I don't own Fate/Stay Night or RWBY.
Note: This story contains spoilers for F/SN Heaven's Feel route. Continue at own risk.
A gleaming dagger shot past Ruby, missing her by less than a hand's width. A second did not and grazed her thigh. Aura protected her, but it still hurt. It hurt a lot. Anyone who didn't believe that notion could try stabbing themselves and see just how much it did. All things considered, Ruby was seriously regretting her recent life choices.
Why? Just why did they ever think having Shirou go hard on them during training was a good idea?
For all her speed, Ruby had Crescent Rose torn from her hands in the opening minutes of the spar with a handful of powerful strikes that she struggled to follow, each packing enough force to send painful reverberations up her arms. Her grip had loosened, and the instant she had been disarmed, she was about as threatening to him as a child trying to beat up an adult with bare fists. Unlike Shirou who could magically conjure up spares, she actually had to worry about not having a weapon after losing hers. Life was unfair like that.
Gingerly nursing a sore spot on her head courtesy of a blow from Kanshou's pommel – because even Aura could only do so much against exceptionally hard blows – Ruby sat up with her vision still swimming slightly and watched as the rest of her team struggle with their singular opponent. The two of them occupying his attention appeared to be the sole reason his attacks on Ruby herself had taken a temporary pause.
Yang and Weiss had a decent plan going on, with the blonde keeping the fight up close while Weiss used her Semblance and Dust to try to control their surroundings and limit Shirou's movements – 'try' being the operative word.
It wasn't working the way they hoped it would.
A curved wall of swords moved together with Shirou, floating a distance from his side and providing full cover from the elements Weiss threw at him. Every few seconds, a new blade would materialise before homing in on Weiss' position like a missile, forcing her to focus on dodging the dangerous projectile. That in turn caused any glyphs she was concentrating on to dissipate, requiring her to reform them again from scratch.
All this happened while Shirou continued to put pressure on Yang, seemingly not needing to actively control the extra weapons around him as he blocked, parried, and attacked.
His mass of swords was like a secondary enemy. A really, really annoying enemy that they couldn't even do much about because it wasn't human to begin with and wouldn't feel pain or be slowed by any hits it took.
Ruby got to her feet, yelping as newly formed swords impaled themselves into the floor around her. Unfortunately, Shirou had finally gotten around to targeting her again.
'Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap!'
Ruby quickly triggered her Semblance, narrowly avoiding becoming a pin cushion for another good dozen weapons. Two or three grazed her as they passed, but otherwise made no direct contact. She zoomed to where her scythe had fallen, snatching it up without slowing down and proceeding to re-join her embattled sister and her white partner.
Shifting Crescent Rose into its more compact form, she fired off several rounds in quick succession at Shirou, timing the shots with his footwork. The attempt to catch him in the split second between his movements failed when he darted past the first bullet while simultaneously tripping up the blonde, ramming the tip of his white blade into her ribs.
Ruby winced when Yang lurched to the side and had to twist away in panic to avoid being hit by the rest of her volley. She cringed and offered a silent apology when that opened up the brawler to a sharp strike to her neck.
"Your guard still has holes," Shirou said sternly, continuing to weave around the brawler's flurry of blows. He was always pretty fast, but Ruby couldn't remember him being quite that fast before. Where had he been keeping all that speed?
He jabbed at Yang's head with another quick thrust. "Always protect your vitals. Aura or not, your head, neck and chest will always be the targets your opponents go after."
"I kno-! Argh!"
Kanshou disappeared in a blue haze. His hand balled into a fist, his arm snaking around Yang's hasty block in a blur and impacting her on the jaw with enough force to snap her neck backwards.
"Don't answer. You'll bite your tongue. Just listen and concentrate on the fight."
In the time it took to blink, the black falchion materialised back into his grip, coming down hard on her collar. He retreated when a blade of wind scythed past, forcing him apart from Yang and giving her a much needed respite.
"Ranged combat isn't going to work for you," Weiss hissed in between breaths, running up to the caped girl. Her words were punctuated with the occasional flicks of Myrtenaster, sending more swathes of razor-sharp wind at the swordsman. "Shirou knows us too well, and there's too high a chance you might hit Yang by mistake if we continue."
"Then what do I do?" Ruby retorted, jumping aside as a wave of swords swept past. She dropped to the floor and a spinning zweihander flew by overhead, its speed and the wide arc of its swing making dodging to either side impossible.
There was little else that she was capable of doing in that situation, she noted with frustration.
"You need to get up close. If the both of you keep him busy, I might have time to make proper use of my Semblance for once," The heiress replied, shouting to get her words across the sounds of gunfire and the rending of metal-on-metal. She readied her rapier and vanished, accelerating to the other end of the ring while dodging flying blades along the way. "We don't have much choices. It's the only option left I can think of."
Close quarters combat against Shirou? Yeah, like that was going to end well for her.
With a mental sigh, Ruby conceded that Weiss was still correct. At the rate she was going, not only would she not land a single shot on Shirou, Yang was bound to take a bullet from her sooner or later. Even she was nowhere near accurate enough to hit him in that kind of a situation. At the very least, Weiss with her Dust-enhanced glyphs probably had the best chance of slowing him down for them to land some hits.
Readying her own weapon, Ruby broke into a run, circling around while closing the distance. She squeezed the trigger and shot forward. Her velocity increased with each shot and, digging in her heels, she channelled it all into a single rotation, sending the curved blade of her scythe arcing towards Shirou's back.
Even with her being entirely outside his line of sight, Shirou still managed a half turn and parried her slashing attack with one blade, its counterpart simultaneously deflecting a powerful straight from Ruby's sister by redirecting her arm. The wall of swords segmented into two, one half swivelling to cover him from a rain of sharp ice from above while its twin moved to shield him from a blast of fire from the front.
Several of the blades broke away to chase after Weiss and shifting her focus onto them. That shut off the black, gravity-manipulating glyph beneath his feet before either Ruby or Yang could take advantage of it slowing him down.
Again, that was unfair. Any normal opponent with only two hands wouldn't have been able to counter that.
Hooking the spine of one blade under the shaft of Crescent Rose, he forced it upwards. A boot struck Ruby hard and she stumbled backwards. One hand left her weapon to clutch her stomach, and she was thankful she did not have a heavy meal prior to their not-so-little spar.
"That's good. Seems like you're doing well at this pace. I'll speed up my Tracing a little. See if you can handle it," Shirou said, knocking Yang aside with a series of jabs. "Trace on. All projections standby. Accelerated fire."
When the rain of swords resumed, it was all Ruby could do to activate her Semblance and dodge frantically. There was no time to think; she moved entirely on instinct, dashing and flipping around the blades that came into her path.
She hopped over a series of spinning daggers, batting away several more that flew towards her with her scythe. Once again, she was forced to tap into her Semblance when more Projections came for her the moment she started her descend, jerking her head aside while feeling the wind brush by the nape of her neck. Hitting the ground, she rolled forward and used her momentum to start running. Several strands of red-tipped hair fluttered before her eyes, sending an involuntary shiver up her spine.
Ruby did not even have the time to fire a single shot at Shirou. The overwhelming torrent of steel was unending, rushing at her and the girl in white several metres away with the force of a hurricane.
Not unexpectedly, Weiss' defensive glyphs eventually crumbled under the blades impacting against it, shattering and exposing her to their full brunt. She tried to leap away with a glyph but ultimately failed to outrun them. The rate at which her Aura dropped was frightening, and were it not for many of the weapons deflecting off the armour Shirou had made and him obviously not out to seriously harm any of them, things could have been really bad for the heiress.
Their eyes met for a brief instant. Weiss raised her arm and waved towards Ruby, before moving to point at Yang. A wave of energy enveloped the reaper the same instant that Weiss was blown off her feet and slammed against the wall with a cry.
Everything around Ruby slowed to a crawl.
A faint glyph flashed beneath her for a couple of seconds, flickering once when its creator hit the side of the training room but managing to maintain its form long enough to impart its effects. Ruby narrowed her eyes and readied herself. That had been the last Weiss could do before being essentially eliminated from the match. She would make full use of it.
Ruby reached within her and pulled on her Semblance once more and, in doing so while being accelerated by Weiss' Semblance, moved faster than she ever had in her life. The swords no longer blew past with the speed of bullets and to her eyes were slow enough that she had no problems tracking each and every one.
Her focus narrowed. There was nothing else. No swords. No Weiss. No Yang. All Ruby perceived in that instance was herself and Shirou.
Her and her target.
She rocketed across the stage, aware of how his eyes slowly widened in surprise. For instead of rushing at him in a straight line like she used to, she was instead able to weave around his projectiles.
The air rippled and more blades formed.
Ruby batted several away and dodged the rest, steadily gaining ground.
A similarly sped up Yang deflected Bakuya with a hook and the reaper saw her opening. Swerving around the two, she swung out with all her strength. Crescent Rose found its target in Shirou's leg, undefended with his arm high up at shoulder height.
For the first time in any of their spars with him, Shirou dropped to a knee.
Ruby grinned triumphantly. That had been their very first direct hit on him the entire match, and with how he was positioned, Yang would certainly get…
Her thoughts stalled when she finally spotted a large, dark shape in the corner of her vision, moving quickly towards her. It had been in her blind spot, and by the time she noticed it, there was little room left to manoeuvre. Her heels dug into the ground and her body started to turn, but she knew that even with her greatly enhanced speed, her response came far too late.
Ruby's only consolation before the world turned upside down was the sight of Yang's fist acquainting itself with Shirou's face, his whole head twisting to the side from the shotgun-empowered blow. At the very least, she could take some satisfaction at having contributed to that.
"Ow! Gentle! Gentle!"
"I'm trying. Stop moving so much or I can't get it right."
Shirou shook his head, listening out of one ear to Ruby's pained groans as Yang slowly repositioned a medicated plaster onto the bruise. He had not expected one of his Projections to actually break through what Aura Ruby had left, nor to nearly knock her unconscious. It was only after the match ended did he find out about what Weiss had done with her glyph and energy Dust. All things considered, they were actually lucky that the darkening lump on her head was the only injury she sustained from the leftover force her Aura had been unable to absorb.
He absently rubbed at his cheek, where a similar bruise was forming. Yang had got him in the one moment where he had been left completely open from Ruby's strike and she had not held back in the slightest. It had been an effective capitalisation of her opponent's temporary vulnerability. Good on her.
Shirou had intended from the start to place the three at a disadvantage, purposefully creating a situation where none of them could utilise their individual strengths at their best to see just how they adapted and what instinctual habits would arise when they had to make decisions on the fly. So far, things went as planned, and he had already identified several areas he could point out for their improvement. If their subsequent sessions went as just as well, with the girls learning from each time, there could well be noticeable improvements by the end of the year.
Picking up one plate in his left hand, he balanced another on his forearm and took a third in his right before heading over to the table on the other side of their room where the rest of his team were sat, reaching over their shoulders and placing the freshly cooked dishes in front of his team. The sight drew the eyes of his partner, distracting her long enough for Yang to slap on the patch over the reaper's bruise with a triumphant grunt and another howl of pain from Ruby.
"It'll get better once your Aura regenerates," he said sympathetically, quickly returning with a bowl piled high with potato salad and setting it between the plates. "For now, the best thing you can do is to eat and rest. Your body will handle everything else."
There were no complains forthcoming when they came face-to-face with his pan-seared seabass, sitting on a bed of asparagus, scallops and cream sauce. Indeed, speaking was no easy task when one was busy stuffing their face.
'I'll have to thank Weiss later for paying for all this…'
It was the first time Shirou had worked with ingredients of that quality, and while he was grateful for Weiss footing the bill, he was smart enough to know that he did not want to know how much they really cost.
"You… really need to-hmf… cook more," Yang remarked, cheeks full. "I won't mind sparring with you every day if this is what I get to eat afterwards."
Shirou had never put much weight in the adage that the way to a woman's heart was through her stomach, but going by the reactions of the three, perhaps there was some truth to it after all.
"Yang!" Ruby hissed, knife and fork pausing long enough to glare at her sister in genuine horror.
"I guess you'll have to stop running into things then, Rubes. Might be pretty painful otherwise." Yang smirked unrepentantly.
If they were in good enough shape to joke with each other, then they were already well on the road to recovery from their spar. He cut a small piece off his own fish, slowly savouring the taste of a truly fresh piece of fish, amplified by the fresh herbs it had been cooked with. Truly it was a cut above any of the regular store-bought stuff he could purchase from Vale.
Shirou looked to Ruby and Weiss. "That move you pulled with Weiss' Semblance near the end was good, but in the future you might want to consider it first before using your Semblances in untested ways," he said, getting identical looks of embarrassment from the two. "I'm not saying it wasn't effective, because it was, but obviously you didn't know all the effects of combining a glyph that accelerates its target together with Ruby's movement enhancement Semblance. It was an effective application but let's test it out a bit more before deciding whether you want to use it in that way in actual combat."
Shirou turned to Weiss. "Just to confirm, it is acceleration, right?"
The heiress nodded.
"It is. Using that specific glyph together with energy Dust on a person speeds up all of their body functions. Heart. Lungs. Metabolism. It even increases brain activity and reaction by speeding up how fast your nerves can function," she explained. "It's a little dangerous, since a human body isn't normally meant to operate at that intensity but if it's only a few minutes, there should be no lasting side effects."
That was risky. Internal organs were known to suffer and eventually shut down if the body was pushed too hard for too long, but as Weiss said, that was unlikely if used only for at most several minutes at any one time.
"You'll have to practice that in a more controlled environment. Perhaps we can test it another time. I am curious to see for myself how effective it is."
"Sheesh, Handsome, you're the last person who needs to go faster. Like you aren't deadly enough." Yang grinned. "Then again, we're more or less guaranteed a spot in the Vytal tournament finals if you two can pull off a combo like that."
Shirou shook his head with a smile, not bothering to dispute Yang's point. It was good that they were experimenting with new tactics and, in Weiss' case, new applications of her Semblance. All that was needed was to ensure that they tempered that with caution. Wanting to improve was good and all, but it should not come at the expense of any of them being hurt in the process.
"I was thinking," Yang said as she chewed, gesturing with her fork. "I'm going to look up some hand-to-hand combat techniques they're teaching in the other Kingdoms. See if I can learn a few things."
"You don't have the time to learn an entire new school of unarmed martial arts before the Vytal Festival. It takes years for an average person to master even one," Weiss pointed out.
"Relax, Weissy. I know what I'm doing. I'm just seeing if there are any handy tricks or tips I can pick up, not everything. Vary things up a bit. If we're going into the tournament, you can bet the guys from the other Academies will be watching all our previous matches. All the fights in Professor Goodwitch's lessons are made public, remember? So those guys will know pretty much all there is to know about us if we don't up our game."
The heiress blinked. "You have a point."
"Damn right I do. I heard that Atlas teaches some mean grapples, and there is this pretty famous school in Mistral where their practitioners focus a lot on hitting with their knees and elbows. It shouldn't be too hard if I'm just taking a little inspiration here and there. Should be able to add a new trick or two by the time the tournament comes around."
Yang winked at Shirou and touched one finger to her own cheek. "Besides, maybe I'll get to give Handsome another love tap if I do."
If she did manage to take a leaf out of the pages of other styles and integrate them into her own, that might very well be possible. As things stood, very little ever caught him off guard anymore; having sparred with her more times over the previous months than he bothered to keep count, he had learnt more or less her entire repertoire of techniques. Yang picking up anything new would change that status quo – not a bad thing as far as combat went.
"Speaking of combat, have you considered bringing along a secondary weapon or some kind of backup? It's not to help you stay in the fight, but to ensure you have something you can use in case your primary weapon is damaged beyond use and there isn't a clear path of retreat," Shirou added, directing it to Ruby and Weiss. "This doesn't really apply to Yang, who doesn't have as much of a problem if either of her gauntlets are damaged; she can still use her fists without them and there won't be any drastic change to her combat style. But for the both of you, your regular means of fighting is gone if you don't have your weapon, so keeping something in reserve might be useful."
The two glanced at each other. Ruby turned back to him and tilted her head slightly. "I could bring a few Dust grenades. Is that good enough?"
Shirou scratched his head. He had been thinking more along the lines of an actual weapon, and not a consumable item that they might run out of.
"One or two of those would be useful, yes," he conceded. "But have you considered a smaller weapon or handgun? Something that you can carry easily and has more than a single use."
"If I had to choose, I'd much prefer a bladed weapon," Weiss answered. "While I have trained with firearms as part of my combat curriculum back in Atlas, I am more comfortable and proficient with a blade, even if it means forgoing range."
Ruby simply shrugged her shoulders after a moment of thought, appearing indifferent to the two.
Standing, Shirou went to the shelf and dug through several boxes containing weapons he had created earlier in the year as practice. Pulling out a pair of blades, he returned and handed one each to Ruby and Weiss. They pulled the dirks out of their sheaths and studied the weapons.
A dirk, like the ones they held, was one of those odd blades that fell into the unique category of being longer than most daggers but still too short to be considered a real sword. It was most commonly an offhand weapon, and its design was suited for that, having a decent balance between weight and reach.
"What about something like this?"
Weiss swung the weapon experimentally, switching hands every few seconds. She returned the blade to its scabbard with a satisfied smile. "It's nimble in the hand, and light enough that I don't think I would notice the weight if I was carrying it. It's a good weapon. If it's just for use in emergencies, I see no problems with using this."
That was good. A glance beside her revealed that Ruby was nodding appreciatively at her copy, twirling the narrow blade around her fingers.
"Right. then I'll take those back." He was met with surprised looks and laughed softly. "Those were just a sample. I'm not going to give you something that shoddily made."
For the daggers were of subpar quality compared to what he would be willing to give as a final product every time someone commissioned a blade from him. They were not bad by any means, having been forged with decent materials and technique, but for Shirou, those specimens did not make the cut as satisfactory, finished works.
In his open palms, two similar blades formed from the blueprints of a pair of Mystic Codes stored in his soul's repository.
He focused the material composition, altering slightly the ratio of metals present and removing trace impurities. The length of the grip shortened and narrowed to accommodate their smaller hands. A slight shift of the centre of balance to better distribute the weight. Finally, Reinforcement to strengthen all aspects of the weapons.
When the light coalesced into solid form, he presented the final products to the girls, weapons that were visually identical in every way, with the exception of a dark red leather wrapped handle for one, and a pale blue for the other.
The copies were as durable as anything he could create with his own hands, so they were more than suitable for combat use. Due to the nature of their creation as constructs made from his magecraft, they would be easily replaced if lost or broken. He'd need to recreate new ones every few years if they used the blades enough to wear them out, but that was a trivial enough task.
"Just like your own weapons, these are not indestructible either. They have a sharper and more lasting edge, and can take more wear than the average weapon, but don't push it." His reminder broke them out of their reverie and gained him two quick nods, even if Ruby quickly returned to inspecting the weapon with intrigue.
Yang affixed him with a faux pout. "Hey, I get that I don't need it as much as they do, but… doesn't mean I can't get one too right? You know, just to complete the set or something?"
His response was simply to Trace a third and toss it to the happy brawler.
"Love you too, Handsome."
Shirou resisted the urge to roll his eyes, but the same could not be said for Weiss or Ruby, who showed no hesitation in letting the blonde know exactly how they felt.
"Hey! I saw that, you two!"
They quietened when a loud rap came from their door. It was followed almost immediately by a more than familiar voice.
"Hey, kids. Anyone home?"
"Uncle Qrow?" Yang said in surprise, quickly letting the man in. "What're you doing here?"
He grinned. "What? I can't come to visit my favourite nieces?"
"We're your only nieces," Yang deadpanned.
"Exactly. So by default, my favourites." The Huntsman paused and sniffed the air. "Hmm. Smells good. What's this?"
He spotted the half eaten food on the table and snatched one piece of fish from Yang's plate, popping it into his mouth before the blonde could protest. His eyes widened, and he chewed appreciatively, twisting aside to avoid a punch from a very annoyed Yang. "Damn. That's good stuff. Which fancy joint did you get this from? Pretty sure the cooks in here can't make something like this to save their lives."
Ruby hid her plate, wrapping her arms around it protectively. "We didn't buy it. Shirou cooked it."
"Cook? They let you go into the kit… chen…" Qrow trailed off when his eyes landed on the portable Dust-powered stove and its companion, a folding marble countertop, sitting comfortably in one corner of the room. His jaw worked up and down for a few seconds, no sound forthcoming. "Wow, okay. I've seen many strange things kids smuggle in, but never an actual damned kitchen."
It was a far cry from the one Shirou had back in Fuyuki, but it was enough for simple dishes. The strangeness aside, he still considered it one of his best purchases since entering Beacon. All he lacked to complete what he deemed a satisfactory setup was a good-sized oven, a food processor, and maybe a stand mixer. Space was not really a problem. Shirou was certain he could convince Team JNPR to lend him some of the unused parts of their room if he really needed it. Evident from his own team, his cooking was apparently a very acceptable form of payment for just about anything.
Qrow pulled a chair and spun it around, leaning forward against the backrest with his elbows propped up over it. "How you kids holding up? I see you've been prepping for the Festival." He nodded at their leader. "And here I thought you stopped running into things once you got used to your Semblance."
Ruby flushed red. Her weak protests came to no avail given the evidence was literally on her face.
"Anyway, I got something fun coming up," Qrow continued. "Some unfinished business for me, and I thought I'd at least let you know about it. You know, in case you were interested."
"What are you talking about?" Weiss asked, turning to face the older man, her interest piqued.
Qrow pulled out his flask, tilting the container and drinking long and slow. He exhaled with a drawn out sigh and filled the air with the sharp scent of alcohol, much to Shirou and the girls' displeasure.
"As you know, we caught quite a number of Fang back at Mt Glenn. I got a few contacts down in the local force, and from what I heard from them, the ones that are hiding about in Vale are spooked. They've gone to ground, complete silence. But some of them are trying to mobilise again. Me and a few other Huntsmen are running raids on suspected hideouts to see if we can flush them out while they're still licking their wounds. You were involved in Glenn, so it's a good chance for you to get some extra action and experience. And besides, you get to see what a normal mission is like for a change, not that crazy shit we went through."
The four students looked at each other.
"No more Paladins… right?" Ruby asked hesitantly, airing the concern that lingered in all their minds.
"Shouldn't be. I'm pretty sure we got them all. If there are, old Jimmy's going to need to check his men for leaks because losing that many is nonsense unless it was an inside job."
"So let me understand. We're essentially accompanying you to investigate locations potentially used by the White Fang, is that correct?" Weiss asked.
Qrow bobbed his head. "That's right. And you'll get paid for it too. Nothing like what Oz and Jimmy are giving you for the Mt Glenn fiasco, but nothing to sniff at either."
Shirou snorted softly. That was an understatement if he had ever heard one.
They had been notified of the transference of the mission reward that very morning, and even after splitting eight ways between the two teams involved, each person still received just over twenty thousand Lien. One part was the actual mission reward, but the majority had come from Atlas for the successful destruction of the Paladins under the White Fang's control.
Payment for student missions were mostly compensation for the risks involved in completing the mission, but in their case, calling it a simple risk pay did it no justice given that his portion alone could easily cover at least a year's worth of living expenses. Seeing it from the perspective that all eight of them could very well have died on that mission, along with a sizeable portion of the city if the train had reached its destination, suddenly the reward did not seem all that unusual.
To think that there was also the bounty for Adam Taurus that was being processed as they spoke. Weiss had mentioned the sum could go into the millions given the significant amount of damage the man had caused and how desperate the various Councils had been for him to be out of the picture, dead or otherwise.
But going back to the issue at hand, Shirou knew his response to Qrow's tacit invitation. His mind already made up, he waited for his team to give theirs first before adding in his own voice.
Weiss closed her eyes in thought. After a moment, she turned to face Ruby. "I'm of the opinion that we should take on this mission."
"I was thinking the same," Ruby agreed without hesitation. "I don't know what else the White Fang has planned, but what they were doing in Mt Glenn was horrible. If we can help to prevent any similar attacks, we should do it."
"I suppose that means we're in," Shirou said after Yang gave a smile and a nod. "But is there anything else you can tell us about this mission first? At least so that we can have a better idea of what to expect."
Qrow relaxed slightly. "Well, you'll be with sticking with me, and we'll be hitting an old packing facility down in the south west of Vale. Building records show it unused for some years but there were recent reports of activity at odd hours from people living nearby. Owners claim they didn't manage to rent out the place and that it should be unoccupied, but gave us permission to check. Our job is to go in and, if there are any White Fang, take them out, preferably keeping them alive so the police can try and interrogate them for information on their buddies. Similar to Glenn but without the giant killer robots or bomb-loaded trains. I can send you the building plans and a map of the area tonight once I get them. That should be enough for you to prep what you need."
That did not sound too difficult. It was a routine search with a chance of combat. Nothing his team couldn't handle.
Qrow looked down at his bottle, playing with it even as a strange silence filled the room. He looked wanting to speak, but for some reason was holding back. When he finally turned his attention back to the team, his smile was gone.
"Tell you the truth, there's still a bit more to this that Jimmy and Oz are worried about," he said with a frown. Ruby and Yang gave Qrow identical looks of concern as he continued. "We got the records of all the Dust Torchwick stole over the months. It's not an exact number, but it's a pretty good estimate. But…"
"But?" Weiss asked, her trepidation showing that she more or less knew what was unspoken, as did Shirou himself.
"The Dust we got from Mt Glenn came up short, and Jimmy thinks the rest might still be stashed somewhere in Vale."
"The train must have been loaded with a sizeable amount of Dust judging from how big of an explosion it made. That should explain the shortfall," Weiss replied, getting a shake of the head from Qrow.
"We did think of that. Oz did some calculations of how much that train could keep with a full load, and there's still anywhere between half to a full tonne that he thinks hasn't been accounted for," Qrow quickly raised one hand when the looks on the girls turned alarmed. "Hold up. We don't know for sure so don't start panicking just yet. All I'm saying, it's something we need to keep our eyes open for during the raid in case Oz and Jimmy are right. For all we know, we got the numbers wrong and we're all just worrying about nothing."
Regardless, Shirou could understand Qrow's concern. That amount of Dust, if remaining in the terrorist group's possession, could be used in any number of ways that could do no good for Vale. Their simple mission of trying to flush out remaining members of the organisation had suddenly become a much more serious matter with that one possibility.
"That's why you asked if we were interested," Shirou realised. "It's not something you can risk, and you're pulling us in to help so that the Huntsmen on this mission can check more locations at the same time. Better to be safe and cover as many bases as you can, but that's something you can only do that if you have enough manpower."
Qrow silently grimaced at his words, but by the time Shirou finished speaking, his expression had transitioned into a full on rueful grin, accompanied by a hoarse, low chuckle. "Damn, looks like you got me banged to rights. That's right, kid. Not gonna lie, but the more hands we have, the better it'll be."
"What about Atlas?" Ruby asked. "Won't they be helping too?"
A lazy shrug. "Maybe? I know they're sending more men over but they're mostly here for security once the Vytal Festival starts. Atlas doesn't really have a reason to get involved if there aren't any more of their weapons being held by the Fang. At best, we get one or two Huntsmen if they can spare any. That would help, but there's limits when it comes to those guys. They might be good at what they do, but they don't have the home advantage here."
It went without saying that any team from the other Kingdom would not be as familiar with Vale, the people in it and the way things were done. Then there were also the implications of Atlesian personnel getting involved in what was essentially one of Vale's internal issues, something Atlas was certain to be careful about. It was unfortunate, but any help they might get was dependent on politics, whether they liked it or not.
"Well, that's all I got. If you've no other questions for me, I'll head down and get you kids registered. We're cutting it pretty close to the actual mission but they should get you processed and ready to go by the end of the day. I'll send you the details once that's done." Qrow looked ready to leave, and the Ruby was unable to hide her disappointment. Yang was little better, crossing her arms and averting her eyes with a surly grunt.
With how busy Qrow appeared to be, running from mission to mission, they likely didn't have much of a chance to spend any extended periods of time with him despite their family ties. An unfortunate consequence of his profession.
Shirou stared at the table for a second. He turned to Qrow, who was already half standing. "Have you had anything to eat yet?"
"No, not yet." The reply was accompanied by a faint rumble. "Yeah. Thanks for nothing. You just had to remind me right after I had a taste of that, huh? Guess I'll have to grab a bite down in Vale."
"There are some leftovers from the ingredients I used earlier," Shirou replied. "If you like, I can throw together something for you. We already have our portions, and it wouldn't be nice for the remainder to go to waste."
Qrow perked up, his grumpy mood rapidly disappearing even as he readily sat back down. "Well, I guess I can spare a few minutes. If you're offering some of that good stuff, who am I to refuse?"
"Of course, this is also to make sure you don't try to steal another piece and get killed for your effort. Blood is horribly difficult to remove from carpet." Shirou pretended not to notice the small black glyph that sprung to life beneath the Huntsman's seat the moment he said that, nor the way Ruby started unconsciously thumbing the handle of the blade he had given her.
He cleared his own empty plate and stood up, gesturing for Qrow to where he had been seated. "It'll only take a few minutes. In the meantime, you can catch up with Ruby and Yang. I'm guessing it's been a while since you've had a meal together."
Ruby wasted no time latching onto her uncle the instant Shirou gave her the opportunity, while Yang shifted her chair closer to his other side, effectively hemming him in as they peppered him with questions about his recent missions.
He ignoring the chatter from the trio and turned away to give the family their space. As he did, he briefly made eye contact with Weiss who gave him a knowing smile before quickly hiding it, lest her own partner noticed.
Shirou returned one of his own before a vibration from his scroll stopped him in his tracks. He pulled it out to see a new message from Ozpin, calling Shirou to his office at his earliest availability. A continuation of their previous conversation, no doubt.
He sighed. Unlike the Huntsman getting badgered by his nieces, that issue with Ozpin was not one that would go away with just a plate of food.
"Hello, Mr Emiya." Ozpin smiled as Shirou sat down opposite the man. "Thank you for taking the time to see me."
"It's not a problem," he replied. "What is this about?"
Beacon's Headmaster closed the terminal at his desk and put aside the stack of paper that had been in front of him before giving Shirou his entire attention. "I believe the last time you were here, I promised you an explanation."
Shirou remembered all too well, but he did not think that conversation would be so soon, nor would it happen without him needing to be the one to remind the Headmaster about it. It was not an unwelcome turn of events. As much as he suspected his counterpart would yet again try to withhold information, he would learn something if Ozpin was being at least somewhat forthcoming.
"That's correct. You wanted to know about what kind of magic we have, and I assume that besides just familiarising yourself with the world, it is also to see just how different it is from your own. Alright. I shall start with the most fundamental aspect. The age of magic being over is a fact. Aside from me and Salem, there are only six others who possess magic of any sort. Two of them have it only because I granted it to them some years ago, and the other four inherited theirs a different way."
Only eight? In all of Remnant, there were only eight individuals with magic?
'Nine including me.'
Shirou shook his head in mild disbelief. He knew that the number would be small given the limited size of Remnant's population compared to his world, but he did not expect it to be in the single digits.
"Very much so. How familiar are you with the fairy tales, myths and folklore of this world, Mr Emiya?"
Not as much as he would have liked. He had read a few out of curiosity many months prior, mostly in an attempt to understand other aspects of Remnant's culture and history, but there were far too many individual stories in existence for him to have gone through them all.
"I know of a handful. I suppose you're going to tell me that some of them are real."
"Given how quickly you came to that conclusion I can only assume that you have some experience with legends being true. Correct. In this case, the one I'm referring to is the Story of the Seasons. Have you read that one?"
"I have, but only in brief." It was one of the more well-known myths, along with being one of the oldest. He had skimmed through it, noting down only the general outline of the story. "Something about four girls being gifted magic by an old man."
He made the connection at almost the exact moment those words left his mouth. "Those are the other four who can use magic? That story must have been around for centuries. They can't still be alive unless…"
Ozpin was quick to dismiss that idea. "The original four Maidens have departed this world long ago. Their powers, on the other hand, have not."
"Not in the sense you're probably thinking of. The power passes onto the next wielder when the previous dies, whether by natural causes or otherwise. Who that next wielder is, is where things are slightly more complicated. Only young women qualify. If the previous Maiden thinks of someone who fits that criteria in her last moments, it will pass on to that individual without fail. If not, then there are no means of knowing who will inherit the power. A purely random selection from the looks of it."
A power that could easily bounce from one side of the planet to the other should there not be a suitable candidate being thought of. That would make keeping track of the identities of the Maidens manageable at best, and near impossible at worst if it does go to the next person at random.
"What is the criteria exactly? You say young women but that is a very large segment of the population."
"We're not entirely sure, but what was recorded about previous inheritors suggests that the cut off is in the late twenties. As you say, that is indeed a significant part of the population and it means that we try to control who inherits the Maiden powers whenever we can." Ozpin sighed. "It is not an easy process, but it is something that has been done for a long time to ensure that the powers do not go to the wrong person. The damage that can be done if, say, a group like the White Fang got their hands on a Maiden would be catastrophic."
Shirou had yet to get any specifics of magic itself but even without that, there were already plenty of hints he could pick out of Ozpin's words. The severity with which the magic was treated was enough to clue him onto just how powerful it was in comparison to everything else. If it were only on the level of Semblances, Ozpin and his group would not have seen the need to regulate its inheritance.
"Of course, it does not make its wielder all-powerful," Ozpin continued. "It does not grant invulnerability, and they can still be killed like any other person once their Aura is down."
"Does it run on Aura?" Shirou asked. "And also, what exactly can a Maiden do?"
"No, it does not. Aura, or lack thereof, does not enable or hinder the usage of a Maiden's powers in any way. It does, however, require significant concentration and practice due to how easily it is to accidentally use more than intended. And that leads us to your second question. The simple answer is that it is the ability to control the elements. Manipulation of weather. Acts as simple as conjuring fire or moving the dirt to creating a tornado or hailstorm without needing a single grain of Dust. I believe that so long as it is within the scope of nature, the Maidens will be able to replicate it if they so wish and have a suitable level of control."
Shirou closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead with his fingers. The power of the Maidens was beyond his expectations. He did guess they were more than simply creating fireballs or gusts of wind like Ozpin mentioned, but to actually control the forces of nature as and when they wanted while not being constrained by the limits of one's Aura capacity?
It was frightening to think that some young girl in the corner of the world could one day wake up to suddenly find herself in the possession of a power like that, without any idea of how to actually control it. With that fact in mind, it wasn't hard to see why Ozpin would want to have a guarantee of sorts on who the power passed on to.
In many ways, it was a good thing there were only four Maidens and not more. Even a dozen or so running around the world would be enough to cause a multitude of issues, and the less said about any of them somehow falling under Salem's control the better.
'That explains the scent in Mt Glenn. If what Ozpin says is true, then it can't be anything else.'
It was clear that it had been a Maiden. Given what he now knew of them and that which he had experienced in the underground city, there was no doubt about it. Him being able to detect the bird-like thing despite it being a distance away was a strong hint as to how much magical strength a Maiden possessed. Compared to the man sitting just a metre away from him whose residual trace was barely noticeable even with their proximity, that spoke volumes about the inherent power a single Maiden was capable of unleashing.
"So they are not able to do things like creating familiars or constructs that that they can control, talk to animals or even take on their form."
"No. And I am very grateful for that being so," Ozpin replied. "Their power is great enough as it is without any of those abilities."
That ruled out a lot of things. So the bird was not a construct that a Maiden had created to act as her eyes in the abandoned city. Nor was it an actual creature that was being controlled by her. It was not even the Maiden herself in a different form.
Eliminating those options left him in quite the dilemma. The scent of nature was almost certainly that of a Maiden, but he now could not figure out how it could come from a bird without it being the Maiden herself or something she had created.
"Incidentally, what kind of magic did you give those other two? You did not mention anything about them."
"Nothing special compared to the Maidens. Just the ability to shapeshift, and only into one specific form."
"A bird?" Shirou ventured.
Ozpin only answered after several long seconds of silence. "May I ask how you came to that conclusion?"
The Headmaster's clipped tone gave it away. That explained a lot of things, while also raising the question of whether Ozpin was aware he had given a Maiden more magic on top of what she already possessed, or if said person had somehow won Remnant's greatest lottery and received a Maiden's powers afterwards.
"There was a strange bird in Mt Glenn that did not seem to be behaving naturally. When I pointed it out to Qrow he said that he would deal with it," Shirou replied, getting a look of comprehension from the Headmaster.
"I see. As you had guessed, that is indeed one of the two, although she is no longer working with us for personal reasons. But this is unexpected news. Just what could she have wanted that was in Mt Glenn…"
The person was female. That cleared one of the biggest hurdles for them to qualify as a Maiden. Had it been a man, his suspicions would not have held up, forcing him back to square one on that matter.
"This is a lot of information, and while I am grateful that you're sharing all of this with me, what caused the change of heart?" Shirou decided to ask once it was clear Ozpin had already said all he wanted on the Maidens.
Ozpin was about to reach for his mug and stopped at the question.
"What do you mean?"
"I know this was something you promised, but with how careful you were with information the last time, I'm surprised you're telling me this much."
"You're not a very trusting person, are you?" Ozpin asked pointedly.
Funny how Ozpin of all people could say that.
"I would say it's more a case of me being cautious. When it comes to magecraft and its practitioners, most are not what they seem."
The Headmaster laughed. "Well, you won't be wrong to assume that I have an agenda I am working towards. That is certainly true. I can assure you, however, that it is for a good cause that I called you here today." His expression turned serious. "I was careful with information, yes. I make no pretence of being otherwise. I chose to share this with you at this moment because there is indeed something that I wish for you to do in return – something that I would like to seek your help with."
"And what is that?"
"Your magecraft. I know you mentioned that it revolves around the replication of weapons, but is there anything you can do that is able to heal wounds?" Ozpin leaned forward, resting his arms on his desk. He looked Shirou in the eyes, his questioning gaze locking onto him.
Shirou sucked in a breath. He had gone through every weapons in his Reality Marble. There were a scant few that could do what Ozpin was asking for, and most that could were highly limited in their application. Weapons were made to destroy or hurt. To heal was antithesis to their primary function.
"It depends," he answered. "What kind of wounds are you referring to?"
"Mortal wounds." That instantly eliminated almost all that he could think of. "And… perhaps even non-physical ones."
That gave him pause. "What do you mean, non-physical?"
Ozpin clasped his hands and rested his chin on the bridge formed by his fingers. "I am not entirely certain, but due to the method by which the attack was conducted, there is the possibility of damage to the soul."
Shirou winced. His hesitation to speak was noticed all too easily. Ozpin's shoulders slackening as he pushed off his desk to lean back into his chair, his expression one of disappointment. "So such a thing is impossible after all."
"Repairing a soul is practically unheard of," Shirou clarified. From Archer's memories, even the Counter Guardian had never encountered anyone capable of that in all his travels. "And even if it were possible, something like that is beyond the limits of what I can do."
It was like asking a novice magus to perform the Third Magic, a virtually impossible task.
"I understand. We'll cross that bridge if we get to it. What about physical wounds?"
"I actually need to know what kind of wounds exactly we're talking about and the severity before I can give you an answer. I don't have a universal cure."
Ozpin pursed his lips and did not reply for a long moment. "Very well. Come with me. I admit that it wasn't exactly fair to ask you to provide me with an answer without knowing the context and what is at stake."
With Ozpin already heading towards the lift, all Shirou could do was follow. The doors closed and it began its descent. The journey down felt longer than he remembered. Far longer. It was as though they had not stopped at the ground floor but continued on past it, which was very likely the case there. He was drawing a blank with regard to their destination; before that day, he had not known such a location even existed. Chances were, not even the faculty of Beacon knew of it if they weren't in on the secrets Ozpin was keeping.
They reached their destination, a large room deep beneath the CCT tower and Ozpin's office. Shirou kept silent, quietly eyeing the dimly lit corridor that stretched on into the darkness. A scattering of wires stretched across parts of the high ceiling, the walls being largely empty with the exception of the lighting fixtures that illuminated the place. For an area of that size to exist that far below the Academy, its construction would have spanned years, especially if it were done in secret.
"There's not a lot here," he noted.
"We do keep important things on campus, but generally not in here. Once, we used part of this as an archive of our most sensitive documents and other items that happened to fall into Beacon's possession, hence the size. We haven't had need for such space in recent decades once we were able to digitise most records and store them in our offline servers."
A faint light appeared in the distance ahead, gradually brightening as the two men walked closer. A large machine was installed there, a continuous low hum filling the air the most obvious sign of its operation. What caught Shirou off-guard was in fact not the woman whose scarred visage was visible through a transparent panel in one of the large box-like components, but the wave that swept over him when he came within several metres of the machine stopped him dead in his tracks.
The pungent smell of dead plant matter, mixed in with a hint of aromatic smoke, similar to the kind that was released from the burning of fragrant wood.
"A Maiden," Shirou murmured in realisation.
Ozpin bowed his head.
"Yes. Amber is her name, and she is the current Fall Maiden. She was attacked on her travels some time ago," he explained, his tone sombre. "Despite the best that technology can provide, we are only able to prolong her life, and even then for a very limited amount of time. Too many organs have begun the process of shutting down, and she has not responded positively to any of the treatments we tried to provide."
Shirou stepped closer. On closer inspection, the scarring on her face led down her cheek and stopped along the side of her neck, the ends stretching out like a faint spider web across what was once unblemished skin. His finger touched the side of the machine.
"What about the damage to her soul that you mentioned?" He asked, subtly pushing his magecraft to analyse the machine. Given its complexity, he needed time, and continuing their conversation would hopefully buy him enough.
"When she was attacked, part of the Maiden's power was siphoned." Shirou's eyes widened in shock, a sentiment agreed upon by Ozpin who nodded gravely. "It was unprecedented. To our knowledge, never before had such a thing been done. But it did, and now we run the risk of what remains in Amber seeking out the rest of itself once she passes."
"Going to her attacker," Shirou concluded.
"Precisely. We cannot afford to have that happen, and I've searched all the Kingdoms for a means of helping Amber recover. I'm afraid to say that there is no known treatment for wounds of her severity."
Part of Shirou's prana flowed into the woman's body after passing through the machine holding her. He had performed structural analysis on himself but never before on others. It would be a first.
'Most organs unresponsive. Heart and lungs operating at under half capacity. Degeneration of both brain cells and nerves.'
There was no good news. Ozpin had not been inaccurate when he described her condition as mortal, even if was difficult to call them wounds. Rather, it was as though her body was slowly shutting down. Even more disheartening was the realisation that none of the Noble Phantasms he had could fix her ailments. The only one that might be able to was Avalon, but that required a connection to Saber.
There was nothing Emiya Shirou could do to save the Fall Maiden.
Shirou removed his hand from the machine, having already discerned the life support it provided along with the other important function that Ozpin had conveniently left out.
"Were you planning to transfer Aura to Amber to boost her natural recovery process?"
It was the second time that day he managed to catch Ozpin by surprise. "You know what the machine does?" He asked sharply.
"A part of my magecraft lets me analyse objects to learn their properties. When used on machines, I can tell what its components are and sometimes, what it does." No use hiding that now that Ozpin was aware that he had the ability to do so, and neither was Shirou in any mood to play that game after what he observed.
Ozpin exhaled. "Your speculation is incorrect. Aura can't heal the body when the body itself has given up. Just like how Aura can't stop the effects of cellular degeneration due to old age, it doesn't appear to work in cases like these, not that it stopped us from trying. But to answer your question, no, you got it in reverse. We are not trying to transfer Aura to Amber, but rather to transfer what she has left into a suitable new host."
"What?" Shirou asked.
The Headmaster turned to the machine. "We cannot allow her attacker to claim the rest of the Fall Maiden's power when Amber passes on and have it come under the control of one of Salem's followers. In the worst case scenario, we will give what remains of it to another. This is an untested procedure, so there is no guarantee that it would work. That is why I came to you, Mr Emiya. Honestly speaking, I do not wish to use this machine, because doing so means I had already given up on her life. I will explore every chance there is to save her before I resort to this."
"I'm sorry," Shirou said apologetically. "I wish there was more I could do. Her injuries are too severe and it will take someone of much greater ability than I to save her."
The words left a bitter taste in his mouth. No matter how experienced he was with such events, even if he had already accepted that reality, it was never an easy situation to find someone dying and being helpless to save them.
"I see." Ozpin appeared worn, and the faint lines around his eyes seemed to deepen for a moment. He turned to Shirou with a smile. "I know that this is a very unsatisfactory outcome for you, but I am very grateful that you were willing to help."
"I wish I could have helped," Shirou replied.
"So do I, Mr Emiya. But I suppose sometimes things are just not meant to be." Ozpin shook his head. "I thank you for your time. In light of your input, I have some… difficult decisions to make, and people to contact. Perhaps I can answer more of your questions on another day."
Shirou understood what he meant. There was going to be the need to identify someone whom Ozpin felt could be trusted with the power before attempting the transference. It would likely happen soon, since they did not know exactly how much longer Amber could remain alive even with the machine.
With nothing left for him there, Shirou left the chamber with Ozpin, the two parting ways once they got to ground. The issue of the Fall Maiden was still a concern, but he had no say in any further proceedings regarding Amber; there was little he could do except hope that Ozpin could find a suitable successor and that the transfer was a success.
With the Vytal Festival approaching, perhaps there would finally be some peace. It would certainly be nice not to have sudden revelations or life threatening incidents for a change.
Hello again. I am sorry about the long delay, but given my schedule, I had next to no time to write for quite a while. In addition to work, I had started to take evening classes for a Master's programme with expected graduation only in December this year. I only managed to find time in the last month or so, and even then it was difficult to properly get back into the swing of things.
After doing another review of my outline I decided that there needs to be a bit more substantial build up before the Vytal Festival. Setting the scene right, so to speak. I've gone over this chapter several times, but if I do have more time in coming week or so I may revisit this again to see if there are anything else that can be improved on.
For the strategy that Weiss used in the match, I was referencing that one time in Season 2 during the Roman/Paladin fight where she used it on Blake. Something that accelerates the target the way it did is really one very big trump card to have, because generally in a fight, speed is one of the biggest factors that can decide victory. A waste that they never seemed to use it again after that.
Speaking of the show, season 7 was… a bit disappointing for me. Let me qualify that a little. I liked Atlas and Mantle and I think that the information we were given about it is really a goldmine when it comes to world building. What I did not like were some of the decisions a few characters made throughout the season, and the results of a major fight that I still feel the main characters won only because the plot required them to. Also, I really wished they reintroduced Penny in a different manner where her entry would have had a bigger impact on both the characters as well as the scene itself. The execution just felt somewhat lacklustre to me. While these may have been some really glaring areas, I still enjoyed quite a bit of the season, so I guess it's a mixed bag. Some good areas, but also some that could have been done differently.
Not a lot else to say this time, except thank you for continuing to read and follow my story. I really can't guarantee a time when I can finish the next chapter, so all I can say is that I will be trying my best. Writing is fun and something that helps take the stress off so I won't be stopping anytime soon. It's just finding the time to do so that is difficult.
Thanks again, and I wish all of you safety and good health in this time.