Last chapter of the year as I'll have my week off from 24th – 30th. It's relatively good timing as well, as it's the last chapter of this story. That's right. Null ends here, and the new story will replace it on the date at the bottom. It's going to be a comedy, while a serious story will probably replace Headmaster Arc when that ends in January. I know what I plan to write, but I'm also aware I haven't included it on my profile.
I'll post a small teaser of it at the bottom.
Merry Christmas to you all anyway!
Cover Art: Serox
Their clash shook the ground around them.
Ironwood's cybernetic arm almost ripped Jaune's from his socket. Jaune twisted, pushed his aura to the fore to block the devastating blow and gritted his teeth as bones creaked. Ignoring the hard metal half of the soldier's body he stabbed out for his good shoulder, Semblance flaring to life at the last second.
To his surprise, the blade sank home. Punched through flesh.
A hammer clicked by his ear.
Null was released at the last possible nanosecond. The sensation of being shot at point blank range was a horrific one. The bullet hit his head and flattened on his aura, but that didn't mean the momentum, the impact, didn't transfer through. It was like being struck with a sledgehammer. Jaune's entire world spun and he hit the floor gasping and dizzy.
General Ironwood reached up and wrenched Mors out his shoulder, tossing the bloodstained weapon away and marching inexorably forward. He'd let it hit, let Jaune strike true knowing that once the blade was stuck, he could disarm his opponent. No normal person would do that so casually, there'd be some doubt, some desire to avoid the pain.
Mettle let Ironwood trade his body like currency.
It also let him keep coming – keep fighting. The man's gun fired again and Jaune rolled away, dodging by fractions of a second. He jumped onto his feet only to catch a powerful kick and be launched back into one of Beacon's pillars. Jaune's head cracked back. He fought through the urge to close his eyes and cry out, and that let him see Ironwood take merciless aim and open fire. Dragging himself behind the solid stone construction, he paused to catch his breath.
He was right to say his Semblance made him a machine. He's like one of Chivalric's robots; coming and coming no matter what damage I do to him. Jaune thumbed through his pockets. Mors had been discarded from his first attack, leaving him with little more than his spare ammunition and a pocket knife Roman had suggested he carry.
Acting like a machine or not, Ironwood was still human. He could bleed and he could die.
The rain of bullets kept coming, slowly punching through stone until one penetrated and sailed over his head. Evidently, he wasn't prepared to come close and give up his advantage now that Jaune was lacking a gun. Ironwood wasn't going to talk like Ozpin or make a show of it like Cinder. He was a stone cold killer like this.
Just like he was…
Perhaps he could have trusted the man in another life. Maybe he should have in this one. Their deal for the release of his captured Specialist had been kept, their arrangement secure. Ironwood had stayed out while he killed Fields, and kept his battleship and soldiers far, far away. It was good to know at least one person could be trusted. It was only a shame they'd both come too far to let the other walk away.
"Either way," he whispered. "One of us is dying here. General Ironwood or Null."
That wasn't a frightening prospect anymore. His family was safe; Fields was dead; his work was done. The only thing that remained was to bring all this to an end. Picking out a pair of spare explosive dust rounds, Jaune popped the capsule open between his finger and thumb. Dust trickled slowly out.
The target continued to hide. Ironwood reloaded his weapon, slipping in each round individually. The noise was enough that it would sound as an opportunity to his opponent, and sure enough Arc came charging out from behind cover, hands clenched into fists.
Dropping his weapon, Ironwood drew a second and fired twice – both aimed for the boy's left kneecap. The force didn't puncture his aura, but it was still a localised impact that made him stumble. Cold eyes tracked the desperate attack. No weapon. Still an enemy. Ironwood threw up his cybernetic hand to block the attack, knowing that with his aura being susceptible to failure the natural armour of a steel cybernetic would be his best defence.
Null didn't activate his Semblance. The boy's palm slapped into the wrist of his metallic hand, clapping sharply against metal. There was no immediate reaction and certainly not one Ironwood felt through uncaring metal. He could see it, however. The sudden flare of red and burst of fire ripping out between Arc's hand and his cybernetic wrist.
Dust. Arc was seeking to use dust as a weapon, something he could block with his aura to protect himself. He'd also evidently realised that Ironwood could not. Aura travelled through his body and could protect his squishy skin and organs, but his cybernetic arm was just a prosthetic. It didn't carry aura well. If it had, he'd have people hooked up to Bullheads transferring their aura through the hulls to make living aircraft.
Or he would he if his softer self wasn't so pathetically weak.
Sacrifices must be made for the greater good. With aircraft hosting aura, Atlas would be able to spread its wisdom across the world.
Of course, those cruelly installed and affixed to those machines would suffer terribly. Their lives would be connected to metal, their ability to travel beyond the confines of a Bullhead lost forever, along with any hope of living a normal life or having a family.
It was for that reason that he'd first considered the use of forgettable individuals for that role. People with less to live for. Prisoners, the court martialled and even children who were not adopted from orphanages. Those who would already suffer in the uncaring world that Remnant could be.
The plan would have been feasible but had been angrily thrown away by his weaker side, like so many other wonderful ideas. It was a shame, but perhaps human weakness like that would always hold the Kingdoms back.
Even as he considered all that, he noted the damage to his hand – wiring was exposed, and steel was damaged. His arm sparked and the range of movement would be impacted. It was still within acceptable parameters. Ironwood's other hand – human, usually weaker, but not now – snapped around Arc's throat, finger and thumb digging in on either side of his windpipe to crush it in one go.
Sadly, Arc had no interest in activating Null and facilitating that. Aura held him back and Ironwood sighed, looking at the choking and panicked teenager dispassionately, before pressing the barrel of his gun to the boy's stomach and unleashing eight rounds at point blank range.
"Arghhhh!" Arc screamed.
Aura could be broken through. Given enough time and effort, anything could be broken. Mountains, fortifications, people. Ironwood had gained much from captured members of the White Fang, breaking them either through physical or psychological torture. There had been a soldier once who told him that was evil and attempted to free one of the faunus. Ironwood could still remember executing him and blaming it on the faunus in question. When his Semblance was not active, the memory of that sometimes haunted his dreams.
Ridiculous. The decision had been the correct one. The best one for his country. Naturally, what happened in times of war was to stay in it. As it should here, as he continued to pull the trigger, driving every bullet into Arc's stomach until the boy vomited blood all over his hand. Ruptured stomach lining from blunt trauma. This one had rather large aura reserves. He could have made an effective huntsman.
Pausing with one round left in the gun, Ironwood pushed Arc down flat and brought the barrel to rest under his chin, keeping it there as he squeezed tighter on the boy's neck.
Chivalric Arms hadn't thought clearly on how to kill him. No one had. You didn't need to work around his Semblance or find some trick to it. You just had to put him in a situation where he could not safely use it. If he tried now, the last round would pierce up into his brain and kill him. Arc knew that. He also knew that without said Semblance, the boy was less than a huntsman. No better than a White Fang thug.
Ironwood had killed plenty of those, back before he was General Ironwood. He'd even made a name for himself rooting out White Fang attempting to hide among faunus communities, often by threatening – and carrying through – on harming the civilians. His weaker self still woke up crying about that some days, clutching his head and whispering apologies to dead faunus.
Arc's eyes flashed with multitudes of colour. Ironwood felt his Semblance slam away, but before it did his mind sent one command. Pull the trigger. Pull the trigger and kill Jaune Arc.
The General looked down on a young boy pinned to the floor, choking with a gun under his chin. James flinched as images he'd wished would stay forgotten forever flashing through his mind. Human again, he hesitated.
A knife dug into his bicep, piercing aura and skin and drawing a grunt from him. His muscles loosened and Jaune rolled free, coughing and hacking, flicking off his Semblance as James fired late, the shot bouncing off aura. With the departure of Null, so too came the return of Mettle. Ironwood rose, disappointed with himself. Victory had been right within his grasp and he'd wasted it.
"Y-You weren't kidding," Jaune Arc wasted time by saying. "You really do become a monster like that."
Talk in battle was a sin, or so Ironwood had heard it said. There was something else in battle that was problematic, however. Reloading. He rose and slid a fresh cartridge into the magazine, hiding the action in reaching up to pull the knife out his arm. He spoke not because Arc needed to hear words, but because the movement of his lips would draw the eye away from his actions.
"From my point of view, the monster is what I am without Mettle. A weak, snivelling and slothful monster willing to put his Kingdom at risk for something as reckless as justice. I should have killed Winter the moment she was captured. I should never have made a deal with you."
"You'd kill your own ally?"
"A soldier's job is to die for their country. A good soldier would understand, something my other self appears to have forgotten. By making a deal with you, I've set Atlas back decades, even centuries. And for what?"
"Justice is what the powerful decide it is."
General Ironwood brought his gun up, done with the conversation. His foe backed up, clearly exhausted from his prior combat with Ozpin. Such a shame the man was dead and gone now, especially with the incredible potential he'd found in the youngest Arc female.
I will have to continue his plans once this one is gone. If she can truly cancel out magic, she will be a perfect weapon to deal with Salem. Ozpin's original plan of spurring her to act by framing Salem for her brother's death would no longer work. Threats should suffice. If I were to capture her family and threaten them with death if she does not comply, that will do it. Though I may have to kill one or two of them to prove my point.
That was fine. Several were expendable. Those with less useful Semblances. He even had Saphron and Terra under his control already. No one would question what happened to them if he said they met an unfortunate end.
Sweeping in, Ironwood batted Arc's clumsy defences open and drove a boot into the inside of his knee, breaking the bone with an agonising snap and a wail. The boy crumpled down to his knees, face wrought with agony. He could make it less painful by activating his Semblance and accepting a bullet. His fault for opting for this to be the way it was.
Ironwood's fun pressed into his face.
Arc looked up hatefully.
"I… I can't believe there's something with a more sickening Semblance than mine…" he whispered. "If I was rested, I'd have beaten you."
"If you were rested, I would not have challenged you," Ironwood pointed out. "Such is basic strategy." He drew the hammer back, finger squeezing the trigger. "You never had a chance of beating me."
"Maybe not." Jaune admitted in an agonised voice. "But I can kill you, Mettle."
Mettle felt the tiniest amount of shock and fear – the first it ever had. It tried to fire, but the very second Null flared to life, it was stricken from General Ironwood's mind once again.
Calm descended, along with pain, compassion, doubt and all the other things that made him human. As always, James remembered everything. Every last disturbing thought and plan that had crossed his mind under the influence of that disturbing Semblance. He looked down on Jaune Arc, tired, broken and defeated on the floor, looking up with eyes swirling gold, purple and green, aura gone, vulnerable.
"You're not the only one with a Semblance you despise," James said.
"I know…" Jaune's voice was croaky and hoarse. His breath was laboured, and he slumped back, keeping his Semblance activated even though it left him completely defenceless. "Well?" he hissed. "Aren't you going to do it?"
Free from Mettle, James could feel the weight of his actions once more. Even so, he didn't lower the gun. Mettle wasn't always wrong. It was cruel and uncaring, but often correct in its deductions.
This was one such time.
"You can't be allowed to live, Jaune. You know that. Your Semblance is too dangerous. Atlas would hunt you down forever. Other Kingdoms would if they found out about you. Aura is a part of life for everyone on Remnant. It would be for the best if Null faded into nothingness."
The boy laughed. "Agreed. Do you intend to follow my side of the deal…?"
General James Ironwood nodded. "Your family's records have been falsified. They all have a water-based Semblance inherited from your mother. Not one showed potential to develop the Null gene, which will die with you. They are safe, Arc. I have personally ensured it."
Tired, spent, accepting, Jaune Arc laid on his back. Soldiers had begun to arrive, and even the students of Beacon were emerging, Glynda Goodwitch coming around the side of the building alongside Winter Schnee. The young man closed his eyes, sighed once and let his aura go. Maybe it was better this way. Null was something – someone – who should have never existed.
That it had at all was a tragedy, but he couldn't say he regretted it. The girls were safe. His parents were avenged. With that done, there was no point for it to continue to exist. It only brought pain.
A single gunshot echoed through the night.
Two months seemed to pass in the blink of an eye.
The Vytal Festival had gone ahead despite the pall that had fallen over the city of Vale. Mistral won, though there wasn't much celebration on any side. Beacon had lost its headmaster and the city mourned him, never knowing the things he'd done. It would also be the first time Beacon truly had to survive on its own, bereft of the guidance of a man who had showed no sign of reincarnation.
James had kept abs on that, and also on the White Fang, who returned to Menagerie. Of course Atlas had spies there, though he made sure they never threatened the Arc family. He'd heard reports from a distance of a grand funeral, of the Arc siblings in attendance alongside Adam Taurus and other known members of the White Fang. That report, he'd stricken from the record. James recalled his spies.
The family deserved peace.
There were others he kept track of as well, Team RWBY, now active in Shade Academy and, from the reports from its headmaster, making fresh trouble and firm friends. Miss Rose appeared to be doing well away from the traumatic memories of her near death experience, and the more relaxed atmosphere of Vacuo was helping them deal with their issues.
Beacon and Atlas were continuing as normal – albeit with his help offered to Glynda, the new headmistress, in her time of need. More surprising was the silence from Salem. With the Relic of Choice forever locked away and the Fall Maiden gone from the world, there was no hope of her collecting all of either, and Cinder's death must have slowed her even further. Perhaps she had also realised what happened to Ozpin, his final death, and she was deeply afraid of it.
That wouldn't last, both he and Glynda knew that. In time, she would return, and humanity would have to face her once more. That wasn't such a doomed prospect even with Ozpin gone. The old wizard had been robbed of his power, all but reduced to a man guiding humanity from the shadows. Even with him gone, that would continue. The academies would grow stronger and there would always be brave huntsmen and huntresses ready to stand their ground.
The Kingdoms would be ready, no matter what Salem brought.
Atlas was already becoming a part of that.
"And you, General Ironwood," a Councillor said angrily. "Do you know nothing of this recent attack? This is the third Chivalric Arms facility that has been attacked this month. I find it hard to believe you have no leads!"
"I have leads, councillor. As I've said, I believe it to be the White Fang's doing. They knew from Null what Chivalric Arms were working on. It only makes sense they would continue to target the company."
"You don't think it's him, do you?" someone asked nervously.
"Don't be ridiculous!" Sol snapped, slamming his hand on the table. "General Ironwood killed Null. We all saw the footage, not to mention numerous witnesses of his final moments."
"The attacks have been so sudden, though. So brutal. In and out with no one able to find the one responsible. D-Did you see the body of Chivalric's new CEO? His blood painted a message on the wall."
Making the same mistakes, I see.
A simple message, but very meaningful. It was above the man's body and also above substantial evidence that despite all assurances, Chivalric Arms was still meddling with genetics and human experimentation. Ironwood didn't feel too upset about the newest CEO's demise.
"It's a copycat killer," James said dismissively. Several of the military representatives nodded, including Sol. "They're mimicking his vendetta quite literally to trick you into thinking it's him and causing panic."
"Exactly." Sol said. "It's nothing more than a ruse to sow fear. Calm down. Jaune Arc is dead. Gone. His execution was almost livestreamed, for crying out loud."
"It would have been if the transmitting function hadn't failed. We're lucky there!"
Lucky. Yes, James would let them believe that. In truth, Amber's Semblance had deactivated the device and, like any tool turned off and on again, reset it. The video had still recorded, but it no longer had the instruction or means to transmit it. Still, it had proven useful as evidence that the deed had been done. Jaune Arc died at the age of seventeen, a young man cruelly ripped away from the world by the avarice and pride of those who should have known better.
"Is there nothing to report, General?"
Ironwood stood and cleared his throat. "I'm afraid not. Chivalric Arms are still… reluctant to let my men add to their security detail." He let that sink in, several members looking away nervously. Ironwood memorised the faces of each and every one of them. "As such, all I can do is scramble to respond to the attacks when and where they happen. Naturally, that means I'm late to the party. If Chivalric would open their doors to us, I might do more…"
"Chivalric Arms is confident in our own ability to deal with the problem." The representative who spoke did so nervously, sweat dripping down his face. It should have been the current CEO in attendance, but he was busy laying in a morgue. "T-The Council of Atlas should not concern itself with these matters. We are capable of dealing with the ones behind this."
"Well that's good to hear," Ironwood said. "I have an important conference this evening with the Council of Vale. I don't want to take too long here. Is there anything else the Council needs me for?"
"Nothing." Sol said. "Your meeting is to accept a medal of valour from Vale is it not? A deserved award for helping rid them of the menace that was Null. Represent Atlas with pride, General."
Ironwood saluted. "Don't worry. I always do."
Former Admiral Sol looked up from his desk as he heard the door to his home open. It was late in the evening; night having fallen over Atlas. His hand reached under the desk, finding comfort in the firearm stashed beneath. Even if he had retired, old habits remained. Once a soldier, always a soldier.
The door opened and Sol was only marginally surprised to see General James Ironwood enter alone. Sol regarded him with a nod, showing no fear. He signed his final form, slipped it aside and linked both hands atop his desk, making sure the other man could see them at all times.
"James. To what do I owe this rather… sudden meeting?"
James pulled out the seat opposite him. The wood creaked and strained as he sat, flexing under his weight. Sol poured him a glass of brandy, but the man didn't reach out to take it.
"I came to talk."
"It's rather late," Sol pointed out. "You could have come to me during working hours. It's nearly eleven." His knee brushed up against the firearm, securing it in place. "You'll forgive me for wondering just what this is all about. You're not normally one to skulk in the shadows."
"I used to be."
"When you were still using Mettle, yes." It wasn't active now, that much Sol could tell. "You were different back then. Driven, merciless, efficient. Cold. I was relieved when you lifted it, but there are times when I can't help but think you went too far in the opposite direction."
"The Null incident could have been dealt with quicker if I relief on it," James admitted ruefully. "It was difficult, however. I hate what it makes me."
Sol honestly could not blame him. As Semblances went, one that altered your mind had to be cause for panic. Even if it was still you, it was a different you. It was no different than being trapped inside your own body while someone else pulled the strings.
"The Null situation." Sol whispered. "Yes. I'm pleased that is over, as is most of Remnant, but I do wish you had kept the body."
"That body caused too much pain and bloodshed, Sol. Better it's gone."
"On that we will have to disagree. The blood was already shed. The true waste is in the fact we now having nothing to show for all that death and destruction."
"Is that Admiral Sol speaking, or Non-Exec Director Sol of Chivalric Arms?"
Sol stilled. "So, you've heard."
"That you accepted a position on CA's board after Fields' death? Yes. Did you think I wouldn't be keeping tabs on them?"
"I knew you would, James. You're efficient like that, even without Mettle. Either way, I'm retired from the military. You'll forgive an old man wanting to try something new. I've heard the world of business can be just as ruthless."
Sol picked up his own brandy and sipped at it, wondering if Ironwood thought his own was somehow drugged or if he just wasn't thirsty. The lack of movement was somewhat unnerving.
"My position came after Chivalric Arms' worser decisions were brought to light," Sol continued. "It was hoped that bringing someone from the military in would help shape things up. Bring in some discipline. It would also be a sign to those worried about further actions by Chivalric that the Council of Atlas is watching closely."
"Not closely enough. Chivalric is continuing their research."
"Oh James." Sol sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose and then letting that hand fall slowly to his lap. "They never stopped. You have to have figured that out by now. The rabbit hold goes deeper than any of us could have imagined. Their faunus sterilisation plan was but one of many. Why, if you'd heard some of the things I have recently…"
Ironwood reached for his gun.
Sol was quicker.
"Ah, ah, ah," he said, pointing the weapon at Ironwood's face. "Let's not be hasty, old friend. This is one of the few prototypes of Null-based ammunition Chivalric Arms were able to produce before your actions."
Ironwood's eyes narrowed. "You took samples."
"Of course we did. There was always the chance Subject 000 would expire prematurely, so all efforts were taken to harvest as much material from him as we could. Most of it ended with failure, but a very small amount of his genetic material was able to be salvaged. We're working on synthesising it right now."
"You won't get away with this."
"Actually, I rather think I shall. I had a suspicion you were behind the attacks on our facilities, James. It was all much too obvious, especially given your compassion for Subject 000. We were watching you from the day you returned."
"Planning my replacement?"
"Of course. Someone far more suitable to lead. Someone who will show much more respect for the Council, for Atlas, and for the sacrifices necessary to secure our future." Sol sighed heavily. "It's nothing personal, James. You always were my favourite protégé."
James gripped his armrests and snarled, "The Council will know!"
"The Council is complicit," Sol said smugly. "Goodbye, James."
Sol pulled the trigger.
The round, infused with Null's own genetic material, surged to life as the dust ignited, giving the genetic material just enough energy to simulate life. It came to life, spiralling out the barrel of the gun with traces of yellow, green and purple light spiralling from the round.
Too fast to track but leaving bright light like tracer fire, it pierced through James' aura and chest, striking the wooden backing of the chair and slamming into the wall beyond.
General James Ironwood bucked and slumped in his chair.
Then, he shattered into pieces, like shards of glass from a broken mirror. Sol rose as his body vanished, eyes bulging as the chair opposite him was suddenly empty, a single hole in its backrest.
Gloved hands clapped together. General Ironwood strode out of the adjoining room, clapping faintly, pausing only to place his hand on the shoulder of an incredibly short Atlas soldier that Sol could have sworn was not there before. Faint wisps of pink hair poked out from under her helmet. Nervously, he stepped back, tripping over his chair and falling back down into it with wide eyes and a racing heartbeat.
Desperately, he brought his gun up to shoot again. This time, Ironwood was ready, catching the barrel in his robotic hand and driving the shot high. Furiously, he wrenched the gun away, leaving Sol to slump over his desk in fear.
"I'm pleased to hear I was your favourite protégé, Sol." the man rasped. "I learned a lot from you, and I didn't stop learning after becoming General. More recently, I learned that to properly rule, neither an all-calculating nor all-compassionate approach can be used. If I am too cruel, no one will be loyal to me. If I am too compassionate, people will take advantage."
The prototype weapon was dismantled before his eyes, ripped apart by Ironwood's powerful hands. The priceless Null rounds toppled out the chamber to the ground, only to be crushed under the General's heavy boot.
"Chivalric Arms was a problem of my making," Ironwood continued. "I bet if I look back, Matthew Fields was one of my men. One of the men I twisted with my accursed Semblance. His justifications sound like the ones I would have used. That makes all of this my mistake." He let the broken gun clatter to the floor. "A mistake I will personally rectify."
"There are laws!" Sol spat. "I demand my day in court!"
"The laws are what those in control determine them to be. Isn't that what you said before, Sol? That the people will believe what we tell them. That justice is what we determine it to be by right of committee."
"You won't get away with this!" Sol cried, unintentionally mirroring the words Ironwood's illusion had just moments before.
The irony was not lost on General Ironwood, who took pleasure in saying, "Actually. I rather think I will. After all, there's already a copycat killer going around, isn't there."
He turned to a second soldier, clad from head to toe in white armour, his face hidden by an Atlas helmet with a full-face visor covering him down but for his chin and mouth.
The soldier wore a vicious, toothy smile.
Admiral Sol lashed out for his drawer, for the second firearm he kept inside. He pushed his aura to the fore, shielding himself as the soldier brought up his SMG and aimed it his way. He had aura, time and three Semblances thanks to Chivalric Arms' research. Grinning ferally, Sol threw up a shield of pure green energy between them. James had no idea who he was trifling with-
Sol's chair rocked back, his body lurching as he felt something punch his chest. The green shield before him had flickered and faded, refusing to reappear no matter how much he willed it to. What happened? Are the genetic enhancements failing? That doesn't make sense.
Something wet ran down his stomach. Sol touched his hand to his chest and brought it away. His fingers and palm were covered in warm, sticky blood. Shocked, he looked up.
Though nothing could be seen of the soldier's face, his visor had lit up from the inside. It made the visor glow gold, purple, green, red and every other colour imaginable, swirling like a miasma before slowly fading away, returning to nothingness as the soldier lowered his weapon.
"I-Impossible," Sol croaked. "Null is dead. We all saw…"
"Null is dead," the masked soldier said. "Jaune Arc is dead and gone."
General Ironwood strode forward, placing both hands on either side of Sol's and leaning over him. "You saw exactly what we wanted you to see. Mettle is a terrible tool, Sol, it's one I'm afraid of. But if I have someone who can turn it off and stop me before I take things too far, it's one I won't be afraid to use for the betterment of Atlas."
Releasing the chair, the man moved away, past the desk and between the two soldiers, both of whom could be seen smiling ferally under their visors. General Ironwood finally picked up the glass of brandy, taking a quick sip before downing the whole glass. It clinked down on the corner of Sol's desk with a gentle click.
"The first stage of that will be cleaning up Atlas and preventing any more mistakes like this tainting our fair Kingdom. You're but the first and thank you for warning me just how complicit the Council really is. That's useful information. They will have to go first, then Chivalric Arms, then every traitor you've left within the military."
"J-James…" Sol croaked, blood dribbling down his chin. "You… I…"
"We're done here, soldier." James turned away. "Finish this."
The masked soldier stepped forward.
Ending it there.
Ideally, this would have been two chapters with the middle point of Jaune's death set as a black moment which would drive people wild as they shout angrily and bitterly about how shit an ending that is, and how Jaune didn't deserve to die, before the final chapter reverses it.
But, that would have been two really short chapters. It's probably better to just imagine this as two chapters, lol. As for why Jaune did it? Well, I wanted to leave that up to people to understand, but if you're having trouble then I'll explain it briefly below.
Basically, Jaune knew he had crossed too many lines and made too much of a target of himself. He was aware that if he lived, he and his sisters would be hunted down continuously. What's worse, he also still wanted revenge on everyone who wronged him, which Jaune knew went against his stated goal of saving his sisters and then retiring to Menagerie. That is what he thought he wanted, to be with them and hang up his gun, retiring to be a loving brother once more.
But he couldn't be. The vengeance had changed him. The killing had changed him. Jaune knew that even if he did save them all, he'd be driven to keep fighting, keep killing and to hint down everyone responsible for what happened to him and his family.
He also knew that recklessness would destroy his family sooner or later, so he decided that the best thing that could happen would be for Jaune Arc to complete his mission and die in the process. Save his sisters and die with them remembering him as the loving brother he was, rather than the cold blooded killer he'd become. As such, he let himself die, surrendering Jaune Arc and fully becoming Null, faking his death with the help of Neo and joining forces with Ironwood to be a counterbalance to Mettle, always there to help Ironwood and turn it off should he ever lose himself to the machine mind.
In Atlas, Jaune and Neo can continue their vengeance and fight for justice and revenge, while knowing that Adam and Ilia will look after his family, who Ironwood protected in the end by helping to conceal the location of. In the end, Jaune sacrificed everything, even his last chance of living a normal life.
But then, by the end, he was kind of aware he couldn't live a normal life anyway.
Next Story: 4th January
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur
Knight of Salem
Of all the trouble Jaune thought his obviously forged transcripts might get him into trouble with, the last was being abducted by the so-called Queen of the Grimm, who assumes you're the next incarnation of her dead husband. He also didn't expect to unlock a Semblance that broke the curse placed on her, returning her to human form.
Jaune hacked as the smoke cleared. Someone else coughed too, the eldritch monstrosity who had kidnapped him, probably. Her voice sounded… different. Mellower, softer. Whatever magic she'd tried to place on him (and he was still unsure why this crazy woman was calling her Semblance magic, but hey-ho, she was a talking Grimm. What did he expect?) had obviously failed. Unless her goal was to suffocate him in smoke, in which case mission accomplished.
A window opened and wind rushed in, whipping away the acrid smoke and freeing them both from onset lung cancer. Jaune still coughed to clear his lungs, rolling over onto his side and off the table he'd been pinned down to. The ropes had snapped or burned away in the strange attack, but he was somehow unharmed. Completely fine, even. He patted himself down and found all his limbs attached, all fingers in place and even his clothes mostly fine, if a little singed.
Salem less so.
"What did you do to me!?" the woman shrieked. Gone was the booming voice of purest evil that promised eternal damnation in the depths of Mount Doom. Gone was the looming threat and the reverberations that echoed deep in his soul. If anything she sounded alarmed, shocked and even a little girly.
Jaune looked up from his position on all fours. His eyes quickly widened.
Pale skin a golden cream in colour reached up long and smooth arms to a white dress that hung perilously from both shoulders exposing far more cleavage than his mother would have been happy with a woman showing him. Her hair was spun gold like his own, if a little darker, and fell down her back in soft waves. Blue eyes met his, as wide and startled as his own. Jaune's mouth opened and closed and he spat out the first thing to come to his mind.
"Weren't you a Grimm…?"
"Yes!" Salem shrieked again. "What- What's happened to me!?" Furiously spinning about, she stuck a leg out and expected it – creamy skin and a delicate ankle – then grabbed her hair and pulled it before her face, staring down with an open mouth. Finally, she rushed to his father's sword and unsheathed it. He thought she'd run him through, but she angled it to catch her reflection, stared at herself and touched her face gently. "I… I'm human…?"
Jaune felt stupid but had to ask. "Are you not supposed to be?"
"No! I'm a Grimm! Or… Or cursed to be one. I thought… but I didn't accept death. Did I? No, this doesn't make sense." She wasn't speaking to him now, it seemed. Crocea Mors clattered down as she swayed and almost fainted, catching herself on the big stone throne. "I don't understand. Is this the boy's Semblance? Did my magic reflect? Did that somehow count as suicide – is that enough to count as `accepting death`? No, it can't be. I tried the first time I threw myself in the pools and that wasn't enough."
Slowly, Jaune pushed himself up, beginning to think he might just not be getting murdered anytime soon. He didn't think he'd done anything but clearly something had happened, and since it wasn't her who did this, that didn't leave many contenders. Maybe my Semblance activated to save my life. If it did, I'm grateful for it. In the meantime he didn't want to take any chances letting her realise he was up and about. Abandoning his sword – dad always said a life was worth more than any hunk of metal – he crept toward the open door.
"And where do you think you're going!?"
He flinched and looked back. The woman, now very human and rather attractive in a haughty and imperious sort of way, had both hands on her hips as she stared down on him. Her jaw was jutted out, her lower lip sticking up. Nervously, Jaune looked toward the door.
"You plan to leave me here? After breaking my curse and turning me into a human again? Don't you have something to say for yourself?"
Well he had apparently broken a curse. "You're welcome…?"
"I had plans, you great big lummox!" Salem stamped one foot. He wasn't sure if she meant it or not but, in that moment, she looked like a weird cross between his mother at her most reproaching and his young baby sister at her most demanding. It was a weird cross between a grown woman and an entitled child. "I was going to kill Ozma, raze Beacon to the ground and dominate the world. Now what!? I've lost my connection to the Grimm. I might as well throw my shoe at him for all the good it will do now." Salem stalked up to him and jabbed her finger into his chest. "This is your fault."
"Is it, though? I think you kidnapped me…" He saw her eyes narrow and swallowed. "Or, you know, maybe it is all my fault."
"It is." The finger dug deep like it was in search of his heart. "If it wasn't for your stupid Semblance, I'd still be Salem, Queen of the Grimm, and not Salem, stuck in a tower in the middle of the Grimmlands as a pathetic little human."
All of which, he didn't say, was still her fault. He knew better than to say that, however. Seventeen years growing up with seven sisters had taught him that sometimes it was better to pretend you were accepting the blame than try and prove them wrong. All the drama usually ended quicker that way.
"What do you want me to do about it? I can't turn you back to how you were. I don't even know how my Semblance – if this is my Semblance – works."
"Isn't it obvious?" Salem turned away with a huff. Jaune was amazed and a little stunned to see colour rush to her neck and cheeks, dying her shoulders a pretty shade of pink. Embarrassed, she looked back at him over one shoulder. "You… You shall have to take responsibility…"
Starts: 4th January 2021