Okay, change of plans. This was supposed to be the last chapter of Book 4 but I realised that I'd forgotten about something (which takes up the first part of this chapter). I tried to squeeze it in and plan a chapter with both it and the other things I wanted, but it started to reach up to something like 10k words, and even that was being compressed, rushed, and with bits forced in and others let out.

Rather than do that I decided to just have two chapters for the wind down instead.


Beta: College Fool

Cover Art: Dishwasher1910

Book 4: Chapter 16


"I've had some time to pour over the book you returned but nothing has yet come to my attention. As you might imagine I am a little distracted with the events currently taking place. I hope you can forgive me."

"I understand, sir. The war…"

"Let's not call it a war yet, shall we," Ozpin said, smiling ruefully. "No invasion forces have been launched, no demands have been made, and no lives have been lost – except for those in the initial, unfortunate, encounter."

"Do you think we'll be able to avoid a real war?"

"I hope so, Mr Arc. I truly hope so. Ah, here we are."

I came to a halt beside and a little behind the headmaster. We were deep in the bowels of the Academy's main building, in an area I'd never seen before let alone ever dreamed existed. We'd passed through numerous locked doors, some sealed by strange spells, others by intricate locks. The walls and floors were a strange hue of green and great pillars reached up on either side. We had to be underground if only because the ceiling reached so high that it was shrouded in shadow. Such a building would have been noticeable to anyone had it been on the surface.

"This architecture looks kind of familiar…"

"It should," Ozpin said, moving up a short flight of stairs towards what appeared to be a huge, ornate, door. "I've heard from Qrow's report that you investigated a temple set into the mountainside, a temple of the Old Gods. Beacon was built on such a place as a sign of our ever-lasting determination to fight and survive, and our ability to evolve and grow. This is what remains of that temple."

"You turned it into a vault."

Ozpin smiled. "It seemed as good a use as any. You should feel honoured, young man. Few are the students who learn of this place, let alone step foot inside. I would say you're the first in a long time, but all your Guild have already been here."

"I volunteered to go last," I said. It hadn't been so much a gesture of kindness as indecision. I wanted to know what kinds of things were in there and had no idea what I wanted. A weapon, armour, some kind of magical trinket… Ozpin had promised us one item each, but a hasty decision would render our entire Quest a waste of time.

Everyone else had been eager for the chance to delve into the treasures within, but they'd all had much clearer ideas on what they wanted. The stories I'd heard in return? Well, they were usually excitable and loud, filled with not too much detail and more awe. Ruby, Nora and Yang especially had been the worst offenders. I'd learned more from Weiss, Blake, Pyrrha, and Ren, but still not enough to make up my mind.

They'd all come out with various upgrades to their weapons, all except for Ruby and Weiss, who had chosen a pair of magical boots and a Mage's robe, respectively. I'd asked the latter about that, and gotten a mention of how her rapier was too special to be replaced. Since it didn't seem to give her any benefit to casting her spells I had to assume it was sentimental value, likely her father's sword.

I was glad I hadn't wasted time trying to forge her a new one.

Ruby's boots made more sense but still a surprise to me. Crescent Rose was a good weapon, sure. I'd put my heart into it and used the drop from the Dungeon, which was far stronger than normal metal. Still, surely she could have found something more suitable in the vault. Had she really hung onto that because it came from me? Or had the boots just been better?

Such thoughts were washed away when Ozpin placed a hand on the great door and a seal of green energy flashed before him. It was a complicated spiral glyph with more detail than I could make out, and that brief instance was lost when it shattered into motes of lights and drifted away. I waited for the door to open with a steady groan.

It did not.

"The door is open," Ozpin intoned. "If you could give me a hand?"

"It doesn't open on its own?"

"It's a solid stone door, Mr Arc. I can seal it but a little hard work is often required."

"Right." I flushed and stepped up to help him, taking one side as he did the other, and the two of us pushing at once. It might once have been seized and hard to move, but after the few times my Guild had been here, it was well-used and swung open without too much trouble. I had a second to wonder what kinds of hinges such a door would use, or how large they'd have to be, before my eyes were caught by something far, far, more interesting.

"Welcome to the Vault," Ozpin said. "As you can see we've amassed quite a collection."

That… that was one way to put it. The first thing that struck me was the reflection of light, even if it was only off the torch I held. There was so much metal, so much of it gleaming, that it almost blinded me. Weapons, armour, trinkets and so much more – even piles of lien in some cases, just strewn on the floor and spilling across the place.

"How is there so much…?"

"Much of this is left or donated to us," Ozpin said, stepping past to put the torch in a sconce on the wall. "There are many people who are trained through Beacon. When they pass, for whatever reason, it's not unusual for them to pledge some item, or items, to the academy. Much of what you see here is that, gifted to us by those who have departed but wish to help the school in some way."

"And you're okay just… giving it away?"

"What better way to help the school," Ozpin said, looking at me oddly. "Make no mistake, Mr Arc, you and your Guild served with distinction in this Quest. There were so many points with the potential for ruin, let alone the chance of death against someone as powerful as Tyrian Callows."

"But the war-"

"Was hardly something you were involved in, let alone started. I fear the Greycloaks must have had a hand there. And in my good friend's death," he added, referring to Julianna Verdant. The man sighed, looking for once a little older. "Even if this war is prevented I fear there will be hard times ahead. The Greycloaks have yet to make their intentions clear, but I doubt repeated summons of this Salem creature are an accident. They seek to do so again, I'm sure. If that happens, I would rather have my students well-equipped."

Especially if he was going to send us out again, I realised. He didn't say it, but the implication was clear – and really, who else could he send? The risk of Greycloaks among the students was still apparent, especially after the recent disaster. He only had us… and since we'd already shown we could survive difficult situations, he'd have no excuse not to throw us in again. A part of me was annoyed by that. Hadn't we done enough? Didn't we deserve a break?

The answer to both of those question was yes, but…

I sighed.

Who else could be relied on? And if I really wanted to be a Hero, could I say no?

"Choose wisely, Mr Arc," Ozpin said. The words weighed heavily on me. I couldn't afford to make a hasty decision… not when it might be my life on the line. "I will await you here. You may choose one item, and I will expect to see it before we leave. The seal will not allow you to take more. Take your time and meet me back here. If needs be, I will wait an hour or two."

It wouldn't take that long. I'd already made my mind up before I came here. With a nod to Ozpin I moved deeper into the vault. It was a large circular room with several rooms on the side, no walls or doors, more indentations into the surrounding rock. Someone must have once taken a hand to organising things because equipment of a mostly magical nature – staves, wands, and robes – were collected together in one section, while the trappings of Rogues could be seen in another. I made my way over to the warrior's part, far larger than the others, and filled to the brim with various weapons, armour, and other assembled minutiae.

I paused in front of a sword. It was a beautiful thing a few hands in length with an ornate hilt and a flowing silvery blade that seemed to flicker with light. It was inscribed with runes, runes I could use and learn, but I forced myself to walk past it.

Next came the shields, a beautiful buckler with a raised emblem of a dragon in the middle. It almost seemed burnished by fire, with strange patterns of flames visible not in detail or markings, but in the way the light caught and reflected off it. I reached down to touch it. It was warm to the touch. It called to me.

I stepped away.

I hadn't come for a weapon or a shield, but instead found myself standing before several suits of armour. They were often mismatched, a breastplate here, a helmet there, and it didn't look like any full sets existed, if I'd have been able to take one at all. Ozpin had said one piece. I was fairly sure a full suit of plate from head to toe wouldn't count as that.

It took another few minutes to find what I was looking for. It was a finely crafted breastplate, its frame solid on both the front and the back, with linked plates forming down on either side of the thigh. It shone a faint blue colour, only visible when the light from the torch washed over it, and although there was no real decoration or emblem, I knew from touching it that it was no mundane material. It felt unbelievably soft and cold, almost icy, and as my fingers traced over its surface I felt them grip and stick. Some kind of enchantment, or maybe a rune. I couldn't tell with so little light, but it was clearly magical in some way. It also looked to be about my size, or it would fit after I'd padded it out with leather and put a wool jerkin underneath.

"That didn't take you long," Ozpin said when I returned. "Young Miss Rose spent over two hours in here."

"Heh. That sounds like her."

"Armour, I see." Ozpin nodded. "I'm glad to see you chose something important. All too often do young men focus on their weapons, eschewing defence in a constant search for more damage. Strength is not everything. Those who live to learn from their experiences inevitably grow stronger."

"I'm particularly enthusiastic about the survival part," I said. "I think this'll work well."

"I'm glad to hear it. Shall we return to the surface?"

The question was a rhetorical one, of course. The doors behind me groaned shut – without our aid – and Ozpin smiled enigmatically when I shot him an annoyed look. No answers, of course. There never were. Even so, as he turned away, I hesitated.

"Sir…"

"Yes, Mr Arc?"

"If the war happens…"

"Did I not tell you not to dwell on such things?"

He had, but he might as well have told me not to breathe or eat. "If it happens," I continued. "What will Beacon do?"

"We will not fight, Mr Arc, if that is your question. The Grand Treaty forbids it. Our job will remain the same as ever, albeit it will become significantly more difficult. We will hunt the Grimm. We will protect the people, and we will fight for Remnant…"

"But not the Kingdom…"

"The survival of all mankind transcends borders and bloodlines. Vale, Mistral, Atlas or Vacuo… all are but names in history. Our race, our people, our children, these are what truly matter, Mr Arc. If the next years see us serve under the banner of Mistral, it will mean little in our day-to-day tasks. We will continue to fight the Grimm, as we always have. But don't think of such things," he said when the silence became unbearable. "As I've said numerous times, the war is but of now a formality. I will fight to ensure it remains so."

It wasn't the answer I'd wanted, but the Sage's words did calm me a little. I'd known he wouldn't just let the Kingdom go to war like that, not when we both knew this was somehow the Greycloak's doing. Cinder did, too. I was sure she was doing the same as I was right now, except to the King's ear.

"Thank you, sir," I said, nodding. "I'll do my best not to let it affect me."

"Good. I believe you have other things to think of, no? The year is all but at an end." Ozpin smiled proudly. "How time flies by. You and your friends will be moving into your second year, I believe."

We would. A whole year… or ten months, at least. There were still a few weeks left, and then a month of holiday time after the year was over, during which most would either visit home, train, or have fun. I'd thought of returning to Ansel to visit my family, but the recent Quests had hammered home the fact I needed to train. All told, the only people leaving Beacon at all would be Ruby, Yang, and Velvet. They all wanted to visit their families. I'd be writing mine a letter; perhaps it was not as good as the real thing, but I needed what training I could get and I couldn't do that at home – where I'd have to remove the amulet and be a Blacksmith once more.

"You've more than earned your graduation," Ozpin said. "All of you have. Even had you not completed your Annual Quest to Atlas, the one to Mistral would suffice. Few are the first years that have travelled further, or as often."

"It's not like we went out of our way to do any of that…"

"Heroism is not in seeking out or chasing danger. It is in how we respond to events that are forced upon us. Is the healer any less a Hero for staying safely out of danger and saving countless lives?"

"No, of course not."

"That is the danger of our world," the headmaster said. His eyes reached up towards the ceiling, but seemed to see further than rock and stone. "We have institutionalised heroism. Class comes with expectations, both for good and for bad – as I'm sure Miss Belladonna has experienced. I'm sure you've felt it too."

"I have."

My experiences weren't quite as bad as Blake's, and the dark glances people sent her still made me chafe. How could they have spent more than a year around her and still not accepted that she didn't mean them harm? They didn't seem to need evidence to condemn her, and when it came to proving her innocence, absence of evidence didn't seem to mean evidence of absence. Simply put, people felt she was biding her time.

"There will always be people who cannot see further than what exists before their eyes, Mr Arc. That is human nature. So it continues with Heroes as well. All too many confuse heroism with glory or perhaps the mindless hunt for it. True heroism is neither glorious nor appealing." He watched me with a sympathetic gaze. "I believe you and your Guild have experienced that already, both in Atlas and now in Mistral."

Sacrifices, ruined villages, and broken souls. None of our battles had been simple affairs. I couldn't look back on any with pride. "I suppose you're right."

"If you cannot take pride in such things, then take pride in the fact you all came out alive," Ozpin said, placing a hand on my shoulder and squeezing it tightly. "True happiness is often not in what you accomplish, but who you can share the feeling of accomplishment with. Surround yourself with your friends and hold your head high. I think you've all earned the right to continue here." He released me with a last pat and turned back towards the staircase, beckoning me to follow. "Now come, let's leave this dark catacomb. Things will look better in the light of the day, and you should enjoy what free time you have."

Ozpin was right. There wasn't much I could personally do about the war other than to trust him and others to try and prevent it. Maybe it would be best to just enjoy the time ahead.

But not yet. There was still something I needed to do.

/-/

The heat from the forge washed over me and I wiped a hand across my brow. Even if my Passive protected me from any harmful burns it did little to stop the heat working its way into my skin. A long swig from a cup of cool water was enough to wash away the fatigue, and as I put down the smith's hammer, I had a moment to marvel at how natural it felt to be in a forge once more. Maybe it was my Class, maybe it was nostalgia, but the simple feeling of creating something was a joy unto itself. No fighting, no death, just me, the forge, my hammer, and a large amount of enchanted metal.

Not to mention the two levels I'd just gained.

The fact whirred through my mind as I adjusted to the sudden feeling of being just a little stronger. I'd seen the effects of blacksmithing improve my level before, most noticeably with Ruby's scythe, but also to a lesser degree when I'd reforged Crocea Mors with Vacuan Silver, and also when I'd crafted Blake's daggers.

From what I could tell it all depended on the material used, with mundane metals granting me relatively little, at least in terms of how high a level I was for my Class. Iron, steel, and all the other minerals mined from Remnant were enough to get most Blacksmiths to a respectable level, probably in the upper teens or low twenties, but once they reached level twenty or more the effects seemed to taper off, barely achieving a noticeable dent in the vast amount of experience needed for a level.

Ruby's scythe, being forged from some other magical sword, had blown that away – granting me a full level. But such things were hard to find, even on Beacon's market. Magical equipment didn't just seem to drop from random Grimm, or at least not in any decent quantity. Whether they were from Dungeons, Elder Grimm, or something else, I hadn't been able to get my hand on any.

Until now…

Ozpin might have sighed had he known what I intended for the armour I'd taken, and I'd felt a pang of pain inside as well when I took a hammer to it.

Taking armour and making it into a bar of metal wasn't quite as simple as some might have believed. I couldn't just reverse time, let alone mimic all the materials that had been lost, but what I could do was shatter and place the pieces together, and then forge them into a billet I could make into a sword. I could also take Crocea Mors, made of Vacuan Silver, and shatter that blade as well – even if it hurt me to do so. Combining the two gave me more to work with, but even for a skilled smith it would have been all but impossible. Only a Blacksmith could achieve this, using Stoke the Forge to reach the perfect temperature, and an instinctual understanding of metallurgy to know exactly what to do and when.

It had been a long and careful process...

But now I had a new sword – and more than that. I had enough material left over to make a chest-plate for myself. Both were of powerful material, far stronger than anything I'd had before, and both had granted me vast swathes of Exp. Enough not for two full levels, but for a level and a half, which had just so happened to push me over the barrier for a second level-up in under three hours. My head was still spinning from it.

"I wonder if I could forge you again and again for Exp?" I said, marvelling at my new sword. It was Crocea Mors in everything but history, and yet again I'd forged it to the identical weight, balance, and length, an impossible task for anyone who wasn't a Blacksmith like me. It meant I wouldn't have to adapt or get used to it, and also that no one would realise I'd changed my sword at all. In every way that mattered it looked identical, except that a keen eye might have noticed the unusual blue sheen to its edge whenever the light caught it just right.

Neither the sword nor the armour was as good as it had originally been. Whatever had forged the breastplate, and I had to imagine it was magic, had done an unnatural job. I'd weakened it by forging them into two smaller pieces, but I'd also benefitted in terms of my level, and unlike a piece of armour, that would last forever.

"Level twenty-nine," I whispered. No new Skill, but a new target on the horizon, to push on towards Level thirty and beyond. With a laugh I sheathed my new sword in its old sheathe and picked up the chest plate. I'd attached several belts to it so it could be tied around my back. It would only really protect me from the front, but that was fine. It was far stronger than the simple steel I'd worn before, and much lighter as well. If the original armour had been a ten compared to my zero, then I'd broken it down into a sword and plate worth a six – a profit for sure, but not quite as extravagant as it had been on its own.

But the benefit in levels was an added bonus, and one I desperately needed.

I'd noticed something odd in the forging, too. The first attempt, Crocea Mors mark three in a sense, had granted me a huge portion of Exp. The second, the chest-plate, had granted me much less, despite that both used a similar amount of material and took about the same amount of time. I had a feeling that if I were to reduce them to shards and try again, the amount of Exp I'd gain would be even less. Diminishing returns, or perhaps just some kind of one-off bonus for unknown or previously unused metal. It made sense, in a way, because most people would argue you became more experienced by trying new things. Either way, I didn't want to try and abuse it by repeating the process. Even with as much care as I could give, some metal would be lost each time, and I'd find myself breaking valuable equipment down into Exp only, with nothing left to wield. I had to strike a balance.

The cloak went on over the armour, concealing it and most of my face as I let myself out the forge and greeted the owner once more. He could see my name and Class, of course, but so long as he didn't see my face, he could believe there was a Knight and a Blacksmith who shared the same name. It wasn't impossible. Name and face might have been too much, however.

"You done?" the man gruffly asked.

"I am. Thank you for letting me use it, and here's your payment as usual."

The Blacksmith snatched the lien from his hand and poured over it. He always did, perhaps too amazed at the generous offer to believe it true. Most members of the Labour Caste didn't earn as much as a Hero did. Lien came from slaying Grimm, after all, flowing into the economy through our actions, even if it flowed out again every time a person was killed by those same monsters.

"Aye, all seems good here," he said. "You ever need to use it again, let me know. As long as you're willing to pay, I'm willing."

"Thank you. I'll be back again soon, I promise." I paused before I could leave. "Is there some place I can have a message sent from around here? Some kind of Messenger's Guild?"

"Try the Trader's Guild," the man said, giving him some hasty directions. "Their caravans travel here and there and will deliver messages for a price. If you tell 'em where you want it, they'll find a merchant headed that way and see it delivered."

It didn't take long to thank the man and make my way to the Trader's Guild, which I'd expected to be a huge complex and actually found to be something far grander – an entire district of Vale owned and operated for the benefit of the mercantile Classes. They had their own warehouses and inns, even several sections connected to the docks for sea travel. A main building stood prominently at the front and more people came and went from that than any other, most of them random Labour Caste members, but some Soldiers or Heroes.

I took a minute to find a secluded area where I could slip the amulet back on without causing a ruckus, and made my way inside as a Knight once more. There were various mahogany desks with ink pots and some with scribes beside them, writing as people dictated. A clerk at the door coughed to draw my attention and then waited patiently.

"I want a letter sent to a small village."

"Are you learned in writing, good sir?"

"I am."

"Then you may take a desk and write any missive. If you bring it to the counter, one shall see it processed and a fee proposed for travel."

"Thank you," I said, a little relieved for the assistance. "Is it possible for them to take mail back, as well?"

"There are provisions for that, yes. You can either pay extra in advance or the recipient can be charged to return a message." Again, the man nodded to the counters. "That will also be processed when you are finished with your letter."

He turned to answer someone else's question before I could say anything. It all seemed fairly simply though, so I sat down and reached for what was a wooden quill. I dipped it in the ink, brought it back to the paper… and let it drip.

I had no idea what to say.

I hadn't exactly provided my family with much when I left. I hadn't run away but I'd given them a crock and bull story about how I wanted to travel to the city and expand my horizons there, mostly in terms of using what my father had taught me to open up a smithy. There'd been none of that, obviously. What could I talk about? I couldn't mention my Quests, or the things I'd been through. I couldn't talk about Beacon, couldn't ask questions about high-levelled Blacksmiths, nor could I give them much of any detail at all.

A part of me wondered if there was any reason to write, but that was swiftly overwhelmed. A full year… my parents hadn't heard from me in a year, and there was a war going on.

It took me almost an hour to compose a message I was happy with, and to pay for it to be sent, along with some extra lien so that the merchant would accept and bring back a letter for me. I'd also left a note that if there were multiple letters I'd pay for each of those, as well. Mom and Dad weren't strapped when it came to cash, not with both of them working, but eight children was still eight children and I didn't want them to have to be swindled by a merchant. Just in case, I'd included a note in my letter about how the merchant was expected to bring back any letters from them.

When I'd given it to the merchant and paid the cost, I was surprised to bump into someone else posting their own.

"Yang, Ruby…?"

"Jaune!" Ruby yelled, rushing up to give me a hug. I was surprised at the exuberant greeting before I felt her hands running over my chest. Shock turned to a flat expression as I realised it wasn't me she was excited to see, but my new armour. "Ooh, is this what you took from the vault? What does it do? Is it magic? Tell me, tell me, tell me."

"Nice to see you, too," I said dryly.

"Sending a letter?" Yang asked as she sauntered up, smirking at Ruby's excitement. "Ignore her, by the way. I had to enlist Pyrrha's help to pry my new dusters off her. I thought there was about to be a civil war when she tried to steal Nora's weapon to admire."

"Weapons are cool," Ruby defended. "Armour is cool too, especially when it's new."

"Aren't your boots enough?"

"My boots are amazing." Ruby hopped back and looked down at them. They were made from some kind of grey and black leather and had belts strapped up the side. "But I can hug and love them whenever I want. Not that I do," she suddenly added, cheeks red. "I mean… uh…"

"Whatever you say, sis." Yang rolled her eyes. "So, that a letter for the family?" she asked me.

"Yeah." I nodded to hers. "Is that for your father?"

"Yep. Ruby and me are going home for the holidays and wanted Dad to know when he could come meet us at the pier. We'll then go visit Mom and have a big dinner together. It'll be a picnic at her side, where we'll tell her everything that's happened recently."

"That sounds nice. I'm sure she'd love that."

Yang nodded. "Hm. I guess we'll be telling her about you lot, too." Her grin turned predatory. "Did you tell your family about us?"

"I may have," I admitted. I'd obviously kept their Classes out of it, but I'd given them basic ideas of what my friends are like. "Sadly I can't show you what I wrote because it's already been processed. Sorry."

"Yeah, I'll bet you're sorry. Give me a sec to send this and we can head back home together."

"Sure thing," I said, arms held wide as Ruby continued to prod and poke at my armour. "I don't think I'm going anywhere fast anyway." I looked at Ruby as Yang cackled and wandered off to the counter. "If you're so interested in armour why didn't you get some yourself?" I asked.

Ruby paused to pout at me and step back. "It's not like I didn't try," she said.

"There wasn't any leather armour? I was sure I saw some."

"Mbl… frl…"

"Excuse me? I didn't catch that."

Ruby's cheeks turned even darker and she glowered at the floor, not quite meeting my eyes. "I said there was none my size…"

Oh…

"Happy?" she grumbled.

I coughed, and Ruby glared suspiciously at me. That hardly helped and I held a hand up in silent apology as I turned away and hacked into my hand, desperately trying to hide my laughter. I couldn't have been too successful since she crossed her arms and harrumphed. No wonder she'd chosen a pair of boots. Poor Ruby.

"It's not funny," she said. "I drink plenty of milk."

"S-Sorry. Wasn't there a scythe you could have taken?"

"I already have Crescent Rose."

"But wasn't there a better one in there?"

"I didn't need one," Ruby replied, as stubborn as ever. Her eyes flicked past mine. "Yang's back."

"Yo," the Brawler said. "All sent and done. Dad will get it in a few days."

We chatted aimlessly as we made our way back to Beacon, a Knight, a Brawler and a Reaper walking side-by-side and gathering our fair share of interest from the locals. Ruby went on about the various weapons everyone had taken from the vault, and some of the other cool – if impractical – things that she'd seen inside and wished she could have taken with her.

The conversation inevitably moved towards the end of the year, however.

"It hardly feels like a year has come and gone," Yang sighed.

"We had Torchwick to worry about," Ruby said, "and then Atlas and the Greycloaks and Mistral. I guess we just sort of got lost in it."

"Hopefully next year will be a little easier."

Neither Ruby nor I had an answer to that, and Yang winced as well, the war being in the forefront of all our minds.

"But hey," she said, changing the subject, "we've got the end-of-year party coming up, right?"

"Yeah!" Ruby cheered up instantly. "I asked Coco about it and she said it's amazing. They bring in stalls, games, live music and all sorts of stuff. It's all in Beacon too, and it's only students that are allowed in. There are even competitions and things."

"It sounds like fun," I said, interested. "How long does it last?"

"Just the day but it starts at noon and continues on until four in the morning. We'll see the stalls set up in the next week or two apparently. It's to celebrate everyone who moves up a year, but also people who have graduated and will be leaving."

"Sounds like a good time for a romantic date," Yang said, elbowing me non-so-subtly. "Is our Knight in shining armour going to face the wrath of our feline assassin?"

"He will try," I said, laughing nervously.

"She'll say yes," Ruby assured me. "I know she will."

She might, I wanted to say. Then again this sounded like something which would involve a lot of people and some fairly big crowds, neither of which Blake was particularly keen on. I'd make the attempt though, and if she didn't want to do that then I'd be fine with something more private.

We found our way back into Beacon only a little later and made our way to the Guild village where the Lodge lay. We'd been back a few days from Mistral but it still felt like a relief every time I saw the Lodge and it was still standing. There'd been some dust from lack of use when we came back but Velvet had kept the place running as best she could. Some of the extra rooms had also been fixed and opened by the builders, and we now had our own rooms on the second floor – a big improvement for Ruby, who had been forced to put up with Yang's snoring for almost a year.

Pyrrha met us at the door with a smile, a log held over one shoulder and one under the other arm. "Hey there," she said. "Back from Vale?"

"We got our stuff posted," Yang said. "Found this random guy sending his own letter and thought we'd invite him for dinner."

Pyrrha and Ruby laughed as I rolled my eyes. "Chopping wood?" I asked.

"Hm." Pyrrha nodded. "Winter is around the corner and it'll be easier to do it now than later. Beacon has rules on what we can cut, however. It's only fallen trees or marked ones from a specific area. Nora and I thought it would be a good idea to stock up on firewood now, before everyone starts to do it and take all the trees."

"We could buy it from town, you know."

"Maybe I'm just too used to us being under Torchwick's control," she said with a laugh. "I don't like the idea of us wasting lien like that when it's only a little work to get it ourselves. We've said a storeroom aside in the kitchen for it," she added, "and Velvet put a basket by the hearth in the living room for some more."

"At least we'll be toasty," Yang said. "I feel bad for those people still living in the communal dorms. That could have been us if we hadn't fallen for Torchwick's trick."

"You say that like it was a good thing," I said.

"Eh, it kind of was - since it worked out, anyway."

There was a twisted kind of logic there, I supposed. We'd gotten away with a Guildhall of our own, and even our little Seneschal, who had become a part of the family. Ren and I would otherwise have a shared room in one of the more private dorms in Beacon, where we'd still be paying two thousand lien a month for amenities. In that way Yang was right, even if we could have done without the fear, stress, and risk of being chucked out.

The Guild was bustling here and there when we entered. I helped Pyrrha carry her logs to the kitchen storeroom where Nora was already stacking what was a sizeable pile of chopped logs and sticks. Velvet and Ren were working in the kitchen, Velvet salting some pork and beef while Ren pushed some vegetables about a pot over the fire, the scent of beef broth wafting out into the room. He was humming a light tone as he did so, and no one batted an eye at a Hero helping a `mere NPC` with something as simple as cooking.

"Smells good," I said.

"It will be another ten minutes. So no, you can't have any."

"I wasn't…" I sighed when Ren shot me an amused glance. "Very funny. I take it Nora's been trying to steal some."

"Trying?" the Barbarian called. "I'm offended! I didn't try, I succeeded!"

"It's easier to let her get away with it than argue," Ren whispered.

"Keep telling yourself that, Renny."

I left them to it and headed into the front room, where Blake and Weiss were sat on the couches, each of them reading from a book, although Blake did so leaned back, her feet dangling over the edge of a sofa, and Weiss was leaning forward, pouring over her manuscript with a focused expression.

Blake lowered the book from in front of her face when she heard me enter. She didn't say anything, nor acknowledge my presence, but when I came close she moved her legs so I could sit down. Then, without a word, she put them back over my lap and went back to reading. I rolled my eyes and rested my hands on her knees, letting her use my lap as some kind of foot rest.

"If you two are about to get frisky," Weiss warned, not looking up.

"We're not," Blake interrupted. "Keep your head out of the pigsty, Mage."

"Watch it, Assassin."

Once upon a time that might have been the precursor to an argument but I could see Blake's tiny smirk under the cover of her novel. She just enjoyed baiting Weiss nowadays, and though I knew she'd never admit it, Weiss probably enjoyed it just as much.

"What are you reading?" I asked.

"I am reading about the last war between the Kingdoms and the formation of the Grand Treaty," Weiss said. "She is reading drivel."

"What about the war?"

"I'm trying to see how it was conducted and what kinds of things happened. This war between Vale and Mistral is the first official one to take place since the Great War. Even if they enforce the treaty there is still the potential for things to go wrong. If we're going to be involved I'd like to be well-read on the subject."

"Ozpin says he doesn't think it will happen," I said.

"He doesn't desire it to happen," she corrected. "Just as we didn't desire to face the equivalent of some kind of dark god on our last Quest… I think I'd rather be safe than sorry."

"Even if there's a war we shouldn't be getting involved," I said.

"Not directly, no, but we will be expected to be there." Weiss lowered the manuscript and sighed. "How do you imagine a battle would affect the negativity over an area? So many people fighting and dying in so short a time, the anger, rage, and pain. It would draw and summon Grimm like a flame does moths. They'll need someone to clean that up."

"It might not be us, Weiss. There are other Heroes. Graduated ones and adults."

The Mage sighed and ran a hand across her face. She was pale. "I… well I suppose you have a point. Perhaps I am overthinking things a little. It's hard not to with everything that happened."

There was no way to argue with that, and even Blake hummed. Before the mood could drop any further I decided to change the subject. "What about the graduation festival? Will you be-"

"No." Weiss said.

My face fell. "You're not going?"

"No, I am. That was just a no if you were asking me to go with you." Weiss smirked. "I don't need a dagger in the back."

"I wouldn't do that," Blake said.

"Oh?"

"You're a friend. I'd stab you in the chest."

Weiss snorted. "Cute."

The rapid exchange left me open mouthed and trying to catch up; their banter was always a strange, almost antagonistic thing. "Does that mean we're going together?" I finally asked Blake. I tried to keep my excitement from showing, even as she lowered the book to her breasts and stared at me with lidded eyes.

"Wasn't that a foregone conclusion?"

"Not to him, I think," Weiss said, either amused or disgusted – probably both. "You know, Jaune, you can be quite shy for a Knight. Where's that charisma you ought to be so well-known for?"

"I just didn't want to assume," I protested.

"He's a Strange Knight," Blake explained, ignoring me entirely. "It took me a while to get used to it, but there it is." With a coy smile she leaned up to pet my arm almost like one might a cute animal. "Yes, Jaune. I'll go to the festival with you."

My face lit up. Blake hid hers behind her book.

Weiss raised a hand threateningly. "The moment you do something sappy I'm freezing you both to the couch. Don't test me."

"Food's ready!" Velvet shouted, pushing through the adjoining door with a pot held between her heavily-mitted hands. She didn't realise just how close she came to avoiding an icy apocalypse, though I imagined Yang did when she slipped in behind, took one look at our positions, and wriggled her eyes suggestively. Then again, you never knew with her.

Everyone else came in soon after, Ruby from upstairs and still wearing her beloved boots, Nora from the pantry with Ren demanding she wash her hands, and Pyrrha laughing along behind, a tray of freshly baked bread in hand.

Calling it a peaceful affair would have been a gross mistake. It was loud, raucous, and filled with teasing and innuendo, like it always was. With the shadow of war on the horizon and the spectre of Salem over us, we should have perhaps been a little more subdued. But I couldn't bring myself to complain as Ren poured the soup and handed it out, or as Velvet passed cuts of beef and pork about the table, taking a seat of her own with not a care in the world for being the only Non-Hero at the table, or at least in her eyes. I wouldn't have traded this for anything.

I just hoped it could last.


So, I feel like the book could have been conceivably ended here, but since I'm having the school year come to a close, it felt like it would be better to end the year in a book, and start the 5th book from the beginning of their second year in the Beacon Academy for Heroes. And yes it closes over Winter – there's not quite the same term times in a fictional world where Hero Classes would not need term times to coincide with the harvesting season.

I also know that "heavy armour isn't all that heavy" as many youtube historians have pointed out. Still, there is a marked difference between a full suit of armour and just a chest plate, especially in terms of how much stamina he'd be saving by wearing something like that. I'm also aware that you can't just melt a suit of armour into a sword, and tried to make that clear with his explanation here. I don't always like to have such things, info-dumps for the sake of explaining things, but occasionally I need them, like how when I brought in the idea of Heroes being the main source of economic gain and some people said it would cause inflation to crash the economy, forgetting that, as per the lore, Grimm also kill a lot of people – especially traders travelling between towns, which would then draw that same lien out of the economy.

Remnant's bankers, ladies and gentlemen.


/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Jaune Arc

Level 29 (+2)

Blacksmith

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Str: 81 (+8) (A)

Con: 62 (+6) (B)

Dex: 18 (+2) (D) (Rune: 22)

Agi: 30 (+3) (C)

Int: 41 (+4) (C)

Wis: 53 (+5) (B)

Cha: 14 (+1) (D)

Res: 86 (+10) (A)

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Passive Skill

-Fire from the Forge-

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

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

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.

-Runesmithing-

The ability to etch Runes onto weapons, the effect of which is determined by the Rune itself. Limited to a single Rune per weapon.

-Runes-

Rune of Minor Dexterity - +4 to Dexterity

Rune of Minor Constitution - +4 to Constitution


Next chapter is the last chapter of this book, and there will be a week break after that before Book 5 (6 was a mistype) begins.


Next Chapter: 22nd January

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur