Chapter 28: Broken Steel

After the battle with Rider, my limbs released their bunched muscles immediately, leaving me to lean haphazardly on Archer as he dragged me back home. Excalibur Image was powerful, so powerful that even in its incomplete form and being used by a completely incompatible being, it still blew a new clearing onto the forest's topography and burnt through more than half my remaining prana in a single go. Excalibur was designed for use by a Pendragon, after all, a legendary line whose blood was born of the dragons themselves. A simple mortal like me didn't stand a chance against its divine light.

So, with my muscles refusing to respond and my mind buzzing with a combination of sleep and thought, Archer threw me onto his back and physically carried me all the way back to Taiyang's house, more than six kilometers away from the forest. After a half hour of Archer walking at a leisurely pace, which would translate as a slow run to most, we reached our shared window. I glanced through the glass at the sweet bed waiting beyond...

And Blake sitting on top of it, sipping a cup of coffee and waiting patiently for my return. Well, this would be hard to explain.

Archer pushed the window pane up and tossed me bodily into the room before dropping down onto the mahogany balcony below to resume his watch. Blake blinked as I went soaring past her and smacked into the wall. My back groaned in pain for a second before Avalon took over and dulled it to a small ache.

Blake took one look at me and sighed, her golden eyes glinting with a combination of exasperation, humor and worry. "Should I even bother asking what you've been through tonight?" she asked, gesturing with her coffee to the empty side of the bed. I pushed myself to my feet, my burning muscles giving a bit. Blake moved to help me up, but I managed to crawl into bed and took a sip from her coffee before she could pull it away. One of my arms- left or right, I couldn't really tell at that point- twitched weakly in protest.

"Got in a fight, kinda won," I said, grinning weakly. I'd learned a long time ago to laugh at my own misery, since it was the only source of humor I seemed to have in my life. "Rider gave me one hell of a challenge, though. Did you know he could turn into Death? Like, Grim-Reaper, the embodiment of Death itself?"

"No, I didn't," she managed. I could almost feel the worry she was exuding at that point, and it was further exacerbated by the hand that gently gripped my chin. She turned my head this way and that, looking for something. A wound, or something else?

"Well, it doesn't look like you have a concussion," she huffed. "It must be exhaustion, then. Go to sleep, and we can talk about this in the morning. Gods know I'll have words for you then."

"Not now?"

Blake smiled and pecked me on the lips before curling up under the covers. "Right now I'd feel bad if I yelled at you. At least tomorrow you'll be healed enough that I won't pity you."

Well at least I had until the morning to be verbally abused. I managed the strength to drape an arm over her lithe form, pulling her in a little bit closer.


The next morning, I was indeed treated to a diatribe the likes of which I had never heard before, not even by Rin or by Taiga. Blake laid into me for a full hour before finally stopping to drink another coffee. Despite the fury she'd managed to convey through her words and glares, I felt a bit touched- not a lot of people cared about me enough to get that angry at the idea of me getting nearly killed. Actually, there were only four: Kiritsugu, Taiga, Sakura and, surprisingly enough, Issei. I hadn't really been close with a lot of people during school, and although Taiga and Rin cared about me, they didn't to that extent. Taiga just wasn't the sort to get people so close to her, and Rin... well, Rin and I had become good friends during the War but she still would have killed me (indirectly, probably) if that was what it took to get a free wish from an untainted Grail. It was just the kind of person she was, and I couldn't blame her for it.

After Blake's rant was over, Ruby tentatively peeked out from the hallway and called us downstairs for breakfast. With equally ruffled expressions, we followed. Thankfully, Blake wasn't too mad, and by the time breakfast was done the two of us had reconciled any differences.

I hadn't really taken any time to think about it yesterday, but Patch was especially beautiful in the mornings, when the various Grimm species took off for darker waters and the more normal birds came out to play. Despite it being just past winter, there were already flocks of seagulls soaring over the open ocean, which was stained the same pinkish-green color as the dawning sky above. The buildings were equally stunning, a rustic background against the island town that promised fun and adventure. Patch's only skyscraper, towering far above Taiying's humble two-story home, reflected patches of sunlight onto the streets below, chasing away the literal shadows while burying the fear of the proverbial shadows in people's minds. Truly, Patch was a beautiful town.

It made me think about when I would find my way back home, or if I would even get back to my own world again. I couldn't rightly call Remnant my home, but after the Grail War, it was the closest thing I had to it. Half of the Emiya Estate had been burned to ashes during Lancer's final assault, so I couldn't go back there anytime soon. It seemed more and more like Remnant was becoming my permanent home, too, so I could only take so much more hope before I resigned myself to living here.

It wouldn't be too bad, though... would it?

It certainly wouldn't be a bad idea in the long run. Hunting was a ludicrously profitable profession, and every Huntsman and Huntress available to fight against the Grimm invasions got a huge government bonus. I could easily find, or even build, a house and live out the rest of my days here. There were my friends to think about as well. Blake was the first one on my mind, and even though it seemed sort of corny, I could foretell a future where the two of us married and settled down. It would be a happy existence, but would it be enough?

I was a protector, a sword, not a regular human. Would it be enough to hang up my sword and live the rest of my days as a human after these crises are over? What would Blake think of it? She still had unresolved conflicts with the White Fang and that Adam man, but it didn't mean that she-

Adam.

"Fuck," I snapped mid-step. Archer gave me an inquisitive look as I whirled around, trying to take all of the souls around me into account. My prana senses didn't work very well on people with Aura, but it still did, and Adam's distinctive scent, that of a rotting rose, had imprinted itself firmly onto my memory along with his sword, Wilt.

"Finally lost it?" Archer asked, a glint of amusement in his steely eyes. Dammit, now was not the time to be happy!

"Adam," I repeated, this time out loud. Blake froze in her steps. Confusion blossomed on her face for a fraction of a second before it was replaced with sheer horror, the likes of which I had never seen before. Her face whitened far past my own complexion, and the nerves that controlled the dilation of her pupils shrunk them to mere pinpricks. "Adam's a Master?"

Archer looked genuinely worried now. "What are you on about, Shirou?"

I shook my head and Traced a copy of Wilt before chucking it at him. It would be easier to do things through memory with him anyway while Blake and I explained it to our other guests. "Adam's a Faunus friend of mine," Blake explained. "The two of us used to work for the White Fang, back when it was... relatively peaceful. Things started getting worse about two years ago, and I quit, but... Adam stayed behind. He ended up hating humans with a passion after I left, but I'm still not sure why. Back when we were in Forever Fall, collecting Aldor Sap. You guys remember when Shirou and I disappeared?" She frowned at their affirmative nods. "I met him again, a few minutes after that happened. He had... he had Command Seals."

Archer choked at the same time as she finished her sentence, looking at Wilt and Blush like they were a thing of blasphemy. "Shit," he muttered. "Shirou, are you absolutely sure about this? Eight Servants? What the fuck is the Grail trying to pull here?"

"What if it isn't the Grail?" Ren asked, tilting his chin to the side. "You know how Ozpin theorized the Dust in the core of Remnant being a crucible and recharging station for the Grail? Who's to say an equal quantity of Dust could be used to summon a Servant?"

I mulled the theory over. While Archer began throwing his prana around like mad, trying to find a trace of Adam, I plugged the calculations into my head. That much energy would need at least twelve tons of raw Dust to be used, and about nine tons of refined, but the potential was still there. The White Fang had been going after Dust shipments for more than a year, and the average Schnee tanker carried about a ton and a half of cargo (thanks to Weiss for the information). It would only take six of those shipments to match the refined Dust quota, and the White Fang had undoubtedly stolen at least that much in their time. It would take some time and a lot of sneaky double-stealing from his own company, but it would be easy for Adam to secure all of that energy in... about a week, give or take a day or two.

"That still doesn't explain why he has Command Seals," Archer butted in. "If he were just summoning a Servant, then the soul would be bound to his and the Servant would be unable to disobey him no matter what. The Grail War, however, has different rules behind it. The Grail itself is the one doing the soul binding, so it uses the Command Seals as an anchor to the spirits' souls and give Masters command over their Servants in that way. It is a far more tenuous connection, one that allows neither the Master nor the Grail to completely and fully control their Servant, but it still gives them a compulsion to obey. The Riders and Archers have an easier time of going against their Masters' wishes, but in the end we still have the desire to obey. The Command Seals are important for a reason, Lie; when they are used up and the Master has given all three of their absolute commands, they disappear and link the Servant with the Grail once again, allowing it to be absorbed directly instead of by the Lesser Grail."

"But then the Command Seals would be engraved onto the hand for a different reason," I argued. "Those weren't ordinary Command Seals- they were runes. Not just any runes, but Runes. Perhaps they could be used to craft an obedience geas onto the Servant he summoned. Adam has been shown to be sneaky and resourceful from what I've heard of him, and that would fit his personality perfectly."

Blake frowned, but nodded at the slightly blunt description. "It does indeed sound like something he'd do."

Archer looked thoughtful, but it was Lancer that finally broke the silence. "It could work, but only with the same set of runes three times around a Catalyst Line," he mumbled. I forgot that in addition to his sheer battle prowess and superb stats he was a scholar that exceeded most other Magi that currently existed, with a knowledge of Runic combinations that could only be matched by an Elder God. If there was anyone who could solve our current dilemma in regards to the beastlike Adam, it would be him. "I'll do some thinking, but I don't know how well the results will turn out. Binding Runes were never my forte, anyway."

I nodded to him, accepting the excuse as easily as anything else so far. Lancer couldn't figure it out right now anyway; Tabitha was a priority in both his and my eyes, and he'd kept an eye on here faithfully the entire time we'd been on Patch. That aside, there was only one problem remaining with Adam: what kind of Servant he would be able to summon.

In all of the manuscripts I'd read about summoning human familiars, there was never a mention of the seven Servant classes of the Grail War, so there were three reliable options remaining. He could have summoned an Avenger like in the Third War, which was probably the most likely prospect. Adam would bond immediately to an Avenger, considering he probably thought of himself as one. The second option, as well as the most unlikely, was the Saver class. To my knowledge, there had only been one Saver-class familiar in all of existence, and he was summoned as the Buddha himself. There were legends within the Magus community that whoever managed to summon the Saver would become the next Saver themselves. It was probably bullshit, but I wasn't so keen on allowing a twisted, jaded man like Adam to become one of the most powerful human familiar types the world had ever known.

The final option available was the Ruler class, a class that was recorded to be much like the Saber; in fact, Rin had once said that Zelretch had offhandedly mentioned to her that Saber's basic design had been based off the Ruler class during a discussion on the effects of inverted crystals to prana construction. Rulers were honestly the class I was most afraid of, mostly because the last person to have been summoned as a Ruler- Joan of Arc- had completely crushed an attempt at recreating the Grail War within Greece. The power that a Ruler wielded was ridiculous, to the point where it would take two Dead Apostle Ancestors to subdue one, and three to return it to the Throne of Heroes.

No, I definitely didn't want to face off against that, even with Ozpin, Archer, Lancer and Assassin on my side.

"Chances are he's summoned Avenger," Lancer said slowly, looking to me for confirmation. When I nodded, he continued more confidently, a bright and calculative gleam in his red eyes. He exhaled, and for a brief second I smelled a combination of dewy grass and fresh blood. "He'll sympathize most with someone who's been severely wronged in their past life. Angra Mainyu is still in the Grail, but who knows how many people qualify for that class."

"Has he showed his face yet?" Ruby asked. "I'm gonna pummel his face in!"

"Not likely," Blake and I said at the same time. She gave me a strange look before turning back to Ruby. "You're good at fighting, Ruby, but a student at Beacon would have a horrible time even trying to get close to Adam. He's a very strong person, at the teachers' level at least. Only Shirou would have a chance to kill him, and it would take him going all out."

Archer snorted.

For a split-second, nobody was quite sure how to react. A twittering bird swooped down and landed on his hand, taking a small peck at whatever he was holding. That was... odd. In Fuyuki, animals generally avoided Archer, probably because he smelled like a combination of blood, sweat and steel. Birds generally didn't have an affinity for murder, so why would one like him?

"Do you have something to say, Archer?" Blake asked, the slightest hint of irritation seeping into her voice.

"Shirou could kick this Adam's ass if he wanted to." The bluntness of the statement surprised, Blake but before she could respond he was already rolling again.

"Don't forget, I am Shirou Emiya, and I can tell you his limitations in an instant. This Adam would be destroyed with his current stats."

"You don't understand how strong he is," Blake argued. "Adam can-"

"If he's human he won't stand a chance, even if he trained for another three decades."

Blake didn't have much else to say about that. Neither did I, in all honesty. Archer sounded so sure, like he'd known for certain that Adam wouldn't stand a chance. Yes, I was pretty sure that I could beat him if I wanted to, but not like it was a total beatdown, like Archer was implying it would be. From what I'd seen of Adam's physique and weapon, he favored strong attacks that took a while to charge up. Having a meat-shield like Avenger would be the perfect Servant for him.

What a scary thought.


Blake didn't look at Archer once during the whole time we were out. She stuck to me instead, clasping her hands around an arm in a way that reminded me of the way Issei's girlfriend would greet him each day. It surprised me that the gynophobe actually managed to find love, but then it was either getting over his fear of women or being alone for the rest of his life, and in Japanese society being single wasn't looked on very well.

Ozpin met us at a small cafe on the corner of Patch's main street. By the time we arrived, he was already sitting down and sipping a cup of coffee. There were two others with him. The first,, a tall man that nearly reached Archer's height, shifted uncomfortably in his seat every now and then. His black-grey hair shifted just a little, and I caught the glimpse of a suspiciously glaring blue eye before he turned to the second.

This man was definitely more wild-looking than either Ozpin or his guest. He had an eyepatch covering his left eye that glinted with a massive Dust gem, situated right in the center of a five-layered circle that looked very much like the Summon Servant circle. One of his arms was missing as well, judging by the way his right sleeve hung loosely against the table. He had black hair that reached all the way down to his shoulder blades, a sharp face, and a frown on his face that seemed so natural that it might have been perpetual if it weren't for the laugh lines on his forehead. His suit, unlike Ozpin's green or the first man's white, was a deep blue that looked almost black. He glanced over at us, his one eye sharpening in caution, before he beckoned Ozpin to look at us.

I instinctively changed out of Gilgamesh's armor and into one of the gray suits I'd bought the day before. Archer followed suit, switching his usual clothes with a red tie and black slacks that looked like they belonged in the early 1900's. I could still see his hands clenching and unclenching, ready to summon a Caladbolg or pair of Married Blades the second the situation detonated, but he held off on the urge.

As Ozpin waved us over, I shifted my attention to the cafe we had stepped into. A bald black man, maybe forty, glanced at Archer from behind the bar before resuming his task of polishing a glass to what looked like a diamond polish. The walls shone in the reflection of the yellow sun, creating pure white spots against the white tile. I blinked a flashing spot out of my eye and turned to the table.

"Ah, Shirou, Archer," Ozpin greeted, raising his hand slightly. "Sit down, I have a few people I'd like you to meet."

Blake sat to my left, Archer to my right. Only I noticed the tiny flash of light, hidden by a flash of light that emerged from behind a cloud, that signalled Archer's Tracing of Kanshou and Bakuya. I frowned at him, to which he responded with a wicked grin.

"So this is the kid, huh?" the eyepatched man said, giving me a small smirk. My fingers itched, and I had to suppress the sudden urge to use a slowly shifting spot of light on the wall as a distraction to summon my own sword.

"Behave, Baird," the other man said sternly. His arm shifted, and from beneath the sleeve came a grinding sound, not unlike metal scraping against metal. I caught a peek of pure white under the hem of his sleeve before he shifted, hiding it from view again. So this man had at least one robotic limb, then. He was most likely a retired Huntsman himself, from the military if the ramrod straight posture and the way his hands were both stuffed hastily into his coat were anything to go by. The other man, though... I didn't know what to make of him. He was like Archer in a lot of ways; his relaxed posture either meant that he didn't feel like he was in danger or he wasn't all there, while the hand casually tapping against the pistol at his hip signalled a combination of bloodthirst, impatience and boredom.

"Shirou, I'd like you to meet General James Ironwood of the Atlas Continental Army and Professor Hitma Baird, Vale's foremost Dust researcher and technician. They're here to discuss our little problem."

"And you thought that inviting the Church wouldn't have been a good idea?" A voice snapped from behind me. "This is our War, after all. You have some nerve, Ozpin."

I might have been the only one to sit still in my seat, but that didn't put me any less on edge. I merely glanced over my shoulder, recognizing the soft blue skirt and white blouse as belonging to Ciel. Well, that and the massive Seventh Scripture hanging off her back from a diamond-patterned strap. My team all jumped, Ozpin blinked and turned, Ironwood and Baird swore and reached for their weapons and Archer snorted.

Like a pig, that one. Always snorting like it's the funniest thing in the world.

"Miss Ciel," Ozpin murmured. "I wondered if the Church would have their eyes on this operation. It seems that nothing goes without notice in Patch, does it?"

"Not while we're around," Ciel snapped back. She glanced to me, looking for some sort of instruction; I was the one that knew Ozpin best, after all, and I was the one who would know if he had any ill intentions regarding the Grail War. I searched his form for a second, trying to read the basics of the body language I'd been taught. When nothing untrustworthy, no hidden weapons or tenseness associated with nerves, showed, I waved her down and gestured to one of the two open seats left at the table. "I'll give you one warning, Ozpin," she continued, glaring at the current bane of my peace and quiet. "Do not try to mess with the events that are unfolding. If you do, destruction will befall this city."

"Is that a threat, young miss?" Ironwood said lowly, shadows hiding his face as he bent down and glowered at her. She shook her head.

"In the two Grail Wars that have unfolded that went against the established methods," she explained, "both ended with destruction of at least half a square mile worth of real estate. I am not willing to risk that many lives, even to obtain a wish. Tread carefully, Ozpin, because you will have the full might of the Burial Squad against your head if you don't. This is strictly a Magus affair; be thankful we're even allowing you to participate in the first place."

"Now listen here, little girl..." That was as far as Ironwood got before the table in front of us was pierced with eight Black Keys: five from unseen Executors hidden around the cafe, one from Ciel, and one each from Archer and I. We both glanced towards each other, hoping for the intimidation factor to work. Thankfully, it seemed that while the general wasn't as fazed as a normal human, he still stumbled back a step before he could regain control of his mental faculties and balance himself on the seat of his chair. The glinting keys seemed almost innocently sitting at the table with us, but I remembered the last thing the Keys in my database had accomplished, that being the piercing of a very unfortunate Gilgamesh's kneecap.

"I think it's time that we got down to business, eh?" Baird asked jovially, completely ignoring the lightly sweating Ironwood next to him. He pulled his hands from

his lap, along with a thick manila folder. He slid the paper stack over to meet and gestured for me to open it. "That's the most we could collect from the core's data," he explained at my confused look. "I can't guarantee you'll understand everything, but give it a shot."

I flipped open the folder and spread a series of charts and diagrams across the table. The first few consisted of mostly the same thing; a set of energy readings that had been collected over the years. Strangely, the rotational velocity of the liquid inside the molten part of the core was increasing as the years passed, making the planet spin ever so slightly faster every year. Another strange fact was the series of dips that occurred regularly until about twenty years ago, when the dip became far sharper and shorter than the three that had occurred before it. That must have correlated to the appearance of the Grail during the Fourth Holy Grail War. The next one had happened a scant two years ago, being the lowest point by far, as well as the longest that drop had been active. It had, apparently, been strong enough to revert the planet's rotation to the point from before the Grail's appearance in the first War. The graph ended with a sharp drop, not as deep a dip as the Fifth War, but lower than any of the other four. This current War, then. The second and third diagrams displayed a sphere with an irregularly shaped polyhedron inside of it. The sphere was a vivid, translucent shade of blue, while the thing inside was shaded a deep and obtrusive purple.

The chart beside it showed another scan of the crystal deep beneath the earth, twenty years later and just after the Fourth War. The crystal had shrunk considerably in size, as if the matter itself was being used up to create a wish. Then again, it probably was, if the magnitude of energy required to do so was correct.

that also meant two very important things in regards to Dust. Everyone knew that Dust would eventually run out, but by the estimates buried deep within the folder, the natural Dust that was being used as practice rounds for the Hunting Academies would run out within twenty years if something wasn't done, and the Dust used to fuel many of today's machine would dry up within fifty. That was where the size of the crystal came in. Obviously, Dust assimilated matter and changed it to match itself, slowly growing over the years. The problem was that it seemed to be a very slow process, and it wouldn't resolve the need for Dust, even if all of the Dust being used right now was confiscated to grow more. Dust was a powerful thing, and that energy was highly sought after. If we could accelerate the growth of that Dust, however...

"What accelerates its assimilation?" I asked carefully. Baird looked absolutely delighted for a moment before his serious face came back on. The Dust gem adorning his eyepatch glinted, revealing a twisted kaleidoscope of shapes and colors before settling on me with a piercing blue dot.

"The growth rate fluctuates from type to type, and then from level of impurity. Unfortunately, the most impure crystals- that is, the ones that contain the most foreign substances to those we have identified as being exclusive to Dust- tend to grow the fastest, and the extraction process takes time that we do not have. The purest crystals take the most time, obviously, but they are also extremely volatile, making handling them a dubious task for even me. The Dust that most Huntsmen and Huntresses are supplied with are only grade IV or grade III, as opposed to grade VII and above. That is kept strictly for research labs, and anything above grade XIII is left in the mines and kept as far away from civilization as possible. If those things were ever to explode, then they could easily take out a city block with just a single gram.

"The Dust within the core of Remnant is grade XX, the highest we've encountered so far and possibly the highest grade that currently exists on our planet. The fact that it's gone, and supposedly channels the Grail that you speak of," and here Ciel gripped the Seventh Scripture until her knuckles were white, a look of irritation encompassing her normally pretty features, "can only mean that the people who founded this War managed to not only come into contact with it, but control it to a degree that was previously unheard of within the research circles I've been associated with. This kind of Dust could, certainly, bring a wish into reality, but it could also mean the end of the continent, if not the world."

Baird gestured to one of the last diagrams in the folder, a carbon copy the one I was just looking at without the Dust crystal. "Right now there is a massive hole in the planet's core, filled by a pocket of air that is pushing against the mantle. It lacks the energy required to break through to the crust at the moment, but with all the heat that's emanating from the core, that could very quickly change. Give superpressurized air enough energy, and it explodes. Violently. To be specific, a blast of this magnitude would shatter the crust and push a tenth of the mantle through the atmosphere and into space, instantly killing more than a quarter of all life in existence and throwing humanity into deep space with only tiny chunks of atmosphere, provided by asteroids no more than one hundred kilometers across, dotted with trees, livestock, Grimm and people."

I frowned. "I suppose putting that as a 'problem' is an understatement, then."

"You're damn right," Baird snapped. "We need you to finish this Grail War, and fast. Otherwise, all that air's gonna go off in sixty-eight hours, and that's if we're lucky. It'll probably be closer to sixty-four."

"Son of a bitch," Archer swore, glaring at the ground below him. The implications here were terrifying. If the air pressure progressed to that point and we didn't clean up the Grail War in that time, then earthquakes and tidal waves would become increasingly frequent and intense, disrupting the natural order of the world. Things would eventually get so bad that we wouldn't be able to conduct a Grail War without having an earthquake or two per minute, and by then shit would be fucked anyway. Putting a time limit on the Grail War made things even more dangerous, but it also gave me a bit of an advantage. With Rider down and Assassin possibly on our side, we only had three Servants to go through. Of those three, Berserker was a complete unknown but probably wouldn't be able to stand up against all three of our alliance, Saber had a quarter of his lives lost, and Caster was a sneaky sonuvabitch with a propensity for teleportation. Honestly, killing him would be easy if Archer or I got a clear shot in, but that would be hard.

