Weiss could hear a quiet shuffling in the darkness of the room she was sleeping in. Slowly opening one eye, even the dim light reflecting off the shattered moon seemed bright to her unadjusted eyes. Without moving her head, she could see most of the room that she shared with Nora and Blake. The plain cream colored walls, which seemed almost grey in the dark, were sparse and undecorated. The room contained four simple beds, the grey steel frames and white sheets so uninteresting it was easy to forget they were there. A door next to the entrance to the room led to a small bathroom, which contained a toilet, sink, and tiny shower. The closet was situated in the wall next to the bathroom door, and their dresser next to that. All in all, the room was even emptier than their rooms at the fortress had been, but the three girls had stopped being concerned with the contents of their rooms months ago. Their night upon returning to this room was uneventful, the events of the earlier council meeting not enough to truly excite the girls.
Nora had taken the bed closest to the door, her blanket wrapping around her like a cotton cocoon. Weiss occupied the bed closest to the window, farthest from the door to their room. Blake had the bed opposite of Weiss. Blake's direction was where the shuffling was coming from, but before Weiss could raise her head to investigate Blake stepped into her line of sight, towards the dresser. Weiss watched in stillness and silence as Blake undressed and changed into a second set of nightclothes as silently as she could manage.
Weiss was surprised to see this; Blake had told her that the bad dreams had stopped a couple months ago. This was before Weiss had become proficient at reading people, but Weiss silently berated herself for not pursuing the matter later so that she could see if she could somehow help her friend. For tonight, Weiss decided that there was no reason to confront Blake until morning. Blake slid back into her bed, curling up into a ball and returning to sleep. After a few minutes of silence, Weiss followed suit and returned to her slumber.
Blake spat out the frothy mix of toothpaste, water, and saliva that had accumulated in her mouth. She gargled a mouthful of water from the faucet to clear her mouth before wiping off the condensation on the mirror so she could check her canines to make sure they weren't chipped. Poking and prodding them with her fingers and her tongue, Blake could feel no chips or scrapes on her canines, and she ran her tongue across the front of her teeth in satisfaction. Keeping her canines sharp and healthy was a matter of pride for Blake, both because Yang had loved her canines and because she felt it was another sign of her faunus heritage that she needed to embrace rather than hide.
"Blake, could you pass me the shampoo?" Nora called from inside the glass shower next to Blake. Blake reached up to the shelf on the wall and grabbed the bottle, throwing it over the glass door to Nora, who caught it. "Thanks."
"No problem." Blake said as she left the bathroom in only her underwear and closed the door behind her. She strode over to her bed and threw her damp towel onto the rumpled sheets as she pulled some jeans on. "Morning, Weiss." The faunus greeted the heiress, who was sitting on the edge of her bed and brushing her hair.
"Good morning, Blake." Weiss returned the greeting. Weiss set her brush down next to her before pulling her hair up into the ponytail on the side of her head. "Do you have a minute to talk, Blake?"
"Sure." Blake answered as she reached over and tossed her towel into their laundry basket before starting to make her bed. "What's up?"
"I wanted… I wanted to talk to you about your dreams." Weiss began nervously. "I saw you last night. I know you told me you were fine, but-"
"I am fine." Blake interrupted, fluffing her pillow just a little more roughly than necessary.
Weiss continued on. "-but it seems like they're still happening. Are they still happening every night?"
"I'm fine, Weiss." Blake said firmly, clearly not wanting to pursue the topic.
"No, Blake, you aren't." Weiss countered even more firmly. "Have you been having nightmares every night?" Blake glared at Weiss, clearly displeased. But Weiss looked back, unfazed. Finally, Blake nodded a confirmation. "For how long?" Weiss followed up.
Blake stayed silent, hoping that if she dragged the conversation out long enough that either Weiss would give up on it or that Nora would interrupt. "… Ever since Beacon." She answered slowly.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Weiss pleaded softly. "I could've helped."
"How, Weiss?" Blake raised her voice. "How could you have helped me through this?"
"We could've have talked about it, worked through it together instead of-" Weiss started.
"How would that have helped!" Blake yelled. "We were all too busy trying to figure out what happened! No time to grieve, no time to rest, we threw ourselves into anything else we could find to try to keep from thinking too hard about what we lost." Blake's fists were clenched at her sides. "That stupid door doesn't interfere with my dedication and anything else besides a little bit of sleep, so let it go!"
Weiss had to take a minute to wrap her mind through what Blake had said. Weiss couldn't deny that they hadn't given themselves proper time to grieve and recover, but that was an unavoidable consequence of their decisions. She also could not disagree that they were avoiding trying to think about what they lost. But it was Blake's final statement that stood out to Weiss. "I know it's been rough, and that we've both lost someone we loved." Weiss felt a flash of embarrassment that she had admitted to someone her feelings for Ruby, even if indirectly, but continued on. "What door are you talking about? Are you dreaming about a door?"
Blake sat down heavily on her bed. "I'm sorry, Weiss. I know I shouldn't have lashed out." She put her head down in her hands. "We've both lost someone important." She took a deep breath as she kept her head down. "And yes, I'm dreaming about a stupid door."
"Can you tell me about it?" Weiss asked carefully. She didn't exactly know anything about dreams or interpreting them, but Weiss thought that getting Blake to talk about it would be a good start.
Blake let out a long breath. "There really isn't much to talk about. There's just this door, every night. I'm standing in front of it, and I want to open it, but I can't, and it makes me really nervous and anxious, and… I can't explain it. It's not a nightmare. Just a strange dream that won't go away." Blake flopped on her back.
Weiss couldn't think of a response to the strange answer. She was expecting a nightmare, or some sort of dilemma. Not a locked door. "Maybe it represents trying to move on, but not being able to?" Weiss suggested. Weiss decided that if Blake was opening up to her, maybe she should open up a little to Blake. "I have a dream about Ruby, sometimes." Weiss started. The ears on top of Blake's head twitched slightly at this, as Blake was surprised that Weiss was opening up to her for once. Weiss wasn't very open even before this whole mess. "We're sitting back to back on the ground in a snowy forest, talking."
"What about?" Blake asked.
"Everything." Weiss answered. "School, cookies, dust, weapons, our friends and family." Weiss sat down next to Blake. "But I never see her. Every time I decide to turn around to see her, she isn't there anymore. Sometimes I think I can see her cloak or hand out of the corner of my eye, but if I turn to look then she's gone."
"I guess we both have dreams that are a little strange." Blake said.
"But mine don't wake me up every night, and I don't have that dream every night, Blake." Weiss corrected calmly. "Is there more to your dream?"
Blake shook her head while she was still lying on the bed with her arms out to each side. "No, that's it. I don't know why it wakes me up every night. Probably just a natural response by now." Further discussion between the two was cut short as Nora walked out of the bathroom naked, toweling her hair dry. "We can talk about it another time." Blake said, sitting up and continuing to get her supplies for the day ready.
"All right then." Weiss conceded. She looked over at Nora, who was busy pulling on some underclothes. "Do you two have plans today?" Weiss had a meeting with Councilor Crane and some military officers, but wasn't aware of any plans that her two companions had.
"We got a message from Crane to accompany you." Nora answered as she stood on the tips of her toes in an attempt to get a better view of the higher shelves in the closet. Weiss would offer to help, but as she was the shortest of her friends she doubted she'd be of much assistance. Nora hopped up and grabbed a grey t-shirt off the top shelf. "He didn't say why."
"I see." Weiss answered. The three of them finished their morning routine, getting dressed and cleaning the room they were in. Their clothes were fairly plain, but would work. The three of them were all wearing grey t-shirts and blue jeans, the only clothes supplied in their closet. Crane's message had informed Weiss that she was leaving for the forward base, and that everything she needed would be supplied there, or could be requested. She supposed that Nora and Blake would be joining her now. This left them able to travel lightly once again, bringing only their weapons and a few keepsakes that they always kept on them. Blake had her orange scarf from Yang, Nora had her plushie of Ren, and Weiss had a laminated picture of her and her former team she kept in her pocket.
They left their temporary quarters and spent the next few minutes walking up to the rooftop, where an airship would be arriving to pick them up. Ozpin was waiting on the rooftop to greet them. "Good morning, young ladies."
"Good morning, Professor." Weiss greeted along with the other girls.
"It seems this will be the last I will see of you for a while." Ozpin said, looking over his glasses at them. "I obviously will not be able to visit you freely while you're on the battlefield. And I would like to give you a parting gift, but unfortunately I'm not very good at figuring out gifts." He reached into his pocket and pulled out three small pouches. "So I settled on something functional and small." He handed each girl a small blue pouch, which clinked as he gently set once in each girl's palm.
Weiss untied the yellow string at the opening of her pouch, and was greeted by vials of dust, all sorts of different colors. Nora had pulled out one of her vials, and Blake retied the pouch shut, satisfied at knowing what it contained. Each vial contained a single dust crystal of moderate size, shining brilliantly in the morning sunlight. "Thank you for the gift, Professor." Weiss said, Blake and Nora following suit.
"I figured that they may come in handy one day where you're going." Ozpin shrugged.
"I'm sure we'll make good use of them." Blake assured with a smile. Their thanks were interrupted by the steadily increasing roar of an airship painted with the Sun of Vytal, the kingdom's symbol. The pair of crossed swords behind a beveled edged shield under the sun indicated this ship belonged to the Vytal military. "Our ride is here." Blake observed.
The ship eased into a gentle landing, and the door panel swung open, revealing Councilor Crane. He appeared to be wearing a the same style of suit as he did at the council meeting, but this one was grey with a black trim rather than the straight black he wore before. He waved at the gathered group leisurely. Ozpin returned the wave before turning back to the girls. "There isn't much else for me to say, I suppose. Come back safely once you've won the war, young ladies. Farewell." And without further comment or ceremony, Ozpin returned to the rooftop door and descended the stairwell, closing the door behind him.
The brief moment of stillness was broken by Nora. "Let's go." Weiss and Blake nodded their agreement and followed Nora onto the airship, shaking Councilor Crane's hand as they entered. As they sat in the empty seats, the airship engines which had been quietly idling returned to life and lifted the airship and its passengers back into the sky before the girls and the councilor could settle into their seats. The noise of the engines was quiet in the passenger cabin, allowing the girls to look behind the councilor to see two older men and one middle aged woman in military uniforms looking back at them.
The first man was short, thin, and looked far too old to be an active member of the military. He had no hair to speak of on his head, and his pale, wrinkled skin appeared to be drooping in places. The second man was far younger, having a fit and muscular body that strained his uniform in places. He was old enough that his buzz cut hair had turned completely grey. His face looked rough and chiseled, as if he had once been carved from sandstone. The woman appeared to be about the same age as the second man, her once black hair peppered with grey and pulled back into a tight bun on the back of her head. Her face held a mature and matronly femininity, dignified yet caring. Her short stature was accompanied by a thin body which appeared to be devoid of body fat, but what was left was toned muscle. The first man had four small swords pinned to his shoulder, making him a general; the second man had a small shield, making him a colonel; the woman had three swords, making her a lieutenant general. The huntresses immediately recognized that all three of the people before them were very highly ranked in the Vytal military.
Councilor Crane cleared his throat and held out his hand towards each of the girls in turn as he introduced them. "Miss Schnee, Miss Belladonna, Miss Valkyrie." He said. "I'd like to introduce you to General Kosti, Colonel Sten, and Lieutenant General Songen." He gestured down the line of officers. "And vice versa." He finished with a smile.
