Just a quick note to say that yes, the list of Runes at the end should have included the one put on Blake's daggers. I'll update it, but it wasn't an attempt to hide it or anything. As you may have noticed, this came out a little later than usual. Just last week catching up with me, but don't worry, I've taken a week off work starting this Wednesday to let my fanfiction even out without more work drama forcing me to rush things.

September is a big month for our work.


Beta: College Fool

Cover Art: Dishwasher1910

Book 4: Chapter 2


Nora was waiting for us outside the medical building. We'd rushed there as fast as we could, and rounded the corner in time to see her stood outside talking to the headmaster. The man saw us coming and whispered some final words to Nora before he stepped through the door and out of sight. It was only the fact Nora wasn't in tears that stopped me panicking. If Ren were truly in danger, there was nothing that could have torn her from his side.

"Nora, what happened?" Ruby asked, reaching her first. "We heard about Ren. Is he okay?"

"He's alive," Nora replied. Her voice was short and clipped. "Miss Tsune healed the wound already but he's tired and needs to sleep."

"Are we allowed…?" I nodded towards the door, but Nora shook her head.

"She says it's better if he rests. He's out of danger but needs to recover his reserves." Nora crossed her arms and made it subtly clear she'd step in if anyone tried to push past. She might have been one of us, but Ren counted more. If keeping us out was best for him, she'd keep us out.

Luckily, no one wanted to test her.

"How did this happen?" I asked instead. "I thought you said the Quest you chose was an easy one. What went wrong?"

"It was easy. We finished it in a single day." Nora scowled and tossed a pouch of lien at Weiss. The Mage would have normally objected to that, but stay quiet this one time. "It was just to clear out some little Grimm that had taken over a grain silo," she went on. "Me and Ren went in, killed the Grimm and found a hole they were coming through. The villagers had it boarded up in an hour and it was done."

I vaguely recalled her explaining that before she left and that being the only reason we'd been willing to let the two handle it. "This didn't happen on the Quest, then?"

"It was on the way back. We stayed an extra day in the village since we'd budgeted for two. There was even a little crafts fair we wanted to visit." The red in Nora's cheeks said the `we` had probably been `her`, and that there might have been ulterior motives for it, too. "We stayed for that, bought some souvenirs and hitched a ride with a trade caravan to get back to Vale. They said they'd pay us a little extra for the protection, and it wasn't like we were in a rush."

"You were attacked?"

Nora nodded grimly.

"By Grimm?"

"Bandits," Nora corrected, spitting the word out. "They attacked when we travelled through a forest, but me and Ren were able to beat them off easily enough. The caravan guards did the rest and none of the traders were hurt."

"One of them caught Ren?"

"No." Nora reached behind her, drawing something out from her pack. She tossed the rolled-up bundle to me. It was splattered with blood, but the colour was unmistakeable. "That guy did. Before I caught him and showed him what I thought of that."

I stared at the cloth. It was a cloak.

Yang growled. "Greycloaks…"

"They were all Greycloaks?" Weiss stepped forward, eyes narrowed. "Were you hurt?"

"I'm fine, and no, there was just the one." Nora nodded to the cloak. "He was in charge of the bandits and only attacked when they went down. He was a Spellthief, and caught Ren from behind because he didn't see the guy coming. Stuck a knife in his back."

Blake flinched beside me, and I brushed my hand against hers in a silent show of support. Nora didn't mean anything by it, and definitely wouldn't hold it against her. Whether Blake would hold it against herself was another matter.

"Another story of the Greycloaks causing trouble," Weiss mused. "They've been acting out ever since we ran Torchwick and Watts out of Beacon. I wonder why they've suddenly started to come out of the woodwork."

"Or if this is new at all," Yang said. "Maybe they were always doing this, and in these numbers, but we never noticed because we didn't know about them."

That was a frightening thought, and Ruby and I shared a look. The Ranger we'd run into on our first Quest alone had been another example, and much like this case, he'd been leading a group of bandits in attacking caravans.

"I just don't see what their goals are." Weiss glared at the cloak, no doubt thinking of the man who killed her mother. "What do they achieve by doing this? Two cases of leading bandits and one of luring a Griffon to roost between several towns. What's the point?"

"Disrupting trade?" Pyrrha guessed. "That's been the technical consequence of each case."

"I doubt these guys are aggressive merchants."

"It didn't feel like trade in Eldon," I agreed. "The village was tiny and didn't exactly scream wealth. They were dying for lack of basic supplies like food and medicine. The whole village would have vanished if we didn't clear the roads. This feels more like terrorism of some kind. They're trying to destabilise the entire Kingdom."

"Yes, but why?" Weiss echoed. "What is the purpose of that? Destroying villages is an action, and banditry is a means, but we have no idea what the ultimate objective is. Until we do, we're running on limited information."

And it wasn't like there was anything we could do about it. Other than deal with them wherever we found them, that was. At least Ren and Nora had made the roads a little safer. Weiss had a point, though, and the question ate away at me. The Greycloaks were definitely Heroes, or the ones we'd run into were. They always tended to push others to do their work though, with only Merlot being the one to do it himself. Watts used Torchwick, and the Ranger in Eldon used angry villagers. I had no idea what Ren and Nora's had worked with, but it was probably more of the same.

The door clicked open before we could continue, and Ozpin stepped out, closing it quickly behind him. He eyed us for a moment, and let out a quiet sigh. "Your friend is healing well and should be fine for visits tomorrow morning. I'm told he will be free to leave by the afternoon."

It was only what Nora had already told us, but somehow coming from him made it feel more real. I released a breath I hadn't realised I was holding, and the others did the same.

"What's going to happen about the Greycloaks?" Ruby asked. The young Reaper's voice was quiet, but there was underlying steel to it. "You are going to do something about them, right?"

"We are doing everything we can, Miss Rose. The Greycloaks have already been declared a criminal organisation, and the Vale Army are trying to find them. Quests have also been dispatched, but those are only available to graduated Heroes," he added the last quickly, just to cut us off before we could volunteer. "The Greycloaks are dangerous criminals and I don't want any of you getting involved with them." He sighed. "At least not intentionally…"

"Not much we can do if they keep attacking us," Yang pointed out. "They got it in for Weiss or something?"

"It is not you they are interested in."

"You sure? We've had, like, three run-ins with them now. Four, if you include Watts."

"Four is not so many as you might believe." Ozpin hesitated for a moment, debating as to whether he wanted to tell us more or not. In the end he must have decided we'd find out anyway, for he continued. "You are not the only ones to have met with them, not within Beacon, and certainly not further afield. The scope of their operations is… larger than we expected."

"Other students have seen them?"

"Yes. Several members of the Mercenary's Guild ran into them on a recent Quest into the Emerald Forest. Miss Adel's men are well-trained and equipped, however, and came out of it unhurt. Others have not been so lucky. Mr Winchester and his allies were attacked on their Annual Quest."

"Cardin?" I asked, surprised. I hadn't realised he'd been on his Annual Quest, but it made sense. Everyone had to finish one or they wouldn't pass the year. "I haven't seen him for a few weeks. I didn't realise he was still on it."

"He's not," Ozpin replied. "He is recovering at his family's home."

My heart stopped. "What happened?"

"The details of their Quest are confidential, but suffice to say the problem itself was orchestrated by the Greycloaks. Two Heroes attacked them, and although they were driven off, it was not without some loss. Mr Winchester lost an eye, but that was the best of it. Russel Thrush, Sky Lark, and Dove Bronzewing… all have had their names added to the Hall of Heroes."

Ruby gasped, and she wasn't the only one. Blake dipped her head, eyes closed, while Pyrrha held a hand to her mouth in clear shock. Everyone's reaction was different, but we all felt the same. I closed my eyes and dipped my head. The Hall of Heroes was a long hallway that cut through the centre of Beacon Academy, connecting the four wings like the spines of a compass. Along the walls and ceiling, the names of various Heroes to have passed through Beacon were listed.

Fallen Heroes, that was. The Academy remembered its dead.

"Fuck," Yang whispered. For once, I agreed with her, and not even Ruby called her out on the cuss. "I-I guess you're right. These guys are everywhere."

"Indeed." Ozpin sighed and removed his glasses, cleaning the lenses with his sleeve. "That you have run into them on consecutive occasions is not a case of design or luck, merely consequence. You have taken more Quests than many of your fellow first years, and Quests are called to solve a problem. With the Greycloaks causing us problems across the Kingdom, it was merely a matter of time and probability that you ran into them." The Sage paused and looked to the cloak in my hands. "May I take that, Mr Arc? An example of their cloak is to be given out to those who hunt them. I can use that to have more weaved to serve that role."

I nodded and handed it over to him, happy to help. We didn't need it anyway. There were more questions I wanted to ask, but my thoughts were already whirling, and nothing came out. Ozpin seemed to see our silence as his moment to leave, and bid us a quiet farewell as he strode back towards the main building. That left us stood outside the medical building, lost in our thoughts.

I'd never realised just how bad the Greycloak situation was, nor how others had fallen against them. To be honest, I was surprised I hadn't learned about Cardin sooner, but that was probably because we were a Guild now. Before, we'd eaten every meal in the cafeteria, and spent each night in the communal dorms. Those places were where rumours and news would have spread, but we did everything in the Lodge now. We'd simply not heard, and everyone was quiet in lessons.

The last thing I could remember of Cardin is that he hadn't liked Blake solely for her Class, and that I disliked him as a result. That felt incredibly petty now. I'd hated him, but I wouldn't wish the loss of friends on anyone.

I hope you make it, Cardin. Good luck.

"Well," Pyrrha said softly. "This is…"

"Messed up?" Yang offered.

"That is certainly one way of putting it. I thought Torchwick was our problem alone, but it looks like he was part of something much larger. If the entire Kingdom is affected-"

"Not just Vale," Weiss interrupted.

"Hm?"

"It's not just Vale, Pyrrha. Merlot caused those disasters in Atlas, and do you remember what Ironwood said? There were tensions between the Circle of Mages and his Academy. How much do you want to wager the Greycloaks had a hand in those?"

Weiss was right… and now that she mentioned it, I could just imagine them causing problems like that as well. Arthur Watts was an Atlesian criminal too, so it was possible he'd been recruited over there. It must have been long after Weiss' mother died. There was no way these people had remained hidden for ten years or more.

"I wonder if they're in the other Kingdoms as well," Nora said. "You know anything about Mistral, Pyrrha?"

"No. I'm a little out of touch with affairs at home. The letters I send to my family haven't mentioned them, but I doubt it's something that would come up in typical conversation. I could ask in the next one, but it might be better to speak to people from Mistral instead."

"Traders would be best," Blake said, entering the conversation for the first time. While still someone who didn't speak much, she'd come to relax around the Guild over the past few months. Nowadays her silence was more because she liked to listen than any anxiety. "The people who know most about the dangers faced on the roads are those who travel them. We can tell if Mistral is affected by looking at how trade between the Kingdoms has fared."

"If we intend to get involved," I said. "Ozpin did say this was beyond us. I'm not sure what help it'll be if we check. Those in power probably already know more than we do. Ozpin certainly seemed to."

"He was hiding something," Blake confirmed. "Or not giving us the full picture."

"That goes without saying," Weiss said. "We're just students. Why tell us anything?"

Weiss wasn't wrong there, but I couldn't help but feel she wasn't right either. The headmaster didn't have to tell us anything, and we definitely didn't have a right to demand answers. But if that were the case, why had he bothered to tell us as much as he had?

/-/

"The Grand Treaty was founded over one hundred and fifty years ago, following what was known at the time as the Grand War, a period of such incredible strife and violence, and unspeakable atrocities, that the treaty was formed to ensure that such horror would never befall Remnant again. The treaty was signed at- Mr Arc, are you listening?"

"Huh, what?" My elbow gave way on the desk, causing my chin to drop a bit before I caught myself. The Alchemist, Oobleck, was watching me with a critical gaze, his hands placed on his hips.

"I asked if you were listening, Mr Arc."

"Yeah, of course."

"Mr Arc, you need to be aware of this material," he said, ignoring my blatant lie altogether. "While this may not be the most engrossing of material, it is a law you will be expected to live by. If you don't know the various facets of it, you might find yourself breaking it, and that would be very bad indeed." Oobleck watched me with a frown. "The penalty for that is death, by the way."

"I thought Vale didn't have a death penalty?"

"It doesn't," Oobleck admitted, "at least it doesn't during peace time. That said, if you were caught breaking this law, the Kingdom would obviously be at war. As such, you'd likely find yourself executed in order to keep the peace." He paused for a second, just to make his annoyance clear. "You would understand this if you had listened…"

A little bit of embarrassment ran through me and I ducked my head in apology. I wasn't sure why I thought I'd get away with drifting off, especially when I was the only other person in the classroom. This was one of the lessons I'd missed due to our Questing before, and one so important that Oobleck was willing to teach it one to one. That he'd gone all that way and I'd stopped paying attention made me feel guilty.

"Perhaps working this as a lecture is a poor idea," the Alchemist conceded. He moved over and dragged a wooden seat forward to sit down on opposite me. "We may as well continue this in a more informal setting. Tell me; are you aware of the basic rules behind the Grand Treaty?"

I was and he knew it, but I knew better than to not answer a question posed by a teacher. "No Heroes or Hero Class can be used against another Kingdom during a war," I recited. "No Soldier Caste or relevant Class may kill members of the Labour Caste, except in cases of self-defence." I sighed when I got to the part which mattered to me the most, or at least the part that should have. "No member of the Labour Caste may draw arms against the Soldier Caste, and any villages and towns must surrender unless otherwise garrisoned by the Soldier Caste."

"I see you are at least proficient with the basics. Very good. Are you aware of why these rules were implemented?"

"It was to prevent massacres, right? The Labour Caste can't stand toe-to-toe with the Soldier Caste, so they're banned from doing so. In return, the Soldier Caste can't hurt them. The same goes for Heroes against Soldiers. The power levels are just too different."

"That is correct, Mr Arc. A single Hero of extended age, let us use myself as an example, might be able to subdue upwards of ten or twenty members of the Soldier Caste, and perhaps even fifty NPC's. This would, and did in the past, lead to battles that were confusing at best and brutal at worst." Oobleck sighed and looked away, luckily missing my irritation at the N word. "While no one doubted people's desire to fight and defend their country, there was too much bloodshed. This led to a larger problem, however, which is the reason why your answer was only partly correct. What is the responsibility of a Hero, Mr Arc?"

"To kill the Grimm," I recited. Oobleck had chosen his timing well, and I instantly realised what he meant. "And we can't do that if we're stuck in a war…"

"Precisely. Untold misery and death, made worse due to the hopelessness of many of the battles, as NPC's struggled to fight against Heroes, a most mismatched nightmare if I have ever heard of one. As people lay dying and dead, it was perhaps inevitable that Grimm would spawn. Have you ever seen a battlefield?"

I shook my head. Of course I hadn't.

"Pray that you never do. Thousands of people screaming in pain and agony would prove too much for the Grimm, who settled on the field like carrion. With Heroes involved in the fighting on both sides, there was no one left to face them, and those that could were either too exhausted, or unwilling to try."

"Unwilling?" I asked. "What do you mean? They refused to?"

"In some cases, yes. You need to remember that this was a war for them, and Grimm spawned in the midst of the battlefield. If one appeared before you and you moved to strike it down, you would expose your back to the enemy. Many were not willing to do that. Worse still, those Grimm which spawned on the outskirts were often left to run free, deemed of no immediate importance. The injured, the sick, or those who tried to flee – cut down by Grimm before they ever had a chance." The teacher brought out a thick tome and placed it on the desk between us. "This recounts some villages which were also destroyed. Misery lingers, and Grimm can spawn at a battlefield long after the soldiers have passed. With no free Heroes to track down and eradicate them, they continued to spawn, and many were the villages which had sent their young and strong off to war."

No Heroes, no Soldiers and no one to defend their walls. I knew exactly how that would have gone, and the thought of it happening to Ansel flittered through my mind. I dispelled it a second later. It wouldn't happen.

"Do you understand now why the treaty is so important?"

"I think so." I sighed and met the teacher's eyes. "It's not to make war fairer for those involved. It's to make sure no one else has to suffer for it."

Oobleck smiled. "That's right. Many are those who look at the Grand Treaty and assume it is limiting in some way or that we're trying to romanticise war. We are not. War is hell. What we are trying to do is make sure that the effects of war – namely, the Grimm – do not impact other ways of life. NPC's should not have to suffer because rival Nobles seek land, nor should Heroes be put into a situation where they hesitate to tackle a Beowolf for fear of a dagger planted in their back. Everyone has their position in life. It is our responsibility to fulfil it."

I was the exception to that, though he obviously didn't know. Maybe it would be okay so long as I filled a role. Just not the one I'd been born into. "What happens if there is a war, then?" I asked. "Do we just wander around looking for Grimm? Is there some kind of strategy?"

"It's a complicated process," Oobleck explained. "I don't think it's worth going into detail on, otherwise I'd be keeping you here for several hours, but I can give you the basic idea." He smiled, clearly pleased to see me paying attention. "For the most part, you would remain stationed in Beacon. Or, if you've graduated, in the nearest Questing House. Any battles that are seen will be relayed by a messenger system to the House, and Heroes will be dispatched to the battlefield. Grimm are most likely to spawn there, and it is the responsibility of Heroes to make sure that any which do are eradicated. Once the battle is over and the area secure, more experienced Heroes will be dispatched to monitor and guard the area, quelling any further spawns for a period that can take days, weeks, or even months. The amount the negativity lingers can depend on many things, after all."

"That's another reason for the treaty," I said. "By making it Soldier Caste versus Soldier, they keep the numbers down. Less people means less negativity."

Oobleck smiled and nodded.

It was crazy… the idea of regulating the way wars were fought like this, yet at the same time I could see the reason, and the more I learned, the more it made sense. By keeping the Labour Caste out of the fighting, they stopped untrained and frightened people seeing things they hadn't been trained to handle. That would stop their emotions adding to the problems. What was more, most towns and villages had at least some way to defend themselves against Grimm, usually in the form of a militia. Since those were Labour Caste, and couldn't be conscripted, it meant that every town had the means to defend itself if the Heroes couldn't quell the Grimm. Maybe it wouldn't be enough to beat the Grimm, but it would let them hold out until reinforcements came.

"For the students in Beacon, the responsibilities will be similar, but limited. We don't want to force people into situations they are not prepared for. It's more common for students to be sent to reinforce villages in need, or to cull Grimm in a specific area." Oobleck smiled. "There is a general consensus that keeping children out of the war is a good idea."

"Can't say I disagree. This system works, then? It's been tested?"

"It has been… trialled, I suppose. Small skirmishes and such have occurred, though no full-blown wars. Still, it's in the best interests of every Kingdom to maintain the Treaty. No one wants a return to the dark days of Heroes cutting their way through swathes of men, and there's little point gaining land, just to find that the people who would work it are dead, and it's filled with Grimm anyway." Oobleck picked his book back up and stored it away. "I take it you understand why this is so important, now?"

"I guess…" It did make sense. "What would have happened if someone broke it?"

"You mean if we didn't impress its importance on people? The best solution would be that our own people would subdue the one in question, and he would be imprisoned for a period of time – at least until the war was over. Sadly, that's not always the case. I spoke of death earlier, but the results could be far worse." He leaned forward on the table and looked into my eyes. "Imagine, Mr Arc, what might happen if a single Hero from Vale acted out of line. It might cause one from the other Kingdom to do the same. And then another, and another, until in an avalanche of blood, the Treaty is shattered, and we're back to Hero against Hero, and Grimm running free to massacre the weak."

My gut wrenched and I had to break eye contact. Little wonder Oobleck had been so determined to give this lesson to us, to the point that he'd sacrifice his free time to do so. We were lucky nothing like this had ever come up on our Quests, though then again, it wouldn't matter without a war. Oobleck saw my expression and leaned back.

"I know why you are distracted, Mr Arc. I have heard about your friend and Guild Mate. I was led to believe he was okay. Has something occurred?"

"No, no. I… I guess I was still thinking about him."

"About the Greycloaks?"

I shrugged.

"It's not hard to figure out, my boy. Few are the people in Vale who aren't thinking of them right now. The Noble Houses are in uproar, though then again, when are they not?"

"Is it really that bad?"

"It is dangerous, yes, but I would not wear an expression so glum were I you." Oobleck chuckled and brought forth his mug, sipping from it. "Things like this have happened throughout history, and will no doubt continue to happen in the future. One day it's Greycloaks, the next it's the Crimson Dawn, the Malignant Tooth or whatever pretentious name they wish to call themselves. The reasons are always different, but the methods remain the same. They cause trouble, things look bad, and everyone unites to crush them." He sighed. "Honestly, it's the same old story."

There was something about his easy confidence that calmed me, and I looked up with an intrepid smile. "You think they'll be taken out?"

"Oh, certainly. History has a tendency to repeat itself, would that I wish we could all learn from the mistakes of the past and move on. If that were true, however, we'd all be living in eternal peace by now. We're at the stage where things are getting worse, but they've already started to improve."

"How so?"

"Mainly because of your actions," Oobleck said.

"Us!?"

"Absolutely. We've been aware that something has been stirring up trouble in the Kingdom, but we didn't know what. Ozpin and I, along with the other teachers, were pooling our efforts as best we could to discern the cause." He pointed towards me with his mug. "Hence why we were slow to notice the problems you and your friends were going through. Our gaze was focused outwards, leaving us blind to machinations happening within the school."

I nodded to show I understood, and that I didn't hold any hard feelings. It was easy to forgive them when we'd come out richer, happier, and with me having a girlfriend. Technically speaking, none of that would have happened if it wasn't for Roman tricking us into making a Guild.

"So, you knew some group were doing something, but not who?" I guessed. "And once we found out, you were able to get the evidence you needed?"

"That's pretty much the full story. What seemed to us like a sudden outbreak of banditry, Grimm spawns and disappearances hinted at something larger, but we had no proof. Meanwhile, the Noble Houses were busy blaming one another and amassing Soldiers for what might have been a series of proxy wars and skirmishes." He sighed, but quickly looked back to me with a pleased smile. "And then you came along, and discovered the Greycloaks for what they were. More importantly, you provided irrefutable proof that we could not – and all of a sudden, the Noble Houses were able to put down their gilded pitchforks and listen to Ozpin once more."

I could barely believe what I was hearing. Sure, we'd been thrilled to know we got rid of Torchwick, but we'd had no idea how far this went, or just how much our actions meant. I fell back in the chair, a relief – almost hysterical – smile slipping across my face. Thinking about it a certain way, that made us heroes, didn't it?

I couldn't wait to tell the others. Ruby would eat this up.

One thing bothered me, however. "They didn't trust Ozpin before?"

"Politics affects all things, I'm afraid. Even Beacon. Ozpin has always worked for a united and strong front against the Grimm, whereas there are those who would prefer a little more chaos. Not too much," Oobleck added. "Just enough to upset the balance and create opportunity. Enough to swallow a Noble House or two whole or perhaps even to destabilise the economy entirely."

"Do you think that's the Greycloaks plan?" I asked.

"I do not. They have peddled misery like currency across the Kingdom, spawning Grimm wherever they go. While we cannot understand the reasons behind this, I somehow doubt it is anything to do with commerce or political gain." He sighed and rose from his seat. "Anything more, I'm afraid, I cannot tell you. It is an on-going investigation."

"Yeah, I get it." I laughed. "Honestly, I'm surprised you told me this much. Thank you."

"If someone wishes to learn, far be it for me to dissuade them. Besides, what I've told you here is common knowledge enough if you were determined to seek it. A few hours spent at an inn in Vale would yield as much in idle chatter." Oobleck chuckled. "People do so love to complain about the Noble Houses, after all, and `Greycloak` is fast becoming a vile insult. I decided it would not hurt to save you the effort. At the very least, we owe you that much for helping us unmask them."

"Can you tell me if there's been any news on Torchwick or Watts?" I asked.

Oobleck shook his head. "I cannot. I can, however, imply that should they have been caught, such news would certainly be on everyone's lips."

And it wasn't which meant they hadn't been. I guess that had been too much to ask for. They'd probably fled the Kingdom. "Thanks," I said, both for the confirmation and the lesson. "I'll remember the lesson, sir. I promise."

"Most do when they hear it in full. Run along now, Mr Arc. I'm sure you have much to talk to your friends about."

/-/

Everyone had been pleased to hear about what Oobleck had said, even if the worry over how far the Greycloaks had spread continued to cast a pall on the conversation. Ren's absence hardly helped, even if we knew he'd be back among us come the morrow. The evening dinner felt somehow blander for his absence, though given he helped Velvet with the cooking, maybe there was a less poetic reason for that.

"I guess we just need to trust in the faculty to handle it," Pyrrha said, "Them and the Heroes of Vale."

"At least this confirms they're aware and prepared," Weiss added. "That's a welcome relief."

"And that there was a reason they didn't notice us being blackmailed," Ruby said.

Yang mumbled something about it not being a very good reason, but there wasn't any heat to it. She was just grumbling for the sake of it. We all were, really. The news about Ren had hit hard, while the news of Cardin reminded us of just how bad it could have been. I handed my bowl back to Velvet, making to stand up and help her collect more but for the Tailor pushing me gently down again.

Our little Seneschal had picked up some steel of her own. It was good to see her confident enough to act like that around us, especially since she was Labour Caste like me.

"I think this is as good a sign as any that the Greycloaks are active in other Kingdoms," Blake said, handing her own bowl over with a soft smile. She'd chosen to sit on a small couch next to me, our hips and legs touching. She seemed to barely notice, but I certainly did, and had Ren been here, he'd have rolled his eyes at my goofy smile.

"What do you mean?" Ruby asked.

"Oobleck said that things had been getting worse, but that they were showing improvement now. If we consider what Merlot did in Atlas as one such example of that, it would make sense for the same to have happened in other Kingdoms. Once we dealt with Merlot, Ironwood sent a sealed letter back with us, remember? I imagine that had some Greycloak evidence written in it."

And the Archmage had snuck it to Ozpin disguised as a Quest return scroll. That was pretty clever, come to think of it, and would explain why we'd been so protected. Not just Kaedin and Viktor looking after us during the Quest, but the Atlas navy saving us from pirates, and Penny being on hand to be teleported onto the Fang when we needed her most.

Atlas had been aware of the Greycloaks – and prepared to step in and help us should the need arise.

"It still doesn't explain their goals," Weiss said. "Neither here, nor in Atlas. What could they have hoped to achieve with Merlot? He summoned that… that thing, but what was it for?"

"He asked it for a wish."

"Yes, but it didn't come true," Weiss fired back, earning a shrug from Blake.

"They might not have known that, but you have a point. His wish was power, right? One man being powerful doesn't seem like a realistic goal for what is probably a large group of people."

"Maybe it was wishes in general," I offered. Everyone turned to stare at me. "Think about it, that Grimm woman gave Merlot a wish. She cheated, sure, but he obviously didn't expect that. Maybe they wanted to have her power as some kind of permanent wish-granting device."

"Limitless wishes for a shadowy organisation," Yang mused. "Well, it's not the worst idea I've ever heard of. I mean, at least it makes sense as to why they're willing to potentially die for it." Her eyes narrowed. "And why they'd be spreading misery wholesale. Didn't Merlot have to sacrifice people to summon that thing?"

He did, did and had. An entire village of people lost.

A village the size of Eldon, perhaps? If Ruby and I hadn't helped them, would that place have become a sacrifice? Or what about Toston, and the other villagers where the Griffon hunted? Even Atlas itself, ignoring Merlot, where the constant barrage of natural disasters might have caused continued devastation for the faunus communities. All of those could have summoned Grimm en masse, if that was their plan.

"How did we miss this?" I wondered.

It was Nora of all people who answered. "Easily. We've been in Beacon for months now, doing lessons, having fun – being blackmailed." She grinned lopsidedly. "Our whole world has been Beacon, except for when we went to Atlas, and it was just that."

"Nora's right," Weiss said. "We've let ourselves get cut off from the world. In here, behind these walls, it was perhaps too easy to forget the world outside."

"So, what do we do?" Ruby finally asked.

"The same thing we've always done," I answered, leaning back into the couch. "We look after each other and train to get stronger. Things are going to get worse before they get better, and I don't know about you, but I'd rather not lose anyone."

There were no disagreements, only silence.

Until it was dealt with, all we could do was rely on the headmaster and those better equipped to deal with this. It was beyond our Level. Still, as everyone sat in total silence, I had a feeling we'd all be struggling to sleep tonight.

And my thoughts were haunted by red eyes set in a pale, veiny face.


Some lore expanded, some world-building, much Greycloaks. Very wow. I think I once before killed some characters off-screen in One Good Turn, and got plenty of questions as to why – usually cantered around the idea of; "Wouldn't it have more impact to show it?" I'll say that yes, it would, but not if the intent is otherwise. In OGT, I wanted to show how such battles can be brutal and unfair, claiming people before you know they're even gone – hence them only even finding out after the battle.

Here, the point was to show how the Greycloaks isn't a `their guild only` sort of deal. They've been busy in the background, and others have met them too, and been less fortunate for it.


Next Chapter: 9th October

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