A new fanart to show off this chapter. This one is from Terakali, but they made it clear it is not art they drew themselves but edited. Both images were marked free to use, and you may have seen them elsewhere. I don't know the artists to credit them in this case.
The cover image will be going back to JustFun101's next week. I just wanted to show off the new ones and highlight the effort those people put in.
Cover Art: Terakali
There was nothing more Adam hated than being out of action when others were training. It wasn't some sick lust for aching muscles and sore lungs as it was the boredom, the indolence. It was an insidious thing that crept up on you, telling you that your one day off wasn't so bad, so why not take a week off? A month? And soon after all your hard work went flying out the window.
That wasn't likely to happen in Beacon, but it did for many in Menagerie, where it was oh so easy to relax on the beach or go fishing than it was sweat in the hot sun with a training sword in hand.
Old habits died hard, especially for someone in charge of training the newest generation of the White Fang. That's not my life anymore, he reminded himself. Still, that was no excuse to slack off.
Yang, Weiss and Ruby were fighting Pyrrha this morning. Individually, they couldn't hold up to her but together they could pose a threat. Not at first, but after weeks now of training in the early hours of the morning, and of learning more about Pyrrha's style, left them in a position to really tax her.
The redhead was sent scrambling under Yang's attacks and straight into a trap laid by Ruby and Weiss, only escaping by the skin of her teeth and right into Yang's fist. Only the quickest application of her Semblance saved her, sending Ember Celica high, but the smirk on Yang's face said she expected it. Using Pyrrha's own Semblance grip on her hands as a pendulum she swung her feet up and into Pyrrha's chin, knocking her back as Ruby blurred behind her, a streak of red petals swinging Crescent Rose to hamstring Pyrrha.
Hearing the whoosh of the blade, Pyrrha was forced to release her hold on the ground, flipping up and away from the blade sweeping through where her shins had been. The moment she was in the air, however, she was vulnerable. Adam had taught them that after getting tired of Ruby's constant reliance on recoil-firing herself into him. You couldn't change direction when you were in the air. You couldn't adapt to sudden changes. Not unless you had a Semblance for flight that was.
Pyrrha did not.
Weiss did. A glyph appeared in the air behind Yang, giving her something to land and kick off of. She launched back into a helpless Pyrrha, boots extended and catching her in her stomach. The two struck the ground like a meteorite, kicking up a huge plume of smoke and dust. Team RYST used to wait to see if their opponent was okay when that happened but losing a fight to him when he attacked from the smoke had taught them better. Weiss hurled an avalanche of ice into the smoke followed by a hail of bullets from Ruby.
Pyrrha was driven out of it, skipping back with an expression caught halfway between annoyance and immense pleasure. Her eyes were practically sparkling, loving every moment of the early morning beatdown. Honestly, she was a monster. Adam wouldn't have expected anyone else in Beacon to last this long against the combined might of Team RYST, even with him off on the side-lines.
"Your teamwork has really improved," she said. "You're giving me a run for my money."
"She's trying to stall for time!" Ruby pointed. "Attack!"
Pyrrha huffed, laughing and dropping her shoulders. "It was worth a shot…"
What followed was a one-sided wave assault with Yang, Ruby and Weiss exchanging turns to attack Pyrrha, stepping in after a few seconds to relieve the other and give them a chance to catch their breath. Something Pyrrha did not get. The tactic seemed to be to wear Pyrrha down with constant fighting with her opponents kept as fresh as possible.
The weakness was if Pyrrha could take any one of them out in the one vs one, but to be fair to Ruby's plan Pyrrha was obviously running out of gas. It didn't take long for her to stumble.
"Now!" Ruby yelled.
Glyphs appeared under Pyrrha's feet and rooted her to the floor. Ruby shot in from behind. Yang came charging in the front. Pyrrha raised her hands and shouted out, "Yield! I yield!"
The twin assault of yellow and red split off and around her, cancelling their attack at the same time Weiss did her glyphs. Pyrrha fell to her hands and knees panting for breath.
"We won! We won! We beat Pyrrha!"
"T-Three… ugh… Three on one," Pyrrha panted.
She was normally so polite and friendly, but Adam considered it a good sign for Team RYST that Pyrrha was willing to let her competitive side shine through. As someone famous specifically for fighting in tournaments she had to have one. Why else would she have signed herself up for those in the first place? The overly polite mask was just that, hiding a competitive young woman who obviously loved fighting just as much as Yang did.
"What was that, Pyrrha?" Yang teased. "I couldn't hear you over the sound of our winning."
"Ha." Pyrrha pushed herself up and swept her red hair back. "It was a good fight. You three are going to be a problem in the festival." Her lips curled up. "Except that you'll be fighting me there two on two or one on one."
"Adam will kick your butt." Ruby said.
"Assuming he doesn't get himself shot again," Yang mumbled.
Adam could have groaned himself as Pyrrha's concerned gaze turned to him. "The injury is fine," he growled out. "It never even broke my aura, so you can all stop making such a big deal about it."
They got the same, if not worse, in training, so he wasn't sure where they got off acting like he was made of porcelain all of a sudden. It might have been endearing if it wasn't so embarrassing. If Ghira Belladonna saw me now he'd laugh himself hoarse.
"I can't believe the general shot you at all," Pyrrha said.
"Neither can any of us." Weiss said. "But it happened. I can understand he was stressed, what with the CCT being attacked, but to just shoot the first faunus he sees? That's ridiculous."
"What does Adam being a faunus have to do with it?" Yang asked.
"A-Ah. Well. That is, I assumed he thought – mistakenly, I add – that Adam was a part of the White Fang."
Smooth. Very smooth. Weiss knew the truth of course and could put together the pieces of why Ironwood shot at him, but the others still didn't know. His half-hearted effort to tell Yang via text had been just that. He wondered if she suspected. After all, she knew he'd been saved by the White Fang from a labour camp now, and it wasn't hard to imagine what a grateful child with no other choices in life would do.
I have to tell her. I can't just assume she knows and leave it there.
Yang deserved to know.
They all did.
"Guess it's time for us to hit the showers before class." Yang said. She looked over as Adam stood and made to go the other way. "Where are you going?"
"Do you think I worked up a sweat sat over here?" he shot back. "I'll go collect our book bags from our room while you shower."
"Hey. Good idea. Meet you at the cafeteria?"
"Thanks Adam!" Ruby called.
"Are you sure your shoulder is up to carrying our bags?" Weiss asked.
He glared back. Four bags, with a couple of books and a pencil case in each. One shoulder, aura not even pierced. He wasn't going to dignify her with words for such an asinine question.
"I was only asking," Weiss mumbled, rolling her eyes. "Forgive me for being concerned when my teammate is shot."
"Pyrrha shot Yang four times this spar."
Pyrrha giggled and waved one hand. "Hi."
"Right in the tits," Yang groaned, rubbing them. "You realise they're not targets, Pyrrha."
"Your aura would have prevented any damage wherever I shot you. I went for somewhere I knew would be uncomfortable."
"So you were aiming for my tits! I knew it!"
Not a conversation he was staying for. Adam turned and walked away as Yang took a few swipes at a laughing Pyrrha and the girls made their way to the showers. It reminded him of training in the White Fang, especially the part where he walked away. Everyone appreciated his training, or he liked to think they did when their lives were on the line, but no one enjoyed it. Thus, he'd been respected but never really welcome to join them after. That had always been acceptable because his goals outweighed his wishes for company. Blake had been the exception.
This team was different. They enjoyed training, they liked to be challenged – especially Pyrrha – and Ruby was flourishing under the chance to make her own decisions, even coming up with plans now. Some of those were Weiss' strategies as well, but then being the leader didn't mean making every decision yourself. Sometimes leadership was taking ideas from your team and implementing them.
They're a good team, he thought. Good people. I'd have been pleased to have them in the White Fang.
No. The White Fang would have tarnished Ruby's innocence. It would have sucked the `fun` out of all this, left them battered and bruised, hardened and cynical in the same way it had him. Here, Team RYST got to train hard and see results. In the White Fang, you trained hard, fought and bled, and went home at the end of the day knowing nothing had changed. Faunus still suffered. Humans rules. Inequality reigned.
Adam stepped off the staircase and into their corridor, thoughts as maudlin as they often were when he was on his own. They'd been worse of late with the need to tell his team growing. Weiss had been so easy. Ruby and Yang wouldn't be, and it would only get harder if he let this hesitant relationship between him and Yang evolve on a bed of lies. He sighed and placed a hand on the dorm door, reaching for his scroll to open the key lock.
The door swung open under his palm.
Did we leave it unlocked…? We can't have. The doors are heavy and close on their own, then the electronic lock seals it. Adam's eyes narrowed as the door swung back but failed to click shut.
He tested the knob and it turned easily. Too easily. There was no resistance to indicate the bolt inside actually moving, and it kept turning well past the point it should have stopped. The entire thing had been broken. On the edge, on the jam connecting the door to the frame, he could see the metal twisting outward. Someone had forced the door open.
Wilt and Blush were in his locker, but he wasn't completely helpless. Pushing aura to the fore, Adam pushed the door wide open and peered into the room. He waited, expecting an attack, but nothing came. Whomever had broken into their room had already left, though not without leaving their mark.
The beds were upheaved. Sheets were on the floor. A blade had been taken to the mattresses, ripping and tearing them up until their innards were all over the place. The bedside tables had been ransacked, nothing taken but Weiss' expensive perfume bottles in shards on the floor, and the picture frame of her family that Yang kept on her side ripped in two and tossed against the far wall.
It was his bed that bore the brunt of the assault, however. His mattress was fine, but something had taken out his uniform and laid it on his bed in the vague shape of a person. Where its head would have been lay a broken mask, white with red lines, cracked down the centre. And on the wall beside his bed, the familiar emblem of the snarling wolf's head in white spray paint. Below it, in red, a single word.
"You'll be provided another dormitory and all the amenities you may need," Ozpin said to their team. "Your damaged belongings will be replaced or repaired where possible."
"Who did this?" Ruby asked weakly. "Why would someone do this?"
"That, Miss Rose, is something we will be getting to the bottom of," the headmaster assured them. "It may well be a reprisal for your team's intervention in the CCT the other day. We will be keeping the location of your new dorm a secret. I would suggest you do the same."
"Can we not go in and get some stuff out?" Yang asked.
"I'm afraid not." Ozpin cut her off before Adam could begin to panic. The old man had thankfully decided it was important to maintain Adam's secret, because if the girls saw that mask, mark and word, they would instantly know who he was. "Your room is essentially a crime scene now and we don't want anything disturbed. Once we've looked at it, we'll gather your belongings for you. Glynda will let you look over the damaged property before we replace it in case there is anything of sentimental value."
The girls grumbled but accepted it, not having much of anything they could say. They'd only found out when they came to see why Adam hadn't met them at the cafeteria as promised, at which point Oobleck and Port were already closing off their room and not letting anyone enter.
"Glynda, will you take the ladies of Team RYST to their new dorm please? I need to have a word with Mr Taurus and get his account of what happened. Worry not, he will join you in lessons later."
"Of course. Please follow me."
Weiss, Yang and Ruby looked toward him before leaving. Ozpin wasn't exactly subtle, but it wasn't like they could argue either. Once the elevator was closed and going down, the old man let his genial smile falter.
"It seems your old friends have decided to send you a message."
"It's past due," Adam admitted. "I've interfered with their operations. I'm surprised it took this long at all."
"Effort on my part. I've been doing my best to hide your identity, not that the news reports leaking out of the school have made that any easier. I have my suspicions as to whom is responsible for those."
Adam did, too.
"I'm going to assume the cracked mask is not yours."
"I got rid of mine before coming to Beacon." Keeping something like that around would be ridiculous after all. "It's a generic one. A warning that they know who I am and where I sleep."
"And that they have not taken your departure from their group well."
Adam nodded. That was obvious. Aside from being a commander, he'd been a symbol. Not one born of charisma, but success. He was the most effective soldier in the White Fang, with more raids to his name than even Sienna Khan.
That didn't mean he was better than her, more skilled or deserving, but it fit a narrative in the same way Pyrrha was considered the invincible girl despite not actually being that. With him on their side, the White Fang felt stronger. With him turning traitor, that confidence was wavering.
"I think it would be wise if you had me bunk away from my team," Adam said.
"I believe so as well, but do you think your teammates will accept that?" Ozpin asked. "I happen to think they'll be banging my door down, or yours, demanding an explanation. One I cannot give if they don't yet know the truth."
Adam winced. "Weiss does."
"Only Miss Schnee?"
"It's… not easy…"
"Few things in life are, Mr Taurus. Believe me, I have made my fair share of mistakes. Owning up to them is difficult, but I can tell you through experience that it's better to get it out of the way now than wait for someone else to reveal it." He leaned forward. "And it will be revealed sooner or later. The White Fang has made that clear. I wouldn't be surprised if their next effort isn't to reveal your identity completely."
His thoughts exactly. As a warning, this didn't do much other than antagonise him. There wasn't much point the White Fang letting him know they'd found him unless they planned to do something with the information.
"I have faith in you, Mr Taurus. More than many of my colleagues do. I see myself in you, a man guided by what he believes to be right, driven to extremes he is beginning to regret."
Adam snorted. Ozpin was a man famed as a paragon of virtue from what Adam knew of his history. "I doubt that."
"You may be surprised if you knew the full story of my life. Not just the good parts people remember of me." Ozpin gestured toward the elevator. "You may leave. I shall include you in anything Qrow is able to find but I expect that won't be much. Whomever broke into your rooms did so through brute force and were gone before your return."
"They knew my routine."
"As would anyone who so much as glances outside at four in the morning," Ozpin pointed out. "You and your team are hardly subtle and the ones responsible might just as easily have been waiting outside your room for you to leave. Keep your wits about you," he added. "And report anything suspicious to me."
It went without saying that his team were furious. Adam had been hearing nothing but complaints, suspicions and ideas for vengeance since he joined them. Luckily, since Ozpin had planted the idea of revenge for Ruby's intervention in their heads no one clicked onto the White Fang angle.
"It's definitely that person from the dance," Yang said. "I bet they wanted to catch us while we were sleeping and didn't realise we train at that time."
"If that's true then we need to be careful!" Weiss said. "I've faced assassination attempts before-" She cut off, winced and glanced his way from the corner of her eye.
Subtle, Weiss. Subtle.
"A-And what I meant to say is that just because they fail once doesn't mean they won't try again. It's not enough to lock our doors and hope they won't come again. What if they attack us while we're sleeping?"
"Then what do you suggest we do?" Yang asked. "Post a guard? Skip nights?"
"We can block the door." Adam said before such ideas could be posed. "And we can keep our weapons on us if we have permission. Considering what happened, Goodwitch would probably accept if it was one of you asking her."
Not him of course. Asking if he could stay armed in the night would give her a fit. The girls appeared to like the idea, however, Ruby getting up and running off to find her. Any excuse for a sleepover with their weapons in her mind.
"We'll have to block the window as well, but this should do," Weiss said. "If we can make it so it takes them time to get through the door, that will be enough. I hope. I can't believe this is happening all the way in Beacon. I thought I'd put all that behind me."
"They're not after you." Adam pointed out.
"No. Just my team. It's the same thing as far as I'm concerned. Maybe it's Ruby for interfering, or us for reinforcing her. Whatever the case, this is the last thing we need with the festival coming up."
Adam still thought it would have been safer for him to be away from them, but Ozpin was right in saying they'd never accept it. His eyes trailed over the cafeteria, quickly spotting a familiar head of black hair and a bow the same colour. His lips drew into a thin line and he pushed away from the table.
"Adam?" Yang asked.
"I need to talk to someone. I'll find you later."
Blake saw him coming. He wasn't sure if someone tipped her off or if her team knew at all, but she turned and excused herself, hurrying out the cafeteria before he could get close. The running, he was used to, but this time he wasn't going to sit back and let her run away.
No more running away, Blake. Not this time.
He waited until he was out the cafeteria to break into a fast walk, then a jog and finally sprinting after her when she gave up all pretences. A growl rose in his throat and he powered forward, catching her at the next turn by her elbow and pushing her back against the far wall. Her back struck plaster and she look up at him with frightened but angry eyes.
"I'll scream!" she threatened.
"I'll tell everyone who you are," he hissed back. His eye rose to her bow. "What you are. You're so keen on pretending to be human that I doubt anyone on your team knows."
"You won't get away with this. Whatever you're planning."
Whatever he was planning, hm? What a joke. Adam shoved her back and peeled his bandage away, showing her his maimed eye. It wasn't the first time Blake had seen it, but it was the first time he noticed her flinch and make to look away. Had she always done that? Had he never noticed? No one else on his team acted that way and it pissed him off.
"I'm here for answers," he forced out. "Did you out me to the Fang?"
"What are you talking about?"
"No games!" he spat, smashing her back. He had to cross his thigh over to stop her knee ratcheting up into his crotch. Expected. He'd taught her that. "I know it was you leaking the video of Yang and I sparring."
He hadn't known – he'd suspected as Ozpin had – but the brief flash of panic in Blake's eyes told him everything. He wanted to punch her.
"You leaked the video; you slipped the information on my fight with Team CRMN to the media. You've been trying to get me kicked out of Beacon since the day I arrived."
Blake snarled back at him. "What of it? You're a terrorist-"
"We were terrorists, Blake. You don't get to pretend otherwise because of a bow. Everything I did, you did as well." He leaned in, uncaring for how afraid she was, uncaring for what anyone might think if they saw him.
He was past caring because everything before had been aimed at him and him alone, because for all her petty attempts to ruin him, she'd only be aiming for him. Not his team.
"The White Fang attacked my team this morning!"
Blake's eyes widened. "W-What?"
"Our dorm was trashed. Someone took a sword to our beds. Our belongings were destroyed. They left a mask on my bed, Blake. A broken mask and the White Fang's symbol painted onto the wall to make it clear they know where to find me, whether I'm asleep or awake."
She was quaking now, afraid, and while Adam's hate didn't waver, his urge for violence did. He had his answer before he even got to ask the question, but he tried anyway.
"Did you out me to them? Is it your fault they're targeting my team?"
"No!" Blake spat the denial with such vehemence he couldn't help but believe her. "No," she said again. "I wouldn't- Not if your team would be hit as well. I've not even spoken with anyone from the Fang."
He believed her.
"They're here, aren't they?" Blake asked, for a moment forgetting her fear of him, or maybe just being afraid of the White Fang even more. "They're here in Beacon. Or they're here for the Vytal Festival. No." Her eyes were haunted. "I thought I'd escaped them."
"We might have if a certain someone didn't reveal my name to the media."
Her eyes snapped to him. "You chased me! You followed me here!"
The words pissed him off, and the worst part was that he couldn't even deny them. He'd done just that, pathetic as it sounded. He'd followed Blake to Beacon like an angry dog barking after its master. That didn't change the fact his team was in danger now because of his past. It didn't change her involvement.
"No more," he said.
"You don't interact with my team any further. No more cornering Yang, no more following us, no more ruining every little good thing I have. We are over, Blake. We're through."
"Y-You think I want to change that? I left you! If anything, I should be the one saying this!"
"And yet you're the one stalking us," he growled. Blake ground her teeth together and refused to meet his eyes, or his one eye as he adjusted and placed his bandage back on. "You're the one who approached Yang. Don't give me reason to approach your team, Blake. If we're as over as you say we are, prove it. Leave me and mine alone."
"They deserve to know the truth of who they're sharing a room with. Or a bed."
"Don't your team as well?"
Blake flinched. "I-I'll tell them. In time."
"As will I." He couldn't resist adding. "I've already told one. Weiss knows who I am, what I did and everything I ever did to her and her family."
"T-The Schnee…? But why doesn't she say anything?"
"Hmph." Adam turned away, squaring his shoulders and hiding how much her words both angered and hurt him. He couldn't believe they still did, but whatever his scorn for her now he'd loved Blake. She'd been important to him. She'd been everything to him. "Weiss isn't like you. Don't tar her with the same brush. My team isn't your business. My relationships aren't your business. I'm not your business. Not anymore."
"What about the White Fang?" she snapped. "What about them? If they're here then-"
"That's not any of your business either. You ran away for a reason." He snorted and moved away from her, but not before adding a not-too-quiet, "You just focus on running away. It's what you're good at."
For all that he criticised her for it, Adam ran before she could get a word in, more out of fear of what he'd do than what she might say. Blake didn't follow, much to his relief and a brief and small bit of annoyance. Adam rounded a corner while maintaining a stiff walk, then leaned back against a wall. Damn it.
It didn't surprise him in the slightest that it was Blake's hand ruining his spars with Yang. After all, they'd both embraced the ideas of betraying expectation in pursuit of a goal. It was a White Fang thing to do, and he couldn't fault the execution. He'd just never expected Blake would move against him like that, or that he'd have to confront her over it.
If she wasn't the one to out me to them now, then it was someone else. Possibly that woman who fought Ruby or even one of Roman's lot figuring out who I am.
There were plenty of possibilities. For all their care taken, he had actively fought the White Fang at the docks with Winter and Qrow. It wasn't like the people who escaped that couldn't recognise his face if they tried.
"E-Excuse me," a nervous make voice spoke from his left. "You're Adam, right? Adam Taurus?"
His good eye cracked open. The boy was younger than him even if he was a school year further into his education. Two bear ears atop his brown hair marked his heritage. "I'm not in the mood," Adam growled. "Leave me."
"I-I can't. They said they'd hurt my sister if I didn't deliver a message to you."
They…? Adam brought his arms down to look at the man fully. He did look frightened, but Adam noticed it wasn't at the thought of talking to him. It was the fear one had for another, for one you couldn't protect. "Who?" he asked, already knowing the answer. "Who threatened you?"
"They were masked. White Fang." The boy swallowed and held out an envelope. "Please, just take it. They said they'd know if you received it, said they had eyes and ears everywhere. I can't – my sister is only eight years old. She's human, I'm adopted, I… I don't know what they'll do to her if you don't take it."
Adam snatched it out the boy's hand. "Go. Tell them I've received it."
The faunus scurried away, not waiting to watch Adam crack the seal and slide the envelope open. Perhaps he should have taken it to Ozpin first, but he didn't have the patience. Inside was a photograph – two, in fact – set side by side. One showed Adam in his Beacon uniform with his team, the other showed him in a White Fang uniform, mask haphazardly handing around his neck while he sat next to Blake, the two of them speaking.
Side by side, it was impossible to miss the fact they were the same person. Impossible, he supposed, for anyone to miss it, especially if this was shared across all of Vale. Adam turned the photo over to read the words written on the back in black pen.
"Meet us at the following address at the following time. Come alone. Fail, and the world will know the kind of traitor you are. You are not safe. Your teammates are not safe."
Adam let the pictures slide back into the envelope.
Next Chapter: 20th April
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