General Kosti only nodded in greeting, his face unchanging in its pensiveness. Colonel Sten stood and shook each girls hand, greeting them individually with a stoic look that Weiss imagined must be his default expression from the way he carried himself. Lieutenant General Songen also stood to shake their hands, but she at least had a smile on her face. "Pleasure to meet you, dears." She greeted before sitting back in her seat.
With their brief introductions finished, Councilor Crane continued on. "Well, we are here today to begin the integration of the hunters into the Vytal military. This is new ground for us, but I believe we can work through it." He beamed a smile at everyone. "General Kosti is in charge of the Vytal military, who was gracious enough to join us today during a standstill on the front lines due to poor weather conditions."
General Kosti nodded again, but spoke this time. His voice was a sort of loud, gravelly growl that Weiss found strange and out of place in the old man's thin, bony frame. "I am glad the council has finally decided to see some sense." He said, his eyes glancing at Councilor Crane for the briefest of moments. He clearly was not a fan of politicians and their games, which all three of the huntresses approved of.
"Hey, I did what I could." Councilor Crane protested, half sheepishly and half playfully.
"What you should have done was being this wonderful young lady to a council meeting sooner." He said, holding his hand out to indicate Nora. "I heard about your… altercation… with Chairman Meatbag." The other two officers snickered at the nickname for the fat, greedy Chairman of the council. "And I must say I was sorely disappointed to have not seen it myself. You have my thanks for teaching that horrid creature a lesson." He bowed his head a few inches out of respect.
Nora only nodded, the corners of her mouth turning up just a hair at the memory of hospitalizing the chairman. "It was my pleasure."
Everyone shared a quick laugh at the General's and Nora's interaction, enjoying the momentary respite from thoughts of war. "But I digress. We must discuss as much as we can, as soon as we can." General Kosti continued. "As Councilor has no doubt told you, the war effort is not going well. We are being pushed back farther every week, their numbers overcoming any strategy we attempt to implement." He nodded to Lieutenant General Songen.
"Our attempts to gather intelligence on their motives for the war have left us with more questions than answers, as well." Lieutenant General Songen took over. "The few soldiers we have captured hate us with a passion, believing us to be, and I'll spare you their colorful language, evil people. We've learned that they believe that we attacked them first, destroying and burning down a small town near the Vytal-Vacuoan border." She shrugged. "Which of course our own military did not do, nor do any records indicate a group of hunters or even criminals did this."
Councilor Crane took over, explaining some more details that the military might not have. "We were first contacted by Vacuoan politicians and military officers, who demanded an explanation and compensation for the destruction of their town." He began. "We obviously had no idea what they were talking about, which is when they declared war on us, citing aggressive actions and war crimes on our part. And now… you know the rest. They hate us for supposedly destroying one of their towns; we hate them for attacking us without cause and for killing our innocents."
"Terrorist attacks, maybe?" Weiss suggested. "There are all sorts of criminals out there."
"Roman Torchwick is still out there, for instance." Blake added, remembering the criminal.
"We've considered that, but we have no evidence of it happening. We've investigated the border, but we've seen no signs of unauthorized travel." Songen reported.
"We've created a special investigative team to determine what happened, but we're still waiting on results from that." Councilor Crane informed them. "But at this point it looks like Vacuo isn't interested in peace talks, even if we do figure out what happened."
"Regardless," Kosti interrupted, "we must discuss more details regarding bringing in hunters to join the fight." He looked at Weiss. "I understand that Ozpin placed you in charge of the integration."
"Yes, he did." Weiss said with a nod. "Which brings me to my questions about how much freedom I will have with decisions I make." Weiss was eager to help turn this war effort around, her intense gaze filled with determination.
"Excellent thinking." Kosti admitted. "But you need not worry about being throttled or going through other officers for strategic planning." He reached into his pocket and pulled out something in an envelope. "Because I've known Crane here for many years, I know that hunters are powerful. I know that I don't know anything about how hunters fight. I know that you've spent months training more intensively than any soldier or officer in our army has. Which means you need the freedom to do what you need to get done." He set the envelope in Weiss' hand.
Weiss looked down at the envelope questioningly, but she suspected she knew what was inside. Unfastening the metal bracket and upending it over her hand, a pair of pins fell into her hands. Each pin was cast silver, in the shape of the Vytal military- a beveled edged shield with a pair of crossed long swords behind it. Unlike the standard military symbol, the shield had the Sun of Vytal etched into it, making it distinguishable from the rest of the military. "I'm not familiar with this rank." Weiss responded.
"Because it didn't exist until this morning. I had to call in some favors, but you are now the first Lord Commander of the Vytal military." General Kosti explained.
"I'm honored." Weiss responded with a slight bow. "Where does a 'Lord Commander' fall in the chain of command?"
"Well, the Lord Commander would fall a little outside the standard chain of command. You retain command of all the hunters and the squads they are in, in addition to normal control over the rest of the military. If I had to throw you into the chain of command, you would probably be my equal. You also have free reign to promote and assign rank to soldiers and hunters as you see fit." Kosti revealed.
"Impressive." Blake stated with a grin. "Looks like you'll be ordering us into battle in no time." Blake said to Weiss.
"Well, I'll need more than two huntresses." Weiss said with a grin.
"You'll have more soon." Councilor Crane assured. "Tamamo has informed me that the training is continuing well, and you'll have more graduating and joining you in a few days."
"You know Tamamo?" Blake asked.
Councilor Crane shuddered. "Yeah." His one word responses and the way he tugged at his shirt collar gave them the impression that his memories of Tamamo were not the most pleasant memories. The other three officers also looked away nervously. They had obviously met or known Tamamo at some point as well.
"It looks like you're experiences with Tamamo weren't exactly standard." Weiss observed with a chuckle.
"No, they were not." General Kosti admitted.
"Ahem." Colonel Sten made his first contribution to their conversation. "We should begin reviewing our battle plans before we land, General."
"Yes, yes. Hit the ground running." Kosti agreed. "Let us begin our discussions."
Ozpin sat back down at his desk, having just finished his lectures for the day. He occupied his time now reading applications for the teaching position that he had opened to the public, and communicating with the architects and construction crews rebuilding Beacon to make sure everything was going as planned. He finished reading the different applications, dissatisfied with today's batch. He filed them away in a cabinet just to be organized, despite knowing he would most likely never look at that batch again.
The sound of a falling stack of papers outside his door drew his attention; followed Glynda's muffled voice of protest. And while he was confident Glynda could handle whatever the issue was, he reasoned he should at least check on his friend. Calmly striding over to the door, cane in hand, Ozpin grasped the handle and opened the door to his office. His eyes fell on Glynda's back, who was standing in front of his door protectively with her riding crop raised defensively in front of her. "Is there a problem, Glynda?"
"Headmaster! Please stay in your office while I deal with this criminal." Glynda said, adjusting her stance so she was standing in front of Ozpin. Ozpin leaned around Glynda to get a look at this 'criminal' she was referring to. He saw a man with bright orange hair, with bangs that swept over one of his bright green eyes. Covering his bright orange hair was a red banded bowler hat, a contrast to his red-collared, formal white jacket and grey scarf. His black slacks and black shoes provided further contrast with his white jacket. His hands, covered with black gloves, were held up in a calm gesture of surrender.
"Hello, Ozzy." Roman Torchwick greeted with a smug smile. "Miss me?"
"Roman." Ozpin said. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Headmaster, we really should not be speaking to this horrid man." Glynda protested. "You remember what he did."
"I am aware, yes." Ozpin answered as Torchwick held his place, shifting his weight more to one leg as he waited.
"Calm down, I'm not here with any ill intentions. I'm here to make a business proposition, if you must know." Torchwick said condescendingly.
"Then by all means, come in my office." Ozpin said, backing into his office and gesturing for Torchwick to follow.
