What a joyful week this has been for me, lol. I've been told on Monday that an event a team were organising since October, planned for February, has only managed to obtain four guests and ZERO nominees for its various award categories – and there's now a month (or less, now) until it begins. I've been working myself to the bone on it since Monday and got attendance up to 25 and got maybe 6 nominees (in four days, mind you), but it's going to be a nightmare for me, especially since they want me to host and speak at it.

Why they couldn't have brought this up earlier I've no idea, but waiting until one month before to tell me is ridiculous. Sometimes I wonder why I don't just walk out and quit, but that would practically kill the company. Argh.


Beta: College Fool

Cover Art: Kegi Springfield

Chapter 50


"Are you sure it wasn't Nora that kidnapped him?" Jaune asked as he fought back a yawn.

"I didn't," the girl-in-question replied, not at all offended to have been accused in the first place. "He went to get some pancakes for us. He didn't come back but we thought he was just running late or that he'd gotten distracted. Sometimes Ren likes to be alone a little," she said. "But when we woke up and he hadn't returned we knew something was wrong. Ren would never just leave without telling someone."

"Hm, that is suspicious," Weiss allowed.

"Are you sure it wasn't Blake?" Jaune asked - just to be safe.

"I'm right here!" the very-offended girl yelled.

Nora's eyes narrowed. "That wasn't a `no`."

"It was, and no I didn't! Why would I kidnap him?"

"Why, indeed, Blake," Nora said. "Why, indeed?"

The disguised faunus rolled her eyes in disgust and refused to talk more on the matter, even as they collected their weapons and made their ways to the Bullhead Docks. Ren's were still in his locker (which no one was surprised Nora knew the combination for), so that meant that if he left Beacon, it wasn't to wander into the Emerald Forest or go training. Since their scrolls hinted he wasn't in Beacon, that left Vale as the only available option.

"We'll spread out over Vale and check the trackers," Yang said as the Bullhead that would take them into Vale landed. "Once we've managed to pin down a rough idea of where he is we can meet back up and figure out how to deal with this."

"Do you think it might be dangerous?" Pyrrha asked.

"Maybe. Ren was taken without being able to raise the alarm – and in the middle of Beacon, no less."

"Who would do such a thing?"

"I can think of one creature strong enough to do it, and who's already shown an appreciation for men Ren's age."

"You can?" Jaune asked.

It was Ruby who answered, her cheeks a little red. "Hentacle…"

"My thoughts exactly," Yang said. "Come on. Let's go find my partner. I need to make sure his chastity is protected so I can watch Nora and Blake fight to the death over it."

"That's not funny, Yang," Blake growled.

"Yeah," Nora agreed. "It wouldn't be much of a fight anyway. I'd win easily."

Blake sighed.

/-/

The scene was somewhat surreal to Roman Torchwick. His host, who was probably also his master and most likely source of a way out of Vale alive once Cinder enacted her plan, was sat on the edge of a couch, her face aimed down towards her legs and her hands between her knees. Several tentacles were also between her knees too, languishing on the floor like wilted vines. Her hair had become white, or rather it hadn't turned back blonde since she'd come back into Vale.

Opposite her, the tall figure that Roman had come to know as Arthur Watts stood, arms crossed and a stern expression on his face. "I'm very disappointed in you, young lady," he said. "Your mother would be, as well."

Lavender slumped a little further, the tentacles seeming to twitch on the floor.

"I have no idea what you were thinking. I did my best to help you, and dare I say, I did it because I believe you – out of all your siblings – were the most reasonable. I certainly didn't expect you to do something so… so out of place."

"I'm sorry, Uncle…" the girl mumbled.

"Sorry does not even begin to fix this, young lady."

"I… I didn't know what to do," she said. "I panicked…"

That was Roman's turn to step in, or stagger as it was, almost falling over from the sheer ridiculousness of that sentence. "Panicked!?" he cried. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? There's a very big list of appropriate actions for someone who panics but kidnapping a huntsman isn't one of them!" Roman waved his hands as Lavender slumped even further. "Who does that!? How does someone even do that!?"

"Do calm down, Roman," Watts said.

"Calm down? Calm down!? Are you even aware of how bad the situation is? We have a huntsman locked in our basement. A huntsman who, need I remind you, saw my face as well as her Grimm form! This is bad. This is very bad." He sighed and wiped some sweat away from his face. "Speaking of, why is he in our basement anyway?"

"That would be the influence of Lavender's mother and how she met her husband."

"What, by locking him in her basement and molesting him into submission?" Roman mocked, but when there was no laughter in return he stared at them. "Wait, seriously?"

Watts coughed in what might have been embarrassment.

"I've entered a madhouse," Roman said, slumping down onto a sofa. "I've signed my life away to some kind of circus, haven't I? This has become my normal day. I… I think I need to have a lay down."

And the worst part was that it was still safer for him than shacking up with Cinder.

"See, Lavender," Watts said. "Now you've even driven your underling to despair. This isn't a good thing. I've told you time and time again that what worked for your mother might not work for you, and that you shouldn't even try it."

"I know… I didn't intend to," she said. "I meant to just talk to him and introduce myself, but my emotions were running wild. I didn't know what to say or do and he thought I hated him. He started to walk away and I just… I snapped." Lavender bowed her head. "I know I've made a mistake. I'm sorry."

"We need to do something about the kid," Roman said, turning away from Lavender to Watts, who he assumed would be the brains of the operation. "And I mean the kid in the basement, of course. We can't keep him here. Beacon is going to be up in arms over this. We should…" Roman hesitated to say it, aware of who was in the room. He coughed to catch the other man's attention and made a vague gesture towards his throat. He angled his body so that Lavender couldn't see it.

Watts shook his head. "That would be unwise, friend. One should not poke a sleeping beast."

It took him a second to figure out what Watts meant, but a subtle nod towards Lavender made it clear. So, even if she was apologetic she might still freak out if they tried to hurt the boy she liked. Wonderful. Why was it that even a half-Grimm person he worked with had to have a bleeding heart? Things had been so much easier when it was just him, Neo, and the police of Vale. Before Cinder had come and screwed everything up.

"Well we can't keep him here. This is just a regular house. It's a miracle no one saw him being brought here last night. Or that they didn't see her running around all white-skin and tentacles."

"Some might have," Watts pointed out. "It's unlikely anyone would have dared confront Lavender but it's possible the alarm may already have been raised. This location is compromised. Her cover might be compromised. "

"Great."

Lavender pouted again. "Sorry…"

"So, we need to move him. I have a few places we can take him that are out of the way but we're not going to be able to move a prisoner in broad daylight. You sure we can't… uh… you know?"

"What does he mean, Uncle?"

"Nothing, my dear," Watts lied. "And no, we can't. Absolutely not."

Damn it. Killing and dumping the brat would have been so much easier. Distasteful, sure, but moving a body wouldn't have raised quite the same level of alarm in people. Short of knocking the kid out and stuffing him in a car, he couldn't see a way to get him out in one piece.

"He's already seen Lavender and you," Watts said. "As such I don't think it will be an issue if he meets you again for movement. I, however, should leave before my cover is broken. Lavender, I assume you know what this means for you…?"

"Yes…" She nodded sadly. "I'll have to leave Vale."

"I'm afraid so. While he might not recognise your human form, there are just too many risks presented, not to mention your brother's cover." Watts' stern expression faltered. "I am sure it won't be forever, my dear. Just enough to allow memories and panic to fade. In the meanwhile, we need to decide how to deal with him."

The girl-Grimm was obviously upset but didn't argue. Even if she'd wanted to stay, he doubted she would willingly put her brother in danger, and since the reveal of her identity as a Grimm would instantly backlash onto Jaune in Beacon, the danger was too great. If people even got a whiff of his identity, he wouldn't have a chance to flee before an entire school of Grimm-killers descended on him. Lavender might have been willing to take risks with her own safety, but not her brother's.

"I understand," she said. "I promised Big Brother that I wouldn't cause him any problems. It's too late to take that back but I can at least not put him in more danger. I hope he'll forgive me…"

"I'm sure he will," Watts said. "You know what he is like. Now all we need to do is find a way to deal with our prisoner. It would be best if we could release him, but it might be suspicious if we did. We've already taken him prisoner, after all."

Roman tapped his fingers on his arm in thought before an idea – a desperate and foolish one – came to his mind. "I think I might have a solution to that," he said. Cinder would be furious, but it would get the job done.

And besides, he was already throwing his life in Lavender's hands, right?

/-/

Yang might have joked earlier but the situation was anything but one. She was exhausted, cranky, and already emotionally spent from the night before. To wake up and find that her partner had vanished hadn't exactly done much for her mood. Of course, the only thing I can do is try to keep Nora's spirits up, she thought, watching the ginger-haired girl as she furiously checked her scroll and tried to call Ren again.

"How are we supposed to find him in all of Vale?" Blake asked, voice quiet so that Nora wouldn't overhear. "Yang, this will never work."

"Do you think I don't know that? We just have to hope whoever did this gets in contact. They must have taken him for a reason."

Blake nodded. "I guess so. If they'd wanted to kill him there'd be no need to take him away to do that." She looked around warily before she asked, "Do you really think Hentacle is involved?"

"I don't know. Maybe." Hentacle had been fairly quiet of late, the White Fang, too, but that didn't mean they weren't still doing goodness knew what in the background. She'd heard the news about him attacking Atlas, and also about how a Nevermore was summoned into the city. Other than that, he and the White Fang had been all but silent.

No news was not necessarily good news when it came to terrorists and eldritch monsters.

"We just don't know what they're after," she said. "We thought Hentacle was after Jaune, and he still might be. This could be an attempt to lure him out."

"Is that why you wanted us to split up?"

Yang nodded. If this guy was after Jaune, then she didn't want them anywhere near one another. It wasn't just a case of her looking after the guy she was going out with, but also not complicating matters around Ren. It would be easier if they could find and rescue him without having to worry about someone else being a target as well.

"I know what you're thinking, and I don't think the White Fang would be involved in this," Blake said.

"Oh?"

"It wouldn't make sense for them."

"Haven't they taken hostages before?" Yang asked.

"Yes, but those are usually known ones like the Schnee family or SDC workers." Blake shook her head, clearly disturbed by the memories. "Ren just isn't important enough to them."

"But Beacon has been going against them recently. Or we have, anyway. They might have mistaken us as having worked with Beacon when we shut down their recruitment operation and got rid of the Paladin. This could be a revenge move."

"Or a warning," Blake realised. "I… I don't want to say it, but you might be right. They could try and make an example of him, or maybe strike a deal with the school."

Beacon wouldn't do such a thing, of course. Yang was sure of that. She could just imagine Miss Goodwitch's response to such, which would probably be to make it look like they were considering it, and then attack the White Fang herself. If it was so simple they could have left it to Beacon, but it wasn't simple. If the White Fang made contact with Beacon, then they'd not have Ren with them. He'd be kept somewhere separate.

That was what they needed to find – and fast.

"I don't know of any other White Fang safe houses," Blake said. "I was already out of them when we were trying to find the Paladin and I doubt the guy who got us into that will try anything like that again."

"So, you don't have anyone you know who used to work with them?"

"I left as a traitor, Yang."

"Great, so we're back to square one and we have nothing to go on. Wonderful."

Nora had been pretty quiet up until that point – suspiciously so – and Yang looked over to her in time to see her speaking to someone on her scroll. She was nodding her head.

"Yeah, yeah. Can you send me the address? Yeah? Thanks! Uh-huh. Oh, of course. Yep. Thanks, Cathy. Yeah, glory to our brothers and sisters!" She hung up and grinned at them. "The White Fang have a big gathering on the south side of the city. I'll have the address in a moment." Her scroll pinged. "Oh, there it is."

Yang stared at her.

Blake's mouth fell open. "H-How!?"

Nora shrugged. "Eh, I called them."

"You… called the White Fang…?" Blake tried to wrap her mind about it but obviously failed. "The White Fang doesn't exactly have a hotline! How do you just call them? That makes no sense!"

"Weeelll… You remember when we infiltrated that warehouse?"

"Yes."

"And you remember when I said I was a cow faunus?"

Blake sighed. "Yes…"

"And do you remember that we met some people there, and that I later caught that girder and stopped a few of them being crushed by it?"

"Is this going somewhere?" Yang interrupted. "Not for nothing but we're kind of in a rush. Summarise it."

"I made friends," Nora said.

Yang blinked.

"Okay, maybe don't summarise it that much."

"Those people I saved wanted to thank me," Nora explained. "Before we left they asked to exchange numbers. So, I actually do have a few contacts in the White Fang. Cathy doesn't know anything about Ren, but she's not actually in the White Fang yet. She knows where their latest base is, though. It's right by the Southern wall of the city."

"Huh, that's pretty convenient…"

Blake wasn't quite so easily convinced. "Forget convenient! Why did you give them your number? Are you insane!?"

"You said not to do anything suspicious while we were there," Nora pointed out. "Don't you think it would be a little weird for me to act like I was horrified to be around them? I had to pretend I was one of them." She rolled her eyes, as if it were obvious. "Sheesh, Blake. Make your mind up."

That… made no sense whatsoever. Blake seemed to agree but Yang cut her off with a hand on her shoulder and a shake of the head. It wasn't worth trying to understand Nora sometimes. All you could do was take the good with the bad – and if this wanted to make their life easier? Well, she was fine with that.

"Lead on, Nora," she said. "Let's go pay these guys a visit."

/-/

It was a struggle for her to maintain an intimidating visage given the situation. Lavender kept behind Roman as he spoke to the assembled terrorists after she'd put her crush – who she still desperately needed to apologise to – in a locked room.

"It's an order from the higher-ups," Roman lied. "You're to keep him here and not harm him until the boss decides what to do with him."

"The boss?" the female deer faunus who for some reason had small horns asked. "Do you mean Adam?"

Roman looked around nervously at the name. "Not him. Is he here?"

"No, he's on a mission with our brothers and sisters outside the wall somewhere in the South East."

"Good. Good. This isn't something you'd want to bother him with anyway. Your job is just to stand guard over the kid and make sure he stays in one piece. The orders come from Cinder herself."

"They do? She normally has Adam tell us…"

"Well he's not around to do so, is he? What do you think I'm doing here?"

"A-Ah, of course."

Lavender listened in as Roman continued to spin the tall tale of Cinder's plan, all of which she didn't know about, of course. She wished Uncle Watts was still around but since he was an unknown to the White Fang it was safer for him to not be present. Still, Roman's plan was a good one. They'd drop Ren off with the White Fang, but leave him his scroll so he could set off an alarm or summon help. She'd have felt bad about leaving their allies to be crushed by Beacon, but she didn't really care about them anyway and neither did Roman. Cinder would be upset but wouldn't be able to do anything about it, and the authorities would be none the wiser about her. Ren would know, of course. Or at least he'd know that her Grimm-form kidnapped him, but she'd have to hope he didn't recognise her human face from their brief meeting that evening.

She'd still have to leave Vale, though. There were just too many risks, and since Jaune's team knew about her, there was the very real risk she and Ren might bump into one another again and it might jog his memory. Even if she escaped in one piece, her brother might die.

This was for the best. At least he would be okay.

With Roman and the White Fang distracted, Lavender coughed to gain their attention, even if she didn't quite dare meet his eyes. Mom would have had something to say about showing weakness in front of an underling, but she was still embarrassed about what she'd done. "I'm going to go have some final words with the prisoner," she said, aware that she couldn't sound too soft in front of the terrorist.

Roman's eyes narrowed but he couldn't argue without breaking their cover. "Make it quick. We need to be out of here soon."

Lavender nodded.

/-/

There had been one time before when Ren had truly been grateful for his Semblance and that was when it allowed him and Nora to escape their ruined home safely. After that there had been the odd occasion where it came in use, but it was often more trouble than it was worth, dampening emotions at the worst of times and leaving him dull and inattentive. Now was not one of those times, and he was very relieved for the shawl of calm that fell over him, preventing him from panicking at what was a very panic-worthy situation.

And to think if I'd just refused to pick up those pancakes for Nora I wouldn't even be in this situation. How exactly pancakes translated to `captured by White Fang and Hentacle` he wasn't sure, but since that was what it had turned into he had to accept there was a link somewhere, even if he couldn't quite find it.

He could vaguely remember the girl in the corridor, even if it had been dark and he hadn't paid all that much attention. She'd been visibly distressed and he – bleeding heart that he could be – had decided to help.

Lesson learned, he thought to himself. Helping random people was the exact sort of thing Jaune did, and he'd seen time and time again how much trouble that could land his friend in. He wasn't sure why he hadn't taken one look at a nearly-crying girl and run for his life. It would have obviously been the safer option.

But thinking of such things would not help him escape. It had been hours since he'd been taken but he knew his team wouldn't be idle. He liked to imagine they'd have Beacon out searching for him but if there was one thing he knew about Nora, Blake and Yang it was that the last thing they'd consider would be `asking authority figures for help`. He wasn't sure why they always felt they had to deal with things themselves, but he'd wager everything he owned that Beacon didn't even know what was going on.

He really needed to talk to them about that…

He could only hope they somehow found him, or that he could work his way through the thick rope wrapped about his wrists and linking his hands behind his back. He'd been twisting and stretching them for over an hour now, trying to work some sweat into the threads so they might loosen. While he didn't much fancy his chances of escaping against the White Fang and Hentacle on his own, he fancied his chances of escaping by sitting still and doing nothing even less.

At least his Semblance kept him from becoming bored or frustrated and making a mistake – another benefit he'd never considered. But how many people did consider being abducted by some Grimm-tentacle-monster?

People other than Blake, he meant.

There was a loud crack from outside the door ahead, a steel contraption that looked ramshackle and rusted, but which was clearly dead bolted on the other side. Someone was entering. Ren stilled his body, specifically his hands, and tried to look as defeated as he could. When the white-faced, red-eyed monster entered, he was thankful again for his Semblance.

Her eyes, for he'd realised to his shock that it was a she, roamed over him. He had no idea what to think of them, or her. Had Hentacle always been female and they hadn't noticed, or did he have the ability to change? Did Grimm even have genders?

Hentacle stared at him.

He stared back.

"Why did you bring me here?" he finally asked. "What do you want from me?"

She stiffened. "Would you believe me if I said nothing?"

"No."

She smiled. "I didn't think so. This isn't how things were supposed to go. I made a mistake."

A mistake? Did she mean in regards to taking him, or maybe it was the him part that was the error. Hentacle had come after Jaune on multiple occasions so it was possible it had made a mistake in the dark of Beacon. Unlikely, of course. Jaune and he weren't exactly similar-looking.

He didn't expect her to surrender her plan, but he figured he might as well ask some questions while he had her – her, his, its? – attention.

"You're working with Torchwick and the White Fang. Why would a Grimm want to do that?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're Grimm," he said, and when she didn't argue the notion he continued. "Grimm are the natural enemies of humankind, yet you're working alongside them. Whatever their goals may be, I'm sure it's not to kill themselves. Why would you work with them? It simply doesn't make sense."

"By that example the White Fang and Roman shouldn't be working together either, yet they are," she said.

"For a common cause. Is that why you're working with them?"

Her tentacles twitched. "I suppose."

Ren's brow furrowed. "You don't sound very enthusiastic about that."

"Oh, I'm not really all that involved." The response was almost flippant, and judging from her attitude it wasn't a lie at all. Still, that didn't make sense.

"You saved Torchwick's life multiple times. How is that not being involved?"

"That wasn't-" She paused. "I… I think I've said too much."

Had she? He hadn't noticed anything unusual but he filed away the conversation anyway so he could consider it later. Her tentacles were twitching in something that almost looked like agitation. He wondered if he was just assigning human emotions to an inhuman creature, but if he dared to say it she almost looked… distressed…

He had to be reading into things, surely. What reason would a monster have to feel such things?

Ren's eyes traced Hentacle as she stood in silence. He hadn't had all that much time to focus on looks in previous fights, being too focused on survival, but now that he was close and neither of them were in a battle to the death he could clearly see how narrow her face was, how smooth her cheekbones, and how small her nose. It was a very feminine face, even with the unnaturally pale skin and crimson eyes. The hair was longer than he remembered, too. How had they mistaken her for a man at all, he had to wonder.

It was a long shot and she'd refused to answer before, but he tried his first question again. "Why did you abduct me?"

Hentacle laughed. "Would you believe me if I said hormones?"

Another silly answer.

"No."

"That's a shame," Hentacle said. She stepped towards him and his eyes widened as two tentacles rushed to grip his body. He clenched his eyes shut and waited for agony.

It didn't come.

The tentacles coiled around and under his shoulders, loose and gentle as they cradled and kept him in a sitting position. One wound up behind his head, brushing his hair, but there was no aggression to it and he felt like he could have slipped out of her grip if he needed to.

"I… I was telling the truth," Hentacle said, voice soft and, to his surprise, very close. He opened his eyes but only saw the palm of her hand, which she'd placed over them. "I kind of did this all wrong, but, well… yeah… I'm sorry about this, by the way."

"What do you-?"

He was cut off by lips pressing against his.

Shock ran through him – shattering the control he had over his Semblance and sending his emotions haywire. His eyes widened even if he could only see her palm and he gasped, opening his mouth and apparently inviting a very soft, very warm, and very pleasant-feeling tongue to push against his. Almost against his will he began to push back, eyes closing as a pleasant feeling washed over him.

Their lips parted with a gasp. The hand over his eyes was removed, revealing the girl, woman, no, monster, before him with glistening lips. Her cheeks were red and he again had to remind himself that she was a monster, a Grimm, an enemy.

An enemy who had just kissed him like how he imagined a lover might. An enemy who looked increasingly flustered and – dare he say it – cute, as she held a hand over her heart and kept trying not to let her eyes flicker up to his.

Ren was not normally prone to swearing, or shock, but he felt he could be forgiven for wondering what the fuck had just happened.

Sadly, his mouth wasn't quite working.

"Bwah-?"

He could still taste her, too. She didn't taste like blood, ash, or hell-fire. She tasted like cherries on a hot day, like a kiss of scented air and burning candles.

"Bwah-?" he repeated.

It wasn't his finest moment.

"I'm sorry for that," she whispered. "I just wanted to feel it… at least once."

"Wha-?"

"I should have asked, I know. I'm making all sorts of stupid mistakes." Hentacle flushed prettily and looked away. Ren's brain had another aneurysm as he realised what adjective he'd just used to describe her. "I know you probably hate me but… well… I guess you know how I feel."

Did he? He was feeling pretty confused at the moment.

"Here, you should have this."

Ren's eyes widened even further as he felt something familiar being pushed into his bound hands. His scroll? Why was she-?

"You can use it to call your friends," she explained. "They'll come and rescue you."

His head was spinning, and not just from the kiss.

"Why are you helping me? I don't understand."

She giggled. "Isn't it obvious?"

It was. He just wasn't sure he could bring himself to accept it as possible. It went against everything he'd ever been told about the Grimm, about the world. It went against everything they knew as fact! But there was no denying what she'd done, nor what he'd felt as she did.

"Let me show you again," she said, reaching down to cup his face. This time she didn't cover his eyes, and he watched as her pale face heated up, her eyes glinting with a hint of colour – green? – as she leaned in. She paused. "I don't want to force you this time. If you don't want me to, say so."

Ren didn't know what he wanted. The whole world had gone and turned itself on its head and he was still trying to figure out what was up and what was down. Even so, as her breath brushed across his lips he found himself tilting his head to match hers.

Their lips touched – and he melted into her grasp.

Right as the wall behind them exploded.

"I've come to kick ass and take Ren," a familiar voice yelled. "And I'm all out of Ren. Now, you better show me- erk!"

One of Ren's eyes cracked open, in time to see Nora, Blake and Yang watching him making out with an eldritch Grimm-abomination. He would have said it wasn't what it looked like but he wasn't in much of a position to speak.

And it looked like Nora wasn't in much of one to listen, anyway.

/-/

Jaune waited awkwardly for the scroll to patch through, his hand tapping on the wall behind him. It had been Weiss' idea to split up and spread out in order to find Ren, but there was only one person he could think of who would have the skill, and the motive, to kidnap someone straight out of Beacon.

"What is it?" Cinder asked the second she picked up.

She didn't sound like she was in a good mood and he winced. It might have been that she was still angry with him, or that he'd interrupted her at a bad time. Either way, he steeled himself to ask the important question.

"Hey Big Sis. Do you remember how you said you'd tell me if any of your plans were going to involve my friends…?"

"Yes. What of it?"

"Did you do something to Ren?"

Cinder sighed. "Who, or what, is a Ren? And why should I care about one?"

"One of my friends," he said. "He's on a different team. Black hair, pink eyes, fairly quiet…"

"I've not done anything to anyone. I already told you I would make you aware if my plans involved any of them. I've not gone back on that promise. Now, if you don't mind, I have my own problems to deal with."

"Okay." He couldn't detect any lies in her voice. In fact, she sounded pissed – and that wasn't something she'd bother with if she'd abducted someone. He was about to put the scroll down when she suddenly shouted.

"Wait! Have you seen Mercury anywhere? The fool disappeared last night and didn't return. He left his scroll in his room, as well, so I've have no luck reaching him."

"I haven't seen him. Sorry."

"That idiot," she hissed. "When I get hold of him…"

The call ended a second later as she hung up on him, and he put the device away with a sigh. So, Cinder wasn't involved. That was both a good and a bad thing since it meant he didn't have to worry about split loyalties, but that he was also none the wiser when it came to finding his friend.

"So, Mercury is missing as well," he whispered. "I wonder if these events are connected somehow."

"Is it our problem if he is?" Remy asked.

"Yes. He's a friend."

He'd have to check after finding Ren. Even if Mercury was one of Cinder's allies he was still a friend of sorts, or at least Jaune considered him one. Whatever cruel fate had befallen him, he would help recover him from.

"After you find your other friend, correct?"

"Hm." Jaune nodded and pushed off the wall. There hadn't been any luck so far, but then again he wasn't sure what he was meant to be looking for. There were tens of thousands of people in Vale, maybe even hundreds of thousands. It would be like trying to find a specific Grimm in the Grimmlands.

He hadn't made it six steps before his scroll rang again.

"I'm popular today," he mused, checking the ID. "Cinder? I thought she said she was busy."

He clicked accept.

"Lavender is under attack!" Cinder screeched.

Jaune's heart froze. "W-What!?"

"She took your friend – the boy. Roman called me. They're under attack and she's not strong enough to hold them off. I'm forwarding you the location. Get there!"

"B-But why would she have taken-?"

"There's no time," Cinder snapped, and for the first time he detected the fear in her voice. "They're going to kill her!"

/-/

Yang hadn't been sure what to think when they found him.

On the one part she was glad to see him alive, obviously, but she was also wary – and vindicated – to see that it was Hentacle who took him, just like she'd thought. Being right was nice, but bring right when it was some kind of super-human monster you had to fight wasn't quite as good.

On how said creature was basically making out with her partner? Yeah, that was confusing but she wasn't going to waste time trying to understand when Nora leapt into action and the whole thing turned into a wild melee.

Blake had rushed to help her partner – knowing that anger or not Nora would need assistance against the Grimm. That left her to deal with any newcomers, and since their arrival hadn't exactly been subtle, there were plenty of them. Yang ducked under a White Fang's mace and drove her fist under and up into his stomach, blasting air and spittle across her face. She hauled the guy up with her other hand and roundhouse kicked him back into his friends, knocking two down and sending more sprawling.

It would have been good to free Ren and get him involved, but she'd seen a chance to hold the narrow doorway into the room, preventing the terrorists from outnumbering her, and took it while she could.

In the distance she could hear Torchwick yelling frantically, but it looked like the crowded faunus had blocked him off – a lucky break for the four of them since he was no pushover himself. He won't be able to get through those narrow corridors, she thought, catching a terrorist's weapon, snapping their wrist and backhanding him away. The press of White Fang is holding him back.

That wouldn't have normally been enough to give them any edge over Hentacle. He'd been able to hold off their entire team at the docks and they hadn't improved that much.

But Nora and Blake were winning – and against all odds winning quite convincingly. Hentacle's movements were sluggish, his attacks distracted, and a part of her thought the creature looked a little shorter than usual, though that could have been her imagination talking.

Even distracted by her own fight as each new faunus stepped up, she was able to see Blake catch Hentacle from behind, slip under a tentacle and cut it off with her blade before she scored a strong blow to the creature's back. It screamed out in high-pitched agony and swept an arm behind it, slamming into Blake and throwing her aside.

The damage was done, however. One of the tentacles slammed onto the floor and began to dissolve, just like any other Grimm would. Had Hentacle already been wounded by Ren? Was this something else? Whatever it was, Yang thanked their lucky stars. They hadn't given him the time to summon any Grimm, and that had been the deciding factor in their last fight – that they'd been split up and unable to fight as a team when trying to save Jaune from the warehouse.

Not this time. Nora and Blake were finally going to end this.

No more Hentacle, no more worrying about Ruby being hurt or Jaune being taken from her.

"Get out of the way!" Torchwick yelled, now sounding worried and swinging his cane to shift the terrorists blocking him. "Move, you stupid animals. Before it's too late!"

Even he was afraid. A good sign. Yang redoubled her efforts and drove the terrorists back, blocking them up in the entranceway so that the much bigger threat wouldn't be able to get through – short of blasting his way through his own people or looping around the building, both of which would take him too long. She'd only planned for them to get in, get Ren and get out, but if they were actually able to kill Hentacle?

Well, they were huntresses, right? It was what they did.

Nora swept her hammer in a wide arc, missing by mere inches as the lithe figure darted to one side, twirled, and tried to bring her own sword – thin and light – around to wound her. Nora smiled and made no move to dodge, and didn't need to as Blake appeared by her partner's side, twisting Gambol Shroud up before Nora's face and blocking the attack before it could get close.

"Thanks, partner," Nora grinned.

"No problem," Blake replied. She tossed her ribbon over the blade, slapped the other half of Gambol Shroud down, and tugged both down to wrench the sword from the Grimm's grip. It left him open, and even though he brought his tentacles up to block, Nora's hammer caught him centre-mass, launching him back and into a wall.

Hentacle made to stand, staggering, but a grenade caught him directly in the chest.

"Direct hit!" Nora cheered.

The smoke cleared to reveal the Grimm on its knees, head bowed and tentacles singed and smoking on the floor. Its white skin was smudged and blackened with patches where burns had clearly taken hold. It struggled to stand but sagged and fell back down onto its knees.

Nora stepped forward, hefting Magnhild before her.

"Nothing personal," she said. "Well, apart from you being a Grimm. It was bad enough when you took Jauney – he's a friend – but to take Ren, as well? Nope." The hammer drew back. "No one's taking my best friend away from me."

Hentacle twitched.

Yang cried out, "Nora! Look out!"

The bomber's eyes widened as the tentacles all surged forward at once, joining together like a club and striking her in the midriff, launching her back and into the air. It was a desperate last gambit and one that caught Nora completely off-guard, but the Grimm had made one fatal mistake.

Blake appeared behind it, Gambol Shroud drawn back. Hentacle realised, but had all of his tentacles forward, none left to defend as the blade came down for its neck.

"It ends here!" Blake yelled.

Hentacle's eyes – had they always been green? – widened in horror.

"NO!" Torchwick screamed.

The wall behind Blake vanished.

Light blasted through as the wall gave way, metal twisting and screeching as it was peeled back from its foundations and tossed aside like a rag. Yang's eyes widened as she saw two black limbs that had pierced through the metal to do it, long and thin, familiar in their own way and yet impossible because the only one who could do that was on their knees in front of them about to be killed by Blake.

Except that a tentacle had wrapped about her wrist – preventing Gambol Shroud from coming down for the finishing blow. It was not a tentacle from the figure on the floor. It had punctured directly though the steel wall from outside.

Blake only had the time to cry out as she was dragged to the side and flung against a metal pillar, folding around it and gasping as she fell to the floor, her weapon skittering from her hand and away. The tentacle drifted away from her, to Hentacle, and then coiled about the downed figure protectively.

Even the White Fang trying to get past Yang hesitated, unsure what to do or think but unwilling to enter and face whatever it might be. Yang took the chance to back away and stand near Blake as she struggled to push herself up onto her hands and knees.

The wall gave another agonised screech as it was divested of its covering entirely. Cloud and dirt ha kicked up but they didn't have to wait for it to clear. It billowed out as something leapt through, and a dark figure landed before their downed foe with a mighty crash. It was taller than Hentacle, bulkier, clearly more masculine and also very, very angry.

Yang realised their error a second later – as did Blake.

"Am I seeing double…?" she gasped.

"No," Yang said, watching warily as the taller one – the one she recognised as the real deal – looked down to its injured and bleeding kin. "I've got a feeling we've not been fighting the real deal all along." Her expression hardened. "We miscalculated. There's more than one of these things. I knew this was too easy."

More than one Grimm capable of hiding and operating among the people of Vale – and of summoning Grimm whenever they wanted. That was bad. Beacon needed to know before something happened. How many of them had already infiltrated the city? What was their goal?

Hentacle's eyes looked back up from the smaller version of himself.

They glowed like crimson fire.

"And I think we just pissed him off."


Yes. Yes, you did.

For those who wondered Lavender has always been a weaker individual than Jaune, able to hold her own against Raven by not actually holding her own at all but summoning loads of Grimm and fleeing the moment she had a chance. While Jaune has admitted she's better with a sword than him, that doesn't mean much, and his raw strength, stamina and durability is far above hers.

Well, here's things being dragged back towards the plot anyway. Except for Mercury being missing, of course. I wonder what cruel and depraved witch could have him and what terrible things she is putting him through.


Next Chapter: 18th January

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur