In a location battered and nearly buried by the relentless sandstorms of Vacuo, a monument that resembled a mausoleum could be seen in the dunes.
From up above, a bullhead floated over the landscape, the wind produced by Dust crystals creating miniature dust storms beneath. At the ship's bay area, the exit doors began to open, revealing a masked woman in combat gear, goggles, and a light shawl staring intently at the ruins. Signaling towards the Bullhead's pilot, the woman pulled a hood over her head of red hair, and then gingerly leapt off of the open exit ramp.
Shutting her eyes, the woman vanished into a swirl of rose petals that fell to the ground, and gradually reformed. Aura wound around her, mitigating any impact of her descent.
Lifting an arm to shield her face from blowing sand, the woman grunted before pulling off her goggles, and quickly wiping down the frame. However, this was to no avail. The moment she put it back on, sand quickly blotted her vision, making it difficult to see.
Annoyed, the woman dashed forward until she found shelter from the sand at an overhanging potion of the buried historical site. Sticking along the perimeter, the woman soon found a tiny entrance that she squeezed through by getting on her belly, and shimmying forward until the interior opened up enough for her to stand again.
It was pitch black, no light to be seen within, and the air smelled musty and old.
Fiddling with a pouch by her waist, the woman produced a flashlight and turned it. Surveying the area, she swept her flashlight around, staring at ancient looking text and worn-down laurels and banners leading into a long hall.
Even without Dr. Bart Oobleck here to tell her, the woman could see that this entire structure was some sort of temple.
Shivering, the woman wet her lips and eased her nerves before taking off her hood, and goggles.
Summer could say that she hated horror movies, and this entire set up was not helping. Then again, the current genre couldn't be horror when she already had an idea of what was going on.
'It was really here…'
Summer mused to herself, a spike of adrenaline causing blood to pump furiously through her veins. It was an odd feeling, a mix of anticipation and dread that would never go away. Then there was the uncertainty and doubt of whether she was taking the correct actions or not.
It mattered little.
The fact that she was trying was what mattered. However, the scary part was the acknowledgement that if she truly found what she came here for, she could no longer deny the words of her own daughter's future diary.
Anxiously, Summer pressed forward, her movements slow and methodical as if she was following a path she'd already set in her mind.
['Straight. Then through the left hall before Jaune leans on a wall and finds a hidden room. It was a rather dorky way to find a treasure, but we needed anything we could get after the events of Vale.']
Summer's lips quivered as her legs carried her forward. One step, then two, her gaze taking in the area around her, and comparing it to that which she'd read word for word. Heading forward without pause, she then took a left at the next turn. Ahead of her was a room that opened into a mural of a warrior bathed in light and wielding a sword against the shadows. In front of the mural was an empty podium, making it seem as if there was nothing there.
['The sword points the way. It was cliché, but Weiss noticed it first before Jaune found the answer through dumb luck.']
Summer looked in the direction of the painted warrior's sword before her attention focused on an unassuming section of a wall flanked by two pillars.
That must have been where Jaune had leaned his back to rest, and then activated a pressure mechanism.
Swallowing, Summer moved towards the wall, and then felt around it, feeling nothing. It was only when she placed her back against the stone and then faced the sword of the warrior set to pierce her chest, that she heard a click.
All too quickly, the stone she was leaning her back on, gave way, and her along with it.
She must have looked just like the dork who found this hidden secret.
Summer was just grateful that neither Raven or Qrow were here to see it.
"Owe," wincing as she patted the dust and grime off of her, she stood back onto her feet and then stared at the orb floating above an ornamental stand.
Its presence exuded a heavy pressure, the swirl of blue within the sphere containing a boundless sort of mystery and allure. There was even a floating halo revolving around it.
Fragarach: The Gouging Sword, or the Retaliator.
This was a weapon that would be instrumental in defeating Cursed Arm.
Summer could no longer stew in her denial. It was real. Then all the other events too…
Ordinarily, Ruby and the others would stumble upon Fragarach long after the kingdom of Vale was swallowed by a dark shadow, but not this time. She wouldn't let that happen.
What was the point in knowing if you couldn't do anything!
Based on what she'd read, Ruby and the others had no clue about how to use this artifact right away because one had to meet certain prerequisites to even use it. But, the moment said conditions were met, there was no denying its power. Archer had been the one to eventually sound out the requirements through his extensive experience in gathering these lost artifacts.
Summer was sorry, but she was going to claim credit in this instance. This was needed right now, and not later when what was worth protecting would already be gone.
Striding to the floating orb, she carefully took out a cloth, wrapped it around the orb, and then placed her newly acquired hidden trump card in her bag.
After getting what she wanted, Summer wasted no time gathering her things, and leaving. She could recall nothing else of worth to be found in this temple, and was actually fortunate to have come early. By the time Ruby and the others found this place, it had been buried under sand, and only discovered after traces of a battle uncovered a portion of it.
Retracing her steps, and shimmying out the way she came, Summer called a bullhead to pick her back up.
She had to hurry. She didn't know if she'd make it in time.
Moments after Summer departed, a figure appeared and knit his brows.
"This wasn't supposed to be found this early."
There weren't many things that Ozpin found himself brooding over, but that was one of the boons of his longevity. He'd already lived for too long, and had already experienced practically everything that the world could throw at him. Therefore, the subject of his brooding only ever focused on dire or pressing issues that he didn't have any answers for.
Salem's immortality and the oath Ozpin had sworn to the God of Light as his Champion were topmost among his concerns.
Recently, he'd just been presented with a method to end his centuries long feud with Salem, but now, he'd inadvertently stumbled into matters that were likely even older.
For the first time in many years, he felt, as the young ones would put it, out of the loop.
It was both jarring and nerve wracking that he was only learning of such dangers now when it mattered most. Typically, he'd learned to plan ahead, to create contingencies in case of disaster, but that was a privilege he no longer had the option of entertaining given recent developments. What he'd have to do now is chase and chase until he managed to possess some semblance of stability.
Then there was Summer.
An odd look crossed Ozpin's features as he resisted the urge to pace back and forth like a fretful school girl. In the end, he settled on staring out of the window of his office, a cup of coffee, once piping hot, now cold and meaningless. He was wide awake, no amount of caffeine necessary.
In the rather subdued atmosphere, Ozpin spoke with uncharacteristic schadenfreude.
"Raven, left I see," Ozpin mused, his voice echoing in the silence of his office space.
Ozpin wasn't alone- Insane was he who spoke only to himself for company.
A pair of unamused red eyes narrowed before the clinking of cups and the scent of booze permeated.
Qrow was slouched over the guest sofa at the side of the room, his legs kicked up, and expression vacant; a sober kind that no amount of drinking could make go away. Then again, circumstances weren't exactly the most pleasant.
"What did you think she would do after Summer told her that Cursed Arm would massacre the tribe in search of the Branwen's?" Qrow grunted, keeping his thoughts to himself even while numerous thoughts and concerns raced through his mind.
Ozpin didn't react, and just stood in place, taking one breath after the other. Eventually, Ozpin pried his gaze away from the window, and towards Qrow who made no move to adjust his position.
"Even now, it's rather hard to believe," Ozpin muttered in a daze. "Do the Silver Eyes really grant prophetic abilities?"
Pressed into a corner, the answer Summer had come up with for her sudden knowledge only opened up another avenue of questions she only ever vaguely answered.
Ozpin had lived long enough to tell that Summer was speaking in half-truths, but he also knew that she wasn't the type to withhold information without reason. Now his doubt came with whether the truth in her words came from the new ability of her eyes, or the accuracy of her predictions. Either way, the supposed future spelled nothing good.
"You're asking me?" Qrow reaffirmed in disbelief, shaking his head at Ozpin. "You're the one who should know more than I. You said something about Silver Eyes and the God of Light. If magic exists, then who's to say divine prophecy doesn't?"
Ozpin widened his eyes at the unexpected answer. Right. If it was common sense, nothing of what was happening would apply, but if it regarded magic, mystery, and even the divine, the answer becomes more ambiguous.
"That's…fairly insightful of you Qrow," Ozpin admitted with a degree of genuine surprise that eventually simmered off in light of Qrow's lack of reaction. Rather, the man hadn't moved anything except his mouth from the start.
"You look stressed," Ozpin ventured, raising a brow at Qrow.
It was rather odd considering that Qrow's attitude had always been laid back despite numerous years of horrid luck. This time probably hit different.
"No, just resigned." Qrow stared vacantly up at the ceiling, anger and uncertainty twisting his features before even that faded into muted stoicism. "Apparently, I'm going to die to that fucker some time in the future. Raven's pitying look was unnecessary. Geez, as if she cared. Didn't even react when her own daughter gets taken by the same bastard."
Ozpin winced at the reminder, even more when recalling the antsy way Summer had hesitantly broached the issue.
"Maybe she was in shock?" Ozpin ventured.
Raven had left immediately, like instantly without a second of hesitation.
Qrow didn't buy that bullshit.
"Raven and shock? Right. Cold day in hell," he scoffed, stewing in his frustration.
Summer had called their current foe, Cursed Arm, and the information she'd provided was chilling. If Ozpin had his specific mission from the God of Light, then Cursed Arm had a similar mission but sought to apply it in a different way:
All is equal and united in death.
The answer was far too simple, and something Ozpin had ground his teeth listening too. It made sense as the answer was correct, but it wasn't right either! Worse, Summer mentioned how Cursed Arm was a Champion of Darkness specialized in assassination.
All Champions of Darkness were once heroes.
Cursed Arm's history was a story of noble killings, tainted when those he sought to protect were persecuted, charged, and executed, drowning Cursed Arm's justice and turning it into corrupting despair.
He will not hesitate or negotiate with the enemy. His hand is the cursed arm that brings sure death.
"Regardless," Ozpin broke the heavy silence. "The future is not set. If Summer's recently unlocked ability is to be believed, she's trying to change any coming tragedies with our help. Fretting over a future that has yet to happen will only lead us nowhere."
"Won't even let me mope, will you?" Qrow grimaced before shooting up into a seated position, hand scratching the back of his head. "Ah, dammit, I get it. Would have helped if Summer came with this before I unleashed 'the great evil' movie-cliché from its tomb. We're all basically slow roasting under a fire, right now."
"And the flames can be put out, assuming Summer's knowledge to be correct."
In the end, Ozpin was right. Qrow just wanted to sulk.
"Well then, let's verify again." Qrow's expression hardened, determination and resolution driving away his negativity. "Who won Archer's competition? Was it the team Summer predicted?"
"Yes. It was team CRDL," Ozpin hummed.
The two fell into silent contemplation once more, before this time it was Qrow who ended it.
"…And there you go. Yang is not going to Forever Fall. Better yet, why don't you just cancel the entire trip?"
Ozpin balled his hands into fists.
"Because changing too much would lead to uncertainty."
The efforts made to devise a trap would be rendered meaningless.
"This is bullshit! We all lost to Cardin? Cardin?"
"We would have won."
Yang cradled her head, still hung up over their team's loss. She was seated at her desk while getting ready for Professor Port's class. Near her, Blake was making a face while Nora plastered a fake smile. Jaune however, was beyond listening to this again.
"No Yang. Blake. Our team lost to infighting." Jaune corrected, gritting his teeth in exasperation, Yang staring at him in betrayal.
"Blake already had her turn; it was my turn!" Yang reasoned, emphasizing her point by banging her fists against her desk. Then, shooting an accusing glare at Blake, she huffed and growled.
"Yeah, go ahead. Blame me for your faults." Blake snorted, her limpid eyes free of guilt or shame for that matter. Yang had a point, but all things considered, if it didn't matter who wielded their team's artifact to win, then there was no reason to comply with such a childish notion of taking turns. This was the real world. "It only makes you more and more like a toddler. I wonder what Archer would think? He must be disappointed, right Emerald?"
Emerald, who was seated nearby, was brutally honest, if just a tad biased to herself. "She has no chance."
"W-Why you both!" Yang made choking gestures, and made to stand out of her seat if it wasn't for Ruby holding her down. "Let me at them! Look at their faces, their basically screaming 'punch me!'"
"Alright, alright, that's enough!" Jaune had never been a very courageous man, nor one to find fault in others, but even he had limits.
Yang looked at Jaune, and then hesitated, but Jaune wasn't done. He'd been holding this in for too long already.
"Whatever. Honestly, it wouldn't have mattered if either of you got to use our team's artifact, but- YOU RINGED EACH OTHER OUT AT THE SAME TIME!" Jaune screamed, Nora giggling in the background while both Yang and Blake shut up. "Dammit, we couldn't even retrieve our team's artifact because you both threw it out of bounds! And then it was just me and Nora against a senior team! We were destroyed!"
"B-Better than SEVR," Yang mumbled, she and Blake growing sheepish now that they really thought about it. "Everyone but Vernal surrendered to CRDL."
Was that supposed to be consolation? Rather, Jaune could see that it seemed like a jab at Emerald who's features grew icy. He didn't know Yang had it in her to be calculative, or was it just sheer coincidence?
Emerald was the last person anyone wanted to provoke besides Neo due to her Semblance and personal pettiness, but Yang seemed fearless. In contrast, CRDL was fearless. They likely formed a grudge with both of them plus Vernal.
Fortunately, tension didn't escalate as someone intervened in the discussion.
"Cardin cheated," a voice pointed out.
"Ector?" Jaune greeted, turning his attention to Ector who was leaning forward on his seat, elbow propped and face leaning on the back of his left hand.
"He cheated," Ector repeated, frowning and brows knit in consternation and sudden epiphany. "As more teams got eliminated, it became easier and easier for him to determine who his opponents would be. His team cursed us before our match even began, and...and I'd rather not have my balls crushed like PRWN. Emerald and Ren probably felt the same given that even the 'Invincible Girl' could not bear the agony. Team CRDL deserved the win. Their sacrifice was greater than any other."
A silent Pyrrha, Ruby, Weiss, and Neo all grumbled darkly at the reminder. It would be their dark history never to be mentioned between them, and Pyrrha; Pyrrha was hiding her face between her hands, unable to face the indignation.
"So, tactical retreat then?" Jaune muttered in sympathy.
Ector nodded stiffly. Ren who stood beside Ector was much the same.
Nora took the chance to hang around Ren's shoulders, poking teasingly at his cheek for lacking courage. Women. They wouldn't understand.
Still, it was rather ironic. Considering how SEVR had eliminated CFVY without having to deal with CFVY's artifact, it was karma that CRDL didn't even give SEVR the chance either.
Vernal alone was strong. Give her the opportunity, and she'd destroy CRDL on her own. Therefore, just don't give her one. Cardin made the tacit decision to activate the curse before Vernal could stubbornly get up on stage, and her lack of ability to participate, and the rest of her team's refusal led to their disqualification.
What was worse, was that CRDL's act hadn't been counted as cheating, but creative use of their artifact by Archer.
"How's Vernal?" Jaune asked Ren, trying to lighten the mood.
A ghost of a wry smile came over Ren's face. Ren was a reserved man, but it was clear that there was an inkling of amusement mixed into his eyes.
"Still in the infirmary with Dove," Ren said, much to everyone's incredulousness.
"Cardin didn't dispel the curse yet? It's been days." Pyrrha shuddered, pressing her hands to her stomach from phantom pains.
"They didn't want to die." Ector let out a laugh, breaking his facade of calm. He shrugged. "Knowing Vernal, she would have gone straight for them."
Ah, that made sense.
"They probably learned their lesson when Neo tried to get back at them and failed due to Prof Goodwitch," Emerald reasoned, while Neo plastered an innocent smile on her face. Oh, she wasn't done trying. Just give her the chance.
Continuing to talk among themselves, it wasn't long before Professor Port arrived and began regalling them with tales of his past exploits and experience against Grimm. It all sounded so inflated, but at the same time, there was a degree of practicality in what he was preaching. Few if any would be able to discern the key points though, as they were too busy trying not to fall asleep.
"Are you guys ready for Forever Fall?" Jaune whispered, and the others were more than willing to divert their attention from Port's latest regaling tale.
However, Ruby tensed at the mention of the coming field trip, an action not lost on Yang who sat beside her. She said nothing though, as it wasn't really something to worry over. If it was per usual, Ruby must have been worrying about crowds or underperforming as the youngest in Beacon. You know, the bee's knees and all.
"It's just gathering sap in Grimm territory. Not like anything's going to happen, and if it does, Ms. Blondkickass never misses her mark." Yang said to be reassuring, but it only seemed to make Ruby more paranoid.
"Y-Yang, if something does happen, maybe not run towards it?" Ruby batted her eyes, her complexion rather pale.
"She's right, you know?" Blake smiled, steepling her fingers and leaning forward on her desk. "Never know when Ms. Blondkickass will finally get arrested as the terrorist she is."
Emerald nodded, grinning while Yang stewed in annoyance. It was likely that they were never going to let that go.
It happened just as Port's class was about to wrap up for the day, and he began making announcements for the trip to Forever Fall.
Ms. Goodwitch came by, her features pensive, lips pursed. No one had ever seen such a mixed expression on her face, and it was likely something Ozpin or Qrow had said.
"Yang Xiaolong, a word," she suddenly called.
Yang frowned, and not because Blake and Emerald clapped hands at the notion that she was getting in trouble. Something about this just seemed off.
If anything, it was the way Ruby suddenly looked relieved that made her doubtful.
It was like she was waiting for this, or knew that this would happen.
Sorry for smaller update, work took longer than I had thought it would.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to my newest patrons: Chris S, and William K!
Next update: To be Announced
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