It was always a peculiar feeling, waking up after dying.
The dying was almost never the same – very rarely had he been allowed to lay down in bed, close his eyes, and pass peacefully – but waking up always came about in the same way.
Perhaps waking up was not the best way to describe it; that suggested it happened all at once. “Becoming aware” would be more precise to explain the weeks-long process of his facilities almost returning to him, drips and drabs of sensations pulling at pieces of his conscious until finally enough had collected for him to realize he was not, in fact, dead.
Touch always came first – in this case, it was the swish of soft sheets; the chill of a windowpane under fingertips; the restrictive coil of a tie pulled too tight to truly breathe.
Next was taste – the sweetness of strawberries and cream; the savory taste of high-priced meat; the occasional faint tang of red wine rich with age.
Smells made their way to him next. Contrary, he would always reflect later – taste was largely built on smell, after all – but there was nothing he could do about that. The scents of stone, cleaners, and crisp mountain air were the most common, painting an image of a cold, sterile environment when he tried to ground himself. The rare waft of cologne and the fleeting hints of perfumes broke the monotone on occasion – precious sparks of life in an otherwise dull sensory experience.
Then, after a long while of nothing new, sounds made their way into his perception. Light melodies paling on the piano as fingertips danced across cold ivories, the sound of heels on marble echoing off high ceilings and far walls, and of course, voices. Not many, though – unusual, but not rare. A man’s voice coated with formality, a current of a generally warm disposition beneath the veneer. Another that was cold in it’s informality – wheedling, uncaring, but harsh. And then a woman’s – soft and low, her words running into each other until they blurred into an unintelligible slur. Not that he could understand the men any better. He could hear the sounds, but as of yet, none of the sounds formed words that he could understand. Language, it seemed, was content to wait until he was relatively whole once again.
Finally, finally, as all the other pieces of sensation had come together and grew more and more frequent, the moment of consciousness growing longer and deeper and beginning to string together, near complete, his eyes opened, and he saw.
Décor in shades of blue and grey laid in rigid patterns on white marble in a bedroom that seemed for show than for living. A heavy blue comforter that had been holding back the chill of the air pooled around his – no, their waist as they sat up and yawned, their hands coming up to rub at their eyes. Their head turned and was met with bright blue sky through a spotless window. A neutral hum buzzed in their throat – a male voice, he decided – and their body moved, throwing the covers back and turning to lay bare feet on the cold marble floor and stand.
The cold did not seem to bother them, an observation noted and tucked away without reaction as they made their way to a door in the corner of the room and opened it. A bathroom decorated in yet more blue and grey and marble met them, and they moved to the sink, fiddling with toothpaste and a toothbrush as they sleepily gazed at their reflection in the mirror.
Blue eyes, still drooping with the remnants of sleep. White hair tousled with some truly awful bedhead. Skin as pale and flawless as porcelain – no scar over their left eye, as he had come to associate with these features over the last few months. A young face – hints of baby fat still clung to their cheeks even with the telltale signs of sudden growth spurts - brought a pang of quiet dismay to him; he hated it when they were young, and this one was so very, very young.
Even though he had never met the boy looking into the mirror, even though he had not yet begun to bleed into the boy’s memories, he knew the boy’s name. It was impossible to mistake that icy combination of white hair and blue eyes, after all, and there was currently only one male child in the Schnee family.
Whitley Schnee was the new host of Ozma.
For the first time in recent memory, Whitley Schnee was not alone.
Maybe. Possibly. Either that, or he was slowly going insane, and the evidence was more in favor of the latter than he would like.
But what else could he say to explain what he was experiencing? The snatches of sound he could hear like a voice calling out just behind him; the prickling feeling up his spine like someone was looking at the back of his head; the undeniable sense that there simply was another presence in the room with him. Every time he’d look around, there was no one in sight. Every time he strained his ears, the voice he thought he’d heard was gone, leaving only the heavy silence of the manor. He would wake in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, half-formed dreams and visions of places and people he would swear he remembered but didn’t know filling his head until sleep couldn’t contain his mind any longer. He’d blink up at the roof of his canopy bed, and as his heart raced, the feeling of being watched would wash over him, forcing him to sit up in a panic, eyes darting around the room, but ultimately would find no one in sight, his room as still and empty as a mausoleum. Not that that comparison, as accurate as it always was, improved his mood.
Seeing things, hearing things, being tormented by dreams of people he’s never met – the evidence was piling into the “insanity” category. The particularly damning that mental illnesses tended to run in families was something he was doing everything he could to push into the very back of his mind, but it reared its ugly head far too often, hissing smugly in his ear whenever he found his mother laying languidly on a couch, mumbling to people long since dead or gone.
He refused to believe it, though – there had to be another explanation. What that was, he admitted he didn’t know. Yet. He’d figure it out, one way or another – starting with researching in the library.
Reincarnating into Whitley Schnee of all people was a mixed bag, Ozma had decided.
On the one hand, he was closer to one of his circle than he’d ever hoped to be. While he had safe houses and contacts on standby for him in every kingdom, he usually had a journey ahead of him to get there, which could prove difficult if his host still had reservations (which was almost always). Being in the same city and the same social circle of James Ironwood, almost guaranteed to be able to get in contact with relative ease, was a blessing he’d not been expecting.
Whitley Schnee was also already well-connected – or rather, would soon be, just by virtue of being a Schnee. He doubted seriously that the boy would not find a way to be involved in the company, even if his sister was set to inherit, and his interest in the Atlesian government would make any eventual involvement not out of the ordinary for anyone that knew him – not that there were many that knew him that well.
A hollow blessing, that was. He’d skimmed the edges of Whitley’s memories, just enough to get a sense of who the boy was, what his life had been like up to this point, and the people he needed to be on the watch for. That last category had been relatively few – far fewer than he’d been expecting. There was his father and his mother, only one of which he interacted with on any regular basis, the butler Klein and a precious handful of the other staff that he said hello to, a few tutors that would come and go as needed – and that was it.
His eldest sister, Specialist Winter Schnee, had been practically absent since Whitley was seven, only visiting to help Weiss Schnee train in combat, and never staying long enough to engage in more than stiff small talk. Once Weiss Schnee had left the manor for Beacon Academy almost a year ago, she’d stopped visiting entirely. Weiss Schnee had, in fact, returned to the manor a few weeks ago, but Whitley had only caught a couple glimpses of her since as she ran supplies from the kitchen to her bedroom – not too dissimilar to how she’d been in the months preceding Beacon. In short, neither sister was a part of his life any longer, and hadn’t been for years.
While this would make the merge easier, slip-ups on identity and the bleeding personality traits much easier to conceal, it was also concerning. A safety net of friends or family that could be trusted had often been the key between a rough or a smooth transition. With those that loved the host around them to reassure them that they were still loved, still thought of as more than just a vessel for someone else, it helped morale, and led to an easier understanding between the host and Ozma. Whitley Schnee seemed to have none of that.
That lead to the other hand, and its first point of difficulty: Jacques Schnee.
He’d had his suspicions about the man – beyond his abhorrent treatment of those below him, beyond his “questionable” business practices, beyond the slime that almost visibly dripped off of his words whenever he’d been unfortunate enough to need to speak to him in person as Professor Ozpin. A few particular turns of phrase he’d caught from Weiss Schnee, the almost fresh scar that had been lucky to not blind her – he’d had his suspicions, and now, he had proof.
Emotional neglect and abuse, hints of physical abuse – even from a surface analysis of the new memories that were in his grasp, Ozma’s blood absolutely boiled at the treatment the Schnee children had suffered under the rule of Jacques. The father in him was screaming to reveal himself to Whitley as soon as possible and run as far away as they possibly could – but that was part of the problem. Jacques Schnee was controlling, powerful in ways that reached beyond the physical, and had a vice-like grip on his son. Learning from his mistakes with his daughters, no doubt, Ozma thought bitterly.
While escape certainly wasn’t impossible, it would be more difficult than it had to be, and would involve ripping Whitley from perhaps the only person that paid him any real mind. Never mind that it would be for his own good and do him better in the long run - Whitley would not see it that way anytime in the near future, instead just another stable part of his life ripped out from under him. No, this would have to be dealt with carefully – as a chess master instead of a father.
His next point – Whitley Schnee was not a fighter, in fact had very little experience with physical exertion at all, and had no interest in learning to fight at all. While his muscle memory would work its way into Whitley’s movements in time, as it always did, it would do no good without the strength to back his movements up. He would have to coax the boy to begin learning to defend himself and others, and with Whitley’s experiences with huntsmen and huntresses through his sisters, he predicted that it would be a hard sell.
Still, Ozma pondered as he read along with Whitley through the boy’s eyes as he poured over a book on Geist Grimm, it was not completely hopeless. The boy was stubborn, just like his sister – determined once he put his mind to a task, such as research on potential Dust deposits or construction of his own curriculum on business to try and impress his father. He had a tactical bent to his mind as well – the chess set in the corner of the library was kept free of dust by Whitley alone, practicing maneuvers that he would later translate into online matches on his Scroll. He was also perceptive – he’d noticed that Whitley had already begun to pick up on his presence, glancing over his shoulder, scanning for him with his eyes whenever Ozma got restless in his recovery. Three traits that would lend themselves well to combat if utilized correctly. It would be an uphill slog, one that would likely send Ozma figuratively banging his head against the wall, but it was not an impossible climb.
That is, if he could get Whitley to listen at all. That stubborn nature buried deep under the shifting, moldable surface wasn’t a solely positive trait. Convincing the boy that he was now a part of a cycle spanning hundreds of years, and now needed to take up a weapon in order to try and bring peace and balance to the world, would not be an easy task.
It was with that in mind that Ozma decided that the sooner he got to work, the better.
Whitley suppressed a grunt of annoyance as he tossed another book into the “useless” pile – one that was irritatingly larger than “useful” pile. He was beginning to run out of ideas, and his resolve to ignore the small collection of books on mental health that had been tucked into a small dusty alcove around the time he turned eight was slowly starting to wear away.
It wasn’t a Grimm, according to the newly updated Amberson encyclopedia of various exotic Grimm; it wasn’t some quirk brought on by the manor’s layout and décor, according to the diaries of his grandfather; he couldn’t find any sort of communicable disease that listed “paranoia” or “the feeling of being watched” as symptoms; he’d even lowered himself into skimming a few of the fiction volumes on ghosts and vampire legends. Nothing – it all yielded nothing that he could point at and scream “That’s it!”. Not that he would do something so undignified, of course.
With a sigh, he gathered up a few books from the discarded pile and began making his way around the room to shelve them once more. Just as he slide 4002 Hauntings of Remnant back into its proper spot, though, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, a prickling feeling scuttling down his spine. There it was again! That damn feeling of being watched.
Whitley spun, his back knocking against the bookshelf as his eyes bounced around the room, searching futilely for the source once more. Once again, though, he came up empty, even as the sensation seemed to compound onto him, draping over his shoulders like a heavy fur coat and tugging him down.
“Hello?” His voice spoke on its own, echoing in the empty space like it was underscoring just how alone he was in the space. “Who’s there?”
1… 2… 3… The seconds ticked by, and of course, there was no response, even as the feeling refused to leave.
Whitley sighed, forcing his body to relax. What had he been expecting? Someone to –
“Hello,” A voice, not his own, spoke – but not out into the air – no, it was in his head – “my name is Professor Ozpin -”
The thundering sound of books clattering on the floor drowned out anything else the voice may have said as Whitley’s grip on the books was lost, sending them all falling to the ground, and he reflexively backpaddled into the shelf, letting out a shout of pain and stumbling forward, falling to his knees on top of the books. For a moment, the only thing he could hear was his heavy breathing and the sound of his heart beating a loud and fast taboo against his eardrums. Silence. Had he just imagined –
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” The voice returned, soft and apologetic. Whitley jolted again, looking up and around, even though his ears were telling him that the voice wasn’t coming from anywhere in the room.
“Where are you?! Who are you?”
“I’m Professor Ozpin,” the voice repeated, “and as for where I am… that’s a bit more complicated. You may wish to sit down somewhere more comfortable.”
Whitley shakily got up onto his feet, his eyes staring blankly at the books scattered around him. “I’ve gone insane… Just like Mother, I’m hearing voices and I’ve gone insane -”
“You are not insane,” the voice called “Ozpin” (and why did that name sound familiar? Damn it, he couldn’t remember) spoke again. “Please, sit down.”
Whitley nodded faintly and wobbled over to an armchair, collapsing into it. “This can’t be happening.” He said in a hushed voice.
“I’m afraid it is.” Once again, this Ozpin sounded apologetic. “Though, you would probably like to know what ‘it’ is.”
Slowly, Whitley nodded. “What are you? Why – Why are you speaking to me?”
“As I said before, my name is Professor Ozpin. I am – was the headmaster at -”
“Beacon Academy.” The words fell out of his mouth in sync with Ozpin as the memory clicked into place. “Ozpin runs the academy she went to.”
“I did.” Ozpin confirmed. “I spoke with your sister a handful of times while she was there.”
“You’re dead,” Is the next sentence to come out. “I overheard Father and the General – he said that you were dead.”
“Yes, and no.” The man said enigmatically. “It is quite a long story -” “
Tell me.” Whitley said immediately. “Why are you talking to me in my head if you’re supposed to be dead?”
There is a moment of silence, the only noise the faint crackles of a wood-burning fire from a mantle far from the precious bookshelves, before a noise that seemed to be a sigh. “Of course.” Ozpin finally agreed.
“Once upon a time, there was a man that failed to protect the world…”