Well, this is it. Last chapter. There's a certain sad feeling inside at that, even as I write it. I'm happy to see it complete and to move on, but at the same time I feel like I'm leaving an old friend behind. This was published in July 2016, which makes it a labour of love for three and a half years. It's over one million words long.
I've had relationships shorter than that.
Farewell, old friend. We had a good time together. Man, I should be happy but I really am kind of bummed inside.
Beta: College Fool
Cover Art: Dishwasher1910
Book 9: Chapter 30
Morning dawned with a gurgling scream cut off with a wet thump.
My eyes opened slowly and I rose from the large bed, cursing the bright light shining through the windows. It was always angled directly into my eyes and no matter how many times I closed the curtains, they were open again come morning. I blamed Blake for that, even without proof. Yawning, I stretched and cracked sore muscles, pulled on my tunic and boots and marched to the door, still topless, opening it and looking onto a bloodbath.
Ellayne Rainart froze with one hand on a man's throat. Seeing me watching, she made a concerted effort to hide her very bloody sword behind her back. The damn thing was almost as big as she was. I had no idea how she'd convinced me to forge it.
"I didn't do it."
I sighed. "Knight-Captain Ellayne Rainart."
The young girl – more a woman now but always little Ellayne to me – snapped into a salute, her pale blue cape fluttering behind her and her Royal Guard armour shining. Her gauntlet slammed into her breastplate. "My liege!"
"Another Assassin." Ellayne prodded the body with one foot. The title and name had vanished from above their head, confirming their death. "Snuck into the castle and tried to access your rooms. Didn't surrender when I asked them to."
Hm. The asking appeared to be done with the point of a sword, but he couldn't blame her that. This was, what, the fourth attempt of the year? Honestly, I was a little disappointed. I usually had six by now. It was already October, too. Was I getting rusty? Not upsetting enough people with my wild and reckless rulership?
Was I getting old…?
"And how," I asked, "Did an Assassin get all the way to my chambers before being questioned?"
"With all due respect, my liege, an Assassin sneaking into your bedroom isn't usually cause for concern."
"Cheeky brat." I swatted for her head but she dodged away, grinning. "And didn't I tell you stop with the liege nonsense? It's Jaune. I'm your teacher. I like to think we're above titles."
"And my teacher is the King of Vale," she replied. "I like to remind people of that whenever I can."
Tch. As if they could forget.
"Speaking of, are you going to stand there topless? I'm not complaining, but this Assassin wasn't coming for a booty-call and-"
The door slammed shut, cutting her and the laughter of the other members of the Royal Guard off. It wasn't professional and it wasn't traditional, but she'd earned the position after years of trying and having someone close to me there helped convince the other guards it was okay to be informal. Came with its upsides, except when Ellayne saw fit to mock me.
After years of practice I could finally don the royal ensemble without assistance. To be fair, it was much less than what I was expected to wear for official events and the like. A dark blue tunic with golden thread, pale grey hose, shin-high black boots and the royal red cloak lined with fur. The crown was always the worst part, ruffling up my bed hair unacceptably and refusing to sit straight. It flopped to the side, squatting diagonally above my forehead. Eh. Good enough. I'd fix it later or Weiss would huff, call me a child and fix it for me. Whichever came first.
Opening the door again, I let Ellayne in and asked her what the itinerary for the day was. Though not necessarily my secretary, that role being her brother's, she had to memorise where I'd be anyway for security detail.
"You have diplomats from Atlas coming to meet with you and the Queen at ten. Petitions from the people after lunch at one – the lunch will be a welcoming meal for the diplomats. You wanted to visit the barracks and speak to the new militia. Hazel pencilled that in for four. Headmistress Goodwitch wishes your time at six."
"And when do I get any free time in that?"
Ellayne made a show of flipping through pages of her notes, suggesting days and days. When I groaned, she laughed. "Tomorrow is quieter. But you did promise to go hunting with Nora and you also promised you'd convince Ren to go along."
"Did I? When did I do that?"
"I think it was when Nora brought that wine from Vacuo…"
"Son of a… How long do I have to convince Ren?"
"Considering he's currently in Atlas acting as your ambassador until the end of the month and Nora expects results tomorrow…?"
"Balls. This apology is going to cost me, isn't it…?"
