You've probably all seen this by now, but here we go again…

Hey guys, there's a bit of an important note at the bottom, but I'll tl;dr it here as well.

I kind of need to take a one week holiday from writing, partly for health reasons, partly for quality reasons. Therefore, the next chapter of this won't come out until two weeks – the 22nd May. After that, things will go back to normal, but there's just going to be a week where I'm missing.

As said, there will be notes at the bottom to fully explain.

Also, chapter numbers have changed - more details at the bottom. I will retcon others when I have the time.


Note: Alerts may still be borked. I know… nothing I can do.


Beta: College Fool

Cover Art: Dishwasher1910

Book 2: Chapter 14


We were given quarters to recover inside the Grand Academy, and Archmage Ironwood kept us there for several days. It only took a few hours for me to recover, my muscles and bones repaired from the insides by magic. Even now, my hand would occasionally hover over a part of my body, marvelling at how new and light it felt. They'd kept me in bed for two days, however, during which I received regular visits from Ruby, Pyrrha and – less often – Blake. Ren shared the room, of course, the same ones we'd been given when we first arrived, but that felt so long ago. In truth, it was less than a week, but it felt like months.

I definitely felt older.

Today was a rare opportunity for me to move about, freed by the Priest who rescued me atop the mountain and given permission to wander the halls as I wished, so long as I stayed in the white, silken robes she'd forced me into. They felt soft and airy, thrown over my hose and tunic, but would apparently mark me as both a guest and someone who was recovering from treatment. I was thankful the amulet was still safely stored beneath it all. No one thought to take that off. It probably wasn't necessary, since they could use magic to heal me through my clothing. At least they'd seen fit to have someone repair my armour. The breastplate sat in the room, as clean and smooth as when the Quest began. Notably, it prevented anyone paying too much attention to how Glenn Vuori's lance-point had melted into it.

My hand fell upon the railing of an open balcony, the gardens and flowers outside a welcome sight, the sensation of warm sunlight tickling my skin even more so. The air so far up the cliff-side mountain was crisp and sharp, with a tang of salt from the ocean mixed with the scent of fresh flowers from down below. It was a welcome relief after so long trapped in bed.

It was a welcome relief from The Fang too, which I could still see in the distance. It dominated the landscape, its white form resplendent against the blue sky.

I still couldn't believe we'd made it. I couldn't believe that, against all odds, the Archmage saw what I'd done to Merlot and assumed it was a cry for help, the lighting of some beacon to draw attention. I didn't feel like I'd saved everyone, but Pyrrha made it a point to drive that home whenever she visited. She probably still recalled my crisis of confidence before the quest. A soft smile slipped across my face. It was just like her to try and make me feel better.

And feel better I did. It wasn't just emotionally, but also physically. I felt stronger… stronger in a way that was noticeable. I closed my eyes and concentrated for what felt like the hundredth time. Each time I did, it still took me a few seconds to believe it could be true.

Twenty-three… I was Level twenty-three, now. I'd been Level seventeen when the Quest began. I'd gained two against the Berserker, and then another one after we'd fought off several Grimm on the mountain, and slain the large Deer-Grimm, the Duneyrr. Now, again Merlot – and the power of all the Grimm he'd absorbed – I'd gained a staggering three levels. Well, two and a bit, but that was enough to push me over three. I felt different… the sensation of suddenly gaining power was always an odd one, but it was normally a single level, and so quite subtle. Here, however, I'd gone up over ten Strength, which was a rather crazy leap to experience almost overnight.

It made me realise just how powerful Merlot must have been… for one creature to grant that much Exp across so many people – especially once that strange girl arrived to rescue us. It was a stark reminder of just how fortunate we were.

My stomach grumbled, and that proved a stark reminder of just how hungry I was as well. I laughed and took a last, long breath of fresh air, before pushing off the railing and making my way back inside. Students passed by on either side as I hugged the wall and meandered my way down the corridor. Their co-ordinated robes fluttered behind them as some chatted, others rushed and several read from thick tomes as they moved. It was just like Beacon, and that was a feeling I'd not had when we first arrived. I guess back then, I'd been too worried about what would come to pay attention. The Grand Academy was quite a friendly place when you were in the right mind, however.