"Pardon, headmaster?" Glynda said incredulously. "Surely we should just apprehend him."
"I can at least listen to his proposition." Ozpin replied calmly.
Roman dropped his hands back to his side and grabbed his cane, which was hooked into his right pocket. "Excellent." He strutted into Ozpin's office, Glynda following behind him and watching Torchwick closely, leaving the fallen papers on the ground behind her.
"Would you like some coffee? Tea?" Ozpin offered.
"Some coffee would be appreciated." Roman answered as he sat in the leather swivel chair in front of Ozpin's cluttered desk.
Ozpin poured three cups of coffee from his coffee pot, handing one to each of the other two and another for himself. "So." He began. "Your business proposition."
"Yes, my business proposition." Roman responded. He sipped his coffee. "This coffee is excellent. What brand is this? I simply must get myself some."
"Beans from the Lotus Farms. Owned and run by Lie Zhànshì and Lie Huā." Ozpin answered simply.
"Ah, Zan and Huā. Good people. Their son is a student here, right?" Roman asked conversationally as he continued sipping his coffee.
"Not anymore, no." Ozpin responded. "He died in the attack."
"Pity." Roman said with a shrug, clearly not caring one way or another about the death of some boy he never knew, even if he did once know that boy's parents. "So my proposition." He reached into his jacket and pulled out a folder with a packet of papers inside. He tossed the papers towards Ozpin, who caught the papers and opened the folders to inspect its contents.
Ozpin raised an eyebrow. "This is not what I expected." He said. The folder outlined shipping and purchase plans for large quantities of dust, weapons, medical supplies, and various other items that would be useful to a war effort. "You want to sell me war supplies. A whole lot of war supplies."
"I do indeed." Torchwick answered.
"Are you trying to profit off of the war?" Glynda asked disapprovingly.
"Quite the opposite, actually." Torchwick said his long eyelashes fluttering teasingly as he looked at Glynda over his mug of coffee. Glynda only huffed as she glared at him.
"You're selling this… really cheap." Ozpin said as he continued reading the packet of papers. "You're selling me these products at thirty-two percent of their value. How do you stand to make money from this? If these are the deals you normally make, you are quite the poor businessman."
"I am actually quite the good businessman." Torchwick countered with a smile. "I'm selling you some of my inventory because I need business, for one. Second, I can't do business if everyone gets conquered by some fool country with an agenda. I need this war to end."
"What, can't rob people if some other country robs them first?" Glynda shot snidely.
"That too. But it's more that my people and I can't compete with an army for control over a kingdom. And I do have legitimate businesses too, you know. I'm investing in the long term with this deal." Torchwick countered smoothly. "And I can't exactly walk up to our own fine men and women in uniform and propose a business deal. They'd probably shoot me."
"I'm still debating it." Glynda retorted.
"So feisty. Growl." Torchwick grinned as he mimicked a cat clawing the air with one hand.
"What makes you think we'll take this deal? I agree that supplies this cheap would be a great boon for the military, but you are a criminal after all." Ozpin asked, setting down the folder.
"The enemy of my enemy is a friend, we have a common goal, strength in numbers, the lesser of two evils. Whatever you want to call it." Torchwick said, waving one hand in the air.
Ozpin leaned back in his chair and brought his fingertips together in front of him. "And after the war? We go back to hunting you down, and you go back to your… 'businesses?'"
"Of course." Torchwick said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Headmaster, you can't seriously be thinking about agreeing to this." Glynda protested.
"I can't say I like doing this, but I will agree that our soldiers desperately need these supplies." Ozpin sighed. "I will broker a deal with the military. I assume you have enough legitimate businesses to act as fronts so your own name doesn't come up?"
"Already prepared and ready to go." Torchwick answered with a grin.
"I'll set it up then. You'll have your money, and our army will have its much needed supplies." Ozpin said while standing. He held out his hand.
Torchwick shook Ozpin's hand, smiling in victory. "Deal."