The Magician Part II
Across the walkway, Roman Torchwick mockingly saluted.
Our coats rustled as a breeze swept through the catwalk.
The smirk on his face belied the way his eyes scrutinized me. Appearing confident, yet treading cautiously, Roman and I hesitated to make the first move. With how little we knew of each other's capabilities, neither of us were willing to be aggressive.
My eyes focused on his weapon of choice.
A relatively normal cane at first glance, but hiding a considerable number of tricks under its sleeve. Melodic Cudgel had the ability to fire off two types of rounds; one of which was armor piercing bullets and the other as explosives. Not only that, but the handle was attached to a tether meaning he had options for a broad range of motions.
Looking further into the makeup of the cane, the metal used was lightweight, yet sturdy enough to trade blows with other huntsmen weapons. Reproducing the accumulated experience, it was astonishing to learn that the cane had only been made months prior. Yet in his file, he has had the cane with him for years if not decades.
As I pushed my mind further to delve deeper into its history, I came to a conclusion.
The person in front of me was undoubtedly a fake. While I had yet to determine how they could look like Roman, my tracing ability should have peeled away the façade. In the beginning, Roman had wielded this weapon to test the balance and quality of the weapon. But it was then given to someone else who could replicate the same tricks.
Every swing of the weapon, every trigger pulled in practice, and every twirl performed was mirrored in Torchwick's style to a meticulous degree to maintain the charade.
I took a deep breath and exhaled out slowly.
A dozen thoughts raced through my mind. Who was this other Roman? Was this something related to his own semblance or was it an ability of this False-Roman's? And more importantly, how did he become aware that my team and I were here? Had we been double-crossed by Xiong Hei?
Ren's former employer seemed like he abided by a strict code of conduct. In Xiong's own words, cooperating with Roman, and by extension the White Fang, was bad for business. He had also been slighted by the former and sought retribution for the men he lost.
I tightened my grip on the bow as I focused on the more immediate matter – taking down the imposter.
Roman's eyes narrowed; his body tensed as he assumed a defensive stance.
The mental gun hammer cocked back in my head then slammed forward. Two arrows materialized in my hand. The first one flew at False-Roman's left knee, but was deflected sending it crashing down into the metal grate in pieces. The second arrow missed as he stepped on a dime before bending low and exploding forward.
False-Roman was fast, not only in his reaction time, but also his speed.
I stood my ground sending more arrows. A double shot, one aimed for his right shoulder, and the other shot following slightly under at his lung. Roman stopped again as his arms blurred furiously swatting the projectiles that impeded his path. A handful more arrows flew towards him only to be met the same fate.
His confidence grew as he was emboldened by his deflections and the ground that he gained. False-Roman's actions became cockier, dodging, and weaving away from shots by only the tiniest of margins while adding in spins.
My hand traced another two arrows, one aimed at his head and the other at his hip. The first being too high to jump over and the second being too low to duck under. False-Roman deftly dove in between the two in one smooth motion, rolling into a ball to keep his momentum going.
During the split second when he lost sight of me. I acted instantly by tracing a black key and aimed at his shadow.
The bow groaned; the black key arrow flew faster than any of the previous arrows as it stuck into the floor with a screech.
Just as Roman finished his roll, he jerked to a complete stop. His eyes widened immediately as he struggled to move to no avail. Confusion etched onto his face as he looked everywhere to determine why he couldn't move, only to finally glance down at his feet.
He narrowed his eyes in suspicion before slowly gazing up at me.
My hand went to my scroll and called my team. "I've apprehended someone that looks like Roman."
Just more static silence.
It wasn't hard to figure out that the moment False-Roman appeared was when the jammers were turned on. Realizing that trying to contact my team was futile, I instead chose to further restrain the imposter. I moved forward with the intent to bludgeon my bow into his head. Due to his unique history of escaping custody, it was risky to leave him conscious.
Just as I was approaching, False-Roman suddenly stopped struggling. His body stilled before his eyes closed.
I blinked, the very next moment, he vanished.
"What?" I blurted out in bewilderment.
The black key was still in place.
An arrow was nocked into the bow and I scanned the immediate area as I strained to sense where he went. Did he activate his semblance and somehow teleported out? Was that even a part of his semblance?
Then – I heard it.
A click, something opened with a plop, followed by a loud bang. The light on the railing to my right exploded, blanketing the immediate area in darkness. False-Roman who had disappeared from my sight, reappeared in the same spot. With how he was positioned on the ground, he leapt forward with his arm coiled with a furious glint in his eyes.
The arrow shot out, impacting into his shoulder, and bouncing off his aura, throwing off his thrust at my chest. I flipped my bow around, grasping it with both hands to smash it down onto his head.
A bright flash and the bow swung at nothing but air.
Starting from his original position, False-Roman stood while rubbing at the spot where my arrow hit. He rolled his shoulders once before nodding in satisfaction. Flicking his cane out to the side, he brought it up once again before sliding into a proper stance. His left hand went to his hip, right foot forward, and cane pointed up.
The corners of his lips tugged upwards.
The imposter smiled.
"Alright," I breathed out, letting the bow fade away. "So, it's going to be like that then."
A pair of black keys were traced and slid into a certain priest's stance as I applied reinforcement.
"Let's make this quick."
"Shirou?!" Blake frantically whispered.
Her knuckles went white from squeezing her scroll.
Once again, there was no response from his end. With caution, she peeked out from her hiding spot. Up on the massive dockside gantry cranes on the other side of the port, she spotted arrows whizzing out into the dark sky. Then they stopped, a brief pause before a small flash causing the lights to flicker and wink out.
Even with her enhanced eyesight, it was hard to make out anything clearly.
"Damn it," Blake bit her lip worryingly. "What the hell is going on?"
She glanced back down to where Roman Torchwick was barking out orders.
He clapped his hands loudly, gesturing for the members of the White Fang to get a move on. He pointed to various locations, directing the groups to a handful of different containers.
She didn't know what stupefied her more, seeing roman ordering around her former colleagues or that they were actually listening to him. Albeit, some were dragging their feet as they begrudgingly followed his directions.
Blake scrunched her eyebrows together. "Why would they be cooperating together in the first place? This doesn't make any sense." She chewed on her thumb's fingernail. "Why the hell is Torchwick leading them? Why isn't…" Her voice died out in her throat at the thought of that person before exhaling shakily. "Where the hell is Adam?"
The more questions she asked, the more confusing the situation seemed.
"None of this makes any sense," Blake cursed under her breath.
"Guys, guys, Shirou's not responding," whispered a worried Nora. "Should we… should we back off and go rescue Shirou or something?"
Everyone's scrolls buzzed, Pyrrha replied through a text message agreeing with Nora to find Shirou.
"I'm hearing fighting from where I'm at, but I can't see with the containers in my way," calmly informed Ren. "Does anyone else have a visual?"
"I can't make it out very well, but yeah, I'm seein' a whole lotta sparks flyin' around up there," answered Nora. "Renny, do you think you can get to Shirou?"
"Yes, but there's a wide-open area from where I am to the stairs leading up to the gantry," he replied. "I'll be spotted the moment I step out, but if I'm fast enough then maybe I can-"
"No," interrupted Blake. "We stick with the plan."
"But…" began Nora.
"Do you believe in Shirou?" she asked suddenly.
"Wha-?" blurted Nora.
"Do you believe in him?" Blake pressed further.
A brief pause before an answer. "Yes."
"He's one of the best fighters I've ever seen and also one of the most annoying I've ever come across. So if anything, he's probably giving whoever's up there a terrible time," explained Blake, trying to maintain her own calm. "We still need to do our roles so that Shirou can do his. We can't let this opportunity slip from our hands because we might not ever get another chance like this again." Her eyes focused on the backs of the White Fang.
"Alright," conceded Ren. "How do you want to do this Blake?"
Blake perked an eyebrow up and shifted in her position. "Well," she huffed anxiously, "you're going to call me crazy for suggesting this."
"Oh? Crazy?" replied a giddy Nora. "Don't you worry, we like crazy."
The black-haired faunus sucked in a deep breath before releasing.
"Alright – so it's gonna go something like this…"
Blake Belladonna leapt down from her spot and landed gracefully without a sound.
Her hands balled up into fists as she marched up to the gaggle of White Fang members. She straightened out her posture, held her head high before coming to a stop, and stuck a commanding pose.
"Brothers and sisters of the White Fang!" roared out Blake at the top of her lungs.
Everyone in the area froze and turned towards the familiar voice. Quickly, the members of the faunus extremist group realized who had called them out. Some pointed their fingers at her in disbelief, others turning to each other whispering and murmuring at the sight of a former high-ranking member of their organization suddenly appearing.
The missing right-hand of Adam Taurus.
"What the-!? Is that… is that, Blake?" asked one of the masked individuals.
"Y-Yeah, yeah! Holy shit, I think it is!"
"Hey, does Adam know about this?" another member wondered out loud.
The chatter between all the members grew louder with each passing moment. Confusion quickly spread throughout the ranks as Blake surmised that they had most likely been kept in the dark concerning her sudden disappearance. That meant her former significant other had been tight lipped about their recent separation.
Roman Torchwick for his part simply carried a smile, his curiosity piqued. "Oh?" He sounded excited. "Now this is an unexpected development."
Blake narrowed her eyes, cautiously guarding herself. "Brothers and sisters" She addressed once more to the Grimm-masked ensemble. "What are you all doing with this… this petty thief?!"
"Petty thief?" Roman planted his hand on his chest in offense. "A petty thief?" he repeated. "I swear for the love of-" He pinched the bridge of his nose. "You mess up on one little dust shop because of some little girl and now all of a sudden you're no longer a criminal mastermind, but a petty thief." He shook his head in disparagement. "Oh well, come on folks, chop-chop," Roman clapped his hands loudly. "Let's get a move on already, we're a little pressed for time here, so less staring and more stealing, capisce?"
They all grumbled underneath their breath before dutifully following his orders to Blake's dismay.
"What are you all-" She took a step forward then came to a stop at Roman's voice.
"What? You didn't get the memo?" He said cheekily. "Poor girl," he clicked his tongue and shook his head.
"What memo?" bit out Blake.
"You see, the White Fang and I, well… heh," he huffed in amusement, shaking his head, "we've come to an agreement of sorts for a little… joint business venture. And honey," he chuckled a bit, "have I got to tell you." He threw his arms out wide as possible, striding a few steps forward. "Business is booming."
Over to her right, Blake caught several masked members hauling out heavy duty steel cables from the undercarriage of their transport to connect to the shipping containers. Her eyes widened; they were going to haul the whole thing away. She turned back to Roman who paced around with his chest puffed out.
"I've got the whole city in a fritz. Cops don't know what to do, got them lookin' like a bunch of fools as usual. I swear, the more things change, the more they stay the same." He had a nostalgic look on his face. "It's as if nothing changed in the last decade. And here, I thought the S.D.C. venture would be a little bit more exciting than my last adventure. Alas, how wrong I was," he lamented dramatically.
"At least," he laughed, "you would think they would sick the C.I.D. on me or something, but come on!" He strode back and forth before coming to a stop under a particular container. "This is just unbelievable at this point! I almost feel a little insulted if I'm being honest! I put on a show almost every other night, and what do I get? Nothing!"
He kicked some pebbles on the ground. "Ah, maybe the best days are truly behind me. Things used to be so exciting!"
"What? Stealing dust not exciting enough for you or something?" prodded Blake as she readied herself.
"Lady, like I could give a damn," he replied dryly. "It was teensy-weensy bit exciting at first, but once you've robbed the umpteenth dust shipment. It just gets so dull and boring!"
"Wow, what a shame," she stated dully. "However, I think I'll be ending your little show here."
Roman rolled his eyes. "Really?" his voice dripped with disappointment. "That's really the best that you've got?" He dragged his hand down his face. "Of all the cliché and boring-" The man stopped himself from ranting and sighed. "You know," he crossed his arms. "I had been hoping that tonight's performance would be a spectacle. I've got all these associates, but no good act! How is a performer supposed to perform without the right audience!?"
"Then maybe I can help you with that!" Blake pulled her sword out with a flourish. "NOW!"
The shipping container's door above Roman's head blew off from their hinges as Pyrrha exploded out, pouncing on the man immediately. On the other side, Blake felt the ground rumble as Nora dropped down violently with her hammer.
"EVERYONE FREEZE!" bellowed out Nora with all her might. "THIS IS THE C.I.D.! DROP YOUR WEAPONS AND GET ON THE GROUND!"
Pyrrha Nikos raised her shield and blasted out of the container with her polarity. The metal doors offered no resistance as they were sent flying off onto the other side of the port with a faint splash.
The second she emerged, she spotted her target, and pounced.
"Augh-!" he grunted.
"Roman Torchwick!" Pyrrha called out. "You are under arrest for multiple counts of theft, robbery, vandalism, burglary, smuggling, and possession of stolen property!" The man underneath her squirmed a bit as she dug her knee into his back. "You have the right to remain silent."
"Ah-! If it isn't augh geez," he winced as she roughly grabbed his hands to cuff them behind his back. "If it isn't the Invincible Girl herself! Pyrrha Nikos finally makes her debut haha!" laughed Roman. "I was beginning to wonder when you would show up. You know, I gotta say, I never expected one such as yourself to be in this line of work," he chatted. "Hey, hey, that's my hat! Don't throw it on the ground like that!"
Pyrrha tossed it aside once she knew there was nothing underneath it. She was taking all the precaution needed to ensure that he wouldn't be able to pull a fast one.
"Hey, hey, watch where you're touching me!" he griped indignantly. "Doesn't a criminal mastermind such as myself got any rights?"
She kept her lips sealed. She knew he was trying to goad her into a response and instead continued to pat him down.
"Oh, come on," Roman rolled his eyes, "not even gonna say anything to me? Sheesh," he shook his head. "You know… maybe that one guy was right about you, eh?"
Pyrrha momentarily froze.
"Ho-ho? Did I strike a nerve?" he pressed at her visible reaction. "After all, both he and all your old friends still have plenty of things to say about you. It's everywhere you know? Turn on the TV, and it's there. Open your scroll, and it's on the news feed. Everyone still talks about you very much back in Mistral." Roman's voice was low and sinister. "And yet… not a peep from your end. Makes people wonder, maybe… perhaps they were-"
"Shut your mouth," she snapped coldly. "You don't know anything." She sneered.
"Oh, but I do," he grinned devilishly. "In fact, I know a good bit of everything about you and your team. What is it that you're called again?" giddily hummed Roman. "Ah, yes, Team SNPR, is that right?"
She kept silent.
"Found it a little strange that it wasn't an acronym, but that's not the only thing odd about your team. Such strange bedfellows that you've come to call your teammates. All of you are Mistralians, yet are attending a Valean academy. A superstar athlete, two former gang members, and a hm… a relative unknown," his voice trailed off.
Pyrrha swallowed nervously as she snuck a glance to where Shirou should be, unaware that Roman caught her.
"Shirou Emiya," stated Roman in a mockingly inquisitive tone. "Did I get that right? It was shockingly easy to dig up information about the three of you, but for some reason I just couldn't find a damn thing about him." He squirmed a bit as she unconsciously dug her knee deeper into his back, making him groan involuntarily. "Agh – it got me very curious you see. How'd a no name like him become the leader of such an… illustrious team. Especially one that has you of all people in it. I'm not the only one that asked that same question, you know?"
Pyrrha cursed Roman's silver tongue. In the back of her mind, she knew she should have ignored Roman, but deep inside, she also held the very same questions Roman spoke out loud.
The more he talked, the more her mind started wandering. How were things back home? How was Roman able to dig up so much information on them? When had Roman been tracking and doing his research on them?
"Your, ugh, former teammate asks that question every day. Who's Shirou Emiya? How did he get to lead the team instead of you? Why aren't you the one being the-"
"Enough," Pyrrha barked. "I don't want to hear another word from you."
"Oof," he grunted as her knee forced out air from his lungs. "A shame," his voice strained from her weight. "And here I thought we could have a nice chat as fellow Mistralians. Ah, c'est la vie, in any case, as a common courtesy, would you kindly look to your right?"
She refused and instead locked his cuffs even tighter as she emptied out his pockets.
"Oh well, don't say I didn't give you a warning," smiled the self-proclaimed showman.
His right-hand moved and her instincts kicked into overdrive. A click, the sound of a trigger being pulled, forced Pyrrha off of him to block an explosive round with her shield that sent her careening off into the open. She rolled before sliding to a step next to a concerned Blake.
The redhead instantly got up into her stance minus her weapon.
"Apologies, but again, I did warn you," sassily reminded Roman. The cuffs she placed on him were already off like they hadn't been there in the first place. "Seems things haven't changed after all these years, eh?" He twirled them around his finger once before tossing them aside. With a quick pat to dust himself off, Roman pulled his cane back to him with a gesture.
"Magician's wire," he taunted her with a wave. It caught some of the light causing the thread to shine briefly. "Can't recall how much this stuff has saved my ass over the years and it still fools you department folks all the time haha," he chuckled to himself.
"Pyrrha? Are you okay?" asked Blake to her right, checking to see if her classmate was injured.
"Yeah," she exhaled sharply. "Yeah, I'm alright."
Adrenaline pumped through her body as she readied herself for the fight. She calmed her breathing to steady her mind and body.
Roman checked his watch. "Well, as much as I enjoyed our little conversation, even if it was a little one-sided, I got a schedule to keep." He snapped his finger and dozens more White Fang members poured out of the remaining two bullheads. The man scooped up his bowler hat that was tossed aside and fixed it atop his head. "I'm not sure how good these supposed White Fang elites are, but they should serve as a nice little distraction. Until next time Miss Nikos, Miss Blake," he tipped his hat.
Roman turned on his heel, opened the bottom container door, and stepped in. Turning to both herself and Blake one more time, he motioned with his arm and bowed.
"Shit," cursed Blake. "He did the thing, didn't he?"
"Although, I think we have a more pressing problem," gestured Pyrrha in front of her as the White Fang fanned out.
She did a quick head count. It was a sizable gathering as Pyrrha could count at least twenty-four White Fang members with maybe another dozen or so heading towards Nora. She balled her hand into a fist and squeezed several times. Just as she was about to recall Milo to her, she was interrupted by one of the White Fang.
"Blake?" stepped up a masked member. "Is that… is that really you?"
The black-haired faunus stiffened, recognizing the voice.
With trepidation, Blake looked at the lone member who stepped forward and pulled back their hood. They exposed their brunette hair and lynx ears atop her head. The pistol in her hand pointed down unlike some of the others next to her. Her hand came up to her mask and stopped when several next to her began furiously whispering their indignation.
Blake felt her heart drop into her stomach. "Yulia?"
Yulia, the lynx faunus, took off her white porcelain mask. "Blake… it," she paused hesitantly, "it really is you, huh?"
Some of the White Fang lowered their weapons.
"Yulia… what," Blake swallowed dryly, "what are you and everyone else doing here? What are- what are you all doing with Roman Torchwick?"
A sad expression grew on Yulia's face. "You know, I- we," she corrected herself, "could ask the same thing of you, you know? Like… what happened to you after the train heist? Why's the Pyrrha Nikos dressed up like one of them department folks huh?" She barraged Blake with questions after questions. "What are you doing associating yourself with the badges and suits of all things?"
Blake felt silent, lips pursed together unable to dignify a response.
Yulia hung her head at the lack of reply. "You know Blake," her voice went soft. "We were all worried sick about you. When… when Adam came back from the heist and you didn't. It sent the whole base into a frenzy. A whole bunch of us wanted to make search parties and find you, thinking the worst happened. But… Adam," she shook her head. "But Adam shot us down every single time. We were all so… so angry and sad and just, just going crazy wondering what happened to you."
She struggled to look at Yulia in her eyes. Blake's hands began to feel clammy as Yulia continued unabated.
"We hounded Adam day after day, week after week, for answers about what happened. And you know what? He never said a damn thing. We were all so… so angry at him at first, then we turned sad when some of us figured you died and it was best to just mourn. And then once we all stopped moping and feelin' sorry for ourselves. We figured, the best way to honor your memory was to survive and continue the mission."
Grief and sorrow slowly turned into righteous anger.
"We'd make sure that your sacrifice wouldn't be in vain. We worked hard to make sure that the heist you and Adam accomplished wouldn't be for naught. And this…" She pointed down at the ground. "This mission would give us the funds needed to finally gain a foothold in this damn Kingdom. That after this, we could start making real changes instead of hiding in the woods like a bunch of vagrants. But none of us," Yulia waved to the rest of the members, "imagined that we would see you here of all places."
"Yulia," Blake managed to find her voice again. "You don't- you don't understand, I-"
Realizing that her old friend wasn't going to give her a clear answer, Yulia shook her head. "Blake, just… just don't," interrupted the dejected lynx faunus. "You don't have to lie to us because it's pretty clear what it is. You became one of them, didn't you?" She accused.
The White Fang around Yulia murmured loudly amongst themselves as they followed the conversation.
"A… a huntress, Blake?" Said a glum masked man, voicing the question that hung in the air.
"You- you really did become one of them," cried out another heartbroken member. "How… why? How could you turn your back on us!"
"You," sharply pointed Yulia. "You were our heart and soul! You represented our justice, our ideals as a group!" Wailed the girl. "So, so how could you leave it all behind! How could you leave Adam of all people behind Blake?!"
Something snapped inside Blake when Yulia mentioned his name. The latter didn't know Adam Taurus like she did.
The White Fang members only knew of his charming and charismatic persona. His passionate speeches along with his martial skill drawing many to his banner. Because of that, it was inevitable for him to become the poster boy of the organization. Even the High Leader personally recognizing the vast potential he had.
However, they didn't know the true Adam.
In the beginning, it was his pursuit of justice that drew Blake to him. He had been the sword and shield that protected everyone in their fight against oppression and tyranny. But somewhere along the lines, after losing countless comrades over the years, the shield fell away and only the sword remained. His justice turned into vengeance and that vengeance rotted into something perverse and sinister.
It wasn't until she had her conversation with Shirou that she realized what Adam's justice truly was; spite.
Vengeance contributed to his crusade, but above all else, spite was his greatest motivator. Spite for what the S.D.C. did to him and his family. Spite for how he and his kind had been treated less than dirt. Spite for an unjust world where he was forced to live by the sword or die by it. And so, he took all those things, and weaved it under the banner of justice to rally those around him.
Blake sucked in a breath before exhaling shakily. "I don't know either," her brows furrowed, "but somewhere along the way, it felt like… like we lost the plot at some point. When the White Fang first started out, it just felt like every change we proposed was righteous. But now?" She bit her lip. "It doesn't feel like it at all. We started doing more and more things that I just couldn't follow and turn a blind eye to anymore. And… and as for Adam?" she stared directly at the other faunus. "I don't feel like I have to justify myself – nor do I want to."
A small part of herself acknowledged that Weiss was right. That the White Fang had degenerated into a movement that delighted in the suffering of humans and wanted nothing more to inflict the same pain that was delivered unto them. And yet, deep down, Blake yearned for the days when they had truly fought for equality and freedom.
Her arms felt heavy as she grasped the handle of her sword and pulled it from its sheath. "I'm sorry Yulia." Gambol Shroud gleamed in the light as its blade was made bare. "I'll only ask you this once. Drop your weapons, please."
The lynx faunus could only stare in disappointment. "Are you asking as a former comrade?"
Amber eyes closed for a moment before opening them with steely resolve. "As a Huntress."
Her answer left the girl speechless. Her shoulders dropped before she shook her head in dejection. "That's how it's going to be huh?" Slowly, putting her mask back on, Yulia raised her pistol. "Then I'm sorry as well Blake."
"Don't hold back," she ordered resolutely. "Arrest them all."
Pyrrha's features sharpened as her eyes narrowed at all the White Fang members. Blake's body coiled tightly; her legs ready to leap at the first trigger. A momentary silence crept in as everyone stared each other down.
A shift in the corners of their eyes was all it took for red and black to blur. The concrete shattering underneath their feet.
The Keys of Providence flicked out of my hands.
A dozen shot out at ballistic speeds.
The masquerader in the white suit zipped and dashed forward undeterred. With blazing speed, the False-Roman shot down the ones he could and evaded the ones he could not. In mid-flip, he reloaded with practiced ease, and rushed in with his arm cocked back for a thrust. He was too far away to hit me, but just in range for a shot that was too close to dodge properly.
In an instant, six black keys were traced between my knuckles. Prana flushed throughout my body as I cut down the first bullet. My arms blurred and my hands bore the brunt of hot shrapnel bouncing. Angry red-hot rounds flew out of the barrel only to be met with reinforced blades.
I noted in the back of my mind, he had likely swapped to armor piercing rounds in the previous reload.
A flash of light and False-Roman retreated away out of sight.
My arms moved; my eyes moved faster. The air cracked as the projectiles flew towards his next position, just as I launched myself at him. By the time he skidded to a stop, he finished reloading. Without flourish or fanfare, he dropped to the ground before he could be skewered.
He then beat a hurried retreat with his arm fanning out to meet my swipe. Sparks showered as we exchanged a dozen blows in the blink of an eye.
I stomped forward.
He pranced back.
Even with a face full of smiles, his eyes told another story. They darted everywhere to keep track of my blade. For every deft parry and counter, it placed him in a worse position for the next bout. With how he desperately tried to disentangle himself, he quickly realized how untenable his situation was becoming.
He hopped back once with his weapon raised high, before jabbing downward and pulling the trigger. My head moved at the last moment as my blade bit into his cane. The shot barely missed and for a split second our weapons locked. I pounced on the opportunity and rolled my wrist counter clockwise. My hand snapped out in a flash.
I clamped down on the cane with a vicelike grip before pulling hard.
To my astonishment, he let go, opting to flash away to create space. I flipped the cane and emptied the remaining rounds. The shells clatter against the grates with some falling through.
For the first time, I saw him level me with an irritated glare. He huffed then swapped to a mocking look as he raised his hand and wagged a finger. My head tilted to the side in bemusement. Was he really chastising me?
I simply shrugged and tossed the weapon off the side of the railing.
And like a flip of the switch, his expression changed. With a pulling gesture, the imposter opened his hand with a grin. My ears caught the whining sound of wire being reeled in. The cane that I just tossed away was already halfway back into his hand before I threw a black key.
Even as the near invisible wire snapped, it was too late as he caught his weapon.
I bit back a frustrated growl.
Another black key materialized. My knees bent; the metal underneath caved as I launched myself. All pretenses were off as I aimed to sever his hand from his wrist.
The first swipe missed, but managed to slice off the tip of his cane. The second swipe came in horizontally only narrowly missing as he flashed away once more.
His gaze briefly left mine as he touched his cheek.
The mocking gestures were long gone as he saw blood stain his gloves. His eyes glanced from me to his gloves several times. His lips pursed thinly as he covered the cut with his hand and applied his aura to heal the wound. When he returned his gaze, his expression became deadly.
"Tch." I clicked my tongue.
That flash ability of his was starting to grate my nerves as it had saved him several times. The fight should have ended long ago were it not for his ability to evade danger at crucial moments. And for every second I was fighting him, was a second I was not supporting my team.
Maybe things would be different if it were simply a matter of hauling back their corpse. However, using deadly force would undeniably open a can of worms I was unwilling to deal with currently. A roughed-up criminal was admissible to a degree. Missing a limb would need a lot of explaining to do, but still acceptable. But a body?
The academy, the department, and even my friends' scrutiny was something I wanted to avoid.
It wasn't hard to imagine why Kiritsugu steered away from contracts where the target had to be captured alive. With kill contracts, all he had to worry about was putting a bullet to someone's head. But if the contractor wanted someone alive? Then it was significantly harder to plan and execute.
The sounds of fighting from below interrupted my thoughts.
I dispelled the keys and traced my longbow.
"You know," I spoke up. "As fun as it is chasing you around, I think it's about time you found out what it's like the other way around."
The pretender's eyes widened, already rushing to interrupt me.
By the time he even took his first step, arrows soared into the air.
Pyrrha Nikos' eyes snapped to her target.
When outnumbered, the best approach was to engage the one furthest away from the majority. In this case, she chose a White Fang member who hugged the side of a container at the edge of their formation.
"Ah-! AH-!" He yelled, wildly firing at her as he saw her charge at him. "AHHH-!"
A red blur slammed into his body, denting the container. The man bent inwards, knocked out cold as wisps of his shattered aura faded with the wind.
"H-Holy shit!" exclaimed the person next to her.
"Move out the way you idiot!" Yelled another behind them. "I can't shoot her!"
With just a thought, she magnetically pulled back her spear while shield charging into the next person. Applying polarity to her shield. The muzzle of the gun and her shield connected just as the trigger was squeezed. Obstructing the muzzle meant the bullet had nowhere to go. The following bullets after it only served to cause it to catastrophically explode in their hands.
Twisting with her hips, Milo crashed into the side of his head knocking him out instantly, while simultaneously clearing the way for her next target. The red bronze spear swooshed in an arc to knock away the rifle that was aimed at her chest. It was ripped away from his hands as it magnetically clung to the end of her spear.
"What the fu-" The swear was halfway out of his lips before Pyrrha smashed the weapon into the side of his head. The dust rifle, mask, and aura disintegrated into bits before he even hit the ground.
Not even sparing a glance, Pyrrha moved onto the next target.
A trio of White Fang members split off in a staggered formation to suppress her with a rain of dust bullets. Pumping aura into her legs, she disappeared in a burst of speed. Instead of facing off against three members, she lined herself up to ensure that only one had sight of her.
Thrusting her spear forward, the faunus' aura barely resisted before giving in. Once buried in his shoulder, she squeezed the trigger, extending Milo to double its length, and launched the poor soul into the person behind him.
"What kinda bullshit-?!" The third person cried as he unloaded his entire magazine into Akouo. He barely got halfway through before Pyrrha performed an underhanded throw with Milo and knocking him unconscious. "GUOGHHH-!"
"Ugh-! Get off me!" cried the person below her. "You're so friggin' heavy you fat ass!"
Pyrrha arched an eyebrow as she opened her hand, summoning back her weapon. Just as the second masked member tried to scramble up, the butt of her spear slammed full force into the back of his head.
"Disperse you morons!" A squad leader further down the line started barking out orders. "Disperse and spread out! Don't bunch up and don't let her single you out!"
Green eyes zoned in on the female White Fang member then to the others.
Pyrrha stood tall and unmoving as she watched them move into position. Her face cool and calm, her eyes sharp. Her mind worked a mile a minute as she formulated a strategy on the spot to pick them apart.
Just as she went to step forward – a flash of red to her right caught her unaware.
Not a moment later, arrows rained down.
"What in the fu-?!" shouted a White Fang.
"GET TO COVER!" bellowed out their squad leader.
Once again, Shirou never ceased to amaze her. Arrows upon arrows washed over the area with pinpoint accuracy. One of the first arrows found purchase immediately into the thigh of an unfortunate White Fang rifleman. The second and third went for his other leg and knee, disabling him from the fight. Although, a part of her felt that it started to go overboard when the fourth and fifth came after his other knee.
Apparently – Shirou had a fondness for people's knees.
"AGGHHH-! MY KNEES!" One of the men howled in pain.
"WHY IS IT ALWAYS THE KNEES?!" Squealed another clutching both of his knees.
"HAHA-! CAN'T GET ME WITH MY SHIELD!" taunted one of the gunlancers with his shield. Pyrrha was unsure if Shirou heard him, but when one of the arrows coincidentally curved in the air to hit him from the side. She swore to herself that he shot that one just to spite the poor faunus. "GAHHH-! SON OF A BITCH, MY KNEE!"
However – as fast as the arrows rained, it stopped abruptly.
"Shirou?" turned Pyrrha.
She soon wished she hadn't as the moment her eyes landed on the cranes, they exploded.
First came the blinding light that forced her to look away, then came the concussive wave, and finally the roar of the explosion. By the time Pyrrha was able to look again, legs buckled, and collapsed into a smoldering heap of metal. A towering black smoke soared into the clouds above.
The port fell to an eerie silence with only flames crackling in the distance filling the background.
"O-Oh shit," Pyrrha heard one of the White Fang. "W-Was that us?"
"I- what the hell! That- that ain't us, right?!" sputtered a masculine voice. "I thought this was gonna be quick, quiet, and easy! The hell happened to that?"
"Shit… Shit! We need to make like a tree and get the hell outta here! More of them badges and suits are gonna be swarmin' all over this place," warned another member.
Pyrrha's heart dropped.
Her world came to a screeching halt as events suddenly took a turn for the worst. She knew that the world they lived in was dangerous, but knowing was only half the battle. Experiencing and having reality smack her across the face was another.
The fire raged and continued as another crane collapsed.
Her hand squeezed Milo so hard that her tightly controlled semblance leaked out. Everything metallic within the vicinity began to shake and quiver, slowly groaning under the monstrous force Pyrrha exerted. One of the wings of the bullhead protested loudly before it snapped and crumpled into a ball. She exhaled out to calm herself down, but no matter what she couldn't smother the torrent of emotions.
There was no way he was dead, she told herself.
Shirou was alive, she chanted.
It couldn't possibly end just like that. She had stumbled upon her own little slice of happiness. Someone that she could open up to and enjoyed being around. In the few months she had gotten to know him, he was the closest she had been with than anyone else in her life. That feeling of freedom was now burning up like the cranes.
Another wing of a bullhead snapped in two before being crushed.
Her bangs shadowed over her eyes.
When she slowly turned her head back over to the crowd, it felt like stone grinding against stone. Frosty green eyes glowed visibly. They pinned everyone present on the spot. The squad leader uncontrollably shook as she raised her hands. "I… t-that wasn't…" They were at a loss for words. "W-We, we didn't- AAGGGHHHH-!"
Pyrrha Nikos refused to hear any excuses. With a thought, she sensed the metal in the girl's bulletproof fest and pulled it to her. The girl had no chance of resisting as she flew face first into Akouo. She crumpled to the ground, lying on her back out cold.
They all stared before one member whimpered out.
I crashed through the skylight of the warehouse feet first.
With reinforcement, I braced for impact and slammed into the floor causing cracks to spiderweb out. The nearby shelves threatened to topple from the force of my landing. I peered upwards at the hole I made, allowing me to see the glow of the fire from the bomb that I narrowly escaped.
"Shit," I cursed out loud as I patted myself. "That was close."
I realized that prior to our arrival, they must have rigged the cranes with explosives to use as a last resort. The moment that the imposter recognized how bad their situation was, they decided it was time to reset the board. A part of me thought it was overkill, but Kiritsugu had once done the same thing when things went awry. I shook my head then scolded myself for my negligence in not considering they might have already prepped the area.
Putting my carelessness aside for now, I scanned around. The warehouse was pitch black, likely a power outage caused by the explosion disrupting or knocking out the generators. Further down the rows of shelves, I spotted another hole through the ceiling.
I projected the twin married blades and silently stalked forward.
When I arrived at where the imposter landed, I crouched down to inspect the area. Their footsteps were light, but not so light that they didn't leave a trace. I looked over to my right, down the row.
Undoubtedly – it was a trap.
As I strode deeper into the abyss. I contemplated what little information I had been given so far. Roman Torchwick, has seemingly planned and accounted for almost everything. He knew that we were here, where I would likely be perched to provide overwatch, and how best to proceed when things started turning into our favor. The man meticulously planned beyond any normal standards to ensure that he would accomplish his goals.
The fact that they were keeping me separated from the rest of my team meant that Roman acknowledged that any long-range support would hamper his mission.
Applying reinforcement to my eyes, I pierced into the darkness.
Further down, I perceived his silhouette, standing alone in the dark facing forwards me.
Suddenly – there was a snap before a lone light illuminated him. "Well, well, well," he clapped loudly. "We meet at last, or rather again, face to face, Mister Emiya."
My hands flicked, Kanshou and Bakuya sliced through the air, aimed at his ankles. They barely reached him before two shots flashed out from a dark corner of the warehouse. My eyes snapped to where they came from, his right – my left. I traced another pair of swords, but they held their shot.
Roman clicked his tongue while wagging a finger. "How very rude Mister Emiya."
Another snap, and another light came to life, illuminating me in my own little circle.
In the lull, I mulled over his words. Meet again? When had I ever met him?
Seemingly reading my mind, Roman replied. "Come now, surely you'd remember Mister Emiya," he chuckled. "After all, you stepped right in my path just as I was leaving work," grinned Roman.
He was unable to contain his excitement as he watched the realization grow on my face.
"That's right," his tone smug. "That was me walking right past you and you being none the wiser."
"You really like hearing yourself talk, don't you?" I sniped.
"Like hearing myself talk?" he repeated incredulously. "I don't just 'like' hearing myself talk – I love it."
"Of course you do," I flatly responded before flicking out just Kanshou.
The sword reached halfway before another bullet intercepted its path, clattering to the ground. This time I was ready for the muzzle flash and caught the flash over his head behind him. If I concentrated listening hard enough, I could barely hear their feet scurrying away, but my eyes failed to pick up anything even with reinforcement.
"Really Mister Emiya? How many times are you going to try that trick before you realize it's not going to work." He haughtily placed his hand on his hip. "And a very interesting trick by the way, very impressive, very flashy. I imagine you must be wonderful at parties; the kids must love seeing stuff magically appear. Bonus points too for the cool blue energy glow. Adds a nice touch and a bit of panache."
"Come a little closer and I'll show you my trick," I invited him.
"No thank you," he declined politely. "I prefer figuring out other people's tricks myself. Makes it all the sweeter when I see them gasping as I perform their own trick in their face."
"Ha." I couldn't hold back my snark. The audacity of this man was something else. "You could spend a million years and you would never figure it out."
"Is that a challenge?" he leaned forward, interest piqued.
He flashed a toothy grin. "I do love a good challenge."
Just for that, I flicked another sword, this time Bakuya at his face. Like the previous two attempts, it was shot down, but this time the flash of the barrel came from over to his left – my right.
Roman rolled his eyes. "Ugh – how many times am I gonna have to tell you. It ain't gonna work Mister Emiya."
I kept track of their positions by the muffled footsteps and the previous muzzle flashes. They started from my left and gradually progressed to the right. During my exchange with Roman, they would reposition during that time. The shooter would have to keep moving clockwise around the two of us or recycle back to their previous spot.
"What can I say?" I shrugged. "I'm stubborn."
"You know, I-"
I pushed off with my right foot as I threw both blades. One towards Roman and the other towards where I thought the shooter would be. Just for safety measure, I traced and shot out several more swords aimed at every other possible location I could think of.
"Whoa, whoa, hey-!" Roman's eyes widened as he took a step back.
My prediction became true as I caught the muzzle flash behind Roman. They had rotated back to their previous position at the same elevation and angle. The man himself brought up his own cane to shoot one of the swords down himself. With his arm outstretched, it left him vulnerable as I crossed the distance faster than he expected.
Shock displayed all over his face.
Roman tried pushing back away, but my blade was faster. A white streak sliced through his appendage. Bakuya cut through him easily as his hand that still gripped the cane fell.
That shocked expression morphed into a devious one.
Roman Torchwick shattered into thousands of pink shards of glass.
What surprised me was that the sound was even audible. I couldn't help but compare how as the illusion faded away into motes of light, it looked like cherry blossoms floating in the air during spring.
From my left, I heard Roman's voice. "I must admit Mister Emiya. I've been in a lot of close calls before and that one just now certainly ranks up there. Straight for the dismembering huh?" He clicked his tongue and wagged his finger. "You know, you kind of remind me of someone that I know." Roman's eyes narrowed at how I stood with my swords. "Yeah… you're lookin' real familiar to someone and it's getting on my nerves more and more the longer I look at you."
The man didn't bother to disguise the disgust in his voice.
"You know," he huffed. "I'm going to tell you the exact same thing I told that person. There's a," Roman licked his lips, "a certain process or… or steps to these kinds of things. An order of operations," he snapped his finger. "Yeah, an order of operations to these things. We're supposed to fight, get to know each other, reach an impasse, and then start the whole maiming when one of us goes too far. Tsk," he audibly clicked his tongue, "how disappointing. I figure you would be different than the others," bemoaned the orange-haired man.
"Ha," I exhaled in bemusement. "Sorry to disappoint, but I'll be sure to do better next time," I closed my eye and left the other one open.
Following the tone of his voice, his face morphed into disgust. "Can you stop that? It's really creeping me out. I'm gettin' weird déjà vu vibes here like I've had this same conversation and-" He stopped himself suddenly and squeezed a trigger to deliver a warning shot at my feet just as I was about to rush forward. "You sly dog, Mister Emiya," he pointed an accusatory finger at me. "You got me monologuing! I can't believe it," he said, shaking his head. "This is just like last time, I swear."
I raised an eyebrow. This was certainly becoming more bizarre as it went as the man had a mild breakdown.
Roman checked his wristwatch before tapping his cane on the ground twice. "Oh, and well you look at that. I do believe our time is up and where I exit stage left."
All of a sudden, the lights turned off, disorienting me momentarily while my eyes tried to adapt. Then they flicked back on to reveal Roman Torchwick leaning against a door to one of the containers.
"Apologies for cutting things short, but I have a feeling that I'll be having a larger audience that I would like. This event was an invite only, and the crowd coming was certainly not invited." Roman patted himself down, straightened his suit, and fixed his hat. "I'd hate to leave my audience without a parting gift, so please, I do hope you'll enjoy what I've left behind. Au revoir Mister Emiya," he devilishly smiled.
The Key of Providence was already in the air as he turned his back to me.
It looked like it hit its mark, but it was all for naught as Roman's image once again shattered.
Nonetheless, I rushed to the container and pried open the door only for it to collapse like a house of cards. A pile of boxes was in the center with a digital clock amid a countdown.
A bright red timer showed only ten seconds remained.
I turned heel just as it displayed nine seconds. I quickly spotted the warehouse roll-up sheet doors. Prana pumped through my legs as the world blurred. Kanshou and Bakuya traced into my hands as I sliced through the galvanized steel. I exploded out into the port in record time as I turned around to see a trail of smoke behind me.
"Ha…" I blew out in relief.
Seconds later, the "bomb" in the container exploded. I prepared myself for the blast, but to my utter bewilderment fireworks went off instead. One of the fireworks rocketed up through a skylight and burst into the air displaying a brilliant work of colors and smoke.
I couldn't help but stare.
I blinked once, then twice before letting out a long sigh.
"Played like a fool."
Blake Belladonna eyed her former comrade.
Yulia Romanovna-Korichnevyy stood as the White Fang's second to last member. All around her, the bodies of her fallen comrades were either silent or groaning in pain. The cranes exploding was a turning point in the fight as the Invincible Girl fought possessed. She fought unrestrained, semblance unleashed, wanting only to punish the cause of her grief. The green acidic eyes glowing in the night would haunt many of those that fought here.
No one stood a snowball's chance in hell at stopping her.
"Yulia, please," Blake pleaded. "It's over."
Not too far from Yulia, the other last member tried running away, but didn't get far before Pyrrha pointed her spear at him. He desperately tried to claw his way forward even as he was forcibly dragged to her. His horrid screams were harrowing when his grip failed and he was lifted off the ground, and pulled straight into her bronze shield.
Both Blake and Yulia grimaced at the sound of his mask shattering like porcelain.
When the redhead turned to Yulia with cold fury etched in her eyes, a shiver shot down the faunus' back.
Blake stepped into the brunette's vision. "Please surrender," she said once again. "Yulia."
The lynx faunus realizing the futility turned her gaze up at the night sky. With how large the column of smoke was, it was almost certain that first responders were already on their way.
"Why did you leave us Blake," Yulia murmured morosely.
With their enhanced hearing, they could hear the sirens in the distance.
"Because…" started out Blake. "Because it wasn't about justice anymore. We weren't fighting to make our lives or faunus' lives better. We were just…" she pursed her lips and swallowed a bitter pill. "We were lashing out in spite. If they weren't us, looked like us, or thought like us, then they were the enemy. No ifs, ands, or buts. That's not what I signed up for."
"Then what did you sign up for huh Blake? You can't be this naïve in thinking that by joining up with the huntsmen that you can pursue this… this justice," she spat the word out, "of yours the way you want to. That's not how it works Blake."
"Maybe…" conceded the black-haired girl. "But at the very least, it'll be my own justice that I'm chasing and not someone else's."
Unexpectedly, fireworks began popping off in the distance from one of the warehouses. The two former comrades turned their heads just in time to witness a lone rocket streak into the night sky. It flew higher and higher before reaching its apex. It burst into a palette of colors and shapes mesmerizing anyone in its vision.
"Beautiful," whispered Yulia.
Sirens horned in the distance grew louder with each passing moment as they stared up at the fireworks. For Yulia, this would be the last good memory she would share with Blake.
A pistol clattered to the ground.
Relief washed over Blake at the sign of her surrender before a wave of exhaustion quickly followed suit. Her arms felt heavy, but she knew she still had to push on as there were questions left unanswered.
"Why are you guys working with Roman Torchwick?"
The girl inhaled deeply and exhaled before answering. "Hell if I know."
"Yeah – that's what I said when Adam unceremoniously dropped it on all of us," she chuckled to herself. "Then that bastard left to go on some sort of important secret mission or something. Always had a feeling that that shitty petty thief was gonna screw us over."
Blake scrunched her brows tightly, eyes to the floor. "T-That… that doesn't make any sense at all. That doesn't sound like something Adam would do."
"Yeah, you're preaching to the choir here Blake," she mumbled back.
In the end, there were no answers, just more questions begetting even more puzzling ones.
"Hey," called out Yulia. "Who's that over there?"
She followed the other girl's line of sight.
Walking away from the warehouse was none other than Shirou Emiya himself. He strode forward with his distinctive gait. He looked none worse for wear apart from some singes on the tails of his coat.
"Shirou?" Blake's face instantly brightened.
"That's his name huh?"
Yulia observed him closely. With the way his department overcoat billowed along with the backdrop of the smoke and fireworks conjured up the image of a triumphant hero returning from battle.
Her eyes turned to Blake and Yulia spotted the telltale expression that the former displayed. That soft smile was unmistakable. She was head over heels for that boy.
Although – when she turned her gaze around and spotted the other redhead, she whispered. "Well hot damn." The brunette looked at Blake then to Pyrrha then to Shirou before laughing. "Hahaha, are you… are you kidding me right now?" she continued laughing uncontrollably.
Hearing Yulia suddenly burst out in laughter; Blake turned to her. "What are you even laughing about?"
"Nothing." Yulia rolled her eyes. "Just slap the damn cuffs on me already and be done with it."
Pyrrha Nikos stood imperiously over the fallen White Fang.
All around her there were broken bodies and equipment. From the corner of her eye, she spotted the remains of a gunlancer's shield broken in pieces by her semblance. Similarly, another heavy rifle had been disassembled perfectly when she magnetically pulled it apart. When she turned to her right, there was one last member still standing.
A girl, Yulia, if she remembered correctly, was talking to Blake.
Her grip on Milo tightened, there was one last enemy left. All it would take to send the girl flying to her with but a thought. The girl froze when their eyes met, but the connection was broken when Blake stepped between them.
The redhead released a shaky breath as she forced herself to calm down.
Now that the White Fang was dealt with; she had to begin her search for Shirou. "Nora," she called out. "Can you manage things from here?"
"Yeah," turned her teammate. "I think Ren should be-"
As if on cue, Ren appeared from the containers dragging behind him six hooded bodies. He carried one over his shoulders while the rest were dragged with a cable. His features were solemn which wasn't far from his usual look, but the way his eyebrows came together showed he was upset. "I hunted down the ones that tried making a run for it in the chaos," he announced. "Backup should be here any moment now. I made the call as soon as the fighting started."
The two acknowledged him with a nod.
"Alright then, I'll leave the two of you here to restrain them," said Pyrrha. "I'm going to head over to where Shirou was."
Their faces turned grim, but they did their best to hide it.
"Got it Pyrrha," Nora tiredly saluted.
"Be safe and don't hesitate to call us as soon as you find him," informed Ren.
"I will. Make sure that-" Her words stopped when fireworks suddenly started going off behind her. They all turned around to the warehouse from where it was coming from. A lone rocket flew high into the sky leaving behind a trail of white smoke.
First it detonated in red. Gold followed with purple, blue, and green bursts. There were so many colors that it left her memorized and a little overwhelmed by the spectacle.
"Amazing…" she whispered to herself as she softly shut her eyes. Pyrrha gathered her resolve, she needed to find him.
"Pyrrha!" Nora shouted her name. "Look, over at the warehouse! Look!"
Green eyes snapped open as Pyrrha peered at the given direction.
The sight of Shirou walking out like he was taking a casual stroll left her stupefied. She would have assumed that she had been hallucinating if it weren't for the fact that Nora was the one who pointed him out.
Nevertheless – all of that didn't matter, because Shirou was alive and well; and that's what mattered most.
Ren and Nora were already rushing up to him with the latter screaming his name. Pyrrha didn't hesitate in quickly following them.
I saw my team rush up to meet me.
An orange rocket plowed into my stomach, almost bowling me over. With both hands, she gripped on the lapels of my suit for dear life. "You're alive! And like, not dead and burnt, and stuff!" she said in a rush while shaking me. "And we couldn't call you, text you, or see if you were okay! You had us so SCARED MISTER!"
"N-Nora!" I managed out. "Stop shaking me so much!"
"Oh, whoopsie daisy hehe." Nora had the decency to look abashed. "Sorry 'bout that leader. Just, ya know, excited that you're not dead and stuff." She squeezed her arms tightly around my chest. I swore I heard my ribs creaking.
"S-So am I!" I exerted out with difficulty.
"Nora, you're crushing him!" admonished Ren with a light chop to the back of her head.
My teammate released me and I gasped for air. It would have been a sad sight to see if my life ended by one of Nora's bear hugs.
"Hey Shirou," I turned back to Nora. "If you uh… don't mind me asking. How'd ya get away?"
"Ah well…" My hand absentmindedly scratched my cheek. "I suppose you could say this isn't the first time someone tried to kill me with a bomb. Although…" I stared off in the distance. My fight against the Saber Class Card was the closest I felt to dying due to the Heroic Spirit residing in it. Shooting a broken noble phantasm point blank wasn't the brightest idea I had at that time. I had only survived thanks to my card which bore the brunt of the damage. Realizing that I zoned out for a moment, I replied. "Ah," I turned back to them, "sorry, a story for another time."
They all stared at me with concerned and confused gazes.
"This isn't your first time?" repeated Ren.
"Wait, wait, wait, hold up, time out mister!" Nora made a T with her hands. "You can't just leave us hanging like that! And what the flippin' flappin' flapjacks? Someone tried blowing you up before? Whaaaaat?" she looked at me strangely like I was an alien.
Pyrrha was left speechless as she just stared with concern.
I winced at saying too much and sighed. "It's a long story alright?" One I didn't exactly feel like telling as of this moment.
"It's okay," Pyrrha stepped in. "You can tell us when you're ready, right guys?"
Nora pouted for a moment before relenting. "Okaaaay."
"Nevertheless – we're glad you're alive and well," said Ren with a small smile. "You gave us all a big scare when we couldn't contact you."
"Short-range jammers most likely," I surmised while fishing out my scroll. "Yeah, see?" I showed him the display. "Your calls and texts never made it through."
"Torchwick was well prepared for us." Ren rubbed his chin. "How did he know?"
I shrugged my shoulders, pocketing the device. "I have some guesses, but without any evidence, that's all they are, guesses."
"Shirou." My partner promptly walked up and wrapped her arms around me in a tender embrace. I froze momentarily before holding her close. "I… I thought I- we," she corrected herself, "lost you when the cranes went up in flames." Her voice was so soft and vulnerable. "I just, I-"
"It's okay," I interrupted her. "I'm sorry for scaring you like that." I squeezed reassuringly. "Everything's going to be alright."
I felt her relax in my arms.
"Still… I just wish I could've done more," she confessed.
I quirked a brow up as I leaned over to inspect the carnage. "Hey," my eyes narrowed, "was there not… four bullheads that landed? What happened to one of them?" I asked.
Pyrrha pulled herself away and blushed while looking away. I turned to the other two for answers.
"Weeellll," elongated Nora. "Pyrrha may or may not have gone a little uhh," she made a popping noise with her lips, "a little overboard after you got um, ya know, blown up?" she smiled awkwardly. "And um, well, uhh, that fourth bullhead may or may not have gotten lifted up by Pyrrha and tossed into the port?"
I turned back to Pyrrha who was trying her best to avoid my gaze.
"Impressive throw if I'm being honest," spoke up Ren. "That's what? Sixty? Seventy meters that she tossed it? Very, very impressive," he complimented.
"I was… very concerned about your wellbeing and what happened, okay?" explained Pyrrha blushing in embarrassment.
"Huh." Nora tilted her head at the redheaded girl. "Is it because you like-"
Pyrrha pounced on the girl in an instant. "Ahhh-! Nora, you know, you just reminded me of something very, very important!"
"Huh? Wha-?" she sputtered.
"We need to finish restraining all of the White Fang members, remember?" Pyrrha went around Nora and started pushing the girl on. "We should really finish that and make sure that they're all secured before backup arrives!"
"Wha-? But what about how you li-"
"Ahh-! Come on you slow poke! Less talking and more helping!" Pyrrha pulled Nora out of sight.
Pyrrha and Nora were gone in the blink of an eye leaving just me and Ren in silence.
I glanced at him to which he replied with a knowing look.
My hand rubbed the back of my neck. "Maybe a conversation for another time?" I offered.
"Don't worry Shirou," he squeezed my shoulder. "I have your back no matter what."
"Now, come on," waved Ren. "Let's go help them."
It was a terse moment as our blonde supervisor stared at us. She stood with her hands in her overcoat's pockets with lips pressed into a thin line. Her eyes took in the sights of us, Blake, and the mass of White Fang members restrained. Then she drilled her gaze into me before exhaling out. She freed one of her hands and rubbed at her brow.
"Care to explain yourself?"
I mulled over my response as the woman strode up.
"We stopped a White Fang operation and prevented Roman Torchwick from absconding with the dust that was sitting in inventory," I summarized.
"I can see that." She regarded a squad of inspectors passing by corralling some of the White Fang. "But I'd like clarification as to what you and your team are doing here."
"An undisclosed source informed me that Torchwick would be raiding the port tonight. I made the decision with my team to intercept him." Her eyes narrowed at me. "We scouted out the location, made our preparations, and utilized your training to carry out the operation."
"And who might your… undisclosed source be?" she further prodded.
"I think we both know who that might be."
"I see…" Hae-in took in more of her surroundings before continuing. "You went to him, didn't you?" She took my silence as confirmation. "This isn't your first time doing something like this, is it?"
"It seems I, or rather we, the department grossly underestimated you," she singled me out. "Your results speak for themselves." Another group of cuffed White Fang members passed by. "The department's first real bust and it was done by a squad of trainees," she mused before correcting herself. "No, sorry, not trainees, but a work-study huntsmen team from Beacon."
Hae-in took careful stock of me once more. This time taking me in not as some green huntsmen student, but as one of her own fellow inspectors. "You're a maverick just like him," she commented quietly more to herself than to anyone else.
She shook her head. "It's nothing," she dismissed. "I can't overlook that you disregarded my orders so this will reflect upon you on your final assessment with us. With that being said," the corners of her lips tugged upwards. "Good work Team SNPR."
Nora loudly let loose the breath she held. "Wheeeeew-! Thank goodness! That was so tense, I thought I was gonna pass out!"
Pyrrha and Ren mirrored each other's grin.
"Let's walk and fill me in on what happened," motioned Hae-in.
I stepped in beside her before starting. "At around 0100, four bullheads flew in from a southern approach."
"Four?" An eyebrow rose as she looked around for it.
"Sorry." Pyrrha apologized looking away.
"She tossed it into the waters somewhere over there." I pointed in a general direction.
Hae-in huffed in amusement. "Continue."
"We managed to subdue and arrest every White Fang present here. In total, thirty-six members were captured."
"What about Torchwick?" she asked while surveying the damage.
"I engaged him up at the crane and then in the warehouse."
"Explains why they're on fire I suppose," murmured the blonde. "I presume since he's not here since I don't see his smug face anywhere."
I sighed in disappointment. "Sadly – he got away."
Hae-in clicked her tongue loudly. "Did he manage to steal any of the dust here?"
"We stopped them before they could properly hook the cables onto the containers," informed Ren. "They were going to try and fly off with them."
"And then some thought they could try and be sneaky!" spoke up Nora. "It was a good thing we had Ren tucked away up our sleeves. They didn't know what hit 'em!"
"Who was this other person with you?" questioned Hae-in. "The black-haired girl."
"Blake Belladonna, a huntress-in-training, she assisted in apprehending them," I answered.
The Senior Inspector stopped to look at the girl. "Belladonna huh?" she said with familiarity. "You certainly know how to meet interesting people, Trainee Emiya. Speaking of which, it looks like she has some friends."
We all turned to where Blake was.
"Is that Ruby, Weiss, and Yang?" said Nora.
Hae-in saw my face and then back to Blake. "I'll take over from here for now. Meet back with me in a bit."
As soon as she dismissed us, I was already making my way to Blake.
An uneasy air hung between the two.
Weiss took note of all the White Fang that were being hauled into trucks. There were over thirty of them and Blake had been presiding over them. Pale blue eyes contemplated the situation as the silence grew awkward.
"I see you've been busy," commented Weiss.
"Yeah," Blake brusquely replied.
The white-haired heiress had a pensive look. There were a couple of times where she was about to open her mouth before thinking twice. Her nose flared at her own indecisiveness as she inhaled deeply. "Thirty-five," she stated.
"Thirty-five?" repeated a puzzled Blake.
"That's right," affirmed Weiss. "Thirty-five hours since we last saw or spoke to one another. Thirty-five hours of me just thinking to myself. Thirty-five hours of thinking what to say. You," she stopped then took another breath. "You running away made me mull over things in my life. Like, why am I here? What am I doing with my life? What did I want from this place?"
Blake held herself back from interrupting.
"Somewhere along the line, I remembered the exact reason why I came halfway around the world to this place." Her eyes looked down at the ground then back up. "I wanted to be different from my father. I wanted to be a force of change. And yet," she pressed her lips thinly, "and yet, I still act like him in more ways than one."
"Like what? Snide? Arrogant? Overbearing?" offered Blake with her arms crossed.
Weiss's anger flared before being quickly smothered. "Yes," she begrudgingly admitted. "I realize I still carry the same prejudices as my father. It is why I came to Beacon, to become better than him."
Blake's face softened at Weiss's declaration. She recognized that the girl was trying her best to break away from her old life. Weiss constantly squeezed her own arm while trying to get her words out. Whatever feelings Blake still had about their argument eroded away. After all, she herself was also attending Beacon to change.
In that – they were both more alike than either would want to admit.
"I… I'm trying to change too," softly said Blake.
"That's why you left them, right?" Weiss asked cautiously.
Nodding Blake replied. "Yeah…"
They both fell silent, not really knowing where to go from there. Ruby and Yang could only watch on from the sidelines. There wasn't much for them to say as this was something only Blake and Weiss could mend.
"I'm sorry." Weiss took the initiative.
Blake's mouth fell ajar slightly, her eyes widening. "I'm sorry too Weiss," returned the black-haired girl. "I'm sorry for calling you those things."
"I-" She was about to say one thing, but then stopped herself. "I… yeah, I suppose I did earn those remarks with how unbecoming I was. I'm sorry as well for… well," she shrugged her shoulders, "for being me. I will be better Blake," resolutely vowed Weiss. "I promise."
"I want to be better too."
"We'll just have to support each other better in the future." Weiss held out her hand.
Blake stared at the hand for a moment. She reached out and took it into her own.
Amber eyes connected with pale blue.
"To a better us."
"To a better us."
"Yes! Let's go! Team RWBY is back in action!" Fist-pumped Ruby.
"Hell yeah it is sis!" Yang high-fived her sister. "Here's to a new and better beginning!"
"Ugh," groaned Weiss shaking her head in embarrassment. "You two had to ruin a perfectly good moment, didn't you?"
"Aw come on Weiss. Don't be such a stick in the mud and revel in the moment, why don't ya? When stuff like this happens, you gotta celebrate the small victories," said Yang.
"Yeah, yeah!" agreed Ruby. "Don't be a party pooper and ruin Yang and I's moment. What happened to being better and stuff?"
Weiss made a face at her own words being used against her. "I- well- I mean-" she fumbled over her words. "Ugh Ruby!" She finished lamely.
"Haha, nice one Rubes." Yang fist-bumped Ruby. "Looks like Weiss-cream is having a bit of a meltdown," she winked.
The Schnee Heiress appeared as if she was in physical pain after the pun. "I want to die," she stared off into the distance. "Please, just end my suffering, right here, right now."
Blake covered her mouth as she tried not to laugh. As horrible as the pun was, Yang had at least timed it well enough for great effect.
"Hey you guys!" shouted Nora as she waved.
They all turned around to see Team SNPR approaching them. Shirou led from the front and went straight to her first. "Blake, are you-"
She smiled in response. "Yeah, don't worry Shirou. Everything's fine."
"Ah well," he coughed to the side. "That's a relief."
"Ohhh," Yang leaned her head back with a coy grin. "So that's where you went," the blonde grinned. "Stayed with Shirou and his team, eh?"
"Yang." Blake grounded out behind her teeth.
The girl raised her hands pleading innocence. "Hey girl, I'm just makin' an observation is all!"
Blake rolled her eyes.
Before she could say anything else. A blonde-haired woman rushed up to Shirou. "Emiya."
"Yes, Senior Inspector?"
"You said that Torchwick failed to steal any of the dust, correct?"
He blinked. "Yes?"
"Are you sure?" She pressed.
"Yes." Ren stepped up. "The White Fang failed to abscond with a single container. They only came in with four bullheads, minus one with that one currently at the bottom of the port."
Her brows furrowed. "Come with me," ordered their supervisor and promptly left.
Shirou turned to them. "We'll catch you guys later."
"Did… something happen?" wondered out loud Ruby.
"Must be," guessed Yang. "Lady looked pretty serious."
Blake looked all around herself. The containers were still here. The White Fang failed to escape with every single one of them captured.
So, what was the problem?
The container doors swung open.
My jaw dropped along with the rest of my team's.
"Looks like he pulled a fast one on you," commented Hae-in.
"B-But," stammered Nora. "We… we stopped them, right guys?"`` She looked at us confused. "They… we got all of those guys and didn't see them move a single dust crystal!"
"Unless…" Pyrrha contemplated out loud. "We lost sight of Torchwick for a short while after he escaped in the middle of all that fighting. During that time, Shirou was dealing with the person ambushing him and we were dealing with the White Fang. Maybe that was when he was able to get away with some?" The redhead turned to her supervisor. "It was just… some, right?"
"We're checking in on the rest of the containers, but so far it looks like most of them are empty," she answered.
"No way!" Nora grabbed her hair in frustration. "No flippin' flappin' way!"
I stared at the empty container and went over the words I exchanged with Torchwick.
It was absurd, downright preposterous, and ridiculous.
"That bastard," I whispered softly. "So – that was what you meant by 'gift' huh?"
I began to connect the dots with his own hint that he handed over flippantly.
At some point, Roman Torchwick had already stolen all the dust earlier in the day. He had only returned with the White Fang just to mess with us. The consolation prize being the faunus that he left behind.
"Trainee Emiya, care to share your thoughts?"
I sighed – it was going to be a long night.
One of the initial obstacles I had during this chapter's development was all the variations of Shirou and Neo's fight. I have maybe a handful varied in production chapters that are a couple thousand words long in length. Some were pretty cut and dry. Others were complex and had something a little more thought process to it like it was a game of chess.
Eventually, I settled on something that was, what I would like to think, a balance. Neo's goal was to distract and Shirou's to apprehend and assist his team. In the show itself, disregarding any extra materials or light-novels, Rooster Teeth never bothered to fully explain her powers. It wasn't until I read some online discussion that it was illusions she made to make it look like she was "teleporting" around. The show certainly fooled me, but I wanted to play around with it a little more.
In the original web series, the White Fang during the port heist were all faceless goons. I think at the time they had yet to really explore that aspect. In this story, I wanted to give them a face for Blake to have an actual emotional investment to things. Hence – an original character in the form of Yulia.
The original character that confronts Blake was something I made up on the spot at like… two a.m.? It sorta came to me at an ungodly hour and I liked it enough since it gave some added dimensions to the conflict.
Roman Torchwick finally meeting the characters in the story was a long time coming I would say. Writing his encounter with Pyrrha was surprisingly fun. I wanted to show that Shirou and friends weren't the only ones that did their due diligence. Having him pull up Pyrrha's past made me grin a lot since it was fun having a character gaslight another.
Then having Shirou and Roman face each other for the first time had me draw in a lot of inspirations. In one version, they had a basic fight and tit-for-tat taunts. However, I felt it was a little too bland. Another version had Ren come in to help, but it bloated the story too much. Same thing with Blake chasing Roman and linking up with Shirou, bloated the chapter too much.
I felt that having it just be Shirou and Roman, with Neo acting the latter's shadow, would allow me to explore future conflicts better. Ace Combat Zero is something that I keep in mind a lot when it comes to these three. Pixy is a real inspiration for a lot of things.
Anyways, I think I'll end it here before I start going off on tangents. As always, I appreciate you, the reader, for taking the time to read another update to my story and still sticking with me. If you are willing, please leave a review or comment about your thoughts. I enjoy reading them no matter what.
Remember to check my profile every once and a while as I update the progress of the next chapter there.
Thank you and see you next time! Happy New Year everyone!
Word count before A/N: 13,389
Proofread/Edited by: Stiama