In the end, though, it was still an improvement over the last Caster... or any other Caster. Between Archer and I, we could shield our team from nearly all of Caster's known Actions, and Lancer was a supreme long-range attacker with Gae Bolg. The three of us, if we were prepared and knew when and where Caster would next strike, could kill him without any troubles. I would be going all out- Unlimited Blade Works and all- against Saber the next time we met, and Berserker would be crushed under the power of two EX-class Excalibur Images. It was the perfect strategy.

It was also wishful thinking.

That was the ideal strategy, but it relied on Caster not staying in his Territory for an extended period of time, Berserker not being strong enough to match Saber, and Saber's Master not being present when we attacked. Cinder Fall was a scary person, one who could easily match up with me, and possibly fight on Ozpin's level.

Honestly, we needed time that we didn't have.

"So what do we do about this?" I asked. "Or, rather, what is the military going to do about it? The Church has already made it clear that they aren't going to get anyone involved," I nodded towards Ciel, "and the Church can be very thorough when they want something to happen. There's no way that the military can get involved with direct fighting. The only way you'll be able to participate is by ordering an evacuation of the town, and the local police force and Huntsmen aren't nearly stupid enough to follow that order. They'll recognize that something is wrong in an instant."

"We are going to order an evacuation of Patch," James began, "but we're not taking such a straightforward action. We'll call it a gas leak that may have a chance to permeate the entire town and have the citizens airlifted to Vale. The local Huntsmen and Huntresses will be assigned low-risk missions that have the duration of about two weeks. That should ensure that the environment will be open to both day and night battle."

"Satellites will be able to observe the area," I pointed out. James shook his head.

"The members of the Science and Development department are working on hacking the low-orbit mapping satellites in a thousand-kilometer radius from our position. Most of them are Mistral's although Vacuo has several up there as well. The other three leaders can't know about this, so we're having our hackers work with a group of freelance informants called the Scions. It will shift blame from the Atlas and Vale military, and if the Scions do get caught, we've already promised full compensation for their members- namely, a free pass to any two military projects and all of the information contained therein."

Wow. The military must be taking this incredibly seriously if they were giving away information. The Scions, though I'd only heard of them twice in my entire time on Remnant, had a tendency of turning up when world-changing events would occur. They were akin to a terrorist group in that they were wanted by nearly every government that had existed in the past seven hundred years, though they'd never been caught once. Aside from that, the Vale military hated giving away what precious information they had. A free pass on any two projects, no matter how top secret, to a terrorist organization... James was betting quite a lot on the Scions.

"The Church won't like this," Ciel sighed, thumbing the lock on her Seventh Scripture nervously. She glanced around the room, checking the spots that would hold the most structural integrity. Finally, she scowled and gave James and Baird piercing glares that would have made a lesser man wet themselves. To Ciel's credit, they looked like they could pass out at any moment. "I'll inform Mr. Dawn immediately, and then we can use the emergency loudspeaker system to inform the other Masters."

James stood, shaking the wrinkles out of his white coat. Baird opted to lean back in his chair and sip whatever was in his thermos, while the rest of us turned our eyes to Ozpin. He had set his cane on the table, which seemed strange for one reason and one reason only: in the entire time that I'd known Ozpin, he had never once put down his cane-sword. I suppose he must have put it somewhere while he slept and showered, but other than that he carried it with him at all times. It had to mean something, but what?

"This meeting, then, is officially adjourned." James stepped away from his seat and out the door, walking with an ever-so-slight limp that all but confirmed his mechanical leg.

"What do we do now?" Archer asked, twirling Kanshou and Bakuya as he pulled them from under the table.

"Simple," I replied. My mind fully clicked once again, and I pulled myself all the way back to the final days of the Fifth War. This was where I belonged, on the battlefield. I pulled a blueprint from my mind, and Caliburn, burnished sheath and all, shimmered into view.

"We fight."