FUCK HOW HOT IT IS TODAY!
Beta: College Fool
Cover Art: Exvnir
Cinder had reinforcements. He wasn't sure why he'd never considered that. Hadn't she mentioned following someone before? How had he not connected the pieces? Jaune spared a glance behind him, down to where he knew Pyrrha and Velvet had gone. From so high up, there was no way he could see them, but that did little for his fear.
"Kid, focus," Roman snapped, drawing him back. "They'll be fine. Or they won't be fine. Whatever the case, they're as good as dead if we don't manage this. As are we."
Was that supposed to make him feel better?
"You can go to them if you wish," Cinder said. "Leave here and protect them. Of course, I'll deal with my insubordinate underlings while you're gone. I might even pay you a visit later."
Roman winced. "Jaune…"
"I'll stay." His eyes turned back to Cinder, breath leaving him in a short, ragged gasp. "I'll trust them to be okay. Your people don't know who they're messing with, Cinder. These are my students." A smile appeared on his face. "And unlike you, I saw the potential they held. I was willing to put time into training them."
"Quality over quantity, dear professor."
"Quantity has a quality of its own." He was pleased to see Cinder's smile fall. He would trust them. He had to. He also had to hope that maxim applied here as well, since Cinder was stronger than any one of them. Jaune spared a glance for Neo and Roman, nodding his head to show them he'd have their backs.
For better or worse, it was time to end this.
Penny placed Ruby down on the grass and stroked her hand across the girl's brow. "I apologise, Ruby," she whispered. "I will try to end this soon and find you aid."
"A fool's dream," Hazel grunted.
The man was tall and burly, everything about him screamed confidence without arrogance. It reminded her of the General. He was dangerous… she knew that. She also knew that with only a single arm, not to mention less than half her blades, she was at a distinct disadvantage. All her training simulations, not to mention the battle algorithms that had been uploaded into her central memory banks, told her she should run.
This was hopeless.
Penny squared her feet. "I am nothing more than a machine. I accept that. Ruby, however, is my friend. I shall not allow you to harm her. Even if it is a fool's dream, I shall accept that. I will be a fool, but I will not let her down."
"So be it." Hazel flashed forward, speed belying a man his size. His fist hurtled toward her stomach, a crackling energy about his knuckles.
Penny was prepared for it. She swayed aside, tapping the flat of her palm against the side of his hand to divert it aside. Behind her, what few blades she had flew up into the air. She sent two into his face.
He caught one with his other hand. The second hit his chin, but had no visible effect.
"Weak," he said, and backhanded her across the face. Penny was lifted from her feet and thrown back, where she crashed down onto mud and grass.
He was strong. She stored that information away, back bending and hand planting down to flip herself back onto her feet. It was just in time to see him rushing in, and to duck underneath a blow that would have surely torn her head from her neck. Penny scowled and rammed her knee into his stomach, but it had as little effect as her last attack.
Was he ignoring the pain and tanking it with his aura, or was he really that durable? She had no idea, but she kept her blades in the air before her as she retreated. His hands flicked left and right, deflecting her blades with skin and bone, heedless of the sharp edges and sharper wires. Her heel bumped into Ruby's side, reminding her of where she was. Her retreat halted. Penny frowned and looked down, then cursed when Hazel rushed in once more.
This time, she met him head on.
Fists flew. His slammed into her cheek, hers into his throat. He grabbed her shoulder, then hissed and let go when she overworked her internals and sent a jet of super-heated steam from her ruptured shoulder into his face. He growled and fell back, eyes closed. She took the time to crack her head against his nose, and to jump up and kick off his chest.
Blinded, his hand still managed to catch her ankle.
Penny yelped as she was dragged in and sent flying through the air. She crashed into the ground, then gasped as she was pulled back again, spun around, and slammed into a tree. Her body fell to the base, shaking.
She… She could still fight. She had to fight.
Her mind was strong. Her mind would not give up. Her body, on the other hand, was nothing more than metal and electronics. A warning flashed in her mind. Her internals were overheating. Her central processor unit was fractured. There were… more than a few screws loose. The euphemism almost amused her. Her only hand planted down as she staggered and stumbled to her feet.
"I am… I am… combat… ready," she slurred.
Hazel shrugged and strode towards her.
Penny staggered. Her left shoulder slumped, head making an ominous cracking sound. Her vision blurred and flickered, but she shook her head to clear it. She summed her blades, then winced when only one responded. Had he targeted the others without her realising? He was a monster.
He didn't waste words on her. He lunged forward, fist catching her collar and dragging her in before she could escape. He regarded her for a moment, and then shook his head. His other fist drew back.
Something flickered behind him.
Penny only had the time to widen her eyes, before something flashed by his face and over her. It was a blade attached to a ribbon, and that ribbon wrapped around the man's throat, choking him. He dropped her, and she collapsed onto the grass. His hand flew to his neck, dislodging it just enough to prevent him from being strangled.
A figure landed on his chest, knees bent. Yang Xiao-Long growled, then kicked off and spun at the same time, catching his head in a roundhouse kick.
Hazel flew aside, but came to a halt when Blake's ribbon ran taut. For a moment, Penny dared to hope it had snapped the man's neck, but he was able to drag it off with his superior strength. Blake landed next to her with a frown, while Yang helped her up onto her feet.
"Are you okay?" Yang asked.
"I'm…" her voice flickered, deepened. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not. Damn it." She looked to Ruby. "You got Ruby out, but where's Weiss?"
