Book Three: The Heart of Yang Xiao Long
Chapter 102: To Remember
"A homeworld is a precious thing, but its people… even more so." - Saint-Attendant Brin Milo.
The Valkyrie doors opened, and Yang rolled herself free into the Woadian dusk. Red and green lights flashed in the streets of Aesborough as air traffic ensigns waved their wands, directing landers and combat craft to designated AOs. The sound of distant lasblasts told her the city was not free of taint, but the long intervals between them revealed that the task was nearly done.
Wounded Woadians, rescued civilians, Ranshan camp followers, and resistance members had reclaimed the continental capital, setting up a ramshackle headquarters and worship site near the cleansing pyre that had claimed so many of the righteous dead.
It smoked gently now, cinders borne aloft by a rain-laden wind. Around it, the cathedral had collapsed, with only three blackened columns left standing atop a pile of rubble. The Aquila had been hauled free of the wreckage. A hasty edifice of Yang sat below it, hewn from discarded rockcrete and surrounded by offerings - sticks of burning lho, prayer beads, dogtags, capsules of amasec. Troopers' offerings.
Amat stood amidst the chaos of a war-camp, hands clasped behind his back. Clad in the Officio Assassinorum's archeotech, he was utterly at odds with the desolation that surrounded him, with the footsloggers that flitted around him like hornets. He was the picture of serenity. Yang knew that he was already drafting his next piece.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey yourself," she returned. She wanted to jump into his arms, hold him close. Feel his fingers run through her hair, tuck it around her ear.
"You okay?" He asked, turning to face her. Placid. Expressionless.
"Yeah," she said. "Had to take care of something."
"Ros," Amat said.
Yang nodded, grip tightening on the arms of her wheelchair. "Couldn't just leave it alone. Felt like I had to do something."
"Smiting Augurhaz wasn't enough?" Amat asked.
"Different," Yang said quietly.
A ranger ran up to them, breathless, drops of blood painting the front of her flak armor. Yang put on her best saintly smile, ready to receive another of her faithful.
"We relieved Harja and Omega," the ranger reported, voice harsh and scarred from warp-born chemical wounds, "found the arty pieces, along with their munition stores. That big boom was Gundarsson from Second taking care of it…" She trailed off as she saw Yang standing beside Amat. "Your Holiness!"
"No no," Yang said, "Go on."
"We uh… we found a nest of some sort off Jarlbekkr Street, burnt it down to cinders," the trooper finished. She snapped Amat an awkward salute, and flashed the Sign of the Aquila to Yang before scampering off once again, shouldered lasgun clacking against her flak armor.
"What's this now?" Yang asked, grinning ear-to-ear. "A salute?"
A brief, embarrassed smile. "I… assisted a few Woadians during their assault on the city. "They took to my directives heartily. More so than I'd prefer."
"Whatever will Longinus say?" Yang chided, punching his arm.
"I've spoken to him. It's nothing."
"You big softie," she replied.
"They needed help," Amat said simply. "I felt… bad."
"You didn't do anything wrong," Yang protested.
"I insisted that you let them fight for their homeworld, and now…" he nodded over to the medical tents. There were enough bloody bandages piled outside to make his point.
"It's fine, Amat," Yang said, patting his hand. He wore a smile for her.
"Speaking of recklessness and suicide," he said under his breath, "I heard that the Space Wolves are holding a drinking contest with someone."
"Now who could that be?" Yang asked, attempting to lighten the mood. "Probably someone super awesome and incredibly sexy."
Amat chewed his tongue in a heroic effort to stay mad. "Not funny."
"Yang, these are Astartes," he insisted. "They can drink your body weight in arsenic and only suffer a light headache. I don't know what mjod is, but I doubt it's any better for you."
"I'll be fine, assassin-man," Yang replied. "I got a metal stomach and the prayers of millions on my side. What could go wrong?"
"That is a dangerous question Yang," Amat said, sighing in defeat. "I know you can handle yourself, it's just… maybe this isn't the best idea after…" he fumbled with the words before he nodded in the general direction of Bardigaal.
Yang smiled. "I'll be fine," she repeated. "Past is the past," she said. "Why don't you come along?"
"Not gonna try and jump me after?" Amat asked, once more under his breath.
She laughed. "Was that a joke, Amat?"
The former Vindicare shrugged.
"When I come for you," Yang said. "It'll be with nothing less than sober intent."
Amat grinned, for real this time. "How reassuring."
Holmbr had constructed a ramshackle drinking hall for their contest, built from the remnants of a manufactorum floor that had been gutted and abandoned. Dozens of candles lit a long metal table, while chapter serfs and tech-priests attended the astartes, prodding at their power armor and wounded flesh.
"Yang!" Torbrand boomed as Amat wheeled her through the door.
"I have come to accept your surrender," Yang said, lofty and magnanimous.
Vulkmar and Ingvar laughed, already treating themselves to overflowing mugs of… something. Yang hadn't seen the foamy, red-gold brew before, but she doubted it tasted like apple juice. Laukr sat beside them, plucking an instrument that looked like a child's toy in his oversized hands. A tech-priest had removed his gauntlets, a soldering iron in its finger spitting up blue sparks as labored over the ancient armor.
Having sung his song for the day, he said nothing as Yang approached, frowning as he sipped at a conservative mug of mjod.
"Not taking part?" She asked.
"Hmn," Laukr said noncommittally.
"Just us tonight," Torbrand said, grinning. "Unless the assassin would like to partake?"
Amat shook his head. "Wouldn't be fair," he said.
Torbrand guffawed, extinguishing a few candles in the process. Leaning against the table, Yang re-lit them between her fingers.
"Neat trick," Torbrand rumbled. There was another question about aura, but he let it sit.
"Wait till you see me drink," Yang promised.
"I have it on good authority that it'll be quite the contest," Torband said, leaning against the table to match her gaze.
"And whose authority is that?" Yang asked.
"Mine," called a raspy voice. Mael's. Yang whirled, her leg screaming from the sudden movement. Mael stood in the doorway, supported by Soo and Asgeg, flanked by Lana and Theni. Caolin stepped out from behind them, wearing an apologetic smile.
"But it was mostly me," the Sergeant said.
"No waterworks now," Caolin wheezed, sauntering painfully through the drinking hall and claiming a seat for himself next to Amat. "Wouldn't do for a Living Saint to openly weep. Unless, of course," he said, holding up a finger, "you're simply awestruck at the might, talent, and heart of the Emperor's very own Imperial Guard."
"Ya done?" Yang asked, punching his shoulder. He broke into a coughing fit. It was wet. Bone-rattling.
"Yeah," Caolin said, slamming his canteen on the table. "I'll have what the big guys are havin'," he asked one of the chapter serfs.
The serf frowned behind his massive white beard. "It's fer astartes only."
"Can't be worse than bathtub amasec," Mael said, as the rest of the party joined them. Soo helped him sit down, avoiding his bandage-clad torso.
"I miss the Major's brew," Lana countered.
"Aye," Theni said. "Beer's not quite the same."
"It isn't, but at least we can drink a lot of your stuff," Asgeg noted, setting herself down on the astartes' side of the table. "Two drinks of the Major's amasec, and you'd wake up on the other side of the Dawn with any voidsman you could carry."
Yang laughed. "Surely, mjod can't be as bad as that?" She asked.
"There's no mjod fer any a' ye," the serf reiterated. "It'll rot yer goots, and ye'll die wishin' ye'd choked to death on tha' gas." He added, jerking his neck at Mael, who coughed into his hand.
"Take Alfhert's word for it," Torbrand said, smiling kindly behind his beard.
"Though we respect your bravery!" Vulkmar said, hoisting his drink, which Ingvar met readily. They guzzled more mjod, not caring if it all reached their mouths.
"Wait, what are you guys even doing here?" Yang realized, once Theni rolled up and completed their little gathering. "I thought you were in triage!"
"Soo snuck us out," Caolin said.
"There's also…" Mael said, before trailing off. He tried to smile, but could only shake his head sadly. Asgeg sighed, put her arm over Yang's shoulders.
"There's been… a decision," Mael continued, still fighting the abuse his throat had suffered. "I… uh. We…"
"The 111th is disbanding," Asgeg said, fighting a lump in her throat.
"It's the truth," Mael said, attempting to sit straight. "The Colonel will call it different, but that's what it is. After Aesborough…" he was seized by a coughing fit. "We don't have the numbers. Plus, a good number of us want to stay here. Help finish off all the heretics and xenos still left on Woadia. Emperor knows there's plenty."
"But-" Yang protested. "I… You don't want to go to Holy Terra?"
"We do," Soo said. "Very much do. But… Woadia home now." She smiled, rested her hand on her belly. "Have to spread word of Saint," she added, bowing slightly.
"The Ranshans too?" Yang asked.
"Yup," Caolin said. "We had a discussion. The Ranshan leaders, the Colonel… and myself of course," he said. "We know you're bound for Cadia eventually. That's no place for the Ranshans. Of course, many among the 111th would like to make pilgrimage with you, but Amat has... dissuaded us."
Amat said nothing and did not react, but he did seem hesitant to meet Yang's bewildered gaze. Instead, he looked at the stacks of mugs being prepared by the serfs.
"So, the vast majority of the 111th is staying home," Caolin finished.
"Not all of us are leaving you," Asgeg clarified. "Caolin and I. The Commissariat and the Colonel. Most of Gamma is staying with you too… some present company excluded," she said, jabbing a pair of metal fingers at Mael and Theni.
"Wow," Yang said. "Way to kill the mood, you guys," she said, slumping in her wheelchair. Amat held her shoulder.
"The truth remains, however," Torbrand interrupted, "that I invited them here."
"Not so they could kill themselves," Alfhert mumbled.
Torbrand chuckled. "Precisely. I figured you wouldn't mind."
"I mean, I don't, but… this is it?" Yang asked. "It's so sudden."
"Tomorrow," Mael said. "Once everyone who wants to be off the Ascendant Dawn has landed."
"Fuck," Yang hissed. She received a grim, knowing smile from Vulkmar, who shook his head, wiped some foam from his vibrant red beard.
"Leaving comrades behind is never easy," Laukr admitted, plucking another string. It squelched discordantly, angered by the massive finger attempting to wield it.
"But that's why they're here," Torbrand reminded her, accepting a horn of drink from Alfhert. He handed it onto Yang. "To remember."
Taking it, she hoisted it aloft. "To remember."
Securing their own drinks, Gamma joined her. A thousand faces flashed in her memory, souls that stood at the side of the Emperor.
"For Jöm," Torbrand said.
"For every Woadian not with us tonight," Caolin said.
They drank long and deep. The brew was fruitier than she expected, so sweet it nearly gagged her - a half-hearted attempt at masking an absurdly high alcohol content.
Smacking her lips, Yang sat back, sighing. "You hyped it up too much," she said. "Not that bad at all."
"That wasn't mjod, Holiness," Alfhert said. "Just Hunangflöskk. Serf-mead."
"Come on," she protested. "This is a somber moment, I need something stronger."
Torbrand's eyes met his serf's. The serf shook his head. The sergeant snorted, rolling his massive shoulders.
"For you, and only you," Torbrand said, his gaze keeping Gamma-and-guests rooted in their seats. Leaning over the table, he offered her his drinking horn. "Dip your finger. No more."
"Psh," Yang said, rolling her eyes. Amat reached for her, but stopped himself, consigning her to her fate. She dipped her finger in the drink and took her taste of mjod, winking at Amat while she did so.
The wink swiftly turned into a grimace as her mouth went from dry to numb to dead. All feeling fled from her tongue, and her aura surged into action, attempting to commandeer her throat muscles and force her to expel the concoction.
There was no taste, no sensation but for the feeling of pure promethium jelly swishing between deadened cheeks. Vomit splashed the back of her throat as her stomach convulsed, demanding she puke.
Yang's hair ignited as she ground her teeth together and forced herself to swallow the… thing she'd ingested, forcing herself to stand tall before the astartes.
Silence reigned in the drinking hall.
"Yeah I think I'm good with this," Caolin said, swishing his Hunangflöskk.
Yang coughed and wheezed, her injured leg seizing with pain each time she hunched over to clear her throat. Amat lighted a hand on her back, shaking his head.
"Fuggin' God-Emp'r n' th' G'en fuggin' Thr'n," Yang cursed. Her mouth wasn't working right, and she couldn't make her tongue move. Vulkmar and Ingvar burst into laughter. Laukr shook his head, but Torbrand managed a small grin.
"Told you," he said.
"Wh' th' fug?" Yang demanded. "Did y' gif me Valky'r varnisssh as a joke? Thersh no way y' c'n ashally drin' tha' stuff."
"It's an astartes drink for a reason," Vulkmar said, his scarred half-smile full and bright, fangs glimmering in the candlelight. "Engineered specifically for our biology. Technically a neurotoxin," he added.
Torbrand drained his horn before slamming the empty vessel onto the table. "And you're one drink down," he added, grinning savagely.
"Oh I fugged up," Yang said, her mouth finally recovering. Alfhert slid her a glass of Hunangflöskk.
"This is for you," he said. "I did the math. Roughly. Three of these for each horn of mjod that Lord Torbrand drinks."
Yang snorted. "I'll nev'r let it be said tha' Living Saint Yang Xiao Long was a coward." She seized the glass and drained it in seconds as Gamma roared their approval, hammering their fists on the table. "Bring it on, ya big fuckin' hooligans!"
Mael laughed, and Soo patted his back as he began to rattle. "That's the Woadian spirit within you," he managed.
Another drink, another drained glass. Yang belched, to uproarious approval.
"You've got this!" Asgeg said, halfway through her first Hunangflöskk.
"I've seen you slam way more," Theni assured her.
"Save the cheering for later," Yang said, eyeing the next glass as it slid down the table. "We've just gotten started."
"It's a contest, not a race," Torbrand concurred.
"One I intend to win," Yang insisted.
"We'll see about that," Ingvar said. "Jöm was the best drinker among us, but Torbrand was not far behind."
"Feh!" Vulkmar said, stroking his beard. "I've drunk Torbrand under the table many a time."
"But he awakens to lead morning training," Laukr said, plucking another chord on his instrument. "Whereas you rouse like an ornery bear after the day is half done."
"Feh!" Vulkmar declared again, louder this time. "Beset on all sides by falsehoods and half-truths!"
The table laughed, and even Laukr cracked a smirk at his brother's futile protests.
"Ah, so he is not joyless after all!" Ingvar said, slapping the youngest Wolf's pauldron. Laukr grumbled noncommittally.
"You know," Asgeg said, finishing her drink and swirling the dregs around. "I… didn't expect Space Marines to be like you guys. My Lords," she added, red tinting her freckled cheeks.
"Ah, don't bother with the titles," Vulkmar said, chuffing as he refilled her glass with an unattended pitcher of Hunangflöskk. "You're right. Most of our brothers aren't like us." He chuckled. "Before I joined Holmbr, I heard that getting Laukr to grin was a monumental task."
Torbrand sipped his second mjod. "Vulkmar speaks the truth this time," he said, wiping the foam from his beard. "On both accounts."
"Fuck man," Yang protested, draining her third drink moments before Alfhert passed her another. "Slow down!"
"And give you the advantage?" Torbrand asked. "I am Vlka Fenryka, and I shall fight fair when I wish."
"Destroyed those fuckin' xenos though," Caolin supplied, sloshing his drink in the direction of the Space Wolves. "I heard how you tore through Aesborough. And we appreciate it, don't we, boys?"
Gamma roared their approval, alternatively drinking and hammering the table.
Theni sighed, leaning back in his wheelchair. "Shame I couldn't fight with you."
"Not your wyrd," Vulkmar said, accepting a refill from Alfhert. "Like our Company, warriors need support and resupply. For every Vlka Fenryka that makes planetfall," he said, gesturing at the humans surrounding him, "there are three hundred serfs that make it possible."
"Honored, Ser," Alfhert said. Theni grinned and nodded his thanks as well.
"I'm gonna miss you guys," Yang protested. "It just seems so sudden."
"Yeah," Caolin admitted. "Fuckin' shame."
"That's why we drink," Torbrand said, hefting his third mjod.
"Amen," Yang said, setting down an empty glass to accept another. Amat cocked his head. He didn't say anything, but she knew what he was thinking. "I'll be fine," she told him, kissing his cheek.
"I know," he replied tonelessly.
"Still cute you're concerned."
"That's the thing that confuses me greatly," Vulkmar said, leaning forward, his mass nearly snapping the table in half. Lana caught her glass before it tipped over. "An assassin and a Saint… how does that work? How does it even happen?"
"Beats the fuck outta me," Asgeg said. "Plenty of whispering about who Yang was seein', then this guy shows up outta nowhere."
"It's kinda his schtick," Yang interjected. The Space Wolves laughed, Ingvar spitting out a few drops of mjod. The liquid burnt small black stains into the metal table.
"No no no," Vulkmar said. "It simply raises fascinating ontological questions."
"You cannot be serious," Laukr protested, fingers striking a discordant note.
"Not even remotely," Vulkmar guffawed. "Still, I say good for them! A Saint and Assassin, battling a Daemon Prince, side by side."
"I was in a tower three klicks away," Amat insisted.
"Side by side," Vulkmar continued. "Sounds like one of those epics you endlessly study," he said, elbowing Laukr.
Laukr huffed, but did not reply.
"The only question... " Vulkmar continued, "is who tops."
Yang spat, hacking and coughing as she inhaled a quart of mead. Asgeg pounded on her back, metallic fist hammering her.
"Fuck!" Yang cried, wiping her mouth. "Careful with that thing, Asgeg! My body is one giant bruise."
"Not an answer," Vulkmar said.
"Oh, shove off it," Ingvar said, taking a pull from his horn. "Leave them their privacy."
"Always shoving your muzzle into others' business," Laukr added, shaking his head.
"That sounds like Yang," Caolin admitted.
"Hm," Amat acknowledged. "Perhaps I will have something to drink."
"Thank the Emperor!" Yang said, attempting to quell her coughing fit with another glass of mead. She set it aside, only for Alfhert to hand her two more. "Fuck! This is beginning to feel like work!"
"Ye dug yer own grave on this one," the serf muttered, filling a mug for Amat. His movements were swift and mechanical, nearly ritual. I wouldn't be surprised if he's poured a hundred thousand, Yang thought, wiping her mouth.
"'Rash and impulsive' is damn near the Holmbr motto," Vulkmar barked, his brothers nodding in agreement.
"And it fits Yang well," Amat concurred, accepting his drink. He stared at it for some time before taking a careful sip.
"The lack of sympathy is damaging my morale," Yang said, finishing a drink. Alfhert slid her yet another one without hesitation.
Torbrand guffawed. With a savage grin, he turned his mjod-horn over once more to prove he'd drained it. "'For they shall know no fear'," he said, quoting the God-Emperor.
"I'm not a space marine," Yang huffed.
"There were a few bets within the 111st that you were the daughter of one," Asgeg noted. "You're… not, are you?"
"Nope," Yang answered readily. Raven would likely have been able to best an astartes, but her contribution to Yang's childhood was little more than a womb. Tai-Yang and Summer on the other hand… "But they were capable warriors." Legendary, really. Even if it was just to Ruby and me.
"Fuck!" Asgeg cried, burying her head in her hands to Gamma's uproarious laughter.
"Guessing you were on the wrong end of that gamble," Yang said, scooping up a drink. They were beginning to taste really good, and she didn't want to think about Raven.
"I'm cursed, I tell ya," Asgeg muttered, fishing a thin stack of req-bills out of her pocket.
"You're not cursed, you're just stubborn," Caolin said, handing a share over to Lana. "And a bad gambler. How many times did I tell you about her hair?"
"Well," Mael argued, also flicking through a handful of bills. "Elodia was a shitshow once those orks hit us. It was also our first battle! And," he said, jamming his finger on the table, "We put up with your groxshit through the entirety of R.I.P. How were we supposed to know when you had it straight for once?"
Caolin shrugged as he thumbed through his new stack of bills. "Guess you'll have to accept I outplayed you," he said, winking. Everyone at the table groaned.
"Presumptuous little shit, you are," Laukr said. Caolin paled instantly.
Until the other Space Wolves erupted with laughter, Torbrand's cheeks flushing red. Yang noted with mounting dismay that he'd already finished five drinks.
"Fug," she managed, gulping down another mug. "This was a bad idea."
"Never stopped you before," Theni said.
"And it sure as shit won't stop me now," she replied. "Alfhert! More!"
Gamma roared their approval.
Torbrand nodded, a metallic grin shining through his foam-stained beard. He raised a fresh horn of mjod.
"Yang Xiao Long, the Matron Saint of Lost Causes," Vulkmar said, stroking his beard. "No, that doesn't sound right."
"Still not officially canonized," Yang noted, gesticulating with her mug and splashing Hunangflöskk across the table. Oh. Oh no.
"You okay?" Amat asked.
"Yeah," Yang said, patting his shoulder. "Doin' fine. Thought my fancy augs would help me go the distance but uh… I think it's already hitting me."
"You ate before, right?" Asgeg asked.
"Of course," Yang said, pausing to slam another mug. "This isn't amateur hour."
"Certainly not," Torbrand said. "But I am afraid you labor under false hope. Your pace is to be commended at least!"
"Such lofty praise," Yang replied. "And from an astartes no less."
"Speaking of food," Ingvar rumbled. "It should be here in a moment."
"Food too!" Caolin boomed. "What hosts, the grey angels are!" His accent was thickening by the minute.
"Settle down," Asgeg returned, "We're blessed to be here." Her stomach rumbled, earning her a laugh from Vulkmar. "Maybe I shouldn't go so hard on these," she muttered, swirling the dregs of her Hunangflöskk around her mug. "But damn, they're pretty tasty."
"Indeed," Mael said as Soo dabbed flecks of foam out of his beard. "Many thanks to our hosts."
Alfhert accepted the praise, nodding stoically. "Yer a cheery lot for guardsmen, but a' least ye know yer manners." Burying his fingers into his beard, he gave a sharp whistle. More serfs appeared, carrying plates of kebabs.
The table cheered, Yang the loudest of all. Anything to distract herself from the steadily lengthening line of Hunangflöskk mugs awaiting her attention.
Leaning in, Torbrand grinned. "Though we are known as the Rout," he said. "Let it not be said that we did not offer all of our opponents a chance to lay down arms."
Yang met his stare, reached out for another full mug, and drained it. And the next one. And the next one.
"Holy shit," Asgeg breathed.
Yang finished another, and belched loud enough to rattle the glassware.
"I will never surrender," she said, wiping her mouth. "More!" The Woadians cheered, while the Fenrisians merely watched.
"This all feels like it was inevitable," Laukr noted.
"I suppose it was," Amat said before sipping at his Hunangflöskk, swishing it around in his mouth to taste it fully. "Yang has a competitive nature."
"I resent that," Yang said cattily, leaning into him and spilling some of her drink.
Her boyfriend blinked. "You're drunk already."
"I'm… oh shit, I think I am," Yang noted. Suddenly, those kebabs looked incredibly compelling. She tore into a handful between mugs, tossing the sticks over her shoulder in her haste to slow the inevitable.
"Damn!" Vulkmar belted. "Watch your fingers!"
"Yang," Mael said, "you keep going like this and you're going to be the first Living Saint to die of gluttony." He said it in jest, but Soo still clung to his fatigues, eyes wide.
"When it's time for me to go, I'll accept it with dign'ty," Yang slurred, pointing at the couple emphatically. "And tonight is certainly not that night!"
Amat chuckled, shaking his head. "Certainly not."
"Winning a drinking contest isn't pretty, babe," Yang shot back, grinning. Despite the fact that she was never going to win and her fingertips were buzzing happily, she could at least admit she was having a good time.
"You're getting sloppy already," Caolin warned.
"Hush!" Lana shot back. "She can… she's got this!"
"She's a Saint, by the Golden Throne!" Mael concurred.
"And the best drinker among us," Theni echoed.
"I've never won betting against Yang," Asgeg explained to the astartes with a broad, sweeping gesture that betrayed a hint of drunkenness. "You're in trouble, my Lord."
"If you had bills left to bet, that'd mean a lot more," Yang said.
Torbrand chuckled, finishing his twelfth mjod. "They are dedicated to you."
"Yeah," Yang noted, a touch of melancholy poisoning the moment, even more than the gallons of Hunangflöskk swishing around in her synthetic stomach. Slamming yet another drink, she wiped her mouth and seized the next.
"To the Woadian 111th Rangers!" Yang declared, hoisting her mug. "Ever the wind beneath my wings!"
"To the 111th!" Caolin answered, a cry echoed by her comrades. They joined her in drink, but couldn't match her pace.
Yang cracked her neck. "This is just getting started, Sarge," she said, eyes glowing red. "You ready?"
"Alrhrhr." Torbrand's reply came, distant, far away.
Yang woke up, head pounding, at an utter loss of where she was and how she got there. A blade of panic punched through her ribs, memories of awakening on Woadia thundering through her.
Until memories of the drinking contest resurfaced, a hazy blur of laughter and sweet, sweet mead. The sounds of the Woadian HQ filtered in next, and she realized she was in the same spot she'd awoken after her encounter with the Wolf King.
I blacked out.
It brought back dark, unpleasant memories. Flickers of the years spent wasting away after Ruby sacrificed herself. There wasn't much more than flickers left. Perhaps it was for the best. At least those flashes seemed… distant now.
Or perhaps it was the searing hangover.
"I'm a fucking idiot," she said. Or at least tried to say. What came out instead was a long and painful death-rattle. A smile battered past the clamorous bell ringing in her skull and memories of Remnant.
At least I'm still in the Imperium. Praise the Emperor.
Amat emerged from behind a flap of canvas, a sweating canteen in hand.
Yang's smile broadened. "I lost, didn't I?" She croaked.
"Handily," Amat answered, passing her the canteen. "A heroic effort was given."
"Everything hurts," Yang groaned. She took a small sip of water, allowing her to feel her mouth again. "Thanks." Amat nodded. "Now I remember why I gave up binge drinking." The glare of Woadia's midmorning sun pierced her vision, a spear of unrelenting pain. "How many until I collapsed?"
"Forty-two," Amat answered. "Technically enough alcohol to poison a platoon of Guardsmen to death."
The wry note of amusement did little to stem the ache. "Thanks for taking care of me," she mumbled.
He kissed her cheek. "Of course."
The simple act brought a flare of heat to her cheeks. Emperor, I'm hopeless.
"The last thing I remember was making… a toast I think."
"You were," Amat replied. "Not a very eloquent one, but your heart was in the right place."
Yang laughed. It made her head hurt. More memories trickled back. "Oh fuck. The 111th…"
"I… I'm sorry Yang."
Her smile faded. "It's okay." Although her closest companions weren't going anywhere, it still felt wrong to leave the 111th - as a whole - behind. At least she got another raucous night in, even if she didn't remember all of it. It… fit. "We're leaving soon, aren't we?"
Amat nodded. "Your dress uniform is on its way."
"I'll need your help," Yang replied.
"Not the first time I've had to dress you," Amat said, offering her his hand. "Though I think you look better in power armor."
"Only cause I had to strip first," she countered, taking his hand.
Amat chose not to reply. He brushed a lock of matted hair out of her eyes. "Your breath smells like shit," he said eventually.
Yang's head lolled as the former Vindicare hauled her into a sitting position. The room spun a dozen seaborne circles before settling into an acceptable version of reality.
"I overdid it," she muttered.
"The Vlka Fenryka approved," Amat said. "You think you can stand?"
"Not for very long," Yang replied. "Leg's still killin' me."
"I'll help you," Amat said, taking her arm across his shoulder. "It's time to say goodbye."
"Seems like I've been saying it more and more these days," Yang mumbled.
Amat's reply was a smile, weak and small.
A/N: Incoming blog-post about why there hasn't been updates.
TL;DR: COVID sucks, writer's block, no more updates until the rest of the story is finished.
If you're still here, let's get into it.
So, yeah. It's the 6th Anniversary of AWoBE, and it's the only chapter I've posted all year. It'll also be the only chapter I post this year.
I'm really sorry it's just the one, and one not packed with developments, at that. I wanted this to be the year that I finished AWoBE, but it didn't happen. There's a lot of reasons why, but let's start with the biggest problem - COVID-19.
Above all else, I hope you guys have been staying safe during the pandemic, wearing your mask, social distancing, the whole nine yards. It's a difficult time for all of us out there, and I sincerely hope you're doing well.
As for myself, I'd be lying if I said I was okay. For those of you who still don't know, I work in a large hospital in an urban region of the US, and I've been insanely busy with the front-line response. We're better off than the worst-hit areas, but I've seen too much death. Not trying to fish for a pity-party here or anything - I play a very minor role in the whole healing process as a whole - but goddamn, it's been rough. The depression came back, the anxiety, the whole nine yards. But I still have it better than many, many others this year.
When I had free time, I channeled a lot of my frustrations this year into activism and some other personal projects - projects I returned to whenever I felt the itch to write, as infrequently as it arose.
As for more AWoBE-specific problems, I mean, shit… what didn't go wrong?
This chapter drove me insane, and I almost mean that literally. I had DREAMS about this chapter because I kept bashing my head against it and nothing fucking worked. Even though I'm still 4-5 chapters ahead of this one, when the upcoming chapter is causing me so many fucking problems, it kills my enthusiasm and ability to forge ahead with the rest. I find myself writing one or two sentences, then searching for the smallest distraction just so I can find an excuse not to write more AWoBE.
Speaking of killing enthusiasm… I have to admit that I just don't like RWBY anymore. When I go over all these fan-projects I started years and years ago, it seems insane that I had so much passion for this show. When I think of RWBY now, I just get sad and annoyed. The rough-yet-earnest magic of the earlier volumes is gone. I won't spell out my criticisms here (many of them are neatly contained in Hbomberguy's video), but it's tough to keep doing fan-stuff for a universe I don't enjoy anymore… even if AWoBE is exceptionally far removed from its source material, and has neatly evolved into its own thing.
I still enjoy writing this story of course, and I'm obviously excited to see everyone's reactions to upcoming chapters, but I have decided to not post any more chapters until I finish AWoBE. Once the first drafts of the remaining chapters are done, I'd like to go out in a blaze of glory, and post a chapter every week, which could be anywhere from 20 to 40 weeks of regular content.
I'm still digging myself out of some writer's block when it comes to these upcoming chapters… it's an arc that I've been looking forward to since I started the fic, but that comes with its own pitfalls, since I'm trying really hard to live up to what I've envisioned. I have a feeling that once I get past The Big Three (three chapters with massive, massive developments), the rest of the story will be a lot easier to finish out.
However, I also won't let an anniversary pass without an update, so if I'm not finished with AWoBE by next year you'll at least get another chapter and accompanying apologetic blog-post.
If you're still reading, I appreciate your time and patience. You've all given me a lot of both these past 6 years, and hopefully you won't have to much longer! You guys are seriously the best, and seeing people still dropping follows, favorites, reviews, fanart, updating the tvtropes page, etc. - it always makes my day. It's actually made weathering this pandemic a little easier to bear.
I wish I could have paid you all the same kindness, in the only small, silly way I can.