I managed to find my way to a small cafeteria only once having to ask directions. Unlike Beacon's huge, communal building, the Academy seemed to have several smaller ones, and since it was lesson time for most people, it was just about deserted. Round wooden tables, that resembled an inn more than the long ones back in Beacon, dotted a marble floor. Plush seats were pulled up against them, and it didn't take long to spy some familiar figures there – and for them to spy me in turn.

"Jaune!" Ruby yelled. She stood up and waved, despite the fact there were less than sixteen other people in a room fit for a hundred. I waved back, and limped over in time to receive a hug from the excited Reaper. "Why didn't you tell me you were back on your feet?" she asked. "We could have gone exploring together. Wait, are you allowed out – are you fully healed?"

"Calm it, sis," Yang tugged the girl down with a wide grin. "If he wasn't allowed out, he wouldn't be out. We're dealing with Mages here. They'd have cast a spell to keep him in." She looked me up and down herself, though. "Glad to see you up too, fire-starter."

"Glad to be up," I said, settling down into one of the seats. It was softer and cushioned, very different from the utilitarian stools back home. Right now, after all the work we'd done, I more than appreciated it. "Don't tell me that's my new nickname – thanks Ruby," I added as she passed over a wooden flagon of rich cordial.

"Could be, depends on whether you like it or not."

"I don't like it. It sounds terrible."

"Then fire-starter it is," Yang said, laughing when I groaned.

Ruby giggled and nudged a foot against mine. "Ignore her," she said. "Yang's just tired from being cooped up with no one to beat up. She challenged a Mage to a spar, but the girl just levitated her into the air until she gave up."

"Hey! I thought I told you not to share that story!"

"Did you?" Ruby shrugged. "Whoops, my bad..."

"Oh, really?" Yang glared at Ruby's expression of fake innocence, before she coughed and turned to me. "So, did you know Ruby spent every day harassing your healer to know if you were okay and when-" She didn't get any further on account of the hand that clamped over her mouth. Ruby's face was bright red.

"Yaaang!"

"Turnabout is fair play," Yang said as she pulled free. "I'll give you a break for now, though. So, fire-starter… what you been up to? Is Ren keeping you busy?"

I groaned and laid my hands on the table, head atop them. "Don't get me started on Ren... he's spent every single day since we got back trying to research that thing Merlot summoned in the temple. The only time he even looks up is when Nora breaks in and drags him away by his feet."

"That creepy Grimm-woman?" Yang asked. She shivered when I nodded. "I'd rather he didn't, to be honest. If I have my way, I'll never have to see that thing again."

"Or feel it," Ruby added. "I felt so powerless… so… so weak."

"We all did, Rubes." Yang bumped an elbow against her sister's to try and cheer her up. "All except for ol' fire-starter here, or should I call you the Grimm Wanderer or something? After all, you were the only one able to move when she was there. How did you do that, anyway?"

"No idea," I answered. "Also, please don't call me that either. It's even more pretentious than the first." I sighed and took another long drink, savouring the fresh citrus that tingled on my tongue. It was crisp and refreshing, just what was needed. "Did the Archmage ask you about her too? He spent at least three hours in our room grilling Ren and I."

"Same," Yang said. "I guess he did it with everyone. I can't blame him for wanting to find out, though. I wouldn't feel particularly safe if I knew someone who could control Grimm was atop a nearby mountain either."

"She said she was summoned," Ruby chipped in. "I doubt she lives there."

"I don't want to remember anything she said, Ruby." Yang clutched her arms as though she were cold. "Can we leave this be – talk about something else?"

Her reluctance was understandable. The memory of that woman haunted me too, especially at what she'd done so casually and how she was summoned. I shrugged and quickly changed the subject. "What have you two been up to? Anything good?"

"I've been going stir-crazy," Yang laughed. "But Ruby made a friend, didn't you?"

"I did!" Ruby cheered. She practically vibrated in her seat, eyes sparkling. "You remember that girl who saved us, Penny? Well I managed to find her in the corridors and we got to talking. She's absolutely awesome and we have so much in common. We're going to exchange letters when I go back to Beacon."

"That sounds like fun," I said. "Make sure to send her a thanks from me as well. She deserves it after saving our lives."

"I will. I was asking about her because of the things she said. Apparently she's a Construct," Ruby put special emphasis on the word, saying it slowly. "I asked what that means and it's that she wasn't born like most people are, but that she was created by the Archmage as a magical being."

"I guess that explains the lack of blood and dying."

"Yep. Penny says there are a load of Constructs in Atlas, but that she's the only one who has her own mind and personality, and that the others need to be controlled remotely by Mages who specialise in it."

"What makes her so different? Is it just because she was made by the Archmage?"

"That's what she says."

Gods… how much power did the man have? Not for the first time, I wished it were possible to see a person's Level along with their name and Class. Then again, maybe that would only intimidate me. He has to be way higher than us though. It's just unreal how he can be that different from every other Mage.

"Whatever the case, I'm just glad we're all alive," I said. "It could have gone so much worse."

"It did for someone," Yang whispered. She nodded her head to the left.

I followed it, and felt my heart fall into my stomach as I saw a robed figure, alone on a table in the corner of the room. Kaedin Sand had his head low, drooped over a glass, a half-empty bottle before him. He looked older… in a way that was marked by the thick lines on his face. I sighed and stood up.

"Jaune?" Ruby whispered.

"I'm going to talk with him."

"Do you think that's wise?" Yang looked worried. "I doubt he wants to talk with us… doubt he wants to even see us."

She was probably right, but that didn't make it the right thing to do. Viktor died to protect me… died because of me. I wasn't going to simply walk away and not address that. "I still want to talk with him," I said. "I'll see you both later, I guess."

"We're headed off to explore with Nora." Yang and Ruby rose from their own seats, pushing the chairs back.

"I guess we'll have plenty of time together on the boat tomorrow," Ruby said with a little grin. "I'm going to try and find Penny until then." She hesitated for a moment, but then stepped forward to wrap her arms around me again. It was softer this time, less desperate, and I hugged her back. When she parted, her cheeks were pink, but she wore a pleased smile. "See you tomorrow, Jaune."

"See you tomorrow," I said, as I watched her leave and Yang shoot me a grin before she followed. "Oh, and remember to thank Penny for me, okay?" Ruby nodded and waved as she left.

That left me alone among strangers. A small dagger of fear wormed its way inside me as I watched the elderly Mage in the corner. Yang was definitely on point when she said he wouldn't want anything to do with me, but I still felt responsible. A real Hero wouldn't be afraid to talk with him, I thought. Those words, which echoed Viktor's last, pushed me on.

"Kaedin," I greeted, as I came to a halt a few paces from his table. His face was etched with grief, both from the lines that ran down his cheeks, to the vacant, intoxicated look in his eyes. He'd always been a man with a smile before, but that seemed far away now. "Do you mind if I sit?"

He laughed. Bitterly. "If you want to…"

I moved to sit down.

"Not there!" he snapped, hand slamming down on the table. I froze, rear-end a few inches above the seat.

"Uh…?"

"That's Vikto-" His words cut off. The man's face twisted, lines growing thicker still as he swallowed what he was about to say. In the end, his words came out a painful rasp. "Just… pull up another seat, please."

I nodded and dragged one across, settling it between Kaedin and the empty seat. Viktor's seat. The Mage reached out to pick up the clear bottle, and poured some greenish liquid into a glass. It clinked down in front of me, as he topped up his own and took a quick swig.

"Green Diamond," he said. "It's made from crystalline water that flows down from The Fang. It collects in a narrow valley by the bottom, filtered over precious stones buried deep underground. The faunus at the base of the mountain use it to make a blend of wine and spirit they sell across Atlas and beyond."

It sounded interesting. The spirit was a rich, see-through green colour. It smelled of lime and something tangy. I took a sip. It was soft and rich, vibrant and refreshing – with an icy coldness that reminded me of the mountain we'd left behind. It was strong, though. So strong that I couldn't help but cough. Kaedin laughed.

"I had the same reaction when I first tried it. It was once I'd graduated from the Academy and become a real Mage of Atlas. Viktor snuck a bottle in, then teased me until I gave in. He challenged my manliness, made it out like I was afraid." Kaedin smiled longingly. "I wanted to prove him wrong so bad, I tipped half the bottle back in one go. It was my first time drinking and I remember him holding my hair back later as I suffered for my mistake." The smile fell, replaced with a deep sigh. "Viktor loved Green Diamond. It was his favourite drink."

My eyes fell to it once more. A harsh drink for a harsh man, but one who'd died to protect me. I swallowed another mouthful. It kicked still, but there was a certain bitterness to it I relished. I took a third drink before putting it down. "Do you hate me?" I asked. "Do you hate us for what happened?"

"I do." he whispered. "I hate you all so much… both for what you couldn't do, but also for how you did it anyway, how you accepted this Quest knowing you weren't strong enough."

I sagged in my seat.

"But it will pass," Kaedin said, taking a deep breath. "I know my anger more than any other… it is a rage born of grief. More than you, I hate myself for not being fast enough to save him. I hate myself for not asking for more help to support us, for leaving you to face Merlot alone when we might have been best suited for it." He sighed and took another long drink. "I hate you… but I don't blame you. It is… I am angry, upset. Please forgive me."

"There's nothing to forgive." Not for this. Not for being human and feeling the loss of another. "What was he like? I only knew him a short time, bu-"

"Viktor was from a traditional family," Kaedin began, "as was I. Unlike many others, the two of us were introduced as young children, back when I was but five or six years old. The memories are hazy, but I recall he was a year older and that I lacked in both confidence and assertiveness. I remember Viktor looking me up and down, and how he said he had his work cut out for him." He laughed and shook his head. "He really did. He never gave up, however. Never dismissed me, my nervousness, nor did he ever express any regret at having been made my Sentinel."

"Sounds like he was the same person as both a child and an adult."

Kaedin smiled. "Oh, he was. Viktor was an adult even as a young boy, but that was just the way he was. He took his duties seriously, but was never afraid to spend time at the bar, even before he was legally allowed to do so. He was a constant shadow to me, a pillar to lean on when I felt weak, and a sharp knock to the back of the head when I was being dramatic. He kept me grounded, helped me grow – made me the man I am today… a man I could feel proud of seeing in the mirror. As harsh as he could be, as uncompromising as he was, he was my best friend and I was his. We shared everything. Hopes, fears, dreams..." His voice broke. "And now he's gone…"

"I'm sorry."

"As am I," he said. "About many things, some what I did do and some what I didn't, but that doesn't change what happened, nor does it make the pain any less." He took another long drink, and the glass fell almost clumsily onto the table. "I have a little advice for you, if you'll take it."

I leaned forward. "I'm listening."

"Your friends… your Guild. Protect them with your life. Live every moment as though it's your last. And if you should ever be in a situation where they are in danger, my advice would be to give your life trying to save them." Kaedin gripped his face with one hand. "It is easier than living without them."

"I will…" I tried to find more words to say, but couldn't. Instead, I picked up my glass and whispered a silent toast to a dead man. It tasted better… less like it was filled with regret. "What will you do now?" I asked. "Will you be okay?"

"I will live. To do any less would be to spit on Viktor's sacrifice. As for my place as a Mage, I shall remain here and do what I can. I won't ever take another Sentinel, however. Some of the romanticists will say it is our psychic bond. That it was broken and the backlash affects me still." He chuckled. "Little do they realise how painfully ordinary this is."

No special powers, no secretive rules, just two people – bound together through friendship. The Mage was right when he said it before, that it was its own special kind of magic. I couldn't even begin to imagine what it would be like to lose one of my friends, but the memory of Ruby's near-death still haunted me. Kaedin was right… back with Blake, it had been easier. I'd been prepared to die with her, and that felt so much sweeter than thinking of her dying while I lived.

"I have something for you," Kaedin said. He reached behind him and dragged his staff forward, leaning it against the table.

I took it warily. "Your staff? Why would you give us this?"

"Of Merlot, there was little that remained. His clothing was torn to pieces as he transformed, as was all that he carried on him. His stave, however, he left by the altar. As the only Mage among our group capable of using it, that fell to me." He nodded to acknowledge Weiss' situation. "In turn, I wanted to give you this. You deserve some reward, and Viktor's weapon and armour… I can't..." He looked away.

"I understand," I said. "I wouldn't – couldn't – accept that." Not if it meant robbing Kaedin the chance to bury it with what remained of his companion. "I'm surprised you would even touch Merlot's staff, though. Is it more powerful?"

"About the same," He shrugged. "I intend to use my position to fight those who wish to develop The Fang and take it away from its faunus occupants. I figure doing that with his staff will be a good way of despoiling his memory." He held up his glass before him, and I clinked mine against it as we both drank.

"It sounds like a worthy cause, Kaedin."

"Vuori's spear, or what's left of it, is yours as well. I've asked for it to be delivered to you, but it's good for naught but scrap. I wanted to give you this now because… because I do not believe I can bring myself to see you off tomorrow." He sighed. "Forgive me for that."

"It's fine." I didn't blame him for not wanting to see us. He'd already done enough. I was surprised he was even willing to talk with me, let alone share a drink. Had I been in his place… had Viktor been Ruby, Blake, Pyrrha or any of my friends? I didn't think I could have done the same. I would have hated the people who dared cost their lives, especially if it was because they'd arrogantly accepted a Quest too strong for them.

I finished my glass and put it down.

"I'll leave you be." I said. "It was… it was an honour to fight alongside you."

He didn't reply to that. I didn't expect him to. I pushed up out of the seat, and hesitated for a second before taking the staff in one hand. It was heavy and gnarled, made of some thick wood I couldn't recognise. We'd have to sell it. That was all we could do. As I moved away, I paused, and noticed the filled glass of Green Diamond still on the table.

It was in front of Viktor's chair… untouched.

"I'm sorry," I closed my eyes against the pain. "I'm sorry, Kaedin."

"I know." he whispered. "Fare thee well, Jaune Arc."

/-/

In some ways, the conversation with Kaedin went better and worse than expected. On the one hand, an olive branch had been offered in the form of the thick, undoubtedly powerful staff I held in one hand. It earned no share of strange looks from those I passed, but what was one to think of a Knight with a staff?

Probably what one must have thought of a Mage with a sword. Had Weiss faced this same attention? I'd never noticed.

It was not Weiss I looked for, however, even if I found her. The white-haired Mage was sat a short distance away, and to my surprise, alone with the person I had been looking for. Blake's long black hair fell down her back as she nodded to something Weiss said. I stepped closer, in time to hear the tail end of the conversation.

"-hope you understand," Weiss said.

"I do. Honestly, it's more than I expected – and thank you for that. You're not wrong, however. Many are just like the kind of person you described." One of Blake's ears twitched and flicked in my direction. "We're not alone. I think we should end this here."

Weiss nodded and stood up. She turned to look at me, pale eyes meeting mine for a moment before the trailed away and she stepped past me. A respectful nod in greeting was the most I received, and then she was gone.

"It's rude to eavesdrop," Blake said. She crossed her arms, the displeasure in her eyes clear. "How much of that did you hear?"

I held one hand up before me and winced. "Only the end, I promise. I didn't mean to listen in. I just wanted to talk to you."

Blake's frown softened. "Only the end?" she asked, and waited for my nod. "I'm sorry. It was a rather personal conversation."

"Is everything okay?"

"Everything is fine. Better than fine in fact." Blake turned and sat down, and while she didn't gesture for me to do the same, she did leave just enough room on the bench beside her for me to do so. "I was surprised myself, but Weiss sought me out. She wanted to apologise for the way she treated me back in Beacon, for the mistrust and the antagonism."

"She did?" I asked, genuinely surprised. It must have shown in my voice, for Blake laughed.

"I know. I was surprised as well. Weiss… she has her reasons. I understand that now. Still, I believe the two of us have crossed a busy road and found common ground in the middle. Anything more is personal and I won't betray her trust." Her amber eyes flicked to the staff. "What's that?"

"Kaedin's staff," I explained, handing it over for her to have a look at. "He took Merlot's. It's the only real thing that could drop from a Mage turned into a monster, and only because he didn't have it on him when he transformed. Kaedin intends to use it to better the lives of the faunus on The Fang." I smiled. "It's his way of destroying Merlot's legacy."

Blake inspected the staff and nodded, handing it back to him. "A good goal for a good man. How is he?"

"Hurting. I spoke to him earlier. We shouldn't expect to see him wave us off tomorrow. He doesn't hate us, but he's angry and hurt. I think it's best for him if he never sees us again."

"Understandable. I can't imagine I'd be any different in his shoes."

A small smile escaped me at that. She'd had the exact same thought I had earlier. Were we really that similar? Sometimes it felt like it. My mouth felt a little dryer than usual, my hands a little shakier.

"Do you remember what almost happened on the mountain?" I asked.

"Which part? It wasn't exactly a peaceful trip."

"The part between us," I said. It felt like my nerves were on fire. "In the cabin... when we thought we might die."

"I remember." Her voice was even, measured.

I didn't like it.

My tongue shot out to wet my lip. Did I stop? Did I back down? I didn't think I could. "Do you…?" It didn't sound right. "What are…?" Neither did that. How was he supposed to ask? "Is what happened there how you-"

"I'd rather not speak about it," Blake said.

"Oh…" I looked away and took a deep breath. Okay… that… hadn't gone as expected. There was no denying the heavy weight in my stomach, or the sag of my shoulders. "Well… that's fine, I guess. I'm… I'm sorry I brought it up." I tried to keep my voice calm, I really did, but the hurt I felt almost certainly leaked into it.

Blake sighed and shook her head. "Jaune, what happened there, what I said and what we did… it was done with the expectation that there would be nothing afterwards, that I wouldn't be alive long enough for there to be an aftermath." She leaned forward, dropping her hands between her knees as she stared ahead. "My mind wasn't in the right place at the time. My emotions weren't, either. It's… I don't want to think back to that desperation, to that fear and pain."

"Y-Yeah, you're right." I slumped forward, even as I did my best to laugh. "I'm being pretty stupid, I guess. You thought you were going to die. You would have probably done that with anyone."

"No."

My head lifted, in time to see her look away. Had she been watching me? "What?"

"I wouldn't have done that with anyone."

Did she…? I wasn't sure what to feel. Hope welled up inside, but it was already wary and hurt from before. I waited for something, words or action to offer more meaning to what she said, but as the seconds ticked into minutes, it became clear they wouldn't come.

In the end, it was I who wet my lips and dared to ask, "What do you mean?"

"Who knows?" Blake sighed. "I don't, that's for sure." Her head tilted, just enough for me to see a single golden eye through a curtain of raven-coloured hair. She really was beautiful. "Now that you're recovered, we're to sail tomorrow, aren't we?"

"We are," I said. I knew it was a distraction, a change of subject, but I pretended she'd fooled me. "How did you know I was better?"

"I asked the Priest who was treating you. She told me."

The Priest - but she hadn't been by my room since the night before – and it was only then that she cleared me to leave when I woke up today. That meant Blake had cornered her outside, perhaps even waited there so make sure the woman wouldn't get away. A thrill shot through me, and my smile became just that little bit more genuine.

"What are you smiling about?" she asked, eyes narrowed.

"Just about the thought of going home," I lied. I realised a moment later it was no lie at all, as thoughts of Beacon, the Hunter's Lodge and Vale swam into my mind. I was looking forward to it. More than I'd ever realised.

"Hmm..." Blake sounded like she didn't quite believe me, and with good reason. She really was dangerously perceptive. "I suppose I am as well. It feels like it's been such a long time."

"Will you join our Guild now?" I asked. Her expression sharpened, so I rushed to continue, "You're closer with all of us now, and even Weiss considers you a friend. I just thought it would be polite to offer."

"I think I'll pass for now. You know I like my peace and quiet, not to mention my solitude." She allowed a tiny smile to pass between us, to show it wasn't anything between us that prevented her. "I'll think about it, Jaune. I promise I will."

"Well, my offer stands – if you ever change your mind, there's a place for you."

"Thank you. Don't you still have your own problem, though?"

Confusion settled over me, and it honestly took a moment or two to figure out what she meant. When I did, it was quickly followed by a muffled groan. Torchwick and the debt we owed him, along with all the repairs our Guild Hall required. "I forgot all about that," I said. "This entire Quest was to earn lien to cover those costs, and I honestly forgot."

"Is that so difficult to imagine?" Blake asked with a little laugh. "This whole thing was bigger than that. The faunus, Merlot, those Circle Mages who wished to colonise the mountain. Through all of that, it's hard to keep focus on little things back home."

When she put it like that, it was hard to argue. "What do you think will happen to those on The Fang?" I asked. "I never thought to ask…"

"I did," she said. "I talked to the Archmage about it when he asked me about that… that creature we saw. He told me he's going to use the fact the ritual was held there to declare the entire Mountain off-limits to development. There's too much they might yet find, so he's going to dispatch teams there to monitor and investigate." Her eyes sparkled. "While they're there, he's asked them to see to offering supplies, medical attention and help to the communities affected by the disasters."

"Huh…" I leaned back on the seat and took a deep breath. "I guess everything really did work out." Perhaps not as we'd intended it, or as we might have wished – but the results were satisfying, and that helped. The warm sun did too, along with the gentle breeze that ruffled my hair. On a whim, I turned my head to look at Blake. "You didn't want to do this Quest at first. You told me to give it up, and that it would be a mistake. Do you still think that?"

"Asking me after the fact?" She huffed. "It's easy to answer that when it's already over and we lived through it. That's cheating."

"You didn't answer the question," I pressed.

Blake scowled and looked away. "No," she said. "I don't still think it, nor do I regret it. There, are you happy?"

"Yep."

"Ugh... You are a real idiot."

"Yep," I repeated with a smile. "I'm an idiot, but I'm also a happy one. Besides, isn't it just part of what makes me a Strange Knight?""

Blake grumbled something uncomplimentary under her breath. She didn't leave, however. Nor did she make any complaint as I sat beside her and watched the sun traverse across the clear sky. After all we'd been through, even with the wounded feelings inside me…

This felt like enough.

It felt good.

/-/

"As Archmage of the Atlas Grand Academy of Magic, I hereby thank you for your prompt response to our summons for aid. As per the ancient treaties, I declare this Quest complete – and mark it now as a success." The middle-aged man in white rose with a warm smile. "Congratulations, Heroes. You have done your school, your Kingdom, and yourselves proud."

Ruby turned to look at me, her face split by a huge smile – one I couldn't help but return. Everyone else was excited too, from Yang's whoop to Blake's secretive smile and even Nora wrapping Ren up in a huge hug. We were all of us patched up and ready to go, Kaedin's staff and the remains of Glenn's spear strapped in a cross-pattern on my back. A delegation from Atlas had come to see us off, and true to his words, Kaedin had been unable to make himself be among them. That saddened me, but I understood.

Winter was among them, however, and she held her arms wide as she stepped forward to enfold her sister in a warm hug. "Mother and father would be so proud," she whispered.

Weiss nodded, a small smile on her face.

"Now that the official matters have been taken care of, we can move onto lighter subjects," Ironwood said. "I have already dispatched a message to Ozpin. He should have someone collect you at Kingsport, and I've asked one of our navy ships to escort you out of our waters, just to avoid a repeat of the last unfortunate encounter."

A man stepped forward to nod at us, and it took me a second to recognise him as the Captain of the ship which had rescued ours. "It is good to see you all again," he said. "I will personally see your safe passage into Valean waters."

"Ozpin will handle your reward," Ironwood went on. "In order to hire foreign agents, we had to submit payment to Vale – so you shall receive it on your return. For now, however, please consider these small gifts, not from Atlas, but from myself." He gestured for several Mages to step forward, small boxes held between them. When they clicked open, we all released a little breath at the crystals we saw inside.

"Weiss?" I asked. She was the Mage among us.

"I have no idea," she said, eyes wide with awe. "I've never seen their like before… the matrices upon them..."

"You would not have," Ironwood said, "They are new discoveries made only two months ago. We call them Whisper Stones, and they are connected to one another through various enchantments. I shan't bore you with the details, but I had these created for you all, one for each. The boxes are named."

I stepped forward to take the small one with mine on, marvelling not only at the stone, but the ornate wooden case it was in. There was rich, padded velvet inside and I couldn't help but imagine how my Mom would love to have one. She'd likely use it for her jewellery… perhaps I could send mine home for her. The others took their own as well.

"If you lift the stone to your ear and speak the name of another, the stone will transmit your voice to theirs."

"Incredible," Pyrrha gasped. "Does it have a range?"

"Our tests suggest the distance is limited to a little under a kilometre. The Magic is self-sustaining, however, drawing off the currents in the air around it. They are sturdy too, and unlikely to break so long as you don't take a weapon to them. Please consider them a personal gift for helping me on this matter."

As gifts went, it was definitely a royal one. It would completely change the way we could work in Beacon, and allow us more freedom when it came to hunting in the Emerald Forest.. I stowed mine in leather pouch at my waist. "Thanks you," I said. "We were happy to help."

The others made their own thanks.

"I wish you all calm waters," Ironwood said. "I don't believe this will be the last time we meet as it's not unusual for one headmaster to visit the school of another." He stepped forward to catch Weiss before she could escape and give her a warm hug.

Weiss resisted, but it was clear the show was more for us. She tightened her arms around his back. I had the suspicion any such visit would almost certainly lead him to see us again, if only because he would seek Weiss out. Their relationship seemed particularly close – and his with Winter.

"Fare thee well," Ironwood called as they clambered over the wooden plank and onto the ship.

A familiar one-eared faunus winked at us. "I take it you're all lookin' forward to home?" he asked.

Home… Beacon… a long breath escaped me as I thought of it, of our Guild, of lessons, the Emerald Forest and Velvet. Even the parts I hated, such as Port's lessons, seemed like some siren's song. I would sit through his next – and listen to every part. I probably wouldn't in reality, I knew, but it was how I felt at that moment.

"Yes." I said. "We're more than ready to go home."


The same note as ever is below, but below even that is the level-up chart for Jaune. There's no need to read the note if you've already seen it, it's a copy-paste of the other fics this week.

In regards to Forged Destiny, I've decided to make a simple cosmetic change too, which will affect things moving forwards – but only in my writing. It's not really anything you all need to worry about. Essentially, I'll be splitting the chapters into "books" as you will. It'll all still be in this fic, just that the chapter titles will change. You might notice some being labelled differently if you look at the drop-down menu.

Although I'm not looking to change things in hindsight (or go back and make changes), from now on, each "book", will have a sort of beginning, middle and ending of its own – and each book will be part of the series. This is to help me practise writing a multi- book series in a concise manner.

It should also make the writing flow a bit more in the future as well.


A Week without Fanfiction

People who have read my other fics, perhaps know that I've been pretty badly sick since this past weekend. I went to the doctors over it, and he believes it to be mostly stress-related. Now, before panic sets in, I'd like to say that Fanfiction is not stress to me. I genuinely enjoy what I do.

My main job, on the other hand, a little less so. Summer is our biggest period, and since we write a month in advance, I am right now on the hardest part of the year – our June issues. I've had to work outside of normal hours, over weekends, and with Fanfiction taking up the same slots. My sleep got reduced, I missed meals, and ultimately started to feel like crap.

I also think the quality of some of my writing has reflected this the last week… it feels a little flat, devoid of life. Anyway, my doctor suggested a week of rest and relaxation, which is somewhat weird for me, since I'm not the kind of person who likes to do nothing. On the other hand, my doctor has made a point of it and I kind of do need to follow his advice when I'm sick.

How this will work is fairly simple. I'm going to continue doing each fanfic until they have all had this notice at the bottom, and then there will be a single week of no uploads. After that, things will resume. White Sheep will be the first, and the date at the bottom will reflect two weeks. There will still be NTF, PA, FD and Ent this week, but starting from next Thursday, you won't see any fics for the week.

Hopefully, you can all understand why. I'm not abandoning anything. I'm not stopping, nor have I lost the love for what I do… I just need to take a break to sort things out. Honestly, there is a good chance I'll write during that week too, but it will be without deadlines and without the stress of having to have X done by Y, before I have to move onto Z. The break should also give me a chance to recharge, read some books for a change, and improve myself as a writer too.

I'll still be here, both in my forum and by PM, and I'll still be checking reviews, etc… but I won't be uploading anything until the week is over. Once it's over, uploads will go back to normal. I'm not moving to a two-week system or anything.

Thanks for understanding.


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Jaune Arc

Level 23 (+3)

Blacksmith

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Str: 57 (+11) (A)

Con: 47 (+7) (B)

Dex: 14 (+1) (D)

Agi: 22 (+4) (C)

Int: 28 (+4) (C)

Wis: 37 (+6) (B)

Cha: 12 (+1) (D)

Res: 56 (+12) (A)

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Passive Skill

-Fire from the Forge-

Immunity to heat, flames and associated damage caused from his forging process.

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Known Active Skills

-Stoke the Forge-

Generate intense heat in the hand for a short period of time, capable of super-heating metal to forging temperatures without the use of a forge.

-Quench-

Rapidly cool metal-based material to achieve a hardening effect during the forging process. Quench can only be used in metallurgy, as opposed to Stoke the Forge, which can generate heat in the hand irrespective of what it is then used on.

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Next Chapter: 22nd May ( Two Weeks)

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur