer rubbed his chin in thought. "I don't know. I have immense difficulty with firearms, but the bladed form should have been simple, as its construction was. It is… disconcerting, to say the least."

Ruby put a hand on her sheathed scythe, her expression one that someone would wear if they heard their child might have cancer. To her, who spent months painstakingly crafting Crescent Rose, it was probably a similar situation.

Jaune split his gaze between Crocea Mors and Excalibur. They had answers for the first time in a long time.

But the questions just didn't seem to stop coming.


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It was the sun that woke her.

It shined down on her eyes and deprived her of the darkness of sleep. She growled and regretfully opened her eyes to behold the empty bed.

Empty?

Her mind immediately woke up and she shot up onto her arms, the sheets wrapping around her naked form. She fervently scanned the room, idly noting the discarded tuxedo and ruined wedding dress scattered across the floor.

What was he? Wasn't the whole point of this marriage thing so that she didn't have to wake up alone or with Qrow's foot in her mouth? Where was the piece of—

The door to the room was kicked open and Tai walked in, his hands filled with a tray piled high with waffles.  Her eyes widened, and her mouth watered.

-Perfect man with beautiful food.

The blonde bastard smiled warmly as he sat down on the bed. "Hope you don't mind me not being here when you woke up. I figured you'd be hungry after everything we did last night. Don't you think, Mrs. Branwen?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Am I still a Mrs. if I'm keeping my name?"

Tai shrugged. "No clue. But I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter."

"Fair enough."

She leaned over the tray and gave him a chaste kiss on the lips. It felt strange, but she enjoyed being able to do that with him. She didn't have to be strong or dominate him with lust. He loved her, and she loved him. And that was enough.

Also, if she had to spend any more time on anything other than those waffles then she was going to murder someone.

She tore the tray out of his hand and started devouring the delectable pastries. Her boyf—husband chuckled merrily at her display.

At least, until he spotted it.

"Hey, Rae, what's that on your hand?"

She stopped eating for a moment and cocked an eyebrow at him. "What?"

"On your right hand. Did you have that last night?"

She raised her hand and her eyes widened at the sight of three red marks in the shape of a wing painted across her skin.

"What the hell?" she muttered. "Where did this come from?"

"Did you and Summer paint it on during your bachelorette party?"

"No. And if we did, someone would have seen it at the wedding" she pointed out. "We've got to take a moment and think. Wild theories won't help right now."

A scroll on the nightstand started buzzing incessantly. She snarled at the annoyance but picked it up. "Hello."

"Oh, that's so adorable, you're answering each other's scrolls—"

"Summer!" she growled, reminding herself to check whose device she picked up next time. "You promised not to call during the honeymoon."

"I know Rae, and I'm really sorry about this but I've got a really important question I needed to ask Tai."

She sighed, reminding herself that yes, this was her best friend. "What is it?"

"Well, I guess you'd know too… alright. Did you guys draw on me and Qrow after we got drunk last night?"

Steam almost came out of her nostrils. She would never bother with something so childish and she made sure Tai was with her the entire night. "No. We didn't."

"Oh, great… just great," Summer chuckled nervously. "Because me and Qrow have got these weird red marks on our hands that we don't remember being there last night and Ozpin called this morning asking if we felt some kind of shockwave and—"

"Wait. Red marks? On the back your hand?" she interjected immediately.

She could practically hear Summer frown on the other end. "Yeah. How did you know it was the back of the hand?"

She stared at her own markings with newfound worry. "Because I've got them too."

"What?" Summer squealed in terror. "What about Tai? Does he—"

"No. He's clean."

"Okay. Good. That's good," Summer declared, breath slowing down. "Okay. Qrow's gone to talk to Ozpin, and when he gets back we can start figuring this out."

"Do you want me to come over—"

"No! You and Tai are a beautiful newlywed couple and you shall have a perfect HONEYMOON! Now go and love each other, Bye!"

The other side of the line clicked off and a dial tone sounded through the air. She sighed and set the scroll back on the dresser.

"That bad, huh?" Tai joked.

She shook her head mirthfully. "Apparently Summer and Qrow have these things as well, whatever they are. They said they'll look into how they showed up."

The blond man's brow furrowed. "Should we head over to help them?"

"Our fearless leader has vetoed that option," she informed him. "She commanded that we, and I quote, 'Go and love each other'."

Tai grinned and leaned in. "Well, if our team leader says so…"

She put a finger to his lips. "Settle down, Great Sun Dragon. I'm finishing the waffles before I finish you."

Tai snorted to the side but chuckled merrily. "You're no fun."

"No, I'm patient. Besides, why rush? We're married now. I've got you all to myself for the rest of our lives."


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Raven tightened her grip on her sword as she watched over Tai's hospital bed. Several bags of morphine were h