"You could always just arrange the marriage for them. You're king."
"I refuse to force my friends to wed."
"Even if they want to?"
"You mistake me, Ellayne. I refuse to do their work for them when they're dragging their feet. Let Nora flirt the normal way if she wants to. As for Ren, well…" His Passive would always be an issue, but if there was one person crazy enough to break through it, it was Nora. "I have faith."
The Knight-Captain snorted. "Hundred lien says it doesn't happen this year."
"I'll take that bet."
"My Lord!" Hazel hurried forward. His hair had begun to grey, as had his beard, but he still carried himself with more muscle than many Heroes. He had been surrounded by courtiers when I arrived, but they parted before him, many nodding respectfully to me. "Your schedule-"
"Ellayne already filled me in. Atlas first, correct?"
"Yes." Hazel smiled fondly at his sister. "You'll be replacing me soon enough, I see. That's good. I'll have to think about retiring soon. Would you like the position?"
"And deal with the Nobles?" Ellayne made a cross sign with her arms. "Give it to Yang."
"Miss Xiao-Long is prone to anger quickly…"
Hazel laughed. "A novel way of dealing with them, but I'm not sure it would work." He turned to me. "I've taken the liberty of promising the diplomats breakfast and a tour of the city first with Councillor Schnee. It should buy you an hour to break your own fast."
"Thank you, Hazel. You're a lifesaver."
"I saved his life too. I killed an Assassin."
"No. A non-sexy Assassin."
"Ah." Hazel tutted. "Was that the fifth?"
"Fourth," I corrected.
"Really? We'd usually be on five by now. Hm. Gabriel must be planning something special. Or this one could be from the Noble Caste. They've been remarkably quiet lately and that's usually a sign of plotting."
"Nah, this one was a guy."
"Ah. I see."
I didn't and looked between the siblings with some confusion. Ellayne took the opportunity to explain.
"Gabriel sends the best Assassins he has. The Noble Caste here send female Assassins only because they think you have a fetish and will let your guard down. This one came in armed and dangerous, so it's from Mistral."
"Noble ones usually disguise themselves as maids and housekeepers," Hazel said, bored. "We have a full rota and a register is taken every day. None this year, though, so we're due one."
No one ever warned me about all that when I'd agreed to this. Then again, I was supposed to be a subservient figurehead following the Noble Caste's orders so there you go. Blake would get to the bottom of it as she usually did. The Nobles – those that acted out, anyway – knew that he was to be respected but she was to be feared. It wouldn't surprise me to find a few winding up dead in the coming months. Evidence always materialised when they did.
Really, if they just settled down, they'd see there were plenty of opportunities. A lot of Nobles already had – realising that once they did good work, he rewarded them as such. Ambitious younger ones relished the chance to prove themselves and earned positions for it. It was the old guard that railed the hardest, especially those I'd removed from the council. Those I hadn't taken back, that was. Two of the old council had proved good enough to remain, and they'd been loyal enough ever since. It was complicated business, herding nobles. Sheep would have been easier.
"I'm off for breakfast then. Try not to kill anyone in my absence."
"I make no promises, my liege."
Even before I'd fully gotten away, Ellayne had two of her guard following me. They kept themselves subtle and shadowed me down hallways toward the feasting hall. Nobles bowed and nodded en route, some with barely disguised disdain and others with genuine respect. I paused to exchange words with those ones, even complimenting a young Baroness who despite her age had managed to acquire a trade deal with Mistral that actually wasn't too antagonistic. Better than I could have ever managed. The girl left blushing to her ears with pleasure, no doubt ready to boast to all her friends of how the King recognised her efforts.
Those that deserved rewarding received it. That was the rule of Vale. We weren't a meritocracy yet – there still was and likely still would be stigma on Classes after I was gone, but I liked to think the next generation or the one after would finalise it. The first batch of non-Soldier Caste militia had been formally recognised. Last year, a Soldier who once failed his First Quest, graduated from Beacon as a Hero. There had been some Labour Caste who tried but only one so far who got in. Even if Ruby told me I couldn't favour him too much, I had Pyrrha providing regular reports on Oscar. As the new combat teacher of Beacon, she was in the best position to do so.
Ruby was already eating breakfast when I arrived. Two seats were saved for us no matter what and she offered me a tired smile and a yawn when I sat down. "Long night?" I asked.
"Disrupted night." Five years older, five years more mature but not, as Yang liked to point out, five years taller. Ruby had filled out to fit her royal dresses, but that didn't mean she liked them. "Yang got roaring drunk after her boyfriend broke up with her."
"Why did he?"
"She punched him."
"Found him with another woman."
"Ooh." I cringed. "Cheating on Yang? That's unwise."
"Yeah. I think he understands that now." Ruby yawned again. "I spent all night comforting her, then she decided he wasn't worth it and then I spent all night holding her hair back as she threw up everywhere." She smiled weakly. "Good night. Very relaxing. How was yours?"
"Damn, she's thirsty…"
"A real Assassin," I said with a groan. "Presumably from Mistral. I'm beginning to think I should deal with Gabriel permanently."
"Better the enemy we know," a voice whispered behind me, making me jump in the chair.
Ruby looked back over one shoulder lazily. "Hey Blake."
"Ruby." Blake never called her Queen, but then she never called me King either. The Guild only did that on official occasions or when they were angry at one of us, and even then it was in a cold and reprimanding tone. Usually a sarcastic `your majesty` to let us know we'd mucked something up and annoyed them. "Would you care to explain why Yang wants me to put a hit out on her boyfriend?"
"Ah." Blake's eyes narrowed. "Maybe I should reconsider saying no."
"Getting back on track," I said, trying to wrestle the conversation to more regal matters. "Are you sure I can't just deal with Gabriel? He's sent four Assassins this year-"
"Five," Blake countered. "I killed one the other month. Forgot to mention it. It was fairly forgettable."
"Huh. Okay, maybe he's not behind schedule. Either way, he's sent five Assassins, two angry letters and claimed Ruby as his bride-to-be, who is held prisoner by me against her will."
"Woe is me," Ruby drawled.
"-And that's to say nothing of him mustering troops again. Really. He's pushing it."
"He's terrified of you," Blake said, smirking over my shoulder proudly. Only she could find that appealing. "You're a constant menace in his thoughts and he can never escape it. So long as you live, he'll never make a move, and it's better to have someone so predictable in the position. Kill him and Mistral might end up with someone more competent. Or stupid enough to ignore the danger and declare war anyway."
I knew she was right. Knew it, but still despaired of having to put up with the stupid missives and diplomatic nonsense. Sighing, I poked at my eggs and bacon, half wishing the sixth Assassin would pop up and give me something to do. At least hunting with Nora would be fun. Being a Barbarian, Nora didn't waste time hunting defenceless animals. We'd be looking for the biggest, baddest and meanest Grimm we could find, then sating ourselves in tearing it down. It'd be fun, except for the Ren thing. And the fact I'd be tailed by the Royal Guard who might not even let me near the Grimm. Damn it.
"Say, I'm off hunting with Nora tomorrow. Either of you want to come?"
Ruby perked up. "I'd love-"
"He forgot his promise about Ren," Blake said.
"-love to normally," Ruby deflected, changing her tune on the spot, "But I promised Weiss I'd do something with her. You know how she is. Quality time between friends. Yep."
"Traitor," I murmured. "And since I'm the King, it's technically treason."
Blake smiled. "I think I'll survive."
Great. No escaping the telling-off I was in store for, or Nora incessantly waxing about all of Ren's good points for the whole hunt. It was a ploy, I knew. Nora was trying to wear me down until I gave in and forced her and Ren on a date together. Well I wasn't falling for it. Not at all. I made room for Blake on the edge of my seat and shared breakfast with her, ignoring the disapproving but also amused or knowing looks we received. Most who worked in the palace full-time were used to it, even indulgent. Our relationship was an open secret people were free to accept or ignore how they wished, so long as they didn't butt their noses in.
We chatted animatedly through breakfast, sparing a pause when Yang came, refused to talk and wolfed food down with the focus of someone determined not to be asked how she was. I can't banish someone for cheating on my friend, I reminded myself. It's an abuse of power. Blake leaned down to whisper in my and Ruby's ears that she'd go shopping with Yang and distract her. Ruby looked relieved, probably hoping she could have a night of uninterrupted rest.
As the hour ticked by, Weiss and the Atlas diplomats returned. The Mage wore robes of purest white edged with gold and silver birds flying up her sleeves. An elaborate gift from Ruby for something or other, something she wouldn't reveal to me. Those two were close as thieves. Weiss' position within the Royal Council was controversial at best, seeing as how she was clearly friends with Ruby and I. That she'd earned it didn't convince some of her detractors. I'd told her time and time again not to take it seriously, but Weiss was Weiss. She was either going to convince them she deserved the position or kill them trying.
"King Jaune," Weiss said. "Queen Ruby." She bowed low as she never did normally. All for the show of the two diplomats, two Mages who had come with their Sentinels. I didn't recognise either but they looked pleased to be here. "May I present Mage Vine Zeki and Harriet Bree, and their Sentinels Elm Ederne and Marrow Amin. Representatives from Atlas and our new ambassadors."
"It's an honour to meet your graces," Harriet Bree said, bending knee with the other three. They didn't have to, not being a part of their Kingdom, but it was a gesture of respect. "Archmage Clover sends her regards and gratitude for standing beside us against Mistral's encroachment."
"Vale will always stand by her allies," Ruby said. "Archmage Ironwood gave his life for our city. Welcome to Vale. We'll have rooms made available for you in the palace if you like."
"Mr Zeki is going to be staying at Beacon with his Sentinel," Weiss said. "He's graciously accepted a temporary position teaching magical theory there as part of our alliance."
"I'm keen to see the next generation of Vale in action," the man said with a calm and tranquil voice. "I hope we've not interrupted your meal with our impromptu arrival."
"It is fine, I'm sure," Weiss said, speaking over me. She usually did, but to be fair she was better at all this than I could ever be. Part of the reason she handled the more complex stuff when it came to negotiations. "The King has graciously offered to speak with you and reaffirm our pact with Atlas. Ruby, you're with me and welcoming the ambassadors from Mistral."
Ruby groaned. I didn't blame her, nor Ellayne and Weiss for not mentioning there would be any at all. We weren't technically at war, so I suppose it was inevitable. No surprises why they wouldn't want me meeting them. With Gabriel trying to claim Ruby as his wife, they'd have to at least be polite with her.
"Fine, but if they call me Ruby Alansar, I won't be held responsible for the bloodshed."
"They have been warned," Weiss said sagely.
"Would it be undiplomatic to bring up the assassins?"
"Assassins?" Harriet Bree asked, startled.
"Very undiplomatic," Weiss said.
Ruby rubbed her hands together. "Good." Leaning over, she kissed my cheek and then stood. "I'm off to go make enemies of the crown. See you later."
Blake could only chuckle.
Ruling a Kingdom meant running through life at breakneck speed. Your every action was judged. Often without full understanding of why you'd taken said action in the first place. People watched what you said, how you said it and came up with their own reasons for why you didn't say something else. If you failed to smile, they'd make up rumours for why. If you did smile, they'd do the same. Everything was measured. Everything was considered.
There were times I wished I could run away from it all.
Other times, I felt proud of what we'd managed.
Coming out to give a speech at the barracks was a chore, as was having to force myself to smile and wave at every single person I passed en route. Friendliness didn't cost anything, but even the nicest person probably didn't stop to wish every single person they walked by good morning. I had to. And when I got there, it was to a parade march from the barracks and the expectation of a speech from me. Something I have grudgingly.
Then the sparring began and I finally had a chance to relax. My sword arm twitched, eager to join in, but they wouldn't dare try their all against me, even if it wouldn't have helped any of them. Instead, I let them test themselves against the royal guard, who were happy to go easy on the new recruits.
Many of them were Labour Caste and I was proud to see not only how they handled themselves against their fellow soldiers, but how easily the Soldier Caste accepted them. The camaraderie didn't appear fake. Harsh training had forged bonds regardless of Caste, even if those bonds were in being united against hellish sergeants and horrible training.
It was a sign of progress and a rare moment of pride for me. Something that helped remind me why I put up with the nagging, criticism, busy days and constant assassination attempts. Not to mention the Council meetings, which still dissolved into shouting and arguments. Even more so once the councillors realised I wasn't one for pomp and ceremony.
It'd been the Labour Caste who first started cussing, but the Soldier Caste wouldn't be outdone, the Heroes gave their best and the Noble Caste councillors lost their tempers and showed how to insult someone in ancient languages. There was much shouting, arguing, accusations and swearing, but the jobs always got done and I was sure they at least grudgingly respected one another.
"Attention!" Ellayne barked. All the militia fell into line. "As promised, the King shall be creating and gifting a personal weapon to the top scoring candidate of each class." Excited rumours spread. "A tournament will be two weeks from now with the prize at stake. Be sure to try your best. And now, a final message from our King."
Another speech? I shot Ellayne a glare and stepped forward.
Never any rest.
Honestly, if the people could see me now, they'd have a heart attack.
Slumped back with my head in Blake's lap, feet dangling over the armrest of a sofa, yawning loudly and holding a goblet of wine in one hand. My Queen sat opposite, napping on Yang's shoulder and snoring gently away. Meanwhile, Yang continued to drink like it was going out of fashion while Weiss and Pyrrha nattered and Nora tried in vain to get me to explain why Ren was still in Atlas and not here ready for her hunt as drunkenly promised. Ren would pay for that, I had decided. Even if it was my fault.
"I miss this," I said.
"Hm?" Pyrrha looked over. "What do you mean?"
"Being able to lounge like this. Going on Quests. Only having to worry about how we'd afford the next payment on the Lodge. Or the Lodge itself! Beacon. I miss it all."
"You mean you regret the work we now have to do," Weiss said. "Work that would have been a part of growing up eventually anyway, you know, royalty or not. We couldn't stay at Beacon forever. Couldn't stay as teenagers forever."
"I'd have given it my best shot…"
Blake chuckled and petted my head like I was a housecat. It wasn't an entirely unpleasant experience so I leaned into it. "Poor baby. You've been working hard today, no? So has Ruby, though I think it's more the lack of sleep that's killing her."
"Not my fault," Yang growled, voice raw from drinking.
No one bothered to correct her.
It had become a ritual of sorts for us to gather at the end of each day in a quiet and private room we'd come to call our lodge once more, to ignore the crowns haphazardly mating on the table where we'd tossed them, kick off our boots and throw away regal dresses and cloaks. To just sit down, let go and as so often happened, whine about all the work we'd been through. Ren was absent and in Atlas, much to Nora's frustration, but he'd have been here if he could.
"Doesn't anyone else miss the Quests and adventures?"
"You mean Raven, Salem and Watts?" Yang grumbled. "Not really. Do you?"
The question caught me off-guard and I couldn't answer. Did I? Really? "Well, not them specifically. And I'm not saying I miss the always worrying about whether we'd die bit, but I miss going out there. Just riding off wherever we want to and doing whatever we fancy. I can't so much as walk around town without an armed escort. An escort which, by the way, I'd end up having to protect if we got attacked. Not the other way around."
"Not everyone gets as high level as you," Weiss pointed out. "And barely anyone as high as Ruby."
"Can't you just take a holiday?" Yang asked.
Weiss' snort was answer enough there, but I said it anyway. "Sadly, no. I can try and take a break, but that would be to relax with guards. Not without. And the council would have a fit if I went off to do a Quest. Too risky, apparently."
"We all have responsibilities now," Pyrrha said kindly. "I can't go off either with Beacon."
"At least you get to travel."
"You can travel, Jaune."
"At the head of an army. It's as good as an invasion if I do. King Jaune, Slayer of Salem, the Steelweaver. Everyone knows I can rip down a city wall with my mind if I want to. Makes people understandably nervous if I show up in their Kingdom."
"Pft. You didn't even kill Salem."
"I know," I muttered, leaving Yang to laugh and accidentally wake up Ruby as she did. "It's a pain. I'm not the only one either. You're just as bored as me, Ruby, right?"
"Hm? What?" Yawning, she stretched like a cat. "Hm. Yeah. It's not bad being Queen and the assassins are fun when they happen, but I wouldn't mind being able to do something different every now and then. Go riding without an escort. Fight some Grimm."
Blake's fingers danced across my nose. "Maybe you can."
"I'm pretty sure the palace would be in an uproar if we went missing."
"Say you need a resting period. Arrange a tournament or festival. The people will be so focused on that, they won't even think to pay attention to what the two of you are doing. So long as you don't advertise it, you'll be fine."
"My name and Class are above my head," I pointed out, literally pointing to it. "I think those are recognisable enough by now. What do you think happens if I show up at some village to take a Quest? People will freak. They'd be bowing and kneeling and apologising for wasting my time. Plus, it's expected I go with an escort if I want to leave the palace."
"Poor baby. If only there was a way to change those words above your head…"
"Yeah, if only." It took me a second to realise everyone was staring at me. "Oh, come on. That was Salem's amulet. You saw that thing broke in Vacuo. It's not like I kept the pieces or anything. It was made by her anyway."
"Made using a Rune, I believe," Pyrrha said. "The same Rune you've put on plenty of weapons since."
Ruby sat up. Her eyes swivelled to me, boring into my head.
I stared at the ceiling, thoughts already swirling.
"Huh. Good point…"
A Knight, a Ranger and a Warrior walked into a tavern. The people inside looked their way, shivering as the cold wind blasted in through the wooden shutters. The door slammed shut, light from the brazier reflecting off armour and weapons as the three, two women and a man, all hooded, made their way to the main bar.
The Knight wore a full helmet covering his face. The Ranger's black hood was up, hair the same colour spilling past a facemask, while the Warrior had a red scarf wrapped around the lower half of her own face, leaving only dark hair and bright metallic eyes to be seen. They were well-quipped and moved in unison, three silvery pendants hanging from their necks.
"We're here for the Quest," the Knight said, voice reverberating from inside his helmet. He slapped the parchment down on the table.
"Just the three of ya? It's a fearsome beast that roams these parts. Half Beowolf, half dragon, the thing has pushed back teams of Heroes stronger than yours."
The three Heroes exchanged glances. Even if the innkeeper couldn't see their faces, there was an undeniable hint of excitement in their eyes. What little was visible. "You've not seen a team like ours," the Warrior said, pulling out a stool. She sat, setting a long pole with a curved blade atop it down by the counter.
Almost looks like a scythe, the innkeeper thought.
"Tell us more," the Knight said.
The innkeeper wasn't sure if it was his imagination or not, but the armoured figure almost sounded eager. Risk-taking and reckless Heroes weren't uncommon, especially those looking to make a name for themselves. It'd be a shame to see them hurt, but they were the Heroes. He wasn't going to take the King's offer and try and become one himself at his ripe old age.
"It's a foul monster. Saw it with my own eyes, I did. Big as a barn and strong as fifty men. Doesn't spit fire but acid, and that burned through a tree in seconds. Its wingbeats blow winds enough to knock a man down and its eyes pierce through the gloom all bright and red. It's a monstrous thing, I tell ye. A demon left behind by that accursed Goddess." He made a sign over his chest. "Praise be to the King and Queen for slaying her."
"The King and Queen are pretty awesome," the Warrior agreed.
The Ranger tutted loudly and rolled her eyes.
"If the three of you are going after this thing, heed my advice." He leaned over the counter, peering into the Knight's helmet. The face inside was wreathed in shadow, but the bright blue eyes shone through. "Don't. This thing is too much for the average Hero. I don't want to see three brave souls cut down before their time."
"Dangerous?" the Knight asked.
"Huge. Bigger than the whole tavern."
The Knight shuddered. The Innkeeper didn't blame him. Many a man would at the thought of so monstrous a creature. Lifting his drink and then realising he couldn't actually drink it, the Knight poured it into his flask and stood. The Ranger and Warrior stood with him, finishing their own.
"You'll be going then?" the Innkeeper asked. "Please, tell Vale we need more. We need a good ten or twenty to handle this thing. Or the Royal Guard themselves. It's too much."
"I think you misunderstand," the Ranger said, voice dripping humour. She watched the Knight stomp away, already loosening his sword. It was a majestic thing, even he could see that. Covered in ornate scribbles and glowing blue. "Our companion isn't frightened."
The doors slammed open. Horses outside neighed, the Knight swinging up onto one and looking back. "Well?" he called through the door. "Come on. I've only got a week off and this thing isn't going to kill itself."
"Coming!" the Warrior shouted, giggling happily.
The innkeeper watched uncertainly, not even seeing the coins the Ranger left behind as payment. The Ranger chuckled and turned away. "We'll be back by sunrise. Please await us then. And don't worry about your little Grimm problem. I have a feeling it'll sort itself out."
The Innkeeper watched the three go, whispering a silent prayer for their safety.
Morning dawned and the village was silent. People crowded by the front gates, staring in equal parts awe and horror at the huge and scaly creature impaled on a tree and left to die. As big as advertised, as ferocious and with giant teeth and claws, the thing was so gargantuan that it was still there, dissolving into black motes as all Grimm did, but slow enough that the body might remain for another hour at least.
The beast's head lay at the base of the tree, its eyes empty and tongue hanging out.
A scrap of parchment remained stuck to the tree, driven into it by a small knife. Nervously, the Innkeeper approached and ripped it free, turning to those watching to read it out loud.
"Killed your monster. Wasn't all that tough. Was actually two different Grimm working together. Both dead. Consider the second a freebie. Please deliver reward to Beacon at earliest convenience. Signed, Janus, Belle and Robyn. Everyday adventurers."
The Innkeeper let the letter fall.
"What the f-!?"
"You think we should have stayed?" Ruby asked. "It's gotta be weird waking up to find that thing nailed to a tree."
"It was just a letter."
"I meant the Grimm, Jaune."
"Meh." I answered, whistling cheerfully. "Details."
"Would have been nice to stay for the reward," Blake said. Or according to the name above her head, Belle, Ranger. "It's refreshing to see how people treat me when I'm not walking around as an Assassin. I think I could get used to this. No one bats an eye."
"We can't wait," I argued, riding ahead with my helmet off and smile splitting my face in two. "Hazel said he can buy us a week tops before people start asking where we are. I want to be waist deep in Grimm by the time that happens. I want my sword arm to feel like it's about to drop off."
"You think people will start making legends about Robyn, Janus and Belle?" Ruby asked whimsically. "Would it be a conflict of interest to show up to and win our own tournament? Weiss says the best fighters from across Remnant are coming. I want to beat them all."
"Who says you'd win," Blake said competitively.
Ruby grinned. "That a challenge, dear Belle?"
"Not where you're concerned, Robyn. I'll be sure to thank you in my victory speech, though."
"Oooh. You're on. Meet you in the finals."
I laughed and crossed my hands over Faith's saddle, looking out over the valley ahead as my faithless steed tossed her head, as happy to be out and about as I was. Living a twin life would be hard, but at least there weren't any lies between us this time. Spying a merchant caravan ahead and the Grimm approaching unseen through the forest behind, I pulled on my helmet and drew Crocea Mors.
"We'll talk about crashing the tournament later," I shouted, pointing my sword forward. "To battle!"
That's it. That's Forged Destiny. A story in which Jaune forges his own destiny against a system designed to hold him back. All in all, I'm happy with the story – even if a change in direction made as early as chapter three derailed the last book and a half for some. There were a lot more RPG systems I wanted to explore in this but never got the chance to. How the Noble Caste works. How the Class-change mechanic works.
I even had a lore piece where Sun's tribe would vaguely know the secrets of it, with people engaging on "Spirit Walks" where they drink poisoned wine and walk into the desert. Many would die, but some might come back changed – with the implication being they died to the poison, but by luck alone were able to resuscitate, and because of that being "new life" technically, gain a second Class. In the end, that had to be cut because it happened before Jaune was to get his and I didn't want to spoiler it. Looking back, there may well have been ways to include it but oh well.
I've had some people suggest I do a page for AN and Lore material, such as the Passives of the other characters, their Stat distributions and any lore-specific stuff that didn't make it in (like the Noble Caste's abilities, etc) but I guess I'll leave that for people to decide if they want it or not.
Suffice to say, this story is finished.
Jaune and Ruby are King and Queen, but because Jaune can make the Rune on the amulet now (and they'd just need to find an Illusionist or someone who can cast such spells to seal the spell into their weapons – Jaune applying the Runes to their weapons), they can travel as Janus, Robyn and Belle to continue their adventures incognito.
Next Story: 3rd February.
The next story will be Null and will release its first chapter on 3rd February. That means no update next week as usual, which always happens between a story ending and a new one as a way for me to get a chance to plan and work ahead.
Thanks for reading Forged Destiny. Who knows, maybe one day I'll write it as its own book, since change the characters and names and it's pretty much its own original story. The only connection to RWBY is characters, weapons and their Passives being styled to be like their Semblances where I could manage it.
Next Story: 3rd February (Two Weeks): Null
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