Penny's eyes fell. The shame she'd felt before pooled back. "She sacrificed herself to buy time," she whispered. She couldn't meet Blake and Yang's terrified eyes. "I'm sorry."
Yang's eyes flickered. She looked to Penny, then to Ruby, and finally to the man who had just pulled himself up and was walking slowly towards them. Her shoulders shook. Her hands went white. She bit her bottom lip until it bled. Penny's sensors went wild, warning her off intense heat even before Yang's eyes snapped open.
They were bright red.
"RARGHHH!" Yang screamed, streaking forward. Her hair glowed, fist cocked back. Hazel crossed both arms before his face, but Penny saw his eyes widen at the last possible second. Yang's fist hit his forearms.
And he was blown back by the explosion.
Glynda stepped away the red blade, summoning a table into the faunus' path, even as she heard the tell-tale crackle of electricity behind her. She ducked and slipped under the new opponent's guard, but was forced to grit her teeth to ignore the pain as electricity coursed through her. Her legs gave way and she would have fallen, but grabbed a chair with one hand and utilised her Semblance on it carry herself away.
She fell to the floor a distance away, one hand clasped to her shoulder. The nerve endings still burned, evidence of the attack which caught her even though she'd dodged it by a fair margin.
"Surprised?" This Watts character asked. "Electricity-"
"Jumps, I know." She couldn't help smiling at his irritated look. His arrogance was clear. She expected he loved pointing out such needless lessons. "I'm hardly ignorant of basic physics. Nor, I doubt, is anyone else here. You can keep your false pretences of intelligence to yourself."
"False pretences…?" The man growled and took a step forward. His moustache twitched angrily. "I'll have you know I…" He paused, shook his head, and muttered something under his breath. "Never mind. I suppose such wisdom is lost on you. After all, is teaching not the realm of those who could never achieve on their own? What's that old saying? Those who can do, those who can't, teach."
Glynda's response was a discarded sword striking the arrogant fool in the back of the neck. He didn't die, sadly, but he did fall onto one knee, eyes blaring angrily. "Isn't there a saying about those who waste words in a fight as well?" she asked innocently. "I suppose it would be easy to have such a high opinion of yourself when you spend your time hunting children and defenceless civilians. You and the White Fang have so much in common."
"We are not alike," Adam growled.
"Indeed! I, with a lowly beast such as this?"
"What was that, human?" The masked man turned his sword on his companion. "Care to repeat it?"
"Why, did you not understand? Should I use smaller words?"
Glynda kept quiet, using the moment to catch her breath and wondering if her gambit would work at all. Close allies the two clearly weren't, and sowing dissent among them was a valuable technique. She'd thought to teach it to the students, but it wasn't a lesson for first years. Their teams were still too newly formed. The last thing she needed was one causing another to fracture and fall apart.
"I'm sure we can settle out differences after this is all over," Watts said. "After all, my Queen won't have quite the need of you after this."
"Tch, fine. If Cinder thinks she can turn on us, she'll die with you."
"Cinder? Ah, but she would not be my Queen, my boy. She is but a pawn of her own." Watts smirked. "Still, what's say we finish this ungrateful churl here and now? I must admit, the constant barrage of furniture has not done much for my jacket."
Well, it looked like the armistice had been called. Glynda straightened up, flicking her hand and causing masonry and rubble to rise up off the floor. If she could keep them away, she would be okay. With the addition of a second combatant, that looked unlikely, however.
She would have to make it work.
Ren rolled to the side, the pavement where he'd once stood cracking as the crazed man practically teleported to his position. Twin blades dug down, but yellow eyes tracked him unerringly, almost obsessively.
Tyrian giggled happily.
Ren opened fire on his face. "Nora!"
"On it!" Magnihild slammed down, followed by a clunk and an explosion as she ignited one of her canisters, ripping the floor to shreds and causing a blast that might have caught him had she not angled it away. "Did I get him?" she asked. She backed over to him, holding ground in front so that no one could reach him.
Ren hopped onto his feet and stood beside her. "I doubt it. This couldn't be too easy after all."
"Good thoughts, kiddo!" Tyrian yelled, dashing from the smoke. He charged Nora but swayed at the last second, bending his back in a way that would have surely fractured Ren's spine. At the last second, he swerved back up, on the other side of Nora's weapon, and slammed an elbow into her back. She fell forward with a yelp – leaving Tyrian to thrust both wrist blades into Ren's face.
An astral-looking shield blocked it.
"Thanks," Ren gasped, taking Velvet's interference as a chance to build some distance. He looked around, trying to take in what resources they had. Cardin was directing his team around the back, attacking where they could – but the opponent was too fast. Pyrrha was still hurt, not to mention exhausted. He didn't want to risk her. "Pyrrha, just use your rifle," he called, "keep a distance."
"I can fight, Ren."
"No! That's an order!" He rarely used them, but desperate times called for it. She looked like she still might argue, or ignore him entirely. "You're too weak. If you rush in, you'll put us all in danger. Think of us. We have to work as a team!"
Pyrrha scrunched her eyes shut but nodded. The words were painful, he knew, but no less honest for it. They couldn't afford her getting hurt.
A hand settled around his shoulder, palm coming to rest over his heart. "Is the conversation with your girlfriend over?" Tyrian whispered into his ear. "It was very sweet. I liked it~"
"It is now," Ren said. He drove an elbow back, bringing up one of his blades to catch Tyrian's before he could drive it into his chest. The man's strength was still immense, and he struggled to keep it off. What was worse, he could see the scorpion tail coming around, and he had no way to stop it.
A gunshot rang out, followed by a spurt of blood that hissed on the floor.
"Argh!" Tyrian yelled, disengaging and planting a food in the middle of Ren's back. "You bitch!" he screamed at Pyrrha. "You shot me!"
Pyrrha shot him again, this time in the face.
Cardin came from behind, swinging his mace in a horizontal sweep. Tyrian must have heard it, for he leapt up at the last possible second, landing atop the weapon with a crazed giggle. He leaned forward, looking into Cardin's face.
The teen smirked.
Another mace came from the other side, and in the other direction. Velvet swung her copy of Cardin's weapon, the two crossing over one another, but this one catching Tyrian in the flank, driving the wind from him and sending him crashing into the side of Beacon's wall.
"He he he heee heee!" Rubble fell as the man flipped back up. "Wonderful. Simply wonderful. I love it! Such emotion, such brutality, such passion." He held his arms wide, giggling. "This is the moment I live for!"
Great. So, their opponent was insane as well. Ren nodded gratefully to Cardin, earning one in return as the two teams readied themselves opposite their new foe. He was resilient for sure, and also terrifyingly fast. They had the upper hand now, but the man's actions made it clear he was taking it easy on them.
Or more like he was dragging it out on purpose, toying with them.
"Be careful," he warned. "This isn't a fight we can take any chances with."
"As if that wasn't clear from the start," Cardin grunted. He spared a glance for Velvet. "We could really use your old team, Vel."
"They're defending the injured. They can't leave them."
Ren sighed. That was a shame, but understandable. He wondered how many injured there were, then ignored the issue. Injured was good. It meant they were still alive. The loss of the Paladins working against them helped in that regard.
"Are you ready, little children?" Tyrian asked. "Or are we having a tea break?"
"Well, you could give us a minute," Nora said. She grinned. "A minute or Zwei."
Tyrian blinked. "What?"
The only warning he received was a growl behind him.
"ARGH!" he screamed, one hand latching onto the ball of fur and murder which was now attached to his throat. Zwei jerked his entire body left and right, as though trying to tear a chunk from his chew toy's throat. "What kind of dog is this!? What kind of school is this!?"
"Our school!" Nora growled, suddenly within his guard.
Tyrian blocked the swing of her weapon with the sole of one boot. He opened his mouth to taunt her, but went still as a familiar pair of wrist blades slammed against his own.
"And you're not welcome," Velvet hissed. She grinned and opened fire, shooting bullets of pure light from his stolen weapons. It also served to warn the rest of them about the ranged option he had. "Get him!" Velvet yelled.
Ren nodded, rushing in as well. The tail swung for his head, the deadly promise in that gleaming tip obvious. He fell and slid, one hand on the ground as his feet kicked up dirt. Storm Flower sliced the back of Tyrian's foot, aiming for the tendons there. Aura crackled and blocked it, but that didn't stop him unloading three quick shots into the back of his knee. Even though they didn't penetrate, the sheer force behind it was enough to break his balance, sending the man down onto one knee.
"FORE!" Cardin yelled, swinging his mace like a golf club. Velvet disengaged at the last second, escaping the blow.
Tyrian was less lucky, launched up into the air. He crashed through a second storey window.
Zwei hopped off before he went, landing in Nora's arms with a delighted bark. "Who's a good boy?" Nora cooed. "Who's a good little psycho-puppy? You are! Yes, you are!"
"I'm focused," Nora lied, putting the corgi down. It yipped and stood before her, the girl readying her weapon. This fight wasn't over. Not by a long shot. A piece of the wall far above them cracked. Some rubble fell out.
Ren aimed his guns at the entrance and took a deep breath.
The monster broke free once more.
Jaune's lungs ached. He was exhausted, his body aching for rest. To take it would mean putting Roman and Neo in a bad situation though, and with those two still pressing against Cinder, he couldn't let them down. With a frantic gasp, he charged in, swinging towards her shoulder from behind.
Cinder growled and turned, catching his blade on one of hers and pushing it down. She tried to bring the other around, but had to change her mind at the last second and block a thrust from Neo.
Jaune locked eyes with the mute, nodding his head and putting all his weight against Crocea Mors. While Cinder might have been faster and more skilled than he, she wasn't heavier. If he could just break through her guard, or at least force her to block with both hands, then he would leave her open for the others to take advantage.
"Ever the annoyance," Cinder growled. She slammed her heel into his knee, earning a howl of agony and a chance to backhand him aside. She turned, in time to see Neo already attacking.
Neo's eyes widened, the small girl unable to halt her attack. Cinder caught it, twisting the girl to the side and punching the sword out of her hand. She pushed Neo back, then held a palm out towards her face.
"NEO!" Jaune screamed.
Nothing came forth.
No fire, no explosion, no rush of heat. The moment stretched, and Cinder's face shifted into one of surprise, before Roman hurtled in and forced her back. The older man stood before Neo, shielding her from harm.
Neo looked like she'd seen her life flash before her eyes.
"It didn't work?" Jaune whispered.
Cinder scowled. She swept her hand to the side, summoning a rush of fire. There was a crease to her brow, however, and she stumbled just the slightest. If he hadn't been looking for it, he'd have never seen it.
"She doesn't have full control of the maiden's powers," he said. "They're too much for her."
Cinder heard. There was only them atop the ruined tower. She glared his way, eyes blazing with fire. She didn't deny it though. There was no way to. The sudden rush of power stolen from someone else. He hadn't considered it before, but it must have been like discovering a Semblance for the first time. No one could simply have an intrinsic grasp on that, let alone incorporate it into their fighting style with no prior training.
"So, she can't use it…" Roman smirked. "What was that about teaching us a lesson, Cindy? Looks like you're the one who needs to go back to class."
"As though it matters," she snarled. "I was more than enough for you all before I had this power. The abilities are tricky, I'll admit, but that doesn't mean I can't kill you the old-fashioned way." Cinder held her hands out, summoning her blades back for emphasis.
She was probably right. She was more than skilled than they were, and she probably had more practice with it than most since she'd been using the fire-based attacks for some time. Now that he thought about it though, she'd only ever threatened with it – or used smaller fireballs or explosions. She'd never used them in a protracted fight before.
Had that been intentional?
It almost had to be. Cinder avoided them, and she avoided them for a reason. They weren't reliable. They could falter. That was how Neo survived. It was probably how Pyrrha survived too, since she'd had to fight against Cinder on her own.
Cinder wasn't invincible.
"Keep pushing," he growled. "We can do this – she can't keep this up forever!"
Jaune dashed to the left, his shoulder still stinging from the injury he'd picked up before. He swept in from the flank, yelling at the top of his voice and doing whatever he could to make the approach obvious, or just to mask the noise of Neo's stealthy attacks. His blade clashed against Cinder's. Hers flicked and twisted, catching his brow, but he snapped his fingers around her wrist, keeping her still.
Roman engaged her on the other side. He moved faster than Jaune had ever seen before, his cane a spinning wheel of silver. Cinder reacted in kind, and blasts of dust and fire echoed each time metal struck metal. One of his hands shot out, almost catching her cheek but for a lightning-fast dodge. Cinder's hand came back around, a wave of fire behind it.
Neo's blade pierced under her armpit. The small girl danced back, lunging in again at Cinder's left leg. In and out, over and over, stinging like a wasp.
Cinder Fall faltered.
Her breath caught, the flames in her eyes flashing out of existence for but a second. He saw the fear there too, the sudden realisation.
He leapt at the chance. Crocea Mors broke free, his arm batting hers aside as he swept up and then down, intent on cutting her treacherous head from her shoulders. "It ends now!" he roared.
Cinder smiled. "Indeed it does, old friend."
The flames returned.
Fear shot through him, but there was no time to prepare. Cinder summoned an inferno behind her and to the side, slinging Neo and Roman back with twin cries of pain. There was no fire in his direction, however, and that was by design. It allowed him to continue onwards, left him open.
Cinder's blade buried itself in his stomach.
The world exploded in pain. Crocea Mors fell, clattering against the stone floor.
"Jaune!" Roman yelled. Neo might have tried too, mouth open in horror. No words came, however. Not from her. Not from him.
His hands only grasped the blade lodged in his stomach, a faint note of surprise in his mind. Oh, he thought, oddly detached from it all. I guess my aura was more drained than I realised…
Jaune gasped as Cinder's hand wrapped around his throat. She picked him up by it, dragging him close. He lashed out, but Crocea Mors was batted from his weakened grip. "Finally," she purred, "After so long. Oh, Jaune, you wouldn't believe how much I've waited for this moment. Don't move," she shouted at Roman and Neo. "Do… and your dear professor takes a tumble. I can assure you, it's quite the drop."
Neo and Roman stood still, teeth gritted.
The pain was incredible. Black spots danced before his vision, but there was no fear. All he felt was anger. He tried to swear, tried to spit defiance in her face. All he managed was a wet gurgle and a bit of spittle down his chin.
"A cunning ploy," she continued. "Expected of you, perhaps. Trying to wear me out, however? Not a wise choice." She leaned close. "It was never going to work… and now, you finally lose."
Jaune's ears popped. His eyes scrunched shut. Despite that, he forced the words out – even if they came out as a rasp. "No… I don't…"
"I… don't lose," he gasped. "It was… not… you…"
Cinder loosened her grip a little, allowing him to breathe. There was no mercy in it, however. She dragged him so that his face almost touched hers. "What was that, Jaune? Care to repeat yourself."
"The plan wasn't to wear you out." Jaune said. His head lolled back, teeth stained with his own blood. "It was never about you, Cinder. Arrogant of you to think so."
"What?" Cinder's eyes narrowed, "do you mean?"
Jaune grinned. "Take a look behind you."
Glynda staggered and almost fell. Electricity shot through her system, paralysing her muscles, and the crimson blade had drawn blood on any number of occasions. She panted for breath, but managed to keep her weapon pointed toward them.
"Quite the fight you've put up, my dear," Watts said. "Unfortunately, it comes to an end here. Planning, preparation, and a good strategy. These are the marks of a genius, and of a winner." He smiled. "Sadly, you had none of those today."
"You talk too much," Adam growled. He stalked forward, blade flicking to the side. Glynda tracked it, but had to keep an eye on the other too. He'd shown he was more than willing to attack from behind. "This ends here. The White Fang needs me, and there is still someone I need to hunt down."
Glynda's eyes narrowed. She scowled, drawing on what strength she had left. "I will not let you harm one of my students."
"You won't have a choice, human."
Rage rushed through her. How dare he? She tried to face him, but almost fell. A wet trickle ran down her leg. When had he cut her? She hadn't even noticed. Damn it. If this kept up, his words might just be proven right.
Over my dead body, she thought. If he wants to harm anyone, it'll only be after he's killed me.
With what strength she had remaining, Glynda threw a wooden table at him. It crashed into his position kicking up a wave of dust. She heard wood crack, the sound of it breaking. She hadn't expected it to hit him. Only to distract.
When the dust cleared, however, it was not to show the masked faunus, but instead Watts, a cocky smile on his face.
Glynda's eyes widened. She turned, instinctively guessing the direction, even as she saw the red blade. Adam roared, bringing his weapon down with both hands onto the back of her head. Past it, she saw his hate-filled eyes.
And a flicker of light.
Adam's eyes widened. He checked his attack at the last second, throwing himself to the side.
It saved his life.
The area he'd occupied exploded. Dust and tiles were thrown up, the marble floor torn asunder. There was a crack and a snap, followed by an audible sigh. "Oh dear… it looks like I missed."
"Who's there?" Adam growled, creating distance, sword held before him. His eyes narrowed. "A faunus? And you'd stand against your own kind? Tch. It's people like you who allow the atrocities of humanity to continue."
"Allow?" The figure looked up, brown eyes lit with glee. "Oh no, no, no. I don't allow it." Her teeth shone white as she smiled. Her bushy tail flicked back and forth behind her. "You see, in my domain, everyone is treated equally. They all receive the same wonderful treatment."
"About time," Glynda sighed, relieved. "It's good to see you, Tsune."
"I had some injured to look after," the doctor said breezily, "but then suddenly there were medics from Atlas, and everyone wanted to be treated by them for some reason. Such a shame. I thought to myself, `oh Tsune, where can I find more vi- patients`? And then I realised, why not make some of my own?"
Glynda sighed, but was hardly surprised. They'd been friends since before Beacon. She knew all about Tsune's… habits. She just pretended not to. It felt safer that way. "Atlas, you said? Has the battle shifted?"
"You might say that~" Tsune pulled out her weapon, an over-sized pair of scissors that made little sense, but which Glynda could personally attest to being a dangerous implement. Tsune licked her lips, running a finger up one of the edges. She shuddered when it drew blood, sighing dreamily. "Which one is mine? One is young and virile, but the other looks interesting."
"Take the older one," Glynda grunted. She was already out of stamina, not to mention injured. "Be careful. He uses electricity, but he's a cocky idiot."
"How rude," Watts said. "I am a refined gentleman. A doctor!"
"Ooh, a doctor? How wonderful!" Tsune grinned, legs bending beneath her. Her next words came out ominously, as though spoken by a serial killer. "Let's compare notes!"
Blake hit the ground hard, rolling and bouncing across the grass to come to a stop several feet away. Her ribcage felt like it had been hit with a hammer, and she was sure a rib or two was broken. Despite that, she placed both hands down and bit down on a groan as she forced herself up. This wasn't the time. She could recover later. Now was for fighting.
"Argh!" Yang flew past her, almost clipping her head as she struck a tree behind them. "I'm okay," the blonde gasped out. "I'm… still fine."
They weren't. None of them were. Penny tried to buy them time, but apart from Ruby, she was the worst of them. Her arm, at least where it had once been, sparked and crackled angrily. Her movements were sluggish, the glow in her eyes faint. She'd lost the ability to speak some distance into their fight, and now all that came out was garbled noise.
She still fought.
They all did.
They were just falling apart. Ruby hadn't awoken, and every time Blake looked over, her leader seemed paler than before. More still. She wanted nothing more than to go over and check on her, but there was never an opportunity. To do so would mean Yang's death, and Ruby would never forgive her that.
"You should run," the bastard said, in a voice that was far too calm for the situation. "My task is not to interfere with you. If you leave, you shall surely survive."
"Shut up!" Yang roared, rushing in. A left and a right were dodged, a Semblance-empowered haymaker caught in Hazel's grip. "I'll never abandon her!" Yang slammed her forehead into his chin, knocking him back. "I'll never abandon anybody. I won't!"
Hazel growled, taking a heavy blow, before backing up and slugging Yang in the jaw. She sagged and staggered, swaying back and forth.
"If you won't retreat," he said, drawing a hand back, "then you'll die."
Blake screamed a warning. "Yang!"
A gunshot echoed.
Hazel reared back, clutching his hand as dust exploded against it. He grunted, unafraid, and backed away. "I recognise that face," he said, looking toward a figure perched atop a nearby rock. "You escaped the last time. Have you come to die like the other?"
"What's this I see?" the figure rasped. "Two nieces… one injured, the other getting her ass kicked." Qrow Branwen hopped down, his weapon turning back into a sword. "Now, I'm not normally an angry man, but I'm thinking I might make an exception for this." He spat to the side. "Because pal? You're pushing it."
"Qrow Branwen…" Hazel sighed. "Your entrance is inconvenient."
"I'm just bad luck like that."
"My objective isn't you either. Surrender the girl and I'll be gone."
"Yeah, I can't do that." Qrow stepped forward, eyes narrowed. "You see, she's kind of part of my family… and unlike my dear sister, that's a word I take seriously."
"I don't have the time for this." Hazel dashed to the side. Blake's eyes widened.
"Ugh." Qrow fired two quick shots, but the attacker took them without complaint, arm sweeping low to grab their injured teammate.
A sword cut him off before he could. It carved through the ground, tearing up soil. It might have taken Hazel's hand too, but he backed away in time. Yang looked to the person who'd saved her sister, then started to laugh wildly.
"I'm simply repaying a favour," Nicholas Arc said. "That and looking for my errant son. I'm afraid you won't take this girl. Jaune would never forgive me if I let you." He looked over Hazel's shoulder and sighed. "Qrow…"
"Nicholas," Qrow nodded back, not saying any more. "Well, it looks like the whole party is here. What's say you give up and answer some questions of ours?"
Hazel fell into a fighting stance.
"No? Heh… can't say I didn't expect that."
"To tell you the truth, I was hoping for it."
Pyrrha gasped for breath as she fired another shot off towards the fast-paced huntsman. What else could he be when he could move and fight so fast? He weaved between her teammates, as he had for the last thirty minutes or so – slowly cutting them to ribbons. Aiming had become harder since then, the fear of hurting her teammates or friends weighing on each and every shot.
Not for the first time, she tried to stand, to fight.
Not for the first time, her legs gave way and she fell back into a kneeling position. She was so weak. The fight with Cinder hadn't just taken it out of her, it had crushed her entirely. I was foolish to think I could even stand a chance against her. She killed Ozpin. How arrogant was I?
No. There wasn't the time for that. Ren, Nora and Velvet needed her focus. They needed her support.
Things didn't look good.
Their teamwork was exceptional, and CRDL did what they could to support. The foe they faced was simply too far above them, and the difference showed. Russel and Sky were already out, the latter with a great gouge through his arm. Her team weren't without injury either, and Ren limped as he moved, his face ever stoic, but his movements haggard and forced.
Her weapon roared once more.
Tyrian laughed, bringing up his left arm in time to deflect it with the blades there. His tail wrapped around and caught Nora by the arm, almost stinging her – and it would have were it not for Cardin grabbing the stinger with his hand, holding it away. His face twisted in agony, a scream escaping him as his armour and skin burned.
Through it all, the madman smiled. He would laugh sometimes too, taking too much delight in the act of methodically picking them apart.
The combatants broke apart. Velvet had Cardin by one shoulder, looking down at his open palm. Pyrrha couldn't make out anything, but from the look on their faces it wasn't good. Well, if there had ever been any doubt the scorpion tail was a bad thing to be hit by, that confirmed it.
"Not bad, not bad," Tyrian said. "I have to say, it's quite refreshing to see people so passionate for their craft. Refreshing indeed. Of course, it won't matter in the long run. My goddess' words are law, after all. I am but a humble servant who can do naught but obey."
Zwei growled angrily.
Tyrian gasped. "How dare you! To say such things…" He held a hand over his face, but cracked his fingers open, peeking out at them. He burst into laughter. "Oh my, did you believe it – that I could talk to dogs? How hilarious. How hilarious!"
"He's insane," Pyrrha whispered. There was no doubting it. The man was actually some kind of psychotic. They were going to be killed by some B-Rate horror movie axe murderer. Pyrrha growled and settled her hand around her rifle once more, taking aim at his head.
The bullet whizzed by, causing his hair to flutter, even as a segment of wall behind him was destroyed in a fiery explosion.
Pyrrha's hand froze.
She hadn't pulled the trigger.
"You missed," a familiar voice said.
"Nonsense, Oobleck!" Port laughed. "I hit exactly what I intended to. Why, are you suggesting I defeat a man before he's had the chance to bask in the glory of what he faces? That would be unsporting!"
"This `man` has been a part of the destruction of our school," Oobleck said, eyes narrowed. He stepped past Pyrrha, Port doing the same on the other side.
Pyrrha could only stare at them.
"That's why we do things this way, old boy." Port's weapon, a musket and axe combination, slammed down into the concrete. "It's so the bastard can see his defeat coming. That he can despair of how his plans will come to nothing."
Oobleck's smile was not a friendly one. "Well then, perhaps you have a point. Good shot, Peter."
"More?" Tyrian asked. He tilted his head to the left and smiled. "Well, who am I to say no to an additional set of merry actors. Come one, come all, join in." He fell into a crouch. "It'll be grand."
"Professor…" Ren gasped, falling back to the older men. "He's-"
"A dead man," Port interrupted. "Yes, my boy, I know. I can see it in his eyes – my reflection, that is. Any man who dares stand against me after harming my students can be nothing less. Do take a seat, students. Class is about to begin."
What were… were they serious? Pyrrha wasn't sure what to think, and clearly no one else was either. Ren's weapons fell, as did Nora's. More from confusion than from what Port had said. Oobleck laughed.
"You've done well," he said. "Leave the rest to us now. Where is everyone else?"
Pyrrha gasped. "Up the tower," she said. "Cin- Miss Fall went up there. She's the one responsible for everything. Professor Arc went to stop he-"
"Jaune?" Oobleck interrupted.
"Yes!" Pyrrha yelled. "He crashed the airship up there. There was Torchwick with him too, along with someone else. They're all fighting against her!"
"Torchwick, you say?" Oobleck wore a curious smile. "Well, I'll be sure to ask Jaune about that later. Still, it's hardly a surprise now, is it?"
Pyrrha stared at them. "Huh?"
"What he means, lass," Port laughed, "is that it's obvious, no? Where else would my young colleague be other than in the thick of the action? Did you expect him to sit in some prison cell while someone attacks the school? HA! There are days a teacher doesn't miss, Miss Nikos. Inauguration, Exam Day, and the day your school is attacked by terrorists. This," he said, "is one of those days."
"Well, they're not wrong," Ren mumbled, earning a shocked look from her. He shrugged. "Where else would you expect him to be? This is the guy who snuck through an entire village of murderous civilians to choke out the mayor, save us, then come back in time to save you and Velvet."
Huh… good point.
"Take things easy," Oobleck said. "We have this under control."
"Really?" Tyrian asked. He held his arms open. "As I live and breathe, two old relics believe they can put an end to me? That's a little arrogant, don't you think!?"
"Two of us?" Oobleck asked, smiling. He held one finger up, pointing upwards. "Did I ever say it was just us? For the record… the city of Vale has been cleared of Grimm. There are now a lot of upset soldiers, huntsmen and huntresses with nothing to keep them busy. What do you think they'll do?"
Pyrrha's eyes widened. She looked up, and almost choked on her relief. The sky was blacked out, though this time not by a dragon or a sea of Gryphons. The cavalry had arrived. All the people who had gone to protect Vale…
"But for what it's worth," Port interrupted, "I wasn't being arrogant. Half of me is enough to take out one of you, lad. Still, even I'm not so cruel to crush your ego like that. Come. Let's see what tricks the older generation has to teach."
Tyrian's attention wavered. It wasn't fear, but for the first time that night…
There was no smile on his face.
Cinder's eyes widened. She released him in her shock. His back slammed into the floor. He crawled away, and she was too surprised to stop him. "No," she whispered. "How…?" She walked to the edge of the tower, eyes wide. "How is this possible!?"
The night sky was dotted with lights. They were not stars, nor were they the red eyes of the Grimm. Bullheads, Atlas ships, aircraft – anything that could hold a weapon or transport huntsmen. They filled the sky, their trails fading away as they rushed toward Beacon.
Cinder turned back to him. She snarled so loud he heard her teeth creak. "How!? How did you do this!?"
Jaune laughed. He pushed a hand down, body almost giving in as he staggered to his feet. His other hand clutched the wound in his stomach, blood bubbling between his fingers. "I as good as warned you," he said. "I told you quantity has a quality of its own. Did you think I meant me? Ha, good joke. I'm not strong enough to stop you. I never was. I might never be. Roman and Neo wouldn't have been enough either. I knew that. We all knew it. You assumed we were trying to stall and wear you down." He grinned. "Well, you were right on one account. Problem is, it's not you we were trying to outlast."
He pointed behind her.
"It was your invasion."
"But the Grimm!"
"Have stopped spawning." Jaune grinned, tilting his body toward the forest. It still burned, the fire from the battleship having spread. "You brought them in with the White Fang, and those were finite. The dragon could spawn more, but well… I like to think we dealt with that."
"More might have come from the forest as well, but the whole `on fire` thing probably put a damper on that. With the Paladins down, the Atlas soldiers would be able to create a perimeter." He knelt and picked up Crocea Mors once more, breathing heavily. "With the battleship fallen, there's also nothing to compromise the airspace. Your Gryphons are problems sure, but Atlas had an entire armada. They only refused to approach because they knew the captured flagship would destroy them. That's hardly a problem anymore."
He'd crashed it into the dragon after all. Two birds with one stone… or was it two Nevermore with one Atlesian battleship?
"All you have left," he said, "is the White Fang, your little minions, and whatever help you brought." He staggered forward. "I don't expect you ever intended the White Fang to survive this. They'd never be able to actually win. Your goal was to hit hard, take the power and run. Am I right?"
He was. Cinder's eyes confirmed it. They were furious, filled with hate.
But there was now a hint of something else. A hint of fear.
"You can beat the three of us," he said, "but can you beat three hundred or more like us? Can you beat the remainder of the Atlesian military? How about an irate General? Considering who is on top of this tower, I wouldn't be surprised if he opens fire and kills us all."
"Uh…" It was Roman who responded to that. "That's a good point actually. Can we maybe wrap this up and get out of here?"
Cinder didn't seem to agree. "Damn you," she hissed. "You never even intended to win, did you? All of this, everything, nothing more than a distraction to keep me away from the girl!?"
"Yep… and this time, I actually mean that." His laughter hinged on the hysteric. "The simple plans are the best. Honestly, you kept assuming I had bigger ones. I just wanted to keep my students alive, even if it cost me my life."
"And it will, fool." Cinder growled. "That wound will kill you. You're already dead."
The pain came back with a vengeance, like jagged glass through his skin. She was probably right. He felt he should have been more afraid, but fear was the last thing on his mind. "Maybe," he said. "It doesn't change the fact you've lost, Cinder. It's over."
"Over, is it? Ha ha, you fool." Her body shook, flames igniting in her hands. "The maiden was just one of many things, just my own personal little objective. Beacon is destroyed. The school has died – Ozpin has fallen. You think one little victory is going to ruin all of that?"
"I think it'll ruin your day."
"By the look on your face, it already has."
"Then I'll take you down with me!" Cinder roared. She threw her weapons aside, bringing her hands together in a loud slap. Fire pooled out of it like liquid, billowing up on either side of her and expanding in a wide dome.
Roman grabbed his shoulder. "She's going to kill us all," he gasped. "It's time to go."
"Kid, damn it." Roman shook him. "It's over. She's lost!" He pointed to the expanding wall of flame. "If you get caught in that it's all over. We have to get out of here while we still can!"
"She'll escape. The fire won't hurt her."
"No, but it will hurt us. It'll kill us! Damn it, you're already injured. Use that brain you've tricked everyone into thinking you have."
"Okay… okay, I get it." He sighed. "Let's get out of here."
"Right," Roman nodded. "Nice to see you're using your brain for onc-argh!"
"Sorry!" Jaune yelled, pushing Roman down the stairs that would take him to the lower floor. He hit Neo en route, the girl being ahead of him, and the two were sent sprawling down into safety. "I'm sorry," he repeated, "but this has to end here."
He staggered back, ignoring the startled cry from below – of Roman screaming his name.
It had to end.
He staggered toward the fire. Halfway, he fell to one knee, fingers slick with blood struggling to pick up his weapon – his father's weapon. Red liquid ran over the leather making it slick. The tip scratched against the floor as he used it to push himself up.
The heat washed over him. It was close. Close enough that he could feel it stealing the oxygen from his mouth, that sweat poured down his skin. Cinder was at the middle of it, seeking to kill them all. He could have retreated, but that would have allowed her to escape. It would mean dealing with her again. It would mean her coming for his students again. For him, for Glynda, for Roman, for Neo – for everyone he cared about.
With a gasp and a cry, he stepped into the fire.
It was a world unlike any he'd known before, a world where breathing was all but impossible, where nothing could be heard but a constant roar with the occasional crackle and pop thrown in for good measure. It was a world where the very clothing he wore peeled away. Where all light was cut out, his eyes forced shut by the intense heat.
It was Cinder's world.
She was going to turn him to just that.
He forced his left foot forward, and then his right. Where it felt the hottest, where it hurt the most… that was the direction he took. Crocea Mors scraped against the floor. He felt his wound bristle and burn. He felt the heat on his insides.
He felt himself dying.
But it was just a little further. The rooftop wasn't big enough for her to hide. He would find her. He had to. He forced his eyes to open, struggled past the agony to keep them that way, to look ahead.
There was a shadow among the orange, red and blue.
The shadow moved closer… or rather, he moved toward it. As he closed, he also heard a voice – a voice that was far quieter than the inferno around him, but which reached his ears nonetheless. "Impossible," it – she – said. "Impossible! How can you-? You should be dead!"
Jaune opened his mouth, but the words were stolen. His last lungful of air was stolen too, burned out of him entirely. His strength weakened, but he still managed to drag his weapon in front of him. To bring his tired muscles up, to aim the gleaming point toward her.
Cinder's eyes widened.
"Rargh!" She screamed – and the fires grew hotter still, pouring from her hands, her eyes flickering with golden flames. "Die already! You're nothing. You're nothing more than a petty criminal. You're nothing more than an insignificant worm – a crook."
Yes… Yes, he was all of those things – but he was also so much more.
He was a liar, he was a fraud, he was a cheat…
Images flashed before his eyes. Peter, Bart, even Bran. That was right. He was also a friend. He was a colleague, a friend – a drinking buddy. He was a lover too, as he thought of Glynda, her coy – almost uncharacteristic smile hidden in the sheets as she traced a finger over his chest.
He remembered the girls too. He recalled Team RWBY. Not only to them though. There was Team RVNN, the team he considered his in a way. The team he'd named, the team he'd forged, the team he'd repaired.
He was a professor, he was a counsellor, he was someone they came to when something was wrong, or when they just needed someone to speak to. Someone who wouldn't judge them, who would trust that an ex-terrorist was just that. Who would listen to how a girl sacrificed her childhood to look after her younger sister. To hold a weeping girl who had responsibility forced on her.
He was a professor.
He was a huntsman.
"Die!" Cinder roared. There was a note of panic in it now, of fear. Her eyes were wide, her lips peeled back. There was hatred there, but terror too. The fire couldn't get any stronger. She couldn't kill him any faster than he was killing himself.
Crocea Mors came up, the hilt propped against his shoulder.
"Die!" she echoed. "Die, die, die – die already! Why won't you die!?"
Because… because Beacon was his home. Because this was his life. Because this was the life he wanted. Because she'd threatened that…
Because he was a professor.
He screamed. There was no telling what he screamed – or if any noise came out at all. His mouth opened, his eyes clenched shut, and he pushed his dying legs forward, carrying himself the rest of the way.
Crocea Mors lashed out. Weakly, clumsily, pathetically…
It connected with something. He heard a scream, one filled with agony. He felt something splash across him, something soft and wet – only for it to burn off his skin the next second. He smelled blood. Blood and ash. Cinder screamed, a mixture of rage and pain – of shock and horror.
Professor Arc's knees hit the floor.
His body struck it a second later.
Gods, this fucking HEAT! I can't even… I wanted to give up so many times on this and for NOTHING writing related. I am dying here. Why is it so fucking hot? I have been trapped in my office all day with an overheating computer and a Dyson air cooler which just ISN'T enough.
I've never felt this bad. Oh my god…
I just… thank god this chapter is over. I couldn't write any more. I'm defeated! Not by fatigue, not by anything… just… heat.
Screw everyone who likes hot weather. Give me rain any day of my life. Oh god, I need to go and have sex with a bucket of ice. I am going to shag it raw. Good night, ladies and gentlemen. Coeur is out before he dies.
Next Chapter: 25th June
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur