Hey guys, this is the end of book three, and much like with the last book, there will be a one week break before book 4 starts. This is so that I can plan ahead on what chapters will go into it, and hopefully also so that I can write ahead, letting College Fool get back into seeing each chapter before publication, and making amendments.
Beta: College Fool
Cover Art: Dishwasher1910
Book 3: Chapter 16 (Final)
It took a groggy second of confusion before the memories struck me. My body went from being laid flat on my back, eyes towards the ceiling, to sitting up and looking around. The first thing I saw was the white walls around me and the soft bed below, but it was soon replaced with a face that was equal parts wise and ageless. Headmaster Ozpin leaned over me, one hand on my shoulder as he pushed me back down into the mattress.
"Peace, Mr Arc. There's no reason for such panic."
"The Paladin," I gasped. "Everyone-"
"Is okay," Ozpin interrupted. "Your friends are all alive, healthy and well. The Paladin escaped, as did Roman Torchwick, though not before taking some damage from Glynda. The TRE has been disbanded, and you are the last of your Guild to awake." The Sage smiled indulgently. "Does that allow you to calm down a little?"
It did. My head hit the soft pillow once more, and I let out a long breath. That was his plan, no doubt, but I couldn't feel too upset at being manipulated so. It was for my benefit, after all. "Thank you for letting me know, sir. You said I was the last to wake up? I didn't think I was that hurt."
Or at least I was sure I hadn't been as hurt as some of the others. Ruby had been launched into the ceiling, while I'd distinctly heard Weiss' ribs break. Blake had been stabbed, for crying out loud.
"Our Priest, Tsune, saw you healed, but she is only one woman and her powers only go so far. She chose to start with those most in need of her spells and leave you for last. Your body took a beating, but the wounds were more superficial in nature."
I nodded to show I understood, even if questions raged in my mind. So, that meant I had been the least hurt out of everyone, and not because of anything I'd done to deserve it. I hoped the others were okay – especially Ruby and Blake. The latter had been stabbed through the lung, while Ruby had a Constitution that was far too low for me to feel comfortable about.
"Your friends are fine," Ozpin repeated, catching my attention. "I can see your worry as clear as day, but rest assured, you'll see them all soon enough. I'm sure they will come running once they learn you're awake."
Yeah, that sounded like them… not that I'd be any different in their shoes. I'd probably missed all the excitement of people waking up, but that was a good thing. It also meant I missed the stress and fear of wondering whether they'd be okay.
"Of course, I didn't come here just to fill you in on that," Ozpin said. "I apologise for troubling you so soon, but I thought it best to get this out of the way early, so that you and your friends can have more time together." He waited for my smile to fade before he continued. "I need to know your side of the story in this affair, Mr Arc. Please, spare no details."
A part of me wanted to wait until I'd seen the others, if only to make sure our stories were correct. There was something in the teacher's eyes that stopped me, however. Ozpin had always been unreadable, ever since the first time I'd seen him before the First Quest. Now, I felt like I could detect some emotion – and it wasn't the one I wanted to see.
Ozpin was worried about something.
With a deep breath, I told him everything. Well, everything about Torchwick, the debt and the Guild War, anyway. It took a good five minutes or so to explain, and might have taken longer had Ozpin stopped for questions. He didn't, though, which probably meant he'd heard the story several times already from the others. Only when I was done did he nod his head and speak.
"I see… such events under our roof are troubling indeed. If only we'd seen them, we might have acted sooner, but there are other matters which have distracted us…" His face twisted with myriad emotions, before he noticed me once more and smoothed them out. "But you needn't worry about that, Mr Arc. Know that you have our apologies for what happened to you, and that we shall be taking steps to rectify this, both for your Guild and others who have been tricked by Roman."
All the while Roman had been leading us around, I'd asked myself how the teachers couldn't notice. How could they be so blind? How did they not tell what was going on? For a few moments, I'd imagined they were useless – but Ozpin's reaction suggested otherwise. Not blind, just focused on something else. I wanted to know what that was, but knew he wouldn't tell me. I smiled instead. "Thank you, sir. Can you… can you tell me what is going to happen to Coco Adel? I was the one responsible for bringing them into this whole mess."
"Funny, that's not the story she told me. Miss Adel stood firmly before my desk and explained how vengeance had been done, and she stood ready to be pushed down into the Soldier Caste."
"No, sir, please-" I begged, suddenly sat up once more. "She didn't do anything wrong. It was us who-"
"I rejected her application, of course," Ozpin interrupted, one hand held out and pushing me back once more. "It would not do for a student to dodge her punishment so easily. I've left her in Glynda's capable hands, but you may rest assured she will not be expelled. For causing a riot in the streets, however, there must be some punishment. She will be assisting with paperwork."
Relief flooded me. "That doesn't sound so bad."
"You clearly haven't seen our paperwork..."
"Nothing, nothing," Ozpin deflected, laughing out loud. "Regardless, I suppose it's fair to say you and yours are innocent in this matter, and we've taken that into account. Your missing weapon was recovered from Roman's vault, though Miss Nikos insisted it be given to the Mercenary's Guild as payment. She said it was by your word."
Good old Pyrrha. I was glad to hear she'd remembered that. We had no use for the thing, after all, and I trusted Coco to see it given to someone who truly deserved it. I doubt Kaedin would have minded, and maybe he'd have even preferred it this way.
"What happened with Roman?" I asked. "And that Paladin… Ruby and I saw that hood before on a Quest to a village outside the city."
"Arthur Watts…" Ozpin sighed and leaned back. "The two were hunted out of Vale, but escaped thanks to the efforts of Roman's associate, Neo. The girl proved to be an Illusionist, and capable of casting wide-scale illusions over herself and her party. They escaped, but their descriptions have been passed on to the other Kingdoms."
"That's annoying," I complained. I'd really hoped to see Roman stand trial for his crimes.
"Believe me, I know. On talking to your Guild mates, we actually believe it was her doing which framed not only your Seneschal, but also tricked you into signing such an exploitative contract in the first place."
"Huh?" I looked up. "How?"
"Does the name Azure ring a bell?"
It didn't, at least not at first. I wracked my mind and my eyes widened a second later. "The Peddler who convinced us to take the hall," I said. "We could never find him afterwards and the records said no one with that name worked at Beacon. That was Roman, wasn't it? She cast an illusion over him, and he used his Passive on us."
"It seems likely, and that would explain how he was able to remain undetected for so long. Even if students reported the incidents to us, we would have no one to question. Looking back over our records, there have been several cases of people blaming their debt and errors on NPC's who do not exist within Beacon." He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "At the time, we assumed they were simply looking for scapegoats and lying. We did not take such reports seriously."
I suppose they wouldn't. It sucked, but people tended to blame others when something wrong and the teachers would just assume the students were lying. Blaming the Labour Caste for it would only make it look worse, like the students were trying to shift the problem onto the staff instead.
"What happens now, then?" I asked, suddenly exhausted. "What about those guys in the grey hoods?"
"Those should be left to us, at least for now." The headmaster pushed himself up from his seat, signalling his intent to leave. "We were already looking into them before this point. For now, I would suggest you rest and recover. Take some time to enjoy Beacon debt-free, and to spend time with your friends. Tsune has suggested a week off to recover, but lessons will begin soon enough."
So, we weren't going to be expelled. I let out a long sigh of relief and nodded, watching as the man departed and closed the door behind him. I leaned back, but couldn't find it in myself to get back to sleep. Instead, I fluffed up the pillow and leaned on it.
A terrifying thought struck me then, and my hand flew to my chest. The amulet was still there, and a glance reassured me the words above my head still claimed me a Knight. Had they not though to remove it and have a look?
Why would they? The Priest wouldn't even need to take off my clothes to heal me. Why would she feel the need to remove any jewellery I was wearing? The only reason they'd do that is if they wanted to steal it – not exactly normal behaviour for teachers and healers. I tucked the thing back under my tunic and patted it with one hand. At the end of the day, it was just a necklace, or to everyone else, at least. There was nothing odd about that.
Leaning back, I closed my eyes and drifted off once more.
"I'm so glad you're okay!" Ruby gushed, giving me an awkward hug around the chest. The Guild was assembled beside the bed, though Blake was nowhere to be seen. "You were the last to wake up, but the teachers said you would be okay."
"Yeah," I replied, patting her shoulder. "I wasn't hurt that bad, apparently. Not as bad as you lot. What happened?"
"Eh, some minor injuries," Yang grinned.
"Minor? You broke your wrist," Ren pointed out.
"No, that asshole broke my wrist."
"It's the same thing."
"It isn't at all. One means I was beaten, while the other makes me sound like an idiot who snapped it myself!" The Brawler laughed and slapped a hand against my arm. It was gentle, which I was honestly grateful for. "Still, it's good to see you up. Weiss has been holding off on some big reveal until you wake up."
A quick look to the Mage told me it was true, though she rolled her eyes regardless. Weiss seemed unhurt, but I noticed how she winced slightly whenever she crossed her arms. Her ribs must still have been sore, and I dreaded to imagine the bruised she might have.
I also dreaded her ever realising I'd just imagined her topless, but that was for different reasons.
"Don't be so impatient, Yang," Weiss snapped. "There's no point me repeating the story eight times, and it's not like a little patience will kill you."
"Wait, before that – where's Blake?" I asked. "Wouldn't it be better to tell it to her as well? She is a part of the Guild."
"She already knows," Weiss said.
Yang threw her arms in the air. "You told her first? Not cool, Weiss!"
"I told her all the way back in Atlas, you dunce. Look, it was none of your business at the time, but I felt I needed to offer Blake some sign of peace to fix the issues we had. It's not like I expected this to ever come up again."
Oh, was this what I'd almost overheard Blake and Weiss talking about after Merlot? I could vaguely remembering coming upon the two in one of the gardens, and Blake explaining that Weiss had shared something with her, but that she wouldn't betray the Mage's trust.
"As for Blake," Weiss went on. "Her injuries required a little more bed rest. The worst of the danger is already gone, but Miss Tsune needed to keep an eye on her breathing for several days. She's in a separate healing room."
"Didn't I just say she was fine?" Weiss snapped, not even waiting to hear my question. To her credit, she'd guessed it easily enough, and my cheeks flushed. "You can go see her later, but sit and listen for now. I swear, I was upset about this at first, but now I just want to get it out of the way so someone will stop whining."
Yang laughed unrepentantly and hooked her hands behind her head. "Heh, that means I helped ease the burden. I'm such a good friend."
It looked like Weiss might show her how good a friend she was via the application of an ice-spell to the forehead, but Pyrrha subtly stepped between the two, smiling kindly. The Champion had a bruise on her cheek, but showed very little else for all the drama we'd been through. Somehow, that felt typical. As always, I was the last to wake up, even if I'd been the least hurt.
"Let's give Weiss a chance to talk," I said. "Is this about that Paladin we fought? He seemed to recognise you."
Weiss' lips twisted into a sneer. "Yes, it is… his name is Arthur Watts, and as you've seen, he is a Paladin. He originally came from Atlas, though he's now wanted as a criminal, and has been hunted by Archmage Ironwood personally for years."
Yikes, and he was still on the loose? I'd not really seen Ironwood fight, but the Archmage had certainly felt insurmountably powerful. Then again, the same could have been said of Watts.
"He was also…" Weiss' eyes closed, and a forlorn sigh escaped her. "He was also my mother's Sentinel."
"Weiss…" Ruby let go of me and moved towards her friend. Weiss shook her head.
"Please allow me to continue without interruption. I'm… I'm not sure I'll be able to finish if I have to answer questions."
Weiss sounded so distressed, that it was all I could do to nod. I didn't dare speak, even to agree, and I wasn't the only one. We waited in silence, not one of us daring to move a muscle. When she seemed happy we would remain quiet, she continued.
"Watts was a talented and dedicated Sentinel, and a rare case of a Paladin who wished to study the more combative roles than as a healer. Of course, he is still capable of such, as you saw, but instead of studying at the International College of Healers, he remained at Atlas and became a Sentinel. His skills attracted the attention of my mother, Willow Schnee. She was a skilled Mage, who was also a favourite of James Ironwood, who was at that time not the Archmage. My mother was mentored by him when she first entered the academy, and they became close friends."
"Either way, my mother was happy to have Watts as a Sentinel, and the two became as close as any Sentinel and Mage do. They trusted one another, shared their secrets with one another, and even became the best of friends. Everything seemed perfect, or so I was told."
She paused, and I fought the urge to ask what happened next. She would tell us in time, even if I already knew. The look on her face said the story lacked a happy ending.
"It... It's not unusual for Mages and Sentinels to enter romantic relationships. In fact, it's more common than not. You spend so much time with the person that it becomes accepted they will be a part of your life. Willow and Watts expected that, and Watts certainly desired it. Unfortunately for him, something happened that changed the status quo." Weiss smiled bitterly. "My mother met my father."
"The two met on an escort Quest my mother was a part of. He wasn't the VIP, but actually a Soldier sent along as part of the guard. In every way that counted, he didn't matter. He was a Fencer, a Hero Class, but he had failed his First Quest and been knocked down to the Soldier Caste in disgrace. Despite that, he showed great bravery on the Quest and caught my mother's attention. His name was Jacques Blanq, and the two quickly became enamoured with one another." Weiss chuckled. "From what I was told, it proved quite the scandal back in Atlas. Being a Mageocracy, Mages are considered even higher than Heroes, with magic to magic marriages seen as the best, and Hero to magic marriages seen as acceptable. For a Soldier, though? It would be like a Farmer marrying a Noble. It sent ripples throughout Atlas."
"Nothing came of it, however. My grandparents had died long before, and with Ironwood as her sponsor, no one dared question my mother's decision. She and Jacques married, with my father taking her name, even if he didn't relinquish his position within the Soldier Caste. The two married and my elder sister Winter was born. She adopted father's Class and became a Fencer, while I was born later and had my mother's Class. There was also a third, Whitley, who was also a Mage. He was my younger brother."
Ruby opened her mouth, but clamped it shut a second later. Like me, she'd caught the important word.
"It wasn't obvious at first, but Watts hated my father. He festered and raged, and as Willow started to spend less time with him and more with her family, his jealousy became ever greater. He'd always loved my mother, and saw himself as her rightful partner. Watts was… tolerant of us, my sister and I, but even back then, I can vaguely remember thinking something was wrong with him." She clutched her arms. "He made me nervous."
"Ultimately, that intuition proved true. Watts saw an opportunity when my mother was sent on a Quest, but my father stayed behind to look after Whitley, who had come down with an infection. Our family were attacked by an Assassin in the dead of night. Whitley… my brother was killed before we could even react." Weiss' eyes clenched shut and her breathing became laboured. "He was stabbed through the chest. He… he was only four years' old."
"Weiss…" Yang whispered. It almost proved enough to break the Mage, who took a step back and shook her head violently.
"Father was only a Fencer, and only a Soldier at that. He tried to fight off the Assassin, but he was too weak, and with mother and Watts on their Quest, there was no one else to help us. He fought hard, but the Assassin got past him and managed to slice me across the face." She traced a finger down the scar running over her eye. "I would have died if my father hadn't tackled him away. They fought on the floor while Winter ran for help and I bled out in shock. The Assassin got the upper hand and… and father was killed." Weiss shrugged weakly. "Ironwood arrived before the Assassin could finish me off, and he was no match for the Archmage. He tore him to pieces, and then demanded to know why this had happened."
Weiss opened her eyes and stared at me.
"Three thousand," she said.
"Three thousand lien," she repeated. "That was the cost to kill my father, myself, my sister and my baby brother. It was just seven hundred and fifty lien for each of us."
I felt sick. We'd earned more than that on some of our Quests. How could someone accept that much for the lives of a family? Was this what Blake meant when she said I shouldn't trust other Assassins as readily as I did her? She wasn't the same, though. I refused to believe it.
"It's why I hated Assassins," Weiss admitted. "And also why I told this story to Blake. She deserved to know why I treat her so. It was a part of my apology to her." She sighed and looked around the room, and her eyes felt steadier now, as though the worst had passed. "Mother came back as soon as she heard what happened and was distraught, naturally. She sought comfort in us, Ironwood, but also that bastard, Watts. He played the sympathetic friend well, even if deep inside he was frustrated he had not killed Winter and I as well. He tried again, in fact."
"Another Assassin?" I asked.
"No. Willow wouldn't leave our sides after what happened, and without a culprit, she and Ironwood watched over us like hawks. We had armed guards at every moment, and Ironwood even moved us into his quarters in the Archmage's tower for added protection. Watts struck in a different way, attempting to poison us through the food we ate. He was discovered when one of the servants spilled Winter's drink, which hissed and bubbled on the man's arm. If not for the old man stumbling, Winter and I would have surely died. Ironwood moved quickly, but Watts became nervous. While the investigation happened, mother confronted him over his behaviour, and I can only imagine she saw something she wasn't supposed to see… some kind of evidence."
"I don't know. All we know is that she flew into a rage and attacked her Sentinel. The Archmage rushed to find out what happened, and came upon the scene of my mother impaled on Watts' blade. He fled soon after, and Ironwood could have – and perhaps should have - captured him. Instead, he stayed to comfort my mother as she died. Her last wishes were for us to be protected. She died soon after. I… Winter and I never got a chance to say goodbye."
Ruby slid over to bump her hip against Weiss'. She didn't hug the Mage; likely realising that might make the proud girl break down. Instead, she stood beside her – a silent sign of solidarity that I wished I could emulate.
"After that, we were cut off and alone," Weiss finished. "Ironwood unofficially adopted us and even took on Winter as his Sentinel, a way to protect and grant her status she otherwise would never have had as a Fencer. He became a father figure to us, as you no doubt saw in Atlas."
I remembered that, and felt a surge of new appreciation for the man. The way he'd fussed and hugged Weiss, and the comfortable smiles he and Winter exchanged. It looked like he'd done everything he could to look after his protégé's children.
"That's why you didn't want to study at Atlas, isn't it?" Ren asked, voice subdued. "It wasn't because of your Passive and the stigma associated to it, but because you would have been required to take a Sentinel. You could not bring yourself to do that."
Weiss opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. In the end, she nodded her head and looked towards the floor. No matter how much she wished it, she couldn't trust someone to be that close to her, and that had pushed her to Vale – where the Sentinel system wasn't in place. I couldn't say I blamed her. After being betrayed so, I wouldn't feel quite so trusting either. My eyes fell to the rapier at her side, too, and I had to wonder if there was more to her choice of keeping it than just her Passive. It could have very well been her father's.
"So, now you know," she said. "Arthur Watts is a monster and a murderer. His appearance here is nothing short of terrifying, and not just for me. He would have no problem killing children. I can't even begin to imagine why he would have been here."
"It couldn't be just for Torchwick," Nora said. "I mean, this is way too low key."
"I agree. Watts was never one to care about money, and there are far less risky routes of attaining it. If he was here, then he had some other reason."
"But what can we do?" Pyrrha asked. "How are we supposed to find out what it is? Even if we did, what could we do? He tore us to pieces."
"Nothing," Weiss said. "We can do nothing."
There wasn't a one of us who didn't rankle at that.
"There is something," Yang said, drawing my eye. "We can train. We can get stronger. We can continue doing Quests and we can keep an eye out for those silver-hooded bastards. We've already scuppered two of their operations without even meaning to. We should keep on with that."
"And we'll gain more Levels as we do," Ruby agreed, smiling. "Then, if we run into him again, we'll be stronger. We didn't win, but we held our own against him. We even wounded him! How different will it be when we're all ten levels stronger?"
I wasn't sure, but it might be enough to make a difference. Despite myself, and despite the fear I still felt, I couldn't help but smile.
"Ruby and Yang are right," I said. "We're growing stronger every day, and we can keep doing that. Watts has slowed down a lot since it's hard to gain Levels when you're already so high. I'm not saying we should hunt him down, but we'll focus on becoming better fighters."
Pyrrha, Ren and Nora nodded.
Weiss hesitated, and then nodded as well. "Thank you…" she whispered. "This isn't your battle, but-"
"It is our battle," Ruby corrected. "He sided with Torchwick, he hurt you – and he kicked us around like we were nothing."
"She's got a point," Nora said. "I want to cave his head in."
"Even I feel like a little upset at being defeated so easily," Ren agreed. "Should I see him again, I doubt I'd be able to act as though it isn't my problem."
"I didn't get a chance to fight him," Pyrrha said. "After seeing what he did to you all, I wouldn't mind my own chance to pay him back." The Champion's eyes flashed, and I had the distinct impression she was upset she hadn't been able to fight alongside us. I'd have to talk to her about that later and make sure she wasn't blaming herself.
She and Coco had kept Torchwick off us the entire fight, after all. Considering he was an older student, he'd have been stronger than any one of us as well.
"Yeah, the Guild is going to keep going!" Ruby cheered, leaping in the air. "We'll do Quests and earn money, and we'll spend it on ourselves this time!"
"Our debt has been removed," Ren explained for my benefit. "The Guild Hall has been taken back into Beacon's hands, but they have waved any and all rent for the next four years, and will let us keep hold of it."
"Velvet's back, too," Nora said. "Miss Goodwitch said they never actually banished her since she fled before they could question her. All the charges were dropped."
"And they've even given back the lien we lost to Torchwick," Pyrrha added. "Everything we paid him or those repair people, the Headmaster gave us from the funds the TRE had. The repairs on the Lodge are going to start soon, and this time they'll stick."
Ozpin had done all of that for us…? I could barely believe it, nor how light I felt as I leaned back and listened to the rest of them chatter. It felt like I could breathe clearly for the first time since the year began. Sure, Watts and Torchwick were still out there, but it wasn't out problem anymore, and we could look forward to some time to ourselves. Already, the girls were planning days out in Vale, and I caught Ren's eye and mouthed the word `fishing trip`. His lips turned up at the edges, and he nodded back. It would be nice to get some peace and quiet between us.
It finally looked like everything was coming together.
Blake noticed me the second I entered the room. Whether it was her own instincts or some Assassin-like ability, I had no idea, but the book she'd been reading lowered an inch, and her amber eyes were on me instantly.
"Hey there," I called, one hand raised.
"Hey there, yourself," she replied with a faintly amused smile. "It's about time you woke up. I never realised you were such a lazy Knight."
"I needed my beauty sleep," I said, and then flushed when she raised an eyebrow. How did Yang say those kinds of things and not feel embarrassed? "N-Never mind," I said, stepping over to her bedside. "Are you okay? You're still in here. Is something wrong?"
"I'm fine, Jaune."
"Then why are you here? You-" She pressed a finger to my lips to silence me, and rolled her eyes.
"Stop worrying so much. It's ridiculous. Tsune says I'm fine, and the wound to my chest is sealed, mostly thanks to Watts himself." She removed her fingers when it was clear I wasn't going to interrupt, and I missed them instantly. "They want to keep me here in case I have breathing difficulties, but there hasn't been anything so far. If that holds true until tomorrow, I'll be released subject to several check-ups."
"That's good," I said, sitting down on the seat beside her bed. I took her hand between both of mine, and although she didn't object, she seemed confused as to why. "I'm glad you're okay, Blake. I… I was so frightened back then."
"There's no need. I'm in one piece."
Yeah, but it could have very easily been different. I could still remember kneeling over her body as she clasped a dagger lodged in her right breast. I could still recall the look in her eyes, frightened and aware of her fate, and also the crippling despair I'd felt when I'd been forced to make the worst decision of my life.
I'd left her behind to continue the fight. I'd left her knowing that by the time the fight ended, she might well be dead.
It felt like I'd abandoned her.
But I knew she wouldn't accept that, nor entertain me if I expressed it. She'd call me a fool and point out how staying at her side would have accomplished nothing, and how she might have hated me more for letting others suffer just to stick at the side of one dying woman. In the end, my choice to push on and fight had been the right one, if only because it had saved her – but that hadn't made the decision any less heart-wrenching, not did it make me feel any less of a bastard right now.
"It's still not something I ever want to see again," I said, stroking my thumbs across the back of her hand. "I thought I'd lost you. I thought you were dead."
Blake sighed. "I thought I was, too."
Her words caused a lull. There was silence for a few moments. Eventually, I dared to break it. "You wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for me. You only joined the Guild to help me."
"I joined for my own protection," Blake argued. "After I helped you out with repairs, I became a target."
"That's a lie and you know it."
She didn't respond.
"You joined to help me… to look out for me." My breath caught as she stared at me, her eyes as mysterious as ever. It was hard to continue, but after so long needing an answer, I forced myself on. "You've done that from the start. You saved my life in the First Quest. I wouldn't even be in Beacon if it wasn't for you."
"You're the one who followed me," Blake said, looking away. "I had no intention of making myself known, but you hunted me down to return my throwing knife – and to give me my share of the Beowolf money."
"You helped kill it," I pointed out. "You did more than I did, which means you deserved it more."
"That's not the point. You still sought me out, not the other way around. You keep making it sound like I've gone out of my way to look after you or something."
"Maybe that's because you have…"
Blake's eyes narrowed. "I haven't!"
"Even after initiation, you helped me numerous times. You gave me advice, you fought in the Dungeon with us, you risked your life with us."
"I benefitted from all of those. I got to enter a Dungeon long before anyone else could." She smiled coyly. "As for advice, I can't help but remember you wouldn't leave me alone. It was never anything more than that."
"What about Atlas?" I asked.
She had no answer.
"Atlas was a stupid idea, and you made that clear. I lost count of how many times you tried to stop me from going, and then when I did anyway, you came along." I hadn't understood why at the time, and even now she turned her head to the side, biting her lip. "You almost died there, Blake. You almost died because of me, and you never complained about it – but when we were trapped together in that cabin-"
"I told you not to talk about that!"
"When we were trapped together in that cabin," I continued, ignoring her. "It was different. We were about to die, and you seemed okay with that. You weren't angry at me, and I like to think we both let little secrets go because of the fear. It was bad enough knowing I was directly responsible for your near-death there, and worse against Merlot – but this was a whole new thing altogether. You didn't join the Guild for protection. You joined because of me."
Blake scowled and refused to meet my eyes. From anyone else, it might have annoyed me, but she somehow managed to make it look adorable… flustered, even. "You're reading into things too much," she said, not for the first time. "You do that a lot."
Maybe I did. It was hard to tell. Even so, my heart continued to hammer in my chest. I didn't let go of her hand, and instead stood up beside her bed. She watched me warily, and then looked down at her hand when I gripped it tighter.
"You mean a lot to me, Blake. Even beside all the times you've helped or saved my life, I value you as someone I trust and care for. When you got stabbed by Watts, I thought my world was ending." I swallowed my fear. "I guess it made me realise some things…"
"Like how you ought to get in front of me with your shield next time?" she teased. Her tiny smile slipped away when my hand cupped the side of her cheek, turning her face towards mine. Her eyes darted to my hand, then to my face, and finally a little lower.
I traced the line of her throat as she swallowed nervously.
"No," I said. "It made me realise just how fragile everything here really is. You've always been a constant since I came to Beacon, and you always seemed so invincible, even in Atlas. Seeing you like that reminded me of just how mortal we really are… and how I could lose everyone at any moment. How I could lose you," I amended. "It was you I thought of the most."
"You're not making any sense," Blake whispered. Her expression was calm, but her voice was hoarse, almost strained. "You're rambling. Again, I might add. That's another thing you do."
"You tend to notice a lot of the things I do, Blake."
"Don't read into it."
I leaned a little closer. "It's kind of hard for me not to…"
I paused, my lips a hair's breadth from hers. My eyes scanned her face, her mouth, and then up the graceful arc of her cheek towards her yellow eyes. I looked for permission there, a sign, acceptance, anything that would tell me if I was on the right track or not.
There was nothing, but Blake made no move to pull away, either. Her eyes danced to my lips and then back up again.
"I don't think I want to," I said, and pressed my lips against hers.
She was soft… impossibly so. It almost didn't make sense for lips so used to biting remarks could feel so gentle, but they were. I leaned closer, savouring the taste and feel, and remembering a moment filled with passion and fire, trapped in a cabin surrounded by the exact opposite. Back then, she'd taken the lead, and I'd been nothing but an eager student. Now, our roles were reversed – and I had no intention of letting it end the same way.
My thumb rubbed further up her cheek, even as my other hand – still clasping hers – shifted so that our fingers intertwined. I wanted to keep my eyes open, but it didn't seem possible. They closed of their own accord, and my nose bumped clumsily against hers as I tilted my face to the side. In my head, I'd had plans. I'd thought of how to kiss her, how to move, what she might like. Those had fled, leaving behind nothing but instinct; instinct, and a desperate desire to be closer to the Assassin before me.
When I pulled away, I couldn't help but lay one last kiss on her glistening lower lip.
"I love you…"
"You can't," she breathed. "You're a Knight."
"Are we really doing this again, Blake?" I asked, stroking her face. "You know what I think about that. Yes, I'm a Knight, and yes, you're an Assassin. If we have to go back to how little that bothers me, we'll be stuck here for weeks." I smiled and leaned in again, planting yet another kiss on her. "And it wouldn't make any difference in the end."
Blake swallowed and looked away. Her face tilted, eyes darting to the bedside table, but I caught them flicker back once or twice. I wasn't sure if she'd realised our fingers were still locked together, but she didn't pull them apart.
"You're an idiot, but I think that's common knowledge by now," she whispered. "I'm not sure where you expect this to go. Nothing good can come of it."
"Honestly, I'd planned to ask if you'd be my girlfriend."
"Was that a no?"
Her lips formed a thin line. I kissed it again, and was rewarded by them parting to accept me. We fought for a few breathless seconds, and it would have been longer were it not for my lungs almost giving way. I hated them for it. Blake's breasts rose and fell as she took deep breaths. Her eyes were lidded, and watched mine with a heavy gaze.
"Do you normally force yourself on girls too injured to resist?"
"You're not the only one watching the other, Blake. When you're posed with a question you don't want to answer, you try to make me embarrassed instead." I smirked. "You do that a lot." I felt inordinately amused by her glare for some reason. "This is your choice, Blake. I want us to be something more, but if you don't want it, then all you need to do is say so."
Her lips pursed, and she glanced away.
"I'm going to kiss you again, Blake," I whispered, leaning close. Despite my raging pulse, I held back, savouring her breath on mine, and realising just how fast-paced it was. "If you don't want me to, then you just have to say so. Tell me to stop and I will."
Blake's eyes flickered back to mine and away again. She didn't say anything.
"This is your last chance, Blake." I leaned a little further in, my hand coming to brush against her cheek once more. "If I kiss you this time, I don't think I'll be able to stop." I smiled nervously. "I might end up loving you forever."
This time, her eyes locked onto mine, if only because I filled her vision. She took a deep breath and let it go, then repeated it again. She licked her lips.
"Last chance, Blake."
"You said the other one was the last chance…" Her eyes widened, and she slapped her free hand to her lips. Her cheeks turned a dark red, and she glared furiously at me. As if it was somehow my fault. "You cheated…"
"So I did," I laughed, and pressed my forehead to hers. My hand peeled hers away. "You spoke, though. Does that mean you don't want this?"
Her face darkened, but she made a point of not speaking.
That was enough for me, as I leaned in to capture my Assassin once more. If hers met mine halfway, I made a point of not mentioning it. And if it was her tongue that pushed past mine and into my mouth, that was fine.
And if her fingers gripped my hair from behind, preventing me from leaving…? Well, I was fairly sure she'd say I was just reading into it.
I did that a lot, apparently.
And there we have it; the end of book three of Forged Destiny, and the brave Knight claims his conquest. Or maybe someone claims the brave Knight. It's hard to tell sometimes. So, secrets revealed, some past history given, and the Schnee family is markedly different, but that makes sense. Without dust and the need for it, Weiss' family are not a business, and while Jacques keeps the same background as canon, his circumstances are different. He doesn't need to become a harsh and cruel businessman, but could stay as however he was when he was first Weiss' father.
Anyway, yeah, before he died.
This book was Forged Destiny: The Guild War, with the fourth book taking over in two weeks' time. There's no specific name for it yet, though both College Fool and I know the basic idea of what will occur. The reason I need the week off is to go through it chapter by chapter and plan ahead.
As such, this won't be updated until a week later than usual, after which it will continue as normal until the end of book four, where it will then take another break, and then do book five, etc…
And right now, to answer an expected question, and with an answer that will likely prove quite unpopular… Jaune and the party did not gain any Exp from their fight. Sorry, but that's not how it works. The fight didn't end, or rather it ended when one party fled. You don't get Exp for that. That said, it's not like we need it right now, as there are still things for Jaune to play with, such as his recent breakthrough in Runesmithing.
Next Chapter: 25th September
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur