Bit of a crisis today as the doctors are telling me that no longer have any record of me on their systems. Very bad as this means I can't get any treatment for anything until it is sorted out, so I am spending much of Saturday trying to find what's gone wrong and trace them. They want my last addresses, which sounds easy until I recall it's been TEN YEARS since I last lived somewhere and for the life of me I don't know where it was off by heart. Going to be calling the bank to try and find out from their records of past transactions, etc.

All in all, busy day which is why I'mn writing this Friday night at a period where I can't do anything about it anyway. This is really bad though as people may recall I've been getting a lot of medical tests lately for something going on, and now it turns out the doctors cannot access the test results!


Cover Art: Jack Wayne

Chapter 157


Of all the battles he'd mentally prepared for on coming back, Ozpin hadn't been one of them. Jaune hated the man's decisions; hated the final choice he made; hated the responsibility he placed on the shoulders of teenagers. Even so, he did not hate the man. Couldn't. What difference was there in Ozpin cursed to live eternally in his fight against Salem, and Jaune coming back through time to do the same? Both would do anything for their objective. Both would cross lines.

They were similar. Too similar.

"Focus!" Raven snapped. Her nodachi came up to block a punishing strike from Ozpin's cane, one that belied his small stature. Her boots skidded back, and she stabbed a hand out to summon a gust of wind. Ozpin let himself be thrown back, backflipping in the air to land agilely on his feet. "Get your head in the damned game!" she hissed. "We've come too far for you to get cold feet now."

"And just how far have you gotten?" Ozpin asked them. "More than I ever imaged, I'm sure. To think you, Raven, would be so willing to fight Salem. What changed?"

Raven gritted her teeth and started pacing to the left, encircling Ozpin and trying to put him between Jaune and her. Ozpin did the same, moving the opposite way to keep the triangular shape between them.

"No answer? It must be something special. You were so afraid before, scared so badly you abandoned your own husband and child. Now, you're back. Was it a case of second thoughts? Did Ashari get through to you? Or was he able to convince you where I could not?"

"You're too chatty."

"I suppose that I am. All too often do people try to solve their problems without discourse." He paused, holding out an empty hand. "It is not too late for us to do the same."

"Are you kidding? You tried to have him killed!"

"Not without regret. It pained me to ask it and even more so to imagine having to explain to your daughters." Ozpin faced Jaune as he spoke, eyes heavy with guilt. "I hope you know there was nothing personal there. I do what I must for the fate of everyone."

"I don't hate you…"

"Ah." A gentle smile blossomed on his would-be killer's face. "I'm glad. I suppose, however, that this will only end one way. You wish to kill me and use the time it takes for me to find a new host to wage your offensive on Salem."

Jaune nodded. "That's right. Or, well, we'd have been off without harming you if you hadn't tried this. We can't leave you now, Ozpin. I hope you understand that as well."

"Of course, my boy. Of course. I'll only enact plans to get in your way if you do. Alas." He let out a heavy sigh. "This will only end one way."

"It doesn't have to."

"Oh?"

It was Jaune's turn to offer a hand out in peace. "Join us. Work with us. With Ironwood's forces, out strength and your wisdom we'll have no problem taking Salem down once and for all. Work with us, Ozpin. No, Ozma."

"Oh my poor naïve child. I've been here before – I've been here many times. When humanity is strong, when Salem is weak, when a charismatic leader like yourself calls for action." Ozpin grimaced. "Where I allowed myself to be swayed. You must think me a monster incapable of trust, but I have seen this before. We have tried this before. It always fails. Always."

"It won't this time."

"What on Remnant gives you that confidence, Mr Ashari?"

Jaune licked his lips. He stared the man in the eye. "Because you're not the only one who's seen this before. You're not the only one who's been here before."

Ozpin's eyes crossed. His head tilted gently to the side. "Excuse me?"

"I'm not of this time, Ozpin. I'm not of this world." Jaune saw confusion writ across his face and pushed on all the same. "I'm from a world where Beacon fell, where Salem pushed Atlas to the brink of destruction and where you – desperate and out of ideas – enacted your final plan to end this once and for all. I was there, Ozpin. I saw it all."

"How…?"

"Magic. Salem's magic. Using the Relics, she created for me a body and sent me back into the past. Or a different world; I'm not sure anymore. All for the chance that things would turn out different."

Jaune had no idea if the man would believe him or not. Was the magic even possible to Ozpin? His deep eyes fixed Jaune in his place, scaling him from head to toe, narrowing imperceptibly. "I was right the first time, wasn't I? Arc. Jaune Arc."

"Yes…"

"The similarities are painfully obvious. I suppose that explains why Raven took him under her wing." Ozpin's cane dipped, his stance relaxing. Jaune allowed his to as well, relieved but still cautious. "I've no idea how she would have done it."

"She used the relics."

"My gambit failed, then." Ozpin remarked. "I delivered the relics straight to her."

"Not exactly."

"What?"

"The plan worked. Sort of. We fought to hold off her forces – everyone but me died – and Ruby struck the final blow with the relic-infused weapon you helped us make. Salem was done. Dying." Jaune took a step forward, his hand still held out. "That's why I'm confident this will work. That's why I'm doing this. It worked once already. It can work agai-"

Jaune swayed back as a bolt of green light speared past his nose. It burned a trail of hot magic across his cheek. Even before it hit the wall, Ozpin's cane swung into Crocea Mors, spraying a shower of sparks as he was pushed back on uneven footing.

Ozpin's face was in his, teeth bared in a rictus of fury. "I won!? I won and killed Salem and you – you changed it!? You let her change it!?"

"O-Ozpin…"

"You fool!" he roared, releasing Jaune's sword and slamming an open palm into his stomach. Something ice cold shot through Jaune's veins, twisting inside his body. His Semblance reacted instantly, forcing out the foreign invasion of magic. It didn't stop Ozpin wrenching him aside and throwing him across the room, nor parrying Raven's attack on his back and kicking her away.

"Gah!" Raven crashed into his desk and slid down the front.

"Ozpin! Stop!"

"Stop? Stop!? I finally finished her – I finally ended this nightmare – and you gave her the perfect way out. You've ruined everything!"

"The cost was too much!" Jaune shouted. "Hundreds of thousands dead, the Kingdoms in disarray, everyone from Beacon killed-"

"All of which could be rebuilt! All of which would repair itself in time without her presence holding humanity back! It was a victory, Ashari! No, Arc!" Ozpin stormed forward, eyes glowing with eldritch fire. "It was a victory of the highest order and you, in your petty selfishness, have robbed the world of it!"

Shit. He hadn't thought Ozpin would be pleased but this reaction was too much. Jaune staggered to his feet, shaking his head and bringing Crocea Mors up in one hand. His other hung free, blue light and steam rising from Salem's sigil on the back of his palm.

"We can do it again," Jaune said. "I know I let you down, but we can repeat the process and this time without so many casualties."

"Repeat it? Repeat it and expect it to work just as it did before?" Ozpin barked out a laugh. He swept his hand and sent Jaune fleeing from a wave of green fire. Beacon's tower was illuminated in stark green. "Has your jaunt through time taught you nothing? It is not the same. You cannot make the same actions and expect them to turn out the same way. How much have you changed already? How different is this time?"

Different. Ozpin was right about that. Emerald, Vernal, Cinder, Raven, Blake, Adam and so many more. There wasn't a person he'd ever known who wasn't in some way better or worse off. Even though his younger self, Pyrrha, Nora and Ren were all in Beacon, they hadn't ended up on the same team.

"Your silence says enough," Ozpin snarled. "The chance I bought us, the chance I gave my life for, is forever gone. You have stolen away humanity's greatest hope of survival. And for what? Vengeance?"

"No." Jaune grit his teeth and stepped into the fire, wading through with his hand out, magic and aura pumping through to let him through the other side surrounded by frost. It was exhausting. "Not vengeance. Hope. A chance to save the ones I love."

"And in so doing, dooming millions of others…"

"It was selfish. I know. I admit it. I was full of grief and anger and wanted some way to fix it. Salem offered me that and I accepted." Jaune shook his head. "This is where I make amends. This is where she dies. Ozpin, please, join us and make this a reality."

"That will not happen." Ozpin glared back at him with eyes full of hate. "Thousands of years, Mr Arc. Thousands of years that I have given for one chance, one chance, to end her. And you take it away. I said before that this was nothing personal." He inhaled and exhaled slowly. "It has become personal. I hope you will forgive me taking pleasure at your demise. It is unbecoming of me, I admit, but I am only human."

Ozpin was on him. Jaune parried the first blow and side-stepped the next. Crocea Mors lashed out, but Ozpin was no longer confined to an old and tired body. He bent back lithely, letting the blade pass overhead. Snapping up again, he flicked his cane out in a feint that Jaune avoided, then hurled another spell at him close range. It struck Crocea Mors and the metal shone blindingly, Everything began to heat up – the metal, the leather grip and his thick gloves.

Raven appeared behind Ozpin and thrust in at his back. She may as well have been trying to kill them both with an attack like that. Ozpin jumped up and kicked off Jaune's chest, passing over Raven's head and forcing her to check her attack lest she hit him. With her back to Ozpin, she was entirely unprepared for him to send out a green blast of energy. It sent her hurtling into Jaune, knocking them both back several metres.

"He wasn't this strong in your memories!" Raven hissed.

"Something's changed."

Jaune's eyes widened, and he kicked Raven off him, then rolled aside as Ozpin's own desk crashed down on their location. It exploded on impact with the ground, showering him with splinters. Ozpin came through the storm, jabbing at his chest, thighs and chin with short, precise thrusts. Faster than Weiss had ever been with her rapier.

How? Oscar was never this strong and no matter how skilled Ozma is, he's still trapped in the body of a young boy. Oscar shouldn't have the muscle mass or endurance for this kind of combat.

Maybe he didn't. This wasn't Ozpin's body, so perhaps he was pushing it to breaking without a care in the world. What was one boy's life compared to stopping their plan? If so, Oscar's body would soon break under the pressure. They just had to outlast him.

Just had to survive.

There was no doubt in him that Ozpin wanted them dead. Him especially. Gone was the calm, understanding look in the man's old eyes. It was replaced with cold fire, something that might have once represented the true anger and passion of the man he'd once been. The normal, human, knight who saved Salem and founded the Del'Ashari. Maybe this was the real Ozpin. The real Ozma. There wasn't time to marvel at it.

Duck under a swing, parry a kick with his shin, step back, divert Ozpin's hand away before another spell could hit him, swing, check, parry and constantly try to manoeuvre his slippery opponent so Raven could get a shot in on his back.

Not easy. What Ozpin may have lacked in a capable body, he made up for with thousands of years' experience. There was no wasted movement or overly complicated techniques, only a cold and calculated efficiency. He was small enough to slip under Jaune's arm whenever Raven tried to attack, placing Jaune between the two of them and forcing her to look for another approach.

"Ozpin!" Jaune panted, fending off another barrage of blows. "Please listen, we can fix this! We can still work together."

Ozpin's lips remained a thin line, eyes cold and angry. He threw his cane at Raven and waited for her to swing up and deflect it. That was his moment to hurl four knife-like shards of green magic at her. She had the time to reverse her swing and knock two out the air but the other two struck her left shoulder and arm respectively, searing through her clothing and aura with terrifying ease.

"Arghhh!"

"Raven!"

Jaune swung down on the now unarmed boy in a strike that would have cleaved him head to toe. When Ozpin casually stepped aside, he did so into Jaune's fist. Crocea Mors went abandoned – too slow and clumsy against so small and quick an opponent. Jaune grabbed the boy's arms instead. Whatever his experience, Ozpin was stuck in Oscar's body and wouldn't be able to outmuscle someone twice his size.

His hands caught one of Ozpin's wrists and his other arm snaked around the boy's shoulders and neck, dragging him back against his chest. Ozpin slammed his elbow back and his heel down, but Jaune was prepared for it and accepted the pain. His arm tightened on Ozpin's neck, searching for that sweet spot where he could perform a blood choke and put him out in seconds. While he did, Raven lunged forward surrounded by crackling electricity, deciding two methods of incapacitation were better than one.

That was when their feet left the floor. Flight was a magic Jaune hadn't even considered possible, but suddenly they were surging upwards with the floor and Raven left below in shock. Their bodies angled forward, accelerating suddenly until they smashed into the ceiling. Air was driven out of Jaune's lungs, but he tightened his grip all the same, suffocating Ozpin the old-fashioned way. He locked his other hand over his arm, sealing his muscles tight over the boy's windpipe. He was already gasping for air.

I'm sorry, Oscar. You don't deserve this!

They were moving again suddenly, scraping across the ceiling and grinding Jaune's back into it as they went. His head struck a light fixture and snapped back, but even then he refused to let go. Ozpin carried them on until Jaune saw the wall coming. He pushed all his aura to his head and shoulders, tightened his grip again and prepared for impact.

It was like he'd become a battering ram. His entire world exploded in bright lights, followed by black. Consciousness flickered for a second. Without aura, he'd have broken his neck immediately. It hurt all the same. Stars danced before his eyes as the world shifted and changed. They were on the wall now, Ozpin turning them so that Jaune's back was to it and then throwing them against it.

Into it?

Jaune's eyes widened as he felt the metal gears on his back. The clockwork wall of Ozpin's office! That realisation lasted only a second before dull, rusty cogs bit into and ground through his shoulder. Aura came up against machine – the cogs powered by motors that would not stop, could not stop, and coming up against the power of the soul that did much the same.

The result was like grinding two pieces of solid metal together. Sparks flew, a horrible, twisted sound filled the room and both the cogs and Jaune's body began to heat up.

And he screamed. Loudly.

Ozpin pushed him further in, submerging him in the machinery. His left foot caught in something that tried to suck him down and in, while his spine was assaulted by the clunk, clunk, clunk of a piston determined to break through his bones. Ozpin was going to grind him to paste, aura or no.

Despite it, Jaune kept going, kept strangling him.

I have… to hold on…

Metal ground and popped. The cog which couldn't turn against his shoulder forced problems back down the chain, each rotating cog stressing and straining backwards until something slipped. A huge cogwheel the size of a person exploded out from the wall with incredible force, narrowly missing Raven. The sudden hole in the system caused another gear to have nothing holding it in place. It fell with a mighty clang.

From there it was a chain reaction of grinding metal and machinery. Like a taut string coiled on itself a hundred times and suddenly let go, spinning backwards and out of control. Something exploded in a loud bang and more machinery burst outward. The ones around and behind them did the same, suddenly spinning off Jaune's shoulder and launching them into the open air. A heavy chunk of metal struck the back of his skull.

Aura or not, the impact rattled his brain. Every muscle in his body went slack and Ozpin took his chance to escape, heaving for air and holding his neck with one hand. Before he could recover, he brought up a green shield to protect himself from another violently bouncing cogwheel. The clockface that had once made up the wall of his office was a mess of broken and twisted machinery. In the middle of that, pinned to the wall behind all of it and now exposed, lay a simple golden crown.

The Relic of Choice.

Jaune groaned and unsteadily pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. He wasn't sure if he was concussed or not. The world was spinning. Suddenly, it took a more violent twist and the floor came up to punch him in the cheek. It took another second for him to realise that was because Ozpin had kicked him in the jaw.

Where was Raven…? Jaune's bleary eyes looked past Ozpin to see the Spring Maiden nursing her left arm with her right hand, the limb covered in blood. There was a huge, copper wheel buried into the wall behind her, which must have struck with the force of a speeding car. Raven was on her ass, legs shaking, and eyes clenched tightly shut. With her final strength, she picked up her sword and slashed wildly at the air.

Ozpin panted for breath, walking forward and stooping to pick up Crocea Mors. He was holding it wrong, more like a cane than a sword. Jaune tried to push himself up again, but his shoulder wouldn't respond. He toppled onto his side, spewing vomit onto the floor.

Definitely a concussion. Come on, get up. Move!

His body responded sluggishly. His vision was swimming and he felt lightheaded, as if he were standing at the edge of a tall cliff and the vertigo had come running.

"Close, Mr Arc." Ozpin said. "You are several thousand years too inexperienced to face me, however."

"Y-You weren't this strong…" Jaune wheezed.

"In your last timeline? I would imagine not. If I had no time to prepare and only to plot one last gambit then my host's body would have had little time to acclimatise to me. As I said before, things have changed. You gave me time. You gave me the chance to train this body up, to shape it. Oscar and I are one now. Something I infer did not happen in your time."

Oscar was already dead…? Damn it.

"You've changed too much. To think things would go the same way is foolish. What may have worked for us in killing Salem will not work again the same way. Still," he said, "You have given me some small hope."

Jaune tumbled back as Ozpin pushed him over with one foot. He was left stood at the base of the wall, staring dully at the man about to kill him with his own weapon.

"You've given me valuable information, Mr Arc. My plan in your time worked. Salem must have gotten overconfident because of her near victory. Repeating that won't necessarily yield the same results, but I can attempt to recreate it and bring about similar circumstances."

"You can't…" Jaune said weakly. "Beacon didn't fall…"

Ozpin's eyes narrowed. "It can be made to."

"…"

"If Beacon must fall for her to let her guard down then it can be brought down from the inside. The Vytal Festival. It would have happened then, wouldn't it?" Ozpin paused. "There is still sentiment against the White Fang. It wouldn't be hard to plot an attack and blame it on them."

"Faunus would be blamed…"

"Yes. The civil unrest would throw Vale into anarchy. A good moment for her to strike, don't you think? Of course, I'll need to make things happen as they did in your time. You said that Miss Rose struck the final blow? I always knew she had the potential for greatness."

"She isn't a huntress…"

"That can be changed. When she has no choice but to be a huntress, she will adapt. Thrown into the forge, she will bend, or she will break. And if she needs some motivation then I'm sure that can be arranged. Her sister will be in the competition. If something were to happen to Miss Xiao-Long and the fault falls on Salem, I'm sure Miss Rose would be all too eager for a chance to avenge her. All she needs is a reason to become a huntress. Tragedy is often reason enough."

Every man had the potential in them to become a monster, but in that moment Jaune did not recognise the man who stood over him. "You can't," he whispered. "You can't do that…"

"No?" Crocea Mors tickled Jaune's throat. Tiredly, Ozpin placed one hand on the flat of the pommel, ready to push. "And who is going to stop me? You? Raven? James?"

"No…" Jaune wheezed.

"Me!" a voice behind Ozpin snarled.

Red metal burst out the front of Ozpin's chest. Blood splashed over Jaune's body, coating him as Crocea Mors fell from a shocked grip. The boy was lifted up, a hand taking hold of his hair and dragging him back while the other, clasped around Raven's nodachi, lifted his small body up.

Ozpin gasped and slid down the blade, his back coming to rest against the handguard. His wide eyes flicked back, coming close to angry silver eyes.

"S-Summer…?"

With a furious shriek, Summer swept Raven's weapon to the side, sliding Ozpin off and launching him at the nearest wall. The boy tumbled and rolled onto his side, curling up around his fatal wound. The huntress, the mother, stalked toward his dying body with her ex-teammate's weapon gripped in hand dripping blood.

The portal that Raven had opened in the air with her last strength flickered weakly and faded, the woman slumping down, unconscious.

"W-Wait." Ozpin wheezed. "Y-You do not understand. They will doom us all – they will doom everything. You… You must stop them, Summer. You must kill the-" His words cut off into a ragged gasp as Summer drove the nodachi down into his chest and twisted. "Arghhh!"

"Never again!" Summer raged. "Never again will you try and use my daughters!

"Y-You fools…" Ozpin's eyes closed. "This… isn't the end… I always… return…"

With a final twist, Summer wrenched the blade free, watching the young boy's body go still in death. Or vacancy. The soul within would have already passed on, would even now be finding a new host somewhere out in Remnant to take over.

They'd bought time. Nothing more.

"Summer," Jaune gasped, able to get a few more limbs working. He tried to stand and had to lean bodily on her. Summer pulled him over to the wall and let him rest against it. "You saved us…"

"Aren't you supposed to be in Atlas?"

"It's… complicated…"

"It must be." She looked back to Ozpin. The shock was still more powerful than any grief, and he knew she'd be a lot more horrified once it kicked in. "The last thing I expected was one of Raven's portals to open up in the middle of my office. I almost didn't come through but then… I wondered if she needed me, if she were in trouble and calling out for help. I couldn't not," she admitted angrily. "Even after everything she's done, I couldn't ignore her." Her eyes softened. "I'm glad I did."

"Me too. About Ozpin… I'm sorry…"

"Don't be. I heard what he said. I know your story. I… He's not the man I knew, the man I swore my loyalty to. He changed, and I wasn't going to let him use Ruby like that. Or hurt Yang to give her purpose. That's what happened before, isn't it? My death made Ruby want to become a huntress…"

It could have been the reason. Or one of them. Jaune couldn't claim to know the deepest secrets in Ruby's heart. "It might have."

"Do you think Ozpin planned it?"

"Doubtful. This… This was an extreme moment. He was angry, desperate. He wouldn't have done this normally." Sighing, Jaune pushed off of her, testing his balance and finding it just a little steadier. His head pounded but he could move on his own two feet and did so toward the Relic of Choice. "It doesn't matter. We have to end this before Ozpin can find his way back. He'll forgive us when this works. He might even apologise."

Summer crossed her arms. "I'm not sure I'll accept it."

That was her right. Jaune would – if only because he couldn't blame the man being willing to do whatever he felt was needed to protect people. Exhausted, Jaune stepped around shattered gears and approached the Relic, reaching out with shaking hands to lift it off the wall.

"I thought it was sealed in a vault…"

"Ozpin said a lot of things," Jaune replied. "Some were meant to mislead."

"Well, now what? Are you thinking of using it?"

He hadn't been, but now that he had it in his hands and Summer had brought up the idea… There was no reason not to. Unlike Jinn, the Relic of Choice was not limited. It didn't need to be, because even if you used it ten times, it would show the same choice until that choice either did or did not happen. It couldn't be abused like Knowledge could. Taking a deep breath, Jaune placed it atop his head.

The visions came thick and fast. He lived through them, experienced them as if they were life itself. For him, it was hours. Days. In the real world, it was mere seconds. Jaune ripped it off after what felt like so much time had passed. He staggered back, caught again by Summer. Blood dripped onto her sleeve, and he realised it was running freely from his nose, over his lips and down his chin.

"Well?" she asked impatiently. Curiously. "What did you see?"

Enough. Too much. Everything.

"Salem's death…" he said faintly, eyes closing as a heavy weight settled on his chest. "I saw Salem's death. The plan works. We… We're going to continue with it and end this once and for all."


Written on a Friday night in a mad stress. Off to finding medical records and past addresses I go!


Next Chapter: 19th June

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur