Ozpin had to admit that when he finally tracked down the establishment that this mysterious Lancer worked at, a strange restaurant-bar-cafe hybrid called 'Ahnenerbe', he was expecting to find a rather subdued gathering.
After all, one of his students had been kidnapped, and several others had been forced into a hostage situation. They'd also been a part of an actual battle with a group of known terrorists, which was typically a source of some concern for those unaccustomed to such things.
Walking through the door, however, he was met by a scene of congenial chaos.
He was only a few minutes late. Fashionably, or at least dramatically so, he would insist if anyone pressed the issue, rather than admit he'd gotten slightly lost. After all, it was rare that he couldn't find a place in Vale, after having lived there for multiple lifetimes. Still, though, it was quite possible that he'd been told to arrive somewhat later than everyone else, because it seemed the party was in full swing.
Blake, the student that he was most worried about in terms of trauma, was currently moaning, her eyes rolling back into her head in a way that was downright inappropriate for him to even be witnessing.
The reason for this, presumably, was the platter of artfully arranged, colorful hors d'oeuvres that occupied the center of their table. Shirou, wearing a plain brown apron over his usual clothes, stood beside the table bearing a proud grin as his classmates sampled his fare.
Interestingly enough, Nora and Yang seemed uncharacteristically cautious of the food. Ozpin's eyes flicked back over to appraise it once more, and recognized it as a relatively rare Mistralian delicacy – Sushi, he believed it was called.
Still, even those initially wary of consuming raw fish were quickly caving to the pleasantly surprised, delighted, or downright ecstatic expressions of those who had already sampled it.
Ozpin smiled. To all appearances, this was simply a gathering of friends. Truly, the ability of youth to overcome ordeals was extraordinary.
A short distance away, seated at a high table near the bar, Qrow watched the gathered teenagers with fondness as he sipped at a massive mug of beer. Opposite the table, a man wearing a waiter's uniform with dark blue hair was laughing uproariously. Rather unprofessionally, he too had a large drink in front of him.
"Ozpin! Glad you could make it!" Qrow called over to him with a wide smile.
Gods, how rare it was to see him so happy these days.
"Glad to be here," he said with a smile of his own.
"Good evening, Headmaster," Weiss said politely as she straightened up in her seat. The other teenagers offered similar sentiments as he moved to take a seat with the other two adults.
Shirou met them at their table, with a fresh plate of sushi. Ozpin spared a second to give them a more appreciative once-over — even taking into consideration that the boy had special allowance from the school's cooks to use its kitchen, he was still impressed by how professional the food appeared.
"Today's menu is freshly caught fish courtesy of Lancer and Mr. Branwen here, with some assistance by Ms. Belladonna," Shirou said with a small bow. "I hope you enjoy it."
Ozpin nodded his thanks as Qrow burst out laughing. "I tell you, Oz, this kid is great. You ever even seen food like this before?" he asked before popping one of the bite-sized pieces into his mouth with his fingers.
"A few times, yes," Ozpin admitted with a small smile.
Shirou's eyes visibly widened in delighted surprise, and with a muted flash of blue light he presented a pair of thin straight sticks. "Really? It's a dish from my homeland."
Ozpin took the chopsticks and deftly used them to try a piece for himself. "As excellent as your reputation would suggest, Mr. Emiya," he said after a few moments savoring it. "It is interesting, isn't it, how similar different cultures can be?"
He could see that the boy understood what he meant, and Shirou smiled. "It is. I was pleasantly surprised when Ren, Blake, and even Pyrrha all asked for chopsticks as well."
The boy turned to see Ruby waving around an empty plate, backed by several emphatic nods from the others.
"Excuse me for a moment," Shirou said with another bow before smiling back at his friends and heading off towards the kitchen.
"Eh, I prefer the more direct approach," the blue-haired man chuckled, twirling a fork between his fingers before spearing a piece for himself.
"You must be Lancer, then? I've been looking forward to meeting you," Ozpin offered with a polite nod.
"Sure am," Lancer confirmed as he took another huge swig of his beer. "Qrow's told me a bit about you too, actually."
"All good, I hope?"
"Depends on what you consider good," Lancer responded with a wolfish smile, looking the headmaster up and down. His eyes lingered on Ozpin's casual yet firm grasp on his cane. "But in my case, I think so. I've been thinking of being a little more… active, recently. You know, for a while, I actually thought I might just be content trying to live a peaceful life."
Qrow snorted. "Yeah, right. People like us can't live peaceful lives."
Lancer laughed again. "Just something about the thrill of the fight, isn't there?"
Qrow nodded, and Ozpin chuckled as well. "While I'm a bit past those days myself, I understand completely. If you're a friend of Qrow's, you're a friend of mine – and if you're looking for… exciting work, I'm sure I'd be able to help."
It wasn't quite so clear-cut as that, of course, but a small gesture of trust went a long way. Besides, over the years Ozpin had learned that it was wise to keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and those you were unsure of closest of all.
"I think I might just take you up on that, Headmaster," Lancer nodded, then smirked. "Been a bit too long since I've had a decent fight," he said as he nudged Qrow with an elbow.
Qrow laughed at the friendly insult. "I'm going to pretend you're talking about those Grimm the other day and not me. I swear, Oz, you should see this guy fight. It's something else."
"Full of praise today, aren't you Qrow?" Ozpin said, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, he's not wrong on either count. I am pretty good, if I do say so myself, and even I can't deny the kid's a genius in the kitchen," Lancer said as he deftly pierced another piece of sushi.
"Oh? You speak of him with a certain amount of familiarity," Ozpin asked with the perfect amount of idle curiosity.
"Sure, sure," Lancer agreed easily. "We go way back. You know how it is."
He didn't, really. "Of course."
He'd been hoping for a bit more information than that. Was he implying...
Unfortunately, Shirou had returned with a fresh platter of food for his friends and settled down amongst them, so it was probably time for the actual purpose of the meeting.
Lancer obviously was thinking along the same lines, because he stood up and clapped his hands to gather their attention. "So! I'm glad you're all enjoying the food as much as I am, but I invited you all here for a reason, right?"
Weiss cleared her throat, always happy to take on a position of responsibility. "Ahem. Yes, we've put off discussing several rather important matters for a variety of reasons, but now that we're all gathered here we should begin. I was thinking we might start with a general debrief of what exactly happened, considering that some of us didn't get there until after it was over."
Ozpin nodded as he pulled a thermos from his jacket. "An excellent idea, Ms. Schnee. I take it that everyone here is already aware of the broad strokes, but for the sake of completeness… Ms. Belladonna did some independent study, which led her to the scene of a crime in progress. Members of the White Fang were stealing a shipment of SDC Dust, aided by notorious criminal Roman Torchwick and two unidentified accomplices. Thanks to the heroic actions of her teammates, as well as one Ms. Polendina, nobody was injured and many members of the White Fang are now in custody," he summarized as politely as he could. "Does anyone have anything important to add?"
Shirou nodded, a small frown forming. "I haven't brought it up yet, but Pyrrha, did you see the weapon Roman's partner was using?"
Pyrrha's brows furrowed as she concentrated. "It all happened so fast. A dagger, right?"
Blake gasped in recognition even as Shirou shook his head. "Not quite. A kitchen knife."
"You mean… like the one Cardin had?" Ruby asked nervously.
"You're not saying he got loose and is working with Torchwick, are you?" Yang asked.
"Yeah, like Cardin's. Not the same one, though." Shirou looked towards Ozpin.
He took a large gulp of cocoa before steepling his fingers on the table in front of him. "I know you all agreed to keep it a secret, but am I correct in assuming that Team RVBY knows of the matters we discussed in my office?"
"Hah! Shirou was right, the headmaster did expect me to tell them!" Ruby mumbled to Weiss.
Nora's eyes lit up with excitement. "You mean that Shirou is secretly an interdimensional alien warrior from the future who was sent here on a magical quest to save the world by an ancient relic of desire?!"
Qrow, who just so happened to be taking a massive gulp of his drink at that moment, promptly spat it out all over himself and the table.
Oh, right… not everyone had been fully briefed.
Lancer burst out into laughter, as much at Qrow staring sadly down at his now beer-soaked clothing as Nora's statement. "Really, kid? That's what you told them?"
Shirou sighed. "No, it's not."
Ozpin took in Lancer's reaction – amusement, not surprise. Interesting – and just like that, the pieces fell together. "So, you arrived on Remnant alongside Shirou and the Relic, I take it?" he guessed.
Lancer crossed his arms behind his head. "Well, it had to come out eventually, I suppose. Yeah, I hitched a ride on the Grail with the kid."
Qrow made a choking noise. "You're an interdimensional alien? And – so is my niece's teammate? What in the fu–"
"Hey, hey, interdimensional maybe, but definitely not an alien," Lancer protested.
"Arguable," Shirou noted. "You aren't entirely human, after all."
"Shirou!" Blake gasped, hurt clear in her eyes. "Faunus are not aliens!"
"That's not what I meant!" Shirou protested hastily. "Of course not. Lancer's not even a Faunus!"
Her eyes narrowed in confusion, and turned to Lancer. "But he told me…"
"I said I was something close, not that I was one," Lancer said with a smirk. "There's a reason they called me the Hound of Ulster, after all."
"What did you mean, then, Shirou?" Pyrrha asked.
"Well… Lancer is only half-human."
Almost everyone looked to Lancer, the obvious question left unsaid.
Lancer leaned back in his chair, looking smug. "Well, I don't like to brag."
"Liar," Qrow muttered.
"But yeah, the kid's right. I'm a demigod."
The room was silent.
"Do you all not have those here?" Lancer asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Do you mean to tell me that you're half-god?" Ozpin asked incredulously.
Lancer nodded. "Yep. Ireland's Child of Light, son of Lugh, at your service."
"The… God of Light. Is your father."
He nodded again.
Ozpin turned slowly to Qrow, who still looked dumbfounded. "Somehow, your Semblance is to blame for this," he ruthlessly accused.
Qrow slowly brought his mug up to his mouth and silently chugged the rest of his beer. When it was gone, he nodded once, and then wandered off towards the bar.
Ozpin sighed. "Mr. Emiya, how is it that you came to know the son of the God of Light?" he asked politely.
"Oh, uh, he kind of killed me one night when I was at school, for pretty much no reason. But it's okay, because I didn't die."
"I said I was sorry," Lancer grumbled.
"And then he tried to kill me again… but, you know, it always seemed like he was the one who would get killed more often than not."
Everyone continued to stare incredulously, so Shirou nervously chuckled and continued. "Well, eventually he started to work part-time at a fish stand, and they had a really good deal on salmon, so I invited him over for dinner, and he and my guardian got along really well…"
"What?!" Weiss finally yelled, unable to stand it any more, and putting to voice what basically everyone was thinking.
"Why am I even surprised?" Pyrrha asked softly, shaking her head in resignation and rubbing at her temples. "This always happens. Why does this always happen?"
"You know what?" Ozpin asked. "I think this meeting may have gotten a little out of hand. Lancer, I'd be delighted to discuss this further with you at a later point in time."
"Sounds good to me," Lancer agreed, and stood to refill his own glass.
"Maybe a short break would be in order?" Ozpin suggested.
Shirou nodded. "I'll… go make some more food," he said awkwardly, walking purposefully back towards the kitchen.
"Rubes?" Yang asked.
"Your team is weird."
Nora tapped her chin with a finger, staring thoughtfully up at the ceiling. "I'm a little confused."
"I think we all are, Nora," Ren sighed.
"If I'm getting this right…" she continued, "Shirou is frenemies with a demi-dog, which is different from a dog Faunus, and he time-traveled here from his alien planet because his guardian tried to kill him, but the Gods sent Lancer after him so they could continue their eternal duel of friendship across time and space?"
Lancer stared blankly at her for a moment, before once more bursting into uncontrollable guffaws.
Yang patted her gently on the head, making her giggle, and smiled weakly. "Good try, honey."
Ruby shook her head, as if to clear her thoughts, before speaking. "I think the problem is that we keep getting stuck on silly things, like details, and what should and shouldn't be possible," she said slowly.
"And what do you suggest, then?" Weiss asked with a frown.
"It's really simple, if you think about it," she said, building up steam and starting to smile. "Shirou and Lancer are just two people from a faraway place. Shirou's really good at fighting. He also makes awesome cookies." Her cheeks grew slightly pink, but her sincerity didn't waver at all. "He's a really great guy, who's saved all our lives at least once, and he's, umm… kind of friends with Lancer, who is also pretty good at fighting, I guess. And, uhh, that's about it, right?" she trailed off happily.
"Well said," Ozpin acknowledged. "Details… they can often get in the way of what is truly important."
It was nonsense, but he made sure to put some 'mysterious wisdom' into his voice as he said it, and most of the students nodded along hesitantly.
"I just… you know what? Never mind," Weiss said as she threw her hands into the air in exasperation. "Ruby's right. None of this makes sense, and it's not going to make sense no matter how much I try to think about it, so I might as well just accept it."
Before long, Shirou returned with another platter of sushi. He was pleased to see that everyone seemed to have calmed down a bit, even Qrow, although that might have been due to the fact that Lancer had filled his friend's mug with something quite a bit harder than beer judging by the smell.
Noticing Shirou's return, and casually using his chopsticks to maneuver a fresh piece of sushi into his mouth, Ozpin nodded contentedly. "Now, before we got sidetracked, I believe we still had more to discuss regarding the recent robbery."
Pyrrha nodded. "Shirou, is there anything else you can tell us about the owner of the knife? I unfortunately didn't have much time to observe him myself," she finished with a light blush, clearly disappointed in herself.
"The knives… they're tough to read," Shirou admitted. "The purpose of the knife itself kind of overrides whatever else I would usually be able to read off it, considering the owner hasn't really used it for much. All I can tell you is that whoever he is, he really wanted to become a Huntsman, and he's used it to kill a few Grimm. I have no idea how someone like that fell in with Roman's crowd, though."
"Still, more than we had," Ozpin allowed.
"Honestly, it was Roman's other accomplice that worried me more," Shirou said with a frown.
"The one who hid them behind an illusion?" Ruby asked.
Shirou shook his head slowly, concentrating. "No… not quite. I wouldn't call it an illusion – Pyrrha, remember how it shattered when my arrow hit it?"
Pyrrha nodded, frowning. "It fell apart like broken glass."
"Yeah. It was solid, until it broke. Real. It wasn't just an image of them, it was… a copy. A flimsy one, sure, but…" he paused for a moment before Projecting another chopstick and displaying it to the table. "If you look at this, feel it – even if you smelled it, or tasted it I suppose, it would be indistinguishable from normal wood, but it's not. It's just a construct made of prana – or Aura, if you prefer, held into shape until it breaks."
He snapped it, and everyone watched as it dissolved into blue light.
"You're saying… that her Semblance was something like yours," Ren said slowly.
"Yeah, I guess I am," Shirou said with a frown. "I suppose my Projections are more focused on quality, making the recreations as faithful to the original as possible, which makes them a lot more durable. Hers, though, are more versatile, from what I could see."
"That's why you fell for the trick," Ren continued. "Your Semblance lets you analyze weaponry at a glance, but her solid illusions… registered to your senses as the originals?"
Shirou nodded with a grimace. "Until they shattered, they seemed real. Almost like… afterimages? The transition between them and the illusion was seamless, and I didn't even realize it had happened until it shattered, and suddenly they were somewhere else."
"A powerful Semblance," Ozpin mused. "Did you manage to glean any other information about her?" Ozpin asked.
Shirou frowned again. "Yeah, her name is Neo Politan. And as annoying as it is that her Semblance is impossible to see through, what really worries me is what I managed to read off her weapon, Hush. She's good. Better than Roman, by a lot. And… don't let her appearance fool you. She's brutal. She's killed a lot of people."
"To be honest, I probably could have taken down their Bullhead after I saw Blake get pushed out into the water, but… it could have been another illusion. I didn't want to take the shot until I knew for sure she was safe, and by then they were gone," Shirou said, a bit of frustration seeping into his voice.
"I believe you made the right call," Ozpin said. "Even if you had been certain Ms. Belladonna was out of the line of fire, it would have been dangerous to break the deal you had brokered. Mr. Torchwick, while a criminal, still has some code of honor, and to break a truce with him once your terms have been fulfilled would only ensure that in any future engagement, he would have no incentive to make such deals."
"Why did he agree to let me go in the first place?" Blake asked softly.
"For much the same reasons, I would assume," Ozpin explained. "One does not become Vale's most wanted criminal and remain free as long as he has without some amount of intelligence. An encounter that ends with all of my students safe and him still at large is, if not perfect, an acceptable outcome." His eyes narrowed slightly. "He knows that had he caused any lasting harm, or if he had kept a hostage, there would be nothing that could save him from Beacon's wrath – nor my own."
"Just simple self-preservation, then… Yeah. That fits with the sense I got from his weapon," Shirou agreed. "Well, that's all I have for now, I suppose."
"Very well, then." Ozpin took a moment to meet each student's eyes in turn, taking a deep breath. "Students. I would be remiss in my duties as Headmaster if I did not point out that your actions were exceedingly reckless, and quite dangerous. The teachers at Beacon are here to support you, and you should have come to us rather than attempt to take this on yourselves."
He paused just long enough for his words to sink in, allowing their collective nervousness to grow. He waited until some of them began to start fidgeting before he cracked a small smile and allowed the aura of strictness to evaporate.
"That said, however, I've always preferred to leave punishments to Glynda. Well done. I see within all of you the mark of true Huntsmen and Huntresses. Impressive intelligence gathering. The drive to protect your friends, and all of Vale. Skill enough to combat a professional-level enemy, and come out none the worse for wear. Well done indeed."
Smiles were growing, now, all the more relieved for having replaced the fear of punishment. Ruby let out a small cheer, and even Blake was grinning shyly.
"In fact… thanks to your teams exposing this crime, new information has come to light that I find quite worrying. It appears that this attack, and the recent string of robberies beforehand, may not have been motivated by simple greed."
He leaned forward slightly, ensuring that he had all of them hooked on his every word. "I believe that there may be more at stake here than just Dust. Vale's Most Wanted working with the White Fang? Military hardware to support a simple robbery? No stolen Dust resurfacing at all? No, something is going on here, and I intend to get to the bottom of it. However…"
He glanced once more at the rapt faces of the children around him. "My teachers have precious little free time to investigate such matters. I have my suspicions as to what is going on here, but I need people I can trust to fully confirm them."
Well, that was bending the truth a little. He was suspicious, of course, but he had no real guesses as to what was actually happening. Millennia spent alive had finally taught him not to make frivolous assumptions. Still, he was sure that something was afoot, and he had long since learned that appearing to hold all the cards instilled a certain amount of trust.
And, indeed, he was already having an effect. Ruby's eyes were practically sparkling in anticipation. Shirou had settled into a look of intense determination. Nora seemed fairly excited at the prospect of future violence, if he was reading her right, and Blake's expression had lit up at the mention of the White Fang. Still, though, it would not do to make them feel too secure.
"Of course, such trust is not to be handed out lightly. If you all accept my proposal, I will need your solemn word that there will be no repeats of recent events. I will expect a clear line of communication at all times, if you are active in the field – no more rushing into dangerous scenarios without ample backup, and certainly not without notifying me beforehand."
Ruby leaned forwards over the table. "You can count on us," she declared.
Not for the first time, he felt vindicated in assigning the fifteen-year-old to be the leader of her team. The easy confidence and certainty in her voice, and the way her simple words seemed to resonate amongst her peers – Ozpin had met seasoned politicians with only a fraction of Ruby's raw charisma.
"I do believe I can," he agreed with a smile, ignoring the conflicted expression that flashed across Qrow's features for a moment.
"Remind me again why you insisted on coming with me?" Blake asked with a sigh.
"Remind me again what happened last time I let you wander off into Vale alone?" Yang countered easily with a teasing smile, walking side by side with her partner through Vale's commercial district. "Besides, Ozpin just told us yesterday that we always needed to have backup."
"Great," Blake huffed. "So now I have to have an escort every time I go to meet with a friend in town."
Yang laughed. "I might just continue to grace you with my presence for a while, yes."
Blake shook her head, but she couldn't hide the hint of a small smile.
"I don't mind the company, really," Blake admitted after a moment. "But… well, would you mind if I talked to my friend alone for a bit? It's kind of personal."
"Ooh? Personal, eh?" Yang pounced, her grin widening. "And here I thought this was just a business meeting."
"It is!" Blake protested, her pale cheeks reddening slightly. "Just… personal business."
Yang paused, confused. "Wait, are we still talking about what Ozpin asked us to do? I thought you said this guy was kind of your informant."
Blake nodded. "Yeah, that too. But, well, I also have some more personal stuff to talk with him about, and this is probably my last chance to do it."
Yang's smile returned with a vengeance, and she shot her partner an exaggerated wink. "Gotcha."
"I really doubt that you do," Blake muttered. "Well, here we are," she said as they approached a storefront with large glass windows.
Tukson's Book Trade: Home to Every Book Under the Sun.
The bell above the door tinkled as she pushed it open and stepped inside, just in time to hear–
"It's false advertising!"
Tukson, standing behind his counter, visibly perked up as he saw Blake and Yang enter the store, the blonde peering around curiously – and Blake narrowing her eyes suspiciously at his other two customers.
"Oh, Blake! Good to see you. I'll be with you in a moment," the owner called over.
"Is something wrong?" Blake asked cautiously, eying the two strangers.
Closest to the door was a tall boy, a little older than her, wearing a lightly armored combat suit the same shade of grey as his hair. Leaning over the counter, a girl with light green hair and dark skin turned to smile at them, revealing her bright red eyes. Her rather revealing outfit, brown leather pants and a white and olive top, was complimented by a pair of weapons holstered at the small of her back.
There was no mistaking that style of dress. Huntsmen, or at least students.
"Oh, no, not at all," the girl explained with a laugh. "We were just a little disappointed with the selection here, is all."
"I've never found any problems with it," Blake frowned.
"Ah, well, it's not a big deal," the boy in grey said with a wave of his hand. "I'm more interested in the comics section anyways."
Yang snorted, walking over to peruse the comics as well. "Heh, me too. So, you two must be here for the festival?"
The two foreign students shot each other a quick glance, before the boy's eyes flicked back and gave Yang a slower once-over. He slowly broke out into a cocky grin. "Sure are. Is this a first look at my competition?"
Yang matched him with an identical appraisal and smirk, placing her hands on her hips and pushing her chest out a little further. "This is your first look at the champion," she boasted.
The boy raised an eyebrow, drawing himself up as well. "Oh? Can't wait to see you back that up in the ring, hot stuff," he retorted with a wink.
"Ugh, Mercury. Please stop embarrassing me," the green-haired girl spoke up again. She turned back to Blake with a wry smile. "You're a regular customer here then, I take it? I didn't mean to offend – it just reminded me of my favorite shop back home, but it is a little smaller, so I suppose it can't be helped that it might not have as many books as I'm used to."
Blake's expression softened a little at that. "Ah… yes. Sorry, I can be a little defensive of the places I like. And I'm sorry about my partner, as well – she's just full of hot air," she said as she looked over to where Yang and Mercury were still posturing at each other.
The girl laughed again. "Mine's the same way. I'm Emerald, by the way. We're from Haven."
"I'm Blake, and that's Yang," she replied. "Will we be seeing you around Beacon, then?"
"We'll be moving in soon," Emerald confirmed. "We should probably be going, anyways – we just wanted to do a little sightseeing before we settled in. Nice to meet you! Come on, Mercury," she said as she walked towards the door.
"Heh. See you around, Yang," the boy said with a little wave before turning and sauntering after his partner.
"They seemed nice," Yang said as her eyes lingered on Mercury's retreating backside, the door swinging shut behind them.
"Hmm," Tukson grumbled in response, almost a growl.
"This is why I don't bring you places," Blake said flatly.
"Hey, it's not every day a guy can keep up with me when I'm flirting," Yang replied without a hint of remorse.
Blake didn't deign to respond. "Tukson, this is my partner, Yang."
"A pleasure," he said curtly, before sighing. "Sorry, I'm still a little on edge. Those two gave me a weird feeling — I'm glad to see you, really. So, you must be here about your book?"
Blake flinched, drawing Yang's eye. "Hmm? What book?"
"Nothing!" Blake answered far too swiftly. "Uh, we can talk about that later. I was actually here about the docks…"
Tukson sighed, a mixture of sadness and frustration. "I heard about that on the news. You…"
"You were right," Blake cut him off. "It was reckless, and I shouldn't have tried to handle it by myself. I've… heard it all, believe me."
Tukson blinked. "Well, that's good, then. I'm glad you made it out alright."
He sighed again.
"Well, we talked about it with the headmaster, and because it's important, he agreed to let us keep looking into it as long as we do it responsibly," she finished with a hopeful smile.
"Of course he did," Tukson grumbled.
"So, will you help us?"
He glanced at Yang, who gave him a small wave.
"She can be trusted, I promise."
"You're not the first shady information dealer I've worked with," Yang chimed in with a wink and a wide smile, miming closing a zipper over her mouth.
"I'll tell you what I can," he said slowly, "but this will have to be the last time. My fake papers came through early once my guy heard that the heat was turning up — I've got my bags packed and a ticket out of Vale for tonight."
Blake smiled sadly. "I'll miss you, but I'm glad."
"I'll miss you too, kid. And the shop. It's not much, but it's… it was home."
"So… what can you tell us about the White Fang, and Torchwick?"
He grimaced. "You're probably not going to like this. Torchwick…"
Blake's eyes narrowed.
"Well, he's the guy who's been helping me get out."
"Wait, listen," he stopped her, raising his hands defensively. "He approached me — he figured out I was trying to leave, and he didn't rat me out to the Fang. He offered to help, no strings attached."
"Helping people out of the goodness of his heart doesn't seem like his usual style," Yang noted as she crossed her arms.
"I know. I tried to figure out what his angle was… and I think he's using me as a test."
"A test for what?" Blake asked.
Tukson sighed again. "To see whether getting out is possible, I think. If he was loyal to the White Fang, he would have just turned me over — hell, he could have done that anyways just as a way to build trust with them. But he didn't — and when I met him, he mentioned his 'employer' a few times."
"He's not the head of the snake…" Blake murmured in understanding.
Tukson nodded. "Someone else is forcing him to work with them — and I'm pretty sure the same is true in reverse. Someone powerful enough to control Torchwick and the White Fang."
Yang let out a slow whistle. "And even Vale's best thief isn't sure if he could get away clean? That's… serious."
"And you're just going along with it? Even though it might not work? Even though he's using you as some kind of guinea pig?" Blake asked with a hint of accusation.
"I don't really have a choice, Blake," he said tiredly.
"So, how does this help us?" Yang asked. "We still don't know what they're planning, or why they needed all that Dust."
"No, it's definitely useful…" Blake mused as she organized her thoughts. "They aren't working together because they want to be, and Roman is looking for a way out… we can play them off each other. And if he gets a chance to cut and run, he probably will."
"Hmm, I guess. And I guess we know that we still have to be on the lookout for someone else, whoever's pulling the strings?"
"And, if whoever that is is controlling them through fear, if we can prove that we're the more dangerous group, they might defect as well," Blake continued excitedly.
"...Alright, well, that might be a little extreme," Yang said with a chuckle.
Blake blushed. "It's worth keeping in mind."
"Agreed." Yang turned back to Tukson. "Anything else you can offer us?"
He shook his head slowly. "I've been a little out of the loop for a while," he admitted, "But… there is a rally soon. Rumor has it there's going to be an important speaker – if you can get inside, it might be a good way to learn more. I'll tell you where and when – if you promise me that you'll do it safely, with plenty of backup in case things go wrong."
The two girls shared a quick grin. "Lay it on us, chief," Yang said, cracking her knuckles.
The burly Faunus pulled out a sheet of paper, scrawling a quick address and date, and then reached beneath the counter to produce a binder that he put the paper inside of. "Here. And before I forget, this is all the paperwork for your book, plus a first edition proof-of-concept," he said with a smile as he tapped the cover of the binder with a smile. "Should hit the shelves in a couple months. You'll just need to be in contact with the publisher about an account to wire the profits to."
Blakes eyes lit up, as did her cheeks. "Thank you! Thank you so much!" she exclaimed as she grabbed the binder and hugged it to her chest.
"Not a problem."
"Blake, look, a sushi stand!" Yang suddenly yelled, pointing towards the windows.
"What? Where?" Blake asked, spinning towards the street before her mind even realized what her body was doing.
"Yoink!" Yang said happily as she snatched the binder out of her distracted partner's hands. She wasted no time in cracking it open and finding the book within. "The Sword of Love…?"
"Yang! Give that back!" Blake shrieked, desperately lunging for it as Yang neatly pirhouetted out of the way.
"By Ebony Nightshade?" Yang chortled as she turned and sprinted out of the store, still holding the book out in front of her.
"Yaaaaang!" Blake paused for just a moment in her pursuit to turn back to Tukson, who was smiling at them fondly. "Umm, thank you again for all your help! I promise I'll make things right! Good luck!" She hesitated, clearly wanting to chase after her partner.
"Go on, then," Tukson said with a wave, and in an instant the girl was out the door and sprinting down the street.
He walked far more sedately after her, sparing one last look through the windows at their swiftly shrinking forms, before he flipped the sign on his door from 'open' to 'closed.'
"Good luck to you too, kid. Stay safe."
As always, apologies for the wait. This was a very dialogue heavy chapter, which is always more time consuming to write than more fast-paced action scenes for me. Y'all know how it is, work and stuff.
As for chapter stuff, Neo has a really interesting Semblance, and there's a lot of divisiveness on how it works. Lots of people say illusions, lots say there's a teleportation aspect involved… the way I'm choosing to interpret it is as hard illusions, which clearly Neo has experimented enough with to be able to replicate invisibility. Aside from being able to use it to change hair color and project illusory (but still solid) clothing, her most common use of it appears to be projecting forward an illusory solid afterimage of herself as her true self splits off from the copy invisibly – almost splitting into two, in essence, until when the afterimage is destroyed and she reappears somewhere else it almost appears like she teleported.
Also, several reviewers have mentioned that a lot of things seem to still be happening the same as in canon – I'm admittedly, and obviously, still using a lot of canon scenes as inspiration for plot progression, but mostly for scenes that have no reason to have been butterfly effect'ed away. Hopefully it's still clear how subtle changes are building up – Ozpin has recognized extraordinary growth in his students and rather than, for example, slightly bending the rules so a first year team can take a mission reserved for higher years while still making comments to Glynda about how kids deserve to be kids for as long as they can, has admitted that he's going to accelerate his schedule and start bending rules far more overtly, which also allows him to keep a much tighter handle on their shenanigans, as one example of subtle changes I touched on in this chapter. I'm also trying to provide more reasonable explanations for how the gang always seems to end up in the right place at the right time, in this case through the use of intermediary characters like Tukson – and if that allows me to save his life in the process, all the better. Other changes should keep coming up as the story progresses.
And, as always, thank you all so much for continuing to read, and I hope you enjoy! I really appreciate all reviews and private messages!