A/N: Two chapters in two weeks? What nonsense is this?!
Anyway, we got on a roll with the editing and figured hey, why not.
Also, we're eventually going to port over to Archive of Our Own (emphasis on 'eventually'), and have gone ahead and made ourselves a nice, shiny, empty profile over there. I'll put the info in our profile in case you want to keep track of us in the event of ffnet randomly crashing and burning or something.
For now, enjoy the ride!
The night air whipped past, and the yellow line marking the center of the narrow two lane road winding along the cliff blurred till it almost looked solid. Weiss kept her arms locked around Yang's middle, more as a lifeline than a seat belt for this ride which was rivaling the professor/manticore trip for speed.
As soon as they'd sworn to call Ruby if anything happened, and to back out if things got out of hand, and a handful of other promises Weiss had almost zero intention of keeping at the moment, she and Yang had made for the campus garage to pick up Bumblebee.
"Two rides in one night, huh girl." The sharp clicks of the locking mechanism holding Bumblebee's front wheel echoed through the otherwise empty vehicle hangar. Yang pulled her bike free of her assigned repair bay and grabbed her spare helmet, giving it a quick spot clean with one of the unused rags from her workbench before tossing it to Weiss, who had just finished texting Ruby coordinates and curt assurances.
When Weiss simply held the helmet and didn't move, Yang leaned against her bike, glancing between the ex-heiress and Bumblebee. "So... this your first time on a motorcycle then?"
Ignoring the obvious question, Weiss stood gripping the helmet hard enough to make the plastic creak. "Did you see the mark on Blake's neck?"
A stifling wave of heat was her answer. "The bite mark?" Crimson bled into the edges of Yang's vision. "Yeah I saw it. Dibs on knocking the teeth out of whoever did it."
Anyone other than Weiss might have leaned away from the heat, but the fencer felt like everything in her chest cavity had turned to black ice. She couldn't even feel angry, just a degree of sub zero certainty. This wasn't going to be an impassioned trouncing of some ruffian, a brawl out behind the bleachers, so to speak. This was going to be an execution. Maybe a long one. The shame she'd seen in Blake's eyes- Weiss wasn't always in touch with a lot of her emotions, but she'd had extensive experience of that one- was inclining her to take her time. For instance, watching Yang do some dental work might be satisfying.
Weiss reached to remove her hairpiece out of habit, but touched Blake's ribbon instead, and the mysterious reappearance of the ornament out in the woods came to mind. "It might be Neo."
Liquid fire surged through Yang's veins at the memory of Neo pinned to the concrete beneath her, brazenly stealing a kiss from her as well. Something that made itself look like Weiss just to steal kisses from Blake? Yang had her suspicions, and it seemed Weiss shared them.
Taking a moment to draw in a long, slow, deep breath, Yang did her best to bank her anger for the time being so that she could at least try to drive safely. "Well," she locked eyes with Weiss, "then messing with Blake might be the last mistake she ever makes, huh?"
Weiss didn't have a snappy reply. Yang was right, and Neo or not, they were doing this. In fact, it being Neo would take out two birds with one stone. She quit clenching her jaw and white-knuckling the spare helmet and turned it over to familiarize herself with the buckle.
Yang watched Weiss examine the helmet as though it were an alien artifact. "You might not actually need that if we're only heading to the forest."
"We're still driving, and I am not risking a head injury."
With a good-natured eye roll, Yang circled around behind Weiss. "Here, like this," she gathered up Weiss's impossibly long ponytail, twisting it into a loose bun at the base of her neck. "Nice ribbon by the way."
Weiss bristled, swatting Yang away from her hair and shoving the helmet into her hands so she could put it up herself. It didn't seem like the right time to be accepting compliments on her style, but it did lighten the mood a little. "Thank you."
Yang lightly spun the helmet between her fingertips while she waited. "So... whereabouts in Forever Fall did this go down?"
"Here," Weiss, now with a messy but somehow picture perfect bun, pulled out her scroll and indicated the place on the map she'd used to gauge her progress in the woods. She eyed Yang's motorcycle with no small amount of skepticism. "Can you get us close?"
One glance at the scroll and Yang answered with dead certainty, "I can get us there."
Weiss scoffed at Yang. The coordinates were in the middle of the forest. There was no way they would be riding all the way there.
Tree branches whipped past and Weiss clung to Yang, shrieking over the rev of the engine when the tires left the ground as Yang jumped her bike across another ravine in the dark. "Yang Xiao Long are you trying to get us killed?!"
Yang shot Weiss a split-second look over her shoulder, sticking the landing like it was nothing and revving the engine anew, barreling forward to weave through the wide cone of forest lit by her headlight.
Weiss ducked her head to Yang's back and braced her aura- a thousand trees blurred past them, but it would just take one for the ride to end in an abrupt and bone-shattering crash, or violent explosion. Did motorcycles explode? Weiss braced harder.
They arrived at the clearing no time flat.
Dragging a foot across the ground to help brake around the last tree, Yang brought the bike to a complete stop, then blinked down at the arms still crushing her middle. Weiss was pretty darn strong when she needed to be. "Blake wasn't kidding, you do give great hugs," she patted Weiss's hands.
Weiss jerked away and shakily dismounted the motorcycle, grumbling as she fumbled for the helmet buckle under her chin, "You're incorrigible."
The forest was pitch black except the patch of red-leaved bushes and trees illuminated by Bumblebee's headlight. The bright beam shone on the dark trunk of one particular tree. Weiss dumped her helmet next to the bike and consulted her scroll before stalking over to look at the mussed and partially crushed foliage beneath it.
Yang retrieved Weiss's helmet from the ground with a scowl, dusted it off, and gently placed both it and her own on the bike seats. "See anything?" She spoke low, her words punctuated by the soft clicks of her gauntlets sliding into place over her forearms.
"Of course I don't see anything," Weiss huffed at her normal volume. They'd just roared directly into the forest on a motorcycle- every Grimm in the countryside plus professor Goodwitch if she was still out and about, would be headed their way. She flailed a hand up at the branches overhead. "It's dark and Blake said she was up there somewhere"
In an astonishing feat of navigation, Yang had brought them right here and even had the light pointed in the right direction. Weiss examined her scroll and the leaves around the base of the trunk, triple checking that this was the right spot and scanning for Neo. If this was a trap of some kind, she'd be nearby.
"Well launch me on up there then!" Yang clenched her first and flexed.
Right. Maybe they could lure her out if they separated a bit. Steeling herself, Weiss gripped her sword. "Fine."
A high pitched ring of metal sounded, and one of her white glyphs circled just above the ground at the foot of the tree, ready to launch.
Yang punched her fist into her open hand to pep herself up and took a running start at the glyph, leaping straight up into the air and right into the underside of a branch with a resounding crack.
A string of colorful expletives flowed from the brawler as she dropped to the dirt like a rock, managed to find her feet and burst into flames. "...I know you saw that," Yang pointed a finger at Weiss, "But you didn't see that." She leapt again, this time dodging the offending branches that she could now see, landing somewhere up in the treetops.
After a little while rustling around, the ball of light that was Yang halted, bending to peer down at something. "What the heck..." Another small rectangular light appeared, followed by the faint snap of a picture being taken, then Yang, slightly more coordinated this time, dropped back to the ground.
Wordlessly, she showed Weiss the picture on her scroll - a winking smiley face carved into the base of a large branch.
Weiss took the scroll and scowled at the photo, caught between dread and the rising anger in her chest. It was definitely Neo. The wind stirred the leaves overhead, and the hair at the back of Weiss's neck prickled up.
She spun around just in time to see her perched side-saddle on Bumblebee.
"You!" Myrtenaster's tip snapped up, but before Weiss could engage the teleporting dead-woman-walking smirked and switched the headlight off, plunging the clearing into darkness.
Yang reacted on instinct, flaring her semblance and lunging towards her bike with a vicious right jab, only to hit empty air, finding the bike seat unoccupied once more. Growling, she jumped back at once, whirling to get Weiss's back against her own.
Four white sigils bloomed in the air, bathing the clearing in soft white light, the Schnee crest circling slowly as Weiss gritted her teeth. She'd been using her aura all evening- all day, for classes and extra practice- and probably she should have been tired. Zero fatigue made it past the ice cold fury that seized her. Weiss kept her sword up and deliberately moved away from Yang, baiting the teleporting menace.
"Weiss," Yang hissed, backing up to follow Weiss's retreat and keep her covered, "what are you doing?" She tried to reign her semblance back in, in the hopes that Neo might have a harder time seeing her in the dark if she wasn't a glowing target.
"What do you mean 'what am I doing'?" Weiss snapped, gripping her sword, fully visible by the light of her glyphs as Yang stuck close.
"I mean like, we're not running right? Because I think two on one is pretty good odds," Yang kept her voice low, eyes darting around the near-pitch-black forest.
For a moment Weiss was too blisteringly angry to even respond to the insinuation that she would want to run from the person who had not only stabbed her once, but who had also molested her girlfriend in the woods.
Then there was a shifting of leaves in the darkness- not in one place, but in many- and the sound of growls, and one by one, sets of glowing red eyes approached their little lit up clearing. Weiss froze in her fighting stance as one pair of eyes rose to a height of eight feet or so, and out stepped an alpha beowolf, teeth bared in a savage snarl.
Yang grimaced and took a step back as the Alpha took a step forward. "Okay so... I may have miscalculated our odds."
Weiss gripped her sword, blinded for a moment by the need to just tear something apart- if not Neo, Grimm were an acceptable substitute. Then Yang spoke, and she saw more beowolves emerging from the blackness around them. Giving ground to keep pace with Yang, she gritted out, "... yes, well, perhaps this calls for a tactical retreat."
Yang's fists clenched well beyond the point of pain. This was beyond unfair. Neo had been right there, but these stupid beowolves were standing right smack in the way of them getting their hands on that good for nothing illusionist...
Pausing for a split second, Yang squinted... then threw an explosive punch straight into the face of the alpha beowolf towering in front of them.
Her fist connected as the creature lunged at her, teeth bared, but instead an impact of teeth and bone, the snarling visage shattered. A thousand shards scattered in the leaves.
Weiss dropped half her glyphs, calling them up again at Yang's left and right, shielding her from several sets of claws and fangs of the non-illusion variety as the rest of the beowolves set in upon them.
"Thanks Weiss!" Yang called out, diving headfirst into the far more manageable fray of regular beowolves, guns and fists blazing as she carved a burning path back to her bike. Perhaps with luck she could run Neo over.
Yang was bright as a comet in the dark. Weiss followed in her trail, feeling sick, feeling useless because they were in the middle of the woods with a pack of beowolves and a teleporter. She tried to keep herself open to whatever sense it was that let her feel when something she couldn't see was coming at her- the thing she'd been training for weeks on- but the snarling and howling drove out her ability to sense anything beyond the need to get out of this forest.
Myrtenaster thrust between the ribs of a lunging grimm and slipped back out again, leaving the creature to fall across Weiss's path. Claws raked her aura, and she twisted, throwing herself into an off-hand back handspring overtop of a beowolf whose teeth snapped shut on empty air where her side had been an instant before. She could evade and maybe lead some of the pack off a few yards, giving Yang a chance to get her motorcycle started, and on a normal day- i.e. on flat terrain- she would have pulled off the maneuver. In the woods, however, she came down on a tangle of dead, fallen branch wood and yelped as she pitched backwards into a shallow, leaf-filled depression left by a rotted out stump.
Yang turned just in time to see a flash of white vanish into the underbrush. Her bike was barely a couple steps away, but she didn't hesitate. "Oh no you don't!" She whirled and fired an explosive round directly into the face of the Beowulf descending upon Weiss, the incendiary shot catching the arms of a few other wolves in the process, but also leaving her immobile for one second too long. She could feel the air leave her lungs as the armored skull of another wolf crashed dead center into her back.
Weiss threw her arms up to shield herself from the flash of Ember Celica's blast. She growled and brought her free hand down fast, summoning a white glyph at her back and launching herself up to her feet just in time to skewer the beowolf snarling over Yang. Its teeth snapped on air rather than Yang's shoulder, and it started dissipating into ash as Weiss whipped her blade from its remains to a wolf on her right, neatly carving between its ribs before returning to her ready stance, her glyph still circling in the leaves behind her. Weiss blew hair out of her face as she took stock of the ring of beowolves- beowolves, but no sign of Neo- surrounding them and glanced at Yang to make sure she was getting up.
She was already halfway to her feet, the burning glow of her hair casting long shadows throughout the otherwise dark forest. "Than-" she ducked under the claws and smashed in the teeth of a beowolf trying to clamber past her bike. "Thanks."
"Don't," Weiss had to cut her 'don't bother' short to keep another set of claws at bay. There were a lot of them and between the howls and snarls and crashing in the brush she couldn't listen for Neo. Yang was easy to spot in the dark, at least, as were the dozens of pairs of glowing eyes.
Her cold rage had chipped away enough for her to realize that charging out here possibly may have been a bad plan. With all her semblance work, that phantom pain in her stomach where Neo had stabbed her had come back with a vengeance and she couldn't shake the feeling that, distracted as they were with the Grimm in the dark, either of them could very easily suffer an encore of that particular performance. They needed space- they needed time to regroup and figure out where Neo was. She wasn't sure if she could physically grab Yang and propel them clear of the fray, so instead she fixed her grip on Myrtenaster and in the wake of one of Yang's shots drove the sword's point into the earth to establish something of a barrier for them.
When she activated her ice Dust, though, something in the chamber snapped, and in a jagged flash irregular ice spikes erupted from the ground all around them, thick enough to form a solid ring. Stray spikes speared beowolves, flash froze others, and almost skewered Weiss herself as she fell back away from her sword.
The forest was silent a moment in the wake of the maneuver. She crouched in the frost, her heart beating in her throat as she took in the crooked ice. Heavy frost ran from Myrtenaster's chamber to the ground, and she thought back to how she had been working on her sword with Ruby to modify it to take courser Dust crystals, and how they'd run some tests. Had she switched out the lower quality Dust when they'd finished? It shouldn't have mattered- the tests had gone well. Weiss let her knees drop to the frost covered leaf litter. They'd gone well, but they hadn't run that many. If she hadn't switched it out, it meant she'd been using it these past few days and it had been fine.
It took Yang a second to process the flash of ice, the remaining beowolves scampering off into the night, Weiss down on her knees. For a moment, the forest was calm, if a bit chilly. Then her eyes landed on her bike.
Yang exploded into flames, the burning light reflecting off of the spears of ice running straight through her one and only Bumblebee. Cutting loose with a roar of frustration, she smashed through one of the spears with her fist. "Come on!" Her eyes trailed crimson as she whirled to scream into the dark forest, "Come on, half-pint! Scared of a rematch?!"
Weiss jerked back up when Yang screamed, withdrawing her ice-cold sword from the frozen earth and quickly brushing the frost off to inspect the chamber in question: it was cracked down its length, and empty. Bits of glass came away with the frost. She pried the broken capsule out, getting back to her ready stance, but Yang's challenge just echoed in the dark woods, unanswered. Weiss stood frozen as the exposed gears and shredded metal of the brawler's motorcycle registered. The ice had torn through the sleek machine like tinfoil.
"Yang," she started, but didn't approach her.
Yang's eyes flitted away from scanning the forest, her look of pure unbridled rage now focused directly on Weiss.
The ex-heiress stopped, suddenly sensing that there were zero words she could say to improve the situation and quite a few that would make it worse. Her grip unconsciously tightened on Myrtenaster as she held her silence, waiting to see if Yang would rein herself in before she proceeded.
With Weiss keeping her silence, Yang's eyes quickly slid past her to the forest beyond, burning crimson making one last sweep of the surrounding trees and finding... nothing at all. Her semblance burned around her, aching for battle, but it appeared she'd been made a fool of yet again.
Yang released a heavy breath, flopping back to lean heavily against her half-frozen bike. She shoved her hands into her hair, trying and failing to push it back out of her face. "Stupid. This was a stupid idea."
Weiss took a breath to... what? Admit that she'd completely lost her head as well? Hadn't thought that Neo would just run and leave them to face a bunch of Grimm instead of fighting? She could be angry. She could blame Yang and her bike for attracting the Grimm. But would Neo have stayed any longer anyway? They'd both come in ready to murder her- she more than Yang, easily. That was enough to bring the Grimm on its own. She let the breath back out, listening carefully to the sounds of the chilly autumn night. There was no telltale prickle at the back of her neck. No sudden urge to dodge.
She crossed the few steps to stand by Yang's bike as well and gathered herself to sort this out.
"It's my fault," Weiss's voice was dangerously close to breaking. She could hardly look at Myrtenaster, or Bumblebee. "I... I'm sorry."
Yang sagged even harder against her bike, dragging her hands down her face. She flashed a half-hearted glare in Weiss's direction, but the crimson from earlier had already faded to lilac. "...You're lucky family is exempt from my personal hit list," she sighed. Sucking in a deep breath, Yang willed herself to turn around, running both hands across Bumblebee, trying to assess the damages. One spike of ice had stabbed clean through the brake lines, another had lodged itself into the gearbox, while yet another had barely missed the liquid dust chamber.
Even as Yang's thoughts flew in a thousand different directions - Weiss's terrible and simultaneously amazing accuracy, the critical stupidity of this entire trip, a quick mental catalog of all the parts she would need for repairs, possible reinforcements to her future bike designs, the logistics of getting back to campus, the entire deal with whatever Neo had done - one question stuck like a thorn in the back of her head.
There was no avoiding it. Yang's hands busied themselves with the still-red tips of her hair, just another reminder of another loss to Neo. "Weiss... What are we going to tell Blake?"
Silence stretched between them in the soft glow of Myrtenaster's activated Dust chamber and the residual burn of Yang's semblance.
"There's not much to tell," Weiss scowled, refusing to picture how confused and hurt Blake had looked when she was describing whatever she'd seen in the woods. "Obviously that we saw Neo, though that doesn't completely explain why Blake insisted that she saw me."
Unless Blake had been too inebriated to even see straight, which Weiss doubted given her fighting abilities during their aborted test.
"Right..." Yang's brows pinched together. "Like I know she does illusions and all, but don't her illusions just kind of," she flared her fingers, "shatter when you touch them?"
"You think it could have been an illusion?" Frost-white leaves scuffed as she turned to Yang. She hadn't even considered the possibility, but she distinctly remembered Torchwick shattering into a million pieces in that diner right before she took that sword to the back. That was not a good night, and recalling it sharpened her awareness of being stranded out in the middle of Forever Fall. She glanced down at Yang's bike, and up at the ice spikes surrounding them.
Yang crossed her arms, the chill of the solid ice around them finally making itself known as the last dregs of her semblance settled down. Hallucinations don't leave bite marks, that much she was sure of... but illusions? Frustration burned in the back of Yang's throat, but cold fury gripped her heart. Short of tracking Neo down and beating some answers out of her, there was no good way to guess how her semblance worked after only experiencing it two times.
"...I don't know," Yang sighed, both hands dropping to her sides before lifting again to rest on her poor battered Bumblebee. "But I do know that we're about to take a very, very long walk."
A little fire Dust was all that was required to melt some of the ice and get Yang's crippled bike loose. Weiss found herself gritting her teeth as she manually spun the chamber into place. Fortunately that capsule was high quality enough to avoid blowing them to pieces. Pushing the motorcycle through the woods wasn't the easiest move, but leaving it behind would mean it getting torn to shreds by whatever Grimm happened upon it, and that was obviously out of the question.
Weiss picked her way through the woods a few yards ahead of Yang, scouting out the clearest, most level path and bitterly wishing that she was able to summon. Yang's motorcycle getting stuck on a jutting root or in a leaf-filled depression in the forest floor wouldn't be a problem if she could call up a giant white beowolf, like Winter could. Fatigue dragged at her, though, and she didn't bother even trying.
Instead she kept Myrtenaster activated, shedding a soft glow over their near surroundings, and she kept as alert as she could for any trace of Neo's presence. The autumn air sighed through the leaves, scattering some across their path. It was too cold for night insects, so the forest felt empty.
They still hadn't decided what to tell Blake, and it was tearing Weiss apart. Her hand strayed to the place she'd gotten stabbed. She'd wanted to resolve the situation entirely- preferably by returning the favor. Now not only did they have to tell Blake they'd confirmed that she'd been kissed and bitten by a murderous psychopath, but also that due to her own incompetence she had trashed Yang's bike and had failed to even engage Neo. Weiss remembered seeing Ruby in a moment of frustration sheer clean through trees with Crescent Rose, and it made her itch to try the same. She stuck to lighting the way for Yang, though.
They weren't even a mile into the forest, so it wasn't too long before they broke the cover of the trees.
"We can tell her it was an illusion," Weiss pronounced, as she waited for Yang to get clear of the thicker underbrush at the edge of the woods.
Yang brushed the leaves from Bumblebee's seat as she came to a stop beside Weiss, fixing her with a look. "That's..." It wasn't technically a lie, it was their best guess. Maybe Neo's illusions only shattered if you hit them really hard? Her fingers drummed for a moment against her bike's handles. "I mean, for sure we should mention that we saw Neo out here." She pulled her scroll from her pocket. Still no service - but they would be in range long before they reached school grounds. "I guess we should tell Goodwitch too. Not sure what she's going to do about it though... it's not like she can lock down the entire forest."
"Alternatively we could not mention leaving school grounds in the dead of night," Weiss grumbled as she put her own scroll away. Of course her outdated school issued one wouldn't have better signal than Yang's. It took a lot more effort to get it into her belt pouch than it should have. It seemed like Neo had done some kind of illusion thing to get close to Blake. Get close and what, though? Kiss her, obviously, which was bad enough, but why? Weiss kept running different scenarios in her head, but none of them made sense. A distraction to hurt Blake? But pushing her out of a tree was hardly enough to put a huntress in training out of commission, intoxicated as she may have been. Had Weiss interrupted her in time to throw off whatever she'd been going to do? If so, what had she really been planning? Would she try again?
The last question made her nerves go taught as a wire, because if Neo hadn't wanted to lure her and Yang out here for a rematch...
The shattered moon passed behind clouds overhead, casting the wide stretch of meadow between them and the distant road in shadow. They were here, miles from the school in the middle of the night.
And where was Blake?
Blake was back at Beacon, and, in all likelihood, asleep.
"So... I have to visit a Grandfairy, take her moon shard and give it to the man at the dynamite hideout, sneak into the basement of a clock tower to learn a song... and then I can sleep at the inn?" Blake arched a brow at the small wolf Faunus she was still learning to move around the holoscreen, then directed her incredulity at Ruby. "This is a very strange game."
"Yeah, but it makes sense for the story later," Ruby, lying propped up on Weiss's covers to be close to the screen, gauged Blake's level of disinterest in a split second and clasped her hands, "Please! It's a classic! There's just this runaround at the start, and then it gets really, really good."
She just needed to keep her occupied till the others got back or called for help.
"That's also what you said about the game with the strange little alien that needed to collect broken scroll pieces..." Blake eyed her own school-issued brick of a scroll lying open on the floor beside her. Yang and Weiss's icons stared back up at her, their aura bars still right where they should be.
Ruby had already talked her down from stalking right into the forest after them after she'd finished showering and had recovered enough to exit the bathroom, and it had taken a second round of even more convincing after they'd watched the pair's bars take several light hits. Probably a few stray Grimm. They'd been ready to take off if they'd gone down any further, but they hadn't. Blake had to tear her eyes away from the scroll and back to the strange town on the holoscreen. Her heart risked sinking into the floor, otherwise. Weiss had to be angry with her. Why else would she set out for revenge with Yang without a word - without bringing her along?
"They're like fairy tales, Blake, lots of weird stuff happens in fairy tales," Ruby was saying when she got cut off by the sound of someone knocking on their door.
Blake's Faunus ears, which had twisted towards the door to hone in on the sound of approaching footsteps, flicked back to their original position in utter disinterest. Weiss and Yang wouldn't need to knock.
Both hands firmly on the controller, Blake arched a single brow at Ruby. If she put this controller down to answer the door, she probably wasn't going to be inclined to pick it back up.
"I've got it!" Ruby was already leaping off the bed, more than happy for Blake to stay on task. She would fix Weiss's covers before she and Yang got back.
When she skidded to a stop at the door and swung it open, however, she found herself facing... Blake. It was Blake in her black and white combat outfit from earlier, and she looked confused.
"Whoa!" Ruby whipped back around to look at the Blake playing video games. Her semblance left shadow clones. Was this a semblance thing? "How did you...?"
"How did I what?" Blake turned her head just enough to glance slantwise back at Ruby... and herself? By pure reflex, Blake's aura activated, invisibly reaching out to reclaim what for a split-second seemed like a forgotten shadow clone. But the Blake at the door did not dissipate.
Instead it smirked.
In a single fluid motion, the Blake in the doorway caught Ruby by the back of her hood and dipped its shoulders, rolling the surprised team leader off her feet in an effortless throw. Ruby yelped as she was flung out into the hallway, but the sound of her crashing into JNPR's door was mostly lost as the not-Blake strolled across the threshold, sidestepping the door as it swung shut. The automatic lock clicked.
Ruby's scroll/room key, which was synced to the gamestation, was in Blake's hands.
Blake didn't dare spare even a single second to question this doppelganger's motives. In a rush of flickering shadow, the room was suddenly filled with at least ten Blakes standing all around the bunks, tightly gripping Ruby's scroll, staring down the battle-outfit-clad imposter.
... who looked around at her audience and gave a theatrical bow.
The doorknob shook as someone tried it, and Ruby called through, "Blake? Hey, uh, are we good? You don't have to keep playing if you really don't want to."
The Blake nearest her own pillow dove for the weapon beneath it, whipping free Gambol already in its pistol form and firing a pair of warning shots on either side of those familiar black boots before training her sights square between the bowing imposter's Faunus ears. "Who are you-" she barked, "what do you want?"
Something odd happened as the double rose from the bow. It was as if it was made of tiles that could flip over to reveal a different appearance, and in a wave they did until standing before Blake was no longer a visage of herself, but of Weiss Schnee. The image was perfect down to the smallest detail- her combat outfit, her hair, her poise- and her ice blue gaze met Blake's.
That familiar face single-handedly strangled Blake's attempts at vigilance. Logically, there was an extremely low percentage chance that this was actually Weiss... but if that chance was anything other than zero...
The muzzle of Blake's weapon dipped a fraction of an inch. "...Weiss?"
The ex-heiress tossed her snow white hair as she stepped forward, holding a hand out to Blake to invite her to close the rest of the distance between them.
Blake took a step back to match, gritting her teeth against the bookcase now pressing into her back. She leveled a conflicted look at the girl standing across from her. She really, really looked like Weiss, and the longer those ice blue eyes stayed locked on her own, the more Blake could feel her caution slipping. "...Sorry, but the Weiss I know doesn't shapeshift."
A flicker of... was that hurt?... crossed the white haired girl's features, and she stopped short at the edge of the rug in the middle of the room.
Blake stared, utterly baffled but aching at the sight of a saddened Weiss nonetheless. A catalogue of her former comrades in the White Fang flashed through her mind at a frantic pace. Who did she know with a shapeshifting semblance? No one. Professor Peach. But this definitely wasn't Professor Peach. Was this a new recruit by Adam? An assassin of some sort? Blake's grip tightened on her weapon.
Whoever this was, their imitations were frighteningly accurate. Had they not walked through the door as another Blake, she might not have questioned a thing.
Well, except... this Weiss's eyes seemed a shade darker than usual...
Unbidden memories set Blake's face alight even as her stomach churned. "Are you..." she searched for the right words, but didn't quite find them, "...the Weiss from the tree?"
Whoever she was, she paused and after a moment smiled a predatory smile.
Ruby's scroll thudded softly to the carpet as Blake's pulse thundered in her ears, a heady mix of fear and fury coiling around her heart, driving her as far back against the bookcase as she could get.
Her hand bumped against a small black remote sitting beside the game station.
In a fit of panic, Blake smashed her hand down on all the buttons.
Several things happened almost at once.
First, the blankets tangled at the foot of Ruby's bunk were flung off as the sizeable jet engine swiveled on its retractable arm and roared to life. This commanded the immediate attention of the Weiss lookalike, whose blue eyes flickered white as she threw herself into back handspring to evade the rocket's aim.
Second, Blake got hit with a sudden, violent shower of glass as the window behind her shattered. Ruby hit the rug in front of her in a roll, coming up with Crescent Rose aimed at... Weiss? Ruby faltered even as the sound of splintering wood overpowered the jet engine's high pitched rev. The dorm door exploded inward in pieces, revealing Nora Valkyrie. She whooped as her teammates dove past her through the destroyed doorway, weapons all in hand.
"Where's the clone?" Jaune looked from Blake to Ruby to Weiss and back again, turning fast, looking for another Blake.
"There!" Blake pointed over Ruby's shoulder at the fake Weiss effortlessly backflipping right over JNPR and out of the room.
Pyrrha glanced at the flowing white hair passing her by, immediately assumed she'd mistaken where Blake was pointing, and quickly swept the dorm room through the sight of her rifle. "Where?"
Ruby caught on fastest and sprang towards the door, "I've got her!"
Nora had barely turned to look back out the doorway when she and Jaune got pitched to the side by a blur of red rose petals as Ruby shot out into the hallway.
Jaune crashed over Weiss's desk chair, fumbling his sword on the way to the ground, and Magnhild cracked the tile next to Blake's bunk as Nora used the giant hammer to keep her feet and go charging out after Ruby...
... who was standing in the empty hallway, Crescent Rose in hand, looking confused.
By merit of having been barely one step through the door when Ruby blew past them, Ren was already right behind her, looking down both ends of the hall. "...They're quick."
Blake quietly slid back against the bookcase to the floor.
"Blake?" Concern drew Pyrrha to approach, her rifle already shifting back to a spear. "Are you all right?"
"No." Blake sighed, leaning her head back inside one of the shelves.
Scroll signals were spotty out near Forever Fall, but as soon as Weiss and Yang made it to the road (by then it was around one in the morning), their scrolls started lighting up with messages from the others, mostly Ruby.
Weiss sent rapid fire messages back.
Ruby, what's happening?
Ruby Rose answer this text right now.
"Weiss- just-" Yang reached over Weiss's shoulder and tapped Ruby's face on the scroll's screen, starting up a call.
Weiss fumbled the scroll with an indignant sound and immediately hung up on Ruby, hitting Blake's icon instead. It rang. She forgot to walk. She forgot to breathe.
The other end picked up after a handful of rings. "...Hello?" Pyrrha's voice crackled over the speakers. "Is this... the real Weiss calling?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Yang leaned closer to Weiss, trying to peer at her scroll.
"One second -" the screen flickered for a moment, then Pyrrha's face appeared a little too close to the camera. "Well you certainly look like the real Weiss."
"Ask her what my favorite tea is," Blake's voice came from the background.
"Chamomile," Weiss set her jaw to keep from betraying the sudden ridiculous doubt that gripped her. Chamomile was what Blake kept in her desk drawer. Of course it was her favorite. More important was this 'real Weiss' business. "What happened?"
"Weiss," the video shifted, Blake appearing where Pyrrha had just been, but at a reasonable enough distance that the rest of the room was visible behind her. She shook a few shards of glass from her hair as she stood in front of where their dorm's window used to be. "Wherever you are get back here as soon as you can - tree Weiss is real, she was here, she's, I don't know, some kind of shapeshifter-"
"Illusions," Weiss was gripping her scroll so hard it was a miracle she didn't crack the screen. "We think it's Neo."
Suddenly she and Yang were caught in a harsh spotlight. Weiss shielded her eyes as she realized the distant roar of a passing airship hadn't been passing them at all- one of Beacon's transport ships eased down close, the rush of air from its engines stirring up dust and leaves from the road and causing her and Yang's hair to whip across their faces.
The side panel slid open, revealing the familiar gangly form of Professor Oobleck. He leaned out, shouting over the engines. "Well, if it isn't our team of troublesome truants! I trust you two wouldn't turn down an offer of timely transportation?"
For one entire half of a second, Yang considered turning down the offer. Then, Goodwitch stepped out from behind Oobleck, looking far less jovial.
Actually, a ride sounded great.
By a sheer stroke of good fortune, mentioning their encounter with Neo both in the Forest and at the dorm seemed to throw Glynda so deep into thought she forgot to assign either of them any kind of punishment for their late night escapade.
That small victory did little to quell the lingering unease that seemed to follow the pair as they rounded the corner of the hall that led to their dorm. What were they even supposed to do about someone who could apparently use illusions to disguise herself as anyone?
Before they took another step, Yang snaked an arm around Weiss's shoulders, holding her in place for a moment. "...Hey. You've been pretty quiet since we landed," it was probably a stupid question, but she asked anyway, "You gonna be all right?"
Weiss still didn't know what to do. Not only had she failed to stop Neo, but she'd made matters worse for the team, worse for Blake, by dragging Yang with her. Goodwitch hadn't even reprimanded the two of them, and that on top of everything else was eating her alive. Weiss's shoulders straightened a bit in Yang's half embrace. "I'll fix your bike. At least, I'll pay you back."
Yang flashed her a rueful smile, "Oh, yeah you will. Making sure of that." She ran a hand through her hair as she spoke, the reddened ends pulling that smile right back down into a grimace. Just how many losses had they all suffered to Neo at this point?
"This isn't about my bike though." Yang pivoted so she was standing right in Weiss's way, both hands on her shoulders. "You're about to see Blake, and she's probably also... I don't know. Not in a good place. Will probably need the best hugs you can give, you know?"
"What?" Weiss suddenly felt very, very tired as Yang blocked her way.
A beat of silence passed between them. Ultimately, Yang shook her head and stepped aside, giving Weiss a soft smile and a light push down the hall. "Just, go hug Blake."
Weiss scoffed in lieu of having anything to say to that. She left Yang behind and a few steps down the hall the panic actually kicked in. It had been a quarter of an hour since the professors had picked her and Yang up. She idiotically reached for her scroll, like she was what? Going to call Blake back now? When she was a couple doors down from their room? A second too late it occurred to her that she needed it to open the door... then she stopped, because there was no door to open.
She stood in the partially splintered door frame, staring at the shreds of wood clinging to the upper hinge, which hadn't torn loose from the frame.
Blake and Ruby stood together in front of the shattered window, Ruby's cloak flowing in the light breeze as she bent over her rocket-powered motion detector which she had spread across the top of the bookcase, handing the occasional piece to Blake.
One of Blake's Faunus ears twisted towards the footsteps that stopped at the door, her head turning to follow.
She froze upon seeing Weiss. A split-second later, Blake grabbed Ruby's shoulders to spin her around as well.
Ruby blinked and leaped from the bookcase, whipping Crescent Rose up to bear on Weiss and shouting at the top of her lungs, "WHAT'S THE PASSWORD!"
JNPR's door slammed open behind Weiss and she jumped a full foot into her own team's room as Nora and Jaune took positions on either side of the door, clearing it for Pyrrha and Ren, guns all at the ready. Weiss had her hands thrown up in surprise, "What?!"
Ruby lowered her sniper scythe, shoulders slumping in relief.
"Whew. Okay!" She turned to Blake, "She's okay."
"Woah hey uh," Yang skidded to a stop in the middle of the fray just in time to see Blake cautiously approach Weiss. She sighed in relief as everyone lowered their weapons. "Yeah, can confirm," she patted Weiss's shoulder. "This one's legit."
"And how do we know you are?" Ren asked in monotone.
Pyrrha lifted her hand, a black glow surrounding it. "Those gauntlets are certainly real."
Weiss didn't even hear Yang and the others. It was like they were behind a sheet of glass, on a different plane of existence. Looking at Blake, Weiss could barely breathe. True, she had almost had her own classmates open fire on her in the dorms. That was minor. Maybe she would have felt better if they had- at least then she could be angry. She stood, not quite closing the gap for a moment before she stepped forward to meet Blake, her hands in nervous fists at her sides.
"I..." she started, but didn't really have anywhere to go from there.
Blake stopped her approach once she was practically toe-to-toe with Weiss. Her Faunus ears, which had snapped to attention the second Weiss spoke, slowly sank backwards the longer nothing but silence followed. The others were discussing something - probably sleeping arrangements, but Blake couldn't hear them over the anxiety crashing through her brain.
Traitor. Traitor. Traitor.
She desperately tried to push past the fear that Weiss would blame her just as she was already blaming herself for not being able to see through the illusion - for apparently kissing the person who had tried to kill her. Blake reached out with one hand but stopped short, her fingers barely brushing Weiss's. "...Weiss?"
Blake's feather-light touch broke through enough for Weiss to take her hand and grip it hard. "Hey. It's me."
A ray of relief pierced Blake's anxiety long enough for her to nod and return Weiss's grip for all she was worth. Still, her gaze fell, dragged downwards under the weight of feeling like she needed to explain herself. "I..." she grimaced, "I didn't..."
"I should have stayed," Weiss had Blake's hand in both of hers, holding on hard enough for her hands to not shake while her gaze flickered over Blake's apparently unharmed frame, "Are you okay? I wasn't thinking. Did she hurt you? What happened?"
Blake shook her head. She wasn't exactly okay, but she also wasn't technically hurt, and she couldn't begin to imagine what Neo was trying to accomplish. All that being said... Weiss's concern washed over her like a salve. Weiss didn't seem angry at her.
"... Sorry," was all Blake could think of to say, eyes still fixed firmly to the floor.
"For what?" Weiss scoffed gently in her bafflement and mild concern as she dropped Blake's hand to put her arms around her neck instead. "I'm still deciding who's at fault, but it's not you, if that's what you're trying to insinuate."
That… didn't sound like someone who was angry. Blake forced herself to look at Weiss... and suddenly felt stupid for even considering that possibility in the first place.
"Then... It's not you either," Blake insisted, knowing full well she wasn't the only one with a habit of blaming herself for everything. She closed that last bit of distance and melted into the embrace, both arms circling around Weiss's middle and pulling her close, her fingers curling into the fabric of her sweater. Weiss smelled like dirt and leaves and sweat, but also everything familiar and so distinctly Weiss. Blake tried to burn the scent into her memory, so that she'd never be fooled by some sultry-eyed look-alike ever again.
"I beg to differ," Weiss kept her arms around Blake even though Blake was clean and showered and she had basically rolled in dirt and leaves back in Forever Fall. "I'm at least twenty percent responsible, and I wrecked Yang's bike."
"One hundred percent totaled it," Yang clarified. When Blake arched both brows at her in disbelief, she waved a hand and added, "I'll tell you about it later."
"...Sleep," Blake gave Weiss a light squeeze, lacking the necessary energy to discuss culpability percentages or any kind of math for that matter. "We need sleep."
Weiss heaved a sigh and pulled back, gradually becoming aware of the multi-team huddle happening near the non-existent door. "Yes, we do."
Ruby, who was standing on Weiss's desk chair for some reason, possibly so she could be tall, seemed to be outlining a plan with her scroll and many hand motions, "We can all take a picture of page one of Ninjas of Love and the word on the page that matches the day of the month can be the password of the day, that way it changes and is easy to keep track of."
"We could pick a new page each month to keep it unpredictable," Pyrrha suggested.
"Okay, but only if we switch to a new book before we get to page fifteen," Yang plucked the offending novel from her baby sister's hands.
Blake hid her face in both hands, scarlet to the tips of her human ears.
Weiss rolled her eyes and untangled her arms from around Blake's neck to go add an ounce of common sense to her teammates' strategizing. Just an ounce, though, and then she was going to bed, probably while they kept watch or set up an extra 'security system' of Ruby's or something.
That was fine. It was fine. She straightened her collar up a bit as she entered the fray. The evening had been a disaster, but it was over, and for now they could get some rest.
Everything else could wait until morning.
A/N: Surely nothing else will go wrong then. Surely.
Stay tuned for the continued adventures!